RETROSPECTIVE: GOOSEBUMPS

It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago the first Goosebumps books hit the shelves.  Now, they’re still popular and causing more young people to turn into horror fiends.  Rhiannon Irons, a.k.a Ahlephia, here with a special look back at the books and TV show that came out of the mind of R.L. Stine.  Reader beware….you’re in for a scare….

Goosebumps is a series of children’s horror fiction novellas created and authored by R. L. Stine. And I have to say, when it came to reading, nothing was cooler than pulling out a Goosebumps book from your back pack.

With sixty-two titles published under the Goosebumps umbrella title from 1992 through to 1997, Goosebumps was a series that every young child could relate to. The first book, Welcome To Dead House, started the craze and the last title was the fourth instalment of Monster Blood, aptly named Monster Blood IV.

From the moment I picked up The Werewolf Of Fever Swamp, I was hooked. Now, I admit that I’m not much of a reader. In fact, I came to loathe reading. But Goosebumps changed all that for me and I often found myself hiding under the covers of my bed with a little flashlight so I could enjoy the chilling tales that came out of the creative mind of R.L. Stine. (Fun Fact: It was because of R.L. Stine and Stephen King that made me want to peruse writing as a career)

So, why were Goosebumps so successful?

When you were a child, you wanted to do just what the older kids did. You wanted to follow your big brother to the skate park or into an R rated movie. You wanted to play around with your older sister, putting on her make-up and talking about boys (without using the term ‘cooties’). And, let’s face it, we’re all attracted to the dark side in one way or another. We all love to be scared to some degree. Cue Goosebumps.

Goosebumps were written with children in mind. All of R.L. Stine’s main characters were 12 years old. Most of them had siblings that were terribly annoying and all of the stories had a fantastic adventure gripping with fear that was a perfect introduction into the world of horror. Creepy, but not too scary, allowing the imagination of the reader to take full control. And then when the ‘Give Yourself Goosebumps’ series came out (choose your own adventure styled stories) the reader really did become part of the adventure.

Despite the far-fetched tales (like a camera that predicts a terrible fate like the one in Say Cheese And Die!), the Goosebumps series were easily relatable for children. From school bullies, to taunting siblings to parents that just don’t understand you, Goosebumps was like looking into a mirror (just without turning you invisible) and kids loved it.

They loved the stories of adventure. They loved the characters, whether they were the mains or the snobs, or even something monstrous. Children loved the hairs on the back of their necks standing on end when they got the to cliffhanger in stories like Ghost Beach, The Barking Ghost or Attack Of The Mutant.

R.L. Stine was the hottest author around when I was growing up. If the Goosebumps series didn’t suck you in, then Fear Street did. Fear Street was aimed at an older audience but still provided the chills we had come to love from Stine’s warped mind.

So, when Goosebumps went from book form to TV show in 1995, everyone was super excited to see their favourite reads come to life. The TV show ran for four seasons, finishing in 1998, but during that air time became one of the most popular shows on television. To this day, in some countries, reruns are shown, providing new generations with mild scares.

Watching the stories come to life was amazing. To this day I’ve still got the wiggins thanks to Slappy the dummy (there’s just something unnerving and evil about ventriloquist dummies), while The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight and The Werewolf Of Fever Swamp still stick in my mind as being the two scariest episodes.

But my favourite episode has to be the Phantom Of The Auditorium. I loved the book and the episode was just outstanding.  Probably because I was a bit of a drama queen back then.  (Fun Fact: Comedian Kathy Greenwood plays the teacher in charge of the production, Mrs. Walker)

Phantom Of The Auditorium was about a cursed play being put on 72 years after it was first attempted. The boy who played the Phantom originally disappeared the night of the performance. The play was locked away in the school vault, in hopes that no one would have to be reminded of the tragedy behind the words. Then of course, it all goes pear shaped when the play is retrieved and is put on by the current class. Strange things happen, sets fall, terrifying words are painted on doors, warning everyone to get out. Then the night of the performance comes to life only to have the real Phantom take to the stage instead of Zeke Matthews, the current Phantom.

The one thing I am grateful for is how accurate the TV show to the books. Yes, at times there were some inconstancies (like with all movie adaptations from books) but over all the show was very faithful to the original story.

Now, with Columbia Pictures acquiring rights to create a Goosebumps movie, it looks as though the chills will continue for a few more years. R.L. Stine’s legacy will continue to live on, especially considering that the original books are being reprinted for a whole new generation.

So, join in the fun of One Day At Horrorland, Welcome To Camp Nightmare and Calling All Creeps. Goosebumps are here to stay.

I just hope that Slappy doesn’t make an extra appearance….

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