Capitalizing on the success of the 2015 hit Goosebumps, starring Jack Black and based on the popular youth horror novels by R.L. Stine, we have a family-friendly sequel this week in the form of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. There’s significantly less Jack Black in this one (aside from his voice), but a lot of familiar small-town mayhem, so Christy Lemire breaks down what may or may not frighten young viewers, then offers a trio of alternatives you can watch at home if you can’t make it to the theaters… or simply prefer not to go at all.
Rating: PG, for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language.
The sequel to 2015’s Goosebumps offers more kid-friendly frights in the vein of the long-running R.L. Stine book series. This time, it’s a whole new story with an array of (mostly) new characters. Middle schoolers Sonny and Sam (Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris) accidentally summon the scheming ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Jack Black) while investigating an abandoned house. (Slappy’s screen presence has been expanded significantly from the original film, in which he was a supporting player.) At first, Slappy seems like a friendly and helpful companion, as he uses his magical powers to do away with chores and homework and get revenge on bullies. But it soon becomes clear that he aims to take over Sonny’s family as well as the entire town, which he does by making all the Halloween decorations and costumes come to life. Witches, pumpkins, mummies, you name it – they all rise up to wreak havoc. It can be a little intense, but overall it’s more silly than scary. The best sight gags involve a giant spider composed entirely of balloons and a bowl full of gummy bears that turn vicious. Kids will enjoy the craziness of it all, although the image of the genuinely creepy Slappy might freak out the youngest viewers. Goosebumps 2 is a solid early horror movie for kids around 8 and older.
If Goosebumps 2 has you in the Halloween spirit, here are a few more spooky movies you and your family can enjoy together:
Rating: PG, for scary and intense creature action and images, and for some rude humor.
As is often the case (and as the Tomatometer can attest), the original Goosebumps movie is better than the sequel. And it has the benefit of more Jack Black, starring as Stine himself, a reclusive horror writer. When the new kid in town (Dylan Minnette) moves in next door to Stine and befriends his sheltered daughter (Odeya Rush), adventures ensue. The two open Stine’s sealed manuscripts, causing the characters to leap from the pages and create chaos in a peaceful, small town. As in the sequel, much of the imagery is silly and playful. There’s a bit involving adorable, angry yard gnomes, and instead of a giant balloon spider, there’s a giant preying mantis. And of course there’s Slappy, whose very presence can send a shiver (as well as a giggle). The original Goosebumps reminded me of great ’80s horror comedies like Gremlins in its good-natured danger. Fine for viewers around 7 or 8 and older.
Rating: PG, for thematic elements, scary images and action.
This remains one of my all-time favorite Tim Burton movies, both for its technical complexity and its emotional tenderness. This feature-length version of his 1984 short oozes his cleverly macabre style and it’s a great example of all the director does so well. It’s about a little boy (voiced by Charlie Tahan) who brings his beloved, deceased dog back to life – a kindhearted notion that has unexpected results. The balance Burton strikes here in his twisted tearjerker is a joy to behold. His love of classic monster movies is infectious, and his stop-motion animation imagery is just gorgeous in crisp black and white. Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short make up the strong supporting voice cast. A great choice for viewers around 6 or 7 and older.
Rating: Not Rated
A classic, and one that can be enjoyed year-round. At least that’s how my kid watches it, along with all the other animated Peanuts specials. It is THE Halloween movie for the whole family. You’ve probably seen it a million times and can recite Linus’ Great Pumpkin speech right along with him. But if it’s been a while, or if your kids have never seen it, this is a great one to watch together – regardless of their age. Charlie Brown’s trick-or-treating lament – “I got a rock” – never gets old. And Linus’ unshakable belief that the Great Pumpkin not only exists but also will rise up and bring presents to all the good boys and girls has a charming innocence. An excellent choice for all ages.