When Good Ghouls Go Bad

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Walker Falls hasn’t celebrated Halloween for two decades due to their fear of a curse placed upon them by a now deceased town outcast, but when James Walker plans a Halloween celebration to get his father’s chocolate factory back up and running, Walker Falls will need to face its fears or be forever consumed by them. Adapted from an R. L. Stine Story.

I don’t think I could deal with a town afraid of Halloween. October is pretty much my favorite time of year, and the culmination of my favorite time of year is October 31st, Halloween. If I have to deal with curses then so be it, I’m dead, what the fuck do I care? The living are always afraid of curses, the Pharaoh’s Curse, the Curse of the Bambino, the Curse of the Hope Diamond, the curse of that one Toys’R’Us that throws haunted balls at you like it wanted to be a Chippendales dancer. I don’t get it personally, why let something like a curse spoil your fun? Sure, it might lead to something horrible where your stomach comes out through your mouth, but Taco Bell could lead to that and people don’t seem to worry about eating there. You know what’s worse to deal with than a curse, having your candy inspected as a kid. Curses can be a pain in the ass to deal with but forced candy inspection is a real downer. You spend a good chunk of the night wandering neighborhoods with a portion of your pillowcase’s space taken up by eggs and toilet paper for the sole purpose of punishing those that dared to pass out healthy treats, or have the unfortunate consequence of being related to you, only for your parents to take out all the best candy under the pretense of “looking for razor blades.” There seemed to always be a lot of things containing peanut butter that looked suspicious, peanut butter apparently being the best thing in which to hide shaving tools. Why couldn’t candy tampering psychopaths have been proven to love candy corn?

Our film begins with James Walker and his son Danny moving back to the town that bears their last name, Walker Falls. Many years prior James’ father, affectionately known as Uncle Fred (played by the always funny Christopher Lloyd), ran a very successful chocolate factory that was shut down because of a tragedy that left Walker Falls terrified of Halloween, but James wants to reopen the factory and force the town to embrace Halloween once again, something Walker Falls residents aren’t very happy about. Two decades ago the town outcast, Curtis Danko, spent a night building something in his high school kiln, something that was discovered the next morning along with Danko’s charred skeleton and a message warning never again to celebrate Halloween. Young Danny hears this story for the very first time in his life from the school bully Ryan, son of the man who originally discovered Danko’s remains next to the message and went blind for three days after his horrific discovery. Because Uncle Fred was the person who donated the kiln that incinerated the artistic but misunderstood teenager, he shut his factory down, letting his guilt over Danko’s death consume him and turn him into a recluse. The town then banned Halloween for fear that the written in ash curse would come true and destroy them all. Though Uncle Fred has continued celebrating the holiday in private ever since. Ryan taunts Danny mercilessly after telling him the story, threatening that his dad’s reopening of the chocolate factory could bring down Danko’s wrath on Walker Falls. Danny is understandably shaken and runs home to escape the bully’s mocking where he is comforted by the one man who manages to make him feel better, dear old Uncle Fred, actually Danny’s grandfather whom despises the title and prefers his old moniker, but that comfort is soon robbed of him the very next morning when a giant stack of pumpkins is discovered in the center of town. Fred, believing this is a sign that the town should once again allow Halloween to be celebrated, removes a single pumpkin from the stack, causing the entire thing to come crashing down on top of him. The former chocolatier is killed instantly, and though the town mourns, they take the event as further evidence that Halloween is to be feared and disregarded. However, Uncle Fred’s love for Halloween manifests in a strange way after his death, by bringing him back to life as a zombie, but Fred’s not the only one who comes back. Everyone buried within Walker Fall’s cemetery begins resurrecting as well, which includes the bones of Curtis Danko himself. The town will soon face its worst nightmare, but these zombies don’t appear to want to human flesh, they want something much deeper. They want the truth.

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{And pumpkins, lots and lots of pumpkins}

R.L. Stine was a favorite of mine growing up. I ate up the Goosebumps books, reading every single one of them I could find. Tragically, I lost my entire collection in a flooded basement incident, having had to store them away until the day I had the room to display them all. I even lost my Dr. Seuss books in that damn flood, and there’s no way I’ll ever be able to find the lesser known Green Eggs and Cat again, written during one of the good Dr.’s angrier phases. Thankfully, I’m have an easier time finding all my old favorite Goosebumps stories. At least it started with just my favorite, then it turned into getting all of them because I’m a completest and have to have an entire set whenever I start collecting something. Hell, I bought those damn Star Wars prequels and I fucking hated those things, but having the original trilogy I had to have them. I even bought the damn Ewok movies, though I secretly love Caravan of Courage, the weird one with the hot 80’s witch and the Ewok version of the Flash just came in the Walmart two pack. Now my completest attitude for collecting things will have me finishing off the rest of Goosebumps and thanks to When Good Ghouls Go Bad, Stine’s standalone books as well. Before I watched this one I wasn’t aware it was actually based on a book of his, I just thought it was an interesting sounding zombie film during ABC Family’s 13 Nights of Halloween event they used to do, or possibly still do. I’m honestly not sure if that’s even still a channel that exists or if it went the way of the UPN Network. Regardless of the new book collection I’ll now pick up looking for Stine’s Standalones (he’s welcome to steal that title), or my piqued curiosity about ABC Family and it’s 13 Nights of Halloween event, say what you want about the channel but the event was kind of cool, I’m glad I gave it a watch when I did and later added it to my collection because it was a fun film that didn’t take itself too seriously while still delivering a good message about how sometimes being the odd man out isn’t always a bad thing.

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{If you haven’t read a lot of his books, the hamster in this picture must seem very out of place}

When Good Ghouls Go Bad was a very story driven movie, and for a film on a channel known more for its lighthearted attempts at humor than evil plotlines managed to provide a fairly dark tale. Don’t expect Night of the Living Dead or anything quite so graphic or terrifying of course, but it did go to some wicked places that I expect from a story of its ilk. A teenage kid being incinerated alive, Christopher Lloyd being crushed to death by a mound of pumpkins, the undead rising up to corral the living, Christopher Lloyd being crushed to death by a mound of pumpkins, grave robbing hooligans, and, holy shit, Christopher Lloyd dying under the combined pressure of thousands of suffocating orange globes. Can you imagine how awful that would be? Only being attacked by bears could be worse, bears with rabies, bears with rabies that attack not with their teeth but beat you to death with small branches. It’s not all Doc Brown’s final departure from this Earth and dismal gloom though. It is a fun flick that manages to amuse the viewer all the way through with an engrossing story that though silly at times, dark at others, does contain a moral within its hour and a half run time. The moral, at least to me, seemed to be that being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that by sometimes embracing those differences and the competing ideas they bring, positive change can be achieved. Most of the main characters are all people that don’t quite fit into the town, loner Danny, eccentric Uncle Fred, Danny’s father James who’s willing to risk it all to change Walker Falls’ mind, and even Curtis Danko whose story seems to have a bit more to it under the surface. Beyond them being just a little different, they all stick to their guns no matter how much the others in town pressure them to change, and by the end, an end I won’t spoil for you, their differences could be the only thing that can save the town from itself. One of the really fantastic things about When Good Ghouls Go Bad though is even when it gets serious or dark, things remain fairly cheerful and light, with a good blend of humor and wit.

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{Pre-Zombie Danko has a great sense of fashion}

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{Post-Zombie Danko has great, um, hair}

Beyond the great story are the well written characters and the actors behind them. Christopher Lloyd is of course on top of his acting game with his characterization of Uncle Fred, not only is he absolutely hilarious as the man, but he plays his guilt, and the devastation that guilt has caused, well, letting it linger beneath the surface while still remaining completely visible. Fred tries to hide how much Danko’s death affected him, but you can still tell exactly how badly it eats at the man’s conscious as he hides away in his home hoping Walker Falls will let him mourn in his own eccentric way, a way which sometimes entails dressing up as a Viking and setting up larger than life toy car races. His character was easily my favorite, though Lloyd is often my favorite in many of the films he’s participated in, but he was nowhere near the only one who does well. Tom Amandes, who plays James Walker and whom some of you might remember as Elliot Ness on the 90’s The Untouchables, conveys his character’s passion to reopen the town’s chocolate factory very convincingly, but he also conveys his bafflement and confusion as Walker Falls goes from a little strange to downright insane. Curtis Danko, actor Brendan McCarthy’s first role, was both creepy and haunting, not haunting in a way that made you more fearful of the teen, but in a way that made you feel a sadness for the poor kid, and knowing that there was something more to him than just an angry young man that cursed an entire town. The only weak link would be actor Joe Pichler’s role as Danny Walker. He isn’t a terrible player, just seemed lack luster compared to everyone else, as if his heart simply wasn’t in it despite how much he should have cared about everything going on around him. Other than Pichler the actors did a fantastic job of carrying you with them through the movie, pulling at your heartstrings as you sincerely hoped they fulfilled their varying purposes.

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{Christopher Lloyd in a Viking outfit, movie justified}

Of course a good reason for watching a zombie film are the zombies themselves. I’ve seen many a zombie movie that had a great story and a terrific cast ruined by awful zombies, either by bad writing, bad creation, or bad portrayal. Thankfully that’s not the case with these absolutely hysterical undead. These aren’t your standard flesh eaters, interested in tearing apart the living for sustenance, though I don’t think that should be surprising considering the source material and the channel where it aired. R.L. Stine never shied away from writing some very dark, sometimes disturbing stories, but the man found other ways to entice the lover of a spooky story that didn’t generally involve torn limbs and ripped out throats. Not to mention I can’t see ABC Family suddenly deciding on going towards a gorier programing content. That doesn’t mean these zombies are anything less than their flesh hungry cousins though. They are extremely funny, able to speak their mind and act in any way they damn well please, some of the best dialogue is from the zombies. On top of that, their makeup is great. They aren’t disgusting ghouls, but they are easily distinguishable as among the dead.

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{I think the one in the back might be zombie Gallagher}

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{That one in the middle has so much enthusiasm it’s infectious, thankfully for the living, zombieism is not for this film}

I personally loved When Good Ghouls Go Bad. For being a made for TV zombie film on ABC Family of all places, it had a lot of heart, a lot of humor, and a great story. Plus it’s one of the few zombie films you can watch with grandma without her having to ask you why those sick people keep necking each other, for those of you into showing your grandmother a zombie movie anyways.

 

The Undead Review

 

Directed By: Patrick Read Johnson (Spaced Invaders, Angus)

Starring: Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, Adams Family), Tom Amandes (The Untouchables, Everwood), Brittany Byrnes (Swimming Upstream, Mermaids), Joe Pichler (Varsity Blues, Beethoven’s 3rd), and Brendan MaCarthy (2001 Maniacs, Holy Ghost People)

Written By: R.L. Stine (Mostly Ghostly, Goosebumps), Patrick Read Johnson (Spaced Invaders, DragonHeart), and John Lau (Second Skin, Come Die with Me: A Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Mystery)

Released By: Fox Television Network and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Release Year: 2001

Release Type: Made for TV Movie

MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Rotting Heads: Four Heads Out of Five

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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