Goosebumps 46-50

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

1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20 | 21-25 | 26-30 | 31-35 | 36-40 | 41-45

In case you’re looking for a break from all the niceties of the festive period, let’s take a look at the next five instalments of R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumps series. In case this is the first of my reviews that you have stumbled upon, this is a brief retrospective look at the sixty-two original novels which were published between 1992-1997. For the purpose of this review, I will be looking at books 46 to 50. Oh, and there will be spoilers. You have been warned.

In How to Kill a Monster, Gretchen and Clark are horrified that they have to stay with their Grandparents in a run-down house in a swamp. I mean, they don’t even have television! However, things get much worse when they discover what is trapped within a locked room upstairs. It’s not long before they find themselves isolated and at the mercy of a horrible monster. Worse still – it’s hungry…

In Legend of the Lost Legend, Justin and Marissa are on a camping trip with their father in the dark forests of Brovania. His mission is to locate a lost manuscript known only as The Lost Legend. However, when Justin and Marissa get lost in the woods, things quickly start to get weird. A strange Viking lady offers them the chance to find the thing that they desire most. Yet to do so, they must pass a dangerous test…

In Attack of the Jack-o’-Lanterns, Drew is determined to have her revenge on Tabby and Lee – two mean kids that managed to ruin her previous two Halloweens with their pranks. This year, she has the perfect plan to scare them both senseless. However, something has gone wrong. The group of trick-or-treaters soon find themselves threatened by two sinister figures wearing pumpkin-head mask. What could they possibly want and how do they make flames shoot out of their mouths?

In Vampire Breath, Freddy and Cara take pride in the fact that they are not afraid of anything. Yet everything changes when they find a secret door in Freddy’s basement which leads to an empty coffin and a bottle of Vampire Breath. When they open the bottle, they quickly find themselves trapped within the castle of an ageing vampire. It’s a race against time to find the bottle again and get home, before the very hungry monster manages to locate his missing fangs.

In Calling All Creeps!, Ricky is furious when Tasha has him fired from the school newspaper. He didn’t even do anything wrong! In order to have revenge, he sneaks a notice onto the front page – If you’re a real creep, call Tasha after midnight. Yet, things quickly go wrong and Ricky finds himself receiving sinister calls. The Creeps are real, and now they think that Ricky is their missing leader…

It’s kind of interesting how little the Goosebumps formula has changed over the first fifty books. As always, the novels are divided into two categories. Some are more traditional horror stories which focus on ghosts, werewolves and other recognisable monsters. The others tend to be more tongue-in-cheek and are generally just weird.

The novels have also fallen into the habit of reusing the same tropes over and over again, often those that young readers will be more than able to relate to. Revenge fantasies against school bullies, bratty younger siblings, the annoyance of vising relatives and the joy of Halloween are just some of plot devices that feature in multiple stories. To a degree, this makes sense. What better way to appeal (and, even, scare) young teens than to draw from things that they will recognise in their own lives? However, it also means that the series has become a little predictable. While the twists in Goosebumps novels used to be entertaining, now they are starting to feel a little bit forced. It’s often really easy to see the twists coming and, when it isn’t, it’s usually because they are so random that readers would not see them coming in a million years.

Yet, despite my gripes, the series can still be fun and it’s clear why they are still so popular today. Let’s take a little look at each of them in turn.

How to Kill a Monster was certainly a stronger entry to the series than the previous couple of instalments. Unlike most Goosebumps novels, which often do not reveal the monster until the climax, it was surprisingly quick to show its hand. This meant that the second half of the story largely gave way to a home invasion scenario. This section was pretty effective, creating a surprising air of tension as Gretchen and Clark found themselves trapped and alone within a decrepit mansion in the heart of swampland, desperately trying to find a way to kill a terrible monster before it could eat them.

Yet, despite the brisk pacing, How to Kill a Monster was not without its flaws. During the climax of the story, there were frequent lulls in the action where the monster seemed to forget that the children were there. The eventual way that they did manage to defeat the creature was also pure coincidence. After many attempts to poison or injure it, it turns out that the monster is fatally allergic to humans and goes into anaphylactic shock. Yeah, I must admit I didn’t see that one coming…

Yet this wasn’t the final sting in the tail. Early in the novel, Gretchen found two letters which fully explained the situation, but she did not read these for no good reason. On finally reading the final letter, she discovered that a bigger threat that lurked in the woods – one that she and Clark had no defence against. This was a surprisingly bleak point on which to end the novel, implying a grim fate for both protagonists. This felt a little mean, as neither of them truly deserved to be eaten by monsters. I guess the moral of the story is always to read letters from your Grandma.

This actually leads nicely into my biggest issue with How to Kill a Monster. While Gretchen and Clark are likeable enough, the adults in this novel are all terrible. Not only do their parents leave them to stay in a house that is blatantly dangerous, but their Grandparents are quick to abandon the kids to the mercy of a monster. Naturally, this is done without any kind of explanation, leaving only the two letters to give the kids a heads up that there is a man-eating reptile trapped in the house. What is wrong with these people? We have had ineffectual adults in Goosebumps books in the past but these have been the first to actively throw their own flesh and blood to the wolves…

Unfortunately, Legend of the Lost Legend was not quite so exciting. This is another super-weird entry to the series and I am still a little on the fence regarding how I actually feel about it. Firstly, I should probably note that this is another one that I don’t consider to be a horror story. It’s more of a dark fantasy that focuses on two children who are lost in a very weird forest that is clearly influenced by Eastern European legends.

While the novel is fast paced and certainly made me curious to discover the nature of The Lost Legend, it just grew stranger and stranger as the story progressed and the protagonists encountered all manner of creatures and contraptions. This included a Viking woman (horned helmet and all), mice that hatch from eggs, a wolf/human hybrid and giant house cats. Things grow weirder still as it becomes clear that most of these encounters are actually robots and the trial is some kind of elaborate hoax to keep people away from the true secrets of the forest.

While Legend of the Lost Legend didn’t really have a true twist, I did find its final sting to be a bit disappointing. Although the characters do eventually find The Lost Legend, it ultimately proves to be a bit of a McGuffin. We don’t get to find out what it says, or learn its true history. It is just a bit of a cursed object, punishing those who find it with a terrible fate. However, given how mysterious the document is, I really don’t know how you could have known how dangerous it was beforehand.

In terms of characterisation, Legend of the Lost Legend was also a bit forgettable. While the setting is colourful, the protagonists are less so. Justin and Marissa seem to get along well enough, but just do not have any distinct traits beyond their shared desire to impress their father. While we are told that Justin is a bit of a klutz, this never truly came across in the story.

Thankfully, Attack of the Jack-o’-Lanterns is a little creepier. While it does take a lot of elements from earlier instalments, including a Halloween ruined by a prank gone wrong and sinister supernatural figures who are able to remove their own heads, the story rapidly takes a dark turn as the kids find themselves trapped by two threatening enemies who seem intent on forcing them to trick-or-treat. Forever…

Once again, Attack of the Jack-o’-Lanterns is fast to find its feet and the enemies are oddly threatening. Even the opening scare, in which the kids find themselves caught up in a home invasion, is pretty dark until it is all revealed to be a mean prank. The pumpkin heads in particular are suitably scary, as they seem to be undefeatable and their motives are completely unknown. The only thing that annoyed me a little about the plotting was that there was, once again, a touch of fat-shaming. Drew has two friends that are only described as being chubby, and there are hints of a serial killer who only targets overweight adults. However, this is nowhere near as plot significant as it was in Say Cheese and Die – Again!.

The only real issue that I had with the story was its twist. While it was satisfying that the pumpkin heads were all part of Drew’s revenge prank, their true nature was very weird. Shane and Shana (the two aforementioned chubby kids) turn out to be shape-shifting aliens and also may potentially be responsible for the disappearances as it is heavily implied that they eat fat people. Yeah, once again, I did not see that coming and that’s certainly not a good thing. After so much creepy build-up, it felt as though Stine had really written himself into a corner in explaining what the pumpkin heads were. So badly, in fact, that space aliens became the only rational answer…

In terms of character, Attack of the Jack-o’-Lanterns was also a bit varied. While Drew had a strong personality, I did not find any of the other characters all that likeable. Drew and her best friend, Walker, ultimately came across as being as bad as Tabby and Lee, determined to do anything to have their “revenge” on the kids who once played a mean prank on them. This made it very difficult to feel sorry for them when it appeared that their trick had gone wrong.

Unfortunately, Vampire Breath was nowhere near as engaging. While it is not the worst Goosebumps book, it still wholly failed to make an impression on me. I’m surprised that it has taken so long for Stine to write a vampire story, yet this one just felt completely random as it added a whole bunch of “extras” to what would otherwise be a pretty classic horror story. These include an unexplained time-travel mechanic and an odd vapour known as Vampire Breath, which vampires need in order to survive (in addition to blood). Naturally, the true nature of Vampire Breath is never truly explained beyond this.

Vampire Breath’s plot felt somewhat disjointed. The first few chapters, in which Freddy and Cara find the hidden room, left me curious to find out what would happen next. However, this was all lost as soon as they were sucked into the past. From this point, this novel just became a very low-key chase scene in which the two protagonists largely just wandered around an empty castle in search of a full bottle of Vampire Breath. Why they thought that this would help them, given that their transportation to the past was accidental, is beyond me.

The plot was resolved by an abrupt cliff-hanger in which Freddy discovered that the vampire was actually his grandfather, thus meaning that he is also a vampire. This calls into question a lot of what we learned about vampires and how they are made over the course of the story, as it was previously revealed that you become a vampire when you are bitten. It also really felt as though it cut the action short and was no where near as well integrated as the very similar twist in The Girl Who Cried Monster.

In terms of characterisation, I was also left feeling underwhelmed. Freddy and Cara were both 2-dimensional characters, having no real defining traits beyond being brave. While I didn’t dislike them, I also did not really have any reason to root for them either. Count Nightwing (yes, that is the vampire’s given name) was amusing purely because he is a very blatant mash-up of Dracula and Count Orlok, yet did not really have any gravitas beyond this. It turns out that a vampire with no fangs is basically just an old man.

Finally, there was Calling All Creeps!. This is another weird entry in the series but was still oddly satisfying. Although we have seen bullies in Goosebumps books before, the ones in this story take it to the nth degree and therefore made Ricky’s desire for revenge against them feel completely justified. The plot is fast-paced, quickly setting the scene and showing the reasoning behind Ricky’s actions. The situation soon changes as Ricky has his first encounter with the “Creeps” – purple reptilian monsters who are hellbent on making everyone at his school just like them.

Although the entire premise of the story felt a little dark in places, as Ricky is badly bullied by everyone in the school, it also contained a lot of quirky humour as the Creeps accepted Ricky as their commander. The twist this time did not come out of the blue like that of the last few instalments, and felt oddly satisfying. The novel ended with Ricky accepting his roll as the Creep commander, voluntarily becoming one of them as he realises that it means that he will be the boss of all his former tormentors. This made a nice change from the way that earlier instalments typically worked, such as Be Careful What You Wish For which allowed the bullies to ultimately prevail.

Ricky was a very sympathetic character and easy to relate to. He was clearly intelligent and perhaps slightly nerdy, and certainly did not deserve to become the target of every bully in the school. While it was frustrating how the adults in Calling All Creeps! seemed to turn a blind eye to everything that was happening, essentially blaming Ricky for every mean prank played on him, this did make me root for Ricky even harder. This certainly made his final decision all the sweeter.

Anyhow, I think that I’ve rambled on for long enough. This selection of Goosebumps books was, on the whole, actually a little more fun than the last few that I have reviewed. While Calling All Creeps! was certainly the best of the bunch, How to Kill a Monster and Attack of the Jack-o’-Lanterns also had some creepy moments. Here’s hoping that the next few instalments are equally as strong.

How to Kill a Monster is currently out of print. If you are interested in read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

Legend of the Lost Legend is currently out of print. If you are interested in read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

Attack of the Jack-o’-Lanterns can be purchased as a Paperback from Amazon.co.uk

Vampire Breath can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook or Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

Calling All Creeps! is currently out of print. If you are interested in read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Goosebumps 51-54 | Arkham Reviews

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