Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell
As someone who was raised on R.L. Stine’s original series of Goosebumps books, and the TV adaptation that followed, I must admit that I entered the theater this past weekend with an equal amount of excitement and caution. Any doubts I had were soon replaced by chuckles and wide-eyed wonder as one monster after another literally leaped off the page (okay, technically they “whooshed”) and came to life on the big screen.
While each episode of the television show centered on a specific book from the series, the film is a grab bag of of ghouls, ghosts and demons that uses Stine’s expansive bestiary to tell its own tale. Luckily for us, it’s an interesting one. Rather than taking shape as an anthology of interconnected stories—like Tales from the Crypt or Trick ‘r Treat—Goosebumps gives us a cohesive narrative that centers around a teenager named Zach (Dylan Minnette) who’s crushing on his next door neighbor, a girl named Hannah (Odeya Rush). Standing in Zach’s way is Hannah’s hard-edged father…who just so happens to be the famous writer, R. L. Stine (Jack Black). When Zach believes Hannah is being held against her will, he embarks on a rescue mission that inadvertently unleashes Stine’s library of monsters.
As the embodiment of Stine’s personal resentment and hatred toward others, each creature comes across as more violent and intimidating than the next in a way that the TV series never fully realized. Slappy in particular—Stine’s pint-sized “shadow self”—relishes his role as the film’s primary villain, driven by an insatiable desire to cause terror and inflict pain. In fact, it’s Slappy who actually sets loose all of the nightmares from their perfect bound prisons.
However, the horror of these creations is delicately balanced by Black’s prickly performance as Stine and Zach’s teeth-brushing adverse friend, Champ (Ryan Lee), who does an admirable job as the comic relief sidekick. For every potential scare there’s an adequate level of outlandish spectacle, such as the disembodied taunts of the Invisible Boy or a levitating vampire poodle. It’s the kind of balance that reminded me of films like Ernest Scared Stupid and Hocus Pocus (especially the scenes at the school dance).
I will admit being a bit bummed at the exclusion of Goosebumps former mascot, Curly. That said, there are a ton of monsters in this movie and while not all get as much screen time as the Werewolf of Fever Swamp or Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, it’s cool to see them represented in either CGI form or as practical effects. There are also a few loose threads to the story like why Stine would even keep the books at all knowing how dangerous they really were, but in general these are easily forgiven. The “happily ever after” ending is a little less easily overlooked and while I won’t spoil it for you, seems to undermine the film’s big climax.
OUT OF 5
This adaptation of Goosebumps is a fantastic addition to the franchise. Reminiscent of similar adventure horror films featuring kids (in this case teens) saving the world, it’s a story feels familiar without being derivative. Kids and adults will enjoy the clever blend of humor and horror that permeates all 103 minutes of this fun-loving fright flick.
+ Solid performances
+ Plenty of creatures
+ Great score by Danny Elfman
+ Fun twist at the end
– Why keep the books?
– Resolution a bit flat