Review: Goosebumps

A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R. L. Stine after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that, on paper, R.L Stine’s multi-million selling Goosebumps series would be a tricky thing to attempt to adapt to film. A series of horror novellas aimed at children, the task of attempting to do an entire collection of acclaimed and beloved books justice seems like a tall order for a 100-minute feature. However, the inspired decision to make the central character the series’ author (Jack Black, in his finest performance since Bernie) pays massive dividends, and the end result is a hugely satisfying an eminently likeable effort that will satisfy both fans of the series and and newcomers.

It’s a film that functions less as a horror in the conventional sense (understandable, given the target demographic of the source material) and more like an adventure film, evoking the tone of films like the Goonies in its wide-eyed, cartoonish free-spiritedness. Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves to a new town with his mother (the always-reliable Amy Ryan) and soon befriends his neighbour, the charismatic, home-schooled Hannah (Odeya Rush). When he starts to wonder if she’s having problems at home, a covert visit to her house reveals the identity of her famous father, and also results in all of the monsters from his book series escaping into the real world. With chaos descending on the town, it’s up to Hannah, Stine, Zach and their friend Champ (an appropriately hammy Ryan Lee) to capture them again before it’s too late.

Goosebumps references the books enough to reward devotees but never as much as to alienate newcomers. The pace is mile-a-minute and the writing impressively quotable, but the performances are the real story here. Minnette, Rush and Lee are all convincing and easy to watch, while Jack Black dials down the crazy just enough to nail it, while also shining as the voice of demonic ventriloquist’s dummy Slappy. The creatures are uniformly great, with a marauding band of garden gnomes and Slappy himself bringing the most to the table.

All things considered, Goosebumps is a lovingly crafted and boundlessly entertaining outing that, for all its bluster, has a huge amount of heart at its core. It’s the most fun you’re likely to have at the movies this year, and might even introduce a new generation to horror, and for that, we should be hugely thankful.

Well I have to say I wasn’t particularly enthused by this one. I never read any of the Goosebumps books (too old!) so I don’t have anything to reference it against and it was one of those films that I had to ask myself why are we even reviewing this. That said once in a while it is nice to be proved wrong.

Kicking off with a mother and son moving from the city to a small town, Zach falls for the pretty girl next door without realising that her father is the Goosebumps author R. L. Stine (played by Jack Black). Once weird things start going on next door, Zach decides to investigate and finds all of Stines books locked away but he opens one with the result being the monster within comes to life.

This is a great film for teenagers, it just touched upon the horror fan within me and even had echoes of PUPPET MASTER with the talking dummy that is Slappy. Certainly not a film for children as I think it would just be a little too intense it seems to be a good starting point for youngsters who may grow up into horror fans. Much like I watched movies such as THE LABYRINTH or THE DARK CRYSTAL, even movies such as GREMLINS or GHOSTBUSTERS, what I found with Goosebumps is it’s a great entry movie into horror.

Once that action kicks off it’s a lot of fun as all the various monsters come to life and this is a non stop movie once something actually starts to happen. It builds slowly but once the wheels are set in motion they don’t stop.

I wasn’t expecting much from this so I have to say that I was really surprised by how good it was. Now I’ve seen it I wouldn’t want to again but it did more than I was expecting and if you are familiar with the books I’m sure this will tick all of the boxes. A real treat.

As someone who has never fully read a Goosebumps book, I feared that I wasn’t going to ‘get’ Goosebumps. Feared I wasn’t going to know who the characters were, wouldn’t understand any of the in-jokes, any of the references, laugh at the wrong time and be exposed, right there in my seat, for the fraud I am. Be shunned from the cinema as I’d walk away crying, whimpering under my breath ‘……but I watched Are You Afraid of the Dark! That’s the same right?’. Anyway, no such unbelievable situation occurred and I had the most bitchin’ time watching Goosebumps.
Not just for the wee ones, this perfect little bubble of horror/comedy/fantasy was a joy to watch. Fun, colourful, witty, touching at times (as touching as a film like this can be – gotta teach kids those morals, right?), I was smiling like a loon. It reminded me so much of the kiddie horror of yore (the 90’s), and I was all up on that like a train! It turns out, you didn’t have to be familiar with the characters because, much like Cabin In the Woods, it was fun guessing where they came from, what their backstory was. In fact, that’s a pretty fair comparison, Hocus Pocus meets Cabin, with a dash of Casper thrown in too. Deservedly taking centre stage is Slappy, the maniacal puppet who, after spending too long in the shadows, has a real axe to grind. RL Stine is superbly portrayed by the awesome Jack Black., who also voices Slappy, which makes for fitting symbolism. I love Black regardless, but his performance here was something special for me, gave me the warm and fuzzies. Sorry, I can’t describe that in any other way.
Ridiculously fun, inventive and brimming with childhood charm, Goosebumps deserves, NEEDS, to be seen on the big screen. If you’re my age, prepare for a throwback to your youth, where you knew this kind of film was corny (well chinny, UK translated), but you loved it anyway. It will earn itself a place on my DVD shelf.

Goosebumps is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now. 




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