Cold was the night when kid books were titled, “Say Cheese and Die,” “Monster Blood for Breakfast,” “The Horror at Camp Jellyjam,” and “The Cuckoo Clock of Doom.” Kids of the ‘90s, such as ours, carried an insatiable appetite for this kid-friendly “Goosebumps” series. We seemingly were responsible for a fair share of his 400 million copies sold.
This children’s horror series, by renowned author R.L. Stine, was also noted for the prominent Tim Jacobus cover art. Selling more copies than even Stephen King, Stine was revered for getting kids excited about reading. Original fans, now young adults, will most certainly celebrate the return of their favorite monsters.
This creature feature is kind of an ogre reunion from the entire series. Director Rob Letterman (“Gulliver’s Travels”) holds the scare factor to about a “three,” but the effects factor is a solid “ten,” it is still a little much for small fry. It is mostly lightweight and keeps moving, but just not enough to hold the interest of older adults.
Jack Black stars as the mysterious grumpy neighbor of teenager Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette), who has just moved from the big city to a Delaware burg (filmed near New Orleans). Unbeknownst to Zach, the neighbor is author R.L. Stine, who has become a prisoner of his own imagination. Zach is infatuated with Stine’s lovely daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), who explains, “ Don’t take it personally. He doesn’t really like anyone.”
It doesn’t take much to turn on Black’s freak flag. He always seems to be on the verge of sinister and goofy anyway, so here he gets to display both in abundance. He’s a kid-friendly villain, but the real villains are unleashed from the pages of the manuscripts, similar to the game board in Robin Williams’ “Jumanji” (1995). Stine explains, “All the monsters I’ve ever created are locked inside these books. But when they open . . .”
Joined by nerdy buddy Champ (Ryan Lee), who adds some comic relief, our heroes are confronted by a series of characters. Champ screams: The Abominable Snowman just crawled out of a book, that doesn’t just happen!” Soon to follow are a giant preying mantis, invisible boy, floating poodle and their ringleader Slappy, a “Chucky-like” puppet.
Once the critters are on the loose, it’s non-stop stampede of chaos and mayhem. Although the danger is never quite as real as most movies, Slappy just might generate a few kiddie nightmares. The spirited cast seems to be genuinely spooked, in a fun way, as the zombies, werewolves and lawn gnomes are on a mission to terrorize the town.
Zach, Hannah and Champ are determined to help Stine round up these boogiemen and somehow get them all back in the books where they belong. Of course, they need to take the obligatory shortcut through the cemetery. What could go wrong there, other than good creepy fun, a parade of undead and widespread pyro techniques?
The screenplay by Darren Lemke (“Jack the Giant Killer”) is sufficiently dumbed down for children. For some, this could become a Halloween classic, but most adults will not need to see it again. The supporting cast includes Amy Ryan (“The Office”) as Zach’s mom and Jillian Bell, as his Aunt, but unfortunately under-utilized. Also, Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund offer a silly but worthwhile Keystone Cops routine.
“Goosebumps” is 103 minutes and rated PG for scary creature images and rude humor. The 90’s book series was wildly successful. In ‘98, Tim Burton was set to direct a movie based on the series, but production fell through. There’s not enough content here to adapt a single monster to a movie, but by including them all, the story feels diluted.
We have all the respect for Stine, but too often, this feels like an overt promotion or even puff piece for the author, who also carries a small cameo. He explains, “Every story can be broken down into three parts: the beginning, the middle and the twist. However, the best thing we’d recommend when watching this movie would be a good book.
Ron’s Rating: C- Leigh’s Rating: C+