FX played both movies last night, so I watched them both and sketched my favorite creatures from both. I’m reviewing them together because I’d seen the first Goosebumps before but not the sequel, which means only Haunted Halloween is new to me. And looking at the movies together, it’s easy to see a distinct difference between them…
Both movies have similar budgets/number of monsters (lots), and design; in that way, they’re pretty similar. If you only have time to watch one, you’re left to choose entirely based on the plot. In each one, author R.L. Stine (played by Jack Black) has to face his own demons when the monsters he created in his novels come to life. Each movie has individual kid vs monster fight scenes, each has parents/adults who don’t believe something is wrong in their little town until it’s too late, and each has awkward teens standing up to the monsters to help Stine save the day. It’s how the characters interact that makes the first Goosebumps the superior movie.
In Goosebumps, Stine is present from the very beginning, as the reclusive neighbor raising his teenage daughter in a small town, when a new boy moves in next door. In Haunted Halloween he only shows up at the very end to quip a few one-liners after the kids already solved their own problems. You might think that’s growth; probably, it was meant to be a “passing the torch” sort of thing, but Jack Black is such a presence that putting him in for just a few minutes means you miss him the rest of the movie, especially if you’re watching Haunted Halloween right after Goosebumps ends. But it’s more than that. In HH, the kids are siblings and though they end up sort of working as a team by the end, mostly the older sister treats her younger brother the same way their mom treats them both: she’s dismissive of the supernatural problem until she’s forced to believe in it, then takes over and orders everyone around for the next 90 minutes.
In G1, the kids are a team from the very beginning. New kid meets Stine’s daughter right away, and she’s the one who takes him out of his comfort zone to see the town he’s just moved to. He makes a new friend at school right away too, and the three of them work together to fight the first major monster. The moms in both movies are single moms, but in G1 she’s a widow trying to move on while taking a job as the school’s vice principal, supportive and loving her son even when she doesn’t know why weird things are happening around her… vs HH, where the mom is an overworked caregiver at a nursing home, expecting her teenage daughter to take on a lot of parenting, and blithely dismissing pretty much everything her kids try to tell her. In G1, Mom sees her son for who he is – a good kid who’s grieving the loss of his father but has a good heart – whereas in HH, Mom sees her kids as problems she has to deal with. Sure, she loves them – she even compliments her daughter once, right before telling her to watch the younger kids for the weekend – but it’s clear from the dialog that HH’s Mom just wishes they’d stop requiring so much of her time and attention.
Haunted Halloween isn’t the worst movie I’ll see this month. It just isn’t much fun to watch. Spend those two hours watching the first Goosebumps instead.