Goosebumps

Release: Friday, October 16, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Darren Lemke; Scott Alexander; Larry Karaszewski

Directed by: Rob Letterman

If anyone asked me what got me into writing, I would tell them it was R.L. Stine. I wanted to be like him so much I came up with my own ghost stories as a kid; I even started mimicking the artwork that made his books unique . . .

.  . . and so, in 2015, they decided to make a Goosebumps movie. Not that I asked for it, or expected it to come now, some 20 years removed from the peak of Stine’s popularity (to give that time frame some context, this was the era of the flat-top haircut, Walkmans and quality children’s programming on Nickelodeon).

But of course it would happen — how could a book series that became so endeared to millions of impressionable pre-pubescent minds not get picked up by a studio and be given a new lease on life? How is Goosebumps anything other than an inevitability? The good news is that the film is actually worth seeing; this is as good as inevitable gets. Forget the fact you and Jack Black may not get along; forget your inner child wanting to rebel against the cinematic treatment, for you’d be lying to yourself that the only place Stine’s monstrous creations should live are in the pages of the books or in your memory. Getting to see the Abominable Snowman on screen is a kind of privilege. Better yet, seeing (and hearing) Slappy the dummy physically make threats is believing.

Everyone knows the series wasn’t exactly substantive nor inventive. Categorically predictable and breezy reads, they were defined more by the creatures that inhabited the pages, many a variation on ghostlike presences but sometimes branching out to include more obscure objects — who remembers ‘Why I’m Afraid of Bees’ or ‘The Cuckoo Clock of Doom?’ That their intellectual value was the equivalent of nutrient-deprived cereals like Captain Crunch’s Oops All Berries didn’t mean they were devoid of value completely, and on the basis of sheer volume — the original series which lasted from ’92 to ’97 included 62 titles — you couldn’t find many more book series geared towards children that were quite so exhaustive. Their longevity is owed to the fact Stine never tried to do anything fancy with them. The set-up was simple: stage a beginning, establish a middle section and cap it off with a twist ending.

Naturally, a film dealing with these very creatures and the author who dreamed them up, if it had any interest in reconnecting with a by-now fully-grown and steadily more jaded audience, would find formulaic storytelling appealing. What Rob Letterman has come up with is safe, harmless, occasionally eye-roll-worthy. What it’s not is scary. More importantly, it’s not a disaster.

Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mom (the increasingly busy Amy Ryan) have just moved to Nowheresville, Delaware (the town is actually called Madison, but it’s the same thing) after the passing of Zach’s father. Zach makes a friend almost immediately in his next door neighbor, Hannah (Odeya Rush), but is just as quickly intimidated by her creepy father, who introduces himself as Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) — but we all know that’s a front. Even the 11-year-olds in attendance can see through that, what with his exceedingly thick wire-framed glasses and generally strange demeanor. The new-kid-in-town premise is, yes, exceedingly dull, particularly when it feels obliged to deal in a few fairly annoying characters who help expand the environment beyond Zach’s new home.

So far, so ‘Goosebumps.’ The stories never compelled on the virtues of their human characters. It’s not until Zach invades Hannah’s home (the fine for breaking and entering doesn’t faze this kid) upon hearing screams coming from her room that he discovers a small library filled with old ‘Goosebumps’ manuscripts. When he opens up a book, the fun begins. A monster is unleashed upon them and it’s up to Hannah to try and contain the chaos before her possibly psycho-father finds out. Unfortunately it’s not just the one creature they have to worry about. Soon every book starts unleashing their contents upon the small community and wreaking all kinds of PG-rated havoc, a development that’s better left unspoiled.

It’s up to Zach, his newfound friend Champ (Ryan Lee, who falls decidedly into the ‘fairly annoying’ category), Hannah and the loner author himself to save Madison from being overrun by a combination of lawn gnomes, giant mutant praying mantises and monster blood. It helps to think of Goosebumps as a ‘Best of’ Stine’s monstrous creations; few creatures truly stand out (save for everyone’s favorite talking dummy, voiced by Black) but what it lacks in quality it compensates in quantity. Once again mirroring its source material, the film benefits from sheer volume of creative CGI and lavish costume design rather than going into detail on any one thing.

It should go without saying such genericness will hardly compel viewers to champion its award potential. In fact, if you’re expecting quality of any kind outside of how strongly the film tugs on the strings of nostalgia, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Don’t expect any goosebumps to form on your skin come the frantic, rushed conclusion.

Recommendation: Very much a pleasant surprise in terms of the memories it brings back and the entertainment value provided by a game cast, Goosebumps‘ cinematic presentation won’t linger very long in the mind, but luckily enough it won’t have to as a sequel is all but a sure thing. With any luck that will also become a fun trip down memory lane. Anyone who read at least a few of these books should find this a perfectly acceptable rental night at home with the kids. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 103 mins

Quoted: “All the monsters I’ve ever created are locked inside these books. But when they open . . . “

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

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23 thoughts on “Goosebumps

  1. Yeah, I was a huge Goosebumps fan too. Read every book, saw every episode and also tried coming up with my own ghost stories. Nice to hear this movie was a pleasant surprise instead of a complete bomb like many people were predicting it to be.

    • I was surprised by how much fun I had with this. Sure it is cheesy to the nth degree but it actually worked. Good for these guys for taking this risk! And yeah I can’t believe how poorly a lot of this new releases have been doing, Steve Jobs especially. (Then again, it’s taken me over a week and a half to even start writing that review, so . . . )

  2. Spot-on with the light and harmless description. Sometimes that’s all I want, especially in Oscar season, I need a film like this sometimes. I found Black to be enjoyable and overall pretty funny. Not clamoring for a sequel but I’ll watch when it is made. And it’s probably getting made.

    • Hey thanks man. Yeah Jack was good. There’s most definitely going to be a sequel but the question is, does it live up to its predecessor? Not an incredibly high standard, mind you, but a standard none the less. This sets the bar for fun, nostalgic entertainment for a possible franchise.

    • Thank you Natasha! Oh then you are in for a treat, you’ll be the ideal audience for this. I was pleasantly surprised that it managed to remain entertaining despite a never-ending stream of cliche, predictability and a few annoying characters. In the end, it’s the memories that save it. 😀

  3. “…the era of the flat-top haircut, Walkmans and quality children’s programming on Nickelodeon” – LOL!

    Great review here Tom! I will check this out at some stage, probably when it hits DVD. I freaking loved Goosebumps as a kid, but you are so right when you say it was not imaginative and it was NOT phenomenally written.

    But… Jack Black?? There is my big iffy about watching this hahahaha. I cannot stand the man.

    • Yeah, he’s in the film quite a lot so you might not appreciate it so much. He’s alright though for me, he doesn’t go totally over the top. That was up to the CGI and costume/makeup departments this time!

      Goosebumps worked so well b/c they were so easy to blow through and on to the next one. Ahhh, forgotten memories of my long-lost childhood. Haha! Thats why this one worked for me. So, so nostalgic.

  4. I don’t think I’ll be seeing this one, but great piece mate. I had to laugh at the first two paragraphs… i was exactly the same! loved his books as a kid, it is odd that its been picked up 20 odd years later

    • thanks Jordan! Yeah the books really spoke to me back then. It’s crazy its been that long since they were out and about, it makes me wonder what took them so long to come up with a proper film treatment (I’m not counting the made-for-TV one they did on Disney or whatever channel it was back in the early ’00s). This works on a simple escapement level but not much more.

  5. The original Goosebumps passed me by to be honest and having known Black’s penchant for starring in terrible fare like Year One and Gulliver’s Travels this looked to be of a similar ilk. However, you’ve presented a case for this so well done!

    • You bite your tongue, sir. ‘Year One’ and ‘Gulliver’s Travel’s are timeless classics.

      No, but really, in fairness I thought Black was going to be the worst part of this. I like the guy sometimes but he tends to annoy me more often than not. He needs really good material. Goosebumps isn’t exactly great material, but it’s much better than I thought it would be. Perfectly harmless film right here.

  6. I used to love the Goosebumps books so I’m glad the film at least has something to offer on a popcorn-crunching nostalgia level. I remember they made a straight-to-VHS movie/TV special of The Haunted Mask, and watching it really creeped me out as a youngster! Great review Tom.

    • Right on man; so many good monsters to put into one movie. Apart from a few zombie-like creatures not at all standing out — both in the context of the movie and from whatever books they came from — the creatures here were pretty great to see in action.

  7. One of my sons gobbled up these books quick as he could when he was 10. You are right, I’m surprised no one has thought to try a film version. I was talking with him yesterday (he’s 30) and he was animated as the middle school-er to see it.

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