Wednesday, January 17, 2007

#02 Stay Out of the Basement


#02 Stay Out of the Basement

Front Tagline: Something's waiting in the dark...
Back Tagline: Live Plants...Dead People?

Official Book Description:
Dr. Brewer is doing a little plant-testing in his basement. Nothing to worry about. Harmless, really.
But Margaret and Casey Brewer are worried about their father. Especially when they...meet...some of the plants he is growing down there.
Then they notice that their father is developing plantlike tendencies. In fact, he is becoming distinctly weedy--and seedy.
Is it just part of their father's "harmless" experiment? Or has the basement turned into another little shop of horrors.

Brief Synopsis:
Siblings Margaret and Casey Brewer are playing frisbee outside on a warm California winter day. Casey attempts to throw the frisbee at their father but he gruffly declines, as he has much work to do in the basement. See, Casey and Margaret's dad is a CEO for a very important office supply firm and -- just kidding, he is of course another scientist. Ever since he got fired from PolyTech, their botanist father has been hanging around the basement, experimenting with plants. When Margaret tries to go down to the basement to see her father, he holds a bloody hand up to the light and utters the titular line, Be Careful What You Wish For...

Casey and Margaret's mom, Mrs. Brewer has to leave to Tucson to visit her sick sister, and Mrs. Brewer reminds Casey, Margaret, and even Margaret's friend Diane to be nice to Dr. Brewer and make sure he eats meals. Once Dr. Brewer emerges from the basement, his hand still bandaged, and takes Mrs. Brewer to the hospital, Diane gets a great idea: they should Stay In of the Basement, and go investigate Dr. Brewer's secret experiments. Casey would rather watch his action movie that he rented, the title of which is left unsaid but the reader gets the clues that it is hyper-violent and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, so it is obviously Junior. Eventually the three children make their way down into the basement, which is stacked with large tall plants of many variations, some bearing fruits, all very large for plants that supposedly had only been growing for a few weeks. Out of respect for the many elementary school children who use this blog to cheat on their book reports, I will refrain from making a marijuana joke.

Casey notices a large glass contraption similar to a phone booth hooked up to a generator in the corner. He walks over to touch it and his body jolts with electric shocks. Only he was just funnin, he's not hurt at all. RL Stine beat Jurassic Park to making this scene by over a year, so I guess now we know the answer to the question of whether Spielberg influenced Stine or vice versa. After admonishing him for his "hilarious" prank, the girls stop and listen to the plants, which sound like they are breathing. No, sorry ladies, that sound is millions of readers gasping for breath at Casey's deliciously humorous prank. The tendrils of some of the plants begin to sway, as if beckoning the children towards the plants, and indeed some of the plants were heaving as if in breath. The children wisely decide to Stay Out of the Basement afterall, and scatter out just as Dr. Brewer pulls up in the driveway. I guess they live three minutes away from the airport.

Suddenly Casey remembers that he left his sweater down in the basement! He quickly runs down to retrieve it while Dr. Brewer is stopped by their neighbor in the driveway. Casey spots his sweater next to one of the tendriled plants, and when he goes to retrieve it, the plant's arms grab him and hold him tight. Margaret comes down to rescue Casey and she looses him and as they make their way up the stairs, they run into Dr. Brewer. Dr. Brewer calmly sits them down at the kitchen table and tells them that one day he'll explain everything in the basement and they'll all go down together, but until that day, they are not allowed in the basement. The next morning, Dr. Brewer has installed a lock on the door.

That afternoon, Mrs. Brewer calls Margaret to tell her that her sister's surgery didn't go as planned and she'll be staying in Tucson a few more days. Margaret tells her mom about the basement and how Dr. Brewer has started wearing a Dodgers cap at all times (the sports team, not like an Artful Dodger-type hat, sadly). Mrs. Brewer tells her daughter that her father probably feels like he has something to prove to Mr. Martinez, his old boss who fired him.

After getting off the phone with her mother, Margaret heads downstairs and spies her father in the kitchen, eating something from a plastic bag. She stays hidden until he leaves, and when she retrieves the bag, she discovers it's plant food! She tells Casey about this as she makes him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but he doesn't seem to think it is all that weird that their father would be eating fertilizer. He then mocks her for several pages by pretending to be the Incredible Plant Man and she's Weed Woman. I don't know, anyways,

A few days later, the two siblings and Diane are playing frisbee, again. Was this book underwritten by the California Frisbee Council? Casey tosses a frisbee at their father, who has emerged briefly into the sunlight, but it hits him in the head, knocking his Dodgers cap off and revealing green leaves growing on his scalp! Stay Out of the Organic Hairclub For Men. Dr. Brewer finally sits down with his kids and explains that the leaves are just a side effect-- a side effect to what, he won't say, but he does explain his experiments. He asks if the kids are familiar with DNA, and since all eleven-year old kids are familiar with DNA, he continues. He's trying to take animal cells and put them into plant cells to create hybrid plants that have never existed. The glass booths in the basement are his transports, and though he's real close to succeeding, he hasn't quite made it work yet. He then brushes off all the moral and ethical concerns of his children as he heads back to the basement for more God-playing.

That night, Margaret again spies on her father in the bathroom... uh... anyways, she watches him take off his bandage and the blood from his wound is bright green! She also takes a peak in his bedroom and notices that his bed is filled with moist dirt and crawling with worms. So what, a lot of guys revert to their bachelor ways when the wife's out of town.

The next afternoon, Margaret tells Casey all about her spying discoveries from the night before. Suddenly, Dr. Brewer appears and tells his children that he's made them lunch. The two are served what appears to be green mashed potatoes, and their father yells at them to eat it. So the husband is a slob and can't cook, still nothing out of the ordinary here. Luckily for the kids, the doorbell rings and Dr. Brewer leaves to talk to Mr. Martinez, who has stopped by to check on Dr. Brewer's progress. The two kids scoop their green food into the trash and tell their father that they ate it. Oh kids.

The next day, Dr. Brewer tells his kids he'll be out for a few hours to help their neighbor install a sink. Maybe I didn't grow up in the right neighborhoods, but is that really something you casually ask a neighbor to do for you? The kids see this as their chance to once again not Stay Out of the Basement and as soon as he leaves, Casey picks the lock and the two venture downstairs. They come across Mr. Martinez's suit, neatly folded and hidden near a table, and the two realize that neither saw Mr. Martinez leave the house after visiting yesterday. The two hear footsteps above and realize their dad's come back. The two emerge from the basement just in time to be caught by Dr. Brewer. He explains that Mr. Martinez simply got hot in the tropical climate of the basement and took off his suit and left with out it. The kids buy this because they are retarded. Dr. Brewer heads out to continue work on the sink, but before he goes, he threatens the kids to... well, you know by now.

The next day, Dr. Brewer tells his kids the great news, that their mother is coming back within the hour and he's going to go to the airport to pick them up. This so excites Casey that he insists that he and his sister go fly some kites while they wait. That's really what happens. But of course the kites are in the basement, so they break in again and that's when they stumble upon Mr. Martinez's shoes and pants. Finally they realize that maybe just maybe Mr. Martinez didn't leave their house naked. The two kids hear thumping from a supply closet that has been nailed shut and the two pry it open, only to discover hideous plants with human features. One has an arm. The other has fingers. A third has pride.

Margaret notices two pairs of feet in a dark corner and the two kids walk over to discover their father and Mr. Martinez, bound and gagged. Dr. Brewer still has the green leaves on his scalp, and when Margaret removes his gag, he tells them that the Dr. Brewer driving to the airport is in fact a plant version of himself and that he's their real father. Margaret unties him and he leaps into another corner of the basement and grabs an axe. The axe-wielding capless Dr. Brewer charges towards the basement stairs, where the cap-wearing Dr. Brewer has just arrived with Mrs. Brewer from the airport. The cap-wearing Dr. Brewer tells Margaret that she's been tricked, he's the real Dr. Brewer. The axe-wielding Dr. Brewer maintains that he's the real Dr. Brewer. Margaret charges after the axe-wielding Dr. Brewer and wrestles the axe from his hand and stands between the two Dr. Brewers. She orders Casey to stab the capless Dr. Brewer with a knife and he does, and the blood that pours from his arm is red-- he's the real Dr. Brewer. Margaret gives the axe back to the capless Dr. Brewer, who runs towards the cap-wearing Dr. Brewer and chops him in two, right down the middle.

Dr. Brewer explains that he accidentally mixed his own blood with the plant materials when he began experimenting and that suddenly the plants took on human characteristics with one becoming powerful enough to clone Dr. Brewer completely. The real Dr. Brewer has the green leaves on his scalp too, which he claims is a result of the plant material getting into his own blood by mistake. Dr. Brewer goes into the basement and destroys all of the plants, save a few which he plants in the garden.

But the Twist is:
Margaret walks by the new flower garden and a flower pleads with her that he's her real father.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Siblings Casey and Margaret Brewer, whose friend Diane disappears halfway thru the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Margaret's dad calls her "Princess" and "Fatso" (because she's skinny-- he's an ironist you see). Oh and that whole trying to kill his whole family thing too I guess.

Early 90s Cultural References:
RoboCop, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sassy

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
"We need a lemon tree," Casey said as they slowed to a walk. "They're cool."

Useless Trivia Alert:
The cover to this book is one of two not drawn by series regular Tim Jacobus (the other being #12 Be Careful What You Wish For...). This is what me doing my homework on the series results in, trivia. And not even the good kind of trivia I can use at parties and other social gatherings, it's Goosebumps Trivia.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 13/14
Something is attacking Casey! It's... it's... it's a squirrel? Okay.

Great Prose Alert:
"So what are you trying to say, that Dad is out of his tree?"

Conclusions:
Stay Out of the Basement is the sort of Goosebumps book that grows on you,
hahahahahahahahahhahahahahaahaha get it?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

#36 the Haunted Mask II


the Haunted Mask II

Front Tagline: New face. Old nightmare.
Back Tagline: Just Call Him Prune Face!

Official Book Description:
Steve Boswell will never forget Carly Beth's Halloween mask. It was so gross. So terrifying.
But this year Steve wants to have the scariest costume on the block. So he gets a mask from the same store where Carly Beth got hers. It looks like a creepy old man. With stringy hair. A wrinkled face. And spiders crawling out of the ears!
Steve's definitely got the scariest mask around. Too bad he's starting to feel so old. And so tired. And so evil...

Brief Synopsis:
Well, apparently there were a lot of unanswered questions left over from the first Haunted Mask book, so here's a sequel that poses more rather than answering any. The hero of the story is the obnoxious prankster Steve, friend of Chuck, one of the two boys who harassed Carly Beth relentlessly in the initial installment. As the book opens, Steve is telling the reader about how much he hates first graders. See, Steve and Chuck let out a squirrel in the girls locker room, because that sounds like something RL Stine saw in a movie about teenagers once. As punishment for this, Steve is told by his gym teacher that he can either blow up basketballs in the gym by mouth, or coach first grade soccer. It's plausible, that's what I like about that punishment.

The kids quickly take their revenge on this surrogate coach by tricking him into kicking a concrete soccer ball. At this point it is worth noting that the reader is saddled for the next 27 chapters with a character who is fooled by first-grade children into kicking a concrete ball. After practice, Steve runs into Chuck and discovers the kids glued feathers to the books in Steve's bookbag. What the hell is this book, really?

At the next practice the kids send their fattest member to tackle Steve. Steve declares that he will get the kids back by scaring them. Coincidently, at that moment, Carly Beth and her friend Sabrina, are walking near Steve and Chuck and the two boys decide to scare them for old time's sake. I kind of wish someone would take a stab at scaring the reader at some point, but here we are. The two boys attempt to sneak up on the girls but then they notice that Carly Beth is carrying her decapitated head around... of course it's really another plaster head made by Carly Beth's mom, and this whole "scare" is exactly what she did in the first book to these two, and it managed to scare these boys yet again.

Steve tries to save face by stealing Carly Beth's head and playing keep away with it until Carly Beth tells him where she bought her scary mask from Halloween. At once point he threatens to drop-kick her head onto a nearby roof, and not that I doubt the athletic prowess of a twelve year old boy, but I doubt the athletic prowess of a twelve year old boy. She eventually gives up the name of the shop.

The next day, Steve is wearing his Sunday best for class picture day, and he also has to coach his first graders on a muddy field. I'll let you do the legwork on that one. RL Stine drops some serious poetry on the reader as we are told how Steve's blue sweater becomes a brown sweater, and after going home to change, Steve and Chuck head out for the party supply store where Carly Beth bought her mask. But it's... say it with me... abandoned! Luckily the two boys notice that the basement door to the shop has been left open and the two sneak down to steal a mask.

Chuck initially expresses some concern that maybe they should Goosebumps #02: Stay Out of the Basement©, but all that changes once they find a box full of disgusting and scary masks (and yes, there is a terrifying gorilla mask in the box). Steve finally decides on an old man mask, which in addition to looking hideous, feels and smells hideous, so I see why he chose that one to put on his face.

The two boys hear footsteps above them from the supposedly abandoned shop, and Chuck ditches his friend Steve, who is now stuck in the basement as creepy, cape-wearing, John Waters Shopkeeper from the first book clomps down to the basement. Steve tries explaining to the man that he wasn't stealing one of his masks, which doesn't work because even his explanation is basically "I came down here to steal one of your masks." Steve offers to buy it, but the shopkeeper will not sell it to him. So Steve makes a break for it and runs out of the basement with the mask-- but he's not stealing the mask, he's... oh so well yeah he's definitely stealing it. He and Chuck run all the way home.

Steve doesn't even tell Chuck about the mask, hiding it under his shirt. Once he gets home, Steve thinks he feels the mask bite his stomach, but shrugs it off because when you have such a cool, smelly, warm, gross mask like that, it's worth a few stomach-bites. Suffer for fashion.

Steve's Halloween revenge plan goes into action on the day before Halloween, as he tells his entire first grade soccer team to meet in front of the haunted Carpenter Mansion on Halloween Night to go trick-or-treating together. With his plan set, he goes home to try on the mask, in hopes of scaring his friend Chuck. However, as soon as he slides the old man mask over his head, it melds to his skin and suddenly he feels tired, like an old man, and starts cackling, like an old man, and has very specific ideas on race relations, like an old man.

After scaring his dog, Steve hears his mom approaching his room. She can't see him like this, it will be like that scene in Big, only less frightening. He makes up an excuse about being sick to explain his old man voice and his mom tells him from outside his door that she bought "those black and white cookies" Steve likes so much. Oreoh no! After his mom goes away, he tries to make it to the phone, but I guess being old is the same as being trapped in quicksand, as it takes several minutes of trying for Steve to be able to hobble in the direction of the phone. Steve reasons that maybe the same thing happened to Carly Beth with her mask and she's know how to save him. When Steve calls her house though, her dad thinks Steve is some creepy old man crank calling his daughter and hangs up on him.

That night, Steve goes to sleep early and awakes to find that it was all a dream, his skin is fine and there's no mask attached. But wait, that was a dream and he really does have the old man mask attached. Twists abound in the Haunted Mask II.

RL Stine leaves no stereotype regarding the elderly unchecked in his delicious satire of morning routines, as Steve craves oatmeal and laments on how he's outgrown trick-or-treating. Steve's plan is to act like the old man costume is his Halloween costume so he can leave the house without alarming his parents. Then he'll go scare the first-graders, then finally find Carly Beth and get the mask removed. Well that's great, I guess I don't have to read the last thirty pages!

After fooling his parents, Old Man Steve approaches the rowdy first graders who were waiting for him in front of the mansion, but unfortunately instead of being terrified of him, the kids immediately become considerate and helpful, asking if he's lost and if they can help him-- which okay I'll admit it, that's pretty good. Even a broken clock is right two times a day. He attempts to convince him that he's the ghost of the mansion, but the kids cry out-- in concern for his safety. Several of the children take turns holding Old Man Steve's hand as they lead him to Carly Beth's house. Unfortunately, Old Man Steve looks too much like an old man and Carly Beth thinks he's the creepy man who prank called her earlier. She runs away to get her dad to call the police. Fortunately, Steve gets Sabrina's attention and her and Carly Beth-- who is dressed in last year's abandoned duck costume (!)-- stop and come back to attend to Steve.

Carly Beth recaps the end of the previous book for Steve and tells him he needs to find his own symbol of love to get the mask off. Steve thinks he knows of a symbol of love, and the two rush off to Steve's house. Once inside, Steve's dog attacks him and Carly Beth has to hold the yapping little dog at arm's length so Steve can safely move around the house. Steve's symbol of love was those cookies his mom had bought him. Unfortunately, Steve's dog ate all the cookies while Steve was out. The dog tries rubbing against Old Man Steve's leg to get him to pet him. Carly Beth realizes that the dog could be Steve's symbol of love. Steve hugs the dog tight and... nothing happens. Carly Beth shrugs her shoulders and figures that maybe it's different for each mask and it must take something other than a symbol of love for Steve's mask to come off.

The two trek off to the "abandoned" party shop and sneak into the basement, which is still unlocked. Scientists are always just hanging around unlocked, abandoned buildings in these books. Carly Beth pokes around some boxes and finds an old tuxedo suit that looks like it goes with the old man mask. She holds the suit up and suddenly the old man mask floats off Steve's head and lands on the collar of the suit. The old man is now complete and alive, thrashing around in the room as Steve is reverted back to his old self. The old man makes a break for it out the basement door and Carly Beth and Steve don't really pay that detail too much thought as they exit, laughing.

But the Twist is:
As they're walking home, Chuck pops out wearing one of the other masks from the shop. Really, that's the "twist" ending, RL Stine?

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Carly Beth and Steve, who's youthful vigor disappears halfway thru the book.

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
If there's one thing kids love reading about, it's the elderly.

Worst Anecdote Ever Told Alert:
"I saw a ghost once, behind my garage. I shouted 'Boo!' and it floated away."

Oh Burn? Alert:
Steve tells Carly Beth to save her haunted mask story "for English class."

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 13/14
Steve can't find his mask: it's gone!
Wait, it's gone because Steve was the one who moved it!

Great Prose Alert:
"I let out a howl of dread."

Conclusions:
The Haunted Mask II is a pretty awful book until the last thirty pages or so when it just embraces the silliness of the situation and goes for laughs instead of "scares." Despite the self-referential nature of the second half (there's even mentions of the Mud Monsters from You Can't Scare Me!), there is absolutely no reason for this book to exist.