Goosebumps 2 (aka Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
I remember being quite surprised with 2015’s Goosebumps as a kid-horror picture that showcases a love for R.L. Stine’s scary books I grew up along with knowing humor to be witty enough amid a tale of magic, monsters, and evil puppets causing chaos on Halloween. Now comes Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween and it’s every bit the bland and thoughtless kid-horror film I feared. So I guess in terms of trying to put the scare into me, the film somewhat accomplishes fright indirectly.
This sequel is mostly in name only. None of the central teenager heroes return as the age of the heroes has been scaled down. Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris play suburban best friends of Sonny and Sam. They’re the nerds of school, targeted by bumbling bullies they can best by pulling down their pants, revealing silly underwear. And, wow, do I miss those teen characters now, so brilliantly written with wicked smarts as opposed to the standard tropes of suburban kids I’ve seen regurgitated since the 1990s era of Hocus Pocus. I mention Hocus Pocus as that film was intended to be a TV special that somehow became a theatrical movie and Haunted Halloween seems to be on a similar rigid track.
Sonny and Sam are troubled in their lives by bullies, homework, and trying to work on their science project. While cleaning out a house to feed their desire for junk, they happen across the talking dummy Slappy (voiced by Jack Black). The boys soon discover that Slappy can not only talk and move on his home but also has the ability to do just about anything with magic. A quick showcase of his powers displays that he can make toys come to live and magically finish your math homework, showing his work of course.
He seems okay. Well, except for being a talking dummy. Of course, his true plans are sinister but also rather confounding. The Slappy present here is one from an unfinished work by R.L. Stine who wrote a story about Slappy wanting a mother. The could be a creepy premise with how he wants to devilishly slide into the good graces of Sonny’s family but it quickly becomes a convoluted mess of horror. It isn’t long before Slappy goes over-the-top with his powers by unleashing his life-giving magic all over the suburbs, where inanimate decorations come to life and department store clerks transform into hunchbacks.
Yes, there’s some Halloween chaos to be had with monsters running amok on Halloween but we’ve already seen this before with the first Goosebumps movie. We’ve seen it more clever in that film as well, where a werewolf skitters through a grocery store and a bigfoot slips across an ice arena. And what do we have here? Witches that don’t cast spells, headless-horsemen that simply trot around, and living Halloween bags that merely laugh and spook the kids. How can you have Chris Parnell as a hunchback and not have anything funny for him to do?
The most telling scene of Goosebumps 2 features Ken Jeong as a big fan of the books commenting on the situation, gushing about how much he loves the Goosebumps books, rambling off his favorite titles. All this scene did was make me think back to how those books were more clever and spooky than a throwaway plot such as this which amounts to little more than an uninspired battle atop a tower of electricity and a third-act appearance by R.L. Stine (Jack Black) for little more than a shrug. Reading an arms worth of Goosebumps books is sure to be more engaging and inspired than this tired retread that does little more than water down and repeat the theatrics of its predecessor.