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.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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