Goosebumps TV Review

R.L. Stine’s beloved book series gets a solid reboot that favors horror over humor.

Last Updated on October 12, 2023

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amnbCcYnq3s

PLOT: Inspired by R.L. Stine’s worldwide bestselling book series, “Goosebumps” follows a group of five high schoolers as they embark on a shadowy and twisted journey to investigate the tragic passing three decades earlier of a teen named Harold Biddle – while also unearthing dark secrets from their parents’ past.

REVIEW: For decades, R.L. Stine has been a mainstay of tween and teen horror. In the 1980s and 1990s, Stine was the Stephen King for younger audiences, and the 1995 television anthology series of his books frightened a generation. The 2015 and 2018 feature films brought most of Stine’s iconic stories and characters together for movies that were more adventure than horror. Now, Disney+ and Hulu bring a new take on Goosebumps that is decidedly darker and scarier than the previous takes on the source material. The new Goosebumps combines ten of R.L. Stine’s books into a larger overall series that pits a group of teens against a supernatural foe straight from the pages of the novels. The result is a series that maintains a sense of humor and whimsy but in a much darker and more mature style than ever before. This Goosebumps is the take on the books that fans have been waiting for.

Goosebumps review

Set in Port Lawrence, Washington, Goosebumps centers on five high school upperclassmen whose families share a connection to the mysterious death of Harold Biddle in 1993. Isaiah (Zack Morris) is the popular high school quarterback who shares an unrequited crush with his neighbor, Margot (Isa Briones). Isaiah’s best friend is James (Miles McKenna), and they befriend local daredevil Lucas (Will Price) and AV whiz Isabella (Ana Yi Puig). The teens break into the supposedly haunted Biddle home, now owned by new English teacher Nathan Bratt (Justin Long). Throwing a party at the house on Halloween, each of the teens becomes connected to the death of Harold Biddle in different ways, each harkening back to a Goosebumps story. With Mr. Bratt possessed by Harold and each of the teens becoming aware of the curse upon them, they must team up to stop Harold from his revenge mission. As the episodes progress, the stakes increase as flashbacks illuminate the backstory of how and why Harold died and the true cause.

Having seen eight of the ten episodes of Goosebumps, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it is. While still centered around teenagers and the drama of raging hormones and social media, this cast never succumbs to boring melodrama but instead dives right into the macabre mythology surrounding them. While the 2015 film and its sequel reveled in the spoopy fun of Night at the Museum antics with CGI monsters and safe scares, this Goosebumps is not afraid to push the envelope closer to a PG-13 take on It. Like Netflix’s R.L. Stine films based on Fear Street, the Goosebumps series pushes the boundaries of subject matter you would expect to see on Disney+. With mild profanity and sexual references, the show was much more mature than I expected and managed to drop in some fairly bold commentary for a younger-skewing project. It also helps that the young cast is strong, but the adult cast is equally so, with actors like Rachael Harris and Rob Huebel joining in roles that are much more dramatic than the comedic parts they typically take.

Having appeared in Barbarian and Drag Me To Hell, Justin Long, no stranger to horror, is the go-between separating the young and older cast. While he is a teacher, Long’s Nathan Bratt interacts with both the adults and teens and gets to play his possessed character as the most bizarre of anyone in the cast. Channeling Jack Nicholson in The Shining crossed with Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters. Long chews each of his scenes masterfully and brings a menace and sense of humor to all of his scenes. Goosebumps owes a debt to many horror films, including A Nightmare on Elm Street, It, The Shining, It Follows, and many more. This series has a safety net as the blood is at a minimum, and the body count is low, but the visual diversity of the scares is more than enough to keep you up at night. Whether it be the appearance of a more sinister Slappy the Dummy, fiery demons, humans with ventriloquist dummy faces, or a menacing atmosphere of dread, the series is full of well-placed jump scares that work but do not overtake the natural fear imbued in the script and the visuals of the film.

Goosebumps review

Developed by Goosebumps movie director Rob Letterman and Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors), the series feels closer to the Guillermo Del Toro-produced Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. With mature themes including adultery, alcoholism, and murder, and high school-focused themes like cyberbullying, gender identity, peer pressure, and more, Goosebumps grounds the cast of characters in a more realistic world than you would expect from a horror story. This helps make what happens over the ten-episode series feel more sinister and believable. Letterman and Stoller wrote the first and final episode of the series, with Letterman directing the premiere chapter. The other seven episodes I saw were helmed by Erin O’Malley, Steve Boyum, and Felix Enrique Alcala, who each directed two episodes, and one by David Grossman. Without revealing any plot twists or spoilers, the overall narrative of the story stretches across multiple episodes before reaching a natural conclusion, which happens with several episodes left to go. Hopefully, the final chapters do not feel anticlimactic, as the momentum the series builds over the first episodes is very solid.

Goosebumps is a far more effective series with a soundtrack of 90s hits and contemporary tracks than either feature film. It is scary in a fun way, never crossing into any truly disturbing territory but managing to evoke the feeling of R.L. Stine’s stories. The teen cast is all quite good, and the story never panders or mocks the generational differences between the parents and their kids. This effective scary story is a step above family-friendly horror but not quite into the territory of films like Insidious. I enjoyed the episodes of Goosebumps that I have seen so far and am looking forward to seeing how the last two episodes bring the story together. It was sometimes distracting to see the almost hour-long episodes split with spots for commercial breaks, but as we venture back into ad-based programming, it is a necessary evil. Goosebumps will get a definite boost with a multi-episode premiere on two different streaming platforms, allowing a larger audience to get scared this Halloween season.

Goosebumps premieres with five episodes on October 13th on Disney+ and Hulu.

Six new additions to the cast of Goosebumps season 2 rounds out the cast, which includes David Schwimmer and Ana Ortiz

Goosebumps

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About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.