Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Goosebumps HorrorLand #01 Revenge of the Living Dummy

So, as you may have heard, there's another Goosebumps series out there. Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. Haha, just like the Godfather Part III, it's a reference! But we mustn't dwell. No, not today. We can't. Not on Blogger Beware Update Day! All HorrorLand books are bisected, with a main storyline running around ninety pages and a second shorter storyline featuring the same characters in a concurrent and continuing storyline involving the world's least-likely theme park this side of Emily's Reasons Why NotLand, HorrorLand. For someone who tries to forget these books as quickly as possible, often during reading, the idea of having to keep up with continuity is the first scary impulse borne of the series.


Let's start with the obvious problem: If the female victims of Slappy's tape loop-esque torments change from book to book, who specifically is he getting revenge on?

RL Stine starts things out in medias grave with gal pals Britney and Molly fending off wild raccoons whilst digging up a plot in a cemetery. Oh Stine, you've been away for a decade, but your perceptive insight into the normal activities of preteens has remained intact. After introducing this ringtailed excitement, Britney drops a To Be Coontinued on us and takes the reader back two weeks to explain how the pair ended up in their graveyard predicament. The book then starts proper with the only thing more exciting than swarming raccoons in a graveyard: Anything.

Alleged dramatic conflict occurs with the revelation that Britney's been bumped up to the sewing room in order to make room for her visiting cousin, Ethan. In the process of exaggerating how lame Ethan is, Britney reveals her and Molly's love of lists. RL Stine: Closet Dave Eggers fan? Or, Dave Eggers: Closet RL Stine Fan?

It's clear we're in Next Generation territory when Britney starts talking on her cell phone and doesn't describe it as being a Zack Morris style device the size of a five pound block of cheese. However, what teen uses their phone as a phone? Swing and a miss, Stine. Britney is whining about the Ethanding living situation to Molly and like a good friend she pretends to care. Britney and Molly are totes LYLAS to the point that everyone thinks they're literally S's, so it's a familial duty.

Unfortunately, despite how much family matters, their phone call is cut short by Britney's clumsy mom dropping something in the background and loudly opining, "Did I do that?" Britney tries to help her mom clean up but she just pinches her cheeks and reminders her daughter to be nice to Ethan, since his parents are pretty much abandoning him. Britney's mom is described as wearing "tight designer jeans," which goes a long way towards distancing this from the faux-Kitchen Sink realism direction all the dour bad family details were heading (Molly's parents have split as well). Britney has had too many run-ins with Ethan to be optimistic, especially since the last time he visited he erased her term paper. In Ethan's defense, how could he delete something that's never ever existed (a twelve-year-old's term paper)?

Right on cue, Ethan shows up with everyone's* favorite dummy, Slappy, or as Ethan calls him, Mr. Badboy. Mr. Badboy.

Mr. Badboy.

Ethan tries to get the doll to perform, but all it can utter are guttural grunts, affirmations, and its name followed by the year. J/K, of course Slappy just smacks Britney in the head. Britney tries to escape Ethan's rough grasp of ventriloquy by fleeing to Molly's house, but her Mollytime is popped by her mother's insistence that Ethan come with.

In a rather convenient turn, Molly's dad "Wild Man" Molloy is revealed to be a globetrotting explorer who has a private doll museum in his attic. What, there was no room in his unmarked, windowless van? Wild Man stops Ethan and slowly fondles Slappy under his doll garments while uttering the word "interesting" no less than four times. In a scene right out of the Peter Finch storyline of Sunday Bloody Sunday, Slappy looks all too familiar to Wild Man, who quickly changes the subject and invites all of the kids up to the attic for more highly questionable adult behavior.

Wild Man shows off his assorted weirdities to the kids, strange remnants of cultures long since gone: shrunken heads, animal skulls, XFL pennants, Zumba pants, Dunk-a-roos, &c. The aforementioned shrunken head is attached to a foot-long wooden body and Wild Man introduces the glass-encased doll as "The Mind Stealer," a forbidden object that promises doom to anyone who touches it. Abstinence-only sex ed has finally found its mascot! Britney is terrified of the mind-stealing doll, but Wild Man assures her that it's safe behind "triple-thick glass." Britney then accidentally hits her head on the case, hears a buzzing in her ears and screams out:
"Oh no! My mind!"
But hold the phone Frank Black, you're holding a phone and the buzz is a text message indicator. It's a rare non-sext warning her that dinner will be ready soon. At least, I think that's not sextual...

Back at home, Ethan puts on a "comedy" act involving Mr. Badboy that could very possibly be lifted verbatim from an earlier Slappy incarnation with only a few updated quips like "You don't look like Mischa Barton, you look like Mischa Fartin'," which sadly still proves the act to be a couple years behind the curve.

Britney attempts to finish taking her belongings out of her room but Ethan stops her when she tries to remove the poster for her favorite band, Skullboy. See, Skullboy is Mr. Badboy's favorite band and he'll be upset if it goes. If Britney having the hots for Skullboy member Buzzy doesn't sound like a keen insight into the current preteen mindset, then maybe this revelation of Molly's hobbies will assuage all fears:
She dreams up scenes on imaginary planets and paints them. Then she downloads photos of movie and music stars off the Internet. And she prints them out and adds them to her paintings.
I think Stine has once again mistaken a twelve-year-old girl with Robert Pollard. Add the subsequent revelation that the girls love to post on the online site FacePlace and you've got a book with its finger on the schmulse of youth. To the surprise of no one, Britney's Skullboy poster is subsequently torn up, presumably by Mr. Badboy. Ethan should have named the doll Mr. Manners and it'd have only made sure the poster was hanging level. Britney tries to get her parents to believe that it was the evil doll's doing, but they don't believe her. In a new twist, however, Mr. Badboy pushes Britney down the stairs and tells her, I kid you not,
"Don't ever snitch on me again!"
Great, Stine's overcompensated in the opposite direction and started writing urban fiction. Kinda gives a new dimension to the antagonist being called a dummy, though.

A few days later, Molly calls Britney in the middle of the night and insists that she come over to help her bury the Mind Stealer doll because a strange doll expert phoned her and told her it was unsafe to keep it anywhere but a graveyard. I've missed being able to write sentences like that, I hope you've missed reading them.

The girls successfully bury the doll and face the raccoons and blah blah blah, time passes and Britney gives a painting lesson to a group of shut-ins at an old folks home. They heckle her. It's great. Then Ethan presents his Mr. Badboy show for the elderly and no points awarded for figuring out what happens next: Mr. Badboy tells a series of mean-spirited jokes aimed at upsetting the geriatrics (Sample bit: "Q: What's the biggest difference between Cocoon and Cocoon 2: the Return? A: YOU'RE GOING TO DIE SOON") before the doll starts chucking paint at the hobbled elders. Haha, take that, age!

After the show, Britney calls Molly and begs for her Dad's number, but she's seen Crazy. Stupid. Love. and besides, Wild Man's away on business near Australia. Desperate to have Molly believe her, Britney sneaks over and the two take a look in Wild Man's private ventriloquism files. He has ventriloquy files. Of course he does. Inside the large file is a picture of Slappy, revealing his true name and origins and the six secret words to both wake him up and put him to sleep. Britney corners the inanimate object and says the secret words, only to find a remote controlling Mr. Badboy's speech and movements. Realizing that Ethan was pranking her the whole time, Britney gets furious and promises revenge. But the good news is that her uttering of the secret words did bring Slappy to life, so at least she followed-through on the promise of the premise. Almost a happy ending when you think about it.

Slappy overheard Britney talking about the Mind Stealer doll and decides an object that would vacate the minds of any chosen subject would be ideal in creating better  and more pliant slaves. So, the Slappy series takes one step further into just being misogynist fantasy pornography, neat. When Britney refuses to help, Slappy decides he'll just do it himself and walks to the cemetery. Somehow the dummy knows where to dig-- hey, with dolls I expect ELM not ESP, amirite? And how about long it takes women drivers to get ready in the bathroom, amirite fellas? Just as Slappy's about to uncover the doll from its triple-glassed container, Britney lunges at the dummy and hurls it into the glass case. Slappy breaks through all three layers and knocks noggins with the Mind Stealer doll, which, true to form, steals Slappy's mind. It's a reliable evil object, I'll give it that.

But the Twist Is
Britney hears the buried doll crying out with Slappy's words as she exits the graveyard, the grievous call a little reminder to us all whose sadness wasn't so small.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship
Seems like someone still hasn't learned to just LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE as she is constantly harangued by her cousin Ethan, whose parents disappear halfway through the book's set-up.

Questionable Parenting
Molly's full name is Molly Molloy-- no wonder her parents got divorced, at least one of them was responsible for that decision.

RL Stine Shows He Is Down With the Kids
Ethan tops-off a brill bit of ventriloquy by aggressively tap dancing at Britney in a moment of realism that makes West Side Story look like the Wire.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending
Ch. 2 / 3:
What is that horrifying sound!? It's… a plate.

Blogger Beware Alert
Mrs. Berman glared at him. "Your jokes are not acceptable!"

Don Martin Alert
The dummy's wooden hand swung up fast-- then came down hard. And-- CLONNNNK-- slammed me in the forehead.

Great Prose Alert
I pressed my hands against my throbbing temples, trying to push the pain away.



This section is prefaced by a "typed" invitation to HorrorLand, and no expense was incurred to recreate the experience for the reader, as the invite is laid out in one of those free "Lyke Totally Old Typewriter" fonts that comes preloaded to every word processor. The "Guest Relations" worker who sent the invite to Britney and Molly is named "Di Kwickley." It's pretty subtle, but if you say the name out loud it sounds like "My Dixie Wrecked."

Britney and Molly are excited about going to visit HorrorLand: Wait, who are Britney and Molly again? Dammit, I knew having to keep track of all this continuity would be difficult. They should take a page from Fringe and just have the same actors playing different characters every week with absolutely no continuous storyline. To be fair, Molly does briefly question how HorrorLand knew to invite her along with Britney's family, but Britney's dad insists it's normal for theme parks to know a lot about people. And he's right, of course. Like that time Epcot sent me flowers after my root canal, or when Busch Gardens called to wish me a happy half-birthday, or how Five Flags changed their name after consulting my favorite numbers. Dad also praises the buzzards flying over the packed parking lot:
Dad laughed. "They're probably animated robots or something. Very clever."
Well, comparatively. Upon entering the park, the Horror working the ticket booth pretends to eat the girls' invitation. See? The Horror can't admit the family until he makes every member scream so they can log it for identification purposes, which he achieves by burning their luggage with a flamethrower. Still less invasive than any TSA policy. Another Horror pulls up in themed cab and drives the family at quick speed through HorrorLand. They pass many, many badly punned attractions (Vampire State Building, Dancing With the Squids, Gossip Ghoul, &c). The hack mows through a group of Boy Scouts, once more revealing Stine's deep-set social liberalism. The cab driver crashes the taxi and everyone gets out to wander the grounds while looking for their on-site hotel. Britney and Molly check out a mask shop that ominously features masks of their faces! Although creepy, I think the bigger shock for the girls is the realization that so much expense went into producing masks with so little potential for mass popularity. The girls have some graphs and charts representing their mask marketplace studies to present to the Horrors, but to their terror there's no spooky-themed board room.

The family eventually finds the hotel, which of course is called the Stagger Inn. Oh my sides ache! From resting the book on my hips and punching it repeatedly. While waiting for their rooms, a renegade Horror whispers to the family, "Molly Britney Dad Mom, you in danger girl girl boy girl." The helpful Horror begs them to escape while they still can and find the "other park." Ominous Foreshadowing Alert!

The hotel's guide (Even in the current economy there is apparently no shortage of jobs available for hideous monsters), Druella, is dressed like an emaciated waif with 5000+ Tumblr notes, her purple tights and a green skirt complementing her long blonde hair. And horns. She leads Britney's parents to their room on the second floor, then takes the girls up to their private suite on the thirteenth floor, which, in keeping with the spooky titles for everything at the park, has been renamed the 666th Floor. The girls are delighted to see a pretty normal and decked-out room, with a flat-screen TV, plenty of clothes in their size, and, in one of the book's rare puns, free "shock-a-lot bars." The girls are so excited to tell Britney's parents about their swag that it's a drag when the Horror working the counter informs the pair that the 'rents checked out. All that's left in Britney's parents' room is a digital camera with a picture of Slappy on it. At least, let's hope that's what that is.

Oh yeah, good work book, I definitely care enough about that thing that just happened to read more things like it.

The book closes with a "Fear File," a dopey collection of still more puns, this time in the guise of actual items like menus from HorrorLand cafes (which serve "Mice Crispies" and "Yucky Charms"-- is the fearsome part someone ordering cereal at a restaurant?) and a hand-drawn map of the Stagger Inn that looks like rejected Eric Chase Anderson art. These pages feature pictures of paper clips in the corner so you know they're like totally life-like. The book concludes with an invitation to spend time at EnterHorrorLand.com. I don't know, an online site devoted to Goosebumps-- how popular could that be?

*For the purposes of this entry, "Everyone" is played by the Scholastic Publishing Marketing Department


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Anonymous said...

Oh hey, troy, now that I have you here... up, no, too late, hes gone back to the magical land of not blogger beware. Well, if you ever come back, I was just wondering why you quit the blog. Oh no wait. Silly me, your monthly twitter posts are a surefire sign that you are returning. I was wondering why you've gone on a 2-3 year hiatus.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

IT HAS BEEN 4 YEARS NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 YEARS OVERDUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

5 now...

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