GOOSEBUMPS Set Visit: Jack Black vs. an Evil Dummy

     July 21, 2015


The monsters are about to break free. R.L. Stine (Jack Black) has been trying to house the creatures of his imagination in his manuscripts, but now all of them—the vampires, the creeps, the abominable snowman, and many more—are about to escape and wreak havoc on the small town of Madison, Delaware. As he tells a group of teenagers that they have to collect the manuscripts, he stumbles in his study to find the last person, or more accurately, the last monster he wants to see.

“Hello, papa,” the creepy dummy says. “Did you miss me?” Stine stammers, “Of course I missed you!” Slappy, the most famous of Stine’s creations, gives a dead-eyed smile. And then there’s a flash of light. The monsters are out.

As a group of fellow reports and I enter a room full of production art, storyboards, and monster photos on the set of Goosebumps, we’re told it’s Day 55 of filming, and they have about three weeks left to go. As I look around the room, I can see a wide variety of practical monsters, and some are more overt in their references than others. The monsters are mostly labeled in generic terms, although there are some like “Professor Shock”, who is in a lab coat and has long white hair sticking up in all directions as if electric current had run through his body (I assume “Shock” is a family name). But other monsters wear their references on their sleeves like “Clown” being reminiscent of Pennywise from It and the designs on “Male Vampire” and “Female Vampire” being clear nods to Nosferatu and Elvira, respectively.

goosebumps-posterWe’re told there will also be bigger, CGI creatures such as a werewolf, a praying mantis, and an abominable snowman (“from Pasadena”, as fans of the book know). In fact, every single monster in the movie has appeared in the books, which nicely ties into the plot.

The entire film takes place in one night, and all of Stine’s creatures were previously trapped in his manuscripts. However, Slappy, Stine’s most famous character (and his alter-ego in the movie) has released all of the monsters in the small town of Madison, Delaware, and it’s up to Stine and a group of teenagers to round them all up and get them back in the books. The storyboards clue us into some set pieces such as “Gnome Attack” and “Cemetery Attack”. Producer Neal Moritz couldn’t be with us on set, but we were told that he sees the movie in the vein of the 1980s Amblin movies (a lofty aspiration).

Coincidentally, although the movie takes place in the fictional town of Madison, Delaware, filming took place in Madison, Georgia because it had a small-town look, a population of around 5,000, and it could be given a post-apocalyptic feel (I don’t know it that last quality is either a compliment or an insult to the town of Madison, Georgia). The production spent three weeks filming in Madison.

After spending a little time in the room filled with the production art, storyboards, etc., we headed over to the set and saw some visual effects motion capture work being done by the “Creeps” who have lizard like heads on top of regular bodies of teenagers (one had a shirt reading “I still live with my parents”). Even though they’ll be practical creatures, it’s still important to have reference models so the effects people see how each of the monsters moves. The creeps were students turned into monsters so they have neat little touches like the female creep having long eyelashes and pink eye shadow. We briefly spoke to the actors inside the male and female creep, Lucky and Katie, respectively. They told us it was “quite warm” inside the heads.


Image via Sony Pictures

Afterwards, we sit down with Slappy and his puppeteer, Avery Jones. A close-up on Slappy’s reveals nice touches like his cracked face and old clothes. Even cooler is that the control sticks can operate his eyes and eyeballs, and that the eyebrows have individual control, which gives him a wider array of facial expressions. Slappy’s head was made using a 3D printer, and there’s only one Slappy doll. Although Jones does the dialogue on set, Black will be doing Slappy’s voice in ADR.

We then wait around for a little while before Jack Black comes in and we talk about how he spent time with the real R.L. Stine, the books, working with Slappy, making a movie for kids, and much more.  Click here for the full interview.

After the interview, we head back on set to see a scene being filmed. Once again, we walk by the VFX team doing reference work. This time it’s for a pirate monster, who is a real amputee who has put on a peg leg for the role.

In the first of two scenes we see filmed today, we catch Champ (Ryan Lee), a teenager who is dressed in a three-piece suit, looking terrified as he slowly backs away from the abominable snowman (as I said before, the snowman will be CG, so there’s no monster on set). As he backs up, he accidentally knocks over a lamp, realizes he’s drawn the monster’s attention, and gives a high-pitch scream before the monster rushes in and Zack (Dylan Minnette) is able to tackle Champ out of the way. As for Zack’s role in the scene before he tackles Champ, he’s on the ground next to a chair that’s been knocked over. We can see him mouthing to Hannah (Odeya Rush), who’s off-screen, “What is going on?”, and Letterman gives him the freedom to mouth different variations on the line. After one of the takes, Minnette has some fun by silently screaming curse words.

We then sat down and spoke with Minnette, Rush, and Lee about working with Black, their favorite creatures, the stunts, and more.  Look for that full interview later this week.


Image via Sony Pictures

We then head outside and over to the dilapidated amusement park, which is relatively small. It’s meant to be more of a throwback to the small, carnival-style parks as opposed to something such as Six Flags. We can see how nature has overtaken the park such as vines wrapping around the roller coaster rails. It’s easy to see how this will be pretty creepy under the right lighting conditions. In the film, we’ll only see the exterior of the park with the exception of the funhouse. As per Standard Movie Rules as they relate to funhouses, the funhouse will be filled with mirrors. However, my favorite touches on the set are the “Carrot Stand” (who needs candy when you can have carrots!) and a “Wacky Shack”.

We then come back indoors and talk to director Rob Letterman, who talked about balancing the humor with the scares, his first exposure to the books, re-teaming with Jack Black, working with the young lead actors, and much more.  Look for that full interview later this week.

We then come back to set to watch another scene.  In this one, Stine rushes down a hallway telling the kids to collect manuscripts, but when they reach the study they encounter Slappy sitting in a chair and waiting for them.

“Hello, papa!” says Slappy. “How long’s it been?” Then he looks over and notices the kids. “Who are your new friends?”

Zack quickly interjects, “We barely know him.”

Slappy then turns his attention back to Stine. “Did you miss me?”

A clearly terrified Stine says, “Of course I missed you.” Then there’s a flash of light, and the scene ends.

Closing Thoughts

I won’t lie: I went into Goosebumps with a great amount of skepticism. I had never read the books or watched the TV series, so I had no attachment to the material. But everything I saw convinced me that they know exactly the kind of movie they want and how they’re going to get there. This is a straight-up, PG thrill-ride for kids, and they don’t really make those kinds of movies anymore. More impressive is that it looks like they’re honoring the books in a clever manner, but doing so in a way that won’t alienate the uninitiated. Everyone can relate to fun monsters that looked like they were pulled out of late-night creature features. I’m not a kid, so I wasn’t scared, but leaving the set of Goosebumps, I was definitely excited.


Image via Sony Pictures

For more from my Goosebumps set visit, click on the links below:

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