Jack Black stars in a horror comedy for kids, based on not one particular Goosebumps book, but countless stories written by the inexhaustible author R.L. Stine.
When teen Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves to Delaware following the death of his father, he arrives to find he is living next door to a mysterious and moody neighbour (Jack Black). While settling into a new school is hard enough (especially when his mum is the new Vice-Principal), Zach becomes suspicious of his neighbour, who is very keen to keep his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush) from speaking to Zach. Turns out the mystery man next door is actually reclusive Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, and all hell breaks loose when the many monsters of his imagination are released from the pages of his manuscripts into the real world. Zach, Hannah, Stine and Zach’s new tagalong friend Champ must stop the creatures including murderous garden gnomes and a giant praying mantis before they destroy the entire town.
Goosebumps starts very well, with a slight feel of The Burbs about it, but then descends more into a Jumanji-style throw-everything-on-the-screen and see what sticks kind-of-way. The ace up its sleeve is that Goosebumps is really quite funny, and often not because of Black. While he’s busy doing what seems to be an ill-conceived Tyrion Lannister impression, other members of the cast are running away with the movie. Dylan Minnette is excellent as dashing teen hero Zach, but both Jillian Bell and Amy Ryan are sadly underused as Zach’s goofy mum and kooky aunt. Still, Ryan Lee is great value as Zach’s new geeky best friend Champ, providing much of the comedy in amidst the family-friendly horror.
If you haven’t read any of the Goosebumps books or seen any of the series, there’s probably a whole load of vaguely interesting backstory to some of these freakish creations that might have helped here. Stine has clearly been prolific, but many of his characters are reduced to little more than cameos in this action-packed and overstuffed movie. No wonder Black’s version of Stine comes off as grumpy; there might not be much left to cram into many more money-spinning sequels!
In Goosebumps the movie, it seems like Stine has just ripped off a whole load of classic monsters and made them slightly more kid-friendly. The Triffids, Chucky and Stephen King’s Christine are perhaps the most obvious homages/rip-offs, but there’s plenty more where that came from. Psychotic ventriloquist dummy Slappy should be the terrifying star of the show, but despite being the mastermind of the chaos, he isn’t given enough screen time to really scare the kids into wetting themselves.
It all heads towards an OTT CGI-splattered climax where the comedy takes a back seat to adventure and mayhem. There’s an obvious twist that even an illiterate child might see coming, but it just about works and makes for a briefly emotional payoff.
Goosebumps is no Gremlins, but for some of the running time it does have a bit of a classic ‘80s feel about it. A sequel certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world.
GOOSEBUMPS / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ROB LETTERMAN / SCREENPLAY: DARREN LEMKE / STARRING: JACK BLACK, DYLAN MINNETTE, ODEYA RUSH, RYAN LEE / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 5TH
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10