What happened to making sure children are properly scared? Reminding them that under the bed, in the closet, lurking in the shadows or even in their dreams there are ghouls, ghosts, goblins and monsters waiting to get at them? In this day and age, where everything is triple-child-proofed and kids’ feelings are never expected to dip below a harmonic line of perfect happiness, such questions may seem ludicrous – or worse, worthy of trending Twitter shaming. However, for those of us who grew up in the ’90s and early ’00s, childhoods filled with fright were a part of the norm – not to mention, a whole lot of fun. And there was one name in children’s horror that stood high above the rest: R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps.
It began as a series of just 62 books released in the early 1990s, before exploding into a worldwide phenomenon of spinoff books, a popular TV series, videos games, and so many other forms of merchandise. This year, just in time for Halloween, Goosebumps the movie will be hitting theaters, and we got to go behind the scenes to talk to star Jack Black, who plays both a fictionalized version of Goosebumps creator and author R.L. Stine, as well as voicing the villain of the film, Goosebumps icon Slappy the Dummy.
Synopsis: After moving into a small town, a teenage boy named Zach Cooper (Lost’s Dylan Minnette) meets Hannah (The Giver star Odeya Rush), his new neighbor. Hannah’s father R. L. Stine (Jack Black), who writes the Goosebumps stories, keeps all the ghosts and monsters in the series locked up in his manuscripts. Zach unintentionally releases the ghouls and the monsters from the manuscripts. Now Zach, Hannah, Zach’s newfound buddy Champ (Super 8‘s Ryan Lee) and R.L. Stine must team up in order to put the monsters back where they came from, before it’s too late.
During summer 2014, Screen Rant was included in a roundup of journalists who went down to the set of Goosebumps at East Mountain Studios on the outskirts of Atalanta, Georgia. We arrived on a day of filming that wasn’t the most dynamic or exciting – just a couple of early scenes taking place inside of the house of R.L. Stine, played in the movie by actor/comedian/musician, Jack Black.
However, the real story wasn’t what Black and his trio of young co-stars (Minnette, Lee and Rush) were doing – it was the monster factory being run by a massive crew of F/X and makeup artists, which included Monsters vs. Aliens director Rob Letterman, the team at Creature FX Inc. (Guardians of the Galaxy), Oscar-nominated costume designer Judianna Makovsky and hair stylist Adruitha Lee, who recently won an Oscar for turning bargain-bin budget constraints into the ravaged and heartbreaking look of AIDS affliction in Dallas Buyers Club.
Walking into East Mountain Studios was truly like being transported into a collective braintrust of Stine’s Goosebumps books – all of them at once, as it were. Our lunch with the crew put it all in perspective: Ghouls and vampires sat eating next to an executioner, a freaky Clown and mad doctors (of both the medical and voodoo varieties), while two raptor-faced “Creeps” in hoodies lurked about doing screen tests. All the while, a massive, moss-covered and stilt-loaded body suit for Stine’s famous Bog Monster loomed over us whenever we happened to pass, as if it could come to life any second and snatch us up. Needless to say, it was a unique set to be on – one that could rival most horror movie productions.
The rest of the day was spent seeing the monsters in motion, walking through a big woodland set piece converted into an abandoned amusement park, and interviewing the cast. We also got to comb over the concept art and designs for creatures that would be created through digital artistry, such as a massive praying mantis monster, The Abominable Snow Man of Pasadena, and the Goosebumps version of The Wolf Man, in his signature high school athletic gear. As producer (and long-time shepherd of the Goosebumps brand) Deborah Forte explained, they were going all-out to create the world of Goosebumps in perfect accord with Stine’s books – down to the centerpiece of the monster parade: Slappy the Dummy, the iconic big bad schemer behind all of Stine’s monsters running amok in the film.
The movie version of Slappy was created with immaculate care, using a standard articulated ventriloquist puppet, with the signature face carved out using a 3D printer and some artificial wear ‘n tear effects (scuff marks, etc.) to match what is no doubt the most iconic face of the Goosebumps franchise. But creating the look of Slappy was just one part of the equation; a nationwide ventriloquist search was done to find the best puppeteer to animate Slappy and create his voice, resulting in actor Avery L. Jones landing the gig. Jones’ actually showed up on set to bring Slappy to life for us, and the results were impressive (read: freaky). The puppet in every way embodies the creep factor of the Goosebumps books and TV versions of Slappy, and the voice Jones had created was equally unnerving – perhaps too much so.
Goosebumps star Jack Black had the following to say about the process of bringing Slappy to life:
Can you talk to us about voicing Slappy?
Jack Black: I haven’t started yet [at the time of interview] because…I mean we’ve had scenes with Slappy. We’ve got this amazing ventriloquist who has been controlling the puppet. It’s not called a puppet.
Jack Black: He’s not a marionette either. He’s just a dummy. Did you meet Avery?
Jack Black: It’s eerie. He’s too good at it. I think they did one of those nationwide searches of ventriloquist dummy professionals. This guy just sort of came out of the woodwork and he was blowing everybody out of the water. He was by far the best.
Have you done any scenes with him?
Jack Black: Yeah. It’s creepy. And also, I was a little nervous because he was so captivating and magnetic that I was like, “He’s upstaging me. He’s too good at this puppet.” And his voice is so awesome. I’m just going to be trying to beat what he does. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being his voice. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to top his performance, to be honest with you. We’ll see what happens in the ADR stage.
In the finished film, it is indeed Jack Black’s voice that is used for Slappy – for narrative reasons that actually do make more sense than having two voices (Slappy being a persona of Stine’s creation and all…). Still, for those of us on set, Avery L. Jones’ Slappy still gave us actual goose-bumps, which was just one of many scary things that apparently had to be softened, in order to make Goosebumps fit for its intended child audience.
Goosebumps will be in theaters on October 16th, 2015.