Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for mild Horror Action
Directed by: Patrick Read Johnson
Written by: Patrick Read Johnson & John Lau
(based on the book WHEN GOOD GHOULS GO BAD by R.L. Stine)
Starring: Christopher Lloyd, Joe Pichler, Brendan McCarthy, Brittany Byrnes, Tom Amandes, Joe Clements, Imelda Corcoran, Craig Marriott, Alan Flower & Roy Billing
R.L. Stine was a huge part of my childhood and his television ventures have ranged from great to terrible. A few earlier GOOSEBUMPS episodes still hold up pretty well after all these years, but there are also many stinkers. These lesser episodes suffer from being either too cheesy or cutesy for a supposed horror series made for kids. Stine’s TV work has improved over time (certain episodes and even seasons of Hub’s new HAUNTING HOUR show are fantastic), but WHEN GOOD GHOULS GO BAD came during a weird time for Stine. In 2001, the children’s author was in the midst of a series called THE NIGHTMARE ROOM for Kids WB! and Fox Family wanted a piece of his spooky action. Stine wrote a new story that gave birth to this TV movie. While it does get both cheesy and cutesy at times, GOOD GHOULS is an okay Halloween flick that’s appropriate for the whole family.
Danny Walker just moved back to his father’s hometown. The reason behind this change of scenery was so his bankrupt dad could make a name for himself in the chocolate business again. Though his single parent is neglectful at every turn, Danny is actually raised by his Uncle Fred (really his grandfather going by that name). It turns out Danny’s new town has a curse surrounding Halloween. Twenty Halloween nights ago, teenage Curtis Danko mysteriously died and issued a warning that if the town ever celebrated All Hallow’s Eve again, he would come back from the grave to destroy them. Danny’s father decides to throw a new Halloween festival anyway and the town’s citizens get back into the October spirit. Unfortunately for them, the dead really do rise from the grave (including Danny’s newly deceased Uncle Fred) and chaos breaks loose. What could the undead corpses possibly want and will it spell the end of the town?
GOOD GHOULS features a mixed bag of young performers. Joe Pichler is a compelling lead and sells the viewer on relating to Danny. Meanwhile, Brittany Bynes is okay as Danny’s love interest and Craig Marriott seems to be reading off of cue cards for his dialogue as the town bully. The young actors/actresses have the reason of being inexperienced to fall back on for shaky acting, but the adults really don’t have much wiggle room for an excuse. Christopher Lloyd is great as Uncle Fred (who progressively decays with each passing minute). Tom Amandes is good enough as a neglectful father, but bland in a forced romance with the school nurse (played by a wooden Imelda Corcoran).
The story of WHEN GOOD GHOULS GO BAD is creepy enough for a kids’ movie, but also offers heartwarming and quirky material to maintain a light-hearted tone. Some jokes work far better than others. I enjoyed Joe Clements as the football coach and bully’s father who might have a skeleton in his closet. His reactions to the undead did make me laugh. One great bit of slapstick involves Uncle Fred literally falling apart at a local function. This scene was really clever, creative, and sort of daring for a family film. It’s all in good fun though and nothing is ever taken seriously. The decision to give Uncle Fred’s severed hand a personality and cartoony sound effects wasn’t the wisest move though. It worked in ADDAMS FAMILY with Thing, but it doesn’t work here.
For the most part, GOOD GHOULS oozes the seasonal atmosphere that one craves from any movie set around Halloween. The conclusion is also very satisfying, even if adults can predict a certain reveal from a mile away. There is one party sequence that’s nearly unbearable and feels like it’s from a completely different movie. It’s about five minutes long, but killed some of the creative momentum that was building up until that scene about an hour in. Also a cheap blue filter in one scene was really distracting. There were other night scenes in the film and this blue piece of plastic over the camera lens was very apparent.
All things considered, WHEN GOOD GHOULS GO BAD is a decent Halloween flick that will entertain children and offer them a little more risky material that’s usually associated with R.L. Stine’s tales. It won’t annoy adults either, even if some scenes are stupid to say the least. It’s far better than recent offerings (VAMPIRE DOG, anyone?), but not as good as something like THE HAUNTING HOUR: DON’T THINK ABOUT IT (which is also geared at a little older age group). If you’re looking for a decent family flick to watch at home and want to see Christopher Lloyd as a charismatic zombie, GOOD GHOULS should satisfy on both accounts.