For audiences who grew up during the late 1980s and 1990s, it was almost impossible not to be familiar with the work of R.L. Stine, the prolific children’s horror author author behind such series as Fear Street and Goosebumps, not to mention novels like Blind Date, Beach House, and The Babysitter. Goosebumps in particular proved to be sensational hit, and the books were eventually translated into 32 languages, selling a total of over 400 million copies. The series was so popular that it even found life as a television series that ran for four seasons, multiple video games, comic books, and all kinds of merchandise.
In 2015, Goosebumps finally made its way to the big screen, though it wasn’t a direct adaptation of any one story. Instead the film featured Jack Black as Stine himself, fighting off the various creatures his pen has brought to life over the decades. That film went on to spawn a sequel, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, which is partially set in Stine’s childhood home and features another group of teens facing off against one of Stine’s most famous villains, Slappy the ventriloquist dummy. With Goosebumps 2 already available to stream and arriving on DVD and Blu-ray today (Jan. 15), we spoke to Stine to talk about the movies he loves, his unexpected success with the Goosebumps novel series, and what it was like to see his books spring to life on the big screen.
1932 film. I just watched it. It was on TCM a few weeks ago. It’s the first Island of Doctor Moreau film. It’s Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, and he’s experimenting with the animals. He’s trying to turn them into humans, but he mostly fails, and so he has these horrible creatures trapped, and they’re enslaved. And it’s an amazing, dark, terrifying film.
And — this is true — when it came out in 1932, audiences found it so horrifying, people threw up in their seats. They threw up in the movie, they were so horrified by this film.
I love that. I love that. I really recommend it. It’s very short and to the point, and this guy is shipwrecked, and he’s trapped on the island with Dr. Moreau, and finding out what he’s doing. And he’s actually created a woman out of a panther or something who’s almost a full woman but not quite. It’s pretty damn clever.
I’ll choose one of the Preston Sturges comedies. It’s hard to decide between Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels. Those are two wonderful films. I’ve seen The Lady Eve maybe six or seven times. It’s Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, right? It makes me laugh every time. It is a great comedy with some great, wonderful slapstick, and just very clever, very witty, and very sexy, too. She was very sexy in this film. These are all films that I watch more than once.
And then I’d have to say Godfather II. Just for super quality film. Whenever you come in in the middle and some TV channel is showing it, you have to watch it. You can’t turn it off. It’s so good, it’s so compelling, that no matter how many times, you have to watch it again. I wonder if young people know the Godfather films.
I think it depends on how young you go, right? The Godfather films certainly have a reputation, and they’re regularly mentioned in conversations about the greatest films ever made, so young people who are into movies are probably at least aware of them, even if they haven’t seen them.
Yeah. It’s kind of a weird thought to think that probably a lot of people have never seen them. It’s sort of like Gone with the Wind, right? Probably millions of young people have never seen Gone with the Wind, which you just think is part of the culture.
So you prefer Godfather II over the first one, then?
Well, I think the first one’s wonderful, but I think the second one is absolutely brilliant.
People have strong opinions about those two films.
Yeah, I’m Godfather II, but, see, I’m weird because I like Kill Bill I, and nobody likes Kill Bill I. Everybody likes Kill Bill II.
I’m actually with you on that. I like Kill Bill I quite a bit more than Kill Bill II.
I just like all the fighting in that. There’s amazing fights. It’s endless fighting. It’s great.
My favorite film is a Fred Astaire film called A Damsel in Distress. It’s without Ginger Rogers, but it’s based on a P.G. Woodhouse book, who is my favorite author of all time, and he wrote the script. And it’s hilarious, and it’s wonderful. Astaire is amazing in it. Joan Fontaine is 22 years old. It’s beautiful, and it’s based on this wonderful Woodhouse book. I watch that at least once a year. And it’s got Burns and Allen, and they’re hilarious. It’s a great film.
And then I always think the Pixar film is always the best film of the year. Always. I just think they are amazing. Last year, I thought Coco was the film of the year. Those films are just brilliant, like Wall-E or Up, and you say, “How did they ever get that made? How did they ever get that past somebody?” I don’t know what’ll happen with Lassiter not there, but I’m a big animation fan.
But I would say if I had to pick favorites, probably some of the Miyazaki films, those animated films. Spirited Away maybe. They’re just art. He is head and shoulders above everybody, and he said he was retiring. He’s like 86 or something. Then I just read he’s making a new film. Yeah, probably Spirited Away. It’s got 17 different styles of art in it. It just keeps changing. You just keep getting blown away. You can’t believe what you’re seeing.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: You’ve written, what, literally hundreds of novels across various series…
R.L. Stine: I know. Now, let’s not say the number or I’ll have to go take a nap or something. It’s 26 years of Goosebumps. Do you believe it? I think they are about 140 titles now. I don’t know. How did it happen? The Fear Street series; there are about 80 in the Fear Street series for teenagers.
RT: So you’ve not only done that, but you’ve done short stories, anthologies, even comics. Did you have any inkling that the Goosebumps series in particular would attract the kind of fan following that it did?
Stine: No, we had no idea. And we thought we were doing something kind of dangerous. No one had ever done a scary book series for seven-to-12 year olds. It had never been done, and I was really reluctant. For one thing, Fear Street was doing really well, the teen series, and I didn’t want to mess that up. I was very reluctant to do Goosebumps. And then finally I said, “All right, okay, we’ll try two or three.” The kind of businessman I am, right? “We’ll try two or three.” And they just sat on the shelves. It took about six months for kids to discover them. I think if it were today with computers and everything, the stores would’ve pulled them off the shelf, and that would’ve been it.
About six months. Somehow, kids discovered them, and then started telling other kids — the secret kids network — and it just went crazy. There was no advertising, no hype. Nobody knew me. It was just one of those insane things that no one had planned on. Nobody.
RT: Considering you were so skeptical about it working, what was it that finally made you take the plunge?
Stine: Well, they kept after me, my editors, and then finally I said, “All right. If I can think of a good name for the series, let’s try a few.” And then I tried to figure out how I could do it and not really terrify seven-to-12 year olds, and I decided I’d have a blend of horror and humor.
RT: It took quite a while for the Goosebumps movie to come to fruition.
Stine: 23 years, it took.
RT: Was it satisfying to finally see your creations on the big screen in blockbuster scale that way?
Stine: Yeah, it was, and it was a wonderful surprise because I had very little input in the movie. No one wants the author around. No one wants the author around, and I just felt so lucky that the film was so good. It really was a good movie, and I was just very happy about that. And also so weird to be a character. It was all about me. How weird is that, right?
So I really enjoyed it. Yeah, I had a really good time with it, and it’s totally revitalized the Goosebumps book series. We’re back. It’s been incredible. I just signed on to do six more. Some of us don’t know when to quit, right? We just keep going.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is available to stream and on DVD/Blu-ray now.