Review: Goosebumps - Season 1
A group of five high schoolers embark on a shadowy and twisted journey to investigate the tragic passing three decades earlier of a teen named Harold Biddle, while also unearthing dark secrets from their parents' past.
Justin Long, Zach Morris, Isa Briones, Miles McKenna, Ana Yi Puig, Rachael Harris
What a strange experience the second stab at a modern ‘Goosebumps’ adaptation has been, and for the use of a better word, what an inconsistent one, too. Whether that be within the quality of writing, the quality of the acting, or even the quality of episodes, ‘Goosebumps (2023)’ is about as concise as the destroyed corpse of a living dummy by the time it’s done.
This review can be split in two for the best and most effective method of talking about this enjoyable yet heavily flawed first outing: the first nine episodes, and the finale…
Within its whopping five episode premiere this “spooky season”, the series had managed to largely establish itself as a successfully entertaining, contemporary reimagining of the franchise by blending an effective mixture of the series’ most popular characters and stories with those of the deeper cuts to most fans, too, because I never once expected the first season to have a ‘Go Eat Worms’ or ‘Cuckoo Clock of Doom’-based story in it. Whilst the acting was all over the place from the cast, ranging between the charismatic and investing Justin Long to some of the teen cast’s failed attempts at delivering the melodramatic dialogue they’d unfortunately been given, the characters themselves began to become more interesting as the series progressed, and as the writing for them improved just a touch, their acting got better simultaneously. Which, of course, makes sense given they had something resembling real dialogue to speak, shout, and scream.
Something that does lead me in to a positive of the series, which is that the very few children who did watch this despite the complete lack of conversation about the series present online will be treated to a perfect example of gateway horror that a younger audience may just genuinely find themselves scared by. Truly perfect gateway horror can be enjoyed by everyone, films like ‘Poltergeist’ and arguably even ‘Jaws’ are heralded as masterpieces by the majority of those who’ve seen them, and while this absolutely won’t be, those who enjoy series like ‘Riverdale’ and missed the occasional dip in to the pool of scares that it moved away from in later seasons will likely find this immensely fun.
It’s a by the numbers gateway horror project that stands out purely because of the title and iconography it gets to work with; it’s slick yet simple cinematography won’t win over any cinephiles other than myself, it’s characters and their arcs won’t impress many above the age of twenty, and it’s spooks won’t spook audience members who’ve seen near enough any horror out there. And yet, I still found myself enjoying the series a lot.
Every single con I’ve just listed has a moment where it does shine a little in almost every episode, and for some odd reason I couldn’t help but tune in every week. Certain redesigns and interpretations of the source failed miserably (think the design of the famed Haunted Mask, and the weird storytelling used in the finale for the franchise’s icon Slappy—more on that later) but sometimes they did, and as a diehard fan of this franchise it had me ecstatic.
The time loop story of ‘The Cuckoo Clock of Doom’, the interesting origins of Harold and how they connected to the original introduction of this series’ Slappy in ‘Night of the Living Dummy: Part One’, and even the series’s own story focused episodes that merely borrow book titles like the three before the finale are all entertaining, cheesy times that kept me watching and enjoying myself.
However, much as I did love the false sense of security in Episode Nine, it became clear after the finale that ‘Goosebumps’ should have closed the back cover on its story after the fake ending in Episode Eight, which was infinitely more satisfying, tense, and emotionally investing than anything the finale attempted. Before the finale, I was excited to give this show a positive seven out of ten, a flawed yet entertaining season of TV that I’d recommend to anyone needing to pass some time.
By immediately setting a false sense of expectation with the title referring to one of the single most beloved and successful properties in the franchise, ‘Welcome to Horrorland’ the finale already had taken a misstep by not even acknowledging the existence of this as a possible future story, or an existing location in the universe at all. Following on from that, we’re treated to over ten minutes of backstory for a dull, uninteresting human version of an otherwise fun villain, before cutting to our present-day characters who have for some reason been forced to endure the more generic, sluggish dialogue from earlier in the season once again, a trend that doesn’t lift up for the entirety of the finale. I didn’t begin to even remotely enjoy it until Justin Long saw his gracious entrance—where he only stays for the final twenty minutes of the episode (including the full credits roll). It’s an utter flop, and its cliffhanger ending is more ridiculous and unsatisfying than it is exciting.
I’d love to see a renewal and witness a minor renaissance of this show where it learns from the first season’s mistakes, yet with so few people seeming to watch it, I doubt it.
The 2015 gateway comedy horror film did everything this sets out to do as a contemporary adaptation in a far more palatable manner, and whilst that may not be perfect either, it never left me with the sour taste in my mouth that Disney Plus and Hulu’s attempt has.