We need talk about The Wickedest Witch.
Starring Rue McClanahan as an exiled she-devil (seriously), the NBC special premiered on October 30th, 1989. It aired only that one time and has never been released on VHS or DVD. Even taped-off-television copies are incredibly hard to find. Life isn’t fair.
Thanks to a generous donation by reader Ed L., I’m happy to announce that you FINALLY have a chance to see it. ALL of it! Watch the video above to experience The Wickedest Witch in its entirety. (Well, almost its entirety. Ed cut out the commercials, and in the process lost a few seconds of the special. Whatever. He’s still my hero.)
McClanahan stars as Avarissa, a decrepit harpy desperate to escape her underground prison, where she’s cursed to rule over a horde of subservient but irritating Greevils — those being green, reptilian, Muppet-like things that are vaguely reminiscent of the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal, but by way of ALF.
It’s odd as hell, but The Wickedest Witch was a big production. McClanahan was still well within her “Blanche years,” and while I’d concede that her star hadn’t quite risen to the point of being able to open a movie, she was surely a big get for a one-off television special.
Pair that with the sheer amount of Greevil puppets (not to mention the cavernous set), and I still have no idea how The Wickedest Witch ever happened. Why go through so much trouble for a 30 minute special that would only air once? Why not release it on video? Why hasn’t it at least turned up on any of those bargain bin DVDs where you get 18 movies for the price of one?
There must have been some sort of legal snafu that led to its premature doom. Like maybe Rue’s contract didn’t allow for repeats or VHS releases, and NBC just couldn’t make the math work? The Wickedest Witch is bizarre, but the weirdest thing about the special is that it only ever got one chance to hit the ball.
If you don’t have time to endure the whole thing right now, I’ve also clipped out several of the highlights. Watch ‘em below!
Avarissa spends most of her time hosting bingo games for her Greevil subjects, even though she very obviously hates to do so. Not sure why she can’t just… not host bingo games? I mean, she dominates the Greevils and even kills several of them. If you don’t want to call numbers, don’t call numbers.
That oversight may have been intentional, because Avarissa’s exile to this underground kingdom might’ve otherwise not seemed so bad. Why would she even want to return to the surface? She’s got a spooky castle, magical powers and about 1200 plushy Gremlins to boss around. Switch with me, Blanche.
For all it did right, The Wickedest Witch had some trouble with tone. In this scene, Avarissa turns one of the Greevils into stone, annoyed at his pleas for a bingo prize. It’s… actually kind of upsetting. The person who wrote this script had clearly envisioned much uglier Greevil puppets, because with the way the scene plays now, she’s practically Medusa’ing Kermit the fuckin’ Frog. It’s not “Judge Doom dipping a cartoon shoe,” but it’s close.
After several minutes of shenanigans, Avarissa learns that she can break her curse by tricking someone else into committing an evil act. The plan: Send a Greevil to the surface and have him return with a pliable young boy. Sounds legit!
She selects Sammy, one of the smarter Greevils. (More specifically — and straight from narrator Burgess Meredith’s mouth — one of the “less stupid” Greevils.)
To help Sammy with his dark deed, Avarissa gives him a rock that’s capable of granting one wish. I’m not gonna go on another spiel about plot oversights, but I do have to wonder if a woman who can turn rocks into genie lamps really needs to employ such a convoluted plan.
Sammy magically teleports into some rando’s bedroom. Meet Louis! He’s a young boy with a passion for magic. We know this because he’s wearing a magician’s hat even when he’s all alone in his bedroom. Dedication!
Louis and Sammy become fast friends, in part because of their natural chemistry, but also because of special’s 22 minute runtime. Sammy and Louis need to go from total strangers to BFFs in a little under twelve seconds. Thank God for crossfades.
Despite their bond, Sammy still has a job to do. Luring a would-be Houdini with the promise of “real magic” was pretty smart for a Greevil, even if it’s a bit weird that Sammy didn’t have any apparent issues with damning his friend to Avarissa’s torture chamber.
Maybe Greevils like to keep their conflicts internalized? He cried on the inside.
Avarissa (disguised as a Blanche Devereaux/maid hybrid) tries to trick Louis into doing something evil, which will reverse their fortunes and let the witch run free. After several failed attempts and with time running out, she encourages the boy to just use her wand to turn Sammy into stone.
Louis is too kind for that naughty shit, and simply tosses the wand in frustration… shattering its $5 Nature Company quartz crystal, and with it, all of Avarissa’s powers. Not only will she remain trapped in the Greevil hole, but now she can’t even amuse herself by turning them into statues!
In the special’s weirdest moment, Sammy accidentally uses his “wishing rock” to send Louis back home. There are no goodbyes, nor do we even see Louis land safely back in his bedroom. He just vanishes from the special, literally, and that’s it for him. Total utility player. If you watch the special, tell me if I’m crazy. Louis’s exit IS kind of strange, right?
As Avarissa settles in for another 300 years’ worth of Greevil bullshit, narrator Burgess Meredith hams it up with his closing statements.
I know I’ve poked fun, but The Wickedest Witch is a blast, especially by late ‘80s standards. If you consider what was popular at the time and what could’ve been informing the look and feel of the special, I sniff hints of everything from The Dark Crystal to Gremlins to ALF, and maybe even the slightest shade of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Not a bad mix!
Thanks again to Ed for sharing his old videocassette. Enjoy the special, should you chose to watch it. (And YOU SHOULD.)
Seriously, scroll back up and DO IT.
Rue McClanahan with Sabretooth’s hair, shooting Force lightning out of a stick. If you can’t find something to love in there, I have no idea why you’re a Dino Drac reader.