December 24, 2015

Goosebumps Most Wanted Special Edition #2: The 12 Screams of Christmas

Judging a Book by its Cover

It's Christmas time! And there is actually a Christmas themed Goosebumps book. I think this may be the first such thing and it was just released last year in the Goosebumps "Most Wanted" line. I actually checked this bad boy out of the library because I am adult who feels comfortable strolling into the children's section and prying a book out of the weak trembling hands of a child. Hah.

So anyway, in the back we have a very stereotypical haunted mansion looking building except it's been all decked out in Christmas lights. Rather festive if you ask me. Then we have a Santa hat wearing spook who got tangled up in his lights like he is Clark Griswold. Wait, maybe this is the Ghost of Chevy Chase from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation? One year he finally wasn't so lucky after falling off the roof, could it be? Nah, he looks a little too spooky. Like the ghost of a goth guy or something. Ghost of a vampire... Can vampires have ghosts? Like the ghost of a guy who hated Christmas but his family forced him to dress up all festively and then he hung himself with Christmas lights. There, I figured it out!

Anyway, what could this book really be about? Well obviously there is going to be a ghost. The ghost of Christmas past has already been done by Dickens. I am guessing it is the ghost of a guy who died on Christmas. Perhaps his family didn't show up to visit him and he froze to death in a blizzard? Or he seems like a Christmas ghost but is actually an alien because why the fuck not. That is something RL Stine would do.

Oh well. Let's Go. Ho ho ho.

Getting Goosebumps

Prologue: 1882. Wait, prologue? Since when have Goosebumps had prologues? Maybe that is what the "special edition"on the cover means? Anyway we start long ago. Twins Abe and Ned have stolen a red cap from their pesky little sister Flora. Ned is quite a jokester. They are like the Weasley Twins or some shit. It's near Christmas and their family has just moved into a big new house. They decide to explore the premises, and decide to go straight for the haunted shake. I'm not sure why a ghost would bother haunting a shack. Surely there is better real estate to haunt. Anyway it turns out the only thing it is haunted by is Ned joking around with a spooky voice. Oh also wasps. Hundreds of angry wasps. They manage to escape them and celebrate with what they refer to as a "Ned dance." Flora decides to join in on the fun in the safest spot available. On a well. Guess what happens. She falls in. Didn't see that coming now did ya? They try to send down the rope and bucket after her but it breaks. The prologue closes on her screaming "get me out" 12 times. Oh man, it's just like the title!

Now, to the present day! Now we focus on Kate Welles. She is trying out for the new school play. She hates Courtney because of... reasons. Also she can see ghosts. This is inconvenient as she is taking a shortcut through the cemetery. Guess what happens? She sees ghosts, just like the last time. Shocking. Now if it turns out that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time in this book I'm going to be pissed. Anyway Courtney and Co. refer to her as ghost girl because of the last time she freaked out seeing ghosts. That is probably one of the reasons she hates Courtney but she certainly didn't bring it up at the time. The ghosts are freaking her out as ghosts are wont to do. Mid freakout she is greeted by her friend Jack who is confused by her screaming. Don't your friends just randomly scream in the middle of cemeteries?

Well they go to Kate's house and she screams about there being a ghost in the house. But get this, it was a line from a play they are rehearsing. Oh RL, what a misdirection you've pulled off you rascal! They are doing a Christmas play with ghosts, like Charles Dickens... kinda. Mid rehearsal she screams because she sees a REAL GHOST that turns out to be Courtney in makeup. Naturally Kate is going up for the same part as Courtney.

So the leader of this school play is Mr. Piccolo who it is pointed out looks nothing like a piccolo. Which makes sense, because I can think of 0 human beings who at all resemble one. He begins by telling a ghost story. You see Cliff wanted nothing more than to be in a school play. He was ill but persevered to star in it. But afterwards no one could find him. After investigating it turns out he did the play AFTER HE DIED. OOOOOOO. And also he is in the audience there! Wait no, that's just Paco the light and sound guy. But it sure did get Kate embarrassed to get freaked out by it. Well Mr. P gives Kate one little task and she manages to fuck it up. He wants her to get the clipboard from his office and she gets locked inside. Eventually Jack shows up surprised to see her there. Courtney told everyone Kate went home. What a cunt. In an epic bout she battles with Courtney and they both fall down the trap door miraculously not dying. Impressive. Underneath the auditorium she gets lost and finds Paco who is actually a ghost! And there are other ghosts! And they want her to... sing. For reasons. When she tries she can't but that doesn't matter because guess what motherfuckers that was all a dream when she got knocked unconscious from the fall. Somehow, however, in this 0 tolerance world of ours neither girl was expelled. They were punished merely by having shitty roles in the play. Some disciplinarian you are Mr. P.

Part 2! Man this thing is broken up into multiple parts? CRAZY! Anyway this one is called 12 Screams. Apparently there will be screaming. 12 times. Mr. P wants them all to rehearse in an old abandoned house the town over. Because what is unreasonable about an adult man wanting to take a bunch of youths to a dark dank abandoned house away from their parents and the seeing eyes of society? I am going to go out on a limb and say this was the house from the prologue. The whole place is in a nice state of disrepair. Rotting stairs. Lack of heat. Vermin. Mold. A nice safe wholesome place for kids. Exploring the estate, Kate almost falls into a well. What is with wells enticing children to fall in them? Afterwards Mr. P rounds up all the kids and confirms that this is indeed the house from the prologue. And it turns out that since Flora's death they have been haunting the premises. Then there is a bit of a discussion about who does and does not believe in ghosts. Then a real treat, we are treated to the song from the play. In a parody of the 12 Days of Christmas they sing.

"On the first day of Christmas my true love screamed I see, a buzzard in a bare tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love screamed I see, two haunted houses and a buzzard in a bare tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love screamed I see, three ghostly spirits, two haunted houses, and a buzzard in a bare tree."

Beautiful. It is interrupted by the ghosts of the twins Abe and Ned. Maybe they just like spooky Christmas carols? If anyone would, it'd be ghosts I think! They finally spoke to Kate saying cryptically, "we'll be back, Flora."

That night while trying to sleep Kate heard someone whispering, "help me." Doing the only sensible thing to do in a dark dank haunted house she goes outside to see what is going on. It comes from the well and in it she can see a floating red cap. Suddenly he is startled by the reappearance of the ghost of the twins. They want her to be their little sister Flora and come home for Christmas. They seem fine with the prospect of murdering her so she can live with them forever and celebrate Christmas. They don't seem swayed by the pleas that she is not Flora. An irrelevant fact really. Luckily Mr. P comes out to see what in the hell she is doing. She wisely claims she was just getting air, as no one will believe her ghost tales.

The next day they go back to rehearsing. Mr. P demands a "crisper" performance. I don't know what "crisp" singing is. Kate has another freakout when the twin ghosts appear but naturally no one believes her. And in the world's most graceful stunt she runs from the room and right into a bookshelf knocking her unconscious. She should really be taken to the hospital at this point. Two bouts of severe head trauma in a couple days? She is probably concussed. The fact that Mr. P doesn't get her medical attention is almost as negligent as taking a bunch of kids out to a dangerous broken down old house.

Now Kate meets Ma and Pa who are glad to see their Flora finally home. They beckon her to sing Christmas carols with them, so she sings a ghastly one from the play. They don't seem to take kindly to it. She actually apologizes for offending the ghosts who want to kill her and have her live eternally as their undead sister. She apologizes repeated. Sigh. Then they pull out the worm infested corpse of Father Christmas. Lovely. Next they serve dinner. The skeleton of a turkey and a rotting dead mouse, yum yum! Then it was time for presents. They were so outraged Kate/Flora didn't get them anything that they threw her out the fucking window. Man, and I thought my family was dysfunctional around the holidays. Thankfully for Kate there was a slanting roof below the window and she was able to catch herself. But Ghosts are all floaty and incorporeal and shit so they fly out after her to continue the harassment. That is when she reasons with them. She claims she can bring Flora up from the well. Pleas are made for 2 days of preparations but the ghosts demand she do it now. Luckily she has a genius plan. In Mr. P's play based on these ghosts the girl is saved by them screaming "come up," 12 times.

Does it work? You're god damn right it works. Except Flora needs help coming up the last bit of the way. Why would a ghost need help climbing up a well? I don't rightly know, but she does ok? Kate tries with all her might but the little ghost girl is pulling her down into the well. How much could the ghost of a 6 year old girl really weigh anyway? Courtney the bitch comes to ol' Ghost Girl Kate at just the right time. Though she mocks Kate for believing in ghosts she helps her dangle down the well and pull up Flora. In thanks, the little ghosts lets Courtney see her, freaking her right the heck out. Now Courtney is the new Ghost Girl! They rehearse the play, and everything is right in the world for Kate. Except the Flora shows up and would rather live with her than her family. The end.

What I Thought

So first of all let me say that I think the idea of a Christmas Goosebumps is pretty fun. It doesn't seem obvious at first to make a spooky Christmas story but in the end I think it can work. I am honestly surprised it took him this long to do it (as far as I know this is his first one anyway.) It was also sort of nice that it didn't just use established Christmas characters. You could have just had an evil version of Santa. Or a mean Christmas elf. Or something.

Of course, as with any Goosebumps there are flaws. Firstly, why are the ghosts of the family haunting the house the same age they were when Flora died. Did they die immediately after? Did they not grow up and have lives of their own? I mean I could see the parents never getting over it... but the young twins? Why are they child ghosts? Didn't they get older, move out, get married? Did they die of grief or something? I don't get it. I mean, he could have at least said they all froze in a blizzard that year or something.

But like usual, it's hard to comment a lot on stuff you would usually comment on about books. The characters? They were exactly like every other Goosebumps character. Kate is generic preteen. Instead of playing Super Nintendo and stuff she goes onto Facebook because it is 20 years since the books of my youth. It still kind of feels like an old man writing about what he hears kids are into instead of knowing what kids are actually like. I mean for one thing you have to be 13 to be on Facebook. Kate is violating their terms of service!

When I started the book I skipped passed the page that mentioned it had a prologue. I was impressed that he broke from the norm and had a book based in the past. When it ended quickly and went to current times I was actually moderately disappointed. I mean, when it comes right down to it all these books are just too similar. Even though he does his best to vary monsters and stuff, you still just have generic stock kids that are 12 years old doing the same kind of stuff over hundreds of books. I feel like maybe it wouldn't be bad if he mixed it up a little bit.

As for the Christmasness of it? The song parodies in the play amused me, maybe for the wrong reasons. The practicing of the play and all that actually reminded me lot of the Phantom of the Auditorium. Including nonsense with the trap door. In fact I think the whole play part was maybe a little too much like that book. When it got to the abandoned house it got more interesting (if not questionable.)

It still comes down to the fact that after so many of these books for decades, he is still pulling off the same tricks. They just stop working after so long. You see the dream sequences coming. You know when it is a false scare. You know the twist at the end is coming. It can't help but not be fresh when he doesn't mix it up.

Still, even though it follows the formula pretty closely, it manages to be some festive fun.

Rating: 3/5 Festive Undead Beings

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good scare.