R.L. Stine’s creepy “Goosebumps” books have created many a sleepless night for youngsters too old for Itsy Bitsy Spider but not mature enough to face a real nightmare like Freddy Krueger. The author’s wide library of works has provided a gateway for young readers headed toward scarier books.
Television shows based on Stine’s books have provided the same structure for those not old enough to face the likes of “American Horror Story” or “The Strain.”
The film “Goosebumps” does the same thing for horror films. An older audience may feel nostalgic for the books or get a smile out of the cornucopia of creatures that come to life. But the movie is aimed at the same youth market that embraces the books.
“Goosebumps” opens like so many of Stine’s books. Average teen Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves to what appears to be a quiet little town. The teen is immediately attracted to his next door neighbor, Hannah (Odeya Rush), but is given a stern warning by her father (Jack Black) to stay away from the girl and the house.
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Zach discovers that Hannah’s dad is Stine and the author has locked copies of all his books. When one accidentally is opened, the Abominable Snowman chases Zach, Hannah and Champ (Ryan Lee), the traditional goofy nerd whom Stine loves to add to his stories.
More books are opened, and the group must find a way to trap all the creatures or die trying.
Director Rob Letterman finds the right tempo of terror for the ghoulish attacks. A werewolf battle in a supermarket has as many comic turns as scares. The same goes for all the other creatures, including a cemetery filled with zombies.
The scariest creature is Slappy, a talking ventriloquist dummy voiced by Black. He provides a darkness to the story that lifts up the creepiness levels.
Darren Lemke’s screenplay has some huge holes (such as an abandoned amusement park that still has electricity), but he manages to give time to many of the classic Stine creatures. Lawn gnomes and poodles will never look the same after this film.
All that’s missing is a snack-eating canine.
Minnette has the thankless job of being to this film what Fred is in the “Scooby-Doo” tales. He provides a little muscle, a slight romantic element and sets up Champ (the film’s answer to Shaggy) for comedy lines. Rush looks like she could play the sister to Mila Kunis.
It’s a film that’s as much fun as it is creepy. It can’t survive under the harsh scrutiny of horror film experts, but it is mildly chilling enough to scare youngsters. “Goosebumps” is fun enough to entertain young and old.
☆☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Jack Black, Odeya Rush, Dylan Minnette.
Director: Rob Letterman.
Running time: 1:43.
Rated: PG-13, for perilous situations, scary images.