UK Release Date: 5th February 2016
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Rob Letterman
Writer: Darren Lemke
Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell, Halston Sage
Synopsis: RL Stine’s new next door neighbour unwittingly releases the author’s monstrous creations on a small town and must somehow return them to their books.
For an entire generation of children, the Goosebumps books were an enormous part of childhood. It always seemed remarkable that the series had never made its way to the big screen, so there were few who were surprised when they hear about Goosebumps – the film adaptation of the series starring Jack Black as a fictionalised version of author RL Stine.
Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves into a small Delaware town where his mother (Amy Ryan) has just taken on a school principal job. He takes a shine to neighbour Hannah (Odeya Rush), but is scared away by her father Mister Shivers (Black). Zach and his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) break into the Shivers home and accidentally release a monster when they open a book. They soon learn that Shivers is RL Stine and that the monsters of Goosebumps have just been unleashed into the real world.
It’s rare in the world of dystopian young adult blockbusters that Hollywood throws up a bona fide family adventure film. In that sense, Goosebumps is the ultimate example of good, old-fashioned fun. It plays out in a flurry of grisly monsters, but it never makes any attempt to be overly dark or macabre and entirely ignores the significant temptation to slot in mature nods and winks for the adult crowd.
| “Y’know how they say teenagers have no fear of death? Well not me. I was born with the gift of fear.”
Jack Black fits into the role of RL Stine like a glove. He gives the author a twitchy, sinister character that makes him a genuinely unsettling presence in the early stages. Once the revelation of his true name drops, he injects Goosebumps with a manic comedic energy that powers some of the funniest moments in the witty script. Whether he’s taking part in slapstick pratfalls or bantering about a rivalry with Stephen King, Black is on his best form since School of Rock – both as Stine and with his vocal work as evil puppet Slappy, who is portrayed as the embodiment of Stine’s inner darkness in a clever touch of character depth.
The younger performers in Goosebumps are also deeply impressive. Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush could easily have been bland teen protagonists, but they have a tender chemistry that makes them believable and relatable as central characters. The standout, though, is Ryan Lee as Champ, who creates a tragically funny young man who is perfectly utilised as light relief in the midst of the creature action.
For fans of the Goosebumps stories, the film adaptation is a feast for the eyes. The central conceit is ingenious in allowing just about every monster Stine has ever created to make an appearance, giving real variety to the monster encounters and allowing the tone to vary nimbly and appropriately between horror and comedy. The monsters are rendered in often rather impressive CGI, but they are in keeping with the cartoonish feel of the rest of the film.
| “You just released every monster I’ve ever created.”
There are issues with Goosebumps, though. It tries to have its cake and eat it with the central romance storyline and suffers from a rather tacked-on tease for a sequel. Those are minor quibbles, however, in the face of a film that is a hell of a good time and will have endless rewatch value when it comes to DVD.
Pop or Poop?
A manic Jack Black and an engaging teenage cast do a stellar job at the centre of the Goosebumps movie, which is a project that almost certainly should have been made years ago.
Goosebumps is a terrific family adventure film that will please fans of grotesque CGI beasties, but remains light and frothy enough not to leave kids hiding behind the sofa in terror.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.