Something incredible, and marginally unexpected, happened when I took my sons to see Rob Letterman’s Goosebumps adaptation at a press screening. The following day, my youngest son, an 8-year-old second grader named Brendan, came home from school with a knapsack filled with R.L. Stine books. Brendan's just now starting to become a voracious reader. He’s ripping through Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. He’s reading chapter books about hamsters who serve as detectives, and he loves kid-friendly biopics about some of his favorite athletes. But the Goosebumps movie opened up a totally different door for him, and it doesn’t look like it’s closing any time soon.
Let me explain. Because they are inundated with movie culture on a daily basis in our house, they don’t obsess over films the way other kids might (and the way their geeky father certainly did at their age). They play basketball and football. They bounce on trampolines, and spend hours building worlds on Minecraft. They love coming to screenings with me when it’s a movie they are interested in, but it’s rare that they watch a movie more than once … and even more rare for them to take an additional step on a movie and further explore the world. They don’t come out of Marvel movies and ask to go to a comic book shop, as an example. They just never have.
Goosebumps was totally different. The movie uses author R.L. Stine (Jack Black) as an actual character and mashes his most memorable monsters into one amusing adventure, pitting high school kids against classic creatures from the pages of the book. The scares are mild, and the comedy is light. But boy, did it flip a switch in Brendan. He loved Slappy, the menacing mannequin (also voiced by Black). He had questions about the other stories written by Stine. And, to my great pleasure, he took it upon himself the next day to get to the media center in his school and borrow a slew of Goosebumps books, which he devoured for weeks after the screening.
It didn’t stop there. Not only was Brendan interested in the books, but he and our oldest son, P.J. (age 12), dug into the 1995 television series based on various books in R.L. Stine’s library. The two loved watching an episode that coincided with a book that Brendan had recently finished. And Brendan loved being able to tell his older brother what horror was coming up in the story, proud of the fact that he’s read the story and was able to prepare for the scare.
I’ll say it again: My sons rarely do this. They dig certain movies. (Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a major hit with them.) But their interests are somewhat different from my own, which I encourage because I never want movies or television to feel like something they need to love because their father consumes it. But with Goosebumps, they couldn’t get enough. They wanted the books. They enjoyed the hokiness of the TV show, and often challenged each other to try to find the scariest-sounding episode.
They’ve even branched out in subsequent weeks, dipping their toes deeper into the horror pool. We recently popped Joe Dante’s Gremlins in the DVD player on a Friday night, as the boys continued to explore this newfound interest in horror. We have a LONG way to go before we’re visiting Camp Crystal Lake or sleeping on Elm Street together. But I’ll remember, when we get to those points, that Goosebumps was the movie that started it all.