Monday, October 15, 2018


There is a scene about two-thirds of the way through Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween that's perfectly indicative of the amount of thought put into the project. Two boys have to sneak into the school bully's grandmother's house to steal back a magic manuscript written by R.L. Stine. (Long story.) As they crawl in through a side window, much silly suspense is made from cutaways to the old lady sleeping on the couch, complete with cartoon snoring and the old shifting-around-but-not-waking-up trick. Even when one of the kids accidentally activates a battery-operated Halloween decoration when reaching into a bowl of gummy bears, we get the expected hushed cut to the lady stirring slightly before settling back into a deathly slumber. Just a few moments later, book in hand, the boys stumble down the stairs and fall into a goofy, rubbery action beat wherein the gummy bears come to life and attack them. They flail all over the foyer, dodge falling dishes, shout at one another, take a phone call, and finally use the magic book to suck up the demon candy. One of the bears even squeaks "You'll never take me alive!" as it is flung back to the dark magic from whence it came. The old lady? Nah, we never see her again. No reaction. No punchline. No cutaway. No payoff. No acknowledgement that she ever existed in the first place, let alone was in the next room during this chaos.

Not to make a mountain out of a molehill, but the whole movie is of a piece with that scene. It's a slimmer, thinner, cheaper, dumber, and all around less satisfying version of 2015's Goosebumps. That clever, kid-friendly, brightly-colored horror-lite adventure inspired by Stine's beloved books had fun with a premise that was reasonably thought-through and buoyed by a fun star turn from Jack Black as the author himself. There his creations came to life and plucky neighborhood teens got drawn into the drama of putting them back in his manuscripts before the town was torn apart. But he still had time to nurse his jealous ego -- cursing King in a fun running gag -- and side-eye a suitably weird YA boy-meets-girl twist. It was pretty delightful. The sequel, however, picks up with almost no returning characters aside from Slappy, the chatty evil ventriloquist dummy who served as ringleader last time, and whose return here tees him up to be a new horror movie icon. (His PG self would fit right in next to his R-rated cousin Chucky in the villain hall of fame.) He torments first a trio of teens (Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, and Caleel Harris), then their whole town. A few of the adults are funny character actors Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ken Jeong. She plays the mom, and gets two agreeable laughs. He plays a Halloween superfan neighbor whose every line sounds like it should get a laugh, but doesn't. They're hardly in it, though. The feature hurries and scurries through a series of colorful child-friendly spooky effects (like decorations coming to life, or a bully's pants falling down) tied to a basic kids-cause-the-problem-that-they-alone-can-solve kid movie plot, serving up basically what you'd want out of a sequel to this property, but less of it. That's almost enough. It's just competent enough that the time clicks by at a decent, harmless pace. It's just disappointing enough to hope the next one is better. 

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