Black and “Goosebumps” Bring Back The Children’s Horror Comedy Genre

By Scott Kurland
Film: Goosebumps
Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell, and Amy Ryan
Rated PG
Director: Rob Letterman

There was a magical time in the late 80s and early 90s where live action Halloween  horror films came out for children. They were scary, funny, and slightly inappropriate for the demographic they were aiming for. These films included “Monster Squad”, “Hocus Pocus”, “Ernest Scared Stupid”, “Casper”, and to a lesser degree “The Goonies”. “The Goonies” was more of a treasure hunt picture, but Sloth and the Fratelli family made it a little creepy. For the longest time this genre was dead to the entire world. If you want to know the timeline it was gone for try this one for size, 1995-2014. Sure we got great animated halloween films like “ParaNorman”, “Coraline”, and “The Corpse Bride”. Keep in mind children can’t relate to animation the way they can with live action films. Luckily for us, this week’s movie “Goosebumps” brings back that live action children’s horror genre, for the delight of children both young and old. Let’s see how good it is shall we?

“Goosebumps” is the story of Zach (Dylan Minnette), a young high school student from New York City. Zach’s mother Gale (Amy Ryan), gets a new job in Madison, Delaware (note: not a real place) as the vice principal of Zach’s school. Zach learns it’s hard to make friends when your mom is your vice principal He does manage to befriend two social outcasts like himself. The first is the socially awkward Champ (Ryan Lee). The second is his beautiful neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), with whom he automatically falls in love with. There’s only one problem with Hannah, her father the reclusive Mr. Shivers (Jack Black). Shivers keeps Hannah locked in their home all day. However, Mr. Shivers isn’t who appears to be. Shivers is in fact beloved children’s author R.L. Stine. Stine stays locked up with Hannah, simply  because all of his books are real and he must keep them locked up. Unfortunately, Zach and Champ open one book and all of Stine’s creations escape to wreak havoc on Madison. Can Hannah, Champ, Zach, and Stine stop all these creature or are they covered in too many “Goosebumps”.

Growing up I read the “Goosebumps” books, alright I devoured those books. They were mini Stephen King novels for kids. How could you not love them for that? I also religiously watched the “Goosebumps” television series. A series which featured a young Ryan Gosling in the episode, “Say Cheese and die”.  So I was very iffy on a film version of “Goosebumps”. My stomach sank when Rob Letterman was announced as the film’s director. I don’t like bad mouthing directors, but Letterman’s track record wasn’t glowing. Letterman made “Shark Tales” a.k.a “Filleting Nemo” and “Gulliver’s Travels” or should I say “Little people big Jack Black World.” Yet, Letterman does a good job with “Goosebumps”. 

Letterman’s direction is very reminiscent of Kenny Ortega’s from “Hocus Pocus”, we all know that formula. Take a bunch of kids, face them with evil, and have them run towards a logical solution. Letterman is a good children’s director, and we all know his films won’t win any Oscars. Yet, “Goosebumps” is full of childhood Nostalgia. There’s influences from “Monster Squad” and “The Goonies” throughout this movie. the references are very subtle, but they are there. This film isn’t anything spectacular, it’s not like “The Martian” action; nor is it “99 Homes” in terms of a thrilling conclusion. However, it is delightful, whimsical; not to mention it’s the right amount dark comedy for a kid's film. People get hurt in this film and you never see that anymore. For the longest time children’s films played it too safe. They were afraid to push the envelope and try to scare children. If you remember late 80s & early 90s cinema it was never afraid to treat children like adults. Of course the filmmakers somehow found a way to bring it to a kids level in order for them to comprehend the source material.

Besides a decent director and creative script, “Goosebumps” has a well rounded cast. You have Ryan Lee from “Super 8”. Lee plays the same socially awkward kid he played in “Super 8.” I mean if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? He’s playing to his strengths and it works. Odeya Rush is adorable as Black’s daughter, Hannah. As for being the love interest it’s a little awkward. Dylan Minnette and Rush are similar in age; however, Rush looks so much younger then Minette. He’s 19/20 and she’s 17/18, the age difference is minimal in theory. On screen it’s another story all together. Minette towers over Rush and looks a bit older. Yet, they have good chemistry; even though she has a baby face and he looks twenty five. All three of the young actors share the screen really well, especially when their co-star is the legendary comedian Jack Black. 

Black has had a checkered career when it comes to his filmography. He’s made so great films like “High Fidelity” and “Bernie”. He also made some good films like “School Of Rock” and “King Kong”. Black has also made some real stinkers like “Envy” and “Shark Tales.” Black gives a very subdued performance as Stine. With that said, this wouldn’t be a Jack Black film if he wasn’t over the top and animated. In addition to being comically outgoing,  he’s also soft spoken and reserved. Black’s Stine is a caricature of the real R.L. Stine, the real Stine is a normal guy who writes scary stories for kids. Black makes him a delightfully deranged antisocial outcast, with only his books and daughter to keep him company. This isn’t a great film for Black, but it is one of his most enjoyable.

“Goosebumps” is filled with cheesy make-up and even cheesier CGI, but that’s the film's charm. “Goosebumps” knows it’s not like “Star Wars” or even “The Goonies”. Knowing this fact allows it to go for broke and really sells us on the gimmicks. Some of the sight gags work like using silver fillings to defeat a werewolf, and some fall short like the invisible boy. What works for the film is the camp factor. This is a fun kid's movie, and parents will like it too; especially if they grew up reading  the “Goosebumps” books. This is a quirky film for the entire family. I highly recommend “Goosebumps” for anyone looking for a Halloween movie to enjoy with their children.

scott kurlandComment