Horrortoberfest ’21 Day 24 – Nightbooks (2021)

The final theme week for this year starts now with a look at Kid Friendly Horror. The genre is often thought of only in terms of the R-rated gore and scarefests that so often capture our attentions. I wanted to take a look at how horror aimed at a younger audience holds up when you have the restriction of a PG rating. For the first film, I thought this was going to be a more family friendly version of the old Tales From the Darkside movie but this ends up being much less an anthology of horror stories and more about the kid writing them.

When we meet Alex, he is a kid that is distraught and plans to destroy all of the horror writings and memorabilia he has collected. However, on the way to the boiler room of his apartment building, he is drawn to an apartment showing Lost Boys and ends up trapped in a witch’s magical moving apartment. When the witch finds out that Alex writes scary stories, she decides not kill him and demands a story from him every night. Now he has to figure out a way to escape with the help of the other kid trapped there because he is facing a serious case of writer’s block and is quickly running out of stories from his notebooks (or nightbooks as he calls them and hence the title).

While the movie’s focus is much more on the message of embracing what makes you unique and telling the story of the kids’ inability to fit in; I honestly would have loved to have gotten a few of Alex’s stories fully done up. While we do occasionally get brief cuts to a stylized version of the story playing out, they are always interrupted or stopped and I would have enjoyed getting a little bit of that anthology flavor mixed in. That said, the main story is good enough to carry the runtime and getting a fully glammed up witch version of Krysten Ritter is a delight. Plus, Alex is one of the kid’s from Come Play and I can only hope he has a long horror acting career ahead of him.

The scares are obviously going to be toned to be within the PG rating but it does have some fairly decent creature design and scary moments that I think would work well for kids. One of the creatures is basically a skull-faced spider with blade limbs that almost stabs one of the kids in the eyeball, so it does have some legit creepy moments. Without getting too much into spoiler territory, there is a point towards the end where it fakes out an ending and, at first, I thought it was kind of weak but it ended up being in service to the message and theme of the film. I like when a film like this can surprise me because, normally, these types of twist endings either don’t make sense or are just there for the sake of being there. Also, the design for the final witch fight is really great and another good example of making something creepy within the limitations.

I think this would be a perfect watch for some kids on Halloween and it’s engaging enough that the parents shouldn’t have a problem watching along. Fits in a balance where they can have a bit of scary fun but it shouldn’t be producing nightmares because of it.

Score: 4 out of 5

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