Goosebumps, the iconic horror franchise that began as a series of books by R.L. Stine, is a potent horror memory for many fans of the genre. When the property made the jump to live action in 1995, the anthology series brought to life Stine’s chilling fables and gave us a theme that would go down in pop culture history. While there have been quite a few adaptations in the years since, including two films with Jack Black at the center, the Disney+ Original series Goosebumps (2023) offers a Halloween scare for something entirely new while still honoring Stine’s work.
Goosebumps (2023) is a hybrid of anthology storytelling and season-long narrative. Inspired by R.L. Stine’s worldwide bestselling book series, Goosebumps (2023) follows a group of five high school teenagers in Port Lawrence: Isaiah Howard (Zack Morris), Margot Stokes (Isa Briones), James (Miles McKenna), Isabella Chen Lopez (Ana Yi Puig), and Lucas Parker (Will Price). At varying levels of friendship with enough awkwardness to go around, they embark on a shadowy and twisted journey to investigate the tragic passing three decades earlier of a teen named Harold Biddle. When a Halloween party at the infamous Biddle House, where Harold died, leads each teen to connect with a supernatural object, they all band together to unearth the dark secrets from their parents’ past.
The series has one overarching narrative, with memorable supernatural moments. However, each character has their own story and piece of the puzzle to solve. Broken down episodically, the series tackles different R.L. Stine stories like “Say Cheese and Die!,” “The Haunted Mask,” “The Cuckoo Clock of Doom,” the iconic “Night of the Living Dummy,” and more. Each episode adapts its source within a larger setting that doesn’t forget its anthology roots but seeks to make it into something broader and cohesive. While the first couple of episodes of the series feel like they’re missing the special core of the franchise’s many stories, by Episode 3, it all snaps into place.
By allowing each episode to tackle a different story and, with it, the individual-affected character’s emotions and place in the story, Goosebumps (2023) is a huge success. There are some elements of the adaptation that miss the mark, primarily the near complete absence of lessons learned for each scary story told. Still, the TV series is a wonderful young adult horror tale that will serve as a gateway for the genre.
Horror is a special genre that allows audiences to process their fears around things like death and belonging within a safe but scary space. Allowing younger audiences to find themselves in the genre is something R.L. Stine expertly understood from his first Goosebumps book to his older teen geared Fear Street series. With Goosebumps 2023, a new audience has access to cornerstones of the genre that have remained inspirational across the generations since the late 1980s.
By looking at Goosebumps (2023) as a part of a larger legacy and much-needed revitalization and investment in creating future horror fans, it’s a huge success. Add in how the series uses each character to highlight a different part of adolescence and process the tumultuous emotions at that age and the series steps into the shadow of the past and lives in it surprisingly well while still creating something unique of its own.
Each of the teens in the series brings to life a different horror archetype and does so extremely well. Goosebumps (2023) primarily falters when it comes to the adults in the series. The camp and humor of the series is nearly perfect when it comes to the young actors and their sometimes chaotic stories. At the same time, the adult cast outside of Justin Long’s Nathan Bratt isn’t always on the mark. While the actors themselves can be humorous, their tone is substantially different than what is used for the teens’ stories.
All of that said, for fans of the individual Goosebumps stories, Goosebumps (2023) is probably the best adaptation of them since the 90s. I mean, Slappy is at his most terrifying in this iteration, to say the very least. The series is able to bring to life decades-old stories and do so by bringing them into 2023 and still respecting the scares that made them special. Funny and sometimes genuinely scary, Goosebumps (2023) is perfect for Halloween but it also has the potential to stand the test of time similar to R.L. Stine’s books. This new Goosebumps is truly something worth watching for mystery, comedy, horror, and a whole lot of worms.
The series is able to bring to life decades-old stories and do so by bringing them into 2023 and still respecting the scares that made them special. Funny and sometimes genuinely scary, Goosebumps (2023) is perfect for Halloween but it also has the potential to stand the test of time as R.L. Stine’s books.