The first Goosebumps was far more ambitious than it needed to be, throwing in a career’s worth of R.L. Stine’s characters into one bursting film, and even made Stine (played by Jack Black) part of the story. Goosebumps was essentially “The Monster Mash” meets Adaptation. With director Ari Sandel (The Duff, Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show) taking the reins of this franchise in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, the series becomes less about making the spooky creations of Stine come to life, and more about just making a Disney Channel-level Halloween film with some name brand recognition.
In the first film, Stine’s Goosebumps manuscripts each held the book’s monster for safekeeping. With Stine’s most famous character, the ventriloquist doll Slappy (also voiced by Black), let loose in our world, the dummy set free all of Stine’s creations to create mayhem. In Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, two friends Sonny (Jeremy Rae Taylor of 2017’s It) and Sam (Caleel Harris) discover a chest that holds the beginnings of Stine’s first book. When they open it, Slappy finds their way back into reality.
In this unfinished Stine book, Slappy searches for a family to call his own, and when he fails, turns the town into a Halloween nightmare, where the creatures of the night becomes reality. When Sam, Sonny, and Sonny’s sister Sarah (Madison Iseman) try to get rid of Slappy, the dummy does just that. Apparently, Slappy now has the power to bring inanimate objects to life, and thankfully, the local convenience store has an entire Goosebumps-themed Halloween aisle. With Slappy taking over the entire town of Wardenclyffe, New York, monsters come to life, Trick-or-Treat bags bite at their owners and Jack-o’-Lanterns breathe fire at passersby.
Oddly, Goosebumps 2 is relatively light on the Stine creations. Besides Slappy, Stine’s characters make quick cameos, but are mostly just there for nostalgic recognition. Instead, the villains at the forefront are either generic witches and skeletons, or are bewitched everyday objects. The standout sequence in Goosebumps 2 comes when Sonny and Sam are attacked by a mob of gummy bears, who form into gigantic, vengeful bears. Still, considering the Goosebumps book series is comprised of unique creatures to draw from, it’s strange that Goosebumps 2 doesn’t employ the brand a bit more.
Goosebumps 2, despite clearly trying to play up the youth-centered horror of Stranger Things and It, doesn’t do its kid characters any justice. The kids of Goosebumps 2 pretty much exist to unleash the horror, then run away from the horror they’ve created. Thankfully like the first film, Goosebumps 2 is stacked with a solid cast of comedic actors. Chris Parnell and Ken Jeong are welcome additions, but the film’s only real laugh-out-loud moments come from Wendi McLendon-Covey, who plays Kathy Quinn, Sonny and Sarah’s mother. While McLendon-Covey usually plays the stern, tough character, here she’s more vulnerable and awkward in very charming and humorous ways. Watching her flirt with Parnell as she purchases adult diapers is strange and sweet in a way that this disappointingly isn’t.
Sandel, along with writer Rob Lieber (Peter Rabbit) make Goosebumps 2 more of a “Halloween gone wild!” film, missing the blend of kiddie horror and genuine humor that made the first film – and the books themselves – a joy. Goosebumps 2 half-asses much of its ideas, from the use of the creatures, integrating Stine into the story a second time, and especially a strange interest in former Wardenclyffe resident Nikola Tesla. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween doesn’t know how to utilize the brand and its strengths and ends up feeling more like a trick than a treat.