“Short Film Review: Goosebumps 2 (2018)” by S.M. O’Connor

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018) Starring Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Chris Parnell, Dr. Ken Jeong, and Jack Black

This horror comedy film seems to be aimed at children and young teenagers maybe between the ages of eight and fourteen, so roughly the age at which kids would read R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels themselves or have the novels read aloud to them.  Based on my experience seeing it with a familial group with little girls, I would say it is the right amount of scary for eight-year-old girls, and children younger than four may find it too intense.  I suspect it would work as an adventure story for younger teens in the age range of junior high or middle school.  This film is not made for adults, but it has the right amount of jokes for adults and older teens watching it with children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or younger siblings.  I give it three stars on a five-star scale.

Madison Iseman stars as Sarah Quinn, an aspiring writer in Wardenclyffe, New York, who wants to get in to Columbia University and is struggling to answer an essay question for her application.   Jeremy Ray Taylor plays her younger brother, Sonny Quinn, and Caleel Harris plays Sonny’s best friend, Sam Carter.  They have a business as the Junk Brothers.  Wendi McLendon-Covey plays Kathy Quinn, Sarah and Sonny’s mother.  Mrs. Quinn is a nurse at a nursing home who has agreed to watch Sam for a week while his father is out of town and is depending on Sarah to watch the younger teens while she’s at work, which could not come at a worse time for Sarah.

The conceit of this film is that his entire adult life R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series of horror novels for children, has created secret compartments that are sort of like the priest holes in which Catholic aristocrats hid clergymen in Protestant England and therein has hidden unpublished manuscripts.  After school a couple of days before Halloween, the Junk Brothers agree to clean the junk out of a dilapidated house in return for being able to keep stuff they can sell, and they find one such compartment, remove a chest they hope is full of treasure, and when they instead find a locked manuscript, they unlock it and read part of it out loud (which may remind some adult viewers of the joke from the Evil Dead films about playing a recording of a dead professor reading a passage from the Necronomicon).  The boys have thus summoned Slappy the Dummy, the sentient ventriloquist’s dummy from Night of the Living Dummy, into the real world and should be more alarmed when the empty box behind them is suddenly filled with a sitting dummy.

Viewers who saw Goosebumps (2015), the first film in what will undoubtedly be a trilogy, will recall Slappy and all the other monsters were sucked back into a book at the end that the first film’s hero, Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette), finished with a magic typewriter.  This is a different version of Slappy that comes from a different book called Haunted Halloween that Stine was never able to finish and put aside in frustration.

Slappy convinces the Junk Brothers he’s on their side by magically completing their homework and chores.  They only realize he’s evil when it’s obvious he’s sabotaged Sonny’s model of Nikola Tesla’s electricity-transmitting tower.  [Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) really did build such a tower, and it was called the Wardenclyffe Tower, but the name of the real town it sat in is Shoreham, New York, and the tower was demolished in 1917 after Tesla ran into financial difficulties.]  To build an army, he brings monsters to life at the costume aisle in a pharmacy on Halloween, and turns a man into a monster simply by forcing a mask on his head.  Some of these monsters are supposed to be Goosebumps-licensed costumes, which adds another layer of meta-fiction to the affair.  When he really gets going, Slappy starts to transmit magic using Tesla’s tower to Halloween decorations all over town become living monsters.  This really frees the imagination of the screenwriter and director because they are no longer constrained by monsters the real R.L. Stine had featured in Goosebumps novels.

Jack Black is back as R.L. Stine, but he has very little screen time.  In the movie, R.L. Stine has gone into seclusion as a result of the events in Madison, Delaware in the first film, but the real R.L. Stine he never stopped writing.

This is Madison Iseman’s second film with Jack Black, but it is the first time they share screen time.  It’s a bit of an in-joke that she is in a film series in which he is playing R.L. Stine because in Jumangi: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), she played Bethany Walker, a self-involved hot chick who got sucked into a video game version of the Jumangi game from Jumangi (1995), physically becoming the avatar she chose, Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), while nerd Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) became Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), strapping football player Anthony (“Fridge”) Johnson (Ser’Darius Blaine) became Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), and shy Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) became the pulchritudinous and vivacious redhead Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) dressed suspiciously like Lara Croft.

In a similar vein, I noticed that Slappy sounded a lot like Jack Black, but not exactly like Jack Black.  That is because Black provided the voice of Slappy in Goosebumps (), and this time around Mick Wingert provided the voice, and this is the second time Wingert has replaced Black as a voice actor, as he provided the voice of Po the panda in Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (2011-2016).  This was a 3D animated series continuation of the hilarious trilogy of Kung Fu Panda 3D animated films which feature anthropomorphic animals in the wuxia genre of Chinese martial arts films.  Black provided the voice of Po in Kung Fu Panda (2008), Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), and Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), as well as the 2D animated short film Secrets of the Furious Five (2008), the 3D animated short film Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters (2011), the 3D animated short film Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Scroll (2015), and the 3D animated television special Kung Fu Panda Holiday (2010).

Jeremy Ray Taylor was also in the more serious horror film It (2017), an adaptation of part of Stephen King’s novel of the same name.  Caleel Harris has provided voices for two popular cartoons: Blaze and the Monster Machines and The Loud House.  Some parents and teenagers in the audience may recognize Wendi McLendon-Covey from her roles in Bridesmaids (2011) or as the family matriarch on the A.B.C. sitcom The Goldbergs.

Chris Parnell plays store manager Walter, the mother’s love interest and the first person we see Slappy turn into a monster.  Some adults in the audience will recognize character actor Chris Parnell because he was one of the Saturday Night Live Players from 1998 to 2006 and had a recurring role as quack Dr. Leo Spaceman on the sitcom 30 Rock (2006-2013) and has had supporting roles in a numerous films.

Dr. Ken Jeong plays the next door neighbor of the Quinns, Mr. Chu.  Some adults in the audience may recognize him because he had a supporting role as crazy Greendale Community College faculty member Ben Chang on Community (2009-2015), had supporting role as mobster Leslie Chow in the repulsive The Hangover trilogy, and starred as Dr. Ken Park in the sitcom Dr. Ken (2015-2017), as well as having had a variety of supporting roles in other films and television shows.

Pay attention to the scene where Sonny receives an award at the end from Principal Harrison.  In Goosebumps, the joke was Jack Black was playing R.L. Stine and R.L. Stine had a cameo as a teacher the character Stine addressed as “Mr. Black” and in this film Stine he has a cameo as Principal Harrison.

This is only director Ari Sandel’s third feature film, but not only is this the second film he directed to be released this year, it is the second film he directed to have most of its action set on Halloween to be released this year.  On February 9, 2018, Netflix released his film When We First Met (2018), a romantic comedy/time travel fantasy that stars Adam DeVine and Alexandra Daddario, Shelley Henning, Robbie Amell, and Andrew Bachelor.  Sandel won an Oscar for his comedic fantasy short film West Bank Story (2005).  Rob Liever wrote the script for Goosebumps 2.

Columbia Pictures released Goosebumps 2 on Friday, October 12, 2018.  There is so much C.G.I. (computer-generated imagery) in this film that even though it is a live action film released by Columbia Pictures, it is a co-production with Sony Pictures Animation, Original Film, and Scholastic Entertainment.

Goosebumps 2 had a production budget of $35,000,000.  As of Sunday, October 28, 2018, it had made $38,100,000 at the American and Canadian box office and another $24,200,000 in other countries.

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