“Reader Beware! You’re In for a Scare!”
As one of the most popular horror authors of the decade, author R.L. Stine had a humongous influence on kids everywhere during the 1990’s—introducing many to the joys of spine-tingling horror and tongue-in-cheek mystery—his Goosebumps books a hallmark of school book fairs and local libraries across the country. As a horror buff myself, I can attest to cutting my teeth on R.L. Stine books…I read everything that I could find by him. One of the things I loved most about Stine’s books is that he never talked down to his audience, which is probably why so many of us embraced his work. Sure, he wrote PG rated horror novels, but they’re among some of the most inventive horror yarns you’re likely to find outside of “adult” novelists like Stephen King, Clive Barker or Ray Bradbury. Personally, I must have re-read “Stay Out of the Basement” at least three times; which says a lot for someone who had to have his arm twisted to read anything when he was a child.
A television adaptation of the Goosebumps series soon followed. Premiering on October 27, 1995 as part of the US afternoon line-up FOX Kids, Goosebumps (TV series) kicked things off with one of the more notable tales from Stine’s cannon, “The Haunted Mask.” The two-part episode involves young Cary Caldwell, who buys a Halloween mask from a local store and is warned that if she wears the mask more than three times, she’ll begin to get possessed by it. Naturally, Caldwell doesn’t heed the advice of the shopkeeper and the mask begins transforming Caldwell in to a vicious monster.
Other notable episodes include “The Girl Who Cried Monster,” about a young girl prone to spinning tall tales who suspects that her local librarian is in fact a monster; “Night of the Living Dummy,” where a young girl named Amy is given a ventriloquist dummy named Slappy with a nasty attitude; “Be Care What You Wish For…” in which another young girl is granted three wishes by a mysterious amulet that gives her good fortune, but causes pain for everyone else; and “Calling All Creeps!,” the tale of a bullied kid named Ricky who arouses the attention of three aliens masquerading as school students who confuse him for their commander. Suffice it to say, if you like your Stine stories a little bleak, these are the episodes to watch (especially “Calling All Creeps!”). One of my fondest memories involves my little sister being reduced to tears during “Night of the Living Dummy” and “Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes” episodes!
You might think it’d be hard to take Stine’s novels and conjure up the same magic on to television, but Goosebumps managed to accomplish the feat, sticking to what made the novels so accessible right down to the monster designs. And though the series garnered a pretty small budget, it perfectly evoked a lot of Stine’s more notable installments from the Goosebumps label for young audiences. Even the opening credits—involving the man in black releasing pages from Stine’s books onto an unsuspecting populace and spreading the terror—cemented the anthology series as its own breed of horror. The energy and genuine novelty of the show was absolutely infectious and, thankfully, the series paid great respect to the original novels. With every episode you were guaranteed some decent scares, a lot trademark R.L. Stine dark humor, and a surprise ending that would almost always leave you dumbstruck.
Goosebumps lasted four seasons, seventy-four episodes total, and is still widely celebrated by 90s kids and horror fans alike. Various kids networks in the US and Canada have re-run episodes including Cartoon Network and the (now defunct) The Hub. It can also be found in most stores on DVD and online outlets like Amazon and Netflix. Though the original series may be long over, R.L. Stine’s work has continued to flourish with several other Goosebumps-inspired series like The Witching Hour, TV movies, reprints of his novels and—this month!—a big budget feature film, promising to spawn a whole new generation of fans.