[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.
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.
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.
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.