I don’t know about you, but I love me some Goosebumps. It was the series that first introduced me to horror, a genre I adore. I would read all the Goosebumps books in the library, and then find a new library. While other kids would give book reports on Little House on The Prairie or Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, I would stand up at the front of the class, adjust my glasses, and loudly read my analysis of The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. I was even a member of the official Goosebumps Fan Club! So believe me when I say, I want to give this film my love. But Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween just doesn’t earn it.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween takes place sometime after the events of the first film. The Goosebumpegeddon that overran the town of Madison, Delaware has been explained away as an “extreme weather event”, while author R.L. Stine (Jack Black) has gone back into hiding. All traces of Stine’s monstrous manuscripts have been locked away to protect humanity. All traces, save for one. In the town of Wardenclyffe, New York, there exists an unpublished Goosebumps novel.
Titled “Haunted Halloween”, the book contains the unfinished story of Slappy The Dummy (Mick Wingert and Avery Lee Jones) and the night he brought Halloween to life. When friends Sonny Quinn and Sam Carter (Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris) stumble upon it, they inadvertently unleash Slappy once more into the real world. Together with Sonny’s teen sister Sarah (Madison Iseman), they boys must find a way to stop the living dummy before he brings about an eternal Halloween.
Second Verse, Same as the First
If you told me there was an unreleased Goosebumps entry about living Halloween decorations, I’d believe you. Watching Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, it’s clear that the filmmakers wanted to create a Goosebumps story of their very own. In a sense, they succeeded. Directed by Ari Sandel (The Duff), Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween has all the hallmarks of a classic Goosebumps story. It’s cast is young, it’s set on Halloween, shows off a host of monsters, and has stakes higher than the Sears Tower. It’s got all the building blocks lined up for a memorable movie. But instead, it simply points out those blocks and leaves it at that. It sticks too closely to the “family-friendly adventure” formula to make an impact, which is a shame when you consider just how well Goosebumps (2015) handled the same material.
If you get a sense of deja vu watching this sequel, you’re not alone. The plot of the film lines up closely with much of the original’s, but lacks the charm and heart that made Goosebumps (2015) a treat. One major difference is the notable lack of Jack Black (Tenacious D and The Pick of Destiny). His high-strung take on of R.L. Stine was a highlight of the first film. But in the sequel he’s relegated to the background, appearing only briefly in the third act once all the dust has settled. This leaves the bulk of the film resting on the shoulders of its young cast.
While Jeremy Ray Taylor (IT), Caleel Harris (Think Like A Man), and Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle) do a fine job with the material at hand, there simply isn’t much for them to do. Their characterizations are surface level at best. Sonny blows things up and Sam wants to start a business. Sarah‘s struggle to write a college application essay is the closest thing the film has to a character arc, and even that plot line doesn’t really tie in to the rest of the movie.
A large part of what made Goosebumps (2015) work was its nostalgia factor. Don’t get me wrong, the first film is succeeds on its own merits. But I’d be lying if I said nostalgia didn’t play a large part. That film is a love letter to the Goosebumps of my childhood. Each of its characters overcome personal fears and social pressures to grow as individuals. Their personal growth and support of one another is what allows them to succeed in the face of terror.
Plus, it’s chock full of every monster and creep that ever graced a Goosebumps cover. Every scene contains some sort of callback or easter egg from the books that rewards viewers familiar with the source material. Every few minutes there’s another “I KNOW THAT!” moment that truly makes Goosebumps (2015) a haunted house ride down memory lane.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween…isn’t. Instead of iconic monsters ripped from the page, the sequel has Slappy bringing Halloween decorations to life. Since the R.L. Stine never got into the home decor business, this means all of the creature designs are original to this film. You’ve got sphere headed witches, stalking scarecrows, and even rabid gummy bears.
While these creatures are creatively designed, the giant balloon spider in particular is a standout, they lack that Goosebumps magic. Tim Jacobus’ Goosebumps covers are iconic for a reason. Each is wonderfully crafted with colorfully creepy designs. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween‘s monsters are all variations on traditional Halloween imagery. Contrasted with the army of nightmares from the first film, these creatures can’t help but look lacking.
It’s natural to want the things we love to grow with us. Sometimes they do. Goosebumps (2015)‘s smarts and heart was everything I remember loving about Goosebumps. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is Goosebumps as they are now. It’s an uneven story with bright monsters and a tangle of twists that will entertain kids, but not much else. Of course you’re only going to notice this stuff if you’re an adult. This is a kids’ movie with a younger audience in mind. When I caught this movie I was seated next to a young boy and his aunt. He loved it. He laughed at all the jokes, covered his eyes when things got tense, and loudly whispered ” this is so cool!” about once every five minutes. So by all means, if you have a half-sized horror fanatic in your life, take them to see Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. But next October, when they start hankering for family friendly frights, play the Goosebumps (2015) Blu-Ray instead.