Three years ago, fans of R.L. Stein’s blockbuster book series, Goosebumps, were served a delightful, if somewhat anachronistic little surprise in the form of Rob Letterman’s eponymous movie. Helmed by Jack Black, Goosebumps was an undeniably charming homage to the nineties literary craze, throwing in Easter eggs for fans, whilst at the same time introducing a new generation of audience to the tweenage horror anthology. It was funny, it was clever, and it had no ruddy right to be. And that’s why it was great.
Of course, with every cinematic success, there will inevitably come a sequel. But if the first one was anything to go by, it would surely be a jack-o-lantern full of frightful fun. This fan was certainly excited by the idea.
Until it transpired that none of the endearing cast of the original would be making a return, including Jack Black.
I, amongst others, was concerned…
Goosebumps 2 tells the tale of young’uns Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) who, in an attempt to make some pocket money, set up a kind of rag’n’bone racket, clearing out old houses and selling on the stuff they find. Their first job leads them to a creepy old mansion (oh, is that the Stein house from the first movie…?), wherein they find a mysterious book and, surprise, surprise, a creepy ventriloquist’s dummy.
The lads open the book, which turns out to be Stein’s lost first novel, ‘Haunted Halloween’, thereby unleashing ghouls and goblins upon their town, all led by the newly resurrected Slappy.
In many ways, Goosebumps 2 should work fine. It’s doing what every sequel should seek out to do, taking what worked about the first one and making it bigger and bolder. Unfortunately, without the presence of a strong adult lead, the film feels like a lacklustre Disney Channel Halloween Town outing. Ken Jeong does his very best with the limited screen time he receives, but unfortunately, by the time (SPOILER ALERT!) Jack Black does turn up in the final act, any adults in the audience have already found themselves dreaming wistfully about the books’ glory days.
And therein lies another problem; this is a Goosebumps movie that lacks any reference to its source material. Save for the iconic Slappy, the only Goosebumps character to make an appearance is the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena (an odd choice… I have very fleeting memories of this book as a child, as it rarely makes any “my favourite Goosebumps” lists… why do we keep using this beastie? Two movies and no Monster Blood?? Oh well…). The first film was a veritable smorgasbord of cameos from the original series of books, along with Goosebumps 2000 and Give Yourself Goosebumps, and yet Haunted Halloween lacks none of these familiar faces, furthermore endorsing the Halloween Town analogy.
I’d be intrigued to know what a younger audience thought of Goosebumps 2, but after the inter-generational enjoyment of its predecessor, for many fans, this will be a disappointment. R.L. Stein is one of the most prolific (arguably the most prolific) writers of the Twentieth Century. He has brought to life countless iconic creatures, all screaming out for a shot at the big screen. So why bypass all of this? Should a third make its way to our screens, let it be HorrorLand, for what is a Goosebumps tale without that little twist of Stein magic?
Dir: Ari Sandel
Scr: Rob Lieber
Cast: Wendi McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Ken Jeong, Jack Black
Prd: Deborah Forte, Neal H. Moritz
DOP: Barry Peterson
Music: Dominic Lewis
Run time: 90 mins
Goosebumps 2 on DVD and BluRay February 18th courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment