Frantic Haunted Halloween an Unremarkable Goosebumps Sequel
In the small town of Wardenclyffe, New York, middle school best friends Sonny Quinn (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam Carter (Caleel Harris) have made an astonishing discovery. Hidden deep within the bowels of the dilapidated Stine house they have found a book locked away inside a gigantic cedar chest. Their curiosity understandably getting the better of them, the two open it, never imagining that in doing so they would release the maniacal puppet Slappy (Avery Lee Jones), a magical ventriloquist’s dummy who desperately wants a family.
While at first Sonny and Sam are enamored with their new wannabe brother’s charms, especially after he makes a giant fool of the local bully Tommy Madigan (Peyton Wich), it soon becomes apparent that Slappy isn’t the kindhearted bosom buddy he proclaims to be. He wants to turn all of Wardenclyffe into a giant Halloween playground, utilizing the fabled Tesla Tower at the heart of their town to bring various ghouls, goblins, witches and other assorted supernatural baddies to malevolent life. With the determined help of Sonny’s take-charge older sister Sarah (Madison Iseman), it’s up to the kids to stop Slappy’s reign of terror before it can really get started.
Much like 2015’s modest hit Goosebumps, director Ari Sandel’s (The Duff) energetic sequel Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is a kitchen sink adventure that throws in as much from author R.L. Stine’s literary creations as it possibly can in one self-contained motion picture. Also like that film, there’s so much going on at any one moment caring about what is happening as far as the general overall scenario is concerned is frustratingly difficult. It’s a lot of visual razzle-dazzle and animated running about that comes off as nothing more than candy-colored much ado about nothing, and as such I can’t say I particularly cared about anything that was happening or if this trio of pint-sized heroes was going to emerge victorious over their sentient dollified foe.
Not that younger audiences will probably care. As a return to Stine’s world, there’s so much happening from an action perspective, and so many eye-popping delights to wonder at (including a massive purple tarantula made almost entirely of helium-filled party balloons), the fact Rob Lieber’s (Peter Rabbit) script doesn’t add up to anything substantive likely won’t matter. But for adults, at least for this adult at any rate, the tiresome fast-paced lunacy unfortunately grows old fast. It felt like the plot was more just running in derivative circles than it was trying to do anything creative or original, content to live insider of Stine’s universe without being driven to give it some sort of nuance or edge that might make it stand out as its own distinctive piece of pop storytelling.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the fact that Lieber and Sandel make Sarah her own person who admits when she makes a mistake and shows a modicum of intelligence as she resiliently attempts to save the day. I like that Sonny and Sam have a real friendship based on trust and understanding. I like that none of them wait around to be saved by someone else but do still put forth the effort to reach out for additional help. I like that Sarah and Quinn’s single mother Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) takes the time to listen to her children and to treat them with respect, dishing out fair punishments when needed while heaping on heartfelt parental praise just when her kids need it the most. Finally, there’s a truly delightful Halloween III: Season of the Witch gag near the end that brought a gigantic smile to my face, and it’s this sort of freewheeling creative ingenuity the remainder of the sequel frustratingly lacks.
It’s likely I’m the wrong audience for this. As much as I adore and support family-friendly horror outings (the enchanting The House with a Clock in Its Walls a recent example I’m happy to cheerlead for), for whatever reason R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps phenomenon passed me by. I just never got into any of the books, and the low rent television show did nothing for me. As for the two movies, they’re too consumed with throwing every single monster in the author’s arsenal at the audience. I don’t feel like they trust their viewers so the filmmakers overwhelm them with so many monstrous sights and sounds there isn’t enough time to think about how threadbare both narratives end up proving to be. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween didn’t scare up any of my interest, my ghostly indifference to Sarah, Sonny and Sam’s collective plight a most frightening outcome to say the least.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)