Things That Go Bump

Re-Reading RL Stine's Bizarrely Beloved Goosebumps Series

Book the Twenty-Fourth: The Phantom of the Auditorium 04/25/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 10:24 am
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Tagline: “He’s out to stop the show…for good!”

Premise: Brooke and her best friend Zeke are thrilled when they’re cast in the two lead roles of The Phantom, their school play. The play hasn’t been performed in decades since last time around, a horrible accident killed the boy playing the Phantom. In fact, it’s rumored that the Phantom still haunts the halls of their school, living below the stage’s trapdoor. Teacher Ms. Walker and her cast decide to disregard this fact until Brooke, Zeke, and new student Brian begin seeing threatening messages in spiky red paint and cross paths with Emile, the creepy self-proclaimed night janitor–and prime Phantom suspect. Because Brooke, Zeke, and Brian keep getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ms. Walker assumes one of them must be responsible for the messages until it’s discovered that Emile is the source of the words “STAY AWAY FROM MY HOME SWEET HOME” appearing around the auditorium.  Unfortunately, this also means that Emile’s not their Phantom and simply a homeless man taking up residence beneath the stage. So who’s the Phantom, then? And how will they catch him? (And why do they need to? But that’s off the point.) All their questions are answered on opening night, when the real Phantom shows up onstage, telling his tragic story before disappearing forever. The play is a hit and Brooke and Zeke are headed to the cast party when they discover an old school yearbook. It features a picture of the play cast and identifies their phantom: a young boy named Brian.

Creepiness factor: This one’s not about scaring, it’s about creating suspense, and it does so terrifically.

Signature Stine moment: One of the reasons this book is so effective is because it’s mostly devoid of clunky similes and obnoxious foreshadowing.

The operative word there is “mostly.”

“The half-moon was covered by a sheet of gray mist. The mist looked like a ghostly figure floating over the moon.”

And I think we’re done here.

Accuracy of title: Perfect, and clever. For once, a pop cultural reference won’t get lost on the young audience, because literally everyone in the free world has heard of The Phantom of the Opera, from infants on up. (This is not an exaggeration. (Yes, it is.))

Moral of the story: The obvious suspect isn’t always the guilty party, so look to the second most obvious suspect.

Overall rating: 9/10. If Welcome to HorrorLand is a near-perfect Goosebumps book (and, according to me, it is), then so is this one. One is as compelling as the other, and both are simply much more fun than your average Goosebumps title. This book was my favorite as a child, and if I hadn’t read Welcome to HorrorLand this year, it still would be. For now, let’s call it a tie.

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Book the Twenty-Third: Return of the Mummy 04/22/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 5:29 pm
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Tagline: “He’s back…from the dead!”

Premise: Gabe, Sari, and Uncle Ben are back in the second Goosebumps book about archaeological exploration in Egypt. This time around, Uncle Ben and his research team are uncovering the tomb of Prince Khor-Ru, a tomb that’s potentially even more exciting than King Tut’s. (It’s never clarified why that is, but we’ll run with it.) They’re joined by Gabe, his cousin Sari, and a foxy reporter for the Cairo Sun named Nila. Uncle Ben’s research partner Dr. Fielding warns them against opening the tomb since there’s potential of getting cursed, but the team disregards this, and the tomb is indeed filled to the brim with jewels and all manner of generic tomb-filling curios. (I used that word correctly, right?) Gabe attempts to scare Sari by reciting the words that will supposedly bring Khor-Ru back to life, and immediately after, the two of them see Dr. Fielding drag Uncle Ben into the pyramids. When Dr. Fielding reemerges alone, Gabe and Sari find Uncle Ben knocked out in Khor-Ru’s coffin. Turns out Foxy Reporter is actually an Egyptian princess who’s been attempting to bring her brother Khor-Ru back to life for centuries. Wow! Fortunately, Khor-Ru’s not happy to see her, and Gabe gets rid of Nila by smashing her amber pendant, the very pendant she was using as her life force. (Or something like that.) Oh, and Dr. Fielding’s a good guy after all.

Creepiness factor: Not very high, considering the fact that mummies simply aren’t scary. There’s some good tension building, though, with Uncle Ben’s near-death coffin-bound experience.

Signature Stine moment: Since Gabe is 13, he’s officially allowed to find others attractive, and that’s what happens when he over-describes Nila’s appearance.

“Wow. She’s really pretty, I thought. She had long, black hair, sleek and shiny. She had bangs cut straight across her forehead. Beneath the bangs were the most beautiful green eyes I’d ever seen.

She was dressed all in white. A white suit jacket and a white blouse over white slacks. She was short–only an inch or two taller than Sari.

She must be a movie star, I told myself. She’s so great-looking!”

Accuracy of title: It’s not accurate at all, given that this is a completely different mummy from last time. Bad form, Stine.

Moral of the story: When you discover that someone you know is actually a centuries-old Egyptian princess hellbent on killing people for no clear reason, it’s best to smash her jewelry.

Overall rating: 5.5/10. This is much weaker than The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, though it is fun to catch up with Gabe and his family again. Next up is one of my very favorites, The Phantom of the Auditorium.

 

Book the Twenty-Second: Ghost Beach 04/13/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 1:44 pm
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Tagline: “No swimming. No surfing. No haunting.”

Premise: Siblings Jerry and Terri (yes!) Sadler are psyched to spend a month of their summer with their distant cousin Ben and his wife Agatha at Ben  and Agatha’s beach house. And when they hear rumors of a cave dwelling ghost that’s been haunting the beach for hundreds of years, things get really interesting. Jerry and Terri’s new friends, a trio of children who share Jerry and Terri’s last name, convince Jerry and Terri that they ought to trap the ghost in his cave so he can’t skeletonize the beach’s living inhabitants anymore. (That’s a thing he does, according to these Sadlers.) However, and this is twist number one, it turns out that Jerry and Terri’s new friends are the ghosts and the guy in the cave is trying to thwart their attempts to kill Jerry and Terri. He’s an expert on the occult and spirits, which is convenient, because it means he can explain to Jerry and Terri how to trap the dead Sadlers in the cave. Jerry and Terri succeed and tell Ben and Agatha about their triumph over the ghosts–and, in twist number two, it turns out that Ben and Agatha are ghosts, too. And then it’s over! Good ending! (Also, dogs can sense ghosts and Terri makes grave rubbings and the number of minute details this book includes boggled my mind. But that’s off the point.)

Creepiness factor: Low. It’s obvious from the first time Jerry and Terri encounter the alleged ghost that he’s very much alive, and obvious that something is up with those weird kids when Jerry and Terri see their gravestones. The kids claim those are the names of their ancestors, but that doesn’t hold water, does it? Is that a pun? I think so.

Signature Stine moment: Our favorite simile returns!

“Slowly he curled a bony, gnarled finger. ‘Come here.’ His voice was a dry whisper. Dry as death.”

What does that even mean? I don’t know, but I like it.

Accuracy of title: There are ghosts, and they live along this beach. I’ll buy it.

Moral of the story: When you see gravestones with your newest acquaintances’ names on them, chances are those are their gravestones and they’re ghosts, no matter what flimsy explanation they provide. And they’re going to want you to become a ghost, too. So, you know, avoid them.

Overall rating: 6.5/10. It would’ve been a 5.5, but I liked the second twist, which I actually didn’t see coming. And the protagonists weren’t unlikeable, and there were no worms in sight, so really, it’s a vast improvement over what came before it. You know what? I’m kicking this up to a 6.5. Kudos, Sir Stine! Keep up the great work!

 

Book the Twenty-First: Go Eat Worms! 04/05/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 5:43 pm
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Tagline: “Homework was never this gross before!”

Premise: Relatively unlikeable protagonist Todd is really into worms. He builds worm farms. He spends recess digging. He thinks of new and inventive ways to use worms as a means of grossing out his sister Regina and her best friend Beth. But after he cuts a worm in half in front of his sister and all the inhabitants of the worm farm, weird worm-related things start happening. Worms show up in his sandwiches, on his pillow, and other horrific locations. Naturally, it’s actually Regina planting the worms everywhere to get revenge on Todd for all his wacky worm antics. So Todd and his chubby sidekick Danny form a revenge plan of their own, a plan that starts with returning to their normal digging spot. They’re doing their worm thing when a giant worm bursts forth from the ground and attacks Todd. Fortunately, the worm gets scared off by a giant papier mache robin that Regina and Beth made for the science fair. A traumatized Todd becomes interested in butterflies instead, kicking the worm habit, as it were, and all is right with the world, perhaps even righter than before. In the inevitable twist ending, a giant butterfly shows up with a pin, clearly poised to make Todd a part of its human collection. Clearly.

Creepiness factor: This book is horrifying. But its horror isn’t based on fright so much as disgust. Todd’s unexpected encounters with worms are revolting, ranging from putting a capful of worms on his head to drawing a hot bath that steadily fills up with worms. Pretty sick stuff.

Signature Stine moment: They’re here in force! But since I haven’t used one of these in a while, here’s a string of questions that go unanswered.

“Who was it? Who was sneaking down to the basement?

Who was sneaking down to the worm tank?

Who?”

This, of course, would’ve been way better if the final “Who?” had been in all caps and italicized. But you can’t have everything.

Accuracy of title: Regina shouts this at Todd a lot. Accuracy achieved.

Moral of the story: Don’t antagonize your sister or engage in any hobby that involves harming insects. And definitely don’t do both at the same time.

Overall rating: 5/10. I’m not fond of worms, and unsurprisingly, Go Eat Worms! did nothing to endear them to me, nor did it endear me to Todd and his wormy weirdness, Regina and her bad catchphrase, or Danny and his science fair-winning balloon-based solar system model. Sad, I know. But hey, that’s what happens when a book is premised on worms and isn’t called How to Eat Fried Worms.

 

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!

 

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.