Goosebumps (2015): The Revenge of Slappy – Review

Jack Black is R L Stine in Goosebumps

With music by Danny Elfman, directed by Rob Letterman  (from a screenplay by Daniel Lemke based on a story by Scott Alexander and  Larry Kraszewski  influenced by  R L Stine’s books) ‘Goosebumps’ is great fun and a lovely homage to the man who has spellbound kids for years.  It is interesting to note that Tim Burton was originally slated to direct the film and one wonders how different his ode to Stine would have been. Darker most definitely and more black comedy along with a few legitimate scares.

It could have been nice.

This version, starring Jack BlackDylan MinnetteOdeya RushRyan LeeAmy Ryan and Jillian Bell is played strictly for laughs, self-referential gags and has been aimed at a younger audience. All these things together do not ruin the film’s amusement factor but the lack of any uneasiness or scares leaves out the impact of  even the television series. 

Released in the 1990s (The show ran from 1995 through 1998 and was a favorite of my daughter and me “back in the day.”) The series was based upon the stories of Stine and he was the creator.  There were episodes that were terrifying, funny, odd, and one was a grim black comedy that left the viewer uneasy for days after. (These were done so well that even adults – as I can attest – were instantly hooked.)

This 2015 film is more a funny, and loving, homage to the prolific author. Black is Stine a recluse who shuns his neighbors in Madison, Delaware and lives with his daughter Hannah (Rush) who is homeschooled. Zach (Minnette) and his mother Gale (Ryan) move in next door and Stine’s daughter is immediately attracted to the new guy in the neighborhood.

Stine warns Zach off and threatens dire things will happen if the boy does not leave them alone. Things escalate when Zach hears Hannah scream and calls the police. Stine convinces them everything is fine and later Zach talks Champ (Lee) into breaking into the house.

Once inside they inadvertently release a monster who creates havoc on the entire town. The kids decide they have to stop it. Unfortunately, even though they are successful another monster, Slappy the ventriloquist dummy,  is out and he wants revenge for being locked up.

The film follows Stine and the kids as they team up to defeat Slappy and his legion of monsters that he keeps releasing. (Black does the voice of the dummy.)

‘Goosebumps’ entertains and there are splendid moments. The scene with the garden gnomes in the kitchen is a brilliant nod to Black’s 2010 film ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’ Lee’s character can scream like a pre-teen girl and it is truly hysterical.   The ferris wheel stunt was a nod to the 1979 film ‘1941’, or not but that was where I first saw the gag.

Unfortunately there are things that clang.

The two police officers felt as though they had walked onto the wrong filmset.  A far too juvenile piece of comedy that felt flat and damned annoying. (Perhaps they were put in for the younger audience members?)

There were no scares at all, everything was set up for the laugh or the giggle. While Stine must have loved it, he did, after all, begin by writing jokes, it was a major disappointment that they did not put at least one uneasy moment in the film.

A final note of complaint is this (without giving anything away) Hannah was not a monster. (Watch the film and this will make sense. If you still do not get it email the site we will explain it to you.)

Overall, despite the small disappointment factors, ‘Goosebumps’ was a fun film to watch.  All that was missing was the popcorn and the fizzy. Slappy does come close to making the viewer uneasy but never quite makes it, he is villain and not a monster.

‘Goosebumps’ is a 4.5 out of 5 stars. This would have gotten a full five if it had just one good scare.  It is on Netflix at the moment and well worth the 103 minutes spent watching it.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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