UK Release Date: 19th October 2018
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Ari Sandel
Writer: Rob Lieber
Starring: Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Madison Iseman, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Chris Parnell, Ken Jeong, Mick Wingert, Jack Black
Synopsis: A pair of kids unwittingly unleash the macabre creatures at the heart of an unpublished RL Stine novel, threatening their entire town as Halloween gets a little more real than usual.
The first Goosebumps movie was a very pleasant surprise a couple of years ago, turning RL Stine’s seminal literary spookfests into a family-friendly horror tale that balanced scares and silliness very well, helped by Jack Black‘s take on the central role of Stine himself. Black is absent this time around – but for a late in the day cameo that was spoiled in the trailers – and the movie really suffers in his absence. It’s the same film, but without its wacky heart.
With all of RL Stine’s beasties banished at the end of the first movie, this one has to contrive a way to turn them loose again. That contrivance comes as a result of best buddies Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor from It) and Sam (Caleel Harris), who discover an unpublished Stine manuscript while cleaning an abandoned house for a bit of extra cash. They unwittingly unleash Slappy the Dummy, who promptly finds a way to bring back his creature chums in an attempt to introduce an eternal Halloween… or something. The film doesn’t really seem to be too sure.
It’s all just an elaborate ruse to allow director Ari Sandel to simply repeat all of the tricks Rob Letterman deployed to greater effect in the first movie. He does so, however, without any of the flair Letterman brought to the material. It’s a bigger and noisier film, but one that’s a great deal less entertaining. The lack of Jack Black’s macabre charisma is keenly felt, with an enormous void opening at the heart of the film that Goosebumps 2 is unable to fill with its colours and spectacle.
Taylor and Harris are standard issue movie kids and there’s no really strong emotional story thread that runs through the narrative. Instead, there’s this strange world in which the neighbourhood treats Halloween decorations like a Christmas-style battle of oneupmanship, with Ken Jeong‘s weird neighbour in particular going totally overboard. That’s a potentially interesting idea, but it’s also one Sandel completely abandons once the action starts.
And that action itself never has the energy or invention of what we saw last time around. Everything looks more than a little cheap. One scene, in which the characters sneak past monsters by wearing crappy Halloween costumes, only works because the creatures themselves look like pound shop fancy dress. When compared to the surprisingly compelling family-friendly horror The House With a Clock In Its Walls, this is a film that is severely lacking in any invention or even basic competence.
Things do liven up when Black arrives back on the scene. The tension between Stine and Stephen King that was referenced in the first film gets a neat reprise, but Black has too little time to make a material impact on the movie. Goosebumps 2 spends much of its third act working its way through tired sentiment, relying solely on its menagerie of critters to keep people excited – critters we’ve all seen be far scarier before.
Pop or Poop?
The first Goosebumps movie worked in ways no one quite expected, and Haunted Halloween proves that lightning seldom strikes twice. Jack Black’s compellingly creepy RL Stine is largely absent from proceedings and is replaced by a selection of characters who are never given any depth beyond running away from ropey CGI monsters. It’s things that go shrug in the night.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.