Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween
Directed by Ari Sandel
Screenplay by Rob Lieber, Story by Rob Lieber and Darren Lemke
Based on “Goosebumps” by R.L. Stine
Starring Wendi McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Chris Parnell, Ken Jeong
As the weather turns cooler, and the leaves start falling off the trees, that most sacred of holidays comes upon us quite quickly. Pumpkins sacrifice themselves for the greater enjoyment . . . yes, I’m talking about Halloween. But, this isn’t just any ordinary Halloween.
It’s an R.L. Stein – imagined Halloween called “Goosebumps.”
A confession though, so that I’m not haunted throughout this review: I haven’t read any of Stein’s books and I haven’t seen the 2015 film that preceded this newest installment, “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween,” though I did hear from several fans that Jack Black really made that first movie memorable.
Unfortunately, this “Haunted Halloween” isn’t as spooky as you might think. If anything, I got a “creepy, oompah-loompah vibe” from Rob Leiber’s screenplay. The challenge is that the story starts out so generically. Sarah Quinn (Madison Iseman) is a talented writer who is prepping her college admissions essay and stumbles upon writer’s block.
Of course, her helpful boyfriend sneaks into her room to surprise her, which gets foiled by mom, Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey). Within the first five minutes of the beginning of the story, we have trust issues and in any other director’s hands, it probably would have turned out for the better, but Sandel shies away from the mother-daughter trust angle and instead shifts it into a brother-sister trust issue.
Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and his friend Sam (Caleel Harris), who is conveniently dropped off for a couple of days with the Quinn’s for no reason whatsoever, start a junk collecting business. Sonny is a whip-smart kid too, but he doubts himself and doesn’t see his projects through.
Sonny and Sam are commissioned to clean out an abandoned, haunted home (big shocker). Whatever they want to keep, they can. One of the items they keep is a locked book, which is buried in a box in an anteroom. The gimmick to get us into the anteroom is cute and it should keep younger kids on their toes.
When they open the book, they read a passage in Latin, which awakens Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Mick Wingert). Slappy initially presents himself as a helpful dummy, but as his presence is made further known, his helpfulness turns deadly.
The sleepy town of Wardenclyffe, NY is the site for the events in this film. And by the end of the 90-minute run time, the town is turned upside down as Slappy makes use of the conveniently available Tesla factory where Nicolai Tesla built a huge electric rod to work on his experiments.
In truth, the story felt far too generic for a scary film. Its ideals are in the right place, but Slappy reminded me of another ghoulish little monster, Chucky a la “Child’s Play.” They were both little terrors, yet their bites were very little.
The plot device to wrap up the third act was rather brilliant and ties into Sarah’s writer’s block. Getting there is a little dry and not very interesting, though Ken Jeong as the Qunn’s neighbor, Mr. Chu is a highlight. He reminded me of a Clark Griswold for Halloween instead of Christmas and is just as funny and resourceful.
Kids around 10 – 15 might enjoy this as there are enough scares intended for little ones that they might enjoy. Otherwise, the story is a bit paint-by-the-numbers with a main cast that elicits no real affectation from the audience.
2 out of 4