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Spirit Halloween: The Movie doesn't offer much in the way of tricks or treats

The film version of those Spirit Halloween pop-up stores is equally cheap and cheesy, even with Christopher Lloyd and Rachael Leigh Cook minding the store

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Spirit Halloween: The Movie
Spirit Halloween: The Movie
Image: Courtesy Strike Back Studios

It’s a perfect pitch. Some kids get locked inside a haunted Halloween store on Halloween, all the rinky-dink costumes become possessed, and they’ve got to fight back with toy weapons. Not bad, right? Wait, there’s more—it’s not just any Halloween store, it’s Spirit Halloween, those pop-up shops that appear out of nowhere as soon as there’s a chill in the air, then disappear once the last trick-or-treat candy is eaten. “Sold! Take my money!” you cry.

But there’s an issue. Have you actually been to a Spirit Halloween? Most of the stuff in there is, let’s face it, mass-produced crap. Alas, that precise kind of disappointment is felt when watching Spirit Halloween: The Movie. It’s all smiles going in, which turns quickly to boredom, before an unsatisfied exit. To that end, one can say there’s at least some truth in advertising with this one.

Though clearly handicapped by a very low budget, the problem starts with screenwriter Billie Bates and continues with David Poag’s directing. The characters are flatter than Colorforms (do they sell spooky Colorforms at Spirit Halloween?) and the action is just atrocious. The cheapo special effects aren’t the issue—who doesn’t love a Star Trek: The Next Generation season one vibe with floating sprites matted onto the frame?—but twice the inept shooting style forced this reviewer to rewind a scene multiple times to make sure there wasn’t some kind of streaming glitch. “Whose shoes are those?” and “Where is this person in the space?” you might ask, as the most basic film school 101 rules are broken. (And this is not done so for avant-garde reasons; it’s likely due to a lack of proper coverage.)

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Anyway, we’re talking about a kid-friendly, PG-13 Halloween movie meant for first sleepovers. When looked at that way, sure, very young kids (ones closing in on 13, perhaps) will have a decent enough time with this, so long as they’ve never seen the success models like Monster Squad or Gremlins or The Goonies.

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Our story is set in a small town, where middle-schooler Jake (Donovan Colan) is having great trouble adapting after his father dies. His mother (Rachael Leigh Cook) has remarried, and now there’s an adorable little stepsister (or is it his half-sister? it’s weirdly unclear) who wants to dress like a Princess for Halloween. Gross! Halloween (a special holiday between Jake and his father) is about ghouls and the undead! I’m outta here!

Adding salt to the wound is his best pal Carson (Dylan Frankel, one of those deep-voiced pre-teens) who thinks trick-or-treating is kiddie stuff, and they should quit it. Rounding out the trio is Bo (Jaiden J. Smith) a shrimpy kid who tries to act as a peacemaker between Jake and Carson.

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Anyway, they decide to hide at Spirit Halloween and spend the night, even though there is no cellphone reception in the area. They lie to their parents about where they are, and Carson’s older sister Kate (Marissa Reyes) covers for them. Jake is, of course, in love with Kate, even though she is much older and considers him a Halloween nerd.

Spirit Halloween: The Movie - Full Trailer

Well, it turns out the Spirit Halloween is built over an old orphanage. Decades ago, Christopher Lloyd (yes, Christopher Lloyd, who clearly shot all his footage in one day) bought/stole the land, but the caretaker threw some witchcraft his way and tethered his soul to the ground. Now his spirit can only come out on Halloween and possess the objects around him (like all those cool costumes you can get at Spirit Halloween!) or, if he can find one, an unconscious person.

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The undead, disembodied voice of Christopher Lloyd possessing various specters and giant bears as it chases screaming kids around a store is, without question, a thing of beauty. (The movie was shot at an actual Spirit Halloween location in Georgia.) But this charm only lasts a few minutes.

Things do get livelier when Kate joins the three boys; Marissa Reyes is a talented young actress with a good scream. Also, the little girl who witnessed the incantation at the orphanage years ago has now grown up to become Marla Gibbs (!!!), Bo’s grandmother. She has even fewer lines than Christopher Lloyd and doesn’t even have to get out of her chair. (She’s 91, she shouldn’t have to!!)

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What kind of monster would give Spirit Halloween: The Movie a bad review? It’s harmless and less than 80 minutes if you turn it off before the credits are done. It’s just so embarrassingly thin. The few chuckles are all the more depressing when you realize that this could have been a winner with a clever screenwriter and a competent director. Poke your nose in the store for a moment, but ultimately there’s no sale.