Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018) Review
A FUN YET ADEQUATELY RETREAD
In 2015, the film Goosebumps was released during the mid-October, arriving just in time for the Halloween season for thrills, scares, and things that go “bump” in the night. The film, which was based on the children’s horror book series of the same name by R.L. Stine with the movie, was directed by Rob Letterman and starred Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Amy Ryan, Ryan Lee, and Jillian Bell. The plot follows an adolescent teenager trying to save his town with author R.L. Stine’s help after all his creations (monsters, demons, and creatures) from the “Goosebumps” franchise begin to escape from their books, wreaking havoc in the real world. Goosebumps, while not Oscar-contender endeavor, was met with mostly positive reviews, with many fans of the Stine’s novel series praising the movie (seeing a variety of characters creatures come to life on the big screen) as well as being a suitable cinematic motion picture for a kid-friendly horror comedy (mostly due to Black’s performance as Stine himself). With its fan service, cheeky writing, and self-aware mischief, Goosebumps did its job and succeeded as a moderate hit with its intended target audience, raking in $150 million at the box office against its production budget of $84 million. Now, three years later, Sony / Columbia (Sony Pictures Animation) and director Ari Sandel present the follow-up installment to 2015’s Goosebumps with the film Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Does this second adventure delivers a theatrical “spook-filled” of children’s entertainment or is it one Halloween themed movie that you should just skip?
In the town of Wardenclyffe, Sarah Quinn (Madison Iseman) is trying to get into college, but can’t seem to master her entrance essay, dealing with heartbreak from her cheating boyfriend Tyler (Bryce Cass) and babysitting duties from her little brother, Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor), who’s been palling around with his fellow classmate / friend Sam Carter (Caleel Harris). Looking to make a little bit of money, Sam runs a junk-hauling company with Sonny, tasked with clearing an old decrepit house, which contains an unpublished manuscript from R.L. Stine titled “Haunted Halloween”. Upon opening the book, Sonny and Sam accidentally release Slappy (Mick Wingert), a malevolent ventriloquist dummy, and offers to help the boys and their problems. However, Slappy has ulterior motives, bringing with him an army of monster and creatures that begin to terrorize Wardenclyffe on Halloween night. Ready to fight back, Sarah, Sonny, and Sam try to find a way to stop Slappy, who’s eager to reach his ultimate endgame of unleashing an army of monsters upon the world.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Growing up in the 90s, I do remember reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series during my elementary school days. I vividly remember it was sort of “all the rage” with my classmates as a lot of us read and collected the series, with each of us liking a particular one for different reasons. If I recalled, I collected up to #32 (which was “The Barking Ghost”) and some of my favorites were “The Night of the Living Dummy”, “The Werewolf of Fever Creek”, “The Night in Terror Tower”, and “Ghost Beach”. Looking back, I still believe that this was a good YR series for kids, especially those looking to get into some light horror adventure stories. Flash forward to 2015 and I was surprise to see that Hollywood making a Goosebumps movie, with actor Jack Black playing the role of R.L. Stine in the feature. As a whole, I enjoyed this film. While it wasn’t super fantastic (and did forget to review for my blog back then), I found the movie to be quite good, bringing several characters and creatures from Stine’s novels to the big screen and (much like the books) was a kid-friendly tale of spooky creatures and adventurous thrills.
Now, flashing forward to 2018 for the release of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween; a cinematic follow-up to the 2015 Goosebumps film. Like the original movie, I was somewhat surprised that Hollywood greenlit another Goosebumps feature film. Yes, I kind of like that last one, but it was sort of a “one and done” endeavor”. Thus, I really didn’t expect another sequel-ish movie to materialize a few years later. That being said, I was slightly curious to see this movie…mostly due to the fact that I saw the film’s trailer (multiple times) whenever I went to my local theater to see PG / PG-13 movie. Plus, getting into the spirit of Halloween, I was interested to see a kid-friendly spook feature, especially seeing The House with a Clock in Its Walls a few weeks prior. So, what did I think of this new Goosebumps movie? Well, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween lacks charm and creative inventiveness to its predecessor, but still holds enough theatrical entertainment for some children’s spooky fun mischief. Basically, it’s not a terrible movie, but neither is it cinematic noteworthy.
While Rob Letterman directed the first Goosebumps film, he passes the directorial baton to Ari Sandel, whose previous works includes directing several episodes from the TV show Aim High as well as motion pictures movies like The Duff and When We First Met, to helm Haunted Halloween. To his credit, Sandel does a fairly good job in crafting a semi-sequel installment to the 2015 film, creating another scary adventure movie for the juice box crowd out there (roughly around the ages of 8 to 10). In truth, the film is not so a “direct sequel”, but rather a somewhat spiritual successor to the original Goosebumps, choosing to enlist of new cast of characters (in a new setting) that get caught up in Stine’s mischievous creations when they unlock his unpublished / unfinished manuscript of “Haunted Halloween”. Personally, it was kind of interesting (and a bit refreshing to see) Sandel, along with the film’s writers Rob Lieber and Darren Lemke, to see them tackle a more “original” (kind of) tale rather trying to continue with 2015’s Goosebumps’s characters, allowing the film’s proceedings to navigate a new yet familiar path that Sandel presents. However, there’s a duality to the notion (more on that below).
Additionally, Sandel does setup and executes several kid-friendly “scares” for the younger crowd that will delight them and not so much scare them. Basically, it’s a safe bet movie that I’m sure parents out there would approve of this movie (kind of a bit reminiscent of Hocus Pocus…. family fun scary, but not too scary). To his credit, Sandel stages plenty of children mischief throughout the movie, making Haunted Halloween a suitable tale of spooky thrills that’s both adequately fun and entertaining; romancing the idea of a 90s kid film style endeavor. The movie also does well in actually in its runtime, with Sandel creating a breezy film and keeping the feature trimmed (only having a 90-minute length). This means that Haunted Halloween tries deviates or get lost in unnecessary subplots and keeps its focus on the main storyline threads. All in all, the film’s target audience will probably find this movie to there liking and (in the end) I think that’s what matters most and where Sandel succeeds.
On a technical filmmaking level, Haunted Halloween meets the industry standard of a kid’s feature film movie. In a nutshell, while the movie won’t be nominated for any of its efforts, its still adds some flavor to it and makes it mostly “pleasing to the eye”, especially as a kid / family movie. While Sandel helms and stages the film’s narrative framework to the big screen, the efforts made by Barry Peterson (cinematography), Rusty Smith (production designs), and Jeanine Scott (set decorations) manage to deliver some “movie quality” that’s solid good in the cinematic nuances / setting. However, it was bit lower-ish…kind of like something a bit more than a TV film (if you know what I mean). That also goes for the CGI visuals and creature effects, with some being pretty good and some being okay-ish. All in all, it was even keel endeavor on all parts and I was pretty fine with it as I really didn’t expect it to be lavishing and blockbuster awesome. Also, the film’s score, which was composed by Dominic Lewis, is pretty good, feeling appropriate in matching the movie’s musical cues and melodies with Haunted Halloween’s story (a bit of that kid-friendly spooky dramatic / adventure type endeavor).
Unfortunately, Haunted Halloween can’t quite measure up its predecessor and seems more derivate in nature that what was intended by Sandel. Why? Well, perhaps the reason for that is because the most just seems like a recycle / repurpose iteration of the 2015 Goosebumps movie. While its not exactly a “carbon copy”, the movie’s narrative very much has that “been there, done that” type feel throughout. Thus, majority of the film, despite some of its positives, does certainly have that underlining notion of being generic and predictable right from the get-go and doesn’t bring anything new to the table, especially when examining the original film. Personally, I would’ve liked to seeing them a bit more different, but it just seems like lazy work on the story / script handling. Additionally, the movie seems a bit less focused than what was presented in the first film or rather I think that the story was slightly stronger, which enable the movie to carry more of a “better story”. Despite of having a couple new ideas (including Sonny’s project of Nicholas Tesla) , Haunted Halloween, however, just seems more of the same as last time, especially when the film’s main antagonist (i.e. Slappy) returns. Speaking of which, while there’s a plethora of villains / baddies from R.L. Stine’s works, it seems a bit redundant to return to Slappy as the film’s central villain and only two or three other Goosebumps creatures being featured in the movie. It would’ve been quite interesting to see another villain / creature from Stine’s work be the big bad villain in Haunted Halloween. Again, this is what I was talking about the duality of praising the film’s story premise.
Another problem that I noticed with the movie was the simple fact that Haunted Halloween just seems like “cheaper” version of what came before. What do I mean? Well, the movie’s production budget was basically halved from what the first Goosebumps was made for. Thus, while I don’t believe “more money means a better movie”, a little more could’ve been better for this movie. You know what I mean. Haunted Halloween is one of the movies that feel like a lesser made movie from a Hollywood studio that greenlit a sequel, but with major cut in the production budget. Basically, think of Disney’s DTV (direct-to-video) releases from its more popular animated films (i.e. Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, Aladdin: Return of Jafar, Mulan II, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame II). Haunted Halloween follows that suit and can’t seem to quite capture the same “pizzazz” that the original Goosebumps was able to achieve. I’m not saying exactly that the movie was poorly made, but its clearly visible that this particular feature has a low budget type and made more “on a dime” rather than on a dollar.
Lastly (because I don’t know where to put this), but I sort of felt that the movie really didn’t need to be made. Like I said above, the first Goosebumps movie was effective enough as a “one and done” type endeavor and really didn’t warrant a continuation follow-up installment. Thus, Haunted Halloween is kind of like unwanted a sequel that not a whole lot of people craved to see, which sort of adds to the film’s mixed reception.
Giving the smaller budget, Haunted Halloween’s cast doesn’t boast a lot of “big ticketed” stars to be attached to the movie, with the film’s enlisting several recognizable faces from various smaller projects on TV / film. However, the main problem with a lot of these characters are they are simply stock-like characteristics and personas that have been done many times before; becoming formulaic for most of their respective parts and roles. That being said, most of these characters are slightly elevated by the performances from the various actors and actresses in the movie.
The film’s main protagonist trio, consisting of Sarah, Sonny, and Sam, are played actress Madison Iseman (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Still the King), actor Jeremy Ray Taylor (IT and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip), and actor Caleel Harris (Central Park Five and The Loud House). Again, there acting talents are perfectly fine and suitable for their character roles (remember this is a kid’s movie, so I don’t expect them to “overact” or give dramatic performances) and do bring up their characters up from being generic stock-like hero characters with some very familiar problems (i.e. tackling issues of self-worth, bullies, boyfriend woes, and overcome personal challenges). Still, in the end, for a movie like Haunted Halloween, Iseman, Taylor, and Harris do a fine job in their respective roles.
The only “anchor” of moderately known works falls to actress Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs and Bridesmaids) and actor Ken Jeong (The Hangover and Community), who play characters of Kathy Quinn (Sarah and Sonny’s mom) and Mr. Chu (the Quinn’s neighbor). Like what said above, these two characters are not really the most ingenious / well-developed characters in the movie (again more stock-like as the overworked / concerned mom and the “wacky” neighbor”, both McLendon-Covey and Jeong do mostly channel their small screen personas for their roles, which does prove to be effective respectively. Additionally, while actor Jack Black (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and The House with a Clock in Its Walls) was the “big ticketed” star of the first Goosebumps, he does return in Haunted Halloween (reprising his role of Goosebumps author R.L. Stine), but he more of a glorified cameo, which is a shame as Black’s on-screen energy aided to the likeability to the first movie. Also, Black doesn’t reprise his vocal performance as Slappy in Haunted Halloween as that gets passed to Mick Wingert (Avengers Assemble and Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness). Wingert’s voice for Slappy was good, but I prefer Black’s.
Rounding out the film’s cast are actor Chris Parnell (Hot Rod and 21 Jump Street) as Walter (a local manager at a local convivence store), actor Bryce Cass (The Guardian and Battle Los Angeles) as Sarah’s boyfriend Tyler, and actor Peyton Wich (Stranger Things and Same Kind of Different as Me) as local school bully Tommy Madigan, which play minor supporting roles in the movie. Like the trend with everything else, their acting talents are fine in the movie, but these three are, more or less, background stock / cliché characters that are part of several of the main character’s storylines.
Halloween comes to life as R.L. Stine’s unpublished manuscript story gets unlocked and release mischief and mayhem on the town of Wardenclyffe in the movie Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Director Ari Sandel’s latest film sees the return to cinematic world of monster and creatures from Stine’s Goosebumps novels for another adventure of kid-friendly thrills and scares. While the movie does stumble into some very familiarity storytelling areas (feeling a bit recycled from the previous film) and lacks well-rounded characters, Haunted Halloween does succeed in being an amusing (yet slightly low budgeted) kid’s adventure motion picture, mostly thanks to Sandel’s direction and the film’s cast. To me, the film was okay. I really didn’t expect much from this movie and, despite some problems, I still felt that I was satisfied with how the movie turned out. However, kids will get more out of this feature than adults would. Thus, I would say my recommendation for this movie would be an “iffy-choice” at best and maybe a “rent it” for those who are just looking for family friendly romp of Halloween spooks. Will this movie be destined to be a classic Halloween type movie in children’s entertainment? My guess…probably not. That being said, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is fun yet adequately retread of what’s come before from both kids Halloween movies and from the original 2015 endeavor.
3.3 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Rent It)
Released On: October 12th, 2018
Reviewed On: October 31st, 2018
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is 90 minutes long and is rated PG for some scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor, and language