Goosebumps 26-30

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20 | 21-25

For tonight’s review, I’m going to take a look at R.L. Stine’s original Goosebumps series. This ran for sixty-two novels which were all published between 1992 and 1997. Please be aware that this is a retrospective post, and therefore will contain spoilers for the novels in question. I should probably also note that I am working through this series in the order that the books were released in the United Kingdom, which does vary a little from their American release order.

In The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Michael is growing to hate his sister Tara. She is constantly getting him into trouble and goes out of her way to ruin his life. However, when his Dad brings home a strange new clock, Michael’s luck seems to turn around. The clock has the power to turn back time, allowing Michael a chance to save himself from Tara’s tricks. Trouble is, Michael has no idea how to stop the clock and every day he wakes up younger…

In Monster Blood III, Evan is having a hard time with his cousin, Kermit. Everyone thinks that Kermit is a genius but Evan knows that he just uses his weird formulas to cause trouble. When Andy suggests getting revenge by slipping the Monster Blood into Kermit’s latest experiment, Evan is reluctant but soon warms to the idea. Yet, when something goes wrong and Evan accidentally ingests the mysterious goo, he soon finds himself in really big trouble…

In Ghost Beach, Jerry and Terri are sent to stay with their distant cousins in their quaint cottage. At first, they have fun exploring the nearby beach, but everything changes when they discover the cave. The local kids seem to be terrified of it, claiming that a murderous ghost lives there, but Jerry is sceptical. He might not be able to explain the strange lights in the cave, but there is just something untrustworthy about the kids. Is the ghost real, or is something much stranger afoot?

In The Phantom of the Auditorium, Brooke and Zeke are excited to be cast as the leads in their school play. However, strange things have been happening. They discover a mysterious trapdoor in the stage that leads far beneath the school, and soon after start to find threatening messages. Everyone thinks that Zeke is to blame, but Brooke isn’t so sure. Could it actually be that the school is haunted?

In It Came from Beneath the Sink!, Kat and Daniel are excited to move into their new home, but things soon change when their dog finds the sponge. Although it looks ordinary enough, they are surprised to find it is alive. Worse still, bad things have started to happen to Kat and her family and, whenever they do, the sponge seems to grow more and more excited. Can Kat find out what the strange creature is before the accidents become fatal?

In this little block of Goosebumps books, things have started to perhaps get a bit familiar. While there is still some originality to be found in the likes of The Cuckoo Clock of Doom’s time travel plot, most of the other instalments seem almost uncomfortably similar to earlier instalments of the series. Monster Blood III is obviously linked to the previous two instalments of this micro-series, Ghost Beach carries shades of Welcome to Dead House and even the strikingly unique It Came from Beneath the Sink! still shares some surprising similarities with Say Cheese and Die!.

While I suppose this is to be expected in such a long running series (after all, there are only so many horror stories that one can tell), I must admit that it is a little disappointing. The familiarity only serves to make the stories more predictable, making the twists easier to see coming and just generally making the stories seem less creepy than they once were. But, that said, this didn’t mean that these stories were any less enjoyable than what came before. Let’s take a little look at each of them in turn.

The Cuckoo Clock of Doom marked a turning point for me. Previously, I have criticised certain books in this series for rewarding the vengeful, but not in this case. Michael’s seven-year-old sister, Tara, is the most annoying and vindictive Goosebumps sibling to date. She’s not just a simple loud-mouth like Lefty in Let’s Get Invisible. She is cruel and calculating, even going so far as to orchestrate her brother getting beaten to a bloody pulp and laughing about it afterwards. Seriously, this child is an utter sociopath and deserves everything that she gets.

The story itself is actually rather tense and compelling. As time begins to turn back, Michael wakes up every morning and finds himself looking younger than the day before. While this is initially just a bit of an embarrassment, he soon finds that he is restricted by the limitations that come with this youthening, such as losing his ability to walk and talk. This sets a clear time-frame on the story, making it feel increasingly tense as the reader realises that Michael only has a few days to put time right before he ceases to exist.

The final sting of the novel, in which Michael learns that he has prevented his sister’s birth and chooses to do nothing, is mean -pirited but incredibly satisfying. After going through such a terrifying ordeal, it is at least nice that Michael finally gets the 12th birthday of his dreams. While you can argue against the ethics of his decision, I think that I might have been tempted to do the same thing if I had been bullied as badly as him.

In terms of characterisation, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom was actually very strong. It was incredibly easy to feel sorry for Michael as he was actually a good kid who had been given a terrible reputation due to Tara’s lies. As Tara can do no wrong in their parents eyes, this generally leads to Michael being blamed for everything and treated as though he is an utter moron by his parents.

Tara, on the other hand, is a demon in human form. She has no redeemable features at all and is probably the most horrifying Goosebumps monster to date, as the novel quickly establishes that she is virtually able to get away with murder. While she is also hideously annoying, this did at least serve to make Michael’s eventual revenge all the sweeter.

While The Cuckoo Clock of Doom was a very strong addition to the series, it was unfortunately followed by another Monster Blood novel. While Monster Blood III is probably the strongest instalment of this sub-series so far, that really isn’t saying much. There is nothing especially fresh about this story as it does not reveal anything about the ooze that we did not already know.

As with Monster Blood II, the story does not even really make any reference to the previous instalments. Bear in mind that this is not the first time that Evan has ingested the goo, yet he does not acknowledge this fact. We also don’t learn the fate of Cuddles the hamster, who was last seen eating Monster Blood in the climax of the Monster Blood II.

What we do get is more of the same idiocy. Despite the fact that Evan is still suffering from nightmares, he and Andy are still quick to abuse the Monster Blood in order to have their revenge on another kid. They are also still both being tormented by Conan the bully, who has learned nothing since his public humiliation in Monster Blood II. The only thing that really spiced up the story this time around was the addition of Kermit.

Kermit is a monster. He’s not quite as bad as Tara in The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, but boy is it close. He goes out of his way to actively get Evan hurt and even tests out unknown chemicals on his pet dog. To make matters worse, adults are completely unable to see through Kermit’s act. They believe everything that he says over Evan and Andy, and are quick to punish the other children on his say so.

Although Kermit is crying out for a comeuppance, this never comes. The ending of Monster Blood III is very similar to that of Monster Blood II, only with Evan suddenly shrinking rather than Cuddles growing. Once again, you got the distinct feeling that none of the characters had learned anything over the course of the story, so I expect that things will play out much the same when we eventually get to Monster Blood IV.

Ghost Beach presented the first pure ghost story in this series since The Ghost Next Door. It’s a relatively straight-forward story, refreshingly lacking in the typical Goosebumps weirdness, yet does present itself as a surprisingly creepy tale. It draws its tension by isolating two siblings in a remote location and causing the reader to question which of the decidedly odd locals that Jerry and his sister Terri (what parent named these children?) meet are actually still alive.

Ghost Beach is a pretty fast-paced story that maintains its eerie atmosphere well, as Jerry slowly finds himself drawn to the scary cave and starts to learn the truth behind the rumours of the ghost that lives there. The ending of the story is rather predictable, with a twist that most savvy readers will see coming from far away. However, the climax is still rather exciting as Jerry is forced to make a snap decision as to the identity of a murderous ghost – one which will have lethal implications if he is wrong.

The characters in the novel are all very strong, with Jerry and Terri both being very well developed, possessing contrasting personalities and a selection of wonderful (and at times, fortunately useful) hobbies. Terri’s weirdness and Jerry’s love of science helped set them both apart, giving them a very diverse skill set when it came to investigating the ghost. The backstory of the ghosts is only exposited late in the tale but is also very creepy, even if the clues that Jerry and Terri discover about them in the local graveyard felt as though they had been lifted from the very similar scene in Welcome to Dead House.

While it is far from being the worst Goosebumps book, there was just something underwhelming about The Phantom of the Auditorium. It’s not really a horror story, but more of a mystery concerning who (or what) is trying to sabotage a school play. While a lot of the play’s Macbeth-style notoriety was just a red herring, the play itself is a rather unsubtle cross between the of The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The story is incredibly slow burning, and the only real moments of tension occur when the kids descend into the hidden tunnel beneath the school (though, seriously, why does that stage lift go down so far?).

While the story did keep my attention throughout, I did feel that it was rather forgettable on the whole. There isn’t really a villain this time around and so the kids are never placed in a position where they have to outwit or defend themselves against an external force. The story isn’t even ultimately that supernatural. While adult readers will find the identity of the Phantom – a crazed homeless man living beneath a high school – to be a little creepy, I think it’s likely to disappoint young readers.

The only thing that I did think was kind of fun was the twist. While I must admit that I did see this coming, the ghostly reveal of Brian’s true identity was the only supernatural moment in the story and therefore was tonnes of fun, finally resolving the mystery of the missing kid from the play’s original performance years before.

In terms of characterisation, this novel was not especially strong but Brooke and Zeke were at least both likeable. Due his history as a practical joker, it was more understandable why adults would not believe Zeke’s claims of innocence, unlike in The Cuckoo Clock of Doom or Monster Blood III where this behaviour felt completely irrational. Unfortunately, beyond this, the protagonists did not have anything really distinct about them.

And then there is It Came from Beneath the Sink!. I truly am keeping the best until last here as it is both one of the strangest and most creepy of the Goosebumps books that I have reviewed to date. The plot revolves around a girl who discovered a weird living kitchen sponge, only to soon learn that it is actually a Gruel – an evil creature that feeds on bad luck. As the story progresses, the “incidents” that happen around Kat get progressively worse. Her dad falls off a ladder, her dog disappears, a kid gets knocked out by a baseball and, ultimately, she is almost killed in a road accident. The result of this is actually very effective, placing Kat in a surprisingly hopeless situation with little indication of how she can save herself.

The plot is fast paced and certainly kept my attention throughout. My only real issue was the ending. The way that Kat ultimately defeats the Gruel really is out there, as well as being something that was not even hinted at previously. Ultimately, I was left feeling as though Stine had backed himself into a corner with this one, forcing himself to wrap things up as quickly as possible. The ending sting, however, is something is nicely foreshadowed and did make me laugh. I was left really wanting to see what will happen to Kat next.

In terms of characterisation, the novel was also fairly strong. Kat and Daniel’s relationship felt a lot more natural than that of most Goosebumps siblings. While they argue and annoy each other, they still clearly have each other’s backs and will do all they can to protect their sibling. Less can be said of Daniel’s best friend, Carlos, and his casual disregard for the Gruel’s curse, however I suppose it can also be argued that no sane person would believe the story in the first place anyway!

Anyhow, I think that about covers anything. While the stories are starting to feel a bit over-familiar now, there are still some gems to be found. The Cuckoo Clock of Doom and It Came From Beneath the Sink! in particular do stand out nicely, and are certainly ones that I would recommend for young horror fans.

The Cuckoo Clock of Doom is currently out of print. If you would like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library

Monster Blood III is currently out of print. If you would like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library

Ghost Beach can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

The Phantom of the Auditorium can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

It Came from Beneath the Sink! can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Goosebumps 31-35 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Goosebumps 36-40 | Arkham Reviews

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