Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Tribute to Goosebumps

          Watch out, it’s time for more of Mr. Movies October Marathon. If you were a kid, growing up in the 1990’s and loved Halloween or stories of horror/anthology than you had to have been a fan of “Goosebumps”. It was a big part of the 90’s and one of the most memorable forms of entertainment from childhood. It was created and authored by mastermind, R.L. Stine. I don’t know for shore but I think he is the brother of actor Ben Stine, they both look very similar, both have the same monotone voice and both have the same last name, makes me wonder. Stine, is often called the "Stephen King of Children's literature," and is the author of hundreds of horror fiction novels, including the books in the “Rotten School”, “Mostly Ghostly”, “The Nightmare Room”, and “Fear Street” series. Goosebumps was the most popular and in my opinion, the best. Instead of sticking to one thing like a T.V. show or movie, I’m going to look over the entire legacy of this phenomenon, and it had quite a history, even if it was a small one. There were 64 books and 5 different Goosebumps book series that followed. There was a T.V. show that ran for 4 seasons, a special fan club, board game adaptations, video game adaptations and in 1998 there was a Goosebumps live on stage show. I never saw it but the advertisement looked amazing. There was even a Goosebumps movie planed but they pulled the plug on it, however, there is rumor that filmmakers found the plans for it and are considering a theatrical Goosebumps movie.

     Of cores the best place to start is with the book series. Oh, I remember it so well, I was just starting 2nd grade and it was my first trip to the library and on one of the shelves, in plain view was a collection of these books, and I immediately got excited. The illustrations on the front covers drew me in immediately. I had to know what the stories were behind these pictures. There was so much detail in the illustrations and I always found myself asking questions that had to be answered. They triggered my imagination and I always had fun thinking of what these were about. On every cover there was a tagline that reflected the story, like “It’s a field of screams” or “It’s a real dead end”. The titles also got me excited, “Monster Blood”, “A Shocker on Shock Street”, “Attack of the Jack O' Lanterns”, ”Don’t Go to Sleep”, and “Legend of the Lost Legend”.  The first two I read were “The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight” and “Welcome to Camp Nightmare” (“The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight” also introduced me to chocolate chip pancakes). I immediately became a fan and I knew in my mind “I was going to read all of these”. This was my transition from reading little kid books to chapter books, so it’s a big part of my coming of age. I didn’t just rent them from the library but I bought a lot of them.

     There were two key elements to his story’s that made them so exciting, the first thing to note is the locations. The primary protagonists of a Goosebumps story is often situated in a remote location or somehow isolated from typical society. This can be as simplistic as comfortable suburban areas, or as exaggerated as boarding schools, foreign villages, campsites, unfamiliar relative’s homes or oversea areas. Books frequently feature characters that either recently moved to a new neighborhood or are on vacation with friends or relatives. This was before the advent of a cell phone, so not being in contact was another strength in the series. R.L. Stine did a fantastic job putting you in their shoes, you felt like you were part of the adventure and every chapter would always end with a cliff hanger, so you never wanted to put the book down. (Below Images from “Stay Out of the Basement”, and “Ware Wolf of Fever Swamp”)

        Another great convention was the twist endings. Similar to the format of television shows like “The Outer Limits” and “The Twilight Zone”, Goosebumps had some really unexpected endings. “A Shocker on Shock Street” is a perfect example, it’s all about two girls whose father is a mechanic that creates theme park rides and monsters, they get the chance to test out one of his spooky rides but something goes wrong, things seem too real and it’s almost like the monsters are real, in the end it’s revealed that the two girls were robots created by their father because he didn’t want to use humans as test subjects. The reason the monsters all seemed so real was because the monster robots and girls ran on the same radio frequency and when the two intertwined it seemed like the girls were living a real horror movie. That was completely unexpected but it makes sense and it fits in place with the story. Another great twist ending was from “My Hairiest Adventure”. Three kids find some kind strange potion that is labeled as witches brew, believing it to be a prop for a home movie they put their hands in it and after a few weeks the three kids begin to grow large hair all over their skin and begin to resemble werewolves. At the end it is revealed that the potion had nothing to do with their transformation, the parents of the three kids were unable to produce children naturally, so they took their three dogs to a scientist who merged the dogs with the DNA of the parents and mutated them into human beings but it’s beginning to wear off and now there reverting back to dogs. That’s just insane, these are just two examples, these stories were full of amazing endings that blew my mind. (Below images from “My Hairiest Adventure” and “Attack of the Jack O’ Lanterns”)

     The original sires had a total of 64 books but there were 5 other Goosebumps sires to fallow. Next there was “Goosebumps Series 2000” which was just like the original sires accept shorter and most were sequels to the original stories. Fallowing that was “Give Yourself Goosebumps” which was a mix between a story and a game where you chose the events and the ending. There was a special addition of these books, this time with colored pictures. Following that, was “Tales to Give You Goosebumps”, this series of Goosebumps books was a collection of short Goosebumps stories. Just when you thought there couldn’t be enough, there was “Goosebumps HorrorLand”, a book series that followed the original “One Day at Horror Land” book. Finally there was “Goosebumps based off the T.V. show”, yes, the books that inspired the episodes are inspiring their own books, each book filled with photos from the show.             

      The mascot for the series was a skeleton named “Curly” who had hair and glasses that resembled R.L. Stine. Curly never appeared in any of the books but he was always marketed alongside every line of Goosebumps merchandise. Several of the creatures and characters became very popular amongst fans. The Mummy from the book “Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb” became one of the more popular of his monsters. The characters Lizzy and Luke Morris from “One Day at Horrorland” became the most popular of the human characters and had their own spin off series created by R.L. Stine. The most popular character of them all was a Dummy character named Slappy, the dummy series began with book #7 “Night of the Living Dummy” but Slappy didn’t make his first appearance until the sequel, “Night of the living Dummy 2”, so you could actually call him the “Jason Voorhees” of Goosebumps characters. There were two more living dummy sequels and when the millennium series came out there was “Bride of the Dummy” and several others, this time they would have Slappy’s name in the title, there was “Slappy’s nightmare”, “Slappy’s curse” and the list goes on and on. Why this dummy became so popular is beyond me but his image was shown more than Curly’s. I remember owning a Goosebumps board game that revolved around the three main monsters, Curly, Slappy and the Mummy. It was a terrible game that made no sense but I didn’t care, it was Goosebumps and that’s all that mattered. (Image from “Night of the Living Dummy 2”)

     Now to look at the T.V. show in all its glory. This show ran for four seasons and it never had the same cast, they would change with every episode. The show was pretty amazing for its time, there’s so much I can say about it, favorite episodes, memorable moments but I’ll try to keep it to a minimum. The episodes begin with one of the most amazing openings ever. It starts with a man dressed in black carrying his briefcase up a hill. The name engraved on the briefcase reveals the mysterious man to be author R.L. Stine. A strong wind blows, Stine's case opens, and his papers fly out, one of which turns into a shadow resembling the "G" seen on the Goosebumps logo and it glides through a town. The music is amazing, like a cross between Hip Hop music and the score from the movie “Halloween”. The "G" passes by a woman on a billboard, making her drab and depressed, and passes by a dog on a porch, which makes its eyes glow an evil yellow, that always gave me chills. The "G" then creeps past a tree and into the front door of a house and begins showing a quick montage of clips from several episodes. It’s so cool and I always had to identify what episode each clip came from. While that was going on we get an announcer growling, "Goosebumps...viewer beware, you're in for a scare", copied from the tagline, "Reader beware, you're in for a scare" used in the Goosebumps book series. Unfortunately season two, ruined the opening by keeping it the same except there was no clip montage and that pissed me off because that was the best part. Fortunately, season 3 changed it and made it awesome again. A green slime and a lightning effect were added when the man in black walks up the hill with his briefcase and his papers fly out. However, instead of the papers being blown through town, the man in black turns into bats which fly at the screen. The quick episode montage was added back but clips from different episodes were used. This opening was also used in season four when the show's name changed to “Ultimate Goosebumps”. 

     Unlike other beloved shows from child hood, I didn’t watch this show on T.V., I rented them from my local video store. “Stay Out of the Basement” easily stands as one of the best in the series. It’s about a dad who did secret experiments that get the kids scared, so they go venturing in the basement to see what’s going on. This episode has great camera work, a strong haunting mood and the constant sounds of thunder and lightning really help build on the atmosphere. The episode “One Day at HorrorLand” is stupid but it’s so much fun. “Stay out of the Basement” may have been a little campy but “One Day at Horror Land” is a deliberate comedy that isn’t the least bit scary. It’s all about a family trying to escape a haunted theme park. At times, you can clearly see the human skin behind the monster masks and the sets look like something from a drive by fair. The acting is much better this time but it lacks the haunting overtone of the other one. There’s actually a scene when the family is on a monster game show that’s themed around “Wheel of Fortune”. There are even advertisements that pop up like a CD of “monster love songs” and toys to give to your little monster. Come on, Are You Afraid of the Dark doesn’t have jokes that silly. To be fair, there are some good moments, like this moment when a kids lying down and a spider walks across his pillow or when they pass these gargoyles with glowing red eyes and wicked laughs. My favorite part is when the lead girl Lizzy gets lost in the House of Mires. She gets locked in a room and the walls begin to close in and crush her. Okay, the situation is established but then the most random thing happens. Some kind of Phantom pops out of know where, then leaves and it’s never mentioned and nothing that creepy ever happens again. I always wanted to know what that was, it wasn’t in the book and it had nothing to do with the walls closing in on her. This is the perfect example of so bad it’s great, you just got to love something this over the top and ridiculous. (Image from “Stay out of the Basement” and “One Day and Horror Land”)

      For every silly and goofy episode there was one that really got me scared. "The Werewolf of Fever Swamp" is a perfect example. This introduced me to Werewolf’s and I never thought they could be so terrifying. This episode has all the elements of a classic horror film, fogy swamps, creepy woods, poorly lit homes, shadows casted on walls, eerie silent moments and some terrifying shock scenes. The Werewolf makeup is incredible by T.V. standards and it had such an impact on me that it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a perfect scary Werewolf story. Then there were “The Haunted Mask” episodes, these masks bring out the evil in anyone, no matter how good they are and when they get on someone’s face, they don’t come off easily. The most freighting episode of all and one of the most terrifying experiences from child hood was the episode “Welcome to dead House”. It’s about a family that movies into a new town that’s very distant from society. Turns out the family was leeward to the town to be offered as sacrifices to the living dead that inhabit it. Everyone in this city died from the radiation of an industrial factory that was destroyed. There’s a lot of great build up and creepy atmospheric moments like when the main girl wakes up at night and sees people walking around in the shadows of her house, that’s such a creepy concept. The final act of this episode is like something from a classic zombie flick, armies of dead attack the house, hands are pressed against windows, the family tries to keep them back but they just keep coming and just when you think everyone is safe something else happens. If this episode had a bigger budget and more filler, it could have been released in the theater as a true horror film. (Image from “The Haunted Mask 2”)

    What an awesome show, it may not be as exciting for people today but at the time it was amazing and I still watch episodes around Halloween, its classic. On the grounds of a T.V. show I give Goosebumps 4 stars. This con-clouds my little recap on this amazing event from the 90’s. If you grew up with it back then, I hope it brought back some memories, if not, then just try and imagine how awesome it was.

                                                                                                 The End, Images from Google           

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