It's high time moviegoers saw a serious, intellectual, brooding-tortured-genius-style Jack Black … running for his life from giant preying mantises, abominable snowmen, werewolves and killer ventriloquist dummies.
That's the setup for "Goosebumps," the new horror comedy inspired by R.L. Stine's beloved series of spine-tinglers for kids, which casts Black as a twisted take on the author. Black's version is an erudite, intimidating and overprotective father to Hannah (Odeya Rush), the charming girl next door who catches the eye of recently relocated teen neighbor Zach (Dylan Minnette). Zach soon learns Stine is harboring an even deeper and darker secret than he imagines, one that evolves a rampaging legion of monsters come to life from the “Goosebumps” books.
Black shared some of his own secrets with SPINOFF, including his legendary inspiration for the fictional Stine, the creepy cliche that will always give him goosebumps, his all-time favorite horror film (hint: one is a Part III) and the low-rent but still-treasured Halloween costume he loved.
Spinoff: This seems to be a tricky movie because you're aiming at kids, and it's got to be scary, but not too scary.
Jack Black: I know. Well, that's the line that R.L. Stine danced around his whole career, so that's what we're aiming for. And he sold 400 million copies, so you know there's an audience out there for it. And kids like monsters. I don't think it's that big a stretch at all. And there's no blood in the movie, and it's good wholesome fun. My kids love it. So it's only hard because there's not a lot of movies to compare it to. You've got, like, "Ghostbusters," or maybe "Goonies" is kind of scary, but not quite like that.
What is it about kids desire to be scared, but only up to a point? And as a parent, how do you manage that?
I think that it’s a rite of passage, somewhere around seven, eight years of age. Kids get obsessed with monsters and they want to prove that they’re not babies anymore. They can take a little scare, and they need a little scare to be thrilled. It takes more and more as you get older and older. I was obsessed with monsters when I was a child, and so are my boys.
How familiar with the source material were you before the film?
My introduction to "Goosebumps" was the screenplay to this movie. I had never read any of the books or seen any of the television episodes, but I loved the screenplay and jumped into it, and then read some of the books as research – my Daniel Day-Lewis research.
Did parenthood lead you to want to take on a film like this aimed at a young audience?
I don't really feel like it was that far out of my wheelhouse – I did "School of Rock." That was for a similar demo. What was different about this for me was just having a character that was not like a lovable, squishy loser hero. This was more of like the dark, brooding genius. That was kind of a fun change of pace for me, but I'm no stranger to getting the kids. I've been doing that for almost a decade now, or more than a decade. I think it's just because I have a lot of childish qualities myself. I'm still kind of like a big man-child, so I can relate to what kids think is funny. Hopefully.
You got to create your own fictional take on R.L. Stine per the needs of the script. How was your experience with the real R.L. Stine, and how did he respond to your version of him?
Well, we met him before we started filming, and we asked him for his notes on the script and his blessing. And he loved the script, and he didn't mind that I was doing a much different characterization of him. He's got a great sense of humor, so he was fine with it, that I was portraying him as this anti-social grouch.
So what did inspire the basis of the screen Stine you created?
Oh, mostly it was Orson Welles. I wanted to give him a little extra gravitas. I couldn't be just good old Jables playing the genius writer, so I wanted to do someone who was considered a genius and maybe had a dark secret, and it seemed like Orson Welles fit the bill, so I just literally watched "Citizen Kane" like 40 times, and then went straight to the set. [My hair stylist] can attest: We watched it way more times than she wanted to. We watched it every day, "Citizen Kane," that was my preparation [laughs]. Look, I'm no Daniel Day, OK! Watch "Citizen Kane." Much to everyone's chagrin, I did that whole "Citizen Kane." I'm sure I'll be raked over the coals.
What does it feel like you have a few classic films under your belt – "School of Rock," "Tropic Thunder," "High Fidelity," "Kung Fu Panda" – that people will be watching 20 years from now?
I knew that at the time with "School of Rock," I was like, "I could die now." That's going to be the best thing I ever do. I'm never going to connect with material like that again, but it felt good.
What kind of film haven't you done that you're hoping someone brings to you?
Nothing. I can't think of anything. When I see something that turns me on, then that's the next thing I do. I don't really think in any other terms except for what brings my bell at any given moment, not looking for anything specific.
Any certain directors you're hoping to do a film with?
Oh, yeah, sure. But there's plenty of directors that I'd love to work with that I never will. Paul Thomas Anderson. Quentin Tarantino comes to mind – yeah, not going to happen. Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, these are guys that I love, that I'd love to work with. But you've got to be careful what you wish for. All of a sudden, you can be, like, naked running through the street in a David Lynch film. And you're like, "I wanted this?" I love to watch his films. I don't know if I actually want to be in them. But they're disturbing in a very cool way.
Do you have another film with Richard Linklater planned?
Love Linklater. Yeah, there's some things, but nothing really immediate, nothing concrete.
What can you tease about where your HBO series "The Brink" is going in its second season?
You want the secret? I can't give you the secret. I don't even know the secret. I haven't read anything yet. They're writing it as we speak. But we get another crack at it. I'm just happy that we get to do it again next year … I actually prefer the schedule and the location. It's all shot in LA. It's kind of a dream come true for me because I've got kids now, and they're in school. I can't take them with me on locations anymore in movies, so it's kind of a dream job.
What are your personal favorite scary movies?
My favorite scary movies are "The Shining" and "Rosemary's Baby" – and "The Exorcist III," for some reason. I love Part III and Part I. Part II is just garbage.
What is it about Part III that gets you?
Well, William Peter Blatty, the author of the book, came in and directed Part III. It was the old folk's home, the old lady crawling on the ceiling and smiling. There's something terrifying, and it was that performance by that amazing actor who was in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," he was also in "Mississippi Burning" – Brad Dourif! He has a monologue. It's still a tour de force. That was worth the price of admission for me, that monologue.
Do you want to do a scary movie that doesn't have a comedy element?
No. It doesn't feel right. I have to have a little pinch of comedy in everything I do.
And what was your most memorable Halloween costume?
Probably Gene Simmons, back in 1986. It was just very low-rent. I made it myself with tin foil, and I had the wig with the weird like bun on top. It looked pretty lame, actually. The highlight was how lame it was. I felt semi-awesome. My neighbor, Rodrigo, his mom was a seamstress. So he had this amazing Ace Frehley costume. And next to him, I just really looked like a junkyard dog, but it was still fun to go trick or treating in that outfit. Very rock ‘n’ roll.
I understand your son has his own Slappy costume he put together.
Are you taking him out trick-or-treating like that?
There’s still a few weeks until Halloween. There’s lots of time for flip-flopping.
Was it freaky to see him in a character that already looks more than a little bit like you?
It was the highest compliment, really. Because I took the film to his school and showed it to him and all his friends and he loved it so much, he was obsessed with Slappy. He wanted to be Slappy at the premiere. I didn’t ask him to do it. He insisted. He makes an incredible impression.
What’s that primal thing that freaked you out as a kid that still kind of gives you the willies?
You know, it’s a simple thing but when all the lights are out, and it’s completely pitch black, there’s no electric lights or anything like that, I still find the darkest corners of my soul be so terrified. "Alone in the dark – or am I alone?" That’s always the question. When you’re in the dark. Did you check the closets? Did you look around the house? Was the door open? These are the things that keep me up at night.
”Goosebumps” opens today nationwide.