[box cover]

When Good Ghouls Go Bad

Goosebumps creator R.L. Stine, the crown prince of pre-teen terror, makes a welcome foray into the feature film world with When Good Ghouls Go Bad. The storyline and wacky macabre sets resemble something Tim Burton might have dreamed up (albeit on a tighter budget than he's used to working with): the plot centers around young Danny Walker (Joe Pichler), a boy who has just moved to a picturesque but eccentric small town (think "Mayberry" on crack) with his family. When the inquisitive Danny discovers that his favorite holiday, Halloween, has been banned by the town since the early '80s, he begins digging into the cracks and crevices of his new hamlet to unearth the reason. He ascertains that the ban is a result of superstition: in 1981, a quirky art student was murdered at the junior-high school on October 31st. The artist's last action was to decree that his ghost would return to haunt the town if the holiday was ever celebrated again. Danny and his family, however, aren't about to let a silly story like that stop the festivities... and soon their actions have unleashed a plague of walking zombies upon the town (eek!). The cast, headed up by Back to the Future's Christopher Lloyd in the role of Danny's deceased but still chatty Uncle Fred (who also serves as the story's narrator), is uniformly polished, helping to lend charm and pizzazz to a rather mundane horror tale. As it is, the appeal of this film is not its plot, but the conveyance of it — director Patrick Read Johnson has the gift of observation, perfectly capturing, as in the best episodes of The Wonder Years, that intangible optimism and wonder of being a kid. And although the story contains none-too-subtle shades of Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and even George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, it also oozes far more sweetness than blood. This is that beloved cinematic rarity: a true family film, with a fun (and occasionally suspenseful!) storyline, memorable characters, and an ending that's both sugary and satisfying without being schmaltzy. Fox's When Good Ghouls Go Bad DVD is presented in a sharp, well-saturated full-frame transfer that belies the movie's "made-for-TV" origins, with audio in DD 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. The disc also includes a 10-minute "making-of" featurette that manages the neat trick of actually being informative, and not just a puff-piece. Keep-case.
—Joe Barlow

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