Quick question: Do you celebrate Halloween?
Most American do – at least, according to a 2015 LifeWay Research survey that found 59 percent believe it’s “all in good fun,” 21 percent try to avoid it completely and 14 percent split the baby by avoiding only the “pagan elements.” And – surprise – many evangelicals enjoy it, too. Forty-five percent of evangelicals says it’s in good fun, 28 percent avoid it altogether and 23 percent say they celebrate it but without the pagan stuff.
This poll might have surprised some Christians – like me – who are repelled by Halloween’s darker elements. But it likely didn’t surprise Hollywood, which knows that many moviegoers (and some Christians, too) relish Halloween and its close cousin, horror flicks.
This explains the continued success of the Goosebumps books and the Goosebumps films – all of which are geared toward children, tweens, teens and families. Goosebumps made $80 million in 2015 and ranks as the eighth highest-grossing horror comedy of all time while Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween opened last weekend with a respectable $15 million.
Goosebumps 2 (PG) tells the story of two tween boys, Sonny and Sam, who accidentally bring a ventriloquist dummy (named Slappy) to life while looking at a book in an old house. At first, Slappy is kind to everyone, but when he makes a few mistakes – blowing a hole in the wall in the science class, for example — Sonny and his sister, Sarah, turn on him. Slappy then becomes evil and pledges to create his own family by giving life to the Halloween costumes and decorations at a Fred’s store. This means that everything – the witch hat, the mummy costume, and the wearwolf mask – grows a body and begins roaming the streets. Soon, Slappy uses his magic to give life to everything else in the town, too, including the jack-o-lanterns. Sonny and his friends spend the rest of the movie trying to reverse the spell.
Goosebumps 2 is based on a book by R.L. Stine and is part of the genre of horror comedy aimed at children. Thankfully, the filmmakers keep the movie in PG territory and ensure it doesn’t include too many scary moments. Indeed, the movie is more funny than it is frightening, provided kids can handle monster costumes and only a few jump-scare moments. It has a few coarse words, too: misuse of “God” (5), OMG (4), h–l (2) and d–n (1).
I laughed out loud multiple times and enjoyed Goosebumps 2. The comedy stays clean, and the film has enough twists and turns to keep most moviegoers entertained.
Still, that doesn’t answer the bigger question: Is there a place for scary flicks within a Christian worldview, especially for children?
To answer that question, we need to ask a different one: Does the movie glorify evil? Here, Goosebumps 2 likely passes. It’s a story in which the good guys are trying to defeat the evil monsters. In the end, evil loses. Yet even if it doesn’t celebrate evil, it seems to trivialize it. That’s because Goosebumps 2 is a celebration of the darker elements of Halloween – monsters and witches and things that go bump in the night. You know: evil things. Things that God takes seriously. Things that God wouldn’t want us to pretend to be.
But that doesn’t mean that Goosebumps 2 and its successor can’t be used for good. That’s because they and other supernatural films like them point us toward the reality of a supernatural world. They do this by causing our friends and neighbors (and children, too) to contemplate the supernatural. And if we’re wise, we can use such films to spark a discussion about a very-real world of good and evil, angels and demons, and a God who rules over them all.
As Christians, we have no reason to fear.
Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Goosebumps 2 is rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language.