Viewer Beware, You’re in for Some Flair
It’s that time of year again – when darkness falls across the land, and grizzly ghouls from every tomb are closing in to seal your doom… yes! It’s February 5th! Mwahahaha… wait, what?
It’s ridiculous we got Goosebumps four months later than our American cousins (and my review about four months after that), but now we too can enjoy such horror classics as… garden gnomes? Albino…monkeys? And finally, an actual monster – a murderous werewolf! Wearing… perfectly intact board shorts? I mean come on, look at this guy. He looks like he’s on… howliday.
I get this is supposed to be PG-13 scary and all, but it’s an astonishingly good effort. The werewolf and yeti are obviously computer animated, but they still have interesting designs, and when was the last time you saw a werewolf wearing Converses? Slappy the ventriloquist dummy on the other hand is a particular highlight, an actual, physical prop voiced by Jack Black (who also plays Goosebumps author R.L. Stine) and who is creepy as all hell. Between this, Annabelle and The Boy it looks like deadly dolls and dummies are making the most unwelcome comeback this side of Freddy Krueger, and that makes me happy. And reminds me to take a spare pair of brown trousers when I go to see The Boy, but I digress.
The use of computer animation when your villains include a giant insect and a yeti so good I almost forgot this appearance in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is to be expected, but when Slappy was done so well it would have been nice to see some other practical effects, or rather better practical effects that weren’t just ‘man dressed as clown’. Or, while we’re at it, some decent 3D that’s effective on something other than the credits.
All that aside, the constant monster assaults and fast pace are refreshing. There’s no slowing down (okay, not much) for a chat, and if they do it’s soon interrupted by a building-sized bug or a cackling dummy. Which is lucky, as Goosebumps has some weird obsession with giving every character and his/her dog a love interest of some kind. I count at least four, possibly five single characters who have paired up by the closing credits, and you thought Shaun of the Dead called itself the romcom with monsters. Why stop there? Did the werewolf get a mate? The invisible boy? We can’t even tell! Slappy?
Whilst there are some great inversions of tired horror tropes (God I sound like such a snob), such as the visit to a theme park that doesn’t involve a visit to a haunted house, in the next breath it’s wheeling out hackneyed ideas like the Disappeared Dad cliche, which would almost be a spoiler if it wasn’t so unnecessary to the story. Well, besides a few lines near the end the protagonist could have come up with anyway without resorting to Movie Cliches for Dummies. No, not that dummy, and yes, I’m criticising the plot of a kids movie. Deal with it.
The sequel stinger (sigh) doesn’t make sense, considering the ending. The twist at the end regarding one character’s love interest, however, is painfully obvious. And never mind Slappy, the creepiest thing in the movie is the Pee-wee Herman-lookalike nerd sidekick (how original!) who also happens to be – guess what – incredibly annoying.
It’s a real shame, because most of the film is surprisingly funny, even for heartless, pessimistic adults like me. Funnier than many adult films in fact. Normally when you watch a kid’s film, there’s always a catch. That was really exciting… for a kid’s film. That was really funny… for a film about talking birds. But I’m a fully grown adult (supposedly), and I can genuinely recommend this movie on its own merits. And it’s a good adaption of an existing property to boot. Now that is a rare thing. Almost enough to give you goosebumps.