Director: Rob Letterman
Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush
Running Time: 103 minutes
Release Date: February 5th
For a lot of people, growing up and Goosebumps happily went hand in hand.
Whether it meant leaving the telly on after the shows for younger kids were over, or rummaging past the Harry Potters and Narnias on the school bookshelf to track down a brightly coloured book showing a monster, some terrified kids, and the name R.L. Stine, Goosebumps was a haven of creepy, spooky, imaginative fiction hidden among the other, safer options meant to keep children occupied after dinner or to get them reading in school.
It is the source of a million well-loved nightmares, phobias and unforgettable jumps, treating children with enough respect to scare the living crap out of them. And we all left it behind there for quite some time, back with pogs and Sabrina the Teenage Witch and when The Simpsons was good. Now, however, perhaps because of a move towards nineties nostalgia overtaking the eighties equivalent that has been in place up until now, it’s back!
This current outing, starring Jack Black as a fictional take on Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, manages to get a lot right. For one, it feels like a film we haven’t seen in a while, as Dylan Minnette’s Zach and his mother relocate to a small town following the death of his father. There is a heart to this set-up, and while it is definitely faster paced and not necessarily as fleshed out, there is a feeling of a family history that might bring to mind Jumanji or Home Alone. It’s when Zach meets next door neighbours Hannah (Odeya Rush) and her father R.L. Stine, that we get into the meat of the caper.
Jack Black plays Stine as a guarded, mean old neighbour type, which naturally prompts Zach to investigate his house, having struck up some chemistry with Hannah just before her father shuts her away from the outside world. What is it with you kids and my forbidden closet of mystery? Zach and new friend Champ commit a well intentioned break-in and discover that Stine is in fact the author of the Goosebumps books, who have a nasty habit of springing to life from his imagination, prompting his off-putting nature. It is too late however, as the characters accidentally unleash all of Stine’s worst ideas out into the world!
This leads to fairly typical soft horror fare, where characters must traverse a small town despite the many dangers and supernatural beasties that get in their way. And while it’s not very original, it is funny and warm and never takes itself too seriously, though it never resorts to making light of its subject matter either. It is a worthy love letter to the books and show whose name its shares, despite never reaching any particular hide-behind-the-couch peak. There is a lot to like in this possible start to a new franchise, but unlike its older incarnations, not a whole lot to never forget.