October 18, 2016

#32 The Barking Ghost

Judging a Book by its Cover

It's a dog. There really isn't much else going on here. It appears to be some sort of Labrador or something. It doesn't seem to be pleased, probably because it is a ghost. Also the camera that took the picture sucks because there is some major red eye going on. The dog has some major Elvis lip curl going on. There is no scenery or background. It's just a dog head. Ok.

There is a little patch of spooge that boasts that there is a free terrifying tattoo in the book. Past me must have taken it and used it. Fuck you past me, I wanted that tattoo! The tagline is "Bad dog. REALLY bad dog." You see, because you say bad dog to punish your dog, but this one is also presumably murderous. Or at least not particularly friendly. You know they say ghosts stay on earth because the soul has unfinished business. What unfinished business does a dog have? Didn't pee on enough trees? Well the back proclaims "it's a dog gone nightmare" which is a particularly groan inducing pun.

Honestly this is one of the less inspired covers I've seen. One thing it has got going for it is that the two tone slime border matches the colors of the actual illustration pretty well. Overall it's not particularly interesting though. Oh well. Perhaps the contents of the book itself will be more interesting. Let's find out!

Getting Goosebumps

Meet Cooper. He is our tween protagonist for this book. He is also real chicken shit scaredy cat. I mean, I know false scares and cowardliness are frequently portrayed in these books but I'm on page two and he has already been scared by a tree and a cuddly bunny rabbit. No joke. Then he talks about how he just moved to this knew house with his family and explains his past of being scared shitless. Then to prove his point he gets terrified of a garden hose and throws a softball at it. To end this riveting scare-a-thon Cooper's older brother Mickey scares him from beneath the bed. I don't know why he went to the effort when he could have scared him with a garden hose. Mom and dad split it up and Cooper devises brilliant plans to get back at his tormentor. Genius ideas like "jump out from behind the shower curtain." Then to finish the night out he hears barking outside but doesn't seen any dogs. Because dogs could never be behind a bush or a tree or a rock or something.

Determined to start the next day out better than the last, Cooper decides to get lost in the woods. Good going. He tried looking for the phantom dog and immediately screwed up. His plan of wandering around aimlessly to find his house when he gets the shit scared out of him by a leaf. I am not even kidding. He gets terrified of a leaf. RL Stine has written cowards before but this kid takes the cake. Except he wouldn't take cake because he'd be terrified of the cake. He gets his pathetic ass saved by a neighbor girl named Margaret Fergeson. Everyone calls her Fergie, and since this is the 90s that name is associated with a duchess and not a Black-Eyed Pea. She knows his name because she was spying on him on moving day from the woods. Creepy. She must be the ghost dog! How does that make sense? It doesn't really, but this is Goosebumps we're talking about. She creepily whispers the word "dogs" and starts running away. Just what a ghost dog would do! Maybe. When Cooper Pooper confronts her about it she has no recollection. She does however assert that the woods are haunted and that he should move.

On his trip back he gets assaulted by 2 dogs. They don't necessarily seem to be of the ghost variety, mostly just mean. Of course when he gets to his house and his dad inquires about things the dogs have vanished... like GHOST DOGS! Pops doesn't seem to be swayed by talk of haunted woods though. Dang parents! Inside the house brothers exchange insults. Cooper with big droopy ears is dubbed Drooper. Mickey is pronounced to be known as Sickey presumably more for rhyming reasons than for frequent bouts of illness.

It's at this point I would like to withdraw my assertion that Fergie is the ghost dog. I don't believe she is connected at all with the ghost dog because they keep throwing out too many hints that she is so that can't possibly be true. It has to be something far stupider. The ghost dogs are probably just holograms, or robots, or aliens or something. Oh yeah, also,  the ghost dog strikes again in the house, leaving no evidence, and a mocking older brother.

Saturday Fergie arrives to throw a real wrench in the cogs. She claims to have been put up to lying about the haunted status of the woods by Mickey, ahem, I mean Sickey. She still plays dumb when he brings up the dogs though. Coops then startledly proclaims said dogs to have returned. But alas, twas a jest! These kids are so clever. They decided to hang out by a big rock... because I guess that is what kids in the 90s did. I personally don't really remember hanging out by many rocks but I guess I wasn't that cool. At the rock the kids come up with a plan to get back at Mickey which involves a plant that looks like poison ivy but isn't. I think a better plan would be to cover him in real poison ivy, but what do I know? Either way, Mickey arrives desperately ranting about the dogs before he keels over. Since we are only halfway through the book it is probably yet another prank.

It was.

Naturally after this encounter when Coop-dawg is all alone he sees the ghost dog again. In fact, he sees his own reflection as the dog's. Creepy! He becomes sullen and withdrawn. But it's understandable, who isn't bummed when they keep seeing ghost dogs and no one believes them? The next morning they return when there are no witnesses. Then they did the mostly ghastly thing of all.... they stole his lunch.

Next weekend Fergie, who by the way believes in the ghost dog shenanigans, sleeps over with Grand-Master-Cooper and they unleash their brilliant plan to scare his brother. It's a very deep detailed plan that takes a certain amount of coordination and genius to pull off. Layers within layers, frights within frights. They are going to put a rubber rat on a string and drag it across him while he sleeps. SOMEHOW he doesn't fall for this gag, sensing the ruse from the get go and instead giving Coopy Coop a spook of his own. Shenanigans!

Cue the return of the dogs. Fergie sees this time but mom remains unconvinced. They vow vengeance upon the beasts! Or rather, they decide to go traipsing outside alone to face these dangerous perhaps superhuman beasts of unknown power and origin. The furious monsters corner them but don't go for the kill. Instead of taking this as a warning or a sign of mercy, they decide these accursed creatures are like Lassie and that Timmy is stuck in a well. They follow them. What they find is a shack. A murder shack? No, apparently it is "the changing room." You see the ghost dogs were in fact people who were cursed. Through the magical properties of the shack they shall change places with the kids. Becoming an immortal ghost dog? Not only that but they are telepathic. Sounds like a win to me, but the kids don't seem to be fans.

Now there is only one thing that can be done. Murder the people who took your bodies. You have got supernatural powers and canine ferocity, it would be easy. But these dumb kids disagree and just want to swap bodies back. They try all sorts of dumb things like barking at the parents and attempting to write a message with a pen when their paws can't hold it. Worst of all they seem to be infested with fleas. Ghost fleas? Undetermined. Also even though they are ghosts they still crave food. What kind of shitty ghosts are they? Their ultimate plan is to just drag those imposters' asses back to the shack. Real creative. Mom and dad seem fine with these mysterious dogs pulling their children there. They want to see what the dogs want. Oh I don't know, to eat your children? You are shitty parents! Anyway they drag em back and get into the shack and baddabing baddaboom they are chipmunks.

Wait. What? You read that right, there were chipmunks in the shack. So they became chipmunks.


What I Thought

This book sucks. No really, even by the lax standards with which I judge Goosebumps books this book is bad. It's whole conception feels lay. Like RL Stine was ticking off a list of creatures he'd feature and was like "let's do werewolves... wait no I've done that... ghost werewolves? no, too convoluted... dogs! no, not scary enough... I got it! ghost dogs!" And then he drank some scotch and did a few Scrooge McDuck laps in his pool full of money.

For starters, Cooper suuuuuuuucks. He took the oh so common fraidy cat character and dialed it all the way to 11. He was scared of a leaf. A LEAF! I wont lie, I wanted him to be eaten by the ghost dogs. I wanted him to be torn limb from limb. I knew it wouldn't happen but oh how I would have enjoyed it.

As far as other characters? Fergie existed only because these characters need a token friend. She didn't really contribute anything. She went along with Mickey, felt bad, then went along with Cooper. Such stunning character development! Then of course Mickey is just like every other sibling to a fraidy cat in these books. He is the asshole tormentor. Could we PLEASE have some new character types in these books?

Then we have the ghost dogs. Not scary. Also... not really ghostly? Ok, so they could walk through walls if they want. That is a little ghostly. But they weren't undead. They were cursed. Also they had mortal wants and needs. Plus how can a Labrador with fleas be that scary unless it is rabid? In fact a rabid dog would have been waaaay scarier. Also this book probably has the least scary use of a shack in the woods of all time.

So what would I have done differently? Besides not write this book? Well if you were going to keep it mostly the same but tweak a few things I'd say get to them changing into dogs way sooner. Have a time limit for how long they have until the change is permanent. That way they get frantic about trying to bring back the imposters. Also, it is key to have a scene where the pound shows up and tries to catch them but they can't because of all their ghost powers. So often these books have the kids be afraid of something but the parents don't believe them and the parents never really find out scary things are actually happening. Have adults be afraid. If adults are afraid then it is probably actually scary!

Finally I would like to discuss the chipmunks far more than they need to be discussed. So are they GHOST chipmunks or just regular chipmunks now? I mean I think the shack just swaps people, not swaps them and ghostifies them. Like the only reason the kids had the ghost powers is because the ghost dogs already had them right? And the ghost dogs were originally people, that's why they had human intelligence right? So the kids are now just regular old chipmunks with human minds, right? Does that mean the new Cooper and Fergie have chipmunk minds? Are they going to start chattering and squeaking and hording nuts? Won't their parents get worried when their children can't speak English and defecate everywhere? A book about kids with the minds of chipmunks would be amazing. Far better than this book.

In conclusion this book feels lazy. The formula of Goosebumps has more than worn thin. The characters are lame rehashes. Cooper is the biggest chicken shit of all time. The "monsters" aren't interesting or scary. Maybe if this book hadn't been preceded by over 30 books with pretty much the same formula I would be more generous to it, but as it stands I just can't be.

Rating: 1 chipmunk out of 5

Up Next 

I know I have been failing at updating this page regularly. I would, however, really like to do a Halloween entry like I try to do every year. If I own a Give Yourself Goosebumps book I haven't done yet I'll try to go for that. I'll have to look through my collection. If not I have a few other ideas up my sleeves. I really really really want to get one done by Halloween, which gives me about a week. Hopefully I manage! anyway, thanks for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment