by Christie Robb
It’s been over 20 years since the publication of R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumps #1: Night of the Living Dummy. And now, a generation who whiled away the nighttime hours gripping paperbacks with white knuckles can bring a new crop of kiddos to experience the thrills of Stine’s monsters, this time on the big screen.
In Goosebumps the movie, teenage hunk Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves with his mom to the ‘burbs. He is lucky in that his next-door neighbor is a quick-witted and gorgeous girl, Hannah (Odeya Rush), who immediately whisks him away to the neighborhood’s abandoned amusement park. However, he is unlucky in that her dad (Jack Black) is a curmudgeon who pops out from windows and in between the slats of fences to warn Zach to stay away or else something bad will happen.
Believing Hannah to be held captive by her overbearing dad, and after overhearing some screaming, Zach lures the dad away and breaks into the house accompanied by his timid, socially awkward friend Champ. In searching for Hannah, they discover a shelf full of Goosebumps manuscripts. And open one. Chaos ensues.
It appears Zach’s prickly neighbor is reclusive author R.L. Stine who, with the help of a magical typewriter, brings his imaginary monsters to life, but traps them inside the pages of his locked manuscripts.
The real trouble begins when Slappy (the antagonist from Night of the Living Dummy) escapes and steals the collection of manuscripts, releasing the full extent of Stine’s imagination upon the town—from the Werewolf of Fever Swamp, to a giant praying mantis, to freeze-ray wielding aliens, to murderous garden gnomes. It’s kind of Cabin in the Woods for tweens.
The movie is relentlessly paced as the crew dashes from one crisis to the next, concocting a zany plan to defeat all the monsters. The scares provided by the monsters and creepy crawlies are balanced by pratfalls, cheeky dialogue (See Zach’s aunt’s description of Stine’s smell: “… like mint and B.O. It works.”), and scene-stealing supporting characters.
Goosebumps is not without its flaws, however. It woefully underutilizes some cast members – Amy Ryan (Birdman) and Ken Marino (Wet Hot American Summer) in particular. Like the book franchise on which it is based, the movie is fairly predictable, at least for the older folks in the audience. There are some logical inconsistencies (for example, the lights are still running in the abandoned amusement park) and a definite lack of diversity in casting. But, nevertheless, it’s a seasonally-appropriate, Danny Elfman-scored thrill that will keep folks entertained without fostering nightmares.