A Silly Spookfest, ‘Goosebumps’ is a Frighteningly Fun Flick

GameStop, Inc.

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The prolific purveyor of children’s horror, R.L. Stine and his series of Goosebumps books have been immensely popular since they first debuted in 1992, selling in the range of 400 million copies worldwide. A short-lived TV series notwithstanding, the Goosebumps series of books never made the leap over into filmed entertainment. Finally, Stine and his creations are getting the big screen treatment in Goosebumps, though don’t expect a simple adaptation of one of your favorite stories. Instead, Goosebumps is a movie that plays on horror conventions and the books’ popularity, turning its author into a character in the film battling his own creations. It makes for a silly fun time at the movies and a loving homage to the spooky series of books that inspired it.

High schooler Zack Cooper (Dylan Minnette) moves with his mother (Amy Ryan) from New York City to a quaint suburban town. At school, Zack is able to quickly make friends with Champ (Ryan Lee), a brash nerdy outsider. Next door lives the teenage girl Hannah (Odeya Rush) and her father, the mysterious Mr. Shivers (Jack Black). Though he tries to spark a friendship with Hannah, Mr. Shivers refuses to allow his daughter to become friends with Zack, acting in a manner that raises the suspicions of the new neighbor. Fearing for Hannah’s safety, Zack convinces Champ to join in him in breaking into Shivers’ house while he’s briefly away. There they find a number of Goosebumps manuscripts locked shut. When Zack and Champ open one of the locked manuscripts, the massive Abominable Snowman leaps from the pages wreaking havoc and destruction. In the fray, another manuscript was opened, unleashing the demented ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Avery L. Jones) who is determined to live beyond the page with the other monsters created by R.L. Stine,  who has been moving from town to town running from his own creations and living under the pseudonym of Shivers. Now the author and the three teens must find a way to get these monsters back into print.

Goosebumps works better as a comedy than it does a horror film, though most of the horror elements are geared towards a younger audience. Director Rob Letterman brings a strong visual sense to his horror-themed action. One sequence involving a giant praying mantis is wonderfully composed, bringing a sense of scale to the massive insect’s destructive rampage and never obscuring the action with chaotic editing. With the music by Danny Elfman and the script by Darren Lemke (working from a story by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski), Goosebumps has the feel of a lost Tim Burton film; it shouldn’t be too much a surprise as Burton was attached to Goosebumps in the late ‘90s. The production design and makeup effects are all top notch, though the weakest monsters are CGI creations that could’ve been better served with some practical effects – the werewolf is especially underwhelming.

The teen actors of Goosebumps avail themselves well. Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush never really wow the audience, nor do they undermine the film with wooden teenage acting. Ryan Lee gives the best performance of the younger actors, injecting a lively form of comedic relief. But Goosebumps is the Jack Black show all the way though. He gives a wonderful over the top performance as the writer haunted by his own creations, speaking in this cartoonish inflection of what a sketch comedy troupe might think a tortured writer might sound like. For the most part, when Black isn’t on screen Goosebumps is merely passable, but when he’s present it’s vibrant and fun. There are also a number of solid supporting performances from strong comedic actors like Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, and Timothy Simmons.

Mostly aimed for a younger crowd, Goosebumps still works for the older set. It wholly embraces its inherent silliness and rolls it into a silly good time at the movies. There’s only one twist that I would call an all-out dud, but it has built up enough goodwill up until that point that it’s a minor and forgivable flaw. Goosebumps rides the manic comedic performance of Jack Black and the robust roster of monsters and ghouls – zombies, gnomes, and a blob – all the way to the finish line. This is a silly spook show that’ll entertain adults and kids alike.

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