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20th Century Fox presents
When Good Ghouls Go Bad (2001)

"I always thought death was supposed to be the end. But for me, it was only the beginning."
- Fred (Christopher Lloyd)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 03, 2001

Stars: Christopher Lloyd, Joe Pichler, Tom Amandes
Other Stars: Joe Clements, Brittany Byrnes
Director: Patrick Read Johnson

MPAA Rating: PG for (mild horror action)
Run Time: 01h:33m:16s
Release Date: September 04, 2001
UPC: 024543021650
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

R.L. Stine is the extremely successful author of the creepy Goosebumps series of horror novels for children. For those of you without kids, Stine's name probably doesn't mean much. But to anyone with a houseful of voracious readers under the age of thirteen, Stine's work is as well known as any other "adult" author. His Goosebumps series is, for the most part, the first literary foray into horror that young readers willingly come across. His tales are full of zombies, monsters, demons and any of the other requisite bogeymen that populate adult horror; his lead characters are kids, and the themes are toned down just a bit, but there is still a decent amount of general spookiness. It almost has become a childhood right of passage to get through some of these books.

2001's When Good Ghouls Go Bad, based on one of Stine's stories, is a Fox Family Channel original film. Patrick Read Johnson (Angus) directed and wrote the teleplay, and he has done an excellent job of capturing the tone of Stine's writing, conveying that fun/scary mixture very well. Considering the demographic of Fox Family, Johnson stayed true and has sprinkled some pretty scary (for the youngsters, that is) stuff into the project. This isn't Night Of The Living Dead by any means, but for the eight to ten-year-old set it provides a fair amount of chills, at least according to my ten-year old daughter Sammy. She may be a bit more cinematically sheltered than some of her Scream and Urban Legends weaned friends, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

It's late October, and thirteen-year-old Danny Walker (Joe Pilcher) and his father have moved to the picturesque small town of Walker Falls, Minnesota, a town named for his ancestors. Coming from the big city, the seemingly Norman Rockwell-surroundings come across as a bit stifling to him. Not only that, he is somewhat of an outcast and is constantly picked on by a pair of bullies. To further complicate things, Danny's father James (Tom Amandes) is a movie-typical workaholic dad, struggling to re-open a family chocolate factory that was originally started by his father Fred (Christopher Lloyd). Fred, known by everyone in town as "Uncle Fred", was sort of the town patriarch at one time, but has since become an oddball recluse after the chocolate factory suddenly closed years before.

It's not long before Danny discovers that the entire town has banned Halloween. People are not even allowed to say the word. The legend stems from a mysterious incident that resulted in the death of an Edward Scissorhands-ish outcast teen named Curtis Danko on Halloween twenty years ago. Danko died in a kiln (great shades of Animal House!) while sculpting a statue, and legend says that he will come back from the dead and kill everyone if the town of Walker Falls ever celebrated another Halloween. When Good Ghouls Go Bad would be a very short film if all of the characters did what they were told, and it should go without saying that Danny gets involved first-hand with saving Halloween, as well as dealing with rampaging zombies, dismembered hands, and ghostly fireflies.

It should be noted that despite the DVD case blurb that states "A Howling Halloween Adventure For The Whole Family", When Good Ghouls Go Bad does include what might be a rather startling death of a main character by a pumpkin avalanche (don't ask!). There is also a rather grim discussion of how grandparents decompose after death that takes place at a cemetery, and that may be a bit disturbing for very young children.

When all is said and done, there is also a fair amount of humor in here, most of it courtesy of Lloyd. His Fred is basically a wacky combo of his Jim character from Taxi and the professor from Back To The Future. Lloyd is a veteran comedic performer, and he works the mostly silly dialogue effectively. Other than decent turns by the two lead children (Joe Pilcher's Danny and Brittany Byrnes' Dayna) the rest of the cast waffle between bland and over-the-top. There are plenty of Home Alone-styled scream sequences and more than a few completely cartoonish scenes to keep the mood from getting too grim.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: When Good Ghouls Go Bad is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I suspect when it is broadcast on the Fox Family Channel, it will be full frame, so it was a nice surprise to find that it had been released with an anamorphic transfer on what is essentially a made-for-cable children's movie. Colors are rich and vibrant, with excellent fleshtones across the board. Black levels provide nice shadow depth. I noticed some minor compression issues during a few of the factory scenes, but overall, a strong image transfer by Fox.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: For a television movie, albeit a new one, this release has surprisingly full 5.1 track. Christopher Gordon, who did the sweeping score for Hallmark's Moby Dick, has delivered another fine sountrack. His score in When Good Ghouls Go Bad is as lush as most theatrical releases, and it sounds fairly powerful and effective. The downside is that occasionally dialogue gets swallowed a bit, here and there, by the music. Decent spatial imaging, though not as pronounced or frequent as it could have been. Rear channel effects are primarily music cues. All in all, Fox has come through with a nice sounding disc.

A standard English Dolby surround track is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Aside from the English and Spanish subtitles and a meager 12 chapter stops, an eleven-minute puff-umentary is the only substantial supplemental feature here. The generally uninformative piece features interviews with director Johnson, as well as Pilcher, Amandes, Byrnes and a couple of other cast members, interspersed with scenes from the film. The only interesting moment occurrs when Johnson recalled some of the difficulties during one of the animatronic skeleton sequences. Johnson comes across as a pretty animated guy himself, and I imagine he could provide a pretty fun commentary track if he chose to.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

When Good Ghouls Go Bad is good family Halloween film that should satisfy just about everyone. Not too scary, not too syrupy. Perfect for one of those late October nights when the leaves have fallen and there is a chill in the air.

Recommended as a family rental, or better yet, catch it for free on the Fox Family Channel.


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