#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...
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.
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:
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.