Film Review: Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

'Ghostbusters'-for-Undiscerning-Teens strikes again—in season—with a second cinematic coming of best-selling R.L. Stine’s kid-lit horror-hokum books. Film Installment One, debuting right before All Saints’ Day of 2015, racked up a U.S. gross of $150.2 mil
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Middle-schoolers, rejoice! You suffered enough—three whole Halloweens sans a R.L. Stine monster mash-up onscreen—but that clarion call has been heard and heeded by a determined (if, of course, derivative) Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween.

Jack Black, who played Stine in the original film (and here) much like Nathan Lane playing a prissy professor, did indeed find his way out of The House with a Clock in Its Walls long enough to chip in a fast and fleeting cameo at the end. Otherwise, it’s a completely new crew, on both sides of the camera, dispensing warmed-over chills.

Following screenwriter Darren Lemke’s lead in the first film, adapter Rob Lieber has attacked Stine’s stories like a Whitman’s Sampler and corralled the usual gang of grotesques, extracting and mobilizing one of each for group marches and mayhem—a yeti, a zombie, a lawn gnome, a snowman, an armada of enlarging gummy bears, a giant spider and a demented ventriloquist’s dummy named Slappy (read: Chucky).

All these critters reside between the covers of Stine’s books, and when the books are unlocked and opened, their spirits are released and come to life. Here, that unfortunate chore falls to a pair of hapless teenagers (Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris) hired to clear out—and keep, if they like—the junk of a boarded-up haunted house. A Stine tome, guarded by the sinister Slappy, gets unearthed in the debris, and it’s the devil to pay. Taylor’s big sister and single mom (Madison Iseman and Wendi McLendon-Covey) get sucked into the ensuing swirl of spooky special effects.

When time comes for the youngsters to do serious battle with these monstrosities-on-parade, they get a chance to seasonally suit up as a witch, a pumpkin-head and a skeleton—all courtesy of their next-door neighbor (Ken Leong of Crazy Rich Asians and the Hangover films). He is, to understate, a tad too deep into the holidays.

By this time, director Ari Sandel has unleashed a mindless onslaught of CGI chaos, and you just ride it out until the creatures return to their literary bunks. There is a disturbing postscript between Jack Black and Slappy that promises another sequel.

I’m telling ya: Four-hundred million books have been sold, and there’s a market out there.