Getting ‘Goosebumps’

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Alan Johnson

For a certain generation, R. L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” book series evokes a large amount of nostalgia. Too scary for little kids, but too childish for adults, “Goosebumps” was the king of the young adult genre, long before Katniss Everdeen volunteered as tribute. Wvagueonthehow:fccith more than 300 million books sold in 32 different languages, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came knocking on Stine’s door.

The only question would be what story to use for the film. Would it be “The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena,” in which the titular character terrorizes the California town? What about “Night of the Living Dummy,” featuring the creepy Slappy the Dummy? Or perhaps “Monster Blood,” with a slime that makes people grow bigger into giants? How about all of those and every other iconic character from the “Goosebumps” series?

The film begins like a classic “Goosebumps” book. Teenager Zach, played by Dylan Minnette, moves to Madison, Delaware where he meets his neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush) and her mysterious father, played by Jack Black. In a clever twist, it is revealed that Black’s character is actually R.L. Stine, who keeps the original manuscript of all his books. When the books are opened, all of the classic “Goosebumps” monsters are released in this small town.

With 20 or so monster antagonists, there is not enough time to focus on all of them individually, so diehard “Goosebumps” fans may be disappointed with the little screen time of some of the lesser beasts. However, the aforementioned Slappy the Dummy is made the main antagonist and reminds millennials of how spine-chilling his original story was.

It is possible to assume that most members of the audience were not familiar with the series. The film is aimed at children who were not yet born during the series’ height, so this film is a great introduction to the classic novels and will encourage viewers to buy the books.

The highlight of the film is Jack Black’s characterization of R.L. Stine. Stine, a real life recluse, is played by Black as one of Black’s classic characters, transforming the buttoned-up author into an energetic man-child. The best jokes of this family horror-comedy come from Stine, who forgets the plots of some of his most famous books, thinks Stephen King is a hack and is overly protective of his daughter.

However, most of the other jokes, especially the ones delivered by the teenagers, do not land. Zach is supposed to be a whip-smart, sarcastic leading man, but he mostly comes off as a bystander to all of the action happening around him.

While the heavy special effects create terrifying-looking monsters, besides Slappy the Dummy, none of them have any personality and it becomes difficult to remember what monsters our heroes have vanquished or have left. While Stine’s books always followed the same formula of Hitchcockian style suspense, the film tends to rely on the characters being chased by the creatures, followed by the currently very popular form of jump-scares. Obviously, Stine could never employ the jump-scares in his written work, the lack of serious peril felt by the characters is disappointing and the low stakes definitely lower the horror factor considerably.

“Goosebumps” is not the scariest movie you’ll ever see, nor is it the funniest. However, it takes what is great about supernatural horror, puts a kid-friendly take on those tropes and has enough humor to make a decent family film. Students at Quinnipiac expecting a major nostalgia film will be disappointed. However, maybe seeing the crisp film renditions of the Abominable Snowman and Slappy the Dummy might inspire a new generation to read the classic books.

 

Personal rating: 3 out of 5 stars