Spirit Halloween: The Movie Review: This Halloween Adventure Is Not Very Good, But Still Charming

Growing up, Halloween was a big deal. I mean, I still consider it a big deal. But there was something extra special about it as a kid, where everything seemed so magically spooky and fun. Where there was one night a year when I could wander around in the dark (yes, when I was a kid, we only went trick or treating at night, unlike now, when kids only show up at my house for candy before the sun sets) dressed as someone else. Where anything was possible. Where the sun went down blazing orange in a chilly sky (I'm so old, actual fall weather used to exist when I was a kid). Where ghosts and monsters were suddenly real. 

The Halloweens of my youth were also accompanied by a steady stream of junk-food Halloween specials that would come on TV every year. One of my favorites was the 1980s Disney short film "Mr. Boogedy," about a family that moves into a haunted house and deals with a ghost who is fond of showing up and yelling "BOOGEDY BOOGEDY BOO!" It was silly as hell, but there was also an air of charming, harmless horror to it all that made the entire thing extra fun. "Spirit Halloween: The Movie" is cut from the same Halloween cloth as stuff like "Mr. Boogedy," and as such, it made me feel wistful and nostalgic. Of course, that doesn't mean it's good. In fact, it's not very good at all. But there's a certain charm to this story of three friends who run into a ghost on Halloween night that made me smile, if only slightly. 

Of course, there's something to be said about the fact that this is literally a movie being used to market Spirit Halloween, the chain of Halloween-themed stores that pops up every year in abandoned storefronts, like a carnival blown into town. To be clear: I love Spirit Halloween stores, or any Halloween store, really. Even if I don't buy anything, I like to wander around looking at all the ghoulish wares. At the same time, I freely admit a movie branded with the Spirit logo is a bit crass; the worst kind of consumerism. But here's the thing: the Spirit Halloween store at the center of this film feels like an afterthought. I started to get the impression that the filmmakers didn't actually have the rights to use much of Spirit's stuff, and thus were forced to improvise with material that has very little to do with the store. 

This is odd, since the film's basic concept — a group of kids get locked into a Spirit store on Halloween night and have to deal with the animatronic ghouls and other spooky stuff that suddenly comes to life to attack them — is solid. It sounds like a horror version of "Night at the Museum," and I wanted to dig it. But aside from a few familiar props, "Spirit Halloween: The Movie" chooses to ignore the best parts of its setting and instead focus on stockroom or back hallways; bland locations that add nothing. 

A Halloween store in a creepy lot

Middle school friends Jake (Donovan Colan), Carson (Dylan Frankel), and Bo (Jaiden J. Smith) are thick as thieves, and they always go out together on Halloween. At least, they used to. But with high school looming, Carson, who loves to sit in his room and watch what appear to be Tiktok videos of people lifting weights, feels like they're too old to trick or treat. This is horrible news for Jake, who loves Halloween and loves to trick or treat with his buds. With that option off the table, Jake comes up with an alternate plan: they'll sneak into the local Spirit Halloween store — which, in a perfect touch, is located in a closed Toys 'R Us in a creepy lot — and hide until after the store closes. Then they'll come out, have the store to themselves, and have the best Halloween ever. 

The plan goes off without a hitch, at least initially. But as bad Halloween luck would have it, this Spirit Halloween is haunted by the ghost of Alec Windsor (Christopher Lloyd), an evil rich guy who died on Halloween decades ago. And, as the official Ghost Rules of Halloween have it, every year on the anniversary of his death, Alec has the chance to possess objects or people. And so he starts jumping into a few of the Spirit animatronics and going after our young heroes, who find it impossible to get out of the store.

Meanwhile, Carson's cool older sister Kate (Marissa Reyes) has found out what the kids are up to, and breaks in herself, through a skylight on the roof. Now Kate is in danger, too. Will the kids survive the night, or succumb to the curse of Alec Windsor? Windsor has a good reason for doing what he's doing, too. "I can't leave here without a body!" Windsor's ghost cries after he possesses a giant teddy bear (?). "That's a weird thing to say," Kate replies (this line read had me guffawing, so kudos to Marissa Reyes). 

Kids deserve good entertainment, too

Again: once you overlook the commercialism of it all, this premise is fine, and has potential. But writer Billie Bates and director David Poag fail to explore it to its full potential. You could argue that this is a film aimed squarely at children, and therefore doesn't need to be that good. Nuts to that! Kids deserve good, well-made entertainment just as much as adult. The aforementioned "Mr. Boogedy" may not be a masterpiece, but it fully embraced what it was. 

But Halloween nerds like me may still find plenty of tricks and/or treats to enjoy here. Early scenes, that establish the autumnal Halloween vibe are neat, and I'll always be a sucker for stories about small-town kids going up against ghosts and ghouls on Halloween. And Christopher Lloyd, whose performance is almost entirely voice-work, sounds like he's having fun spitting out terrible puns as he torments the kids. But I wanted more from "Spirit Halloween: The Movie." Perhaps the trick was on me.

/Film Review: 5.5 out of 10