When I first watched Goosebumps in its edited four-minute trailer form, it piqued enough interest that giving it a go in full-length cinematic form didn’t sound like too bad an idea. Besides, the teenager wanted a trip to the cinema and I was trying to dodge a shitty bullet that was The 5th Wave, so a Jack Black movie about monsters escaping from books actually seemed like a good alternative.
If I’m honest I didn’t really know what Goosebumps was. I had a vague recollection they were a series of horror stories but I had to Google it to discover they were a bunch of books written in the mid-to-late 90s aimed at teenagers. They recycled a series of classic horror story tropes with quick, snappy prose penned by a man called R. L. Stine. When they were on the rise I was too old to give a shit and besides I’d found Lovecraft’s shrieking cosmic insanities by then, so despite this new film being about the original books I was unable get any of the allusions. None of them. Not one.
Instead what I saw was a tumble of references to classic horror movies. Slappy the ventriloquist’s dummy may have been the star of his own book but to me it was a throwback to Hugo, the dummy that menaced Michael Redgrave in 1945’s Dead Of Night and I’m sure there’s a Goosebumps story about Zombies but without reading it I just see Night Of The Living Dead writ large behind Black’s ceaseless mugging. There was plenty of overt referencing too and I couldn’t help but play along, smiling at the Blob reference that gets dropped way before the Goosebumps variant raises it’s gelatinous mass and when Jack Black requires a quiet place to type on his ancient typewriter a stage set for a theatre production of The Shining appears. I almost stood up and clapped, then I remembered Jack Black.
Ultimately it’s a CGI kids caper but there’s enough genuine laughs and film references to carry you through the deadweight, which isn’t just Jack Black’s fucking awful accent but also an unnecessary subplot about a dead Dad. There’s meta-jokes about how every story requires personal growth in an attempt to justify it, but there’s no personal growth here just an excuse for a teenager to mope about for a couple of scenes before you get distracted by a clown which isn’t from Stephen King’s It (though it quite clearly is) and somebody saying something witty about the precarious situation they’re in.
My teenage daughter has also never read a Goosebumps book, being born after their popularity purple patch and only really knowing the books as a series of logos on spines in her school library that she ignores because Divergent books. She proclaimed the film “Scary but not scary,” The clown and the ventriloquist’s dummy both made her lose her shit a great deal, proving that for all the sneering adults do about kids horror movies swamped in CGI they’re still terrifying to the right audience. I must never show her Dead Of Night or It, for fear they would send her spinning off into the unlighted abyss of catatonic insanity. When pressed on the not scary part she said the love story was soppy, the sidekick was stupid and Jack Black’s accent was shit. Normally I’d tell her off for using bad language but this time she definitely had a point. 3/5
Check out the rest of the latest cinema releases in our new film reviews section, including the more successfully terrifying teen-based horror film The Visit or the not-at-all frightening Disney film Zootropolis.