‘Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween’ Is a Family-Friendly Halloween Horror Story
“Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” is what Halloween should be to the very young experiencing the holiday for the first time: scary (sort of) and fun. Geared for audiences six years old and up, this edition of the “Goosebumps” story is an effectively paced entertainment featuring Halloween lawn decorations come to life, some appropriate hilarity and trick or treating with the nostalgic feel of a small town. A Goosebumps version of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Maybe.
Since 1992, writer R. L. Stine has been churning out the immensely popular series of children’s books called “Goosebumps,” lightly scary tales that draw from a peanuts gallery of movie monsters, witches and ghosts. It even inspired a TV series that ran from 1995 to 1998. They have sold over 400,000,000 copies.
In 2015, the first of this present series of “Goosebumps” movies was released. Jack Black plays writer R. L. Stine in both movies. R. L. Stine and his struggles to write the Goosebumps books looms large in the narrative of both films. In this movie, the attack of writer’s block that prevented Stine from finishing his very first book is what sets the wheels in motion, spelling Halloween disaster for the small town of Wardenclyffe, New York. Wardenclyffe is the real life former hometown of Nikola Tesla and the site of his mysterious Tesla’s Tower.
Tesla and writer’s block figure prominently in “Goosebumps 2.” Big sister Sarah Quinn (Madison Iseman) can’t seem to finish her college essay for Columbia. She falters at drawing from her own life the inspiration she needs to convince Columbia’s admissions. She feels that nothing worth writing about has happened to her in the podunk village of Wardenclyffe.
Meanwhile, little brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) has a made a scale model of the Tesla Tower for his middle school science class but he can’t get the electrical effects to work quite right. His buddy Sam (Caleel Harris) takes advantage of his frustration to rope him into a junk collecting business called the Junk Brothers. Their first job is to clean out a decrepit Victorian. Inside they find dust and cobwebs and a secret room. The room contains a chest and inside the chest, Stine’s manuscript with a large number of blank pages.
But it gets worse. The very act of opening the previously locked book has set Slappy, the villain of the first film, free. From “Magic”(1978) to the “Twilight Zone,” nothing is scarier than a ventriloquist’s dummy that doesn’t need a ventriloquist. Slappy is especially vengeful. Scorned in his desire for a mommy and a real family, Slappy sets out to make his own, terrorizing the town by bringing to live every single Halloween decoration, big or small. Even gummy bears. But he has a bigger target in mind. If he can get the Tesla Tower to work, he can animate Halloween decorations nation-wide, making for one memorable and destructive Halloween.
Wendi McLendon-Covey, the mother from TV’s “The Goldbergs”, plays the mom who gets kidnaped by Slappy and turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy. Her children race against time to save the country as well as their beloved but quirky mom.
Leaving little doubt of future sequels, “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” is an inoffensive and witty jaunt through Halloween with the eyes of the young. And the film’s focus on writing and books brings a relevant and visual message to its young audience about the power of the written word to both challenge, terrify and inspire.
“Goosebumps 2; Haunted Halloween” opens Oct. 12 in theaters nationwide.