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Review: Goosebumps

October 31, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Goosebumps PosterAdapting a series of classic books can have its challenges, but Goosebumps is a big exception to this rule, making great use of an almost ingeniously clever premise to bring R.L. Stine’s chilling children’s novels to life in extremely entertaining fashion.

Destined to become a future Halloween favourite, this is a horror comedy throwback that offers great fun for older kids and adults, and is just scary enough for younger audience members looking for their first introduction to monster movies.

Zach (Dylan Minette) and his newly widowed mother (Amy Ryan) have just moved to the quiet town of Madison, Delaware.  But things start to turn awry when he befriends the girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush), who lives with a reclusive and overprotective father who happens to be none other than R.L. Stine (Jack Black).

As it turns out, the author’s monsters are all real, creations that have been kept locked up in hardbound manuscripts on a bookshelf.  When Zach and his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) accidentally open up one of the manuscripts, all hell starts to break loose.  At first, it’s just the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena who gets unleashed, but when Slappy (voiced by Jack Black) springs to life, the creepy little ventriloquist dummy masterminds a plan to unleash the rest of his fellow monsters to get revenge on their creator, who has kept them imprisoned for all these years.

What works so well about Goosebumps is that it serves as both nostalgic throwback for those who grew up with the series, which were pretty much an omnipresent presence throughout my own childhood in the 1990s, and also a handy primer for a new generation of fans.  The premise of making the author a major character allows the filmmakers to pay homage to many of his books, and there is something really cool about the way they use the manuscripts as a plot device within the film, working in a lot of delightfully meta references and opening up a whole range of franchise possibilities.

The film moves at a quick clip, allowing the monsters to come at us fast and furious, but there is also a surprising amount of heart behind the story, which really elevates the material.  R.L. Stine is presented here as a lonely man who created these monsters to keep him company as a child, and to get revenge on those who bullied him, and it’s a surprisingly nuanced handling of the usual book adaptation formula, forcing the character to literally and metaphorically excise his personal demons.  Jack Black delivers his finest comic turn in years, and the trio of young leads bring their characters to appealing life.

The special effects are a mix of computer generated creatures and practical effects, offering a funhouse ride of monster thrills and even a few good natured jump moments.  A hugely entertaining throwback to classic 1980s horror comedies and coming of age adventures, Goosebumps is simply a ton of fun from start to finish, so I guess it’s no surprise that I loved it.  Happy Halloween, everyone!

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