The Willies ★★

Just months after Are You Afraid of the Dark? launched its version of anthologized TV horror aimed at kids, and a couple of years before R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books would conquer that genre, The Willies made a half-hearted attempt at scaring the pre-teen set. If it weren't for a cast of notables -- Sean Astin, James Karen, Clu Gulager, Kathleen Freeman, and cameos from Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold -- it might be completely rather than merely largely forgotten.

Although The Willies starts with the initially novel idea of quickly depicting a few gruesome urban legends in a broad comic tone -- with gore that is never blood-red, but more closely resembles the slime from You Can't do That on Television -- this early burst of energy doesn't last. Writer/director Brian Peck finally stretches out two unremarkably crafted stories to almost excruciating length, and tells them both so poorly that there are never any satisfying builds or scares. The final story, although so aimless that its plot remains a mystery for more than half of its 40-minute running time, at least has the benefit of featuring a real creep of a main character, whose gross and psychopathic habits deserved a better movie.

It may have wanted to be a Creepshow for Kids, but The Willies feels more like a low-grade adaptation of stories that R.L. Stine threw away half-finished.