Of course, I had the same reaction as you probably did when I heard that Spirit Halloween, the mega superstore of Halloween costumes and murderer of Party City’s Halloween claim to fame, was making a movie. Well, I was wrong. Even in a Google search, SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE really has no ties to the store itself. What I thought may be the actual Silver Shamrock of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, with actual costumes in the movie that they’d sell in the store this year, there’s actually very little crossover between the two.

Even director David Poag mentioned this in an interview with Bloody Flicks: “It’s important to note here that this film was not birthed out of the Spirit Halloween store franchise trying to produce a movie. Billie Bates (screenwriter) had written this script way back in 2016, honestly inspired by her kids’ fascination with the store and her own fascination with Halloween in general. She grew up in Australia and many of her impressions of the holiday and genre came from watching American movies as a kid. She had won some festival awards with this script over the years and shopped it a bit before it finally found its way to Hideout. Spirit Halloween [the store] had no idea any of this was transpiring.”

So, it’s like ‘Walmart: The Movie’ not really having Walmart as anything but a background.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Here is what curious fans have been waiting for – SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE. Directed by David Poag and starring Christopher Lloyd, Rachael Leigh Cook, Marla Gibbs, Donovan Colan, Dylan Frankel, Jaiden J. Smith, and Marissa Reyes.

Courtesy Strike Back Studios

The movie is about horror enthusiast Jake (Donovan Colan) and his friends, bad boy-wannabe Carson (Dylan Frankel), and (cute as a button) nerd, Bo (Jaiden J. Smith). Jake is having a hard time this Halloween – his dad died from cancer, his mom (Rachael Leigh Cook) remarried (like, seemingly very quick), Carson doesn’t want to trick or treat this year because they’re hitting puberty, and the older girl of his dreams (Marissa Reyes) still treats him like a kid.

Plus his new sister likes princesses. Life is the worst.

As a compromise to not trick or treating, Jake devises a plan that involves breaking into a Spirit Halloween for the night and…having montages to off-brand Thriller, of course! Little do they know that this specific Spirit Halloween store is actually haunted!!! By Christopher Lloyd’s ADR!!!

Soon the boys are having to solve the mystery of Spirit Halloween and save themselves before their time runs out…literally!

So, I’ll be honest. I thought SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE was going to be a more “older teen” movie and less a”becoming a teen” movie. And while this still earned a PG-13 rating (probably for that spider-walking animatronic which was admittedly creepy AF), the director David Poag in that same interview talks about trying to make a PG horror movie. And you can feel it from the very start with the music, cinematography, pacing, and writing.

SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE is both an addition and homage to coming-of-age horror movies such as ParaNorman, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but especially Monster Squad, Casper, and Hocus Pocus. In fact, the music (Jordan Lehning) is very reminiscent of these older kids’ films and was very nostalgic.

Now, there are a few things I want to touch on in this review. I’ll try to be quick.

Christopher Lloyd l Strike Back Studios

First, glad to see Christopher Lloyd. He’s getting older and he’s always a delight to see in horror. He scared the crap out of me when I was younger and watched an episode of Amazing Stories (remember that show?) called, ‘Go to the Head of the Class’. He was also terrifying as Judge Doom. He knows how to be scary. But in SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE, he was less Judge Doom and more Mister Boogedy. I think since the direction was PG, it shows in his acting. Regardless, I’m glad that he has a better part in SPIRIT HALLOWEEN than in The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, so thank you Barbara Stordahl and Angela Terry for casting him.

And to be fair, the acting is very good by everyone. It’s fun and cute. Seeing Marla Gibbs the sitcom Queen was a pure delight as well, and I really wish there was an exposition scene with her instead of just using her as the creepy old grandma with vague warnings which go unheard. But she was terrific, as was really everyone. Sometimes the writing was a bit contrived (Bo’s hardcore fascination with wearing chemistry pun t-shirts because he’s a chemistry nerd), but it does work for the most part.

The thing that doesn’t work in SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE — those pants. Please, costume designer, Sidney Young, let’s talk about Marissa Reyes’ pants. This is where I was most confused in the movie because I kept wondering, ‘Does Spirit Halloween (the store) actually have an outfit like that? Because what is that? A clown? A cheerleader? Stripe monster?” Those stripes calling attention to the teenager’s bum while she’s climbing around and whatnot were as baffling as it was unflattering. And I am not the fashion police by any means (as I write in my jeans and flannel), but to have it so unrecognizable as a costume theme and so unflattering, really stood out to me. Call me petty, sure.

But my next point isn’t petty. I want to talk about the movies I’ve listed before – Casper, Hocus Pocus, Monster Squad, Ernest Scared Stupid, ParaNorman, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. There’s been a narrative split between the older films and the newer ones. Many of the older movies were told from one narrative point of view, focusing usually on a boy dealing with hardship in his life, usually being “weird” or “different” or “misunderstood”. Through the power of friendship and standing up for himself, he learns he’s fine, etc. Compromise, be cool, be yourself, keep the faith, etc.

And SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE is much like this. It has the beat-for-beat tropes of horror coming-of-age, including the step-dad handshake. And not to say it’s bad, but other movies are saying more these days. ParaNorman pushed this by having a gay main character (throwaway line, sure, but at the time, it was a big deal). The most recent Scary Stories dealt with racism (and more) and facing that.

While SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE doesn’t need to tackle larger issues, you can feel it leans towards the past and not towards the future by relying on tropes and nostalgia. And while that’s fine, the issue is then with longevity. Despite being a novelty associated very loosely with Spirit Halloween (the store), the meat of the story is what we’ve seen before, so SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE doesn’t engage us as genuinely as others have recently.

Courtesy Strike Back Studios

Regardless of this issue, it’s an easy film for kids to enjoy. It’s a fun romp. Honestly, it was cute to see the Spirit Halloween store in an old Toys ‘R Us building (although the most fully stocked Spirit Halloween I’ve ever seen in my life), and the possessions of the animatronics were actually scarier and more interesting than Willy’s Wonderland. The Thriller-ish song was funky and danceable. The acting was fun and SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE is just a very easy watch.

If you need a popcorn movie to just relax into a Halloween nostalgia of yore, SPIRIT HALLOWEEN: THE MOVIE is your ticket there. It’s probably too scary for young kids, but older kids will get a kick out of it. It’s not going to push boundaries, but it’s here to party in a PG way.

The film will have a limited theatrical release beginning September 30, as well as special event screenings taking place that same weekend at the Nashville Film Festival and Popcorn Frights Wicked Weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The film will be released on all VOD platforms on October 11 followed by DVD and soundtrack releases later that month.

J.M. Brannyk
Movie Reviews

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