I don’t know what I really expected from Spirit Halloween: The Movie. I didn’t watch the trailers or read anything about it. I kind of figured it would be a cheesy slasher set in the store and hoped for some good kills in between being a giant commercial for the Halloween superstore.
It was neither, not really.
The film opens on October 31st, “a long time ago,” at an orphanage. A wealthy man (Christopher Lloyd) pulls up and presents to the caretaker some paperwork, declaring that she has 48 hours to vacate before the bulldozers come in. The woman, in turn, puts a curse on him, and the wealthy man drops dead.
Switching to the current time, we meet a trio of middle school friends: Jake (Donovan Colan), Bo (Jaiden J. Smith), and Carson (Dylan Martin Frankel). Jake is still dealing with the death of his dad and his new stepfather and stepsister. Carson is desperate to grow up, which includes no more trick-or-treating. Bo doesn’t like rocking the boat. The trio finds a Spirit Halloween store in the middle of nowhere and pays it a visit. It is eerily empty for a few days before Halloween – and well stocked. Carson, once again, repeats that he is too old to go trick-or-treating.
It takes Jake a couple of days, but he finally decides what they will do instead: They will spend Halloween night inside Spirit Halloween. Carson and Bo both seem intrigued by the idea and they hide in coffins until the employees close shop for the night. Then they come out and par-tay. They are having the time of their lives – until 10pm, when smoke fills the fortune teller animatronic box, and a blue glowing light – a spirit – escapes, and takes up residence in a more mobile monster animatronic. This monster begins chasing after the kids, and it is all monster mayhem from this point forward. Along the way, however, Carson’s older sister, Kate (Marissa Reyes), tries to track down her brother to bring him his cell phone and cover for the fact that these kids are lying about where they have been. She eventually finds a way into the store and helps them defeat the monsters.
If you hadn’t guessed by now, the spirit was that of the dead man from the opening sequence of the movie, one Alex Windsor, who owned a huge portion of the town and was notoriously stingy and despised. According to the curse laid on him “a long time ago,” he has one hour to inhabit the body of a sleeping or unconscious person in order to escape the store.
Spirit Halloween: The Movie feels like one of those made-for-TV Disney Halloween specials from the 1990s. It is clearly made for kids: there is no death, no blood, no cursing. There is a fart joke. Hell, the spirit has to be out of the store before 11pm – even the spirits in this film have a curfew. I don’t have children, so I don’t know what is appropriate for them. But this seems like the kind of thing kids would enjoy, and I think there are enough chills to keep it fun for adults, too. There is a good selection of animatronic toys that come to life to try to kill/maim/attack/whatever the kids. A tiny doll; a giant grim reaper; a demon with spider-like legs; a creature with weapons instead of hands; a skeleton. Even a ginormous teddy bear gets the evil treatment.
Storywise, there are some bits that make no sense. For example, there is an underground cavern beneath the Spirit Halloween store that eventually reminds me of the caverns the kids traverse in The Goonies. There is also a tag set up at the end of the film that I guess is supposed to be there to set up for a sequel…? It makes very little sense, and at the same time, it was predictable from the first few minutes of the film.
The acting was about on par for what I expected from a kids’ movie. It is always a joy to see Christopher Lloyd on screen, though. Director David Poag did a solid job in his directorial debut, shooting the monsters from creepy angles, while still keeping things in the solidly PG category.
The thing that surprised me most about Spirit Halloween was that it wasn’t as much of a commercial for the store as I thought it would be. Sure, it was set in the store, and occasionally there would be some branding on some of the packaging and such, but I didn’t feel like I was watching a 73-minute “commercial.” There weren’t even any, “Wow, look at all you can get at Spirit Halloween!” It was actually easy to forget that this was a movie branded around a store.
If you are looking for a good slasher film, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a fun family-friendly film with a few good monsters, then try Spirit Halloween: The Movie.