Karru Marri Odonna Loma Molonu Karrano! Slappy and the scares are back in this review of the new “Goosebumps” movie!

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October 30th, 2015

Los Angeles, California

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R.L. Stine: Welcome back to “Win R.L. Stine’s Money!” I’m here with our final fan contestant Kurt. Congratulations on getting this far, Kurt. But now it’s just you and me. So far you’ve won $1,350 from my latest monthly Goosebumps royalty check. That is yours to keep no matter what happens. But now you have a chance, albeit a small one, to win all $5,000 of my money, which my co-host Jimmy Kimmel has in his pocket. All you have to do is beat me in what we call the “Best of Ten, Test of Goosebumps knowledge.” Can you please explain the rules to our home audience, Jimmy?”

Jimmy Kimmel: If I do, can you please write “The Tommyknockers 2?” The original was my favorite.

R.L. Stine: Jimmy, we’ve been over this. You are too old to have read Goosebumps. You’re thinking of Stephen King.

Jimmy Kimmel: Stephen King? Oh, that’s right! Duh! Only in America! Heh-heh! Rumble in the jungle! Heh-heh! Right?

R.L. Stine: …..

Jimmy Kimmel: …..

R.L. Stine: Why are you here? Why are we doing this show?

Jimmy Kimmel: Anyway, here are the rules. I’m going to ask R.L. and Kurt the same ten questions. Kurt, if you answer more questions correctly than R.L. does, you win his $5,000. Would you like to go first or second?

Kurt: I’ll let R.L. go first, because the best should always be saved for last!

Jimmy Kimmel: That’s the spirit! To the soundproof booths, gentlemen! That’s your booth over there, Kurt. Step inside and we’ll see you in a few minutes. Okay R.L., it’s time to see how much of your own work you can remember. You have sixty seconds to answer ten questions. Are you ready?

R.L. Stine: No need for preparation. Just ask away.

Jimmy Kimmel: Okay, let’s begin. What was the name of the piano instructor in “Piano Lessons Can Be Murder?”

R.L. Stine: Dr. Pepper.

Jimmy Kimmel: No, that’s incorrect.

R.L. Stine: Wait, dammit, no, I was talking to room service!

Jimmy Kimmel: What room of the house was Margaret and Casey Brewer warned to stay away from?

R.L. Stine: A bathroom?

Jimmy: No.

R.L. Stine: Yes, really, there’s a bathroom in here. I wasn’t expecting that either, but hey, I’ll take any perk.

Jimmy Kimmel: In “Let’s Get Invisible,” what object made the children invisible?

R.L. Stine: A sink! A mirror too!

Jimmy Kimmel: No, sorry, we can only accept your first answer. In “Say Cheese and Die,” what do all the pictures show?

R.L. Stine: Um…Nothing. None of my books have pictures in them.

Jimmy Kimmel: Wrong again. Come on, R.L.! Get it together. In “Deep Trouble,” what is everyone looking for?

R.L. Stine: Um…a way…out of…trouble?

Jimmy Kimmel: No! A mermaid! What question are the characters in “One Day at Horrorland?” trying to answer?

R.L. Stine: Could you repeat the question?

Jimmy Kimmel: No. What is the Horrorland attraction that makes you slide forever?

R.L. Stine: I don’t know, but I’m sliding into insanity right about now.

Jimmy Kimmel: On a scale from 1 to 100, how superstitious was the character Stanley in “The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight?”

R.L. Stine: 100?

Jimmy Kimmel: No, 200. Who are the main characters in “A Night In Terror Tower?”

R.L. Stine: You know what? I don’t even care anymore.

Jimmy Kimmel: Who is Skipper Matthews’ favorite comic book villain?

R.L. Stine: The entire cast of Creepshow.

Jimmy Kimmel: No. Wow R.L., you totally suck at this. Zero out of ten questions right.

R.L. Stine: I DON’T SUCK! YOU SUCK AT ASKING QUESTIONS!

Jimmy Kimmel: Let’s see if Kurt can beat zero.

R.L. Stine: Don’t bother. Let him have the five grand. I have plenty more five grand where that came from. I don’t need any of this. Jesus, I knew I should have called GSN back instead. Goddammit, I miss the 90s! *walks off the stage*

Jimmy Kimmel: Does this mean you won’t be appearing on my show tomorrow?

R.L. Stine: F**k you!

Jimmy Kimmel: And with that, we are out of time. Thanks for joining us and tune in next time for some filler programming because we’ve just been cancelled.

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“R.L. Stine’s Money” is the prize budget furnished by the Producer. R.L. Stine keeps the money in the prize budget not won by the contestants at the end of each production period. If during the production period the contestants’ winnings exceed the prize budget, the Producer pays the overage. If during the production period R.L. Stine completely flips out and quits the show, the Producer gets first dibs on his rental Corvette.

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Goosebumps

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Although Goosebumps author R.L. Stine was a hero to millions of kids who remember the days of ordering from the Scholastic Book Club, the first glimpses of Stine the movie character (played by Jack Black) hints that he might be a villain here. The new high-school-age neighbor in town: Zach, (Dylan Minnette) has eyes for Stine’s daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), whom the eccentric-behaving author badgers to stay behind his closed doors. Upon witnessing an incident that seems like domestic violence, Zach calls the cops on Stine, only for the tables to be turned back the other way. The “screaming”, Stine explains, was merely his home theater sound system doing its job too well. The incompetent police take the author at his word without bothering to search the house or question Hannah. Then they lecture Zach on how irresponsible it is to make false emergency calls. Stine then gives Zach a knowing “Don’t mess with me” glance that spells one thing: The young hero is on his own. No adults to count on for help.

If you’ve read more than a few Goosebumps books, that scene should sound at least vaguely familiar. It’s more than a plot device. It’s a reference to the real Stine’s genius for understanding what really scares young kids. I’ll spell it out here for argument’s sake. It’s not monsters or ghosts or the dark. It’s the realization of being in an awkward or perilous situation without any person in power to save you, because the people in power don’t believe there’s any danger at all. When the parental guardianship children take for granted is removed, so does the optimism for a young protagonist’s survival. That sinks the conflict into something of true horror.

Through the fault of his own fateful curiosity, Zach learns in the worst way that Stine is not the one he should be afraid of. While breaking into the author’s house to check on Hannah’s condition, he spots a bookshelf full of manuscripts with familiar titles. “The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena.” “The Werewolf of Fever Swamp.” “The Haunted Mask.” “Go Eat Worms!” I’m namedropping them as the movie does out of amusement for the script’s recognition that a simple mention of any original series Goosebumps book is enough to awake old excitement that was previously locked inside with childhood. (I’m still haunted by the trust issues that the twist ending of “The Girl Who Cried Monster” gave me at age 11.) It’s at this moment Zach discovers Stine’s identity, as well as the ever so surprising fact that Stine hadn’t passed away the moment Zach exited puberty.

Having apparently not watched any horror movie in his life, Zach unlocks one of the manuscripts and starts a chain of events that result to a sort of literary Ark Of The Covenant. As Stine later explains, every villainous character and monster written for the book series eventually became part of the real world. Only by making them real and then holding them captive made them powerful enough to help Stine overrule the personal demons that motivated him to write those series of books in the first place. Scaring kids around the world was the secondary goal behind scaring away his personal tormentors. But now that they’re all on the loose, the new goal is to put them back into their literary place before the monsters (led by Slappy of “Night of the Living Dummy” fame) turn the town into dust.

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“Goosebumps” is a charming “by the fans, for the fans” experience that amounts to being a slice of nostalgia that doesn’t aim to be anything higher. On its own feet, the movie is comparable to Nickelodeon made-for-TV fare. Viewed in the necessary context, it’s a work of love; not unlike a group of kids-turned-adults giving something back to the person who inspired them.

The movie’s “all in” mentality doesn’t end with the villains. Pretty much every Goosebumps trope is referenced here. Zach has a comical but dull sidekick that I prefer to believe was purposefully written that way so that we’re half-expecting a twist revealing him to be another villain, because that would have been the only way at that point to make him interesting. The other human sidekick is revealed to be not quite human. There are false scares prevalent in the earlier scenes just as they were in the earlier book chapters. And of course, a final cliffhanger awaits at the very end. I could almost feel the familiar small pages of paper rubbed against my hands as the scenes changed. Instinctively, I panicked at trying to remember if I finished the homework that’s due on Monday.

It’s a hoot watching Jack Black portraying the new deranged persona of R.L. Stine. This movie character version is mean, devious, sarcastic, arrogant, ignorant, and often has trouble prioritizing. I’m assured that the person who finds the most amusement in that outrageous caricature is none other than the real R.L. Stine, because as Jesse Moak and I discovered for ourselves,  he is actually a very kind and down-to-earth person. Black plays Stine up to be more like the insane uncle many of us 90s kids pictured before we first saw his face in the television series. After all, what other kind of guy could be crazy enough to write a story about evil garden ornaments?

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Somewhere into its chase for closure, the movie gets stuck into never-ending chase mode where the heroes do little than move from one place to the next, running from one monster to the next. Around this time, the movie also runs out of things for Slappy and the monsters to do with their remaining screen time leading up to the inevitable climactic showdown. The flat bridge between the second and third acts is likely to hurt its accessibility for crowds outside the core, not that there was much interest for that from the start. “Goosebumps” knows who it’s aiming to please, and if I’m typical enough of the generation who cried at the loss of Tamagotchis pets, the bullseye has been hit.

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Score Board:

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Demented ventriloquist dummies: 1

Werewolves: 1

Really scary invisible kids: 1

Dumb police officers: 2

12-foot scarecrows: 3

Pesty garden gnomes: 35

Books in the original Goosebumps series: 62

Books in the Goosebumps Horrorland series: 25

Books in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series: 50

Books in the Give The Other Guy Goosebumps series: 38

Books in the Goosebumps “Where Are My Pants?” series: 19

Books in the New Testament Goosebumps: 27

Books in the Really Really Long Goosebumps story series: 1 (no others have been finished yet)

Books in the How To Make America Great Again Via Goosebumps series: 32

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Overall: 7 (out of 10)

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goosebumps poster

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