Interview: Author R.L. Stine Talks the Goosebumps Movie

“Reader, beware, you’re in for a scare!” That tagline should be familiar to anyone who grew up (or is midway through growing up) clutching author R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” books with two shivering hands as he took you through spooky haunted houses, scary summer camps or haunted amusement parks with fearful glee. The seemingly endless series of YA horror has sold over 350 million copies worldwide, spawning a Fox TV series (1995-1998) as well as games and other merchandise, but it is finally set for big screen treatment with Goosebumps, a major feature film from Sony.

The Goosebumps movie is directed by Rob Letterman (Shark Tale, Gulliver’s Travels) and stars Jack Black as R.L. Stine, the famous author who, as it turns out, writes his books in order to keep various monsters safely contained within their pages. Of course, said monsters get loose and its up to Stine and a group of kids to save the world from this parade of horrors, including mummies, zombies and insidious living dummies. 

While attending BookCon in New York City, we got the chance to sit down with the real R.L. Stine to talk about the movie (set to open just before Halloween), what monsters fans can expect to see in it and why he can still give readers of all ages “Goosebumps” over two decades later. It’s understood that Jack Black plays, to use a phrase, a “highly fictionalized” version of you in the film.

R.L. Stine: Wait, Jack and I are twins, c’mon! What are you saying? He’s much more evil than me. You can see I’m not too evil. 

CS: You seem pretty innocuous.

Stine: Oh thank you. Yes, right. He’s much more sinister, and in the first part of the film Jack is mean, very mean.

CS: Besides the fact that you don’t write books to trap monsters, what do you think the biggest differences are between you and his portrayal? 

Stine: Just the fact that he’s a lot more troubled than I am. He has issues with Slappy the Dummy, he feels bad about what he’s created, he feels guilty. I don’t have any of that. I enjoy what I do, I just have fun, but that’s not a movie!

CS: “And everybody was fine! And then he had a nice lunch.”

Stine: Right, you can’t do that.

CS: Besides Rob Lettermanm your stories have previously been adapted by Joe Dante (“Haunted Lighthouse”) and Patrick Read Johnson (“When Good Ghouls Go Bad”), two directors who have a cult following. What is it about all three of those guys that made them perfect for your sensibilities?

Stine: You’d have to ask them, I think. I’ve been very lucky with most of the people who’ve done the TV movies and TV shows. You never know whether they’re gonna end up really good or if they’re gonna adapt your stuff well or not. I just feel I’ve been so lucky. The “Goosebumps” show, we did four years of that and its still around on Netflix. Those shows hold up pretty well, and they didn’t follow the books that closely but they were terrific, they were great stories. More recently my show “The Haunting Hour” I had the same kind of luck. It was the same two guys who are the showrunners, and we just won our third Emmy for Best Children’s Series.

Goosbumps2CS: How protective are you of the “Goosebumps” brand? 

Stine: Very, we watch it very carefully, partly to make sure they don’t go too far for kids, and that they have the same combination I have in the books of being scary and funny at the same time. They’re never just scary. What I look for when I see scripts is that balance. 

CS: Having already been adapted as a Canadian TV series…

Stine: Yes, it was a totally Canadian production, but it was the #1 kids show here on Fox for three years. We used every Canadian actor there was. Every kid in Canada was on the “Goosebumps” show. Ryan Gosling was on “Say Cheese and Die,” everyone likes to watch that one!

CS: What are some creatures and places from the books that will be brought to life in the movie that fans have never seen before in the show?

Stine: All the early monsters that are in the books. They all come out, they’re all there. The real evil one is Slappy the Dummy, he’s there, the Abominable Snowman from Pasadena is there, and lawn gnomes, HUNDREDS of lawn gnomes. They’re great, they’re really good.

CS: I’ve heard rumors of a giant praying mantis on set.

Stine: Yes, which was on the cover of “A Shocker on Shock Street,” it was a ride or something and there was a giant praying mantis, and this insect plays a very large part in the movie, it’s pretty horrifying. The effects I’ve seen are not finished but they’re terrific.

CS: Obviously that’s an example of something that had not been done before because it was too expensive.

Stine: Oh yeah, we couldn’t do that on the TV show. They spent a lot of money on effects on this, it’s real movie effects!

Goosebumps3CS: Given that you’re perceived as a fairly innocuous author of children’s fiction, what are some horror movies or books that fans would be surprised to know you love?

Stine: I think my favorite horror movie is “Evil Dead 2.” People might be surprised to know that! (laughs) I love that film, I just think it’s hilarious. You see, I think horror’s funny. Horror never scares me, I never get scared. I don’t know, there’s something missing in me. If you walk into a movie theater and the shark jumps up and chews up the girl I’m the one laughing. Everyone else is terrified and I’m laughing. I just think horror is funny, going back to the first horror I read, which was the EC comic books. 

CS: Right, me too.

Stine: “Tales from the Crypt”… 

CS: “The Vault of Horror.” “The Haunt of Fear.”

Stine: They were all funny! They were creepy, they were gruesome, and then there’d be a funny twist ending, and that had a very big effect on me.

CS: I love those comics, especially the ones with Jack Davis illustrations.

Stine: Oh my god, Jack Davis once did a drawing for me for a collection I did, he did a couple drawings for a story… what a thrill! He didn’t get those back. (laughs) Somehow they didn’t get sent back to him. 

Goosebumps4CS: One of our readers named Andrea wrote in to ask if you already know the moral of the story before you start writing or if it’s revealed during the process?

Stine: No morals. Seriously, there are no morals. The moral is, “RUN!” That’s it, that’s all. I don’t try to teach anything, I want these to be only entertainment. I want kids to say, “God, I can pick up a book and it’s just entertaining, it’s not teaching me anything!” I’m proud of that! Of course, in the “Goosebumps” books there’s usually a boy and a girl, very normal, average kids, they’re not special, and they face these horrible things. Something terrifying is happening. Their parents are useless, their parents either don’t believe them or they’re not there and they have to use their own wit and imagination to defeat whatever they’re facing, so that kind of thing is there. Otherwise, there are no messages.

CS: That’s probably part of the appeal, because I’ve talked to so many people my age or a little younger who are now teachers or writers who say, “I learned to read with ‘Goosebumps!'” There’s also a whole movement of horror fiction online called “Creepypasta,” a lot of that was inspired by you as well.

Stine: I’ve heard of it, yeah. I’m not real familiar with it. I’ll have to check it out more.

CS: This being the 23rd anniversary, what do you think of the legacy you’ve created?

Stine: For me it’s always kids who learned to read, and learned to enjoy reading. There’s all these millions of kids who got into reading because of “Goosebumps,” that’s what I’m amazed by.

CS: One of the signature elements of “Goosebumps” has to be the cliffhanger at the end of every chapter…

Stine: That does not get easier, let me tell ya! (laughs)

CS: Has that been incorporated at all into the structure of the film?

Stine: No, not really. There’s a lot of twists and shocks. That’s all I really like in things, I like surprises, and there are a lot in the movie, but you can’t really do that kind of chapter ending. The movie does have that combination of fun and scary, they really did achieve that, so I’m very happy about that. I’ve seen it two-and-a-half times. They’re still working on it. Now I hear Danny Elfman is doing the music. They were using fake music previously, now I heard they’ve got the real music in. That’s gonna be great!

Columbia Pictures will release Goosebumps on October 16, 2015

(Photo Credit: R.L. Stine)