Let’s compare R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to past adapted media based on the work of the titular author: if Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy was for adults, and the 90s era Goosebumps television show was for teenagers, and the recent Goosebumps films (featuring Jack Black) are for kids, then Zombie Town is for really young children. I’m wondering what the next level down would be – short stories for fetuses about expectant mothers who eat too much spicy food during the first trimester?
Carverville, a town renamed to pay homage to local celebrity and famed horror filmmaker Len Carver (Dan Aykroyd), has a population of devoted film buffs. When Carver announces a return to filmmaking with a new spooky flick, the town nearly shuts down and declares a new holiday. For social wallflower Mike Broadstreet (Marlon Kazadi of Ghostbusters: Afterlife), the hype is simply too much to endure for a horror skeptic like himself. But, as the box office attendant at Carverville’s only cinema, he musters through the excitement of others; including the “fangirling” of best friend-slash-horror hound Amy (TikTok personality Madi Monroe). A mysterious atmosphere rolls over Carverville, however, when Mike threads the movie through the theatre’s projector and a pulverizing bright light washes over Carverville, turning mostly everyone into the living dead (note: Sudbury, ON’s background actors look like they’re having a blast channeling their inner zombie).
R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town plays its premise safely; centring its story around a traditional MacGuffin which directs the characters to make their own search and rescue. Kids will enjoy watching Mike and Amy scurry around vacant streets, trying to avoid zombies, and running into the odd adult who looks a little more undead than usual. The zombies emit a similar beam of light to convert other humans, which prevents the movie from becoming too violent. It’s an alternative that’s freaky, though a tad repetitive, that will be appreciated by viewers young and old.
The movie hits more of a dry spell for parents and other adults who are looking for their own horror or nostalgia fix. Considering this Canadian horror-comedy was directed and co-written by The Nut Job’s Peter Lepeniotis, a smart-‘n-savvy filmmaker who knows the importance of a lively pace, R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town slugs along as slowly as Carverville’s zombies. Big scenes usually amount in small results to advance the simple story, which makes the movie frequently feel inconsequential and less cinematic. If extended specials like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once & Always and Blue’s Big City Adventure can find life on streaming services, maybe R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town should’ve stuck to the small screen to match (and mask some of) its modesty.
Some throwaway lines by Kids in the Hall’s Bruce McCulloch and Scott Thompson will make the adults chuckle but, otherwise, the clean-cut humour is often a reminder of who R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town is intended for. Grumbling adults should be like Mike: shrug, step back, and let the kids enjoy their horror movie.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie