Things That Go Bump

Re-Reading RL Stine's Bizarrely Beloved Goosebumps Series

Book the Twentieth: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight 03/31/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 3:36 pm
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Tagline: “It’s a field of screams!” Once, at my elementary school, we had the choice of watching Field of Dreams or Fly Away Home. I chose the latter and I stand by my decision, but I will concede that Field of Dreams is, for once, an age appropriate movie to allude to.

Premise: Jodie and her brother Mark visit their grandparents’ farm every summer to indulge in chocolate chip pancakes, scary stories, hay fever, and moonshine. (OK, not the last one. But sometimes it’s fun to pretend.) But this time around, things are different, as Grandma and Grandpa’s caretaker Stanley recently acquired a book of superstitions and followed its instructions in how to make living scarecrows. In order for Stanley to keep the scarecrows in line, he forces Jodie and Mark’s grandparents to only behave as he wants them to, meaning no pancakes, no stories, and still some hay fever. (This, we don’t find out till the end of the book, but it’s contextually important for summary’s sake.) However, the scarecrows have other plans, and while Jodie and Mark are convinced the scarecrows’ actions are Stanley’s son Sticks’ doing, it has nothing to do with him. They’re moving of their own volition, and they’re no longer under Stanley’s control. So naturally, every character in the book comes together and the scarecrows bear down on them (despite some misdirection on the part of Mark dressed as a scarecrow–don’t ask), ready to attack, when Sticks decides to set them on fire. That works, they’re gone, and everything’s OK again. That is, until we reach the twist of Stanley reading some passage from the book that reanimates the dead stuffed bear in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room, because of course it does.

Creepiness factor: I’m not of the belief that the scarecrows could’ve seriously harmed Jodie and the others, but the idea of inanimate objects coming to life and posing a threat to a previously peaceful location is a good one. It’s not horrifying, or even particularly scary, but it’s a bit chilling.

Signature Stine moment: Oh, so many. I’ve become really attached to this trope lately–the “little did we know” concept.

“I nodded. An evil grin spread over my face. ‘I think so,’ I told my brother. ‘I think Sticks is in for a terrifying surprise.’

Little did I know that we all were!”

Accuracy of title: It’s a repeated mantra of Stanley’s and sounds ominous. So, yeah. Pretty accurate.

Moral of the story: Don’t read chants out loud from a book of superstition-related spells, or just don’t visit your grandparents’ farm and hang out with their creepy caretaker.

Overall rating: 6.5/10. It’s built on a fun concept, and it’s a satisfying read as far as Goosebumps books go, but it’s not particularly memorable. As far as I know, neither is Go Eat Worms!, which I’m not really looking forward to, but hey, 20 books down!

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Book the Nineteenth: Deep Trouble 03/24/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 1:56 pm
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Tagline: “Just when you thought it was safe….” Hey, good, a Jaws reference! That certainly won’t be lost on elementary and middle school audiences.

Premise: Billy and his younger sister Sheena are on their annual trip to the Caribbean with their marine explorer uncle Dr. Deep (yup!) and his assistant Alexander. It’s there that they find out there may actually be a mermaid frolicking about the island, and the good doctor’s been offered a million dollars by a Sea World-esque establishment to catch her for display in Faux Sea World. Billy, of course, is the one who stumbles upon the mermaid when she saves him from a shark, and Alexander, of course, is the one who sells her to some shady characters for twenty million dollars. As Alexander puts it, that’s simple arithmetic, and he’ll willingly ditch morals for money. Naturally, he never sees that money, as all the other mermaids team up to get the missing mermaid back. They get the mermaid, Dr. Deep turns down the money and pretends he’s never seen the girl, and somewhere in there, Billy sees a sea monster twice.

Creepiness factor: Not scary. Not at all. There are moments when you’re meant to worry about Billy’s livelihood, but this is a Goosebumps book, and that means his continued mortality is practically guaranteed. Also, mermaids? Not very threatening.

Signature Stine moment: They’re here in droves, from rhetorical questions and truncated sentences to weak similes and, I believe, some lazy foreshadowing. But I like this more traditional bit, in which we get perhaps too clear a visual of the representatives from the Marina Zoo:

“A man and a woman stood on the deck of the zoo boat [?]. They were both neatly dressed in khaki pants and button-down shirts. The man had a short, neat haircut, and the woman’s brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She carried a black briefcase.”

Do we really need an explanation of why they’re there, and what they’re doing? Because I’m pretty sure we already know everything there is to know about these guys.

Accuracy of title: Good enough. Billy gets into all kinds of hijinks when he takes a dip, running into fire coral, sharks, sea monsters, and the like.

Moral of the story: Seriously, stay out of the water unless you want to save a mermaid’s life.

Overall rating: 5/10. Decent, not great, and felt a bit too much like a story you’d see on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I did like the concept of mermaids using echolocation, but, well, mermaids are just a really weak creature upon which to base a story. I wanted more sea monster, personally. Maybe The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight will deliver that. Maybe not.

 

Book the Eighteenth: Monster Blood II 03/17/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 5:23 pm
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Tagline: “He’s one hungry hamster!” (Guys! I love this tagline! It doesn’t make any sense if you don’t know the content of the book, thus making it absolutely terrific.)

Premise: Evan and Andy are back, and so is Monster Blood, the incredible substance that grows on its very own and causes living beings to do the same when ingested. Evan’s not at his happiest when he first meets up with Andy, who’s recently moved to his hometown. No one in his school believes him about his Monster Blood mishaps (who would’ve thought?), his science teacher Mr. Murphy is forever making him clean class hamster Cuddles’ cage, and a truly heinous bully nicknamed Conan the Barbarian won’t stop pestering him. So–and this is a perfectly logical decision, in my opinion–decides they should feed Cuddles Monster Blood. Good idea, right? Of course not! Cuddles grows to epic proportions, topping ten feet tall, and Evan is forced to eat some Monster Blood and wrestle him (!). That doesn’t seem to be working, as Cuddles is clearly stronger than Evan (yes, that’s correct), but very suddenly during their tussle, they’re back to normal size. Andy laughs uproariously when she realizes the Monster Blood’s expiration date is that very day and all is well. Then Mr. Murphy gives Evan Cuddles as a gift (I don’t know, either), Andy’s parents send her some Monster Blood they found on their trip around the world, and Cuddles may or may not have eaten some. THE END.

Creepiness factor: Conceptually, Monster Blood isn’t really that scary, even when witches are involved. And here, they aren’t. The appeal of the Monster Blood books comes entirely from their inherent goofiness, and honestly, after Why I’m Afraid of Bees, this is a welcome shift.

Signature Stine moment: Oh, so many! Andy always wears horrible neon clothing, there are similes galore, and then THIS happens:

“‘We won’t need it,’ Evan told her firmly. ‘We won’t.”

He was very, very wrong.”

If that’s not gold, I don’t know what is.

Accuracy of title: Spot on. It’s the second Goosebumps book about Monster Blood. Pretty open and shut case here.

Moral of the story: Monster Blood does have an expiration date, so, you know, go crazy.

Overall rating: 7/10. This was a fun one, better than the first in the Monster Blood series, and it involved an adolescent boy wrestling a giant hamster. There are a staggering four Monster Blood books total, the last of which is the sixty-second and final book in the Goosebumps series. So now we truly have something to look forward to! Next up: Deep Trouble. If there are no sharks in Deep Trouble, I’m going to be very upset.

 

Book the Seventeenth: Why I’m Afraid of Bees 03/13/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 8:40 pm
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Tagline: “He’s no ordinary human bee-ing…” (A welcome return to the proper ellipsis, but pun-wise, this is pretty weak. Think about the wealth of bee puns out there. This is as pathetic as the time George Weasley defaulted to feeling “saintlike” and “holey” post-ear loss.)

Premise: Protagonist (?) Gary Lutz is kind of a loser, ridiculed by his peers, his sister, his sister’s cat, and his beekeeping neighbor, Mr. Andretti. (He’s probably not related to race car driver Mario Andretti, but I bet he gets asked if he is a lot.) Fed up with only feeling comforted by the unfeeling presence of his computer, Gary decides he’ll check out Person-to-Person Vacations, an agency which would allow him to swap bodies with someone else for a week. He goes for it and ends up in the body of a bee when the body swap goes awry. A large portion of this book is devoted to Gary’s misadventures as a bee. He’s not very good at bee-ing (sorry) one, so he tries to get his old body back. Unfortunately, its current resident, Dirk Davis, refuses to leave, going against contractual obligations set by Person-to-Person. So Gary does the logical thing and stings him. Then Gary’s back to his old body, Dirk’s back to his, and, presumably, all is right with the world again. The last page alludes to the idea that Gary has retained some bee-like characteristics, like a taste for pollen, but there’s sadly no twist here, earned, hackneyed, hilarious, or otherwise.

Creepiness factor: Nonexistent. Kid gets turned into a bee and eventually returns to human form. That is literally all that happens in this book.

Signature Stine moment: It kind of feels like Stine’s phoning it in here, perhaps coasting on the waves of goodness generated by One Day at HorrorLand. So there’s not much to pick from in Why I’m Afraid of Bees. But I was able to find a combination of truncated sentences and hypothetical questions, so there’s that.

“Were the others following me? Were they?

Yes!

They didn’t want to let me escape.”

See, Gary’s talking about the rest of the bees from Mr. Andretti’s hives, and he’s trying to find a way to–you know what? Never mind.

Accuracy of title: Inaccurate. Horribly inaccurate. As Gary Lutz himself puts it on the penultimate page, “I’m not scared of any of the things I used to be scared of.” And one of those things was bees. How do you like that?

Moral of the story: Next time you want to patronize a business called Person-to-Person Vacations, don’t.

Overall rating: 4/10. Granted, anything was going to be disappointing after the pure ecstasy that was One Day at HorrorLand, which somehow seems even greater now than it did a week ago. Nevertheless, this is a worse than average Goosebumps title. Hopefully, the undue sequel to Monster Blood will be better somehow. Oh, one thing I did like: Gary Lutz is a lot like 30 Rock’s Lutz, so if you could just go ahead and ‘shop Lutz’s face over Gary’s in the cover art I put here, that’d be great. Thanks!

 

Book the Sixteenth: One Day At HorrorLand 03/06/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 11:41 pm
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Tagline: “Enter if you dare…” (Again? Really? Who’s editing these things?)

Premise: Lizzy, her brother Luke, Luke’s best friend Clay, and Lizzy and Luke’s parents get lost on the way to Zoo Gardens Theme Park, ending up at unfamiliar establishment called HorrorLand. Everything about HorrorLand seems just a little bit off, from the No Pinching signs and the crowds of crying children to the fact that the Morris family car blows up as soon as Lizzy’s family crosses the parking lot. Still, Lizzy, Luke, and Clay soldier on, taking in such attractions as the Doom Slide and a barn full of bats before reuniting with Mom and Dad for a ride through a lagoon filled with coffins. Having cheated death a number of times, Lizzy’s parents decide it’s time to leave. That’s when they realize they’re locked in the park and informed by the HorrorLand staff that their adventures are being televised–on The Monster Channel, that is. The eventual escape from HorrorLand via HorrorLand bus is nearly thwarted by a HorrorLand worker clinging to the back of the bus for the duration of the three-hour journey back to the Morris’ home. Fortunately, all this worker wants to do is give the family their passes for next year.

Creepiness factor: Where do I start? This book plays on the most primal of fears, chiefly claustrophobia. Over the course of the book, Lizzy, Luke, and Clay are trapped in individual coffins, stuck in a bat-ridden barn, and nearly crushed by the shrinking walls of a house of mirrors. It’s every bit as scary as anything Stine’s presented before, only taken up a notch.

Signature Stine moment: Because this story is so good–and I mean that, it really is so good–there’s hardly room for Stine-ian similes or sentence truncation. But don’t worry. I found some anyway. And one I found right around the most frightening scene in the book, when Lizzy’s about to be crushed to death in the House of Mirrors:

“It was getting hard to breathe.

The glass panes moved in. Tighter. Tighter.

I gasped for air.

I tried to push with all my might against the glass.

But it was no use.

I was being crushed into a human square.”

Accuracy of title: We’re back to 100% accuracy, folks! This book is about a family who spends–wait for it–one day at HorrorLand. Genius!

Moral of the story: Take the warning signs at amusement parks at face value. Try to do it all the time, if you can. But if you can’t, at least remember what you were told not to do, in case things take a sinister turn and you can violate that rule. What I’m trying to say is go ahead and pinch, because then the monsters deflate and you’re good to go.

Overall rating: 9/10. Forget any sour feelings lingering post-You Can’t Scare Me! This one is gold, pure gold from start to finish. Likable characters, genuinely scary situations, and a richer setting even than Fever Swamp and the underbelly of the pyramids way back in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, everything about One Day At HorrorLand falls into place just as it should.

 

Book the Fifteenth: You Can’t Scare Me! 03/04/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 8:10 pm
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Tagline: “They’re coming for you….” (Yes, another four-period ellipsis. Terrible.)

Premise: Remarkably skittish protagonist Eddie and his friends (including a kid referred to only as “Hat,” after it is explained that no one has ever seen one without one) are sick and tired of class hotshot Courtney showing them up, making them look foolish with her fearlessness. So they decide it’s high time Courtney get embarrassingly terrified of something. After failing, time and again, to scare Courtney, Eddie cooks up what he thinks is the perfect plan, bribing his brother and his brother’s friends to dress up as Mud Monsters, basically a hyper local version of Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster. According to legend, the Mud Monsters rise up once a year–on the night that Eddie and his friends convince Courtney to scope out the monsters in the woods. In the end, the Mud Monsters are real. Yes, that’s the twist: the monsters we’ve been familiar with since the beginning of the book are real. There’s no contrived or fun twist here, just the dullest conclusion we’ve seen yet.

Creepiness factor: Extraordinarily low. I get that the Mud Monsters might pose some kind of threat, but they don’t do anything. They just stalk after Eddie and Company until we get some clunky denouement about how long ago that fateful Mud Monster Return Night was, and how scared they all remain.

Signature Stine moment: The only thing about this book that isn’t signature Stine is the lackluster ending. But since it’s been a while since we’ve had one of these, here’s an overly specific description of Eddie’s friend Molly’s outfit, which she wears when playing croquet with Eddie, Hat, and Charlene:

“She straightened the bottom of her yellow t-shirt over her black Lycra bike shorts and prepared to take a turn.”

It’s a good thing it was clarified that those shorts were made of Lycra. Otherwise the visual just wouldn’t have been complete.

Accuracy of title: Not particularly accurate. Yes, the book is about scaring the unscareable, but the title implies that the protagonist is fearless, not the presumptive antagonist.

Moral of the story: Local legends are true. That’s literally all there is to it.

Overall rating: 4/10. This is a largely un-engaging book further marred by an unsatisfying ending. Here’s hoping One Day at HorrorLand can help me get over it.