We all read Goosebumps as a kid, and people who didn’t are liars or were denied happiness. So when they made a Goosebumps movie, starring Jack Black and some other nerds, I was hype. The premise seemed to be that R.L. Stine’s books were real, and the monsters could get loose, meaning our heroes would go on a madcap adventure chasing after all of Goosebump’s most beloved monsters. Not a bad premise to be sure and probably the best way to deal with a franchise like this. Since I run a Fear Street blog and despite my constant crying out Fear Street has not made it to any screen, I thought it within my purview to review this strange movie.
The main poster (pulled from the Goosebumps wiki) doesn’t do too much for me. It’s not bad. It’s dynamic, it shows a lot of the selling points of the movie, and it’s certainly a nostalgia driven movie (though not to the extent of other movies that have been recently released). The effect of the monsters is pretty good, though I don’t know what’s up with our main boy on the poster. Someone photoshopped him super weird.
The stories are alive.
It’s not exactly a secret what the plot of this movie is, so I won’t deny it points for revealing it in the tagline. I like it. It plays into the movie and the fear that those monsters are coming for you.
We are introduced to Zach Cooper and his mom as they’re completing their move to Madison, Delaware. They move into a pleasant house closer to Zach’s Aunt Lorraine about a year after Zach’s father died, and it’s clear both Zach and his mom are hurting for it still. The interactions between Zach and his mom are pretty good. They’re both snarky and funny, but I appreciate any kid’s movie that treats parents like people. Zach’s mom gets about as much emotional turmoil over her husband’s death as Zach does.
Next door to them is a house where all the shades are drawn. A girl named Hannah pokes her head out and introduces herself to Zach. They hit it off until her dad calls her inside. He comes out and warns Zach to stay away from the house and his daughter. Jack Black’s using kind of a weird voice for his character (spoiler: who is R.L. Stine) it’s kind of a New England-y B-movie professor voice that took me a bit to get into. He also voices Slappy in this movie, which I thought was pretty amusing. Anyway, Zach settles into his new life, where his mom awkwardly introduces herself at school since she’s the new vice-principal, and he meets a weirdo kid named Champ who has a crush on a girl who does actually look at him but not very much. Champ is sort of just introduced to give us a third character to hang around with because all cool books have trios? He doesn’t do much at all, he barely gets a character arc, and he literally attaches himself to Zach by seeing the new kid sitting three rows in front of him at a pep rally and then walks up (in a shirt that says “This Kid is Cool” which I actually adore) and then gives him a business card. It’s not a good excuse to have him in the movie but okay.
Zach takes out the trash at his house, where Hannah is waiting for him. She tells him she’s homeschooled and her dad doesn’t let her out much, but she invites him to sneak out with her. She takes him into the woods and Zach isn’t sure if he’s into it. There’s a bird scare, and the cut back to Hannah kind of make it looks like she threw it at him. They come across a fully working yet abandoned amusement park???? Hanna just flips a switch and all the lights turn on, though it does look like the rides don’t work. Hannah forces him to climb up to the top of a Ferris wheel which is super dangerous oh my god Zach don’t do it you’ll die but they sit up top and have a moment together. I appreciate the cut back to the houses, so we don’t have to see them climb down. Hannah sneaks back inside, but it’s clear her dad is onto their game and he tells Zach if he comes around again bad things will happen.
Zach thinks her dad is weird but he starts to think he’s dangerous when he looks over at their house at night and he hears them arguing, and then it looks like Hannah’s dad has hit her, or worse murdered her. He runs over, knocking on the door, but he can’t get inside, so he does what no child ever does in a movie which is go to an adult. He tries to tell his mom, but she’s more interested in who this Hannah girl is, and so he calls the police. Unfortunately the police are dolts who completely believe everything the neighbor says. He claims Hannah went home to her mom’s the night before and he was watching scary movies loudly in his house. The police leave, but Zach isn’t convinced.
I guess that same night Zach’s mom goes to chaperone the homecoming dance. This is a really long flipping night. It seems like Zach and Hannah ran out, Zach then later saw an act of violence, and then after all that there’s also the homecoming dance. Zach is alone at home with his aunt, and he sneaks out and calls Champ, convincing him to break into the neighbor’s house. They pick the lock into the basement (Zach claims he learned it watching YouTube videos) where they find the floor covered in bear traps and the Cuckoo Clock of Doom. They go upstairs and find a wall of Goosebumps manuscripts. Champ does a pretty good job of shilling the series, and I assumed his familiarity with the books would come in handy, but it doesn’t which is kind of disappointing. The books are locked, and they find a key to open them up with for reasons I don’t really understand, but Zach’s focused on Hannah so I’ll forgive. Hannah runs into the room, and I sort of love Zach’s dry honesty. When she asks him what they’re doing here, he tells her he assumed she was in chains somewhere. She sees that they’ve unlocked a book, and then the Abominable Snowman of Pasedena emerges from it, pulling the words right off the page. The CG in this movie isn’t immersable, but it does such a perfect job of capturing the iconic book covers that I’m not even mad about it. The kids run after the monster and chase him into an ice rink.
There’s a kind of long fight at the ice rink that has some pretty good gags in it, but it ends when Stine shows up and forces the snowman back into his book. He drives them back, and Champ points out he has to be R.L. Stine, since he had all the original manuscripts. He doesn’t admit it at first, but Zach wheedles it out of him with his review of the Goosebumps books which I adored. He calls them silly with twists you can see coming from miles away written by a man who desperately wants to be Stephen King. Stine admits he’s himself and that he wrote those stories because he was bullied, had difficulties connecting with people, and felt tormented by the people in his life. He created monsters, which is kind of a dark origin story for these monsters, that a man was so alone and filled with rage that he literally brought horrors to life to torture them, so he locked them away in the books. When they arrive home, they see one of the other books has opened (by itself,with no one putting a key into it, but okay), and Slappy has arrived. There are a lot of great things about Slappy. He’s voiced by Jack Black doing his best Mark Hamill impression, and he moves only when the lights go out or the characters are momentarily blind, so we don’t have to see him walk. (Minor aside: I have a terrible, terrible fear of dolls coming to life, and I couldn’t even watch the Night of the Living Dummies TV movie when I was a kid. I can barely even look at images of dummies that are alive and evil. I think Slappy’s one of the more memorable bad guys from the books, and they do a lot with his character.) Slappy opens up all the other books and burns them as he does it, so the monsters are loose with no way to put them back.
The kids are attacked by the gnomes from Night of the Living Gnomes, and they are shown moving. Slappy drives out in the Haunted Car (license plate: HAUNTED), releasing monsters all over the town. He destroys the cell towers with the E. Ville Creeper Plants (no I don’t know this offhand I’m going by the Goosebumps wiki), the Body Squeezers freeze the police, the vampire poodle attacks Aunt Lorraine. There’s a great couple of nods to classic movies while they’re doing this, with one of the police officers quoting the Blob, and the school has posters up for the play version of Dracula (and the set of the Shining). Stine and the kids chase after him, nearly stopped by the Invisible Boy and the giant praying mantis, and they escape into a super market where they’re followed by the Werewolf of Fever Swamp. They’re cornered by the werewolf, but Aunt Lorraine is here as she slams her car into the monster. Honestly she gets all the best lines and I could make a whole blog post just about her, but “I think I killed that bear” definitely is in the top for me. She and Stine briefly hit it off before Zach tells her to go to the police and tell them to go to the high school. They run off, but when Lorraine gets to the police station she’s frozen as well.
They come up with a plan to capture the monsters back into a book with “one story to capture them all”, but Stine needs his typewriter to do it, which is currently in a display case at the high school, where the homecoming dance is happening. They have to cut through a graveyard to get to the high school, a terrible idea when actual real life monsters are running around, but whatever. Zach and Hannah share a moment, but the moon comes out and she becomes ethereal, revealing that she herself is a monster, a ghost girl, but Stine cared about her too much to put her back in a book. Their moment is ruined by an attack of the graveyard ghouls, and they chase off to the high school.
They get the typewriter, and Stine runs off to write. Knowing what I know about his process, I absolutely believe Stine could write a single book in one night if he had to, and I also really appreciate the quick scenes of him trying to write. Meanwhile, Slappy has released just about every monster, and they converge on the school, where the students and teachers work together to form a barricade, and this is where I learned there’s a character just named Murder the Clown, so super cool Stine, doing a great job.The girl who Champ was crushing on earlier is dragged away by her boyfriend even though she thinks they should stay to help, and they’re attacked by the werewolf. Champ jumps in and scares the werewolf away, saving Taylor in the process, and he totally gets a kiss out of it, thus ending his arc.
Slappy finds Stine in the auditorium and slams the typewriter on his fingers. The monsters are breaking through barricades and harming students, and so Stine says he’s going to take a school bus and drive it off so the monsters will follow him. He does so, and the praying mantis stops him, flipping the bus over, but when they open it to get inside, it released a gosh darn explosion the kids had cooked up, I assume also by watching YouTube videos. What Zach is doing watching videos about picking locks and rigging explosions I don’t know. It doesn’t seem healthy but he’s also stated to be from New York so maybe all kids there know how to do this? Stine and the kids are on a different bus, driving away. They drive to the amusement park with Stine narrating to Zach to type. But Slappy finds them in what is a pretty legit creepy scene, as he appears in the mirrors. He also at one point appears with Stine’s reflection being one half of a face and his being the other, and I read a few people who were waiting for the twist that Slappy had created Stine to create more monsters, which I think is supported textually and probably would’ve been super interesting, but I also didn’t expect a lot about this goofy, CG-fest of a kid’s movie. It does feel like a lot more’s going on with Slappy and Stine, but I’ll leave it to the fanfictioneers.
The kids run away as Slappy releases the Blob That Ate Everyone, which traps Stine. They climb to the top of the Ferris wheel and Zach finishes the book. Just as they put it in its binding the giant praying mantis finds them, and I always enjoy a good rolling Ferris wheel scene. They get free, but Zach no longer wants to open the book, because Hannah will disappear too. Hannah says she knows and opens the book herself, and the monsters are sucked back in. Stine is released from the Blob and literally drop kicks Slappy into the vortex which is pretty awesome, and Hannah and Zach share a goodbye as she disappears as well.
The movie cuts ahead to the school being rebuilt and reopened. Now Stine is teaching Language Arts, and he starts the lesson by telling everyone there’s three important parts to any book: The Beginning, the Middle, and the Twist. R.L. Stine also makes a cameo as a teacher named Jack Black which I appreciated a lot. Zach is still sad about Hannah, but Stine reveals he wrote one more story, and Hannah appears, no longer a ghost it seems, and able to attend high school. They kiss and walk off together. Stine seems content until the typewriter behind him starts typing, spelling out THE INVISIBLE BOY’S REVENGE, and then the Invisible Boy’s hand appears behind the glass, but it’s like a display case so how did he get inside, how does he fit, why would he close the door behind him, how is here even though they wished all the monsters into the book, but whatever it’s a cliffhanger ending which is exactly what I’d expect from a movie inspired by R.L. Stine.
This movie was plenty funny and there are a lot of great moments. The line I laughed the hardest at is just Zach’s aunt talking to herself about a man she met, and she ends the conversation with, “My psychic always tells me to stop dating losers and never get on a plane.” Her delivery is just so spot on honestly she’s my favorite character in the whole movie.
I secretly suspected I would like this. I have a high tolerance for kids movies, and I adore Monsters vs Aliens and Monster House and silly spooky kid fare. As someone who remembers the covers more than the story inside, I loved the send up of the monsters, and I’d suggest just watching the end credits alone if you truly want to appreciate Tim Jacobus’ art in motion, as well as Danny Elfman’s beautiful soundtrack. I think it was a great movie and honestly I’m willing to give it five original manuscripts out of five.