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Sunday, October 25, 2020

“Stevil”: Reliving the ’90s Nightmare Fuel of the “Family Matters” Halloween Special

If you grew up in the ’90s, chances are the TGIF programming block on ABC every Friday night was part of your regular viewing rotation. Family-friendly sitcoms like Full HouseFamily MattersBoy Meets WorldSabrina the Teenage Witch, and Dinosaurs heralded in the weekend with shows for all ages. As with most television sitcoms, you could expect these shows to offer holiday-themed episodes, especially for Halloween. Among them, few induced nightmares quite like Family Matters infamous episode “Stevil.”

This creepy episode came during season eight, the second to last of the show’s near ten-year run. By this point in the series, pesky neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) had long transitioned from supporting character to a series lead and become an honorary member of the Winslow family. Airing on October 25, 1996, “Stevil” sees Urkel desperate to protect his beloved neighbors from his ventriloquist dummy that has come to life. A description alone that reads as horror. Granted, from an adult perspective, “Stevil” isn’t exactly terrifying, but this Halloween special borrows many cues from horror that make it a standout episode of ’90s television. 

“Stevil” opens with Urkel in the dimmed Winslow family living room, relaying a warning to viewers that what they’re about to watch is scary and best viewed with someone brave. The youngest of the Winslow clan, Richie (Bryton McClure), and 3J (Orlando Brown) promise to protect their Uncle Steve, and the main story begins; Steve introduces his new hobby of ventriloquism with a dummy that’s been created in his image. Naturally, he’s not great at it. He wishes the dummy could talk as he turns the lights off and drifts to sleep.

Seconds later, lightning strikes the dummy, and Steve gets his wish.

There’s no subtle build to whether this dummy is alive and evil with music stings and evil cackles. It’s clear about that upfront. Too bad the Winslows won’t believe Steve, though. With a low, demonic voice, the doll dubs itself Stevil and reveals his plan to take all that Steve holds dear- the Winslows. What then transpires is a systematic takedown of the family members, one by one.

Essentially, “Stevil” takes a slasher formula approach by way of a killer dummy. Stevil catches Eddie (Darius McCrary) unaware and drags him up into the chimney. It runs down a trick-or-treating Richie and 3J on the road, in one of the more comedic “kills” of the episode. Finding other family members in pieces prompts Steve to finally take on his wooden counterpart, instigating a horror showdown. In a move that predates Dead Silence, Steve finds his surrogate father, Carl (Reginald VelJohnson), on the couch, puppeteered by Stevil. 

In proper slasher form, Steve finds that he can’t kill Stevil. Dismembering his limbs won’t work, and death seems imminent. Cue the dream trope. Eddie wakes him from his nightmare and signals what we already knew; this is all Steve’s dream. Cue the dream-within-a-dream sequence. All is well again. Or is it? The episode closes with a close-up shot of Stevil, leaving the door askew for a sequel.

This episode’s end credits contain a making-of that shows off all the tricks used to pull off the Halloween special. From an actor double for the more articulate movements to all the set pieces created for the puppet versions, even the ep’s creation shows its horror approach. 

The popularity of the episode meant that Stevil would indeed return in the subsequent final season for “Stevil II: This Time He’s Not Alone.” This time, the nightmare belonged to Carl and included a secondary evil ventriloquist puppet named Carlsbad. It played up the comedy and dropped much of the horror, ending with a puppet stage show.

“Stevil” aired on TV just ten months after Slappy’s first on-screen appearance in Goosebumps‘ lauded January episode “Night of the Living Dummy II.” It’s not hard to connect the dots there on the inspiration for this episode of Family Matters. Either way, viewers were given two solid episodes of ventriloquist dummy nightmare fuel in 1996. Perhaps it was even the year of the killer doll if we’re adding Trilogy of Terror II and Pinocchio’s Revenge to the mix. 

Family Matters is available to stream on Hulu, and that includes both “Stevil” and “Stevil II.” If you missed out during its initial run or want to share with the budding horror fan in your life, now is the perfect time of year to revisit one of the best Halloween specials. 



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3633414/family-matters-stevil-one-tvs-horror-inspired-halloween-specials/

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