Thursday, November 06, 2008

Series 2000 #15 Scream School

Series 2000 15 Scream School

Front Tagline: Student body stalker... (What.)

Brief Synopsis:
Add "Movie Sets" to the list of things RL Stine is not qualified to write about, right below "Everything." Not content with merely ripping off books from the original series, Scream School opens with a riff on the opening to Cry of the Cat, as fictional characters in a film are presented as the novel's protagonists. Unfortunately, the illusion is shattered when Jake, the son of the film's director, Emory Banyon, accidentally messes up a take while offscreen. Emory calls "Cut" and rolls action against his son.

Emory is obsessed with the idea that his son is scared of things. Jake refuses to admit he was scared. Probably because it would be really embarrassing to be scared of the movie Emory is shooting, an entry in the titular horror film series for kids featuring as villain an incredibly obvious riff on Freddy Krueger (complete with melted skin and long sharp nails), Johnny Scream. That's supposed to be him on the cover, only he isn't exactly described as a leprosy-ridden Irish Longshoreman in the novel. Creative liberties.

After being embarrassed on the set in front of his friend Chelsea, Emory continues to test Jake, prodding him with scary stimulus and looking for an honest admission of fear. His first effort is hiding an eyeball in a bucket of chicken-- I've heard about Original Recipe, but Original Reci-see? Sorry about that joke, it was pretty cornea?

Jake cautiously revisits the Scream School set. While on-set, the star of the film gets sick and throws up (of course). Emory is such a visionary director that he casts his son to serve as the star's double. The actor was supposed to emerge from a shuttered art cabinet at the back of a classroom, only to be greeted by a cadre of snakes on the floor. Emory insists that no one will notice his son isn't the star, as he intends to film him from the back. Unless Jake exits the art cabinet backwards, that's going to be some feat. Jake then mistakes an electrical cord for a snake, to much deserved embarrassment.

Jake now obsesses about not appearing scared. His father leaves him a note on his birthday to take the limo to the studio. Once he arrives, he's greeted by zombies and it somehow never occurs to him that he was set-up. Jake runs away from his own surprise party in tears after being embarrassed by his father. His mother runs after him. The actors playing the zombies shuffle slowly off the set, as they are method actors.

After some healing time passes, Emory comes up to his son while in the pool and spits water at his chest. This is his way of saying, "Hey, I'm shooting a new Scream School movie in a haunted school in the middle of a desert. Want to come with me?" I checked in a book about body language and shockingly, that is actually an exact translation of spitting water at someone's chest.

Once father and son arrive in the desert, Jake makes a keen observation:
"Wow! It's hot in the sun!"
Jake is sent to look around the abandoned building while the crew finishes setting up their film equipment. Because Hollywood productions often scout locations after setting up filming, not before. Jake stumbles upon a mysterious gamine in the midsts of the cobwebs. She introduces herself as Mindy, a teenage extra on the film. She claims she got lost from the rest of her friends, and that they all drove over from a neighboring desert town to be extras on the film. When she reveals that she gets killed by Johnny Scream in the film, it becomes apparent that either she or the author doesn't understand what being an extra in a film means.

As they walk around the spooky school, Mindy tells Jake the story of how the school got haunted. See, the town council, like most responsible governing bodies, insisted on building the school over the existing cemetery, despite there being plenty of available land elsewhere. Though they did move the bodies, the souls were still pissed about not getting their security deposit back and decide to take revenge on the children. The ghosts do this by tying up some kids in a volleyball net, which clearly was the one thing Emory didn't do to scare his son.

After Mindy finally meets up with her friends, one of them warns Jake that she's a notorious liar. He asks her if he can believe what she said. Mindy tells him "You decide," ensuring her a long career with Fox News.

Ghostly accidents and horrors befall the set, such as human appendages showing up in the cafeteria food and a cheerleading scene being interrupted by the discovery of a human skull. Where be your gibes / You ain't got no alibi / Yorick! Yeah, Yeah, Yorick! Woooo!

Finally, in a bizarre, anti-climactic finale, Emory is led onto the classroom set, only to be greeted by actors he knows he didn't hire. He knows this because they are effectively scary, and in fact they terrify him with their ghostly intimidations. It's then that Jake reveals he got Mindy and her friends to play a prank on him by making him scared. Triumphantly, he asks his father to admit that he's scared.

But the Twist is:
Emory is upset at being tricked but thrilled that the cameras were rolling, as he can use the footage in the film. Yes, he can use the footage showing the director and none of the film's stars being scared for a few seconds in the film. However, artistic sacrifice is foisted upon the auteur by external forces: none of the children have shown up on film. Jake's friends really were ghosts.

But the Twist Really is:
They aren't really. Turns out Jake had the hindsight to film the empty classroom himself before his father entered. Yes, because members of a film crew love to work when they don't have to. Or is the point that Jake operated the camera himself without any training? And that the cameras were left unattended? And that for whatever reason his father watched the footage in horror without noticing that, y'know, it doesn't show him or his son either? I think even Gig Young would have had trouble sycophanting it up on this set.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Jake may remember her well, but Chelsea disappears halfway through the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
I can't believe Mindy's parents were okay with her wandering around a film-set unescorted.

Hey, California. The Novel Takes Place in California. California. California California California. California Alert:
Jake and his friends propose walking around the UCLA campus for fun and going to eat at In-And-Out Burger. What, too busy to see the sign or a palm tree?

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 2/3:
Nothing scares Jake. Nothing except whatever causes him to open his mouth in a scream of terror.

Great Prose Alert:
He spun around. Stared. And opened his mouth in a scream of terror.

I guess they never let Stine on the set of the television series?


Anonymous said...

Oh my, I remember this one so well. Wasn't there a scene where Johnny Scream was just standing around somewhere, and then it just turned out to be an empty costume and he'd vanished?

Also, I remember thinking as a kid that the birthday surprise scene was utterly, utterly horrible. Didn't they put models of his friends' heads on sticks?

Anonymous said...

"He spun around. Stared. And opened his mouth in a scream of terror."

The prose must not have been that bad overall in Scream School, as I remember some variation on this line appearing in every single Goosebumps book.

Groggy Dundee said...

aoWell. What a horrendously misleading title/cover.

Anonymous said...

OK, the Hamlet reference had me laughing out loud! Hilarious. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...


Seriously, what? And more importantly, why?

Ryan said...

"Didn't they put models of his friends' heads on sticks?"

I think that happened in a non2000 Goosebumps book as well. Unless that is what you're thinking of.... I think Haunted Mask..... maybe I'm wrong.

Any how, that book sounds incredibly boring. Thank god Troy was able to pull an entertaining entry out of such a bland sounding book. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

The Haunted Mask had a (fake) head on a stick, but I'm pretty sure heads on sticks was part of the birthday prank in this book. Our hero was terrified and broke down in tears, as I recall it. In front of everyone. The actors apologised; they thought he was in on the gag. Hall of Fame Questionable Parenting indeed.

And yeah. Student Body Stalker. Just, what. Why would anyone have thought that would be a good idea?

Zak said...

I seriously don't think Stine comes up with the taglines.

Also yes there is a scene where someone pretends to have Chelsea's head on a stick.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's more original than Fear Street taglines. About half of those seem to just be "Sometimes [noun] can be murder." Frankly, whoever does the taglines probably makes them deliberately cheesy if they don't think much of the book. I know I would; it'd be one of the perks of the job.

Ryan said...

It's a play on the phrase 'body stalker' of course.... oh wait....

You're definitely right about those Fear Street tags. They remind me of that guy who does voice over work for that cop show. "They thought they could beat the law.... but the law.... beat them."

Or some such nonsense. That's how most of those tag lines sound in my head. =)

troy steele said...

Anything sounds better when you imagine John Bunnell saying it

Reepicheep-chan said...

IMHO, the Goosebumps tag lines seem better than the Fear Street ones.
"They were flirting-- with death."
"It started as a game... and ended in death!"
"It began as a prank... and ended in murder!"
"The perfect tan... or the perfect murder?"
"Will Lily get an A in murder?"
"Sometimes friendships can be murder..."
“Seeing too much is murder!”
‘Camping can be murder...’
“Two’s company. But three can be murder.”
"Valentines Day can be a killer."
“Sometimes the truth can kill you.”

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but the Welcome To Dead House tagline: "It will just kill you." That's barely a pun at all. That's an outright threat.

I agree they'd have gotten it down to a fine art later, though. Or... not so fine, given "Student Body Stalker." And the HorrorLand books have like three back taglines, no jesting.

tj said...

Hey troy is this weeks entry gonna be on time?

Ryan Ferneau said...

And you know what they say about piano lessons...!

Groggy Dundee said...

>And you know what they say about piano lessons...!

They're extremly rewarding.

troy steele said...

Boy, if you all thought last week's title was misleading, get ready

Zak said...

I actually remember The Mummy Walks being rather good.

Misleading title... I would have to agree actually.

Groggy Dundee said...

What? Does The Mummy Sleep the whole time?

Anonymous said...

Well, The Mummy Sits in a Comfortable Armchair isn't a terribly exciting title.

Cheezy90'sScifi said...

"Reading juvenile fiction...can be murder!"

Alki Hollick said...

"I guess they never let Stine on the set of the television series?"

Reply: Well, not the original Goosebumps series (that really campy Canadian series that aired on FOX and usually airs on Cartoon Network around Halloween), but R.L. Stine *was* the executive producer of the short-lived series, "The Nightmare Room" (it came on Kids' WB for a season).

lillian said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


ReadMcG said...

Yeah, I'm replying to this two years late, so I don't know if you'll ever read this, but for what it's worth...

When she reveals that she gets killed by Johnny Scream in the film, it becomes apparent that either she or the author doesn't understand what being an extra in a film means.

Not necessarily. An extra is (roughly speaking) someone who appears in a movie but has no lines. If an extra has a particularly notable part in which he or she is the focus of a shot, then he or she is considered a featured extra... but still an extra.

It's true there are situations in which an actor might have no lines but still be considered a principle. (That is, not an extra.) As an extreme example, if the main character of a movie is mute (or, heck, if it's a silent movie), the actor playing that character certainly wouldn't be considered an extra, even though he never says anything. Just being killed by the movie's villain wouldn't be enough for that, though. It's entirely possible (and not really even unusual) for someone to play a character killed by the main villain in a movie and still be considered an extra, if they had no lines and weren't otherwise an important presence, and the scene in which they were killed was the only scene in which they were prominent. Again, they'd be a featured extra, since they did more than just show up indistinctly in the background, but they'd still be an extra.

Read MacGuirtose said...

On the other hand, though...

Alki Hollick: Well, not the original Goosebumps series (that really campy Canadian series that aired on FOX and usually airs on Cartoon Network around Halloween), but R.L. Stine *was* the executive producer of the short-lived series, "The Nightmare Room" (it came on Kids' WB for a season).

Which still doesn't mean he ever set foot on the set. "Executive Producer" could mean anything; there are frequent ads on craigslist in L.A. by the producers of independent movies offering Executive Producer credit to anyone who donates $100 (or some other amount). It's often a sinecure title, given to someone the producers owe a favor to. Basically, "Executive Producer" is just a title that producers give when they want to give someone credit but they didn't do anything that warranted a more specific credit. It doesn't necessarily mean the person credited was involved in any way with the actual filming.

So, all "Executive Producer" may have meant in this case was that the producers figured Stine had supported them enough, or whatever, that he deserved some credit despite not having any direct hand in the production, so they gave him an Executive Producer credit, because that's the credit you give someone when you want to give them a credit but there's nothing else that fits.

Now, I'm not saying Stine definitely wasn't present on the set. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't; I don't know. All I'm saying is that the fact that he was credited as an "Executive Producer" doesn't prove anything.

Misterbluesky said...

I can only hope that both of you are really McG, for no other reason other than that I'm watching Supernatural.

Read MacGuirtose said...

I... don't know who the McG you're referring to is.

OK, now I Googled it so I do know. Hadn't heard of him before. But anyway...

The McG in my first post is just an abbreviation of my last name. I hadn't realized till now that I used the abbreviation in my first post and the full name in my second post. There was really no good reason for me to do that. Oh well.

ya said...

I think it surprised me! when i read at home, i felt afraid. But, how can i summary that novel? i'll tell my friends about it. you can contact on my facebook. it is "Green Boy band"

Mike said...

My pathetic claim to fame is that I actually got to watch several episodes of the show being filmed (my friend's dad was one of the producers of the show). If I recall, they were filming 'Vampire Breath', and I got to watch approximately 50 takes of the main boy pulling down a (fake) cabinet onto the main female character. This was much more thrilling to 8 year old me, who was captivated by the fact that you could, for example, make lightning and thunder sound on cue.

According to my friend's dad, Stein actually DIDN'T ever show up on the set, FWIW.