‘Goosebumps’ series review: No lack of fun, thrill and worms in this binge-worthy teen horror comedy

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A still from ‘Goosebumps’

A still from ‘Goosebumps’
| Photo Credit: Disney+

When was the last time a series you thought would be a lazy watch jolted you up from your seat, made you set aside your notions, and kept you invested throughout its runtime?

Everything about Goosebumps, Disney+’s latest comedy horror series based on R. L. Stine’s book series, seemed quite lazy and unpromising. After a quick prologue about how a young teenager, Harold Biddle (Ben Cockell), died eerily in a fire in a huge mansion in Port Lawrence in 1993, we cut to the present to see a bunch of reckless teens breaking into the same abandoned villa on Halloween night (typical!) ignoring the beliefs that it’s haunted by Biddle’s ghost (again, typical!). And as you would expect, supernatural stuff happens. Since Stine’s books came out, we have seen such an opening to hundreds of horror titles.

But somewhere in the middle of the pilot episode, you realise that this seemingly generic setting is a ploy to surprise you with quite a few novel ideas, all of which build up to almost five hours of binge-worthy teen horror drama. There’s body-splattering worm-eating gore, more than one supernatural mystery to crack, a constant dreadful suspense about what’s about to come, and lots of fun.

Goosebumps (English)

Creators: Rob Letterman, Nicholas Stoller

Cast: Zack Morris, Isa Briones, Miles McKenna, Ana Yi Puig, Will Price, Rachael Harris

Episodes: 5 of 10

Runtime: 35-50 minutes

Storyline: A bunch of high-schoolers suffer some supernatural occurrences after a night-out at a haunted mansion where a young boy died 30 years ago

Port Lawrence High School’s hot-shot quarterback Isaiah Howard (Zack Morris) and his girlfriend Allison’s (Rhinnan Payne) party at the Bidde House comes to an end when the new owner Nathan Bratt (Justin Long), who also happens to be their new English teacher, makes a sudden entrance. But Isaiah is left bewildered the next day when he realises that the Polaroid camera he stole from the mansion can predict a nearing ill-fated but non-fatal event. For instance, the camera predicts that his neighbour/friend/ex-lover Margot Stokes (Isa Briones) will choke and suffer an allergic reaction after eating the wrong candy bar. Obviously, none of Isaiah’s friends or family believes him, and it all ends in a superb scene at a football field. Simultaneously, in the Biddle House, the spirit of Biddle possesses Mr. Bratt, showing him how tasty a bowl of worms can be.

Throughout the next four episodes, the rest of the five main teen characters who were at the Halloween party — James (Miles McKenna), Isabella (Ana Yi Puig), Lucas (Will Price), and Margot — are taken control by supernatural entities from the Biddle House. Since they conveniently cross paths with each other or are friends with each other, they band together to figure out the mystery.

Meanwhile, as the teens piece together the bigger picture, we realise that the adults of this world — Colin Stokes (Rob Huebel), Sarah Stokes (Lexa Doig), Ben Howard (Leonard Roberts), Victoria Chen (Françoise Yip), and Nora Parker (Rachael Harris) — have something to do with Biddle, so much so that the very drop of his name pauses all that goes on in their complicated lives.

Firstly, Goosebumps has a lot of supernatural stuff going on, as well as all the interpersonal dynamics between the characters, and so to ease us into neat character arcs, it uses an impressive writing tactic — each of the horrors that possess the teen leads have a lot to do with what the high-schoolers have already been chasing in life. The Final Destination-powered camera found Isaiah, who was struggling with the uncertainty ahead of him. Similarly, it’s Isabella feeling invisible in her school and taking it out as an internet troll, James’ struggle to fit in, and Lucas’ need to finish the impossible Booms of Doom motorcycle stunt that killed his dad that is preyed upon by the supernatural. For Margot, it’s her need to figure out what the hell is going on. The upcoming episodes will clear it out but one can already see if all this has a lot to do with who Biddle was.

There’s a lot about Goosebumps that might dither a television viewer of 2023 — A bunch of teens banding together to fight past demons of their parents are all reminiscent of titles like Stranger Things and Fear Street. But this series attempts to show just how much there is to explore in this subgenre, and with the first five episodes, it does rise well above any and all doubts. Every episode has at least two scenes that guarantee a good time (there’s a genre-bending motorbike chase!).

Hopefully, the remaining five episodes will give us more thrill, more supernatural entities with innovative character designs, more such on-beat performances (Rachael Harris is the one to look out for), and lots of gore. I need to see a human exploding into a yellow, Watermelon Jolly Ranchers-smelling slime, again.

Goosebumps is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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