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Friday
Oct052012

Oscar Horrors: 'But Debbie... Pastels?'

[Editor's Note: "Oscar Horrors," a daily October series investigating rare Oscar nominations within the horror genre, returns now for its second season!] 

HERE LIES... Addams Family Values, which was nominated in 1993 for Best Supporting Actr Best Screenpl Best Costume Des Best Visual Eff Best Art Direction (...really?)

Addams Family Values is the remarkable anomaly in many ways. First, it's among the rare sequels that surpass the original in terms of quality. Second, it provided us not one, but two of the great comedic performances of the 1990’s with Christina Ricci’s Wednesday and Joan Cusack's Debbie (she was deservedly nominated for her work four years later as the jilted fiancee to Kevin Kline in another Paul Rudnick production, In & Out). Finally, it had a wickedly biting screenplay that rose the stakes, wasn’t afraid to blur genre lines and one could go so far as to say, made the dark comedy accessible again. 

Unfortunately, the Academy did not take heed of this. (Nor, for that matter, did audiences, rushing instead to see Robin Williams in drag a week later.) Addams Family Values managed a single Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction. Never mind Ricci’s tour-de-force performance (my pick for one of, if not the best child performance(s) of all time), Cusack’s gleefully madcap widow, Rudnick’s fantastic screenplay or the (still impressive) visual effects; big whoop, you could be forgiven for thinking. See’s Candies meets Tim Burton. How impressive.

Hey. Don't judge. You haven't even seen the inside yet.

But upon closer inspection, you see that there is actually more variation to Ken Adam's and Marvin March's work than meets the eye. Yes, the design work for the Addams residence is remarkable in and of itself, but contrast that with the sunny, bright, insufferable Camp Chippewa and the austere, immaculate coldness of Debbie’s mansion, and what is remarkable about all three is how seemingly effortless the atmosphere feels. The dank macabre feels lived in, the camp radiates gleeful conformity, and the mansion is more an artifact than a home. An art director’s job, more often than not, is to enhance the world of these characters, based in ours or a separate reality. It doesn’t distract, (unless it’s architecture porn in a Nancy Meyers film), and here, it provides an invaluable service to mirror our characters’ reflection of self and at the same time, the prison they’re respectively sentenced to. 

And next we have Squanto's summer home which he shared with his business associate, Benji.

My favorite stylistic flourish is the dinner scene, where this cavernous, dank, gothic locale inspires romantic lunacy in Morticia and Gomez. Their broad tango is one of the best scenes in the film, and the extensive work done to make this location both disagreeable and desirable is fascinating. Seriously, though! Claustrophobia has never looked more considerably sensual.

I miss Raul Julia. But then, who doesn't?

What is also remarkable about this particular year at the Academy Awards is that Addams Family Values was awarded the odious distinction of being the only modern film nominated in the category. (The other four were The Age of Innocence, Orlando, The Remains of the Day and, the winner, Schindler’s List.) I have no qualms with Orlando’s nomination, seeing as how it transcended space and time with elegance and grace, and I can’t fault The Age of Innocence either, given its rich detail and tendency to burn. (I’ve not seen the other two films.) What I do find distressing is that so often period films are rewarded by the Academy because they evoke their time so consistently and competently, but rarely with manic passion or revisionist winks, (or even knowing anachronistic qualities); they’re done admirably but without gusto or wit. Genre (like Addams Family Values) gets a fair go once in a while, but one yearns for the Academy to broaden their perspectives a bit more.

...but, this is a broken record for an attentive choir.

In any case, Addams Family Values is a beautifully underrated horror-comedy. Its embrace of genre and horror tics only enhancinh the sick, depraved, gleeful little bitch that it is. 

I smile every time I see it. 

Related
Oscar Horrors Season 1 Finale (Rosemary's Baby) and index
Le Cinemagician Check out Beau's new blog where he's currently doing a '31 Days of Horror' series

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Reader Comments (16)

I LOVE this movie so much. Re-watch it almost every year. Debbie is one of my favorite villains of all time. "Sorry, Debbie, the pope has a cold" So many great lines. And it's the movie that started my Ricci love. It definitely deserved Sup. Actress nods for Cusack and Ricci, screenplay and art direction at the very least.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

This is a great piece, and it's always lovely to reminisce about Addams Family Values, but I think my main takeaway is... You haven't seen Schindler's List or Remains of the Day?
DUDE!

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Guilty as charged. You have to be in a VERY SPECIFIC mood for the former, and the latter is just one of those films you always mean to catch but just never have.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

All five of the nominees in the Art Direction category would have made for conceivable and even deserving winners. 1993 looks more and more like a year where the Academy mostly got it right.
Since today is Global James Bond day, one should mention that nominee Ken Adam - not Addams - was also the genius behind several Bond films - exactly 007 of them - and designed, among other things, Goldfinger's Fort Knox, the rocket launching site inside the volcano of You Only Live Twice, and the submarine swallowing tanker in The Spy Who Loved Me. And his contribution to the Bond franchise had already begun with Dr. No, a comparatively cheap and little film that was released exactly 50 years ago.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

Mike -- I KNOW. i had the same reaction...

Beau -- I'm shaking me head at you BUT i 100% agree about Cusack and Ricci. At the time long before I was website'ing I had Ricci as my winner that year and Cusack at the dread 6th spot in supporting actress. I'd totally move her up now.

sad man -- agreed. I still quote this movie all the time. In fact this is probably *the* most quoted movie between me and my best friend with Mean Girls a close second. "that man who makes me quiver under my bodice" Debbie is the best.

Willy -- thanks for the trivia!

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Before I read it in your post, I was thinking "I miss Raul Julia." What a wonderful sexy man.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

You think those two are bad? You don't want to KNOW what I haven't seen yet. ;)

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

I LOVED Addams Family Values when it first came out. Haven't seen it since. I'm not very surprised to hear that it holds up, though. My sister and I had a VHS of The Addams Family (one of VERY FEW non-Disney-animated-film tapes we had) and we watched it quite often. I caught it on cable not that long ago and I thought it was still just as enjoyable now as it was then, and as an adult as opposed to a kid. I will have to watch this one again now, too!

And, yes, Christina Ricci's performance as Wednesday, across the two Addams films, is absolutely one of the best child performances of all time.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Beau start naming names.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

Now that I think of it , Camp Chippewa is a lot like the camp in Moonrise Kingdom, no ?

Joan Cusack's Debbie is brilliant. I mean she really goes to town and has a ball doing it and it's pure joy watching her be evil.

Raul Julia .....so sad he never got a Oscar nom....he was one of the best actors ...RIP

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I loved everything about this movie!!!

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrick

yes, yet another fan of the wonderful slice of cinema. i loved both, and really loved "family values". but no one mentioned anjelica houston? sure, christina ricci stole the show, joan cusack is spot on as debbie, and, as always, raul julia is a wonderfully sexy as gomez.

but let's not forget anjelica...her morticia, though not as polished as carolyn jones, is as invitingly naughty and ever so fun, an all time favorite performance of mine.

"So... you still desire me, after all these years? The old ball and chain? I'll get them!"

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNorthAlabama

Oddly enough, a child actress did win Best Supporting Actress that year and a wonderful performance (Anna Paquin in The Piano, probably one of the most mature performances I've ever seen out of a little girl). It was a tough year, there were so many great films and performances that got ignored. Other great child performances from that year were Kate Maberly, Hayden Prowse and Andrew Knott from The Secret Garden (a truly beautiful film, I don't get how it didn't at least get nominations for Cinematography and Original Score, both are stunning, but the competition was tough).

I also really enjoyed Addams Family Values even more than the original though as a huge fan of the 1964 TV series, I've always felt there were elements that didn't quite sit right, like Fester being Gomez's brother, or Lurch not talking or Thing not being in his box. There was a charm in the 60's series that I felt rather lacking in the movies (even though I love Christina Ricci's portrayal of Wednesday and the Camp Chippewa scenes are fantastic). "I'll be the victim", "Every day of your life."

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

I love ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES so much it hurts.

October 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Ohh how to put my thoughts into words... this was the first thing I ever saw Joan Cusack in, I was very young and had just started even remembering the names of actors (I think Bill Murray and Meryl Streep were about the first two I remembered)... anyway I became a die-hard fan for the next couple of years and had to see here in anything. But this might even be her best performance. It took me some time however to realize my love for Christina Ricci. A pity she's around so little. Hell, I even loved her in Monster, and many people say she wasn't good in that one. But no comparison to Kate Maberly. @Richter Scale: I fell in love with her in The Secret Garden on first sight literally. A pity I'm not in the right mood for that movie too often. It's great, Mary Lennox is a great character, Maggie Smith as Mrs. Medlock must be mentioned, but it's kind of so naively positive. Addams Family Values is more fit to my usual mood:
"He's just a child" (...) "But... that's Disney!"
"My name is Gomez Addams, and I have seen evil."
"Wednesday's in that age where a girl has only one thing on her mind."- "Boys?" - "Homicide."
"Is that your bathsuit?" - "Is that your overbite?"
"A Malibu Barbie!"
Oscar nods for Joan Cusack and Christina Ricci? Totally.
Honorable mention to Raul Julia. R.I.P.
And Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski as the freaky camp guardians - hilarious.

October 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDominik

Young Christina Ricci is amazing and I love the scene when she puts on her strange demented smile (Village of the Damned?) for the other campers, after she has been thrown into the "Harmony Hut". Those few moments when she seemingly forces a twisted, knowing, yet vacant-eyed smile - amazing! But then every scene that she is in is hers.

Mercedes McNab is also very good as Ricci's sunny, blonde counterpart, Amanda Buchman.

Carol Kane's Grandmama - "luxor, nexor, burst and burn - have a nice day" curse to Debbie - hilarious. Joann Cusack's absorbed reaction when she hands her the skull - one of many great Debbie moments......

It is one of my favorite films.

November 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid
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