‘Goosebumps’ is a hauntingly good time

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Goosebumps (2015)

Directed by Rob Letterman

Every “Goosebumps” book has to have twists and turns, frights, and some personal growth for its hero, according to R.L. Stine (played with ruthless adoration by Jack Black). By that measure, the much-anticipated movie adaptation is more than deserving to bear the name of the series of horror novels that preceded it.

L-r, Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Ryan Lee and Odeya Rush star in Columbia Pictures' "Goosebumps."

In the quiet town of Madison, Delaware, assistant principal Gale (Amy Ryan) and her charismatic son Zach (Dylan Minette) unsuspectingly move next door to the reclusive but legendary author R.L. Stine (Black) and his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush). The crotchety Stine makes it clear that he doesn’t want Zach to bother them, but when Zach hears screams coming from next door, he disregards the rule. What he and his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) discover is more than troubling. A collection of “Goosebumps” manuscripts that, when opened, unleash Stine’s greatest monsters. Of course, on the night of the school dance, the books will be opened and the small town will rely on Zach, Champ, Hannah, and Stine to save the night.

Slappy in Columbia Pictures' "Goosebumps," starring Jack Black.

If you’ve ever watched an interview of R.L. Stine, you’ll discover that he’s rather lifeless. To give an honest portrayal, Black would have bored us all to sleep. Instead, the actor who got his early start at Crossroads School in Santa Monica (with alums like Jonah Hill and Gwyneth Paltrow) instilled Stine with humor and pomp. He’s frighteningly good. His younger costars are just as talented. Lee’s résumé includes J.J. Abrams’ acclaimed “Super 8,” which showcased his talent for humor and horror. Smaller turns from Jillian Bell and Timothy Simons are more than funny, they’re hilarious. But, of course, the real stars are the monsters themselves. Slappy (voiced by Black), from “Night of the Living Dummy,” is the ghoulish group’s ringleader, but several “Goosebumps” favorites are represented. “Goosebumps,” in effect, looks like the outcome “Pixels” wanted to achieve but didn’t. In the end, though, the monsters—animated in a less realistic way that wouldn’t frighten the kids—still put up enough of a fight not to bore the parents. In pre-production, “Goosebumps” flirted with director Tim Burton. He was attached to the project long enough that frequent Burton screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski tackled the story. That gives this monster mash a little bit of pedigree. There’s some real adventure living in the pages of those “Goosebumps” books, and the movie adaptation brings them to life in a way that makes this one-time fanatic very pleased.

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