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Goosebumps review: Sign in for monster fun this Halloween

Goosebumps is a sure fire way to make your children happy this scare season. More squealy than spooky, this Jack Black-starrer which faithfully brings RL Stine and his creations alive on screen is value for your money.

movie reviews Updated: Nov 24, 2015 10:19 IST
Jyoti Sharma Bawa
RL Stine’s much-loved Goosebumps stories come to life in Rob Letterman’s film starring Jack Black as the reclusive author. And a whole lot of monsters!
RL Stine’s much-loved Goosebumps stories come to life in Rob Letterman’s film starring Jack Black as the reclusive author. And a whole lot of monsters!

Goosebumps
Director:
Rob Letterman
Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Scott Lee
Rating: 3/5

Making a monster film for tweens is a tricky business. Make them too tame and you will never satisfy their budding ghoulish tendencies. Add too much gore and you will see parents leading away a child in tears. With the child goes the film’s bottomline and the suits will not like that, will they?

When director Rob Letterman decided to adapt RL Stine’s much-loved Goosebumps series for screen, he solved this particular problem by going for squealy instead of spooky, and peppering it with a lot of humour. Yes, the film is high on monsters. Yes, there are chills. But this Halloween delight is served with wit and pizzazz on the side, a win-win for everybody.

Faced with werewolves and giant bugs, ghouls and clowns, RL Stine and the young cast are the only hopes of this town.

The film’s basic premise is straightforward and something we have seen a million times before: After his father dies, Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mother shift to a town in the middle of nowhere from New York. He meets his next-door-neighbour Hannah (Odeya Rush) and they spend a magical evening together. It is a pity that next moment he is warned off by her crusty father (Black). The man’s message is clear: Stay away from my daughter or something really bad will happen.

But there is this thing about kids, they don’t listen. Worried that Hannah has been attacked by her ‘psycho’ dad, Zach breaks into their house via a basement littered with bear traps and cobwebs. Accompanied by his nerdy new friend Champ (Ryan Scott Lee), he chances upon the dad’s secret - a treasure trove of Goosebumps books, each with its own individual lock.

Somewhere down the line, all the monsters from Stine’s imagination have come alive.

There is another thing about kids, they love venturing where they are not asked to tread. Zach unlocks a book and out comes the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena. It emerges that Black is actually the reclusive Stine who is so crusty because every monster who came out of his imagination is locked away in those books and his memory.

Letterman must have faced another problem: So many monsters in so many Stine books and so less screen time. He solves it by unleashing all of them together on the dinky little town, controlled by a ventriloquist’s dummy who is Stine’s evil alter ego.

We get ghouls and werewolves, giant praying mantis and evil garden gnomes… all launching a CGI-powered onslaught on our senses. Brilliant setpieces follow each other, action not letting off for a moment. You would think it is a monster too many, but it isn’t.

There is a circus of ghouls in the film, practically every monster from Goosebumps series.

The director has a light touch and keeps the action and brilliant dialogues in tandem. Sample this one: “Why don’t you write about rainbows and unicorns?” Stine’s tongue-in-cheek answer: “Because rainbows and unicorns don’t sell 400 million copies.” When faced by so many monsters, Lee’s Champ exclaims how he was born with the “gift of fear”.

What the film fails to play on is its emotional core. The relationship between Zach and his mother is easygoing but the subtext of his dad’s death and its effect on the family should have been explored further.

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Stine also talks about how being bullied by other children made him conjure up such monsters from his imagination. He has been imprisoned by the same fears all his life. Now this is a story tangent we would like to see explored. However, the film just lets it stay there, probably asking us to wait for a sequel.

Black brings his manic intensity and slightly over-the-top performance to Stine’s role. It is his film out-and-out but he is ably supported by the youngsters Minnette and Rush

The film is true to its core audience: Children and early teenagers who have grown up reading the stories and would actually know the circus of ghouls. As for the parents, you won’t be bored, but that is your only consolation.