Sure, by today’s standards, and with my current age, R.L. Stine isn’t so scary anymore. But in case many of you don’t know the name, R.L. Stine is very recognizable to the folks like me who grew up around the time Stine resided in book shelves all over the country. For horror geeks like me, Stine was a gateway drug, he was that first introduction into the horror genre before you came into the hard stuff, and I loved it all. For the teens that could get away with it, he brought us “Fear Street,” a creepier, mature, and violent series of books that had actual stories to them.
For the kids though, he brought us “Goosebumps” a series of very entertaining, albeit lightweight horror books that covered everything from werewolves to possessed ventriloquist dummies, and it was a blast. “The Haunting Hour” is a film I took particular interest in because I loved R.L. Stine once, and I just had to review his adaptation in the context of a movie aimed to children. For son or daughter aged 6-14, “The Haunting Hour” will be a wonderful Halloween treat, period; especially since two stars of “Hannah Montana” headline. Apparently the first in a movie series, Emily Osment plays Cassie, a typical Goth rebel who arrives at a new town and is forced to deal with the typical clichés of the high school movie genre.
There’s the blond love interest, the alpha female elitist, and the annoying little brother. But one of the main points of interest is the introduction of devices that will set the stages for future movies. Not only does there happen to be a shop in Cassie’s new town the sells supernatural artifacts, but there’s even a shopkeeper named the stranger played by none other than Tobin Bell! You know: Jigsaw? He’s the perfect specter of fear here as a gravely voiced tormentor who allows his customers to pick up whatever they please and revel in the dire consequences. Taking a page from “Death Note,” Cassie garners a book called “The Evil Thing” from the town shop, and soon the information in this tome garners some rather interesting corruption.
But this book is soon read aloud by Cassie’s brother, and from his imagination comes a horrifying monster. That’s how it’s always done, eh? One of the few caveats of this film is that Zamm sometimes focuses so much on montages and shots meant to establish Cassie’s angst that there could have easily been a music video inserted without our full knowledge. The first half of “The Haunting Hour” is so littered with booming soundtracks and the score that it’s almost impossible to bear, until we get to the meat and bones of the story. Alex Zamm manages to capture the feeling of R.L. Stine perfectly with a monster that doesn’t eat its prey but leave them for the feasting of its children, and Zamm evades the potential for violence as much as possible, which doesn’t affect the film.
The potential for violence inevitably acts a catalyst for the audience’s imagination for the simple gore and violence we’d usually be accustomed to, and that’s always the best kind of story device. As for the creature effects, they are a lot better than they have the right to be, that’s for sure. The monster is mostly shrouded in the shadows, but it’s a surefire mix of the Alien Queen and Pumpkinhead, with its offspring posing as rather creepy little menaces. “The Haunting Hour” is a great film for kids; it even entertained me, and hopefully it will help inspire the little ankle biters to cross to the horror genre, like it did yours truly. Hell, I’d rather my kids watched this direct to DVD series than “The Land Before Time,” and “Bratz” in the end. Because R.L. Stine has plenty more young kids to introduce to the horror genre, and we could always use more minions in the genre. Stine is just the man to cross them over.