I know, Mr. Stine. I know. 😞
Oh, who was I kidding? This is Sony Pictures Entertainment we’re talking about! Of course they were going to wreck yet another one of their franchises like a toddler playing with building blocks. And even then, I’d have more faith in the toddler instead of the studio that just won’t die and get sold off!
Boy, am I steamed. But in case you don’t know what’s going on, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween came and went, and well…the results are pretty bad. I mean, they’re not the worst, but they’re definitely bad enough. It’s a real tragedy, let me tell you. Because not only does this mean that the chances of Goosebumps 3 happening are slim, but for now, the Animorphs film is officially dead. Because there’s no WAY K.A. Applegate is going to give Silvertongue the greenlight for that project after this disaster. As we mourn this setback for Silvertounge and blast Sony for their latest crime, it’s time to get into the details of the verdict for Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, and the specifics of what to expect going forward.
I know we’ll still recovering from all these scares, but it’s time to get to it.
The Critical Response
When I first saw the film hitting 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, let’s just say I wasn’t the happiest camper in the tent. The critical consensus wasn’t any more reassuring:
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween offers a handful of treats for very young viewers, but compared to the entertaining original, this sequel is a ding dong to ditch.
The audience score isn’t much better, with everyone clearly divided on the film’s quality. And I can see what they mean. It’s not like the film disrespected its source material or anything, nor was the story even that bad. But the tone was definitely off. And we all knew that Sony squandered the film’s potential, but wow, I was not expecting it to be this bad.
The critical performance wasn’t all terrible, though. When Rotten Tomatoes scores for films are initially posted, the score usually goes down instead of up as more reviews are posted. I was amused to find that Haunted Halloween was an exception to this, with the score ultimately going up as far as a whopping 14 points! And as impressive as that this, given where the score had been before, it’s sadly not enough to save the outlook on the movie.
The Financial Performance (So Far)
Once the critical reviews came in, the weekend box office followed, and the film bowed at about $15 million. That made the film gross only two-thirds of the initial weekend earnings of the first film. Worse, unlike the first film winning its opening weekend, this film not only failed to finish first, but it got so low as to finish in fourth place. Again, it wasn’t all bad: as bad as the opening numbers were, the film managed to at least keep its fourth place position in its second weekend. And the film still has a chance to win its battle with The House With a Clock in Its Walls. However, the film looks unlikely to out-gross its predecessor, even by a small margin. The film is being very much affected by its critical reviews, and audiences are making it clear that they didn’t ask for a watered-down, Sony-like sequel.
And what do I mean, exactly?
The Film Itself
Unlike what I usually do, I’m only going to give minor spoilers this time, as I mainly want to discuss the things about the film that worked and didn’t work. First off, a good portion of the film plays like a typical Night of the Living Dummy book, which I’m not sure what to make of. On the one hand, it was great to see the film be faithful to the books in this respect. On the other hand, this could’ve easily been done and has been done before on television, in which the different format of film presents new opportunities to try something new. It’s not actually bad, but you can’t help but to feel that Slappy’s arc in the first film worked a little bit better.
There is a romance subplot with Sarah’s character that feels pretty unnecessary, and is not what you think of when you think of Goosebumps. Yes, there were romantic subplots with Zach, Hannah and even Champ in the first film, but the difference was that those subplots happened closer to the end of the movie and were not rushed. If you want to add unorthodox elements to a story, they can’t feel forced. They must be set up throughout the story, so that when the setup culminates, those moments feel earned.
It turns out that Ken Jeong did not play a villain nor a main character, but rather supporting (and original) character Mr. Chu. Given Jeong’s star power, the casting alone feels wasted, making you wish he had a more important part. His character also never meets Black’s Stine in the film, which is another wasted opportunity as the comedic banter between the two actors could’ve really helped the movie. I do like how Mr. Chu is a Goosebumps fan though, and he nonetheless had a role to play in the story.
As disappointing as the overabundance of original elements are, they are actually handled mostly well. It turned out that the Haunted Halloween manuscript was an unfinished and unpublished book, which explains why it is a book that Stine never wrote. Once the book comes to life, the finished part of its plot justifies the presence of the original monsters, who are indeed Halloween decorations (and candy) that help Slappy carry out the Halloween Apocalypse. In this film, Slappy tries to get the manuscript and complete the story himself, so he can basically write his evil plan into succeeding. While it’s an interesting idea, this admittedly makes Slappy’s motivations between the two films inconsistent. However, this is fine as it also suggests that characters change accordingly to the book they come out from. Even the Gummy Bears work to such an extent that their scene is one of the best in the movie. I now have an appreciation for them, and I can understand why they were stamped all over the marketing.
And while the original elements work, what is particularly upsetting about the film is how little care is put into respecting the Goosebumps canon in the same way the first film did. Few of the monsters from the first film return, and those that do have little to no character development, with the obvious exception of Slappy. And the film pretty much has no interest in introducing new monsters from the books, namely Monster Blood, Cuddles the Hamster and the Haunted Mask, who are the most popular monsters in the books that didn’t appear in the first film (aside from the Haunted Mask cameo). In doing this, Haunted Halloween becomes quite the example of a film with untapped potential, as the movie was the perfect opportunity for these monsters to appear.
But the film’s biggest flaw is not the choice of monsters, nor is it even most of the story. That honor goes to the tone, in which much of the movie either feels a bit too childish even by Goosebumps standards, or just simply bland and leaving much to be desired. The first film nailed what is it about the books that makes them great by knowing exactly where to strike that balance between horror and humor. I hate to blame the director, but you can’t help but to feel that even with the one good film he had under his belt beforehand, Ari Sandel didn’t have quite the same grasp and understanding on the books as Rob Letterman did. There are exceptions to this though, such as again, the Gummy Bears scene, as well as another scene involving Slappy and Kathy, Sonny and Sarah’s mother.
Jack Black’s Stine presents his own set of problems, who should’ve either been the hero of the story or helped the kids be the heroes. But Sarah ends up doing the bulk of the work without Stine’s help, despite having contacted him to assist her and the boys. Stine himself doesn’t do too much or even confronts Slappy, which is a shame as this film should’ve continued the relationship between the two characters. The idea the first film presented that Stine and Slappy are two sides of the same coin was such an interesting and brilliant concept, and it would’ve been great to see that develop farther. Slappy does meet Stine at the end, but it’s more for sequel setup than anything else. (By the way, I’m surprised that no one corrected me that Stine didn’t actually end up inside Brent Green’s The Invisible Boy’s Revenge manuscript, but it sure felt that way to me.)
In all, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween isn’t a bad film, but it’s not great either. The film may basically be watching a wasted opportunity for an hour and a half, but it’s not like you will want to tear the theater screen down before you get out. You’ll still get satisfaction out of it, but you’ll also be imagining what the film could’ve been. You can accept that if you wish, but at the end of the day, these aren’t the kinds of movies that should really be made.
So What’s Going To Happen From Here?
One thing is for certain: the chances of Goosebumps 3 happening are now pretty slim. And that’s a shame, because the third film has no excuse to not adapt the HorrorLand storyline at this point, and it would be such a glorious movie if done right. Even if the film somehow does happen, given the time between the releases of the first two films, the third film, optimistically, would likely be out by 2021. But here’s the thing: Haunted Halloween has proven that the franchise is better off in the hands of another studio, and we can only hope that Sony is not only sold off before then, but the studio that buys Sony is able to utilize the properties they’ve acquired and get the third film into production in time for the 2021 release date. And you’d be fooled to assume that Sony hasn’t announced the third film because they’re not trying to rush things this time, compared to announcing Haunted Halloween before the first film even came out. That is simply due to the fact that Sony has recognized the Goosebumps brand as damaged goods.
But the real tragedy of all this is none other than the film that is definitely not happening at all, and if it does ever happen, it won’t be for a very long time: Animorphs. As I said in my post about the property, K.A. Applegate and Michael Grant have made it clear that they have extremely high standards for what constitutes as good children’s entertainment, and they were only going to give Silvertongue the go-ahead for the film if they upheld to those standards with their other projects. Other than the first Goosebumps film, Silvertongue did not have much of a resume to impress Applegate and Grant, and Haunted Halloween pretty much leveled the playing field between Silvertongue’s good and bad films. Again, Haunted Halloween wasn’t terrible, but I doubt that Applegate and Grant agree, and thus, the film won’t cut it for them. Thanks to Sony, Applegate and Grant have every reason to believe that even if Silvertongue gets the Animorphs right on film the first time, there is pretty much nothing to suggest that they would be able to carry a franchise with the characters. I’m not going to say the film will never, ever happen because of Haunted Halloween, but Silvertongue is only going to undo the damage the film made if they start making a string of critical successes that are of the same quality as the first Goosebumps film.
But I don’t know what angers me the most: the outcome of Haunted Halloween, Goosebumps 3 not happening, Animorphs not happening, or the fact that Sony might even get away with these crimes. I’m sure you might be thinking that Sony may not even get sold off at this point, thanks to their handling of the Spider-Man property. For reasons I will never know, Venom, in spite of bad critical reviews, actually made a profit, which now puts Sony in a position to make more so-bad-it’s-good films with the Marvel characters they own and take Spider-Man out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is, of course, the most counter-intuitive thing that can ever be done to the character. That, combined with the sales of Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 and Into The Spider-Verse, which is sure to be a hit, means that the article I keep linking to about them getting sold off might actually be irrelevant. So there is still very much a chance that if Goosebumps 3 does happen, they’re still releasing it. Which means that their take on the HorrorLand storyline is pretty much going to be lackluster or even bad, assuming it gets adapted for the film at all.
However, let’s not be fooled by their recent success: this is admittedly me hanging on to the last slivers of hope here, but the fears of mergers such as AT&T and Time Warner and Disney and Fox are due to a lack of understanding that the times are changing for the entertainment industry. Such mergers are among the first few of many: studios and companies will continue absorbing each other until we likely have Disney, Universal and Warner Bros. left. Which means that Sony will die eventually, even if the damage is completely done to Goosebumps before then.
Look, I wanted Haunted Halloween to be great as much as the next guy. No, I wanted to see Stine, Zach, Hannah, Champ, the Very Special Guests, Slappy and the other villains take on the Menace’s Fear Meter as much as the next guy. I really wanted that Animorphs movie sooner rather than later. I want Spidey to meet the Human Torch… 😭
But staying back on topic, at least this isn’t the end of Silvertongue. Even if Goosebumps is doomed on film and Animorphs is staying off limits for now, at least Silvertongue has the rest of Scholastic canon to fix themselves up. They still got a clean slate and full opportunities for Clifford the Big Red Dog, The 39 Clues, Spirit Animals and a whole host of other properties to turn things around. All they need to do is finish moving into 130 Mercer Street and stop giving Sony their rights, and they’ll be on the right track.
Because of all else, I want Scholastic to be great again as much as the next guy. 😉