Although I’m aware of the franchise, I was too old for the “Goosebumps” books when they first came out. I earned my reading strips devouring the adventures of The Hardy Boys (the very first book without any pictures I read was “While The Clock Ticked”) and Alfred Hitchcock And The Three Investigators. When I got into horror books, it was Stephen King, James Herbert and F Paul Wilson that I read, so I missed out on the whole cavalcade of Goosebumps takes on the classic Universal monsters and assorted other 1950s B-movies.
When Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his mother Gale (Amy Ryan, “The Office: An American Workplace”) move from New York City to the town of Madison, Delaware they encounter their abrupt and unfriendly new neighbour Mr Shivers (Jack Black) and his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush). When Zach hears screams coming from the Shivers household, he persuades his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) to help him investigate. Inside, they discover a bookshelf full of locked manuscripts and, opening one, accidentally unleash a monstrous yeti onto the town. But worse is to come, and when the evil dummy Slappy escapes his book, the gang face a race against time to save the town.
The film starts sluggishly, with a little too much laborious setting up of Zach being the new kid in school but I suspect the slow burn matches the structure of many of the “Goosebumps” novels themselves. The movie contents itself with playing with the audience’s expectations during the exposition heavy early scenes, dropping in a few surprisingly effective jump scares before the real action starts. Once it gets going, though, it’s far more successful at bringing its back catalogue of monsters than “Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” was. Proud of its source material, the film makes no attempt to deliver the adventure in an ironic fashion and fully embraces the spooky shenanigans. There are obvious homages to “Gremlins” and “The Monster Squad” and the film maintains a decidedly tweenage tone, so may be a bit too creepy for younger children, especially a brief but pretty full-on zombie sequence in a graveyard.
Performance-wise the cast is solid, although Jack Black is in full affected-accent mode which occasionally distracts (although it was probably deliberate to distance his Mr Shivers character from Slappy The Dummy, who he also voices) and Jillian Bell brings the same kooky shtick she did to “22 Jump Street” and “The Night Before” in an awkward and kind of unnecessary role as Zach’s aunt.
Still, it’s all good scary fun, and perfectly suited to its target audience. Mertmas loved it and I’m pretty sure he’ll be reading those original Goosebumps books pretty soon. For die-hard fans, its only faux pas may be that it doesn’t feature your favourite monsters prominently enough although they’re pretty much all there on screen if you really look. If its gnomes, mantises, aliens, dummies, clowns or the wolfman you’re after, then the film’s got you covered.
Effective as a fun adventure movie and a family-friendly horror comedy, Jack Black – accent aside – infuses the crazy goings-on with bags of energy and humour. Alongside “Monster House”, I’m pretty sure this will earn a regular Hallowe’en re-watch in the Craggus household.