For kids that grew up in the 1990s, Goosebumps – the best-selling series of horror-lite novels by R.L Stine – represents a ubiquitous cultural signpost. The rate at which Stine turned out entries in not only the aforementioned but other series including Fear Street, Point Horror and a choose-your-own Goosebumps suggested less the impetus of an almighty creator than a sweatshop factory-line.
Rob Letterman’s new adaptation picks up on that abstraction by positioning Stine as a character within the film. Played by Jack Black, Stine is less a concept by which we measure our own fear than he is engendered by the veneer of a child molesting weirdo. If this is bad by default, it also means Black keeps his typical obnoxiousness to a minimum, which is good.
When Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mum (Amy Ryan) move to a new town, Zach becomes besotted with Hannah (Odeya Rush), the girl next-door, though perturbed equally by her reclusive father (Black). Fearing some travesty has been importuned on the unfortunate Hannah, Zach organises a break-and-enter with his new best friend Champ (Ryan Lee) only to set a series of disastrous events in motion. Discovering a shelf full of padlocked Goosebumps manuscripts, they ken that their nefarious neighbour is none other than R.L Stine whose monstrous creations, in fact, are real, and imprisoned within the manuscripts which they have the misfortune to open.
While conceptually, Goosebumps benefits from witty self-referential humour, the decision to amalgamate all of Stine’s creations into a single movie means they are allowed neither the time or nuance to scare or develop as singular entities, making this less a bona-fide adaptation than a conglomerate homage. Rather, too much of the film is occupied by faceless CGI artefacts chasing humans amid carnage and not much more. While kids will still have fun with this, it sadly lacks the imaginative capacity which should have been its strong point and would have made it a more endearing tribute to its source material.