Monday, May 05, 2008

#16 One Day At HorrorLand

#16 One Day At HorrorLand

Front Tagline: Enter if you dare....
Back Tagline: The Next Ride Might Be Their Last....

Official Book Description:
The Morris family got lost trying to find Zoo Gardens Theme Park. But that's okay. They found another amusement park instead. It's called HorrorLand.
In HorrorLand there are no crowds. No lines. And the admission is free. It seems like a pretty cool place.
But that was before that heart-stopping ride on the deadly Doom Slide. And that terrifying experience in the House of Mirrors.
Because there's something weird about the rides in HorrorLand.
Something a little too creepy.
A little too real...

Brief Synopsis:
The first fifteen books in the Goosebumps series varied in quality, but all retained some sense of plausibility. Primarily because the characters, their actions, and the calamities they encounter are primarily insular: Dad's acting strange, the mirror upstairs is magical, a witch has granted me three wishes, &c. Even when the children in the books encountered massive obstacles (pyramids, camps), the events were portrayed as at least slightly plausible. After all, Carly Beth didn't put on a mask and transform into a thirty-foot lizard.

So I can say with no exaggeration that the sixteenth Goosebumps book ruined the series. There were bad novels before it, and there would be good ones after it, but nothing prior to One Day At HorrorLand exhibits what would steadily become a trademark of the series: complete and utter contempt for the audience. This is a book that is convinced that children are stupid and will accept anything presented to them. And based on the popularity of this title, perhaps Scholastic was right to loosen the reins on what Stine should and could get away with in the books, from a sales standpoint. But from an aesthetic standpoint: yikes.

Lord knows I'm harsh on the man but I always think of it like attacking a historically-constructed concept: RL Stine. Like Lincoln or William Tell. I feel a little bad because I am fairly sure he's seen the blog. In all honesty, he seems like a harmless enough once-struggling writer who stumbled upon an untapped market, and whose biggest mistake was allowing the name brand to spiral out of control beyond what he could reasonably produce. But I can't overlook the hammy tendency of the prose in these books; It's like the literary equivalent of John Barrymore in Twentieth Century. Is this the result of ghostwriters? I always joke that it is, but for me it's more accurately a Schroedinger's Cat situation: Every Goosebumps book simultaneously is and is not written by RL Stine.

For some reason, Stine's first truly vile book, the one under discussion this week, still remains highly visible. If you're reading this blog, you're well-aware that the Goosebumps series has been relaunched by Scholastic and Stine under the "HorrorLand" banner. There's also a sequel which we'll collectively encounter in the fall when I hit the Series 2000 books-- to say I have low hopes for its quality is putting it mildly. So why did young readers respond so strongly in favor of the novel if it's so bad? I can't speak from personal experience because I didn't like the book much as a kid either. I'm not bragging though. Trust me, I fell for so much awful garbage as a child that by no means is this proof of superior taste at a young age.

If I had to harbor a guess, I would say that it became popular due to it being the first book to actively deliver on what the series always seemed to promise: monsters. Particularly following the (for this series) brilliant You Can't Scare Me!, which cheated the reader, it's easy to understand the sense of release achieved by reading a book with nothing but kooky monsters doing icky things for no good reason. The book is almost unapologetically stupid. Undeniably there is no shortage of Goosebumps books worse than this, but all bad entries in the series to some degree owe their existence to this stupefying exercise in overindulgent nonsense.

But you guys came here for jokes.

Lizzy Morris is on day-vacation with her family. Her parents are bickering in the front while she rides in the backseat with her brother, Luke, and his friend, Clay. The cause of the parental frustration? They're lost and can't seem to find the Zoo Gardens amusement park. They pass three Six Flags parks in their journey, but no family is ever that desperate. Luckily their car stops beneath a horrifying billboard advertising what promises to be an exciting amusement park: HorrorLand! The family decides to scrap the search for Zoo Gardens and just go to HorrorLand. After all, they're all big fans of when two words are joined together to form one word, and if the park can channel even some of that thrill into their rides, well, hot dog!

The family quickly arrives at the park, leaving their car in the sparsely-populated parking lot. Unfortunately, they apparently gave Apollonia a ride too; Immediately after the family makes a safe exit, the car explodes. The family races to the ticket office, only to be told by the monster operating the booth that the park doesn't have any phones. They do however have plenty of pagers. The monster, who refers to himself and his coworkers as "Horrors," tells the family to enjoy complementary entrance to the park. When the time comes, the Horrors will take care of them. Get it, it's ominous. As the family heads inside, a pimp, having misheard the conversation, walks up to the counter and demands entry.

Once inside the park, their parents decide the best course of action is to quickly abandon the children inside the strange amusement park. The adults race off to find a phone, leaving the three kids to experience, yes, thank you God, a section of the park called Werewolf Village. They spot what looks like a real wolf and decide to visit a different area of the park. Unfortunately, Werewolf Lane only offers more of the same.

The kids spy a sign while wandering the park warning: 'NO PINCHING.' I know it seems silly to readers now, but the book serves as an important reminder of the grim legacy of amusement park segregation. Lobsters Only amusement parks, water fountains, and washroom facilities were a shameful feature of a less-understanding America. Thankfully we now live in time when crustaceans and caucasians can live together peacefully, so long as their either learn to breathe underwater/learn to breathe overwater.

Oh and then the kids find a giant slide and go down it. Except Clay chooses to slide down the 'Doom Slide' by accident and the siblings have to go after him. Here's a funny thing about slides: they operate via gravity. A slide can't then go up, or remain flat: it must always slope down. So perhaps someone explains how a slide can reach from one end of the park to the other side, as that is where Lizzy and her brother end up at the end of the 'Doom Slide' ride. They also pass through fake fire or something.

Now rejoined with Clay, the three go into a red structure called the Bat Barn. No points awarded for guessing that the attraction consists solely of walking into a barn filled with bats. That's it. Still more fun than Superman: the Ride.

The park is filled with a few other guests, but not too many. Every little kid they encounter is crying, and the HorrorLand Horrors try to peddle black balloons and black ice cream to the guests. The order that things happen in the book hardly matters. The kids see some other kids go swimming in a pool filled with alligators. They get trapped in a hall of mirrors... It's like, you know how much fun going to an amusement park is, and then you try telling someone else about it the next day and they don't care? Well, welcome to the novelization of that.

The plot is essentially: Lizzy admits she's scared of things, Miranda has been skipping lunches and faints, Clay is scared of everything but afraid to admit it, and Luke is scared of nothing. Add to that rides that aren't rides and make no sense: A roller coaster called 'Out of Order;' A Guillotine Museum; Who Gives A Shit: the Ride.

The kids grow tired of a park that has the sole goal of trying to murder them in strange, unentertaining ways. Lizzy asks a Horror if he's seen their parents. He says he had, that they left thirty minutes ago. But I guess you can't rely on horrible monsters who work for an amusement park that's trying to kill you, as Lizzy's parents show up alive and well. Lizzy wants to leave but her mom insists that since she and their father had spent the entire time looking for them and hadn't had any fun, they should at least go on one ride together. A ride where they float down a river in coffins sounds as though it fits the bill. The coffins float down the river alright, but the twist is that the lids of the coffins close shut. No, really.
I want a written apology from every reader who since this blog began begged me to cover this book.

The coffins deliver the family to the entrance of the park. The lids open and the family climbs out. Dad flies into one of his patented rages and attempts to seek justice for their poor treatment. Only he can't find any employees and the gates are locked. Luckily a swarm of dozens of Horrors appear.

Are you guys ready for the dumb twist that comes twenty merciless pages before the book has the decency to end? The Horrors are not costume-wearing employees but actual monsters. That's not the stupid part though-- and brother, when that's not the stupid part, you know the book's in trouble. See, the monsters have been filming their adventure in the park for The Monster Channel, a cable channel seen by over two million monsters. Between reruns of Wings, the channel features hidden camera footage of humans getting scared by monsters.

Luckily the monsters are good sports and have bought the family a new car as a way of saying, "We're monsters and we tried to kill you, so here's a new car." The Horrors usher the family through a door to exit the park except, whoops, they've actually been tricked into entering a chamber of terror. Wait, you mean you can't trust horrible monsters who are trying to kill you? What a cynical book!

Now, the book is plenty terrible already, but what's passed is Evelyn Waugh compared to what follows. The family is told they have one minute to complete an obstacle course. The obstacle course consists of a giant four armed ape creature and a pair of ten-foot cranes (the bird, not the construction equipment-- though that would probably have been scarier) and some other monsters. Whatever. When the minute is up, the announcer comes over the radio to announce that only three of the five humans has survived.

But the voice meant to say five. Everyone survived. Dramatic conflict? Avoided. To celebrate, the Horrors lead the humans to a deadly pit where the reward is to be murdered. This is a book that makes you feel better about third place. Before they can all die, Lizzy is struck by inspiration and pinches a Horror. The Horror deflates like a balloon. Ironically, the book has much in common with inflating a balloon, in that it blows.

But the Twist is:
The family escapes to the parking lot, only to remember that, oh right, their car exploded. So they steal a bus. When they arrive home, a Horror jumps out from the back of the bus and hands them free tickets to the park. I don't know about you, but I definitely am left craving thirteen more books about this.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Lizzy and her brother Luke, who both disappear down trapdoor after trapdoor midway-through many a chapter in the novel. I believe the book was underwritten by the world's last surviving trapdoor salesman, who lives in a castle on a hill and must be three-hundred-years old.

Questionable Parenting:
Lizzy's parents agree to visit the park solely because they parked their car beneath HorrorLand's billboard. On the bright side, at least they didn't park under an Applebee's ad.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 16/17:
Lizzy is pushed into the alligator pit, except replace "pushed" with "pulled back." That's like if there was a chapter break that went "My sweater is red"... "My sweater was actually green."

Great Prose Alert:
I could feel the heat of the monster foot.

More like One Day At BoreLand.


RaisinCookies said...

Wow, what in interesti.....zzzzz...

Sorry, what was I saying?

Good review of a boring book, yo. Sorry you had to suffer through all that.

Anonymous said...

Even the computer game couldn't succeed in making the Bat Barn scary. It was just a dark room that you clicked randomly in until you found the light for the exit. (Anyone else here ever play that game? I recall it actually being pretty good, but, well, Goosebumps memories...)

Brodie said...

This review wasn't funny. It was angry. A completely different enjoyment to what I normally get from this blog, but still good.

I had to google the Lizzie McGuire reference though.

Nihil Novum said...

That sounds really awful. I really liked this book as a kid though.

Druplusspike said...

Wow. I remember really loving this book as a child, but mostly because I was really rooting for the monsters.
Seriously, who the hell trusts a place that has no phones and blows up your car? Go monsters, go monsters!

Alex said...

Sir. SIR. I must take umbrage. Not only did this book, if I remember correctly, feature the narrator getting their chest caved in by an ape-monster on live television (Even more astounding when you realize this book predated Videodrome by -11 years), but it also provided some amount of foreshadowing with the no pinching sign. Some books, there wouldn't even have been that sign, and the defeat of the monster hordes would have been even MORE ridiculous.

On the other hand, that "Your parents are dead!"/"Wait, no, they're fine" chapter break might have been the moment I lost all childhood innocence. My voice dropped two octaves just in time to call bullshit.

Rhomega said...

I think the Doom Slide was made more interesting because one of the slides was endless, so you had to make a right guess and risk death by sliding/starvation/whatever. I think this was more realized in the Give Yourself Goosebumps where you actually could go on the endless slide, end the story, and then go back to the previous page and make the right choice.

Zak said...

Can I have an address to mail this written note of apology?

ashley said...

Ye gods, a Lizzie McGuire reference? Troy Steele, I DO love you!

anti-laci said...

the lizzie mcguire reference made the whole thing worth it

Great escaper said...

I loved this book as a kid! I agree with brodie.

Btw, anyone else notice hes changed the logo to a cool werewolf thing? Good job! It looks much better.

Q & T said...

Bliss. Pure bliss. I think I did ask you to do One Day At Horrorland so I do apologize. The two week wait was totally worth it.

Anonymous said...

Did you just make a Lizzie McGuire reference?


Did I just GET a Lizzie McGuire reference?

Ryan W. Mead said...

Nice new logo. Who drew it?

I was reading something in TIME magazine about R.L. Stine's return and he commented that he once wrote a book with an unhappy ending where the main character was accused of murder and arrested and the bad girl got away scot-free. It was an experiment, but people didn't like it, sending him letters like "Dear R.L. Stine, you idiot, aren't you going to write a sequel?" What book was this?

eponine said...


I love you Troy.

I indended that to sound much less creepy than it did.

troy steele said...

The new logo was drawn by the wonderful British cartoonist James Harvey. You can view his website(s) by clicking the link near the top of the sidebar. Oh and check out his Live Journal for a beautiful desktop wallpaper version.

Anonymous said...

oh my lord.

that was beyond....oh god, i don't even know what that book WAS.

Lizzie McGuire HELL YES.

snappleaddict said...

I loved this book as a child because I thought the rides sounded really fun. I wasn't scared at all, I just liked reading about a really long slide.

Ah, Lizzie McGuire. Now I'm sad that I sold my boxed set to the used DVD store. Oh, I mean, never seen it.

Anonymous said...

Haha, fantastic writeup :)

Ramsey said...

I was reading something in TIME magazine about R.L. Stine's return and he commented that he once wrote a book with an unhappy ending where the main character was accused of murder and arrested and the bad girl got away scot-free. It was an experiment, but people didn't like it, sending him letters like "Dear R.L. Stine, you idiot, aren't you going to write a sequel?" What book was this?

That was "The Best Friend" one of Stine's Fear Street books. I remember there being a contest to create a plot for the sequel, although I never ended up reading it. It's a shame Stine felt like he always had to have the villain get caught, although I do remember plenty of other Fear Street books without happy endings.

It would be so cool if this blog branched out and did some Fear Street as well, but I'm not holding my breath. If so, please do "College Weekend"!! That was always one of my favorites.

Anonymous said...

There is, as it happens, a Fear Street blog... and it's done College Weekend. It's

troy steele said...

I will not be covering regular Fear Street books, so your best bet is the aforementioned blog devoted to those books, for that and any other Teenage Murderers 4 Kids books.

I will however be tackling the Ghosts of Fear Street series this summer in some capacity, as they're more in line with the age group under discussion in this blog.

Also, if this and Shock Street didn't sate your appetite for amusement park stories, look for both installments of Stine's most shameless plug in a career built upon shameless plugs, the Beast, to also be featured on the blog this summer.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I always liked this one...of course, the ending where they fought those monsters was always stupid.

Wait'll you see the sequel! It's got the most glaring Questionable Parenting Alert EVER.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I'd like to add that "Best Friends" was easily the scariest Fear Street book, mostly because nothing was really resolved and they leave several key elements a mystery. Freaked me out.

Anonymous said...

So, what's it to be tomorrow? I speculate one out of either pair of consecutive non-reviewed books so far. Maybe Terror Tower. I recall that not being very Goosebumps-y.

troy steele said...

Tomorrow's entry is a good one, I tackled my favorite Goosebumps book as a child. That should narrow down your guesses at least. As to whether or not it lived up to my memory, well, that's what we in the biz (that's short for "business") call leaving the reader in suspense.

Patrick said...

I enjoyed this entry a lot for the "serious" bit at the start. It's true, the first few books, while not realistic or anything, did have a sort of grounded-in-the-real-world feeling, and vaguely touched on universal kid themes - admittedly shallow ones like "I hate piano lessons", but there's something there that was lost.

I love taking pointless rubbish as seriously as possible.

Anonymous said...

you guys are stuuuuuuuuuuppid the book rocked then if you didnt like the book Troy Steele all i can say to you is that you are a mother fucker bitch and Im not writting an apology its not about a stupid Lizzie McGuiare.bithes.

troy steele said...


Mighty said...

I didn't love this book as a kid, but remember dude, ANY Goosebumps book was better than most of the other kid's stuff out before them. I'd rather read a book about monsters than a book about the tender relationship between a boy and his soon-to-be-dead dog.
Stine practically inspired this genre of books: the Baily School Kids, the "Help! I'm Trapped in ___'s Body!", etc. There were seriously at least a half-dozen scary book series that came out in the 90s. So anyways, R.L. Stine FTW. and nice blog

Groggy Dundee said...

I finally read this yesterday, and you're absolutely right. I don't even mind the contempt for the audience you discuss, it's just dull. How is a book about a family visiting an amusement park supposed to be scary? The pinching was really dumb though, I can't think of a Goosebumps plot twist worse than that. Maybe there's a reason I just got around to this in August 2009.

This is one of your best write-ups. You hit the nail on the head with where and how Goosebumps went wrong.

Kathryn said...

Awesome review. Terrible book. Surprising awesome video game point and click sequel. good to see I'm not the only one who played that atrocity and enjoyed it.

Thanks for the blog. You're taking back and redeeming at least some small part of my childhood not being raped by terrible, terrible movies (here's looking at you, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs).

Anonymous said...

Naturally, Troy, the book you hated the most is the one I loved the most as a kid.


I guess that means I'm part of the stupid niche. Damn it.

Revengeofevan said...

Will you do the new wii game?

For me?


Anne Noise said...

Superman: The Ride is amazing! HDU.

Mark said...

The twist in the coffin ride wasn't that the coffin's shut, it was that the family was supposedly attacked by lots of spiders and other bugs while the lid was shut.

In any case, this was my favorite book in the entire series (although the end with that obstacle course was stupid and unneccesary), BUT, like the book or not, the computer game was amazing. You should play that if you haven't.

Anonymous said...

benny here. what i........ liked this one not hate it 7/10.

CheeseVision said...

RL Stine wrote the Goosebumps books in a child-like and easy to read manner, but sometimes I can't help but think wth? The ending just made me think,"come on really?" Pinching? A horror is on the bus, and offers them tickets to go back to where they escaped??? Does he think I'm stupid?

RL Stine may be one of the greatest Trolls in history. He wrote these books that were incredibly cheesy, sold over 300 million copies, and got a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Goosebumps series goes against everything I know about writing a powerful story, but despite all that I can't help but love it.

The Goosebumps series is a lot like the movie Troll 2. The people were bad actors, the plot didn't make a lot of sense, and the twists were so incredibly twisted to a point where you question the writer's sanity. Despite all that, we can't help but love to hate it, or hate to love it? Everything about it is so oddly unique, it leaves an impression on others that no other book series can top.

Sorry for rambling Troy!

JFinley91 said...

I liked this one, though admittedly not for the story. The setting of HorrorLand and all the crazy rides in it were fascinating to me. I also got endless giggles reading all the signs in the book. Still, I must concur that the ending was stupid, and the book was not that scary. At least Stine got to recycle the concept for the vastly superior Give Yourself Goosebumps story.

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh I know I never read this one because I had already seen the ridiculous TV episode. Even my child self realized how ridiculously stupid this book would have been after watching the TV episode years ago.

Anonymous said...

This is the only Goosebumps book I every actually read. It was on the bookshelf in my classroom in 5th grade and I needed something to read during free reading. It made me never want to read another Goosebumps book.

Anonymous said...

I played the game before I read the book, but I loved it anyway because the two of my favourite things had been combined 1) Theme Parks and 2) Monsters...And the game was awesome(I am talking about the old one, not the crappy new one for the wii)

Anonymous said...

My god this one was funny, really great work

Anonymous said...

"Has anyone ever died here?"

"Only once."

"You mean a person died here one time?"

"No, that's not what I mean. You can only die here ONCE. NO ONE HAS EVER DIED TWICE!"

Only there is no hint that RLS knows how hilarious that is. He seems to be telling the story dead-seriously. It's grade A cheese, man, what's wrong with you? Define "Classic Children's Horror"....

You're supposed to read this to your trembling, frightened children while trying not to laugh. Like the rides these kids go on and then realize they were just pranks. RLS is the boss of all trolls, you're just reading from the wrong perspective.

You're like senile old people watching "Freddy Got Fingered" while the whole point is how funny it is to get the stuck up, "sophisticated," pseudo-intellectual to see it. "I do say, I am appalled!"

As for the admittedly, very poorly written sequence (obstacle course), well yeah, that was pretty bad, but it was just one chapter. Come on, Troy, it's a kids' book. Read it to a 2nd grader and see how much they criticize it, LOL. I guess that's what makes your blog funny though, you're criticizing media for children like it's Charles Dickens' last book. Maybe you should review 80's B horrors while taking them seriously too....

The idea that monsters might exist and run something as big and out in the open as an amusement park can be a little frightening for children, especially when it's for the purpose of satisfying monsters EVERYWHERE.

This wasn't as well-written as "You Can't Scare Me," but was that one even trying to be scary for kids? It really wasn't much of a GB book, although it is a fun read. There's a reason this one is so popular though, it didn't ruin the series one bit. It's perfect for kids and even better for their parents to read to them. Unarguably classic.

Joshua Freeman said...

The point of Freddy got Fingered was to mock the increasing trend of pointlessly vulgar humor in adult comedies.

Spongey444 said...

I honestly don't think this is where it jumped the sharl. Nah, that would be either monster Blood 2, or the equally stupid horror at camp jellyjam.

I think this, whiel silly, at least has a creepy IDEA, with a monster WORLD, a park full of monsters who are out for you, and stuff like that.

It's classic. Not too well written, but it has it's moment. More than i can say for the books i mentioned before.

Anonymous said...

"Here's a funny thing about slides: they operate via gravity. A slide can't then go up, or remain flat: it must always slope down."

Roller coasters must blow your mind, then.

James said...

Evidently, R.L. Stine came up with Dismaland years before Banksy did

awesome sauce said...

How the hell do you keep calling yourself a fan when you can't even appreciate most of the classics? If you're actually looking for plausibility in a book series about monsters, witches, ghosts and evil dummies you should probably not read fiction. Ever. Cause watching you bash so many people's childhoods online is a serious waste of your's, mine, and everyone else's time.

troy steele said...

The only thing I call myself a fan of are the heavenly harmonies of Tony! Toni! Tone!