October 13, 2017

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

It's October, the spookiest of all months. This particular October we must determine which is the scariest day. Could it be Friday the 13th which falls in October this year? Or perhaps it is October 31st, Halloween! If we were to battle it out via their movie franchises it would be Jason Vorhees vs Michael Myers. A frightening battle if ever there was one.

But for the kiddos in my youth, there would be different battles of scary franchises. Undoubtedly Goosebumps was the biggest and the baddest. It's why my blog is mostly dedicated to it. But I have to admit that not Goosebumps alone in frightening young me. There were other franchises that played their part. For example there was the 3 book series of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Today I'll be reviewing book 1 in that series. Now I had actually assumed this came out in the 90s as it was so well known to my friends at the time. Turns out it actually came out in the early 80s but just had a long life span.

Now Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a different beast than Goosebumps. For one it's a collection of short stories. At that, it's not even original stories. Folklorist Alvin Schwartz researched an array of scary stories told throughout history and retold them here.

There is an interesting thing about this book though. While there are plenty of scary stories to read it may be that the most memorable thing is actually the illustrations. I think if you talk to anyone about the book they will bring up the pictures. They are extremely creepy, and not in a very "child friendly" style. Some are downright gruesome. These pictures are so well remembered that when fairly recently they were redone by a new artist for their most recent re-release of the book there was outrage from many fans.

I have flipped through these pages, and the art still is creepy. It holds up very well. But I have very little recollection of the stories. I do remember a tale or two, mostly in that they are more well known scary stories I had problem heard elsewhere at camp-outs or sleep overs. But how well do these stories hold up to me as an adult? Lets find out.

Strange and Scary Things

We begin with a forward. It discusses how scary stories have been around a long time. American pioneers told scary stories. It even discusses a young prince named Mamillius brought out in Shakespeare who would tell a scary story but never got his chance. More that, it suggests how to tell a scary story. Speak softly, darkness helps. Through this you realize that this book is more than a collection of scary stories for you to read, but ones for you to share. To retell to your friends. Perfect for the youths it is aimed at. Surely a slumber party or camp out could use these tales. Let us begin.

Chapter 1 "Aaaaaaaaaaah!"

This will apparently be featuring "jump scare" stories. The Five Nights at Freddy's of literature perhaps.

The Big Toe

A kid finds a big toe while gardening and naturally picks it up. His mom decides they should eat it.... What? Mom, dad, and son each get a piece of the toe then tired out from all that cannibalism they go to bed. The owner of the toe shows up demanding to know where it is. Seems reasonable. Kids try to sleep it away but angry toe guy is relentless. "Where is my to-o-o-o-o-e?" he questions several time. Then there are directions for you jump at the person you are telling the story to and shout "YOU'VE GOT IT!"

But wait, not only do we have director cues, we have an alternate ending! The directors cut if you will. In this version the voice comes from the chimney, and there is a strange looking creature inside. Going through your typical "wolf dressed as a grandma" questions he asks "what you got such big eyes for" with some spooky replies. Why does he have big claws? To scratch up your grave. And those teeth? there for chomping on your bones. Make this clear by jumping at your friend.'

So now it is very clear, these aren't stories to just read alone in your room. These are stories you are supposed to spook your friends with. But is it scary? Well this first story seems to think the scary part is a weird man/creature coming to look for his toe. I think a family that finds a human toe in their garden and immediately eats it is the scary part. That dude clearly deserves his toe back. Frankly. neither version of the end is particularly scary.

Spookometer rating: 1 toe out of 5.

The Walk

My uncle was walking and met a guy. They just look each other and get scared. Then they do it again, over and over into the night getting gradually more and more scared. AHHHHHHH! (the book told me to scream.) And that is pretty much it.

Very little substance to this story. I think perhaps the repetition of the uncle looking at the man, the man looking back, and them both getting scared is supposed to lull you, perhaps even bore you, to make you susceptible to the startle of a scream? It is hardly even a story though.

Spookometer rating: 1 scream out of 5

"What Do You Come For?"

An old lady wishes for some company in her kitchen at night. Rotten feet fall down her chimney. SANTA? NOOO! Legs fall after the feet, and attach themselves mystically. Then the body, arms, etc. Terrorized the woman asks "What do you come for?" Well of course, he comes FOR YOU! (do the jump scare bit here.)

Well rotten body parts falling out of your chimney is a bit freaky, I'll give you that. I wonder if these are just supposed to be rough outlines of a scary story and you are supposed to fill in more details yourself? It's kind of lacking so far....

Spookometer rating. 2 feet out of 5

Me Tie Dough-ty Walker

People claim there is a haunted house where a bloody head falls down the chimney every night. I am getting a distinct chimney theme with this part of the book. So does the same bloody head fall every night? Or is it a different one and they all just keep piling up? No one has stayed there to find out. A rich guy offers two hundred bucks to anyone who will stay in this house overnight. A boy and his dog take him up on the offer. To cheer themselves up they light a fire in the fireplace. They hear strange singing in the night that says, "me tie dough-ty walker." His dog replied "lynchee kinchy colly molly dingo dingo." Damn modern music, you can't even understand the words.  Naturally the boy is kinda surprised his dog sang. It happens several times, because apparently repetition is scary. The kid is worried his dog keeps replying is gonna get the weird singer to show up. Then a bloody head falls out of the chimney and scares the dog to death. And then a scream because, ya know, jump scare.

Ok, nonsense words are not scary. Unless it is like, the devil making you speak in tongues? I don't know. A bloody head falling out of a chimney is scary. Everything that lead up to it is dumb. I am losing my patience with this book.

Spookometer rating: 1 head out of 5

A Man Who Lived in Leeds

This is a rhyming poem that ends with a simile about getting stabbed with a penknife and then you scream.

This is kinda bullshit.

Spookometer rating: 1 penknife out of 5

Old Woman All Skin and Bone

This one is actually a song. It has sheet music for the little ditty and everything. Basically an old woman goes to church and then finds a dead body crawling with worms. Dismayed she asks the preacher if she'll look like then when she's dead. He tells her she will. AHHHHH. This one really didn't need a scream. Oh well.

Anyway, contemplating your own mortality IS actually pretty scary. Who hasn't failed to go to sleep at least once while contemplating ones own death. And to come face to face with it via a corpse at church, and have the priest who you look to for comfort and guidance. I am not sure that making it a song helps make it scary though. Maybe if you had a creepy arrangement of it? Got some creepy church organ? I don't know. No kid is going to do that.

Spookometer rating: 2 corpses out of 5

Chapter 2: He Heard Footsteps Coming Up the Cellar Stairs

Thank christ, we are out of the jump scares. This one promises ghosts, murders, and other strange occurrences. This may be just the thing I was looking for.

The Thing

I don't think this is the John Carpenter movie, or even its remake. Two friends shoot the shit near a turnip field. Some strange figure lurks there but disappears. Next time it appears it comes closer, and scares them. Finally it approaches them and they are determined to see what they are so scared of. It's a skeleton wearing black pants and suspenders. This scares them pretty good and they run home. A year later Ted dies and looks just like the skeleton man.

Wait.... so did the skeleton cause him to die a year later? Or is that unrelated. Is the scary thing the death of a friend or a walking skeleton man? I'm sorry, this is just no good. So much for hoping better of this chapter.

Spookometer rating: 1 dead friend out of 5

Cold as Clay

A farmers daughter falls in love with a farmhand named Jim. Dad doesn't think he's good enough so he sends his daughter away. Lovesick Jim got literally sick and died. On the other side of the county daughter hears a knock at the door. It's Jim. He says her father sent for her. On the horse ride home he complains of a headache and she says he is as cold as clay, wrapping him in a handkerchief to keep him warm. Dad was shocked to see her, and she was surprised he hadn't sent for her. Jim, it now seems, is absent. Dad tells her about his death and they dig up his grave because what is a little desecration between friends, and his corpse is still there... but it is wearing daughters handkerchief.

Ok this one has a little spookitude. It's not just mindless repetition or nonsense. Though short there is a little actual story going on. Based soley on the fact that this one is better than everything that preceded it...

Spookometer rating: 2.5 graves out of 5

The White Wolf

The wolf population is out of control. Farmers are losing cattle, so the state puts a bounty out on the animals. Bill the butcher decides to make some money killing wolves instead of cutting up already dead beef. He is pretty darn good at it. So good in fact that not too long after the wolf population is seriously hurting. Bill decided that was a good time to retire and vowed not to kill any more wolves because killing wolves made him rich and... I don't really understand his reasoning ok? Oh well. Anyway, a white wolf shows up and kills his cow. IMMEDIATELY Bill forsakes his vow and takes a new vow of vengeance against this wolf. He ties a lamb to a tree to bait it and waits with his gun. Bill goes unheard from for awhile before his friends check up on him. His lamb is fine. Bill however had his throat torn open. There was no sign of a struggle. The white wolf was never seen again.

This is some man versus nature shit right here. Don't fuck with nature guys. It will tear your throat out. Obviously we are left to wonder, was that a real wolf or a ghost wolf. I am not sure if one is scarier than the other. Either one will apparently tear your throat out.

Spookometer rating: 2 wolves out of 5

The Haunted House

A preacher wants to unhaunt a house. Naturally he takes a bible and he builds up a fire. In the cellar he hears some sounds like someone walking around, trying to scream, struggling, then silence. He tries to go back to the bible but someone is coming up the stairs. Before he could be spooked the preacher asks the thing what it wants. This spook doesn't like questions so he goes back downstairs. Later it works up the courage to go up the stairs again. Again the preacher gives it the third degree. It's a ghostly young woman who fades away. Preacher bibles it up again before she returns. He invokes the holy trinity this time before asking her what she wants. Apparently she was murdered by her boyfriend who wanted her money. She's buried in the basement. It'd be awfully nice if the preacher could dig her up and give her a proper burial. She'd like that. Also if he put the end joint of her little finger in the collection plate at church he'd find out who killed her. A little weird... but ok.... Plus if he comes back she'll tell him where the money she had is hidden and he can give it to the church. Wait... is this one of those Nigerian prince scams? He gives it a go. At church the bone sticks to the murder as he reached to the collection plate and he screamed his head off before confessing. Ol preachy went back and the ghost told him where the money was. Where she had touch him on his coat was forever burned with the print of her bony fingers.

At 2 and a half pages this is probably the longest story yet. Length helps. (That's what she said.) It's nice to get some details, and some room to build up stuff. Now I'm not saying I'm not going to fall asleep because of this tale, but I have to admit to a little bit of eeriness.

Spookometer rating: 3 bones out of 5

The Guests

A young couple is traveling later than expected and in the dark of night decide they should stop for the evening. Nearby they find a house and go to ask if the would rent out a room to them. The elderly couple says they don't rent out rooms but would be glad to have them as guests, refusing any offer of money. The next morning the young couple departs but not before leaving an envelope of cash on the table as thanks. The next town over they stop for breakfast and tell the owner of the diner about the nice place they stayed the night at. The owner was confused, explaining that the house they were talking about burned down and killed the couple inside. Surely he was talking about the wrong house? To get to the bottom of it the couple returned to the house, only to find its charred remains. They did, however, find the table scorched but in tact and the envelope of money they left that morning was still upon it.

Ok, so the "they were really ghosts the whole time" thing is a bit played out, but it is a scary story staple. If M. Knight Shamalayamalaananan can get away with it and be called a genius why not allow it for a story like this? If you are collecting ghost stories that have been passed on through generations there are bond to be some like this. No doubt there will be more in this book.

Spookometer rating: 3 fires out of 5

Chapter 3: They Eat Your Eyes They Eat Your Nose

This seems to be miscellaneous stories. It promises stories about graves, witches, and your (the readers) corpse being eaten by worms. Cheery!

The Hearse Song

Another song? Ok lets get on with it. Basically it tells you shouldn't laugh when a hearse drives by because you're gonne die some day. Not only are you going to die but they are gonna toss you in a grave and you are going to rot, decay, and be eaten by worms. There is some pretty good imagery used in this song I must admit. I do appreciate the line "the worms play pinochle on your snout." The tune ends with an assertion that all the slimy gross puss corpse juice your corpse makes is what you use for jelly on toast when you're dead.

Ok this is just kinda gory fun. It's morbid silliness. It's a song you would use to bug your younger sibling with and freak them out. Or that you'd get in trouble for spreading around at school. Perhaps you could go around at Halloween singing horror carols?

Grossometer rating: 4 worms out of 5

The Girl Who Stood on a Grave

A rowdy co-ed party some youngsters discuss the nearby cemetery and how creepy it is. A boy details how if you stand on a grave there you'll be grabbed by a corpse and dragged down. " A girl denounces this as superstitious hogwash. A dollar bet is made that she will be too scared to do it. To prove she had done it she has to stick a knife in the grave and leave it there for them to check on later. She overcomes fear and goes there sticking the knife in as instruction. When she tries to leave something holds her back. She struggles and isn't seen again. When they go to check and see what happen they find her dead body on the grave. She had accidentally stuck her skirt to the ground with the knife and that is what was holding her back. She evidently died of fright.

Ok I have some problems with this. I mean playing on superstitions and stuff is fine and graveyards are plenty disturbing but if you are going to dare someone to stand on a grave wouldn't you go there to witness it? Wouldn't you want to be there to try to freak them out as they were trying to do it? Who hands someone a knife and says, here stick this in a grave and walk away. Also what kind of idiot girl knifes her dress and doesn't notice it? Plus, can you really die of fright? I have never read someones obituary and it listed the cause of death as "fright." Come on scary story, try harder!

Spookometer rating: 2 graves out of 5

A New Horse

A couple of farmhands are roommates. One sleeps at the back of the room and one sleeps near the door. The one that sleeps near the door was awfully tired, and explained that at night a witch comes and turns him into a horse to ride him all over during the night. In disbelief the other farmhand says he'll sleep in that bed tonight and see what happens. Sure enough he got turned into a horse and the witch rode him to a party. She tied him up and went to boogie down. Meanwhile he managed to get his bridle off and it turned him back into a human. Now that he knew the magic words to turn someone into a horse he turned the witch herself into a horse. Naturally he took this new horse and got her fitted for horseshoes. Then he decided to trade his new horse with the witch's husband. When he took the bridle off his new horse he was shocked to find his wife standing there with horseshoes nailed to her hands.

Now again, I'm confused by this story. So do the magic words turn someone into a horse or is it the bridle? Do the magic words infuse the bridle with magic? Why doesn't the witch just buy a horse? Surely it's cheaper than a magic bridle? If the previous horse-man disliked getting turned into a horse so much why didn't he move? or confront her at night or something?  I don't get it.

What I have to say positive about the story is it is always nice when the would be victim pulls one over on the villain. Also the thought of horseshoes nailed to human hands and feet is pretty gruesome.

Spookometer rating: 2 out of 5 humans turned into horses


A young couple get married and the husband likes to go swimming at night. They have 2 sons and soon the dad takes the sons out swimming at night. Sometimes they go the whole night. The wife gets lonely and soon theorizes that he is turning them into alligators. People told her that's crazy, there aren't any alligators around here. Now that retort doesn't make any sense to me. Like the craziest thing about the notion that her family turned into alligators is that alligators don't naturally live in the area? Anyway one day the lady comes running from the river dripping wet claiming her family were alligators and were trying to get her to live with them and eat live fish. They locked her up in the loony bin. Though still to this day, people claim to have seen 3 alligators out in the river. But that's crazy, there are no alligators around here...

So uhh. I don't know. I don't know what to say. Alligators? This story is about her family turning into alligators? Like... how? Why? Is it a family lineage thing? Why is this scary? Are people worried about their sons turning into reptiles? I'd be a lot more scared of being eaten by a gator than by my son turning into one.

Spookometer rating: 1 gator out of 5

Room for One More

A guy was staying at a friend's house and having trouble sleeping. He couldn't sleep and saw in the window a black hearse pulled into the driveway. The creepy driver exclaimed to him "there is room for one more." When the guy didn't jump at the chance to go into a creepy hearse in the middle of the night the car went away. Next day he is about to get onto an elevator and the driver from the hearse is there saying "there is room for one more." The guy decides he'll wait for the next elevator which is good because that elevator crashed any everyone died.

So uhh, I guess premonitions are spooky? or omens or uhh, whatever this is? Like some many of these very short stories it feels like there just needs to be more meat on its bones... Which is funny because skeletons are spookier without meat on their bones...

Spookometer rating: 2 hearses out of 5

The Wendigo

A hunter goes to northern Canada to hunt with a native to guide him. There is a wind storm but when he opens the tent there is no actual wind, which is odd because it sure sounds like wind. The wind sounds like it is calling his guide's name. The guide is clearly distraught but claims it is nothing, before running out of the tent in a madness. In the morning the hunter follows his tracks in the snow before they get inhumanly far apart. They go out onto the ice and stop. But there is no hole in the ice where he could have fallen in. Confused he leaves supplies for his guide and takes a long journey back to civilization. The next year he goes hunting in the same are again and asks the locals about the guide. None of them know what happens but tell him about the Wendigo. It is a strange being that comes with the wind and grabs you along with it, dragging you on the ground until your feet start to burn. Later the hunter goes to the trading post and sits by the fire. A native comes and sits next to him. He seemed familiar so the hunter asked him if he was his guide. After no response came he took of the native's hat to see his face only to find a pile of ash.

I don't know that this is at all a representation of what the actual belief of a Wendigo is but I guess it's nice to have some horror stories of a non anglo culture? This feels like a very shortened version of a longer tale. I think properly told it could be scarier.

Spookometer rating: 2 windstorms out of 5

The Dead Man's Brains

So this is basically an explanation of a game to play at Halloween. In the dark you pass around pieces of a corpse for people to feel while explaining them. Obviously you aren't passing around real organs but things like grapes for eyes and chicken bones and ketchup blood. This is something that people still do I think, or at least it is depicted on tv. Here's the thing, it's not very scary. Try passing around a real cadaver, now that's scary.

Spookometer rating: 1 grape eyeball out of 5

May I Carry Your Basket?

A kid goes out late at night and sees an older lady carrying a basket. As a nice gesture he offers to carry her basket. It seems that her head is inside the basket which is a surprise. He runs away but her head goes after him, biting him before it disappears.

How. How does a head follow him? Is it like, rolling after him? It says it chases him and bounds into the air to get him which makes me think it wasn't already flying. Does it have tiny little legs where the neck should be? This would be scarier if my mental image wasn't so ridiculous.

Spookometer rating: 2 severed heads out of 5

Chapter 4: Other Dangers

These are more contemporary stories told more recently in modern times.

The Hook

OH MAN! Is this the one where the hook is on the car? I think I know this one!

Let's see. A young couple go park on a hill to look in the city and if this was a book for adults they'd be banging but since it's for kids they are just listening the radio. A killer escaped from prison and he has a hook for a hand. That prison is pretty close. They decide to roll up the windows and lock the doors but argue about going home. They don't say it, but the guy wants to bang. The girl swears she hears some scratching on the car but that's crazy right? But when the guy lets her out of the car there is a hook on the door!

I feel like you lose something in the simplification of this story and the making it more appropriate for kids. I think this story is an extremely well known one, and for a lot of people it's what they think of when they think of a "scary story to tell in the dark." I guess it's nice that this book writes it down for future generations to take part in.

Spookometer: 3 hooks out of 5

The White Satin Evening Gown

A girl buys a dress for a dance, dances her heart out and dies. Turns out the dress was covered in embalming fluid which poisoned her, because the dress seller got it from a guy who robbed a mortuary.

Are dress so expensive that we need to be robbing them from corpses? I guess so. Can't you smell embalming fluid?  Isn't it really smelly? Wouldn't she complain about a smelly dress? I don't know. There are so many short stories. I'm getting overwhelmed.

Spookometer: 2 dresses stolen from a corpse out of 5

A girl is driving her car when she realizes a truck is following her. It shines it's high beams on her and speeds up to follow her. Creeped it follows her all the way home. When she arrives she runs into the house quickly yelling for her dad to call the police. When the cops get there they see the truck driver with a gun in his hand. As they start to arrest him they explain they want the other guy. The guy sitting in the back of the girls car with a knife. He only followed her because he saw the guy get in and was trying to save her. Each time the guy was gonna stab her he flashed his brights.

Oh man. This is some prime urban legend stuff right here. This is another story I am sure I heard. Now again it doesn't prosper from the abbreviated telling, but this is a classic of the modern era in urban legend scary story. The fact that it "could happen." Undoubtedly freaked a lot of people out. I feel like it's the kind of thing I could still to this day get a spam email about urging young girls to check their back seat each time they drive.

Spookometer: 4 trucks out of 5

The Babysitter

While babysitting a caller phones to say creepy and vaguely threatening things over and over. Scared and fed up the babysitter calls the operator to see what's going on. The operate says the call is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE! Just then some strange man bursts from upstairs grinning creepily. Luckily the operator called the police and arrested him.

Again, a shortened simplified kid version is not everything it could be. Still this is a classic I have heard. If it was today someone would be texting them from the same wifi or something. damn kids. This whole story would be ruined with caller ID right?

Spookometer: 3 landline phones out of 5.

Chapter 5 "Aaaaaaaaaaah!"

Didn't we already read this chapter? Yes this chapter has the same name as the first one but apparently these stores are supposed to make you laugh.

The Viper

An old woman is terrorized by someone named "The Viper" who is coming for her. Turns out he is "the viper" that "vipes and vashes the vindows"

So is this racist? is this making fun of a specific accent? or is this making fun of a speak impediment? Maybe she really should be scared because it's Dracula. He used v's in his speech right? Like I vant to suck your blood? I don't know.

Laughometer: 1 V out of 5

The Attic

A hunter and trapper lives with his dog. He loses his dog to his dismay. While looking for him he goes up into the attic and screams AAAAAAH!

The end.

Oh wait, that's not the end. The audience is supposed to ask why he screamed and you are supposed to tell them he stepped on a nail.

BOOOOOOOOOOO. That's not a scary ghost booing either, that is me booing this bad story.

Laughometer rating: 2 nails out of 5

The Slithery-dee

A short rhyme about how the slithery-dee came from the sea and ate everyone else but not him, but then it ate him.

It's kind of cute. I guess that is neither funny nor scary, but it's something I guess?

Laughometer rating: 2 somethings out of 5

Aaron Kelly's Bones

Aaron Kelly died and they buried him and so forth. He didn't' feel like staying dead though so his reanimated corpse showed up at his widows place. She couldn't collect insurance money since he wasn't dead anymore, so that's a bummer. He didn't feel much like being in a grave. So a fiddler came to become a diddler with his widow but was cockblocked by the zombie. Aaron asked the fiddler to play to cheer them all up and that corpse danced up a storm until his rotting body fell apart. the fiddler was grossed out and left. The widow never got plowed by him. At least her former husband could go back in his grave.

It's 12:30 am and I'd really like to get this ready by morning so it's ready for Friday the 13th. I forgot there were so many of these damn stories. I guess the notion of a zombie dancing himself to pieces is funny. Kinda sucks for his widow though. She deserves to move on. Not cool Aaron Kelly, not cool.

Laughometer rating: 3 bones out of 5

Wait Till Martin Comes

An old man takes refuge in an abandoned house during a storm. A black cat greets him and he falls asleep petting the feline. When he wakes up there is an even larger cat there and they discuss whether they should "do it now or wait until Martin comes." The next time the old man is alert there is a third cat the size of a tiger and they ponder the same thing. The old man gets the hell out of there and tells them he couldn't wait for Martin.

Martin who? Martin Short? Martin Mull? Martin Scorsese? Doc Martin? Martin Sheen? Uhh I can't think of any more Martins.

Laughometer rating: 1 Martin out of 5

The Ghost with the Bloody Fingers

Guests check into a haunted hotel room heedless of the warnings. Each time the ghost moans about his bloody fingers. The last man to get the room is some hippy with a guitar who tells the ghost to get a bandaid.


Laughometer rating: 2 band-aids out of 5

I Read It All!

So there are the stories. There is all the text. But what about all the art? The art is eerie, creepy, and at times gruesome. Often times it doesn't fit the stories with at all. But yet it may be the best part of the book. Some scenes are truly disturbing even without the excellent execution, dead bodies and the like. But other scenes are made scary by Stephen Gemmell's unique style. Even "normal" humans seem disturbing and other worldly. Some of the contrast between silly stories and gruesome pictures is really stark. For example Dead Man's Brains is just an explanation to peel eyeballs and let people feel it. The illustration however is a gruesome picture of a creepy old lady with a steaming grotesque severed head with the top cut off. Truly gross.  I'm not going to scan the whole book but I'll try to sprinkle some illustrations here or there so you can see what I'm talking about.

So overall as a whole what do I think? It's interesting to get a collection not of uniquely authored stories but of folklore and urban legend that has been passed along for generations. The thing is, the execution isn't always excellent and the stories are frequently not that scary. Still as a resource for someone to use to start becoming a story teller this could be an interesting way to start. The art of the ghost story isn't in reading a written tale in a book after all. You take the part that work and weave the tale yourself, adding in the parts as you see fit, helping them to evolve.

This book was rather different from my usual Goosebumps. It was a good experience to try something else. I even remembered some of these tales from my youth. The more modern ones were easier because no doubt I had heard them outside the writing, but stories like the toe eating I remember. I guess a story about someone eating a toe in the garden sticks with you.

So perhaps this book is more silly than scary. I think that might be alright. It's still pretty fun. Just don't try to read it all and write a review for it all at once. You'll get burnt out. Trust me.

Overall Rating: 3 scared kids out of 5

Up Next

Well there are 2 more Scary Story books in the series but I don't know them and I don't think I'll be reading them any time soon. Truth is, it's back to Goosebumps for me for the foreseeable future. I got a special one planned for Halloween so check back for that one. Also between then and now I'd like to do 1 more discussing alternate covers for the Goosebumps books. Hope you enjoyed this and check back soon. Happy Friday the 13th! Or happy whenever you read this!

October 2, 2017

Goosebumps #35 A Shocker on Shock Street

Judging a Book by It's Cover

At first glance it seems this book is about a giant praying mantis wrecking up a town. When you look a little bit closer you see that the mantis is metallic. So why is there a giant metal mantis? Is it some kind of alien race? Did a mad scientist build a robot for revenge? Did a regular giant mantis fall into a giant puddle of molten metal? Also, who names a city street "Shock Street?"

According to the tagline Shock Street is a "real dead end." Get it? Like literally dead, because you will die on that street. It actually works as a pun. Good job. The back tagline is "talk about shock treatment!" I assume because the monsters will give you a figurative shock rather than a literal electric shock. Though they do seem to be robot bugs. Genuine shocks could be in store. Who knows. Lets find out.

Getting Goosebumps

We begin with best friends Erin and Marty being scared witless by a wolf headed crab monster. A crab monster with a wolf head? I am imagining what that looks like and it seems really really stupid. Like isn't the dangerous part of a huge crab monster the claws? What good is a wolf head without the mobility of a wolf? Crabs just kind of scuttle around. Oh hell, whatever. The wolf crab is on a movie screen. They are watching a horror movie. It's Shocker on Shock Street VI. The cinematic masterpiece ends with the wolf crab being boiled alive and the citizens dining like kids. I expect it to sweep the Oscars. Erin's dad works with "movie people" and got them tickets to an advanced screening. While they talk about how great the special effects are they ponder what it would be like if they monsters they saw were real. Then they walked into the wolf crab monster! He of course turns out to be a guy in a costume. Chapter 3 and already someone tried to scream but no sound could come out. I should keep track of the earliest instance of this Goosebumps trope.

Up they go to dad's office. He has a sweet job designing rad theme parks. His office is filled with toys and awesome stuff. He is basically the coolest. Unfortunately he has bad news. Very bad news. The bad news is that he tricked you! Heeeyoooo what a kidder. He actually has supremely good news. He's been designing Shocker Studio's tour and the kids get to go on a test run of it. In their excitement Erin asks if mom can come too. Dad seems perplexed and a little concerned by this question. It's decided they should go alone. Not even dad is going with. They are slightly dismayed to learn they have to stay on the tram and all times so they can't go walking around on Shock Street. Mostly though they are psyched. What kid wouldn't be? They are even armed with Shocker Stun Ray Blasters which seems like 1 word too many for the weapons. Apparently they can freeze monsters at up to 20 feet. So they don't even have the range of a Super Soaker? Lame! They are effective though, Linda who handed them out fumbled with one and shot herself, freezing up instantly. Oh wait, she was joking. Isn't any mother fucker in Goosebumps capable of not kidding around?

Onto the automated tram they go. First stop, the Haunted House of Horror. That sounds both super generic and also a little redundant. It seems pretty much like a regular haunted house. Skeletons, jumpscares, general spookiness. Erin is already getting freaked out but Marty thinks it's pretty funny. The lights go out. Marty Disappears, except not really. Some kind of special effects or something? That doesn't really make sense to me. Oh well. The tram turned into more of a rollercoaster zipping around the house in darkness. The tram goes out of control and they bounce around the seats flopping all over. Marty thinks it's great. Marty is an idiot.

They burst outside coming to a stop between two bushes. Then the monsters come out. Luckily, they are just there to sign autographs. Autographs aren't very scary. Still who doesn't want an autograph from "Ape Face" or "the Toadinator." I better not see those autographs on E-Bay, kids!

Next stop, Cave of the Living Creeps! Erin is worried there will be bats. She should have been worried about the bunches of foot long worms that fall all over them. Are those real worms? PETA is
gonna be pissed! Next they are covered in spiders. Is this a studio tour or an episode of Fear Factor? Won't get get expensive to keep buying tons of spiders and worms to dump on people?

Finally the tram comes to a stop and then... nothing. While pondering what the deal is, Marty spooks Erin by disappearing again, this time merely stepping off the tram onto the cave floor. Dad said stay in the tram at all times. This can't be good. It could start back up any moment now! It doesn't though and they decide to walk and find help.

So at this point are you confused as to why the cover of the book has a giant metal mantis on it? Well just then a giant metal mantis shows up. Two actually. They try to go back to the tram now that the spooking seems to have resumed but their exit is cut off by the bugs. Two more mantises appear. One of them headbutts Erin. You would think a headbut from a 16 foot tall robot bug would hurt more than Erin lets on. They're surrounded and the mantises are spitting super hot black goo at them. They consider using the stun guns but realize they are still in the tram. They decide to deal with them the way you deal with real bugs, by stepping on them. A stomp to the toes makes them reel back and allows them to make a break for it. Why would you program robot bugs to feel pain? And if they aren't robots, they are still metal. Surely a meager stomping wouldn't hurt?

Thankfully they finally get outside. But wait, one of the mantises is eating Marty. April fools. Seriously? Fuck you Marty. Now is no time to be joking around. Also "April fools" is a dumb line. Come up with something clever kid. After some consideration as to whether or not the whole ride has gone haywire they realize they are on Shock Street. THE Shock Street. Soon they find the cemetery from the movie Cemetary on Shock Street. Marty wants to see it. Erin has a bad feeling about this. Bullheaded Marty wins. He openes up the gate, takes a few steps, and falls straight into an open grave. Serves him right. Erin should just leave his ass there. She is a better person than I am though. She checks on him and the moron thinks falling into an open grave is super cool. They examine their surroundings and find spooooky gravestone names like, "Jim Socks" and "Ben Dover." Classic.

Suddenly hands shoot up from the ground. Voices beckon them to come down. They grab at them but Erin breaks free. Marty is not so lucky. Thankfully once again Erin proves she is a good friend and doesn't ditch him. Then heads start rising up from the ground. The zombie hordes are enough to finally scare Marty and they book it on out of there.

Running for their lives they find an unfamiliar mansion. Unfortunately it is not their salvation it is their doom. They sink into the ground. Mud covers them and they nearly abandon hope but they are rescued. Who is their savior? Dad? No of course not, it's Wolf Girl and Wolf Boy. It seems their rescuers are more interested in scaring and possibly eating them though. Erin has had enough of their shenanigans. She goes to rip off their masks but discovers only real fur and real flesh. They climb a wall to get out of reach but that won't keep them at bay for long. Erin takes out Marty's ray gun. Because I am terrible at what I do I neglected to mention that while escaping the mantises they grabbed their guns. Sadly it proves to be utterly useless.

But wait! What's that? The tram is coming back! They run to the vehicle as fast as they can, motivated I assume by sheer terror. They manage to catch up to it, saved at last! Except Marty falls over his own fucking feet and then trips up Erin. I told her to leave his ass behind! But you didn't listen to me, did you book? Up fast Erin  manages to catch it again and jump in. Marty is behind her but manages to do the same after a while. How did the Wolf People not catch them? Are they slow as shit? They are supposed to be unequaled killing machines! I am disappointed. Two kids can catch up to a tram but Wolf People can't? For shame.

It is then they realize they aren't alone on the ride anymore. Dad said they would be the only passengers but it looks like the tram made a detour and picked up some skeletons. Also the tram seems to be going the wrong way. Also the tram is now going too fast for them to jump out. Also the tram is going to smash into a wall. They jump after all. Wait, they said it was going to fast to do that. And they said it picked up even  more speed after they decided that. Well either way they jumped and the tram went THROUGH the wall somehow, and everything seemed to be fine for it. Holograms perhaps? They go up to the wall to check but it is totally solid. Confused and frightened, Marty wants an explanation. Erin just wants to get the fuck out.

Lost they wind up back on Shock Street. Strange wisps of smoke with eerie faces start popping up all over. Unable to take it anymore Erin freezes up totally. Thankfully their scene is over? Huh? Russ Denver movie director explains that it is all special effects. Really her dad should have told them in his opinion. He directs them to where dad is, in Shockro's House of Shocks. They are a bit worried they'll get shocked, like in the movie, but he puts their minds at ease. He turns away to go about his business and Erin notices a power cord plugged into him. He's a robot! And not even a good robot, he needs an external power source! And Marty entering Shockro's House! Exclamation point! She tries to save him but in a flash he is laid out on the floor. Too late!

Unable to save her best friend she realizes quickly she is not alone. Dad is here. He is confused why the kids are also in the building. She tries to explain quickly how everything has gone wrong. As she looks closer, she realizes it isn't her father after all. She can't function anymore. She has a complete system failure. Literally. Because she is a robot. Yup. Mr. Stine you've done it again! "Dad," has a conversation about the two kid robots malfunctioning. Such a shame because all the monster robots were working perfectly. Oh well, with some repairs they'll be good as new in no time.

What I Thought.

Oooooh boy, what a ride. Literally. Get it, cause the book was about a ride? Anyway this story reminded me in some ways of HorrorLand. Obviously because it involves rides, a studio tour instead of a theme park this time but they are a little interchangeable. This comparison is good, because I think this sort of book works well. You have a good excuse to throw in several different types of scares. It also works to take something that is purposely scary but turn it up a notch when the fake frights prove to be real.

The premise of the kids being movie fanatics and getting to experience things first hand goes over well. I think Stine misses opportunities on this though, as they should be able to get themselves out of some trouble based on their previous movie knowledge. For example, to get away from the giant mantises they decide to stomp on them because they are bugs. This is stupid logic that only flies in a Goosebumps book. I think it would be more clever if they thought back to how the movie monsters were defeated in their movies, and tried it out for themselves. At least once. You could even subvert the trope and have them try it only to fail.

So the plot. It's very "on rails." Almost literally, though the tram has been described as railless. The plot is literally that all these events in a tour are happening to them. It's like you're experiencing the ride for yourself. I don't think this kind of plot would work if repeated too often in the series, but I think it does it's job here. Frankly the plots of these books are never outstanding, so having it just be a sequence of scares that happen one after the other doesn't hurt.

Of course there is the twist ending. Now some twist endings make me groan. This one make me chuckle and say to myself "Stine you son of a bitch!" I think the kids turning out to be robots actually kinda works. Of course it doesn't bare a whole lot of scrutiny. When you think about it you're like, "well why would they need to program robotic kids just to test a ride?" When it gets right down to it it actually doesn't make any sense at all. But I'll allow it this time. It's ridiculous in a way that entertains. He did drop a couple of stupid hints early on. First he described the kids as both looking extremely similar even though they weren't related. Also, Erinbot mentioned her mother and "dad" got confused but at the end he mentioned he should have realized they were malfunction then since obviously the robots have no mother.

Now I like to talk about how I'd try to fix these books, but besides the little details  I've already mentioned I don't know that there is much I'd do. I think it works for what it is. It's the most enjoyable Goosebumps I've read in quite awhile.

Rating: 4 movie monsters out of 5

Up Next

It's October! Scientists have proved that October is the spookiest month of the year. Because of that I am HOPING to get out 3 new updates to my site this month. Two special book reviews and another entry looking at alternate cover art. I can't guarantee it, but I'll try my darnedest. Until next time.

August 17, 2017

Goosebumps: Covering Covers Part 1

So what is the deal here? I am not reviewing an actual book here but instead going to talk a little bit about the cover art. I like to talk a little bit about the covers of each book I review, but did you know a lot of the books have several different covers? There are the original cover, reprint covers, re-reprint covers, foreign covers, etc!

Now if you're like me and you read the original series in the 90s you're probably familiar with the first run of covers. 60 of them were done by Tim Jacobus. For some reason I don't really know, 2 weren't though their reprints featured his art. Tim was the go to guy for Goosebumps for a long time, also doing the Goosebumps 2000 series, as well as some miscellaneous collections like Goosebumps Triple Header and Tales to Give you Goosebumps. His covers for the original series look a little something like this:

This is the OG Goosebumps. Book 1, Welcome to Deadhouse. All of them would feature this general layout with 2 toned border of slime and slimy ol' Goosebumps. These books would later be reprinted in 2004 with the original art (though the 2 not original done by Jacobus were done by him this time) but with a slightly reworked border and font like so:

Now maybe it's just my nostalgia talking or perhaps I'm a purist but personally I like the original borders better. Still it is nice that they kept the original art. I am a fan of the covers Jacobus made. Though Dead House is perhaps one of his less interesting ones because it's just a spooky house... but hey, it's a pretty good spooky house right? Later in the 2010s they would begin re releasing the original books again but this time with updated art that was more in line with the current series of new Goosebumps Stine was still releasing.

The art is totally redone but for Deadhouse it keeps the same basic idea and tone. Spooky house. Kinda bluish/purpish. Flashy fonts and whatnot though. This time there is no border, which is actually kind of nice because none of the art is cut off. It makes it look real nice. Of course reissues weren't the only reason to get different cover art. Goosebumps has been released in different languages all of the world. A lot of times they just use the original art but obviously translates the titles. This makes a lot of sense to me. Why spend time and effort to redo art when there is already perfectly good art to use already there. Maybe there were rights issues? Maybe it cost money to use that specific cover and they could save it by hiring someone else? Maybe they just thought a different market had different art sensibilities? I don't really know. In the UK it seems like they liked their covers to be... liquidy?

Like, the first thing I think seeing this cover is "wow, that is damp." That skull is swirling in a tub of some kind of viscous fluid. Are these Dracula's bath toys? I don't remember that being a thing in the book. Also, for a book titled Welcome to Dead House this UK cover has a lack of... house. I am really not sure why the UK needed separate covers. You would think they would have pretty similar sensibilities to North America as far as covers for childrens horror adventures would be concerned, but I guess not. They weren't the only European country to think Goosebumps needed new covers though. Check out this one from France:

Like the UK, France also seems to like using tombstones and bones for their cover. Unlike the UK however, the cemetery isn't fluid by a truckload of blue Gak. Instead we have a vaguely creepy looking girl looking confused as to why there are Halloween decorations trying to grab her. Let's go elsewhere in Europe. Here is the Dutch cover... Wait, where is Dutch from again? Dutchland? Holland? Oh wait, the Netherlands! The Netherlands actually kinda sounds like a spooky realm itself...

See this cover just seems kind of... UnGoosebumpy to me. It doesn't seem fun, it doesn't seem kid friendly. It seems like the cover of an unrelated book they just borrowed. Also what's going on here. Did the shadow of this girl's mother tell the girl to take off her headphones? Maybe they opened a haunted cardboard box and unleashed a ghost? I don't know..

Now that we've seen what Europe has to offer, what about Asia? Well Japan it seems, liked to stick with the cover of Welcome to Dead House actually having a... Dead House.

Now it's perhaps not as spooky seeming as a house as the US covers but it is still a bit eerie. It seems a little less dilapidated and more lived in. But who is living there? THE DEAD?!?! Plus that sky is also unsettling. Also there are some drops of blood next to the title. That is pretty badass. Maybe a little too badass for the pretty bloodless series of books this is... What does Korea have to offer though?

Well they thought that spooky house was pretty lonely without a pale little girl looking slightly perturbed. She is thinking "gosh dad why did you have to move us into the DEAD HOUSE? Didn't the name mean anything to you, god you're so embarassing!" But anyway this cover certainly has it's own style going for it. Slimey kanji look kinda funny.

So there you go, these books had lots of covers. Here is just the first in the series and look how many it has around the world. I am hoping to show off more from the rest of the series, but perhaps do multiple books in one post and just cover some of the more interesting ones. I admit that Dead House is perhaps not the most interesting book coverwise to go over but hey, it's book #1! So hey, if you found this interesting, feel free to let me know. Also if you know of any other alternate cover art for Welcome to Deadhouse I didn't cover, tell me about it. Until next time, when I'll have an actual book review, thanks for reading.

July 30, 2017

Goosebumps #34 Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes

Judging a Book by it's Cover

Ahh, just look at that tacky lawn. The fake deer, the pink flamingos, the... crystal ball? Is that a thing people decorate their yards with? Does a wizard live here? That would explain the gnomes I guess. These gnomes don't really look like the typical "David" the gnome type garden accessory. No whimsical white beard. They look a little more... goblinesque? The one scratching his head looks a bit dimwitted. They do not particularly look like something someone would want to decorate with. Also I'm no gardening expert but it looks like the plant life there is mostly weeds.

I do like this art though. It's what I would call one of the "fun" covers. Though the gnomes do not really look like you'd expect a garden gnome to look like they are memorable. The design stuck in my mind after all these years. I guess being unique worked out.

Now it's pretty easy to tell basically what is going to happen in this book. A family is gonna buy some lawn gnomes but they are going to turn out to be alive and run amuck. But will there be something dumber behind it all? Are the gnomes really aliens? Do the gnomes want to harvest human beings to decorate their own gnomish gardens? Are the flamingos alive too? That'd be pretty cool.

Oh, I almost forgot. Taglines. Front says "Keep off their grass." Ok, I get that's a saying. I guess it works. On the back it says "someone's been stalking in my garden." Now I understand that stalking is creepier than walking, and that changing the world technically qualifies it as a play on words but I almost think leaving it walking in my garden would be better. Oh well. Now it's time to read the damn story.

Getting Goosebumps

We open upon our typical tweenish brother and sister playing a rousing game of ping pong. Twelve year old Joe is more interested in horseplay. Fourteen year old Mindy is a stickler for the rules. On page 3 already we have a patented fake out scare when Joe convinces Mindy there is a spider on her shoulders. She claims it is cheating. I haven't seen the rulebook so I can't weigh in on her claims.

Their game is interrupted when they realize their rottweiler buster is missing. It seems like all of the ferocious beasts of his breed he loves to devour vegetables from the neighbors garden. Now as you can imagine this pisses off their neighbor Mr. McCall a great deal. Especially since he and Joe's dad are quite the competitive gardeners. I may not be sure if convincing your ping pong opponent that there is a spider on their shoulder is cheating, but I know darn sure you can't send your dog to go eating your neighbors prize vegetables. Being responsible young people they decide they don't give a crap if their dog is eating all his vegetables and go back to ping pong.

But wait... Who is that coming down the stairs? Oh no! It's Mr. McCall...'s son Moose. Chapter 2 and we are already on the second fake out scare. If they keep up the pace of a fake out scare a chapter... wow. Moose is kind of what you would expect of a kid named Moose. He is big, he is gruff and crude. He smashes the shit out of ping pong balls. He also is strangling Joe to death!

Or not. God dammit, 3 for 3. Now we are in for a real scare. Buster is munching up some veggies and Moose's dad is gonna be pissed. He is too big a brute to drag back home so Joe uses the trusty dog whistle to get him to come. Mr. McCall however sees evidence of canine disruption and warns them to keep that dog away from his beloved melons.

In comes Joe's dad with terrible news. He saw 1 fruit fly on his prized tomato and wants to attack it with every pesticide known to man. Millennials would not be down with this guy. To celebrate 1 bug's death he wants to commemorate the occasion by buying some new tacky shit for his lawn to add to the plastic flamingos, fake deer, plastic skunks and so on. Apparently he likes to dress them up for holidays. Anyway, shall we guess what item he is going to buy? That's right, gnomes. Mindy hates them immediately. Joe claims he sees one of them move which does nothing to make her like them more. When the gnome grabs Joe she totally freaks out.

Of course it was a prank scare. God I gotta start keeping a tally of all the fake out scares in these books. Anyway they bring em back home and dad names them Hap (because he looks happy) and Chip (because it is chipped.) We see that Buster the dog is getting into trouble again. Luckily the situation is resolved and the pup licks eagerly at the new lawn ornaments. Joe swears he sees the smile turn into a frown on one of them. Apparently he isn't joking this time. Shockingly no one believes him.

The next morning Mr. McCall notices one of his prized melons is destroyed and Buster takes the blame. The solution is to time him up to the tree, because apparently keeping a dog inside is just crazy talk. Joe isn't happy about the situation but he and Moose cheer themselves up by playing ring toss using the gnomes point hats as targets for some reason. How strange... there is a melon seed between one of the gnomes lips...

That night Buster's howling from outside woke them all up. Seriously, put your fucking dog inside the house! Anyway, Joe decides to go outside and calm him down. On the way he sees too shadowy figures scurrying around. Must be raccoons! That morning Mr. McCall is pissed again because someone drew faces on his melons. No blaming the dog on this one. Must be the gnomes Joe. His sister saw him go outside last night and quickly throws him under the bus. That is what siblings are for I guess. He ends up grounded.

Luckily, he weasels his way outside the next day by taking the dog for a walk. Unfortunately the gnomes are covered in black paint (like the kind that defaced the melons!) which totally confirms the "gnomes did it" theory. Unfortunately mom doesn't buy it. When mom leaves he swears he hears them talk. Insanity or sentient lawn decorations, you be the judge!

Next on the healthy hitlist is dad's prized tomato. SMUSHED! Joe claims the gnomes are the culprit but dad FOR SOME REASON thinks it's the jealous neighbor and gardening rival Mr. McCall. They confront each other and dad brings up an excellent point, who ever heard of growing casaba melons in Minnesota. I am pretty sure they are supposed to grow in pretty arid climates. Dad is on the ball with this I must say.

That night Joe sneaks out again and the gnomes are missing. It must mean someone stole them they're alive! There is a big hubbub with Moose, Dad, etc, but in the end it turns out the gnomes were just hidden in the fog. What a quirky misunderstanding.

The next morning we discover that Mr. McCall's car is covered in fresh paint. Instead of blaming his neighbor he listened to reason and called the police. Joe and Moose are convinced they'll take the blame because people saw them outside in the middle of the night. There is only one way to show their innocence... Prove that that gnomes did it!

Stake out time! They hide in the bush and bide their time only to discover... raccoons. Damn. Wait no, now the gnomes are moving. They stalk the little guys and watch them hurl black paint against Joe's white house. They must be stopped! That will take minutes to paint over! Haven't they suffered enough! They try to tackle the gnomes but trip over Buster's rope (that's what you get for leaving you dog outside.) Being caught, the gnomes chase after the kids who... run for reasons I am not entirely sure of. Even being kids they gotta outweigh the gnomes by what, 50 pounds? Moose is reputed to be very large and very strong for his age. Surely he can overpower a gnome. But what do I know? They run. Mindy rushes out in the commotion to see what is going on and is grabbed by the gnomes and carried off. The kids yell at them to stop and they.... stop? Huh?

Well the gnomes claim they mean them no harm. Turns out they just wanted to get the kids attention. And all the chaos? Well it seems these are gnomes at all but "mischief elves." It's in their nature. The self proclaimed MISCHIEF elves then beg for help. It seems they lived far away but were kidnapped and forced into slavery. They have friends that need freeing. Could it be a trick? Surely not, MISCHIEF elves wouldn't lie!

Oh damn. They lied. The kids decide to help them, but instead of rescuing 6 of their friends the children are kidnapped by 600 of their brethren in the store where dad bought them. Chip and Hap admonish the kids for trusting them when they literally just told them they were mischief elves. See, even the story has to point out how dumb these kids are. Any the mob of gnomes wants to do some horrid things with them like... dribble them... and fold them... and ... tickle them? Yeaaaaah, these are the most frightening of things I must say. I never had problems falling asleep at night dreading the thought of being folded.

Just then the kids here Buster the dog. When Buster was around the gnomes and licked them it took the smiles off their faces. It must mean they are afraid of him. If they can get the dog to come they'd be rescued. They encourage him to come to the rescue, but in true doggie fashion he putzes around and trots away.  Surely the trusty dog whistle will get him to come back! But the gnomes immediately slap it away from him. There is a mad frenzy to get the whistle. One gnome tries to crush it but Joe gets it from him and manages to blow it. In an odd turn of events it made all the gnomes freeze. It seems they were never afraid of Buster, they were afraid of the whistle.

They escape the gnomes, leaving them in the trance state and go back home. They vow not to tell anyone, no one would believe them anyway. In the end dad replaces the missing gnomes with a gorilla statue. Joe awkwardly talks to the statue, telling it to not be like the awful gnomes. The gorilla winks.


Wait wait wait, so what the fuck happened to the gnomes? So the whistle put them in a trance like state, is that supposed to last forever? It didn't last forever when Joe blew the whistle at his house. What happens when they wake up and are pissed that the kids got away? If they don't wake back up... what... are they just completely rendered helpless by a certain frequency of sound? One that probably happens naturally without us knowing it all the time? It's like the damn aliens from Signs being allergic to water. Oh well, the end.

What I Thought

Well of course this had all the things we have come to expect from Goosebumps. Prankster sibling not taken seriously. Parents who won't believe them. Fake out scares. "Monsters" with a silly achilles heel. These are ubiquitous.

What has this book got going for it then? Well gnomes were a pretty good pick for a monster to some extent. If you are going to pick a "parents won't believe this is happening" antagonist they work well. I just think in the end they weren't used right. I mean being used as pranksters that was perfect. Thinking of gnomes coming to live and messing with your stuff is kind of a cool idea. It's just not totally scary. Threats of "folding" kids is also not that scary. They should stick to being tricksters but amp it up.

So here are some ways to fix the book. Wait, am I saying I am better at making this story than a professional author? You're damn right. So you make the pranks the gnome plays have real dire consequences. The neighbor threatened to have the dog get put in the pound? Make that happen. Make it so he is due to be euthanized. Now you might say that is extreme for a kids book but I read Old Yeller by this age and that kid had to snuff out his own dog and that book is considered a god damn classic. Have the police put away Joe's dad for the gnomes vandalism. Make it so that there is no one left that could have done the pranks and they figure out the supernatural cause. Heck, make it life or death. Have the gnomes cut the brakes on dads car, or for the kiddos on their bikes. Have real, dangerous results. Threats of "folding" or "tickling" don't cut it.

So the ultimate plan of these "mischief elves" obviously need to be greatly improved. Now if we hadn't just had a similar thing in Camp Jelly Jam I would say the gnomes should all be working for a gross gnome overlord who wants to enslave children. Since that sort of thing just happened the book before lemme come up with something else. You could go the ironic route and have them plan to use magic to turn the kids into plaster sculptures to decorate their elven caves.  There is always the easy but disturbing threat of having the gnomes eat the children. I suppose you don't even need to have them kidnap the kids in the end. They could just delight in causing havoc and ruining the children's lives.

In conclusion, come on Moose should have been able to punt that gnome across the yard! Err no. I mean in conclusion this was a pretty typical example of what Goosebumps has to offer with the regular shortcomings and strengths there usually are. Nothing particularly stood out. Gnomes are fun, and tricksy like hobbitses but just don't evoke much terror. After 34 of these books exhaustion of the formula is taking it's toll. Still it is a decent execution of the formula we know so well.

Rating: 3 gnomes out of 5

Up Next!

Hopefully SOONER than it takes me to come out with a full book review I'd like to do something a little different. In my next post I'd like to take a look at some of the covers of the books and their variations. Different covers of the same book have come out over the years and I'd like to go over them a little bit. I think it could hopefully be interesting. I've looked, there are some weird one out there.  

After that I'd like to go back to the original series and cover a Shocker on Shock street. I really should get through the main books soon as it was my original goal. I'm only like halfway there though. There are so many! Oh well

As always thanks for reading and I hope you come back next time.

May 25, 2017

Goosebumps #33 The Horror at Camp Jellyjam

Judging a Book by its Cover

Would you look at that, I am finally back here doing a review of one of the original series books. I've only been promising to do this since... last fall? Something like that. Anywhere, here it is. Lets go.

First of all I would like to nominate this as the most truly unsettling Goosebumps cover of all time. Just look at that person. The glaring eyes. The too big grin. The pants pulled up to the nipples. I was trying to play the gender of this person though I guess such things are less relevant in this day and age. I would say it's kind of androgynous but really I think drawing is so inhuman as to make considering a gender for it useless. What this thing is, is just creepy as fuck. Like it's staring into your soul and getting ready to consume it.

But hey, don't let the creep get you down. This book boasts a free decal of doom on the cover. Just what is a decal of doom? Well I don't remember, and I already used it 20 years ago. I would assume either a temporary tattoo or a sticker. Decal of doom sounds cooler though, right?

Let's not forget those sweet sweet taglines I love so much. First up is on the front, "Tennis... Ping-Pong... Monsters, anyone?" Which I don't really get. Like I get those are some camp activities and also monsters which one normally wouldn't expect at camp but uhh... is this some sort of play on words I don't really understand? Or is it just dumb? The back is better with "it's not whether you win or lose- it's how you stay alive!" Now that I get. it's a play on a popular sportsmanship saying. It's clever! Well, as clever as these things can get. B+ for the back tagline, a big ol F for the front.

Now shall we get on in to it? How will Camp Jellyjam stack up against Camp Nightmare? The name is less spooky that's for sure. Will it turn out that everyone is aliens at the end? Because I might just quit this fucking blog as a whole if that happens, I swear. As Mr. Owl would say, let's find out!

Getting Goosebumps

Would you believe it this book stars generic tween siblings! Who'da guessed that? 12 Year old Wendy and 11 year old Elliot are on a road trip with their parents through Idaho and Wyoming. Unfortunately all there is to do in the car is look at cows and sheep. I guess their family couldn't afford Walkmen or Game Boys which were a lifesaver for me back during car trips of my youth. What they can afford, however, is a big ass trailer they are hauling. After enough whining the kids convince their parents let them ride back in the trailer. I assume the parents did it so they wouldn't have to listen to their stupid complaining. Whatever the reason, the kids enjoy their new found freedom with some arm wrestling until their mom starts driving backwards. Wait. No. The trailer came unhitched. That makes a lot more sense.

So you think they would die in a fiery crash or something, but no, the crash didn't seem to be that bad. Unfortunately instead of mom and dad coming to the rescue it is Buddy a counselor for King Jellyjam's Sports Camp. They've got all the sports! Even the ones they only air on ESPN 8. And for some reason Buddy thinks they should wait for their parents at camp. How far behind can there parents be? How long does it take to notice a huge ass trailer isn't behind you anymore? Surely they will be here any second. I guess 12 year olds are too dumb to realize this so they follow creepy Buddy into camp. They aren't even swayed by a little girl warning them to get out.

So what is camp like? Well there is the weird visage of "King Jellyjam" everywhere. He is some sort of weird purple blob with a crown and seems to be the camp's mascot. Their motto is, "Only the Best." Everywhere there are facilities for all different sports. You can do gymnastics, swimming, tennis, track, whatever you want. It's like the Rio Olympics without all the crime, pollution, and corruptions! Still, the camp counselors seem a little off. For example, Buddy the head counselor can't recall where he comes from when asked. A little odd. Also people seem a little intense about competing but hey I guess that's what sports are about.

So Wendy and Elliot get split up into boys and girls dorms. Our narrative follows Wendy as she is the main character here (and is telling the story in first person.) She meets her bunk mates when they lunge in at her in an apparent attack that turns out to be a lame predictable jump scare. Despite the rude introduction they seem to get along but the girls are way into competition. "Only the best!"

Wendy's first competition is a swimming race. Though she could win, her new pals seem to want to win so much she lets them beat her. Dierdre her bunkmate wins and receives a "king coin" for her troubles. If you get 6 of these you get to walk "the winners walk" whatever that is. Everyone here seems REALLY enthused about doing it. Holly the counselor shares her disappointment with Wendy but her not trying her hardest. ONLY THE BEST GOD DAMMIT!

So the weird cult-like vibe is permeating pretty hard right now. If that wasn't enough her brother Elliot turns up dead! Oh wait, he was just pretending to be unconscious on the ground. Uh... hilarious right? His pretend death doesn't seem to affect his ping pong skills though. While Wendy watches she is sure the much bigger and stronger opponent he faces. I didn't know bulk and strength were a major factor in ping pong... Anyway Elliot wins his first king coin. Hurray?

EARTHQUAKE! Yes out of nowhere the ground starts rumbling. The counselors assure the newcomers it's no big deal. Happens all the time. As if that means it's a-ok. Everyone goes back to what they are doing though. Wendy decides to call her parents. No not their cell phones. Remember this is the 90s, cell phones aren't a thing. Well I mean technically they exist but they are really expensive and unreliable. She is calling their landline to leave a message on this thing that is like voicemail except it uses a thing called a "tape" and it's called an "answering machine." Wild eh? Too bad her call is interrupted Dierdre. She won her 6th king coin. Time for the winners walk!

The ceremony is filled with pomp and circumstance... But not the song of that title, that's only for graduations and the entrance of the Macho Man Randy Savage. But there are trumpets, drums, and  torches lighting the way. The girls plan a  party back at their lodge. When they get to their room Dierdre is nowhere to be found. She must be found!

So the girls set out to find her. They dodge some people to stay undetected, nearly get attacked by bats, and endure another "earthquake." They don' find Dierdre though. What they find is the little girl Wendy saw at the start of book who warned her to get out of camp. She seems horrified and determined to get them all to leave camp immediately. She won't tell them why though. That would be too fucking convenient. They are convinced they've been caught by a counselor but really was just meeting up with another counselor. Meanwhile the little scared girl has vanished. The rest of the girls give up and go back to the cabin. Once their they find that all of Dierdre's stuff has moved out. Peculiar.

Next morning Wendy is in an understandable gloom but her brother is psyched for some more king coins. Buddy the creepy counselor showed up and has no recollection of Dierdre at all. His clipboard merely states that she is "gone." The little scared girl Alicia for that matter is also "gone." You'd think he could at least lie and say she went home if he was trying to cover up some horrible secret and didn't want anyone to know.

Everyone else is too concerned with competing to care about her problems. She tries to phone home but all the phones at camp just play a prerecorded message. Despondent she watches her brother lose a basketball game versus a much bigger opponent. Buddy "encourages" her to find a sport to compete in herself. By encourages I mean basically forces. King Jellyjam it seems, would not approve of her dilly dallying. She loses a tennis match. Then jones a softball team that also loses. King Jellyjam is gonna be pissed. Here is the thing though, when she was practicing batting she accidentally cracked Buddy right in the ribs and it didn't even phase him. Is he some kind of robot or something? Or just a major badass? All he does is give her batting advice. The next day the kids that took the winners walk that night all disappeared. Wendy is determined to do something about it and spends her softball time plotting instead of focusing. They lose again, naturally.

Meanwhile Elliot is mostly concerned about getting his sixth king coin. He does agree, however that is SLIGHTLY odd that it has been several days since they have heard from their parents (who should have found them within like, oh, 5 minutes?) And agrees that they will do something about it AFTER he wins his final king coin.

So Wendy decides to snoop. She follows some counselors to a secret meeting. Does she dare follow them into the mysterious building in the woods? Of course she fucking does, it would be a lame book if she didn't jeeze. What she saw inside was Buddy hypnotizing all the counselors into obeying their leader using the gold king coins. So are the king coins like... magic? Or is he using normal hyponsis and the coins are just what he uses as a focal point? Like how a guy who does it on stage might use a swinging pocket watch or something. I have no clue. It isn't clear. What is clear is that Wendy's loud sneeze gave her away. She tries to escape downstairs which is a very sound plan. The only entrance/exit is on the floor she is on. she is probably going into a basement. SO EASY TO ESCAPE LOCKED IN A BASEMENT. This basement, however, smells like shit. Why?

KING FUCKING JELLY JAM THAT'S WHY. A giant ugly ass slimey monster with a crown being mopped and washed by dozens of kids. So that's what that smell is. So that's where the kids are. Dierdre and Alicia are there. Snails are extruding from King Jellyjam's ... uh... skin... for some reason. Primarily to be gross I assume. Maybe he is the father of all snails though, what do I know? So if you haven't figured it out by now ONLY THE BEST kids get to be enslaved by King Jellyjam. He uses the the winners of 6 king coins to wash him down. He can't stand his own smell... apparently. So he needs to be washed constantly. Apparently kids who are good at sports are also the best washers? Listen, I don't know. This whole thing seems convoluted. You'd think he could just use any old kids do this. Hell, he could buy an automated car wash and sit in it, save himself the trouble.

So the kids decide to try to escape now. Why now? I don't really know. Apparently Wendy is the Spartacus they need to lead the revolution. Jellyjam lets out an earth rumbling roar. So that's what those earthquakes were. His caretakers get back to work but leave Wendy with the task of getting help. She escapes and finds Elliot who is running a race for his last coin. In an act of desperation she tackles the fuck out of him and hectically leads him to Jellyjam HQ.

Her plan is the following. 1) Stop washing him. 2) Everyone hit the deck and lie on the floor. 3) Let him die from his own horrible smell. Wait... what? That's stupid. Wait... shit... it worked? It seems so! Everyone being flat on the ground somehow made it impossible for him to grab them. Not washing him made his smell get so intense it literally choked him to death. How.


How could evolution breed such a creature that can't exist unless it has 24/7 wash downs. Like it literally can not exist for mere moments unless it is getting soaped down. How would such a thing ever come to survive and breed? Or let's just say you don't believe in evolution. Let's say you are more into creationism. What God would create such a foul beast that literally stinks itself to death. Furthermore how does smell kill? Surely there is something toxic in his fumes, so how is that not constantly killing the kids? It is asserted that his chamber smells terrible. Surely the toxins are everywhere throughout. And why don't the kids die when they stop washing and he stinks himself to death? Are tiny little humans more resilient that a giant slime monster that extrudes snails?

Well anyway when Jellyjam dies his hold over the counselors is broken. So I guess those coins were magic? Also the cops showed up because the nearby town started smelling like shit and they tracked it back to the camp. So they call all the moms and dads to pick up the kids. Turns out they called the camp several times but the counselors said they weren't there. Buddy shows up later at their house to apologize. He also offers Elliot his sixth king coin, which he claims was earned since he would have won the race if his sister hadn't tackled her. Elliot reluctantly accepts. What bad could come of it now that Jellyjam is dead... Wait, what is that horrible smell?

Brussels Sprouts. His mom is making brussel sprouts. The end.

What I Thought

Oooh boy. Once again it is really hard to not just go straight to the dumb ending. Of course like a fool I've already talked about a lot of my problems with the ending during the plot synopsis. I am bad at this.

Ok so to start we have a kind of silly way to separate the kids from their parents. It seems like it would be pretty obvious that the parents would realize very quickly that their trailer came unhitched. The kids should have realized their parents should have come for them quickly. Am I really pointing out how unrealistic and silly a Goosebumps book is? You bet your ass I am.

Once you get past that though, I like the bulk of this book. The weird cult like vibe is actually pretty interesting. You begin to wonder why everyone is so competitive. Is it just human nature? Is something more sinister at play? Are those freaking king coins magic? When the kids start disappearing you wonder whats up. Sure things could be done a little more eloquently but this is freaking Goosebumps.

What could have helped this story? Go to more extremes to show how much the competitive streak is taking over people (presumably through the magic of the coins.) Yes we see that everyone already there is super competitive. The way to do this would be through Elliot. He was pretty psyched about sports camp right from the beginning. If they had him reluctant to compete at first but have him win a king coin and start to turn, it could have been more interesting. Like at first he wins with a team sport like baseball where he doesn't contribute much, but winning gets him totally gun-ho about competition until he is in a frenzy that doesn't care about anything besides king coins.

Of course we come to the ending. I already said most of my piece on it. Revealing Jellyjam to be a real entity was fine in an of itself. Him enslaving humans was actually petty clever. It is what they were doing that was dumb. Washing him so he doesn't stink himself to death? It is hard to put into words how stupid that is. He could have been recruiting the best of the best to become warriors for own personal cult army. Or if that is too violent for the youngins, he could desire a human host body to rid himself of his putrid old slime one, and be looking for the best of the best determined through competition to inhabit. Maybe it could be like space jam and he is trying to form up the best basketball team of all time to take on the Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan? Seriously, anything besides stinking himself to death. No matter how ugly, gross, and massive a monster is, if not washing it for 20 seconds causes it to die due to its own foul odor, it just isn't that scary. So once again we have a ridiculous ending ruin what in my opinion was a pretty decent Goosebumps book.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Jelly/jams

Up Next

So I know this review was pretty late. I also know I've been sidetracked by other books lately, like the Galaxy of Fear and Goosebumps comic book one. While I have other series of Goosebumps to do, and some related books I'd like to cover I do want to get through all the original series books I own. Possibly even do all the original series and track down the ones I am missing. So I do want to do the next original series book review in June. That book is Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes. I love that premise. As usual I remember nothing about this book beyond the cover. I know I read it as a kid though. So look for that in June. And then in July when I obviously neglect to do it in June. After that I might do one of the other series like Goosebumps 2000 or Goosebumps Most wanted. We'll see. Thanks for reading.