By Kim Hughes
It’s clear to anyone who has seen its trailer that Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is terrible, an opportunistic grab at the goodwill fostered by the surprisingly delightful Goosebumps from 2015 and a blatant excuse (as one of my esteemed Original-Cin colleagues would vigorously confirm) to further line the already deep pockets of author R.L. Stine.
But the depth and degree of the film’s terribleness is the true revelation. This is a sequel — unwanted and unnecessary as few other sequels have been — seeking to advance the back story of Slappy the evil talking puppet who, in addition to being a cackling badass, has mommy issues. Step right up, folks.
The rather charming teen duo from the first film is here replaced by two square-peg tween pals, Sonny and Sam, and Sonny’s older sister Sarah who is tasked with keeping an eye on the pair while hardworking single mom Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey of Bridesmaids fame and solid despite what she’s working with) keeps a roof over everyone’s head. Also, Sarah dreams of becoming a writer one day. Wonder how that’ll turn out.
Anyway, Sonny and Sam’s start-up junk clearing business lands them in an abandoned home where they find a dusty old book with a lock on it. Why would anyone lock a book, they query earnestly. Why indeed. Sonny and Sam open the book and… stop me if you’ve heard this one before… Slappy materializes. He is the first of many baddies to be sprung from pages and beyond.
At first Slappy seems like a godsend, shaming the town bully and helping Sonny with his science project. But before long, Slappy’s evil hidden agenda comes to light: he will morph Kathy into his own surrogate puppet mother while magically animating the town’s unbelievably elaborate decorative lawn witches, skeletons and other ghouls, transforming them into his own army. And just to make matters worse, Sonny and Sarah’s wacky neighbour (a slumming Ken Jeong) has the most decorated lawn in the whole town! So yeah, the evil is on the doorstep.
Director Ari Sandel (The Duff) oversees some truly impressive CGI that had the wee ones in the advance screening howling with glee. There is a measure of fun watching an outsize spider made out of balloons marauding through town, and the subplot about Sonny’s attempt to convey the genius of Nikola Tesla to his classmates will resonate with the geeks in the seats.
But there is absolutely nothing in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween that you haven’t seen before, and seen done far, far better. Even Jack Black’s walk-on as R.L. Stine at film’s end (to help convince Sarah she can write, natch) feels gratuitous and weak, as if Black — the first film’s lynchpin — couldn’t bear to be on-set amid this mess for more than an afternoon. If only Slappy’s demise could be as swift and assured as that of this movie.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Directed by Ari Sandel. Starring Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jack Black, Ken Jeong, Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris. Opens wide October 12.