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"GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN"
(2018) (Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Horror: A high school senior, her younger brother, and his friend try to stop a possessed ventriloquist dummy from turning a wide variety of Halloween decorations and figures into real-life monsters.
PLOT:
Sarah Quinn (MADISON ISEMAN) is a high school senior who's applying to get into Columbia, but is facing writer's block while trying to pen her essay response to an application question about facing fear. It doesn't help that her boyfriend, Tyler Mitchell (BRYCE CASS), interrupts her, or that her mom, Kathy (WENDI McLENDON-COVEY), tasks her with watching her younger brother, Sonny (JEREMY RAY TAYLOR), and his best friend, Sam Carter (CALEEL HARRIS), while she pulls a double shift at work.

Besides being students where they must contend with Tommy Madigan (PEYTON WICH) and his two fellow bullies, Sonny and Sam have started a side business of removing junk. They get their first gig emptying out a run-down and deserted house and end up finding a secret room that contains a chest inside. They open that but are disappointed to find nothing but a book without any title. Accordingly, they put it back in, but when they turn back around a ventriloquist dummy has appeared in that open chest wearing a card that states its name is Slappy.

It's not long until they realize that Slappy (voice of MICK WINGERT) is possessed and can use magic related to anything he sees, such as dispatching the bullies who've been plaguing them. The dummy views them as brothers, but has ulterior motives once they and Sarah -- upon learning about him -- try to ditch him. They also learn something similar happened in the past and realize too late what the dummy is really after. And that's to have a mother -- he eyes Kathy -- and turn ordinary Halloween decorations, figures and such into real-life monsters.

Hoping to stop that, the kids try to reach out to R.L. Stine (JACK BLACK) once they realize from their neighbor, Mr. Chu (KEN JEONG), that Slappy is a creation of the author's work that's come to life. From that point on, they do what they can to stop the dummy's nefarious plans as Halloween turns scary for everyone in the town.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I can't say for sure where the old saying "don't leave money on the table" comes from, but beyond the usually recognized meaning (of making sure to milk every last cent out of a financial opportunity), I'd guess it stems from gambling or perhaps a parent who realized their kid was literally swiping cash and coins off such a horizontal surface.

In a similar vein, I truly believe one shouldn't leave potential on the table, especially when it comes to screenwriting. Which is sort of a crazy thing to say since the sky's the limit when it comes to writing fiction, but I've seen far too many instances of scripts where I think "it could have been so much better had they done this or that."

Case in point is "Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween," the -- yes, you guessed it -- sequel to the 2015 original film that was based on the mega-popular book series by author R.L. Stine. In full disclosure, I've never read any of them nor did I see the first film (another of our reviewers covered it), but I'm familiar with the plot. In that film, the monsters of Stine's works are locked in their own books and are then released by some kids and later Slappy the ventriloquist dummy who has a personal ax to grind. It's then up to Stine himself (Jack Black) to write a new book to capture and contain the monsters.

The sequel -- directed by Ari Sandel from a script by Rob Lieber -- pretty much jettisons the entire cast and their characters, save for Stine (although he only shows up at the very end and easily could have gone off with the rest as he doesn't really do anything here) and Slappy (who arrives with a new vocal performer to voice him, which seems weird since Black did the duties the first go-round).

The latter is unleashed by two kids (Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris) who find an unfinished manuscript of Stine's that, when opened, unleashes the puppet who arrives with a small card and spell that activates him. At first, he seems intent on helping the kids out with their homework as well as dispatching some bullies (led by Peyton Wich), but doesn't want the one boy's high school senior sister (Madison Iseman) or mother (Wendi McLendon-Covey) to know what he's up to.

And that's to have a family, and when the kids realize that's a bad idea, the dummy (perhaps the benign cousin to the more sinister Fats from the Anthony Hopkins flick "Magic") decides he wants to take the mom as his own. To do so and provide interference, he unleashes all sorts of Halloween themed characters from the holiday aisle at the local store as well as front yards across the neighborhood.

Since we already know from the first film that new writing can affect the outcome of the storyline, and that the teen girl is suffering from writer's block in regard to answering her college application essay about fear, I'm shocked Lieber and company didn't go full-on creative with that potential. They easily could have had the kids collectively or, better yet, separately writing their own version, all while the deranged dummy and maybe even some of his sinister or dimwitted associates could have been doing the same.

The back and forth changes, literary parries and more could have been a blast and made this much more creative, imaginative, fun and entertaining for anyone older than the target audience. Granted, the latter group probably won't care as they'll likely be both delighted and maybe a bit scared by some of the supernatural shenanigans that pop up.

But I hate seeing potential go to waste, especially when I found myself getting somewhat bored by what plays out over the film's 90 or so minute runtime and ended up repeatedly imagining what could --and should -- have been. Not horrible but clearly leaving a lot on the table, "Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed October 11, 2018 / Posted October 12, 2018


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