And now for the second installment of this year’s Halloween TV Party! While a hefty bulk of my Halloween-themed writing will be pertaining to animated TV, I also want to direct my focus over to some of the myriad of live-action TV specials released through the years. I didn’t grow up with a lot of these, but talking to other Halloween-lovers has helped me realize how much nostalgia still blooms for these programs. It would only be just to cover these specials alongside my typical cartoon fare!
Okay, so today I’ll be talking about the 1986 special Mystery Magical Special… or, Marc Summers’ Mystery Magical Tour, as noted by the introductory title card. I’m not sure what the cause of this discrepancy was, but I guess we’ll just roll with the non-Beatles-sounding title for now! And yes, as you guessed, this special primarily stars Marc Summers of Double Dare and eventually Food Network hosting fame. It’s actually a tad unusual seeing him in a fictional universe, as he’s never come off to me as an actor type, despite him having a pretty charismatic personality.
Of course, there are certain ends in mind with this one. Although the program was advertised and marketed as a Halloween special (and continued to be with its reruns every October for the following ten years) and definitely follows common narrative tropes replete in many a horror movie (Summers and kids get a flat tire and enter a creepy mansion to use a telephone, wherein hijinks ensue) – viewers soon realize that the “magical” part of the title is more emphasized than they thought. At its core, the show is designed to highlight the various acts of stage magic, bringing in famous magicians Lance Burton and Tina Lenert into the show. Even Summers himself performs a few card tricks, although it soon becomes clear that Burton is meant to be the star as he eventually steals the show’s climax.
That’s not to say that the special doesn’t have its share of spooky moments. The non-magic-related moment, as few as they may be, are shrouded in a sense of playful Halloween atmosphere that is creepy enough without going too over the top. There’s a sliding bookshelf that reveals a secret lair, and soon after the gang even witnesses a disembodied head fall from the ceiling! And it’s all played off as sightly-darkened humor – as I suspected, Summers isn’t too convincing of an actor, but his corniness stands toe-to-toe with the equally cheap charm of… well, pretty much everything else here.
Remember when I mentioned the plot concerning a flat tire and our protagonists trying to get help? Well, you can just throw all that out the window at this point. This only takes up about five minutes of screen time at the start, with the rest being devoted to Summers and the kids being treated to an array of magic tricks and performances by the aforementioned magicians. There’s a fun little illusion segment involving Lenert and a seductive coat-person, followed by disappear/reappear and slight-of-hand tricks by Burton. Somewhere in the mix, there’s also a piano that plays itself… and then a masked man jumps out of a phone booth and challenges Burton to a lengthy sword fight. But surprise – the masked man is Summers! And at the end of the night, it turns out that their tire somehow got fixed without them looking. Magic!
Yeah, needless to say, there’s really nothing very Halloween-ish about this special. I’ll give it props for its spooky atmosphere and cool set design on the mansion itself. Oh yeah, and there’s also a very short cameo by John Astin – another couple spooky points! Still, even though there were a couple laughs here and there, the special as a whole is far too bland and innocuous to give much of a second glance to. I could see this being great for kids who are going through a magic phase (if not for the potentially traumatizing shot of the decapitated head, even little kids would get a kick out of it!), but not for much else. I suppose its worth letting the curiosity get the best of you for about thirty minutes.
If nothing else, I think this special should be preserved somehow – the only copy I was able to find was a low-res YouTube upload. Even if I didn’t think this was that great, I’m sure that a number of folks out there have much fondness for this one, and it would be great if people like these had a clean-up version to enjoy and maybe even show their own children.