Tuesday, May 31, 2016


R.L. Stine, outwardly, is a very popular author in the variety of children’s horror fiction and became a phenomenon in that genre throughout the 1990s.  Many call him the “Stephen King of Children’s Literature” as he’s the author of hundreds of novels, most notably for the “Goosebumps” series of books.  In that period, Mr. Stine had published 62 books which garnered a television series that ran for a few years during the late 90s, as well as a direct-to-DVD movie, The Haunting Hour Volume One: Don’t Think About It.

Well, I’ll tell you, I knew very little about Mr. Stine, his books, the TV show, and that made-for-DVD movie, only recognizing “Goosebumps” as some series targeted towards kids.  Since the mid-80s, I’ve been a strict Stephen King fan, never really reading any other authors’ works until the late 90s, and that would consist of Bentley Little and Richard Laymon, later reading Brian Keene during the turn of the century.  So if someone during that time asked me to pick up an R.L. Stine book and give it a try, I would’ve asked them what they were smoking.

You can probably guess what my reaction was when I’d heard the announcement that a movie was to be made adapting Mr. Stine’s books—it wasn’t favorable.  Even as I’d caught wind that Jack Black was set to star in the film, I took no notice.  Seeing that he’d been voicing the main character in Kung Fu Panda for a while, I thought he was strictly using his talents for children’s movies.  So hearing about the movie, Goosebumps—especially being a Nickelodeon production—it went in one ear and straight out the other.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I watched a YouTube presentation from an ongoing channel of videos by CinemaSins, that I really took notice of the film (I really recommend watching that channel on YouTube…it is hilarious).  The video showed enough of the film to gain an interest from me that I decided to seek it out that very day…and as luck would have it, the movie was featured on Netflix’s list of streaming movies.  So that night I sat down and watched Goosebumps.

The movie is directed by Rob Letterman, who only has a handful of movies under his belt as a director, and he’s worked with Jack Black before, directing him in the 2010 film, Gulliver’s Travels.  Letterman has only worked on a couple of animated films before that, but he’s solidified himself as a proficient enough director, so much so that it was announced he’s set to helm the sequel to this film.

So without further delay, here’s the synopsis for Goosebumps

A teenager, Zach (Dylan Minnette), teams up with Hannah (Odeya Rush), the daughter of young adult horror author, R.L. Stine (Jack Black), after the writer’s imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.

You know, I never thought a movie today would ever duplicate the feel of some of the best 80s movies that featured a team of children banding together to save the day.  But Goosebumps succeeds in that quite a bit.  I was constantly reminded of The Monster Squad at times and even Fright Night (the 1985 version, not the one from 2011) during the beginning.

Jack Black, playing the fictional version of the author, wondrously plays the part pretty straight, never acting too goofy but is still funny in his portrayal.  In one scene in the film, where his character’s ousted as actually being R.L. Stine (the story has him and his daughter in hiding and not letting people know who he is, even using the fake name of Mr. Shivers), Jack Black delivers a funny line as to why R.L. Stine is a better author than “Steve” King.

Although I remember Dylan Minnette best for the deleterious bully in Let Me In, he easily slides into the protagonist’s role as the handsome-new-boy-next-door, Zach.  I love his reactions to Jack Black’s character of the overly protection father when he first meets the girl next door, Hannah, and felt he handled the role well as the hero.  Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush were good together, displaying good chemistry on screen, you actually feel for these two as the story comes to an end—first feeling sad, then a moment of happiness towards the end.

Featured in this story as the comic relief is the character of Champ (Super 8’s Ryan Lee), a scrawny geek that latches on to Zach right away, naming him as his best friend and fits in perfectly for the tone of this film.  Champ’s heroic deed later in the movie that gets him the girl that he has a crush on made me laugh and smile, especially since he’s such a comical chicken throughout most of the film.

Besides the feel of those movies from the bygone era of the 1980s, the one movie that you’ll probably parallel it with is Jumanji.  Yet this film has more feeling and emotion—not a sense of believability per se, but a lot of fun.  I like the scenery, how the story takes place in a small town—I’ve always enjoyed films that have these types of settings.  Near the end of the movie, as the story takes place at night, the film started to resonate some of the 1950s monster movies I’d watched as a kid, especially when the “blob that ate everyone” shows up.

Of course, the CGI monsters were something to be desired, not really rendered that well and sometimes appearing laughable.  However, seeing that these were merely characters coming to life from fictional books, it’s forgivable and didn’t really take away from the film.  The standout, of course, was the main baddie, Slappy (voiced by Jack Black), which is a ventriloquist dummy that speaks and moves on its own.  This is where Jack Black leaves the straight-faced part of R.L. Stine to inject his over-the-top comedic talents—there, and when he voices “The Invisible Boy.”

It’s funny…something that came to mind more than once when watching this film is that I kept thinking I was seeing a Tim Burton film.  It’s not that the movie has his visual style or quirky type of characters and I almost couldn’t understand why Burton came to mind.  But when I glanced at the end-credits and saw who’d composed the music, I understood completely—Danny Elfman.  Elfman’s music definitely works for this movie and I really couldn’t see (or hear) anyone else’s music in this soundtrack.

Though there are a few things I can nitpick, it’s not detrimental to the film—or at least not enough to take you out of the movie.  But I just wish there was a little backstory or reasoning as to why the monsters come to life.  As each manuscript is unlocked and opened, the creatures from each story come out of the book and run rampant until someone can open the book near them to suck them back in.  However, it’s never explained how this came to be.  Yes, Stine explains that he imagined these creatures and says that they can only be brought to life with the special typewriter he uses (which unexplainably ends up in a glass case at the very high school Zach attends).  But it would’ve been nice if there was some sort of explanation that the typewriter became cursed or something.  Like I’d said, it’s not that troublesome, just a little picked nit.

So, with all that, what is my final “bit” on Goosebumps?

I have to admit, I really didn’t think this movie would be anything but a little G-rated romp for kids.  But I was wrong…way wrong.  Although it may be a little scary at times for children, I see nothing wrong with having your little ones see this, considering they’re okay with some scary monsters here and there.  The film contains enough references to adult-themed material for us adults to understand and a lot of eye candy to keep the kiddies in their seats, but it isn’t tasteless or profanity-laced (well, maybe there were a few minor swear words here and there).  I thoroughly enjoyed this movie from start to finish and recommend it for people of all ages…you’ll have fun with Goosebumps.

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