By Teresa Zhang
October 23, 2020
In ancient Greece, there was a form of torture known as the “Brazen Bull”, which involved a person being locked inside a metal bull-shaped device and a fire roasting under the device, simultaneously melting the bull and giving the person inside a slow-roasted death. Needless to say, I would rather experience death by brazen bull than having to endure the torture that is watching the Halloweentown movies again. Readers of The Mirror might accuse me of exaggerating but, trust me, if you were to experience five and a half hours of the combination of terrible dialogue, horrible acting and the travesty known as 90s special effects, otherwise called the Halloweentown series, you would surely understand.
The first eponymous film in the series, Halloweentown, opens on Halloween night at the Piper household, where 13-year old Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) is having her first-but certainly not last-argument with her mother Gwen (Judith Hoag) about Halloween. Why, so far we don’t know and, frankly, don’t care. Then, the Pipers’ grandmother Aggie (Debbie Reynolds) arrives on a bus, but we know that she’s not the typical grandmother because the bus can fly and grandma’s magical, seemingly endless bag is actually that. Aggie and Gwen clash over their opposing opinions about Halloween and witchcraft, revealing the groundbreaking secret: there is a parallel dimension where the creatures of Halloween live in harmony in a town named, you guessed it, Halloweentown. Aggie divulges that she suspects that something is afoul in Halloweentown and she needs the help of another witch.
This conversation is overheard by Marnie who, rather than having an existential crisis as any normal 13-year old would do in the same situation, ropes in her younger brother, Dylan (Joey Zimmerman), and her younger sister Sophie (Emily Roeske), undoubtedly the highlight of the movie, into sneaking onto the Halloweentown bus and into Halloweentown. There they are greeted with the truly ghastly sight of the poorly costumed cast of monsters, including the suspicious mayor, Kalabar, who you know is suspicious because the fun Halloween music stops when he appears on the screen.
The kids meet up with their grandmother, who is pleasantly surprised and introduces them to the inner workings of Halloweentown. Meanwhile back in the normal world, Gwen, after eating her feelings away on Halloween candy as sad middle-aged women do, finally notices that her kids are missing. She naturally panics and realizes they’re in Halloweentown. Gwen angrily confronts her mother and her kids, and just as they’re about to have at it, the big, bad, unnamed entity freezes Gwen and Aggie. Now it’s up to the kids to save Halloweentown! Whoa, who would have guessed that?
Luckily, before she was frozen, Aggie wrote down the potion to undo it. Together, Marnie, Dylan and Sophie gather the ingredients and shenanigans ensue, including an encounter with a local no good goblin punk named Luke (Philip Van Dyke) with-hold on to your purses ladies-chains on his pants! A true sign of a 90s bad boy! Finally, with the potion in hand, they arrive at the town square, but before they can put it in the pumpkin (don’t ask me, I don’t know either), they are stopped by the big, bad, unknown entity, who turns out to be, wait for it, the mayor. The twists and turns in this movie!
Marnie and her siblings attempt to get to the pumpkin, but they are no use against Kalabar. Just as it seems as Kalabar is going to get away with it, the kids’ power of belief drops the potion into the pumpkin. Aggie and Gwen are unfrozen, and together with the kids, they banish Kalabar and restore the town. With the conflict solved, Gwen decides that hey, magic isn’t so bad and reconciles with both her mother and magic. Aggie leaves Halloweentown and goes with her family to the non-magical world on the flying bus, and that’s how the movie ends.
And then starts the second movie, Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge, because of course there would be a second movie. In the sequel, two Halloweens since the events of the first movie, Gwen has reversed her opinion regarding magic, and she’s back again feuding with Grandma Aggie, because there was apparently demand for a second movie and this was the only way it seemed plausible to reopen the Halloweentown story.
This movie introduces the audience to father-son duo Alex (Peter Wingfield) and Kal (Daniel Kountz). Alex has a British accent but Kal somehow doesn’t. It’s not a major plot point in the movie, but the incongruity irked me, so I feel the need to point it out to you too.
Kal and Marnie hit it off, and Marnie shows Kal Aggie’s room, which was apparently what girls in the 90s did when they wanted to impress a guy. While Marnie isn’t paying attention, Kal snatches up Aggie’s spellbook, giving a devious look directly at the camera, proving Kal isn’t a good guy and he’s up to no good. They make plans to meet up later at the high school’s costume party. Meanwhile, downstairs Gwen and Alex are flirting, and we get a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe Gwen will loosen up. We are wrong.
We then flash to Aggie, who is passing out candy to the neighbor kids with Sophie, who, I am sad to report, is no longer adorable and the highlight of the films. Aggie reveals that she hasn’t been back to Halloweentown in a year and dearly misses it. On the advice of Marnie, Aggie visits Halloweentown, taking Marnie with her. When they arrive, they are surprised to find that the Halloween creatures are under a spell that makes them look grey and human-like (I guess the Spirit Halloween costume budget ran out). The pumpkin sitting on the pedestal has been replaced with a cube, which has Kal’s face superimposed on it. You’d think that maybe since the first movie was apparently such a hit, the second movie would have a larger special effects budget, but I digress. CubeKal reveals he’s Kalabar’s son, and he did this to Halloweentown to, I don’t know, win the approval of his dead dad I guess?
Aggie, Marnie, and Luke search Aggie’s house to find her spellbook to find a spell to undo the curse, but it turns out that the book is lost. They go to the goblin Gort’s house, where all lost things end up, but it turns out that Kal bought it fifty years ago. Then, Aggie gets temporary witch dementia and Luke and travel back in time in an attempt to find it before Kal does. Kal appears in the flames taunting Luke and Marnie and reveals his ultimate plan; he’s going to turn those at the costume party into the monsters they dressed up as.
Back in the normal world, Gwen and Alex go to the costume party. At this point, Dylan and Sophie begin to suspect that Alex isn’t really a human, a suspicion that is confirmed when Marnie warns them of Kal’s plans. They fly to the high school attempting to warn their mother, who doesn’t believe them. Kal then appears and turns all the guests into their Halloween costumes. Marnie and Luke figure out the spell and they travel back to the normal world, just in time to stop Kal. They reverse the spell and permanently open the portal to Halloweentown.
I will say this, despite the series being a dumpster fire from the pits of hell, the third movie was the most tolerable out of the whole series. This movie starts out with the premise that the teenage monsters from Halloweentown will start high school in the human world, with Marnie as their cultural guide. This agreement is made between Marnie and a council of magical judges, on the basis that if the plan fails, Marnie and her family will abandon their magical powers. Aggie begins teaching at the high school, with…interesting effects, and begins seeing the Principal romantically. This movie also introduces Cody (Finn Wittrock), a new student at the school who unfortunately replaces Luke as Marnie’s love interest. Things start out well, but the students are finding it hard to adjust to high school. With Marnie’s help, they become integrated into the high school.
But things don’t go as planned, because it turns out that there’s a group called the Knights of the Iron Dagger whose goal is to kill all magical beings, and this group kidnaps one of the exchange students, whose name I don’t know and can’t possibly care about. The magical world is revealed and causes the witches to lose their powers, and we can finally rest after three horrible movies. But then it is revealed that the principal is the Knight of the Iron Dagger, but he repented his magical creature ways after falling in love with Aggie, so who could have kidnapped the student?
In the climax it turns out that one of the judges, Dalloway (Michael Flynn-no, not the former national security advisor) was the kidnapper, and just as things seem to finally get good, the rest of the council members arrive and arrest Dalloway. It turns out that Gwen recorded the confrontation and sent it to the council. It ends with the humans accepting the monsters and Marnie and Cody flying out in a car a la Grease.
Now readers may be asking themselves as I did, “what can they possibly make a fourth movie out of, they’ve already done the kid avenging their parent and the high school versions?” Well, prepare yourself for…Return to Halloweentown, the college years! Woah woah, you need a degree to be a goblin, I thought you only needed to be a politician! I am very funny and amusing! Ahahahaha!
Please excuse me dear readers, if there are any of you left at this point, I only had four continuous hours of sleep this week, and the deadline for this article is imminent.
Well don’t worry folks, I couldn’t find the bootleg version of the movie online, so that ends this review of the Halloweentown series. If any of you are interested for some reason, here’s the Wikipedia link to Return to Halloweentown. Remember kids, the next time you choose to pop in a disc for movie night, pick a movie that is actually ironically bad, instead of one that’s just plain terrible. Happy Halloween!