R. L. Stine’s spine-chilling “Goosebumps” book series holds a great deal of nostalgia and memorable spooks for ’90s kids and beyond, including executive producers Pavun Shetty and Conor Welch, who were determined to “elevate” the beloved novels with modern stories for a new generation through the new Disney+ and Hulu series.
“Connor and I grew up on the ‘Goosebumps’ books, and now that we’re adults, kids are reading them for the first time. While we’re looking back with a sense of nostalgia, they’re getting scared for the first time,” Shetty told TheWrap ahead of the series’ Friday the 13th premiere. “We knew we wanted to do something with these iconic stories and do an elevated take on them.”
With established fans and newcomers bringing distinct perspectives on the same material, the “Goosebumps” team — led by filmmakers and creators Rob Letterman and Nicholas Stoller — aimed to harness both the nostalgia and the newfound scares into a show that appeals to both kids and adults, according to Shetty.
“In reading the books as a kid — my daughter reading them now — they’re always a little bit scarier and a little bit funnier than you expect them to be,” Welch said. “That was the intention with our adaptation for the series as well, that they would be a little bit scarier, and a little bit funnier than the audience is expecting.”
Using ’90s staple “Freaks and Geeks” as a blueprint, the creators sought to portray relatable “awkward” issues faced by high schoolers — including identity insecurity, pressure to succeed and crushes — as well as the nuanced problems their parents face, from financial struggles to infidelity, as the basis for the scares to come.
“We always joke that the kids in the show are dealing with crazy things like haunted cameras and giant worms, but the truth is that being a kid in high school is actually way scarier than any of that,” Shetty said. “This is a world where your teacher might be possessed by ghosts, but it’s not as horrifying as getting rejected by a crush.”
“We just wanted to have everything be grounded in as relatable issues as possible,” Welch said. “When we layer the horror on top of that, it just becomes more fun, cinematic and exciting.”
“Goosebumps,” whose first five episodes are now streaming as part of Disney+’s “Hallowstream” and Hulu’s “Huluween” celebrations, introduces five distinct protagonists across its subsequent episodes, each of whom cross paths with a different totem from the “Goosebumps” franchise. As each of the five teenagers struggle with the evil powers released by their respective totems, they unite forces in the fifth episode to take on the mysterious forces that threaten their world.
With several existing “Goosebumps” adaptations already in the mix — including Letterman’s 2015 film starring Jack Black and Dylan Minnette — the team aimed to differentiate the series with its modern twist, as it centers on teenagers who aren’t typically portrayed on-screen across its 10-episode season, including down-to-earth star quarterback Isaiah, who struggles with the pressure to secure a football scholarship.
“The only reason we wanted to do a show is if we could do a show that honored the original version, but really updated it,” Shetty said. “What was super important to us is that it felt new and timely, and that it actually added to the ‘Goosebumps’ franchise instead of cannibalizing it.”
Below, Shetty and Welch break down how adding parents to the mix intensifies the storyline, and what other iconic easter eggs might show up from the original “Goosebumps” series.
TheWrap: Where did the idea to center the first five episodes on a different high schooler come from?
Shetty: It was really our creators, Rob Letterman and Nick Stoller, and then our showrunner, Hilary Winston, who came up with that. We were lucky enough because of R.L. Stine and Scholastic to have access to every single “Goosebumps” book, so there’s a lot of titles to pull from. We did just want to start with some of those popular ones [and] do the first five episodes around those, and then the kids kind of come together in the middle of the season to take on some terrors that are haunting the town. But we made sure to pull from a lot of the books, so there are a lot of easter eggs throughout the entire season that fans of the “Goosebumps” books will really, really enjoy.
Welch: Unlike the previous series that was produced, and also the book series itself, it was important to us that our storytelling was not anthological. All of the characters in this first season exists within every episode, so it’s one long story arc that takes place over the first season as opposed to separate stories within each episode.
This is one of the first time that parents are also added to the mix. How does that element add to that dynamics of the books that you were already drawing from?
Welch: The book series came out in the ’90s, so we find that a lot of the parents in our series, that’s when they went to high school. Now that the parents are obviously adults and have their own kids, it’s this interesting dynamic between the high school kids in our show and their parents and we actually go back at one point and see what their parents were like in high school too.
The mythology of the show is related to something that their parents did when they were in high school — their parents unlocked this Pandora’s box that they tried to bury, and now that their own kids are in high school that’s come back to haunt them. Our kids are dealing with the sins of their parents a little bit. So eventually, they do have to work together. But at the beginning of the show, it’s important that our teenagers realize that they’re on their own, and there’s no one to rely on but themselves — they really have to come together.
Is there anything you can tease for the rest of the season that’s to come?
Welch: We have all of the R.L. STine “Goosebumps” books to pull from, so there are easter eggs throughout, including a certain puppet, who I know is a fan favorite that will play in somewhere in the middle of the season and add some fun thrills to the series.
Shetty: Slappy’s in the show, possibly not in a way that you expect, but is a big part of the show. I think we’re gonna surprise and delight “Goosebumps” fans with the way he’s brought into the story.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The first five episodes of “Goosebumps” are now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.