For kids who grew up in the 1990s, reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and watching the TV show based on them was practically mandatory. Coming up with scary stories that are suitable for young children is no mean feat, but Stine managed to pull it off many times over, and for young horror fans whose parents refused to allow R-rated horror movies in the house, Goosebumps was a worthy substitute.
The announcement several years ago that a Goosebumps movie was in the works was therefore pretty exciting news. The reveal that it would be directed by Rob Letterman, whose previous credits include Shark Tale and Gulliver’s Travels, was somewhat less so.
Starring Jack Black as R.L. Stine himself, Goosebumps has now begun principal photography in and around Conyers, Madison, and Atlanta, Georgia, and is set for release in spring 2016. Sony has also released an official synopsis for the movie, which stars Dylan Minette (Prisoners) as Zach Cooper, a teenager who is upset about moving from the big city to a small town. Luckily there’s a beautiful girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush), whose father is a famous but reclusive author of children’s horror novels.
Stine’s eccentric behavior is explained by the fact that the writer is actually a prisoner of his own imagination. His stories have come to life and the only way to keep his monsters from attacking everyone is to lock them up in books. Zach, of course, manages to accidentally set them free and he, Hannah and Stine set out to recapture the fictional creatures before they can do too much harm. The final draft of the screenplay was penned by Darren Lemke (Jack the Giant Slayer) and Mike White (School of Rock).
At first glance, the set-up sounds horribly clichéd – just once, for example, it would be nice for a movie to kick off with a teenager moving to a different town and not sulking about it. The odds on there being a scene showing Zach being picked on by bullies on his first day of school are very high. As to the rest of the plot, it sounds like a vague mish-mash of elements from Jumanji, Night at the Museum, Hocus Pocus, Casper and a dozen or more other fantasy-horror movies aimed at younger audiences.
It’s a shame, considering how many original stories Stine managed to concoct for the extremely large library of Goosebumps books. It might have been better – particularly if Sony has a franchise in mind – to directly adapt some of the better and more fondly-remembered stories from the series. A big-budget adaptation of “Monster Blood”, “Don’t Go to Sleep”, “The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight” or “Night of the Living Dummy” would probably work better than a movie that fit them all in at once.
Perhaps Goosebumps will surprise us all, but for a guaranteed thrill (not to mention a nostalgia buzz) you might be better off sticking with the TV series, which is currently available to watch on Netflix.
Goosebumps is set for release on March 23, 2016.