Growing up I was a big fan of “Goosebumps”. Actually, to be honest I was more a fan of the books than the television show they inspired but they were both entertaining. So when the legendary series of children’s horror novels by R.L. Stine got their own theatrical film in 2015 I didn’t think it was half bad. Three years later the film has a sequel in theaters just in time for Halloween. While many saw some charm and fun in the first film, including critics, this sequel is not receiving as much love and focuses on a more original Stine story rather than established novels. So is this sequel worthy of the critical shaming it has received or is it more enjoyable than it’s getting credit for? Let’s take a look. This is my review of “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” takes place three years after the events of the first “Goosebumps” but is only loosely connected to the first story. Set in the fictional town of Wardenclyffe, New York the film follows a pair of best friends, Sonny Quinn (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam Carter (Caleel Harris) who uncover a long-lost manuscript for R.L. Stine’s first book “Haunted Halloween”. The two open the book and release Stine’s most famous character, Slappy (Mick Wingert) into the world where he enacts a new plan to create a monster army and bring Halloween to literal life. Sonny and Sam, along with Sonny’s older sister Sarah (Madison Iseman) try to return Slappy and his minions to the book while R.L. Stine himself (Jack Black) races to the scene to help stop his creation from causing more mayhem.
“Goosebumps 2” is certainly a very different movie from its predecessor in that the story is not simply an homage to Stine’s existing works but rather focuses on a completely original book. That said I enjoyed the feel of this film more than the first one because while the first film felt like a tribute this one feels more like a legitimate R.L. Stine story. I can compare it to the two live action “Scooby Doo” movies. While neither were really very good the second one felt more in keeping with the spirit of its source materiel. “Goosebumps 2” is the same way even if that doesn’t necessarily make it “better” than the previous movie. The writing leaves a lot to be desired but the basic story reminded me of the television show in a lot of way and felt like a story Stine would have actually written. I thought the story was fun and inspired even if it does lean heavily on the first movie’s proven formula (a fact I’ll touch on later). There are some fun callbacks to Stine’s bibliography that we didn’t see in the first movie, including the big-screen debut of the haunted mask, and the monster variety is pretty neat. Slappy himself has a much bigger role in this film despite also being the main antagonist in the original movie and serves as a fun villain, maybe even more enjoyable than in the previous picture in my opinion.
While the performances in this film aren’t really anything to write home about per say there are some charming leads in the three younger characters we spend most of our time with. Madison Iseman is positioned to be a breakout star of the film following up her role in “Jumanji 2” where, funny enough she and Jack Black played different versions of the same person before co-staring in this movie. Iseman serves as a likable young woman who shows signs of the typical tortured teen while also being a determined writer, which figures into the plot. So while she’s not very complex at least she has character. The two young male leads Jeremy Ray Taylor (of “It” fame) and Caleel Harris are charming enough as well. In fact, most of the human cast have a certain charm about them and while the script doesn’t do any of them justice I really felt like they’re all having fun on screen. Ken Jeong, Chris Parnell and Wendi McLendon-Covey also play memorable characters and even Mick Wingert, who plays the voice of Slappy, sounds like he’s having a ball. That energy bleeds off the screen and I must say despite the flaws of “Goosebumps 2” the fact that the cast seemed to be really into it helped me stay invested throughout the one-and-a-half hour run time.
The monster designs for me were also a standout. Throughout the film we see several classic monsters like ghosts, mummies and the headless horseman come to life while other more creative creatures like a pumpkin-headed scarecrow and a giant spider made out of balloons (shown above) add a nice touch to the collection of creatures at Slappy’s disposal. Of course we also see some familiar faces like the werewolf and abominable snowman who were also featured in the previous movie. These monsters bring a lot of fun chaos to the screen and I’d be lying if I denied how delightfully entertaining it was at times to see people running away from them. It’s an idea we’ve seen many times before but even then it’s still amusing to see our favorite monsters come to life and run amok and the fact that they’re all made from Halloween decoration, and at times even candy treats like gummy bears, makes for a great variety of designs where few monsters look the same. It’s a neat combination of Stine’s own creative charm and the legendary creatures and classic monsters than helped make the horror genre what it is today.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
The truth is though, “Goosebumps 2” is pure kid-friendly fun utilizing proven gimmicks that have worked before. For a lot of people that’s not going to be enough. While I did appreciate how this film chose to tackle a more original spin on Stine’s style of spooky storytelling I will admit the previous movie felt more focused and flowed a lot better from scene to scene and conflict to conflict. While “Goosebumps 2” might be very watchable the first film has the advantage of a much better written story and script. One of the biggest mistakes this sequel makes is trying to tie it loosely to the first movie but barely gets that job done with a lot of the connecting aspects feeling more like add-ons than a sincere attempt to keep this franchise a cohesive story all the way through. A lot of elements are shared between the films, but the stories are dramatically different and I almost would have preferred it if “Goosebumps 2” was it’s own standalone story altogether as many had originally anticipated (it was originally rumored to tackle the “Horrorland” stories).
While I did enjoy this film to some extent I don’t feel like “Goosebumps 2” pushes any boundaries. It does lean heavily on a lot of the same ideas that made the first movie work, including seeing Stine’s famous monsters come to life and the same exact villain as the first just in a different context. Slappy’s motivations are relatively the same as he is seeking love from a “family” and the original saw him treating Stine like a father figure. It’s all just so familiar and while this second entry feels different enough to enjoy on its own it doesn’t go as far as it needed to in creating its own identity and purpose. Save for some new creatures and a narrative that plays out more like one of Stine’s books “Goosebumps 2” is nothing special compared to its predecessor. It feels like a phoned in sequel trying to keep the franchise alive for the future without trying too hard to give it more reason to exist.
With that in mind the absolute biggest flaw for this movie is Jack Black. Black played R.L. Stine in the original movie but was excluded from the promotions of this film to avoid confusion with “The House with a Clock in its Walls” and because he was busy filming that very film. Black was only included in small parts of “Goosebumps 2” as a result making Stine feel like the most egregious add-on of them all. He’s not needed or necessary for this story. In fact the main characters discover everything they need to know without Stine’s help, something Stine even mentions when he finally does show up. While I understand Jack Black is a bankable actor and made the first movie a lot of fun to watch he’s not needed here. His performance isn’t horrible but it’s just not what we saw from him in the first movie. Adding to his insignificance is the fact that the filmmakers utilized the talents of Mick Wingert, who usually fills in for Black in smaller projects featuring his characters, to play Slappy. When Black played Slappy in the original film because it built on the father/son relationship between Stine and his most famous villain. Here the relationship between the two doesn’t even play into the plot until a tacked-on sequel teaser at the end. Bottom line Black’s involvement feels like nothing but pandering to include an element from the previous film besides Slappy and he adds nothing to the narrative feeling like a pointless addition to a story that would have been no different or less fun without him.
“Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” is fine. It’s nothing great but it’s nothing horrible either. I did enjoy it as a fan of the “Goosebumps” books because to me it felt more like I was watching an adaptation of one of the author’s stories. Overall though there’s are just too many repeated elements and clear pandering to fans of the first film without any real attempt to try to help the series progress. It’ll do fine for young kids and even some parents. Heck when I saw it the kids were laughing through most of the movie and at times I genuinely chuckled right along with them. But, am I going to remember “Goosebumps 2” even over its predecessor? Probably not and despite its decent performances from some young stars and a fun, if repetitive, villain that is ultimately how “Goosebumps 2” should be judged. It’s a watchable film that leaves the smallest of marks on viewers making it a neat waste of an hour and a half that you’ll probably never go back to when there’s the solid first film that you can fall back on anytime.