Nostalgia is very powerful in the entertainment-industry, as film companies try to appeal to the youth, they simultaneously try to appeal to adults in-search of that child-like wonder they felt in their youth. In 2015, a big-screen feature-film for the Goosebumps was released, and I was on-board. I enjoyed the R. L. Stine novels when I was a kid. A lot of them were derivative and hastily rushed onto book shelves, but, I did have an appreciation and respect for the way R.L. Stine brought old-school monster stories and made them relevant and engaging to a younger audience. It was for that reason a Goosebumps film made a lot sense to me, like the television series that also adapted Stine’s work.
I wrote a review of the film on Out of Frame when it was released, and I more-or-less said it was everything it needed to be and would be fun for its core audience, eventually rating it a score of “Decent” or a “5 out of 10”. I was hopeful they would create a sequel, but I didn’t know the likelihood of that. The first film made 150 million worldwide with a production budget estimated of around 60 to 80 million dollars, and when you factor in the amount of the profit that’s divvied up to the theater-chains, then, calculate the amount also invested into marketing the film, there’s no way Goosebumps could’ve broken even on theater sales alone. That said, it seems the film must’ve found a second-life on the home-market and through streaming services, as, the new film Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween did get greenlit and released, this time with a production budget of about half its first film. Does the film flounder the potential of a Goosebumps franchise or does it rise to the occasion to deliver something that can be fun for a new era of fans?
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is directed by Ari Sandel and written by Rob Lieber. The director is also known for the Netflix film When We First Met, which I wasn’t a fan of, and The Duff. Acting as a direct-sequel to the first film, it spins a familiar yarn, two young boys are outcasted, bullied and targeted by other classmates, and they like to go “treasure hunting,” a euphemism for going through old-houses and other junk, scrapping it for whatever they can get. They find themselves asked to look through an old abandoned house that happens to have once belonged to R.L. Stine. Looking through the house, they find an old-book that ends up with them releasing Slappy the Dummy who brings to life many Goosebumps monsters to wreak havoc and cause trouble on Halloween night.
The story holds a lot of similarities to the previous film, which is a complaint I heard a lot of critics make. I do think it retreads a lot of familiar-territory, specifically when the cogs are set in-motion and the creatures begin to run roughshod over the town, but I don’t think it’s enough to really condemn the film for. The two young boys may not offer a wholly unique spin to the film, but they likeable enough, and I think they do offer a different angle than the original trio of characters did in the original film. The film does seem to have some self-awareness to certain retreads, particularly with Jack Black’s scenes as R.L. Stine, but being aware to something doesn’t absolve from the act.
The scenes and the film’s allocation of time are less than stellar at its worst. A run-time of 90 minutes is about what a Goosebumps film warrants until it becomes stretched beyond its means, but this film still manages to feel like it’s padding the run-time and that a lot of scenes could have ended up on the cutting-room floor. In one scene, the young boys and their babysitter (one of the boy’s sister, actually), are in a moment where time is of the essence, they decide to dress-up as monsters to blend in. The scene thereafter is a nonsensical, tonally inconsistent opportunities for our characters to accessorize, including incorporating forced, unnecessary plot-threads to be used for the final half of the film.
Along with that, it feels like all of R. L. Stine’s scenes could’ve and should’ve never happened. Although the film is aware of how unimportant he is to the film’s conflict, that doesn’t change the fact that the scenes could’ve been exorcised or re-worked in a way that either tightened the central story or shortened the film’s length. I’m of the assumption that the reason Jack Black wasn’t featured heavily in this film has to do with the budget being cut-in-half. The expenditure of having him in the first place feels even stranger when you consider he was barely featured at all in the promotional content. Perhaps that’s because they wanted to avoid appearing similar the recently released The House with a Clock in Its Walls film? Either way, it seems like they would’ve been better off simply making an in-world Goosebumps film without R.L. Stine. But, I suppose hindsight is 20/20.
Instead of having Jack Black do the voice-work for Slappy the Dummy in this film, they, instead, opted for Mick Wingert to take the reins of the character. This decision makes a lot of sense when you consider Mick Wingert is also known for his uncanny imitation of Jack Black from the Kung Fu Panda cartoon series on Nickelodeon. Unfortunately, I found that Mick hammed it up more than I would’ve liked, with his repetitive laughter coming off as overbearing.
I enjoyed some of the special-effects in this film, and in-fact, even more than my personal enjoyment of the film, I find my stake in the success of Goosebumps has to do with its willingness to celebrate the horror genre with a younger audience. Although, like its predecessor, the film is very heavy on CGI (which can be fantastic if done well) that adds a glossy, inauthentic quality to some of its characters, some of them I thought seemed inspired and true to the Halloween spirit.
A lot of my criticisms won’t apply to its target-demographic, but I feel its still relevant to point out complaints and praise quality in the entertainment provided to younger moviegoers. In some ways, I like Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween more than the original Goosebumps simply because it has a more ghoulish nature to it. Unfortunately, because its lacking story-line, misuse of its own potential and run-time, I feel compelled to leave it as a below-average, 4 out of 10 film.