“I’m only a ghost!”

Spooky season is almost here! And every year the streets of this here net of knowledge are crowded with grown up trickortreaters wearing the masks of an internet handle, or their social media costume, holding out their bags in search of one delicious treat: y’all got any movies we can show to little kids who want to watch a horror movie? Well, for PotPiePete7227 and even you TaylornAiden, here’s a family ghost movie you can try.

Oliver of the title is an elementary school aged kid with kid problems: his parents work too much, he’s new in town, he’s getting bullied at school, his sister is a too-cool teenager, and the ghost of Martin Mull lives in the attic of the family’s new home. Why is Martin Mull haunting the family’s attic? Is he miffed because his starring role in Serial is one of the most overlooked comedy performances of the early cable era which also featured Christopher Lee as a gay biker? Yes, but also according to the Rhea Perlman character as next-door neighbor in this film I’m reviewing right now, the ghost has regrets in his life. And in typical ghost idiom, he wants these interlopers the heaven out of his house!

They won’t leave, of course, because they won’t admit he’s there, except for Oliver who sees and talks to the ghost, but who is getting blamed for all the paper shuffling and weird noises. The ghost can really make a mess, but he can also clean one up too. Gradually the ghost realizes he and Oliver are bound together through time because they’re smart people in a world full of idiots, and he starts letting the kid borrow his books. He even scares the crap out of the bullies in the best creepy, but also funny, scene in the movie. It’s a supernatural revenge of the nerds and I kind of love it.

Will the average viewer who isn’t a huge Hallmark Channel geek enjoy this film? Well, it shouldn’t cause any nightmares, if that’s what a parent is trying to avoid. But what I think would have really appealed to me as a kid is the story of Oliver being so misunderstood, and then so validated. Not only validated by the ghost, who has some harsh words for the rest of the family because of their neglect of Oliver, but ultimately by the parents and sister. When you’re a bookish kid it can seem like your whole life is spent either being overlooked or getting the wrong sort of attention, and Oliver’s Ghost really speaks to that feeling. And that’s the real horror here. Not that there’s something going on, but that something’s going on and no one will do anything about it.

As for the ghost himself, who I should finally admit is named Clive rather than Martin Mull, well, Clive has imprisoned himself in his own house 40 years after his death. He continues to drive people away in his spectral form just as he drove away someone very important when he was alive. (Since this is a movie people just move in and out of the haunted house willy nilly without caring about the money they lose.) Unfortunately, the way the movie handles Clive’s problem in the end makes for some very very clunky acting, and it could have easily been handled with better writing. But at least we do get a resolution, which is more than I can say for a lot of ghost movies.

So if you’re looking for a family Halloween movie, Oliver’s Ghost is enjoyable enough that I can recommend it for fans of TV movies. I’ve watched it twice in the last few years. Having spent my 80s childhood with repeat viewings of Mr. Mom and Clue, I find Martin Mull to be a welcome face on my screen. I really like the look of the house/set, and the pumpkin patch out back (it figures thematically into the story) is going to be the inspiration for one of my Animal Crossing pumpkin patches this year. Oliver’s Ghost may not be a full-sized candy bar, but it’s not one of those awful peanut butter candies in the black and orange wax paper either. Put it on the level of Smarties as a Halloween treat.

I think I’m going to make made-for-TV Halloween the theme of October. Do you have any suggested viewing along those lines?