Way back in 1992 – years before the era of blockbuster children’s books – Scholastic published the first of what would become a monumentally successful chapter book series by R.L. Stine, Goosebumps: Welcome to the Dead House. With Goosebumps’ blend of lightly spooky content, plentiful humor, and characters ranging from an evil ventriloquist dummy to a haunted automobile, the books provided an easy hook for reluctant readers. Children of the 1990s who grew up reading Stine likely also tuned into the television series that aired from 1995 to 1998. But Goosebumps hasn’t been adapted as a feature-length film – until now. The movie from Columbia Pictures, starring Jack Black, Odeya Rush, and Halston Sage, releases on October 16.
In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, Stine explained that there had been several movie deals over the years and that in 1998 a Goosebumps film was going to be produced by Tim Burton for Fox, but it didn’t go forward. Stine explained that those earlier projects were held up partially because of uncertainties about how to approach the adaptation: “The problem was,” he told EW, “they spent all this time trying to figure out which book to dramatize. Which book should we use? Which monster should we base the movie on?” Eventually, the film ended up taking a meta-route: it wouldn’t focus on a single story but instead feature a number of characters from several of the books and star a fictionalized R.L. Stine. The real R.L. Stine would even make a cameo (he plays a colleague of Jack Black as Stine). “Somebody had this idea to put them all in, to put all the monsters in from the early Goosebumps books, and to put me in the movie. Once they had that idea, then they really could proceed very quickly and get a good script that they liked,” Stine said.
When teenager Zach Cooper (Minnette) moves to a small town with his single mother, he’s immediately drawn to Hannah (Rush), who lives next door. But her father, an eccentric author of horror stories – R.L. Stine – is about as friendly as one of his creations. It turns out that Stine is guarding a secret: the monsters that he writes about are all real. He keeps them safely contained within their books, but in a Jumanji-style twist, Zach inadvertently unleashes the ghoulish menagerie, headed by Slappy the ventriloquist dummy, who appeared in Night of the Living Dummy and in subsequent books. Among the other monsters that wreak havoc in the film are: the Abominable Snowman, the Lord High Executioner, Murder the Clown, and the Lawn Gnomes.
Still Giving Readers Goosebumps
The Goosebumps series reached the zenith of its popularity in the mid-1990s, when, according to Scholastic copies were “selling at the phenomenal rate of four million books per month.” Scholastic also reports that there are more than 350 million English-language books in print and approximately 50 million international copies in print in 32 languages. A number of the classic Goosebumps books that feature the specific monsters that appear in the film have been updated and were reissued by Scholastic this past spring and summer. Scholastic also recently released a movie novelization, an activity book with stickers, and several movie tie-in titles. There’s also a strong nostalgic factor for adults who grew up reading about Stine’s monsters and fondly remember the original books.
Fans looking to see Goosebumps on screen before October 15 can view the complete Goosebumps TV series on Netflix; additionally, an original R.L. Stine movie, Monsterville: The Cabinet of Souls, releases on DVD on September 29.
It’s clearly a busy time for Stine, who, besides having a small role in the film, was also in communication with director Rob Letterman about ensuring that the movie maintained the essence of the series. In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Letterman spoke about striking the balance between creepiness and humor that Stine achieves in the books: “The really daunting part – besides the monsters – is the tone and how to make it scary but also fun and not gruesome. It’s accessible but with the edge of scares. ‘Keep an eye on the tone’ – that was the advice R.L. had given me,” Letterman said.
As the film date approaches, Stine will actively promoting the film and will attend numerous Goosebumps-related events. At New York Comic-Con on October 11, Stine will participate in two discussions – Goosebumps and the Baby-sitters Club Revisited Graphic Novel Panel, and a Goosebumps movie panel and signing with the cast of the film. Stine will also be at Barnes & Noble Union Square on October 12 to sign books.
Caitlin Friedman, v-p of trade marketing at Scholastic, remarked on the endurance of the series across a generation, and expectations for the film: “Goosebumps readers span a wide age range, and we expect the same will be true for the movie,” she said, noting the mix of children and adults that she sees at Stine’s events. “The light scares and humor that are at the heart of all of the Goosebumps books hooked the millennials when they were kids and they have stuck with R.L. Stine ever since. The eight-year-olds who recently discovered Goosebumps are busy reading new titles and gleefully discovering the immense backlist.” And with Stine showing no signs of leaving the funny-scary land of Goosebumps, that list will likely continue to grow.