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 411mania » Movies » Columns

A Bloody Good Time 07.31.14: The Ten Best Goosebumps Episodes
Posted by Joseph Lee on 07.31.2014

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

The San Diego Comic-Con came and went and while most people were excited about the Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice news, I'm actually kind of thrilled about the 2015 film based on Goosebumps. Sure, it does star Jack Black, but as someone who grew up with the book series, I'm glad Hollywood is attempting to do something with the property. That got me thinking about what my favorite episodes were and that led to this week's topic.

As a kid, my first taste of horror were the Goosebumps books. I began reading at an early age and once my family discovered that these books existed, I began collecting and reading them all. I still have quite the impressive collection today that I hope to one day pass down. The books were surprisingly well-written for children's books and they did have some scares in them, at least when you're young enough to be scared of a lot of things. Before I got into Stephen King in my teenage years, Goosebumps kept me reading. Surprisingly, I never really got into Stine's teen series Fear Street, which had a lot more death. Straight into Stephen King books, with my first being IT. No wonder I turned out the way I did.

The TV show came around when I was nine and as a kid, I saw that it was debuting in primetime. You see, Goosebumps in the 90s was everywhere. These days, no TV shows made for kids get primetime airings. Back in the 90s, it happened at least three times that I can remember. The first episodes of Goosebumps and Batman: the Animated Series had primetime debuts and Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers had a three night event. The 90s really were a great time to be a kid, I think.

I eventually stopped reading the books when I got into Stephen King but I watched the show until it ended. Goosebumps was my horror anthology show of my youth, because by the time we got cable, Are You Afraid of the Dark was off the air. I plan on doing a retrospective of that in the future as well, but it won't be through the eyes of someone who grew up with it. Sorry, folks.

With the introduction out of the way, it's time to countdown the top ten episodes of Goosebumps!

#10: Attack of the Mutant
Original Air Date: September 7, 1996

This one is more of a sentimental favorite more than anything else. Even as a kid I knew this was cheesy and just enjoyed it for what it was. It's a goofy superhero tale about a comic book supervillain that escapes into the real world and begins tormenting a boy named Skipper (what were his parents thinking?). Why you ask? Because he thinks Skipper is a comic book hero in disguise and he wants to take him out.

The best part of the episode is the fact that Adam West shows up to play The Galloping Gazelle, the hero of the "Masked Mutant" comic books. This was before Adam West was a regular character on Family Guy so it was fun to see Batman show up and mock himself. He did the same thing in an episode of Johnny Bravo (which is probably how he started working with Seth MacFarlane). In this case, the Gazelle is a complete coward and leaves the boy to fight the Mutant on his own. The episode ends differently from the book as Skipper becomes a superhero in real life.

#9: One Day At Horrorland
Original Air Date: October 25 & November 1, 1997

Can I just say that I'm disappointed Goosebumps was never big enough for an actual Horrorland theme park to be built? I would have relentlessly annoyed my mom into making it possible for me to go. HorrorLand is an amusement park with a horror theme, which is fitting because it's run by a race of monsters called Horrors. It's about a family who gets lost and comes across this park, only to discover the rides are a little too real and a little too dangerous. The entire story comes to a head when they are entered into a monster game show with their lives on the line.

The idea of deadly theme park rides is one that you'd think would be explored more in horror. It's kind of crazy that the only horror-related titles to really take on the dangers of theme park rides are this episode and Final Destination 3. The episode itself is obviously toned down for kids but the Horror makeup is surprisingly good in places (and noticeably fake in others, such is the curse of children's television). It helps that this was also one of my favorite books in the series. Oh and the episode might end with all of the characters dying. You know, for kids!

#8: The Girl Who Cried Monster
Original Air Date: November 10, 1995

This one follows a girl named Lucy who begins to suspect that something is off about her librarian Mr. Mortman. Sure, he's ugly, sweaty and kind of persistent about reading classic books, but he's not that bad, is he? Oh wait, he eats bugs (and turtles) and transforms into a hideous monster when no one is looking. Okay, that's a little worse. Naturally she tells her parents but they don't believe her. The rest of the episode is spent following Lucy in her attempts to get some kind of proof that Mortman is a monster.

The episode itself is okay, but it's the twist that makes it a classic in children's anthology horror. Mr. Mortman is invited by Lucy's parents for dinner after she continues to tell them what he is. Mortman asks them what's for dinner and they tell him that he is. As it turns out, her parents are monsters. Then they eat Mr. Mortman alive. Sure, nothing is shown, but that may actually be worse. That leaves it up to the child's imagination to see monsters with normal sized mouths eating another humanoid creature alive and screaming. I don't care if you played it as a silly kid's show, R.L. Stine. I'm onto you and your attempts to secretly terrorize the youth of America.

#7: Night of the Living Dummy II
Original Air Date: January 12, 1996

I always found it odd that Slappy's first episode in the Goosebumps series was a sequel. In fact, the first book he appears in, Night of the Living Dummy, was never adapted for the series. It could be because the first book is overall kind of dark for the series (the dummy tries to murder a dog). A more likely scenario is that Slappy was already the face of Goosebumps when this episode aired and children would have been confused by the fact that another dummy was terrorizing the family. Slappy started out as a twist ending in the original book.

Of course, killer dolls remain scary in the right hands. Slappy is more scary in the books than he ever could be on a kids TV series but they do try their best. They even get a smaller person to wear a Slappy outfit and chase everyone around so it looks like the doll is alive. It's obvious as an adult but kids can't tell the difference. As someone who knew what Chucky was and thought our "My Buddy" looked way too familiar, I enjoyed this for the kid-friendly scares it provided. Karru marri odonna loma molonu karrano!

#6: Say Cheese and Die!
Original Air Date: February 9, 1996

This is another story that I think could work as a straight-up horror movie. Killer cameras that have the ability to predict the terrible future (because they cause it) are another rare concept that could be mined for potential scares. I'm sure the result could be a lot better than what is presented here, but you'd have a tough time explaining to the audience why the hero keeps using the thing. The same question comes up here but at least he tries to take the camera back before it does any more damage.

This episode is also very notable for featuring a young Ryan Gosling in the starring role. This would be before he went on to star in another FOX series, Young Hercules (can you tell I was a Fox Kids kid?). I liked it for the concept, the look of the camera (which looks more like a toaster) and the crazy guy named Spidey. Fun fact: The man who played Spidey also plays the owner of the camera in a Are you Afraid of the Dark episode called "The Tale of the Curious Camera". I need to check that one out and compare it to this.

#5: The Werewolf of Fever Swamp
Original Air Date: May 17, 1996

I know what you're thinking. There's just no way a low-budget kids TV show in the 90s can pull off a werewolf, right? Wrong! Not only does this show have impressive werewolf effects, but it's one of the stronger of the series. In a common story element for these episodes, Grady believes there is a werewolf in Fever Swamp but his parents don't believe him. Even after he's seen the creature for himself. He thinks it's hermit that lives in the swamp. His parents think that it's actually his dog that's causing the string of animal mutilations (yes, there are animal mutilations...they're not shown) and want to take it to the pound to have it put to sleep.

Once again, the werewolf effects aren't just "surprisingly good". They're better than a TV show like this should have. I'm not trying to slam this show when I saw it's low budget or "for kids". I'm just saying that when your special effects are better than certain Hollywood efforts in the 90s (looking right at you, American Werewolf in Paris), then that says a lot for the quality of the show you're trying to deliver. They would have delivered crap and at least tried to make something better, even if it didn't always work out.

#4: Monster Blood/More Monster Blood
Original Air Date: November 16, 1996

You know what movie needs to get a reboot? The Blob. I know that it won't top the 1980s version, and I know that the blob will probably be CG and terrible, but I really want this story to continue. It's such a simple fear to portray. The thought that you're going to be eaten alive and digested by something that doesn't even have a form. Once you're eaten, you cause it to grow so that it can devour your friends and family. In the remake the effect is acidic and you melt almost instantly. I can't even imagine the pain and terror that you would feel in those final moments of your life.

Anyway, Goosebumps decided to create a monster like the Blob with Monster Blood. In the book series, the green slime is actually very popular and was in four books with different variations. Not only does the substance itself eat things and grow, but if you eat it, then you'll grow. If an animal eats it, it grows and becomes a danger to everyone. The TV series followed up the original tale with "More Monster Blood", which followed Evan's continued adventures battling the slime on a plane. So not only is the slime a danger in itself, but it could grow big enough to cause the plane to split apart, raining down the slime on everyone. That's a scary thought.

#3: Welcome to Dead House
Original Air Date: June 29, 1997

The first book of the series didn't get adapted until near the end of season two of the TV show. Welcome to my very first introduction to zombies. Sure, the zombies here aren't tearing anyone open and eating them alive, but they still want to kill you and make you one of them. "This is the dead house. Once a year we need new blood." Not only do they want to kill you, they need your blood to stay alive.

The zombies themselves, in the show at least, aren't really that scary. They're just a bunch of people in grayface. But the idea is scary, and sometimes with kid's shows that's all you need. Kids are more likely to use their imagination. It's been said time and time again, but your imagination can come up with way scarier things than Hollywood could ever come up with. This is a more atmosphere episode that gets a little silly with the low budget effects but it was still an enjoyable watch.

#2: Stay Out of the Basement
Original Air Date: January 26, 1996

As kids, you don't want to listen to your parents. It doesn't matter if their rules are for your own good, you don't care. So naturally if my mom told me to "stay out of the basement", I'm going to go down there. In this case, the kids' dad tells them that he has some serious work down there and they shouldn't mess with it. They go in the basement and find his unusual experiments with plants. Eventually, their dad begins to act very strange and even starts eating plant food. There's a reason for that. He's actually a plant clone with sinister motives.

This one is really memorable to me for the ending, which sees the experiment continue as flowers call out to the kids declaring that they're also their father. But the guy playing the father suitably hams it up when he has to act like a bad guy and it still holds up (kind of) as a sillier episode. I was never really clear on the plant's motivations. Did he want to make the children plants? Was he going to turn them into plant food and eat them? I'm sure it was explained but I haven't watched this in nearly twenty years.

#1: The Haunted Mask
Original Air Date: October 27, 1995

This is the first episode and it's the best. It's the scariest, the most well-made and the most memorable. It follows a shy girl named Carly Beth who wants to scare the kids who bully her and pretty much everyone else who treats her like crap. She goes to a mask shop and hates everything she sees, but sneaks into the basement and finds the scariest masks ever made. She steals one and that's when things go badly for her. The mask begins to be part of her actual skin and slowly turn her into an actual monster.

This is the episode that got a primetime debut (and it was one of several Goosebumps episodes to air in primetime). This scared me when I was a kid and it bothered me for weeks after. In that regard it's better than the book, as I had read the book several times. It's all down to the design of the masks shown in the episode and the fact they begin to come to live and hover in the air, begging Carly Beth to join them. Sure, it doesn't seem all that scary now but imagine yourself as a nine-year-old watching this stuff. It's a wonder I didn't pee myself.

Ending Notes:

That's it for me. Leave some comments here, on my Twitter or my Facebook. Next week, I explore another year of horror! The first time I did it, I looked at 1980. What year should I tackle this time? Let me know in the comments.

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

A Bloody Good Time: The Store is now officially open! Like this design? You can now find it on most of my merchandise! Click here to find shirts, posters and more!

For those interested in more of my movie reviews, I've created a new blog! Check out the brand new Not-So-Bloody Good Time!

And of course, if you want to know if I've ever covered anything or want to read a past edition, there's the Bloody Good Time Archives! Yes, you can finally read every edition of ABGT going back to the beginning! Just ignore my early writing style...I was new.

See you next week!


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