Monday, October 1, 2007

The Haunting Hour Volume One: Don’t Think About It (Universal, 2007)

Lots of people, i.e. adults, are still trying to figure out the appeal of R.L. Stine’s ubiquitous creepfests for the younger set, the Goosebumps books particularly. (Stine also produces some other series, including Rotten School, Mostly Ghostly, The Nightmare Room, and Fear Street, which actually predates the emergence of Goosebumps. We’re talking something like 300 million books sold worldwide.)

The made-for-DVD movie “The Haunting Hour Volume One: Don’t Think About It” may or may not have drawn its plot from a tale in one of Stine’s Haunting Hour books, which are apparently a series of short story collections. I’ve not read anything from this series. Dan Angel and Billy Brown are the credited screenwriters.

Emily Osment (15-year old younger sister of Haley Joel Osment) stars as Cassie Keller, gothy new girl in school. She doesn’t get along with her parents or her kid brother, and as soon as she strikes up a conversation with the boyfriend of Priscilla (Brittany Curran), Female Big Cheese on Campus, she finds herself on the outs with this “Mean Girls” wannabe as well. In a scene purloined from “Carrie,” Cassie humiliates Priscilla at the Halloween dance.

Curious about a place called The Halloween Store, Cassie enters to find the kind of set decoration any kid in thrall to the icons of horror movies would love. It’s dark. It’s cobwebby. The walls are covered with masks, skulls, skeletons wearing wispy shrouds. And it’s owned by a long-haired creep with a soft voice (Tobin Bell, of the “Saw” franchise).

He sells her a book called “The Evil Thing.” That night at home, she unlocks the clasp that holds the covers together and reads the doggerel incantation that would cause The Evil Thing to come to life if the jingle were to be read aloud.

Halloween night, stuck with sitting her annoying little brother, Cassie does read the verse out loud. The Thing appears so she and Sean, Priscilla’s disgruntled boyfriend (Cody Linley) spend the next few hours rescuing little brother Max (Alex Winzenread), Priscilla, and an unlucky pizza delivery guy from the beastie and its horde of ravenous offspring.

Directed by Alex Zamm, this surprisingly entertaining little picture is clearly aimed at the upper elementary/lower junior high set. The first half contains some nicely suspenseful moments, but after the monster makes its appearance the movie gallops towards comedy. Perhaps that’s so as to not really frighten its audience, or it may be because the budget didn’t call for anything like realistic monster effects so Zamm decided to ramp up the camp.

The acting is decent in that overdo-it-just-a-little-for-the-chillun style that is de rigueur for kiddie TV. Osment is the main attraction and she could go on to an adult TV or film career. It’s hard to tell how these young actresses will age.

This is a pretty good little movie for kids who want to see “something scary” that isn’t really scary at all, but adult fans of R.L. Stine’s work, assuming there are any, may be a bit disappointed. After all, some of the Goosebumps books, especially the ones about ghosts, can generate a true frisson that is totally lacking here.

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