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How The Addams Family Values inverts the ideal American household to make for the perfect Halloween movie

(Image credit: Paramount)

As the nights draw in and Halloween comes around, many of us are thinking of ways to pay tribute to the spookier forces. What better way to spend the season than with the darkest people of all: the Addams Family? 

When cartoonist Charles Addams created the fictional family in 1938, he dreamed them up as a “satirical inversion” of the ideal American household. A wealthy clan living in a big, dark, gothic house, they are obsessed with all things macabre. Originally a one-panel cartoon running in the New Yorker, the Addams Family has been hugely influential – spawning TV series, films both animated and live action, books, and video games. Their impact has been widespread, even influencing goth culture at large. Now, with an Oscar Issac and Charlize Theron-starring animation recently released, it’s the perfect time to revisit one of, if not the, all-time greatest Addams Family film of all time: 1993’s Addams Family Values.

A sequel to The Addams Family with the same star-studded cast, including Anjelica Huston as Morticia and Raul Julia as Gomez, Values took the framework of the 1991 live-action movie to new, dank heights. The family are welcoming (or in the children’s case, rejecting) a new baby boy. When they employ a nanny, Debbie (Joan Cusack), Fester falls madly in love with her – but all isn’t as it seems, as she wants to steal his fortune, separate him from his family, and murder him. Meanwhile, the kids are at summer camp, where they scheme to rescue their uncle. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Values never misses a beat. It epitomises everything that is so good about the Addams Family: not just that they are so spooky, but that they are, in many ways, the perfect family unit.

When Charles Addams set out to invert the “ideal” family, he managed to highlight and satirise everything that’s wrong with it – reminding us that perfect is all about perception. For a start, take Gomez Addams. He is the ideal patriarch while shedding any and all toxic masculinity; firstly, he is slavishly obsessed with his wife. We often see him kissing Morticia from head to toe, dancing with her, and literally falling at her feet. In Values, when Fester asks him for romantic advice, he tells him to, "Woo her. Admire her. Make her feel like she's the most sublime creature on Earth." Devilishly handsome (an “acquitted lady killer”), Gomez is not just devoted to Morticia, but to his entire family. By the inversion logic, we can understand that this makes him the opposite to a “normal” husband. While The Addams Family were created the better part of a century ago, it still sadly rings true. 

Gomez and Morticia’s love is still, in 2019, enviable. The Addams Family, and especially Values, forces us to consider: what is weird? Is it unusual for two parents to be madly in love and want to shag and kiss and compliment each other all the time? Sure, but does that mean it’s wrong? As obsessed with maintaining her appearance as any housewife, Morticia is always pictured as a tall, glamorous, put-together woman in her signature floor-length dress. As she quips to Gomez in Values, she’s just like any modern woman trying to have it all: “A loving husband, a family”. The only thing that makes her different, she adds, is that: “I only wish I had more time to see out the dark forces and join their hellish crusade.” Faithful to both her husband and family, she’s fiercely maternal while letting her kids keep their independence. 

A key gag in the comic is that the Addams don’t realise they’re weird – in fact, they think the kooks lie outside of their door. In Values, while at summer camp, Pugsley and Wednesday come up against “normal” children, but despite their homicidal tendencies, the pair prove they’re more empathetic than their foes. They befriend Joel, a Jewish, nerdy boy who is allergic to everything. When they have to appear in a play about Thanksgiving, the Native American side are made up of outsiders; people of colour, those with disabilities, and, of course, the Addams. They welcome the ragtag kids with open arms, while rallying against Thanksgiving. After Wednesday gives a speech about the Pilgrims stealing Native land, her group burns down the pilgrim village. Sure, they deal in fire and violence. But in doing so they’re defending the people who need it most.

Even Debbie, who goes against everything the family believe in – she’s blonde, she’s trying to kill their uncle – is welcomed. When they discover that she’s enslaved Fester, Morticia compliments her for placing Fester under “some strange sexual spell”. Her only issue is that she has him dressed up in pastels, which goes directly against her goth sensibilities. When Debbie has the family locked up in electric chairs, ready to die, they’re patient. They’ve accepted death, and they’re willing to hear Debbie’s story – to understand what made her a monster. Joan Cusack as Debbie is a perfect, hilarious villain, the antithesis of the Addams Family as she tries to tear them apart. Of course, they’re far too strong to let her.

The Addams Family aren’t like everyone else. Values, which is so darkly funny and light-hearted, still shows them at their macabre best. Pugsley and Wednesday hate their baby brother so much they try to kill him. Wednesday expresses her crush on Joel by trying to scare him to death. Their home, which Morticia is so devoted to, is full of cobwebs, cracks, and damp. Morticia and Gomez love one another through torture and pain. But it is in their differences to “normal” people that they, and this film, find their heart.

That is why Values is as heartwarming as it is darkly hilarious: because they do love one another, so completely. In inverting the cold, uptight nuclear family, Charles Addams instead created a family that love one another warmly and entirely, if in their own warped way. They would do anything for one another, and they welcome other outsiders into their fold; as we see in the party at the end, Cousin Itt’s wife is fully embedded in their clan, while Joel wears a Gomez-esque moustache. This Halloween, escape with a family who prove that there’s no right way to be a family at all.

For more Halloween content, why not check out one of the following lists: Best horror movies – Best horror movies on Netflix – Best witch movies – Best Halloween movies to stream – Best haunted house movies – Best horror remakes – Best horror sequels - Best vampire movies