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.


Alex said...


Anonymous said...

Wow, that was SO worth making a stage show for...I probably wouldn't have seen it anyway.

Enjoy your vacation from the torment of awful children's "horror" books.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"the first and worst" Hey, you're a poet and didn't even realize it. Me? Not so much.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


I think you deserve a vacation after that monstrosity.

Anonymous said...

Troy, you deserve some sort of gold star for this...or some other kind of reward...this must have been TERRIBLE...that said, it was probably one of my favorite entries.

Wow, I had no idea that Goosebumps could be this bad...

Anonymous said...

That's it. Close this blog down. You are never going to be able to top that.

Please don't stop.

KellyS123 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think the pseudo-intellectual breaking of the fourth wall was probably Rupert Holmes's embarrassed way of trying to shift the blame for this awful stage show directly onto R.L. Stine. Which is where it belongs.

This is probably one of the greatest entries ever.

Anonymous said...

This is your Sistine Chapel, Troy.

The O.C.

Don't call it that.

Anonymous said...

Give us a hint for your next entry troy

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's as if the author took every Goosebumps book ever written, mashed them up, and gave you this. You deserve a vacation, truly, madly, deeply.
And is Skate any more ridiculous a name than that kid from You Can't Scare Me! named Hat?

Unknown said...

How could this have possibly made any sort of sense as a play?

Anonymous said...

Have Hat and Skate fight to the death. Whoever emerges victorious has the more ridiculous name.

troy steele said...

But Hat was nicknamed "Hat," Skate is just a kid named Skate. If they fought to the death and only one emerged, would he be called "Skat" or "Hate"?

Anonymous Number Three, I have no idea which book I'll be doing next. I always think I'm doing one book and then at the last minute I change it to something else. I will say this is probably the last non-proper Goosebumps book I'll cover until I'm finished with the series-- and if this book is any indication of the level of quality of the Series 2000 books (It was written in the midst of 'em), then the grim prophecies of Bananarama are about to come true.

Anonymous said...

I bet the town in which the play debuted still hasn't recovered. The once-proud buildings have been reduced to rubble; the government is disorganized and chaotic; city morale is non-existent; mutated rat-people roam the streets at night. I imagine walking into the local pub would play out a lot like this:

Visitor: Hey, isn't this the place where that Goosebumps play opened a while back?
*patrons go completely silent*
Bartender: What?! No! There was never any Goosebumps play here, you hear me? NEVER! Now get out!

That could be a Goosebumps book all its own.

Amy Lynn said...

That was mind-bogglingly awful. The book, I mean. Your commentary was great. Like was said, you definitely do deserve your vacation after that.

Anonymous said...

Well, anonymous number one got to it first.


I just- I can't even- no way. Bravo, Troy!

Anonymous said...

We could just mesh them into one being like in The Fly. Create the worsr name ever.

Anonymous said...

A mask that sticks to your face, Slappy and Monster Blood in an amusement park... sounds an awful lot like HorrorLand is going to end up rehashing this, only over the space of twelve books rather than just one. Reader beware?

I honestly hope so. The plot of this book sounds so ridiculously bad that it wraps right around and goes back to being good. But maybe I'm just a twisted person.

Anonymous said...

How do you nod your head no?

troy steele said...

I typed this entry sideways

Anonymous said...

Nice, snappy comeback, Troy. Other acceptable snappy comebacks would have been "Magic.", "I have the O.C. Disorder.", and "I'll nod your god damn head no, you bastard!"

Joel Hook said...

In the words of the immortal comic book guy: Best.Entry.Ever.

It was great and we hope you enjoy your goosebumps free holiday and come back fresh and prepared to write more humorous commentary on this awful series!

Anonymous said...

It was actually Holmes himself, not Jimmy Buffett, who sang "The Pina Colada Song." It doesn't matter who sang it, though- getting caught in the rain OR searching for a lost shaker of salt would both be better ways to waste your time than seeing this stage show.

The book cover credits the show as a presentation of Feld Entertainment, the same company who's given us such touring shows as Disney on Ice, the Ringling Bros. Circus, and High School Musical on Ice. This one would probably be filed next to that last one.

I didn't even know Goosebumps HAD a stage show- and reading this, I can see why. Keep it up!

Zak said...

anyone know where i can download this

Anonymous said...

I saw a commercial for this back when I was a kid and, at the time, thought it looked good...weren't we all so cute and naive back then?

Anonymous said...

True, Hat was just a nickname. Skate is that kid's real name? I think his parents are the real horror.
Oh, and super props for the Expelled reference. I read Pharyngula regularly, so I've been following that pretty closely.

Ryan Ferneau said...

Sounds like it makes the Power Rangers stage show look good.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't find any videos or anything of this show, but I found another:


It's in 2 parts.

Joel Hook said...

/\ great find, the theme tune for the tv show is kinda catchy though don't you think?

Joel Hook said...


I found this remix of it. Ive made up a rap to go with it:

Yo, Im R.L Stine Yo
Ill make sure your kids are... not fine as...

Im down with the kids
My books will give them goose-bumps
I create cans without lids!
A doll abuses, isn't he evil?

The mummy returns!
It is scared of an ancient hand
It will curse you

Im down with the kids
My books will give them goose-bumps
I create cans without lids!
A doll abuses, isn't he evil?

Monster blood, its green, its cold its alive!

Im R.L Stine

P.S I wasn't really working to any form of tune... which is painfully obvious.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Disney had a Goosebumps-themed attraction- Walt Disney Records put out a series of six radio-drama-style adaptations of Goosebumps books. They were professionally done and quite entertaining, as far as I can remember.

troy steele said...

I'm thankful to Anonymous Number Eight for posting the MGM Studios show link, I intended to mention it in this entry but it was already long enough. My favorite part of the video is how absolutely uninvolved that audience is towards the show-- it must've been like facing the crowd at Showtime at the Apollo for Slappy and the gang.

Anonymous said...

I actually saw it in person. It's like Halloween Horror Nights. Only not fun. Or funny. Or scary. Or entertaining. Or anything. It was just there.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that ending ... I don't know what to say.

RaisinCookies said...

Come join the new Facebook group:


When enough just isn't enough, come discuss this blog and laugh your head off.... Literally!

Anonymous said...

Um, tell me you completely made up the story of that, right? Right? No book .. could be .. that awful?

Haha, great recap! Very entertaining (farrrr more entertaining than the book, I am assuming!)

Anonymous said...

"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"

...i laughed so hard i think i did too :devil...

Anonymous said...

I bought the book at a garage sale because it said special limited edition.

Anonymous said...

Dude can you upload pdfs of the series? If you can't i'll do some.

VNightmare said...

...Is it sad that I actually want to see this now, just for the whole laughably bad experience of actually being there?

Shame it no longer runs. I would have been happy to volunteer to see it and compare it to this entry.

deep_friar said...

Dude, I thought you told me no one reads your stuff. Your blog is blowin up! Good show on the live show, btw.

Lyle said...

Skate is the worst name I've heard since #04 Say Cheese and Die! gave us
Bird. BIRD.
I honestly have this book. Ugh.

Unknown said...

I actually saw the play in Atlanta, and still have the book.

Groggy Dundee said...

$2.50 for this book on Amazon. I take it that's $2.49 too expensive?

Katy said...

I own a copy of this book, but I never went to the show and I don't remember buying it. It just, like, APPEARED. Past-Me who ate up these books even thought it was shit. That's really saying something.

Unknown said...

I didn't see this, but on youtube I watched like, half. <3 GOOSEBUMPS!!

Anonymous said...

My kids would NEVER be allowed to see or read that... to gruesome and grouse, and well HORRIBLE! I mean, that book sound like shit!

Anonymous said...

There is no way that even the worst writers could come up with something that horrible trot please tell me that wasn't the actual ending.