Director: Rob Letterman
Starring: Jack Black; Dylan Minnette; Odeya Rush
Plot: A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R. L. Stine after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.
That awkward moment in the cinema when you laugh more the children.
Goosebumps is the film adaption of the long-established book series of the same name by R L Stine; the hugely popular horror stories for kids which have been giving tweens the willies since 1994; they’ve even given Stephen King a good run for his money in terms of worldwide sales. Stine’s works were such an immediate hit that they inspired an Award-winning TV series within a year running from 1995 to ‘98. I remember both the books and the show, and hand on heart they scared me shitless, and I’m pretty sure my mother banned the show from the family home. The ghouls and monsters were a mixture of traditional horror get-ups with a sprinkling of Stine’s imagination which tapped into children’s paranoia and fears: not only are you running from the jaws of death but you have also made a fool of yourself in front of that you girl you like, your best friend is not talking to you and your parents are completely oblivious that a zombie is trying to eat your insides. Also, they all feature a twist ending akin to a sucker-punch to the gut. So yeah, when a feature-length feature starring Jack Black was released, you could say my interest was piqued.
The story of the movie revolves around teen Zach (Dylan Minnette), the new kid in town, who moves in next-door to the bleakest house in the neighbourhood. Much to Zach’s delight, it’s home to the smartest, prettiest girl in town, Hannah (Odeya Rush). Unfortunately her dad is an overly protective head-case who turns out to be R L Stine himself (Jack Black) and chases away Zach at any opportunity he can. After Zach and his new-found friend Champ (Ryan Lee) break in after some strange goings-on; they discover all of Stine’s original “Goosebumps” manuscripts, all clamped shut with padlocks. After a series of misadventures featuring Slappy, a ventriloquist doll that is Stine’s most terrifying creation, we find out that the books are kept shut as all of the evil creatures featured in the tales quite literally leap from the pages.
It’s not the most original plot but it’s the perfect match for Goosebumps as all the monsters featured are scary enough to leave an impression on kids that will haunt them beyond their trip to the cinema. Luckily, Stine’s works were full of enough humour to lead rib-tickling moments of pure slapstick and teen humiliation that won’t lead to any bed-wetting episodes later. It was just a shame that the 103 minute run-time didn’t allow for enough attention to be paid on all of the creatures that rose up out of the books. Unfortunately, probably to tick boxes set by studio bosses, it features the soppiest of romances with a twist which is frankly ridiculous but admittedly is true to the Goosebumps fashion. However, I would be surprised if even tweens could have enjoyed that plot point as it was pretty lame.
Jack Black was his ever entertaining self, and probably had a heap of fun gurning in the role of the hapless paranoid. He’s convincing as the surprisingly gifted writer who has landed himself in a whole load of trouble with his childhood misanthropy. His literature ramblings are a source of extremely satisfying fan service, and anyone over a certain age will massively enjoy his exasperated interactions with the teens around him. Jack Black’s typical silliness is perfect for the role yet also musters quite a frightening initial appearance and clearly shows he can now fill roles more mature than “The Stoner”. He only falls short at some of the more serious scenes, but I think that may be more a fault of the writing. I do have one relatively big qualm, however: what the hell was that accent? At first I thought it was an attempt at a British one but then apparently R. L. Stine is from Ohio so… whatever.
The kids aren’t bad at all either. They quip; they look embarrassed by their parents; and run they down corridors in terror. However, Ryan Lee completely stole the show from the rest of the cast in his role as the cowardly “Champ” – the hopeless inbetweener who takes any opportunity to climb the social ladder. Of course, he spends most of the movie screaming and running away, but you’ve got to love him for being the most realistic dude in the whole film.
The cherry on the cake is the SFX, especially for anyone who lived through the TV series. Man, the stuff on that show looked like they got the props and costumes from a fancy dress shop that had recently suffered a fire. And, this is a big deal because I actually don’t mind the CG and I am always bitching about modern effects. Sure, in 5 years it’s probably gonna look dated but, for now, it was an impressive sight. It was also the first time that any on-screen outing of Goosebumps could actually contend against your own imagination whilst you read the books yourself; only the budget of a feature length movie can give such creatures as the Giant Praying Mantis, the Abominable Snowman and, of course, the Blob any justice. What’s more is that as this is a horror, these guys need to look realistic – if you got the monsters looking like utter crap, you can’t suspend your disbelief and the magic of the movie is lost. Most importantly, realistic ghouls guarantee that any kids in the cinema will be scared out of their socks, and to be honest that’s the entire point of a Goosebumps movie.
Despite all my praise, this movie did have some pretty severe boo boos. As mentioned before, there is a really tedious romantic sub-plot which would be kind of okay without the twist. The weird scenario the film creates makes the whole love interest feel really forced. Also, the twist was kinda creepy in my opinion and made me feel awkward in my seat which is not what I really expected from a kids’ movie. The film would have been much better if it was just teens doing their thing whilst in mortal peril with no fucking bells hung on it. I suppose it wouldn’t be a true Goosebumps without such a twist but I wasn’t having any of it.
What really got me about this movie is that I feel that there was some very strong confusion regarding who this movie was actually supposed to be aimed at. In essence it is a family movie so it technically should be made for all ages. However, Goosebumps has always specifically been horror for kids; as you get older you inevitably find the stories completely hokey. So while I did enjoy it, I felt very out-grown. There wasn’t a strong presence for adults to relate to so it is hard for the movie to fully capture our attention. But, on the flip-side: Goosebumps has kind of had its day. The first generation of fans are now all in their 20s and 30s, me included, and it seems that much of the humour of this movie was little in-jokes on the series which I feel would only be appreciated by that demographic – everyone knows how ridiculously sentimental and nostalgic 90s kids are. Yet as I said before, the film is essentially childish, which ends up alienating that audience. So, to me at least, it just seems like the movie itself couldn’t decide. I did enjoy myself and laughed quite a lot during this movie but there were also several sighs and eye rolls mixed in too.
It was a laugh but I don’t think it will spark a massive come-back. It’s missed the boat but it wasn’t a waste of the afternoon.