Back in the 1990s, a series of books arose that caught the attention of young people everywhere. It was a series known as Goosebumps. Created by R. L. Stine, the series caught so much attention because it was something quite rare: a series of horror books aimed at children. With their striking covers and accessible stories, Goosebumps became a gateway to scares for a younger generation. It also became a pop culture force, with numerous spin-offs within the book series, a TV show, and even video games along with all sorts of merchandise. Though the books themselves may sometimes seem a little cheesy, there’s no denying it left a mark on a generation of young readers. Now, as time has passed, that series has now made its arrival to the big screen. Though it’s not based on any one specific book, the film is a fun mixture of monsters from throughout the series, with the film simply known as Goosebumps.
The film is centered around Zach Cooper, a teenager who has moved with his mom from New York City to the small town of Madison, Delaware. Though he is frustrated with this change of scenery, he finds some friendship from a girl next door named Hannah despite the protests of her mysterious and abrasive father (played by Jack Black). When Zach hears the sound of a scream come from Hannah’s home, he heads over to investigate with his friend Champ and fears Hannah may be in trouble at the hands of her dad. When they head over, they discovers two surprising truths: her father is actually author R. L. Stine and all the monsters from his Goosebumps books are real, kept contained within their manuscripts. However, due to a mishap, the manuscripts are opened, freeing such horrors as the Abominable Snowman, villainous lawn gnomes, and a living ventriloquist’s dummy named Slappy. As the monsters wreak havoc in Madison and set their sights on destroying R. L. Stine, our heroes set out in search of a way to recapture all of the monsters back onto the page.
This film actually turned out to be a lot of fun. Firstly, the plot is a clever approach to adapting the series of books to film. Rather than adapting one book or attempting an anthology, this meta approach allows them to pull inspiration from the whole series in terms of plot and in terms of monsters who show up over the course of the film. The performances in the movie also work well, helping to deliver a quick sense of humor along with the thrills. Particularly of note is Jack Black, who not only plays R. L. Stine but also voices Slappy, reimagined here as being Stine’s raging id. Along with that, there are plenty of fun action sequences throughout the movie, such as when our heroes are attacked by a whole horde of villainous lawn gnomes. Helping out these sequences is a fun music score by Danny Elfman, which captures a macabre but playful tone. Now, not everything in this film quite works.
When it comes to the humor, I do feel that the film does get a little too goofy at points. Now, I do understand that this is a family film, but the fact of the matter is that the appeal of the Goosebumps books was that they were horror stories for kids. True, they tended to have humor to go along with the scares, but they did also have attempts at scares. Personally, I would have appreciated if they had found a way to include some scares in this film. Maybe not something major, but moments that could offer a good spine-tingling chill to kids along with the laughs. That way, you have a good mixture of funny and scary, something that would be appropriate for the feel of Goosebumps.
This movie may not be a great film, but for what it is, it’s a delight. It’s a fun, breezy trip, capturing a mix of goofy humor and familiar monsters in what feels like the cinematic equivalent to a carnival dark ride. I think it will make for a good watch for the family this Halloween season, along with maybe striking a chord for nostalgic readers of the original Goosebumps series. In fact, the style and feel of the film overall reminds me of movies from the ’90s like Hocus Pocus or Small Soldiers. I suppose it’s rather fitting, then, that a movie based on a popular series of books from the ’90s should have a similar feel to movies from that time as well. For me, I’d suggest giving Goosebumps a try.