I’ve mentioned on this site countless times that one of my all time favorite television shows was Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark?. The mix of horror and suspense no doubt hooked 8-year-old me every Saturday night. I recently discovered at my mother’s house, an old novella that was based on the show that I purchased back in elementary school.
That book, The Tale of the Restless House, was one of my favorite things to read at the time. Little did I know that pre-teen horror fiction was on the rise and it resulted in one of the biggest crazes of the 90’s.
R.L. Stine was an author best known for penning teenage horror stories. His Fear Street series gained quite a bit of notoriety in the early 90’s before the Ohio native tackled a much younger audience with his spooky tales. In 1992, Stine released his first book in the Goosebumps series titled Welcome to Dead House about two siblings who move into a new house with their family that’s inhabited by ghosts. Goosebumps were aimed at the pre-teen demographic from the ages of 9 to about 13. It produced books that freaked kids out and left them wanting more after every chapter. After the initial book was released, the series took off and would become essential reading material for every child who grew up in the 90’s.
Universally known as Stephen King novels for children, Stine’s Goosebumps drew obvious influence from the original Twilight Zone series, going as far as outright taking some of the plots from certain episodes. The stories of the 100 page books ranged from fantasy, horror, suspense, and even lighthearted comedy. In addition to tales involving spirits, monsters, time travel, there were also re-imaginings of timeless horror stories including the Mummy (book #5, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb) and even classic stories such as the Phantom of the Opera (book #24, The Phantom of the Auditorium).
I remember getting my hands on my very first Goosebumps book. There was a girl in my 4th grade class who was reading My Hairiest Adventure (book #26), which is about a boyu who starts to grow hair like a werewolf after trying a suspicious tanning cream, and the cover looked incredible to me. That’s one of the things that made Goosebumps stand out from other children’s novels, the covers were so awesome and bold. Anyway, I asked the girl if I could check the book out and she loaned it to me. I finished it in three days and noticed more and more kids bringing Goosebumps books to school. We were hooked and I needed to get my hands on as many of those books as I possibly could. I would order them from the Scholastic books club in school (remember those?), beg my mother to take me to the local bookstore, and even send away for them from the order form that was attached at the back of every Goosebumps book.
Certain titles were popular enough to get a sequel (The Haunted Mask), sometimes, a trilogy (Night of the Living Dummy) or even a four-parter (Monster Blood).
My favorite Goosebumps novel would have to be the ninth in the series, Welcome to Camp Nightmare, for its amazing twist ending alone. The story introduces us to a young boy who is sent to a summer camp while his parents are away on business. He starts to see that the fellow campers, counselors, and activities aren’t who and what they seem. Slowly, as the children are picked off one by one, it’s up to the young boy to uncover what’s terrorizing the camp.
Goosebumps eventually got so popular that it received its own television series of the same name. The show premiered in 1995 and took most of the popular stories to the small screen such as Stay Out of the Basement, Deep Trouble, A Night in Terror Tower, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, and yes, even my favorite, Camp Nightmare. Like Are You Afraid of the Dark? the show was produced and shot in Canada and aired in the states on the Fox network.
The show was similar in tone to AYAOTD but for the most part, it lacked any sort of charm or memorable scenes that the former possessed. There wasn’t any noteworthy suspense and all the characters were poor. That of course didn’t stop me from watching it every time it was on as a kid. I liked it when I was younger but thanks to Netflix, my adult self was able to revisit some episodes and true to form, none of it holds up at all today the way (most of) AYAOTD does. Two tidbits worth mentioning from the program: 1.) before television ratings were instituted, Goosebumps had their own rating of “GB-7” and warned viewers that the show would be too scary for children under the age of seven. I thought that was funny. 2.) Actor Ryan Gosling, who had also previously appeared in an episode of AYAOTD, had another one of his earlier roles on this show in the episode based on Say Cheese and Die!.
The last Goosebumps novel was released in 1997 (funny enough, the TV show ran until ’98) and R.L. Stine hasn’t come close to that level of fame since. He has tried his hand at other horror-themed books and Goosebumps related lines such as Give Yourself Goosebumps which were basically “Make Your Own Adventure” books with multiple endings and plot twists that the reader can choose, Goosebumps 2000 which was a brand new series trying to reclaim the glory of its predecessor, and Goosebumps Most Wanted, another fresh continuation of the Goosebumps name. Sadly, all these ideas had little fanfare but I doubt Stine is sweating it much since he’s still writing and releasing books to this day. Honestly, I think it was J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series that took over Goosebumps’ audience. It was mostly all I read as a kid though, so it’ll always have a special place in my heart.