Reading a great horror story is like watching a dangerous magic trick. At first, it makes you nervous and uncomfortable. Then it fills you with wonder as it seamlessly injects otherworldly elements into everyday surroundings.
That’s what the Goosebumps books did back in the ’90s. They took familiar settings and dropped surreal spectacles in the middle of them. Whether it was a girl possessed by a mask on Halloween night in the suburbs or a killer sponge under a kitchen sink, the focus of each story was unusual and imaginative. It made us squirm yet also perk up and think, “What a great idea!” Goosebumps proved that fear and fun can go hand in hand.
Like many of the books, the film starts with a teenage boy (Dylan Minnette) and his mom (Amy Ryan) moving to a new town — a quiet little place in Delaware. Their neighbor, Hannah (Odeya Rush), quickly warms up to Zach, and the film breezes along for a while as a sweet coming-of-age romance. Then Jack Black shows up as Hannah’s father, R.L. Stine — the creator of Goosebumps. Zach soon learns that Stine’s creepy creations literally leap off the pages of his books.
I’ve heard die-hard Goosebumps fans defend this film as an original, “meta” take on the book series. However, it’s basically just like Jumanji or Night at the Museum but with Goosebumps characters. Like those two movies, it revolves around a comic actor trying to catch a bunch of computer-generated creatures running amok. The first few monster sequences are charming, especially the attack of the living lawn gnomes. But these scenes soon start feeling repetitive, and Goosebumps turns into yet another loud mess masquerading as an action-adventure movie. While each new creature that the books presented felt fresh, they all blend together and seem the same in this film.
Thankfully, one of the most iconic and engaging monsters from the books gets a fair share of screen time. Slappy, the evil talking dummy, brings up an interesting theme — the idea of a creature controlling its creator. The Goosebumps books and TV show exuded confidence that kids would pay attention to themes like this. The movie mostly just throws eye candy at them.
Goosebumps isn’t a completely bad film. It has some good laughs and surprisingly poignant moments of adolescent drama. But it’s not nearly as memorable as its source material, which many of us have carried in our hearts for the last 20-plus years. If you’re looking for a glorious resurrection of Goosebumps, readers beware — you’re in for a disappointment.
Rated PG, Opening Friday in wide release