Around this Monday, I finished reading “Joyland”, one of Stephen King’s recent novels. While its story revolves around a dark murder mystery involved with one plain but special amusement park in North Carolina, I enjoyed its vivid, affectionate description of that amusement park, and one of the memorable things in the book was its fun house. While its visitors know what they are probably going to get once they enter this place, they do get scared or thrilled thanks to its nice surprises to shock and delight them during their ride, and I was amused by the details on how this facility is operated for its visitors’ scary fun time.
“Goosebumps”, which is based on the popular series of children’s horror stories written by R.L. Stine, is pretty much like that fun house. We know what we can expect from it, and it does not disappoint us as serving us with lots of things to frighten and entertain us. Although it is not that fresh in terms of story and characters, the movie knows how to have a jolly thrilling fun with its various familiar horror fantasy elements, and it is more than enough for me to overlook its several noticeable weak points.
When our teenager hero Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his mother Gale (Amy Ryan) move to Madison, Delaware for her new position in a local high school, Zach senses something weird about a house right next to their new home. The house in question belongs to an unknown reclusive writer who barely shows himself to his neighbors, and Zach later encounters the writer’s adolescent daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), who usually stays inside the house with her father. They are instantly attracted to each other right from the start, and he is glad to have a wonderful night time with her at a nearby abandoned amusement park, whose shabby charm reminds me a lot of the one depicted in King’s aforementioned novel.
But their relationship soon faces the objection of Hannah’s father, who looks very determined to keep himself and her daughter away from others for some reason. Zach naturally wonders about what is really going on between this strange father and daughter, so he eventually sneaks into the writer’s house along with his nerdy schoolmate Champ (Ryan Lee), but, as soon as they enter the house, the boys realize that they come into a situation they do not entirely understand yet. When they enter the writer’s library, they find many mysterious books locked on their cover, and it turns out that the writer is none other than R.L. Stine (Jack Black).
The amusing fictional premise in the movie is that all those terrible creatures in Stine’s stories are not fictional at all in its metafiction world. Because of the supernatural gift he happened to acquire during his early years, anything Stine imagines through his writing becomes real, and he has so far managed to keep his dark creations locked inside his original manuscripts while quietly enjoying the success of his many scary stories.
Of course, it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Zach and Champ come to open one of Stine’s books and then all hell breaks loose as a consequence. Their town and its residents are soon terrorized by many different creatures including a big yeti, a humongous mantis, a furry werewolf, and Slappy the Dummy (voiced by Jack Black). Having a lot of personal grudges against Stine, this malicious dummy is ready to get his payback moment from his creator, and so are many other creatures released from Stine’s books.
As Zach, Champ, Hannah, and Stine try to find any possible solution for this messy emergency, the movie keeps throwing lots of CGI creatures into the screen. While these creatures look scary enough to maintain the constant level of tension and excitement in the film, there is always the sly sense of humor behind their scenes. You may notice a number of humorous references to several well-known horror films such as “The Blob” (1958) and “The Shining” (1980), and I particular liked a menacing black car reminiscent of the similar evil vehicle in cult horror film “The Car” (1977).
The performers in the movie did a competent job of looking believably scared or threatened amidst numerous special effects on the screen. Jack Black seems to be trying too hard at first, but he gets better while his character goes through personal development as required for his new story to write, and he surely enjoys himself in his mischievous voice performances for Slappy the Dummy and the other creature which is another nice surprise in the film. While Dylan Minnette is your average clean-cut teenager hero, Ryan Lee mainly functions as his goofy comic foil, and Odeya Rush is charming as a love interest with hidden poignancy. It is disappointing to see that Amy Ryan is stuck in a bland supporting role which does not demand much from her considerable talent, but that fortunately remains as a minor weakness as the movie busily bounces around its main attractions on the plot.
On the whole, “Goosebumps” is a solid family entertainment packaged with enjoyable goodies for your entertainment. Some of its action scenes may be a little too intense for its young audiences, but the movie is still a safe PG-rated product, and I observed that not many characters get hurt in the film even though many of its creatures look quite lethal and dangerous. Considering that kids in these days are accustomed to those bombastic actions in superhero films, they will probably enjoy the movie more comfortably than we think.