Quoth Ministry, “Every day is Halloween,” a maxim that I’ve embraced at least since my kidhood weekends spent watching Monster Movie Matinee every Saturday. This sequel to 2015’s adaptation of author R.L. Stine’s eponymous series of bestselling YA horror-lite novels is great PG-rated fun and flies along faster than a broomstick afire, witches most definitely included. What elevates Haunted Halloween from lesser All Hallows’ fare aimed at the tween set – I’m looking at you, Nickelodeon – is the smart scriptwork from Rob Lieber, which coffin-nails Stine’s spookshow tone without ever feeling silly or, worse, overlong. This is one movie that takes its young protagonists seriously, a carry-over from Stine’s books, while keeping tongue and fangs firmly in cheek.
Best friends Sonny (Taylor, fresh out of the clutches of It) and Sam (Harris) spend their days in the upstate New York hamlet of Wardenclyffe avoiding the usual junior high bullies and dreaming up ways to make some spare cash. Sam’s genius idea is to become junkmen, er, junkboys, cleaning out their neighbors’ attics and then salvaging whatever cool and/or useful items they find. When they get a call from the presumed owner of the local haunted manse, the duo discover a locked book secreted away behind a false wall and break the hasp to see what’s inside. Everybody from Evil Dead’s Ash Williams to Necronomicon scribe Abdul Alhazred to your mom knows that opening moldering tomes found in creepy old houses is a recipe for supernatural disaster, but hey, what’s a kid to do? Cracking the book conjures up Slappy, a malevolent ventriloquist's puppet (voiced by Black) straight out of the Rod Serling Zone. No dummy he, Slappy kidnaps Sonny’s mom (McLendon-Covey) while planning an All Hallows’ Eve apocalypse by bringing every single season-of-the-witch-Walmart aisle yard decoration to hideous life. That’s bad news for anyone living next door to overzealous home-haunter Mr. Chu (Jeong, turning it up to 11 in the zany neighbor role), i.e., Sonny, but terrific for fans of genuinely imaginative CGI creatures, the best of which (no spoiler here) is the size of a house and frankly one of the most original sorcery-sourced, Brobdingnagian behemoths since the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Stine’s books aren’t just campfire tales for adolescents; they tend to have historical, dare I say educational, aspects snuck in amongst the shadows, and that’s carried over into Haunted Halloween ingeniously. Wardenclyffe should sound familiar to readers of online humor site The Oatmeal because creator Matthew Inman’s comic raised $1.7 million to help save the town’s most famous landmark, namely Nikola Tesla’s iconic, 187-foot radio tower, which looms over Wardenclyffe to this day. Needless to say, “Tesla’s folly” plays an integral part in the movie.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween knows what its target demographic wants but also resonates with adult audiences, thanks to the zippy plot and across-the-board excellent performances from the totally game cast. Just as important, director Sandel and in particular the team at visual effects house Mr. X (The Shape of Water) really capture that crucial small-town Halloween vibe. This isn’t Stranger Things-level horror, although comparisons are bound to be made, nor is it trying to be. Suffice to say that older viewers will leave the theatre thinking of a Goonies-meets-The ‘Burbs-during-The Giant Spider Invasion mash-up, and that sounds like a pretty cool Saturday afternoon Monster Movie Matinee.
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