RL Stine's The Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It (Widescreen Edition)Who remembers watching “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” episodes on Nickelodeon in the early 90’s? It was a show that offered genuine chills while still retaining a kid-friendly vibe. In another form, but in the same vein, was the Goosebumps series, by R.L. Stine. Though the titles were usually the creepiest parts of the books, Stine drew in millions of avid readers with his horror-lite. Fast-forward to the present and the new series “The Haunting Hour”: some may say Stine was washed up long ago, but his distinct style works wonders in this just-for-kids horror movie.

Anyone who read a single Goosebumps book will remember the distinctly outlandish themes (living dummies, killer cameras, ghoulish lawn gnomes) and unerringly formulaic plot outlines: after a few false starts (creep-out moments that turn out to be fake) a real bad guy emerges. The main characters (always kids) are forced to use their wits to outsmart and beat the bad guy, resulting in a happy ending for all… until the last few pages leave it slightly open-ended. This new feature makes absolutely no alterations to the generic plot-line… and that’s not a bad thing.

Starring Emily Osment from “Hanna Montana” as Cassie, a goth girl who just moved to a new school, the film takes off with kiddy-frights right from the beginning. The acting’s surprisingly decent, though obviously more on-line with the Disney Channel than legitimate feature films. Each character has a certain gloss to them that seems to be the signature style of young actor/mini-celebs these days. But Osment makes a suitable lead, with almost as much angst, and half the acting chops of Claire Danes in “My So-Called Life”.

The film progresses at a fair clip, and even serves up a few surprises, very few. Tobin Bell (from the Saw franchise) shows up briefly as a respectable villain, giving the film a good credibility boost. And when the real bad guy shows up, a giant multi-fanged creature, the special effects are better than expected. Consider it The Host Jr., as a monster grabs up kids and drags them to her lair in the sewer, sparking the two left behind to launch a mini-quest to rescue them.

Though the plot’s a bit stale for older viewers, kids will get that feeling I used to get watching “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”. There’s a comfortability in knowing that everything’s going to be okay, but there’s still a creepy factor in the way the story plays out. For kids who are already watching any of the Saw, The Grudge, or The Ring films, this feature is sure to be a bore, but for younger kids who want a scare, Don’t Think About It is the perfect Halloween treat.

The extras are average: an interview with writer R.L. Stine is interesting, if only to hear him recount his favorite letter from a “fan”: “I read 40 of your books and I think they’re boring.”, the Emily Osment music video for the song “I Don’t Think About It” is pushing the limit of how much cheesiness one DVD can handle. Stay away unless you’re a 12-year old girl, and the making-of featurette is informative and enjoyable, but nothing too impressive.

Zach’s Rating: B-
Zach’s 10-year old rating: A
Hannah Montana fan’s rating: A-

To purchase Don’t Think About It, visit Amazon

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