The monsters are coming out to play. Here's our review of Goosebumps.
Although I was a little too old for the Goosebumps books I was, of course, quite aware of the phenomena surrounding it. Author R.L. Stine pumped out 62 of the children's horror fiction novellas in just a few years. At their peak more than 4 million copies a month were regularly being purchased, and combined with the various spin-off titles, Stine's books have sold over 400 million copies, besting even Stephen King.
With that in mind it's surprising that there hasn't been a Goosebumps movie earlier than this. Imagine one coming out 20 years ago when the series was at the height of its popularity, there would've likely been Star Wars-length queues around the block as kids camped out for tickets. But although Hollywood is slightly late to the party, in this case that's maybe not such a bad thing as expectations can be hard to live up to. The 1996 youth who were snapping up the books would've likely demanded absolute perfection from a Goosebumps movie, scrutinising every frame for references to their favourite story, but here in 2016 I don't think that the novellas are that important among today's pre-teens. Which means that Goosebumps might just come as a bit of a surprise to them, and a very enjoyable surprise too.
Directed by Rob Letterman, Goosebumps chooses not to follow the story of one of Stine's books, but rather throw a greatest hits of characters into the mix in a kind of Jumanji-esqu adventure tale. The film follows a teenage boy named Zach (Dylan Minnette) who, along with his mother Gail (Amy Ryan) moves from New York to the sleepy town of Madison, Delaware. He befriends Hannah (Odeya Rush), the home-schooled girl next door and daughter of the mysterious Mr Shivers (Jack Black).
In a somewhat meta twist, Mr Shivers is actually R.L. Stine, well a fictional version of him, but still the R.L. Stine known as the writer of all the Goosebumps books. Stine's been off the map for the longest time, and has had almost zero contact with the outside world out of fear that they will discover his writings. His original Goosebumps manuscripts are locked away, quite literally, bound under lock and key, each and every one of them. And for good reason, because if one of the manuscripts is opened (again) whatever monsters or creatures that lie within the pages will come to life.
Well, dontcha know it - Zach happens! Along with his geeky friend Champ (Ryan Lee) the duo accidentally open all of the books, and every monster Stine has ever created is set free. From the yeti, to lawn gnomes, the invisible boy, giant mantises, the werewolf, and many many more besides, all led by Slappy, the ventriloquists dummy. And they are pissed and out for revenge, they want to make Stine pay for locking them up and have no qualms with destroying Madison in the process.
The story itself is lively and action packed. The visual and practical effects are both top notch, and Jack Black is really good as Stine. He's, quite wisely, not taken on as many high-profile projects over the last few years, as there was a point where he'd reached over saturation and was making a string of sub-standard movies (I'm especially looking at you Gulliver's Travels), but Goosebumps will remind you exactly why you love Black.
There's also some surprisingly suspenseful moments in the film, which is something I especially enjoyed about it, because it's not dumbed down at all. It's quite suitable for most children (I saw it with an 8 and a 12 year old who both loved it) but it's still somewhat scary at times. On the negative side, some of the performances are a bit over-the-top, the dialogue can be a little too silly and the humour doesn't always hit, but none of that detracts from the overall enjoyment, and when it comes to the monsters they really are first rate, and they are what this film is all about.
Goosebumps is a great mix of comedy and mild horror, featuring a nice twist and a few decent life lessons to boot. It's a highly enjoyable family film, and one that might just propel those Goosebumps novellas back up the best selling lists once again.
Goosebumps opens in UK cinemas this Friday, February 5th.