Being only just the, er, youthful side of 50, my exposure to RL Stine’s hugely successful series of children’s horror stories has been non-existent. I’ve heard of them, of course: like so many enormously popular things, you pick up on their existence via some sort of cultural osmosis. So, having now looked them up, I can tell you that there’s 182 of the things and they’ve sold a remarkable 400m copies in 14 years. Yeah. I know, right?
A big screen interpretation was then somewhat inevitable. The pleasant surprise here though is just how purely enjoyable it is, for Goosebumps is a joyous romp that manages to nod to classic horrors and genre clichés, deliver some family-friendly scares, serve up a little genuinely sweet romance – and a touching emotional journey or two – and pack a remarkable amount of genuine humour into its efficient 103 minute running time.
The film’s hero is Zach Cooper (Minnette), who, following the death of his father, has left New York with his mum Gale (Ryan) to begin a new life in Madison, Delaware. And, if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, he’s about to start at the same school where his mum will be vice-principal. There’s a small saving grace in the form of his attractive and sparky neighbour Hannah (Rush) but that’s being thwarted at every possible turn by her overbearing and abrasive father (Black).
The young leads are immensely likeable, the set pieces deliver slapstick and enjoyable scares in equal measure, and there’s a rich vein of parent-pleasing humour
When he hears a scream from the house next door and Hannah seems to have disappeared, Zach calls in the police but they find nothing so Zach, with the help of new friend Champ (ubergeek Lee), break in to the house to investigate. On the plus side, he finds Hannah, absolutely safe and sound. On the down side, he discovers that the overbearing, abrasive neighbour is R L Stine and that his books hold a surprising secret: Stine’s monsters actually exist, but all are safely trapped in the magical pages of the original – and locked – manuscripts. Or, you know, would be if Zach and Champ hadn’t unwittingly unleashed Stine’s nemesis, Slappy, the ventriloquist’s doll from Night Of The Living Dummy, who’s now got all of the manuscripts, the key, and a plan to unleash all the creatures and wipe Madison off the map.
And thus begins a gleefully tongue-in-cheek, self-reverential chase to get all the creatures back in their books. In terms of plotting, yes, the film stomps along in purely linear fashion to its roughly predictable conclusion but there’s still a great deal to enjoy along the way. The young leads are immensely likeable, the set pieces – particularly the homicidal lawn gnomes – deliver slapstick and enjoyable scares in equal measure, and there’s a rich vein of parent-pleasing humour that’ll mostly sail over children’s heads. There are nods aplenty to the classic horror tales and movie scenarios – including an abandoned fairground and a walk through a cemetery at night – and there’s even a brilliantly executed R L Stine cameo to watch out for. A very pleasant surprise indeed.