Premiered on October 16, 2015. 103 minutes, rated PG
Directed by Rob Letterman
Screenplay by Darren Lemke
Story by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
Gale Cooper and her son Zach have moved to Madison, Delaware for a change of scenery; her husband/his father has passed away within the last year. Helping the two acclimate is Gale’s sister Lorraine who lives in town. Zach’s still feeling the pain of his father’s death and being the new kid in school, with his mom the school’s new assistant principal is really not helping. Add to that major geek Champ, short for Champion (Yes, that’s his real name), who befriends Zach. The Coopers have moved next to a reclusive man who snaps at Zach after the teen speaks to the man’s daughter, Hannah. Soon the pair see each other again, with the girl taking Zach to a secret location deep in the woods. Something about their daughter-father relationship causes Zach concern, so that he calls the police. This only makes matters worse with the man next door, culminating in his breaking into the house to be sure Hannah is safe. Coming with him is Champ, who only makes their sneaking around more tension filled. They don’t find Hannah in chains, but they do find several manuscripts of books, which are locked. They’re all R.L. Stine books and they unlock one after Champ says it was one of his favorites. With the book unlocked the title character, the Abominable Snowman, comes out of the tome and the chase to put him back in begins. However, unbeknownst to any of the teens, a book falls off the shelf and unlocks, and this causes all the troubles that follow.
I was a middle school teacher when R.L. Stine’s books first came out. I’ve never read them, but have read many, many book reports on them by my students. I have two daughters, with the youngest, thirteen, only reading a few, but watching every incarnation of the books as television episodes. I saw the movie with her and she loved it. She actually covered her eyes and ears a few times at the expected jump that was to occur, and there are several, but there’s no blood anywhere, not a drop. This is a fun film for good scares for younger viewers. Several iconic Stine characters come to life to menace Madison. Only the teens and R.L. Stine can stop them.
Having the creatures manifest themselves out of the books is a very clever way to combine the monsters into one tale. Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, and Darren Lemke have done an excellent job in keeping these monsters true to their original book personas, but also evolving them in this film into parts of a greater threat. Highlights included the Abominable Snowman, Slappy, the Lawn Gnomes, and the Giant Praying Mantis. There’s also a good twist involving one of the leads’ origins, which pulled at several heartstrings of young audience goers, with several gasps elicited when the moon came out. The scares and jumps shouldn’t be too much for children 6 and up. If they’ve seen the television episodes or read the books, this is fine fare.
Jack Black has to play the majority of the film straight, with few laughs coming from his character, though the first scene with all the characters in his car having some very humorous moments — the line involving another prolific horror writer will make parents laugh out loud. He’s also using his intelligent person accent; I’ve seen most, if not all, of Black’s performances, and his choice of voice for Stine began to grate, but once the action began it was lost to the running about. Dylan Minnette is good as Zach, strongly showing the effects of his character’s loss at the beginning of the film, and his scenes with Odeya Rush are excellent. Rush is also good in her role, with Hannah knowing more than she can say, but drawn to the attractive boy next door. Ryan Lee as Champ gets the funny lines. He’s the Nervous Nelly that everyone knows, but with a heart of gold. He gets a moment to prove he can live up to his name, and an equal number of younger viewers covered their eyes during that scene in the school hall. Jillian Bell contributes some laughs for parents as Aunt Lorraine, with her fantastically dreadful hobby. And don’t blink — Yes, that’s Ken Marino as the school’s Coach Carr. He’s barely in the film, but has some funny moments. Stine cameos in the film, as Mr. Black, appropriately, which generated a few chuckles for those in the know.
The effects are excellent, with the Snowman and the Gnomes being very impressive. It was hard not think of Gremlins during the Gnomes’ first appearances, as they were both funny and scary, considering what they were trying to do to Stine. There’s a lot of CG effects in this film, done by several different companies, as is the practice these days, and each effect looks great. The sound effects are also good, giving little ones moments to prepare for something that’s obviously around the next corner. I particularly enjoyed the sounds of the Gnomes, both their maniacally child-like laughter and the sounds as their clay bodies clinked or broke (the eyebrows raising on one gave me a good laugh). The opening scene of the film follows the Coopers’ car as it makes its way from New York to Delaware and the music is exactly what one would want to hear in a children’s scary movie. It was tense, memorable, and sounded crazed. In the closing credits Oingo Boingo front man and master composer of iconic film music Danny Elfman was revealed. If I taught elementary school or wanted music for a haunted house, I would buy this movie’s soundtrack, it’s perfect!
The final line: A fun, scary movie for the whole family. If there were a sequel, I’d easily go back with my daughter. Recommended. Overall grade: A