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Aaron Keeling’s The House on Pine Street is about a pregnant woman named Jennifer (Emily Goss) who thinks her temporary home might be haunted. The problem is, she’s only staying at the place because she recently went through a mental breakdown of sorts. Adding to our sense of mystery, we have limited knowledge of what that breakdown entailed. As her life goes from bad to worse, we’ll probably hope that Jennifer finally begins to find some peace and hope for a happier future. However, what seemed to be new hope of happiness turns into an indescribable nightmare.

This is, in many ways, a suspense movie. Although it’s a haunted house movie, we’re never quite sure where it will go next. Will the hauntings (or her imaginings) remain subtle or grow increasingly violent? Will these real-or-imagine spirits be mere pranksters or will Jennifer’s unborn baby be turned to ash from a three-alarm fire? You don’t quite know. Basically, I knew this was a good movie because it had me wondering if Jennifer would be forced to watch her young family burn. It had me imagining freaky scenarios independent of the actual scenes. Jennifer fights for her life and a chance at a new life, but it increasingly seems impossible.

Family Dynamics

I’m guilty of overusing the word “dynamics” as a writer. However, it so often rightfully applies. Here the dynamics obviously involve family and psychological disturbance, blending with possible paranormal hocus pocus. The House on Pine Street also carries that dread of family dysfunction. At a time when Jennifer should be overcoming all obstacles, she awkwardly reunites with her mother, Meredith (Cathy Barnett). feeling forced to do so and resenting Meredith for it.

There is obviously some sadness here, as no healthy person wants to dislike their parent — someone responsible for their very entry into the world. The discomfort carries over into a social gathering where, possibly, a man named Walter (Jim Korinke) invigorates Jennifer’s interest in the supernatural presence in her temporary home. Might the hauntings just be her imagination, brought on by delusions triigered by a roomful of family and friends? At first, Jennifer calmly and emphatically tells her husband (Taylor Bottles) of her suspicions, but it ends up getting more frantic as her fears intensify. So, while we don’t fully know her origins, her history, her hopes and her dreams, it could potentialy bring tears to the eyes of sensitiveviewers. We only get glimpses of her life, her childhood, her formative experiences, etc. However, we know she fears there will be an upcoming funeral.

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More Reasons You Should Appreciate ‘The House on Pine Street’

I don’t wish to sound overly-excited about this or any movie, but what can I say? This is a haunted house movie done right. In fact, this might be one of the greats, as other critics have hinted at. So am I just trying to fit in with them, to maybe hobnob with better-established reviewers than myself? I assure you, I am not. This is a small, perhaps rare example of my actually agreeing with many snooty critics out there (that and The Blair Witch Project, which I side with supportive critics on).

Anyway, like any decent haunted house movie, this one makes us examine the everyday, the inane. You’ll find some of the most gruesome and unnerving objects in her house are not conventional murder weapons, but anything that could conceivably be moved or manipulated. Also, Jennifer must face her own fears to discover the identity of the mysterious force menacing her. Then again, what if it’s all in her own head?

Final Thoughts

This movie is better than plenty of franchise favorites, honestly. I mean, Hellraiser: Bloodline? Bah! Pinhead in space isn’t scary! A movie is much scarier if it makes you examine the space in your own head. This movie is definitely good if, on occasion, you want spooky elements but not any blood-sucking vampires, flesh-eating zombies, mask-wearing maniacs, or mists full of extravagant critters. Writers Keeling and Natalie Jones gave us a movie to remember, collecting a decent amount of accolades from critics. If they collaborate again, it should work. So far, so good.

Although this movie isn’t in the “found footage” genre, it somehow conveys a sense that you’ve stumbled across a hidden tape recording from Jennifer that explains all of her doubts about her existence. Even as the possibility of an invisible “spook” looms, you sense that she might be slipping with or without their presence. There’s every sense that a character can be gravely harmed, including any part of her family, and you’ll isntantly understand why her estranged mother is so disliked by her. Jennifer wants a silver lining and for hope to be renewed, but can it be? The idea that a semi-private conversation coukld’ve triggered her problem is interesting, too. That it might have become an obsession paints Jennifer as someone with a troubled inner voice. This movie is a stomach-churning package (in the good sense), and is compellingly claustrophobic.

What are your thoughts on The House on Pine Street? Let us know in the comments!

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, Go Eat Worms

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We’ve reached episode four of the 2023 show Goosebumps. This one is titled Go Eat Worms, based on the book released in July of 1994. And so far, it’s the story that has been furthest removed from the source material. However, I think it’s the story that got the biggest glow-up.

Cover for Goosebumps Go Eat Worms.

The story

This episode is the first that doesn’t jump back to Halloween night. And it largely focuses on Lucas having a really bad day.

He wants to perform a jump on his dirt bike. He gets everything set up, then chickens out at the last moment.

Unfortunately, that means he gets home just in time to catch Nora and Colin kissing in the car.

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Technically there’s nothing wrong with this. Nora’s husband is dead and Colin’s going through a separation. But there’s no reason to expect Lucas to feel this way. And he does not. He goes to school and decides the best thing to do is tell Margot.

That honestly makes sense. At least, more sense than anything else he does.

Seeing how upset Margot is at this realization, he wants to make her laugh. Being a child who should never see Jackass, he decides to eat a worm in front of her. Margot’s face says it all at that moment, as she realizes there’s a strong possibility this boy is going to be her stepbrother and he is eating worms.

Of course, those aren’t any worms. They came from the Biddle house. And they do the bidding of Harold Biddle.

What worked

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It’s pretty clear at this point that the only adult willing to listen to the kids is Nora. The only other one who might have listened was Margot’s mother, who appears to have vanished entirely.

And while this is horrible for the kids, it’s kind of what we should expect in a show for kids.

Content for children and young adults should have heroes who are children and young adults. That was one of the great things about the Goosebumps books, and most of the great stories meant for kids. Coraline, Stranger Things, Ms. Perrigrins School for Gifted Youngsters, Series of Unfortunate Events. These stories all have a young protagonist who has to face the monster without their parents and win. It reminds me of a wonderful quote by Neil Gaiman.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

I also loved the action scenes in this episode. I didn’t know I wanted to see a giant worm monster chase someone on a dirt bike through the woods, but I’ve seen it now. And that was pretty great.

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Finally, this episode tackled some really difficult topics. Not the least of which was how suicide impacts the family left behind.

That’s a pretty heavy thing to talk about, and it was approached well. This is one of the things that horror does well. It allows us to discuss the things we’re afraid to discuss. To face our real fears. Not the fears of haunted masks, killer worms, or prophetic cameras. It lets us talk about divorce and death and mental health crises in a way that feels more approachable because it’s side by side with the monsters.

What didn’t work

Unfortunately, this was not a perfect episode. And a lot of my issues are about Luke.

Will Price in Goosebumps.

Now, this is not the fault of the actor, Will Price. But he does not look young enough for this role. Some people in their early twenties can look like teens still on TV. The rest of the ‘kids’ are adults. Miles McKenna, who plays James, is 28. But Price looks significantly too old. And it’s distracting.

I also hated the jumping from scene to scene when Luke took Margot to his house. They didn’t do anything there that couldn’t have been done at school. There was just no need for a scene cut. Scene cuts should be kept to a minimum if possible because it’s distracting and runs the risk of taking a viewer out of the story.

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All in all, though, this was a really good episode. It was touching, exciting, and still managed to be funny. So far, this has been a really solid season of horror television. And we have more than half a season yet to go.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, Cuckoo Clock of Doom

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Named for the 28th installment of the original book series, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom has the least in common so far with its source material.

Thankfully, the story isn’t negatively impacted by this. I can honestly say so far that these episodes just keep getting better.

The story

After the last episode’s explosive ending, I’m sure we were all more than a little worried about James. I for one was worried we were going to have an example of the Bury Your Gays trope on a kid’s show.

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Cover of R.L. Stine Cuckoo Clock of Doom

Thankfully, that’s not the case.

We go back in time again to Halloween night, and this time we see what James was up to.

Mostly he was up to trying to flirt with his crush. Everything seems to be going well until James lies about being interested in football.

He tries to leave the house, but instead finds himself back at the basement door when Isaiah is trapped and the cuckoo clock is going off. James then shows a remarkable amount of genre savvy and tries his best to escape the house. Each time he does, we see another version of him walking away.

Eventually, he devises a plan to break the clock at just the right moment, but not before he gets some intel on his crush’s favorite team so he can score a date.

Back in the real world free of the time loop though, James finds that he has far more worries. Every time he tried to escape the house, a duplicate version of him was created. And all of those duplicates are waiting for him.

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Back at the Biddle house, though, there’s a surprise waiting. One of the James duplicates has brought Harold Biddle a box. A ventriloquist dummy-sized box.

An empty box.

What worked

The effects of this show so far have been wonderful. When the other characters hit a James duplicate, it doesn’t just die. It explodes in a Nickelodeon-style wave of slime. This is just fun, and I’m kind of sad there doesn’t appear to be more of the duplicates around.

I mean, I wouldn’t rule it out.

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Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

Did I mention that these duplicates appeared to smell like watermelon Jolly Ranchers when they exploded? That was a visceral detail that was both alarming and terrific. They could have smelled bad. They could have smelled like rotting plants or people. But no, they smell like candy.

Of course, the characters continue to steal the show. Margot and Isaiah could be said to be the main characters, but everyone comes into this with main character energy. They are all funny, all capable, all smart. And they all seem to care about each other.

I loved that James and Isaiah talked about how they were feeling. I think it’s important that we’re modeling that for young men. They talked about what was bothering them, and they made up.

Finally, though, we have to talk about Justin Long again. His acting in this just keeps stealing the show. He dances like a cartoon and jumps from joyful to violently furious at a moment’s notice. The character doesn’t know how to act, and watching him fail to act right in front of people never fails to make me laugh.

What didn’t work

I honestly can’t say that anything didn’t work in this episode. But there is something about the show that I, at least, don’t like.

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There’s no real blood or gore. There’s more blood when I eat an actual jolly rancher because I always cut my tongue on them.

Now, this show is pretty clearly not for kids and young adults so there’s probably not a lot of need for too much gore and violence. But if the bloody stuff is more your style, like me, the lack of it might disappoint you.

Fans of the Goosebumps books will know that everyone ended with a twist. And the show so far has been no different. And the ending of this episode has been the best so far. The tension of Margot’s mom’s impassioned reaction, blended with the revelation that Slappy is somewhere in town is just too much. I can’t believe we’re only three episodes in and I am this invested. I hope you are too.

Viewer beware, I suspect things are going to get a lot worse for our characters before they get better.

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4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask

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Episode two of Goosebumps was honestly more fun than the first. It was dark, funny, infuriating and wonderful. Best of all, it has a killer twist ending.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.

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Cover of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask.

We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.

Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.

Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.

The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.

Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.

When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.

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What worked

I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.

Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.

Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.

On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.

But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.

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We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.

And the same can be said for Isabella.

Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.

Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.

What didn’t work

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If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.

Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.

Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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