Goosebumps (2015)

(On Cable TV, May 2016) I wasn’t expecting much of this young-adult horror/comedy book series adaptation, and that may explain why Goosebumps feels surprisingly successful. The big creative decision that makes the film better than expected is a surprising willingness to make author R.L. Stine a character—playing up postmodern metafictional elements, the plot has Stine losing control over his manuscripts and his imagined creations escaping into a small town. The result isn’t particularly terrifying, nor overly comic, but it holds enough attention to make the viewing look like less of a chore for those who don’t fit in the original series’ target audience—or latter-generation nostalgic appeal. Jack Black makes a return to comedic form as Stine, while the special effects make up most of the film’s remaining characterization. There is a nice little fillip regarding one of the characters later on, which is as daring as the script allows itself to get. It almost goes without saying that fans of the book series will get a lot more out of the film—but Goosebumps is accessible enough to be interesting even to those who haven’t read the originals. While the tone could have been handled more consistently, it’s a tricky balance between the demands of horror-for kids, comedy and the usual requirements of a Hollywood movie. Given those competing demands, Goosebumps may be as good as it would have been, and the result will surprise more than one casual viewer.

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