No goose­bumps here

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Culture - By Da­mon Smith


Ter­ror creeps up when you least ex­pect it. I felt its icy fin­gers slither down my back and tingle my spine about 20 min­utes into Goose­bumps 2: Haunted Hal­loween: the ac­tion-packed se­quel to the 2015 fam­i­lyfriendly hor­ror com­edy based on the book se­ries by RL Stine.

Blood slowly drained from my face, my heart skipped a beat as a rasp­ing voice echoed in the dark­ness of the cin­ema: “This film has been raised from the dead solely with box of­fice tak­ings in mind.”

The first Goose­bumps was laden with wicked tricks and treats in­clud­ing tourde-force comic per­for­mances from Jack Black as au­thor Stine and the voice of a de­mented pup­pet called Slappy, who un­leashes mon­sters from one of Stine’s books on the un­sus­pect­ing stu­dents of Madi­son High School. Alas, Black is largely ab­sent from Ari San­del’s laboured fol­low-up, which un­rav­els quicker than a mummy’s ban­dages in the fic­tional town of War­den­clyffe, where in­ven­tor Nikola Tesla once con­ducted his dar­ing ex­per­i­ments with elec­tric­ity.

This close-knit neigh­bour­hood is a pic­ture-per­fect lo­ca­tion to bring Hal­loween to life: carved pump­kins sprout wings, plas­tic vam­pire bats take flight and scary masks sprout legs, arms and bod­ies to strike fear into cos­tumed res­i­dents on the scari­est night of the year. There is noth­ing in San­del’s pic­ture that will shock or dis­turb au­di­ences, even very young view­ers, aside from the un­set­tling re­al­i­sa­tion that if this se­quel makes a tidy profit, more geese will bump on fu­ture Hal­loweens.

Be very afraid. The film’s un­likely he­roes are best friends Sonny (Jeremy Ray Tay­lor) and Sam (Sam Caleel Har­ris), who set up a com­pany called Junk Bros to make some pocket money.

The boys agree to clear out the con­tents of an aban­doned house, which used to be­long to au­thor Stine (Black), and they dis­cover a lost man­u­script en­ti­tled Haunted Hal­loween in a se­cret hid­ing place. By open­ing the tome, the tykes re­an­i­mate de­monic doll Slappy (voiced by Black), who in­tends to “cre­ate a fam­ily of his own by bring­ing Hal­loween alive”.

Sonny’s mother Kathy (Wendi McLen­don-Covey) doesn’t be­lieve her son’s dire warn­ings about im­pend­ing doom as she nur­tures a bur­geon­ing ro­mance with a lo­cal phar­macy man­ager. Then night­mar­ish crea­tures de­scend on War­den­clyffe and Sonny and Sam unite with Sonny’s older sis­ter Sarah (Madi­son Ise­man) and kooky next-door neigh­bour Mr Chu (Ken Jeong).

This se­quel is a crush­ing dis­ap­point­ment. The young cast are poorly served by a lin­ear script, which has been purged of laughs, scares and dra­matic ten­sion.

Dig­i­tal spe­cial ef­fects don’t gel seam­lessly with the live ac­tion and Black gig­gles ma­ni­a­cally at his pup­pet’s limp jokes far more than we do.

There’s noth­ing in San­del’s pic­ture that will shock or dis­turb even young view­ers

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