The Spooksville book series covered everything from monsters to Atlantis and Lemuria to extraterrestrial invasions across its 24 volumes. Since no one else apparently wrote anything about The Hub network’s new TV adaptation of Spooksville, based on the children’s book series by Christopher Pike (unread by me), which premiered last night, I thought I’d give a brief notice to this modern, more Gothic Eerie, Indiana. The latter show was one of my favorites when I was ten years old (so much so that I still remember it two decades later), so it would be nice for kids today to have something similar. If Spooksville isn’t quite as instantly memorable as Eerie, Indiana, it is a cut above some of its competitors in the teen-oriented horror series landscape.
It’s rather surprising to see just how much genre television is available for teens and tweens today, certainly much more than anything targeted at me when I was in that demographic. From the Gothic soap opera House of Anubis on the various Nickelodeon channels (it moves from one to another, and its chief attraction is the sheer volume of material produced) to the British lycanthropic import Wolfblood, teen horror is more prolific and more sophisticated than in past decades. However, much of it sits in the shadow of the tweens’ big siblings’ favorites, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, which they emulate with less sex and violence but equal amounts of gloom and relationship drama—where the ultimate horror is not having the right boyfriend or girlfriend.
Spooksville falls on the younger end of the spectrum and stars Keean Johnson as Adam, a teen who arrives in Springville with his father, looking to make a new life in a town that has a reputation as a locus for supernatural menace. There, he quickly befriends a nerdy science wiz named Watch (Nick Purcha) and an impulsive smart-aleck named Sally (Katie Douglas) and discovers that he is somehow preordained to combat an ancient evil. If this sounds like a gender-flipped Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you get points for noticing—but the first Spooksville novel debuted two years before Buffy’s TV incarnation. (The movie version of Buffy lacked the later series’ Scooby Gang.)
The first two episodes of Spooksville are generally enjoyable fare, and the young actors are more natural and engaging than many of their peers on The Hub’s horror anthology series The Haunting Hour. Both shows, however, wear their Canadian production locations and Canadian aesthetics a bit more heavily than one might like. Many of the secondary actors had very Canadian vowels. As much as TV producers think that upscale suburban homes in Vancouver look like American houses, they are ever so subtly off. I think it’s because their proportions are framed in metric measurements rather than imperial measurements, and the slight difference is just enough to be noticeable. Also, I’ve never seen so many gray and olive green houses in my entire life as I have in Vancouver-filmed TV series.
In a supernatural series, these small deviations from the American norm can be used to great advantage, as the early seasons of the X-Files, the Showtime version of The Outer Limits, and the first year or two of Supernatural made plain. But Spooksville isn’t quite confident in its aesthetic yet; in places it has the gray glamour of the X-Files, but in other places it has scenes of candy-colored bad CGI to rival Once Upon a Time in Wonderland in its awfulness.
If I focus too much on the aesthetics, it is because horror is a genre defined by emotion and atmosphere, as Edmund Burke realized in discussing the trappings of terror more than 250 years ago. As for the story, the first two episodes were satisfyingly weird, and I’m sure that teen viewers will be much more invested in the lead’s potential romances with the town witch and with Sally than I am. As the series moves forward and beyond witchcraft as the evil-of-the-week, it promises to become a pleasant diversion and an entry level horror series that may inspire a new generation of kids to discover some of the horror classics that inspired the weirdness that the kids on Spooksville investigate. And that is one more thing to praise: The show not only lets the kids be smart, it also emphasizes the role of skepticism and science in investigating the unknown. If its world is one that has supernatural monsters, it recognizes that they are subject to some sort of (super)natural law that can be discovered through experimentation. Vanquishing the monsters here takes brains, not bullets, and science (of a sort) rather than brute force wins the day.
So, there you go, The Hub, an honest-to-goodness review of Spooksville from a published horror critic. You’re welcome.
10/28/2013 06:06:54 am
I remember reading those books back in the '90s. The one I remember most vividly--actually, the only one I remember vividly--is The Cold People, particularly for the rather graphic image of one of its ice-themed zombies being blow apart by an RPG. Of course, that didn't prove very effective, and the zombie kept shambling forth despite at least one missing limb; as you said, brains, not bullets.
10/28/2013 10:48:18 am
Thanks a lot for this review. I'm a 26-year-old, but grew up on Goosebumps, AYAOTD?, and starting at age 8 my mom finally gave in to my demands to stay up and watch The X-Files with her on Sunday nights. I read and re-read ALL the Spooksville books in my school library, which was only about half of them, but they made an impression so I set up a series recording for this show, and I have to say, for a kiddie series, I really enjoyed it. The child actors are MUCH better than I was expecting, the effects even when bad are still not horrible for a cheap kid's show, and I liked the added mythology. At least, I don't REMEMBER Adam being important but here they're setting him up to play an important role, which is even cooler and the dark mythology reminds me of the very cool and underrated 1999 Disney series "So Weird". All in all, this is a nice Saturday night distraction to tide you over while waiting for the adult horror shows like AHS: Coven, and Sleepy Hollow etc.
10/28/2013 01:45:12 pm
You're welcome! It was a surprisingly cute show for its network and budget. Thanks for mentioning the changes from the book series. I've never read them, and it's interesting to see what I suppose is Buffy's influence.
10/29/2013 01:58:55 am
Ok..showing my age here but I loved a TV show called "UFO" by the Andersons (their claim to fame was "Thunderbirds"). It was sort of an XFiles British style. I watched it as a 9 year old and was blown away..a few years ago my wife bought the DVD collection and as a 47 year old I watched the one and only year of episodes..some were really bad but others had a good does of human drama, action, great special effects..and captures the whole Apollo years in terms of what we thought the future would be. And the fashions were cool and the women knockouts which was great for a soon to hit puberty young male..ha ha
12/14/2013 08:51:36 am
I didn't like it. Cindy was only in one episode sally wasn't supposed to be in love with Adam at least not like that and watch was supposed to be more eccentric
3/16/2014 04:15:49 am
This show' s been very disappointing to me. It doesn't live up to the books at all. It is like a crappy version of Goosebumps.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.