Judging a Book by It's Cover
At first glance it seems this book is about a giant praying mantis wrecking up a town. When you look a little bit closer you see that the mantis is metallic. So why is there a giant metal mantis? Is it some kind of alien race? Did a mad scientist build a robot for revenge? Did a regular giant mantis fall into a giant puddle of molten metal? Also, who names a city street "Shock Street?"
According to the tagline Shock Street is a "real dead end." Get it? Like literally dead, because you will die on that street. It actually works as a pun. Good job. The back tagline is "talk about shock treatment!" I assume because the monsters will give you a figurative shock rather than a literal electric shock. Though they do seem to be robot bugs. Genuine shocks could be in store. Who knows. Lets find out.
We begin with best friends Erin and Marty being scared witless by a wolf headed crab monster. A crab monster with a wolf head? I am imagining what that looks like and it seems really really stupid. Like isn't the dangerous part of a huge crab monster the claws? What good is a wolf head without the mobility of a wolf? Crabs just kind of scuttle around. Oh hell, whatever. The wolf crab is on a movie screen. They are watching a horror movie. It's Shocker on Shock Street VI. The cinematic masterpiece ends with the wolf crab being boiled alive and the citizens dining like kids. I expect it to sweep the Oscars. Erin's dad works with "movie people" and got them tickets to an advanced screening. While they talk about how great the special effects are they ponder what it would be like if they monsters they saw were real. Then they walked into the wolf crab monster! He of course turns out to be a guy in a costume. Chapter 3 and already someone tried to scream but no sound could come out. I should keep track of the earliest instance of this Goosebumps trope.
Up they go to dad's office. He has a sweet job designing rad theme parks. His office is filled with toys and awesome stuff. He is basically the coolest. Unfortunately he has bad news. Very bad news. The bad news is that he tricked you! Heeeyoooo what a kidder. He actually has supremely good news. He's been designing Shocker Studio's tour and the kids get to go on a test run of it. In their excitement Erin asks if mom can come too. Dad seems perplexed and a little concerned by this question. It's decided they should go alone. Not even dad is going with. They are slightly dismayed to learn they have to stay on the tram and all times so they can't go walking around on Shock Street. Mostly though they are psyched. What kid wouldn't be? They are even armed with Shocker Stun Ray Blasters which seems like 1 word too many for the weapons. Apparently they can freeze monsters at up to 20 feet. So they don't even have the range of a Super Soaker? Lame! They are effective though, Linda who handed them out fumbled with one and shot herself, freezing up instantly. Oh wait, she was joking. Isn't any mother fucker in Goosebumps capable of not kidding around?
Onto the automated tram they go. First stop, the Haunted House of Horror. That sounds both super generic and also a little redundant. It seems pretty much like a regular haunted house. Skeletons, jumpscares, general spookiness. Erin is already getting freaked out but Marty thinks it's pretty funny. The lights go out. Marty Disappears, except not really. Some kind of special effects or something? That doesn't really make sense to me. Oh well. The tram turned into more of a rollercoaster zipping around the house in darkness. The tram goes out of control and they bounce around the seats flopping all over. Marty thinks it's great. Marty is an idiot.
They burst outside coming to a stop between two bushes. Then the monsters come out. Luckily, they are just there to sign autographs. Autographs aren't very scary. Still who doesn't want an autograph from "Ape Face" or "the Toadinator." I better not see those autographs on E-Bay, kids!
gonna be pissed! Next they are covered in spiders. Is this a studio tour or an episode of Fear Factor? Won't get get expensive to keep buying tons of spiders and worms to dump on people?
Finally the tram comes to a stop and then... nothing. While pondering what the deal is, Marty spooks Erin by disappearing again, this time merely stepping off the tram onto the cave floor. Dad said stay in the tram at all times. This can't be good. It could start back up any moment now! It doesn't though and they decide to walk and find help.
So at this point are you confused as to why the cover of the book has a giant metal mantis on it? Well just then a giant metal mantis shows up. Two actually. They try to go back to the tram now that the spooking seems to have resumed but their exit is cut off by the bugs. Two more mantises appear. One of them headbutts Erin. You would think a headbut from a 16 foot tall robot bug would hurt more than Erin lets on. They're surrounded and the mantises are spitting super hot black goo at them. They consider using the stun guns but realize they are still in the tram. They decide to deal with them the way you deal with real bugs, by stepping on them. A stomp to the toes makes them reel back and allows them to make a break for it. Why would you program robot bugs to feel pain? And if they aren't robots, they are still metal. Surely a meager stomping wouldn't hurt?
Thankfully they finally get outside. But wait, one of the mantises is eating Marty. April fools. Seriously? Fuck you Marty. Now is no time to be joking around. Also "April fools" is a dumb line. Come up with something clever kid. After some consideration as to whether or not the whole ride has gone haywire they realize they are on Shock Street. THE Shock Street. Soon they find the cemetery from the movie Cemetary on Shock Street. Marty wants to see it. Erin has a bad feeling about this. Bullheaded Marty wins. He openes up the gate, takes a few steps, and falls straight into an open grave. Serves him right. Erin should just leave his ass there. She is a better person than I am though. She checks on him and the moron thinks falling into an open grave is super cool. They examine their surroundings and find spooooky gravestone names like, "Jim Socks" and "Ben Dover." Classic.
Suddenly hands shoot up from the ground. Voices beckon them to come down. They grab at them but Erin breaks free. Marty is not so lucky. Thankfully once again Erin proves she is a good friend and doesn't ditch him. Then heads start rising up from the ground. The zombie hordes are enough to finally scare Marty and they book it on out of there.
Running for their lives they find an unfamiliar mansion. Unfortunately it is not their salvation it is their doom. They sink into the ground. Mud covers them and they nearly abandon hope but they are rescued. Who is their savior? Dad? No of course not, it's Wolf Girl and Wolf Boy. It seems their rescuers are more interested in scaring and possibly eating them though. Erin has had enough of their shenanigans. She goes to rip off their masks but discovers only real fur and real flesh. They climb a wall to get out of reach but that won't keep them at bay for long. Erin takes out Marty's ray gun. Because I am terrible at what I do I neglected to mention that while escaping the mantises they grabbed their guns. Sadly it proves to be utterly useless.
But wait! What's that? The tram is coming back! They run to the vehicle as fast as they can, motivated I assume by sheer terror. They manage to catch up to it, saved at last! Except Marty falls over his own fucking feet and then trips up Erin. I told her to leave his ass behind! But you didn't listen to me, did you book? Up fast Erin manages to catch it again and jump in. Marty is behind her but manages to do the same after a while. How did the Wolf People not catch them? Are they slow as shit? They are supposed to be unequaled killing machines! I am disappointed. Two kids can catch up to a tram but Wolf People can't? For shame.
Lost they wind up back on Shock Street. Strange wisps of smoke with eerie faces start popping up all over. Unable to take it anymore Erin freezes up totally. Thankfully their scene is over? Huh? Russ Denver movie director explains that it is all special effects. Really her dad should have told them in his opinion. He directs them to where dad is, in Shockro's House of Shocks. They are a bit worried they'll get shocked, like in the movie, but he puts their minds at ease. He turns away to go about his business and Erin notices a power cord plugged into him. He's a robot! And not even a good robot, he needs an external power source! And Marty entering Shockro's House! Exclamation point! She tries to save him but in a flash he is laid out on the floor. Too late!
Unable to save her best friend she realizes quickly she is not alone. Dad is here. He is confused why the kids are also in the building. She tries to explain quickly how everything has gone wrong. As she looks closer, she realizes it isn't her father after all. She can't function anymore. She has a complete system failure. Literally. Because she is a robot. Yup. Mr. Stine you've done it again! "Dad," has a conversation about the two kid robots malfunctioning. Such a shame because all the monster robots were working perfectly. Oh well, with some repairs they'll be good as new in no time.
What I Thought.
Oooooh boy, what a ride. Literally. Get it, cause the book was about a ride? Anyway this story reminded me in some ways of HorrorLand. Obviously because it involves rides, a studio tour instead of a theme park this time but they are a little interchangeable. This comparison is good, because I think this sort of book works well. You have a good excuse to throw in several different types of scares. It also works to take something that is purposely scary but turn it up a notch when the fake frights prove to be real.
The premise of the kids being movie fanatics and getting to experience things first hand goes over well. I think Stine misses opportunities on this though, as they should be able to get themselves out of some trouble based on their previous movie knowledge. For example, to get away from the giant mantises they decide to stomp on them because they are bugs. This is stupid logic that only flies in a Goosebumps book. I think it would be more clever if they thought back to how the movie monsters were defeated in their movies, and tried it out for themselves. At least once. You could even subvert the trope and have them try it only to fail.
Of course there is the twist ending. Now some twist endings make me groan. This one make me chuckle and say to myself "Stine you son of a bitch!" I think the kids turning out to be robots actually kinda works. Of course it doesn't bare a whole lot of scrutiny. When you think about it you're like, "well why would they need to program robotic kids just to test a ride?" When it gets right down to it it actually doesn't make any sense at all. But I'll allow it this time. It's ridiculous in a way that entertains. He did drop a couple of stupid hints early on. First he described the kids as both looking extremely similar even though they weren't related. Also, Erinbot mentioned her mother and "dad" got confused but at the end he mentioned he should have realized they were malfunction then since obviously the robots have no mother.
Now I like to talk about how I'd try to fix these books, but besides the little details I've already mentioned I don't know that there is much I'd do. I think it works for what it is. It's the most enjoyable Goosebumps I've read in quite awhile.
Rating: 4 movie monsters out of 5
It's October! Scientists have proved that October is the spookiest month of the year. Because of that I am HOPING to get out 3 new updates to my site this month. Two special book reviews and another entry looking at alternate cover art. I can't guarantee it, but I'll try my darnedest. Until next time.