As a young child, author R.L. Stine was my idol. To this day, his "Goosebumps" series have been the only books to truly capture my imagination. I devoured every page of every book with feverish delight. When I saw a new DVD release titled "R.L. Stine's Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It," I became very nostalgic. Not only did it bring me back to my childhood, but it also made me glad to see that children today are still embracing his stories. I'm happy to report to old school fans and new fans alike that this movie is good old fashioned R.L. Stine fun.
The story: A young Goth girl named Cassie (played by Emily Osment who looks exactly like her brother Haley Joel Osment) is having trouble adjusting to a recent move. She feels out of place at her new school as students pick on her. Cassie exacts revenge, however, by harassing her whiny brother Max and fellow students. In her free time, Cassie immerses herself into horror literature. One day, as she walks to the library, she comes across a Halloween store and meets a cryptic storekeeper (Tobin Bell) who shows her a book titled "The Evil Thing." Out of curiosity, Cassie buys the book. Later on, Cassie discovers the book is more trouble than it's worth when a hideous creature is unleashed upon the town.
What makes "Haunting Hour" a success is the delicate balance of characterization and scares. The first 41 minutes of the film are almost entirely devoted to setting up the characters. The main characters are real people, and aren't used as mere objects for the creature to prey open. The second half of the film puts the cast in harms way, making us care what happens to them. As for the scares, there is a surprising amount for a children's film. I would recommend that VERY young children avoid watching this, as the creature is quite grotesque. However, fifth/sixth graders (and above) will have a blast watching the creature terrorize the town.
The only complaint I have with the story is there are some goofy plot devices used to move the story along. For example, a pot roast and boom box provide the characters with the tools needed to defeat the monster. Surely the screenwriters could have created a better way of fending off the monster than that.
Even though it may be a kiddy film, horror buffs should note that the film contains a few celebrated horror icons. Tobin Bell, who plays Jigsaw in the "Saw" series, makes a fun appearance as the eerie storekeeper. We never really find out who he is, which is partly what makes him such an engaging character. In addition, veterans Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (who worked on such films as "the Chronicles Of Narnia" and "Army Of Darkness") provide impressive make-up and f/x for the huge slimy creature.
Grain aside, the anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) video quality is above average. The highlight: the vibrant and eye-catching colors of the monster. It commanded you to take notice.
The dialogue and the spooky noises all sound clear, but whenever a song played over the film it sounded a bit tinny. The audio track is in English Dolby Digital 5.1.
1. Emily Osment music video for the song "I Don't Think About It." Apparently every teeny bopper actress these days is also a singer.
2. An interactive mini-quiz called the "Scare-O-Meter."
3. A 5 minute featurette titled "Think About It! R.L. Stine's Journey Of Imagination" which consists of interviews with the cast and R.L. Stine. Stine lets viewers in on what scares are effective for children and how he likes to use children as main characters so that young readers can identify with them.
4. An 8 minute "Making Of The Haunting Hour"- The actors and actresses talk about their characters and the F/X team talk about the creature designs.
5. English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
6. Previews for "Evan Almighty," "Mr. Bean's Holiday," and "Bring It On: In It To Win It."
"R.L. Stine's Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It" is on par with the fun-filled live action "Goosebumps" series. As the children's horror movie/television field is sparse, this film is a perfect opportunity for youngins to experience the genre before eventually moving on to classic horror movies. Hopefully we shall see more "Haunting Hour" films in the future.
Film and television enthusiast Nick Lyons recently had his first book published titled "Attack of the Sci-Fi Trivia." It is available on Amazon.com.