This movie, based around the books of the prolific teen author, R.L. Stine, has been in the works for a very long time. Originally slated as a vehicle for Tim Burton, back in 1998, it has bumped around in limbo since then but finally gets a cinematic outing courtesy of director Rob Letterman. The wait has been worth it, because this is an unqualified delight that takes just enough time to set out its stall, before plunging us headlong into a gallumphing chase that rarely loses momentum.
After the recent death of his father, Zach (Dylan Minette) moves from New York to Madison, Delaware with his mother, Gale (Amy Ryan) the newly appointed vice-principal at the local high school. Zach soon notices the attractive girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush) but is quickly herded off by her seemingly stern father, played by Jack Black. But appearances can be deceptive. It turns out that Hannah’s dad is the reclusive author, R.L. Stine and that his house is a repository for his original manuscripts, each of which has to be kept locked in order to prevent the creatures captured on its pages from coming to life. Zach manages to accidentally release the monster from Stine’s The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena and from that point, everything goes haywire… pretty soon, Madison is overrun with ravenous werewolves, shambling zombies and homicidal garden gnomes.
It’s an adorable premise and it’s expertly orchestrated; scenes where ink literally bleeds from the pages of the manuscripts to create the monsters of Stine’s imagination are particularly impressive. Malevolent ventriloquist’s doll, Slappy (from Night of the Living Dummy – also voiced by Black) is cleverly portrayed as Stine’s altar ego. The witty screenplay by Darren Lemke shows a clear understanding of the way a writer’s mind works – I loved the scene where Stine, obliged to write another story that is the only hope of salvaging a desperate situation, keeps dithering over the first line of the story. Goosebumps may not be profound or meaningful, but it’s hard to bring off this kind of fantasy storytelling successfully and here’s one of those rare attempts that succeeds on nearly every level. The CGI creatures are nicely done and a climactic scene with most of the cast barricaded into the school gymnasium brings everything to a suitable conclusion. There’s also a late plot twist concerning Hannah that I didn’t see coming.
If you’re already familiar with Stine’s work, it’ll be an added bonus, because most of his creatures are featured here, but it clearly doesn’t matter too much. I somehow managed to miss the books completely, but I liked the film a lot and would recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of harmless escapist fun. Enjoy!