As a child of the ’90s, I knew of R.L. Stine’s book series Goosebumps, although I never really read them. While I love horror nowadays, I just didn’t really see the appeal of being scared or seeing scary things as I kid, so I streered away from anything and everything horror. I may have read a book or two of Goosebumps growing up, but none of it ever stuck with me. That’s a shame because I do think that there’s a pretty large dearth of horror series aimed at younger audiences nowadays that could serve as a viable way to introduce children to horror. Leading up to New York Comic Con, I debated whether or not I should go to the Goosebumps panel given that the series also debuted on Disney+ and Hulu the same day and the poor quality of the recent movies, but then I figured why the hell not and gave it a shot. It’s Friday the 13th after all.
In what I assume is going to be a growing trend for this year, with the SAG-AFTRA strike going on, it was up to the producers, Rob Letterman and Nicholas Stoller, to try and market the movie for the jam-packed room of Goosebumps fans. And they barely factored into it. They openly advocated for the strike to end since they considered the actors to be the real talent and not them, and quickly shuffled offstage in favor of debuting the pilot episode. They were present for only about five or ten minutes and offered some brief insight into the creative process of the series.
Letterman, who also was the director of the 2015 movie, said that the series attempts to take what is ostensibly an anthology and weave it together into a serialized series. He said that the five books that factored heavily into this first season were “The Haunted Mask,” “The Cuckoo Clock,” “Go Eat Worms,” “Say Cheese and Die,” and “Night of the Living Dummy.” Most of these stories were referenced in the first episode, some more directly than others, which made it clear that this wasn’t just going to be blatant pandering. It was just the right amount of fan service for a pilot episode that will certainly please fans but also can introduce new fans to the world of Goosebumps.
The pilot also was pretty good on the whole, something I was not really expecting from a series that I found kind of hokey for most of my life. The series is set in a small town and follows a group of teenagers who are slowly being affected by a curse. The curse seems to have stemmed from a tragedy that happened three decades earlier where a teenager burned alive in his family’s home. None of the adults seem to want to talk about it for some reason, but once the teens enter the home and discover where he was killed, strange events start to happen to them. A ghost chases one of them in the woods, a vending machine is altered to give someone food they’re allergic to, and a person hallucinates to the point they break their arm in what they believe to be a fiery hellscape. All of this is standard for the genre, but I wasn’t expecting these kinds of scares from Goosebumps of all things.
The cast has good chemistry with each other, mostly thanks to Zack Morris as the high school quarterback Isaiah and our lead character for the first episode. He’s very likable and has solid delivery and quips with his friends to the point where his descent into fear and paranoia is almost tragic. Plus his reaction to all of the spooky events happening around him really sells the terror of the situation. The highlight of the episode was probably when he’s hyping his team up for a football game and opens his locker only to discover a decrepit camera he destroyed in perfect condition. It’s executed well and while it isn’t scary, it’s interesting to see Goosebumps actually try to be scary.
The producers assured that the show would have some comedy in it, but it seems to be downplayed in favor of emphasizing that this show has a bit of an edge. There’s blood, injuries, cursing, and generally dark imagery. I mean, the show begins with a kid being burned alive, but it never feels obligatory. Granted, the CG face in the fire was a bit cheesy, but I kind of expect that from Goosebumps. It’s meant to be a little goofy, but the show was taking itself seriously to the point where I’m actually interested in seeing where it goes. At points, it almost gives off a PG IT vibe, which I didn’t think I would say about a Goosebumps TV show, but color me surprised. I didn’t think that I would be won over by this show, but color me impressed.
Goosebumps is streaming on Disney+ and Hulu. Five episodes are currently available and new episodes will be released weekly.