Witch's Night Out (1978)

UPDATE for 2014: A new remastered DVD is now out!  See our review.
Also:  See our interview with Tony Molesworth, who did the voice of Small!



Witch's Night Out belongs in the collection of every fan of Halloween specials, and generates more emails than any other special on this site by a wide margin. If you came to this website trying to remember a cartoon that you only vaguely recalled, and thought perhaps you really just dreamed about one time, odds are that it was this one. Like that elusive McDondald's we went into one time in Cedar Rapids (or was it Omaha?) that actually served pizza, it's become a legend that lives in our 70s/80s/90s collective childhood consciousness. Everyone remembers it, but can't many quite recall enough details to prove it was real. 
Witch's Night Out is one of my favorites - it's a "special" in the purest sense of the word. Though a few of the characters had appeared in a "winter" special a few years before, this one-off show creates an entire world that exists for 27 minutes, then vanishes forever. It's not promoting a toy line or comic strip. It's not a spin-off of a movie or TV show. The goal was not to sell toys, but to make a cool show.



Only a handful of specials existed in a world of their own like this, and very few did it well enough to function as more than just nostalgia when you watch it as an adult. Perhaps moreso than any other Halloween special, Witch's Night Out is watchable year after year, thanks to its snappy script, unique visuals, and fine job creating a distinctly Halloweenish atmosphere, as it tells the story of Small and Tender being turned into real monsters by the old witch who lives in the local haunted mansion.  It was first aired on NBC in 1978 and was a staple on the Disney Channel around Halloween from 1983 up until some point in the 1990s. It's among the most fondly remembered of all Halloween specials that didn't involve an already-famous comic strip character, and one of fairly few that's just as good as you thought it was when you were eight.


It's also notable for having introduced "PLOT B" of Halloween specials.

PLOT A, of course, is that the "witch" in the old house turns out to be a sweet old lady who gives great candy to trick-or-treaters.

PLOT B, however, ends with everyone disco dancing. Paul Lynde had already ended his special with a disco party, but this is the first time when it was really a way of wrapping up a plot.

Disco endings would be a staple of specials for some time, lasting well into the 80's - even Strawberry Shortcake was not immune from Disco Fever in the 80s (years after the rest of the world had moved on, of course), but this was the one that started it all (though, to be fair, could could argue that it was virtually a tie with The Devil and Daniel Mouse, which has a disco party early on and ends with folk rock).

Plot C, for the record, is where there's a character who doesn't love Halloween in the beginning and changes his or her ways by the end. I'd say that at least half of all Halloween specials fit into one of those three.


It's easy to bash Witch's Night Out for its animation - the characters, as you can see, all all monochrome. Some sources say they were originally all the same color, in fact, and the different shades were a later addition put in for later airings (I've been unable to confirm this; I suspect people are mistaking for an early 70s take on Legend of Sleepy Hollow). And most of the characters (everyone except Bazooie, in fact) have names like "Small," "Tender," "Nicely," and "Rotten."



However, if you can look past that (or call it "distinctive" or something, which you can), this is a great special. The style mixes well with the writing and makes it entertaining year after year. Clearly, a lot of talent went into this special (a good many of the people who made this were working on SNL or Second City at the time - Gilda Radner is the witch, and Catherine O'Hara is Malicious). The adults at the party are especially funny, with their mundane - and entirely realistic party banter ("they just don't put this kind of construction into houses anymore”). I also love Goodly's enthusiasm for prioritizing, delegating responsibilities, and creating "definitive experiences," and Malicious's food (chocolate gefilte fish, garlic taffy apples, and other stuff that's probably now available at your local fusion restaurant for seventy bucks). Goodly, in particular, fascinates me - he was way ahead of his time. He would fit right into this age when manufacturing memories became such a business. Cookie companies now say things like “we don’t sell cookies, we sell memories.” Theme parks have signs at the entrance saying “let the memories begin.” It all strikes me as sort of dishonest. Is a memory “genuine” if it was so thoroughly set up to become a memory?


Special notice should be given to the pacing of the story - in a feat almost unrivaled in the field of Halloween specials, Witch's Night Out doesn't seem too short or too long. So many half hour specials seem like they're cramming a feature-length story into a shorter time frame; that's better than the hour-length specials that go on way too long, but still - there's something to be said for getting it just right.

Witch's Night Out hasn't been broadcast in a while, though there's a fairly recent (1995) VHS release out there. It can be a bit expensive to buy , but it DOES pop up on youtube from time to time (the copyright holders are pretty hardcore about getting it taken down when it's there), and VHS rips sometimes turns up on bootleg DVDs. The DVDs and torrents are invariably rips of the VHS; they aren't in perfect quality, but, given the animation and style of the thing, I really doubt that a big remaster would make THAT much of a difference (though I'd love for them to prove me wrong). It's not like we watched this in crisp, sparkling Hi-Definition in the 80s, anyway. The VHS copies look exactly the way I remember it.  As a side note for those who want to be real geeks, many releases and broadcasts leave out a bit at the end where Rotten wants to be transformed into a saint.  (2014 update: there is now an official dvd available, and the sparkling HD doesn't detract from it at all - see our review.)



I'm counting it as a standalone special, but, technically, it's part of a two episode series; there is an even lesser-known prequel, The Gift of Winter, a 1974 special which featured some of the same characters (Small, Tender, Bazooie, etc), but was in most ways inferior to Witch's Night Out. It's not nearly as smartly written, and the dialogue is VERY 1974 ("it's good to be free / it's good to be me" - that kind of stuff..), but WNO fans may enjoy seeing a few more antics of the characters they've seen year after year, and GIFT OF WINTER has the added benefit of counting Dan Akroyd among the voice cast.

Though not nearly as dated as The Gift of Winter, WITCH'S NIGHT OUT still belongs very much to its time - the title sequence has 1978 written all over it, and the disco song at the end (catchy though it is) dates it quite a bit. But that's part of the fun of watching these old specials, isn't it? Watching the same story in CGI would be a different kind of fun.



50 comments:

Grant said...

Oh man, I have been trying to remember the name of of this special for years! Thanks for posting it. I am glad to see it is appreciated by others

shin said...

Ditto what grant said. We used to get to watch this every year in school (even though it was about 12 years old by then) and I have tried and tried to convince my friends it is not a figment of my imagination. You've no idea the itch this has scratched. Great blog!

BATTLEFINCH said...

i too had been trying to remember the name of this one - i was 2 years old when it came out! the fact that i can remember anything about it at all since i last saw it in '79 or '80 is something... it must have had an impact on me.

Nikki said...

AWESOME!!! I have this on DVD along with The Halloween That Almost Wasn't, among other things. Brilliant.

Grant said...

Nikki? You have this on DVD? Is there anyway I can acquire one?

Alejandro Mejia said...

Please Nikki! Anyone!... I need to watch that Halloween special again! it's the greatest! Does anyone know if there's any way to acquire or download it????

StevenMcFlyJr said...
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Alejandro Mejia said...

Hey Steven! Dude, I'll tell you what! I'm 24 and I could say that maybe I'm young in relation to the movie release date! But I'm surely old enough for watching these stuff man! My point is, I'm asking because it would be so damn nice if I get the movie from you and see what it feels like to watch this masterpiece again getting back to my childhood! lol. Just tell me what to do. Thanks beforehand.

StevenMcFlyJr said...
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Anonymous said...

I agree, This tv special has been floating in the back of my memory for years. Its nice to know the name so that I may find and buy it. Now I have one other thing what was the Garfield haloween special with the pirates and maybe something to do with a vet

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the Real Ghostbusters Halloween special? I haven't seen it for years.

GaryBoz said...

This special rules. I made a copy from an old VHS to dvd (Disney Channel 1989) and it came out VERY well.

Anonymous said...

8.79 and I have a working VCR. HA!

uncle porkchop said...

I am a very very big fan of this cartoon. as a matter of fact it changed my life for the good. I saw it back in 78 when it first came out and I was hooked. then the vhs came out in 86 and I watched it so much I worped it. LOL. But seeing it back in 78 set me on the path to be an animator. I saw it looked different than anything else Ive seen on tv and i wanted to draw just like that.

For years I've been looking for the director of the cartoon. John Leach. Ive gotten close but either someone lost is wearabouts or i was led into a dead end. i would love to pick is brain and thank him for starting my path in animation. I am now a director and i've been doing this for 20 years. Thanks John for everything

Todd A McCullough said...

Thanks for posting this on your blog.

I now know it again!

I saw this once when I was a kid and never saw it again. Its haunted me for years though.

I remember that I loved it.

Strangely enough, I filled in lots of little details too. They weren't monochrome in my memory for instance.

When I saw the images posted in the post I immediately knew this was the special that I had been longing to see again for years.

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find any video online. And I doubt any locals stores sell it.

Hopefully someday I'll be able to see it again.

I can't wait to feel the wave of nostalgia that will wash over me.

Adam Selzer said...

Todd - whoever has ended up owning the copyright on this one is awfully vigilant about getting it taken down whenever it turns up anywhere. I've posted it on here now and then, or let people advertise copies, and I always get threatening letters when I do! I can only hope this means they play to do something without besides letting it rot in a vault.

Todd A McCullough said...

Fingers crossed :)

I hope they plan to do something too.
I really want to watch it.

Anonymous said...

OMG!!!!!! thank you i have been trying to remember this for years!!!! My parents had it taped on VHS for us along with a bunch of other halloween shorts like the garfield one (got it on DVD) and that live-action halloween that almost wasnt .. where there's a disco at the end and the vampire turning into a "teeny tiny bat, teeny tiny bat, teeny tiny bat" LOL ... i need to get this on VHS

Anonymous said...

OMG!!!!!! thank you i have been trying to remember this for years!!!! My parents had it taped on VHS for us along with a bunch of other halloween shorts like the garfield one (got it on DVD) and that live-action halloween that almost wasnt .. where there's a disco at the end and the vampire turning into a "teeny tiny bat, teeny tiny bat, teeny tiny bat" LOL ... i need to get this on VHS

Belon said...

Thanks for sharing the information. I am very amazed at the confidence level of you guys, so i have to refer your blog to my friends because it’s really a help full blog.

Good Day



Cheers,

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Chris Heffernan said...

I saw this on TV in the late 70's/early 80's a few times and then it disappeared for a long, long time. A few years ago, I was able to get that VHS copy off ebay (I first had to do some research on the newsgroups as to the title, as all I could remember was the theme song) and it's become a Halloween tradition again. Fantastic story and it definitely captures the Halloween atmosphere.

Michelle said...

This was my all time *fav growing up! Thank you so much for posting this!!! I would LOVE to watch it some/how/where/day Thx!

Chris Redfield said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I ran a search on Google for the words "malicious" & "Halloween" (for some reason I only remembered that name) & somewhere at the bottom of the first page there you were talking about it. Wow. I was only about 5 or 6 (1985) when I saw this. Now that I am 30 years old I can watch it once again.

Arriel said...

Witch's Night Out is and has always been my Favorite Halloween movie! I thought I was the only one, I have introduced it to many people over the years though. Thanks for writing about this. I work at a children's shelter and plan on watching it with the kids tomorrow, on Halloween!! Introducing it to a whole new generation of kids. I hope they release it on DVD soon, don't know what I would do if my VHS ever gets messed up!!!

Nina Alvarez said...

Oh my god. THANK YOU! You totally rock.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks!!!

JohnBoy said...
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senoritacraftywhiskers said...

This is my favorite holiday special, ever. So unique, so lovely, I adored it as a little girl and still adore it as an adult. You get something different from it with age, but it very much something for everyone to enjoy. I am so happy that other people feel the same way.

Anonymous said...

OH MY GOODNESS!!!! No one ever remembers this movie! This just mad my day!

sacredspud said...

I came to this site while searching for A Witch's Night Out, but this comment is actually about McDonald's pizza. Our local McDonald's in small-town southern Wisconsin had it too! I remember "pizza" from McDonald's on at least two separate occasions, once in the mid-'80s and again a few years later. Finally, in this age of Google and Wikipedia I can prove to my friends that yes, in fact, McDonald's did test-market pizza, but it never materialized into a permanent, national menu item. Apparently they tried a few drastically different versions. The ones I remember were essentially the bottom half of hamburger buns, slathered in what tasted (to my first-grade mind) like Campbell's tomato soup, and topped with some sort of processed mozzarella. I wasn't impressed.

Christina said...

Oh my gosh, thanks for posting this info. I had memories of a cartoon with odd animation that eneded withe a disco dance, but couldn't remember the name of it. Thanks soooo much!!!

C-Man said...

Happy Halloween!!!!

GaryBoz said...

Rotten: "It's a bag of garbage!!" Lol.

Anonymous said...

I love this among others of old Halloween specials I have taped from childhood, my vhs containing them all has seen better days and I'm searching for them all on dvd!

Anonymous said...

I've been racking my brains for 25 years trying to remember this movie! Thank you so much for this site! I'm not crazy after all-the movie does exist haha

Garyboz said...

Still waiting for this to surface on dvd officially.

R. W. Watkins said...

Distinctly late '70s in texture and attitude, Witch's Night Out is a little gem of a special. Visually, it resembles a cross between Cathy Guisewite's Cathy and the late great Moebius's work for Heavy Metal magazine. I'm impressed by the fact that I hadn't seen the show in nearly thirty years, but the theme song had been firmly cemented in my mind all that time. Bravo!

GodzillaGeek said...

As a child when I first saw this on TV, I was completely convinced that the artwork and character design was by a comic artist named Phil Foglio who was noteworthy at the time for doing comic strips in the Dungeons & Dragons-themed publication "Dragon Magazine". However, it appears that Foglio had nothing to do with the production, which is just as well, as he went on to become better known for producing x-rated erotic comics during the 1990s.
But anyway - I want a DVD release of "Witch's Night Out" right now, please.

Luke said...

Thank you so much! You nailed the feeling trying to remember this thing...

Steven McFly said...
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k8monster said...

Thanks so much! My sister just asked me about the title of this special. We had a copy recorded off tv when I was a kid, and it was always labeled "A Halloween Special". I don't know that we caught the title screen when it was recorded, but I knew I had to be on the right site when I saw the still of Small and Tender as monsters in the top left of the screen.

Adam Selzer said...

Happy to help, k8monster! Stay tuned; we've got interviews from some of the people who helped make WNO coming out this month!

Steve said...

I was watching this and I can't understand what does she say here:
"I'll turn the pumpkin pie into spider stew! I'll turn the taffy apples into lizards. I'll transform (what?) into (what?)".
Could you please help me?

Adam Selzer said...

Thanks for so many comments over the years, guys! We now have a new interview with Tony Molesworth, who did the voice of Small!

GaryBoz said...

I just picked up my copy of the dvd at Walmart. Finally, after all of these years lol. It has a bonus comic book according to the packaging.

Adam Selzer said...

Mine's on its way; I'll have a full review up very soon!

CROSS/ROGERS said...

Love this page. And Steve she says. . I'll transform the hors d'oeuvres into poppy toads. Lol keep up the love for this cartoon guys.

Chris Heffernan said...

Thanks for the update on the DVD. Just ordered it!

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