By Laurie Coker
A sure-fire way to measure the quality of a kid’s movie is to attend with a seven-year-old and a fourteen-year-old. I attended the screening with my granddaughter and her older brother. At first, the little one (her nickname is Chiquita or Little), did not want to go. I had taken her to The House with a Clock in the Walls, and the creepy dolls freaked her out. We gave her American Dolls one Christmas, and she hid them all in her mother’s closet. She worried about the dummy, Snappy in Goosebumps 2 having seen the trainer. After a little negotiation and the draw of pre-screening activities, we settled in. She watched attentively, while her brother and I sighed a bit at the film’s limited storyline and over-played special effects.
Following the successful Goosebumps, starring Jack Black, brings to life another of the tween scare novels author R.L. Stine. Haunted Halloween, stars Madison Iseman (Sarah Quinn), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Sonny Quinn) and Caleel Harris (Sam Carter). The boys, Sam and Sonny, the Junk Brothers, come across a hidden room and a treasure chest in an old house. They open the chest where they first find an unfinished book, but after opening it, Snappy appears – an unnerving ventriloquist doll. Personally, I find few things more unsettling than a Charley McCartney-style puppet. Snappy is no exception. My granddaughter covered her eyes, but then slowly became engaged. Snappy immediately begins to use his magic to take control, and the kids must work quickly to save the town and their mother (Wendi McLendon-Covey).
Director Ari Sandel, working with a screenplay by Rob Lieber, creates a wild and speedy ride though PG rated Halloween nightmares. The plot is so typical in tween movies that my grandson groaned and later in the car complained about how “lame” the story is. I agree. Sandel’s characters are as stock as can be and the plotline is wholly predictable. Unlike the first film, Haunted Halloween lacks any real chills or thrills. The cast, which includes Ken Jeong and Chris Parnell, mesh well and the teen actors carry the weight of the movie, but even visually exciting Halloween creatures cannot spice things up.
Jack Black, a busy actor, shows up as R.L. Stine for fewer than fifteen minutes of screen time and he must have run from set to set because his character in this is far too much like the one he plays in The House with a Clock in the Walls or maybe he is just himself in everything. The visuals and the cast keep Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween from being a total waste, especially for a seven-year-old, but this grandma and her ninth-grader grandson were bored for most of the film. The cute gummy bears turned giant murderous globs of sugar garnered some laughs from the older audience members. Even though middle-schoolers are the target age group. Haunted Halloween is far more suited to an elementary crowd. I am putting a C- in my grade book.