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Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Terror creeps up when you least expect it. I felt its icy fingers slither down my back and tingle my spine about 20 minutes into Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween: the action-packed sequel to the 2015 family-friendly horror comedy based on the book series by R. L. Stine. Blood slowly drained from my face, my heart skipped a beat as a rasping voice echoed in the darkness of the cinema: "This film has been raised from the dead solely with box office takings in mind." The first Goosebumps was laden with wicked tricks and treats including tour-de-force comic performances from Jack Black as author Stine and the voice of a demented puppet called Slappy, who unleashes monsters from one of Stine's books on the unsuspecting students of Madison High School. Alas, Black is largely absent from Ari Sandel's laboured follow-up, which unravels quicker than a mummy's bandages in the fictional town of Wardenclyffe, where inventor Nikola Tesla once conducted his daring experiments with electricity. This close-knit neighbourhood is a picture-perfect location to bring Halloween to life: carved pumpkins sprout wings, plastic vampire bats take flight and scary masks sprout legs, arms and bodies to strike fear into costumed residents on the scariest night of the year. There is nothing in Sandel's picture that will shock or disturb audiences, even very young viewers, aside from the unsettling realisation that if this sequel makes a tidy profit, more geese will bump on future Halloweens. Be very afraid. The film's unlikely heroes are best friends Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Sam Caleel Harris), who set up a company called Junk Bros. to make some pocket money. The boys agree to clear out the contents of an abandoned house, which used to belong to author Stine (Black), and they discover a lost manuscript entitled Haunted Halloween in a secret hiding place. By opening the tome, the tykes reanimate demonic doll Slappy (voiced by Black), who intends to "create a family of his own by bringing Halloween alive". Sonny's mother Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) doesn't believe her son's dire warnings about impending doom as she nurtures a burgeoning romance with local pharmacy manager Walter (Chris Parnell). Then nightmarish creatures descend on Wardenclyffe and Sonny and Sam unite with Sonny's older sister Sarah (Madison Iseman) and kooky next-door neighbour Mr Chu (Ken Jeong) to prevent the deranged doll from engineering his Slappy ever after. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is a crushing disappointment. The young cast are poorly served by a linear script, which has been purged of laughs, scares and dramatic tension. Digital special effects don't gel seamlessly with the live action and Black giggles maniacally at his puppet's limp jokes far more than we do.