Just when you thought Venom was the only property Sony would milk that’s not owned by Disney, out pops Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. The first film was a satisfying cinematic take on an anthology book series. A pleasant surprise for someone who found the covers scarier than the actual tales. Looking back the series is much more akin to Scooby Doo where the intention is to be creative with a touch of horror. But what more can be done in a sequel? Especially after that pre-credit sting with the invisible boy?
In a completely different town with new characters, Slappy (Jack Black impersonator Mick Wingert) comes back to life to wreck havoc on all Hallows eve with his newly formed family. And that’s where the differences end because from then on it’s a lesser repeat of everything from the first movie. The gummy bear attack? It’s the gnome scene but with less money. The monsters that could only be freed from the books? Resurrected without any explanation like a rabbit from a top hat. Writing and effects wise, this feels like an extended special of the 90’s television series even if the production completely outweighs every episode thanks to letting time mold new inventive ways to conjure the imagination to reality. It’s not like the digital effects in the first movie have James Cameron’s seal of approval, but the creative scenarios made every monster encounter a treat. And because the franchise is an anthology series, focusing on only one character, even if he’s the mascot, shrinks the scale smaller than Ant-Man. There’s few new book references and the returning creatures hardly do anything except sell the product with very little effort. At the very least the neighborhood with its pumpkins and giant spider balloon keep the holiday atmosphere alive and away from the life support room.
The kid actors work well with what they have and aren’t nearly as annoying as the sidekicks from last time, but they can only make so much of this story work to a point when everything runs on autopilot. Even Jack Black is wasted with only a few sadly short lived chuckles. The ending of all places is where the story should’ve started where (SPOILER ALERT!!!) the plot takes an inverted detour as Slappy traps his own creator in a book he wrote himself. Who knows if that cliffhanger is just another twist joke like before, but from a movie perspective it’s the most logical direction to take this assumed trilogy in a couple of years.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is a lame-duck sequel in production, character and story. The holiday atmosphere is alive with the neighborhood spawning the most memorable moments. Other than that, everything about this has the vibe of Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network or anything that’s not a giant multiplex given how little was added to the continuation. Again, it’s not one of the worst of the year, but for something that was able to hook both fans and newcomers, it’s disappointing to see this reduced to an extended episode of the tv series. It’s harmless for kids and families, but for everyone else who wants a different Halloween outing read the books, watch the first movie, watch the show or seek out The House With A Clock in its Walls. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when an exploitation director has to work with a family friendly script.