October 30, 2012

Give Yourself Goosebumps #1: Escape From the Carnival of Horrors

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Goosebumps post to bring you a "special" Halloween one. Instead of doing the next book of the regular series I bring you Give Yourself Goosebumps #1: Escape From the Carnival of Horrors. The Give Yourself Goosebumps series were Choose Your Adventure style books.

If you don't know what those are, why are you reading this blog? You grew up in the wrong generation! To explain it simply, at the end of pages, it would give you a choice. If you want to enter the cellar turn to page 8, if you want to go to the attic, turn to page 27. Usually 90% of the endings were bad and involve you never being seen or heard from again. Then there is usually one ok ending where you make it out alive but barely. And usually there is about 1 "good" ending where things turn out just peachy.

This presents a moderate difficulty in writing synopsis and reviews. Do I read all 20-30 endings? No. I am far too lazy, and that doesn't present an interesting narrative. I have decided I am going to read through exactly 3 plots. Whatever happens I will report back to you... But first...

Judging a Book By Its Cover

The first thing you'd notice about this book if you actually held it in your hands is that it is SHINY! It's hard to tell from the photo of it, but it has that special stuff that makes it reflect like all cool... I forget what you call it, but it shows different colors at different angles. Nifty.

The second thing you'd notice of course would be the gnarly purple gator breaking out of its cage. Why purple? Is green not scary enough? Is Barney more terrifying than Godzilla? Well... kind of, but for entirely different reasons.

There is no tagline on the front, which is kind of a bummer. The back of the book isn't actually shiny. It is normal Goosebumps style dual color ooze. I suppose since it has the text blurb about the book it couldn't really be sparkly. It does have one tagline on back. "Take a ride if you dare...." Oh, I dare. Lets get to it. Reader Beware, I Choose The Scare!

Getting Goosebumps

Attempt 1:

It's in the first person, and I am the first person. My best friends Patty and Brad have been arguing since the start of summer vacation. We are all bored. Perhaps we should bike over to where they are setting up the carnival! Of course last year they had the Terror Track which wound up being a kid's train. Patty, however, being bossy makes the decision for us. We're going. When we get there it's all locked up. Do we break in or chicken out and Go Home.
GO HOME, PAGE 10: What's wrong with me. If I went home now the narrative that is my life would be over! That's lame. I get no more illusion of choice, I am climbing that damn fence and breaking in. (Yes seriously, this is what the page was like.)

COMMIT BREAKING AND ENTERING, PAGE 6: We hop the fence and though there is still the kiddy train, there is also pretty awesome stuff like a rocket coaster and arcade games. While gawking at a sign for a freak show a man comes up from behind us telling us we aren't supposed to be there. Uh oh! It's Big Al the owner, but instead of kicking us out he wants us to test out the stuff in the park. That doesn't seem suspicious at all! But do I wanna check out the rides or the midway?

STRAIGHT TO THE RIDES, YO!, PAGE 34: On the one hand there is a giant-ass roller coaster with cars that look like shuttles and the tracks go almost up the clouds it seems! That's what Brad and Patty are doing. Of course, behind me there is organ music coming from the Little House of Horrors and I do love me some haunted houses...

TO THE COASTER I SAY! PAGE 26: It's pretty sweet. It goes hella fast, and loops and all kinds of crap. However, it stops dead, and my friends Brad and Patty are gone. Do I sit here and wait for help? or perhaps I should hop out of the car..

I PLAY IT CAUTIOUS AND WAIT FOR HELP, PAGE 92: I wait for 15 minutes then start to feel... strange... like someone is watching me. Then there is rustling and strange smells... I feel sick. I can't move. 2 guys come in and say the perfume worked and haul me off to be a real life display for the park. Next time I'll know better! Or will I? Because there wont be a next time! This is... THE END? (or is it? mwahahaha)

Attempt 2
Once again my friends and I are bored, we go to the carnival and I don't fight the urge to break in this time. Big Al shows up and lets us have free reign. Rides, or Midway?

AWW YEAH, CHECKIN' OUT THE MIDWAY, PAGE 77: There is plenty of cool stuff here, but I'm drawn to the fortune teller. She reads my palms and says there is horror in my future. Sounds bad... Then she tells me to pick a card. Do I go red or blue?

WELL BLUE IS MY FAVORITE COLOR... PAGE 59 (Hah it actually says blue is my favorite color when I turned the page.) The card says the freaks at the freak show are in trouble and I'm their only hope! When I inquire what this is all about the lights go out with a scream and the fortune teller is gone. When I try to grab the card it bursts in to flame. Do I keep going along with this and help the freaks, or do I say screw em?

I CAN'T RESIST HELPING FREAKS, PAGE 11: I race to tell Brad and Patty about my predicament. They're in. We race to the freak show. The door says KEEP OUT, so naturally we bust in. Turns out they are slaves in a prison, and Big Al is the freaks' master and he is just about to show up. Do I stay and give em
him a stern lecture or should we book it down the hall?

I'M NO FOOL, GET OUTTA THERE! PAGE 48: We get outta there, but escape right into a reptile petting zoo. What a messed up idea! Some of the snakes are coming to try and cuddle us. We need to get out of here. Should we go left or right?
RIGHT SEEMS RIGHT, PAGE 12: We book it like mad, but then there is a crashing sound behind us. Then on the sides of us. Then in front of us. We're trapped. It is then that we here a voice welcoming us to the reptile petting zoo. The alligator, it seems, has been lonely. And we are its new pets. THE END (or is it!?)

Attempt 3

Yadda yadda yadda bored, go to carnival. Blah blah blah break in, Big Al. Rides or Midway?

RIDES, PAGE 34: Coaster like before? Or Haunted House?

HAUNTED HOUSE! PAGE 64: So I ditch Brad and Patty and head off to the Little House of Horrors. There is a rickety bridge to get there. It sways and creaks and as a thunder bolt of lightning (very very frightening) goes off I fall. Do I try and grab at the bridge or do I flap my arms like a bird (that is seriously an option.)

Well I can't think of anything else to do so I flap my arms like a bird. Just then a big gust of air comes up under me and blows me back up onto the bridge. No shit? What are the odds! I go to the haunted house and look back at the void I almost fell into. The bridge is gone. Cool special affects! It's not like I almost died or something. I notice at the Little House of Horrors there is also the Boat Trip to Nowhere. Do I get side tracked to no where or do I stick with the haunted house?

SCREW GOING NOWHERE, ON TO THE HAUNTED HOUSE! PAGE 66: Near the entrance a skeleton taps me on the back and tells me if I go in I'll wind up like him. Awesome! Inside its totally dark. I can't even see my hands. I stumble around... Finally I find myself in a house of mirrors! Do I go left or right?

RIGHT WONT FAIL ME AGAIN, PAGE 29: I go to my right, and get frustrated. Punching the wall seems like a good idea after staring at all these images of me. After I do so the walls start closing in on me. Literally. Right when it seems like I'm about to be crushed the floor falls out from under me and I'm caught in a net to someone declaring that a new player has entered. A short creepy man and some 7 foot tall beastly monsters great me. Apparently he is "Dr. Frank-N-Stone" which has got to be the worst name I've ever heard. I sounds like a Flintstones villain. Anyway, he is the one who created the Carnival of Horrors. Do I kick him and try and escape? Or do I wait for the hulking monsters to leave first.

KICK HIM AND TAKE MY CHANCES, 79: I kick him, but nothing happens! I kick him harder and my foot busts through him... to... metal. He's a robot!? Awesome, I deactivated him but now those creatures are after me.One of them pins me up against the wall and I give its head a shove. The head comes off. It was a robot too! Now one left... but is it also a robot? Or do I think he's a real monster...

ONE OF EM'S GOTTA BE A REAL MONSTER, PAGE 110, Well I was right that it wasn't a robot. It wasn't however, a monster. It's Big Al and he thinks what I've got what it takes to be in the Carnival of Horrors. I however, am not a fan of that idea. He assures me that I can't leave. We go into the next room and people in old timey clothes welcome me to the Carnival of Horrors. It appears in different places each night and tonight it was in my town, and there is no getting out... or is there? Apparently if I can escape before midnight, I'm ok. But it's 11:40 and the floor has started to shake... Suddenly I appear outside with my friends again. I tell them we've gotta be out before midnight. Patty says the exit is by the Hall of the Mountain King. Brad says its by the Halloween express.

ITS HALLOWEEN SO I SAY HALLOWEEN EXPRESS, PAGE 108: We head that away, then hop into some cars and drive off. A skeleton comes out at us and we drive by. Then there are zombies and ghostly figures. We should jump out and run! But am I able to?

I'LL BE HONEST, NO... I CAN'T, PAGE 127: Well it doesn't matter, I crash through the ghost! Take that! But now we have to hide from the Carnival folk. Do we all hide in the cannon, or in the kiddy choo-choo train!

I CHOO CHOO CHOOSE YOU! Page 128 It starts chiming to 12. I however notice the train is called Right Way Railroad. There is only one RIGHT WAY out... Could I be right? We go through a tunnel and once through we see Carnival Workers everywhere... Regular, run of the mill carnival workers. At the same rinky-dink tiny Carnival we have every year. No monsters or zombies anywhere. This carnival just has baby games and lame food stands. It's he greatest carnival ever. Whew.

What I thought

Woohoo I survived! Rarely do I survive these things, and I swear to gosh I didn't even cheat by looking ahead. The choo choo always gets you where you wanna go. Ultimately each of my ventures whether I survived or not was fairly long in terms of these books. I was pleasantly surprised.

Yes, this was far more enjoyable than I remember these things. I recall dying every other page. Maybe I just got lucky and got some longer strains, or maybe perhaps maybe RL Stine did an ok job with this? I guess limiting myself to 3 attempts helped make it more enjoyable. A common ploy of people who read these is to keep a finger on pages with choices so you can go back and do the other if you fail. That's not really that fun, however it does help if your only goal is to see every ending. And if you own it you probably do want to see every ending.

It would have been nice to get a little bit of characterization. I know I was the main character, but it seems like you ditch your friends a lot. They were pretty much irrelevant characters. They were there so I wouldn't be alone... but I was alone most of the time. What's the point?

Ultimately the strength of this book came from the setting. There are a lot of things to do in a Carnival and I got the opportunity to do a lot of them. Roller coasters, haunted houses, fortune tellers. Good stuff. If only I could have had some ghostly food. Perhaps an I SCREAM cone, or uhh... Hell I dunno.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Corn Dogs

Up Next!

Next time we we'll be back to to your regularly schedule classic Goosebumps. I just did this special for Halloween because I only have a few of the Choose your Own Goosebumps series, and I don't know when I should review them. I doubt I'll go out and get them all, so I'll just throw them into the mix every now and again. Hope you enjoyed it. Happy Halloween!

October 17, 2012

#14 The Werewolf of Fever Swamp

Judging a Book by Its Cover:

The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. I'm not entirely sure why it's called Fever swamp but I'm guessing the neon green water has something to do with it. The wolf itself, howling in the moon light, looks like something you might find on a t-shirt. The clothes on the ground beside the wolf, suggest that a young boy turned into the creature... but then wouldn't the wolf be wearing the clothes? Maybe it ate the kid in the clothes but then they would be blood soaked. I guess that wouldn't make for a very kid friendly cover.

The taglines both relate to Little Red Riding Hood. On the front it says "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?" while on back it says "What big teeth you have!" Sort of predictable, but I guess at least it fits. It's neither particularly clever, nor particularly groan worthy. In all, C+. Now lets get to reading!

Getting Goosebumps

As is the case with many Goosebumps characters Grady and his family recently moved to a new house. His parents are scientists that moved to Florida in order to preform tests with South American "Swamp Deer." I believe there exists in real life, a "Marsh Deer" from South America, but I don't know about any Swamp Deer. Plus these deer have webbed feet. I don't know about that... Regardless, releasing a non native species into an ecosystem always proves to turn out well. Just ask Australia about cane toads. They love those things!

Well Grady and older sister Emily decide to go out exploring the swamp together. They see swampy things, like cranes, and peat bogs. Then they promptly get lost. Using the tried and true method of wandering around aimlessly, they eventually stumble upon a ramshackle hut, and knock on the door asking for someone to help. A weird old hermit comes out and scares the kids shitless, purely by virtue of being a creepy hermit. Come on kids, who do you think is going to answer the door of a swamp shack? They decide to run away instead of getting directions home. It does seem to work though, they found their way back and inform their parents of the hermit situation. Dad says the people in town say Mr. Hermit is perfectly safe, just... hermity. Sounds reasonable.

The hermit wasn't the only person Grady met that day. He also Will, a neighbor kid the same age as Grady. He lets him know why the swamp is called Fever Swamp. Apparently over 100 years ago, a bunch of people come down with a horrible fever that killed a lot of them, and the rest started acting strange. They'd wander around in circles and mutter gibberish. That night as Grady goes in to watch a Shark program on the Discover Channel, he feels as though he is coming down with a fever...

Grady tries to sleep, but wakes up hearing terrible howling. He goes into the kitchen to investigate, and bumps into her sister who hears the same thing. She asserts that it must be wolves, but that's ridiculous! Wolves don't live in the swamp! That's almost as ludicrous as... swamp deer... wait... Anyway, there is a scratching at the door. When Grady works up the courage to open the door and check it out, there is nothing there. Back at sleep, he has dreams of being chased before being sucked into a peat bog.

The next morning, Grady gets mauled by a terrible beast as he exits the house! It tackles him and licks his face. Turns out, it's a dog. A really big, wolf looking dog. They name it Wolf, because ya know, screw creativity. The kids want to adopt it, but the parents are not so down with that plan.

Grady goes off with Will to explore the bog and both get startled when Wolf decides to join them. They go off to the peat bog and Wolf starts to growl. The creepy hermit wanders by, with stains that look like blood on his shirt. He leaves the kids alone, and the kids hypothesize the origin of the stains. Later on their adventure they discover a heron that had been torn to shreds. Immediately Will condemns the hermit. Can't a guy just live by himself in a shack covered with blood and not arouse suspicion? Jeeze! Grady on the other hand thinks a wild animal is the culprit, because there were paw marks. They take wolf away, without even considering that the mysterious giant dog could have been the culprit.

Wolf's first night sleeping inside doesn't go well. Everyone is woken up in the middle of the night as the dog crashes into lamps and windows, frantically trying to get outside. The parents decide that perhaps Wolf should be an outside dog. He happily goes outside and they go back to sleep... for awhile. Then there is that loud howling again. In the morning they find a rabbit torn to shred on their lawn. Emily thinks its wolf, but Grady refuses to believe.

One day Grady and Will go out exploring. Neighbor girl Cassie comes upon them, and they start talking about how a neighbor man is missing. Apparently it was the work of a werewolf. Will teases Cassie for this notion. Grady doesn't seem to know what to think. Suddenly Cassie points out the werewolf. Grady thinks she is pointing at Wolf, but really it's the swamp hermit. He apparently overhears them because he jumps out at them yelling "I'm the werewolf" and laughing. The kids apparently think that this is standard werewolf behavior and run away. Grady, however, trips and falls. The hermit leers over him, then assures him he was just kidding around. On the way back home Grady thinks about Wolf, and the hermit, and werewolves but then gets attacked by a much more tangible threat: a snake.Unfortunately Fortunately it wasn't venomous.

The howling at night keeps happening. One morning they discover a slaughtered swamp deer, and dad decides wolf is the culprit because there are paw prints by the corpse. Apparently lots of other animals in the area have been killed, and the neighbor is still missing. Wolf gets all the blame. Grady is distraught and gets Wolf to run away before his dad can take him to the pound. Next night the howling comes back and Grady decides to follow Wolf and investigate. Which is sensible, when something is accused of slaughtering countless large animals the best course of action is to follow it into the dark wilderness. Apparently Will had a similar idea of going out in the swamp to investigate the howling of a killer beast. Smart.

Somehow they get split up and Grady becomes concerned. He happens upon the hermit shack, and hears the terrifying howling. It must be the hermit! He is the werewolf! Suddenly Grady gets attacked by a creature. It's Will. With a furry face! A teenwolf!? I thought those only did slam dunks and van surfing! But its true, Will is the werewolf, and he bites Grady in a fury. Luckily Wolf arrives and chases him off. Later when Grady's parents are helping heal him, Grady tells him about what happened. Dad is skeptical but goes over to Will's house to investigate. Turns out, it doesn't look like anyone has lived there in months. Strange. Oh well. Grady still has a friend in Cassie, plus he gets to keep Wolf. That is lucky, because on full moons when his face sprouts fur, he has a companion to go out hunting in the swamp with...

What I Thought

Sometimes I wonder what the ratio of Goosebumps kids with scientist parents is. Maybe I should have been keeping track. It seems like a lot of them. Ultimately however, the scientist part wasn't very relevant to the plot. It just set up a reason for them to have moved to the swamp, and a reason for them to be skeptical of werewolves as if being a rational human being wasn't reason enough. Moving into a new house is kind of an overdone thing for these books already. I mean, I get that there is a bit of eeriness and uncertainty to a new house, or from new situations but it's getting old and I'm only 14 books in.

On the other hand, some things still amuse me even though they are frequently done. All the touches of 90'sness entertain me. It seems like at least 2/3rds of the kids in these books own a Nintendo... which is probably fairly accurate to the time. Still, you'd think at least one of them would own a Sega. Also some of the clothing seems amusingly unfashionable. Will apparently wore lycra shorts. What 12 year old boy wore lyrca shorts, even in the 90's?

So lets get to the plot. There was a decent amount of mystery surrounding who the culprit was. The two obvious contenders were the hermit and Wolf. Both were too obvious, and I'm happy it was neither. It could have also been Grady, but that would have made far too little sense with how things were going. Having it be Will worked out, because he seemed like a perfectly normal kid, who was reasonably skeptical of werewolves. If he got legitimately upset about them, then it would have been all too obvious. So ultimately this book ends up being above average in terms of Goosebumps because it doesn't end ridiculously. I mean, I guess the twist of Grady going on as a werewolf is sort of silly, but it is a thing Stine really likes to do. It's an ending straight out of cheesy horror movies gunning for a sequel. Except that Stine almost never actually follows them up.Ultimately it just shows that these characters are not really meant to be meaningful people emotionally invested in. They are just props for a tale to be told. I guess you shouldn't really expect more from these books.

Rating: 3 out of 5 werewolves

Up Next!

The next book in the series is You Can't Scare Me! I like titles with exclamation points! Now there are 2 things I know about this book.
1) It is one of , if not the very first Goosebumps book I ever read.

2) I don't remember any bit of it at all.

Will I remember things as I read it? We shall see! Catch ya next time.