Have you ever sat around wondering what it would be like to write Stephen King horror novels, but for kids? No? Well, R.L. Stine did back in the 90s, and damn did it have an influence on us. We couldn’t get enough of these things. A book fair lined with brand new Goosebumps novels to throw our allowance money at was like a wet dream. At some point, the books were adapted into a television series, which became a staple of Saturday morning watching. Most episodes were cheesy and harmless horror stories that, at best, warranted a chuckle from audiences. They were teething with stereotypes, 90s overacting [you know the kind], c-movie effects, and an overall campy feel. As goofy as the series was, I still loved it as a kid. I had a number of books and tuned in every weekend to watch the show, which scared the shit out of me on more than one occasion [of course, what didn’t].
There are, however, a couple episodes that dial things back and up the scare factors, which I watched over the weekend during Halloween. I’ll admit, being an adult, even I found some of them to be unsettling. There’s something about The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight that messes with me. Maybe it’s that the acting is decent; or maybe it’s that the costumes are actually well made and creepy beyond all hell. Whatever it is, it’s unsettling.
20 years after the television series premiered, Goosebumps is now nostalgicly profitable. Children that grew up watching and reading Goosebumps are in their mid-late 20s, and many have kids of their own. Chim wrote an article last week about the dangers of Hollywood taking something nostalgic, sterilizing it, and trying to make it appeal to a wide audience while singling out everyone entirely. Unlike Jem and the Holograms, Goosebumps the movie doesn’t do this. Fair warning, some spoilers ahead.
The movie is basically just like one long Goosebumps episode. Here’s the basic rundown of the story: New kid in town lives next door to R.L. Stine and his daughter. All of Stine’s monsters are real, but contained within the pages of his locked manuscripts. They accidentally open one containing Slappy the dummy, who goes on a rampage unleashing all the other monsters around town and burning the books so that none of them can be sucked back into the pages. Kids and Stine have to work together to write a new story that will suck up all the monsters back up. It’s simple and easy, and it surprisingly works.
Now, I’m not going to say that this movie was wonderful, but it definitely captured the spirit of the books and TV show. The kids are pretty flat and mostly uninteresting characters, but they do deliver lines quite well, giving the appearance of personality. And to be fair, none of Stine’s characters have ever been anything other than flat and uninteresting. The monsters that were created with the CGI look pretty unrealistic. They just… eh, they look bad, okay. I don’t know if that was intentional to drive home the camp feel or if it was all they could do with the limited funding. Whatever the case, they’re barely a step above Sharknado quality. The monsters that were created using costumes and makeup are really appealing though, which only further drives home that the CGI looks cheesy. But whatever, it’s not enough to make you write off the movie entirely. Some of the jokes fall flat, but otherwise, it’s surprisingly clever for what it is. Goosebumps knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else, and that’s a good thing. The best part of the whole movie is Slappy though. There’s a scene where he’s driving through town in an old car, throwing burning books out the windows and delivering awful one-liners… and I could watch it all day on repeat. The pacing and destruction are just perfect, and you almost can’t help but root for the little bastard. If nothing else, just go to watch that scene.
If you grew up liking the TV series and the books, chances are, you’ll enjoy the movie. By no means is it great, but it’s surprisingly not terrible. If you have kids, they might even enjoy it too. This isn’t for everyone though. If you aren’t a fan of the series or were just too old before they hit their peak, then you’re likely not going to have an interest in this movie. That being said, I’d watch it again.