The most remarkable thing about the Goosebumps movies is how it took Hollywood to get them into theatres. The Goosebumps series, which launched in 1992, has sold over 400 million books, and there are generations of fans ready to see R.L. Stine’s stories brought to life. Considering the movies have had 20 years to gestate in the studio system, it’s odd that Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween feels so undercooked. Haunted Halloween recreates many of the elements that drew millions of fans to the books but doesn’t tap into the creative spirit that kept them coming back.
Middle-schoolers Sam (Caleel Harris) and Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) are walking clichés. They’re a couple of uncool, science-loving dorks who get picked on by bullies. When not nerding-out over Nikola Tesla, the duo has a side-hustle; they’re part-time junk collectors. They’re hired to clean out a house so creepy that it looks like a bed and breakfast getaway for Tim Burton’s characters. It’s here where they discover a secret room containing a magic book. Opening the book releases Slappy, the demonic dummy from the last film.
At first its all fun and games with Slappy, he does the boys homework and household chores. However, it’s not long before he reveals his dark side; dropping kids off ladders and firing off some sick burns. But Slappy has bigger plans and wants to turn the town into his own Halloween wonderland, and he recruits a legit monster squad (made up of aliens, witches, and a giant balloon spider) to help him do it. Along with Sonny’s older sister Sarah (Madison Iseman), the teens must find a way to send Slappy and his monstrosities back where they came from.
Haunted Halloween feels similar to its predecessor, but if you sucked out all the tension, charm, and personality. Gone are the witty quips, colourful characters, and emotional payoffs. Instead, the film gives us a group of characters bland enough to have been lifted from one of Kevin Sorbo’s Christian propaganda movies. What’s disappointing is that this picture has all the tools to deliver a great film. It has young actors with proven track records, creative visual effects, and a deep mythology to pull plots and characters from. There is some strange filmmaking alchemy going on because all these individually compelling elements add up to a film that barely qualifies as fun.
The best part of Haunted Halloween is the monsters. The film serves up a smorgasbord of monster mayhem even though the creatures lack personality and you don’t spend enough time with them. Witches, talking jack-o-lanterns, a werewolf, a mummy, zombies, aliens, and killer gummy bears all get some screen time. The creative team went wild with the creature designs and delivered monsters with a distinct Goosebumps flavour.
This is, after all, a family movie, and most of these supernatural beings aren’t frightening enough to keep your kids up at night. For the most part. Every now and then a monster that wouldn’t be out of place in a Clive Barker movie sneaks into the frame. The film never dwells on the more menacing creatures, but if you have a child under ten, or a skittish tween, be aware, they may be sleeping with the lights on for a couple nights.
A creepy flick about some awkward, Tesla-admiring dorks should have me in the bag. At times though, it felt like this picture was actively trying to make me lose interest. Haunted Halloween fails to stand out on every conceivable level. The characters range from bland to forgettable, the story feels uninspired, and the humour falls on the wrong side of the dad-joke line. This picture still manages to clear the low bar that sets the minimum standard for fun disposable entertainment.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween isn’t as playfully meta as the last movie and sticks closer to a traditional horror movie template. Director Ari Sandel crafts a tale unsettling enough to push kids out of their comfort zones, but not scary enough to ruin their chances of a nightmare-free sleep. The only ones stressing out will be the parents accompanying their kids and dealing with FOMO as A Star Is Born and First Man screen just one theatre over.