Written by Jonathan Wojcik
HALLOWEEN IS GRINCH NIGHT
I won't lie; I would definitely call the original Grinch cartoon, about that other holiday, a masterpiece of animation and music at least for every moment that the Grinch is actually on-screen. There was, however, a Grinch cartoon for another holiday entirely, and while the animation isn't as big-budget and its musical numbers never reach the kind of unforgettable jam that is You're a Mean One, the concept and imagery that comes with Halloween is Grinch Night is rather predictably my favorite Seuss-related anything, and it's been my Spouse's go-to Halloween special since childhood, before I ever even heard of it myself, so today's review is pretty special for both of us.
Grinch Night begins with a semi-musical explanation of the closest thing Whoville observes to Halloween, a night when a mysterious "sour-sweet wind starts a'howlin'," which wakes the "gree grumps" from the hollow trees they sleep in, and their irritated growling riles up the "hackencracks" from their lake, and the whole ruckus gets The Grinch in the mood to terrorize the countryside with his Paraphernalia Wagon. More on that later, but basically, Halloween is only ever mentioned by the special's title. Whoville doesn't really have a Halloween-like celebration, but a single night of boarding up their homes and hiding in fear until the Grinch has gotten his kicks and gone home already.
Exactly how this all fits in with the events of the Grinch's more famous Yuletide Heist isn't quite clear. We previously saw him have a complete change of heart, but in Grinch Night, he's portrayed as a merciless villain again. This leads many to interpret Grinch Night as a "prequel" story, except that this one also ends with the Grinch's dog, Max, fleeing from his abusive master to live with a kinder who family, leaving basically three possibilities:
-This is a prequel story, and Max at some point went back to live with the Grinch again.
-This is a sequel story, and the Grinch was basically only friendly for that one Christmas dinner.
-This is an alternate continuity entirely and it's a cartoon anyway, the option I personally prefer to roll with.
There isn't a whole lot more to Grinch Night as a story, really; it follows a single Who child, Euchariah, who ventures out alone on Grinch Night, runs into the Grinch, and displays such flippant disrespect that the hairy green man wastes his entire night and all of his "paraphernalia" on this one little boy, effectively sparing the rest of the town. No real lessons or moral messages are communicated here; it's just a simple spooky little tale with a classic sort of ghost story feel and some very cool imagery, which is what we're really here to discuss. I don't know how much I'll be able to say about some of the things we're about to see, but a detailed-as-possible review of the Grinch's "spook's tour" was kind of an inevitability for this website. Let's begin!
The very first words spoken by the Grinch in this entire special are "It's a wonderful night for eyebrows." Yeah, really. That isn't even the strangest statement in the whle cartoon, but it's pretty hard to forget. He later makes good on this claim when Euchariah questions whether he's really even the Grinch at all, and the Grinch's response is to sing a bizarre little song in some arcane tongue:
"Oo-ka pa-pa, oom-pa pa-pa, oonka poddy papa, oonka poddy oom-pa, oon-ka oon-ka oo-nka loon-ka, eebzy droika, all-de-maldo oom, pom, TOSK!"
If you're a Grinch, apparently, this forbidden incantation will cause your actual eyebrows to fly off of your face and flap around a while like a giant, hairy bat. That is honestly already one of the coolest things I think I've ever seen, and his little song is pretty hard to get out of your head. As much as I love almost every minute of the original Grinch special, he was really nothing but a particularly dirty, bitter old man in that one. In Grinch Night, he's a particularly dirty, bitter old bogeyman, complete with magical powers that feel straight out of some archaic fairy folklore.
When the Grinch's eyebrows fail to put the Fear of Grinch into the boy - or at least break his poker face - the Grinch invites him right inside his "Paraphernalia wagon," and Euchariah is greeted by an amorphous, Grinch-like green glob. The scene focuses in on its flashing, pink eyes, and we cut rather abruptly to the musical montage this cartoon is famous for.
The scenes that follow come and go without logical transition, but the first lines of the song are sung, or rather just chanted, by a circle of eerily robed, penguin-like figures that must tower at least ten feet tall. Or I suppose ten microns tall, if this incarnation of Whoville is still inside nothing but a speck of dust or a snowflake. Anyway, I really love these things. They have a genuinely frightening, enigmatic feel to them, and as the first creatures to sing, my mind just kind of jumps straight to an interpretation of them as part of some cult-like sect that follows or at least allies itself with the Grinch.
The next specter we get to see is this ghostly green figure consisting mostly of a couple rubbery arms and legs, with eyes that may very well just be holes all the way through its middle. Many of the designs in this sequence are as flat and simplistic as you can get and still call something a "creature," and that's a quality I've always really admired. Sometimes a simple shape with eyes just says more than enough.
As this being approaches the viewer, we hear the song's recurring chorus, Grinch is gonna get ya, Grinch is gonna get ya, overlapping a chant that sounds like "mi-chin-pi pa-ha-ra...YAH!" It's pure gibberish, but like the Grinch's eyebrow song, it has a real "dark incantation" feel to it.
Speaking of that simplicity, the song's first "YAH!" is punctuated by what look more than anything like wooden signs cut into vaguely face-like shapes. They don't move apart from popping up into view and could just as easily be inanimate "props," but I prefer to assume that every single thing we see here is some kind of ghost or goblin. The Grinch is no FAKER!
Another scene gives us these wonderful, fork-tailed blue ghost-blobs, extremely wiggly and gelatinous looking as they swim up through an empty void.
More vaguely ghost-like entities, this time looking extremely two-dimensional with thick, black outlines, like their bodies are just colorful flat shapes. Like a planarian! Planarians with floppy arms and legs! And they're dancing!
This face is seen for just a split second to let out another "YAH!" in the chant. It's the kind of face that could pass for nothing but a regular person abstracted for cartoon purposes, but just "off" enough to be a "monster," and probably even creepier looking from the perspective of a Who.
A more explicitly monstrous beast bares a mouthful of enormous fangs at our rude-ass hero over a background of more ghost-blobs, now in multiple colors with decidedly creepier, pupil-less eyes! You know, the world of Dr. Seuss is filled with made-up creatures, but it was never until this short that any of them were really presented to us as monsters.
Next, we return to the void of blue ghosts for one of the most genuinely disturbing creatures in the entire sequence. This uncanny human-like, or I suppose who-like face rises up on a long, boneless looking neck, and then it does this:
AUGH! It's like a damn pelican eel! Just a horrible, hairless, putty-skinned nerd with a toothless mouth that can flare open and swallow you whole, which is exactly what it seems to do to the camera. Actually, genuinely ghastly. Even ghastlier than the bird-cultists. The first time I saw this short, however, this entity felt even worse, because I somehow misinterpreted it as a doppelganger of Euchariah himself, I guess because of the glasses. Imagine your own face rising up on a long, gooey stem in a black abyss and threatening to vore you to death.
Escaping the boneless poindexter by the skin of his teeth I guess, Euchariah ends up in a vast plain where his path is repeatedly blocked by these thin, featureless arches with feet. What was I saying earlier about simplifying things down to where they're barely creatures at all? I don't think it can get much more distilled than this right here, and they still manage to feel authentically like something out of a very upsetting dream.
A flock of abstract, flying things emerge from holes in a blue ceiling, neither bats nor birds or anything really recognizable from their flattened art style. The locations are really just as eerie and fascinating as the creatures that inhabit them.
Our next short sequence sees Euchariah menaced by a gaggle of pale giants and a fuzzy, Grinch-like head on a very long neck. The lyrics at this point refer to the various goblins as "members of the un-human race," but I'm pretty sure nobody present knows what a "human" is...or do they? Are the Whos of Whoville in fact haunted by our ghosts?!
Another of the creepiest and coolest images in the short: fuzzy, branching arms and hands that rise up from a series of trap doors to writhe and wriggle menacingly. Another of those things that feels ripped directly from actual dream logic.
You have to love the amount of personality in just a few seconds of this next one. This grumpy mug pops out of a pipe on an impossibly wiry little neck, takes one look at Euchariah, and emits the unexpected sound of a bird cawing. This drives the kid deeper into the Paraphernalia Wagon, and the musical sequence kicks into higher gear with a rapid-fire montage of monster after monster!
The first of these is a being consisting entirely of four legs that roll like a wheel. There's a very youkai-like feel to this one, even moreso than many of the other entities present.
Several times in the song's climax, we just see get these short glimpses of eerie eyes and faces that flash by four or five at a time, and they've always stood out prominently in my memory. The tantalizing question of what exactly these weird, weird eyes belong to is just too much fun. The most colorful, psychedelic owl-eyes here are the first pair we see and what I always remember first, but the second thing, the black head with the blue spirals on its face, is showing off more anatomy than the others, and it's pretty interesting anatomy.
I really dig this six-legged spider-like creature, with what is either a nose or a very strange looking mouth.
What's also interesting is this "frame" the spider hangs in, which is more than likely also meant to be a monster similar to the walking archways we saw earlier. I was always intrigued by how the spider hangs where this thing would have had a "face." Do they usually do that? Are they partners?
You can miss so many of these creatures in a flash. Look at this lovely green thing, like an oversized baby dinosaur, that can fly through the air without any obvious flight mechanism!
The flynosaur is followed by another of those forked ghosts and a rubbery, transparent yellow giant that just does a big somersault across the screen.
Another quick succession of creepy eyes and faces, most of them just staring blobs that remind me of the Hattifatteners and other Moomins entities. I like the bulbous blue things the most, for whatever reason.
This brings us to what I believe is the special's most nightmarish moment of all. Euchariah suddenly finds himself in a lake of sticky, blue slime when a bright spotlight shines in his face...
...A spotlight which turns out to be the head of a metal humanoid of colossal proportions!
More lights switch on, we zoom out to see even more of the luminous giants, and with their three different colors of light on him...Euchariah fades away and vanishes. He's fine a moment later, but holy hell, what are these things?! Does it take at least three to phase you from reality, or can just one of them do it? It's amazing how "modern" this particular monster feels, very much in line with the tastes of today's horror gaming and creepypasta culture, and all in a few seconds of 1977 animation directed by Dr. Seuss himself.
We're now treated to another look at the bird-cult, making them one of the only monsters featured in more than one scene. Certainly lends them a sense of importance, I think, and they seem to be enjoying the musical stylings of a shaggy giant with a crude, single-string violin. Judging by the beaky phantom's height in their first appearance, that violin alone is the size of a small house.
It's downright uncanny how well some of these scenes capture the feeling of a fever dream, and I don't just mean "haha, they're trippy and weird!" The little black faces popping out of these green pits, only for one of them to be stomped back down by a black and yellow giant, has a sense of internal logic to it that fever dreams will force your mind to mull over and over, as if there's definitely something important there that you've got to grasp before you lose it.
...And then there's a very upset bird, which, I suppose is PRETTY spooky. Birds don't really get enough credit for how dreadful they pretty much always are.
Trapped on a teeny, tiny little boat in an underground river of ooze, pursued by something so massive you can only see the top of its head. All of this imagery flashes by so quickly that you can forget the finer points of it by the end of it all, but single some of them out and you've got some of the most chilling concepts ever to come out of Seuss's career.
Another bird-bat sort of thing, but especially wicked looking with its red body and black head. It's interesting how the monsters in this are routinely MASSIVE, too. Pretty much all of them are several times bigger than Euchariah.
This next one is actually a cameo from one of Seuss's books! The Jibboo appears on only one page of "Oh the Thinks you can Think!," captioned with "And What Would You Do if You Met a Jibboo?"
despite the fact that the original Jibboo is only offering a friendly wave, the vaguely ominous nature of both the image and the text were notoriously frightening to children and even generated a fair share of complaints. Grinch Night was actually made under Seuss's direction as one of his last animated projects, and knowing his sense of humor, I'm sure it was his idea to not only give the Jibboo a cameo, but deliberately make him look more threatening. As the seuss fan wiki puts it in a hilariously sincere way, "In the Dr. Seuss video Halloween is Grinch Night you will see the Jibboo but this time the Jibboo is Evil."
This shot is actually kind of difficult to describe. The yellow "teeth" gnash together over a black screen, we very briefly see Euchariah's face inside the red-lined mouth-hole, and then suddenly we only see those gloomy, yellow eyes in the orifice.
How much more did Euchariah suffer that we didn't even get to see, actually? These are clearly just flashes of a more harrowing adventure, since we don't see how exactly he ends up underwater, threatened by this giant crustacean, and we never see how he gets back out of any of these situations. Does time perhaps dilate within the Paraphernalia Wagon? Could that single "Grinch Night" have lasted days for this kid?
More nondescript, dancing ghosties! Nothing to say here, but I refuse to skip anybody.
I always wrote this one off as just a lizard monster, but you know what? That's a crocodilian, for sure, and you know what else? I bet it's seasick.
One final montage of eyes, this time implying even weirder creatures than ever, since at least two of these are clearly eyes on stalks, and we get a glimpse of a creature with enormous horns, hidden by darkness.
And finally, we have the very last monster in the wagon...which seems to be nothing but a gas-filled, floating balloon head. Euchariah casually pops it, and the Grinch is officially all out of demons to torment him with. I used to just assume this was also the thing following the kid around in the flooded tunnels earlier, but now I can see how much bigger that one was.
And there you have it, our official play-by-play of the Grinch's haunted horror show, and I can honestly say, what we see of his Paraphernalia Wagon still holds up as an artistically unique collection of eerie visions that could have only been spawned by the intersection of "horror" with Dr. Seuss's aesthetics.
As gorgeous as the Grinch was via Chuck Jones in 1966, there's a certain "raw" feel to a lot of the drawings in this one that would only lose its charm if it were any more detailed, and you can really tell that this was the same animation era as Schoolhouse Rock.
In fact, there's pretty much only one thing I've ever seen in newer media that recaptures the same atmosphere of Grinch Nights climax, and that's the indie RPGmaker game Yume Nikki.
And if you've never seen Halloween is Grinch Night, you're in luck, because there are at least a dozen uploads of the entire thing online and there apparently isn't anyone out there who cares to take them down. See it for yourself!
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