March 8, 2014

#24 Phantom of the Auditorium

Sorry I haven't updated in so long. Christmas brought with it a whole slew of big person type books that I have been busy reading and I haven't made the proper time for some Goosebumpy goodness.Never fear though! I am back.

Judging a Book by its Cover

Here is the Phantom of the Auditorium... And a beer. Because sometimes when you read Goosebumps you need a nice refreshing adult beverage to remind yourself that you are in your late 20s and reading a kids book.

Anyway, if there was 1 word I would use to describe this cover it would be, "Purpley." There is purpleishness all over it. The phantom is wearing purple. There is a pinkish curtain behind him. The Goosebumps slime logo is purple and pink. Purple all over.

The titular phantom seems pretty much as you would expect. Not terribly frightening, but a bit mysterious. He is wearing white gloves that seem a bit more "snow shoveling gloves" than proper thin gentlemanly gloves. Perhaps the phantom store was all out of proper attire.

The taglines that I so look forward too aren't anything to special. On front it reads "He's out to stop the show... for good!" The back is a little more clever with, "Lights... Curtain... Phantom?" Ultimately what I am looking for in a tag is a good ol' terrible pun. Anything short of that and I'm going to be let down.

So I guess the most obvious thing this whole book is in reference to is Phantom of the Opera. Have they taken that and middle school-ified it? Is it completely unrelated to it? I wouldn't know because I've never seen any version of Phantom of the Opera. My sister really liked the sound track to it when she was in high school though!

Now lets get down to business.

Getting Goosebumps

This time around the main protagonist is tween Brooke and her sidekick Zeke. Zeke commonly refers to her as "Brookie." If anyone else called her that she'd probably throw a tantrum, or whatever it is that middle school kids do when they are upset. Zeke gets away with it, however, because they are total BFFs. It must be hard to be friends with Zeke though as he is a bit of a prankster. By the end of the first chapter he had almost convinced Brooke with a fake note that she was suspended from school. Contrary to being in trouble, she, along with her pal were chosen by Mrs. Walker to be the leads in the school play "The Phantom."

Now about the play. You see it's no ordinary play. It's play... with a curse! Like a tween Macbeth I guess? Anyway, the story is that the play was written years ago just for the middle school to preform but as it was about to start the boy playing the phantom went missing. They looked for hours to find him to now avail. As the teacher went on to announce the play couldn't go on there was a horrible scream! The boy was never seen or heard from again. Until now, oh god it's the phantom in the auditorium already so early in this book! Or it's Zeke with another one of his hysterical jokes. What a cut up. He isn't the only phantom though. Suddenly Mrs. Walker the play director vanished! Rather than playing a practical joke she fell down the trap door that was made for the phantom to mysteriously rise from. After getting rescued from the pit she makes it clear that she doesn't want any of the kids monkey with the trap door. I am sure they will obey, they seem like well behaved kids.

They immediately mess around with the trap door. The kids find out that it goes even lower than the previously thought but it is too dark down there to explore where it ends up. Unfortunately for them it wont be easy for them to get back up since they can't see if there are any controls down in the dark. They start a fight and in the struggle they bump a lever to bring them back up. Let that be a lesson kids, if you ever need to find a solution to your problem just start a fight with your best friend. At the top they are startled to be greeted by a strange man with a scarred face. He is Emile the night janitor. He gives them a stern talking to and they head home.

The next day at school there is a new kid named Brian. He seems really interested in acting and is bummed to find out he didn't make it in time to try out for The Phantom. Brooke convinces him to come to rehearsal and see if he could get a small part or something. Before class starts Brooke had to go out quick and grab her book. In her locker is Zeke's mask with a note that says "Stay away from my home sweet home." But Brooke isn't freaked out. Zeke, however, claims not to have anything to do with it. At play rehearsal new kid Brian gets put on the scenery crew. Also the phantom appears again and escapes down the trap door. Oh Zeke! But outside Brooke sees him in his mom's car and he swears it wasn't him because he had to leave early for a dentist appointment. Seems like a pretty good alibi...

So I haven't had a chance to bring her up yet because she's not a very important character but there is bitch named Tina that goes to school with these girls. She is rooting for Brooke to fail because she is her understudy.  She is also pretty bossy as head of the scenery crew. It doesn't help that Brooke has stage fright and totally loathes Tina. It's so much pressure. But for real, Tina is a bitch. I am comfortable with calling a fictional 12 year old girl a bitch. Deal with it.

Anywho, at rehearsal Brooke is accosted by phantom Zeke. Wait no, Zeke still isn't the god damned phantom! He is off to the side of the stage. Then who came up from the trap door? Whoever it is, he is telling them all to, "Stay away from my home sweet home!" Zeke is convinced there is a real phantom but skeptical Brooke still thinks somehow Zeke is still up to it all. To further add to the mystery, when Zeke looks for his missing math book and mentions the Janitor Emile, the secretary says no such man works there. Oooooo!

Well good ol' Zeke getting all the blame can't take it anymore and tells Mrs. Walker that there must be a real phantom. She is unconvinced and thinks she just scared the kids by telling them the tale of the the origins of the play. To convince her Zeke, Brooke, and Brian break into school after hours to search the auditorium. All they found was the backdrop unfurling to reveal it had been vandalized with the words, "Stay away from my home sweet home!" At least this phantom is consistent with his message! Naturally Mrs. Walker came in right as it unfurled and assumes the kids did it. Their pleas of innocence almost sway her until she sees a paint trail dripping to Zeke's locker. In the end only he gets kicked out of the play and the other two can stay. When Brooke leaves the school she sees Tina on her bike. What a bitch. Maybe she is the culprit?

Even with Zeke gone the practical jokes continue. Mrs. Walker's script gets all its pages glued together and she cancels the play. Fortunately she calms down and changes her mind. But shit is tense yo. Determined to prove his innocence still Zeke and gang return to the scene of the crime armed with flashlights. They go down to the very bottom of the trapdoor pit and find a little room complete with furnishings and freshly poured cereal begging to sog. What kind of a Phantom eats cereal? Emile! He shows himself and demands to know why they didn't heed his warnings. He doesn't understand when they start talking about what happened years ago with the original phantom though. He is just a homeless dude living under the school who doesn't want to be evicted. The kids run away and are saved by Zeke's dad. When the police finally show up Emile is long gone. And there goes the mystery of the phantom.

Well with his good name restored Zeke was able to return to the role as phantom. Well almost. When the phantom showed up from the trap door during the actual performance of the play it wasn't Zeke. He went on to tell the crowd how 70 years ago he was supposed to play the phantom but fell to his death down the trap door. He returned this night to finally play the role meant for him, as he had become a real genuine phantom. Desperate to know who this mystery man was Brooke pulled off his mask, and in the effort to shield his visage from all he fell down the trapdoor AGAIN! The audience thought it was an amazing performance, as did Mrs. Walker, approving of the ad-libs but the kids weren't sure what was going on. The phantom was nowhere to be found beneath the stage. However, in her locker Brooke found a 70 year old year book. The bookmark lead to a page with the picture of... Brian. And here goes the REAL mystery of the phantom.

The end.

Oh and Tina is still a bitch.

What I thought

Pretty good! As usual it is pretty dang formulaic and there isn't a whole lot to talk about that isn't the same for every book. There are things he does over and over again which I suppose is necessary when churning out tons of books for kids. I guess I can talk about these things though.

Having a prankster always makes for fake scares and causes suspicion. Everyone will always think the joker is guilty. It could always be a little better executed however. Kids in these books never think of anything genuinely clever as a prank. Granted real kid pranks are hardly ever clever, but book can be cooler than real life!

A real life thing like a school play as a basis makes for a pretty decent basis of a story like this. Kids can relate. But there are some things that would have probably been done if this was a better book by a better author. Brooke has really bad stage fright. There is a freaking phantom on the loose and shit is going down. You would think he could use her stage fright for an interesting development but all does is fuel Tina's bitch-fires.

Like many (but not all) of these stories there is a red herring. This one, however, was pretty good. The misdirection towards Emile worked better than most attempts like it by Stine. Actually, if you think about it, a transient living underneath the school may be even creepier than an actual phantom. I know everyone I know would be pretty freaked out by a homeless guy under the auditorium. Weird. But he is caught and there is little enough left to think that maybe just maybe that is all there was to the story. The revelation that it was Brian was relatively obvious but not positively certain and for a kid probably not that obvious at all. The biggest give away was that Zeke's dog barked at him. Dogs fucking hate ghosts. I don't know why. I guess you can't get mad a Goosebumps for using cliches. Kids don't even know what cliches are.

Ultimately I feel like maybe this isn't the most memorable Goosebumps book, but it is one of the better ones. Frankly some of the more memorable ones kind of suck. Better to be forgettable decent than memorable shitty I suppose!

Rating: 4 out of 5 masks

Up Next!

Attack of the Mutant! This one has a guy that looks like a super hero (or villain) on the cover. Dude has a cape and everything! I seem to recall that it does pertain to comic books somehow, but that's really all I've got. Once again a book I read 20 years ago wields very little memories. Alas. But I am sure it will be awesome and I promise to have it to you more promptly than I did with this entry. Until next time!