October 30, 2015

#48 Attack of the Jack-O'-Lanterns

Judging a Book by its Cover

Happy Halloween! This cover is extra Halloweenie with its 6 Jack-O'-Lantern heads. Even a little bulldog has one! As a whole it is like halfway between really cute and slightly eerie. The mysterious light behind them makes it seem more supernatural than festive but those faces though are almost all jolly rather than creepy. Honestly though, that's fine. Halloween is a fun holiday and I'm fine with the cover being more fun than scary. It has just enough spooky to make it pass. Their dark greyish attire almost makes it look like some sort of cult situation. Maybe I'm just making that connection myself. Anyway, I like the color scheme. Orange and green might have been overkill on the Halloween theme so I think the yellow works.

Now we have a couple blotches of promos on the front. Join the Goosebumps fan club! I always wanted to, but never got to. I am not sure what you even got. Probably nothing worthwhile but it felt like a cool exclusive thing I was missing out on. Also, there are Goosebumps trading cards inside! Sounds kind of cool, but they were just little flimsy cardboard things with bumpy perforated edges. I still have a few of them lingering around that I must have used for bookmarks or some such, but they really were not collectors items. I can't see anyone putting them in protected sleeves and displaying them. All they really were, were tiny images of book covers... who cares? Maybe if they were unique art it would have been interesting. Anyway, the front tagline is "Put one head in front of the other..." Ok, I get it, lets just take a cliche phrase and add something related to pumpkin heads to it. How about "A head in the hand is worth two in the bush?" Or maybe "There are plenty of pumpkins in the sea?" Oh oh oh, I got it! "Absolute pumpkin corrupts absolutely" The back sinks even deeper in terms of genericness with "pumpkin power!" I say "we're here, we're pumpkins, get used to it!"

So, can I guess the plot from the cover? Well I assume there will be people dressed with pumpkin heads who turn out to REALLY be pumpkin heads. They uhh... come out on Halloween to gather up children to bring home to their pumpkin patch? Or maybe they have magic pumpkins that turn kids to pumpkin heads like them... We'll see I guess!

Getting Goosebumps

This book stars Drew who is a female like Barrymore not a dude like Carey. She is the tiniest girl in school so people call her Elf. She is totally into Halloween but there is just one problem, her classmates Tabitha and Lee keep ruining it! Also, Lee is black. That is not particularly relevant to anything except I don't think I've noticed any black characters in Goosebumps before. Yay diversity! Also there are twins named Shane and Shana who also hate Tabitha and Lee's Halloween ruining ways.

Lets begin with a flashback shall we? Tabitha and Lee were throwing a Halloween party. Drew showed up with her friend Walker. Tabitha is dressed like a princess because she is a prissy little bitch. Drew is a Klingon because she believes in the honor of battle or whatever. She gets mistaken for a mouse so either it is a terrible costume or Tabitha is an even bigger bitch than I thought. Anyway the party is as bumpin' as a junior high party can get until two thugs break in from the basement! Mom and dad are gone, the phone line is dead, this is real trouble! The intruders force the kids down on the floor and make them do push-ups for an eternity. Strange burglars. Suddenly Drew notices that Lee and Tabitha aren't down on the floor with em. Bastards pulled a prank with Todd and Joe high schoolers from the neighborhood. Naturally the kids don't take kindly to this prank.

Shall we jump forward? Next Halloween Drew and crew want to get even. They plot to throw a revenge party to get even! What diabolical plans do they have? Covering Tabitha and Lee in pigs blood? Pushing them into an open grave? Shackling them in the basement? No, even worse! Vaguely scary props to spook them OH NO! You see they had some interesting ideas, but they were deemed unfeasible. For example the trap door in the living room wouldn't be appreciated by the parents, also might break their legs. So instead it was fake puddles of blood and green slime. Also a recording of a spooky voice. Yeah, that is way scarier than home intruders. Anyway, my doubts aside, they worked pretty hard on things. In fact they put so much effort into it that Drew didn't even come up with a costume so she had to go as the Klingon mouse again. But all the planning will be worth it once those jerks show up an- Wait is that the telephone? Oh crap, Tabitha and Lee have other plans and can't come. Even worse, the green slime burned a whole in the couch cushion! Curses!

Now it's the present. Well actually it is the mid 90s, but it is the present as far as the book is concerned. Time to get even for real. Tabitha is a princess again only this time she is a "space princess." Not Leia though, who is the only space princess that comes to mind. Lee showed up in his little brother's Superman costume. Walker and Drew were bed sheet ghosts. The plan is to catch up with Shane and Shana later. They go to the nice neighborhood to get the best candy they can. One couple loves their shitty costumes so much they get invited inside. Entering a stranger's house sounds just fine by me! It is like a billion degrees hot inside and there are lots of crying kids. But the couple wants them to stay so they can admire their costumes FOREVER. What a sticky situation. How will they get out of this one? By this whole paragraph being a fucking dream GOD DAMMIT STINE. Obviously he was short a chapter so he had to whip up a dream sequence.

Ok the real present this time, unless it is a double dream which would be a new low in Goosebumps. They are back to planning, this year they decide no parties so Lee and Tabby can't cancel. Shane and Shana have plan that they don't fill me the reader in on, but apparently is a doozy. Only problem, it involves trick or treating and Drew's mom doesn't want to let her go because 4 fat adults have gone missing. Yes, they specified fat. So I am assuming whatever the monster is, is going to be a people eater. Or a serial killer that hates fat people, but that doesn't seem Goosebumps style. Well mom said she can't trick or treat, how is she going to get out of this situation? By dad saying it's ok. Now remember kids, moms defer to dads when it comes to the safety of their children LIKE IT SHOULD BE (direct hate-mail to Bob Bobbington 555 5th Street, Frankenstein, MO 55555)

Anywho, the plan is to meet Tabby and Lee that night to trick or treat. Dad throws a hitch in the plans by demanding to take a picture of Drew then having multiple technical difficulties. Walker alters the plan by showing up to get her, which saves her but makes them in danger of missing out on Tabby and Lee. When they get to the spot to wait, they hear some animal growling and are attacked by... the douche bag high schoolers from the party a few years ago! Haven't they graduated yet? Anyway, they ditch the younger kids to go scare some more. Drew and Co. decide to start trick or treating without Shane and Shana who have yet to show up. Things are going pretty well for awhile. Mostly candy, only one house gave out apples. Suddenly RKO OUT OF NOWHERE! Ehh, I mean PUMPKIN HEADS OUT OF NOWHERE! Tabitha the Ballerina and Lee the Bee (hey that rhymes) are convinced it's Shane and Shana but the costume is pretty convincing. I mean... there is like, fire coming from the eyes. That seems like a pretty cool special effect for some tweens to pull off...

The pumpkins demand in strange voices to start trick or treating in a new neighborhood. They seem very insistent passing many good houses to get there. They lead the group through the woods. Tabby and Lee seem upset that their costumes are getting ruined but apparently aren't angry enough to not follow. Thankfully they were all rewarded with an awesome neighborhood to get treats. Everyone has their lights on and gives out good stuff. Their bags fill quickly and the gang is all tired but the pumpkin heads wont let them. Keep trick or treating! Trick or treat forever! They demand. Things are started to get genuinely weird. In fact, Drew herself is now convinced that this isn't Shane and Shana! Lee and Tabby are unconvinced until the creatures remove their own pumpkin heads and there is nothing beneath. No human heads or any other kind of head for that matter. They try to escape but the pumpkin heads are too quick! They are trapped. There is only one thing left to do... keep trick or treating. They plead with the owners of the next house to help them but of course they think it's just a Halloween prank. More houses, more houses! The kids complain their treat bags are full, well the pumpkin heads have a solution. Start eating! Quickly they get sick gorging themselves on sweets but the pumpkin heads don't give a crap. Time to start trick or treating again! You see this is a special neighborhood, they'll never stop giving out candy.

How can this possibly get any worse? I suppose if there were more pumpkin heads, that would be worse. Guess what happens? The next house they go to has another pumpkin head! More and more houses, more and more pumpkin heads. Finally, the kids have had enough. They flat out refuse to carry on. The pumpkin heads responded by shrieking and shooting flames out their eyes. Then their fellow pumpkin heads started coming out from their houses. They circled the youths, chanting, "trick or treat, trick or treat!" 4 extra pumpkin heads appeared in their hands. Heads for the children. Lee and Tabby try to escape but get their heads pumpkin'd for their troubles. Walker and Drew plead for help, and then burst out laughing. Wait, laughing? Two of the pumpkin heads morphed into Shane and Shana. They finally managed to scare Lee and Tabitha and all it took was Shane and Shana being shape shifting aliens... Apparently the concept of using their shape shifting abilities to scare their classmates took several years to come to fruition. You'd think they could whip up something spooky in no time with those powers. Anyway, yadda yadda yadda, they are aliens, yadda yadda yadda they don't eat candy, yadda yadda yadda wait, what do they eat? yadda yadda yadda fat people yadda yadda yadda no need to worry you're still kids, don't worry for now.

The end.

What I Thought

This festive little Goosebumps entry was a bit unique for the series. How so? Well the first 3rd of the book was flash backs to previous years. This little turn on things actually worked out pretty well. We quickly see what jerks Tabitha and Lee are. We feel the disappointment at the failed plans to get revenge. First person narrative works well for this kind of thing. Much better for this part than for the rest of the book actually.

Halloween is an obvious prime subject for Goosebumps. It's a wonder he didn't overdo it and have more books based around it. Of course I suppose any Goosebumps book is suitable for Halloween so you don't necessarily have to focus around the actual holiday all the time. But it works. RL Stine actually kinda sounds like a kid in this book, rather than an adult writing about kids. The plans for revenge they come up with all sound kind of childish and half baked. Kids are heading out with half-assed costumed because they just want candy (or revenge) just like they really would. They praise the houses with candy bars, they curse the houses with apples. It feels pretty convincing.

There is however one huge problem I have with this book. It's the first person narrative. Drew is going on about how scared she is, how she doesn't think it is really Shane and Shana. This is a probably because she is not saying it to the other kids, she is thinking it and sharing it with the reader. It means one of two things. She could actually be scared and convinced of these things, but that doesn't make sense because at the end she seems to find their prank hilarious immediately and talk about having planned this with the alien twins ahead of time. The other possibility is that she is just flat out lying to the reader in her narration and that is just shitty. This could be solved a few ways. Firstly like I said, have her say these things to the kids. I can believe she would lie to them to be convincing. But when she tells us this is what she is thinking it just ruins everything. Secondly, she could actually not know. Sure it could still wind up being Shane and Shana but if Drew didn't know they were aliens this would also make sense.

Those flaws are a shame because otherwise it is a pretty good book. It takes something kids love like Halloween and candy, and makes it forced, makes it excessive. It is one of those too much of a good thing punishments. Like The Simpons episode where Homer goes to hell and is forced to eat endless donuts. Of course Homer ends of enjoying it... Anyway, it takes something kids love and turns it into something they hate. They can't go on trick or treating, it's hurting them. They can't keep eating candy, it's making them sick. It takes something as jolly and festive as a jack-o'-lantern and makes it creepy.

So do the flaws ruin the book? I don't know. I am sure 9 year olds wouldn't give a crap. They'd just get to the twist and be like "oh man, didn't see that coming!" and move on. But when you are a crotchety old man these things bugs you more. Yes I am the kind of guy who looks for consistency out of his Goosebumps, DEAL WITH IT!

Basically, in summation this is festive fun. Unlike horror that takes the scary side of Halloween and and amps it up or focuses on it, it takes the fun side like candy and makes them the horror. But, it is marred a bit by Stine forcing in a twist at the end that just doesn't fit. He should have thought about how Drew was in on the joke when he was writing. There are things he could have done to tread the line between convincing performance on her part and her being in on the prank.  Still though. I enjoyed it.

Rating: 3 out of 5 pumpkin heads

Up Next

Well I hope this contributed to a Happy Halloween. I did several books in October so I might slow down for a bit. I have plenty of books I can go to next though. There are still have several from my original childhood stash left to get to. I have some newer ones I can get to too, both Goosebumps 2000 and Goosebumps HorrorLand. I even have a book that seems to be a short biography on RL Stine that could be interesting. I think I'm leaning towards Goosebumps 2000 because I don't think I've read any of that particular series yet. Anyway, have a good Holiday!


  1. been really enjoying these reviews shaun, especially of the original series. goosebumps were a huge part of my childhood too so it's cool to read these snippets of nostalgia

    hoping you'll pick up from #32 'the barking ghost' in the not too distant future!

    sydney aus

  2. Another way Stine could have fixed it and had it both ways is if we got a hint of what the original plan was. In the book Stine actually has Walker comment on the strange behavior.

    "What are they doing?" Walker whispered in my ear. "This isn't in the plan. Where are they taking us?"
    I didn't know.

    To preserve the "Unspoken Plan Guarantee" rule of fiction, Stine could have had the kids agree to meet at a specific spot for their Halloween plans. Drew could have ended a chapter with, "Our plan was all set. Tabby and Lee would get the fright of their lives on James Street come Halloween." Then when the Pumpkin Heads lead them away, Walker and Drew realize that they're heading in the opposite direction. Since they know Shane and Shana are aliens, and also know there are even more aliens beside them on the planet, there could have been some tension of "Had somebody else hijacked their plans?" and still preserved the reveal. Drew is already level-headed enough to point out that some of their revenge plans won't work, so she could have been able to have her doubts about it being Shane and Shana after all.