Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, 2018.
Directed by Ari Sandel.
Starring Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jack Black, Madison Iseman, Ken Jeong, Chris Parnell, Jeremy Ray Taylor, and Caleel Harris.
Halloween comes to life in a comedy adventure based on R.L. Stine’s 400-million-selling series of books.
In 2015, Rob Letterman’s Goosebumps reminded us that PG-rated gateway horror could be a blast of October excitement for all ages. In 2018, The House With A Clock In Its Walls – unfortunately – proves to be the better unintentional Goosebumps sequel over Ari Sandel’s *actual* paperback continuation, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Where Goosebumps is wittier, more action-packed, and boasts a livelier cast (Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell to name a few), Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is a basic-bitch R.L. Stine incarnation that fan-services kiddie plotting into a duller, paint-by-numbers haze.
This time around, young trash-cleaner entrepreneurs Sonny Quinn (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam Carter (Caleel Harris) accidentally unlock an unfinished R.L. Stine manuscript hidden behind a trick door. Out pops Slappy (still voiced by Jack Black) who starts calling the boys his brothers. In this forgotten story Slappy desires a family, especially mother – enter Sonny’s single-mom Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey). The boys, along with sister Sarah Quinn (Madison Iseman), attempt to ditch Slappy in the woods. This only angers him. Pint-sized dummy Slappy decides to animate all the Halloween decorations in Wardenclyffe to create a wicked family of his own who aid in his capture of Kathy (the “mamma” he never had). Can Sonny, Sam, and Sarah save Halloween night from disaster?
The idea of Slappy acting as sole villain for opening sequences – and even so as Goosebumps faithful like the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena and Gym-Shorts Werewolf reappear – plays stuffier on a second go-around. Ventriloquist gags and more age-dumbed comedics bog the film’s first half. “Haunted Halloween” is supposed to be about all the dark beings of October 31st coming out to play, yet Sandel’s focus is a little too Slappy-happy. Goosebumps services an array of unleashed R.L. Stine creatures with balance and vigor. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween sees far more variety in background ghouls than it does starting-rotation baddies (although kudos to the whole “Gummy Bear The Blob” homage).
It’s strange because writer Rob Lieber cut a much sharper edge with his previous effort, Peter Rabbit (also rated PG). Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween allows Lieber far darker realms to exploit, yet his bunny rabbit adaptation is the one filled with D-Day recreations, themes of murder, and nasty acts of aggression? Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is all about low-hanging humor fruits, from such zingers as “…Slappy ending!” or “Oh gnoooooo-mes!” Sam getting his butt kicked by Slappy in Rocket League or cringy adult flirtation bouts. Playing to the eight-and-under crowd, you’re still not even winning full audiences laughs. To the older folk? Little depth exists beyond schoolyard bullies, Slappy’s telekinetic pantsing pranks, and Ken Jeong’s definitely-lives-alone neighbor who recreates Halloween Horror Nights on his front lawn.
Another detriment I’ll stand by is the obvious lack of Jack Black. Spoiler alert: he returns as R.L. Stine. Second spoiler alert: he’s an afterthought who drives into frame essentially as the day is saved by Madison Iseman’s reinvigorated creative writing student (even though she doesn’t write a single word and just captures monsters Ghostbusters style). Black’s essence is made of secret sauce and every movie he touches is better for it – Goosebumps included. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween attempts to get away with minimizing Black’s role but instead highlights how important his theatrical-minded performance truly is. The House With A Clock In Its Walls? Rote storytelling, tremendous Black. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween? Comparably rote storytelling, if not a tad worse, but seriously lacking Black’s charisma.
That’s not to say leading kiddos aren’t enjoyably immature at times – it’s that Jeremy Ray Taylor and newcomer Caleel Harris (a standout) aren’t elevated by their character’s scripted designs. Same for Madison Iseman with that unnecessary boyfriend heartbreak in the beginning. Wendi McLendon-Covey is a delight as always, but other actors such as Chris Parnell (via “Haunted Mask” arc) and Jeong are shoehorned into either goonish or flamboyantly bit parts. Goosebumps unleashes chaos on a Delaware town by contrasting Stine’s fantastical creativity with reality, but Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween unwinds like a mid-level Stine knockoff that tries to replicate signature tricks.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is the movie I feared Goosebumps might be. Even with such hip-with-it references like Nikola Tesla and a floating-red-balloon Stephen King joke. You know, things all pre-teens will understand! Even Sony Animation’s work feels half-baked this time around, relying heavily on quickdraw CGI for Slappy’s movement, anthropomorphic trick or treat bags, and almost every major effect. Final moments tee-up an opening for a third Goosebumps, so maybe we’ll be granted trilogy redemption. That said, the Goosebumps lover in me will be monumentally disappointed if nothing comes after this downgraded children’s horror sequel.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).