Jan 282016
Title: Goosebumps
Director: Rob Letterman
Starring: Jack Black,
Dylan Minnette,
Odessa Rush,
Amy Bell,
Genre: Family, Comedy, Horror
Runtime: 1 Hour 43 mins
Music: Danny Elfman
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Certificate: PG
Release Date: US: Oct 16 2015
UK: Feb 05 2016
See If You Like: Ghostbusters,

Viewer beware – you’re in for a mildly entertaining scare

Coming out here in the UK in that utterly terrifying late January/early Feb spot (seriously, everyone’s paycheque is going to take a hammering in the post-Xmas & pre- Valentine’s day blackhole) may seem a baffling time for the big screen adaptation of the Goosebumps children’s horror books franchise to drop, but here we are. With a clearly more comedic, meta story starring a name is mud in some eyes Jack Black taking the gloss off what made the series famous may seem off-putting, Goosebumps the movie manages to pull off a perfectly fine, comic horror aimed at it’s target audience – the kids.

Rather than focus on one or many storyline from the expansive range of books, we find sarcy teen Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette, Scandal) moving to backwater Delaware as his hip attempting mother is the new vice-principal at the high school. He soon meets the girl next door Hannah (Odeya Rush, See You In Valhalla) who has a strict father who is not keen to let her out of the house. One night, Zach hears a scream from the house and goes with his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee, Trophy Wife) to investigate. Accidentally knocking a Goosebump novel manuscript off a wall, the trio summon the Abominable Snowman Of Pasadena itself. Eventually, it is revealed that Hannah’s father is really R.L. Stein (Black, The D Train), the author of the Goosebumps books. His manuscripts & characters are able to come to life through Stein’s power of imagination. The situation gets worse as more monsters escape Stein’s house and it’s up to the four to save the town from total destruction.

It’s easy to sum up the plot in one crossover, with Goosebumps being nothing more than ‘Jumanji meets Ghostbusters‘ story-wise, so it has to rely on plenty of cameos from it’s massive line of characters to excel to a curious fanbase. The big name in Slappy the dummy is a prominent creepy antagonist throughout, with some awesome jerky movement and a Napoleonic ‘Don’t call me a dummy!’ attitude only dashed by the familiar tones of Black pulling triple duty. There are one or two more cameos of Goosebump monsters but the problem is that most of Stein’s creations aren’t too dissimilar to archtype horror creatures – it’s the style of his books that made them what they are. You can expect to see a teenage Werewolf, evil garden gnomes, a mummy and so on in the background with only 3 or 4 big monsters reoccuring to satisfaction. Plenty of just about acceptable CG is the order of the day, rather than going all out on practical effects, which is a shame. There is a very nice twist on one of the main characters to fit in with one of the books but more iconic macguffins like The Haunted Mask & Monster Blood barely make a passing mention. Whilst I can appreciate the scary beasts used to fit in with the story, hardcore ‘bumps fans maybe left a bit disappointed at the stereotypes used, rather than the standalone more original creations from the franchise. Whilst there is hardly an original scare in this film, the scene dressing and monsters propel you through this unboring jaunt, that intrigued me to go back and revisit some of the old stories at some point.

As a horror aimed at children tucked into a PG certificate, it’s fine. With a massive potential spot to draw kids in to what only the adults are allowed to watch, there’s definitely a gap in the market for something like this. There’s no particularly nasty or icky scenes that call into question whether the target audience should be watching this. A few jump scares may seem cheap but they’re usually played for fake out or a quick joke/one-liner straight after. Humour is the order of the day with a genuinely witty, razor sharp sarcastic edge to proceedings. Thankfully, the more dumber the human we’re introduced to, the more satisfying “end” they meet from whatever monster they’re unlucky enough to bump into first. Apart from a couple of goofy yet charming chase sequences at a hockey rink & supermarket, the real horror is left up to the visuals of the various Goosebumps characters appearing. The kid-friendly remit cancels out any big scares or taking in of the horrible acts committed thanks to a magical “everything is fine” reset at the end. Definitely not one for the hardcore horror purists looking to be unnerved, but perfectly fine to get the kids into the genre.

Jack Black stars in Columbia Pictures' "Goosebumps."

Acting wise, for what it’s going for as a kid-friendly horror film with plenty of goofy comedy, this isn’t terrible at all. Black may be complete marmite to some cinemagoers, but I thought he was absolutely fine here. Apart from the fact he cannot pull off menace or intense in the first section of Goosebumps, as he attempts to ward off Zach, he manages to craft a sympathetic performance of a bullied boy who one day managed to will his tormenter’s tormenters into life and his anguish keeping them hidden from real life. He does play to the camera a bit too much but I don’t want to knock a performance I enjoyed too much. Minnette is surprisingly engaging as his sarcastic “Great to be here in bumbletown” attitude endeared me straight away. Helps somewhat to look the lovechild of Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller & Channing Tatum. His sarcastic delivery is truly wonderful also. His storyline relationship with Hannah drew me in also, with Rush being a capable young foil with a nice dash of tragedy. The rest of the cast plays up the comedic side nicely enough to give them all a passing grade.

The big screen outing of the Goosebumps books franchise is an conventional children’s horror film that fills a unique niche at least. In places, a fun experience that the film invites you not to take too seriously in a sharp 2015 sarcastic wit. The problem is, that I don’t feel it goes far enough to be a Goosebumps film apart from shovelling a few characters to prominence and having a meta-esque story about Stein meeting his creations. The kids will probably love this as “pre-10 Davey’s first horror adventure”, the hardcore fanbase will find it surprisingly acceptable and everyone else will find it a lukewarm small drip of wee, rather than a fear induced torrent.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife

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