Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, 2018.
Directed by Ari Sandel.
Starring Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Chris Parnell, Caleel Harris, Ken Jeong, Shari Headley, Darin De Paul, Jesse Goel, Peyton Wich, and Jack Black.
Halloween comes to life in a comedy adventure based on R.L. Stine’s 400-million-selling series of books.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (directed by Ari Sandel, who is actually an Oscar-winning filmmaker for his 2005 short film West Bank Story) is a considerable step down from its predecessor, doubling down on the family-friendly tone (which isn’t necessarily surprising considering the head writer is Rob Lieber, who recently worked on Peter Rabbit which released earlier in the year) effectively resulting in an experience less enjoyable for adults (but still fine and nowhere near as off-putting as some other kids movies) catering more to middle schoolers that will likely relate to the film’s protagonists.
It’s important to know right away that this is not a direct sequel, as there is a brand-new cast of teenagers on hand, focusing on Sarah Quinn (Madison Iseman) struggling to write an essay on her darkest fears as something to submit to colleges. She is joined by her younger brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor who had a breakout debut role with last year’s It and continues to show promise here) alongside his friend Sam (Caleel Harris) staying with the family over the course of the Halloween weekend (there’s a brief scene letting us know his mom is going away on business). While Sarah juggles her writing woes and an unfortunate betrayal by her boyfriend, the younger two go around the neighborhood cleaning up various houses, scrounging around for junk that they are allowed to keep and sell.
Unbeknownst to them, one of the dusty old abodes once belonged to famed Goosebumps series author R.L. Stine (played by a returning Jack Black, but more on that later), where they find an unpublished manuscript titled Haunted Halloween (fictionally, the very first Goosebumps story ever written) that when opened and has certain passages read aloud awakes all of the classic key characters over the years. Mainly, the first act involves Slappy, who starts off goodhearted helping out the kids overcome some bullying, but naturally, it’s not long before the nefarious puppet reveals ulterior motives. Basically, he manipulates Sonny’s science project to create some kind of massive electricity based tower which apparently gives the power to awaken all of the other villains.
Just like the rest of the movie, it’s mostly an excuse to get as many novel references on screen as possible alongside lighthearted laughs; in an October that is about to see the madly anticipated resurrection of the Halloween franchise, it’s not a bad idea to capitalize on that holiday spirit with something younger folks can check out as well. And that’s all this really is; nothing in it is outrageously hilarious but in the film’s defense nothing also sticks out as painfully bad, aside from some of the CGI which is expectedly average factoring in how much there is to render. There are also a few clever sequences, especially one involving gummy bears coming to life and slowly morphing together again and again to create a life-sized candy crusher. The rest of the set pieces mostly involve once again using the book to suck in the iconic characters so they can no longer wreak havoc over the city.
Also welcome are some bit comedic roles for names such as Ken Jeong, basically playing the neighborhood resident that takes all the holidays a bit too seriously, over-indulging in outdoor decorations. He also happens to be a massive Goosebumps fanboy, which you think would fit more into the overall narrative but doesn’t, largely because although Jack Black is in the film, it’s more of an extended cameo. If anything, the sequel appears to be going out of its way to write R.L. Stine out of the movies, which is disappointing as the first entry did contain some interesting pieces about the creative process of writing. Here, that aspect is touched on so brief and little that the very sentiment comes across fake and wholly pointless. There’s also the fact that a talented, always reliable funny presence such as Jack Black could have given the proceedings a jolt that audiences of all ages could appreciate. As is, there’s not much memorable here aside from a fairly clever It reference.
It’s difficult to find anything to actively hate about Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, as it pretty much serves its purpose; kids have something mildly fun to watch this Halloween season. With that said, the fun of seeing the majority of these figures brought to life yet again comes with diminishing returns; the nostalgia factor has already been mined, so there’s not much to get excited about. Nonetheless, Slappy remains a devious and entertaining villain, especially as the ending teases a unique direction that could either pay off or backfire tremendously. As for Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, take the candy you are most indifferent to and pretend it’s what you just got in your trick-or-treat basket; that’s what to expect here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com