If you grew up during the 90’s, odds are you’ve read your fair share of Goosebumps books. R.L. Stine’s series never had the cultural significance of, say, Harry Potter, but it was a big deal in the sense that it got a lot of kids into reading. Almost every month, Scholastic put out a new schlocky entry in the series that was (usually) fun and suspenseful enough for their demographic. Stine had the market cornered pretty well at one point in time; the elementary and middle school set were hooked on Goosebumps while high schoolers were getting into Fear Street.
With the immense popularity of the books came several spin-off series and a TV show on Fox (you know, back when Saturday morning cartoons were actually GOOD… I’m not bitter). Stine had a pretty great run, but the spotlight shifted to Harry Potter around the turn of the century and the brand’s fifteen minutes were up.
The Haunting Hour, which takes its name from an anthology published in 2002, is the latest Stine TV series to make its way to DVD – he’s had a few DTV titles come out over the last decade, though I’d be lying if I said I’d even heard of any of them before this review, probably because I’m not thirteen anymore. Like Goosebumps, each episode is a different story dealing with ghosts, monsters, aliens, or the like that more often than not doesn’t end well for somebody by way of a twist right before the credits roll.
Nostalgia aside, which you will definitely experience if you’re in your mid to late twenties, the show feels kind of disappointing. Many of the ten episodes present on volumes one and two end with someone deservedly getting their comeuppance a la The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt, but The Dead Body features a likable main character that gets the shaft at the end for no reason. What’s the lesson here? If I get bullied and someone helps me out, I’m going to die? A Creature Was Stirring, a Christmas themed episode, also sticks out like a sore thumb because of the “feel good” ending that doesn’t really gel with the rest of the series. Between both volumes, only three of the episodes feel like authentic R.L. Stine stories, with two coming extremely close to capturing the creepiness of Night of the Living Dummy.
Look, no one is going to claim Stine is an amazing writer, but what he was good at is taking familiar ideas – and even plot points from other genre films, TV shows and books – and making them digestible for his audience. When you’re that young, the sorts of surprises and misdirection he uses in his stories work; you haven’t seen them put to better use elsewhere. So, in theory, if I was ten, The Haunting Hour would probably be my favorite thing on television but as an adult, it feels like nothing more than a regurgitation of something I used to love that isn’t nearly as satisfying as I hoped it would be. I read and watched the precursors to these episodes over fifteen years ago and they don’t tap into the level of nostalgia that they should. If you’ve got a younger sibling or a child of your own though, this is a perfectly safe and acceptable gateway into the genre.
There are a handful of promos for the show, as well as four A Look Behind The Screams’ featurettes that run between one to two minutes each. They bring up some of the more technical stuff, like creating a creature suit and the usage of green screen, but sadly never address who in their right mind thought the CGI-heavy opening credits were a good idea.