After the haunting hour comes… the honking hour.
R.L. Stine has gone from an author to a full-on industry over the years, with hundreds of books to his name, as well TV adaptations. He’s nailed the “scary for kids” thing, playing up what is creepy and unknown, but not violent or horrific. The anthology series R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour continues in that style.
This disc features the first five episodes of the first season:
* “Really You” parts one and two
A spoiled rich girl’s parents spend a fortune buying her a life-size lookalike doll. Her mom, however, becomes obsessed with the doll, which starts taking on a life of its own.
* “The Dead Body”
A high school outsider is constantly harassed by bullies, until the new kid in school offers to help get rid of them. This help, however, comes with a steep price.
* “A Creature Was Stirring”
Christmas episode! The holiday is not cheerful for a dysfunctional family, whose interpersonal crises are intensified by a malevolent demon running loose in their house.
* “Nightmare Inn”
A teen girl’s mom hopes to buy an inn. The girl has terrifying nightmares, which start to come true as she investigates the inn’s mysterious past.
There’s nothing here that horror fans haven’t already seen. The opening two-parter riffs on the many “evil doll” movies that have been made over the years, and it even throws in a Paranormal Activity scene that might provide a jump scare for anyone who’s never heard of Paranormal Activity. The Christmas episode is kind of like Gremlins, but not as anarchic, and the inn episode is a little bit like the Twilight series, but with fewer shirtless dudes. “The Dead Body” is the worst of the lot, with stereotype one-note bullies as the villains, and a way-too-predictable twist ending.
To be fair, the horror enthusiasts are not the target audience. How does the show fare for the kiddies just getting into spooky stuff for the first time? For one, the actual “someone’s chasing us” scares are as light as they come. On the other hand, the ideas presented can be somewhat disturbing, such as a person’s conscious soul forever trapped inside a immobile doll’s body, or having an intense nightmare only to see it come true right in front of you the next day.
If there’s any common thread running through these episodes, it’s the challenging economics of raising a kid. The parents in these episodes want their kids to have the best toys and the nicest clothes, but struggle to afford them. That creates tension between parents and kids, which opens the door for supernatural evil to complicate their lives further. This might make the show easy to relate to for any kid whose repeated request of “Buy me that!” was shot down.
* I could be wrong, but it looks like every episode uses the same house interior, especially the long upstairs hallway with a bunch of doors.
* What’s R.L. Stine’s involvement in this show, exactly? With the exception of his name on the title, he appears nowhere in the credits — not even an obligatory “special thanks to” or “inspired by the writings of.”
Audio and video are pedestrian, clean but lacking the wow-this-looks-amazing factor. Extras include some short “Behind the screams” featurettes about the making of the first episode, and a second in which some of the actors conjure up a quick Haunting Hour short film of their own. There are also a few original TV promos.
These first five episodes aren’t terrible, but they don’t offer anything that hasn’t been done before.
R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Series is hereby sentenced to return to lurking under whatever little kid’s bed it originally emerged from.