Things That Go Bump

Re-Reading RL Stine's Bizarrely Beloved Goosebumps Series

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!

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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.

 

Book the Fourteenth: The Werewolf of Fever Swamp 02/26/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 12:55 pm
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Tagline: “Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?” (Props for age appropriateness.)

Premise: Grady and his family move to Florida after his scientist father begins studying the habits of swamp deer when transplanted to America. This means plenty of time to explore the swamp just beyond his backyard with his new friends Will and Cassie and the dog that shows up in the yard and becomes his own, Wolf. Every night, Grady hears howling outside his house. Cassie plants the idea of werewolves in his head, which Will and Grady’s family vehemently deny. Still, Grady is suspicious of the swamp hermit, convincing himself that the man could very well be a werewolf. Eventually, Grady decides to scope out the scene after hearing the overnight howls. That’s when he discovers the reason Will denied the existence of werewolves: he is one. Will attacks Grady and gives him a bite, Wolf defends Grady and takes down Will, and, in a lovely little twist, that bite doesn’t kill Grady, transforming him into a werewolf instead.

Creepiness factor: As high as ever. This book involves animals teared limb from limb, courtesy of Will’s midnight strolls, and classic monster movie tactics. It’s the first time Stine’s tackled a truly classic monster, and he does so very, very well.

Signature Stine moment: Some similes here, some abbreviated sentences, but what I like is the heavy-handed indication of things to come. It’s something that happens in nearly every book, something along the lines of “Little did Dad know what he’d find out about real monsters later.” Here’s this book’s offering.

“We had no idea that something was about to happen that night that might change his opinion about werewolves–forever.”

Accuracy of title: 100% accuracy right here. It’s about a werewolf in an area commonly referred to as Fever Swamp. Good show, Stine.

Moral of the story: If you believe your dog’s not a werewolf, don’t worry, he isn’t, despite what your family and friends might say. But your new friend probably is, so, you know, watch out for him.

Overall rating: 8/10. This is a genuinely creepy, engaging story. The idea isn’t exactly original, since all werewolf stories end up about the same, but it’s handled well here. Next up: You Can’t Scare Me!

 

Book the Thirteenth: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder 02/17/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 7:52 pm
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Tagline: “Play it again, hands!” (Once you read the book, this proves itself to be a pretty clever reference, one that will completely lost on the children of America.)

Premise: After wildly unlikeable protagonist Jerry finds a piano in his new house’s attic, his parents sign him up for piano lessons with Dr. Shreek of the Shreek School, perhaps hoping it will distract Jerry from his obnoxious habit of, well, being obnoxious. It works, except for the part where Jerry keeps insisting he’s hearing piano music and seeing a lady ghost playing it. His lessons begin normally enough as he meets Mr. Toggle, the Shreek School’s janitor and master of machinery (lots of homemade floor sweepers and the like) and studies with the Santa Claus-like Dr. Shreek. But there’s something weird about the school. Jerry’s friend Kim says that students go in and never come out, Jerry can’t seem to find his way around, and he’s never seen a soul besides Toggle and Shreek. Soon enough, Jerry learns that Toggle has a habit of cutting off students’ hands and programming said hands to play pianos with the aid of robots, lots and lots of gray-suited, head-bobbing robots. (Also, Dr. Shreek is a robot, but this is highly irrelevant.) Fortunately, Lady Ghost from Jerry’s house shows up just as Jerry’s hands are about to get taken. She and a legion of ghosts reclaim their hands, overtaking Mr. Toggle and carrying him into the woods, never to be seen again.

Creepiness factor: Fairly low. “Disembodied hands operated by robots” is a cool concept, but not exactly spine-tingling.

Signature Stine moment: The guy uses “dry as death” again! It didn’t make sense the first time, nor does it here, but it is preceded by another delightfully clunky simile.

“Her gray eyes narrowed in sadness. ‘This is my house,’ she said. Her voice was a dry whisper, as dry as dead leaves. As dry as death.”

Accuracy of title: Pretty accurate, actually. When Mr. Toggle takes away someone’s hands, it seems as though he must kill them. Otherwise, why would Lady Ghosts and all the ghosts she awakens be dead? Even if the deaths were unrelated, Piano Lessons Can Mean You Getting Your Hands Cut Off By An Amoral Mechanical Genius is a much clunkier title than what they came up with.

Moral of the story: I’m having trouble seeing a moral here. I guess I’ll go with this: if you hear scary stories about your music school, you should probably quit piano lessons, as those stories are most likely 100% true.

Overall rating: Would’ve been a 5.5, but I bumped it up a number for one page and one page alone. How hard did I laugh at this page? So hard. My laughter could be accurately described as uproarious. This reminds me of everything I love about Goosebumps, the sheer absurdity and silliness and eerie feel of it all. Full marks, Sir Stine. Full marks. Or, you know, 6.5/10.

 

Book the Twelfth: Be Careful What You Wish For… 02/10/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 9:12 pm
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Tagline: “It might come true.” (Seriously? The tagline finishes the sentence started by the title? My name is Christy Admiraal, and I do not approve of this idea.)

Premise: Samantha Byrd, an extraordinarily clumsy young girl, helps a crystal ball-wielding lady out of a jam. In exchange, said lady offers to grant Sam three wishes. Sam, who’s tired of being treated badly by resident mean girl Judith Bellwood, wishes to be the strongest basketball player on her team. Clearly, that’ll stop Judith from always saying, “Hey, Byrd, why don’t you fly away!” Unfortunately, the wish weakens everyone else and Sam remains a terrible basketball player. Sam’s next wish is that Judith would simply disappear. This causes everyone in the entire world to disappear. On her third go-round, Sam wishes everything would be the way it was before, except Judith will love Sam rather than hate her. This results in Judith developing stalker-like tendencies–showing up in Sam’s closet, cutting her hair to look like Sam’s, that sort of thing. THEN, seeing how unhappy Sam is with this, Ms Crystal Ball comes back and allows Sam to cancel her third wish and replace it with a new one. Sam wishes she’d never met Ms. Crystal Ball and that it had been Judith instead, Ms. Crystal Ball makes it so, Judith repeats her catchphrase, and Sam turns into a bird.

Yup, that’s right. The protagonist turns into a bird.

Outstanding.

Creepiness factor: Pretty low. Goosebumps titles tend to oscillate between scary and just plain weird. This one doesn’t ever really ratchet up the scare factor as much as it’s very, very silly–almost profoundly so, if a Goosebumps book can be profound. (Spoiler alert: it can’t.)

Signature Stine moment: Judith (intentionally) knocks the wind out of Sam at basketball practice. This is how it feels on Sam’s side.

“I uttered a weird, gasping noise, sort of like the honk of a sick seal–and realized I couldn’t breathe.”

Stine seems more self-aware than usual here, qualifying a pretty weak simile with “sort of like.” Hat tip, RL.

Accuracy of title: Accurate indeed, though the ellipsis is completely unnecessary.

Moral of the story: If someone offers you three wishes, don’t accept them. There’s no possible way it’ll turn out well for you.

Overall rating: 7.5/10. That’s right, I enjoyed Be Careful What You Wish For… just as much as I enjoyed The Haunted Mask. It strikes a great balance of goofy and compelling while putting a fun spin on the age-old concept of what one does with three wishes. Coming up: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder, which had perhaps the single most horrifying television adaptation I can recall. Exciting!

 

Book the Eleventh: The Haunted Mask 02/06/2012

Filed under: Goosebumps — Christy Admiraal @ 6:26 pm
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Tagline: “If looks could kill…” (Now there’s an ellipsis.)

Premise: 11-year-old–ELEVEN! NOT TWELVE!–Carly Beth Caldwell (which is such a solid name) scares easily. So on Halloween, she decides to ditch the duck costume her mother bought her and get a mask at the local costume shop. When she gets to the shop, she stumbles upon the hidden back room and the grotesque masks stored there. The shopkeeper is hesitant to sell Carly Beth a mask, but he relents after she gives him $30. Yes, $30 is all it takes to buy what used to be a living face that proceeds to affix itself to a child’s face. Carly Beth goes back to the shop to find out how to remove the mask and is told that the only means of removing it is with a symbol of love. Fortunately, Carly Beth’s mother recently made a plaster of Paris sculpture of her daughter’s head, a sculpture that Carly Beth is able to show to the masks (they all chase her around town because of course they do) and therefore remove what the shopkeeper called her new face. The twist? The mask can never be worn again, lest it attach itself to another face, which it does when Carly Beth’s little brother Noah decides to see how he looks in it. Dun-dun-DUH!

Creepiness factor: Comparatively high. There’s a mask that gets stuck to a girl’s face, and the mask is made of actual skin created by a costume shop owner/mad scientist. Then some masks follow said girl down the block until she shakes a sculpture of her real face at them and shouts about how it’s a symbol of love. Harrowing.

Signature Stine moment: Abbreviated sentences are really this guy’s ace in the hole.

“Her hot, green face.

Her monster face.

The monster face she could not remove.”

This segues into another Stine trope I’m getting used to: a battery of rhetorical questions in a single paragraph. Here’s a stellar example, of which I’m sure there will be many more:

“What was that sound? That deep, gurgling sound? That low murmur that seemed to be following her?”

RL Stine doesn’t need your literary devices, he’s got his own.

Accuracy of title: I suppose the mask is haunted in some sense. I’d more just call it alive. But The Living Mask doesn’t sound as catchy or scary as The Haunted Mask, so I understand the motivation here.

Moral of the story: Next time, just wear the damned duck costume.

Overall rating: 7.5/10. This one’s a classic for a reason. It’s a fun and eerie idea with a twist or two along the way leading to a satisfying conclusion and a delightfully contrived twist.