Things That Go Bump

Re-Reading RL Stine's Bizarrely Beloved Goosebumps Series

Book the Ninth: Welcome to Camp Nightmare 01/29/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 7:33 pm
Tags:

Tagline: “It’s the little camp of horrors!” (Will this make sense to any child under the age of, eh, 15, 16? No? OK. Carry on.)

Premise: 12-year-old* Billy heads off for his first summer at Camp Nightmoon, where there is no nurse, no phone, and no apparent attachments to the rest of civilization. Once there, his fellow campers begin mysteriously disappearing through a variety of bizarre circumstances (some kind of beast bite that swells up beyond belief, a canoe trip gone awry, et cetera). Billy keeps on trucking, trying to determine what the weirdness is behind Camp Nightmoon’s closed doors. In the end, when he is asked to shoot his friend Dawn with a tranquilizer dart, he refuses. Billy is then congratulated for being brave and doing the right thing and told he’s passed the test. What tests, you say? Well, see, Billy’s parents are scientists, and they’re off on an expedition to a relatively unexplored planet called earth. Billy had to take the tests in order to see if he was fit to come along, and what do you know? He is! So it’s time for a family trip to earth. Pretty great! I think I saw this on The Twilight Zone once.

Creepiness factor: Decent, considering the fact that the kid is asked to shoot someone with a tranquilizer dart. However, though the ending is unpredictable, it never feels as though this one’s going to remain unresolved.

Signature Stine moment: Some expertly divided sentence fragments in the midst of one those odd disappearances, on page 70:

“We listened.

Silence.

The air hung hot and still.

Nothing moved.

No footsteps. No animal approaching.

Just Jay’s frightened moans and the pounding of my heart.”

Accuracy of title: Not quite 100%, but pretty good, at least 75% accurate. See, the camp’s called Camp Nightmoon, but they call it Camp Nightmare, and–you know what? Never mind. I think you get the idea.

Moral of the story: Do the right thing if you want to join your parents in their expedition to explore the life forms on earth.

Overall rating: 7/10. Despite how this recap reads, I really enjoyed Welcome to Camp Nightmare. It’s a fun little book with a few cool twists here and there and a hilarious one-two punch of an ending. Next up: The Ghost Next Door.

* I’m only going to let you know if a character isn’t 12 from now on. The likelihood of an 11-year-old or a young teen taking the protagonist role is extremely low.

 

Book the Eighth: The Girl Who Cried Monster 01/22/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 4:27 pm
Tags:

(I don’t usually feel the need to share cover art with you, dear reader, but this one was just too good to pass up.)

Tagline: “She’s got the monster of all problems!”

Premise: The wildly unlikeable Lucy Dark, age 12 (!), thinks her local librarian is a monster. And let’s not beat around the bush here, he is. He eats turtles and snails and eels after his head swells up and his eyes pop out and his mouth becomes a gaping black hole. But since Lucy tells monster stories all the time, no one believes her. Eventually, her friend Aaron sees the librarian transform, forcing Lucy’s parents to believe her. Then the most hackneyed twist in the short history (eight books in, remember) of Goosebumps occurs: Lucy’s parents eat the librarian for dinner, because they want to be the only monsters in the town of Timberland Falls. That’s right. Lucy’s parents’ fangs pop out, and they eat the librarian. Seems as good an explanation as any.

Creepiness factor: Pretty low. The monster sounds too goofy to be scary, and the twist comes on way too suddenly to do anything but surprise you.

Signature Stine moment: Horrible simile on page 80.

“I felt myself getting more and more nervous. My hands were ice cold. The camera suddenly seemed to weigh a thousand pounds, like a dead weight around my neck.”

“Like a dead weight?” Come on, Stine, it’s like you’re not even trying anymore.

Accuracy of title: 100% accurate. No one believes Lucy that Mr. Mortman is a monster because she talks about monsters too often.

Moral of the story: Hardly discernible. I guess I’ll go with this: if your librarian is a monster, find someone else to witness his or her transition right away so you don’t have to deal with an entire book’s worth of your parents not believing you and/or thinking you’re a paranoid schizophrenic.

Benchmark moment: This is the first time the protagonists turned out to be the antagonists. I don’t recall this happening particularly often, but it’s always about as strange as it is here.

Overall rating: 5/10. Kind of a dull and repetitive book, with a wildly unlikeable protagonist, but I have to give it points for the sheer absurdity of the ending. Next on the docket: Welcome to Camp Nightmare.

 

Book the Seventh: Night of the Living Dummy 01/17/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 12:12 pm
Tags:

Tagline: “He walks. He stalks…”

Premise: 12-year-old (surprise!) twin sisters Kris and Lindy discover an old ventriloquist’s dummy in a dumpster. Lindy keeps him and becomes a neighborhood sensation with her new routine. Jealous, Kris gets a dummy of her own. Jealous of that, Lindy pulls pranks on Kris to convince her sister that the dummy is both sentient and evil. The joke’s on both Kris and Lindy when it turns out that, yeah, the dummy is sentient and evil and now it’s on them to destroy it, which becomes harder after Kris reads some nonsense words on a piece of paper in the dummy’s pocket that enact some kind of enslavement curse. (Pretty crazy!) Here’s the best part: after the evil dummy is literally steamrolled and destroyed, the other dummy, completely neutral to this point, says to Kris, “Hey, slave, is that other guy gone? I thought he’d never leave!” I sense a sequel coming on!

Creepiness factor: Oh, so high in comparison to everything that comes before it. The dummies have a serious uncanny valley feel going on with partial movement of their facial features and their tendency to get mistaken for small children. And the multiple misdirections don’t come off as contrivances so much as genuinely surprising twists.

Signature Stine moment: This book was absent the usual clunky similes and faux-profound sentence fragments, so I had a lot of trouble finding a signature moment. And then I saw this:

“I’m never going to sleep again, she thought.” (Note: this book was back to third-person narration since there were two protagonists. Fair, but I missed first-person, which is back for The Girl Who Cried Monster.)

These 12-year-olds are the most insomnia-ridden bunch of tweens I’ve ever come across. I don’t think there’s been a single title so far that didn’t include at least one sleepless night caused by what can only be described as generalized anxiety disorder, or at least symptoms of such a disorder. Now, I remember being 12, and I remember being a remarkably neurotic 12-year-old, but I can’t recall a single night of restlessness. But when Kris can’t sleep due to her own mind, and maybe a dummy or a twin sister, playing tricks on her, that just feels normal in Goosebumps Land.

Accuracy of title: It’s not entirely accurate; the wacky antics of Mr. Wood and his successor Slappy last much longer than a single night, as proven by the multiple sequels that follow Night of the Living Dummy. However, I’m giving this title a free pass, because making a reference that will doubtless be completely lost on your intended audience is a flatly wonderful idea.

Moral of the story: If your sister displays a talent for ventriloquism, just let her have her moment and go back to your junk jewelry collection. Also, for the love of all things holy, if you find a piece of paper in your pawn shop dummy’s shirt pocket, don’t read the words on it out loud. There is no possible benefit in this.

Overall rating: 8.5/10. Solid premise, fine execution, and a few truly eerie moments. I didn’t even get into the rancid green liquid spewing from Mr. Wood’s mouth or the way Mr. Wood insults a heavyset lady to great effect. If you’re going to read one Goosebumps book (and how could you possibly stop at one?), it should probably be Night of the Living Dummy.

 

Book the Sixth: Let’s Get Invisible! 01/15/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 4:01 pm
Tags:

Tagline: “Now you see him. Now you don’t.”

Premise: The 12-year-old protagonist (note: every single protagonist thus far has been 12), a rather unmemorable boy named Max, finds a mysterious mirror in his attic. When the light on the mirror is turned on, the person standing directly in front of the mirror turns invisible. Max, his friends, and his younger brother Lefty find this to be a great novelty and have competitions seeing who can stay invisible the longest. In time, Max realizes this might not be the best idea, as they have a harder time coming back into visibility. At the book’s climax, Max is sucked into the mirror and his reflection demands to come out and become visible instead of Max. Max thwarts the mirror by breaking it and trades his friends’ reflections in for his actual friends. All is well, except for the part where Max’s little brother is still stuck and his reflection will take the place of Lefty for the rest of his life.

Creepiness factor: Scarier than the others, with the exception of Stay Out of the Basement. There’s a growing sense of dread as the transformation from invisible to visible again becomes more difficult, and some concern that things might not go back to normal in the end.

Signature Stine moment: A one-two punch of truncated sentences and awkward simile.

“And then I heard the soft whisper.

‘Maaaaaaaax.’

Like the wind through the trees. The hushed shaking of leaves.

Not a voice at all. Not even a whisper.

Just a hint of a whisper.”

Accuracy of title: It was merely OK until a character literally uttered the phrase “Let’s get invisible!” At that point it was right on the money.

Moral of the story (another Scott suggestion, bless him): It’s best not to mess with magical mirrors. It can only end in disaster.

Overall rating: 6/10. Cool idea, decent execution, although I’m still waiting for a truly likable protagonist, complete with personality. But fear not! Night of the Living Dummy is next and I am unnecessarily excited about it!

 

Book the Fifth: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb 01/11/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 2:57 pm
Tags:

Tagline: “What will wake the dead?”

Premise: Yet another 12-year-old protagonist, Gabe, visits Egypt and winds up in the Great Pyramid with his cousin Sari and his uncle Ben, an archaeologist plumbing the deaths of the pyramid. One member of Ben’s research team, an Egyptian man named Ahmed, warns Ben, the other researchers, Gabe, and Sari of a curse that will befall them, should they continue their work. They continue their work, Ahmed enacts the curse, and chaos ensues, ending with Gabe, Ben, and Sari nearly getting mummified and the mummies striking back against Ahmed.

Creepiness factor: Middle of the road. Mummies aren’t a particularly frightening horror trope, but the idea of an ancient curse and very recent mummification ala Ahmed is a little chill-inducing.

Signature Stine moment: A rare moment of self awareness in regard to how stale the jokes are, as follows.

“‘As you probably know,’ he started, tearing off a chunk of the flat bread, ‘the pyramid was built sometime around 2500 B.C., during the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu.’

‘Gesundheit,’ Sari said. Another lame joke.

Her father chuckled. I made a face at her.”

Benchmark moment: In the previous book, it was death. In this book, it’s the transition from third-person omniscient narration to first-person, and it’s a vast improvement, one that carries over into the next book and, from what I can recall, the remainder of the series.

Accuracy of title: 100% accurate. That about sums it up.

Overall rating: 6/10. By no means perfect, but this one was a lot more fun than that which came before it. Next time: Let’s Get Invisible!, the second title that warrants an exclamation point!

 

Book the Fourth: Say Cheese and Die! 01/09/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 8:16 pm
Tags:

Tagline: “One picture is worth a thousand screams.” (My husband Scott insisted I start recording these. This is the best one yet.)

Premise: Greg and his friends break into an abandoned house in their neighborhood and find all manner of wacky vintage artifacts in the basement. One is a camera Greg brings home. Whenever he takes a photo with the camera, it depicts something terrible happening, something that, in the near future, comes true, including a car wreck and the sudden disappearance of a child (Greg’s friend Shari). In the end, it turns out that the camera is cursed and a mad scientist (the second one we’ve encountered in Goosebumps!) who sometimes hangs around the house the camera came from tells Greg and Shari all about it before … wait for it … dying from fear of the camera. This is the first actual death depicted in a Goosebumps book, thus making an otherwise unremarkable title remarkable.

Creepiness factor: Rather low. There’s a fairly well written scene in which Greg’s father takes his family out on a ride and nearly gets them in a fatal accident, but that’s not scary so much as nerve-wracking. (Nerve-racking? Someone look into this for me.)

Signature Stine moment: Something I’ve noticed is that the author loves breaking up paragraphs sentence by sentence for effect, as seen here.

“Cameras can’t be evil, after all.

Cameras can’t make people crash their cars. Or fall down the stairs.

Or vanish from sight.

Cameras can only record what they see.”

Accuracy of title: It’s a cute title, but it’s wildly inaccurate. Only one person in the book dies, and he definitely doesn’t take the time to say “Cheese” first. Really, “A Picture Worth a Thousand Screams” would’ve been better. Who’s writing these taglines? Why haven’t they been promoted?

Overall rating: 3.5/10. This one was quite a slog, worse even than Welcome to Dead House. Fortunately, we’re coming up on The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, which I remember had a particularly haunting television episode to go along with it.

 

Book the Third: Monster Blood 01/06/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 1:21 pm
Tags:

Premise: Extremely forgettable protagonist Evan is forced to stay with his great aunt Kathryn while his parents search for a new house. Upon moving in, Evan meets a much less forgettable girl named Andy, who introduces him to a vintage toy store in town. There, they procure a can of Monster Blood, a gooey, sticky green substance that inexplicably begins to grow, such that it can fill entire tubs and aluminum trash cans. And how is this happening? Why, because the cat living in Kathryn’s house is actually a witch, of course! But don’t worry. Once the Monster Blood consumes the cat/witch person (it can do that, too), the spells are broken, and everything is OK again.

Creepiness factor: Quite low. The twist was glaringly obvious, what with the cat’s human-like traits and inherent air of evilness. Didn’t see the “Kathryn is deaf because of the cat/witch person” bit coming, but even so, a glob of green goop that makes dogs grow and sucks up neighborhood bullies just doesn’t seem that plausible or threatening.

Signature Stine moment: An extremely detailed description of Andy’s appearance: “Andy braked her bike and dropped both feet to the ground. She was wearing bright pink shorts and a yellow sleeveless undershirt top. Her face was red, her forehead beaded with perspiration from pedaling so hard.” This is a definite Stine trope: giving the reader an exact picture of what a character is wearing. Usually he’d say how long her shirt was, but I’ll excuse it.

Accuracy of title: Very accurate. Very catchy. And much cleverer than the book’s sequel’s name (apparently this one earns a sequel), Monster Blood II.

Overall rating: 5.5/10. Not terrible, not great, pretty par for the course when it comes to middling Goosebumps titles. I probably should’ve just reread Stay Out of the Basement. But worry not! Say Cheese and Die! is next, and I’m looking forward to that one (though not nearly as much as Night of the Living Dummy).