Release: 30th May 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
After moving to a small town, Zach Cooper finds a silver lining when he meets next door neighbor Hannah, the daughter of bestselling Goosebumps series author R.L. Stine. Stine is very mysterious and a prisoner of his own imagination – the monsters that his books made famous are real, and he protects his readers by keeping them locked up in their manuscripts. When the monsters are accidentally unleashed and begin to terrorize the town, it’s up to Stine, Zach and Hannah to get them back in their books where they belong.
If the name R.L Stine means anything to you, then it’s probably because you grew up in an era when pre-teens became somewhat obsessed by ‘manageable’ horror. If you weren’t devouring Stine’s tales of maniacal puppets or cursed Polaroid cameras, then you were likely filling you head with nightmarish stories from Are You Afraid of the Dark or wondering if Mr Jones from school might actually be The Demon Headmaster. Stine pioneered a moment in time that harked back to cold-war hysteria where kids used monsters and urban legends as a way of coping with real life threat, but modernised it so that suddenly the 90’s weren’t quite so boring anymore. There was a cultural wave in those Clinton-era years, when kids could actually scare themselves silly without ever needing to delve into the explicit horror genre (remember The Haunted Mask!?). Goosebumps was Wes Craven-lite.
This style of storytelling has all but disappeared. Kids are either consuming worse horrors on YouTube, or finding themselves cocooned by over protective parents. The good old fashioned scare seems a distant memory. Not so, however, with 2016’s Goosebumps. The film is an oddly effective Meta take on Stine’s legacy, managing to drag the now laughable creatures of yesteryear into a modern day setting without sacrificing the reality of one or the spiritual essence of the other. Stine’s novels were always a little tongue in-cheek, and by channelling his lore through an impish prism the film, like the books, keeps a tone that is charming and entertaining yet ever-so-often un-nerving.
Of course, the likes of Slappy the dummy or the Abominable Snowman are hardly likely to terrify today the way the might have done 20-plus years ago, but the timeless unease brought about by zombies and clowns still play here. In one particularly gruesome scene, Stine and his pubescent trio find themselves traipsing through a graveyard pursued by the undead. For adults, it is a tense little scene; while for young ones, the terror of R.L Stine past is very much evident. Goosebumps plays fast and loose, without ever really fixing on a given villain or character arc. There might be a loose narrative in place, but this is essentially a film that wants to get from one monster to another in an effort to justify its title as the Goosebumps movie.
Jack Black tones down his “rigga-goo-goo”-ish mannerism as Stine, to offer him a more restrained, if not unusually voiced, presence. Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush and Ryan Lee (aka the Tom Petty kid from This Is 40) might have struggled to keep the film engaging enough with a strong supporting cast, but are game none-the-less, while the usually wonderfully Amy Ryan barely registers in her blink and you’ll miss it screen time. Thankfully Jillian Bell is on hand to beef up some of the film’s weaker moments as Minnette’s onscreen auntie. Bell is quite the rising comedy star, and in a film where she manages to out perform the Kung-Fu Panda himself, things continue to look promising.
Goosebumps is a surprisingly smart and funny take on Stine’s oeuvre. The film moves at a steady pace, and keeps the laughs and scares coming until a rather haphazard and chaotic 3rd act. The computer graphics are often obvious, but never truly offensive enough to detract from the experience. With a sequel in the pipeline, there is room to make this a franchise worthy of igniting the old flame and giving Goosebumps a second wind. In fact, it will be great to see the young upstarts of today, with their Game of Thrones and Eli Roth movies, cowering at the sight of Camp Crystal Lake. Viewer beware, you’re in for a scare…
Film Grade: C
Sony are pretty good and making special features aimed at kids, and Goosebumps is no different. Aside from the so-so deleted scenes and screen tests, there is a great Creature FX feature that looks functions as a how-to guide for making blood and mummys at home.
The On Set documentary is less about the making of the film and more about goofing around. While the Survival Guide is just a terrorists guide to immobalising cars.
Then we have a feature All About Slappy, which is kind of a cute approach to exploring how to obtained the look and feel of Stine’s most popular character, but like the character himself, is lacking substance.
Special Features Grade: C-
Goosebumps is a juicy old shot of nostalgia wrapped in timeless family fun.