As far as the horror genre is concerned, one of the toughest lines to walk is knowing how much to scare your audience. This is particularly hard to approach when it comes to the world of family oriented horror films like Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, as it has to be scary enough to be fun, but funny enough to not totally traumatize its audience. Not only does the new film succeed in both of those areas, it's also an exhilarating roller-coaster that kids of all ages can enjoy -- with their parents smiling right beside them.
Halloween is descending on the town of Wardenclyffe, where Nikola Tesla once dabbled in science years beyond its time. As the children of that very location prepare for tricks and treats, three young residents (Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, and Madison Iseman) have their hands full doing battle with an evil unleashed from the pages of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series. The only problem is, this story's an unfinished manuscript, and the infamous Slappy the Dummy is about to give it the third act he thinks it needs.
Those of you who grew up with the Goosebumps books will definitely recognize the brush strokes of that series' particular palette all over Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. With humor and scares that fit square into the wheelhouse of the pre-teen audience this film is reaching out to, it never gets too particularly grim or crude with its proceedings.
But even with the original books in mind, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween does seem to play more as a broad comedy with some threatening notes, rather than anything that could scare children over a certain age. While those novels really played on the fears of children, this movie aims for more of a Hocus Pocus blend of laughter and family thrills, with just a touch of menace. In fact, that particular film unintentionally shares some DNA with this film, when you really break down the plot structure.
What really makes Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween work are two things: the film's pacing, and its keen eye for casting. As it runs a breezy 90 minutes, the film's slight story doesn't show any seams as it jumps from point to point with rapid succession. While we miss out on some rote, but essential, story beats, the film doesn't suffer from it as it doesn't linger too long on any one moment.
Meanwhile, the cast benefits from not only the talented young trio of Taylor, Harris, and Iseman anchoring the film's action, but also from some seasoned comedy veterans flavoring the supporting cast rather well. Which leads us to the trio of Wendi Mclendon-Covey as the single mother of the central family, Chris Parnell as the man who would like to court her, and Ken Jeong as the wacky next door neighbor. All three manage to make the most of their limited screen time, and thankfully toe the important line of acting in a kids movie, but retaining their own personal comedic styles.
Of course, you're probably asking if Jack Black is back for Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, seeing as he's barely seen in the film's marketing. Well, he is, both as the voice of Slappy and in the respect of playing the fictitious version of author R. L. Stine. The former sees him playing a part Crypt Keeper / part menacing villain figure that keeps things moving, even milking serious laughs out of numerous horror related puns. The latter, on the other hand, doesn't get a lot of screen time, but still manages to get a couple of really good chuckles -- one of which implies a faux rivalry between Stine and author Stephen King. Both are valuable additions to the machinery that make this film work.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween will please children to no end, provided they haven't started graduating to the world of any horror films with ratings of PG-13 or above. It's a lightning fast experience that floats on air, and can keep a family entertained for its brief, but exciting run. Though the story is slight, it's still entertaining and perfect for this year's Halloween season. Pair it with The House with a Clock in its Walls, and you'd have a fantastic, family friendly Halloween double header.