Sonny Quinn and Sam Carter are best buds. They’ve got each other’s backs when it comes to school, homework and bullies. They’ve even just started a small junk-collecting and disposal business together: They call themselves the Junk Bros. (OK, maybe the name could be a little cooler, but it gets the point across.)
Just before Halloween the boys get a call for their first job. They’re pretty excited about it … until they see the house, that is. It’s an old abandoned place that’s pretty much nothing but junk. But you gotta think on the positive side. If they find anything really cool while they’re hauling out the trash, they’re told they can keep it. And for a couple of 11-year-olds, that offers all sorts of possibilities.
After quite a bit of grunting, and hauling, and sweating, it seems that their dreams of hidden treasures will pay off, too, when they discover a secret hideaway holding a mysterious trunk. Ooh baby, this might be something really awesome! They think.
After pulling out the trunk and opening it, though, they find nothing but a leather-bound book. A locked leather-bound book. Why would anybody lock a book!?
It’s a book titled “Haunted Halloween,” by some guy named Stine. And when Sonny and Sam find a key and unlock the tome, they find that, yep, it’s nothing more than a dusty old book filled with … nothing but words. Oh well, maybe some second-hand bookstore might give them a buck or two for it.
Sonny and Sam go back to the haulage at hand. But when they turn back to tote away the trunk, they find something weird. Except for the book, it used to be empty. But now there’s a ventriloquist dummy in there.
The boys don’t know it yet, but the dummy’s even weirder than they suspect. First, it can talk—all on its own. Its name is Slappy and it has magical powers. It has a magical plan, too, to start bringing all sorts of monsters like mummies and vampires and witches and stuff to life. I mean, really, to life.
Of course, it takes a day or two for Sonny and Sam to realize that sinister things of that sort are rattling around in what they assumed was a hollow wooden dummy’s head. And by the time they do, things are already getting pretty crazy.
I guess it’s up to the Junk Bros. to save the world.
As the story unfolds, Sonny’s older sis, Sarah, finds out about Slappy, and she and the boys work together frantically to fix things—including rescuing Sonny and Sarah’s mom. So, in that sense, the movie packs a light message about caring for your siblings and pulling together as a family when the magical chips are down.
Sarah also shares a bit of wisdom with her brother when she tells him: “When an animated doll asks you to keep a secret, THAT’S A RED FLAG!”
There’s unexplained magic at play here, and it all ties into the locked, R.L. Stine-authored book that the boys find. In the original Goosebumps movie, some of that “monsters leaping off the page” supernatural stuff had a bit of backstory attached. Here though, it’s all left as a mystery (and can actually seem a bit confusing at times).
Slappy is able to magically do the boy’s homework and move inanimate physical objects. But even though Slappy transforms humans into monsters, and brings plastic witches, a headless horseman and ghosts and skeleton yard displays to life, things feel more magic-wand-like than dark and occultish.
However, there is a spell-like mantra of gibberish words— printed on a card that Sonny reads—which causes Slappy to come to life and sets everything else in motion. Slappy repeats that mantra a few times to cast his magic as well. Slappy also uses inventor Nikola Tesla’s abandoned tower as an amplifier for his magical powers. Eventually the parade of spooky creatures brought to life cover the gamut of horror and monster movie fare. The only thing we don’t see is an invisible man, but …
On the other side of the equation, the Haunted Halloween book is able to suck Slappy’s magical creations into its pages.
Sarah’s boyfriend, Tyler, sneaks into Sarah’s bedroom at night, but he’s snagged by Sarah’s mom as soon as he gets there. We see Tyler kiss someone else at a party.
Slappy magically pulls a bully’s pants down around his ankles, leaving him standing in his boxer shorts.
Some bullies verbally threaten to beat up Sonny and Sam. Later, they return to follow through on their threats, but Slappy magically causes them fall off their bikes. Some magically animated witches grab the bullies and pull them up into the sky. (We see one guy thump back to Earth in a bush, seemingly no worse for wear.) Slappy also causes Tyler to fall off a collapsing ladder and thump to the ground. Slappy amplifies Sonny’s science project and sends bolts of energy shooting around a classroom—blowing a hole through the room’s wall and leaving a girl cartoonishly singed and blackened.
Once the town’s Halloween displays, pumpkins and a store full of masks and costumes are brought to life, the town suffers a lot of damage. Fences crumble, house windows and walls are smashed, trick-or-treaters are terrorized and thumped, and some objects are set aflame. Animated creatures, such as a gigantic spider made of balloons, snatch up people and even crush vehicles. Spilled gummy bears blend together and create larger bears that snarl and bare their sharp (but still gummy) teeth.
We hear one or two uses each of words such as “d–n,” “h—,” “jerk,” “idiot” and “scumbag.” And there is a handful of exclamations of “Oh my god!”
Sonny’s next-door neighbor winks at profanity with a smiling, “What’s up my witches?”
We find several toilet humor gags mixed in the dialogue. For example, Sonny’s mom works at a retirement community and jokes with a store clerk about adult diapers and toilet use. We see a urinating skeleton dog. A neighbor puts up a Christmas display with gas-passing reindeer.
What exactly should we do when it comes to scary stuff and our kids? The answers to that question are likely as numerous and varied as there are parents giving them.
Even though readers have bought some 400 million copies of the kid-targeted, horror-lite Goosebumps books—bestsellers that this flick is based on—many moms and dads blanch at the idea of their children reading anything of that sort. (I mean, who needs yet another reason to stock up on night-lights?) And scads of parents don’t like the idea of tykes dressing up in creepy outfits and wandering the neighborhood looking for chocolate on the last day of October, either. (Let’s face it, Halloween is a pretty bizarre cultural event, if you think about it.)
Those parents have probably already made up their minds about this sequel. But if you’re still mulling the idea of going to a goofy make-believe-monsters-come-to-life movie, well, let me give you a few more insights.
First of all, this is indeed a silly comic send-up of scariness. It features tons of crazy pell-mell antics, pumpkin smashing and trick-or-treater pummeling in its small-town streets. But from broom-riding plastic witches to teeth-gnashing gummy bears to a towering tarantula made of balloons, the whole screwball affair feels much more wheee than Ouija.
Nobody is really hurt in any of Slappy ‘s sinister attacks. Even some bullies who seemingly get hoisted a few miles into the air eventually thump back down again and stagger to their feet with a wobbly “Wha-happened?” on their lips.
There is lots of magic in the mix, though. Some of the animated inanimate monsters—including mummies, skeletons, vampires, zombies, werewolves, an abominable snowman, etc., etc., do look menacing. And there’s even a dollop or two of toilet humor here and there.
This pic is polished but predictable. Screeching but ridiculous. And it’s as frenzied as a sugar-fueled youngster who’s had a few too many Halloween treats before bed.
So, what exactly should you do when it comes to this movie and your kids? Well, I’d say you already know, don’t you?
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.