Once upon a time TV movies were an event. They meant something. They were used sporadically during the year for various networks as a means of attracting big ratings. Once upon a time TV used TV movies as a means of competing with theaters, and ever since that’s become something of a lost medium. Even when I was a kid, the nineties were filled with TV movies both of the Stephen King multi-night variety, and occasional biblical epics, and or science fiction epics like “Taken,” or “Noah.” It was an interesting time. “Dead of Night” is one of the various TV movies that’s gone from TV movie to well acclaimed horror movie, and that might be because of Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson.
Also known as “Casper Saves Halloween” and “Casper the Friendly Ghost: He Ain’t Scary, He’s Our Brother,” the titular ghost’s Halloween special is about as rough around the edges as you’d expect from a production from the company from 1979. Around that time Hanna Barbera had absolutely no limits about whom they gave a show to, and Casper took time out of his series “Casper and the Angels” to help save Halloween. As opposed to his short lived series where Casper teamed up with two futuristic space cops. No, really.
I’m not sure whose brain child Kibosh was, but I’m not so sure we needed a villain for Casper. So apparently, there are ghosts, there are friendly ghosts, and there are—uh—bad ghosts? Or super ghosts? In either case, the Casper franchise continues its downward slump in the awfully mediocre “Casper’s Scare School.” This time around Casper best friends with a lonely boy named Jimmy. Jimmy has a big soccer game and Casper is helping him become a great athlete. But after getting scared by Jimmy, Casper’s embarrassment is discovered all over the ghost realm.
Less budget, and less stars, this time Casper’s adventures are reduced to a pretty crummy animated feature where Casper teams up with another spunky young girl. She’s a girl facing a crisis about Christmas and she needs the help of… Casper. Makes sense, I guess. “Casper’s Haunted Christmas” is a noticeably bargain basement style production compared to the previous movies, all the while the animation is often weird and the narrative nonsensical.
Well if anything “Casper Meets Wendy” is much better than “A Spirited Beginning” despite offering no big surprises. Unless you consider that the only cast member that’s been in most “Casper” movies so far is Pauly Shore. In the former film he played a bad ghost, and here he plays a fortune telling magical mirror. As with most of these movies, there is a whole cast of D list celebrities, and the adaptation of Harvey Comics’ “Wendy The Good Little Witch” is an excuse to introduce future teen star Hilary Duff. To her credit Duff is adorable.
I, for one, quite loved the big screen reboot of “Casper” with Christina Ricci. As a kid I loved its human elements and fun atmosphere. And then they kind of ruined it with a bunch of direct to video sequels and prequels that stunk. “A Spirited Beginning” is one of many that completely copies the formula of the original movie, with performances that are oh so much worse.
William Castle’s “House on Haunted Hill” was a pretty great horror movie that inevitably became a pretty good remake in 1999. When Sam Raimi founded Dark Castle films, his love for William Castle was worn on his sleeve, right down to theatrics of the remake. “House on Haunted Hill” from 1999 does a good job of delivering something new and unique to the premise of the original film, putting twists in the premise, and offering some contemporary thrills that more than make up for the film’s massive short comings, overall. It’s a great Halloween treat; I can at least say that for it.
I have to admit that “Ghost Stories” was something of a surprise this year, because I’m shocked so many people liked it, while I just didn’t. Surely, “Ghost Stories” is a beautifully directed film but it builds on a momentum that it can’t deliver. It seems to be leading up to one big bang, and in the end when that big bang finally arrives, it’s more like a trick gun with the flag that reads “Bam!” The message is also pretty heavy handed and feels tacked on. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s “Ghost Stories” is a beautifully directed film with excellent cinematography, and brilliant sound design, it’s just all glimmer and no substance.