It’s proof of the everlasting delight bestowed by R.L. Stine’s original Goosebumps YA books that there is now another adaptation of his works arriving to be discussed. This time, it comes in the form of a Hulu/Disney + television series. After an award-winning Canadian television series in the ’90s and not one but two film adaptations in the 2010s, one starring Jack Black as Stine himself, this new adaptation of the books starts as an anthology series of sorts. At least that’s through the first 5 episodes which all land at once on Hulu/Disney+, fittingly on Friday the 13th of October.
Looking for a place to hold their Halloween party after the main event is busted, the class of small-town Port Lawrence High School opts to relocate to the old Biddle House, currently being renovated for a new owner. The kids are oblivious to the fact that the house now belongs to their new teacher, Mr. Bratt (Justin Long), who arrives early to assume control of the house. They also discover in short order that the rumours about the hauntings in Biddle house are true.
The series focuses on five students in particular, each of whom has their own individual strange encounters with haunted objects they encounter from the Biddle house. Each of the first 5 episodes focuses mainly on establishing each kid’s encounter with their object, while also progressing the main story overall. The small-town dynamics also play heavily into the group as Isaiah (Zack Morris- yes that’s his real name), Margot (Isa Briones), James (Miles McKenna), Isabella (Ana Yi Puig), and Lucas (Will Price) all know each other, not always for the best reasons, and the group’s effectiveness can be impacted by the baggage they bring along.
The series uses individual stories for each episode title and the plotting of the series, wrapped up in the bundle of what appears to be a brand new wrap-around tale created specifically for this series. This should delight Stine fans as it manages to deliver both a familiar tale they’ve read before but framed in a fresh new way. But you don’t need to be a fan or even aware of Stine’s books to become a fan of the series as the casting here is top notch and the themes are universal. The series turns out to be a ‘sins of the parents’ style thriller with the parents of the 5 main students being the ones responsible for the passing of Harold Biddle (Ben Cockell) in a tragic accident back in 1993 that opens the first episode. Having kept the secret for many years, the events of the Halloween party awaken Biddle’s spirit and set everything in motion.
As I mentioned before, the casting here is top-tier. The chemistry between the kids is palpable, as each of their performances is utterly believable and none of them can be taken at face value. In particular, Briones and Puig are fantastic and McKenna’s energy is insanely infectious throughout. Not to be outdone though, the parents also pull some heavy weight here as Rachael Harris is excellent as Lucas’ widowed mother Nora, and Leonard Roberts is solid as Isiah’s father Ben. But another highlight is the lovable Rob Huebel as Margot’s father Colin, who also happens to be the school guidance counsellor. Embracing every stereotype that comes from such a position, Collin never grew up in Port Lawrence like the rest so his ignorance of local history plays into his naivete, he even goes as far as to describe his personality as ‘a warm glass of milk’ that lulls others to sleep.
But perhaps the hardest job here goes to Justin Long. Having to portray a character that is possessed by a vengeful teenage spirit and having to adjust his posture and inflection to show that he is being guided by another force is remarkably well done here. Even when the physicality of the performance becomes so large that it could become utterly laughable, Long manages to maintain enough groundedness in what he’s executing that never crosses the line. His character appears to be a new creation specifically for this series, but in many ways he becomes the backbone of the series, much like a spine keeps a book intact.
The final five episodes, which will drop one a week for the next five weeks, appear to be less individual-based and more linear storytelling as Biddle’s character searches for “him”, though the identity of him is very obvious and not spoilers territory at this point. The titles of episodes 6 & 8, plus his predominant appearance in the middle of the show’s promotional poster, let us know its iconic Stine antagonist Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy will finally arrive. Slappy was also the central antagonist in both of the 2010 films and had three books devoted solely to him by Stine, so he’s likely the central figure of the final five episodes, though audiences will have to tune in to be sure.
Fans of Stine’s books, YA fiction, family-friendly scares and other series like Netflix’s criminally cancelled The Midnight Club should all be immensely satisfied with this series. Based on how writer/creators Rob Letterman and Nicholas Stoller have chosen to stage this season, it’s not clear how this translates into a second season with the same casting yet. But for the sake of what I suspect will be a rabid fanbase, I certainly hope they have some ideas that might get hinted at in the final episodes of the season.
- Rated: TV-PG
- Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Thriller
- Release Date: 10/13/2023
- Directed by: David Grossman, Erin O'Malley, Felix Enriquez Alcala, Rob Letterman, Steve Boyum
- Starring: Aiden Howard, Ana Yi Puig, Ben Cockell, Isa Briones, Justin Long, Leonard Roberts, Miles McKenna, Rachael Harris, Rob Huebel, Will Price, Zack Morris
- Produced by: Erin O'Malley, Kevin Murphy, Neal H. Moritz, Nicholas Stoller, Rob Letterman
- Written by: Franklin Jin Rho, Nicholas Stoller, Nick Adams, R.L. Stine, Rob Letterman
- Studio: Disney, Hulu