I’ve made it no secret in my previous articles that I am a product of the 90s, and that 90s horror anthology series were both an integral (if not terrifying) part of my childhood and an endless source of campy joy in my adult life. As such, I couldn’t tell you how elated I was sitting down in the theater to watch the film GOOSEBUMPS starring Jack Black. But can nostalgia alone make for a good film, or is this a fun romp that the whole family can enjoy, regardless of whether or not they’ve read the books?
In typical GOOSEBUMPS fashion, our story revolves around a teenager named Zach (Dylan Minnette), who has just moved to a new town with his recently widowed mother (Amy Ryan). Even though the town seems to be too dull to have any interest for Zach, he immediately makes a connection with the girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush). One night, Zach hears a scream from next door, and fears that Hannah’s reclusive father, the mysterious and irascible Mr. Shivers, has attacked her in a fit of rage. Zach and his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) break into the Shiver residence to come to her aid, only to discover that Mr. Shivers is actually the horror novelist R.L. Stine, and that their attempted rescue mission has now accidentally caused his works to literally come to life off the page. With the horrors of the GOOSEBUMPS novels now set upon the town, it’s up to Zach, Hannah, Champ, and Stine to find a way to stop the monsters from wreaking havoc before it’s too late.
As you can probably guess, there are a lot of references and nods to the original series, of which there are a total of 62 books alone (not counting the books from TALES TO GIVE YOURSELF GOOSEBUMPS, GIVE YOURSELF GOOSEBUMPS, GOOSEBUMPS SERIES 2000, GOOSEBUMPS Graphic Novels, GOOSEBUMPS HORRORLAND series, and GOOSEBUMPS MOST WANTED). If you are familiar with the original series, then you will certainly be delighted to see many familiar faces, including The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, Attack of the Jack-O’-Lanterns, The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, the giant robot praying mantis from A Shocker On Shock Street, the ghouls from Welcome To Dead House, and of course, the diabolical Slappy from Night of the Living Dummy. Having vivid memories of staying up late at night as a kid reading these stories, as well as cowering in fear watching the television series, I was elated seeing these characters come to life on the big screen after so many years (although I was severely disappointed that a few of my favorites, MONSTER BLOOD and THE HAUNTED MASK, only got passing mentions, and that THE PHANTOM OF THE AUDITORIUM wasn’t mentioned at all; but then again, this is understandable, considering there are well-over 62 books to try to incorporate, these are forgivable omissions). Tonally, this film is a lot like a kid-friendly version of CABIN IN THE WOODS, in that groups of monsters influenced by numerous pop culture sources all converge and attack our heroes simultaneously (think of it as a literary version of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, or like JUMANJI with books). There’s also just something really endearing about the idea of creatures from childhood stories coming to life and entering the real world. As such, the movie’s plot is still accessible to younger kids who haven’t read the books, while still catering to the older members of the audience that have.
Having the focus on Zach was also a great parallel to many books from the original series, since many of R.L. Stine’s stories focus on a kid moving to a new town, even if Zach is a little older than the typical GOOSEBUMPS protagonist. The way he interacts with other characters is both relatable and humorous, especially his relationship with his mom, which is particularly endearing. However, Champ as a character ranges from genuinely funny to annoying, so I could have gone without the inclusion of his character; although he arguable has the most development compared to all the others. Of all the characters in the film though, there was a very interesting dynamic between Stine and his creation Slappy, who really didn’t appreciate being left on the shelf for so many years. It’s heavily implied by the film that Slappy is the embodiment of Stine’s own sense of anger and resentment of the real world. The idea that arguably the most iconic character of the franchise is a reflection of Stine’s angst and self-loathing, the feelings that caused him to retreat into his own imagination, create these monsters, and then inadvertently bring them to life, is actually a surprisingly complex concept for a goofy kid’s movie. Even more interesting is Hannah’s character, Stine’s rebellious daughter who quickly forms a friendship with Zach as soon as he moves in. Hannah is a fun-loving and adventurous character that, much like Zach, would be right at home as the protagonist of any GOOSEBUMPS novel. But Hannah also carries a secret of her own, a burden that she silently shoulders throughout the runtime of the film. I would argue that this not only makes her the most interesting character in the movie, but also even more of a hero to the story than Zach. When the chips are down, she is always the one that leaps into action when everyone else is too afraid to do so. As someone who read a plethora of GOOSEBUMPS novels as a young girl, Hannah’s complexity and proactive nature was something I appreciated on numerous levels.
That isn’t to say the film is without its flaws. Some of the humor is hit or miss, and as I alluded to before, some of the characters can become annoying at times. Even one of the biggest selling points of the film, the idea that all these different iconic monsters have come to life, is undermined by production constraints. There is only so much the filmmakers could do on a limited budget to include as many references as possible, meaning a lot of lovable monsters are either left out completely, or can only be seen briefly from afar. Some of the twists are also a fairly predictable, but luckily that doesn’t detract too much from the fun of watching things play out. While newcomers to the franchise, namely young children, will undoubtedly enjoy the adventure in the movie, as well as adults who understand all the references because they grew up with the series, I’m afraid that if you don’t fall into either of those categories, then there probably isn’t a whole lot for you in this film. If you are an adult with no connection to the series, most of the characters, references, and overall fun will be completely lost on you.
Despite these flaws, I personally found GOOSEBUMPS to be a fun ride for both the young and the young at heart. If you’re looking for a fun trick and a treat this Halloween, GOOSEBUMPS is sure to deliver. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the library to reread some classics!
GOOSEBUMPS opens in theaters October 16, 2015.
What did you think of the new film? Did you like seeing Stine’s classic monsters come to life, or do you wish this franchise would just drop dead? Be sure to let us know @TheMovieChickk!
Want to catch up on some classic Goosebumps stories? Watch the classic television series on Amazon.com!