Movie Review: A “pop up store” inspires a Major Motion Picture — “Spirit Halloween: The Movie”

Well, that headline’s something of a bait and switch. “Major motion picture” doesn’t really fit this meek kiddie horror tale, a thriller that still has its training wheels on.

But what more could we expect from a movie that took its inspiration from those “Spirit Halloween” stores that open in empty storefronts all over America every August?

“Spirit Halloween: The Movie” is a “Goonies-lite” quest tale of 13 year-old boys who figure they’re too old to trick or treat, so why not sneak in and stay at the spooky only-store-in-the-strip-shopping center Halloween store on “Fright Night?”

It’s got Christopher Lloyd, whose character dies in a spooky (ish) prologue, and returns as a spirit wanting a new body. Rachel Leigh Cook plays the mother of one of the boys. And Marla Gibbs, sporting a single white blind eye, plays Grandma G, granny to another boy and a beloved local character, when she isn’t scaring the wits out of sensitive Jake (Donovan Colan).

“Dooooooont stay out late, JAAaaaake!”

He does not heed her warning, because what middle school kid would?

Jake is still hanging onto childhood, dressing up for Halloween, missing his late father. He’s a nervous ball of phobias and just-past-tween lashing-out. Mom (Cook) has remarried, and Jake doesn’t like his new “Dad” or princess-obsessed baby sister.

But there’s no trick-or-treating this year, as the slightly-older Carson (Dylan Martin Frankel) has decreed that it’s for “babies.” Their other friend Bo (Jaiden J. Smith) always caves to Carson, so no candy for any of them this year.

The animatronic fright displays at the “spooky” new Spirit Halloween store give them an idea of what to do this All Hallow’s Eve. The fact that the film’s prologue showed a mean old man (Lloyd) dying of a hex for trying to evict a witch who ran an orphanage back in the ’40s means that if this old building is haunted, we can guess which voice from “Back to the Future” will be speaking from beyond the grave.

And since Jake has a crush on Carson’s cool older sister (Marissa Reyes), we know the plot will contrive a way for her to get stuck in that store fighting that spirit in every ghost, ghoul or giant stuffed bear costume our villainous spirit inhabits.

There’s some cute local color in this low-budget affair — the old movie house converted for Little Theatre use, turned into a “Fright Night” spooky exhibit, haunted house and “The Legend of Alec Windsor” (Lloyd’s character) puppet show.

But the script is just a collection of horror tropes. Jake reads from the “Encyclopedia of Shadows” book his dad left him. A fortune teller animatronic display spooks the kids.

The frights are tepid at best. The banter is “sick, and not in a good way.”

And the acting is mostly child actors rushing and slurring their lines with director David Poag not taking the time to get a clean take.

Rating: PG-13, scary elements, didn’t hear any profanity, but…

Cast: Donovan Colan, Marissa Reyes, Jaiden J. Smith, Dylan Martin Frankel, Marla Gibbs, Rachel Leigh Cook and Christopher Lloyd.

Credits: Directed by David Poag, scripted by Billie Bates. A Strike Back release.

Running time: 1:20

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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