Goosebumps 59-62

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 | 46-50 | 51-54 | 55-58

It’s finally time for the very last part of my retrospective look at R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. Wow. What a long and crazy trip this has been! In case you’ve missed all my previous posts, Goosebumps is a middle grade horror series that originally ran for sixty-two books, which were published between 1992 and 1997. The series was massively popular and has since spawned a handful of spin-offs, movies, video games and a television show. As always, this post will contain massive spoilers for the books in question. You have been warned.

In The Haunted School, Tommy has just moved to a new school and is eager to fit in. However, there is something strange going on. The building is like a maze, strange whispers fill the halls and there is even a creepy room that has been left as a memorial to a class that vanished years before. On the night of the school dance, Tommy finds himself trapped in a parallel version of the school where everything seems to be black & white. As his colour starts to fade, he realises that he needs to find a way out before he is trapped forever.

In Werewolf Skin, Alex’s grandparents warn him not to head into the forest at night, but it seems like a perfect time to take photographs. However, the forest is more dangerous than Alex could ever have imagined. Their neighbours are reclusive and seem to hate children. Alex is told that they keep big, vicious dogs but he is beginning to believe that this is a lie. Could it be that the Marlings are actually werewolves?

In I Live in Your Basement!, Marco’s mother always warned him that softball was dangerous but he never believed her until he took a nasty blow to the head. When he woke up, strange things started to happen. There is now a strange boy named Keith living in his basement – a boy who says that it’s Marco’s job to look after him. Marco knows that Keith is evil but no one will even believe that he exists. How can he prove it to them before it is too late?

In Monster Blood IV, Evan is keen to forget all about his previous terrible experiences with Monster Blood. However, he finds himself reliving the horror again when Andy manages to find a fresh can. The Monster Blood this time is blue and seems to take the form of a slimy monster. While it seems benign at first, it’s not long before the creature begins to multiply and grows vicious. Will Evan be able to discover its weakness before the monsters overrun his town?

It feels like there is not a lot left to say about the Goosebumps series at this point. While it was undeniably popular in the 90s, it has become very clear that this is probably due to the fact that there is something incredibly comfortable about them. The series can be creepy and very original in places, but you largely know exactly what you are going to get. The novels are clearly written with their target audience in mind, as they are never overly scary and focus on themes that most American kids will find very familiar.

The books are largely set in small town or suburban areas, focusing on pre-teen kids who are usually part of nuclear families and have at least one younger sibling. The novels are often set in places that kids will be very familiar, such as school or summer camp, and the horror elements are largely themed around natural childhood fears. These range from the mundane (bullies, creepy toys and social embarrassment) to ghosts and monsters.

While some of the novels are clearly better than others, and many are spiced up by their zany twists, it’s become clear to me that these novels endured for so long purely because they are designed to speak to young readers. They are familiar and follow a set pattern, giving pre-teens what could possibly be their first taste of a horror novel in a very safe and appropriate way. While some entries have been incredibly frustrating, I have still really enjoyed revisiting them.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the final four instalments of this series.

While I had already formed an opinion on The Haunted School based on its somewhat weak title, I was actually surprised to find that it was actually one of the creepiest novels in the series. While it is not exactly a ghost story, it tells the frightening tale of a missing class, a drab grey world, and insane children who are obsessed in coating themselves in darkness. Yep, Bendy and the Ink Machine has nothing on this…

The story is fast to find its feet and shockingly creepy, as Tommy and his new friend – Ben – struggle to find a way to escape the monotone parallel world they have become trapped in. The Haunted School certainly kept my attention throughout with its dark atmosphere and sense of hopelessness, something that the previous few books have been lacking. The reason for the disappearances is actually explained pretty early in the tale. Why is the world monotone? Well, the missing kids aren’t exactly dead. They have been trapped in some kind of photo-negative world by a child-hating photographer that they insulted.

This actually makes a satisfying degree of sense for a Goosebumps book, although its unclear how the one responsible got away with it at the time. The only thing that I found slightly disappointing with this story was its ending. After finally escaping the other world, Tommy runs straight into a class photo (somehow, taken by the same photographer) and is sent straight back again. While Tommy’s escape was creative, the final few pages just flew by and so there was no true build up for this final sting.

In terms of character, The Haunted School was a nicely balanced. You certainly felt for Tommy as he was the new kid in school and pretty eager to please. His two new friends – Ben and Thalia – were both well-rounded and showed remarkably different personalities. While I feel that more emphasis should perhaps have been placed on the fact that Thalia was also a new student (she had only escaped the parallel world a couple of weeks before), she was at least a lot less shallow than the secondary Goosebumps characters tend to be.

Werewolf Skin does not (quite) rank amongst my favourite Goosebumps books, but certainly does have a lot going for it. The novel is fast paced and incredibly suspenseful, quickly introducing the possibility of werewolves as Alex sneaks into the woods at night in the hope of learning the truth. While the actual werewolves are not seen until close to the end, their presence is certainly felt throughout the story as Alex hears the strange howling from next door and finds animal carcasses in the woods.

The concept of skin-walkers is something that Stine has not used before and this gave Werewolf Skin a very different feel to his earlier werewolf story, The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. However, I don’t think that the novel explored this concept so well. We never learn how the werewolves came to be cursed and the way that Alex saves them – by hiding there pelts until the full moon reaches its peak – works more by chance than anything else.

Still, all gripes aside, the twist ending is rather satisfying. While it is pretty easy to guess that the werewolves are actually Alex’s grandparents, the identity of the true villain could have done with more foreshadowing. In the final chapter, it is revealed that Alex’s friend – Hannah – is also a werewolf. Whether she is connected with the other werewolves in the story, or just a lone gunman, we will never know.

In terms of character, Werewolf Skin was perhaps a little varied. Alex was a strong protagonist and his love of photography gave him a defining trait. You certainly feel his curiosity as he starts to investigate the werewolves and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to happen to him. However, the rest of the characters were a little shallow. Hannah did not appear as much in the story as I would have liked and so I never felt as though I got to know her.

Then there was I Live in Your Basement!. This is one of the strangest and most difficult Goosebumps books that I have had the pleasure of reviewing. The plot is not too dissimilar to that of Don’t Go To Sleep!, as it follows the strange and frightening encounters that a young boy has after being knocked unconscious. While the most reoccurring of these visions are of Keith, the others range from the surreal to the outright disturbing. In one scene, a doctor threatens to remove Marco’s brain. In another, his friend’s body turns itself inside out before his eyes. The visceral description of the latter is surprisingly gruesome for a Goosebumps book and so this is definitely one for the squeamish.

The problem was that I Live in Your Basement! did not really have any structure. I figured out that reality was on the fritz the second that Marco had his odd encounter with the doctor, and so it quickly became clear that the twist would not be satisfying. After all, “it was all a dream” is probably the weakest plot twist of them all and it was pretty clear that Marco’s visions suspiciously started after his accident.

However, the ending sting showed that this was not the only thing at play. The true twist of the novel revealed that it was actually Keith who had been injured while playing softball. Keith is a shape-shifting monster who lives in Marco’s basement with his fearful mother, who always instructed him to stay hidden from humans. The novel ends as Keith and Marco possibly encounter each other for the first time.

I describe this twist here to illustrate what promise it had. This ending was surreal, but a really great attempt to flip the story on its head. Unfortunately, as is often the case in Goosebumps stories, this was revealed far too late. The twist only really existed for shock value as it only occurred a couple of pages before the end and so cut off abruptly, leaving the novel feeling incomplete.

In terms of character, I Live in Your Basement! was also a little bit bland. While you did feel sorry for Marco, I never felt as though I got to know him. There was nothing truly distinct about this pre-teen boy who enjoyed softball. His tomboyish classmate and germophobe mother were ultimately a lot more memorable than he was.

And finally, we have come to Monster Blood IV. If you have read my previous reviews, you will know that I hate the Monster Blood mini-series and therefore was really disappointed that this was the note on which Stine chose to end his series. While I did actually think that Monster Blood IV was the best of these stories, that really isn’t saying a lot.

Monster Blood IV only makes a vague mention back to the events of the previous books but this only serves to raise one question. Why is this still happening? After three near-death experiences with the green slime, the characters should be more than aware of how horribly dangerous it is. Why then does Andy seem to just go around opening more cans?

While Monster Blood IV is fast paced, it grows increasingly silly as the story progresses. The blue Monster Blood does not share any properties with the green variety and therefore seems to be even more unstoppable. While most of the novel is spend showing their failed attempts at finding its weakness, I was disappointed to find that they never actually succeeded.

Ultimately, the Monster Blood destroys itself as it becomes just too vicious. Naturally, it reaches this point just at the moment where it seems as though the protagonists are in danger. This means that there is no sense of victory within the story. Like many of the other recent instalments, it reached the climax and simply ran out of steam. Even the ending sting is somewhat unsatisfying, especially following the twists of Werewolf Skin and I Live in Your Basement!.

And then there were the characters. It still seems hard to see why Evan would choose to be friends with Andy. Andy is insane. How else can you explain why she is so unconcerned about Evan’s very rational fears, or why she thinks that Monster Blood is the solution to all life’s problems. Kermit is also still hideously annoying. It seems that his experiences in Monster Blood III have provided him with no character growth, leaving him as frustrating as ever.

So, I guess that wraps everything up. Although Monster Blood IV is a lousy way to end this series, I have really enjoyed revisiting these sixty-two Goosebumps books on the whole. They are still fun light-reads and it is very easy to see why we were all so obsessed with them in the 90s. Just in case you’re thinking of giving them a try yourself, here is a list of the ones that I would certainly recommend that you check out:

Welcome to Dead House

Say Cheese & Die!

Stay Out of the Basement

Night of the Living Dummy

Welcome to Camp Nightmare

The Haunted Mask

Piano Lessons Can Be Murder

The Werewolf of Fever Swamp

One Day at HorrorLand

The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight

Ghost Beach

My Hairiest Adventure

The Cuckoo Clock of Doom

It Came From Beneath The Sink!

Night of the Living Dummy II

A Shocker on Shock Street

The Headless Ghost

Bad Hare Day

The Beast from the East

Calling All Creeps!

Beware, the Snowman

Don’t Go To Sleep!

The Haunted School

Werewolf Skin

With that out of the way, I guess I need to find another 90s classic to tuck into. Pop back at the end of March when I will be starting to check out some horror stories for slightly older readers. That’s right folks, we’re moving on to Point Horror!

The Haunted School can be purchased as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk

Werewolf Skin can be purchased as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk

I Live in Your Basement! is currently out of print. If you would like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

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

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