March 16, 2018

Goosebumps #37 - The Headless Ghost

Judging a Book by its Cover

That right there is my childhood copy of The Headless Ghost. It definitely evokes thoughts of Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman. Why do the headless ghosts always carry their heads? Can't they like, duct tape them on or something?

It has this kind of neon pink/purple vibe going on, both in the borders and in the picture itself. It is definitely competently done and is pretty much what you'd expect the cover to be for such a story. It lacks some of the kookiness that the more memorable Goosebumps illustrations have though.

There are some alternative cover pictures from around the globe. Take France for instance.

This head is kind of more zombie/skeleton than it is ghostly. It kind of makes me think of the cover of How I Got My Shrunken Head. It doesn't really fit the expectations I have when reading a Goosebumps book. It is simultaneously more serious, but also a kind of silly. It's hard to put into words really.

Unlike France, Japan is simply not fucking around with its cover.

Look at that! That is bad ass. That doesn't look like the cover to a kid's book. It looks like it belongs on a heavy metal album. It reminds me of some of the more haunting illustrations from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. It is absolutely creepy and revolting. Full points for this. It might be a little too serious and grotesque for how silly Goosebumps is but god damn is it awesome.

So what are we getting in this book? Certainly a ghost without a head. That much is very clear. All illustrations involved make it look like an olde timey ghost instead of a newer one. The American one makes it seem as though he'll be haunting a house. Will some kid move into a haunted house? Is there a spooky house on the corner all the neighbors warn him about? Let's see!

Getting Goosebumps

Meet Stephanie and Duane. They are known as the Twin Terrors. I think mostly they refer to themselves by this name, I don't imagine anyone else does. Anyway, they both look similar despite not being related and they like to go around town scaring people. Twin terrors. Got it? They adopted the spook life last Halloween when they got old enough to realize scaring people is cooler than trick or treating. Of course terrorizing the neighborhood doesn't have to be done just on Halloween.

Now the Twin Terrors find one place in town scariest of all. Hill House is a creepy old tourist stop that is, of course, haunted. Duane and Stephanie have been on the tour so often they know it all by heart. A sea captain built the house 200 years ago then left his bride to go off and sail. He never returned. Or maybe he did... AS A GHOST! He haunted his old lady up pretty good and scared her right out of their home. His ghastly calls for his wife Annabel where frequently heard but no one ever saw the ghost. Of course a haunted house with just one ghost isn't good enough. One hundred years after it was built the Craws moved in with their son Andrew. Andrew was... how shall I put this... kind of a dick? No one liked him, not even his parents. Long story short, the sea captain's ghost ripped off his head. Why? Well because Andrew saw him. That is pretty good grounds for ripping off someones head I suppose. Anyway, no one has really heard from ghost captain since and now ghost Andrew is the talk of the town. His head has never been found.

Anyway, back to the Twin Terrors. After a year of throwing fake plastic spiders on people while they sleep, they're starting to get bored. Stephanie comes up with a brilliant idea. They are going to go to Hill House and find the Andrew's missing head. Duane seems a bit scared of the idea, but ultimately decides to go along with it.

Inside they are greeted by their favorite tour guide Otto. He tells them the story of Captain Bell and his bride Annabel. After she fled in terror people in the city saw a figure that looked just like him holding a lantern aloft in the window. This directly contradicts the Duane narration which states that people heard his cries but never saw the ghost. I thought these kids knew the tour by heart?

Captain Bell and Headless Andrew aren't the only sad stories the house has to offer. Andrew's younger sister went mad after his death. She sat in her room playing with her dolls every day for 80 years. I hope they had a bathroom put into her room. Also, their mom tripped and fell to her death in the house shortly after Andrew's death. I suppose that couldn't have helped his sister's sanity.

Of course the Twin Terrors aren't here for the tour, they are here for the head. Duane has a problem escaping the tour though. Some creepy pale kid (who may or may not be a ghost) is watching them.Stephanie gives no fucks and drags Duane off in search of the head.

First stop, the green room. It's called that because it has green wallpaper. Clever. 60 years ago some people stayed there and got a horrible rash that never went away and no doctor could cure it. It just so happens that Stephanie is starting to itch horribly. How terrible, unless of course it's a prank, which it is. But don't worry she'll never prank Duane again and OH MY GOD THERE IS THE MISSING HEAD. Dammit, pranked again. In another room Duane checks out a bed and OH MY GOD THE BLANKETS ARE MOVING oh wait never mind Stephanie is just looking in the bed for the missing head. Man, that time she wasn't even trying to prank him. Get a grip Duane.

All this tomfoolery paid off though. They found the missing head. Unless of course it was actually an antique bowling ball. Oh damn, it was. Did you know they used to only have 2 holes with none for your thumb? Well now you do, thanks for that lesson Mr. Stine.

This calls for desperate action. They are going to the... TOP FLOOR! The tour never goes up there. That MUST be where they hide all the disembodied heads. Or where they keep all the ordinary house cats. Either way. Also cobwebs. I mean I guess these things are kinda creepy in a Halloween decoration kind of way? More rooms, more ghastly visages like... SHEETS COVERING OLD FURNITURE. Finally someone comes to get them. It is either a ghost or the tour guide. I'll give you two guesses.

So after Otto the tour guide shows them out they hear spooky voices asking about the head. All the find however, is the creepy blond kid from the tour. His name is Seth and he is in town visiting. Also, he wants to show them some real ghosts. Turns out ghosts hate tours and only come out at night. Makes sense I guess. They all make plans to sneak out at night and meet up there to see some real good old fashioned specters.

The next night at midnight (the spookiest hour of the day) they all sneak out. Immediately Seth tries for a jump scare prank but for once in a Goosebumps book it doesn't work. Inside Seth assures them that it needs to be dark because ghosts don't like the light. I guess maybe it hurts their eyes? Do ghosts have eyes? Immediately they contradict this by getting some candles? So I guess ghosts are ok with like... mood lighting? Or maybe they only like candles because they are appropriate the the time period they were alive in. I suppose electric like would freak me out too.

A new spooky tale is revealed in the kitchen. The dumbwaiter, it seems, is HAUNTED! The chef would put food on it in ye olden times the cook would put food on it and try to send it upstairs but when it arrived the food would be gone. Now my first thought would be that it is malfunctioning or maybe their are rats or raccoon in the house or something but nope it's definitely gotta be ghosts. Everyone knows ghosts are hungry all the time. Like Slimer from Ghostbusters. A creepier story for the dumbwaiter is that some kid was showing off using it for an elevator and when it came back he was gone. All that remained were three bowls containing various organs of his. Which is pretty gross.

For more immediate concerns though we look to Seth who has locked in our protagonists. Did I say Seth? Actually, he is now saying his name is Andrew. But... isn't Andrew the name of the ghost. It sure is. Stephanie points out the obvious. Andrew is missing a head and this kid has a head therefor, not Andrew. He explains that he actually borrowed this head. Sadly, he has to return it. He has a new head to borrow in mind though. Duane's. He needn't worry though. It will be returned when Andrew finds his own head! Well that's nice and considerate.

I guess Duane isn't down with this plan. The twin terrors scramble away and in the tussle reveal a hidden passage. Try try to escape via ladder but the wall it is on breaks away. This reveals yet another hidden area. A room. A room containing a ghost head. Andrew's ghost head. And then another ghost shows up. This ghost has no head. So the NEW ghost is Andrew, who turns out to just be pretty glad to have his head back and then part this earthly existence. So who is Seth then? Conveniently Otto the tour guide shows up. Or, as Seth calls him, UNCLE Otto. Apparently this isn't the firs time Seth has pretended to be a ghost. Wacky kids!

After all this Duane and Stephanie decide to lay off the spooky stuff. Of course they just can't totally stay away. After a while they return to the house for the tour for old time's sake. Otto was glad to show them around another time. When finished some police officers come to see what the kids were doing at that old house. The kids tell them they were taking a tour. How can that be, the officers wonder. There haven't been any tours in that house for months. It's been abandoned for awhile. Scoping it out, the kids see the ghosts of tour guides Otto and Edna. That's the spooktastic ending.

What I Thought

36 Goosebumps came before this one. We are in a little bit of a rut at this point. The formula for these books is pretty clear, and he's sticking to it. The books that stand out at this point, have to have some unique aspect. That is usually in what monster appears. A ghost in a haunted house just isn't that creative at this point. So while the book is as solid as a Goosebumps book can be, does the one with some ghosts in it really stand out among the living dummies, lawn gnomes, monster bloods, and haunted masks? Not really.

So what things does this have going for it? Well it has kids who love scaring kids in turn getting spooked. I believe that's call comeuppance and that is good stuff to read about. A tour of a haunted house is interesting. Usually when you have a haunted house in these things it's one that a family unwittingly moved into or one that has been abandoned. Having one so notoriously haunted that it has a tour but without ever having any actual evidence of ghosts until some kids go snooping. That's fun.

I can't help feeling he could have taken things in a more unique direction though. It's pretty much what you would expect out of a book called The Headless Ghost. He could have turned it on it's head (no pun intended) a little bit. Get a little bit unexpected. He loves his twists, but the "it was ghosts the whole time" is pretty meh.

Overall, this book is perfectly acceptable but not exceptional. If you love ghosts over other types of scary things, perhaps you'll really dig this one. Otherwise, it's just a pretty ok book in a very very long series of other ones.

Rating: 2 and 1/2 heads out of 5

What's Next?

I don't know! The next book of the original series is The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena. But frankly I'd like to do something different. What? I don't know. There are a fair amount of options. I have several books for other series in Goosebumps. Any thoughts? Leave a comment on what Goosebumps stuff you'd like me to review next. Until then, thanks for reading, and catch ya next time.