What not to do when you’re too old to trick-or-treat, too young to drink at a party, and have no idea how kids spend their free time when writing them into a script.
In generic Anytown, U.S.A., three friends make plans for Halloween. There’s Carson (Dylan Martin Frankel), the oldest who can’t wait to be older; Jake (Donovan Colan), the horror fanatic sweet on Carson’s sister Kate (Marissa Reyes); and Bo (Jaiden J. Smith), who inexplicably is supposed to be as old as the other two boys but does have a creepy grandma (Marla Gibbs). When the boys discover a new Spirit Halloween store in area of town so abandoned even Spirit Halloween wouldn’t open there, they decide to spend the night after closing — like you do. And wouldn’t you know it, a crotchety old land developer turned vengeful poltergeist (Christopher Lloyd) starts possessing animatronic prop creatures in the store for some sinister purpose… and Rachael Leigh Cook plays Jake’s mom. Let the spookiness ensue!
Spirit Halloween stores, the seasonal Spencer’s Gifts pop-up entity that won the retail costume and decor wars, has come a long way, baby. Once just another bastion of close-enough unofficial knockoffs including “sewer clown” and “goth girl who’s definitely not Wednesday Addams,” corporate licensing now includes official Disney properties like The Haunted Mansion and Hocus Pocus to other spooky icons like Halloween’s Michael Myers and Sam from Trick ‘r Treat. When a self-titled film featuring the store was announced, few were thinking “Why would a corporate entity want to become an intellectual property source for the merchandise they’re peddling?” Yet here we are: a kid-skewed tale about spending October 31st trapped in a Spirit store to solve a mystery that wasn’t written by R. L. Stine. Here we go…
Part “Goosebumps,” part “Scooby-Doo,” and don’t middle-school kids still ride bikes everywhere like they did in “Stranger Things?” Written by one-other-credit Billie Bates and directed by his-first-feature-film David Poag, the entire production plays out like bullet points on a napkin written during a three-martini lunch. The kids have nothing to do, the store is barely used, and the mystery is solved on a note card. Not one character acts in any realistic way, whether they’re breaking-and-entering or gathering ingredients for a ritual. It’s a long slog at under ninety minutes, failing to set up any spooky atmosphere or provide even a single fright, not even worthy to play in the background at a costume party. Even Rob Zombie meant well when he made The Munsters, guys.
Couldn’t anyone come up with a better idea? No writers wanted the job? No spooky staff members were in a secret cult holding rituals under the store at night? Lawyers couldn’t figure out a way to have Pennywise and Sam fighting Myers and Freddy or the Killer Klowns from Outer Space? The original Hocus Pocus movie may not have been great whenever the witches weren’t on the screen, but at least the legend behind it was interesting. What about the crafty black guy in the yellow suit from that meme salivating over a mom-and-pop store in foreclosure so he can turn it into another Spirit store? If the kids were at least in on the joke and making fun of it the entire time, that might have been something, but alas, no.
Spirit stores are full of decor goodness and costuming for a couple of months out of the year, and anyone who decorates like it’s Halloween all year ’round owns something bought from there. Now there’s a self-titled movie they can sell in stores with their name right on the cover, year after year, so that’s a thing that happened. Whenever the eventual sequel talk comes up, maybe consult with your corporate logo “Jack the Reaper” first… or better yet, make him the star! Why didn’t that happen?! He’s right there, y’all!
Spirit Halloween is rated PG-13 for not scary, not spooky, not funny, and just dull.
Zero skull recommendation out of four