Sigh…guys, I may have called it. 😦
In case you don’t know (and I know it’s kind of old news, but college has kept me busy), the Internet is making rather unfortunate rounds about what’s going on with Goosebumps: HorrorLand. None of it really makes sense when looking back at all previous developments with the film so far, and now it all seems to be up in the air. So, with that being said, let’s get into and dissect what is exactly happening.
So a while back, two websites reported something…odd. Backstage immediately raised eyebrows when they didn’t call the film Goosebumps: HorrorLand, instead calling it Goosebumps 2. Then they stated that the film would focus on Slappy…again…who plans on orchestrating a revenge plot for his defeat in the first film to commence “the Halloween apocalypse”. Huh?
And then Omega Underground expanded on this, stating that the film was retitled Slappy’s Revenge. What? They also stated that the protagonists weren’t even Zach, Hannah and Champ – instead focusing on a new group of kids, “a 17-year-old named Sarah, her brother Sonny and his best friend Sam.” Huh? Not only that, but they even stated that the film may not even be released in October and could be pushed back even farther due to production delays.
I don’t even know where to begin with all this. The only positive news was apparent confirmation that there are no longer scheduling conflicts with The House with a Clock in Its Walls and that Jack Black is returning as R.L. Stine and Slappy. Luckily, none of these claims (though including the positive news) have been confirmed by Sony yet, so kudos to them on that at least. But this still definitely screams Sony, and the chances that they could confirm these claims are still incredibly likely. But consider the evidence that they won’t: yes, there were alternate scripts considered, but they never said anything about a title change, or the scripts not featuring Zach, Hannah and Champ. And even if this has nothing to do with those alternate scripts, it seems pretty late to make such a drastic change to the film. But then there’s the evidence that Sony will confirm the claims: It’s not the first time HorrorLand’s title was supposedly dropped. And then there’s Ari Sandel’s Instagram – who posted an image featuring a similar title – Goosebumps: Slappy’s Halloween.
So what does that mean? Well, there are some things to consider before jumping to conclusions – there’s a chance that Slappy’s Halloween is a working title for HorrorLand. In case you don’t know, working titles are the temporary titles of films that have two purposes. They may either be an unofficial title and the official title has yet to be decided upon, or they have decided the official title, but made another one up to hide the true title for various purposes. I’m so hoping it’s the latter and that they seriously aren’t considering going ahead with Halloween or Revenge. It means that Silvertongue lost the battle with Sony over this film, and that the film will likely be bad or at least not great. Then you could definitely kiss that Animorphs movie goodbye, or at least watch it get set back by a few years.
And it’s not that I don’t like (most) of this idea. Here’s the problems with it: as far as I know, this premise is an original story. Why would you want to tell an original story, when Stine literally wrote hundreds of stories to choose from? And while I admittedly don’t know where the third movie could go (if at this rate it even happens), this premise could actually be perfect for it. Nothing like ending the trilogy with a bang as big as an end-of-the-world plot a-la Thor: Ragnarok, right? Personally, I just don’t think that now is the time for a movie like this.
Right now, the most obvious direction to take with the sequel is the stories of HorrorLand, a just as iconic staple of the Goosebumps mythos as Slappy himself. And the main antagonist of those stories, particularly that of the book series of which the movie hopefully remains named after, is not Slappy but the Menace. A sadly overlooked villain whose name says all, his tragic backstory as the creator of Panic Park, his desire to prove its superiority to HorrorLand, the way he torments, manipulates and tortures the heroes of the series to achieve his goals, and the way he carries everything out with just a flash easily makes him a just as interesting villain as Slappy ever was.
And it’s not like Slappy shouldn’t be in the sequel either. I actually expected him to show up because after all, he was in the HorrorLand books as well. But it’s the role he held that was important and brings me to my second issue with this idea. Slappy doesn’t have to be front and center in all the villainy, and other villains like the Menace should take a stab at the spotlight. As far as I’m concerned, Slappy had his time as the main villain, like Loki did in the first Thor for comparison (yeah, I know I keep using Thor here, but hear me out). In the HorrorLand books, Slappy was actually a pawn of the Menace, as well as several other villains which obviously need to return or appear as well. While I won’t reveal what eventually happens with Slappy’s arc in the series, it’s definitely not conventional villain fare, and would be a very interesting route to take with the cinematic version of the character that audiences wouldn’t expect.
This would also put Slappy in an interesting place come the third film, in which he again doesn’t have to be the main villain. He could still cause the so-called “Halloween Apocalypse”, but another villain that gets involved due to his antics could take the story from him once he does so. A common complaint about the first film was the absence of another iconic villain, Monster Blood, which was supposedly due to budgetary concerns. It doesn’t sound completely legit though, since the Blob Monster could’ve easily been green…but I digress. And while Monster Blood doesn’t have too much involvement in the HorrorLand books, it’s easily fitting for the Halloween Apocalypse. Its ability to grow indefinitely could be taken advantage of in which it could engulf the whole planet, among the chaos of other villains, of course. And if fans can’t wait until then for Monster Blood to show up, it could still make a brief appearance in the second film as a set up.
Now, what I absolutely do not like, and brings me to my final issue with this idea, is the absence of Zach, Hannah and Champ. Assuming Stine is indeed returning, the fact that Zach, Hannah and Champ aren’t makes absolutely no sense. Even if it was explained why they didn’t show up, that would have to be one heck of an explanation. Assuming Stine isn’t returning, though, and you can almost call it a reboot, which abandons continuity and would make the films slip into the self-contained formula of the books. Also, if they are going to replace Zach, Hannah and Champ with new kids, at least not make them mostly original again. At least give us Lindy Powell, Amy Kramer, Trina O’Dell, Jillian Zinman, Britney Crosby or Molly Molloy if they really can’t get over this obsession with Slappy.
Here’s what needs to happen. First, let’s make it clear that the idea of Stine, Zach, Hannah and Champ returning should not be contested. Secondly, the HorrorLand books present the perfect opportunity to explore the many heroes of the books in the Very Special Guests, so all of the Guests, if not at least Lizzy and Luke Morris, should be in the movie as well. Thirdly, the few heroes that actually did cameo in the first film should be front and center: Ricky Beamer, Grady Tucker, Freddy Martinez and Carly Beth Caldwell (though she was also one of the Guests in the books, so yeah). Finally and optionally, Sarah, Sonny and Sam could still show up if they really want them to, but don’t make them the only characters. Instead of ditching almost everybody from the first film, work with what’s been already established, and continue character development.
Tell the story of what happened to Stine at the end of the first film. Continue the relationship between Zach and Hannah. Make Danny Anderson appear to create some interesting banter between them. Continue to evolve Champ from being a fearful coward to his namesake title as a courageous champion. Tell the story of how Carly Beth removed the Haunted Mask. Make Cara Simonetti appear, so Freddy can unite with his best pal. Show Ricky coming to terms with his past actions and undergoing a battle between his humanity and his title as King of the Creeps. Do a fight scene between Grady and Will Blake and make Will turn to human form as well. In fact, while we’re on the topic of the villains, try to add layers to just about all their characters, with the obvious first thing to do is to make them speak more often. The first film, while a good movie, still had its flaws, after all.
In general, what’s happening right now to Goosebumps 2/HorrorLand/Slappy’s Revenge/Slappy’s Halloween/Whatever You Want to Call It is not great. I just hope that regardless of what’s going on, Sony continues to let Silvertongue stick to the original vision for the film and show audiences what it is about the HorrorLand and the books in general that make them so great. I’m still remaining optimistic about the film even with all these reports, because I believe in Deborah Forte and Silvertongue’s goals of making a good sequel and starting up a good track record for themselves.
Because we need that eventual greenlight for an Animorphs movie, no? 😉