R.L. Stine is often called the Stephen King of children’s literature. His Goosebumps series of novels were a phenomenal success and inspired a television series that aired on Fox in the mid 90’s. His spooky tales were drawn from Stine’s love of classic Hollywood horror films and “The Twilight Zone.” I’ll admit to not being very knowledgeable about the author. I’ve never read any of his books though I vaguely remember watching an episode or two of “Goosebumps” and the 4D film, “R.L. Stine’s The Haunted Lighthouse,” has been a longtime attraction at the Sea World in my hometown of San Diego. Stine’s latest venture is a series of direct-to-video movies based on his anthology collection, “The Haunted Hour.”
Emily Osment, sister of “Sixth Sense” star Haley Joel, plays the lead role of Cassie Keller, a Goth girl who has just moved to a new town. She frustrates her parents with her non-traditional wardrobe and her constant bickering with her younger brother, Zack (Alex Winzenread). Zack is persistently afraid of not just the usual stuff like the dark or the slightly opened closet door but, he’s also afraid of trees, squirrels, and even his own action figures. At school, she bumps heads with Priscilla (Brittany Curran) who fulfills the role of mean, popular girl. Priscilla is also dating Sean (Cody Linley), a cute though not very bright boy that Cassie has her eyes on. Their feud begins with a snide remark by Priscilla in the cafeteria about Cassie’s look and it culminates at the Halloween dance where Priscilla is crowned Pumpkin Queen. Per tradition, Priscilla gets the honor of smashing open a giant, pumpkin piñata that Cassie secretly filled with cockroaches.
One day, Cassie comes across a mysterious new Halloween store at the end of a narrow alley. The store is filled with the usual spooky paraphernalia, candles, cobwebs, and jars filled with icky goop. The business is run by a man only referred to as The Stranger, played by the Jigsaw Killer himself, Tobin Bell. The Stranger points out a very special item for Cassie, a book called The Evil Thing. A warning is printed on the very first page of the book, “Don’t read this aloud.” Cassie doesn’t think much of this until she’s told by her parents to baby sit Zack on Halloween night. Pestered by her brother one too many times, Cassie tries to spook the little guy by reading from the book. At the same time, Priscilla decides to get back at Cassie and forces Sean to tag along. Unbeknownst to them all, the book has unleashed a two-headed creature also called the Evil Thing which captures Zack and Priscilla. It is now up to Cassie and Sean to march off into the woods and kill the monster before it feeds the others to its babies.
Though I haven’t reached the age of old curmudgeon, I’m still 28 years-old and obviously not apart of the intended audience for “Don’t Think About It.” The young actors in the film are noted as having made appearances in Disney Channel series like “The Suite Life with Zack & Cody” and “Hannah Montana.” The young fans of those shows will likely enjoy the film. It has a direct-to-television feel to it and would fit in well on cable channels like Disney. The film was directed by Alex Zamm, the man behind the camera for the direct-to-video feature “Inspector Gadget 2” and the…ugh…Carrot Top vehicle, “Chairman of the Board.” As such, don’t expect anything spectacular in terms of camerawork. The soundtrack is filled with the kind of generic pop songs that I would never listen to, but that the youngsters are probably familiar with. The special effects are fairly decent and not nearly as awful as you might think for a film like this. Zamm probably shows a little too much of the Evil Thing, but shoots it in quick bursts and in tight close-ups so as not to expose how mediocre it looks.
“Don’t Think About It” is a very simplistic and straightforward tale. The characters all fit into the standard roles of popular boy, outsider, and mean girl and they never advance beyond those descriptions. The story is just as simplistic. We know the nice, handsome boy will wind up with Cassie, Zack will face his fears, and the snotty girl will get her comeuppance. Big sister learns to get along with her little brother and all the plot threads are tied off neatly. Though there is a final coda that leaves things open-ended.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The transfer is pretty clean and the film uses a lot of greens and blacks that come off well. As a low-budget, direct-to-video feature, the picture isn’t too stunning. It comes off a little flat, but nothing terrible.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional Spanish and French subtitles. There’s no muddled dialogue here and the score sounds good. Nothing too fancy.
Making of The Haunting Hour is an eight minute behind-the-scenes featurette. It’s of the standard EPK quality using interviews with the cast and crew.
R.L. Stine’s Journey of Imagination is a five minute interview with the author as he discusses his work and where he gets his ideas. A fun tidbit, Stine only types with one finger and as such said finger is rather bent from writing 300 stories.
Interactive Scare-O-Meter is a quiz game that determines your scare rating.
Also included is Emily Osment’s music video for the song, “I Don’t Think About It,” and previews for “Evan Almighty”, “Mr. Bean’s Holiday”, and “Bring It On: In It to Win It.”
“Don’t Think About It” is clearly aimed at the young audience of teens and tweens. Personally, I think there are better ways for them to spend their time. Fans of Disney Channel programming and R.L. Stine will likely enjoy the film, but there’s nothing here for anybody else. Older viewers will be bored by the pedestrian story and I found the Zack character to be the most annoying kid ever other than anybody named Jake Lloyd. The film is basically a sanitized horror film with not a single drop of blood or viscera to be found. Still, there are some moments that are too intense for the younger audience.