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Halloween Horror Nights: Jabbawockeez vs. Bill & Ted

Over at Theme Park Adventure, Rick West opines on the announcement that the hip-hop dance crew  Jabbawockeez  will appear at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. Supporting the decision, Rick defends it against two complaints by irate fans:

  1. Jabbawockeez  is not Halloween-themed
  2. Jabbawockeez  is not the Bill and Ted Show

Essentially, Rick argues that these elaborate, energetic stage shows are a necessary component of theme park Halloween attractions, and that Universal Studios Hollywood will probably tweak Jabbawockeez ‘s presentation to include music appropriate for the season. Rick also suggests that fans should get over pining for the return of Bill and Ted, which is not likely to happen anytime soon, given the way the studio abruptly cancelled their show in 2013.

On the first point, all have to say is that there is a tomb-full of entertaining acts that do not need to be tweaked for Halloween, because they already have the season embedded in their DNA (or their ectoplasm, if you prefer). I’m not talking about cover bands doing campy shtick such as “The Monster Mash” and “Ghostbusters”; I mean, hella-cool original music that can entertain a crowd looking for a good time on Halloween. For instance, check out this and this. I’m sure Jabbawockeez will deliver an entertaining show; whether it’s a “Halloween” show remains to be seen, but I remain hopeful.

On the second point, I want to dig a little deeper, but first I want to point out that, despite its title, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure  was no more seasonally appropriate than Jabbawockeez. In case you are lucky enough not to remember, the show was a sophomoric – in fact, juvenile – jumble of pop culture references. The humor, such as it was, consisted not of saying anything funny; it was simply a matter of outrageous sexual innuendo. (The writers seemed to be working from a theory expressed in a Saturday Night Live spoof of the 1960s “Beach Party” pictures: “We’ll laugh at anything that even sounds dirty – no matter how stupid it is!”)

In theory, this outrageous brand of humor could have worked. The show’s targets tended to be celebrities and stars; there is a long, proud tradition in satire of using humor to cut the privileged, the high, and the mighty down to size. Unfortunately, the Bill and Ted show sometimes used this as a cover for punching down instead of up: a lot of the humor was based on caricatures and stereotypes of minorities, women, and gays.

In spite of this, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure was a popular perennial at Halloween Horror Nights for several years, until Jamie Lee Curtis Taete at Vice.com roasted the show in an October 17, 2013 review, which had an unexpected impact, apparently leading to the show’s termination. All I can say is “Good Riddance!”

Well – not quite all. I actually have a few other points to make:

First, whatever you think about the films Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, they were not mean-spirited. The titular duo may have been a bit clueless, but they liked the characters they met (even Death!) and were not given to put-downs. Universal’s live show totally abandoned this in favor of taking pot shots at easy targets.

Second, despite the suggestion that Universal bucked benath the wrath of an online lynch mob, Taete never advocated for cancelling Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, telling the Daily News that Universal “overreacted […] It would have made more sense to just tweak it.” In fact, Taete’s review simply did what a review should do: explain what is right – or, in this case, wrong – with the work under consideration (and let’s be honest, Taete’s distillation of the show’s formula is dead-right: “Pop cultural reference + pop cultural reference + a reference to sex = LOL!”)

Finally, despite its popularity, the show was never very good, and the fact that Taete and other reviewers pointed this out is not an indication that they were thin-skinned or overly sensitive. People can find something unfunny without being humorless officers of the p.c. police, and the fact that something is deemed “politically incorrect” is not in and of itself a defense; rather, it’s a pretense that no defense is necessary.

In the case of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, I’m sorry the cast was put out of a job, but that’s on Universal, who didn’t think it was worthwhile to even try revising the show. Blaming critics for the show’s failings is a case of blaming the messenger.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.