The 2015 Goosebumps – we can’t say the first Goosebumps movie, because the R.L. Stine franchise has had a dizzying multitude of spinoffs and variants, including the feature-length The Werewolf of Fever Swamp – didn’t adapt any particular title, but was a metafiction that made it a child’s introductory version of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. This brisk follow-up unleashes a similar tsunami of monsters from Stine’s back catalogue (I presume long-term readers will be able to namecheck the beasts and their origin texts) in a climax that finds the evil ventriloquist’s doll Slappy (voiced by Mick Wingert, channelling John Kassir as the Crypt Keeper) using Nicola Tesla’s old electric plant and some wish-powered magic ‘to bring Halloween to life’. This leads to a reprise of the earlier film’s Joe Dante-inspired chaos as creatures run riot in a small town but stop short of actually hurting anyone. However, the set-up sticks to the dummy story and – with Jack Black’s Stine cut back to a cameo (was he too busy on the bumpsalike House with a Clock in Its Walls?) – plays out more like an average regular Goosebumps story.
Teenager Sarah (Madison Iseman) is struggling to write her application for a creative writing course at Columbia and has to look after her clumsy science geek little brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor), who has been coerced into forming a junk business with his best friend Sammy (Caleel Harris). The usual teen problems are ticked off – overworked single mom (Wendi McLendon-Covey), feckless boyfriend (Bryce Cass), sneery bully (Peyton Wich) – before Sonny and Sammy, whose single entendre slogan is ‘let us grab your junk’, get a gig clearing out a spooky old house that used to belong to Stine, and where they find a secret chamber (a lot like the one in The House With a Clock in Its Walls) containing the unfinished manuscript of Stine’s aborted first novel Haunted Halloween (in the mythology of the films, unlocking the book frees its monster into the real world) and bring home Slappy, who is a creepy mix of Cowboy Woody and the dummy from Dead Silence. Slappy comes alive when only the main characters are watching and sets out to ingratiate himself with them by playing mean pranks on folk they’re ticked off with – though the film isn’t dark enough, as Stine’s books are, to suggest that even good kids might be willing to go along with this so long as bullies get pantsed and a smarmy boyfriend falls off a ladder … the trio are aghast and try to get rid of the dummy, which keeps coming back.
Eventually, the plot runs out and the film turns into a festival of spot gag mayhem (a sequence involving animate Gummi bears is a standout) that’s an enjoyable if predictable watch. A production line sort of holiday special, it has Easter Egg nods to Sony film properties Spider-Man and Ghostbusters – and a nice dig at Stine’s notional rival Stephen King in a cameo from the It balloon. With Black mostly off duty, Ken Jeong fills in the childish adult stereotype as the neighbour who goes overboard on Halloween decorations. Written by Rob Lieber (Peter Rabbit) from a story he devised with Darren Lemke (who wrote the first film), heavily relying on Stine’s Night of the Living Dummy books. Directed by Ari Sandel (The Duff).