Halloween is almost here, folks! Which means every store you walk into features an overwhelming abundance of Christmas items, because f— All Hallows’ Eve, amirite? Why is Halloween such a glossed-over holiday? I love some Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, but Halloween packs a ghoulish punch — whatever that means — and is perhaps the only day throughout the entire year where you can dress up as Indiana Jones and not get punched in the face.
Yet, as the years go by, the candy-coated holiday feels less significant than the year before.
In terms of movies, there are plenty of slasher and blood-soaked monster flicks to cherish, including a brand new Michael Myers chapter releasing this week, but, surprisingly, there are few truly great family Halloween films. Off the top of my head, I can think of: Hocus Pocus, Poltergeist, ParaNorman, Monster House, Frankenweenie, Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare Before Christmas … Monster Squad … before my mind inevitably drifts to Casper, aka the bottom of the barrel.
Thank the Halloween gods for David Yarovesky’s Nightbooks — finally, a family flick with an edge! Based on the book by J.A. White, Nightbooks follows a young boy named Alex (played by Winslow Fegley) who gets trapped in a strange apartment with an evil witch (Krysten Ritter) who threatens to kill him unless he tells a scary story every night. Along the way, Alex befriends Yazmin (Lidya Jewett), mingles with an invisible cat, and battles monsters, witches, and an evil unicorn.
Yeah, the plot is absolutely bonkers and, admittedly, a little corny, but the story manages to entertain with its wacky twists and turns before a grand finale that owes as much to producer Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead flicks as it does Hansel and Gretel. It’s a creepy joy to watch from start to finish.
So, why don’t we get more of these types of films? You know, edgy family flicks like 1982’s Poltergeist or that underappreciated 2015 Goosebumps movie starring Jack Black? Kids like to be scared too, right? So, rather than inundate them with all 50 Halloweentowns, or cheesy, made-for-TV, ’90s Disney Channel originals, or, God forbid, a 200th viewing of Hocus Pocus, why not offer a little more morbid fun to their Halloween viewing experience?
For some reason with Halloween films, it’s either an extreme R-rated gorefest or bland, G-rated kid comedy. And while there are a lot of family-friendly offerings, few of them are actually, well … good.
Nightbooks offers the perfect mix of cheesy charm and edgy scares to keep viewers of all ages invested. At one point, an evil witch vomits candy-colored slime all over our heroes; and earlier, a spider-with-skeleton-face attacks Yazmin with razor-sharp fingers and nearly plucks out her eyes. In other words, the stakes are real, and while the adventure is mostly childish nonsense, Yarovesky and Raimi clearly get a kick out of pushing the PG envelope to its absolute limits.
In a lot of ways, Nightbooks is reminiscent of the films Steven Spielberg used to produce in the ’80s like E.T., Gremlins, The Goonies, Young Sherlock Holmes — i.e., family flicks that didn’t talk down to their audience featuring characters that swore, battled scary villains, and enjoyed the type of adventure every kid dreams of experiencing.
Seriously, Nightbooks is a lot of fun and deserves more attention than it’s getting. With any luck, the horror/comedy will draw enough eyeballs to prompt more of its kind in the future — and give parents a reprieve from that terrible Haunted Mansion movie with Eddie Murphy.
As Nightbooks shows, the potential is there. Kids deserve so much more on Halloween.
Don’t take my word for it; check out Nightbooks on Netflix today!