SONY PICTURES RELEASING (2018)

 

Director: Ari Sandel

 

Starring: Wendi McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Chris Parnell, Ken Jeong

Ah, good memories.

 

As a kid, I loved the Goosebumps series of books (the original, of course) and had every release chronologically sorted on my bookshelf – those colours looked great. The TV series was a lot of fun to watch, despite now being pretty dated and I was pleasantly surprised to find that older me had a pretty good time with 2015’s big-screen adaptation. So, with this sequel, I was moderately optimistic for a fun, family-friendly romp through Stinetown.

It’s Halloween time and what a great looking season it is too. Best friends Sonny (Taylor) and Sam (Harris), whilst on their first “job” as the Junk Brothers, are sent to an old, dilapidated house where amongst the clutter they find Slappy, an impish talking dummy from an unfinished tome by R.L. Stine (Black). Having accidentally brought the doll to life, Slappy begins causing mischief around the town and attempts to claim Sonny and his older sister Sarah (Iseman) as his family. This leads to the town being overrun by ghastly Ghoulies and the kids mother Kathy (McLendon-Covey) in danger. Night of the Living Dummy, indeed…

 

That first Goosebumps offering succeeded (and surprised) by utilising author R.L. Stine as the main protagonist of the movie, as well as throwing in lots of nods to the classic books and moments. It was a fun subversion of expectations and allowed for a fun jaunt. Haunted Halloween takes a more vanilla approach to its story – kids find ‘evil’, ‘evil’ wants to take over, kids must defeat ‘evil’ and save the town. So, in that sense, it’s less innovative as its predecessor and in many ways, it’s not as good but it still retains a lot of fun and moments that the younger viewers will enjoy.

 

Jeremy Ray Taylor must have had a sense of deja-vu walking up to the decrepit house where Slappy resided, having starred in 2017’s It also. He has more to do here and is well-placed in the role, as too are Harris and Madison Iseman. Ken Jeong appears as Ken Jeong (though the inclusion of his character has some merit to the story). Sadly, McLendon-Covey, Parnell and the returning Jack Black get very little to do (Black may have been tied up in the similar, yet inferior, offering, The House with a Clock in Its Walls). The performances are all just fine and to be expected with the material.

 

Very much a kids ‘horror’ flick, Haunted Halloween is light on real jolts though I suspect younger viewers may get some goosebumps at Slappy the doll, he still retains a level of creepiness that the target audience may find moderately freaky. Older heads, fear not. There’s also some decent humour here as well, the three leads working well together and riffing off of one another provides some joy and the gags aren’t all bad either. It retains that Stine-level of young horror and fun. The first hour is the winner here, it works better as the kids attempting to solve the mystery and Slappy appears here, there and everywhere to wreak a bit of havoc – there’s nothing bloodcurdling, but still fun – and visually, there’s some Spielberg-lite work going on here with the look of the town, the costuming and the ubiquitous bicycles. Plus, I’m a sucker for any kind of story set around Halloween, the promise of warm, eye-catching visuals is always a treat. The final act is pretty weak and becomes the CGI-fest that the trailers had promised. It loses its way here and manages to lose the fun factor, though the set up for a part 3 is intriguing if you enjoyed the first two flicks in the series.

 

The big disappointment is the lack of that original Goosebumps TV series theme, goddammit!

 

Whilst R.L. Stine got so many youngsters into reading young horror and progressing into the adult stuff, the movies still haven’t fully cracked the code of success, and Haunted Halloween is a fairly disappointing sequel to an enjoyable original. Whilst the adults may not have much to cling to (except nostalgia), the younger viewers should have enough here to keep them entertained and not too creeped out.

October 18th 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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