Halloween is sort of tough holiday when it comes to having movies that fit, at least for me, the classic bill of a seasonal “must watch film”. Unlike Christmas, which has plenty to choose from like It’s a Wonderful Life(which I might just do a review on this year), Muppets Christmas Carol, Home Alone, Santa Clause, Elf and much more, Halloween always felt like an oddball holiday that featured slasher or scary films that I just do not enjoy. Really the only movie I can think of that fits the bill for me is Hocus Pocus which, with my sister and I being a 90’s kid, we love and try to watch every year. But other than that, we really have nothing in the way of film that lets me feel like Halloween is a real holiday.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I recently watched the new Goosebumps movie that starred Jack Black and Dylan Minnette. I went in with little-to-no expectations as I (1) was never really a fan of Goosebump books growing up and (2) the trailers looked a bit one-dimensional and cheesy for my taste. Surprisingly, the movie was getting decent ratings and that, along with my wife asking me to go with her, pushed me into seeing the film.
Rather than a cookie-cutter film aimed at children, I was treated (pun intended), however, to an extremely well done and charming film. There was action, mystery, romance and much more in this movie so it can be enjoyed by pretty much all ages as well. Many of the characters could have been archetypes but, instead, they were all oddly charming and convincing as whatever role they had to be. Dylan Minnette and his sidekick Ryan Lee, in particular, had roles that could have easily jumped into the realm of annoyance. However, both actors did such a wonderful job that you cannot help but feel connected to the characters. This movie was full of surprises and might just be the next Halloween classic.
Zach Cooper ( Dylan Minnette) and his mother Gale (Amy Ryan) move to the small town of Madison, Delaware after the death of Zach’s father causes his mother to need to search for work as well as a change of scenery. Upon arrival, Zach meets his neighbors Mr. Shivers and his daughter Hannah but is quickly warded off by Mr. Shivers and warned to “stay away” or else something back will happen to Zach. Later, Zach befriends Champ (Ryan Lee), a young and often bullied student at his new school. One night, however, Zach hears Mr. Shivers and Hannah arguing and even sees their shadows move in the house. Hannah screams at one point and all the lights go out. This leads Zach to believe that Hannah is in danger and he quickly calls the police.
But upon arrival, Mr. Shivers claims that Hannah is on a flight out-of-town and that the disturbance young Zach heard was merely the television playing too loudly. The officers leave the home without any further investigation. Zach, however, believes Hannah to still be in the house and in danger so her enlists the help of his new friend Champ and, together, they break into Mr. Shivers’ home. Once inside, the find a book shelf full of locked Goosebump manuscripts and deduce that Mr. Shivers must actually be R.L. Stein himself, the author of the books. Hannah startles them causes Zach to drop a book they had just unlocked and upon picking it up, is treated to an off spectacle of the Abominable Snowman coming out of the book.
And, with the help of R.L. Stein they are able to suck the monster back into the book, but they soon realize that one, really dangerous book and monster had gotten out as well. Slappy, a ventriloquist dummy and long time friend of Stein, has gotten loose and is hell-bent on destroying his creator as he feels betrayed by the years of imprisonment Stein has subjected him to. He frees all of the other monsters and quickly starts a Gremlins-like rampage throughout the town. With the help of Zach, Hannah and Champ, Stein sets out to vanquish his monsters once and for all.
This film is full of characters that you could easily get annoyed at. Champ is a wuss who whines a lot, Zach is overly curious and has a white-knight complex, Stein is usually unreasonable and overvalued his own importance and Hannah is the archetype of the “Girl Next Door” who is constantly trying to break the protagonist out of his shell by making him “experience the world”. All these things, in many other films, can be rather eye-roll worthy but they somehow work in this movie. All of the characters are oddly charming in the film and even the side characters are very cute in their own way. Hell, even Zach’s crazy aunt turned out to be pretty cool by the end of the movie and I was sure I would hate her character!
The graphics for the monsters were good in the film, they didn’t come off as overly cheap but you were aware throughout most of the film that they were CGI. But hey, I expected worse for a film like this and I’m just glad that it was not a made for TV SyFy movie. And really, the only villain worth paying attention to is Slappy. He is the only monster with real depth in the film, the rest of them just fulfill their roles as monsters more or less. Slappy, on the other hand, has a vendetta against Stein. He was Stein’s closest friend growing up and was heart-broken when Stein chose to reject him and lock him away in the book. So, when he is released from captivity, he begins his own revenge story: Slappy’s Revenge. Slappy is voiced by Jack Black which adds a layer of depth as well as creepiness to the character. Even Slappy, himself, remarks as to the confusion of “which person is the real personality” between Stein and himself. By doing the voices the same, the audience gets to feel a sense of closeness between the two as well as a deeper connection between the two. As if R.L. Stein himself envisioned Slappy as a wish-fulfillment character in his own likeness. Slappy as a character was pretty amazing and was a great choice as a main story-villain in the film.
The movie danced around between light and heavy throughout its one hour and forty minute runtime. Certain parts were very humorous, like the werewolf drooling on a hiding Stein or the invisible boy slapping people and running away, while other parts had heavy undertones, like Slappy’s relationship with Stein. However, both ends of the spectrum were done very well and you didn’t stay too long in one without switching to another. This helps keep you interested in the movie as well as allowed the movie to fly by. It was early two hours but you left the theater wanting to see more. And, while they didn’t necessarily set the movie up for a sequel, I wouldn’t be surprised if they chose to do one or two more films.
For me, this film felt like an instant Halloween classic and filled the void during this time of year where movies tend to focus more on being scary rather than entertaining. It is a welcome addition and I look forward to watching the movie every October!
The plot, if broken down, can be considered pretty cliché. A kid moves to a new town and cannot find many friends (except for the oddball everyone else rejects) and stumbles across something he shouldn’t have and shit goes crazy. While the plot is not unique, we do get to see a lot of creativity from a monster-perspective and the plot balances heavy and levity so effortlessly. (17/20)
The characters were the most charming parts about this film. From main characters to side characters to villains, everyone was awesome. The foil relationship between Slappy and Stein is also something to note as it hints at such an interesting back story. It makes you want to see a prequel! (20/20)
I sort of though that this movie would such partly because I don’t respect Jack Black as an actor. Add that to the fact that his voice sounded, in the trailers, like he was trying too hard to be mysterious, and you had me worried that this film would fail. However, Jack blacked voice as Stein and Slappy were both rather perfect for the role and he did a wonderful job. Really, the only acting I could take or leave was that of Hannah. Don’t get me wrong, she did a fine job, but I am just left with the feeling that if you had put any actress in her role, it would have been fine also. (15/20)
The first act of the film feels a bit rushed for me, but the movie really comes together in act two and delivers a spectacular movie that is action packed and full of fun and nostalgia. I just wished they had introduced the main character a little better. I wanted to know more about him and his motivations. (27/30)
Word-of-mouth did a better job of advertising this movie than the trailers did. I had no intention of seeing this movie until I noticed it getting some really positive reviews. (2/10)