Squarely aimed at the "High School Musical" crowd, "R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It" is a solid piece of tween entertainment that's sure to appeal to children who obsessively watch Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows. To see this new made-for-DVD movie, they'll have to buy it (in stores or online today) or tune to Cartoon Network, which premieres "The Haunting Hour" at 7 p.m. Friday.
- TV: 7 p.m. Friday, Cartoon Network.
- DVD: In stores today, $19.98, Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
- Web site: rlstineshauntinghour.com
Filmed last fall in Western Pennsylvania and rated PG for "scary content and thematic elements," "The Haunting Hour" is suspenseful and may give younger children -- under, say, age 10 -- nightmares, but it's not bloody. It's more ... gooey.
The story kicks off when 13-year-old Goth girl Cassie (Emily Osment, Haley Joel's little sister who plays Lilly on "Hannah Montana") tries to make friends with blond, somewhat dim dude Sean (Cody Linley, "Hannah Montana"). But Priscilla (Brittany Elizabeth Curran, "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody," "Drake & Josh"), leader of the junior high's Mean Girls, plans to take Sean to the Halloween dance, so she does everything she can to make Cassie feel unwelcome.
Cassie, who has the World's Most Annoying Little Brother (Alex Winzenread), vows to take revenge on Priscilla and ultimately creates a scene that's sort of a Disneyfied version of the blood-soaked "Carrie" prom scene, using bugs instead of blood.
Cassie also checks out a strange Halloween shop run by a creepy clerk (Tobin Bell, "Saw," "The Kill Point"), who sells her a book called "The Evil Thing." Its first page warns not to read the book aloud, but after a particularly annoying interlude with brother Max, Cassie reads him the book to scare him.
"The evil thing is not real unless you think about it," the book says, leading Cassie to warn Max, "Don't think about it." Of course, he does, which conjures a two-headed, slime-drooling monster that gives birth to babies that look like a cross between a slug and a shrimp. The babies look and move in a manner that sort of screams, "low budget!" but the mama monster remains creepy thanks to its splitting head and director Alex Zamm's wise decision not to show the monster in full too often.
Inspired by the scary novels of children's author Stine, "Haunting Hour" was written by TV veterans Billy Brown and Dan Angel ("Night Visions," "The Fearing Mind," "Goosebumps"). Their script is more clever than one might expect from a movie in this genre. When Cassie gives Sean a treatise on Edgar Allan Poe, including his contributions to horror conventions, Sean marvels, "Aw, I've never been to a horror convention!"
Between the scares, "Haunting Hour" offers a pro-social message, espoused by Sean, a kid who is popular but not mean, a welcome change from the norm. Sean is as appalled when Priscilla laughs at Cassie as he is when Cassie humiliates Priscilla.
"So she dissed you," Sean says to Cassie. "Be cool."
Although "Haunting Hour" was filmed locally, the location is never named in the film. But if you look carefully, you might recognize some local touches -- a Howard Hanna for-sale sign in front of a home; Eat'n Park Smiley Face cookies; the Carnegie business district; the former Knoxville Middle School.
Steeltown Entertainment Project, which will ultimately invest more than $900,000 in the film's more than $3 million budget, has a production credit at the start of the film, and many locals are thanked in the end credits, including locally based retailer American Eagle, which outfitted the film's stars.
Extras on the DVD include a music video featuring Osment, who sings a song written for the film, "Don't Think About It." An eight-minute "making of" feature takes viewers behind the scenes of the production, a "Scare-O-Meter" test tells you which character you're most like, and, in "R.L. Stine's Journey of Imagination," the children's novelist discusses what's really scary:
"What you can't see," he says.