Christmas withdrawal is a depressing thing, not least of all because we’ve said goodbye to the holiday’s villains. Baddies like Scrooge, Krampus, and even this year’s Pooka are officially expired for 2018, and with them all the evil that can make Christmas such a a frightfully fun time. But don’t give up just yet, fellow fiends. There’s one member of that club whose wickedness reaches beyond December 25th. So turn off your lights, heat up that leftover turkey and light a few black candles. Christmas is over… but there’s still time for Grinch Night.
Yes, you read that correctly. Dr. Seuss’s most vile creation isn’t just limited to some Christmas hijinks. In 1977, ABC released a prequel to its explosively popular How the Grinch Stole Christmas, one that focused on the horror of the Grinch before his yuletide redemption. First titled Halloween is Grinch Night then It’s Grinch Night for its 1992 VHS release, Grinch Night actually has nothing to do with Halloween or Christmas. Instead, the titular night is a random occurrence, descending like a storm upon the superstitious citizens of Whoville. There’s no way of telling when Grinch Night will arrive, only the assurance that when it does arrive, fear and chaos are sure to follow.
“There’s no way of telling when Grinch Night will arrive, only the assurance that when it does arrive, fear and chaos are sure to follow”
Our story begins on an average evening in the town of Whoville. The citizens of the quaint little village go about their after-dinner activities, working and playing and presumably building those giant trumpet-bicycles that go on sale soon. But then, the town notices a change. A “sour-sweet” wind comes off of the menacing Mount Crumpit, and immediately the town residents flee indoors. Something wicked their way is coming.
The ghastly wind wakes a strange series of demon creatures on the outskirts of Whoville, from devil-eared squirrel things called “Gree-Grumps” to Lovecraftian, bearded Loch Ness Monsters called “Hakken-Krakks”. Like sorcerers of some ancient cult, they begin a ritual of strange noises, noises that travel up the dark mountain and disturb the solitude of the loathsome creature that lives at its top; the Grinch. His yellow eyes turn to the source of the sound and he smiles a diabolical smile. Tonight, the Whos’ normally peaceful lives are forfeit to his whims. He calls upon his tragically captive dog, Max, and begins to prepare for his descent.
Down in Whoville, young Euchariah the Who hides indoors with his family. Over their phone lines, they listen to harrowing reports from a Grinch-monitoring outpost at the center of town. They cower in fear as the Grinch gets closer and closer to their home, but Euchariah seems nonplussed. In a move straight out of a “teens in the woods” horror flick, Euchariah decides to go outside to use the bathroom. Apparently, the Whos have invented bicycles powered by magic, but indoor plumbing eludes them.
It’s when Euchariah gets outside that this short starts getting really spooky. Euchariah is literally blown away by a powerful gust of the sour-sweet wind, which sends him up Mount Crumpit and leaves him completely unprotected from horror on its way down. It’s not long before he encounters the Grinch and gets a taste of what he has planned for Whoville. And what he has planned…well, watch it to find out, but maybe put the kids to bed before you do. This children’s special is, like most cartoons from the 70s, entirely too frightening for children.
“This children’s special is, like most cartoons from the 70s, entirely too frightening for children”
Let’s be clear, this movie is not as iconic as its Christmas predecessor for good reasons. The voice acting isn’t as fun, the story’s not as good, and the rhyming scheme definitely doesn’t stand up. (That said, it should be noted that Dr. Seuss himself wrote the teleplay for this special, so it’s at least authentic.) However, there’s still a lot about this special that audiences, horror fans especially, can really appreciate. And the first thing on that list is the music.
Instead of the jazzy, catchy tunes of the first Grinch cartoon, this movie’s score is ethereal and unnerving, subtle and ghostly. The central song isn’t about how the Grinch acts or smells, it’s a spooky swan song for Euchariah. He is lost and without hope, it says, damned to walk the mountain as the wind blows around him. Other numbers in the short include a menacing warning about the dangers of Grinch Night and the final number, which we’ll talk about more in a moment. Though you won’t be singing along with any of the songs by the end of the movie, the music does a great job of building the creepy atmosphere that defines Grinch Night.
But what really makes this movie the freaky, fun feature suitable for any time of the year is the final confrontation between the Grinch and Euchariah. Set to a wild and chaotic symphony, the final scene is when the Grinch really shows what horrible things he’s capable of. He locks the young Who in his wagon, which is filled to the brim with spooks, goblins, and other undefinable monsters he’s prepared to unleash on Whoville. The movie departs from the usual whimsy and bright colors of Dr. Seuss to build a dark and surreal nightmare, where floating heads make inhuman sounds and giant cloaked things dance circles around the poor young Who. This scene feels like a proto-Beetlejuice, full of slinking beasts and physics-defying landscapes. It is a freak show of animation, one that’s as impressive as it is visually disquieting. And it makes for one hell of a climax.
Grinch Night annoyingly ends with the cocky young Euchariah outwitting the Grinch and making him return home. It’s a bummer for any horror fan, because the terror the Grinch would have unleashed on Whoville could have been apocalyptic. Still, even as the Grinch heads solemnly back up to his perch, he gets a hopeful whiff of the last bit of sour-sweet wind, proving to him that there will be another opportunity for him to terrorize the Whos, and that it might not be too far off.
“[Grinch Night] is a freak show of animation, one that’s as impressive as it is visually disquieting”
Grinch Night is a perfect flick for horror fans that want to keep their Christmas creepiness going even after the day is over. Watch it with your family, your fellow fiends, or maybe an ill-advised does of LSD (kidding, please don’t do that). When you do, give us a shout on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to let us know. We hope you’ve had a scary and satisfying holiday season, and that for all your horror movie news, reviews, and interviews, you’ll keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.