Release date: 5th February 2016/Watch the trailer here
I have fond childhood memories of Goosebumps. For those who don’t remember, Goosebumps is a series of children’s novels by R.L. Stine. Some sixty-two books were written by Stine throughout the 90s, all of them creepy horror stories intent on giving kids nightmares. When I heard that a Goosebumps film was being made, I had high hopes of it being something along the lines of the 90s Goosebumps television series – the terrifying Haunted Mask episode was the cause of my childhood nightmares for years.
Then I heard that Jack Black was going to star in it, and I decided that it was time for me to wave goodbye to any hope that I had for this film.
Well, the good news is that Goosebumps is nowhere near as bad as I feared it would be. Jack Black plays R.L. Stine himself, now a creepy recluse, hiding away with his teenage daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) in the sleepy small town of Madison, Delaware. Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves into the house next-door and befriends Hannah, but is suspicious of her ‘psychopath’ dad, enlisting his dorky pal Champ (Ryan Lee) to help him in a rescue mission which quickly goes awry when he unlocks an old Goosebumps novel, The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena…
It turns out that all of R.L. Stine’s fictional monsters are very real, and must be kept locked away inside of their books or else chaos will ensue. (I still don’t really understand how the monsters became real. I think it was something to do with the typewriter? Maybe?) Things go from bad to worse when Night of the Living Dummy is unlocked, releasing the devious puppet Slappy (think Chucky from Child’s Play, but less murderous) who’s intent on unleashing every monster that Stine has ever created.
Thankfully, Stine’s not really a psychopath, he’s just another goofy Jack Black character, and it turns out that he can get rid of all of the monsters simply by writing a new book and capturing them within its pages. (Yeah, I don’t really understand how that works, either).
Goosebumps is a children’s film, after all, and it sacrifices a solid plot for laughs and kiddy scares (although that puppet is seriously freaky), but it more than achieves what it sets out to do. It’s simple, lighthearted, boisterous fun, and it’s certainly a lot more charming than the majority of recent children’s films. It has a group of funny, likeable main characters – Champ in particular is hilarious – and there’s even a completely unexpected plot twist.
The story may be weak at times and the special effects even weaker – although no one wants to see a lifelike praying mantis when it’s that big – but when you go to the cinema to watch a children’s film starring Jack Black, your standards probably aren’t going to be that high, anyway, given his recent track record. Luckily, there’s a good chance that Goosebumps will succeed in exceeding your expectations.
Goosebumps is one of those rare children’s films that I think the adults will get more out of than the kids – if the adult remembers the original Goosebumps novels, that is. As each monster is unleashed throughout the course of the film, there’s a delightful moment of ‘I remember that one!’
The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes, The Blob That Ate Everyone… They’re all there, alongside ghosts and ghouls and vampires and aliens and mummies and clowns and all the other horrors that starred in your childhood nightmares. They might not scare you anymore – and our heroes are never in any real peril, after all – but you’ll have fun remembering the days when they used to.
Goosebumps is nothing we haven’t seen before, but nor does it try to be. It wants to have fun, it wants to give kids the creeps and it wants to make us laugh. Goosebumps ticks all of those boxes, and in the process it gives us a playfully spooky old-fashioned tale that R.L. Stine himself would be proud of (P.S. – watch out for his cameo…)