To kick things off with this particular review, I should probably mention that this was one of those series of books I never owned. But I do remember them, all the same. I'm not sure if I knew anyone who had them, but I definitely saw them at libraries, and remember some of the spooky images pretty plainly.
Apparently, the imagery had a lot to do with what made this series stick out. These were a set of books more or less directed at kids as a sort of campfire horror story deal, and evidently they were pretty effective. It was a good way to dip your toes into horror, because for as eerily creepy as a lot of these stories and images were, they were relatively tame, playing largely on the imagination. It was perfect for impressionable kids, and I know of some people out there who even made it a Halloween tradition, right into adulthood, to read these stories. Speaking of which, I'd have to say that this is pretty much the first true Halloween movie we have for this year, too. In fact, we open on Halloween night here.
Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), Auggie (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajur), are setting out for their last trick-or-treating session. They have a run-in with neighborhood bully, Tommy (Austin Abrams), provoke him, and hide at a drive-in theater, in the car of some guy named Ramón (Michael Garza). They eventually get away, thanks to Ramón's help, and decide that since it's Halloween, it's about time they did something cooler than trick-or-treating.
They soon find themselves at the allegedly haunted Bellows house. The story goes that young Sarah Bellows lived a tortured life, and kept some scary stories in a book. When Stella takes the book home to check out, she finds that it's writing itself, and causing real, but unnatural things to happen to her friends, perhaps even killing them off.
The film takes from a few things, and throws it all in a blender. It's a little bit 'Goosebumps', a little bit 'Neverending Story', and a little bit 'Final Destination' with just a hint of 'Are You Afraid of the Dark?'. But if i really wanted to compare the movie more specifically with something, I'd just call it a ballsier 'Goosebumps'. If the 'Goosebumps' movie was more aimed at kids, then this is sort of the next step up. I'm 37, and there were a few images here that even gave me the shivers a little. Of course, that's the brilliance of Guillermo Del Toro's creature designs - which by the way are just about 100% faithful to the books, as far as I've seen.
But for as decent as this was, it kinda hit me with that 'World War Z' vibe. What I mean by that is that I wish it played out as more of an anthology instead of what it ended up being, which was still good, just not quite what I'd hoped for. A 'Creepshow'-like anthology would have suited these stories well, and the multiple trailers really made it look like it was gonna go that way. Basically what we have here, though, is a re-imagining of what they did with 'Goosebumps' (the essential book coming to life idea).
It's still not at all a bad film though, and has the potential to become a new Halloween classic of sorts. It has done very well with audiences so far, and I could see it becoming a traditional Halloween movie to check out annually for yours truly. I didn't love it to pieces, and I wish it had gone a certain way, but I have to say that things could have been much worse. This at least has some potential to grow on me, over time.