Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Goosebumps Live On Stage: Screams in the Night

Goosebumps Live On Stage: Screams In the Night
The Goosebumps Stage Show began performances in September of 1998. By December the production had been halted indefinitely. I can't imagine what part of the equation went wrong. I mean, lovers of the theatrical arts and lovers of awful books for kids that are horrible, who knew these two audiences weren't the same market?

It's easy to mock the idea of the stage show in hindsight, and that's good because I intend to do so. The show was written and directed by Rupert Holmes, a Tony Award-winning playwright. Holmes also wrote Jimmy Buffet's "the Pina Colada Song." While perhaps not the pedigree one would cobble together for a spooky touring live show for kids, this clearly is a man who at one time or another was capable of capturing the public's attention. So what went wrong?

The same thing that goes wrong in almost every ghostwritten Goosebumps book: Imitating RL Stine's style invariably results in a book worse than one written by Stine himself.

Instead of adopting an existing RL Stine story into a live show or having Stine write the scenario, Holmes wrote the (theatrical) book himself, in the style of Stine. Then, based on this script, RL Stine wrote the book under discussion this week, Screams In the Night. The book gives a fairly concrete idea of what the show must have been like, and there's more than a few times that Stine expertly turns stage directions into sentences merely by formatting them differently.

But oh the book. The book. Oh my God you guys, the book. It was free for any kid who went to see the show and I believe that was the only way to get ahold of it. I imagine it was passed around playgrounds by kids who saw the show as proof of initiation, like vets might show shrapnel wounds. Anytime another kid would question whether the show could have possible been as bad as the book makes it seem, the kid would just slowly shake his head and go "You don't know Jack, you weren't there!" I think it's safe to say the janitors of the auditoriums swept these up in their push-brooms by the dozens after each performance.

This book is, and I say this in all seriousness, maybe the worst thing I've ever read for this blog. The book's sole saving grace is merely that it lacks the abominable moral ugliness of Chicken Chicken. But gosh even sans that we're talking neck and neck here.

As the adaptation opens, we're introduced to the four main characters: Jessie, a fourteen-year-old girl, her thirteen-year-old brother Josh, their nine-year-old sister Jamie and Josh's friend Skate. Skate. There's a character named Skate. Already we're in trouble here: a fourteen-year-old in a Goosebumps book just doesn't work. And no character is the requisite twelve-years-old? Man, it's a good thing I'm a member of the Theatrical Adaptation Gaffe Squad. Also that kid is named Skate. Skate.

The quartet had been dropped off at their school to watch their Tigers play a basketball game-- oh my God, is the twist that they're really Kelly, Zack, Mr. Belding's daughter, and Screech? No, of course not, that would be stupid. What actually happens is much stupider. See, no one ever showed up to pick the four up after the game, so they started walking home in the fog. Along the way they stumble upon The Doomsday Bookshop. Figuring they can go inside to use the phone, as soon as they walk in, an animatronic gorilla transforms into an old man. Oh cripes, don't tell Ben Stein!

The creepy old man introduces himself as Mr. Gander. If you love comedy, stop now before I ruin jokes for you forever. He tells the kids that though he's old, he still has the heart of a young person. He then produces a small box and pulls out a "glossy, slimy, squishy, bloody heart." Ha, he meant the figurative thing literally. Mr. Gander then helpfully adds that the heart was mummified, revealing he may not understand what words mean.

---"Thanks for buying me a ticket to the scary show mom, all those chores I did to earn it was worth it!"
Mr. Gander hands Josh a phone and tells him to "Cross your heart and hope to dial."
---"I hate you mom. I'm emancipating like in North, which we saw in movie theaters four years ago. Get it, it's 1998."

Josh calls home but their dad doesn't pick up so he leaves a message explaining where they're staying. As the kids wait to (hopefully) be picked up, they mill around the store. Jamie spies Slappy the doll and, oh God, you guys, are you ready for this? The book is self-reflexive, so she recognizes Slappy from the Goosebumps series. Jessie spies a huge leatherbound Goosebumps edition and asks to look inside it. Mr. Gander warns her that his last name is the word for a male goose. Also "look," as in she can't look inside the book.

However, that special edition of the book came with special magic lantern slides (I refuse to accept that any children who aren't characters in Fanny and Alexander have passing familiarity with how magic lanterns work or even what they are) and while they wait he'll tell them a story using the slides. A story involving them by name in their house and the first slide shows their kitchen. "Kitchens looks very much alike" he reasons before launching into the first and worst story in this or any book. Ever.

If you loved Stay Out of the Basement and wondered why there was never a sequel called Stay Out of the Attic, I've got good news and bad news. The good news is there is and this is it. The bad news is there is and this is it. Oh man, Mr. Gander's rubbing off on me.

The dad of the three siblings is, to the surprise of no one reading this, a scientist. Dr. Barton is busy feeding his geckos insects in the kitchen when his kids come running in, making a racket. Josh has stolen Jessie's diary and is threatening to Xerox it. Dr. Barton breaks up the fight and openly wishes the kids could be more like their older sister Mischa. The O.C. what I did there?
That was such a 2AM on a Monday Joke.

Jessie notices that lately Dr. Barton has been getting too involved in his lizards, and has gone so far as to forbid any of his kids from going into the attic. This is achieved by yelling at random intervals, "Stay Out of the Attic!" That night, Jessie catches her father scooping dead bugs from the bug zapper into his mouth. It totally grosses her out to see him eat the bugs. You might even say it irritates her. After being caught in flagrante delictoh yuck, her father excuses himself and walks outside. Josh comes down and Jessie tries to tell him about how he's acting. She doesn't get very far before Dr. Barton comes back inside and asks the kids if they want an omelet. He then removes five eggs from his pocket. What. He tells the kids that they're snake eggs and asks if they want a snake egg omelet. They pass and while he's busy cooking, they decide to sneak up into the attic.

Once inside the attic, they find a lot of snakes. They also mistake a coiled snake for a coil of hose to thrilling effect. The two siblings notice a covered cylinder in the middle of the attic. It's described like six or seven times as being about the size of a man. I wonder what's inside the cylinder. Why, it's-- A HIDEOUS HALF-MAN HALF-LIZARD CREATURE THING!

"It's a giant lizard," Jessie realized, "In a man's shirt and pants!"

Jessie figures that her father has been experimenting on combining lizards and humans and that's why he's been acting so weird. Just then, Dr. Barton barges in and upon being told that his experiments are a failure, laughs uproariously. See, his experiments are going perfectly, and the reason he's been acting less like her father is because he's not their father. Dr. Barton then dramatically flips a switch to turn the light in the tank on and the creature in the cylinder begins to wail. He's their father.

Now, I know this sounds really dumb but not any more than usual for the series, so you're probably wondering why I sold it as the worst thing ever. Take it away Dr. Barton:

"I'm now wearing your father's body. [...] Soon my real children will be living inside your bodies. We'll sit around the breakfast table together--digging into a great big bowl of fruit flies!"

See, the real Dr. Barton helped the alien creatures learn how to adapt to the Earth climate and his reward is that he gets to turn into a lizard alien when the rest of the aliens come down and take everyone's bodies. David Icke just came.

Dr. Barton throws a knockout gas switch-- did this guy get a good deal at Lowes on switches? The next morning the two kids wake up and go down to breakfast. Skate comes over and reminds us all yet again how utterly ridiculous his name is. Josh tries to convince him that his father is really a lizard. He calls Jessie over to confirm his story but she disagrees, finding him more like a snake. Skate concurs, their father's more snake-like, just like he and Jessie and everyone else is.

That's right. Are you ready for the absurdly morbid, overly pessimistic twist? The aliens have already infected everyone but they couldn't get Josh's body to serve as host. Large circular shadows appear over the lawns in the neighborhood as the aliens' ships begin to land. The Dr. Barton alien explains that now Skate will be his son and Josh will merely be used as a party favor snack for the incoming aliens. Then Dr. Barton's head splits open and the snake head emerges from the bloody halves. He opens his snake mouth and spits out sticky white poison all over Josh.

So, the real Dr. Barton sold his son out to be eaten and the rest of his family to be incubators for alien lizards? That is officially Hall of Fame Questionable Parenting.

Mr. Gander's magic lantern show is met with some pretty heady praise:

"The creepy part of that story was the way the characters had the same names as we do," Skate commented.

There goes the theory that David Mamet ghostwrote this to reciprocate for Stine's work on Edmond. Oh erudite burn. Jessie turns to say something to Jamie but sees that Jamie's disappeared. When she asks around, no one else can remember anyone named Jamie. Even Jessie begins to forget her. The Judy Winslow Story.

Mr. Gander begins his second tale, this time about a haunted theatre. And see the audience is in a theatre when watching the stage show. Let's move on. Once more,I simply can do no better than letting the characters speak for themselves:

"This place is haunted," Josh insisted. "And if I capture the image of a ghost on Dad's camcorder, I'll get an A in science for sure."

Because that is how science class works. Josh shows Jessie a copy of an article from the paper about how there have been nine accidental deaths in the theatre. He states the ghosts only come out at midnight and so as soon as it's midnight he has Jessie begin filming. A young man named Hank shows up. Hank refuses to be filmed and offers to show the kids around the theatre. He gives Jessie a special mask that a woman named Karen wore the night she died by falling off a tall balcony during a doomed performance of Rumplestiltskin. The mask magically attaches itself to her face. The trio keep walking around the sets when Josh encounters a changing booth. Hank explains that it's a way for performers on stage to change quickly without having to use their dressing room. Josh walks through it and instead of coming out like this:

He comes out dressed like a caveman, wielding a club. He comes out dressed like a caveman, wielding a club. Josh decides to try it again and this time comes out as, of course, a horrible one-eyed monster. No phallic jokes, pls. Hank tells Jessie that he and the rest of the ghosts who died there in the theatre need new blood, so could she please go up to the balcony and die like Karen did. Jessie tells Hank that a true actor finds their own method and doesn't merely copy another actress. Hank is all business and tells her to move it up the stairs.

Jessie remembers that ghosts don't like to be photographed because it steals their souls. Oh of course, I learned that in the "Things The Red Man Believes, According To The White Man" sidebar in my seventh-grade history textbook. She films Hank with the camera and then throws it to the monster-version of Josh, telling him to push the red erase button. Hank tells Josh that he's his new master and must obey him. Hank then picks up the caveman club and chases after her. Jessie runs up the stairs and almost falls to her death before Josh pushes the red button.

A flash of red light fills the stage. I bet the audience was pissed at the flash of red light waking them up. Cut to an amusement park. Skate and Jessie and Josh are safe and sound and they encounter a carnival barker who looks like Mr. Gander, only he's wearing a mustache.

The Barker offers Skate a delicious green slushy beverage. That's right, he offers him a cup of Monster Blood! The Barker warns that while the slime is safe to drink, if it touches any living creature, that creature will grow to enormous heights. I think "safe" means something else than what he thinks it means. Oh and then Jamie shows up and asks if they had forgotten about her. Well I stopped trying to figure out what was going on when we cut from one story to another with no discernible distinction between the characters being portrayed in the story and the story is being told to, so I'll admit to it. It begins to rain and the four seek shelter inside Slappy's Fun House.

A few words about this final segment, as the entry is already impossibly long and there's no way I could do justice to how clearly this part of the stage show is untranslatable to book-form. Basically this segment pre-configures both Cube and the Saw movies, as Slappy appears for no reason (and remember, the kids are familiar with Slappy from the Goosebumps books) and tells the kids that he's going to kill them unless they solve his absurdly convoluted puzzles. There are four separate levels and after each one they collect a prize. To give you a hint of how cheery this stage show must have been, one of the kids has the wise idea to test whether a cubbyhole holding their first prize is boobytrapped. He tests it with his shoe and a large blade comes down over the entrance, meaning Slappy intended to chop off the kid's arm. I'm no lightweight but isn't that like really violent for a live show for eight-year-olds? The main point of all of this is to serve as really hyper flash and dazzle for the audience, and there's a huge game board and crazy stunts and it's all very confusing and needlessly complex. The segment ends with the kids prevailing and then as they leave the fun house, Skate mocks Slappy and pours his Monster Blood drink all over him.
That's right.
Monster Blood meets Slappy.
Slappy grows to twenty feet tall and bursts out of the fun house, running after the kids. He bellows out after them, "Welcome to Slappy's Planet! Where humans are fools and Slappy rules!"

This scene is mercifully cut short by another unexplained cut back to the bookstore. Their father has arrived to take them home. He explains that he would have been there sooner but the bridge that connects their home town and the town they're in now collapsed. Real Dr. Barton shows about as much tact as alien Dr. Barton:

"A big truck full of explosives crashed into the base of the bridge," Mr. Barton explained. "Boom! It blew up!"

Thank you Brian Collins. So now that the show's wrapping up, everything is going to start making sense, right? You can't see me but I'm nodding my head "No." Jessie can't get anyone to pay attention to her and then her father calls Skate "Jessie" and Jessie insists that she's Jessie. Mr. Gander shows up to explain that she doesn't really exist but was just a creation of the author of Goosebumps and for a while it was Jamie who was going to be deleted from the final story but then the author decided on her. That's why he didn't want her to read the big Goosebumps book, because it wasn't finished yet. But the good news is that the author has moved her to a new book all her own, called Screams In the Night. It's then revealed that Mr. Gander is a puppet being operated on strings by the giant Monster Blood-affected Slappy, who is in turn being operated by the towering, unseen author.
And that author's name was Gore Vidal, and every character starts fucking each other.

I'm on Goosebumps vacation next week, see you May 5.

Monday, April 14, 2008

#58 Deep Trouble II

#58 Deep Trouble II.

Front Tagline: Something's fishy...again!
Back Tagline: The Fish Are Biting...Everyone!

Official Book Description:
Billy Deep and his sister Sheena are spending another summer in the Caribbean on their uncle's totally cool floating lab. The weather is beautiful. And there are lots of neat places to go swimming and snorkeling.
Billy and Sheena are great swimmers. But even great swimmers get into trouble--especially this year. This year there's something really scary going on under the sea. The fish all seem to be growing. Bigger and bigger. With monster-sized appetites...

Brief Synopsis:
Deep Trouble II opens one year after the events of the previous book. Billy and Sheena are back on summer vacation with Dr. D in the Caribbean. Seeing as how this is the last sequel in the original Goosebumps series to be tackled by the blog, it's reassuring to know that the foundations of the sequels are still upheld: By page two, the entire plot of the first book has been negated. The adventures of the first book now boil down to:

1. How Billy discovered a mermaid and no one believed him.
2. How Dr. D valiantly was opposed to anyone keeping mermaids in cages.
3. How it was all very exciting.
Answer key: 1: F 2: F 3: F

But hey, maybe Deep Trouble II will make up for this early stumble by treating the reader to new thrills! That bit of positive thinking dies a quick death as the book opens with Billy tickling a ferocious octopus. The octopus turns out to be Sheena and the tickling turns out to be tickling. She asks if he's a "tickle-fish." Sweet mother of God, there are over a hundred pages left.

Billy decides to play a trick on his sister. He runs up to the deck of the Cassandra and grabs a gray pillow. He's going to swim underwater with the pillow sticking out so his sister thinks he's a shark. This plan backfires when a real shark shows up and chases both kids onto the boat. Then the shark starts attacking the boat. Dr. D runs out and asks about the noise. Dr. D is skeptical about the attack, as there are no sharks in the area. He asks if they're sure they weren't just chased by a kid holding a gray pillow.

Dr. D leads the kids into the office on his boat to look at a new large mystery fish he has captured. Dr. D and the kids thumb through some science books until one of them makes a shocking science discovery: the giant fish is positively identified as a minnow, an animal that, like Hedwig, has a maximum length of one inch.

Billy spots some plankton samples that Dr. D has gathered and snags some to feed his goldfish. Only when Billy prepares to feed his fish, he's shocked to discover that there's a human head inside his goldfish bowl. Sheena reveals that the human head is actually a doll's head and Dr. D explains that the water in the fishbowl made the small doll head appear as large as a human head. I called the local PetsMart to see if this was true and the girl that picked up asked me if I had a real question.

Billy becomes obsessed with getting Sheena back for her 'prank,' though that's really pushing the intended usage of that word. In the water the next morning, the two go swimming and Billy cries out, "Shark!" Sheena fails to fall for this as he's not holding a gray pillow. But the joke's on Sheena, as she gets sucked into a giant jellyfish. No I'm not kidding and yes this book only gets worse.

Billy realizes he must save his sister. He attempts to just reach in and pluck her out but nothing short of diving into the jellyfish will work. Billy plunges inside the giant creature, grabs his sister, and then the two escape as the giant jellyfish scuttles away to fight another giant fish. Oh I hope it's a peanut butter shark! Hahaha, I want to thank seven-year-old me for that joke.

Once safely back on the Cassandra, the kids can't find their uncle anywhere. But as with most things you lose, it's always the last place you look. Billy and Sheena pull their uncle, who is covered in foamy slime, out from underneath a giant snail that has found its way onto the boat. Before everyone can piece together that the giant snail aboard the ship is of course the same tiny snail which once lived in Billy's fishbowl, more things happen.

The boat suddenly jostles to one side as something immense weighs down the other end. When the trio go to investigate, they spy Billy's pair of goldfish who are now the size of small whales and nearly capsizing the boat with their immense weight. Billy makes the following brilliant observation about his fish:

"You could really see them now that they were so big."

Wow, now I'm not sure which character sounds the most like a scientist! The three main characters wrestle with the giant fish and heave them off the boat.

I know what you're thinking: I can't believe it's Monday and the update was on time. Hey, shut up, because I meant the other thing you're thinking, about how this is turning out to be another sequel where the plot is just "Hey you know that thing, let's make it bigger and call it a book."

However, perhaps you, like me, are asking the immortal dramatic question, "Will there be more scientists?" Thankfully the answer is yes, as three unpleasant men show up on Dr. D's boat. The head man introduces himself as Dr. Ritter and asks the trio if they've seen anything unusual. Dr. D says no but then Billy blurts out about the giant goldfish. Dr. D tries to explain that the boy is confused and they were just two pillows, but Dr. Ritter has heard enough. He sends one of his henchmen to investigate the ship and the giant snail is discovered. Way to escargot! Wow, seven-year-old me is contributing a lot of material for this update.

Dr. Ritter lays out his Eight Simple Rules For Discovering My Secret Experiment, the main gist being don't. Dr. Ritter had developed the special magical plankton using science to make fish bigger and end world hunger. Like most scientists, Dr. Ritter follows his humanitarian speech with the attempted murder of children. Billy starts to protest but Dr. Ritter says, "Shut it. Get up. Move along. Move it on the double. 'Cause if you don't you're in deep, deep trouble."

But Dr. Ritter gets homicidetracked when Sheena notices an attack from above: Seagulls! Gull attacks can be thrilling

But not in RL Stine's hands. These gulls ate the enchanted plankton, thus they are so big as to just be ridiculous. While the Rodan-sized birds distract the evil scientist's henchmen, Billy and his family escape on a lifeboat. Then the lifeboat is lost at sea. Then they land a deserted island. Hey, that reminds me of a certain ABC Drama just begging to be evoked and punned: I bet once they get settled on the island, they're gonna relax and get Eli Stoned.

The book engages in every desert island cliche imaginable-- Do you even have to ask if there's a coconut tree? At one point Sheena proudly claims to have caught a giant silverfish, which is disgusting and doesn't say much for the editors at Scholastic that they didn't realize the difference between writing "silver fish" and "silverfish."

At some point during all this, Billy utters the following immortal line:

"I feel like I'm living in some kind of dinosaur world," I said. "Only instead of dinosaurs, we're surrounded by giant sea creatures!"

Which is like poetry for your gag reflex.

Two giant dolphins wash up on the shore and one gets tangled up in a rope hanging from the lifeboat. The three hop in the boat and are taken on a wild dolphin-driven ride through the sea. I like Goosebumps books because they're so scary!

Somehow Dr. D and the kids wind up back at their boat, only to find Dr. Ritter has taken up residence. He greets the family and escorts them into Dr. D's lab. Dr. Ritter reveals that the enchanted plankton has a serious side effect: whenever it is ingested by a human, the human turns into a fish for life. Folks, this is the climax of the book.

Dr. Ritter forces Billy to choose a bottle(?) of plankton and down its contents. Billy attempts to distract him by turning around and fussing with some pillows in order to give the impression of having turned into a fish, but Dr. Ritter forces him to drink the potion. Billy does, but he doesn't turn into a fish.

Dr. Ritter grows frustrated and a fight breaks out between the two scientists. Dr. D tries to hold Dr. Ritter down on the deck of the ship but he breaks free, grabs some plankton, and swallows it before Dr. D can call the police. Dr. Ritter then indeed does turn into a fish and merely swims away. Now that's how you end one of these books.

But the Twist is:
Sheena asks Billy why he didn't turn into a fish. He explains that his revenge against Sheena was that he was going to pretend to drink the plankton-- surely RL Stine knew that plankton wasn't a beverage right? Billy threw out the liquid plankton from one of the bottles and replaced it with iced tea. Sheena begins to laugh because improbably she had done the exact same thing and had planned to prank Billy in an identical manner. So it's hereditary. Sheena then takes a big gulp from another bottle, which is predictably followed by her being unsure she picked the right one.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Billy Deep and his sister Sheena again, who disappears into a jellyfish a third of the way into the novel.

Questionable Uncling:
What kind of crazy man leaves all those dangerous pillows laying around where they could be mistaken for anything but pillows?!

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 26/7:
Billy and Shena fall into the claws of a giant crab. Only they actually fall into the sand where there crab was before he left.
Oops I forgot to mention the scene with the giant crab, didn't I? Quick, let me get my red pillow so I can recreate the scene for you in lifelike detail.

Great Prose Alert:
But I felt it. That whiff of danger.

This is what I get for criticizing the first Deep Trouble, which, while not particularly good, at least wasn't abysmally awful like Deep Trouble II. This is the worst sequel in the original series behind Monster Blood IV-- and so of course that means it's one of the books to garner another round in the Horrorland series.

In case you missed the hilarity below, Blogger Beware's new URL is BloggerBeware.com. The old links should still redirect, but it's a good idea to update your bookmarks and start figuring out what to do about your "twistending.blogspot.com" bicep tattoo.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Do, A 'Main, A Web Domain

Update your bookmarks, the blog is now accessible via bloggerbeware.com
This easy-to-remember URL witnessing tool shall help you convert thousands of new readers in everyday conversation. Some examples:

Scenario One: A Social Party
Dinner Guest: I think 'Tippi' Hedren could have really been something.
You: You know what's already something? BloggerBeware.com
Dinner Guest: Is that URL about 'Tippi' Hedren?
You: Yes, it is.
Dinner Guest: Oh good, I'm going to tell my Yahoo Groups friends about this!

Scenario Two: The Big Foot Ball Game
Foot Ball Fan: These bleachers sure do get cold in December!
You: It's April.
Foot Ball Fan: I know, I'm just having a moment of remembrance, jerk.
You: You're the jerk. Here's a URL where you can receive instructions on how to go fuck yourself.
Foot Ball Fan: Wait, let me get a pen.
You: BloggerBew-
Foot Ball Fan: I said let me get a pen, jerk.
You: You're the jerk.
Foot Ball Fan: No you are.
You: You know, forget it, I'm not telling you the URL is BloggerBeware.com
Foot Ball Fan: Oh come on, please?
You: Go to hell.

Scenario Three: Your Sister's First Communion
You: This is boring. I'm gonna go eat some pancakes.
The Pope: Look buster, I came all the way from wherever I live to see this, sit down.
You: Can I borrow your papal iPhone?
The Pope: Yes. As you see, my browser's home page is BloggerBeware.com
You: Oh. I was going to tell you about that site actually.
The Pope: Really? Well, beat you to it.
You: Is that 'Tippi' Hedren on your iPhone's wallpaper?
The Pope: She could have really been something.

Don't worry though, existing links to the blog (twistending.blogspot) will still work, but remember the new url,
TippiHedrenCouldHaveReallyBeenSomething.com BloggerBeware.com

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

#19 Deep Trouble

#19 Deep Trouble.

Front Tagline: Just when you thought it was safe...
(If that tagline were one word longer, Scholastic would be cutting Universal a check)
Back Tagline: Don't Go In the Water!

Official Book Description:
Billy and his sister, Sheena, are visiting their uncle Dr. Deep on a tiny Caribbean island. It's the perfect place to go exploring underwater...and Billy's ready for an adventure.
There's only one rule to remember: Stay away from the coral reefs. Still, the reefs are so beautiful. So peaceful. Billy can't resist.
But he's not alone in the water. Something's lurking deep below the surface. Something dark and scaly.
Something's half-human, half-fish....

Brief Synopsis:
Siblings Billy and Sheena Deep are spending their summer vacation on the Caribbean island of Ilandra with their uncle. And yes, their uncle is of course a scientist. Though his name, Dr. Deep, is about the coolest name any scientist could hope for, he simply goes by Dr. D. Perhaps to ride the coattails of that other well-respected Dr. D?

As the book opens, Dr. D leads the kids on a tour of his boat, the Cassandra. The reader is given some lectures about dangerous aquatic life, such as jellyfish and sting rays. Naturally this was before the Steve Irwin tragedy-- I'm of course referring to the Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course.

Scuba's natural, scuba's fun, scuba-diving is best when it's one-on-one, so Billy and his diving partner Sheena tag-team underwater. However, Billy gets carried away and begins exploring near the coral reef, which had earlier been forbidden to approach by Dr. D. As soon as he drifts over to the reef, Billy is startled to encounter a horrible octopus with "at least twelve tentacles"-- Sounds like Billy should explore a dictionary next.

Billy starts thrashing around in the water and Dr. D jumps in to save him. Billy tries to tell him about the twelve-tentacled monster when Sheena emerges and reveals that she was the one grabbing him. Dr. D thinks Billy had just mistaken the ten year old girl with, you know, two arms, for the twelve-tentacled giant underwater monster. No one is ever stupider in these books than the scientist.

Billy gets furious and returns to the water for a swim race. He figures a great shortcut to win the race would be to swim across the poisonous fire coral reef. He realizes his mistake only after his foot brushes against some of the coral and he howls in pain. Dr. D scolds Billy and tells him that had the coral's poison gotten into his bloodstream, he could have been paralyzed-- in other words, just say no to reef'.

Dr. D's assistant, a muscular graduate student named Alexander DuBrow, serves up lunch to the kids: chicken salad sandwiches. Only his cooking's terrible so Dr. D offers to grill some fish for dinner. Wow, fish, way to use your imagination.

Billy overhears a private conversation between Dr. D and representatives for the Marina Zoo. The zoo crew wants Dr. D to find and trap a mermaid that has been reported in the area. Dr. D tells the zoo that he's got offers from other zoos to find unicorns, leprechauns, sasquatches, and other animals which don't exist, so they better sweeten the pot. The zoo offers Dr. D the princely sum of one million dollars. And these are 1994-Dollars, so that's like, one million dollars. Billy is so excited about all of this that he forgets the basic mechanics of a door and falls into the secret meaning mid-eavesdrop. Dr. D and Alexander make Billy promise not to tell anyone.

Billy is either too excited to sleep or unsure whether "anyone" includes the sandman, so he goes out early to search for the mermaid. Because if there's a mermaid in the entire ocean, it's going to be located fifty feet out from the boat? As it deserves a quiet night, Billy's nightswimming is rudely interrupted by the sound of fear as a hammerhead shark wrecks Billy's mermaid hunt. God, that happens to me every time I go mermaid hunting.

The shark begins to encircle Billy. The hammerhead proceeds to butt him out of the water and then takes hold of Billy's leg with its teeth. Billy makes a break for the fire-burning coral and hops on top. Before the shark can eat him though, the mermaid shows up and scares the shark away with her fin. Does it get any more emasculating than letting a girl and a fish fight your battles for you? The mermaid heals Billy's reef-induced wounds and the two frolic gaily in the water.

Billy realizes she looks to be about his age, though he doesn't know enough about marine life to convert that into fish years. But luckily Dr. D does and he nets up both Billy and the mermaid and drags them onto the deck of the ship. Billy tries to argue that the mermaid saved his life, to which his uncle replies, "Don't be silly, mermaids don't exist. Oh right." However, apparently the D stands for dinero and Billy's uncle throws the mermaid into a large glass tank on the deck until the zoo crew arrives.

Billy spends a good amount of time trying to communicate with the mermaid. I could have saved him the time though as I'm sure all she'd say is "Get me out of this goddamn tank." Dr. D discovers that the mermaid emits a high-pitched squeal and hypothesizes that either she's trying to communicate with other mermaids via sonar or she's a member of Wolf Eyes.

The book drags a bit as the reader is treated to some slices o' mermaid life. At one point Billy amazingly tries to feed the mermaid chocolate chip cookies by dropping them into the tank and letting them drift to the bottom. Eventually he stumbles upon the idea of feeding her raw fish-- believe it or not, there are pages between Billy trying to feed the mermaid cookies and feeding her fish. After Billy feeds the mermaid some raw squid Alexander had been marinating, Alexander remarks that he's glad that someone enjoys his cooking, although I think he means he's glad someone enjoys the ingredients he intended to cook-- which is a bit like walking into a grocery store and looking for thanks from every customer.

Billy is enjoying dreams of Sea People when his slumber is interrupted by the sound of crashes and a Splash. Above deck he discovers the Little Mermaid is in the process of being kidnapped! Though he's not quite in the Thirteenth Year of age, Billy tries hard to stop the four masked men from taking away his Aquamarine dream girl. The men really seem set on taking the She Creature though, so they brutally toss Billy into the tank. Billy starts yelling for Alexander, as Dr. D is knocked out on the floor and Sheena is offering no help against the four burly men. Finally Alexander does show up, only to side with the thugs.

Here's where the book gets a little questionable, as Billy and the other characters insist on calling the thugs "kidnappers," even though it seems to me that Dr. D was equally guilty of kidnapping the mermaid from the ocean. The thugs toss Sheena and Dr. D into the tank, lock it, and then throw it into the water. The top of the tank is meshed, so the three characters inside the tank fight to break the locks before the tank submerges completely underwater. As they struggle, the "kidnappers" and Alexander speed off, mermaid in tow.

Just when things look their worst, a myriad of mermaids appear and hoist the tank above the water level. Dr. D and the kids break open the latches and escape to the dinghy. Billy convinces Dr. D to follow the mermaids and rescue the mermaid from the thugs. They find the boat and spot the mermaid tied to the rear by a length of rope-- did one of these criminal sailors just get married? As the other mermaids rescue her, the thugs attempt to set fire to Dr. D's dinghy. This plan fails to do much damage as the small boat is, y'know, surrounded by water. The mermaid is set free, Dr. D and the kids prevail, and the novel understandably fails to deliver on the official description's promise of mermaid-driven menace. This flaw might be tied in with how mermaids are always cool and never scary. Just a hunch.

But the Twist Is:
Billy sneaks out by the coral again in hopes of catching the mermaid to say goodbye and maybe throw some more wet cookies at her. Unfortunately, he only finds the mysterious twelve-armed sea creature from earlier in the book.
Oh look, there's a sequel.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Billy Deep and his sister Sheena, whose body disappears into the water halfway through every chapter.

Questionable Parenting:
Billy's uncle is so obsessed with being near the water that several Christmases ago,when Dr. D visited his family over the holidays, he spend most of Christmas Day inside the bathtub. Well, clearly this is the man you put in charge of children, unsupervised.

Troy McClure Alert:
"He isn't married and doesn't have any kids. He says he's too busy staring at fish."

Let's Think About the Title of the Book Alert:
The book's protagonists are named Billy and Sheena Deep and they're always getting into trouble-- hey, wait a minute... their name is... and... wait, give me a second... oh my God, that's just like the title of the book: Billy and Sheena.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 15/16:
Oh no, the mermaid is dead. No wait, she's only crying. I'd cry too if I was kidnapped by a crew stupid enough to confuse the two.

Great Prose Alert:
"Last one there is a chocolate-covered jellyfish!"

In case you hadn't figured it out, this was another of Stine's Hardy Boys-type adventure stories. However, the children's menu at Red Lobster is more exciting than Deep Trouble.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Better Late Than Never, But Better Never Late

Don't get cross with me, but this week's update is not ready yet and will be up on Wednesday. Hopefully this will be the last late update for a while though. Apologies to those who don't go to sleep and stayed up past their bedtime to refresh the front page over and over. I know I'm in deep trouble with you, but I promise your devotion is not invisible.

Man, now you don't know which hint to believe

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

More & More Tales to Give You Goosebumps

More & More Tales to Give You Goosebumps

Back Tagline: Reader Beware-- You're In For Ten More Scares!

Official Book Description:
Will Aunt Vera's book of magic spells spell scary trouble for Kari? Is Jeffrey a musical genius or is the old guitar he stole really haunted? Are Mike and his brother Ray house-sitting for a monstrous ghost?
Find out in these ten creepy Goosebumps short stories guaranteed to give you a major case of the 'Bumps!

This collection originally came with a hat. That's why those frogs are wearing the hats on the cover, because every fourteen-year-old's mom dumped their old Goosebumps ephemera into the swamp on the same day. There's no unifying approach to this collection other than to warn you that the ten tales which comprise this fifth short story collection are weird-- Like, the last twenty pages of the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena-weird. Reader beware, you're in for at least a couple forehead slaps and groans.

the Haunted Guitar
Jeffrey is so lazy. How lazy is he? He's so lazy that when he sits around the house, he sits around the house. Wait, I got my punchlines mixed up. He's so lazy that he once tried to weed his lawn using a vacuum cleaner. Yeah, that cleared things up.

Jeffrey and his friend Beth come across a music store that caught fire like ten minutes prior, and they walk in through the ashes to steal a guitar. See, Jeffrey's dad is also lazy (genetics) and he hasn't fulfilled his promise to buy Jeffrey a guitar. So Jeffrey reasons that it's okay to take the old guitar that mysteriously didn't get damaged in the fire. I smell a lesson forthcoming for the entitled white kid.

He takes it home and wakes that night to the sight of an old black man inside his room. The man is playing the guitar and explains that he's the ghost of an old blues musician named Memphis Willy. Memphis Willy is unbelievably described as having a "brown face," in case you couldn't do the math on that one. Willy explains that he can't ever stop playing the guitar and wonders if Jeffrey would like to learn how to play the blues. Jeffrey says he would and Memphis Willy stars guiding Jeffrey's fingers along the frets. It's like that pottery wheel scene in Ghost, only more erotic.

Jeffrey is having such a good time that he agrees to be Memphis Willy's terrestrial partner. But when Jeffrey tries to stop playing, he learns that no one leaves the stage of the living without playing the blues... for life. Jeffrey can't stop his fingers from playing the blues and his fingers start to blister and bleed. His dad rushes into the room and tells his son that it's really super that he learned how to play on his own because now he doesn't have to pay for lessons.

Tune In Tomorrow
Elizabeth has become obsessed with a new show called Looking Toward Tomorrow. The ultra-realistic soap opera follows the exploits of a young girl named Elinor. Elinor pours herself a glass of juice and seeing this makes Elizabeth crave a glass for herself. Ruh roh, don't tell Ad Busters. Elinor gets spooked and drops her glass and so does Elizabeth. A man rings Elinor's doorbell and simultaneously Elizabeth's doorbell rings. You get the idea. Elizabeth becomes very wrapped up with the show, even when Elinor's mother gets injured from an exploding water heater. When Elizabeth's mother gets hit in the head by a fallen tree limb, she opts to stay home to see what happens to the mother on Looking Toward Tomorrow rather than just seeing her own mother in the hospital. On the TV show, a giant rottweiler attacks Elinor right before the cable goes out. Elizabeth calls the cable company and they inform her that the station she was watching the show on doesn't exist. Elizabeth hears some noise out front and goes to open the door when--
--it's revealed that a girl named Lisa is watching the events of the short story as they are shown on a series called Life With Elizabeth. What a twist. RL Stine, like Degrassi, goes there.

Live Bait
Timmy hates fish. Timmy is on vacation at the lake and another boy named Duke picks up a dead fish, plucks out its eyeball and sticks it in his mouth. Hey great, now all of us reading this hate fish too. I tried really hard to write a Hype Williams joke here but it's after midnight again.

Duke goads Timmy into going fishing by basically daring him, which I guess enables anyone to overcome anything. If anyone reading needs to quit smoking, I dare you to stop. Unfortunately, all of the boats available for rent at the dock are rented. Duke and Timmy try to tell Mr. Roeper that it's okay for them to share a boat with two girls because they're both homosexuals, but he bugs out his eyes and they start getting flashbacks to that horrible horrible fish eye scene that was horrible. Finally they spot a little dinghy at the end of the dock and a shack with a weathered sign advertising for sale the titular line, 'The Haunted Guitar.'

Inside the shack, an old man tells the boys that if they promise to give him their biggest catch, they can rent the boat and have some bait for free. The boys are apparently unaware of the old saying that there's no such thing as a free lunch, and soon find themselves lunch for a huge monster fish. Who lives in a populated lake. Who is big enough to swallow them Jonah-style. Who then is killed by the old man. The monster spits the kids up and the old man thanks them for helping him catch the monster. He then wraps Duke and Timmy up in a net and dumps them into a jar marked 'Live Bait.' In a story with a giant monster fish and a kid popping an eyeball into his mouth, you have to hand it to the author for managing to come up with something even less plausible.

Something Strange About Marci
There is absolutely nothing I can say about this short story that can beat just posting the last line without comment. So here it is, make up your own story:
That's when I realized that Marci wasn't an orangutan.

the Ghost Sitter
Siblings Ray and Mike have just moved into an old house that their parents are renovating, kind of like the Money Pit. At school they're warned about the dangers lurking in the house next to theirs, kind of like the 'Burbs. Their mother tells them that they've been enlisted to be Volunteers in helping to housesit for the elderly couple next door, surprising the boys who thought it was abandoned/haunted. Inside the spooky house, they smell a foul odor and they spot a bowl of gross slop inside a dumbwaiter. As they pour the gross stuff out, they make sure the slop is Cast Away from them so as to not Splash and make a Big mess. When they come back later to finish their chores, they discover that the house has been trashed by ghosts and they run out in a fright, taunting the ghosts to Catch Me If You Can. Their hurried escape causes one onlooker to remark, "Hey boys, where's the Bonfire of the Vanities?" The elderly couple pulls up and while the boys try to prep them for the mess inside by promising that they didn't throw a Bachelor Party while they were away, the story's Punchline arrives as the neighbors reveal that a ghost didn't cause the damage, their prized pet pig did. Kind of like Turner and Hooch if Hooch was a prized pet pig. The next day at school, the siblings brag about how nobody needs to heed the Charlie Wilson's Warning about the ghosts, as the house isn't really haunted. The siblings are then informed that the house they are living in is the haunted one, making their diagnosis the Terminal.

Fun With Spelling
Kari's gross Aunt had been staying in her room for the past week. When she left, she gave Kari a book of spells. Kari thumbs through the book and spies spells to cast on enemies. She starts casting a variety of spells on a classmate, Lisa McFly, who has always been mean to her. To be fair, if Biff Tannen wasn't always harassing her father Lisa probably wouldn't be acting up in school. But, Back to the present, Kari has cast a spell on Lisa to make her forget her homework. Man, that's worth dabbling in the black arts. Kati upgrades this to a burping spell. Lisa begins uncontrollably belching during class, causing a student to ask if she ate beans. Well, clearly they aren't in anatomy class.

Kari is so pleased with her results that she casts a third spell, one which will cause McFly to think she can actually fly the next time she hears her last name spoken. In class the next morning, McFly hears her name and begins flapping her arms. However to Kari's shock, she does begin to fly. Kari races home to find a spell to counteract the last one. She sees her little sister Libby holding the spell book and suddenly Kari bursts out burping while performing backflips. Lisa flies into the room and thanks Libby. Look at how much work into this story being terrible.

Matt's Lunch Box
Matt's mom has bought him a new lunch box. It's red and the front has a picture of three monsters on the front, chasing a boy holding a red lunch box. Matt hears a knock from inside the lunch box. Figuring it to be an elaborate game of reverse Nicky-Nicky-Nine-Doors (That's a joke for my Canadian readers), he just ignores the knock and the pleas that follow it, begging him to open the lunch box and feed whoever or whatever is inside. Matt opens the lunch box and out fly the three monsters from the front. Oh brother.

The monsters demand that Matt feed them or else they'll feed on him. He goes downstairs and brings them some food. At breakfast the next morning, the monsters fly down and rest at the end of his fork and eat his food before he can. Someone wrote this?

The monsters tell him that whoever owns the lunch box is responsible for feeding the monsters. After a couple days of the monsters eating every morsel of food before he can, an emaciated Matt takes the lunch box to a dollar store and leaves it for a poor person to buy. Awesome.

Matt thinks he's safe until his Uncle comes to visit him and brings a matching thermos. A monster climbs out of the cylinder and tells Matt he's thirsty. The story ends there but I like to think Matt followed that with "Hi Thirsty, I'm Matt," because hahaha that's my favorite joke.

Stuck in 1957
I guess RL Stine thought "Hey, I already cribbed a name from Back to the Future in this collection, why not crib the whole movie?" Shanna is about to start a new school year in a new school. She's especially excited because she just got her bangs trimmed to the perfect length. Her dad tells her that their new home was built in 1957. She then finds some cat's eye frame glasses, puts them on, and is magically transformed into Lisa Loeb.

The glasses send her back in time to, you guessed it, The Haunted Guitar. Once in 1957, she finds that everything she loved in 1997, such as microwave burritos and the state of Hawaii, don't exist. She tries to go back to her own time by taking the glasses off but it doesn't work. Her 1957 mother calls her into the kitchen before her first day of school and cuts off her bangs. Shanna goes to school and asks the science teacher if he knows anything about time travel. He quips that she needs a science-fiction teacher. Oh burn on the time travel girl.

A kid named Marvin tells her he overheard her question. He reveals that he does have a time machine and invites her to come over and use it. Marvin leads Shanna to a shack behind his house and shows her his Time Travel Helmet. It only has an On/Off switch. Before this can turn into an after school special, Shanna is whisked back to the present. Except, she still has her over-shorn bangs. She decides it's better not to start school looking bad and puts the magic glasses back on. Perhaps you think this entry would end better with a joke. Jokes? Where we're going, we don't need jokes.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall
Bonnie Sue Bowers is the most beautiful girl alive, according to Bonnie Sue Bowers at least. She is her own biggest fan, despite being named Bonnie Sue Bowers. She even has a list of why she's the most beautiful girl alive, or at least used to be:

1. Thick, wavy blonde hair
2. Blue eyes to die for
3. The sweetest button nose
4. Baby soft skin
5. The straightest, whitest teeth

Oh my God, I bet the twist is that she's a Blythe.

Bonnie reveals that she's not pretty anymore, and it's all because of her reflection. Well, that's one way of putting it. Apparently Bonnie's reflection had grown so tired of her looking at herself all day that she began rebelling, at one point reaching out of the mirror and pinching her. She's such a narcissist that her reflection begins sexually harassing her?

Eventually the reflection climbs out of the mirror and attempts to shove the real Bonnie Sue Bowers into the mirror. Bonnie smashes the mirror though and it shatters into a thousand pieces. From the shards rise more and more Bonnies. It's like Fantasia but interesting. Bonnie takes out her pocket mirror and it sucks up all the miniature Bonnies. At this point in the collection, nothing throws me anymore.

However, a few days after that, Bonnie goes to try out hairstyles in the mirror and is pulled inside and traded with her reflection. So now she spends her time waiting for a chance to escape, especially since Reflection Bonnie doesn't take care of herself and dresses like a slob. Hey guyz, this ttly gives a new meaning to the Mirror Has Two Faces, amirite... Man, a Streisand reference, do I know what my readers are craving or what

What's Cooking?
A fitting ending for one of the strangest collections of stories RL Stine may or may not have penned, What's Cooking? is essentially a slasher movie condensed to ten pages. With kids. It's disturbingly violent compared to, say, anything else in the Goosebumps series.

The story begins with the legend of Sue Chopman, the former lunch lady at Mill Road School. In 1947, she began preparing lunches for the kids. She'd go out into the woods with her cleaver and bring back a sack of meat. Every day she'd have a new meat dish, and kids began complaining about her food, especially her chinese cooking. This lead to the kids calling her Chop Suey. As Sue continued to work at the school, the dishes got worse and worse, with kids claiming to find parts of human fingers in their food. Eventually Sue went mad and started attacking the kids in the lunchroom, hacking her cleaver into the walls and tables while screaming. She died years later in a packing plant when she slipped on the slaughterhouse's bloody floor and fell into her cleaver. See, sort of a drastic tonal shift from flying lunch box monsters.

Fast-forward to the present and Diane and Robert are beginning summer school in the newly reopened Mill Road School. They heard that they can bring Chop Suey back to life by standing on their toes and saying her name three times. Diane runs into the kitchen and as soon as she says her name three times, all the faucets turn on. This makes Garden State even more terrifying in retrospect.

At lunch, Robert's PB+J has been replaced by a human liver and Diane's bag has been cut to shreds by forces unseen. The next day, the cafeteria has opened and a large woman is serving hot food. She ladles out tomato soup with hot dog pieces floating on the top. And here I thought the fish eye thing was gonna be the grossest part of this book. As the kids leave the cafeteria, they spot a sign for tomorrow's lunch: "Tomorrow's Luch: Meat Surprise-- Aunt Sue's Special Recipe!" Kids, I got one word for you: Lunchables.

The two kids are halfway home after school before Diane realizes that she left her math book in the cafeteria and there's a test the next day. A test on the third day of class? Diane is willing to just fail but Robert wants to act brave and denies that Aunt Sue the lunch lady is Chop Suey the cannibal killer.

Inside the school lunchroom, they spot Diane's book and also Chop Suey the cannibal killer, who floats up after them waving her meat cleaver. She tells them that they're the meat in the meat surprise. Well, thanks for spoiling the surprise.

Diane remembers that she saw a movie once where they said the evil spirit's name backwards and it disappeared. I think I saw that movie too, it was called The Story's Almost Over And I Don't Know How Else To End It. Diane and Robert click their heels and say "Suey Chop" three times fast and though their tongues don't get twisted, Chop Suey does, into the cyclone of a spiritual tornado. Well, again, of course in this book she gets sucked up into a ghost-tornado.

At home, Diane's mom tells them that they just ordered Chinese food. She starts bitching about how their father only ever orders Chop Suey. "Chop Suey, Chop Suey, Chop Suey!" She cries out in frustration as the kids cry out in dread.

There is exactly one good thing to say in favor of this collection: It was 100% Werewolf Free!