Netflix Horror Spotlight brings you Wicked Horror’s top picks for what to watch on Netflix, whether it’s the latest indie darling, a classic masterpiece or a silly slasher that deserves a bit more attention. In this edition, Joey Keogh argues why the live action Goosebumps adaptation is a winner – whatever your age.
Those complaining about the dearth of decent, new horror releases should spare a thought for younger, soon-to-be genre fanatics. It’s been years since the last great kids’ horror movie and even that particular flick (Joe Dante’s near-terrifying The Hole) hasn’t had quite the desired impact. Animation provides fun little time-wasters such as Paranorman, which nods to adults and kids alike, but live action has been distinctly lacking in the wake of classics like Hocus Pocus and Gremlins (is Krampus kids’ horror? Discuss).
It seems as though today’s filmmakers either don’t want to believe that kids like to be scared, or they simply don’t care, even in spite of the massive, earth-shattering success of novels like Skullduggery Pleasant, which feed off this very idea to the tune of millions. Back in the day, we had two, equally spooky TV series vying for our attention, the nightmare-inducing Are You Afraid Of The Dark? and the thrillingly delightful Goosebumps, which took a different story from R.L. Stine’s back catalogue each week and dedicated an episode to it.
That last year’s movie adaptation, also entitled Goosebumps, was as faithful to the source material – both in tone and visual presentation – wasn’t the only shock of that long-rumoured release. The other major thing to note, and this is mainly for those in their twenties and above, who vividly recall drooling over the books and TV series is that it’s a really bloody good kids’ horror movie in its own right.
Of the three leads (four, including Black), newcomer Dylan Minnette is a stand-out. An alumnus of Stine’s The Haunting Hour TV series, along with fellow cast-member Ryan Lee, Minnett’s Zach is something entirely different from the usual teenage heartthrob, thanks to the young actor’s innate gift for comic timing. When we first meet Zach, he’s bantering casually with his mother before graciously accepting a terrible gift from his flighty aunt (a hilarious Jillian Bell). Immediately, Minnette has us hooked with a mixture of easy charm and deadpan sarcasm.
Offsetting this is cute neighbour, and daughter to Stine, Hannah (Odeya Rush) who has his number pretty much immediately. It’s through her that Zach learns of the reclusive author and his library of dangerous books, the story unravelling in much the same way your typical Goosebumps tome would. The decision to include as many classic tales as possible is ingenious, because it allows the kids to mess up and subsequently save the day, with the aid of Stine, without feeling as though we’re hitting the same old story beats the whole time.
The mixture of scares and laughs is Goosebumps’ ace card. Frequently frightening, the action moving beyond what the BBFC would term as ‘mild peril’ into full-on peril, and consistently laugh-out-loud funny the flick is loaded with quotable lines (“Let me tell you something about Steve King”, “You’re touching me”), most of them Stine’s. His intro, bulbous head popping through the curtains, is scored by a twinkle of piano keys that are replayed for each subsequent, spooky appearance.
Black, his familiar features hidden beneath giant black specs and slicked-back hair, his springy frame weighted down by a heavy cardigan, inhabits the character of Stine. His mannerisms, speech intonations, the way he stands – every little detail has been thought out so the audience simultaneously worships and fears him. Prior to the age of social media, every kid reading Goosebumps surely imagined what the man behind the stories was like, and Black’s personification of him is perfect.
Of course, none of this matters if the monsters the kids unleash aren’t scary. The books and, by extension the TV series, may be a bit goofy but they’re first and foremost horror. Thankfully, although the flick struggles in its representation of classic creatures such as zombies and werewolves, it shines in its depiction of more outlandish characters including the Abominable snowman, expertly-rendered in top-notch CGI, a levitating poodle, freeze ray armed alien beings and, in a sequence that cleverly nods to Gremlins, a whole bunch of homicidal gnomes.
Goosebumps‘ MVP, however, is possessed ventriloquist dummy Slappy, also voiced by Black (a wise decision, given his vocal talents). Super-creepy and practically rendered by an on-set puppeteer, he’s the stuff of nightmares and a brilliant foil for brave young Zach and the tortured Stine, also his creator. He may be, effectively, defeated by the end but one cannot help wishing that Slappy’s Revenge, the book referenced in the movie, comes to fruition in the mooted sequel.
There’s so much to love about this movie; from those first, spooky notes and that classic tracking shot, it feels unmistakably like Goosebumps and that feeling of familiarity just grows the further we step into this world. From the smart alec kid to the nowhere town, to those few hints of Stine’s sad, but still magical, back-story, the terrific character development (so rare in a film of this nature), expertly-judged moments of humour – not too adult, not too immature – this is a kids’ horror movie that will surely soon be up there with Hocus Pocus, Gremlins, et al.
Goosebumps is the kind of movie where even more fun comes via endless re-watches, to catch every little nod, joke and everything else wonderful on offer.
Catch Goosebumps on Netflix from May 11th, 2016