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Wednesday 29/03/2017: Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink

November 2, 2015

Impromptu Movie Review: Goosebumps

So, I had more money than usual in my wallet - gotta enjoy when that sort of thing happens. I decided I was uneasy with having so much, so I went to the nearest theater. Because why not? Besides, it was all rainy on November 1st anyway. So, I know I'm 1 2 days past Halloween to post this, but I went to watch the Goosebumps movie. Why? Well, it was either that or Hotel Transylvania 2, or perhaps anything else that is, you know, NOT for kids. But I dunno, I wasn't in the mood for anything else.

This poster is lying!
The pumpkin-head monster is just a cameo...
and Goosebumps books were never as thick as the
one they're standing on.
The rest is accurate.

Like a lot of kids in the nineties, I grew up with Goosebumps. Oh, sure, I had the books translated in the French language, but the stories were the same: platonic relationships, bad parenting, twist endings of varying quality and horrible monsters. Needless to say, one does not simply say "Let's make a Goosebumps feature film!" and not expect the inevitable "How do we approach it? This series is HUGE!" Well, yeah, it is. I mean, I didn't even own half of the first 62 books - or rather 60 because, for some bizarre reason, the French Goosebumps books missed two titles (Ghost School and Monster Blood IV), and the titles were in a different order... And then there's Series 2000, Give Yourself Goosebumps, the Horrorland series, the new Most Wanted series... but I digress. R.L. Stine's penchant for twist endings, no matter how crazy, made this series a real treat to read. Contrary to what the title may imply, the Goosebumps books weren't that scary, and that's because the horror is directed at children, so everything is toned down. But as adults, a few of these stories gain a new layer of creepy, like the stories featuring Slappy, which have big underlying themes of domestic abuse and slavery and, well... since the protagonists of those books are young girls, you can kinda see where the creepy comes from. Many of these stories would be even more terrifying if the villains didn't hold back, out of fear to lose the "G rating" of the series.

Making a movie about the franchise can only work as a movie about the books themselves, and not the actual stories they contain, because it would be a nightmare to create a cohesive story out of these 62+ books. Therefore, what we get is the story of R.L. Stine. Oh wait, no, I appear to be mistaken; it's the story of Zach, who moves in with his mother. Zach's father died a year prior, and he still hasn't been able to let go. A new house means a new school, new friends... new neighbors... and if their behavior is any indication, Zach isn't welcome. He does, however, quickly meet Hannah, the girl next door, and her asocial father who really needs to start brewing anti-stress tisanes for himself. Hannah is homeschooled and hardly ever leaves her house. Her father... doesn't like strangers. This man turns out to be R.L. Stine, played here by a serious Jack Black. Still, Hannah often craves freedom and sneaks out, and one night brings Zach along to an abandoned amusement park. Oh yes, amusement park. Number 23 in the "Dangerous Locations For Movie Finales" list, sandwiched between "the top of a skyscraper" and "the factory where a deadly accident took place". Gee, I can't imagine that amusement park to ever become relevant to the story.

Zach alerts the authorities when, one night, he believes Hannah to be victim of abuse at the hands of her father, but Stine escapes trouble with the cops. However, when he believes it to happen another time, Zach enlists the list of his new friend from high school, Champ - not a friend, more like a comedic nuisance that nobody really likes but hey, he provides laughter, so let's try to keep him alive, lest we want the story to take a dark turn. After all, nobody wants to see the comic relief die - well, unless it's Jar Jar or a Scrappy-Doo side-product. After getting Stine to leave the house, the two sneak inside through the basement, and discover to their shock that it's covered in bear traps. They make their way through and reach the ground floor, where they discover Stine's office, with the manuscripts for all the Goosebumps books. Locked. When Hannah shows up, safe and sound, they make the mistake of unlocking one of the books - The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena - and the snowman comes out. Well, it's more like a yeti, but who am I to judge hairy simians.

That's when the film stops feeling like an awkward teenage-oriented romantic comedy with an edge, and moves right into what everyone came to see. It turns out that these monsters can come out of the books, but can also be called back in them, so Zach, Champ and Hannah chase after the snowman (Yeti!!), and their attempts at heroism are almost a failure - that is, until R.L. Stine shows up and saves them with the book. When they're back in Stine's house, they realize that another monster has escaped, one of the few with human intelligence - and this chessmaster plans on unleashing all of the monsters upon the city. Said creature is even wise enough to burn all the books, to ensure that none of the monsters can be sucked back in...

And frankly, I should just stop there. The rest of the story is a long-winded race across the suburban area to find a way to capture all the monsters in a book - or books - again, with repeated encounters against many of the monsters (including, but not limited to, one of the who-knows-how-manyillion werewolves of the book series, the garden gnomes, the giant preying mantis from Shock Street, zombies, the invisible boy and the blob). Including cameos of most other monsters in the series. Oh, and plot twist after plot twist, in good old Goosebumps fashion, so I'd rather not discuss the rest of the film, out of fear of spoiling even more than what's been previously said.

The comparison has already been made, but think of this as a child-friendly version of Gremlins. Or, perhaps, a new Small Soldiers. Either way, the concept of a large number of creatures appearing at once and terrorizing a suburb or a village is not all that new. It's been seen before. The difference with Goosebumps is that, due to the many stories that make up the franchise, all the monsters are different, with varying degrees of intelligence and humanity (I mean, stuff like the Invisible Boy is treated like a joke, but wasn't he a human in the book he came from?), which offers many more ways to surprise the viewer. That's more diversity than Gremlins or Small Soldiers ever managed to attain. In fact, this movie feels very much "90s children's horror". Considering that's when the first Goosebumps series came out, that was most likely intentional.

Jam-packed with action, this is a movie that may not be amazing, but it's still pretty damn great. Especially if you grew up with the books. Even the kids who didn't grow up with the books will like it. The movie has a certain tongue-in-cheek humor to it, as it likes to point out some of the more painful aspects of the books and the fanbase surrounding it (such as calling Stine a Stephen King for kids, which sends Stine the film character into a rage). As for Jack Black's performance as R.L. Stine, it's very underplayed, less silly, more "comically serious". The point was to portray a lonely man who's uneasy or downright aggressive around strangers, but still trying to be a good father despite his paranoia - which stems from all the manuscripts in his house.

The relationship between Zach (portrayed by Dylan Minnette) and Hannah (portrayed by Odeya Rush) is shown to happen a tad too quick for my tastes, since the first 20 minutes of the film take place over the course of a few days, where the two interact but not so much, and the rest (minus the end, of course) all takes place over the same night, too short a timespan to know someone and feel true love for them. But hey, what do I know about love? I mean, it's not as bad as the quick tacked-on romance Champ gets! Or the one... oh no, I can't say that, it's a spoiler. My last point of criticism is that there are some annoying characters in this film, such as Champ (and woe on me, he's one of the main characters!) or Zach's aunt, but thankfully both have moments that redeem them. Sure, they're still a bit annoying at the end, but not as much as they were at first.

So, all in all, a solid movie, not a masterpiece but definitely better than average. I strongly suggest you go watch it with your kids, or simply for the nostalgia factor. That's, of course, if you haven't already seen it, since my review is coming out two weeks after the film's release...

Oh, also, mister R.L. Stine? From an aspiring author to a best-selling one, trust me, the Gersberms meme is not an insult to the Goosebumps series or its readers. Memes are, by definition, spread because people like the work they came from. Sure, it may look like we're making fun of the books, but it's in a nagging kind of way, without the intent to offend anyone. And besides, the meme pokes more fun at the girl's bizarre facial expression, and not at the books all that much. ...Besides, isn't the whole meme based on loving the Goosebumps series? Ah, whatever. Be glad there are memes based on Goosebumps floating around, I've been trying to have memes come from my site for years now.