Series 2000 13 Return to HorrorLand
Front Tagline: Long time no scream!
It's been a year since Lizzy and her family visited the horrific amusement park filled with vile creatures and hideous attractions. No, not Silver Dollar City, HorrorLand. But luckily for her and her siblings, two paranormal TV personalities want to expose the park to the world. Clearly influenced by the X-Files, Stine goes so far as to say the female half of this married duo, Margo Strange, looks like "Agent Scully." Unfortunately for all but lovers of mustaches, her husband Derek Strange does not look like David Duchovny, but rather, and again I'm quoting here, "Tom Selleck."
Lizzy and her brother Luke and his friend Clay are already big fans of the Stranges' show, The Strange Report. In fact, as the book opens, they're watching Evan Ross explain Monster Blood to a skeptical audience. In keeping with tradition, even kids watching him on TV mercilessly mock Evan. This will not be the book's only cameo appearance by a past Goosebumps character no one cares about either.
The Stranges approach Lizzy's mom and offer her $10,000 if she'll agree to let the kids come with them to Florida. See, HorrorLand keeps moving to different locations every few months. The Stranges have tracked it to Florida and intend to photograph all the nefarious goings-on at the park by posing as Lizzy and Luke's tourist parents. Well, I can see why HorrorLand would want to relocate to Florida. After all, it's not like there's many amusement parks in the state to compete with. The Stranges think that the amusement park is no longer a backdrop for a TV show but something else entirely. Their argument is basically "Oh, remember that thing that happened and you all were there when it happened and saw it happen? Well, what if it didn't happen?"
Despite being a firsthand witness to the very real horrors of HorrorLand, Lizzy's mom signs off on the journey. At least she's getting money out of the deal, as there's not even that perk to explain why Luke's friend Clay asks if he can still come along. I guess for an author, the benefit of not crafting characters is that you don't have to worry too much about their motivations.
So Margo and Derek take the kids to Florida and they successfully infiltrate the newest incarnation of HorrorLand. Unfortunately, a Horror smashes Derek's camera. I guess they don't like Monsterazzi. There's probably a TMZ = Thirty Monster Zone joke in there somewhere too. The "good" news is that Margo and Derek have secret cameras they won't be showing to monsters, so the couple continue to film as the kids explore the park.
If you've ever been to an amusement park, you know the biggest attractions are the rides. But for some bizarre reason, the kids will not encounter a single ride in the entire novel. Instead they visit an Egyptian Pyramid (?) where Luke gets trapped in a sarcophagus until he falls to safety from a trap door. Oh cool, I've read the Curse of the Mummy's Tomb too. This scene goes on for like thirty pages and trust me, even my one sentence summary is padded.
The next attraction the kids decide to visit is a Monster Dentist Office. No, really. Once inside, they see row after row of, well, monster dentists, operating on bawling kids with drills. One kid screams out "You broke all my teeth!" and another complains that the dentist drilled his tongue. A third child throws up blood. Lizzy finds herself strapped in and the monster is about to drill away all her teeth when she realizes that the dentist is actually a robot. Oh.
After getting out of the tooth-suite tout suite, the kids sort of keep losing and then finding their supposed protectors, the Stranges. The Stranges insist that the kids are never in any danger. The disappointed couple then starts hectoring the children to show them real danger in the park. At some point in all this, the kids get captured in a giant butterfly net by a Horror and are then taken down to a torture chamber. It's then that they meet the Dungeon Master. Dungeon Master, make the book end faster! The constant threat of disturbing violence in this book is really at odds with how stupidly fluffy the plot is. Never fear, before the dungeon can get too scary, the Dungeon Master unleashes hundreds of ferrets to eat the children. No really, how is this even sort of kind of like any attraction at any amusement park ever?
The kids escape the ferrets and take in a magic show. Amaz-O the Magician from Bad Hare Day pops up to do some illusions. Only Ricky Jay he ain't. After pulling animals out of his hat, which is cliche even by magician standards, he pulls Lizzy out of the audience and throws her into a cage with a live tiger. Who will disappear, the Lady or the Tiger? No ambiguities are afforded, as the tiger vanishes just before it can Skin Lizzy.
Once she goes back into the auditorium seats, she discovers her brother and his friend didn't even bother to stay to watch the whole show. So these kids are marginally smarter than they seemed. She runs around the park in search of the two boys and eventually finds them chained to poles in a desert while vultures circle above. What? I've seen Adult Swim programs with more narrative focus than this book. I guess the reader is not supposed to ask why there's a desert in an amusement park in Florida with giant scavenger birds that for some reason start attacking living human beings?
The Stranges, the kids' very very very bad legal guardians, get thrown out of the amusement park, leaving the kids all alone. The Horrors want to capture the kids but then Lizzy gets the bright idea to run into the gift shop, try on the Horror Halloween Costumes sold within, and then walk around amongst the Horrors as one of them. Why, any plan that borrows so heavily from Wacky Racers can't possibly fail!
Amazingly, the three kids dressed like Horrors manage to walk right out of the park and hop into the Stranges' waiting van. The Stranges apologize for having to leave, then drive the kids right back to the front gates of HorrorLand. A Horror slips Derek a wad of bills and thanks the Stranges. Turns out the Stranges were hired by the park to see if the kids would reveal the secrets of HorrorLand. Since they were willing, they'll have to die. Um... what? So established TV personalities would be willing to get involved in the needlessly complicated murder of three children? I know most of these books contain their own internal logic and you can't really question plot motives, but this book is so brazen in its ineptitude that it makes the first ever case for illiteracy.
The Horrors lead the three kids to the top of a mountain for an attraction called The Final Leap, which is just a steep ledge. Before they can be pushed off to their doom, three more Horrrors show up and walk the kids back down to the ground, which I'm sure is called The Petrified Pavement or something. The kids ask what's going on but the Horrors tell them there's been a change of plans. Once they're safely past the park's gates, the Horrors take off their masks and reveal themselves to be reporters from a TV show called Weird Copy. The reporters reveal that thanks to the kids, the Stranges have been arrested and HorrorLand shut down for good. Wow, these are the most efficient reporters ever.
But the Twist is:
The reporters feel they haven't quite gotten enough good footage, so they drive the kids to something called Terrrorville. Hey, that almost sounds like "terrible," which this book is.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Lizzy and her brother Luke, who disappears into a mummy's tomb halfway thru the novel.
I guess $10,000 is enough to buy two replacement kids.
RL Stine Shows He Is Down With the Kids:
In another inexplicable instance of this happening in a Goosebumps book, Luke puts his hands in the freezer and then touches his sister's neck. There are so many reasons why this isn't something anyone has ever done.
Late 90s Cultural References:
The X-Files, The Dentist, things that are awful.
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
My name is Luke, uh,
I writhe on the cement floor.
I give up: snakes? Not true.
Yes, I think you've seen this cliffhanger before.
Great Prose Alert:
And then I let out a shriek of surprise.
More like Return to Sender.