One of my favorite mni-trends of 2018 at the movies is the number of times a bad looking movie exceeds expectations. It’s happened a few times for me this year, more often than it has happened ever before. A good example is The House with a Clock in Its Walls. By all accounts, that film should not work, it’s a kiddie horror movie directed by the guy behind Hostel, not exactly a recipe for greatness. It turns it however, the idea and the cast are brilliant and it works.
I had similarly low expectations upended by Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. The film is a sequel to an only okay first movie which starred Jack Black as R.L Stine, watching as his dark kiddie horror stories came to life and having to write them back to safety, Goosebumps 2 arrives without Black in the lead, without any of the other human characters from the first film and a new creative team behind the camera. It should not work but Goosebumps proves to be such a good idea in its own right that this movie works in spite of the circumstances.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween stars Madison Iseman as Sarah, big sister to Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and babysitter to Sonny’s best pal Sam (Caleel Harris). Sarah just wants to finish her creative writing assignment but Sonny and Sam can’t stop getting in her way. They’ve started a business recovering what they hope will be valuable junk from abandoned houses and their first big find is a doozy.
In the abandoned childhood home of author R.L Stine, Sonny and Sam have uncovered a book that unleashes Slappy the Dummy (Jack Black). Slappy initially seems like a friend, he helps them fight bullies with his magic and appears eager to insinuate himself into the family dynamic. Unfortunately, Slappy’s motives have a murderous edge and when Sarah and Sonny’s Mom (Wendi McLendon-Covey) appears to get in the way of the fun, he sets out to get mom out of the picture.
The kids begin to fight back against Slappy and feeling betrayed, the dummy decides to use his powers to raise an army to create a new family. With the help of a giant Tesla coil, Slappy brings Halloween decorations to frightening life and it’s up to the kids to try to stop him with their plucky ingenuity and with an assist from their weirdo, Halloween loving neighbor Mr. Chu, played by The Hangover star Ken Jeong.
Honestly, no joke, the film is much more clever than the way I describe it. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween has big laughs that come from these terrific kid actors and their genuine commitment to the gags. A favorite of mine is an absurd battle with gummi bears that come to life. The scene features some really fun special effects and I just loved the silly notion of big, dangerous gummi bears.
The film has minor little touches like that just kind of charmed me throughout. I liked the slight element of danger that the film wrings out of something silly like gummi bears or the various decorations that are brought to life unique and silly, fun ways. Slappy the Dummy is the creepiest part of the movie but that works great as well. Jack Black gives the character an energetic voice with a genuine sense of menace if you’re a little kid.
Black also makes a cameo as the only other character to return from the original movie, author R.L Stine. It makes sense that since the Goosebumps books are an anthology that the original cast isn’t really needed but Black’s Stine coming back makes sense and the way he’s used in the story makes for a terrifically funny throwaway gag. The return of Jack Black to starring roles thanks to Jumanji and The House with a Clock in Its Walls is something I didn’t even know I wanted.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween isn’t a great movie, I can see where most adult critics aren’t wrong in disliking it, it’s a little eager to please and the direction isn’t anything memorable but I enjoyed it enough and compared to most other young adult products we get at the movie theater, I will take a Goosebumps anthology series over something like Darkest Minds or The Maze Runner series any day.