Director: Rob Letterman
Major Players: Jack Black, Dylan Minette
Out Of Five: 3.5
Here I go again, expanding my cultural knowledge. I’m not the target audience for Goosebumps. It’s a whole new ball game for me so, before seeing its first cinema outing, I had to do some research.
For those of you who, like me, are newbies to Goosebumps, they’re a series of novellas written in the 90s by R L Stine. Essentially young adult horror, they’re also big among younger children – anything from 7 upwards, so I’m told – but, while they’re nicely scary, there’s nothing seriously dangerous or threatening about them.
In this film version, teenager Zach (Dylan Minette) is less than happy when he and his mother move to small town Madison. Both are getting over the death of his father about a year ago and are looking for a fresh start. He strikes up a friendship with the girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush). She hardly ever seems to go out, has no friends and is home schooled by her less than friendly father (Jack Black). That’s because he has a huge secret, a massive collection, and it’s Zach that accidentally lets them loose. And now they’re on the rampage all over town ……
There’s over 60 of the original Goosebumps books, not counting all the various spin-offs, but none of them are anywhere near long enough to turn into a film. So director Rob Letterman and his scriptwriter Darren Lemke had to take a different approach and have come up with a story that uses monsters from a selection of the books – The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, Night Of The Living Dummy (we’ll come back to him in a moment) et al – and unleash them on the town by opening their respective books, which are usually kept under lock and key.
On top of that, they’ve turned author R L Stine into the central character. He is, of course, Hannah’s crabby dad and it’s a device that helps to hold the film together very nicely. Needless to say, underneath that unapproachable exterior, he’s actually OK, and all he wants to do is protect his daughter. Jack Black has great fun in the role and it plays to his strengths for whacky comedy and a bit more, as he voices a couple of the monsters. Incidentally, the real R L Stine does put in a cameo, if you look carefully.
So, to that dummy. He’s the main protagonist of the chaos and his name is Slappy – but don’t ever call him a dummy! He’s a traditional ventriloquist’s dummy but an especially nasty one, resentful that he’s been locked up in his book for years and wanting revenge on Stine. Not that an evil dummy is a new idea – check out Richard Attenborough’s infinitely more adult Magic (1978) – but here he also acts as a ringleader for all the other monsters. And they follow his lead happily, even though in the books none of the monsters ever come into contact with each other. It’s all a bit of artistic licence and, if you’re not a Goosebumps purist, one that makes sense.
Most family films include jokes and storylines designed to keep the adults happy, but not so here. There’s only one gag aimed specifically at grown-ups and that’s an apparent rivalry between Stine and Steven King – or Steve King as he likes to call him. And, from what we see here, the Goosebumps books are Steven King for teenagers. There’s even the occasional nod towards King in some of the monsters: zombies, of course, but also a clown with bright red hair who’s more than a little reminiscent of the vile Pennywise.
That aside, the film is for families, with fast moving, entertaining action that’s populated with some decent special effects. Not, admittedly, outstanding ones, but good enough. And it manages to keep all ages engaged, so it’s clearly doing more than a few things right!
Really, though, my opinion on this one is secondary. Some of its target audience rocked up to the screening I attended and, at the end, loudly pronounced it a good film. One especially like the abominable snowman, another the giant praying mantis. They laughed in the right places – they didn’t get the Steven King gag, nor should they – so, in terms of the real target audience, Letterman’s nailed it.
It’s good, solid, family fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that!
Goosebumps is released in cinemas on Friday, 5 February and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 4 February.