The season finale of Goosebumps hits Hulu and Disney+ today, wrapping up the fun that started during spooky season with the return of Slappy in a new reboot of the seminal YA horror series inspired by R.L. Stine’s YA horror books.
io9 chatted with Goosebumps executive producers and showrunners Rob Letterman (2015 feature film Goosebumps), Nick Stoller (Dora the Explorer and the City of Gold), and Hilary Winston (The Bad Guys) about their new take on the beloved franchise that’s spawned multiple iterations, including the ‘90s Fox Kids show, a number of films, and Stine universe spin-offs. For the Hulu and Disney+ project, Letterman shepherded a more mature take on the series, following a group of five high schoolers as they uncover the tragic past of a poltergeist teen named Harold Biddle—who wreaks havoc on their lives—and discover a dark secret from their parents’ pasts.
“We knew from the get-go we wanted to be serialized and we knew we wanted to age it up,” Letterman said. “Partly because there’s been a lot of Goosebumps things, and the old Goosebumps show, which is still beloved by people, is an anthology series. So we wanted something to stand out and be different, fresh. And also we know a lot of Goosebumps fans who read the books in the ‘90s [who] are now in their 30s and 40s, and wanted to make sure we had a show that appealed to them whether or not they had kids.”
Stoller added, “My pitch was to do it as a serialized season versus having it be standalone episodes. Just as a viewer, I personally prefer stuff that’s serialized. I like to really get into a group of characters … like The Haunting of Hill House. It’s just more fun to really just immerse yourself in a group of characters.” It helps that Goosebumps’ cast is stellar, with a core group of kids who have to face the absurd frights from the books and the real-world terrors that come with being teenagers.
Winston agreed that coming of age can often feel like a horror film, an idea that worked perfectly with the series’ themes. “One of the things that I really loved about this project is that we wanted to keep the horror really grounded. It’s like, ‘What if you really found a haunted mask?’ The thing is that when you really find a haunted mask, and you’re in high school, you still have to go to class, you still have to deal with your parents—there’s still these parameters of how you experience this in a grounded way,” she explained. We discussed some of Goosebumps’ fun gross-out moments—like one character having doppelgängers that pop into yellow goo when meeting their violent deaths—and how the kids manage to feel like real people despite the monsters in their midst. “The teenagers are so self-centered that even with a haunted mask [and] the world on fire around them, they’ll kind of be like, ‘Are you mad at me?’,” Winston said. “They are so self-centered in such a fun and funny way. We just love the idea that you could have these really scary, horrible things happening to them—and yet they’re still kind of focused on their friends and getting pancakes after.”
And of course, Stine icon Slappy plays the series’ big bad, because what’s Goosebumps without Night of the Living Dummy? Here, though, the demented character gets fleshed out in new ways. “We’ve been living with Slappy for so long, there’s little threads throughout the whole Goosebumps canon of the mythology of Slappy and where he comes from, and then they’re kind of contradictory at times,” Letterman said. “It’s never been woven together in a substantive way, and it was an opportunity for us to do that. So that’s kind of where the thought process is. We dive into the mythology of Slappy: Slappy is made of coffin wood—what is the story there? That was something that is really fun [to explore], particularly in horror.”
To help and sometimes hinder the students along the way is Mr. Bratt (Justin Long), who finds himself caught in the spiderweb of tales. “Honestly, we just got lucky,” Letterman said about nabbing horror staple Long. “He had just done Barbarian and somehow we grabbed him before that movie kinda blew up. He’s got an amazing body of work, but we really also knew him on the comedy side for years—he’s just really gifted. And then once he was on board we started just organically writing towards his gifts in each episode. Because he can [give this] chameleon performance and [also do] physical comedy: he’s terrifying, he’s pathetic, and he’s silly.”
With Long’s Mr. Bratt propelling the series in the direction of Horrorland by the end of season one, we’re anxious to know if there’s already plans for Goosebumps season two. Letterman is enthusiastic but there’s no definite answer yet: “We’re waiting to see how the show does, and very, very hopeful for a season two.”
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