Upset about moving from a big city to a small town, teenager Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) finds a silver lining when he meets the beautiful girl, Hannah (Odeya Rush), living right next door.
But every silver lining has a cloud, and Zach’s comes when he learns that Hannah has a mysterious dad who is revealed to be R.L. Stine (Jack Black), the author of the bestselling Goosebumps series. It turns out that there is a reason why Stine is so strange…
He is a prisoner of his own imagination – the monsters that his books made famous are rea, and Stine protects his readers by keeping them locked up in their books. When Zach unintentionally unleashes the monsters from their manuscripts and they begin to terrorise the town, it’s suddenly up to Stine, Zach, and Hannah to get all of them back in the books where they belong.
With over 400 million copies in print worldwide, Goosebumps is one of the biggest book franchises of all time. The bestselling series has captured the imaginations of readers for generations. Now, Goosebumps, the new film from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation, brings the series to life on the big screen for the first time, combining dozens of author R.L. Stine’s famous creations into one hilariously spine-tingling movie, starring Jack Black as the famed writer.
For producer Deborah Forte, it’s easy to see why the series struck a resonant chord with readers all over the world. “In Goosebumps, it’s fun to be scared,” she says. “The series was full of relatable kid characters who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances topped off by fantastic twist endings that kids love! Goosebumps became a phenomenon which included even the most reluctant readers.” Forte was president of Scholastic Media and EVP of Scholastic, Inc, publisher of the Goosebumps books.
Initially, the filmmakers – including director Rob Letterman, Forte, and producer Neal H. Moritz – faced a dilemma: with nearly 200 different Goosebumps books to choose from, which book to adapt? The answer came as the filmmakers cracked the code: they would put dozens of Stine’s most famous creations into one film, with Stine himself at the centre. “We wanted to create a bigger experience than the books or the television show,” says Forte. “The script needed to capture the true essence of the Goosebumps books, but also deliver a big movie ride for the audience.”
That true essence of the books required threading the needle on the tone that struck a chord, over and over again, in hundreds of books. “The books are scary, but not too scary; they’re fun, but not over-the-top,” says Moritz. “We wanted a story that kids could relate to, and have fun with Jack Black playing R.L. Stine. Jack has a quality that makes everyone comfortable.”
“That combo of funny and scary goes so well together – they’re like peanut butter and jelly,” says Black. With that in mind, the filmmakers’ sought to emulate the books’ perfect mix of the right amount of a fun adventure, and the right amount of thrills. And Black says that no less a source that R.L. Stine himself told them so. “When we first met with R.L. Stine, that was his one word of advice – to stick to that tone. He loved the script, he loved that I would be portraying him, and he gave us his blessing.”
“That was the most important thing to me – is there the same blend of scares and humour that we have in the books? Does it match? It has to have laughs and it has to have twists and turns,” says R.L. Stine. “I’ve always called the Goosebumps books ‘safe scares,’ because kids know what to expect. They’re going to be safe the whole way, while having these creepy adventures. So, I was so happy when I read the script and it felt just like the books.”
“The other part of it was balancing the comedy and the thrills, to make sure it didn’t get too scary for kids but still had the fun scares that the series is known for,” Letterman continues.
Opposite Black, the filmmakers cast so many of Stine’s famous creations. Leading the way as the chief villain is Stine’s most lasting creation: Slappy the Dummy. In the film, Slappy is Stine’s alter ego and the mastermind behind the evil plot. The filmmakers reached out to Ironhead Studio to design and create a real, working ventriloquist’s dummy – one that resembles Jack Black in many ways. The dummy was entirely manual – no electronics at all – and puppeted by Avery Lee Jones, who got the job after a nationwide audition.
Joining Slappy in the film are many of Stine’s other creations including The Ghouls from Attack of the Graveyard Ghouls, Snake Lady from Escape from the Carnival of Horrors, Bog Monster from You Can’t Scare Me!, Vampire Poodle from Please Don’t Feed the Vampire!, and many, many more.
Among all of these choices, which is Black’s favorite? “Slappy the Dummy, of course,” he says – noting that the reason is probably because the dummy looks just like him. Besides Slappy? “The bug-eyed aliens, or the bog monster,” he says. “The bog monster is a swamp thing, but from the right angle, it looks just like a butt. Can we call it the butt monster?”
Black is at the centre of the film in the role of R.L. Stine. He says that he put in the work to make Stine a completely unique character. “When I read the script a few times, I felt like the character needed to look and sound different than me – it couldn’t be like the dude from School of Rock is now the writer R.L. Stine,” he says. “No, it needed to be a character that I haven’t played before, someone with a little more gravitas, a respected writer. So, I worked on his voice, and I decided to give him a little bit of an Orson Wells-ian accent. Refined. I wanted him to be someone with a taste for the finer things.”