December 23, 2016

Star Wars Galaxy of Fear #1: Eaten Alive

Wait, what's this? I'm reviewing a Star Wars book instead of Goosebumps? What is going on? Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Fear not reader, this book is related, albeit only slightly, to Goosebumps. You see when I was a boy in the 90s RL Stine started a whole wave of kid based fright. As he was raking in millions everybody wanted a piece of his horror pie. Now I'm not saying Stine invented the concept of spooky kids books, but he sure made it hella popular at the time.

So what does Star Wars have to do with it? Well the merchandising behemoth wasn't going to let that kind of money slip away from them, no sir. If there was cash to grab from kiddo's pockets just by giving them a little fright, then by gosh they were going to get it. Cue Star Wars Galaxy of Fear. Horror for kids ABOUT STAR WARS. What could be better? Well as we'll come to find out, a lot of things I'm sure, but still. Maybe there will be a werewookiee. A ewokula? Sith ghosts? Who knows!

Anyway, the fact is I don't remember a ton about this series. I only had the one book, which thankfully is the first but I never moved on from there. I feel like I probably got it right as I was losing interest in Goosebumps and I was probably trying to chase that high again. Fact is, I think I was just losing interest in these kind of books in general. But now I'm 30 and for some reason the thought of reading books mean to scare 10 year olds is appealing again. So now that Star Wars movies are back in full force (haha get it, like the force that jedi use?) with Episode 7 and now this very month Rogue One I figure what better time to haul this old book out and see what it has to offer? Lets take a look.

Judging a Book by its Cover



Holy hologram batman! This has one of those images that looks like one thing when you hold it one way, but another thing another way. I think it's called a lenticular image? I may be wrong about that. Anyway at one angle you see a grinning alien visage holding an open hand out to you. The other, however, shows the same being with his mouth open presenting a long snake tongue and rows of razor-sharp teeth. A fitting image for a book named "Eaten Alive." While the effect is kind of cool the fact that it has to be grayish with a bit of weird prismatics in color is kind of a bummer. It would be nice to have a good ol' full color image of that guy. But at least this is a "limited collector's edition" so I'll be able to retire young when I sell this. I am sure by limited they totally don't mean that it was limited to the entirety of their printing and that this is the only edition available with a limit of millions of copies. Star Wars would never mislead me like that!

So I did a very basic amount of research into this series so I would know a few things. For starters, all these books cover the same characters, unlike Goosebumps which tends to feature new ones each time. Also I was curious what timeline I'd be getting into. It seems we'll be delving into the world at about the time of the original trilogy. Thankfully these were released shortly before Phantom Menace existed or they could be teaming with gungans and dining with Dexter Jettser.

What kind of frights will these people face? Supernatural ones? Force ghosts? Sith Spirits? Hutt Zombies? Or will they be more sci-fi maintstays. Obviously there will be aliens, it is Star Wars. Will they lurk in a bog with one of those weird tentacle eyeball things from the trash compactor scene? Will their computer become haunted? Perhaps a droid that is secretly evil? Only one way to find out, lets dive in.

Getting Goosebumps Galaxy of Feared


Holy crap there is a prologue and DARTH VADER IS IN IT! I wasn't sure if any main characters from the movies would appear and right off the bat we have Vader. There is a convo between him and a mysterious scientist. They discuss the "ultimate weapon." Where the Death Star failed this scientist shall succeed he claims, using life instead of machines. Darthy Boy of course has to assert that the ultimate weapon is in fact the force. Before we fade out him torturing some poor creature the scientist reveals that he intends to use this weapon to snuff Darth Vader and become the Emperor's right hand man. This begs the question, if your weapon is indeed the ultimate power in the world why settle for being #2. Couldn't he kill Vader AND the Emperor. Think big science man!


And now we begin with a breathtaking dogfight between an X-Wing and a Tie Fighter which turns out to be a holographic video game stopped by a droid who doesn't seem to appreciate being made a baby sitter. Meet DV-9 or "Deevee" who is currently watching Tash and her brother Zak Arranda who will be our tween protagonists for this novel. They are aboard the Lightrunner. And Deevee the science droid gets to play schoolmarm to the children instead of helping out his master Hoole, the children's uncle, with his anthropology research. Instead of doing her homework, Tash is reading banned info about Jedi Knights on the internet holonet. Don't they have parental control on that thing?

After their time spent supposed to be studying we found out that they are from Alderaan. If this
doesn't trigger something for you let me give you some spoilers for Episode IV: A New Hope (christ it's been over 30 years do I have to give a spoiler warning?) ALDERAAN GETS ALL KINDS OF BLOWED UP BY DARTH VADER AND THE DEATH STAR. Tash and Zak were off planet but their parents are space dust now which is why they are traveling with uncle Hoole and his grumpy droid. Thing is, Hoole doesn't seem too keen on being a parent. The kids don't seem to trust him completely, in fact Zak snoops into his room to check it out and gets grabbed out of nowhere by a chapter ending cliffhanger! Oh my god, these really are Goosebumps rip offs!

Don't worry though, it's just Uncle Hoole upset at these damn kids and their shenanigans. Oh, also Hoole is a Shi'ido which is an alien that can change shape. Think Odo from Deep Space 9. Wait, I am crossing my sci-fi... Oh well. Well ol changey Hoole is on his way to D'vouran, a newly discovered planet populated by the Enzeen. Why is this planet of note? Well because it is right next to one of the busiest damn parts of outer space and yet it was only just recently discovered. How did all of outer space miss seeing this planet? Weird!

Just then the ship starts to go crazy. Tash was messing around in the cockpit but swears it wasn't her. Damn lying kids! The ship was on auto pilot set to jump out of hyperspace when they were close but they arrived 15 minutes too early. Did the planet move? Or is Tash a lying liar that lies? After a bumpy ride to the space port they exit the plane. Tash gets the shit scared out of her by a guy trying to put a flower necklace around her because it was the end of the chapter and they needed a scare cliffhanger.

Chood (the Enzeen who was getting them all lai'd) says he'll take them to some starpilots who can help them fix their ship which was damaged in the fiasco. Tash thinks she has a "bad feeling about this" which is a line that is always appearing in Star Wars. All in all the Enzeen seem pretty nice though. They encourage people to move to or visit their planet. They offer free food for guests. And Chood himself offers to wash Tash and Zak while Uncle Hoole conducts business. The only downer so far seems to be this maniac Bebo who was thrown out of the cantina for raving about his friends disappearing.

Inside said cantina there are all sorts of creatures including a Gank mercenary who doesn't seem to fond of their uncle judging by the fact that he is holding a blaster at him. Turns out he works for a Hutt. Smada the Hutt. Smada wants Hoole to work as an assassin for him, figuring that his shape shifting abilities will come in handy. Seems the old scientist has an interesting past. Well the whole scene gets interrupted by the appearance of 2 guys, a girl and a pizza place Wookiee. Yup, Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewie appear in this very book! Even R2 and C3PO are there, oh boy! They introduce themselves but as former citizens of Alderaan Leia needs needs no introduction what with being their princess and all. 3PO and Deevee had some fun droid conversation with the fore being excitable and the latter being bored out of his cyber mind. Tash and Luke share some words about the Jedi.

Outside! A Scream! It's our chapter cliffhanger! That weirdo Bebo had another friend disappear on him. The citizens don't seem very sympathetic to his plight. It is explained that Bebo was on the ship that first accidentally discovered the planet. They crashed and there seems to be a disagreement over what happened. The Enzeen say he is the sole survivor. Bebo on the other hand claims they all lived but have been slowly disappearing on him. Oh well, I'm sure this will all get sorted out.

Han and Chewie agree to help fix their ship. Zak insults the Millennium Falcon. Luke tells Tash to Falcon's computer. Unfortunately an alert goes off because the cyber police back traced their shit. Oh noes! The Empire doesn't want anyone to know much about D'vouran it seems. Chewbecca soups up Zak's skimboard before they leave. I think it's some kind of hoverboard? Probably.
trust her feelings. Luke helps her search for D'vouran info the net on the

Off to Chood's house.  Hoole leaves the kids with him. It's always advisable to leave your kids with a complete stranger you've only just met on a strange planet no one knows anything about. Great parenting. Anyway Tash wakes up in the middle of the night to some strange slurping sounds. I'm not going insinuate it's sexual. I'm not going to insinuate it's sexual. I'm not going to insinuate it's sexual... Ok. Chood creepily appears from the darkness and tells her it must be stray animals. Then he says he's gotta leave. Wait so Hoole leaves the kids under the guardianship of some weird alien guy and then said alien guy just ditches them in the middle of the night? Does the Empire have child protective services?

Fortunately for them murderous thugs don't have a grudge against their caretaker. Oops, nevermind. Gank thugs show up in the middle of the night. The kids run straight to the Cantina. Great idea, best way to escape thugs is to go to the last place you saw their leader. Anyway when they get there the Ganks are no where to be seen. Hoole shows up and seems mad at the kids for inventing these stories. Hey asshole, you don't want your kids to wake up in the middle of the night screaming about intruders try not leaving them all alone on some crazy planet where there is literally someone out to kill you!

Zak decides to chill out by skimboarding. He skimboards right into Smada the Hutt. His plan to murder the boy gets interrupted by Bebo who is yelling about their dooms. Gank attempts to murder the strange man get thwarted by the fact that they just can't fucking hit him. Hoole arrives with armed citizens to put a stop to it then IMMEDIATELY LEAVES TASH WITH THE DROID WITHOUT PLANNING FOR HER PROTECTION. Seriously this guy is the worst parent ever. Tash talks to Bebo and then gets pushed into a hole. Yup. So she's alone in a dark hole with this guy. I WILL NOT INSINUATE THIS IS SEXUAL. The place they are in seems to be a laboratory built by the Empire. Inside Bebo tells her the story of their crash. How his friends have gone missing 2 or 3 at a time. He believes he is safe because he has a pendant that gives off some sort of force field. He gives it to the girl and after she leaves is immediately murdered by one of Smada's goons.

Tash and the droid start walking back but are interrupted by slurping. They stumbled upon Enzeens including Chood who were sticking their long gross tongues into the ground and sucking. They don't take kindly to being spied on and start a chase. Deevee gets tackled by the aliens. An Enzeen catches Tash. What is a kid to do? Try to use the force, why the fuck not. Cue an earthquake that may or may not have been caused by her. The village is deserted. At the space port she finds Zak's skimboard and some discarded eels that Smada must have been snacking on. She takes the board with her and heads to Smada's stronghold because seriously why the fuck not. Believe it or not, showing up to your enemy unarmed makes it really really really easy to kidnap you. So being the nice Hutt Smada is he threatens to kill her brother unless she tells him where Uncle Hoole is. This is inconvenient because she genuinely doesn't know.

Deevee enters with a distraction and tosses the kids the skimboard. They escape with the droid hanging off the bottom but they crash when one of the blasters hits the board. The Ganks and Hutt catch up to them but oddly the thugs start to be eaten by the ground. They even shout out the name of the book, "I'm being EATEN ALIVE." Soon Smada and a lone Gank are all that survive, finding shelter on his hoversled. The Enzeen emerge and reveal something startling. The beast killing everyone is not some creature tunneling beneath the earth. The earth itself is attacking them. The planet itself is alive! The Hutt tries bargaining for his life to no avail, instead enduring a lecture about how the Enzeen are parasites tolerated by the living planet as they provide food. The children will be taken to the heart of the planet where they will be most completely digested. I would think you would bring them to the stomach of the planet for that to happen, but oh well.

Back to the laboratory! It's explained that created by the Empire as a weapon, their planetary beast turned on them and ate the scientists. Chood gets El-Kabong'd by Zak using his skimboard. One of the Enzeen reveals itself to be Uncle Hoole. He appeared as a Wookie and battles the Enzeen. In a struggle Chood gets the force field pendant but falls down the feeding pit with it in his clutches. They struggle with Smada to skimboard out of there and ultimately the planet devours the Hutt. Off they go, as the planet has trouble digesting the force field pendant it has swallowed.

They get to their spaceship in the nick of time but can't seem to get off the planet. Millenium Fucking Falcon to the rescue! Awww yeah, punch it Chewie. As they try to leave the planet Han has a "bad feeling about this." Two bad feelings in one book! How Star Wars! Anyway, the planet is following them. Some fancy flying on Han's part gets them away and then the planet.... eats itself? Ok.

Epilogue! Hoole reveals that he almost let them fucking die so he could find out what's going on. Then they fucking rehash everything we already know about D'vouran. It was engineered was a weapon by the Empire, the Enzeen were parasites. Thank god it's gone! Meanwhile in another part of the galaxy a ship drops out of hyperspace early. How strange that this uncharted planet is here...

What I Thought

I was wondering before I started this just how much like Goosebumps this would be. Now obviously it can't be too similar. I mean it's got to fit in the Star Wars world and have sci-fi tropes. You can only make the characters so relate-able. Still they did try to ground them a bit. They did some usual kid stuff. They played video games (albeit holo games) they skateboarded (or skimboarded.) Still, average Joe 11 year old probably doesn't dream too much about being a Jedi. Actually maybe they do, because that would be fucking sweet. The average kid just doesn't have much of a shot at it.

Actually I think I liked this book all the more because of it's unrelate-able sci-fi trappings. Sure I might not have felt the biggest connection with Tash and Zak but they got to do awesome stuff. Fly a space ship! Talk to robots! Meet a Wookiee! I am all for fantastical things in books.

You know what else? This book was a lot better written than a Goosebumps book too. Now I'm not saying it was a masterpiece but there actual literary things in there. For example, they used for shadowing. In the beginning their school lessons taught them all about parasitic creatures in symbiotic relationships. This paved the way for them to learn about the Enzeen's relationship to D'vouran. Another example, of stuff that would pay of later is Zak and his skimboarder. He was earlier practicing a complicated maneuver that would later end up saving their lives. There were a fair share of clues to what was really going on in the story as well. When I first read it, it was a quick read where I didn't attempt to think ahead or anything. When I read it again to write stuff down I noticed clues that made sense and would make it possible to deduce what was happening if you were really paying attention. I feel like Goosebumps never has stuff like that.

Really this book just felt like a lot of fun. You got to meet characters from the movies. There was the very tangible threat of a greedy Hutt and his Gank killers to cause problems while the greater threat of the carnivorous planet remained unknown. It kept things moving and provided a little bit of a red herring.

Still, the book is not perfect. I am not entirely sure if it would have been quite as enjoyable if I had never seen a Star Wars movie. That said, how many people who have never seen Star Wars would be reading this book? Not many I assume.

Beyond that, there were some questionable things going on that my adult brain couldn't handle. Why is Hoole such a shitty parent? Why would he trust the Enzeen he has just met to take care of his kids? Why would he leave them alone so often when he knows there are a bunch of murderous thugs after his family? How does Smada intend to control Hoole to be his assassin? If he can shape shift into anything he could easily kill the Hutt himself, shifting himself to be one of his private guards, his family members, a slave girl, literally anything. How Smada ever trust him to be an assassin for him? Also, how does a creature the size of a planet survive on just a few human beings a day? Planets, even small ones are fucking huge! Think about how much energy it must take to move around in outer space (and let's not even ask the question about how it manages that.) It would have to eat so many freaking people! The Empire would have to start emptying their prisons out onto the planet to keep it sustained.

But hey, kids don't worry about this stuff. Plus it is science fiction so maybe I'm not picking. D'vouran may not follow logical laws of existence. I mean I am talking about a galaxy that has a planet that is entirely desert, a planet that is entirely tundra a moon that is entirely forest. I guess this place just doesn't follow natural laws.

Ultimately though, this book is better written than Goosebumps. I think if you like sci-fi tropes and/or Star Wars you might just enjoy it more than Goosebumps too. Sure sci-fi "monsters" give you a little different fright than classics like werewolves or ghosts but after plowing through about 30 or so Goosebumps I was probably ready for a change.

Rating: 4 out of 5 pieces of merchandising
 

Final Thoughts



I would have liked to get this review out on the release day of Rogue One, but I am lazy. At least it is still in theaters? I guess I got it out by Christmas and that is good enough. Let me know if you liked me reviewing a non Goosebumps book or if you think I have committed heresy. I hope you enjoyed this. Thanks for reading it regardless. If you read it close to it's release, Merry Christmas. If you are reading any time else, Merry Whatever Day It Is. Check back next time when I'll be back to the main Goosebumps series.

 

October 31, 2016

Give Yourself Goosebumps: #4 The Deadly Experiments of Dr. Eeek

Judging a Book by Its Cover



It's Halloween so I'm going to deviate from the original series to the "Give Yourself Goosebumps" Series. May I just say that that ape is going bananas! Har har har. But for real, that lab monkey seems to be in charge. He doesn't seem to be keeping his lab in very good order either. Whatever that liquid is seems to be spilling everywhere. Remember, in science the more interesting the chemical is, the more green it is. I think he is working on the formula for Hi-C Ecto Cooler which by the way is back and is still delicious. As you can see I had some while reading this book.

Once again I feel like the illustrator for most of the Give Yourself Goosebumps who took over the duties from the guy from the original series just isn't quite up to par. Something about the chimp's face is just a little off. Still it's a pretty good cover. It's a nice action shot. I am left wondering, is he Dr. Eeek? Or has he escaped the clutches of Dr. Eeek? Also, I didn't know they make lab coats in chimp sizes. I guess it is a little small as his biceps are busting out of it. This chimp must be shredded.

As per usual the "ooze" dripping graphic on the Give Yourself Goosebumps series is full of glittery shiny stuff. It gives off a fun vibe rather than a spooky one. I get why they did it, shiny objects impress kids. They're like magpies.

Getting Goosebumps

So if you are unaware "Give Yourself Goosebumps" is a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style of book. Instead of reading straight through you are giving branching choices. Like "if you eat the peanut butter go to page 11, if instead you eat the jelly go to page 93." Most endings usually result in death. There tends to be a couple "good" endings, and few endings where you don't die but everything is not great. I'll be doing 3 read throughs of this book taking different paths. Will I manage to get the good ending? Let's find out!

#1

These books star "you" the reader. So I'm at Eeek Laboratories with my friend Sam. I'm looking for my mom who just started working here working with THE Dr. Eeek. While we're waiting for her Sam takes a glass of clear liquid from the receptionist's desk. He's sure it's just water but I'm not convinced. Because I'm a fucking idiot I think Labs just leaves chemicals in glasses on their receptionists' desks. He does a convincing Mr. Hyde impression before announcing it is indeed just water. First choice up ahead. Do I sit here and wait for mom or go and find her?

I'm feeling adventurous so I go out to track her down. We wander through the hallways and easily get sidetracked by a vending machine. While selecting our junk food of choice we are accosted by a chimp the size of a gorilla. Why it couldn't have just been a gorilla which is equally scary in its own right is anyone's guess. Turns out though, instead of wanting to eat us he just wants a candy bar from the vending machine. We can either follow him or go back to the waiting room and wait for my mom.

I will not be swayed by my quest by some sugar addicted ape. To the waiting room! My mom is there, but we're late and now we have to go straight to bed instead of going to the movies. I am also ridiculed for not having a sense of adventure. Well pardon me book for COMPLETING THE TASK THAT WAS GIVEN TO ME! I guess it would have much rather me died a horrible death!

#2

Back in the lab with Sam waiting for my mom. Because I need to be adventurous apparently, I go off to find her, once again meeting the giant ape. This time, however, an inexplicable sense of ADVENTURE overtakes me and I follow the chimp. He leads us through the hallways until we meet a man in a lab coat who demands to know what we are doing here. A legitimate question given the circumstances. He seems to know my mom so things are cool. He introduces himself as Yzark (which is Krazy backwards the reader may notice) and the chimp is Oscar.

After introductions are over it's time to see his work. Apparently he has been teaching chimps to play checkers and video games. I bet he got a government grant to do it too. Oscar the chimp wants us to join the apes inside. As I am obligated to be adventurous, I go along with it. We get locked in with them. That seems a little odd an unnecessary. As soon as the door closes the apes close the shades and it becomes clear that Oscar is in charge here. Dr. Yzark get a treat and heads to his cage. Is this the beginning to a reboot of planet of the apes?

Yes it turns out that the apes are in charge here. This is a chance for them to study humans, an interesting and seemingly intelligent species. And it looks like they got two new specimens. Ok book do you see what being adventurous gets you? Locked up by damn dirty apes! I was mocked for getting home with my mom and getting to sleep in my own bed so now I'm in a cage. Thanks a lot!

#3

Ok, in the lab with Sam. Waiting for mom. Instead of going off if the freakin' ape this time I'm just going to sit tight and wait for mom. Instead of mom a short lady named Vanessa greets us. She thinks we're here for some sort of Raster experiment. It will net us 50 bucks CASH. But I'm not here for some sort of experiment. I'm here for my mom. Vanessa goes off to get the infamous Dr. Eeek. He's wearing his lab coat backwards and has an odd squint.

He leads us to a genuine science lab with beakers and Bunsen burners and shit. It even has this weird green goo that the longtime Goosebumps reader (such as myself) might assume to be Monster Blood. He tosses the green goo which he calls G-substnce to Sam. It starts to grow up his arms and cover him all over. Dr. Eeek leaves, and we try to claw it off to no avail. Eeek returns and demands that we finally co-operate with the Raster experiment. We give in, and agree but the goo is still consuming us. Surely this is the end.

Luckily at the last minute Dr. Eeek whips out a sonic screwdriver that calms the goo. He leads us to a room with seats and headsets. Sweet, we get to test out the new Oculus Rift! I'm totally down for this. The graphics are great. We are in a tropical island. Falling. Wait what? Luckily I miss the rocks below and fall into the water. While drying off my virtual clothes I see a large Komodo dragon which is really dangerous. I mean not as dangerous as a Hungarian Horntail but still I probably don't want to get bitten. I could run, or I could freeze. You know I bet they are like a dinosaur and their vision is based on movement. I'm going to freeze.

It seems this isn't the way to go. The Komodo dragon appreciates the easy meal and starts chomping on me good. It seems I'm dead, in virtual reality. Does that mean I'm dead for real? It is remarkably unclear. Seriously, the book doesn't tell me. I did however get a "Game Over" so I guess I'm done reading.


What I Thought

I didn't do to well. Books like this are hard to review of course because unless you read every ending you really haven't read the "whole" book, but ain't nobody got time for that. So I guess I just have the 3 tries to go off of. I didn't get as far as I'd hoped.

So what was good? Well the setting was excellent. A crazy laboratory is the perfect setting for a book like this. All sorts of possibilities. Weird experiments, creepy doctors, so many things can happen! I mean even in my short read through I experienced cutting edge virtual reality, was attacked by a menacing ooze, and was made a lab human by a group of intelligent apes. Three very diverse sci-fi happenings, imagine what else could occur? Also I think the fact that it stars "you" works well specifically for this particular type of book. It may not be the best gimmick in the world but I bet young me loved it. Plus it's not like you have time to develop a protagonist anyway (not that Goosebumps protagonists are particularly well developed.)

The shortcomings? Well they are the same in this book as they are in every Choose Your Own Adventure style book. In an effort to get a couple dozen plot lines in there, you sacrifice quantity for quality. Also, your choices don't necessarily play out logically or anything. What you choose to do might as well be chosen at random because there is no real clue to make the "right" choice. It would be interesting if your knowledge of the main series of Goosebumps helped you navigate through these books. Granted that might make them sucky for people who don't have that knowledge.

So did this book particularly stand out among the legions of other books of its ilk? Not really. That being said it also didn't blow chunks. I had fun to the extent I read even though I didn't get a longer better ending story line. If I was young and dedicated I probably would have been driven to read every ending or at least until I got the best one. In fact, when I was a kid that's probably what I did.

Rating: 3 out of 5 science chimps


Up Next

I am hoping to get back to the main series and the next entry would be The Horror at Camp Jellyjam. I really hope to get it done in November. Will I? Probably not. I am terrible at remembering to do these things each month. That said, I INTEND to do it. Intentions, eh? This is at least the second "Camp" Goosebumps book after Welcome to Camp Nightmare. By comparison camp Jellyjam sounds delightful. Delightful? Wait no, I meant delicious!

October 18, 2016

#32 The Barking Ghost

Judging a Book by its Cover


It's a dog. There really isn't much else going on here. It appears to be some sort of Labrador or something. It doesn't seem to be pleased, probably because it is a ghost. Also the camera that took the picture sucks because there is some major red eye going on. The dog has some major Elvis lip curl going on. There is no scenery or background. It's just a dog head. Ok.

There is a little patch of spooge that boasts that there is a free terrifying tattoo in the book. Past me must have taken it and used it. Fuck you past me, I wanted that tattoo! The tagline is "Bad dog. REALLY bad dog." You see, because you say bad dog to punish your dog, but this one is also presumably murderous. Or at least not particularly friendly. You know they say ghosts stay on earth because the soul has unfinished business. What unfinished business does a dog have? Didn't pee on enough trees? Well the back proclaims "it's a dog gone nightmare" which is a particularly groan inducing pun.

Honestly this is one of the less inspired covers I've seen. One thing it has got going for it is that the two tone slime border matches the colors of the actual illustration pretty well. Overall it's not particularly interesting though. Oh well. Perhaps the contents of the book itself will be more interesting. Let's find out!

Getting Goosebumps

Meet Cooper. He is our tween protagonist for this book. He is also real chicken shit scaredy cat. I mean, I know false scares and cowardliness are frequently portrayed in these books but I'm on page two and he has already been scared by a tree and a cuddly bunny rabbit. No joke. Then he talks about how he just moved to this knew house with his family and explains his past of being scared shitless. Then to prove his point he gets terrified of a garden hose and throws a softball at it. To end this riveting scare-a-thon Cooper's older brother Mickey scares him from beneath the bed. I don't know why he went to the effort when he could have scared him with a garden hose. Mom and dad split it up and Cooper devises brilliant plans to get back at his tormentor. Genius ideas like "jump out from behind the shower curtain." Then to finish the night out he hears barking outside but doesn't seen any dogs. Because dogs could never be behind a bush or a tree or a rock or something.

Determined to start the next day out better than the last, Cooper decides to get lost in the woods. Good going. He tried looking for the phantom dog and immediately screwed up. His plan of wandering around aimlessly to find his house when he gets the shit scared out of him by a leaf. I am not even kidding. He gets terrified of a leaf. RL Stine has written cowards before but this kid takes the cake. Except he wouldn't take cake because he'd be terrified of the cake. He gets his pathetic ass saved by a neighbor girl named Margaret Fergeson. Everyone calls her Fergie, and since this is the 90s that name is associated with a duchess and not a Black-Eyed Pea. She knows his name because she was spying on him on moving day from the woods. Creepy. She must be the ghost dog! How does that make sense? It doesn't really, but this is Goosebumps we're talking about. She creepily whispers the word "dogs" and starts running away. Just what a ghost dog would do! Maybe. When Cooper Pooper confronts her about it she has no recollection. She does however assert that the woods are haunted and that he should move.

On his trip back he gets assaulted by 2 dogs. They don't necessarily seem to be of the ghost variety, mostly just mean. Of course when he gets to his house and his dad inquires about things the dogs have vanished... like GHOST DOGS! Pops doesn't seem to be swayed by talk of haunted woods though. Dang parents! Inside the house brothers exchange insults. Cooper with big droopy ears is dubbed Drooper. Mickey is pronounced to be known as Sickey presumably more for rhyming reasons than for frequent bouts of illness.

It's at this point I would like to withdraw my assertion that Fergie is the ghost dog. I don't believe she is connected at all with the ghost dog because they keep throwing out too many hints that she is so that can't possibly be true. It has to be something far stupider. The ghost dogs are probably just holograms, or robots, or aliens or something. Oh yeah, also,  the ghost dog strikes again in the house, leaving no evidence, and a mocking older brother.

Saturday Fergie arrives to throw a real wrench in the cogs. She claims to have been put up to lying about the haunted status of the woods by Mickey, ahem, I mean Sickey. She still plays dumb when he brings up the dogs though. Coops then startledly proclaims said dogs to have returned. But alas, twas a jest! These kids are so clever. They decided to hang out by a big rock... because I guess that is what kids in the 90s did. I personally don't really remember hanging out by many rocks but I guess I wasn't that cool. At the rock the kids come up with a plan to get back at Mickey which involves a plant that looks like poison ivy but isn't. I think a better plan would be to cover him in real poison ivy, but what do I know? Either way, Mickey arrives desperately ranting about the dogs before he keels over. Since we are only halfway through the book it is probably yet another prank.

It was.

Naturally after this encounter when Coop-dawg is all alone he sees the ghost dog again. In fact, he sees his own reflection as the dog's. Creepy! He becomes sullen and withdrawn. But it's understandable, who isn't bummed when they keep seeing ghost dogs and no one believes them? The next morning they return when there are no witnesses. Then they did the mostly ghastly thing of all.... they stole his lunch.

Next weekend Fergie, who by the way believes in the ghost dog shenanigans, sleeps over with Grand-Master-Cooper and they unleash their brilliant plan to scare his brother. It's a very deep detailed plan that takes a certain amount of coordination and genius to pull off. Layers within layers, frights within frights. They are going to put a rubber rat on a string and drag it across him while he sleeps. SOMEHOW he doesn't fall for this gag, sensing the ruse from the get go and instead giving Coopy Coop a spook of his own. Shenanigans!

Cue the return of the dogs. Fergie sees this time but mom remains unconvinced. They vow vengeance upon the beasts! Or rather, they decide to go traipsing outside alone to face these dangerous perhaps superhuman beasts of unknown power and origin. The furious monsters corner them but don't go for the kill. Instead of taking this as a warning or a sign of mercy, they decide these accursed creatures are like Lassie and that Timmy is stuck in a well. They follow them. What they find is a shack. A murder shack? No, apparently it is "the changing room." You see the ghost dogs were in fact people who were cursed. Through the magical properties of the shack they shall change places with the kids. Becoming an immortal ghost dog? Not only that but they are telepathic. Sounds like a win to me, but the kids don't seem to be fans.

Now there is only one thing that can be done. Murder the people who took your bodies. You have got supernatural powers and canine ferocity, it would be easy. But these dumb kids disagree and just want to swap bodies back. They try all sorts of dumb things like barking at the parents and attempting to write a message with a pen when their paws can't hold it. Worst of all they seem to be infested with fleas. Ghost fleas? Undetermined. Also even though they are ghosts they still crave food. What kind of shitty ghosts are they? Their ultimate plan is to just drag those imposters' asses back to the shack. Real creative. Mom and dad seem fine with these mysterious dogs pulling their children there. They want to see what the dogs want. Oh I don't know, to eat your children? You are shitty parents! Anyway they drag em back and get into the shack and baddabing baddaboom they are chipmunks.

Wait. What? You read that right, there were chipmunks in the shack. So they became chipmunks.

Yup.

What I Thought

This book sucks. No really, even by the lax standards with which I judge Goosebumps books this book is bad. It's whole conception feels lay. Like RL Stine was ticking off a list of creatures he'd feature and was like "let's do werewolves... wait no I've done that... ghost werewolves? no, too convoluted... dogs! no, not scary enough... I got it! ghost dogs!" And then he drank some scotch and did a few Scrooge McDuck laps in his pool full of money.

For starters, Cooper suuuuuuuucks. He took the oh so common fraidy cat character and dialed it all the way to 11. He was scared of a leaf. A LEAF! I wont lie, I wanted him to be eaten by the ghost dogs. I wanted him to be torn limb from limb. I knew it wouldn't happen but oh how I would have enjoyed it.

As far as other characters? Fergie existed only because these characters need a token friend. She didn't really contribute anything. She went along with Mickey, felt bad, then went along with Cooper. Such stunning character development! Then of course Mickey is just like every other sibling to a fraidy cat in these books. He is the asshole tormentor. Could we PLEASE have some new character types in these books?

Then we have the ghost dogs. Not scary. Also... not really ghostly? Ok, so they could walk through walls if they want. That is a little ghostly. But they weren't undead. They were cursed. Also they had mortal wants and needs. Plus how can a Labrador with fleas be that scary unless it is rabid? In fact a rabid dog would have been waaaay scarier. Also this book probably has the least scary use of a shack in the woods of all time.

So what would I have done differently? Besides not write this book? Well if you were going to keep it mostly the same but tweak a few things I'd say get to them changing into dogs way sooner. Have a time limit for how long they have until the change is permanent. That way they get frantic about trying to bring back the imposters. Also, it is key to have a scene where the pound shows up and tries to catch them but they can't because of all their ghost powers. So often these books have the kids be afraid of something but the parents don't believe them and the parents never really find out scary things are actually happening. Have adults be afraid. If adults are afraid then it is probably actually scary!

Finally I would like to discuss the chipmunks far more than they need to be discussed. So are they GHOST chipmunks or just regular chipmunks now? I mean I think the shack just swaps people, not swaps them and ghostifies them. Like the only reason the kids had the ghost powers is because the ghost dogs already had them right? And the ghost dogs were originally people, that's why they had human intelligence right? So the kids are now just regular old chipmunks with human minds, right? Does that mean the new Cooper and Fergie have chipmunk minds? Are they going to start chattering and squeaking and hording nuts? Won't their parents get worried when their children can't speak English and defecate everywhere? A book about kids with the minds of chipmunks would be amazing. Far better than this book.

In conclusion this book feels lazy. The formula of Goosebumps has more than worn thin. The characters are lame rehashes. Cooper is the biggest chicken shit of all time. The "monsters" aren't interesting or scary. Maybe if this book hadn't been preceded by over 30 books with pretty much the same formula I would be more generous to it, but as it stands I just can't be.

Rating: 1 chipmunk out of 5




Up Next 

I know I have been failing at updating this page regularly. I would, however, really like to do a Halloween entry like I try to do every year. If I own a Give Yourself Goosebumps book I haven't done yet I'll try to go for that. I'll have to look through my collection. If not I have a few other ideas up my sleeves. I really really really want to get one done by Halloween, which gives me about a week. Hopefully I manage! anyway, thanks for reading.

August 14, 2016

Goosebumps Series 2000: #13 Return to HorrorLand

Judging a book by its cover



Well now, that purple pig nosed demon guy's ectoplasm ice cream is melting all over! I hope he has plenty of napkins. It'll take forever to get all that goop out of his hairy knuckles. Anyway yes, we are back into HorrorLand, something I'm excited about. The roller coasters loom menacingly in the red skyed background. How has this place not been shut down by the authorities or sued into oblivion? For that matter, have they closed that pinching loophole from the last book? Oh right, if you want to catch up on where we are at, check out my review of the original One Day at HorrorLand.

I believe this is the first of the "Series 2000" Goosebumps I have read. The cover is familiar but slightly different from the original. Though we have the ooze font, the ooze borders are gone. Maybe the monster filled his cone with them? Where the original series had raised bumps on the title, to simulator actual goosebumps, this one just has raised slimeness. It still is a nice effect. Beyond that the actual illustration itself is raised. It's a nice tactile feel to the books. Overall I like the design. Plus it still has the pun taglines. This book has "Long Time No Scream" for a tagline. Decent punwork but it could have had more to do with amusement parks or the topic at hand. B-. The back of the book guarantees "2000 times the scares" which I find to be a dubious claim. The book is still about 120 pages, so they'd have really work hard to jam pack that many scares into it. It would have to be like, a scare a sentence. you'd go into full fright overload. Fear would become meaningless! Let's hope that doesn't happen.

Getting Goosebumps

Its 6 months after the original trek to HorrorLand which siblings Luke and Lizzy remember none to fondly. At home they are relaxing and watching The Strange Report a TV show in which the co-host couple named the Stranges detail strange happenings in the world. For example on this episode they are talking with Evan about his dealings with Monster Blood. Seems like in Monster Blood II when his hamster got huge someone was filming it. In this era it would end up on Youtube but apparently at the time, the best they could do is The Strange Report.

Full disclosure, I wrote the previous couple paragraphs about 4 months ago. Then because I am a lazy good for nothing asshole I stopped, and didn't think about the book at until now. So I have to refresh myself a bit on what happened to plow through the bulk of this recap and review. Will the quality suffer? Probably! But lets get on with it.

It just so happens as they were watching who should show up but Derek and Margo Strange of The Strange Report. Naturally the kids are a bit taken aback. They joke that they are there to film an alien abduction of the children. In reality they are more interested in the children's dealings with HorrorLand. They have noticed lots of strange things about the Park which seems to move to a new location very often. Which is impressive giving all the large structures, haunted houses, roller coasters, etc, that have to get moved. They want to take the kids back and film it to see what is really going on. Mom is naturally worried, but the promise of 10 thousand dollars shuts her up. Now that's good parenting! They invite their friend Clay who was with them last time as well. He is the most apprehensive, because he is a sane rational human being. Not only is the park crazy, but it's in Florida now so they are likely to be eaten by gators.

After some morbid jokes on the trip there they finally approach. Rational Clay is worried. Idiot Luke thinks it is going to be awesome. The Stranges continue to be strange. The park, it seems, is under new management. Could this be a good thing? Almost certainly not. After getting some typical tourist disguises on and readying their camera, they are ready to park.

Inside the park, the camera immediately gets smashed by a grumpy Horror employee who is enforcing their no camera policy. That seems like a trip to small claims court to me Horror. Luckily the Stranges have a "Mini Super 8." Now if any young kids are reading this, 1) Go away, this page is for adults. I say bad words. 2) Cell phone cameras didn't exist. They used to use this thing called "film" to record video. It is bulky and crappy though hip people will claim it's superior, kinda like they say vinyl is better than digital, but they are wrong.

Their first stop is to get some chicken fingers to eat. Turns out, however, they are just fingers. They also notice a lack of "no pinching" signs. (Pinching was the brilliant way to defeat the Horrors of the previous book because RL Stine is the greatest author of all time.) They decide to enter a pyramid known as The Mummy Walk. It's full of snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes? Luke almost gets bitten and then is shocked they are real because he is stupid. Like even stupid by kids standards, because kids tend to be stupid.

Then a voice came from one of the "ancient mummy cases." I believe the word you are looking for their Mr. Stine is "sarcophagus." All of them seem to have mummy voices inside. Except one empty one. Luke dares Lizzy to get inside. She says no because she is smart. Luke does it himself, because let me repeat myself, he is an idiot. The lid comes crashing down. The Stranges are gone. Lizzy and Clay scramble to save the idiot. Park employees are no help, so the kids use some chains and a pulley to pull off the lid. Luke is gone. While frantically trying to figure out what to do, they stumble upon Luke who escaped via trapdoor. He had been waiting outside the pyramid the whole time.

The next attraction they go to is a dentist office. Not joking. It is a monster dental office. It's full of kids screaming about the horrible things the dentists are doing to them. Drilling their tongues, breaking their teeth. Though it is horribly out of place in an amusement park, it's genuinely a little unsettling since many people have a fear of the dentist. Lizzy gets pulled into a chair and a pig snouted monster dentists gets to work on her. In a panic she punches him and realizes he is made of wood. One of those new fangled wooden robots. In a panic she twists his snout which conveniently happens to be the shut off for them. She frees Clay and Luke. Luke, naturally pretends like he knew they were robots the whole time. Meanwhile the Stranges are bummed that they are robots. Because apparently evil dental robots doesn't make for good TV.

After a stop to check out some caramel covered shrunken heads they lose track of the Stranges again. What responsible adults. While searching for them the kids get apprehended by some Horrors that catch them in a net. Clearly the most efficient way to catch children. The Horrors take them all to the master of the Dungeon of No Return. Sounds charming. It's full of lovely stuff like torture racks and thumbscrews. Fun for the whole family. The plan for these children however, is to be fed to ferrets. Which lets be honest, is not the most frightening creature. I mean sure they are fierce for their size and probably have pointy teeth. But kids don't stay up at night afraid that ferrets are going to come eat them. Maybe Stine was just sick of using rats and couldn't think of any scarier small mammal? There are probably way scarier animals he could have used though. A wolverine? That think will fuck up your shit. And I'm not talking about Hugh Jackman.

Well they accidentally press a button that spun the wall around leading them to relative safely, because every good torture dungeon must have an easy way to escape. They see a sign for Amaz-O the magician who I think comes from the Goosebumps book Bad Hare Day but I haven't reread that one yet so I can't totally confirm that. Lizzy ends up being his assistant for a trick involving a tiger. Now THERE is an animal to be afraid of. I wonder how many ferrets a tiger could eat? Anyway, of course something goes wrong. The tigers are gone, but Lizzy is in the cage. Everyone is leaving and she is locked inside. Oh wait, no she's not the cage is open. You'd think she'd check first before she fears for her life.

So everyone is gone and Lizzy goes looking for them. She ends up finding the Stranges being kicked out of the park. They want to toss Lizzy out too but she run away only to find Luke and Clay chained up at Vulture Beach. Naturally vultures were attacking them, but Lizzy finds their one weakness: sand being thrown at them. The boys slide out of their chains by the ancient art of "not balling their hands up into fists." It's like that episode of the Simpsons where homer gets his hand stuck in a vending machine because he won't let go of the pop.

Now trying to outrun all the Horrors of the park, the kids get the genius idea of theft. They steal Horror costumes from the gift shop. It works, somehow. They convince the Horrors at the front of the park that they are there to relieve them and manage to escape the park. There are like 20 pages left in this book though so they are about to do something really stupid. They find the Stranges who instead of helping them escape, bring them back to the park. The Horrors pay off the Stranges. This is all a super convoluted plan. Last summer the kids all saw too much and were ready to tell everyone about it on TV. Thus they must be dealt with. The plan for them is "The Final Jump" a park ride which consists of visitors apparently committing suicide by jumping. At the last minute 3 DIFFERENT Horrors come get them because they have different plans for the kids.

RIDICULOUS ENDING TIME. The 3 rescue Horrors are really human beings from a rival TV show called The Weird Copy. Turns out while the Stranges were pretending to film the kids the Weird Copy people were actually filming them and the Stranges to expose them all. Now the park will be shut down and the Stranges arrested. They just need to shoot a few more scenes... AT TERRORVILLE.

The end.

What I Thought

I have long maintained that out of all the Goosebumps books HorrorLand has the most potential. Think of all the amusement park rides and attractions there are and think about all the ways you can turn them scary. The problem is, sometimes instead of making a genuine scary attraction RL Stine is like, "hey you know a the scariest part of a theme park? Yeah, the dentists office..." And it doesn't really make sense. Maybe the dental scene would have worked better if it was behind the scenes and they were part of the Horrors' health plan? Am I thinking about this too much for a kids book? Probably.

So, they could have either brought the same kids back or had all new kids visiting HorrorLand. Since they chose the prior, I think having a TV show trying to expose them was a clever idea. I just wish they would have played with the concept that the kids had already been there once more. Like, they mention that they don't see any no pinching signs, but it would have been more interesting if the kids got in to trouble and tried to pinch a horror only to have it not work. (Despite this suggestion I maintain that the whole pinching aspect of the first book was stupid.) This, however, might rely too much on kids having knowledge of the previous book. It could have been fun though. Like they go in with all these notions that they know what is going to happen, but it is all different this time, to their shock.

Here is the thing about this book, and a lot of Goosebumps in general. It's too convoluted if you stop and really think of it. So the Stranges are paid off to deliver the kids to the Horrors. Why do they bother to take them around the park and stage the whole thing? Why not just lock them in the car, pull up the park, hand them over, and drive away. The whole aspect of them actually being in the park makes no sense if they've been paid off. So maybe it wasn't their plan to sell out the whole time, wouldn't the allure of exposing real live actual monsters in a sinister park make them far more money on TV then anything the Horrors can pay them off with? But the way it was written makes it sound like they were in cahoots with the Horrors the whole time, which makes a whole lot of their actions make absolutely no sense.

So, I would like to pitch a different ending. So they get out of the park, escaping just in the nick of time, afraid for their lives. But they got it, they got the footage. The Stranges are psyched that their TV show is going to expose this horror show for what it is. Then Dereck realizes... he forgot to take the lens off the camera! Where can I put in my application to be the new RL Stine?

Ultimately, while I think this book had an interesting premise, and I like the setting of HorrorLand I don't think it lived up to the first book. There were some interesting attractions that were mentioned, and the food stuffs were funny. However, the actual attractions they visit were a bit meh, and the plot gets too convoluted. I don't care that I'm a freaking adult and that kids don't think about this stuff. Even a kids book should hold up to a little scrutiny.

Rating: 2 Beach Vultures out of 5



Up Next!

I don't really know. It's been so long since I have done one of these and I'm sorry. I'm probably going to go back to the original series. So there is a good chance the next book I'll cover is The Barking Ghost. Who doesn't love a spooky puppy? As always thanks for reading, and I'll really really try to get the next one out in less than 5 months.

March 12, 2016

Goosebumps The Game (2015 Video Game)


As we've established, Goosebumps is a long running series of books dating back to the 90s. But Goosebumps is so much more than books. It's TV shows, board games, movies, and yes, video games. There have been several video games over the years, and though some came out when I was a kid and still reading the series, this is the first Goosebumps video game I've played. It came out the year of the Goosebumps movie starring Jack Black, but it's not based on the Movie. Not really anyway, though there are similarities. I suppose it could be a prequel? I am not positive if that was the intention or not. Like the movie, this game involves author RL Stine moving to a town and his literary creations escaping their book and causing problems. No Jack Black in this game though!

So what kind of game is Goosebumps? Why it is a point and click adventure just like free Ye Olden Times. Back in the days of King's Quest and Monkey Island. Unlike those games, however, there is no avatar. You are, well, you. The jr. high version of you that is. There is no character for you to identify with, so hopefully you can identify with yourself. In this sense it makes it feel like the "Give Yourself Goosebumps" series. And it's like that in more ways than one. Stupid untimely deaths lurk right around the corner!


Anyway, unlock the coverage I do for the books, I'm not going to vomit back the plot at you. But I will talk about things a bit. So you begin at school, with an empty inventory and a handy dandy cell phone. It's up to you to collect items and figure out how to use them to get through various puzzles and fend off various creatures. And there are A LOT of items. There are a lot that reference Goosebumps but there is also a lot that is just... well... Junk. There are alternate ways to solve many puzzles but I am not convinced every item you can pick up serves that purpose. For example, you find a screwdriver which I probably used a half a dozen times. I also found a half a dozen shoes (no joke) that I used 0 times. Luckily not all the items are so boring. Early on you find a crashed truck full of Goosebumps related items. Why, whoever could have been moving? Oh right, I already told you, it's RL Stine.


So anyway, when you get home from school you discover that something has happened to your house. It has turned all spooooooooky. Not only does it look like the Adams Family lives there, but there are genuine ghosts inside. The ghosts of children for that matter. Which... now that I think about it is a real bummer. You know it didn't hit me as I was playing the game... there are 3 dead children inside your house. How did they die? So young? Jesus. That's harsh game. Harsh.


As far as the puzzles go, most are relatively easy. Which is as it should be, it's aimed at kids primarily I imagine. Though if you are like me, and reliving some nostalgia I think you'll still have some fun. It's not like, baby easy. And there were a few things that were actually kind of frustrating. For example, you can use your cell phone to call your mom, but your battery wears out. My battery ran dead but there was a puzzle I thought needed my sell phone. I was racking my brain trying to figure out how to charge my phone. It insinuates you can, and indeed it is possible... but only later on. If you are like me and kill your battery there is a entirely different way to do the same puzzle. Which is nice, but when your mind knows how to do it, but can't, it's a little frustrating. Also, there is one puzzle where you have to develop pictures. The process takes 1 minute for each of 3 steps. So, 3 minutes total. And what do you do with those 3 minutes? Wait. Literally. It makes you wait a minute each time. Almost exactly a minute too. If you try to click too early the picture doesn't develop. If you wait too long it overdevelops. So you have to try again, and wait more minutes. Not hard, just... frustrating. The last step takes 5 minutes but thank the lord it doesn't actually make you wait. It just says you wait, which is honestly what I think it should have done all along.

So I'm posting some screenshots so you can see that the graphics are pretty good. There is not a whole lot of animation, but everything has a kinda cartoony but still eerie look that reminds me of various book covers. Since the monsters are ones escaped fro the books there are plenty you should be able to recognize. There are plenty of old fan favorites, but some newer ones too. There were a few I didn't recognize but I bet if I asked my niece who reads the newer ones she'd probably know em. Playing it on a platform with achievements is fun, there are plenty to get, and a lot that have some humor. For example, I played this on Steam and I got an achievement for doing my laundry. As far as I could tell there was no in game need to do it, so I got rewarded for doing my chores. Hurray!
Plus since there are alternate ways to do things, you could probably play through it a couple times and still have fun while racking up new achievements.

Now the game costs 19.99 on steam. I beat it in about 4 hours (not trying hard to be speedy) but like I said, there is replay value. I haven't done so yet, but probably will. If you're looking to play it on PC and pick it up on steam you could probably wait for a sale and get it far cheaper. I paid about 5 bucks to get it in a bundle for other games, and it was well worth the money to get some nostalgia. It was a new experience, born out of old experiences. While it doesn't reinvent the genre, and I wouldn't call it the best point and click adventure ever. But it is a pretty good introduction to the style of game for younger players and fans of the books.  I hope they make a sequel. I could see a Horror Land themed game like this being great. Who knows, of all the Goosebumps games that exist maybe there already is one I am an aware of. So if you are curious and see it on sale, I say give it a go.

Rating: 4 out of 5 video game ghouls


Up Next

One of the books I hope! Seriously though, I'm planning to read one of the Goosebumps 2000 series ones really soon. just gotta motivate myself. Anyway, thanks for reading and catch you next time.

December 24, 2015

Goosebumps Most Wanted Special Edition #2: The 12 Screams of Christmas

Judging a Book by its Cover


It's Christmas time! And there is actually a Christmas themed Goosebumps book. I think this may be the first such thing and it was just released last year in the Goosebumps "Most Wanted" line. I actually checked this bad boy out of the library because I am adult who feels comfortable strolling into the children's section and prying a book out of the weak trembling hands of a child. Hah.

So anyway, in the back we have a very stereotypical haunted mansion looking building except it's been all decked out in Christmas lights. Rather festive if you ask me. Then we have a Santa hat wearing spook who got tangled up in his lights like he is Clark Griswold. Wait, maybe this is the Ghost of Chevy Chase from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? One year he finally wasn't so lucky after falling off the roof, could it be? Nah, he looks a little too spooky. Like the ghost of a goth guy or something. Ghost of a vampire... Can vampires have ghosts? Like the ghost of a guy who hated Christmas but his family forced him to dress up all festively and then he hung himself with Christmas lights. There, I figured it out!

Anyway, what could this book really be about? Well obviously there is going to be a ghost. The ghost of Christmas past has already been done by Dickens. I am guessing it is the ghost of a guy who died on Christmas. Perhaps his family didn't show up to visit him and he froze to death in a blizzard? Or he seems like a Christmas ghost but is actually an alien because why the fuck not. That is something RL Stine would do.

Oh well. Let's Go. Ho ho ho.

Getting Goosebumps

Prologue: 1882. Wait, prologue? Since when have Goosebumps had prologues? Maybe that is what the "special edition"on the cover means? Anyway we start long ago. Twins Abe and Ned have stolen a red cap from their pesky little sister Flora. Ned is quite a jokester. They are like the Weasley Twins or some shit. It's near Christmas and their family has just moved into a big new house. They decide to explore the premises, and decide to go straight for the haunted shake. I'm not sure why a ghost would bother haunting a shack. Surely there is better real estate to haunt. Anyway it turns out the only thing it is haunted by is Ned joking around with a spooky voice. Oh also wasps. Hundreds of angry wasps. They manage to escape them and celebrate with what they refer to as a "Ned dance." Flora decides to join in on the fun in the safest spot available. On a well. Guess what happens. She falls in. Didn't see that coming now did ya? They try to send down the rope and bucket after her but it breaks. The prologue closes on her screaming "get me out" 12 times. Oh man, it's just like the title!

Now, to the present day! Now we focus on Kate Welles. She is trying out for the new school play. She hates Courtney because of... reasons. Also she can see ghosts. This is inconvenient as she is taking a shortcut through the cemetery. Guess what happens? She sees ghosts, just like the last time. Shocking. Now if it turns out that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time in this book I'm going to be pissed. Anyway Courtney and Co. refer to her as ghost girl because of the last time she freaked out seeing ghosts. That is probably one of the reasons she hates Courtney but she certainly didn't bring it up at the time. The ghosts are freaking her out as ghosts are wont to do. Mid freakout she is greeted by her friend Jack who is confused by her screaming. Don't your friends just randomly scream in the middle of cemeteries?

Well they go to Kate's house and she screams about there being a ghost in the house. But get this, it was a line from a play they are rehearsing. Oh RL, what a misdirection you've pulled off you rascal! They are doing a Christmas play with ghosts, like Charles Dickens... kinda. Mid rehearsal she screams because she sees a REAL GHOST that turns out to be Courtney in makeup. Naturally Kate is going up for the same part as Courtney.

So the leader of this school play is Mr. Piccolo who it is pointed out looks nothing like a piccolo. Which makes sense, because I can think of 0 human beings who at all resemble one. He begins by telling a ghost story. You see Cliff wanted nothing more than to be in a school play. He was ill but persevered to star in it. But afterwards no one could find him. After investigating it turns out he did the play AFTER HE DIED. OOOOOOO. And also he is in the audience there! Wait no, that's just Paco the light and sound guy. But it sure did get Kate embarrassed to get freaked out by it. Well Mr. P gives Kate one little task and she manages to fuck it up. He wants her to get the clipboard from his office and she gets locked inside. Eventually Jack shows up surprised to see her there. Courtney told everyone Kate went home. What a cunt. In an epic bout she battles with Courtney and they both fall down the trap door miraculously not dying. Impressive. Underneath the auditorium she gets lost and finds Paco who is actually a ghost! And there are other ghosts! And they want her to... sing. For reasons. When she tries she can't but that doesn't matter because guess what motherfuckers that was all a dream when she got knocked unconscious from the fall. Somehow, however, in this 0 tolerance world of ours neither girl was expelled. They were punished merely by having shitty roles in the play. Some disciplinarian you are Mr. P.

Part 2! Man this thing is broken up into multiple parts? CRAZY! Anyway this one is called 12 Screams. Apparently there will be screaming. 12 times. Mr. P wants them all to rehearse in an old abandoned house the town over. Because what is unreasonable about an adult man wanting to take a bunch of youths to a dark dank abandoned house away from their parents and the seeing eyes of society? I am going to go out on a limb and say this was the house from the prologue. The whole place is in a nice state of disrepair. Rotting stairs. Lack of heat. Vermin. Mold. A nice safe wholesome place for kids. Exploring the estate, Kate almost falls into a well. What is with wells enticing children to fall in them? Afterwards Mr. P rounds up all the kids and confirms that this is indeed the house from the prologue. And it turns out that since Flora's death they have been haunting the premises. Then there is a bit of a discussion about who does and does not believe in ghosts. Then a real treat, we are treated to the song from the play. In a parody of the 12 Days of Christmas they sing.

"On the first day of Christmas my true love screamed I see, a buzzard in a bare tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love screamed I see, two haunted houses and a buzzard in a bare tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love screamed I see, three ghostly spirits, two haunted houses, and a buzzard in a bare tree."

Beautiful. It is interrupted by the ghosts of the twins Abe and Ned. Maybe they just like spooky Christmas carols? If anyone would, it'd be ghosts I think! They finally spoke to Kate saying cryptically, "we'll be back, Flora."

That night while trying to sleep Kate heard someone whispering, "help me." Doing the only sensible thing to do in a dark dank haunted house she goes outside to see what is going on. It comes from the well and in it she can see a floating red cap. Suddenly he is startled by the reappearance of the ghost of the twins. They want her to be their little sister Flora and come home for Christmas. They seem fine with the prospect of murdering her so she can live with them forever and celebrate Christmas. They don't seem swayed by the pleas that she is not Flora. An irrelevant fact really. Luckily Mr. P comes out to see what in the hell she is doing. She wisely claims she was just getting air, as no one will believe her ghost tales.

The next day they go back to rehearsing. Mr. P demands a "crisper" performance. I don't know what "crisp" singing is. Kate has another freakout when the twin ghosts appear but naturally no one believes her. And in the world's most graceful stunt she runs from the room and right into a bookshelf knocking her unconscious. She should really be taken to the hospital at this point. Two bouts of severe head trauma in a couple days? She is probably concussed. The fact that Mr. P doesn't get her medical attention is almost as negligent as taking a bunch of kids out to a dangerous broken down old house.

Now Kate meets Ma and Pa who are glad to see their Flora finally home. They beckon her to sing Christmas carols with them, so she sings a ghastly one from the play. They don't seem to take kindly to it. She actually apologizes for offending the ghosts who want to kill her and have her live eternally as their undead sister. She apologizes repeated. Sigh. Then they pull out the worm infested corpse of Father Christmas. Lovely. Next they serve dinner. The skeleton of a turkey and a rotting dead mouse, yum yum! Then it was time for presents. They were so outraged Kate/Flora didn't get them anything that they threw her out the fucking window. Man, and I thought my family was dysfunctional around the holidays. Thankfully for Kate there was a slanting roof below the window and she was able to catch herself. But Ghosts are all floaty and incorporeal and shit so they fly out after her to continue the harassment. That is when she reasons with them. She claims she can bring Flora up from the well. Pleas are made for 2 days of preparations but the ghosts demand she do it now. Luckily she has a genius plan. In Mr. P's play based on these ghosts the girl is saved by them screaming "come up," 12 times.

Does it work? You're god damn right it works. Except Flora needs help coming up the last bit of the way. Why would a ghost need help climbing up a well? I don't rightly know, but she does ok? Kate tries with all her might but the little ghost girl is pulling her down into the well. How much could the ghost of a 6 year old girl really weigh anyway? Courtney the bitch comes to ol' Ghost Girl Kate at just the right time. Though she mocks Kate for believing in ghosts she helps her dangle down the well and pull up Flora. In thanks, the little ghosts lets Courtney see her, freaking her right the heck out. Now Courtney is the new Ghost Girl! They rehearse the play, and everything is right in the world for Kate. Except the Flora shows up and would rather live with her than her family. The end.

What I Thought

So first of all let me say that I think the idea of a Christmas Goosebumps is pretty fun. It doesn't seem obvious at first to make a spooky Christmas story but in the end I think it can work. I am honestly surprised it took him this long to do it (as far as I know this is his first one anyway.) It was also sort of nice that it didn't just use established Christmas characters. You could have just had an evil version of Santa. Or a mean Christmas elf. Or something.

Of course, as with any Goosebumps there are flaws. Firstly, why are the ghosts of the family haunting the house the same age they were when Flora died. Did they die immediately after? Did they not grow up and have lives of their own? I mean I could see the parents never getting over it... but the young twins? Why are they child ghosts? Didn't they get older, move out, get married? Did they die of grief or something? I don't get it. I mean, he could have at least said they all froze in a blizzard that year or something.

But like usual, it's hard to comment a lot on stuff you would usually comment on about books. The characters? They were exactly like every other Goosebumps character. Kate is generic preteen. Instead of playing Super Nintendo and stuff she goes onto Facebook because it is 20 years since the books of my youth. It still kind of feels like an old man writing about what he hears kids are into instead of knowing what kids are actually like. I mean for one thing you have to be 13 to be on Facebook. Kate is violating their terms of service!

When I started the book I skipped passed the page that mentioned it had a prologue. I was impressed that he broke from the norm and had a book based in the past. When it ended quickly and went to current times I was actually moderately disappointed. I mean, when it comes right down to it all these books are just too similar. Even though he does his best to vary monsters and stuff, you still just have generic stock kids that are 12 years old doing the same kind of stuff over hundreds of books. I feel like maybe it wouldn't be bad if he mixed it up a little bit.

As for the Christmasness of it? The song parodies in the play amused me, maybe for the wrong reasons. The practicing of the play and all that actually reminded me lot of the Phantom of the Auditorium. Including nonsense with the trap door. In fact I think the whole play part was maybe a little too much like that book. When it got to the abandoned house it got more interesting (if not questionable.)

It still comes down to the fact that after so many of these books for decades, he is still pulling off the same tricks. They just stop working after so long. You see the dream sequences coming. You know when it is a false scare. You know the twist at the end is coming. It can't help but not be fresh when he doesn't mix it up.

Still, even though it follows the formula pretty closely, it manages to be some festive fun.

Rating: 3/5 Festive Undead Beings


Anyway, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good scare.