Pumpkin-headed scarecrows, giant spiders made of balloons, witches with glowing heads—these are the true stars of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, a frivolous piece of family entertainment that’s more worried about creating cool monsters than it is a captivating story. Which, oddly, ends up working out better than expected.
While technically a sequel to the 2015 hit Goosebumps, Goosebumps 2 requires little knowledge of that film. Directed by Ari Sandel (The Duff), the sequel does bring back a few characters and reference the first film, but for the most part, it stands alone. Here, two friends named Sonny and Sam (played by It’s Jeremy Ray Taylor and Castle Rock’s Caleel Harris) discover a dusty old book. When they open it, they resurrect Slappy, the evil ventriloquist dummy of R.L. Stine’s titular book series as well as the first film. Slappy then uses his magical powers to bring Halloween to life, so Sonny recruits his sister Sarah (Jumanji’s Madison Iseman) to help in the battle against Slappy and his Halloween minions.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is only about 90 minutes long and it takes the vast majority of that to get to the full-blown act of Halloween coming alive. There’s a lot of bare-bones character development done in that time and while it’s not always interesting, it does a serviceable job of setting up payoffs during the finale. And that finale, while slightly rushed in comparison to its set-up, is worth the wait. You get all the monsters mentioned above, plus dozens, maybe hundreds more, and all sorts of weird, wacky interactions with the town. There are monsters and creatures in this film that are in maybe one or two shots, but they look great, and the result is a robust, energetic third act with lots of laughs and scares. Kids will eat it up and adults should find plenty to smile about too.
Speaking of adults, Goosebumps 2 has those as well, and their performances really tie the film together. There’s Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs) as Sonny and Sarah’s mum, Ken Jeong (The Hangover) as their Halloween-obsessed neighbour, and Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live) as a local store clerk. Each of them knows exactly what kind of movie this is, and they provide just the right balance of camp and sincerity to clue everyone in as to what’s going on. The kids and monsters have to be serious otherwise things won’t have stakes, but the adults turn in slightly self-aware performances that help the film toe a very specific tonal line between kids’ adventure story and Saturday morning cartoon.
However, while Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween works by the end, it’s still riddled with problems. It’s true that you don’t need to see the first film to understand the story here, but little attempt is made to explain how Stine’s characters are just appearing out of nowhere (which basically the plot of the first movie). There are lots of unexplained, unmotivated character actions (like a character hiding a book he stole for no reason), continuity mistakes (kids get knocked off their bikes and the bikes disappear), and almost everything story-wise is excessively telegraphed (hmm, I wonder if the Nikola Tesla statues prominently featured in the first 60 seconds will come back?). It’s disappointing compared to the superior original, which felt tighter and more thought out.
And yet, Goosebumps 2 isn’t a film for 40-year-old film critics. It’s for tweens who don’t really care about those kinds of things. They’ll likely love the loosely developed characters, the not-so-scary scares, and the mountains and mountains of dad jokes. Not everything fits together logically, but it does tonally, and ultimately that’s the most important thing.
If you have any desire or curiosity to see Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, you will probably like it. Little is great about it, except for the monsters, but it does what it needs to do well enough for it to be entertaining. It's in cinemas now.