Things That Go Bump

Re-Reading RL Stine's Bizarrely Beloved Goosebumps Series

Book the Thirty-First: Night of the Living Dummy II 11/16/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 7:39 pm
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Tagline: “He’s still walking. He’s still stalking.” (I love how matter of fact and flat this is.)

Synopsis: Let’s go over what we already know about Slappy the dummy: he’s pure evil, and to become sentient, you need to recite the words on the slip of paper that comes with him. Got that? Great. Let’s move forward. Amy is a decent ventriloquist, but her dummy Dennis is in a sorry state, so she’s thrilled when her father buys her a new dummy at a discounted rate. The dummy’s a familiar little hellion named Slappy who begins wreaking havoc all over again, painting Amy’s name all over the walls in her sister’s room, calling Amy’s mother fat, and injuring a small child. Amy’s sister Sara sees Slappy doing his thing but maintains that Amy is crazy until Amy confronts her. Her sister apologizes, Amy forgives her way too easily, and the two of them hatch a plan to catch Slappy in the act and get rid of him. Their plan involves younger brother Jed dressing up as Amy’s old dummy and attacking Slappy. The plan goes off without a hitch and there are no more worries concerning dummies. Then Jed reveals that he wasn’t dressed as Dennis, meaning Dennis is also alive! Will wonders never cease?

Creepiness factor: Because it’s the second time around, it’s too familiar an idea to be frightening, but the idea’s still good enough that it doesn’t really matter.

Signature Stine moment: Excellent sentence truncation here:

“The glassy blue eyes gazed up at me.

Lifelessly.

Blankly.

Neither of us moved.

And then, to my horror, the wooden lips parted. The red mouth slowly opened.

And Slappy let out a soft, evil, “‘Hee hee hee.'”

Accuracy of title: Sure. Sounds about right.

Moral of the story: Don’t read the words! Just don’t!

Overall rating: 8/10. I liked this, because it’s nearly as fun as the first and it involved some references to the Beatles.

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Book the Thirtieth: It Came From Beneath The Sink! 10/30/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 8:32 pm
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Tagline: “It’s warm! It’s breathing! And it doesn’t do dishes!” (Guys, I can’t tell you how much this tagline delights me.)

Synopsis: Kat and her family just moved into a new house and everything about it seems great. There are balconies and extra rooms and even a demonic sponge beneath the sink. Oh, wait, that last part isn’t a good thing! The sponge, Kat and her brother Daniel soon find out, is an ancient creature called a Grool that feeds on pain and suffering. That’s why it seems to pulsate and chuckle and grow whenever someone gets hurt in its general vicinity. Friendly little guy, that Grool. Kat and Daniel desperately want to get rid of the Grool, but if they give it away, they know they’ll die within 24 hours. (Death sponges come with a lot of caveats.) And it cannot be killed by any violent or negative means. However, that doesn’t mean it’s immortal, as Kat finds out when she tries being nice to the Grool, cooing to it, singing to it, telling it how much she loves it, and even giving it a kiss. The Grool shrinks until it’s nothing but bits of fuzz, Kat and Daniel’s dog comes back home, all those flowers that died reappear (what?), and everything’s great again. Of course, there is still that other ancient creature, the potato-like, energy-sucking Lanx, hanging out underneath the sink, but that’s a story for another time.

Creepiness factor: More disturbing than creepy. The idea of something that feeds on suffering is a little disconcerting, but this never feels legitimately scary.

Signature Stine moment: Don’t worry, they’re back in force, and I found some great clunky foreshadowing this time around.

“I lifted my eyes to the plastic cage and glared at the Grool. I felt a deep hatred for the little creature.

‘If one more bad thing happens around here, I’ll bury you,’ I promised it. ‘I’ll bury you so far in the ground that no one will ever find you or see you again. Ever.’

It was a promise I would soon have to keep.”

Accuracy of title: 100% accurate. Yes. Yes, it did.

Moral of the story: Not entirely clear. I guess I’d say it’s to be resourceful and clever, but that’s not really a moral, is it? Or don’t move into a new house. Or don’t touch the evil object beneath the sink in your new house. It’s one of those three.

Overall rating: 7/10. This is not a terrific Goosebumps book but it’s pretty enjoyable. And now that I’m done with it, I get to read the next Night of the Living Dummy. So there’s that.

 

Book the Twenty-Ninth: Monster Blood III 10/22/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 7:15 pm
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And we’re back!

Tagline: “Evan’s growing up way too fast!”

Synopsis: Evan of Monster Blood and Monster Blood II fame is back, and this time he’s babysitting his freakish cousin Kermit. Kermit is a seriously unlikeable mousey looking kid who likes mixing chemicals in his basement laboratory. (Also, he has a dog named Dogface. This seems worth mentioning.) Kermit also has a tendency to cause mischief and force Evan into taking the blame. So Evan’s pal Andy decides there has to be a way to teach Kermit a lesson, and it probably involves Monster Blood. So Evan and Andy add Monster Blood to one of Kermit’s experiments, it causes an explosion, and somewhere in the fray, Evan ingests Monster Blood. Giant boy-related chaos ensues, that irritating bully from Monster Blood II resurfaces, and Kermit never gets his. He does concoct something to turn Evan back to normal size, though, so I guess everything’s OK. Or something.

Creepiness factor: Not scary. Not remotely. Monster Blood is not a scary concept, nor has it ever been. And I’m sure it won’t be when we hit Monster Blood IV, either.

Signature Stine moment: There aren’t enough of them. But hey, at least we have a detailed description of one of Andy’s neon-heavy outfits.

“Andy was wearing a sleeveless, hot pink T-shirt over bright yellow shorts and matching yellow sneakers.”

Accuracy of title: Yeah, whatever.

Moral of the story: Maybe just avoid Monster Blood at this point in your life.

Overall rating: 5.5/10. This is a serious letdown, considering what came before it. It’s not particularly clever and does nothing original with the Monster Blood trope–not that there’s much left to be done. I’m really hoping It Came from Beneath the Sink! isn’t this lackluster.

As an aside, I’m in the midst of a Goosebumps TV series mini-marathon on the Hub right now, and it’s just as delightfully awful as I remember it. Night of the Living Dummy III even involved a young Hayden Christensen! I can’t tell what’s weaker on this show: the special effects, the acting, or the writing. What I’m trying to say is you should probably be watching this, too.

 

Book the Twenty-Eighth: The Cuckoo Clock of Doom 06/24/2012

Tagline: “Keep your eye on the birdie!”

Synopsis: Michael hates his 7-year-old sister, Tara, and his hatred is completely justified; she’s a nightmare and hellbent on ruining Michael’s life. She blames her abuse of the family pet on him, causes his crush to see him in his underwear, and ruins his 12th birthday party in at least three different ways. So Michael exacts revenge on Tara by moving the bird on his father’s newly purchased antique cuckoo clock, making it look like it was Tara’s fault. At least, that’s his intention. As it turns out, moving around the bird takes Michael back in time at seemingly random intervals. Every time-warped day, Michael attempts to find the cuckoo clock and set it back to 1995 so everything will go back to normal (though “normal” was borderline insufferable, considering the Tara factor). Within a week, Michael regresses to babyhood and gets what he’s sure will be his last chance to change the clock as his mother and father bring him to the antique shop. As they argue over furniture, Michael vaults his 1-year-old body up onto a chair just so, reaches into the clock, and turns it back where it needs to be. Within a moment, he’s back to his 12th birthday, and everything’s the same. OR IS IT? As it turns out, the clock’s tiny flaw (which was mentioned earlier but never actually identified) is a missing notch on the year dial. There is no 1988, and thus there is no Tara. Michael doesn’t bother to move back in time to get her, as things are quite suddenly looking up for him, and really, who would judge him for that? Certainly not me.

Creepiness factor: This book isn’t scary but it’s about as suspenseful as a Goosebumps book can be.

Signature Stine moment: Truncated sentences abound, but they don’t sound stilted anymore. Come on, Stine, what happened?

This is from the book’s climax:

“I made it!

Cuckoo, cuckoo! Seven, eight.

I got to my knees. I got to my feet.

I reached up to grab the cuckoo. I stretched as tall as I could.

Cuckoo, cuckoo! Nine, ten.

Reaching, reaching.

Then I heard the shopkeeper shout, ‘Somebody grab that baby!'”

Accuracy of title: I wouldn’t change a thing.

Moral of the story: If your younger sibling is the single most deplorable person you’ve ever met, it’s not the worst idea to find an antique cuckoo clock missing the year he or she was born.

Overall rating: 8.75/10. Am I getting too generous here? I don’t think so, because from book 24 (my beloved Phantom of the Auditorium) on forward, the Goosebumps series is substantially more solid than before, dummies and the HorrorLand horrors aside. This book is remarkably clever, and when it’s funny, it’s being funny on purpose, something Stine never quite nailed till now. Here’s hoping Monster Blood III continues the trend of genuinely entertaining Goosebumps installments.

 

Book the Twenty-Seventh: A Night in Terror Tower 06/13/2012

Tagline: “It’s gonna be a L-O-N-G night!”

Synopsis: Sue and her brother Eddie are having a blast in London while their parents attend meetings. (What sorts of meetings? Not important.) Mom and Dad set them up with a tour group, and so the siblings eat bangers and mash, window shop in Harrods, and visit landmarks like Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey. You know, London things. What Sue and Eddie are most excited for is the final stop on their tour: Terror Tower. (For more on my confusion regarding Terror Tower vs. the Tower of London, see the post immediately before this.) The kids get to Terror Tower and take a walking tour through some torture chambers, groaning at their tour guide’s murder-related jokes and getting increasingly creeped out by the caped man lurking around every corner. Somewhere down the line, Eddie and Sue hear the tragic tale of Edward and Susannah of York, a pair of children who were (probably) smothered to death within the confines of Terror Tower. (Yup. Eddie and Sue hear about Edward and Susannah.Let that one sink in.) Shortly thereafter, they get separated from the group and hotly pursued around and underneath (there’s a sewer chase!) the Tower by the man in the cape who keeps clicking three white stones together. (The stones are for future-jumping and spells and stuff. Spoiler alert.) They manage to escape, but they’ve missed the tour bus and have to find a way back to their parents’ hotel. The children soon realize they can’t remember anything: what their parents look like, why their parents took them to London, or even their own last name. And quite suddenly (20-30 pages later), you find out why as Sue and Eddie are transported back hundreds of years and taken from the old city streets by the Lord High Executioner (caped man!), put in a cell, and visited in said cell by a wizard named Morgred. Hundreds of years ago, when the kids who we now know to be Edward and Susannah of York were on the verge of getting smothered, Morgred put a spell on them, attempting to get them far from the Tower as possible. In the distant future with a new set of memories seemed far enough. It wasn’t, they’re back in the past due to some stone-clicking and executioner-related trickery, and smothering seems inevitable. Morgred gives Sue and Eddie back their memories and claims he cannot help them, Eddie steals the stones from Morgred’s pocket (I’m admittedly quite fuzzy on who has the stones when throughout this entire book), and Eddie transports Sue and himself back to the 20th century, old-school monarchy memories intact. And Morgred’s there too, and they’re a family now, because why not?

Creepiness factor: I was really distracted by my own theorizing for a lot of this book, absolutely convinced the kids were ghosts and didn’t realize it. But Stine, sly dog that he was, totally fooled me and mixed it up with some wizardry, throwing in hundreds of rats, a number of torture devices, and a legitimately frightening antagonist in the Lord High Executioner. So let’s crank the creepiness factor up to a solid B+!

Signature Stine moment: There’s a battery of bad similes throughout, and this was the first awesomely bad one I found, only 37 pages in.

“We stared through the dim light at each other. Frozen like the dummies in the cells.”

I’m not giving you context. It’s for the best.

Accuracy of title: There are certainly bits and pieces of an evening spent in Terror Tower, and it’s really best to keep that time travel idea under wraps, so it was better to be vague. Nice title. Nice book.

Moral of the story: Is there one? Shoot. Well. How about this? Don’t be a prince or princess, because your parents are probably going to die and your evil uncle is probably going to try to kill you.

Overall rating: 7.5/10. Stine is just killing it these days, by which I mean the late 1994 and early 1995 Goosebumps books were pretty good.

 

Book the Twenty-Sixth: My Hairiest Adventure 05/15/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 6:08 pm
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Tagline: “It keeps growing…and growing…and growing…”

Synopsis: One day after band practice (and nearly being mauled by a pack of dogs), Larry Boyd finds a bottle of INSTA-TAN in the trash outside his friend Lily Vonn’s house. Larry, Lily, and fellow Geeks (that’s the uniquely terrible name of their band) Manny, Jared, and Kristina decide to give the stuff a try, even though it’s long since expired. Unsurprisingly, no one develops a deep suntan in minutes as promised. Instead, Larry begins growing dark, bristly hair, first on his hands, then on his neck. All his friends make fun of him when he asks if they’re growing hair in odd places (wouldn’t you?), so Larry goes about his hairy way (ha!), teaching himself to shave and wearing gloves when he probably doesn’t need to. Then two of his closest friends disappear in quick succession, first Manny, then Lily. Down two Geeks and with the Battle of the Bands on the way, Larry, Jared, and Kristina decide to perform anyway. Larry thinks his hairy days are over when suddenly, mid-“I Want to Hold Your Hand,” his coat comes in all over. (They win the Battle with their “great special effects.”) Shortly thereafter, Larry finds out he lives in a town of no children, just dogs getting shots every once in a while to look and act like children. Larry returns to dog form, joins up with fellow dogs Manny and Lily (and the ones that once nearly mauled him, aw!), and makes sure to visit Mr. and Mrs. Boyd, who now have a baby that was once Jasper, Larry’s cat. The end!

Creepiness factor: This might be the least scary Goosebumps book, unless the idea of hair growth horrifies you (in which case it is probably a bad idea for you to read a blog post with “My Hairiest Adventure” in the title).

Signature Stine moment: This is a long one, but it’s great chunk of hypothetical questions that I refuse to pare down.

“Sprawled on my stomach on top of the bed, my knees throbbed as I thought. Why did my knees grow hair? I asked myself. I didn’t spread any INSTA-TAN on my knees. So why did the ugly black hair sprout there?

Had the INSTA-TAN worked itself into my system? Had the strange liquid seeped into my pores? Had it spread through my entire body?

Was I going to turn into some kind of big, hairy creature? Was I soon going to look like King Kong or something?

Questions–but no answers.”

Accuracy of title: Even if it wasn’t accurate (and it is, for this is one hairy adventure, perhaps the hairiest I’ve witnessed!), My Hairiest Adventure is just a great title. Full marks.

Moral of the story: Sometimes you don’t even have to do anything for something crazy to happen.

Overall rating: 7.5/10. I have a lot of affection for My Hairiest Adventure. So far, it’s the Goosebumps book I most clearly remembered from childhood, right down to which song Larry and the other Geeks are playing when his coat really starts coming in. It’s not the best Goosebumps book, but it’s fun and goofy and clever, and the lack of scares is pretty refreshing. Next up: A Night in Terror Tower, a book I don’t recollect in the slightest!

 

Book the Twenty-Fifth: Attack of the Mutant 05/04/2012

Tagline: “He’s no superhero. He’s a supervillain!”

Synopsis*: Bradley “Skipper” Matthews is obsessed with comics. They’re the single most important part of his life, more important than math homework, orthodontist appointments, or looking at his best friend Wilson Clark’s stamp collection. Skipper aims to keep all his comics in mint condition, unless they belong to his favorite series, The Masked Mutant, which chronicles the tyranny of a molecule-shifting supervillain. Whenever a new issue of The Masked Mutant comes in the mail, Skipper reads it cover to cover, so the eponymous supervillain is on his mind at all times–including when he’s riding the city bus and passes a building that looks exactly like The Mutant’s headquarters. Skipper convinces his new fellow bus-riding friend, Libby Zacks, to investigate the building. They do so, it looks a bit like a typical comic distribution HQ, and that’s when things start to get really strange, as the events occurring in The Masked Mutant begin mimicking Skipper’s daily life. His likeness is in the comics now, and according to the comics, only he can save League of Good Guys member The Galloping Gazelle from certain death at the hands of The Mutant. Skipper returns to the building and does indeed save The Galloping Gazelle, who cuts and runs, leaving Skipper alone with The Mutant. Libby appears and destroys The Mutant with a Molecule-Melter, then reveals that The Mutant (twist number one!) is actually The Magnificent Molecule Man, The Mutant’s part-time stand-in. So who is The Mutant? Why, Libby, of course! (That’s two twists.) Libby, er, The Mutant informs Skipper that he’s part of the comic now and no longer a real boy (twist three, kind of). Skipper improvises, saying he’s Elastic Boy (twist four?) and the only way he can be destroyed is with sulphuric acid. The Mutant transforms into sulphuric acid and attacks, Skipper dodges the attack, and, having tricked The Mutant into turning into a liquid–which the Mutant can’t do (twist five, I guess)!–Skipper has effectively destroyed the greatest supervillain in history. Then Skipper goes home, cuts his hand, and bleeds ink rather than blood. Six twists, all of them awesome, and we’re done here.

Creepiness factor: This is another title that relies on suspense and, to a greater extent, action to build its story. The scares aren’t there, and that’s OK.

Signature Stine moment: Every signature Stine moment (or SSM, colloquially) somehow works beautifully in Attack of the Mutant, from an entire paragraph of hypothetical questions to a number of similes comparing Skipper’s current situation to the powers of different comic book heroes. As per usual, my favorite SSM is a bit of blatant foreshadowing, so blatant that I’m not sure it can even be called foreshadowing anymore. It’s only 16 pages into the book, and as you’ll soon see, it’s absolute gold.

“I turned and ran full speed to the bus stop.

The driver was a nice guy. He saw me running and waited for me. Breathing hard, I thanked him and climbed on to the bus.

I probably wouldn’t have thanked him if I had known where this bus was going to take me. But I didn’t know that it was carrying me to the most frightening adventure of my life.”

Accuracy of title: 100% accurate. There are attacks, and they are, in fact, carried out by The Mutant.

Moral of the story: If you happen to see the headquarters of your favorite fictional character, do yourself a favor and don’t visit them, unless you want to become part of that character’s story. In that case, by all means, make yourself at home.

Overall rating: 9/10. As a kid, I didn’t love this book, most likely because all those thinly veiled critiques of Archie Comics stung. (Fun fact: my mother collected Archie Comics as a child, and thus my brothers and I did the same. I still have a special place in my heart for them.) Now, as a comic book-reading pseudo-adult, I think it’s one of the cleverer, most original titles in the series up to this point. Goosebumps books, at their best, entertain with a combination of humor, creativity, suspense, and killer twist endings. Attack of the Mutant does all of that, and its narrator’s name is Skipper. You can’t mess with that kind of quality.

* – These have basically been full synopses from the get-go, so I figured a name change was in order.