Goosebumps 31-35

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 | 26-30

It’s time for another trip down memory lane! In case you haven’t read any of my previous retrospectives, this is where I take a look at some of my childhood favourite series. Please note that these reviews will contain massive spoilers for the books in question. You have been warned.

Goosebumps is a hugely successful anthology of middle grade horror stories. It was written by R.L. Stine and the original series ran for sixty-two novels, all of which were published between 1992 and 1997. The series remains incredibly popular today, spawning numerous spin-offs, movies and video games. For the purpose of this review, I’m going to look at books 31 to 35 only. I’m also basing this on the order that they were released in the UK, as this does differ slightly to its US release order.

In Night of the Living Dummy II, Amy finds herself in trouble after her parents buy her a new ventriloquist dummy. As soon as Slappy arrives in her home, bad things start happening. Her sister’s paintings are ruined and her reputation as a ventriloquist is destroyed when a child is hurt during her act. Everyone thinks that Amy is responsible but she knows the truth. Slappy has a mind of his own and is determined to turn Amy into his slave…

In The Barking Ghost, Cooper often finds himself as the butt of his brother’s practical jokes due to the fact that he is afraid of everything. These fears turn out to be justified when he moves into a new house and is attacked by a pair of huge black dogs. Although his family claim to not see the dogs, it’s not long before they seem to be everywhere Cooper goes – even in his own home. It’s up to Cooper and his new friend, Fergie, to determine what they want before anyone gets hurt.

In The Horror at Camp Jellyjam, Wendy and Elliot find themselves stranded at a summer camp after a road accident separates them from their parents. Everything about the camp is weird – from the councillors’ obsession with winning at sports to their blobby purple mascot, King Jellyjam. As Elliot gets sucked in to the competitive atmosphere, Wendy desperately tries to find out what is going on. Because kids are disappearing from the camp every night, and if Wendy doesn’t hurry she knows that Elliot might be next…

In Revenge of the Garden Gnomes, Joe’s dad is obsessed with two things – growing better plants than his neighbour and collecting lawn ornaments. However, there is something strange about his latest two acquisitions. Every night, something is ransacking the two gardens and Joe soon finds himself blamed for the damage. Joe knows that it has something to do with the gnomes but, as he tries to catch them in the act, he soon finds that the creatures are a lot more malicious than it first seemed…

In A Shocker on Shock Street, Erin and Marty are excited to be the first two people to go on a tour of the set of their beloved “Shock Street” horror films. However, when the tram breaks down half way through the ride, they quickly realise that something is not quite right. The monsters seem to be more than just robots – they look and act as though they are real. Can Erin and Marty find their way off the tour or will they become prey for zombies and werewolves?

While there have been underwhelming novels in this series before, this little selection of Goosebumps books unfortunately contained some of my least favourite instalments to date. It’s hard to place exactly what is wrong with them as it is no singular thing. It’s more a combination of repetitive themes, weak twists and truly bizarre subject matter.

The pure weirdness of this series is probably something that will polarise readers. The early Goosebumps books had a tendency to have rather familiar horror themes, such as the undead, monster plants, mummies and werewolves. Now that we have reached the half-way point, the stories are getting a lot stranger. Even those like The Barking Ghost have odd twists to make them more than just a simple ghost story. The effectiveness of this is questionable. On the one hand, the stories are so strange that they are unforgettable. On the other, they might just be a little too weird for some readers.

However, this little selection does begin with something that fans of the series will find very familiar. Night of the Living Dummy II is the sequel to one of the most famous Goosebumps books and brings back one of Stine’s most memorable villains – Slappy the ventriloquist dummy. While its premise is very similar to that of the first Night of the Living Dummy story, the novel does not actually make any reference to this adventure as the only reoccurring character is Slappy.

The plot escalates quickly as it does not really need to spend any time building mystery this time around. Slappy’s antics grow progressively more vicious as Amy’s parents begin to call her sanity into question. As well they would, as no right-minded adult would believe their daughter’s claims that a dummy has mind of its own. Despite the fact that the reader knows that Slappy is obviously to blame from the beginning, the story still maintains its tension by playing off the inherent creepiness of dummies and the reader’s morbid curiosity to find out what Slappy will do next.

The climax of Night of the Living Dummy II is suitably dramatic, ending on a surprisingly positive note while still leaving a clear way that Slappy could return in a future novel. While it is perhaps not as striking as the twist at the end of the first novel, it was nice for a Goosebumps book to end happily for a change with no final sting.

Yet the strongest aspect of Night of the Living Dummy II was its characters. Amy’s entire family were very well-rounded, which is certainly a rarity in a Goosebumps book. Her two siblings and parents all speak with noticeably different voices and have distinct likes, fears and family rituals. Despite the short length of the novel, Stine did a great job of bringing out these personalities, making the group a relatable and realistic family unit. Slappy also still shines as an intimidating villain, although we don’t learn anything new about him that we did not already know.

Unfortunately, the series went downhill dramatically from there. The Barking Ghost began well as the reader was treated to Cooper’s first creepy encounter with the dogs. Yet it soon lost any tension that it had. The early chapters just alternate between Cooper being pranked by his older brother, and Cooper being chased by the dogs. There really isn’t any more variety than this.

It’s not until the novel approaches its climax that things suddenly get a lot weirder. The twist of this book reveals that the dogs were actually once human and can only become so again if they lure two people into a mysterious chamber and swap bodies with them. The origin of this chamber and identities of the two “dogs” are not explained at all beyond this.

This just felt incredibly forced. Once the switch occurs, Cooper and Fergie also just seem to become regular dogs. They no long seem to possess ghostly qualities and can clearly be seen by everyone. From this point on, the story rushed through its final act to get things wrapped up as fast as possible. The result of this was that the novel was just underwhelming and I personally found the final sting to be unnecessarily cruel.

In terms of characterisation, The Barking Ghost was also very weak. Cooper, like many Goosebumps protagonists before him, was just a scaredy cat. Everything frightens this kid, making you wonder why Mikey would go to such trouble to plan elaborate pranks. I mean, at one point Cooper nearly cries because a leaf touches his arm! I also did not think that Fergie was very well developed. Early in the story, she seemed to be involved (or, at least, aware) of the dogs, yet this was quickly forgotten. I’m not sure why this detail was even included in the story, as Stine doesn’t even try to use it for misdirection.

Things did not improve at all in The Horror at Camp Jellyjam. This book was just plain weird, and coming from this series, that is saying a lot. Although this instalment shared some similarities with the excellent Welcome to Camp Nightmare, it was nowhere near as creepy. The one thing that it did do well was build my curiosity. There is always something off about the camp, from the overly cheerful councillors, to the child disappearances, to the fixation on winning. “Only the Best!” is the catch phrase droned by the brainwashed characters, bringing to mind the cultist council in Hot Fuzz.

Unfortunately, the novel fell down almost everywhere else. Although Wendy quickly becomes suspicious of the camp, her other reactions are less believable. She does not seem overly fussed about the fact that she has been separated from her parents and makes little effort to alert them to where she is. In one pivotal scene, a camper distracts her while she is trying to phone for help and causes her to completely forget to actually make the call! The Horror at Camp Jellyjam is also very slow to get moving, taking far too long focusing on camp activities before things start to get noticeably sinister.

Worse still was the eventual reveal of what is going on. The twist this time around is that King Jellyjam is real and has brainwashed the councillors into doing his bidding. What bidding is this, you ask? Well, it’s to find the most athletic children to constantly bathe him, as his smell is so terrible that he cannot stand it. I could not make this up if I tried. We never find out what King Jellyjam actually is, where he came from or why he settled on a summer camp to satisfy his needs. He is also utterly repellent – sickeningly grotesque in a way that no previous Goosebumps monster has ever been. Even Wendy’s method of killing him by making him suffocate on his own stench is just totally out there. I’m not even sure how Wendy came to this idea and it felt like sheer dumb luck that it actually worked!

Unsurprisingly, the characters in this story were also not among Stine’s best. The only distinct feature that differentiated Wendy from Elliot was that she was not competitive, while her brother was. Although the two were siblings, they shared very little page time and so I never really felt the bond between them. The other characters that Wendy met at camp were all pretty minor, having nothing truly distinct about them and ultimately vanishing from the story at is climax.

Thankfully, The Horror at Camp Jellyjam was the worst of these five novels. However, Revenge of the Garden Gnomes is still a very weird story. My biggest issue with this instalment was its similarity to the Night of the Living Dummy stories. The problem was that the plot was nowhere near as well constructed. Revenge of the Garden Gnomes was not really creepy at all and lacked the tension and character development of Night of the Living Dummy. The gnomes didn’t even have the same kind of personality that Slappy oozes. All of this combined to make the novel rather forgettable.

Worse still was the ending. While Revenge of the Garden Gnomes was not especially engaging, it still felt as though it was building to something. This was especially true as the climax neared and Joe, Mindy and Moose discovered the gnomes’ true “plan”. This was simply that the owner of the lawn ornament shop had literally hundreds of evil gnomes locked in her basement and their brothers wished to free them to wreak havoc on mankind. The shop owner’s involvement in all of this was never addressed.

While this sounds dramatic, there was no sense of victory. The threat posed by the gnomes is never removed as the characters escape but still leave all of the gnomes very much alive. This just seems crazy! The gnomes come shockingly close to murdering the kids and they just walk away at the eleventh hour, making this possibly the most anticlimactic Goosebumps book to date.

Then there were the protagonists. None of the three main characters were all that likeable as all were little jerks. Moose was gross and somewhat brutish, Mindy was unnaturally prim and proper and Joe was a generally annoying prankster. While they weren’t awful, I quickly found myself unable to sympathise with any of them and therefore had no reason to feel sorry for Joe when he was blamed for the gnomes’ mischief.

Thankfully, after three weak instalments, A Shocker on Shock Street was a refreshingly exciting novel. While it does share some similarities with One Day at HorrorLand, this story adds a sense of isolation that the previous novel did not possess. The two young protagonists are offered an unrivalled horror experience like no other, but soon realise that they are in terrible danger when they are threatened by horrible monsters in the middle of a movie studio tour.

While the novel does not have much in the way of a plot, it is a rather breathless tale in which the reader joins the two protagonists on their journey. Once the tram breaks down and things rapidly start to go wrong, the plot becomes a frantic chase as Erin and Marty flee from danger after danger. I really did like the creativity of this instalment, as Erin fan-girls over the many monsters that appear in the fictional “Shock Street” movies. These films seem to vary from standard horror flicks about werewolves and zombies, to more unique entries featuring giant insects and “wolf-crabs”.

Yet it was the twist of A Shocker on Shock Street that I felt was a bit of a let-down. While I can honestly say that I did not see the ending coming, it was still anti-climatic. After a lot of build-up, the reveal that nothing that happened was real and that the two protagonists were also advanced robots felt like a bit of a cop-out. It just left me feeling as though the story was ultimately pointless.

However, in the lead up to this twist, the two protagonists are both very likeable. Although Marty could be annoying, the fact that he was acting like a jerk to hide his fear certainly came across. Erin was a lot more sympathetic, and the reader can certainly feel the way that her love of films turned to horror as she realised it wasn’t as much fun to find herself in the same situations that she had enjoyed on the big screen.

So, I think I’ve probably said enough. While I would certainly recommended Night of the Living Dummy II and A Shocker on Shock Street, the other three all have severe problems. Hopefully, the next five instalments will memorable for something more than their utter weirdness.

Night of the Living Dummy II can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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

The Horror at Camp Jellyjam can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

Revenge of the Garden Gnomes can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

A Shocker on Shock Street can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Goosebumps 36-40 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Goosebumps 41-45 | Arkham Reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog Stats

  • 67,458 awesome people have visited this blog

© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

All novels reviewed on this site are © to their respective authors.

%d bloggers like this: