Tag: goosebumps

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018)
★ / ★★★★

One of the problems with the inferior sequel “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” is an absence of one good scare or even a series of slightly suspenseful moments specifically made for pre-teens. As a former reader of R.L. Stine’s work, it is easy to tell that the film has failed to capture the spirit of the source material: Pick any one book and it is likely there is at least one memorable moment, often pregnant with irony or at least smeared with dark humor, that sticks in the mind like gum. This picture is so generic and kid-friendly, it makes Disney Channel’s original “Halloweentown” look edgy. Not even the most impressive visual effects can mask its unexceptional nature.

Like the predecessor, the plot revolves around the living dummy Slappy (voiced by Mick Wingert) wreaking havoc around town by bringing “Goosebumps” villains to life on Halloween night. Those who have seen the original are likely to tune out completely because the familiar elements are not strong enough to garner much interest. In fact, the repeated beats and tired rhythms are not only redundant within the scope of the series but also compared to other fantastical Halloween-themed family comedies. Characters fall over during the most inconvenient times, they end up scaring themselves, and, of course, somebody has to be rescued somewhere. It is all so uninspired.

Even the characters are barely characters, just skeletal personalities to be utilized to execute the plot. Once the central story gets going, every one of them is useless; it certainly isn’t convincing why the story must be told from their perspective. Sarah (Madison Iseman) is the elder sister who aspires to become a writer but she does not prove to be resourceful or creative, Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is intellectually curious but not especially sharp or motivated, and Sam (Caleel Harris) is the best friend but not an especially useful sidekick. And they are so bland; remove any one or two of them from the screenplay completely and the difference is likely to be negligible. The three performers try hard to conjure up excitement but the screenplay gives them nothing to work with.

The script lacks a range of humor. Are we supposed to laugh at the hip-talking mom (Wendi McLendon-Covey) who at the same time wants to be taken seriously by her children? Is the school bully (Peyton Wich) being pantsed for the third time in under a minute supposed to be funny? It is illogical one too many times, too. There is a big commotion involving gummy bears (a neat scene) but the grandmother sleeps through it. Is anybody amused by this?

Far too many screenwriters equate kid-friendly with vanilla. “Goosebumps 2” is directed by Ari Sandel and written for the screen by Rob Lieber, and neither takes a risk to break the ennui of the material. Consider kid-friendly and family movies that have gone on to become classics: “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Babe,” “The Sandlot,” “Big,” to name a few. Each one of these movies have an idea that are not especially original. But they work because the writing is committed on a high level and it is apparent that the execution from behind the camera is enthusiastic at the very least. Here, those in charge simply choose to go through the motions, relying on the brand recognition alone to make money. There is no invention or even a whiff of an attempt to create compelling protagonists.


Goosebumps (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

Right from its first few minutes, “Goosebumps,” directed by Rob Letterman, overcomes a major concern of having the quality of a direct-to-DVD piece of work but was released in theaters anyway because it boasts household names: Jack Black, R.L. Stine, and the “Goosebumps” brand.

Looking at the first scene closely where a mother and son, Gale (Amy Ryan) and Zach (Dylan Minnette), move into their new home, there is a warmth in their relationship and yet there is a hint of sadness, too. We learn that they migrated from the city to the suburb partly so that they can move on from the death of a family member. Then it makes sense: their bond is especially close because the memory of the passing remains fresh.

The screenplay avoids the expected, tired scenario of a teenager being or acting annoyed toward a parent for having been torn away from friends or a familiar milieu. Instead, the focus is on the love the two characters share and what they are willing to sacrifice to make the transition easier for one another. Notice that Dylan is able to make fun of himself just so there is laughter in their new home. The screenplay by Darren Lemke is surprisingly efficient in establishing likable characters who are of substance, worth following through whatever story is going to be told.

Although there is a lack of genuine scares, there are a handful of well-executed suspenseful scenes with a beginning, middle, and a twist. Of particular standouts involve Zach and his new friend named Champ (Ryan Lee) breaking into a secretive neighbor’s home—so secretive that there are bear traps in the basement, facing The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena in an ice rink, and being hunted by The Werewolf of Fever Swamp in a supermarket. The varying energies in these scenes are spooky, fun, and infectious and so we look forward to the next paranormal encounter. With each new environment, one can expect a run-in with a creature or mysterious entity. Thus, the film moves at a constant forward momentum so it is never boring.

Although one-on-one encounters work, less effective are the scenes where the monsters converge in one place. The third act, although tolerable, is not strong. This is because the CGI is so overwhelming at times that everything begins to look fake. The more there is to look at, the less convincing the danger. It would have been preferred if the leader of the monsters, Slappy the Dummy from the “Night of the Living Dummy” books (voiced by Black), had a more active, cleverer role in terrorizing the mean neighbor, his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), Champ, and Zach instead of commanding creatures to do his bidding. Slappy is one of the more terrifying (and devilishly creative) characters in the “Goosebumps” series and so it is a slight disappointment that he is not written as more menacing here. Instead, he gets pun-tastic one-liners.

I found the ending to be disloyal to the “Goosebumps” brand and so, despite its aforementioned strengths, I was this close to giving it only a marginal recommendation. Each R.L. Stine story has a lesson. Here, it is being able to deal with personal losses. This is hinted at the beginning of the film where Zach is shown to be missing his father as he watches a homemade video.

However, in order to have a standard, kid-friendly happy ending, the last few minutes cheats, essentially, by circumventing the fact that sudden losses, grief, and sadness are a part of life. I felt offended by the decision. I would rather have a film that inspires conversation afterwards—especially between parent and child—than the audience forgetting about the experience almost immediately because the material fails to leave a lasting impression that feels exactly right to the story.

Monster House

Monster House (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Rewatching this animated film three years later since it came out in 2006, I still think it’s pretty scary for children. Directed by Gil Kenan, “Monster House” is about three teenagers–sarcastic DJ (Mitchel Musso), portly but hilarious Chowder (Sam Lerner) and precocious Jenny (Spencer Locke)–who learn that the house in front of DJ’s home is alive as it starts taking inside it whatever and whoever it thinks to be trespassing (intentionally or unintentionally). So the three form a plan to finally put the evil house to rest. And who says that defeating a scary living house is an easy feat? What I love about this animated flick is that whenever I watch it, I’m instantly reminded of my childhood. When we were kids, my cousins and I had several adventures while pretending to enter a haunted abandoned house just like the characters did here. The dialogue between the three leads reminded me of those teen movies in the 1980’s (and the fact that the parents are barely on screen), while the soundtrack reminded me of the “Goosebumps” and “Tales from the Crypt” television series. Everything about it just brought me back and I guess that’s the main reason why I instantly fell in love with it the first time. I mentioned that I think this is somewhat scary for children. If the premise of the film that plays on the archetype regarding scary houses next door and the creepy people that live in them is not enough, it also has scenes of the house’ shadows being able to transform into anything as it visits a child’s bedroom, a dungeon-like basement with a shrine that reminded me of those indie creepy serial killer movies when the killer preserves his victims, and more. I’m torn because, at the same time, I’m very impressed with its creativity and willingness to not baby the childreen too much just in case they might get bored. Also, there were jokes about the teens, especially Chowder, not reaching certain developmental levels proposed by some theorists in psychology and I found them to be really funny. Other voices worth noting that added an extra spice to the film are Maggie Gyllenhaal as the babysitter, Jason Lee as the babysitter’s friend/boyfriend, Kevin James and Nick Cannon as the two police officers, Jon Heder as the videogame freak, and Steve Buscemi as the creepy neighbor. “Monster House” is a strong animated movie that should have been seen by more people when it was released. Steven Spielberg is one of the executive producers and I did notice some of his signature styles of storytelling. Even though it can get a bit scary, I’ll still show this movie to my future kids.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

This Kevin Smith comedy started off well but it got more tiring as it went on. Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen star as two “strictly just friends” friends who share an apartment but can’t pay the bills on time (or at all). After attending their high school reunion, Rogen gets a crazy idea on how to pay their expenses: make a porno. Unfortunately, the downside of this film is the eventual realization of the two leads: their love for one another goes beyond friendship. I felt like the director forcefully wanted to include the female audiences after showing one rude (but hilarious) joke after another. It wasn’t necessary because, in my opinion, female audiences can enjoy dirty jokes as much as the male audiences. If this film had ended before Banks and Rogen realize that they’re in love with one another, it would’ve been so much stronger. The scenes that involve slow motions that are supposed to hint that Banks is getting jealous of Rogen (and vice-versa) are annoying at best. Kevin Smith is a much more talented director than that (his ear for dialogue is sharp) and I really felt like he wants to hammer certain points when he really did not need to. The best part of this film is Justin Long as one of the boyfriends of one of Zack and Miri’s former classmates. He knows what to say at just the right times; not to mention the certain inflections he attached to certain words made a very amusing wordplay. I wish he was in the film a lot more because he has that certain energy that the rest of the cast lacked. Another surprise was Ricky Mabe as one of the would-be pornstars. I knew he looked familiar, and half-way through the film I realized that he was in one of my favorite episodes of “Goosebumps” called “How to Kill a Monster” back in 1997. I wish to see him more in the future. Overall, I would have been happy to recommend this picture if it didn’t try to be romantic. Instead, it becomes another forgettable film by Kevin Smith.


Poltergeist (1982)
★★★★ / ★★★★

I had my reservations prior to watching this film but after I saw it, I could finally understand why “Poltergeist” is considered as a horror classic. What I love about this picture is that it’s an unconventional horror movie. It focuses on the family and makes the “scary stuff” secondary or even tertiary. Credit definitely goes to Steven Spielberg (even though it’s directed by Tobe Hooper who also directed the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”). Being a big Spielberg fan, I immediately noticed his signature style of storytelling: the timeless feel of feeling like a kid again, problems with at least one parental figure (obvious or otherwise), excellent pacing, and a generous offering of eye-opening visual and special effects–all of which never outshine the film’s emotional core. I must commend JoBeth Williams for playing the mother of the house. I found her to be really touching during those scenes when she would engage with the parapsychologists (Zelda Rubinstein and Beatrice Straight). Even though all types of paranormal phenomena are happening around them, Williams’ yearning for her missing child (Heather O’Rourke) resembles a mother’s yearning for her child who recently died. Not only are those scenes moving, they are integral to the story’s overall feel. The film is smart enough to establish the family first before truly getting into the paranormal, but at the same time it didn’t take a long time to get there. Once the horror started, it never lets go: the scenes are in the least creepy and truly memorable in its most daunting. I also noticed how “The Others” and “The Sixth Sense” took some of the big ideas from here and made them their own. Even though some people would say that the special and visual effects are outdated, I think most still hold up to this day. As for those that are undeniably dated, their powers lie in the concepts (for instance, an invisible demon dragging a person to and across the ceiling) and they leave so much for the imagination. “Poltergeist” will scare people who believe in ghosts, especially haunted homes. My culture believes in the existence of ghosts (even though I personally don’t–but I do believe in the possible existence of an afterlife) so this film gave me some serious goosebumps.