Review: The music of Danny Elfman is almost synonymous with gothic chills, Halloween, and quirky innovation. Since the very early 1980’s, Elfman has been creating interesting and memorable music, first with his street and club performing rock band The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, which later became Oingo Boingo, that once-in-a-lifetime rock band that seemingly came out of the twisted imagination of the lovechild of all things weird and awesome. When young director Tim Burton hired him to compose the delightfully unusual music for Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Elfman quickly became the “go-to” composer for fun and strange films, and he rapidly became an in-demand composer in Hollywood. As his skills at composing traditional music scoring increased, so too did the projects he was offered vary in genre. In the last few decades, he’s composed music for films of every genre out there, but there’s no question that his specialty remains in composing music for dark, whimsical fantasy and horror-related films.

Enter the feature film adaptation of R.L. Stine’s beloved series of Goosebumps books aimed at kids and families. In the film, Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mom (Amy Ryan) relocate to Maryland a year after Zach’s dad dies, and they both start over at a new school. With a position as the vice principal, Zach’s mom gives it a go, but Zach has a little trouble on his first few days at the new school. The only friend he makes is a nerd burger named Champ (Ryan Lee from Super 8), but his next door neighbor is a homeschooled cutie named Hannah (Odeya Rush) who tries befriending him despite the stern warnings by her dad, a high strung weirdo who is actually the author R.L. Stine (Jack Black), who created the beloved “Goosebumps” books.

Sensing that Hannah is being abused by her overly protective father, Zach breaks into their home and inadvertently unleashes the magic contained in Stine’s personal library of his own creations, and thus sets off a potentially catastrophic series of events. The magic in Stine’s books is let loose, and all of the monsters he created are released, with one sinister creation in particular to blame for perpetuating the chaos: Slappy, the diabolical ventriloquist dummy who has a hard crush to wreak vengeance on Stine for locking him up genie-style in one of his books.

With a monster parade (complete with zombies, crazed clowns, mummies, invisible people, nasty gnomes, and a gargantuan praying mantis) laying siege to the town, Zach, Hannah, Champ, and Stein himself must come up with a new story quick and write it on a magic typewriter before the monsters take over the world.

Danny Elfman’s sweeping, big score for the film hearkens back to the classic scores of the 1980’s when Elfman himself was still experimenting with movie music. While the music for this film is reminiscent of James Horner’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, the score to Goosebumps is still very much firmly entrenched in Elfman’s own trick or treat bag of signature sounds.

If you’re very familiar with his work, you’ll hear his imprint from earlier works like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and even his great (and now classic) theme for the long-running T.V.┬áseries Tales From the Crypt. From the first cue on Sony’s newly released CD of the soundtrack, Elfman’s confident and masterful hand is at work in creating a soundscape of ghoulish, adventurous fun, filled with sinister tinges and a hearkening back to when movie scores were able to have their own identities apart from the films themselves.

Sony’s CD release of the soundtrack to Goosebumps is a pristine, attractive package that is both affordable and essential to fans of Elfman and of the film itself. With over 60 minutes of music (29 tracks total), the release is (so far) one of the best mass-market soundtrack products of 2015. Even though the CD within the jewel case prominently displays Jack Black’s name above Danny Elfman’s (which seems to be an art department glitch), the glory is all Elfman’s.

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About the Author

david j. moore

david j. moore is the author of World Gone Wild: A Survivor’s Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies and the upcoming book The Good, the Tough and the Deadly: Action Movies and Stars, coming April, 2016 from Schiffer Publishing.