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Review: 'Goosebumps' is spooky good — better than it has to be

KATIE WALSH
YorkDispatch

Silly, spooky monster mash-up "Goosebumps" doesn't have to be as good as it is. The film is slyly smarter and more entertaining than it appears, and adults might have as much fun as the kids who will undoubtedly gobble up this Halloween treat.

A sort of PG version of "Cabin in the Woods," this adaptation of R.L. Stine's series of young adult horror novels is bolstered by a stellar comedic cast, headed up by the inimitable Jack Black in the role of the author.

With so many "Goosebumps" books to choose from, story writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander (with screenplay by Darren Lemke), chose to reverse engineer all of the titles into one film, with author Stine as a main character.

The result is a clever, meta take on monster tales and what purpose they can serve for the writer.

Plot: New kid in town Zach (Dylan Minnette) befriends his beguiling next door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), despite the disapproval of her intimidating dad (Black). When he suspects Hannah's in danger and the bumbling local police can't help, Zach breaks in with his delightfully goofy friend Champ (the excellent Ryan Lee).

Inside her creepy mansion, Zach and Champ discover a stash of "Goosebumps" manuscripts, that when unlocked, release the real monsters from the pages and into the world. Turns out Hannah's dad is one Mr. R.L. Stine, who took his own personal demons and put them on the page, before they eventually became real.

And so begins the wild goose chase through the tiny town of Madison, Delaware, as Zach, Hannah, Champ, and R.L. Stine attempt to stuff the rampaging monsters back into the books. This is complicated by the leadership of revenge-happy villainous ventriloquist dummy Slappy, who doesn't appreciate being locked up on the bookshelf.

Slapstick: The script is funny and sharp, and filled with references that most older horror fans will appreciate, from "Teen Wolf" to "The Shining," but the film errs more on the side of slapstick than scary.

A murderer's row of comic talent backs up Black who, in his scenery-chewing best, sets the tone and the standard for the rest. "Workaholics" star Jillian Bell is a hilarious stand-out as Zach's kooky aunt, and comics such as Ken Marino and "Veep" player Timothy Simons pepper the supporting roles.

The effects are sometimes cheesy, especially the ones that are overly computer- generated — the sweetly low-tech practical effects for the mummies, zombies and scary clown are a hoot.

Some of the resolutions are a bit too neat and facile, but "Goosebumps" is chockablock with humor, heart, and whole lot of fun, thanks mostly to the committed cast, who are game for anything.

"Goosebumps" is a fun, nostalgic popcorn flick that reminds us that monsters can still be child's play.