Despite occasionally writing about the franchise when something newsworthy has happened over the past few years, I didn’t realize how powerful R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps was until fairly recently. With our girls now 6 & 9, they’ve discovered the spooky world of Goosebumps, first through the 1990s television series which has been available on Netflix. But earlier this year, a neighbor started placing some of the original, 400-million-selling books from Scholastic into the Simplay3 Neighborhood Sharing Library that I installed in our yard last year. Goosebumps became a staple of the heavy reading rotation, and eventually they checked out the 2015 film that was inspired by that world. All that said, the timing of Sony Pictures’ Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween couldn’t be better, and the fact that I was invited to host a Chicago-area advance screening of the film was absolutely perfect… a first-hand example of just how powerful the Goosebumps franchise really is. And Haunted Halloween? It’s primed to be a perennial favorite – a new Halloween classic that’s going to surprise a lot of people.
The crowd at the Hollywood Blvd. Cinema in Woodridge, Illinois was ready – their largest theater filled to capacity (unfortunately, we had to turn some families away at the door) with kids ready for some Hallloween fun. An indirect sequel to the first film and an original story not based on one of the source books, the overall plot is simple, yet completely entertaining. A couple of kids discover a dusty, unfinished book in Stine’s spooky old home, and after being tricked into reciting a certain incantation, the famed dummy named Slappy appears. His goal is to form a family, and the puppet aims to do it by bringing Halloween to life.
Conveniently, many of the monsters conjured-up by Slappy are from Goosebumps books (and the previous film) thanks to a costume display at a local store which ends up as a fine starting-off point for a night of Halloween terror. Since Stine’s book was unfinished, there is no ending so it’s up to the kids to “write their own,” though they do attempt to enlist the help of the on-screen Stine (Jack Black) to help them finish the tale and put things back to normal. While this is kid-focused, there’s some nods to things that grownups will enjoy, including a very Monster Squad climax and an homage to the Silver Shamrock Witch, Pumpkin and Skeleton masks from Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
One of my biggest takeaways is that the initial trailers and marketing for Goosebumps 2 absolutely did not do the film justice. My wife and I both fully expected something on-par with a TV movie and were pleasantly surprised at just how good this looks. As with many films and how condensed the production and marketing can be at this point (working up to the tail end), there were a lot of unfinished FX shots in the trailers that have been vastly improved for the finished film. As a fan of Halloween movies as a whole, Haunted Halloween is a welcome addition to the season, and one I expect will take on a cult following in years to come. Personally, my fingers are crossed that we see another sequel, and my advice to anyone watching is to make sure to stay until the end. One book may close, but another door may soon open…
Get tickets via Fandango.