August 30, 2011

#4 Say Cheese and Die

Judging a Book By Its Cover
Here we go, the Goosebumps book with what is probably my favorite title ever. It evokes both humor and terror! That cover really backs up the concept. A bunch of skeletons having a barbeque really highlights the fun horror can have. Of course being a Goosebumps book none of this is really scary, but that's sort of the point. This cover is clearly trying to have fun with the concept of fright, which is what I really think the Goosebumps books were all about. It's all summed up by the front caption which reads, "One picture is worth a thousand screams." It's actually pretty clever as far as these things go!

So this book is about some kid that finds a camera, but when he takes pictures they are all wrong. For example if he took a picture of you, the picture would have a black eye and you'd be like, "hey, I don't have a black e-" Then a hobo would have come out of nowhere and hit you in the eye freaking you right the heck out. Contrary to the cover I don't believe the book details some sort of barbeque apocalypse but instead some more subtle terror, like after several pictures that detail minor accidents that later come true a picture is taken where the person it is of isn't in it at all so they all freak out and think something terrible is going to happen to that person. Will something terrible happen? Lets find out!

Getting Goosebumps
The book kicks off with a group of kids complaining about the city they live in. "Pitts Landing is the pits," they say. Already it's obvious these aren't the most clever kids in the world. They debate about things to do to cure their boredom. There is Doug who is nicknamed Bird oh so creatively because he looks like a bird. Also Michael who tells shitty jokes. And Greg who is the main character and RL Stine a middle aged man has to awkwardly write text proclaiming him to be an attractive teen male. Finally there is Shari whose only discernible trait thus far is that she is female.One suggests they go to the comic book shop and get the new X-Force Comic. I'm pretty sure it's a real life comic, some sub-group of the X-Men. I'm wondering if Stine knew that or just made a random name that could be a comic book.

Anyway, instead of good wholesome comics they end up going to "The Coffman House." If this was a terrible movie, lightning would have struck exactly as I said that. The Coffman House is your typical spooky abandoned house. It has stories of haunting and the supernatural. As Stine puts it, "Most likely none of them were true." So it's pretty obvious something supernatural is in fact going on there. Though the spookiest thing we hear about is that a weird lanky guy who dresses in black called "Spidey" hangs out there.

They explore this place and Bird acts like he is in serious trouble. Turns out he was just playing a joke, because he's a total asshole. They bring up the boy who cried wolf, but Bird just continues being a smug asshole.

Then it happens. Greg, who just so happens to be very interested in cameras, finds a camera in a secret compartment in the basement. Stine goes through great efforts to explain that Greg feels like he shouldn't take this camera. Not because of moral reasons mind you, but simply because he feels like something bad may happen. Some odd curse, omen, or what have you. Whoever hid this away, obviously did it for a reason... but not because he didn't want it stolen, what are you, crazy?

So the camera thief goes ahead and takes a picture of Michael. The camera seems to be some sort of Polaroid dealy where it spits out the photo and you have to wait a bit for it to develop. Shortly after the picture taking, the railing Michael was leaning against cracked and he fell, messing up his ankle. Naturally this is when they hear footsteps upstairs. The escape via a back way out, carrying the gimpy Michael. Immediately when they get outside since there is no more tension or drama Michael's leg inexplicably is all better. What about that picture they took? It showed him mid-fall even though they took it BEFORE he fell, ooooooo!

Before they can ponder that too much Greg has to hurry home with his stolen goods. He notices his dad's brand new Ford Taurus station wagon which he admires waaaay too much for what a run of the mill vehicle it is. You'd think it was a Lamborghini or something.Of course he's gotta take a picture of it! How'd it turn out? Crystal clear? Any bad reflections, or over-saturation? Is the car in the picture completely wrecked even though in real life the car is fine? That last one? I bet dad really wants to go on a family drive now? He does? How's that gonna turn out? Well they ALMOST get completely flattened by a truck, but manage to swerve at the last minute. There, nothing to be afraid of about that spooky cursed stolen camera after all!

This guy sure is out of focus!
Now it's time to take a picture of Greg's older brother Terry in his room. He makes a goofy face of course. The camera however goes through its evil built in photoshopping techniques to make the picture of Terry looking totally horrified outdoors. What a wacky camera! It must be broken! Seriously that is his rationale for this. The camera is broken. I know Kodak's # customer complaint is that their cameras seem to predict horrible futures for people. It's right on top of the FAQ on their webpage. Later they take a picture of Bird at a baseball game that shows him sprawled out unconscious on the ground. Yup! It's broken alright! Bird says, "it's out of focus." I know I always confuse "knocked unconscious," with "blurry."

Well Greg and Shari try for awhile to pry the camera open and see how its evilness works. The camera however can't be opened. Then they notice bird is actually laying on the ground unconscious now! Actually, he was just faking it because I've already stated, he's a huge asshole. I hope he gets knocked out for real soon! Oh wait, he does? Awesome! Bastard deserves it. And right after he gets knocked out by a line drive for real, Greg's brother shows up looking terrified, just like in the picture! He informs them that their dad was in a horrible car accident. Man, when this evil camera rains, it pours!

Well they visit dad in the hospital and there are actually some parts that are pretty well written, describing how Greg can't focus. His disconnect from the reality of the moment. All he sees are colors blurring together. I was actually kind of surprised by some unique and well done description. Kudos Mr. Stine! Anyway it turns out dad just broke a crapton of bones but is otherwise just fine. The evil camera is obviously going to have to try harder! It's going to have the opportunity too...

Next up is Shari's birthday. She wants Greg to bring his camera to take pictures of everyone because horrible accident make for great parties. She is unreasonably intent on Greg using the camera given that she knows all the events that have transpired. I mean, she knows the pictures "turn out weird." And that's the whole reason she wants him to bring the camera... Never mind that all the pictures have corresponded to real life horrifying real life events! Begrudgingly he takes a picture of her, but when it developed she's not in it. He tries again and the same results. They decide to act like reasonable young teens and go into the woods to play truth or dare. When they come back out Shari is missing. It's almost like she... vanished due to an evil camera! The police show up and Greg sorta tells the police about the evil camera but for some reason the cop just doesn't take it seriously.

I assume they'll be bullies in the next book
Greg is as you imagine pretty shook up from all these occurrences. He slowly makes his way back home from Shari's. He comes home to a completely torn up room. Everyone is gone visiting his dad, who could have done this... Oh yeah, SPIDEY! That dark drifter dude they haven't brought up in awhile. He must want his evil camera back. He discusses this with his friends the next day and they argue with him because returning stolen property is totally unreasonable! The friends want to play with the evil camera! They scuffle and accidentally a picture gets taken. Just then a pair of older teenage goons show up wearing heavy metal t-shirts. Just like in the last book... but these are different heavy metal hooligans. Apparently in RL Stine's world all bullies love Metallica. Luckily these head banging bullies are also lazy and don't chase them for the camera. Oh yeah, and what about that accidental picture of Greg? Well Shari (who is still otherwise missing) is in it and they booth look terrified...

Greg laments ever taking this camera. It is almost bordering on a morality tale at this point, and in a fit of anguish he rips up the last few snapshots he took. A little while later Shari calls and explains that she felt like she had disappeared for a few days and had no recollection of what had transpired, like she just vanished for awhile... Did it have anything to do with the fact he ripped up the pictures? Mayyyyybe...

Now Greg is positive the only thing to do is return the camera to the creepy old house Spidey stays at. I remind you, this isn't because of any remorse of the theft, but purely because he doesn't want bad things to keep happening. Besides the camera's "bad luck" there is the fact that Spidey tore up his bedroom. So when they see Spidey come up to them at the baseball field do they give it back to him? Nope, they run the heck away. He follows them for a bit until a neighbor bumps into them and asks if the creepy guy is chasing them. Spidey decides it would be wise to go hide in the shadows.

So later on the kids go to the spooky house to return the camera to the guy they just saw chasing them for the camera they had that they wanted to return to him... Right. So they go sneak into the creepy old house he's squatting at, and what do'ya know, Spidey shows up! This is where the origins of the camera are explained.... Kinda. Turns out Spidey was a scientist and his friend invented this camera. He stole it to make money off of it, and pointed out the folly of his greed. His friend as it turns out was even more evil than he was. He was into the "dark arts" and cursed the camera! You know how the aborigines supposedly think cameras steal your soul? This camera actually does! And now that the kids have returned it and he told them all about it they can never leave because they know too much. He could have, ya know... not told them anything and just skipped town... but no instead the creepy drifter who has been spotted chasing children is going to get rid of them. Why would police ever suspect him? ... Because he is a creepy drifter that has been spotted chasing them? Ludicrous!

There is a struggle to get free and grab the camera. They manage to flash a picture of... something, and make their way upstairs. Once they get up they realize he wasn't following. He was... dead! I was right, this IS a morality tale! The kids are guilty of breaking and entering (twice, theft, murder, and everything turns out a-ok! They even lie to the cops, telling them Spidey was dead when they got there and they just went into the house to get out of the rain. Kids could learn so much from this book...

Anyway, in the final moments of the book adding the little twist, or sequel setup Stine usually does, the heavy metal douche bags have found the camera and take a picture of themselves. Who knows what will develop!

What do I think?

Man, where do I begin. The book's premise was interesting. Rather than a supernatural monster or ghoul of some sort it was interesting having the "cursed" inanimate object. In this book I noticed less unknown hands grabbing shoulders from behind, and screams of terror that come out instead as silence. Granted there was a fair deal of people faking incidents to scare people which is common in these books. Overall it felt like a pretty unique entry though.

But then there is the "digging deeper." This is the first book I really felt like I could try and find a message beyond the general story. I joked about it while explaining the storyline but I'll talk about it more now. It seemed like at times it was really pointing at being a morality tail. Greg knew he shouldn't take the camera, and he knew he had to return it... But why? It wasn't any sense of decency. It wasn't because it was "wrong" to take it. It's the camera that was evil, and not the fact that he stole it. I am not sure that I really want Goosebumps to tell moral tales, but if you are going to do it, do it right.

Also of note, is the ending. I have notice a trend in the last couple books to just sort of quickly reveal something and wrap up the book. I am not sure anyone even needed to know where the camera came from or why it was cursed. I think the halfassed explanation kind of ruined it. Actually I was kind of hoping Spidey turned out to be a nice guy, like the creepy shoveling neighbor in Home Alone.

Ultimately however, it was a fairly unique and decent entry to the series. In a series of 60 some books, an interesting premise is sometimes enough to make a book stand out a bit.

Rating: 2 1/2 Haunted Cameras out of 5

Up Next!
Book 5 Curse of the Mummy's Tomb. I remember one of the mummy books being one of my favorite Goosebumps books but I don't remember if it was the original or a sequel. I seem to think it might have been Return of the Mummy that was my favorite so I am interested in straightening this out!

Also, I'd like to mention that I think my next entry is going to be shorter. The way I do things now is I have my laptop up while I read and I take notes and flesh out a big entry at the end. I think the next time I'm going to just read through the book and sum up from memory. It will go quicker in both the reading and writing, and I think may wield better results. I feel like so far my entries may be getting a bit "tl;dr"-inducing. If you're a reader (and I do have one bon a fide follower right now, yay!) feel free to let me know what you think. Check back soon for the next book!

August 6, 2011

#3 Monster Blood

Today I'll be revisiting Goosebumps Book 3, Monster Blood. I remember this being one of the more popular entries in the series, and wouldn't be at all surprised if it was his best selling book. There were 3 direct sequels to this book in the original series alone and I am willing to bet he revisited it in at least one of his newer series.

What do I remember about this book? Well, I believe that this kid goes to an odd shop and buys this mysterious stuff called Monster Blood, and despite the salesman's warning he feeds it after midnight and it turns into a Gremlin... No wait, that was something else. I am pretty sure he does buy monster blood from a weird store though, and I am not sure whether or not the salesman warned him about it or not, but I believe the stuff starts growing like crazy and I think an animal eats it and gets big... or maybe that was one of the sequels?

One memory of this book, is the Spanish version of it. In my elementary school we had a weekly Spanish class, and in 5th or 6th grade the teacher had a copy of Monster Blood in Spanish that she would loan out to people. Unfortunately all I had learned in her class was how to say, "Hello, my name Juan. How are you?", as well as a bunch of fruits and vegetables, number, and colors. Since it was Monster Blood and not "How are 6 Green Apples Named Juan," I was at loss for reading it and I am pretty sure everyone else was too. It was interesting that the books had achieved the level of popularity to be translated though. Anyway, enough with the memories, lets get cracking!

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Lets see, we have some green goop which is presumably the monster blood flowing down stairs. Stuck in the goop are a pair of glasses. Did the monster blood eat a nerd, or does it have an astigmatism? You know it kind of reminds me of the "Ooze" that mutated the Ninja Turtles. I think there were a few real life products going around that were like this fictional monster blood except the only disaster they ended with was getting stuck in the carpet and making your parents yell at you. I know they marketed a real life version of the turtle ooze, and there was this similar stuff called "Gak" that was all soupy and squishy. They all usually came in little containers like silly putty or play dough, the only difference is you couldn't do a damn thing with them. You would roll em around your hand for awhile and go "ewwww" and that was basically it. They weren't mold able, and if you used them too much the would get cruddy and gross. I wonder if they marketed a real life version of Monster Blood? It wouldn't surprise me, Goosebumps was a marketing machine.

Anyway, so the tagline on the front is, "It's a monster blood drive!" Which I suppose is moderately clever. The tagline on the back is "Blood, blood, everywhere..." which is kind of horrifying if you think about it. Before you understand that the monster blood in question is just a slimy substance and not actual blood from some monster it seems... especially gross. I would, however, read an RL Stine book about a guy who goes around stabbing monsters and collecting their blood but I'm not sure that would have gone over real well, especially with parents...

Oh well.. What is there to say about this really? Green slime, green slime, green slime. This was the perfect book for the Nickelodeon generation. He could have written a crossover where the slime from double dare starts devouring contestants!

Anyway, lets jump to the book and see what actually happens.

Getting Goosebumps

Well this book stars a family that needs to move to a new house... because apparently every family in Goosebumps has to have a recent move involved! Thankfully there isn't too much else overly similar in this book when compared to the previous 2. This one stars a 12 year old boy named Evan, who is an only child. For reasons that I don't think are ever elaborated on, his family needs to move to Atlanta, and quickly. Since mom and dad are going to be busy with that, they drop young Evan and his old cocker spaniel Trigger off with his crazy old Aunt Kathryn. Staying true to the actions of young males in the series so far, he gets overly emotional and throws somewhat of a tantrum. Luckily he tends to get a little less moody as the book goes on.

So about that crazy old Aunt Kathryn, what makes her so crazy? Well for starters she is totally deaf and refuses to learn sign language or lip reading. She doesn't do much communicating with people, as you would guess. She is a large woman with dark black hair and a very mannish sounding voice. Oh, also she has a black cat, any crazy old lady wouldn't be complete without a cat. She completes the whole motif by continuously joking that she is a witch... or maybe she's not joking?

Well Evan doesn't care much for being around his weird aunt and his mom had given him 10 bucks to buy himself something while he is there, so he decides to head into town. On his way in he meets a girl named Andrea, who insists he call her Andy. After a weird conversation about stupid names, and stupid things, they both decide to head to the local toy store. Evan finds a dusty old can labeled Monster Blood in the back and decides to buy it. Andy is really jealous and wants some herself, but it's the only can. The owner is rather reluctant to sell it because it is "no good" and "too old." Eventually Evan convinces him to sell it to him anyway, I'm sure he wont regret this purchase!

They take it back to his aunt's place. She seems mildly interested in seeing what it is. After inspection she tells him to be careful. Nothing ominous about that! Well the kids play with it in various ways. The stuff does all kinds of stuff, it glows in the dark, stretches out, holds its shape in a ball, and bounces when you drop it. Sounds pretty neat, I hope it's not evil or something! They go outside to play because it stains things... and you know the first thing you do with a goopy mold-able toy of sorts is bring it outside! I know the first thing I do with a fresh batch of silly putty is play with it out on the lawn... Anyway, so the dog ends up eating some of it. Andy gets pissed because now there isn't enough to share. Evan however, seems a little more concerned on whether or not his dog is gonna... ya know... die.

Well the dog doesn't die, and time goes on. The aunt keeps joking that she is a witch and Evan starts thinking that she may be. It doesn't help that he notices she wears a bone as a necklace and talks to her black cat which she describes as being "evil." All this things definitely send of the "maybe she really is a witch" vibe.

Imagine the twins like this... only 15.
The weird aunt isn't Evan's only problem though . One day he was going to visit Andy and he got jumped by two 15 year old heavy metal loving twins. Andy shows up while they are hassling him, and they decided to quit hassling him and steal her bike instead. She is rather familiar with these neighborhood bullies, and refers to them as two "heavy duty dudes." Did people in the 90's talk like that? I mean, I was there and I don't remember people talking like that... Oh well.

In reality the bullies may be the least of his problems. When he gets home he discovers that his dogs collar is too tight and is choking him. He manages to gets it off and wonders how it shrank, or alternatively thinking that perhaps his old dog had grown. That would be crazy right? Later he discovers that his monster blood had grown and was oozing out of the can. There couldn't be a connection could their?

Then Evan goes to bed. When he wakes up he discovered that his dog has DOUBLED in size. Since its a cocker spaniel being double sized would make it about, oh 50 or 60 pounds? Or as RL Stine puts it, "the size of a pony." Seriously Stine, you think a pony is twice as big as a cocker spaniel? Well fortunately it was just a dream so rational measurements don't matter. As Evan wakes up he realizes that actually he had been the one growing and was now totally enormous! Wait, that was another dream. What is this, the movie Inception? Well I wouldn't know because I've never seen that movie. I just know that this false waking up chapter was 2 pages long. Seriously, two pages. I know this crap is supposed to be easy to read, but come on!

Anyway what is really growing out of control is the monster blood. It outgrew the can, the coffee can they replaced it with, and a large bucket to replace that. Evan decided to stick it in a large bathtub he found in the basement. His aunt's cat scared the crap out of him and knocked him forward into the tub and it felt like the monster blood was pulling him in. He managed to get himself out but quickly realized this was getting out of control. He and Andy filled up garbage bags with it and decided to take it back to the toy store. The store was out of business. Who saw that coming? Almost everyone. Couple this with the fact that the heavy metal twins beat the crap out of Evan and it seems like perhaps things are just not going his way.

They head home and notice Trigger has actually "doubled in size" now... ya know... to the size of a pony... and this dog manages to knock over the garbage can that the monster blood is now in. The huge mass of green glop goes crazy and seems to be alive. It's coming after Evan, and manages to roll over and envelop a robin. The weirdest thing to me, is that Monster Blood seems to be bouncing around like a Spheroid from the Ball Planet on Futurama. As this stuff bounces around like mad, the heavy metal twins show up again just in time to be consumed by the Monster Blood. Then the Monster Blood heads inside after Evan's aunt. What does this weird old lady have to say about all these goings on? "I made this thing now I must die for it." Apparently the whole "maybe she is a witch" thing has some merit...

Well it turns out her cat really IS evil. She turns into a woman and it's revealed that she cast spells on Aunt Kathryn to keep her deaf so she would have control over her. Seems like there may be better ways to make someone your servant, but oh well. Anyway it was the cat who forced the aunt to cast a spell on the Monster Blood because she was worried that Evan would find out about the secret and free his aunt... it's not like he was pretty much totally avoiding his aunt because she was weird or anything, or like he was leaving very soon. In fact right before this hubbub he found out that his parents found a house and were going to pick him up any time now.

Well the Aunt thinks that she can die and the kids will go free. Evan and Andy however know too much... because she just explained freakin' everything to them, so they have to die. She commands the Monster Blood to come eat them but once again que the giant dog to come in and knock something over. This time it was the cat-witch-woman into the Monster Blood. It seemed to consume her all, leaving no remains and then for some reason the monster blood started disappearing revealing a scared but still alive set of twins who run the heck away. Just then, Evan's mom shows up. Boy does she have some things to be filled in on!

The book gets wrapped up quickly. Kathryn now can hear and explains everything to the mother. Evan and Andy awkwardly promise to keep in touch even though he is moving. She wants a piece of the monster blood to keep as a memento of sorts but mysteriously... it's gone...

What do I think?

Man, I really didn't see the "cat is a witch-lady" thing coming. I remembered a whole bunch of the book very well but that part I didn't remember at all. I knew his aunt was involved somehow, and remembered she turned out to be "good." But... man... the cat is a person controlling her? Didn't recall that at all. Maybe because the ending was exceedingly short. The ending, however, wasn't the only thing that was short, this book has crazy short chapters. It was 128 pages, with 29 chapters which means the average chapter length is like what... 5 pages? I swear there was a chapter that was hardly one page long. Seems unnecessary.

Regardless, I think this was yet again an improvement to the series. I like that it featured a boy who was a single child, and was staying with an extended familiar member. It felt like a pretty decent change from the last two books. The book also continued to exude the notion of kids feeling powerless or unheard which I think was pretty relate-able to its audience. I liked the heavy metal bully twins. They were kind of an added "enemy" besides the obvious supernatural one we all knew was coming. Plus, A simple toy turning evil is a pretty fun premise from a kid's perspective I'm sure. Though it was obviously inspired by movies like "The Blob," it felt pretty unique for the series and I think there is a reason this is one of the more popular books.

Still it is funny seeing all the silly things Stine does in each book. Once again there was a point in this book where an unknown person startled him by grabbing his shoulder from behind. I really wonder if its going to happen in every book because so far we're 3 for 3. Also Stine loves throwing out references to stuff like Nintendo and Indiana Jones to appeal to kids.

Fun book, my favorite so far and I am kind of curious to reread the sequels to it.

Rating: 4 slimes out of 5


Up Next!
Book 4, Say Cheese and Die! is next up in the series. It is probably my favorite book title in the bunch except maybe for its oh so creatively titled sequel, "Say Cheese and Die Again!" Be sure to check back and see what I have to say about this one, maybe it'll be even be clever or funny or something!