By John campbell
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a reviewer’s comp, paying to see a flick on the big screen (which is the way filmmakers always want their work to be seen) is a bit of a wallet-gouge (especially when you factor in a couple of mandatory choc-tops). Understandably, you become selective in your visits to the cinema, waiting for Judi or Meryl, gorgeous George or jokey Johnny, or, if you’re into the cult of the director, Quentin, the Coens or some unpronounceable Euro or Korean master. Meaning that a lot of unpretentious but clever and highly entertaining movies pass you by until you catch them on late-night, slug-out, free-to-air TV. This is one such semi-precious gem that you might enjoy in the dim and distant future…
Teenaged Zach (Dylan Minnette) has just moved to a daggy town in Delaware where he will attend the high school at which his recently widowed mum has been appointed deputy principal. Next door, behind a high-picketed fence, cute Hannah lives with her bad-tempered, mysterious dad (Jack Black), who happens to be the reclusive horror author, RL Stine.
Inadvertently, Zach opens a book in their library and scary creatures come alive from the pages. It’s a neat idea that trades on kids’ love of fantasy. Following a standard, easily comprehended intro of who/what/where, director Rob Letterman plays his first fright card with the sudden appearance of an eye-catching and remarkably life-like Abominable Snowman. Letterman, however, is cluey enough to appreciate that it’s the ventriloquist’s dummy, the pointy-hatted gnomes and the bad-trip clowns that send the iciest shivers down the spine. Pretty soon, all of Stine’s creations are free and running amok, threatening civilisation as we know it in the form of the school dance.
Because it’s aimed at young teens, the violence is cartoonish rather than graphic, the language clean and the hero, Zach, entirely inoffensive. Best of all, it’s about writing and how life-changing the written word can be.
With a reverential nod to The Shining, this is a lot of fun.