2015’s Goosebumps was a slapdash attempt at cramming a bunch of bestselling kids’ horror stories into a meta-narrative that turned author R.L. Stine himself (in the body of an especially neurotic Jack Black) into a character within his own concoction. Stine’s written word was so powerful in imagination, the creatures literally leaped out of his books to terrorize a small town in Delaware. It was such a generic throwback to ’80s kid movie romps, that movie’s any reference to modern technology, like a throwaway line about Instagram, was jarring.
Less a sequel and more a reboot, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween repeats pretty much the same movie beat by beat, while moving the setting to a small (and identical) town in New York. We also get a whole new set of plucky, underdog kids who don’t veer too far away from the archetypes utilized in Goosebumps. This time around, the thing that makes them “uncool” isn’t being the new kid in town, but good old fashioned bullying, as science nerds Sonny (Jeremy Jay Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) are harassed by a central casting trio of older kids on bikes for the sin of being interested in technology. These films are stuck 30 years in the past.
Of course Sam and Sonny come across one of Stine’s magic books while sifting through his old family home for junk. Like any other idiot protagonist in a movie with evil creatures released through magic, they open the book, read a series of spooky sounding gobbledygook, and bring Slappy (voiced by Jack Black as Vincent Price on helium) to life. Slappy is of course the evil ventriloquist doll—don’t call him a dummy—that’s as close to a main antagonist Stine’s work will provide.
The version of that character from that book is apparently clamoring for a family for some reason, so Slappy first tries to get on Sonny’s and Sam’s good sides by helping them out with the bullies, but when the kids find him to be too evil for their tastes and try to bury him, Slappy decides to take his revenge by releasing all manner of reanimated Halloween costumes, toys and even candy on the unsuspecting town. As expected, it’s up to Sonny, Sam and Sonny’s sister Sarah (Madison Iseman)—whose character arc about writer’s block regarding a college application essay on fear writes itself before it even begins—to reclaim the book and save the town.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween has two distinct advantages over its predecessor that make it a fun, albeit forgettable, Halloween caper. One, it’s 15 minutes shorter, monsters and mayhem entering much earlier without as much filler. Advantage number two: The first Goosebumps movie didn’t do Stine’s legacy many favors, bringing his archetypal creations to life through Sony Pictures Animation’s lackluster CGI, leading Stine newcomers to wonder how original his work must have been in the first place. Goosebumps 2 remedies this issue a bit, by having Slappy turn benign Halloween decorations and costumes into a source of PG-level menace. The cheap plastic vampire and witch costumes given creepy animation creates some unique designs for the monsters, while cute Halloween staples like candy and jack-o-lanterns used as weapons create some playful set-pieces. The one that stands out is a sequence centered on a bunch of shape-shifting evil gummy bears attacking Sonny and Sam, which reminds of the zany live action cartoon energy in Army of Darkness when a group of tiny evil Ashes turned Bruce Campbell’s life into slapstick hell. A giant spider made up of balloons is also an intriguing design, no matter how ineffective of a monster it is within the confines of the story. All you have to do is pop the balloons. And for families who crave some spooooky fun, that works.
Director: Ari Sandel
Writer: Rob Lieber
Starring: Jack Black, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Madison Iseman, Chris Parnell
Release Date: October 12, 2018