Saturday movie review: Goosebumps

'Tis the season for spooky stories, and there's no scarier tales—for kids, that is—than R.L. Stine's spookfest "Goosebumps" series. The GOOSEBUMPS film, starring Jack Black as Stine himself, celebrates the scary as well as monsters galore, all unleashed from the pages of Goosebumps manuscripts.

GOOSEBUMPS movie poster 

The action/adventure/comedy GOOSEBUMPS, which opened in theaters yesterday, tells the tale of a teen named Zach (Dylan Minnette), who moves to a small town with his mom (Amy Ryan) and quickly develops a crush on the cute girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush), whose father turns out to be none other than R.L. Stine (Black). Stine is, as one might expect, creepy and mysterious and seemingly not a very nice father—or man—at all. 

So Zach and his new kinda-sorta buddy, Champ (Ryan Lee), set out to rescue Hannah from her whack-job of a home life. The boys' curiosity creates chaos, though, when Champ accidentally lets loose myriad monsters from the Goosebumps manuscripts safely stored upon Stine's shelves.

I haven't read any of the popular Goosebumps books, but my daughters did during their middle-school years. My youngest (who's 30) attended the screening with my husband and me last month and was delighted to see many of the devilish demons, kooks, and creatures that dwelled in Stine's stories tumble forth and come to life JUMANJI style. Even having never known what lurked in those pages my daughters read all those years ago, the numerous monsters of varied sorts and degrees of dastardly nastiness made me cringe... and chuckle. The special effects were super, and I admit I jumped a time or two.

It's those scary monsters and moments of peril that make GOOSEBUMPS a treat best enjoyed by kids over the age of 10, I'd say, despite the film's PG rating (for "scary and intense creature action and images, and for some rude humor"). That's my own recommendation, of course, because I'd hate to encourage scaring the bejeezus out of little ones younger than the age of the typical Goosebumps readers.

Jack Black was a seriously silly Stine, in typical over-the-top Jack Black fashion. Many of his lines made me wonder if he ad-libbed or they were part of the script. I especially enjoyed Jillian Bell as Lorraine, Zach's aunt who falls fast for Stine. The interactions between Bell and Black were the most humorous of the film and the parts that made me wonder if they were winging it on their lines.

The teens in the film played their parts authentically. Minnette seems to be (deservedly) making a mark as the go-to teen for many a film and television series, having been in everything from TV's Saving Grace to Lost to the films ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY plus LABOR DAY, and more. Odeya Rush (who looks eerily like a young Mila Kunis) made a sweet yet strong Hannah. Ryan Lee elicited lots of laughs as Zach's nerdy buddy.

Bonus: Keep an eye out for R.L. Stine's cameo near the end, pointed out by Jack Black—the faux Stine—as teacher "Mr. Black."

Casting misstep: I felt Amy Ryan was an odd choice to play Zach's mother, Gale (though I loved her in GONE, BABY, GONE and DAN IN REAL LIFE).

A behind-the-scenes glimpse of GOOSEBUMPS:

Older kids will definitely enjoy GOOSEBUMPS, especially if they're fans of the Goosebumps books. And what kid isn't... or wasn't? So it's safe to say, it's a fun film for grandparents to treat (appropriately aged) grandchildren to during the Halloween holiday season.

For more info and goosebump-worthy fun, visit the official GOOSEBUMPS website.

Disclosure: My family and I were treated to a free screening of this film; opinions are my own.