If you’re of a certain age, I’m sure Goosebumps holds quite a special place in your heart. The series of books – totalling over sixty individual stories – sold over 350 million copies worldwide…so adapting it into a film was always going to be a risky move, liable to upset a great deal of people (myself very much included).
Fortunately, the gamble paid off. Wisely choosing not to directly remake one of RL Stine’s original stories, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, along with screenwriter Darren Lemke, instead opted to craft their own story that manages to tick all the boxes that made Stine’s original series so engaging.
After moving to small-town Madison, Delaware from New York with his mum, Zach (the excellent Dylan Minnette) becomes enamored with his new neighbour, Hannah (Odeya Rush). Unluckily for him, Hannah’s overbearing and extremely sinister father (Jack Black) does everything in his power to see to it that Hannah remains as isolated as possible. All hell breaks loose, however, when Zach manages to sneak into his neighbour’s house and discovers a collection of locked books that hold a supernatural secret…
Goosebumps is a total blast from start to finish. Director Rob Letterman wastes no time in setting everything up, throwing Jack Black’s uncharacteristically restrained “Mr. Shivers” into the mix as soon as he can. From then on, the fun really starts, when Zach, and his new self-proclaimed best friend Champ (Super 8’s Ryan Lee) unwittingly unleash an army of Goosebumps’ best and brightest…so it’s up to the unlikely four to try and work out a way of imprisoning the monsters before they ransack Madison.
Headed up by everyone’s favourite evil ventriloquist dummy, Slappy (also voiced by Black), the horde of villains are handled well. Rather than unleashing everything in one fell swoop, Letterman gradually turns up the chaos as the film progresses, as Slappy unites the creatures against Zach and his pals.
Sketchy Anglo-american accent aside, Black is a delight, an acerbic wit replacing his usual larger-than-life physical comedy, and Minnette brings a remarkable amount of heart to the movie. I think this is really where Goosebumps shines; chills and thrills aside, there’s quite a number of heart-felt, mature themes – namely of death and loss – running through it, that elevate what could have been quite a by-the-numbers family-friendly horror-comedy to something more.
Goosebumps is a film that – whether knowingly or not – drips with nostalgia. This in itself is quite surprising, since Letterman makes no effort to hide the fact that the film is set in present day. Even without the Goosebumps brand hanging over the film, there’s something very Dantean (Joe, not Alighieri) about the film that fills it with a late-80s-early-90s vibe, helped in part by Danny Elfman’s always excellent score.
Ultimately, Goosebumps doesn’t tread any particularly new ground, playing out a little like a PG The Cabin in the Woods-meets-Monster Squad, but that by no means is a bad thing. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the original books or not, it’s a solid, solid movie that offers up a surprising emotional core.
As an aside, if you’re a longtime fan of the series, make sure to stick around for the end credits. You won’t be disappointed!
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