If you are doubting your own memories of the Goosebumps novels, then rest assured: this sequel to the 2015 film feels more closely based on the source material. The film represents a significant shift from its predecessor, in pretty much every way — and for the better. Striving to appeal to teenagers on the verge of adulthood, Goosebumps adopted a high octane approach in order to counter the cynicism of its older audience. Aside from a few effectively scary monsters and some genuinely funny jokes, the result was rather exhausting and throwaway.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, by contrast, is very clearly aimed at younger children, but does not take the hyperactive approach that so many kids’ films do. This is instead a very classical, old-school movie, which paradoxically makes it quite refreshing.
Our main protagonists aren’t even naughty children: Sarah (Madison Iseman) is trying to get into Columbia University. Her younger brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) even protests when his best friend Sam (Caleel Harris) forces him to step away from his science project and go pick up some junk as part of their new business venture. The Junk Bros, as they call themselves, are called to a deserted house where they find a strange book and a ventriloquist doll called Slappy — who soon proves to have a mind and powers of its own.
The story that then unfolds is extremely similar to that of the first film: here again, Slappy wants to have a big family. But instead of getting all of R.L. Stine’s monsters to come to life, he turns all of the city’s Halloween decoration into real-life monsters. This slightly different premise allows Haunted Halloween to better grapple with the mechanisms of fear at the centre of Stine’s novels: the way in which tacky Halloween decorations become flesh-and-blood monsters echoes the author’s ability to make the everyday appear monstrous and deeply unsettling.
The film also excels in the department of wholesome, childish humour, for the delight of viewers of all ages. Unlike Stranger Things or It, Haunted Halloween is a comeback to old school PG horror that isn’t animated by nostalgia. Rather, the film understands and apply the tricks and treats that made other films like it work back in the day.