Monday, July 28, 2008

Series 2000 #02 Bride of the Living Dummy

Series 2000 #02: Bride of the Living Dummy

Front Tagline: It's a match made in horror.

Brief Synopsis:
As this second shot at 2000 scares opens, Jillian has her hands full with her pet lizard Petey, her little twin sisters Katie and Amanda, their life-size doll Mary-Ellen, and her best friend Harrison. No more proper nouns pls. It goes without saying that the twin sisters are obnoxious and the best friend is complacent, and yet here I've just said it anyways.

In a very strange plot point, Jillian wants to grow up to be a clown, so she volunteers to take her sisters to the Little Theater, a kids' puppet show. The idea is that she'll learn how to entertain kids but a clown has never been entertaining so I hope she brings a book to read. Harrison agrees to accompany them, as he thinks it sounds "cool." It's revealed that five years prior, Jillian made her rather large friend Harrison eat "a bowl of mud," so let's chalk his enthusiasm up to the lingering effects of that thing that never happened and could not ever happen. Mary-Ellen the doll, who resembles Raggedy-Ann not the Bride of Frankenstein (Sorry cover artist), also comes to the show because of course it does.

Entertainer Jimmy O'James comes on stage with his "good pal" Slappy the dummy. Jillian is shocked that the ventriloquist is only a teenage boy. Jimmy tries to do a straight act, but of course Slappy has other plans. The doll brutally compares Jimmy's face to vomit, wrinkled money, and a summer's day.

Katie and Amanda get called on stage to be insulted by Slappy with closer proximity. The girls are called assorted names and Slappy even insults their doll. The twins are so angry at their treatment that they decide to tell Slappy how mean he was after the show. Boy, these two better keep away from a Rickles show. Actually, that's good advice for anyone.

Jillian tries to stop the six year olds from running backstage to confront a doll, but if you've been to a Rolling Stone concert, you know that young girls are the first waved inside, and ventriloquist shows are no different. The two older kids run after them, but the bulky Harrison does his best Eric Campbell impression, and he and Jillian get stuck in a doorway. Oh man, you wouldn't think physical comedy would translate into book form, and you'd totally be right.

Jillian and Harrison split up in the search for her sisters. Jillian beats the twins to the ventriloquist and arrives just in time to see Slappy bloody Jimmy's nose. Wait, but Jimmy's not a woman. Ghostwriter Alert. Jimmy explains that in fact Slappy isn't alive and what Jillian saw was just him practicing his new routine. Jillian believes this because if she didn't, the book would be over.

Jillian finds the twins but loses Harrison, but figures two out of three ain't bad. The twins make her take them to Dairy Queen and she's forced to buy the doll ice cream. When they get home, Slappy's waiting on the couch. Harrison explains that he met some friends he knew working backstage and they let him go out into the alley behind the stage and dig in the trash. Man, lucky! Inside a trash can was Slappy. Harrison figured Jillian would love some trash so he brought the doll along. Almost immediately, Slappy bites Jillian's hand. Oh my God, is this the one where it turns out Slappy is actually a dog or something?

Harrison leaves the broken dummy with Jillian so her dad, an aspiring carpenter, can fix it. At dinner, the twins won't pass the salt and this is simply the last straw for Jillian, who storms away from the dinner table to plot her revenge. She comes up with a plan of revenge that's about as diabolical as a hug: She'll tie the twins' shoelaces together! Evan Ross, meet your new girlfriend.

Before Jillian can execute her Machiavellian scheme, Slappy comes to life and tells her to go to bed. But it's actually the twins making Slappy talk. This further enrages Jillian and she calls off the shoe-tying revenge in favor of an even worse revenge. The next day at school, Harrison helps her brainstorm revenge plans. She contemplates smearing their doll with cheese and letting rats feast on it. I don't think that's a very good revenge, unless she ties the rats' shoelaces together afterwards.

After school, Harrison and Jillian visit the local magic shoppe to pick up some funny tricks for their clown act. Clowns, magic tricks, ventriloquist dummies-- how did this series fail when Stine included everything children in 1998 loved? As they walk into the store, Jillian spies Jimmy the ventriloquist exiting. He warns her to get rid of Slappy, then disappears. A very appropriate action based on the locale, really.

Jillian's in a pretty good mood because she bought some squirting playing cards, but the squirting playing cards-caused mood quickly transforms into a non-squirting playing cards-caused mood as Jillian discovers to her horror that someone has cracked open her lizard cage and let Petey out. Slappy is precariously perched on the busted case, as if to say, "You're ugly." No reason really, he just always seems to be saying a variation of that. Jillian furiously accuses her sisters of the prank and in a moment more bizarre than anything else in the book, her parents side with Jillian. Ghostwriter Alert. Oh and then the lizard turns up inside the Slappy doll.

Jillian and Harrison perform their clown act for a four-year-old's birthday party. Only it goes horribly wrong and somehow becomes even worse than a clown act normally is. They make the kids cry instead of laugh. For a finale, they shoot soap into a four-year-old boy's eyes, painfully blinding him. Abracalawsuit.

Somehow the two blame their inept clown act on the twins and so once more revenge is contemplated. Before they can follow that train of thought, a newer, dumber car comes on the tracks: Harrison proposes they do a ventriloquist act for the kids using Slappy. This is the fifth Slappy book I've read so far and I've pretty much exhausted my alloted suspension of disbelief. So let me put it bluntly:

Kids do not like ventriloquism. Ever. They do not like performing it. They do not like watching it. They do not even like being familiar with it as a concept. In any scenario where ventriloquism is pitted against something else, something else will always win-- unless the other option is, like, genocide.

When Jillian gets home, her mother asks how her clown party went and she replies, hand to God, "Don't even go there." Harrison wants to get a doll of his own, so he gets the address of Jimmy and the two children race to the house of the boy who plays with dolls. The teenage ventriloquist lives on the wrong side of the tracks. To help visualize this metaphor, RL Stine has Jillian and Harrison cross over a set of train tracks. "Hello, Pulitzer?"

In what is I believe a first, Goosebumps readers are exposed to a trailer park and poor people. It is of course given the ominous airs that such a wretched locale deserves. I'm sure all of Stine's low-income readers appreciated their portrayal, but unfortunately he can't hear their comments from high atop his stack of money.

The kids finally arrive at the ventriloquist's abandoned house. They naturally invite themselves in and start rifling through the belongings he left behind. Jillian finds a diary and thus the reader finally learns the secret origins of Slappy. An evil sorcerer created evil toys to steal the possessions of children while they slept. He made Slappy out of a coffin and the sorcerer then possessed the dummy body. Jimmy goes on about reciting the magic words to bring Slappy alive and how one time a girl at 7-11 smiled at him.

When Jillian gets home, someone has written "Where is my bride?" in lipstick on her mirror. The twins shriek in terror at finding Slappy sitting in a pile of spaghetti in the dining room, and they insist Slappy is responsible for the horror. Jillian assumes the twins read the magic words and brought the dummy to life.

Because of the diary and pasta, Jillian refuses to use Slappy in their ventriloquist act. They instead practice with Mary-Ellen and a spare dummy Harrison found in his uncle's attic. I called my uncles to see if they had a spare dummy in their attic and they all said no. Hollywood

Okay gang, you better take off your shoes because I'm about to blow your socks off. In a stunning finale that encapsulates everything I hate in these books and more, another kid's birthday party arrives. Jillian and Harrison plan to do the above-mentioned ventriloquist act. Due to plot convenience, the party will be taking place in Jillian's basement and without adult supervision. Jillian goes to grab Harrison's doll but finds Slappy has taken his place. Ominous.

The party starts off well, with some humorous battle of the sexes bickering between Slappy and Mary-Ellen. Then Slappy vomits all over a kid. This is met with a similar response by the audience:
I saw two boys bent over, vomiting on the floor.

Slappy grabs the birthday boy by the neck and drags him across the room, threatening to kill everyone unless he's given his bride. Jillian fetches Mary-Ellen and Slappy reacts in disgust, informing her that he meant Jillian. Now it's my turn to react in disgust. Child brides. Add that to the list and then burn it.

Jillian refuses and then Slappy punches her in the head. RL Stine Alert. Slappy justifies this by telling her it was only "a love tap." Holy shit, you guys.

Jillian tries to run away but she slips and falls into the puddle of vomit. Mary-Ellen comes to life and tells Slappy that she didn't bring him to life to marry Jillian, she brought him to life to marry her. Mary-Ellen is thus shocked that he's so resistant to her. She probably figured all she needed to do to keep her marriage successful was keep Sienna Miller away. Unfortunately, Slappy calls Mary-Ellen ugly and punches her out.

Slappy insists that the birthday party is now a wedding party and he wants his bride, Jillian. Mary-Ellen comes to life again and she and Slappy wrestle in his vomit. Boy, is this doll's vomit irresistible or what? Slappy leads the fight into Jillian's dad's workshop, where he swiftly slices Mary-Ellen in half with a table saw. But Mary-Ellen won't let go of Slappy's hand, so he too goes through the table saw. Finally, the end of Slappy. Oh wait

But the Twist is:
Jillian continues reading the ventriloquist's diary and learns that even though the evil doll may die, the soul of the sorcerer can still pass on to other people. Jillian tells Harrison to check out her awesome revenge against the twins. She then vomits on her sisters.


the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Jillian and her best friend Harrison, who disappoints an audience with half-hearted clownery halfway through the book.

the Violent Doll-Girl Relationship:
Jillian and Slappy, who does his best Jerry Lee Lewis impression for much of the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
"Well, you did blind a child with your clown act. But I guess your ventriloquism act can't possibly go wrong. You're hired!"

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

Please Don't Praise the Dummy Alert:
"That dummy has a baaad attitude!"

Out of Context Text Alert:
"We'll do an all-squirting act."

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 1/2:
Someone has slit Jillian's throat! Wait, no, it's just the twins getting ready to cut her hair. This is why I scream in terror every time I pass a Supercuts.

Great Prose Alert:
Maybe we'll become RICH birthday party clowns!


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Series 2000 #01 Cry of the Cat

Series 2000 #01: Cry of the Cat

Front Tagline: Dead cat walking...

Official Book Description:
The Series 2000 books contain no summary of their contents, only a brief, "terrifying" excerpt from the text. So, say goodbye to this feature along with the Back Tagline. Farewell, Blogger Beware elements. I'm giving you a military funeral in my mind.

While I'm here though, let's talk about where this series went wrong. Look at the cover. No. Simply no. It does not work. The first series was popular in-part due to its uniform look and cover template. No kid would want to collect this ugly, neon-green adorned book that screams "Little boys with anger issues, c'mon in!" But I guess someone forgot to tell Scholastic. Let me reiterate: these books look hideous, and this is actually the best cover of the lot. Reader beware indeed. Oh, that reminds me: No more "Reader beware, you're in for a scare." Nope, now it's "2000 Times the Scares!" Also no.

Brief Synopsis:
I was fully prepared to claim that the Goosebumps Series 2000 books were just regular Goosebumps books arbitrarily given a new name and layout to keep up with the changing market trends of 1998. Oh how wrong I was. Oh sure, Cry of the Cat is still very much identifiable as a Goosebumps book, but it also contains new elements not found in the sixty-two volumes which preceded it. Elements such as adults acting like adults, needless gore, and tornados made of cats. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The book begins with an extended scenario involving a monstrous, spittle-spewing feline attacking a child in the upper arm and back. I worked so hard on trying to come up with a way to make "a shoulder to Cry of the Cat on" work, but it just didn't happen. This sequence is revealed to be a scene from a film called, oddly enough, Cry of the Cat. Our heroine Alison is watching the flick with her little brother, Tanner, but the movie is so scary that he makes her shut the VCR off. Oh man, is that a nostalgia trip or what? Remember VCRs man, like, wow, totally takes me back to childhood and stuff. Check out this awesome new nostalgia blog for VCRs:

Alison's friend Ryan shows up and they both ride their bikes to school for practice. See, both are starring in something called the Princess and the Jewel Thief, and they're in such a rush to make it on time that Alison decapitates a cat with her bike. Wait, she does what? I wrote that sentence and even I had to go back and read it again. The force of Alison hitting the cat with her bike sends the cat's head flying out into traffic with a shocked look of surprise on its face. With an expression that wide-eyed and in awe, I bet I know what that cat was thinking: "They renewed the Nanny agaaaaaaaaain?!?!"

When Alison races over to the decapitated animal, she discovers that the cat has magically regained its head, but sadly not its life. She wraps the limp body of the cat up in her jacket. Alison figures it probably came from the big house full of cats across the street, which is a remarkable deduction.

Inside the cat house, Alison finds a saloon girl with a heart of gold. Wait, wrong cat house. She finds a young girl who introduces herself as Crystal. Crystal is furious upon being told that one of her cats has died. Luckily the cat chooses that opportunity to come back to life and scramble out of Alison's arms. Crystal changes gears and becomes furious that her cat is alive. There's just no pleasing some people.

Crystal freaks out that Alison killed her cat Rip, that she should have run over any of her cats other than Rip. Alison suggests that would have been great information five minutes ago but it's a little too late to go back in time and kill another of her cats and she'd kill another one now but she's late for rehearsal. Crystal screams that her mother is going to be upset and warns Alison that she shouldn't have killed Rip, that Rip is no ordinary cat. You mean cats don't usually come back to life after being decapitated?

Alison rushes off to practice. Ryan is waiting for her at the school, because like a true friend, he ditched her when the going got tough. Alison tells him about the cat coming back to life, but he just mocks her. She hears cat calls, and modestly pulls her skirt hem down to a respectable level.

Mr. Keanes, the teacher in charge of the play, initiates the practice and instructs Alison to get a scepter out of "the Royal Cabinet," which sounds like a supply closet to me. But Alison must have misheard his direction as "Get attacked by a dead cat," as Rip jumps out of the closet and gets tangled up in her hair. She pries the cat from her head and throws it as hard as she can across the stage. Wait for it. This startles the stagehands so badly that they drop the giant king's throne on top of the cat. The kids all gather around the flattened animal, only to have the cat come back to life and exit, stage-left even!

Mr. Keanes dismisses practice early because
"I can see you're all very upset about that cat. What a strange thing!"
At dinner, Alison tries to tell her parents about how she killed a cat twice in one afternoon. Unfortuantely, they're not interested in anything other than the homemade chicken noodle soup Alison's mom made. Alison becomes less-enamored with the soup than her parents when she somehow scoops a big spoonful of wet cat fur into mouth. She tries to go to her room to relax, only to find her toy mice collection thrown all over the place. Her toy mice collection.

At school the next day, the decapitated head of the cat appears in her lunch bag and sticks its tongue out at her. She's disgusted, but some people enjoy having lunch with The Cat.

That night, Rip jumps on Alison's face while she's sleeping. She responds to getting smothered by gently removing the cat from her face and throwing it out the second-story window. If it didn't take itself so seriously I'd swear this book was a comedy. Alison goes outside to investigate whether the cat is dead or not. Three guesses. Rip scratches her leg but the wound draws no blood.

The following morning, Alison finds herself craving tuna fish. That's right, it's one of those books. At practice that night, she thinks she can land on all fours, so she jumps from the roof of the auditorium onto the stage. So a child can jump several stories down and nothing bad will happen?

Alison's cattiness gets worse, as she hacks up a furball and begins posting on ONTD. Sadly, half of that wasn't a joke and Alison really does hack up a furball. It's exactly as pleasant a moment as it sounds. She also starts licking the back of her palms like a cat. Get it, she's doing things a cat does. Like a cat. She's becoming like a cat. A cat. She's like a cat. Cat. A cat.

That night, she races off to confront Crystal about Rip. She is shocked to hear that Alison has killed her cat two more times and warns her to watch out, as Rip only has nine lives and he's now used up lives six through eight. Alison promises to avoid another cat-astrophe, but soon a strange force compels her towards a pet cemetery. Also Ryan shows up and follows Alison to the pet cemetery. Alison walks among the gravestones until she comes across the RIP RIP tombstone.

Perhaps you're saying to yourself, "No wonder she can't kill the cat, it's already dead!' Well, speculation like that isn't good enough for Alison, so she gets on her hands and knees and starts digging up the cat's grave. Gravedigging. Decapitation. Toy mice collections. We're in uncharted territory here, folks.

Alison finally digs up the cat coffin and opens it to find... the corpse of Rip, which springs out of the coffin and attacks her. If that weren't bad enough, Ryan draws her attention to the rumbling ground and smoke pouring out of the gravestones. Rip begins walking on his hind legs and commands the corpses of all the other cats out of their graves. The ghost cats are his slaves and he commands them to take the form of a giant black ghost cat tornado. The ghost cat tornado chases after Alison and Ryan as they race back to Crystal's house.

In a moment of karmic justice, Alison ditches Ryan in the chase and convinces Crystal to let her in the house. The young girl finally agrees just as the swirling wall of cats reaches the front door. Crystal tells her they only have a few minutes before the kitty twister breaks in. She whisks Alison to the other side of the house, insisting that only her mother can help them now. The two walk down the dark basement steps to meet her.

Gang, I know this book is blowing your mind, but are you ready to meet Crystal's mom? You'll like her, after all, she is a scientist. Oh, and she's also half-cat. The humanoid cat woman purrs with delight upon seeing Alison. See, Rip prolongs his life by stealing lives from humans. Every time he scratches a human, he takes away some of their life and replaces it with cat-life. Oh, now I don't see!

Crystal's mom did scientific experiments on all the cats from the graveyard and that's why they're now Rip's slaves. A-h--nah, that still doesn't make any sense. She also made a deal with Rip to be his sole human resource provided that he didn't harm her daughter. However, cat mom reveals that she no longer has any human life to give Rip, so she's sacrificing Alison to be his new living scratching post. She tries to tell her it won't be so bad, but somehow Alison is resistant to the idea of turning into a horrible half-cat creature. Probably mostly because it sounds like it still involves being a scientist and who has time for that.

The ghost cat tornado breaks into the house, led by Rip, who walks on his hind legs down the stairs. That sounds like the cutest horrific thing ever. Ryan shows up just in time to get scratched by the evil walking cat. All hope seems lost until Alison remembers that she has a toy mouse with her. She throws the mouse to the ground right in front of Rip. All the ghost cats turn their attention to the mouse and attack, killing Rip in the process and the ensuing chaos causes the tornado to disappear. Just like real non-cat-containing weather!

But the Twist is:
Alison and Ryan are still like cats and so they fight over who gets to eat a field mouse. Oh RL Stine, finger on the pulse, as always!

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Alison and her friend Ryan, who disappears a third and two thirds of the way through the book.

Questionable Parenting:
Alison's mom practices her observational humor routine regarding women's blouses instead of listening to her daughter complain about becoming a cat. Sentences like that would never have been written without this book.

Questionable Manners Alert:
Crystal's mom thanks Alison for saving them from Rip. Um, that's nice and all, but did she never hear of "Sorry about willing to mutilate and sacrifice you to the evil cat"? What's worse, that exact quote is on like page twelve of Judith Martin's book, so this is an all too common faux-pas. That's looooow rent, ma'am.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 9/10:
Alison cries out in horror as she looks in her lunch and sees... that she accidentally grabbed Ryan's lunch. She must have had an unspeakably traumatic run-in with a Lunchable in the past.

Great Prose Alert:
Egg salad always reminds me of dog vomit.

Three letters come to mind: WTF

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Even More Tales to Give You Goosebumps

Even More Tales to Give You Goosebumps: Special Edition #3

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

Official Book Description:
Can Jeff convince his parents there's a live mummy in the basement? Will Adam escape from a monstrous flying gargoyle? Is Brian's boarding school turning kids into robots?
Find out in these ten creepy Goosebumps short stories guaranteed to make you shiver!

This third short story collection was the first to come without a book light. It was packaged with a one-size-fits-most pair of glow in the dark boxer shorts, in a move that drew many a Joe Boxer enthusiast into the bookstore. As for the other summer "shorts" in question, read on...

the Chalk Closet
Protagonist Travis goofed off and failed the sixth grade, thus he's arrived at Millwood Junior High for summer school classes. Instead of indulging in hilarious antics as in the Marc Harmon comedy classic Summer School, he finds himself faced with unspeakable terror, as in the Marc Harmon cautionary horror classic, Summer School. See, Travis' teacher, the improbably named Mr. Grimsley, has no patience for kids who goof off and fail his assignments. He sternly warns that any students who fail to do their homework or adequately study for class will be sent to the ominous-sounding Chalk Closet. It's too bad his teacher isn't Mr. Grimley, I must say!

Travis is given his first homework assignment and it's a real humdinger: List five reasons why you'd want to be a Pilgrim. He's only able to come up with three though:
1. Get to travel a lot.
2. Eat dinner with some really cool indians.
3. Don't have to recycle.
Take that, Earth.
He's unable to come up with two more reasons (understandably, since no one wants to be a Pilgrim), so I've taken the liberty of rounding out his list:
4. Finally be able to understand all the esoteric jokes in Disney's Pocahontas.
5. Buckles.
Luckily, Mr. Grimsley doesn't lash out at Travis because another classmate, Dooley, shows up with no homework at all. Dooley is led to the Chalk Closet and is never heard from again. The next day, another kid is led. And then another, and so on. It's not hard to figure out that eventually, Travis slips up and gets punished. And if it is hard to figure out, well then whoops I just ruined it for you. Seems Travis spent the previous night watching "a Lethal Weapon movie" instead of doing his homework. I was going to say something about that being pretty inappropriate for a twelve-year-old, but then I remembered my mom taking me to see Lethal Weapon 3 in the theater when I was like eight or nine. So I guess what I'm saying is that Travis is watching baby movies, the big baby.

Mr. Grimsley walks Travis down the hall to the Chalk Closet, which is revealed to be a room where the sound of nails on a chalkboard plays... forever. That's really the twist. Okay, next

Home Sweet Home
So if I tell you this story is about a big sister who always teases her little sister for playing with her elaborate dollhouse, can you figure out the ending? Perhaps. But if I told you the story also involved the big sister breaking a witch's china bowl at a garage sale and facing the witch's revenge via being besieged by large talking spiders that eventually bite Sharon in the head to shrink her to doll-size, what then huh? That's right, next

Don't Wake Mummy
Eleven-year-old Jeff hates getting teased by his big sister Kim about his fear of mummies. So when a mummy gets delivered to their house by accident, Kim probably wishes Jeff was afraid of sacks of money. If you think the idea of a mummy being delivered to a house sounds unlikely, well, did you forget what blog you were reading? Jeff's dad is in charge at the local museum and decides to hold on to the mummy in the basement until he can haul it to work.

Jeff becomes convinced that even though the mummy is chained inside a sarcophagus, it will come and get him. This is probably because on the first night the mummy's in the house, it comes to get him. Thankfully, his mom shows up and scares the mummy away. Wow, what a wuss. My mom stopped fighting my battles against undead Egyptians for me way before age eleven.

Terrified, the next morning Jeff tries to do research at the library on mummies, but is baffled at the lack of How To books on thwarting mummy attacks. However, he did pick up one of those ReadyMade modular dwelling kits for later in case he can't stop the mummy. No basements = No problems.

Luckily, there's a local Sardo-type magic shoppe in town with plenty of ancient spellbooks, amulets, and dishes of hard fruit candies. The proprietor of the shoppe sells Jeff a bag of powder called "mummy dust," and the question of how a magic shoppe stays in business is answered. I suspect there's several idling cars in the magic shoppe parking lot, pulled-up driver's side to driver's side.

That night, when the mummy returns, Jeff prepares to throw the sack of dust into the mummy's face. Except this is the first fast mummy ever and it pushes Jeff to the ground, spilling his sack of dust. Luckily his mom comes out again and the mummy scampers away. Then his father-- in a scene that proves after 70-odd entries, it's still possible to be dumbfounded by these books-- apologizes for agreeing to buy a living mummy from a rival museum. He knew that if he kept the mummy locked up with the magic chains, it wouldn't get out. But now he knows he must chain the mummy inside the casket for the safety of his family. Did the editors of Scholastic lose a bet?

Sometimes Goosebumps books flirt with a good idea, only to chicken out at the last moment. In a stunning reversal of narrator (in a story told via first person narration, by the way), Kim reveals that she's pretending to be the mummy and the story seems to suggest that she'll hide in the sarcophagus... thus she'd about to be locked forever inside the casket. It would have been a predictable end, but still impressive for this series. But instead, Kim merely starts walking around the dark basement and bumps into the real mummy. Whatever.

PS This story's title is so bad that when I first saw it, I said "Oh Jesus" out loud and went out to eat dinner instead of reading the book. My gyros was three times scarier than this story, and please note that my gyros wasn't scary.

I'm Telling!
Adam is supposed to be doing his homework, but instead he's in the woods, playing pretend. His little sister spies him and utters the titular line over and over, despite Adam's claim that he's pretending to do his homework. There's also a horrible stone gargoyle in the woods who suddenly begins spouting green liquid that turns things into stone. Adam fills up his water pistol with the liquid and sprays a tree, which Missy is also going to tattle about. Frustrated, he sprays Missy with the gun, turning her into a figure carved of stone. On the way home, he decides to enter her in the middle school art show and places first for his "sculpture." Second place: crayon drawing of cat.

Adam wheels his stone sister back into the woods and is surprised to find the gargoyle has come to life. The gargoyle spits the green liquid at Adam's face but Adam doesn't turn to stone because that would involve the ghostwriter going back and reading what they've already written. Adam sprays the gargoyle a second time and it turns back to stone. He sprays Missy again and she turns back into a human. Missy threatens Adam with more tattling about the art show and the tree and the gargoyle and about some other stuff that could never happen. Adam retaliates by spraying her again, keeping her in stone forever. I guess a kid who tells on another kid is a statue.

the Haunted House Game
Finally, a short story that captures all the fun and excitement of playing a board game! Jonathan and his best friend Nadine are babysitting his twin siblings, Noah and Annie, on a dark and stormy night. Jonathan insists on playing the Haunted House Game, even though Nadine wants to play Parcheesi. Jonathan nixes that suggestion because
"There aren't any ghosts in Parcheesi."
The four start to play the board game. When they land on different spooky spots on the board, commands printed on the game come true: "WIND RATTLES THE WINDOWS," "YOU HEAR AN EERIE MOAN," "LIGHTNING CRASHES, A NEW MOTHER CRIES," "YOU PLAY A BOARD GAME." Oh cool, I've seen Jumanji too.

Eventually, Jonathan lands on the "SCARED TO DEATH" spot and the four kids all start screaming until they die. No, really. Then the ghost kids pick up a newspaper from 1942 and read the front page story:
Police were completely baffled when they found four kids dead in an old mansion last night. "It looked to me as if they were scared to death!" declared one police officer.
The story begins again with the kids arguing about playing the Haunted House Game. So did the board game die too or what

Change For the Strange
Jane loves to practice for track. Her friend Lizzy only loves to try on clothes. They're the original Odd Couple! But they do share some common activities-- like, they both watch "The Animaniacs" and dance around to a band called "Fruit Bag," which sounds like the name of some Sub Pop band that would have opened for Paw in 1995. Lizzy talks Jane into visiting the cool new consignment shop around the block, A Change For the Strange. There's a lot of cool stuff at the vintage store, though no baby coffins.

Jane finds a radical red snakeskin jacket and Lizzy finds some totally tubular bunny slippers at the store. Jane is so excited by her new snakeskin coat that she turns into a red snake. Oh good, another of these stories. Jane the snake tries slipping into Lizzy's room so she'll notice she's not really a snake but actually her friend who has been turned into a snake, but somehow this plan doesn't work until Lizzy spies a zipper on the snake and removes the jacket-skin. Well great. The story ends with Jane becoming a rabbit after she puts on Lizzy's bunny slippers-- totally unpredictable!

the Perfect School
Brian's parents are unhappy with him, so he's been sent to the world's speediest boarding school, the Perfect Boarding School. Sessions only last two weeks. As soon as he arrives off the train, all his possessions are taken away and he's told to stand in line according to height. Brian is told he'll be given only a plain gray wardrobe and is assigned a number which will replace his name. A serious question at this juncture: Did RL Stine really feel comfortable borrowing such blatant Holocaust imagery for a Goosebumps story?

Brian made a friend on the train, CJ, and almost immediately he's in trouble for horsin' around with him. Brian's told that his training has been expedited and he must report to the Pattern Room. A child inside the walls of the institute warns Brain against going inside the Pattern Room, but Brian figures it can't be any worse than that scene in Garden State.

A man inside the Pattern Room, which resembles a doctor's office, measures every part of Brian and gradually it dawns on him that they're planning to replace him with a robot. Wow, tuition must've been really expensive to cover that. This plan is confirmed by more children living in the walls. Take your pick: Oh cool, I've seen the Stepford Wives too; or Oh cool, I've seen the People Under the Stairs too.

Brian makes a daring escape, only to be tricked by CJ into joining the other slave children who live in the basement and walls of the institute. CJ reveals that he works for the boarding school. Brian's parents are presented with their son, who is now a robot. Only, the twist is, he's not a robot. He's the real Brian, who escaped at the last moment and is only pretending to be a robot. Oh man, I just found a friend for Adam!

For the Birds
This book certainly didn't need another story about kids turning into things that aren't kids, but here we are. Another character is named Kim, and this Kim's family has dragged her to a massive bird sanctuary to celebrate her parents' wedding anniversary. Kim starts grousing about having to be around birds, as she's the only one in the family not taken by bird-watching. The avian-looking Mr. Dove, the bird sanctuary's curator (and apparently huge Judex buff), takes note of her displeasure. When Kim happens upon a pair of missing hedge-clippers, Mr. Dove offers to let her get revenge on her family.

Each family member is given a different bird-themed room. Kim's room overlooks the massive hedge maze below. Oh cool, I've seen the Shining too. That night, a massive flock of birds flies in unison around the windows of Kim's bedroom, as though trying to tell her something. Perhaps they're trying to get her to drive into town and go door to door collecting the final three or four slices from everyone's loaves of bread.

The next morning, Mr. Dove greets them at the entrance to the hedge maze and shows them his newest hedge: a perfect likeness of the family. The family admires themselves and pays for their vanity by getting tricked into walking into a giant birdcage. Mr. Dove shows up and moves his magic hedge clippers twice. Each time he makes the movement, one member of her family turns into a bird. Mr. Dove keeps his promise to Kim though, and turns her into a cat. Oh good. This story's the real cat's meow-ow-oww-oww-owww (that would be the sound I made after kicking the goddamn wall in frustration)!

Aliens in the Garden
Like every alien story, this one just turns out to be another "But the aliens were actually from Earth" shocker. In lieu of recounting the story in detail, let me just provide everyone's favorite Blogger Beware segment, Out of Context Text Alert:
Jenna gasped. Her green eyes grew huge.
"Kurt!" She whispered. "Please tell me you've got a remote control somewhere."
I pulled the pockets of my shorts inside out. "No remote, Jenna."
"This is unreal!" She murmured.

the Thumbprint of Doom
Well, it took nine solid misses but RL Stine narrowly avoids a complete no-hitter with the collection's final story. Trisha thought she'd have a great summer, but it's been hampered by her friend Jeremy's cousin Harold, who is more interested in reading than having fun. Holy mixed signals Batman!

Harold doesn't even want to go swimming, as he'd rather stay home and read the dictionary. Is the twist going to be that he's either of these two?

Luckily, a new girl has moved onto the street. Her name is Carla and she follows horoscopes and other new age superstitions very closely. She tells her new friends that the thing she fears most of all is the Thumprint of Doom. No, she's not going to start quoting lines about "the Mark of the Beast" from that movie that comes on at 4AM on TBN about the guy who dreams about the Rapture inexplicably taking place in an airport. Rather, it's an ancient spell that curses the person who receives it with death within 24 hours.

Unluckily for Carla's new friends, Carla takes her superstitions very seriously. She won't even let Trisha ride in a blue canoe on a Tuesday. Hey, I've never ridden in a blue canoe on a Tuesday and I'm still okay so maybe Carla's on to something. Trisha and Jeremy talk both Carla and Harold into visiting the local fair. Once on the grounds, they naturally get dragged to a fortune teller who reads Carla's fortune... and then in fear plants the Thumbprint of Doom on her forehead, to "spare" her the horrors she foresaw. Carla sprints out of the tent in terror.

Trisha and Jeremy delight in their awesome joke. They snuck away to the fairgrounds that morning and paid the fortune teller to pull the stunt as a joke. They go out to tell Carla about the gag. Carla snaps at them and reveals that she knew it was a gag, as she's the only one who can give out the Thumbprint of Doom. But now that they know that, she'll have to imprint it on all three of them. She does so and the kids run off into the night, screaming.

The fortune teller sticks her head out of her tent and asks her daughter, Carla, how long it'll take her friends to realize that Carla didn't actually have any powers and was playing a trick on them. See, that's how you do one of these stories. Not, "Oh but then she turns into a thumb."

Monday, July 07, 2008

R-E-T-R-O-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me

Thomas Edison said, "Well, light bulbs sound cool, I guess I'll invent them."

Alexander Graham Bell said, "Well, I'd sure like to phone Watson, but I haven't invented a 'phone' yet. And also I'll need at least two and I'm lazy like you wouldn't believe. I mean, I could just walk to Watson but he's in the other room and this chair is so comfortable. I think it's made of oak? Could be oak. It's probably oak."

The Romans said, "All roads lead to us, so we better invent those plastic things on the end of shoelaces just in case it ever comes up."

Troy Steele said, "I can't believe there's not just a list online somewhere that tells you the twist endings to Goosebumps books."

Thus, out of necessity, in early 2006 Blogger Beware was born. I never intended to keep writing past the original series, but in case you don't read the comments or look to your right, I will be blogging into the next year. When the Horrorland series concludes, so will the blog. But until that day, expect the same "weekly" updates you've come to know and, well maybe not love, but like as a friend.

The following features are all culled solely from the first sixty-two books in the Goosebumps series.

NOTE: A retrospective of the covers will appear in the entry on Tim Jacobus' autobiography, It Came From New Jersey, so don't whine about one not appearing here.

the Goosebumps Collector's Cap Roundup Quiz
To capitalize on the POG craze (If you don't remember these, you're either too young to be reading the blog, or too old), Scholastic released two sets of Goosebumps POGS-- oh pardon me, POG is a registered trademark, they released "Goosebumps Collector Caps." Both sets came with bonus books filled with brief descriptions of the books pictured on the caps, along with word games and bits of trivia and new backstories. Think you've been reading the blog long enough to pass a test on Stine's exciting revelations? Take the quiz and find out. Answers will appear at the bottom of this entry.

01 RL Stine puts forth which two books as having the biggest twist endings?
A. Stay Out of the Basement and Be Careful What You Wish For...
B. Welcome to Camp Nightmare and Go Eat Worms!
C. Attack of the Mutant and the Girl Who Cried Monster
D. My Hairiest Adventure and Let's Get Invisible!

02 RL Stine proposes several potential Goosebumps-based rides in the section for A Shocker on Shock Street-- which one of the following is real?
A. the Headless Ghost 4' and under roller coaster
B. Ghost Beach water slide
C. My Hairiest Adventure petting zoo
D. How I Learned to Fly cordless bungee jump

03 The original title of the Horror at Camp Jellyjam was
A. Purple Rein
B. Snots Landing
C. Smelly Summer
D. Sports Sports Sports Sports-- Sports!

04 RL Stine's dog is named
A. Scholastick-ridden mutt
B. Doesn't matter, this was written thirteen years ago and his dog is now dead ;_;
C. Nadine
D. Cat-- man, Stine's always twisting everything!

05 As of the fortieth book, which of the following was the best-selling Goosebumps book?
A. Welcome to Dead House
B. Guess Who's Dating a Werewolf?
C. Invasion of the Appleheads
D. Beware the Shopping Mall

06 Which of the following "facts" were actually given about gnomes?
A. Several members of congress actually just gnomes resting on the shoulders of large woodland dogs while draped in navy blazers from the Big & Tall store
B. Gnomes can be either helpful or harmful
C. Gnomes love you long time, Joe
D. Celebrated Anthony Michael Hall action comedy A Gnome Named Norm still most popular gnome-centric film of all time, with eight total viewings since release

07 RL Stine makes which of the following dubious claims re: Deep Trouble?
A. Fish sticks > fish fillets
B. Entire novel was elaborate Snorks homage
C. Mermaids are scarier than sharks
D. 'Tippi' Hedren could have really been something

08 RL Stine proposes a fun "touching" game inspired by Go Eat Worms! and suggests preparing an extra bowl to hold
A. Keys
B. Subpoenas
C. Any vomit your friends may volunteer
D. Delicious Doritos-brand Cool Ranch tortilla chips

09 Least-shocking revelation about RL Stine:
A. Never played outdoors as a child
B. Is actually the pen-name of thirty-seven different men and women, and one centaur
C. Cracked magazine's demise actually the result of seven years of litigation from Scholastic's lawyers over ill-received "GooseDumps" parody
D. Goosebumps paid for his fleet of yachts, Fear Street for his wine cellar, and Superstitious for most of a McFlurry

10 RL Stine provides a new backstory for John Waters Shopkeeper from the Haunted Mask. What caused the old man to open an evil costume shop?
A. Freak chemistry lab explosion
B. Perfectly normal chemistry lab explosion
C. Elaborate ploy for Eric Stoltz's affections
D. The lines at the city registration building for opening any other kind of shop were too long

11 The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight was inspired by
A. That time RL Stine saw a scarecrow walk at midnight
B. That time RL Stine said cheese and died-- again
C. That time RL Stine didn't go to sleep
D. That time RL Stine lived in your basement

12 RL Stine gives a backstory for the Darks from the Girl Who Cried Monster. Where did the family immigrate come from?
A. Convenientending, Germany
B. Romania
C. Mexico. Is this why Republicans want that wall? To keep out monsters?
D. Vatican City, as the entire book is elaborate precursor to Angels and Demons

13 Stine reveals some new ways one can become a werewolf. Which of the following is one of them?
A. Drink after a werewolf without wiping lip of glass first
B. Have unprotected sex with werewolf
C. Accidentally give werwolf the same Christmas present you gave him last year
D. Rub self with plants

14 RL Stine refers to plot holes from Phantom of the Auditorium as
A. Proof of his gross incompetency as an author
B. Unanswered questions
C. Funstakes
D. Accidentios

15 RL Stine takes Conan the Barbarian down a peg by revealing he sleeps with
A. Sienna Miller
B. A teddy bear named "Fluffster"
C. A loaded shotgun
D. Danger

BONUS And finally, in the most amazing bit of revisionism, what were the employees of Horrorland before they were monsters?
A. Burn victims
B. Car crash victims
C. Members of Ice-T's wife-bronzing posse
D. Um, monsters?

Goosebumps By the Numbers
Percent of books with no twist: 11%
Percent of titles ending in exclamation point: 13%
Percent of books with a platonic boy-girl relationship: 89%
--Percent of remaining books that are just Monster Bloods: 57%
Percent of books written in first-person: 82%
Percent of books with a female protagonist: 35%
Total number of minority characters: 20
--Percent which are Egyptian: 45%
Total number of books with minority characters as protagonists: 3
--Percent which are Egyptian: 67%
Total instances of "What.": 43

Ten Best Goosebumps Characters
01 Andy from Monster Blood

Ten WORST Goosebumps Books
It probably goes without saying, but this list was far harder to whittle-down than the Best list.

10 My Best Friend Is Invisible (#57)
How bad is this book? It bumped both My Hairiest Adventure and the Horror at Camp Jellyjam off the list. That's pretty bad.

09 Say Cheese and Die-- Again! (#44)
Sequels rarely get love from the blog, and this abomination is no exception. Rapid weight gain is fine if you're DeNiro, but when it's a twelve year old boy gaining massive amounts of weight just so Stine can make poorly (portly?) constructed fat jokes, I'd rather say "No thanks-- again!"

08 Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes (#34)
I still remember.

07 Deep Trouble II (#58)
Sometimes I realize that no matter how ridiculous the book is, I can never quite sell its badness for readers of the blog. You may have some vague notion of the book's badness, but its true terribility remains ungrasped. Be thankful.

06 the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena (#38)
An adventure book that's about as exciting as buying socks and bar-none the strangest final twenty pages of any Goosebumps books are but two of the strikes against the peculiar novel. If the Geico Cavemen have taught us nothing else, and they haven't, it's that no one chooses to experience fictional ape-men on purpose.

05 Egg Monsters From Mars (#42)
Sometimes I considered revisiting the first four or five books I covered and redoing their entries in the more recent style. Eventually I decided that the first book I ever read for the blog has the entry it deserves.

04 A Shocker on Shock Street (#35)
One of the worst examples of what would become a growing trend in the series, the "Let's just line up crazy things in a row from the beginning of the book to the end" approach. Two problems. Firstly, that's a really unwieldy name for an approach. Secondly, despite how easily mockable these sort of books are, thus making my job easier, they are still infuriatingly bad.

03 Attack of the Jack-O'-Lanterns (#48)
I still remember getting to the last twenty pages or so, putting the book down, and actually saying out loud "Really? Really?" Like I was going to get a response from a book. The lesson here is don't try asking a book a question, it won't work.

02 the Legend of the Lost Legend (#47)
I reread this entry recently and even I couldn't believe I didn't just make half of it up.

01 Monster Blood IV (#62)
The nadir of the series, and proof that the end of the original Goosebumps line was a mercy killing. I wrote in the initial entry that this book was only slightly below Chicken Chicken solely because it lacked the ugliness of that tome. So what was true then remains true now. Monster Blood IV is nothing but the worst traits of the series, lined up one after another (and occasionally simultaneously) in one-hundred-plus pages of middle fingers to the reading audience. Truly Monster Blood IV is the worst Goosebumps book ever thrown at a public. That it was received by readers with the same enthusiasm as being peed on solves once and for all the question of how the original series earned its fate.

00 Chicken Chicken (#53)
This book doesn't deserve a number. It doesn't even deserve to be listed. To list it implies some value, even as a marker for the lows of the series. But this book doesn't deserve the attention it will garner just by virtue of its position. This isn't a case of "So bad it's good," this is "So bad I want to vomit, quick get me that bowl from the Go Eat Worms! game." Chicken Chicken very nearly ended the blog two years ago, but I ultimately decided to push forward. I don't know what else to say except it really is that bad.

Ten BEST Goosebumps Books

10 How I Learned to Fly (#52)
Sometimes RL Stine didn't try to scare his readers, sometimes all he wanted to put forth was a mild fantasy. This is surely the best "non-scary" Goosebumps book, with a genuinely weird concept and easily the sweetest twist ending in the series. Plus it filled that flying dog void that Underdog had left empty for several decades.

09 Stay Out of the Basement (#02)
I don't ask a lot from children's literature, but this is the only Goosebumps book to actually fulfill my Axe Murderer Quota.

08 Welcome to Camp Nightmare (#09)
For this retrospective, I resisted making a list of best and worst endings, despite it being a seemingly given category to cover. The truth is, most of the memorable endings are hard to classify as either, and the majority of those endings are from books on either list anyways. Everyone who read this one as a kid remembers this ending, and I'd wager most if not all felt cheated back then. However, this was one of the biggest revelations from revisiting the series-- what seemed ridiculous as a child now seems perversely appropriate. In case you forgot, this is the one where they all turn out to be aliens or something.

07 the Ghost Next Door (#10)
No other Goosebumps book ever attempted gravitas on this level, but given how successful this deeply depressing book is, you'd think Captain Yuks would have written more like it. Clearly evil sponges and sports camps were just too darn tempting.

06 the Headless Ghost (#37)
I don't particularly think ghosts are any more terrifying than vampires or ventriloquist dummies, but it's hard not to notice that Stine's ghost-centered books are among his finest achievements. I guess he should have let the spirit move him more often huh

05 the Haunted School (#59)
Slightly less terrifying than Pleasantville, this is another of Stine's last-minute bursts of creativity. The ink-spitting orgy remains the most bizarre moment in any Goosebumps book-- except for maybe when the car wash cost five dollars.

04 You Can't Scare Me! (#15)
Another Goosebumps book that aged into being appreciated, like fine wine or a British actress. Any book that contains bee throwing and still earns a spot must be really good.

03 Werewolf Skin (#60)
Well, it wouldn't be a real Goosebumps list without werewolves somewhere. An early favorite since the blog began, this one has it all: Werewolves and things that aren't werewolves.

02 Ghost Camp (#45)
The closest a Goosebumps book has come to being scary. The novel is atmospheric, darkly comic, and ingenious-- three descriptors rarely lobbed at this series. If all Goosebumps books were of this quality, this blog wouldn't be so popular.

01 Be Careful What You Wish For... (#12)
For better or worse, this book is Goosebumps. It is deeply flawed and contains many of the worst problems the series suffers from, yet remains just as disturbing and memorable as it was the first time I read it in grade school. The finale, with its completely unfair and entirely out of proportion punishment, remains the single greatest reminder of why kids everywhere loved these books. The book reminds us all of how we were able, for at least a little while, to look past the flaws and embrace the series. We read the books to be surprised. We read the books to be entertained. We read the books to be scared. Perhaps we even read the books just because everyone else was too. Regardless, the twelfth book in the series gives the reader the entirety of the Goosebumps experience in one shot. Be Careful What You Wish For... is the definitive Goosebumps book, and the best.

1 C 2 B 3 C 4 C 5 A 6 B 7 C 8 C 9 A 10 A
11 A 12 B 13 D 14 B 15 B BONUS A

Well, what now?