Nostalgic Re-Reads: Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Night of the Living Dummy, The Girl Who Cried Monster, and Camp Nightmare)

Title: Goosebumps #7: Night of the Living Dummy

Rating: * *

GB 7 - Night of the Living Dummy

Like Monster Blood, Night of the Living Dummy is one of the central, re-occurring Goosebumps stories, but I am not a very big fan of this initial installment (though I am quite fond of the sequels). So what made this one so different? Character development is not a strong point for the Goosebumps series, but I found the main characters in this story were particularly irritating and flat. Night of the Living Dummy stars twins Lindy and Kris who find a dummy in the trash. Lindy decides to keep the dummy, naming him Slappy, and Kris becomes jealous of her ventriloquism skills and the attention that it brings her twin. To stop the two from fighting, the twins’ father buys Kris a second dummy that she names Mr. Wood. However, Mr. Wood isn’t a normal dummy, and he acts out violently, taking control of Kris’ acts. No one will believe her when she claims that the dummy is alive, so the sisters have to team up to defeat this evil marionette.

The idea of a living dummy is nerve-racking, and the Slappy and Mr. Wood characters are scary because they seem to be sociopathic, unkillable monsters. The part of the story involving the dummies doing evil things worked well because it is pretty chilling to think about strange, living dolls wandering around your house at night, destroying things and trying to mess up your life. However, I could have done without Kris. I generally do not have a problem with well-written, unlikeable characters, or young characters that act their age. Kris, on the other hand, just gives me a headache. She’s so intensely jealous of her sister, and I felt that there wasn’t enough pushback against her bad behaviour in the narrative telling her that she should just chill out and figure out her own way to shine. I know that the relationship between twins is unique, but one would think that she wouldn’t want to strive to do the exact same things as her sister. I also felt that her parents should definitely not have encouraged Kris to try and steal the stoplight from Lindy so obviously. However, if they had done that, we wouldn’t have had this story, so the awkward characterisation can be forgiven as it led to a particularly memorable villain.


Title: Goosebumps #8: The Girl Who Cried Monster

Rating: * * ½

GB 8 - The Girl Who Cried Monster

Lucy is obsessed with monsters. She’s always looking to learn more about them, and her favourite activity is scaring her little brother with monster stories. However, she talks about monsters so often that no one believes her when she sees a real one! When she stays late in the library one night, she sees the local librarian turn into a disgusting creature that eats flies! Though she tries all sorts of things to prove to her parents that the librarian is a monster, all her efforts fail, and he discovers that she knows what he is. Lucy is convinced that she’s going to get eaten when her parents invite him over for dinner, but the tables are turned rather quickly when Lucy’s parents devour the librarian before the rest of the community is alerted to the presence of monsters among them. As it turns out, Lucy is obsessed with horror story creatures because she is one!

The Girl Who Cried Monster is a solid horror book for kids. Lucy is a bit obnoxious, but within reason for a precocious twelve year old. The plot is a fairly typical one, with Lucy getting herself into all sorts of suspenseful situations trying to get proof that the librarian is a monster. However, it is the ending that really makes this particular addition to the series stand out. I did not guess that Lucy’s family were monsters, and it was a delightful creepy ending to a creepy story.


Title: Goosebumps #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Rating: * * *

GB 9 - Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Camp Nightmare is a strange story, but it certainly delivers in terms of scariness. This Goosebumps stars Mike, a normal 12 year old heading off to an overnight camp for the first time. However, his trip seems cursed from the start as the bus that was supposed to take all the kids to camp drops them off in the middle of nowhere, leaving them to be attacked by strange, dog-like creatures. They are saved by the camp director, but it seems that the troubles with this camp are just beginning. One of Mike’s campmates is bitten by a snake, but the camp has no nurse to treat him, and he disappears overnight. Slowly, members of his cabin fall victim to mysterious accidents, but the camp staff don’t seem to care. Mike finally decides he has to stand up to this callousness when the camp director orders the campers to hunt through the forest with tranquilizer guns for two run-aways. With this choice, he finds out he passed the test that his parents were putting him through in order to take him along on a scientific expedition to an alien world: Earth!

The idea that a camp could exist that is so careless towards the children that it is responsible for seems pretty unlikely, and as a reader, I was trying to figure out what the catch was from the very first few pages. However, with the twist reveal at the end, suddenly the callousness and neglect makes sense, even if the plot was a bit silly. Despite the ridiculous plot, Camp Nightmare is great for scaring younger readers. Camp can be a frightening experience at the best of times, and this story plays on those fears of abandonment and danger. Camp myths turn deadly, and Mike has no adults to turn to. He must survive on his own, and stand up against those who are supposed to be protecting him. All in all, this is one of my favourite books in the Goosebumps series.

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Nostalgic Re-Reads – Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Say Cheese and Die, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, Let’s Get Invisible)

Title: Goosebumps #4: Say Cheese and Die

Rating: * *

GB 4 - Say Cheese and Die

Say Cheese and Die is certainly creepy, but it suffers from some weak writing choices. In this story, Greg and his friends find a mysterious camera hidden in an abandoned home. Greg figures out pretty quickly that the camera takes photos of horrible future events, but the rest of his friends refuse to believe him and want to use the camera at a party. When one of their closest friends disappears after her photo is taken, Greg tries to take the camera back to its hiding place. There he is cornered by the man who has been guarding the camera for years. In a fight to escape, the camera accidentally goes off and takes a photo of the man, resulting in him dying in fear over what it would show. Greg stashes the camera back in its hiding place, but the book ends with two new kids finding the evil device.

The characters in this novel are dumb as empty film canisters, and the story itself is rather silly when you think about it. However, as a children’s horror book, as long as your suspension of disbelief is high, it can offer the reader a fair number of chills and gasps. The fact that terrible futures in the photos often did not happen instantaneously added to the suspense, though most of the time I was distracted by the desire to throttle the kids for all being so thoughtless.


Title: Goosebumps #5: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Rating: * *

GB 5 - The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

Gabe and Sari are the luckiest twelve year olds alive when their Uncle Ben decides to take them into an Egyptian pyramid dig. However, the archaeology project is plagued with problems that may be related to an ancient curse placed on the burial site. While Uncle Ben is trying to figure out exactly what is going on, Gabe gets separated from his uncle and Sari, and stumbles into a mummy making chamber that has been in use more recently than 4000 years ago. As it turns out, one of the men working the dig is actually a member of an ancient group of people who promised to protect this tomb, and this man tries to mummify Gabe and his family in punishment for disturbing the sanctity of the priestess’ chambers. However, Gabe just so happens to have a mummy hand that can summon mummies, and he calls upon its power so that he and his family can escape in the nick of time!

One thing I really have to commend this book for was the fact that it seems as if all the protagonists are racialised (Gabe and his family are originally from Egypt, and his uncle has a Middle Eastern name). Normally, I would have been incredibly uncomfortable to read about a bunch of white, American researchers getting threatened by traditionalist Arabic people, but in this case it was the slightly less problematic combination of “modern” Arabic people from the US being bothered by traditionalists from the old country. Still an issue, but not nearly as terrible as it could have been, and it is certainly pretty awesome to see that within the first five books of the series, R.L. Stine was diversifying his characters.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t actually make all that much sense. Gabe saves the day with a magical artefact that he bought at an American garage sale, and no one, including Uncle Ben the scientist, seems to have a problem with this. This was a text book deux ex machina ending, and readers didn’t even get a twist to end the story with!


Title: Goosebumps #6: Let’s Get Invisible

Rating: * *

GB 6 - Let's Get Invisible

In Let’s Get Invisible, Max and his friends discover a creepy, magic mirror that can turn you invisible. However, the longer you stay invisible, the colder you feel, and the farther away from reality you seem to get. When Max suggests they stop after realising that playing with the mirror might actually get them all hurt, his friends protest and refuse. After a couple of particularly long periods of invisibility, some of them come back different. Max can’t quite put his finger on it, but his friends are no longer really his friends. This becomes blatantly apparent when they force him to go invisible and make him stay that way for as long as possible. Soon he finds himself transported into the mirror where his mirror double attempts to switch places with him forever!

Like Say Cheese and Die, Let’s Get Invisible is scary in the sense that the mirror represents this strange, evil, malevolent force, but the characters themselves aren’t particularly bright. While kids often respond to risk differently from adults, it feels as if this particular group of kids have a risk threshold that could earn them a Darwin award. As cool as invisibility is, I don’t think I would risk the strange, chilling, sleepy effects of the mirror. On the other hand, I am an adult, and have always been pretty risk adverse, even as a child. So despite the fact that these kids were acting rather silly, the mirror is a very frightening antagonist.

Review – Will-O-the-Wisp by Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson

Title: Will-O-the-Wisp: An Aurora Grimeon Story

Authors: Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Graphic Novel, Mystery, Paranormal

NOTE: Review copy obtained via NetGalley.

Cover - Will o the Wisp

Synopsis

After her parents died from accidentally ingesting poisonous mushrooms, Aurora is sent to live with her estranged grandfather deep in the southern swamps. Not only must she contend with this cantankerous old man, but she must figure out how to fit in with the diverse residents of Ossuary Isle. When strange occurrences begin to happen, she starts to explore the realm of Hoodoo magic alongside a priestess from the swamp in order to protect her new community from a vengeful spirit.

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