Back in 2015, Sony Pictures managed to produce a surprisingly enjoyable film adaptation of the hit childrens’ horror book series, Goosebumps, which seemed poised to give the studio another welcome family-friendly franchise for its stables, particularly when it can so easily take advantage of the Halloween season. After Goosebumps proved to be a big surprise hit with both critics and audiences, Sony Pictures naturally wasted no time commissioning a sequel, which would allegedly adapt R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps: HorrorLand novella series, which features a terrifying theme park setting that was conceived during the original Goosebumps novel run, and revisited during the Goosebumps 2000 novel run. It was a fair enough idea that seemed like it was going to help any potential Goosebumps sequel stand apart from its predecessor, especially after the original movie had already used many of the Goosebumps books’ most recognizable and beloved monsters.
The proposed Goosebumps: HorrorLand sequel then hit a huge string of bad luck however, with the fast-tracked movie sequel ending up in a brief bout of turnaround, which was constantly plagued with scheduling and creative issues. Original lead, Dylan Minette was unable to return to the sequel due to his commitments to Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, marquee star, Jack Black found himself unable to commit to a large part in the sequel due to having to star in last month’s film adaptation of The House with a Clock in its Walls, and original director, Rob Letterman was also forced to drop out of production, due to scoring the lucrative gig of directing the Detective Pikachu movie for Legendary Pictures. By that point, even the original pitch behind the second Goosebumps movie had to be scrapped, and the production quickly appeared to be genuinely cursed.
Sony Pictures nonetheless didn’t seem keen to give up on Goosebumps however, and after commissioning a new cast, a new storyline, and at least a small part for Jack Black, a sequel finally hit theatres almost a whole year later than originally planned, even if this did at least allow the second movie to once again take advantage of a Halloween release window. That inspiration is really worn on the movie’s sleeve throughout Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween as well, a movie that places less emphasis on recognizable Goosebumps elements, in favour of being a disappointingly generic Halloween-themed follow-up, outside of the return of fan-favourite antagonist, Slappy anyway. There isn’t much to say about Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, which feels like a thankless sequel that’s simply been churned out to fulfill a promise to Sony Pictures’ shareholders, and has quite clearly been heavily focus-tested to generate maximum appeal for family audiences. It at least doesn’t end up feeling like a full-on insult to the surprisingly good original, particularly with a few talented players like Wendi McLendon-Covey, Chris Parnell and Ken Jeong snuck in to buoy the humour for adult viewers, but a lot of the original Goosebumps movie’s unique charm also appears to have been sucked out of this follow-up, and that’s a bummer.
With the original adolescent leads from the first Goosebumps movie now having been tossed out of this sequel, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween takes the opportunity to skew even younger this time, with new middle school personalities, Sonny, played by It’s Jeremy Ray Taylor, and Sam, played by Castle Rock’s Caleel Harris (are the Stephen King connections supposed to be an in-joke?), now headlining the story alongside older teenage sister, Sarah, played by Madison Iseman, whom you’ll probably recognize as Jack Black’s real-world ‘player’ from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Bridesmaids and The Goldbergs alum, Wendi McLendon-Covey portrays the mother of Sonny and Sarah (Sam is a friend of Sonny’s that dropped at their house for the events of the movie for unknown reasons), who is so openly slumming it for a paycheque here that it’s actually a little bit funny. McLendon-Covey plays such a proudly cynical, disinterested character that you can’t help but chuckle, even if this schtick does eventually have to be dropped when she properly gets involved in the horror-themed shenanigans.
Taylor and Harris don’t manage to be terrible child leads, and their characters are likable enough to get by, even if they’re just channeling the more authentic horror personalities that they played in prior projects. Iseman also plays a fairly by-the-book skeptical teenage sister that soon ends up being the key means of defense against the inevitable monster invasion, complete with a jerk boyfriend that will inevitably get his comeuppance. It all follows the exact kid-friendly underdog template that you would expect, and that means that the functional personalities don’t ever manage to be more than just that. It really does make you pine for the original movie’s more memorable leads, even with McLendon-Covey’s humourous snark managing to elevate a few scenes that would otherwise be fairly dull to sit through.
Jack Black does at least manage to return for a small appearance as the fictionalized caricature of Goosebumps author, R.L. Stine from the first movie, despite concerns that he wouldn’t be able to appear in this sequel at all, but Black unfortunately doesn’t do the double act with villain, Slappy this time. Instead, Mick Wingert provides the voiceover work for Slappy, with Wingert being Black’s voiceover impersonator from the television and video game spin-offs related to another of Black’s family-friendly cinematic vehicles, Kung Fu Panda. Wingert does do a pretty spot-on impersonation of Black once again however, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference in a lot of places. It’s actually Wingert that steals a huge part of this sequel as well, since he channels a ton of personality and conviction into Slappy, once again making him the highlight of a monster mash-up that doesn’t even have the option of being able to use recognizable Goosebumps monsters this time, at least not for the most part.
Parnell’s character seems to provide the only exception to that rule, as he plays an awkward drug store employee that ends up coming under the influence of the Haunted Mask, the one other recognizable Goosebumps monster in the movie aside from Slappy. Even then though, the Haunted Mask is redesigned to turn Parnell’s character into a dumb, goofy stooge, which is not at all what the mask does in the Goosebumps books. Parnell at least puts on a pretty effectively silly performance for the kids, but adults will probably check out as soon as the absurd transformation takes place. At least Ken Jeong manages to make more of an impression as an over-the-top man-child who is way too into Halloween, to the point of comically putting off his neighbours. This just contributes to the feeling that Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween seems to be actively aware that it holds no real appeal for adults though, and seems to try to compensate for that by openly insulting the very occasion it’s themed around. This will work for people who hate Halloween, but if that’s the case, why are they seeing this movie?
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween tries to come up with a different sort of idea than its predecessor, at first, namely involving an unpublished manuscript by R.L. Stine that brings Halloween to life after it’s opened. Apparently, the first movie’s antagonist, Slappy the Living Dummy is also a character in this unpublished story (conveniently allowing Slappy to once again assume the villain role in this sequel), and once stirred to life after Sonny and Sam discover the locked manuscript and open it (because the key is right beside it, and that’s how little Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween cares about establishing real tension), Slappy uses his undefined magical powers to conjure up living Halloween monsters in an effort to build a family for himself. Yes, seriously. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it does essentially recycle the events of the first movie on a smaller scale, only now with generic Halloween monsters, rather than actual Goosebumps monsters that truly helped the first movie stand apart from other kid-friendly Halloween movies.
Thus, what we’re left with is a colourful, but ultimately empty distraction that is merely made bearable by a few surprisingly funny jokes (spaced between a whole lot of flat jokes that don’t land, sadly), and a few talented adult comedians who are collecting an easy paycheque. It’s all fine. It all works well enough. I will also say that Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween at least isn’t as bad as it could have been as well, since it quite clearly operates as a forced sequel made purely because the original did better than the studio thought it would, and not because it truly needs to exist. Some may feel that being aggressively mediocre is almost worse than being over-the-top bad however, and there are quite a few stretches of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween that just end up being dull, rather than truly terrible. The handful of bright spots in the otherwise very boilerplate storyline help this movie avoid the feeling of being a thankless slog at least, but unless you’re either an easily amused child who loves Halloween, or a very nostalgic parent who grew up reading the Goosebumps books, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween’s entire storyline will probably just come off as feeling like a disposable waste of time.
Ari Sandel takes over for original director, Rob Letterman for this sequel, and to be fair, Sandel has managed to make a surprisingly good movie out of an otherwise unremarkable script before, namely with 2015’s The DUFF. In this case though, it doesn’t seem like Sandel is that much more enthusiastic than some of his adult actors. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween feels very much like a design-by-committee product, and that comes through in the direction, which is often just as generic and uninspired as so much of the writing. Sandel manages to mine some decent humour from a few scenes, but in terms of atmosphere or scares, even kid-friendly scares, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween fails on pretty much every count.
This is very frustrating, since the original Goosebumps movie did such a great job between balancing family-friendly frights with clever charm and humour, combining recognizable humanity with a genuine sense of heartfelt imagination. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, by contrast, unfolds in the style of just about any other family-friendly Halloween horror-comedy that you could care to name. Even Sony Pictures’ own Hotel Transylvania movies have done such a better job standing out and carving a distinct sense of Halloween-themed, family-friendly charm, especially with the advantage of being fully animated, rather than a hybrid between animation and live-action like the Goosebumps movies are. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween meanwhile feels like it’s trying to subsist on the rejected designs from the first movie, and Sandel seems to be as much in it for the paycheque as anyone else involved who’s not still a kid.
Sandel reunites with his The DUFF composer, Dominic Lewis for Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, which is initially not a bad prospect, since Lewis has some pretty good movie soundtracks under his belt, having assisted with the music for How To Train Your Dragon, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Big Hero 6, plus he also apparently scored the theme song for Disney XD’s reboot of DuckTales, among other strong examples. More recently, Lewis has overseen the entire soundtracks of a few smaller Sony Pictures projects, including Money Monster, Rough Night and Peter Rabbit, and he seems to be something of a mercenary composer for the studio at this point. Lewis seems to be yet another party that’s more or less in it for the paycheque in the case of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween as well, since his score feels just as plain and perfunctory as the rest of the movie. Again, it’s nothing bad, but it’s definitely a step down from the more lovable music of the first Goosebumps movie.
The rest of the audio work in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween also feels pretty tame, even for a movie that’s trying to gear itself towards children, and thus not overdo the sound effects. There’s really nothing to say about the audio of the movie, which sometimes seems like it’s on the verge of trying to inject some of the first movie’s magical charm into proceedings, but obviously lacks the scale behind the first movie’s scenario. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween may make somewhat of an attempt to try and replicate the first movie’s town-wide monster invasion, but it just can’t muster it. Like I said, it feels like this sequel has just been composited together on the rejected monsters and set pieces from the first movie, and that means that it just doesn’t have any good ideas that it can make truly scary or effective. Slappy has the odd moment of well-executed sneakiness, but outside of that, the audio is just as unimpressive as everything else.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween does at least manage a few halfway decent special effects, mostly because it’s once again enlisting Sony Pictures Animation to realize the monster designs. None of the effects truly compare to the first movie however, despite some a few more creative ideas like a giant balloon spider, or flying lantern witches. The best effect in the movie is once again Slappy, especially now that he’s seen some wear-and-tear from the events of the first movie (though isn’t this logically supposed to be a different Slappy?), and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween does at least do a halfway decent job of making viewers forget that Slappy is an effect. He does manage to feel truly alive and full of personality, and that’s no doubt the reason why he remains the villain in this sequel, since there’s not many other Goosebumps antagonists that could truly be rendered this effectively while also being a genuinely great lead antagonist.
Once again though, the visual effects in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween take a pretty clear hit after having to rely on more generic Halloween icons, which don’t truly manage to stand out in any meaningful way, and that’s before noticing that the studio has quite clearly slashed the budget on top of that. It seems like even Sony Pictures themselves are aware of the downgrade in effects too, since Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween wasn’t even given the benefit of a 3D cut, unlike its predecessor, which was presented in 3D. Sure, the 3D effects in Goosebumps were pretty bad, but at least they spoke to a desire to highlight the movie’s kooky visuals, if nothing else. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween can’t even do that though. Beyond the handful of times that it manages a decent monster effect, or focuses on its best effect, Slappy, it feels like there’s just as little to say about the visual design as everything else. Despite the best efforts of Sony Pictures Animation, even the aesthetics in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween just don’t truly feel like they matter much.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is a disappointing and shallow follow-up to a surprise hit movie that turned out to be far better than anyone was expecting. This sequel is a very clear victim of production difficulties, having lost its original cast (not counting that small Jack Black cameo), its original director, most of its original writers, one of its subsidiary studios, and its original premise, among other things. It’s clear that so many losses eventually led to Sony Pictures throwing up their hands, and simply doing what they could to push out their promised Goosebumps follow-up so that they could cut their losses and wash their hands of it. This is really frustrating, since a Goosebumps: HorrorLand movie starring the original cast is something that has a ton of potential, and this consolation sequel does at least end in a cliffhanger tease that suggests the possibility that this proposed Goosebumps: HorrorLand movie may still be made in the future.
To be honest though, considering that Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween appears to just barely be breaking even at the box office (and really, who’s surprised when the movie is this aggressively generic?), the prospect of more Goosebumps movies from Sony Pictures is now looking rather unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future. Considering that Sony Pictures has routinely struggled to launch a blockbuster family-friendly franchise outside of Hotel Transylvania and the newly-revamped Jumanji, Goosebumps really deserved better as a nostalgic movie property. There are still exciting monsters from the Goosebumps books that the first movie didn’t use. There are still Goosebumps imprints that the first movie didn’t touch on. Why then did the Goosebumps sequel that we actually did get seemingly appear to go out of its way to barely have any connection to what makes Goosebumps special, outside of a decent return by Slappy?
It’s just an unfortunate situation all around. Still, all that can be said about Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween in the end is that it’s a very forgettable, very mediocre follow-up that doesn’t need to exist, and will likely quickly fade into obscurity. We already got a good contender for a kid-friendly Halloween classic in the original Goosebumps movie, so if you’re so inclined, you should just watch that again. When even this movie’s exaggerated R.L. Stine caricature laments how generic the writing is, you have to realize that something’s gone very wrong.
- A few great jokes here and there
- Slappy is still an entertaining villain
- Some of the adult actors elevate the otherwise dull writing
- Incredibly generic storyline that's devoid of recognizable Goosebumps charm
- Noticeable downgrade in the audio and visuals
- Uninterested direction that almost feels cynical about Halloween
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