- Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween
- Directed by Ari Sandel
- Written by Rob Lieber and Darren Lemke
- Starring Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris and Madison Iseman
- Classification PG; 90 minutes
For years, nobody at Sony could figure out how to get the many monsters of the Goosebumps franchise on to the big screen until somebody came up with the clever idea of a fictional version of author R.L. Stine battling all of his own creations as they escaped from the books. If you have seen the 2015 Goosebumps movie – or even the trailer for this new sequel – you’ll have grasped the meta concept: The restless monsters resent their literary entrapment and fly angrily off the page to wreak havoc in real life.
So, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween writers Rob Lieber and Darren Lemke and director Ari Sandel waste no time letting their protagonists discover an old book and releasing Slappy, the evil ventriloquist’s dummy who played ringleader in the first movie. So far so good, if no delightful surprise. What does prove a delight in this solid sequel is the concept that Slappy wickedly animates every Halloween costume and decoration in the town of Wardenclyffe. With a mere cameo from Jack Black as the reclusive Stine and fewer clever twists in the plot, Goosebumps 2 risks the diminishing-returns scenario that plagues most sequels; what saves it is a climax that is fresh rather than frantic.
The protagonists are Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris), two young teens who are trying to run a junk-removal business on their bikes when they discover the old book in an abandoned house. Taylor and Harris offer warm and lively versions of the boys and build a good rapport with Madison Iseman, who plays Sonny’s older sister, Sarah, as the trio is set upon by the increasingly vindictive Slappy. (He is voiced by Black and remains as creepy as ever.)
The setting of Wardenclyffe, a place of tidy picket fences and easy social harmony, is not coincidental: The pioneering electrical engineer Nikola Tesla built a wireless transmission tower at this site in the village of Shoreham on Long Island, N.Y., at the turn of the 20th century, and in the movie Sonny is building a working model of the complex for a school science project. In real life, the tower itself has long since been demolished (although there are now plans to turn the building at its base into a museum), but Goosebumps 2 resurrects the whole rickety structure as a source of power for Slappy’s evil scheme.
In a town with a passion for Halloween that makes your neighbour’s stack of inflated pumpkins and yards of yellow caution tape look downright puritanical, Slappy brings to life a huge array of jack-o'-lanterns, plastic bats, rats and skulls, mummies, witches and werewolves, not to mention the headless horseman and a giant spider made entirely of purple balloons. The animation artists' anthropomorphization of these many creatures is ceaselessly inventive and Sandel’s direction avoids the kind of loud and chaotic climax that detracted from the first movie as he continually plucks clever vignettes or sharp encounters from the confusion. In the movie’s silliest moment, the director hits the bull’s eye in the horror-humour target that is so central to Stine’s literary success: A bowl of gummy bears comes to life, its candy characters quickly morphing from waddling little jellies into bulbous grizzlies, and all but swallowing Sam.
So, the safely scary and often amusing formula holds. Meanwhile, the movie’s conclusion includes enough plot about Stine’s fate to suggest Goosebumps 3 will feature more of the elusive Black and that can only be a good thing.