As unlikely as the idea of a horror anthology for kids sounded, R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” was a big hit for Fox Children’s Network in the 1990s, and its former chief Margaret Loesch has dipped back into that spooky bag of tricks in her new gig running kids cable network the Hub. Graced with the specter of a particularly good “The Twilight Zone” about a malevolent doll named Talking Tina, “The Haunting Hour” toes the narrow line between being mildly scary without giving kids nightmares, and should provide an adrenalin jolt to Hasbro-Discovery’s start-up co-venture.
Little Lilly (Bailee Madison) is overjoyed when her life-sized doll, Lilly D., arrives — her parents having seemingly indulged her every whim. Gradually, however, bad things begin to happen around the house, with Lilly insisting that the apparently lifeless doll with the big creepy eyes is responsible, not her.
Lilly’s parents, of course, are having none of this excuse, but her brother (Connor Price) begins his own rather skeptical investigation, spilling over into a second half-hour in the two-part premiere.
Writer-producers Billy Brown and Dan Angel also adapted “Goosebumps,” and with the help of director Neill Fearnley and a nifty performance by kid star Madison, they’ve delivered a nicely paced little exercise that taps into such a fundamental childhood fear — that doll might actually be alive — as to resonate with adults along with their kids.
Similarly themed shows (including a knockoff of “Tales From the Crypt”) were all the rage years ago, and the concerns expressed at the time appear almost quaint in hindsight. After all, kids have always been drawn to such material, and at least the parameters of such a series (smartly premiering right before Halloween) reassures parents nobody’s going to wind up decapitated.
Nevertheless, the Hub includes a viewer-disclaimer at the outset suggesting parents watch with their kids. And unlike so much of the programming aimed at tykes, this is one of those offerings where that small act of family bonding won’t feel like a chore for either half of the equation.