May 23, 2012

#11 The Haunted Mask

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Now we arrive at The Haunted Mask. I recall this being one of the "big ones" when it comes to Goosebumps. This is one that stands out as a favorite in a lot of people's mind. The cover has the titular mask, which reminds me a bit of the Green Goblin from Spiderman. Maybe if the Green Goblin mated with an Orc from Warcraft...
The front tag reads "If looks could kill," which is just the kind of popular turn of phrase I'd expect on one of these covers. The back line, "Face to face with nightmare" is a little less punchy, but it works. I still wonder who churns out these things. Did they hire a guy who writes for movie posters? Who knows. Regardless, lets see what kind of shenanigans this overall wearing girl gets into!

Getting Goosebumps

The generic preteen star of this story is Carly Beth who discusses with her best friend Sabrina their plans for Halloween costumes. It turns out ironically that Carly Beth, not Sabrina wants to be a witch. This causes a bit of disbelief, because witches are scary and Carly Beth extremely easily scared. Last week her friends Chuck and Steve scared her witless by convincing her there was a ghost in the attic. Why, during school lunch with Sabrina she shrieked in terror just because someone dropped their lunch trey.

Steve and Chuck have gone to further lengths to harass their friend however. For example, one of them gave Carly Beth a free turkey sandwich for lunch that had a real live worm in it. For one, that isn't so much scary as gross. For two, who remains friends with dicks like that? Have some self esteem and find yourself better pals Carly Beth!

Though her friends seem to lack much kindness towards her, her family is another story. Her mom seems to love her a great deal. She even made her a duck costume for Halloween. Of course, Carly Beth wants to be something frightening and unless you suffer from orinthophobia that's probably not going to cut it. A duck costume isn't the only product of her mother's love though, she also made her a strikingly realistic plaster of Paris sculpture of Carly Beth's head. Moderately creepy, but its the thought that counts, right?

So, you remember how I just mentioned that Carly Beth got a duck costume and that it's not very scarey? Well, her little bastard of a brother snuck off and dressed up in it so he could jump out and startle her. It even actually worked, thus proving exactly how easily frightened she can be. All this being scared is eating her up, and she desires nothing more than to be the scariest thing ever for Halloween. She'll be the one doing the scaring, and she vows to never be the frightened one again! The very next day at the science fair Chuck and Steve scare the crap out of her via an imaginary tarantula. At least spiders are scarier than duck costumes I suppose.

Halloween day rolls around and Carly Beth gathers up her life savings and sets off for the costume shop. Unfortunately it's closed despite being early in the evening on Halloween, which seems like an odd business decision. Lucky for her however, the owner is still inside and lets her inside to make a quick purchase. He had some sorta scary masks, like gorilla's and aliens, but they just didn't cut the mustard. Despite his insistence that she hurry up, she kept on looking around until she found a back room. It contained just the kind of masks she wanted! Realistic foul creations with fangs and green skin. Skin that feels more like actual flesh than any kind of rubber. The owner however is extremely apprehensive about letting her purchase one. He claims they are too real, and far too scary. Eventually after continuing to pester him, she finally just throws money at him and takes off with a mask. Remember, theft isn't theft if you throw an arbitrary amount of cash at the person you stole from.

Now armed with a terrifying mask, Carly Beth is ready to do some scaring. The first victim is little brother Noah. She pounces at him growling with a unnatural hoarse voice and scares the living daylights out of him. He thinks her voice was even scarier than the mask, but she is unsure how she even made the voice. After the attack, she removes the mask, noticing that it takes great a deal of effort. After getting ready to go out trick or treating with some friends, she puts the mask back on and it seems to oddly suck itself on to her face. She dismisses it, and before heading out decides that the plaster of Paris bust of her on a pole would make a great scary accessory.

Finally she is ready to truly scare the crap out of some people. First she creeps the bajeezes out of some kids she thought were Chuck and Steve. She doesn't even relent when she discovers they were not. Not only that but she attacks her best friend Sabrina, scares the crap out of random young children, and throws apples back at the house of the guy who gave them out. I suppose I can't blame her too much for that last one. Who the hell gives apples for Halloween? Sabrina's getting pretty worried about her friend doing all this stuff that is pretty out of character. They decide to split up to get more candy. I am not sure how that makes any sense. I mean people would give them both candy, so they could all go to the same houses at the same time... Regardless, it's their plan.

So who do you think Carly Beth stumbles upon next? Why yes, douchey Steve and Chuck. For all their love of scaring, they are wearing pretty crappy costumes. One seems to be vaguely dressed as a hobo. The other is merely wearing a bandana and a plain black mask. Creative. Anyway, she readies her head on a pole and pops out to terrify them. They are startled, but seem somewhat impressed at her costume, and perhaps even a bit uneasy. The most unsettling thing seems to be her unnatural voice. She informs them that she is not Carly Beth. Carly Beth is the head on the stick and they'll be next. They remain mostly uneasy until the head statue blinks, and mouths the words, "help me." This pushes them from the realm of "uneasy" to that of "fucking petrified." Victorious, Carly Beth dumps the head in a bush and heads off to Sabrina's while her friends scream off into the distance.

Back at Sabrina's house they begin to divvy up the candy. They decide to get out of their costumes, but Carly Beth is having a little trouble. Sabrina tries to help but discovers there is no space between her face and the mask. It's like it is fused to her face. Carly Beth checks herself out in the mirror and sees animal eyes staring at her instead of her own. Now it was her turn to be scared again. Immediately she dashed out of the house and headed back to the costume store. Though it was closed, the owner was still inside waiting for her. It seems he figured she would be back. He knew something about the mask she didn't. It's not really a mask, it's a real face that he created scientifically in a lab. Equally scientifically, it can only be removed by using "a symbol of love." Even more scientifically, the rest of the grotesque faces start flying toward Carly Beth and chase her. Science!

Well, Carly Beth does the only thing she really can do, which is run frantically away. In the midst of running she realizes that the statue of her head may be just the symbol of love she needs to get her face back. She runs back to where she discarded it and finds it blown a short distance from where she put it. She tries to fend off the hover-faces, and finally resorts to putting the statue of her head over her real head for some reason. This random ploy works however, and her face is back to normal, and the grotesque mask is in her hands. She returns home to her loving mother, and settles in to share with her the tale of the evening. She is interrupted however, as her brother Noah busts in wearing the hideous face! And he can't get it off! The end.

What I Thought

It was really a matter of time until there was a Goosebumps book centered around Halloween. It makes too much sense for it to not happen. Having a mask that takes control of you is a pretty fun concept, even when done by the likes of Jim Carey. It's a pretty solid foundation.

Setting up Carly Beth as being a scaredy cat was something that worked. It could be a concept that would be easy to overused in Goosebumps but so far I haven't noticed that trend. Her embarrassment at being startled by the jerks she associates with gives concrete motivation to her character. Rather than sort of arbitrarily falling into a creepy situation, she kind of makes it happen by seeking out a thoroughly horrifying costume and taking it against the advice of the salesman.

I felt like there were issues towards the end though, which seem to happen in Stine's books. Arriving at a plausible cause for these super natural things is something that plagues all artists in the genre I think. The salesman claims to have made the faces in a laboratory, which is a decent explanation I suppose. It lacks a reason though. For example, in Stay Out of the Basement, the scientist father accidentally creates these monster plant things by playing with DNA to create new types of plants. That has a somewhat plausible excuse for the result. What on earth could the salesmen have been doing to create living monster faces that fuse to peoples heads? I think if it had a concrete semi plausible reason it might have added a lot to the book. Another problem is suspension of disbelief. Even if you believe that this guy could fashion living monster masks that fuze with people's face having them start flying somehow just pushed it over the edge of belief for me. It seemed more silly than scary.

One thing that struck me as kind of funny is the title of the book. The Haunted Mask is neither haunted nor really a mask. I suppose "The Scary Ass Scientifically Engineered Horror Face" wasn't as catchy of a title. Oh well.

I must say I am now looking forward to the sequel. Will it involve the same characters? Will it be the exact same mask or one of the other ones? Will the twist ending at the end of this amount to anything, or will it be forgotten? Time will tell, and I have plenty of books to read between then and now.

Rating: 3 Halloween Masks out of 5

 Up Next

Be Careful What You Wish For. I have almost no idea what this is about. Presumably a kid will find something that grants wishes and it will go wrong. Will it be a genie, a leprechaun, or other type of mythical creature? We shall see I guess.

And do you know what I wish for? More Goosebumps. My birthday is next month, so if you feel like giving me the gift of more Goosebumps books to fill out my collection and keep this blog going longer, feel free to wander over to my amazon wishlist. Don't worry, I'm not going to start going over board into conning you guys into buying books for me, I just thought I'd let it be known that I'll accept some help.