*Spoilers for Goosebumps (2015) and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween*
If you happened to love 2015’s Goosebumps with Jack Black, don’t expect similar results with this weekends Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. It is the type of sequel that belongs on Disney Channel Saturday nights or in the shallow depths of the bargain DVD bin at Wal-Mart.
Unlike most sequels, this entry features an entirely new cast of characters and a new locale for events to unfold in. The plot is overly familiar to that of the first and the focus on humor over thrills returns only this time to a new low. The humor of the first film wasn’t necessarily the highlight and yet here the screenwriters succumb to novelty bathroom jokes. There are references to the bizarre occurrences of the first film, but at best they are passively presented and for nothing more than to catch the new characters up on what they are up against.
Here we meet brother and sister, Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor, IT) and Sarah (Madison Iseman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), their mother Kathy (Wendy McLendon-Covey, Bridesmaids and The Goldebergs), and Sonny’s best friend Sam (Caleel Harris, Castle Rock) whose parents are going out of town so he is staying with the family of three. Sarah is a writer who aspires to attend Columbia University and escape her rural existence. Sonny and Sam are focused and dedicated teenagers who are more concerned with getting their homework done than going out and making friends, that is until Sam forces Sonny’s hand to take their first job as junk removers.
All of the performers do the best with what they have and make this film at the very least a watchable experience, but what they have never extends more than stereotypes in children’s horror stories. At one point Jack Black’s returning R.L. Stine remarks, “Oh my earlier writing was filled with so many clichés” and the same can be said for this sequel.
At that job, which happens to be an old and abandoned residence of the author R.L. Stine (the author of the Goosebumps novels and Jack Black’s character in the first film). The boys discover and secret passage and a chest containing the first manuscript of Stine’s career. Naturally, the boys unlock the book and release another version of Slappy, the ventriloquist dummy.
It was a smart decision to focus more on Slappy as the main villain as his motivations are a tad different in this film as he is searching for a family of his own but the result still ends up the same with Slappy bringing to life all of the Halloween decorations and merchandise in the town for our characters to contend with. Black does return as the author R.L. Stine, but for no longer than ten minutes at the end of the film, most of that time being used for a teaser scene for a third entry that I won’t spoil here except to say that the scene is not earned and that for Sony to make a third film in this franchise would be an insult to the Goosebumps brand and to R.L. Stine’s fabulous library of work.
The biggest failure of this series, particularly in this entry, is that Columbia Pictures and Sony have lost the spirit of what made the Goosebumps novels popular and entertaining; the horror. That isn’t to say these films should have been rated R and made for adults, but they, like the books, should trust in their target audience enough to not talk down to them. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween was a lazy cash-grab it demonstrates a disconnect between Sony and its audience, a sentence that could be said for more than just this franchise.