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R.L. Stine's Monsterville: Cabinet
of Souls (2015)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 9/29/2015
All Ratings out of
Extras: No Extras
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/13/2015
When I was growing up, entertainment was very compartmentalized. Things for kids were meant for kids and things for adults were meant for adults. Today, things aren't as simple. On television, we have a slew of animated shows, historically a children's medium, aimed at grown ups. Kids theatrical films have subtle (and not-so-subtle) jokes for the adults who are attending with the little ones. A genre which has gone through a lot of changes is horror. We had Scooby-Doo when I was little, and some things which would be considered "spooky", but most horror movies were clearly adult fare. However, at some point, this all changed and now we have plenty of scary things aimed at kids. One of the pioneers of this was author R.L. Stine, whose line of Goosebumps books introduced many youngsters to scary stories. Stine's world has gone multi-media and now we have R.L. Stine's Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls coming to DVD.
Kellen (Braeden Lemasters) and Beth (Dove Cameron) are typical small-town teenagers. They enjoy spending time with one another and their friends Luke (Casey Dubois) and Nicole (Tiffany Espensen). Kellen and Beth have known each other their whole lives, but Kellen wishes that he had the nerve to tell her that he would like to be more than friends. As its Halloween, the town is throwing their annual Halloween festival, an event this group would never miss. As the festivities are getting underway, Dr. Hysteria (Andrew Kavadas), and his assistant, Lilith (Katherine McNamara), suddenly appears to announce that he will be opening his own scary attraction. At this same time, Beth notices Hunter (Ryan McCartan), a new guy in town. Suddenly, Kellen is spending time with Lilith, while Beth is seeing Hunter. As these two friends grow apart, mysterious things are happening at Dr. Hysteria's hall of horrors, as townspeople begin to disappear.
I actually did some research on this, but, other than being the Executive Producer, I'm not sure exactly how R.L. Stine is involved with Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls. This doesn't appear to be based on any of his books and he didn't write the script. That credit goes to Dan Angel and Billy Brown, who clearly looked at Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked this Way Comes and thought, "That's a good story, but it needs more teenage melodrama." Yes, Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls owes a lot to Bradbury's famous tale, as both feature a mysterious carnival attraction overseen by a nefarious character (Dr. Hysteria vs. Mr. Dark) where weak-willed people are given a glimpse of fulfilling their lifelong fantasies. I couldn't help but think that Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls was similar to Something Wicked this Way Comes, but when the sub-plot was introduced that Dr. Hysteria could enslave individuals by showing them their wildest dreams "similar to" suddenly jumped up a notch.
But, as they say, if you are going to steal, steal from the best, so one can completely fault Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls there. No, the problem with the movie is that it can't find a tone which works. Again, this is a project which is squarely aimed at tweens, so it can only go so far, but one gets the feeling that those in charge didn't know exactly where to take things. A good deal of the story focuses on the teenage love story, as we get Kellen longing for Beth and then being jealous when she goes to the carnival with Hunter. Likewise, Beth is confused by her feelings which she sees Kellen with Lilith. What the movie wants to do with these subplots is show how these sweet kids are being seduced by the dark side, but it plays things way too safe. On a similar note, the movie pulls too many punches on the horror side as well. We see some monsters and some ethereal figures, but that's about it. There's only one scene in which a character is in any kind of danger, and it's over very quickly. Kids today have become very accustomed to creepy and gross things, so Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls comes off as weak. This isn't helped by a notably goofy tone taken on by the adults in the town.
I'm sure that there are a number of "hardcore" horror fans who would turn their noses up at something like Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls. But, as a true horror lover, I know that a good horror story can come from many different places. Unfortunately, this movie misses the boat when it comes to horror. The film tries hard to develop the characters and create a detailed story, but it can't decide if it wants to be Goosebumps or Sweet Valley High. The result is a movie which is never scary or creepy, and most likely won't interest those looking for romance. I'm all for an updated version of Something Wicked this Way Comes, but this is a swing and a miss.
R.L. Stine's Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls never explains how everyone knows what "Dance like a banshee" means on DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. This looks like the standard shot-on-HD mid-level feature. The colors look fine and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the depth is acceptable. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, as they show good separation and occasionally highlight things coming from off-screen. There are a few good surround sound effects during the carnival scenes.
The Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls DVD contains no extra features.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long