When best friends Sonny and Sam stumble upon a dusty old book (that happens to have evil, magical powers) while cleaning out an abandoned mansion, they unwittingly unleash terror on their tiny town. Soon they’re caught in a race against time to ensure life doesn’t become Halloween on a full-time basis!
Enterprising teenagers Sonny Quinn (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam Carter (Caleel Harris) are not only attempting to excel in school, they also have a junk resale business on the side to earn extra cash. One crisp, autumn day they’re hired to clean out a dilapidated home (it is never made clear who hired them), a job Sam eagerly takes on at no charge in exchange for being allowed to keep any treasures he may find. Sonny is mired in homework – busy creating a wild model of the Tesla tower that hovers over their city – but reluctantly agrees to go along. The task is overwhelming, and their haul looks to be disappointing, until they find a secret hiding place that houses a long-forgotten novel. The boys are nonplussed – it doesn’t seem like much, until a dummy suddenly appears who is willing to grant them wishes in exchange for friendship. Instead of running like hell – is there anything creepier than a doll? – Sonny and Sam invite the doll into Sonny’s home, where the real fun begins.
Fans of the first Goosebumps film (the surprise hit based on the extensive series of books by R.L. Stine) know the ventriloquist doll is none other than Slappy – and that Slappy is seriously an asshole. Though he was vanquished in the initial big screen installment, he is the first of the ghoulish creations to appear in this follow-up; and, as that nutty narcissist would prefer, Slappy also gets most of the screen-time as well. Slappy works on endearing himself to the duo, but things turn dark quickly when he decides he also needs to win over Sonny’s sister, Sarah Quinn (Madison Iseman). Sarah is less enamored with having a creepy talking marionette control her world (I’m with you, girl) and rejects Slappy. This begins a spiral of revenge, with Slappy vowing to create his own family by bringing Halloween and all its accoutrements to life.
Goosebumps 2 eschews most of the cast from the original movie, which was built heavily around Jack Black as the fictionalized version of author R.L. Stine, as well as Stine’s daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), and neighbor/Hannah’s love interest Zach (Dylan Minnette). Hannah and Zach are not referenced in the sequel, and Black only makes the most cursory of appearances as Stine. (Also, of note: Jack was the voice of Slappy last time, while Mick Wingert takes over those duties this round.)
And this is where myself and the majority of critics divide, as I did not mind the absence of the great Jack Black. As much as I appreciate his comedic timing, I don’t believe Goosebumps 2 suffered without him. Black’s take on R.L. Stine is obviously nothing like the real-life author, who doesn’t share Black’s adopted (and frankly distracting) accent. Furthermore, the first film pivoted around Black (who can chew up a lot of scenery), whereas the sequel is free to go all in with the Halloween theme, making that the star. It’s also hard not to factor in the most likely reason for Jack’s absence, which all but screams, “Failed contract negotiation!” I’m not here to say that people shouldn’t get compensated for their work, but I’m having a hard time swallowing the plight of the white male multi-millionaire right now.
Another benefit of a fresh cast was the shift in focus from the teen romance between Hannah and Zach to the classic trio of big sister/little brother/awesome sidekick model. Less Twilight and more Stranger Things, please! Sure, it’s following a trend, but it felt appropriate for this plot; it played believably and well.
More on the casting, with props going to whomever had the foresight to add Wendi McLendon-Covey (as Kathy Quinn, Sonny and Sarah’s mom) and Chris Parnell (bumbling pharmacist Walter) as star-crossed crushes. These two made flirting over adult diapers hilariously appealing, and that is no small feat. The teen leads were also enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, one of the other distractions was Ken Jeong as eccentric neighbor Mr. Chu. He was obviously a frivolous plot device – he doesn’t really seem to know why he’s in the film, and neither do we. He gave it his all, but it was hard to swallow seeing him relegated to another jokey stereotype after the success of Crazy Rich Asians. (Again, I’m not blaming anyone for picking up a paycheck, and he definitely did the most with what he was given.)
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the special effects, which were spot-on. I have to admit that I missed seeing more of the monsters from the first film – but the focus on the creepiness of Slappy allows the plot a slow growth that’s reminiscent of a more adult level of horror. It was a welcome change of pace; and surprising as well, given the young demographic it’s aimed at. I legit got chills at one point – something I definitely wasn’t expecting, and it was worth the wait when the myriad of monsters finally got to go on their rampage.
Anyone with kids will likely have a happy bunch on their hands, as the thrills and chills should match their expectations. Adults may appreciate this less but will hopefully still have a good time overall. If anything, sit back and appreciate the effects combined with the Stranger Things vibe and be glad the scares are momentarily contained to the screen.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: if you’re thrilled for R.L. Stine. Anything that highlights books and potentially propels children to read gets a big thumbs up from me!
Take a Drink: every time you’re blown away by the special effects. The balloon spider is my new personal fave.
Take a Drink: every time you spot a character from another franchise including Ghostbusters, Spiderman, and IT.
Take a Drink: every time you wonder if Sam’s father ever shows back up to claim him. He barely comes to a rolling stop before dropping his kid off for a week at Quinn household and is never seen or heard from again.
Do a Shot: for the hilarious R.L. Stine/Stephen King rivalry.
No need to linger through the credits, but rest assured there is a setup for a third flick, assuming the studio reaps enough profit from this sequel and/or makes up with Jack Black.