I mean, c’mon, Sony! You HAD to ruin the Goosebumps franchise, too? Just get sold off already!
But ranting aside, yes, everything that I feared in my last post about the upcoming sequel to the 2015 film Goosebumps is happening, because why not? None of the cast of the original film is coming back, not even Jack Black’s voice role as Slappy. Instead, puppeteer Avery Jones is taking full control of the role, and Sonny, Sam and Sarah are completely replacing the human cast in a new story that appears to be mostly disconnected from the first film. Because you know, you got to have that self-contained format that works way better for television instead of establishing a story arc that’s more suited for film.
The whole thing is just a disaster. I didn’t want to make a new post about what’s officially titled Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (that is the final title, right?) until it was absolutely confirmed that the original cast wasn’t returning with the release of the first trailer, but here we are. It’s time to look at what has happened with this film since my last post, do an analysis of the trailer, and determine whether or not Sony has truly laid waste to yet another franchise (and worse, indirectly kill that Animorphs movie).
I know we’re still trying to get over this scare, but hang in there – it’s time to get to it.
The New Cast
In late February, the roles for Sonny, Sam and Sarah were cast. Although it was not announced which actors got which roles at the time, it was eventually revealed that Jeremy Ray Taylor would be playing Sonny Quinn, Madison Iseman would be Sarah Quinn, and Caleel Harris would be Sam Carter. Ben O’ Brien was also confirmed to have a part, though his role is still undisclosed. It was nothing particularly surprising given the reports of the changed premise, as even though there were no reports of reprisals, it could’ve easily been obvious that the original cast was returning, and that these castings were supporting roles to the original cast.
Ken Jeong, Chris Parnell and Wendi McLendon-Covey were later added to the cast. Jeong’s and Parnell’s roles are also currently undisclosed, though McLendon-Covey was eventually revealed to be playing Kathy Quinn, likely Sonny and Sarah’s mother. Jeong is certainly an exciting addition to the cast, who is known for his primarily comedic roles. Whether or not he is playing a hero or a villain, his character and Jack Black’s Stine bouncing off of each other and making some great comedic chemistry was certainly going to be nothing short of amazing and the obvious direction Sony had in mind, right?
UGH. Then filming finally began in March, where the title was again changed to Haunted Halloween in April. And the release of the official above logo finally made me ask myself who was I kidding. We weren’t getting HorrorLand anymore. And it was looking increasingly likely that Stine wasn’t coming back.
But then there was light at the end of the tunnel. The Wikipedia article to the film was released, where it was briefly stated that Jack Black’s Stine and Odeya Rush’s Hannah were returning. Strangely enough, Dylan Minette’s Zach and Ryan Lee’s Champ weren’t listed, which would’ve killed any chance at fleshing out the new romance between Zach and Hannah. But it was better than nothing, and Zach and Champ were original characters that were somewhat disposable anyway. Of course though, this was Wikipedia.
And you know how reliable Wikipedia is. 😨
The Official Trailer
Oh boy. This is um…something. Man, there’s quite a bit of things wrong with this trailer, and with its release, the film’s title was again changed slightly to Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. I have to say, that official title is a neat reflection of the crisis they had in naming this movie. Like they thought they could number the sequel and give it a subtitle? They seriously couldn’t pick one or the other?
But let’s get on with this trailer analysis, if we dare. The trailer begins with a homage to Stine’s success and clips from the first film, to you know, troll us with the good stuff and what’s potentially history. Then we finally get the actual footage of the sequel. We first see Sonny and Sam walking towards a house that has seen better days. Sonny tells Sam that he doesn’t think the house is giving out candy, while Sam looks at a couple dormant Lawn Gnomes.
And what we see next brings up a ton of questions.
Okay, so let me get this straight. How long has it been since the first film for Stine’s house to become so decrepit? Did Zach and Hannah ever find out that Brent Green captured Stine inside his own manuscript, The Invisible Boy’s Revenge, and try to rescue him? Or did Hannah simply forget about her father and ran off with her new lover? Also, it’s being established that sometime between the events of the films, some of Stine’s creations escaped his newly typed up manuscript that he used to recapture the monsters. This has to mean that Brent won a battle with Stine inside The Invisible Boy’s Revenge to re-release at least some of the monsters from Stine’s manuscript. Okay…
Then the trailer teases one particular book Stine wrote that “no one was meant to find”, being locked up deep inside Stine’s house where Slappy couldn’t find it. Okay, so it has to be one of the darkest, scariest, most dangerous books in the series, like Monster Blood, or Monster Blood II, or The Haunted Mask, or One Day at HorrorLand, or Revenge of the Living Dummy, or The Streets of Panic Park, or…
Are you kidding me? The trailer was literally embracing the 62 books Stine wrote almost a minute before, and the movie is named after a book Stine NEVER WROTE? No adaptations of popular and iconic storylines like Monster Blood, Haunted Mask or you know, HORRORLAND??? It’s true that The Invisible Boy’s Revenge was also an original story, but it made sense within the context of the first film’s story because Brent Green was the author, not Stine. There is no excuse to not take advantage of Stine’s work here, and that book will always be titled “Revenge of the Living Dummy” in my heart.
Anyway, the two boys basically do what Champ does in the first film next, and release the contents of the manuscript. Slappy appears from behind them, before we see the various monsters that are going to be featured in the film. I wish I could point all of them out for you, but the problem with this is that Stine has created so many villains, and the monsters often get drastically redesigned for the movies to the point that it’s hard to tell who’s who. It even looks like some of the monsters who appeared in the first film got redesigned again, so I’m not going to try to guess wrong. But I will tell you this: Khor-Ru, Will Blake and the Abominable Snowman are definitely back. And so far, it looks like they didn’t even have the audacity to make Haunted Mask-ridden Carly Beth Caldwell return, nor have Monster Blood appear.
We then get the first line from Sarah, who questions the boys not telling her about Slappy, when Sonny tells her that Slappy “seemed like a really nice guy at the start”. This reveals a plot point in the movie in which Slappy pulled another one of his manipulative tricks against the boys to help him create the Halloween Apocalypse. The boys then encounter…um…gummy bears. While they’re what you typically expect from Goosebumps stories, I am amazed at how few people are pointing out that they’re original monsters to the movie. After an extensive search on the Goosebumps Wiki, I’ve seen that the closest monsters Stine has created are the Cave Spirit, the Cuddle Bears, the Giant Bear Monster (you know, from One Day at HorrorLand), and the Old Bear. Good job, Sony.
And that’s it. No appearance of Stine, Zach, Hannah or Champ at the end, in which the rumors of them not appearing in the movie wasn’t even some really smart, if cruel way to deliver a final punch of excitement in an epic final trailer scene. Maybe Stine at least makes a cameo? Other than that, the last shred of hope of them appearing vanished. Wikipedia corrected itself, and I corrected my dry cheeks. 😭 It’s just not going be the same without the Master of Fright and Co.
And Exactly How Scared Should We Be Of This Movie’s Outcome?
I would like to make this clear: the movie doesn’t look terrible. And I am aware that the Internet still gave a positive response to the trailer, compared to the more divided response for The Grinch‘s first trailer. It’s not like the official plot synopsis is trash.
In the small town of Wardenclyffe on Halloween Night, two boys named Sonny and Sam find a manuscript in an abandoned house that was previously owned by R. L. Stine called “Haunted Halloween.” When they open it, they unknowingly release Slappy, who plans to cause a Halloween Apocalypse with the help of his monster allies. Now Sonny and Sam, alongside Sonny’s sister, Sarah, must work to thwart Slappy’s plot before all is lost.
It’s the context of which the story is presenting itself that’s the problem. This film could mostly work as its own thing and should not be a continuation of the first film, because let’s be honest here, it’s not working at all. As I explained earlier and in my previous post about the film, in rejecting most of what’s been already established, the film and its prequel feel like two distinct stories that give the film series the same self-contained format of the television series and the books. Being faithful to the books in this respect may work in theory, but film is a different medium than television, in which the films in a film series have to be connected, and create an arc. The films by themselves still have to stand on their own, but they must also create a story when connected that feels as whole as the stories they create individually. Keeping characters around is the most basic way to do this, and Sony couldn’t even get that right.
With that being said, the story itself isn’t perfect either, with the original elements being the biggest problem. There is no precedent for any of the protagonists in Haunted Halloween in Goosebumps canon. Yes, Zach and Champ were original characters too, but they bounced off existing characters Stine and Hannah in a way that worked. Again, Haunted Halloween was never a book Stine wrote. And there are even original monsters like the Gummy Bears, likely coming from another book Stine didn’t write, when they could’ve used the other monsters I mentioned, or continued to check off everyone else. I’m not going to say that original characters and concepts can’t work, though. Any story idea can technically work if done right; it’s just that original characters are less than desirable when it comes to adaptations.
The original direction they had in mind for Goosebumps: HorrorLand was perfect. Slappy didn’t have to keep being the main villain, and it’s not like everybody else was begging for this to happen either. The Menace would’ve taken the spotlight, and I’ve already explained why he’s so awesome. Such a film would’ve given Slappy far more interesting character development than anything Haunted Halloween will likely achieve. It would have embraced the heroes of Stine’s stories as much as the villains through the Very Special Guests, including Carly Beth Caldwell. I already went into depth explaining how amazing this sequel could’ve been in my last post, so you get the idea. And Sony made Silvertongue throw all that out the window.
Despite the botched direction the film has taken, there are things about it that could save the movie, and are the reason why the film isn’t as hated as it could’ve been. It’s still a sequel to a pretty good film, unlike the case of The Grinch in which people saw the film as potentially putting a stain on something that they believe is sacred. Thus, there’s reason to believe that they’ll still deliver with a good story, albeit one that had potential. The film takes place in the city of Wardenclyffe, New York, which is where Nikola Telsa, a Serbian-American inventor known for his contributions to the electric supply system, often carried out his experiments. It’s been implied that Slappy will get Telsa’s help at some point in the film, though as Telsa hasn’t been featured in the books (go figure), and is a historical figure, how Slappy will get his help is anyone’s guess. Regardless, it will certainly be interesting to see what they have in mind for him.
If you want a more reassuring fact about the film being a critical success, look no farther than the fact that Deborah Forte, a driving force at Scholastic, is attached to the film as producer just as she was for the first film. Even with Sony’s meddling, I’m sure that Forte is nonetheless going to make sure that this is another good to great film in Silvertongue’s catalog, and avert a disaster that prevents both Goosebumps 3 and the Animorphs movie from happening. After all, assuming Goosebumps 3 does happen, Sony will probably be sold off by then (or at least that’s what I’m imagining), giving Silvertongue free reign. Then they could somehow try to rectify the mistakes made with this film by uniting the casts of the first two films and adapting HorrorLand for the third film, perhaps? Who knows?
Regardless, I’m sure I’m not the only one out there that wishes the film never changed course, even if the sequel could be perfectly okay. In fact, I seriously feel like telling the story that may never be told myself, but only if you want me to. I’ll still give the film a chance, and all I ask for at this point is for what remains of this film to be good. Because isn’t that what this is about at the end of the day? For the stories we watch and read to be good, no matter what that story may be?
Until more proper scares come our way, folks. 😱 😉