That annual scarefest of ghouls and goblins is fast approaching, both the holiday and yet another movie named after it, Halloween, a new take on John Carpenter’s 1970s-era chiller. The ‘70s version is too scary for younger children and wimpy adults. But there’s a milder alternative for audiences who want to get into the Halloween spirit: Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween.
The subtitle begs the question, though: Shouldn’t any self-respecting Halloween be haunted?
It’s a sequel to Goosebumps, the 2015 comedy-fantasy riff on Scholastic Publishing’s massively successful young-adult horror paperback series of the 1990s. The heroes of these tongue-in-cheek tales, cranked out by the dozens by author R. L. Stine, were kids, pitted against ghosts and werewolves and aliens and giant bugs and mummies and pretty much any other standard horror or sci-fi menace you could name, most of them derived from the movies.
The 2015 film turned a bunch of these creatures loose on a small town in Delaware; it also brought Stine onscreen as a character, played by Jack Black as a vain but lovable curmudgeon with an imagination so powerful that his creations can literally leap off the page. It was a trifling film, but well-made and enjoyable, with a little more wit than might have been expected.
Goosebumps 2, directed by Ari Sandel and set in a small town in New York, has a Halloween theme. Two scavenging boys inadvertently unleash the power of an unfinished early Stine tale, Haunted Halloween, and the town’s elaborate decorations and treats come to life, from an enormous black-and-purple dragon made of balloons to a bucket of Gummi bears. These creepy creatures are led, once again, by Slappy, the sinister ventriloquist’s dummy come to life.
Some of the resulting sequences are visually striking, though again, none are allowed to tip over into serious terror, and the film should be fun for all but the littlest viewers. The young cast, led by Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris as the boys and Madison Iseman as Taylor’s college-bound older sister, are capable.
But most of the laughs are provided by the adults, especially the always-amusing Wendy McLendon-Covey as the indomitable mom, Chris Parnell as the drug store guy turned into Slappy’s toadying sidekick, and Ken Jeong as the wacky neighbor who really, really likes Halloween.
One of the best features of the first film was the lively music by the great Danny Elfman. The macabre scherzos here are by the British composer Dominic Lewis, and he channels Elfman so well it’s scary.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is rated PG and plays at Harkins Tempe Marketplace, Chandler Fashion Center, Arizona Mills and other multiplexes Valleywide.