Director: Rob Letterman
Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell
Written by: Darren Lemke, (story) Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski and (based on the Goosebumps books) R.L.Stine
Running Time: 103 mins
Release date: 5th February 2016
I love going into a film with low expectations. You are never disappointed then. How low can an expectation go? So really the only way is up. That’s how I approached Goosebumps, a film version (of sorts) of the hugely popular horror books for kids written by R.L. Stine. So as I sat there, expectations lower than low, it came as a pleasant surprise that this was rather entertaining in an 80’s, slightly unoriginal, manner. Yes, Goosebumps was much better than expected.
Moving from the big city to a small town, Zack has to cope with his mother being the new vice principal of the new school he is attending as well as being the new kid in town. His next door neighbour is an odd man with a pretty teenage daughter, Hannah. When Zack becomes concerned for Hannah’s safety, he finds himself breaking into her home where a library of locked Goosebumps manuscripts are discovered. When one is accidentally opened, it releases a giant yeti, which then sets off a domino effect as all the books are unlocked and hundreds of monsters are unleashed on the small town.
Rob Letterman’s film is a mix of borrowed ideas from previous movies, mainly from the 80’s and it is this period of cinema that the film has a sort of nostalgic feeling for. Teenage boy moves into new home where he’s not sure about the neighbour (Fright Night). Unleashes monsters from closed sources (Jumanji). The monsters start to terrorise all around and it is up to the intrepid teen and his gang to stop them (Gremlins/The Monster Club). The references keep coming, even down to a ferris wheel ride that is straight out of Spielberg;s failed comedy, 1941.
Yet with all these notable nods and obvious winks, it does manage to be surprisingly fresh and, most shocking, very entertaining. The humour running through the film is a strange concoction of black comedy, obvious slapstick and enough subtle gags for adults in the audience not to get too bored. It also has it’s fair shares of frights and shocks; not too shocking or horrific, but just plenty to both amuse and make you jump.
What also drives the film is the pure energy of the story and the cast. It zips along at a tremendous pace once the initial ideas are developed into a rollercoaster ride of monsters and evil, from werewolves to giant prey mantis to a building swallowing blob, all masterminded by a ventriloquist dummy called Slappy. Fans of the books and the TV series will relish in seeing their favourite characters reincarnated with loving care on the big screen, while novices will enjoy the heady mix of scares and humour.
The young cast does a fine job with what the material gives them. There’s a sweet-natured romance that isn’t too sloppy and even though Ryan Lee, playing geeky kid Champ, has similarities to Jon Cryer’s Ducky from Pretty In Pink, he manages to be this side of annoying that you don’t want genuine harm to come to him. As the mysterious neighbour who turns out to be much more important than that, Jack Black is back on top form. After wasting his comic talents on tripe like Gulliver’s Travels (which gets a nod during a scene with killer gnomes) it’s good to see the JB from School Of Rock, all frantic and delivering some killer lines (at the expense of Stephen King).
Goosebumps may seem a little childish and silly in the trailers but in fact, it’s full of mindless, enjoyable fun. Maybe a little too scary for the very young but it had more shocks than most modern horrors and the affectionate nod to other films from the past are nicely placed for those who were brought up on things like The Monster Club. It won’t stay with you much longer after you’ve seen it but for some good, old-fashioned family fare, it does the job nicely and yes, it was much better than my expectations ever imagined.