The Halloween Tree

I'm not sure if this special, featuring the voices of Leonard Nimoy and Ray Bradbury (author of the book on which it's based) himself, was made for video or made for TV. In any case, it was released on video in 1993 and was a late 90s staple of cable TV around Halloween.
Like much of Bradbury's work, it veers into hammy nostalgia at times, but Bradbury had a way of evoking that Halloween/October vibe like few others can (know who did it best? Dickens*). THE HALLOWEEN TREE starts as a dose of plain sentiment but quickly gets stranger, as friends of a dying boy, Pip, travel through time, learning the history of the various holidays and customs which were similar the modern celebrations of Halloween. The show doesn't really claim that these customs are what Halloween is based on, just that they served the same purpose in past societies that Halloween serves in ours: facing death so it loses its power over us. Sometimes it's fascinating, sometimes it's scary, and, frankly, sometimes it's a little bit dull.

It's a shame that it drags a bit in the middle, because it starts out brilliantly, with the best Spooky House on the Edge of Town in the business, and a genuinely spooky old man residing inside it - finally, a spooky old man who actually DOES turn out to be a creep!

In fact, this is probably the scariest Halloween special of them all. And the most educational, despite the fact that Bradbury doesn't always get the facts right in the historical stuff. Don't get pagans started on his description of Druids (which isn't the worst one out there, honestly, but the fact is that we know next to nothing about what kind of guys the Druids were. Not a single Druidic document survives, and most contemporary accounts were written by Roman conquerors who were probably trying to make them look bad). Bradbury/Moundshroud suggest that the Druids had no "powers" at all, but acted all spooky so no one would mess with them. It's a reasonable guess, but it sure didn't scare the Romans away.

But for one thing, in particular, THE HALLOWEEN TREE deserves a lot of credit: the ending (which I won't spoil), is just about the best ending of all the Halloween specials, and certainly the least predictable. Bradbury may have been sentimental, but he certainly didn't pull any punches. Suffice it to say that the ending certainly doesn't involve Moundshroud, the weird old guy in the spooky old house, turning out to be a sweet old man who gives away great Halloween candy, and it certainly doesn't involve a case of disco fever, though it WOULD be hilarious to see Moundshroud do the New York hustle.

This came out a few years too late to be noticed the same way other Halloween specials were - by 1993, most of them were no longer being aired regularly, especially not in prime time or on networks. It's a shame, too. This (especially edited down to fit an hourlong format) would have ranked among the best of 'em. Cartoon Network aired it for a while in the late 90s, and probably for a while thereafter. There was a VHS release in the 90s, and got really rare for a while until 2012, when Warner Archive released it as a "dvd on demand" that you can order from amazon. 

* - see, for instance, the first few chapters (and the Miss Havisham scenes) of Great Expectations, the chapter of Bleak House where Mr. Krook spontaneously combusts, etc. Halloween wasn't nearly as much of a "thing" in Dickens' day, but no one did "spooky" quite like him.

Okay. I'll stop playing "Captain Readmore" now. Thanks for your time.


Anonymous said...

hmm.. i think this was the movie which made me crave for skeleton candies when i was a kid.

Becky said...

I love this movie. I have been watching for this to come on for about 10 years. I look for it and every goes by and it is not shown. This movie reminds me so much of what it is to be a kid. I wished it was shown sometime during the month of October.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this on your blog! I remember watching parts of this on the tv when I was a small child and could not remember the name of the movie.

As for watching it, I was able to find it on Youtube:

There's another site that allows you to download it, but I'm afraid that if I post that link, it'll be taken down.

Anonymous said...

I love this movie, and I read the original novel; I get a nack of literary movies (movies based on books).

shezcrafti said...

I love the musical score in this one. It's very Harry Potter-ish. :D In fact the opening title sequence looks like it could be an animated version of one of the Harry Potter movies.

Ally said...

We have an old version that was taped from tv in the 90s, when I was a kid, and it's almost completely worn out now. I wish they'd release it on DVD, but I supposed I'll just have to buy a VHS version on amazon to tide myself over until they come to their senses.

Along with Garfield's Halloween, this is my favorite Halloween movie! The book is great, too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting this movie... reminds me so much of my childhood!!!!

Anonymous said...

Something worth noting about this also: the weakest part of this special is probably the section with the witches. But there's a reason for that -- Bradbury's original story perpetuated the entirely erroneous myth that the Celts worshiped a god call Samhaim. Bradbury later rewrote that section of the story to be more accurate. The pacing and content doesn't quite match the original, but his dedication to presenting an accurate view of Halloween traditions is commendable and the awkwardness in pacing becomes forgivable.

Anonymous said...

I am excited to tell you this has been released on DVD by WB - here's the link:

The only downside is that it hasn't been remastered.

I can finally view on DVD, and just in time for Halloween!


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