For me personally, GOOSEBUMPS (the books and show) were a bit after my time, so I knew nothing about R.L. Stine’s various horrific stories, or the property in general other than the very basics. So ideally, in regards to the movie adaptation fronted by Jack Black and helmed by Rob Letterman, I was the target audience for it. I was going into this experience blindly with no pre-conceived notion of what I wanted from a GOOSEBUMPS movie. I was just hoping for a good monster romp that might join the long list of films I queue up to get into the Halloween spirit.
It’s currently streaming on Netflix Instant, and since I know that’s the way a lot of people consume their content these days, I imagine you’ve either already seen it there, and if not, I strongly recommend you do so, then come back to this piece, because spoilers follow, in particular about the ending. I could tell from the few TV spots I’d seen that the movie was very CGI-heavy and to be frank, CGI is very forgivable when watched in 3-D the way it’s intended to be seen, so I waited for a good deal on the 3D Blu-Ray because.. I’m a 3-D junkie! And I’m glad I waited!
First and foremost, I absolutely loved the movie. Like, head over heels, can’t-believe-how-good-it-was LOVED it. For someone that grew up loving horror and starting out on a steady diet of Universal Monster Movies before working my way up to the serious stuff, this felt like the perfect gateway horror movie for a lot of young kids today, on par with something like GREMLINS, THE MONSTER SQUAD, GOONIES and films of that ilk.
Second, man, this writing is sharp! I found a lot of the clever dialogue to be laugh out loud funny, quirky and smart. Despite my minimal knowledge of the source material, it truly was a brilliant way to adapt all of Stine’s stories into one feature length film, as even Black at one point points out how impossible a task that would be! Somehow, screenwriter Darren Lemke managed to pull it off with a story concocted by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
The basic story follows Zach (Dylan Minnette) as he moves to a small little town in Madison, Delaware with his doting mom (Amy Ryan). He’s immediately intrigued by Hannah (Odeya Rush), the sarcastic girl that lives right next door, but is taken aback when he meets her super overprotective father, Stine (Jack Black). Stine warns him to stay away from him and Hannah, or else. But naturally, kids are kids and these two in particular are drawn to each other, so the two continue spending time together.
When Zach hears a commotion next door, he calls the cops for fear that Hannah is in danger, but according to Stine, Hannah has already left town to stay with her mother. Knowing this to be a ruse, Zach convinces his newfound high school buddy Champ (Ryan Lee) to break into the house to make sure Hannah is OK. They stumble upon a collection of locked manuscripts for GOOSEBUMPS books and come to realize that “Stine” is actually famed author, R.L. Stine. What they don’t realize is that each and every monster he’s ever created is forever captured in their respective book, and if unlocked, that monster can spring to life and wreak havoc in our world.
In particular, when Slappy, the creepy puppet, comes out of his book, he’s not exactly too thrilled to go back, and instead decides to free all of the monsters and creatures from the GOOSEBUMPS novels to terrorize this little town and take over. The entire thing is deliciously fun from start to finish and hit all of my horror sweetspots. Granted, it’s aimed at young adults, but as a full adult, I found it thoroughly entertaining and just a pure, fun spectacle. I enjoyed it so much, that I actually watched the movie twice in a row, both times in 3D, which is a rarity for me.
I truly felt I was watching something special and unique; something that kids will be both intrigued and somewhat terrified by, whether it be Slappy, or that damned creepy clown, or the mummy. One of these creatures is bound to scar a little kid. But it’ll probably equally excite them to delve into more horror themed goodness like this or (gasp) start reading the books!
Under normal circumstances, when I find a movie to be this good, I’d almost call it perfect in intent and tone. But there are 2 minor things bugging me that prevent it from being the masterpiece I truly think it’s so close to being. Granted, movies are subjective, so this is merely my own opinion. For all I know, a die-hard fan of the original GOOSEBUMPS book might think this movie is flawless and that I’m totally wrong in my rationale.. But hear me out.
First? The excessive CGI. I hate to be that guy that talks about “back in my day, movies did things practical!” But hell with it, I’m going to be that guy. For the most part, I completely understand that something as fantastical as this is going to require some digital visual help to pull off all the monsters properly. And there’s a fair share of practical people in costumes and make-up. The clown, the mummy, the zombies in the graveyard. I’m primarily thinking about the werewolf supermarket sequence. Again, with no context for me, I just looked at this moment as “oh cool, we get a new take on a classic monster, the werewolf.” But the werewolf of this sequence is very noticeably CGI.
Annnnnd even more so here:
And while it’s a great sequence (complete with a suspenseful moment of the werewolf drooling right down on Stine, hiding underneath a rack), part of me wishes it was a guy in a wolfman suit. I mean, wouldn’t you have preferred seeing this dude?
However, this was a joint production with Sony Animation Studios, so my theory is that the involvement of their animation department is very well part of the reason this thing got financed and made in the first place. Fair enough. Like I said, 3D is very forgiving of digital FX. Just would’ve been so, so cool to have a practical werewolf on screen again.
The second is more of a moral thing for me. Once again, the following specifically references the ending, so be warned… SPOILERS!!!
It turns out that Hannah is actually a ghost and one of R.L. Stine’s many elaborate creations from one of his stories. Short version – she’s not real. She’s a figment of his imagination, and yet our lead character Zach falls pretty head over heels in love with her. I’m not saying that those emotions weren’t real, or that I’m prejudice against fictitious ghost characters, or anything. But the conclusion of the movie has Stine doing something so morally questionable for the sake of a neat, “happy” ending. He writes another book with Hannah, brings her into the real world and burns the book so that his fictitious creation can live happily ever after with Zach.
Now, think about this. It’s the equivalent of Stine releasing Slappy the puppet again because, well… he’s lonely and wants to have a best friend around, rather than learning the lesson that you can’t live in your own stories and it’s probably better to go out there and try to make a new best friend in the real world. The ending just feels wrong to me.
Thankfully, the Blu-Ray has a series of deleted scenes as a bonus feature including alternate openings and endings. Sure enough, the original ending is exactly what I thought it should be. Stine and Zach talk about what the fictional Hannah helped them find in themselves, and Stine reminds Zach that nothing can ever take her away from here (pointing to his heart) or here (pointing to his mind). Moments later, Zach meets a new girl on her first day of class that happens to look just like Hannah. He walks off and so begins a new chapter and new relationship in his life. As opposed to ‘here, here’s this perfect girl that doesn’t actually exist, but go off and be with her’ and let’s set up unrealistic expectations for the young kids watching this! It’s TWILIGHT syndrome. Edward is an unrealistic expectation of what a guy should be to young teens, when, for the most part, teenage boys are idiots that you have to learn to tolerate. (And worse, they don’t even sparkle.)
I imagine they tested this ending, and audiences hated it (even though it’s the same ending as BEDAZZLED 2000! What? That movie is good!) and probably requested the traditional “we want to see him end up with the girl from the rest of the movie.” I voiced this opinion on our podcast Shock Waves and had someone on Twitter counter it saying they thought the ending that’s there is the more appropriate one. They wanted Hannah to be real and for those two characters to end up together in the end.
Its subjective, and really, it’s up to a kid’s parents to discuss with them what they think the meanings of movies are to them. At the end of the day, we’re talking about a movie that has a bunch of monsters terrorizing a town. Maybe it’s irrelevant that the two lead characters end up together in the end? But those two minor things are the only aspects of the movie standing in the way of my 5 star perfect review! Take it or leave it!