I’ll never forget what my first Goosebumps book was: “The Haunted Mask.”
I discovered it while on a trip to K-Mart with my mom; its cover (something the series would become known for), featured a young girl holding a terrifying monster mask in front of her face. I was immediately drawn in. I held the book in my hands and examined the artwork, like I did with so many horror VHS boxes from the video store. And just as I had to rent those movies to uncover the frightening mysteries contained therein, I had to have this book to find out what it was all about. My mom, never turning down the opportunity to buy me a book, tossed it in her cart.
When we got home, I immediately took the book to our living room couch, laid down, and started reading. A few hours later, I had finished it. I’d never finished a book in one sitting like that before (or since), but it was a real “page-turner” to little me. I was hooked. I made it a goal to buy every Goosebumps from then on, and to pick up all the prior entries I’d missed. (Note: I kept getting them up until #47, “Legend of the Lost Legend.” By then, I was getting too old for them and my interest had started to wane.)
All these years later, my reading habits aren’t as fervent as they once were, unfortunately—but my movie watching proclivities are stronger than ever—and with the upcoming release of the Goosebumps movie I thought it’d be fun to take some of those old stories and map what could be considered their cinematic equivalent…y’know, for “readers like me.”
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DUMMY (GB #7) / MAGIC (1978)
When it comes to sadistic, creepy, insult-hurling wooden puppets, there’s no better match to “Dummy’s” Slappy than Magic‘s own Fats. The Goosebumps story sees a vengeful ventriloquist dummy (Slappy) seemingly acting on its own accord and wreaking havoc, forcing young puppeteer Lindy Powell to take the blame for its actions. Similarly, Magic sees the meek and passive Corky (played perfectly by a young Anthony Hopkins) trying to wrangle the violent tendencies of his own puppet, the curiously named Fats. Magic is a seriously creepy psychological horror film (and directed by John Hammond-portrayer Sir Richard Attenborough, no less!), so if you have a thing for murderous puppets, I highly suggest checking it out.
ONE DAY AT HORRORLAND (GB #16) / WESTWORLD (1973)
The family in “One Day at Horrorland” are on a roadtrip through the desert. Unfortunately, they’re also without a map and after taking a detour through a mysterious forest, they end up at the titular theme park. What makes this park so peculiar is that all the rides and attractions seem to put them directly in harm’s way. It’s fairly reminiscent of Westworld, the sci-fi thriller written and directed by Michael Crichton. Westworld is set at a theme park that allows guests to live out their fantasies set in specific time-periods. For example: they could be a cowboy in the Wild West, or be a knight during Medieval times. Each of these ‘worlds’ is filled with robots for the guests to interact with. However, a malfunction with the power at the park turns all of the robots into unstoppable, murderous automatons, and the guests must fight to survive. When it comes to dangerous theme parks that are trying to kill their visitors, there is no better match than “One Day at Horrorland” and Westworld.
GO EAT WORMS! (GB #21) / THE WORM EATERS (1977)
I like to think R.L. Stine was directly inspired by the Herb Robins/Ted V. Mikels gags-terpiece The Worm Eaters when he decided to write “Go Eat Worms!” I just really enjoy imagining Stine as some purveyor of super underground drive-in cult schlock, perusing a vast collection of tapes in his basement, stopping on The Worm Eaters and saying to himself, “This would make a great kids book.” Both the film and the book feature lead characters obsessed with worms; the only difference being that the lead in “Go Eat Worms!” is in danger of the worms, whereas the lead in The Worm Eaters is the one causing the danger. Most importantly, they’re both too weird and original of a subject matter to not make great companion pieces.
THE HAUNTED MASK (GB #11) / HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
In “The Haunted Mask”, young Carly Beth Caldwell finds a creepy, lifelike mask in a mysterious costume shop. When she takes it home and puts it on, not only does it start to affect her behavior, but she soon finds she can’t take it off! In the Michael Myers-less Halloween III, deadly Halloween masks are being sold and circulated by Silver Shamrock Novelties, a mysterious company based in the fictional sleepy town of Santa Mira. Carly Beth gets off easy; she’s eventually able to remove that mask and learn a valuable life lesson in the process. The kids in Halloween III, however, aren’t so lucky: most of them have their heads nastily consumed by flesh-eating bugs. (Note: the scene I just described from Halloween III absolutely terrified me as a child. And understandably so.)
IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SINK (GB #30) / GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)
A pair of kids (our leads) in “It Came from Beneath the Sink” discover a cute little (breathing) sponge in the cabinet under the kitchen sink of the home their family just moved into. At first, the throbbing mass seems like a novel thing. However, they soon find out it feeds on misfortune and pain; the more misery that it encounters, the more it pulsates and thrives. This is identical to the glowing pink ooze which flows below the streets of New York City in Ghostbusters II. And just like how exuding love and happiness is the the only way to overcome that evil rosy goo, love and warmth is the only way to destroy the sinister sponge. But if you ask me, the book is sorely lacking in a rousing rendition of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher.”
THE SCARECROW WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (GB #20) / DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1981)
At the time “The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight” was released (1994), there weren’t a whole lot of entries in the “killer scarecrow” genre—film, TV, or otherwise. In fact, until that point, only two killer ‘crow films had been released: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (which was released as a TV movie), and 1988’s Scarecrows. Still, those two films are quite different. Night is more of a psychological/supernatural “who’s doing the killing?” type of film and keeps the audience guessing until the very end, whereas Scarecrows is pretty much a straightforward slasher film filled with a bunch of straw-stuffed boogeymen. Stine’s scarecrow entry is a bit of a combination of both, so why not watch both movies? If you do, I assure you: you’ll never have to watch another killer scarecrow movie again.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH:
The counselor on the cover of “The Horror at Camp Jellyjam” always reminded me of Peter Macnichol’s camp counselor character from Addams Family Values.
The cover of “The Curse of Camp Cold Lake” could easily be a 80s horror VHS box. Seriously, it’s freaking magnificent.