Directed by Rob Letterman.
Starring Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan and Jillian Bell. 103 mins.
Hollywood producers and screenwriters seem to devote inordinate amounts of time to trying to work out how to make films out of things that have no business being made into films; no business other than it being good business making them into films. Any non-fiction novels, newspaper articles, video games, theme park rides, board games that has made heaps of money will have them spitballing ways to crack the narrative.
Slim children's books can be a particular problem. Goosebumps is a series of child horror stories written by E.L. Stine, the Stephen King of kids' literature. There's over a hundred of them, they sell prodigiously but they are all tiny – how to make a film of them? The solution here is to make Stine the protagonist and build a very agreeably homage to 80s Spielberg movies about creepy suburbia round him. A recently widower mother (Ryan) moves from New York to Delaware and her only son (Minette) becomes obsessed with his mysterious neighbour Mr Shivers (Black) and his teenage daughter (Rush.) Shivers turns out to be Stine, and his mysterious secret is that he has a library of his book, where the monster are trapped within the pages.
It sounds hackneyed but the film is full of fun, is genuinely funny and has an agreeable cast. The kids are engaging and Black is great, possibly because he isn't trying to ingratiate himself to the audience. It all makes for a very traditional good time. It harks back to Spielberg but with a touch of Tim Burton. Stine's taste in the macabre doesn't stray too far from favourites of Halloween. There are invisible boys, giant insects, werewolves and talking ventriloquist dummies; you can imagine Abbot and Costello Meeting most of them given time. A little bit originality wouldn't go amiss: the best bits are some Gremlin-esque scenes involve some killer garden gnomes.
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