On this, the second day of October, for the second entry of Halloween month, hereâ€™s The Second Opinion on one of horrorâ€™s most unlikely icons.
If youâ€™re a child of the 90s, thereâ€™s a good chance your introduction to the concept of a scary story involved three trademark details; a title and tagline you probably didnâ€™t know was supposed to be humorous, an unnerving and unforgettable cover, and the line â€œreader beware, youâ€™re in for a scare.â€ In a world with no shortage of mass marketed pre-teen trends to consume all of our time, R.L. Stineâ€™s Goosebumps books stood out for one key difference: they didnâ€™t promise us that everything would be okay.
Like the action hero cartoons or the generations of My Little Pony that grown men and women didnâ€™t form cults around, it was very much a gimmick trend of its time. The author didnâ€™t have the most impressive achievements under his belt, and even the youngest readers could probably tell that he wasnâ€™t aiming for â€œgood literature.â€ But like a handful of its fellow trends that are still carrying on now, twenty years later, there was something to it, some spark that appealed to the imagination. Goosebumps sold themselves as the sort of nighttime horrors the readers were hiding from under the covers just a few years prior, inviting them to imagine just how wild and scary the monsters lurking in the dark could be. And while as many entries as not were mediocre or worse, it managed to draw out that potential on just a few occasions.
If you have a few Goosebumps books lingering on your shelf, Halloween is good time to take them out. If youâ€™re reading to a group of grade-school kids, or to your little brother or sister, or just looking for a little holiday spirit yourself, their creepy, cheesy, sometimes sloppy, and always strange appeal definitely fits the bill. And today, weâ€™re looking back on the original series to find the best of the best-suited for the Halloween season. (Although, Iâ€™d like to slip the Choose Your Own Nightmare spinoff series in too, in a way.)
First, letâ€™s take a brief look back on each entry and separate the real monsters from the little gremlins. Look for through your old favorites, look through the ones mentioned here, or just look through the ones that catch your eye, but be warned, reading all of them at once is a doom slide. The original series so long, I couldnâ€™t even fit it in this blog:Â http/www.manic-expression.com/apps/blog/show/33384489-goosebumps-the-original-series
Hereâ€™s a warm up question. How many books are in the original series?
To pick the best, letâ€™s start with the unforgettable little detail that we all took into account first: The Covers. More often than not, even if the book was good, the cover was the scariest part. The illustrator, whose name was
A.) Tim Jacobus
B.) Jacob Timmons
not only knew his craft, he knew more about the rules of horror than most. Here are the ten best:
10. Deep Trouble
I shaved a point off for its obvious source of inspiration, but it cleverly brings in its own unique vision. It reverses the shot from Jaws in which we see only the victimâ€™s perspective, and maybe a fin, so instead we see only the predatorâ€™s perspective, emphasizing just how vulnerable such a victim really is. Add back the subtracted point for the great coloring that makes the creature seem like some kind of hammerhead-killer whale.
9. You Canâ€™t Scare Me!
You can tell this one is going to be a little bit offbeat. The series has made up its own monsters before (see Egg Monsters from Mars for one particularly bad attempt), but this is one time where it really works. These mud creatures are ominous enough to stand alongside ghosts, werewolves, and other classics, and theyâ€™re twice as interesting for the fact that we donâ€™t know what they are. Add to that the fact that the title gives us no hint, instead sounding like famous last words, and this one definitely comes across as a must-read. (Granted, you shouldnâ€™t, as the story ended up being different for the worse, but no points off for that in this category.)
8. How to Kill a Monster
Right after a string of weird little titles, with covers depicting bizarre but not in the least scary creatures, here was a cover that promised us a step back to basics, with a simple scenario of full force terror. And while the book only half-delivered, this cover embodied all of its strengths. Look at the dark room itâ€™s emerging from. Look at the detail on those fingers. Thatâ€™s not a Pixar monster. It makes us imagine that we canâ€™t imagine how terrible whateverâ€™s about to come through that door really is. Itâ€™s basic, and we’ll see that even this series has done it better, but itâ€™s still, without doubt, an effective rendition.
7. The Blob that Ate Everyone
Itâ€™s a bit cartoonish, to be sure, but this is one of those times where it works, creating one of the seriesâ€™ most memorable covers. It goes for the exact opposite of subtlety, making its monster overwhelming. Even the title helps. This monster is so offbeat, unsettling, and threatening, that it probably deserved a bigger role in a book that would have been better as the story of the destructive rampage the cover promised. (Save the reality-warping typewriter plot for a more subtle monster, some kind of shadowy spook.) Itâ€™s another story that canâ€™t live up to its cover, but we should be grateful we at least have the image of the titular blob as a pulsing, enormous tumor. The TV show version was just an indistinct mishmash that proves someone clearly didnâ€™t know the difference between a â€œblobâ€ and a â€œglob.â€
6. The Haunted Mask
If you canâ€™t see whatâ€™s so great about this one, just compare it to the cover of the sequel. This mask isnâ€™t just ugly. It isnâ€™t just a monster. That is a face consumed by fearsome viciousness. And itâ€™s not just sitting passively over the face of the little girl trying it on. It expresses dark corruption in one frame, a perfect set up for a story which explores just that.
5. The Curse of Camp Cold Lake
For what it is, this image is a perfect knockout punch. And once again, the title helps. This image is freezing. Weâ€™re not just seeing a lake; weâ€™re seeing shiny, dark, ice-cold water, with a cold, dead, fog-laden background. Itâ€™s not just some zombie/ghost waiting below the surface. This thing has cold, dead flesh with no nose, shiny, lifeless hair, and the red beady eyes of a monster with a goal as shuddering as the rest of it. Itâ€™s perfectly realized. But while itâ€™s clear that Camp Cold Lake is an icy place of dread, itâ€™s hard to be sure what this image means â€“ what we should be afraid of â€“ so it doesnâ€™t draw us in like some of these other covers.
4. The Barking Ghost
The title on its own is sort of silly. Donâ€™t we already have werewolves and such to bring out everything thatâ€™s scary in dogs? The only ghost-dogs I remember were supposed to be cute pets of benevolent â€œhumanâ€ ghost. This, as is, sounds like a second-graderâ€™s idea. What made anyone think this was a good choice to terrify the protagonists?
For the answer, simply look at that cover. Not only is that thing just about the most vicious dog I could imagine, but the fact that itâ€™s a â€œghostâ€ really does make it even worse. The shiny, blue-white fur and angry red eyes say that this is an unshakable otherworldly monster, from which even a hellhound would turn tail and run. With that image, the title becomes just another reason the cover is so memorable. (Ironically, the cover had the right idea much more than the story, which, after some build up, turned its ghost dogs back into the kind of lame, nonsensical villains youâ€™d expect in the first place.)
3. Donâ€™t Go to Sleep
This image deserved such a better story. Change it from day to night, and it would be the ultimate embodiment of a little kidâ€™s monster-under-the-bed terror. As is, itâ€™s not much less. Kids have such fears because they know how vulnerable they are while lying in bed, in the middle of the night. This image promises their worst fears realized, creating the same effect as How to Kill a Monster, and promising, not just a monster, but a monster thatâ€™s come to do its worst.
2. Monster Blood
Easily the best cover in this four-book series, this image is a masterwork of understatement. We can assume what â€œmonster bloodâ€ is, but we can only guess what it means in this image. Is that really blood? Is there a monster at the top of the stairs? Or is this a sign that something even worse is waiting in the dark? Do the pair of glasses mean that weâ€™re only seeing the aftermath of the horrors that took place? Or is nobody home yet to witness the worst thatâ€™s yet to come?
This is perhaps the most ominous of all Goosebumps covers, and itâ€™s likely the real reason why the so-so book got so many sequels.
1. Stay Out of the Basement
Not every cover could make a title like that intimidating, especially with an image that simple, but in this case, the two aspects combine for the most menacing Goosebumps cover Iâ€™ve ever seen. In theory, this would be silly, but that hand just goes to show you how the right details can make all the difference. Itâ€™s not a cartoonish image. That, to the eye, is a real, human hand, with tendons, knuckles, and fingernails. That itâ€™s so clearly some kind of plant at the same time is almost disturbing. The thing around the corner on the cover of How to Kill a Monster is probably horrifying, but at least weâ€™re prepared for what a monster is supposed to look like. Whateverâ€™s reaching out of the basement in this picture can only be some kind of sickening freak of nature that none of us would want to meet.
And at the same time, all we know from the title is that we should â€œStay Out of the Basement.â€ Is this thing just a precursor to the real horror waiting in the dark? Stay Out of the Basement may have been one of the stronger stories in the series, but this is a cover perhaps no story could live up to. Then againâ€¦
Speaking of covers, do you know which one was accidentally reversed when first printed?
C.) Chicken Chicken
Now, with that potential scale-tipper out of the way, letâ€™s look at four other more exclusive categories, from least important to most, and see which Goosebumps book rules Halloween:
– Best villains
Itâ€™s not as important as how the story plays them, but kids need a good boogeyman to really drive the tale into their imaginations. (A hero list, with what weâ€™re given, would be a waste of time, rest assured.)
1. Night of the Living Dummy: Slappy, the evil dummy, clearly made his mark on the series, and for proving himself a creepy, vile, unforgettable antagonist in every entry of his trilogy, even the sub-par third outing, he takes the trophy.
2. Stay out of the Basement: When your dad, the man who can control every aspect of your life, may be the monster after you, it doesnâ€™t take long to realize what immense jeopardy youâ€™re really in. Add to that the fact that heâ€™s a mad scientist who bleeds green blood and has leaves growing out of his head, and Dr. Brewer falls short of Slappy only by virtue of one great appearance against three. (Well, maybe two and a half?)
3. Welcome to Camp Nightmare: Almost as bad as an evil parent, the summer camp director who runs a summer camp like Big Brother, refuses to â€œpamperâ€ his boys with such commodities as a nurse to look at snake bites, and insists they call him Uncle Al is hard to forget. I have a very specific image of Uncle Al, and I have a feeling Stine did too. Later books in a spinoff series have a villain named Big Al, and though itâ€™d been years since Iâ€™d read his story, Uncle Alâ€™s picture came right back up in my mind when I read it. He instantly became Big Al to me and played that role just as well.
4. Attack of the Jack Oâ€™Lanterns: We donâ€™t know much about these two when they appear, but suffice to say that two pumpkin-headed creatures who kidnap trick-or-treaters, ask them to trick-or-treat forever, and force them to keep going with a circle of fire are hard to forget. And the cheesy twist ending somehow makes them even more awesome.
5. The Curse of Camp Cold Lake/The Haunted School: Both parties here have been through some difficult scenarios and show it with some horrible antics. The insane children from The Haunted School are downright disturbing, worshipping colorlessness with a bizarre celebration of playing in strange ink, spitting it into each otherâ€™s faces, and other strange frolicking. Della, meanwhile, is like an anti-Jason Vorhese, mocking, talkative, drawing people in rather than chasing them away, but ultimately a deadly predator, hunting people at the camp she died in.
– Most Tied-in to Halloween
A good story is a good story, but it goes a lot farther if your Halloween tale really was meant to go with the big day itself.
1. The Haunted Mask: This book isnâ€™t just tied into Halloween. It explores such themes as altering oneâ€™s identity through a costume and growing from being scared on Halloween to embracing the scariness. It takes full advantage of the holiday
2. Attack of the Jack Oâ€™lanterns: The group in this story starts out with a goal similar to the girl in The Haunted Mask, but it doesnâ€™t tie into the holiday quite as essentially with its story of friends and rivals alike kidnapped by real Halloween creatures. Still, with lots of pranks intended to scare, the ultimate night of trick-or-treating, and the classic scenario of meeting that one strange creature we find out, too late, isnâ€™t a costume, this one checks a lot off the list.
3. Werewolf Skin: That it takes place on Halloween is almost told in passing, but that works in its own way in simply lending some gravitas to the story. Add to that the extended scenes of a boy fleeing for his life from people dressing up as real monsters, and this one pays its own effective tribute to Halloween.
Some entries showed better writing and plotting than others, and it went a long way in how well they worked.
1. The Ghost Next Door: Probably as close as this series came to good literature, this one features effective buildup that explores the protagonist, a great twist â€“ if unwisely telegraphed early on, briefly â€“ and a bittersweet ending that cements a weighty relationship between the central characters, even plucking the heartstrings a bit.
2. The Haunted Mask: Tying in to Halloween so well scores big in more than just the last category. This book uses Halloween for one of the best character studies in the entire series, of little scaredy-cat Carly Beth. Unlike the equally incapable protagonist of the awful Be Careful What You Wish Forâ€¦, sweet Carly Beth is ready and willing to strike back, and weâ€™re with her every step of the way, even after she becomes rather scary herself. It only gets better with the horrifyingly reveal that sheâ€™s lost her own, ahem, face along the way.
3. Welcome to Dead House/Welcome to Camp Nightmare/Werewolf Skin: I had a little trouble making up my mind, if you canâ€™t tell. All of these books have at least one weak or silly aspect in the writing, but in the end, I decided that all of them achieve the arc that exemplifies the series at its best. They all set up uncomfortable, ominous scenarios, gradually build the threat and the mystery and close with a full-force, high-stakes climax, complete with a great closing twist. Granted, each one does one of those things better than the rest, but in the end, theyâ€™re all equally as worthy.
Goosebumps books were originally written more for:
Plain and simple, nothing is more key than their ability to spook their child audience on Halloween. And in this category, sometimes superior writing is just outrun when the story knows what to throw at its audience and how to play it.
1. Welcome to Dead House: Looking back, this one does lose a little bit of ground on some of its fellow entries here for not specializing in fast-paced tension. This, however, merely made me pause before awarding it 1st place. The scope of Welcome to Dead House is bigger than almost all the other Goosebumps books, and the story can support it. Itâ€™s moody, weighty, and unfolds in a way that convinces us of the horror behind its conflict. And the grand finale ends with a bang, placing our heroes in a true do-or-die situation, in which they are forced to realize what they could lose.
2. Werewolf Skin: I didnâ€™t actually read this one when I was younger, but even with nostalgia goggles, I have to recognize that itâ€™s probably the most high-tension entry, and it plays its mystery well. Itâ€™s another example of scoring points on a relatively simple story, which is that somebody in town is a werewolf.
3. The Girl Who Cried Monster/The Haunted Mask/Attack of the Jack Oâ€™Lanterns: Sorry I couldnâ€™t resist another tie, but once again, each one makes a case. The Girl Who Cried Monster puts something of a ticking clock on its heroâ€™s dilemma and adds a few tense scenes of her alone in the library with a monster. The Haunted Mask, as Iâ€™ve said, does a heckuva job portraying Carly Bethâ€™s descent into a monster, until that terrible moment when she realizes how far gone she really is. And Attack of the Jack Oâ€™Lanterns pulls its characters through a disturbing predicament with two spooky figures, until a finale that threatens them with something more disturbing still. All worth a mention.
And with that, we come to our five finalists. Now letâ€™s see how well youâ€™ve been following. Take your best guess at our winner:
And now that my first Halloween special draws to a close, I hope you all enjoyed it and are ready for the great month to follow on Manic Expression. Tomorrow, please give a warm welcome to our good friend Moviefan. Because he might not be as gentle with you.