Reader Beware, You’re in for a Review!: The First Five Goosebumps Books and Their Adaptations

I have an appalling admission that is tantamount to a betrayal of my entire generation: prior to recently starting reading the whole series on a whim, I had never read a single main-line Goosebumps book.

I did read and love the first two of their Choose Your Own Adventure knockoffs, Give Yourself Goosebumps. So technically technically this isn’t my first venture into the series. And like every other kid from my generation the Scholastic Book Fair was easily one of my favorite days of the school year in grade school, but I tended to leave loaded up with nonfiction books and (shamefully) Garfield comics.

In spite of my relative inexperience I feel incredibly nostalgic for Goosebumps because it had such a powerful presence in the popular culture of my childhood and is so up my alley that it’s actually kind of weird I didn’t get around to reading them until now? If I had I’m pretty sure I would’ve gotten hooked. But it was honestly kind of enough just having it around, seeing those iconic Tim Jacobus covers everywhere. It’s so strongly associated with kids of my generation that it still feels like it’s mine, like it’s part of my childhood.

So, yeah, there’s… a surprising amount of emotional investment here for me finally making a point to read these. (And I’m planning on doing the same with Animorphs in the near future, because yeah.)

Goosebumps, #1: Welcome to Dead House by R.L. Stein

This was my first introduction to the writing style of the main-line Goosebumps books, and upon realizing that fully 90% of the chapter endings were ridiculous fakeout cliffhangers or jumpscares (jumpscares!!! in a book!!!), and it took me a while to warm to the fact that these were actually a part of the series’ charm.

One thing that I am relieved isn’t always a feature of these books is the self-gaslighting protagonist. Amanda is constantly convincing herself she didn’t see things she definitely saw, and so many instances of this pile up on each other that it starts to feel pretty ridiculous.

Aside from that I didn’t really mind the writing in this one, and like I said the silly fakeouts and jumpscares which I might criticize in another context are a feature rather than a bug. And this first entry in the series is actually super good at building a creepy atmosphere and eventually delivering genuine horror plus some shockingly badass stuff like zombies (or whatever they are) melting when exposed to light or their heads literally splatting against tombstones. Seriously, this goes hard!

But, yeah, the scariest thing about the book isn’t all the jumpscares, or the zombies (or whatever they are), it’s this completely inexplicable moment:

“Mr. Dawes opened the trunk of the small Honda, pulled off his dark blazer, and tossed it inside. Then he took out a wide-brimmed, black cowboy hat and put it on his head.”

I… what??? … what????????

(A-Rank)

Goosebumps 2×20 & 2×21: “Welcome to Dead House”

Yeeeeeah the book is wayyyyy better. The episode doesn’t really do a great job of building up a spooky vibe before revealing the truth, the subplot with the wreath that supposedly protected them from being attacked by the townsfolk was pretty silly, and the gore was toned way down because, y’know, kids show.

Literally the only positive thing I have to say about the episode that wasn’t something that was just imported over from the book is that the ending with Petey turning into a zombie (while the canine actor is clearly just super happy and thinks he’s doing a great job WHICH HE IS) is unintentionally hilarious.

(C-Rank)

Goosebumps, #2: Stay Out of the Basement by R.L. Stein

There’s a lot more tension thanks to the whole… parent being a monster thing, and the character writing in this is just way better than Welcome to Dead House in general. The one exception is the way the protagonists’ mom is written is just… awful. And the continuity writing towards the end goes a little off the rails and kind of makes it feel like Stein was having trouble hitting a page count?

I’m a big fan of plant monsters and finding people bound and gagged in a closet, though. So, y’know. (Though, if this really wanted to cater to me it would need way more vines and way more vorey plants, just saying.)

I think Welcome to Dead House went harder overall, but this was still a ton of fun.

(B-Rank)

Goosebumps 1×11 & 1×12: “Stay Out of the Basement”

This was overall a better adaptation than “Welcome to Dead House,” but still just doesn’t feel as compelling as the book. I think these first two stories were just pretty hard to translate into the confines of a low-budget kids show even if the letter of the stories was largely followed.

(C-Rank)

Goosebumps, #3: Monster Blood by R.L. Stein

This is pretty easily the worst-written one of these so far, but when the Monster Blood starts being an actual threat it is the fucking best, so I’m still pretty inclined to give it a passing grade.

Seriously, though, Evan is just the worst protagonist, R.L. Stein outs himself as an asshole ableist, and it takes infuriatingly long for the Monster Blood to be remotely interesting. Again, like I said, once it gets there it goes hog wild and I’m super here for it, but that doesn’t entirely make up for 75% of the book being like watching, uh, monster… paint… dry?

Aside from the last few chapters, the main saving grace of this book is Andy. She should have been the protagonist! Though, it’s probably easier to make a badass hero character be, y’know, not the narrator, so fair enough I guess.

Oh, actually, the other saving grace is the bullies just absolutely destroying Evan. Get that little prick!

(B-Rank)

Goosebumps 2×15: “Monster Blood”

I mean, the effects they use for the Monster Blood suck, but that’s kind of the best thing about this?

I kind of actually liked the creepy toy store from the book, so replacing that with having Evan’s aunt just kind of having the Monster Blood in a jar in the forbidden room was a pretty big letdown. And having Sarabeth be trapped in the jar with the Monster Blood is also a pretty unnecessary change that doesn’t make a lot of sense?

Also, no bullies!! That one actually makes sense because they weren’t really super vital to the plot or anything, and when you’re doing a one-episode adaptation it makes sense to cut extraneous elements, but given how cathartic them beating the snot out of Evan was in the book, it was sorely missed. (Granted, he’s drastically less annoying here.)

Unlike with the first two, I don’t think it would’ve been super hard for this adaptation to surpass the original, but that definitely isn’t what happened here. But don’t worry!!! Things are pretty immediately gonna start looking up.

(C-Rank)

Goosebumps 2×16: “More Monster Blood”

This episode fucking owns, omg.

“More Monster Blood” is a sequel to Monster Blood that isn’t based on any of the book sequels. So, the reason Evan was staying with his great aunt in the previous episode (and the book it was based on) is that his parents are going house-hunting pending a move to Atlanta. “More Monster Blood” finds Evan on a plane to Atlanta to join them there. But you know how the TSA used to ask all those dumb screening questions like did you pack your own bag? They forgot to ask him if he was sure his bag didn’t have any Monster Blood in it!!!

So, yeah, his bag has some Monster Blood in it and it basically immediately starts attacking people on the plane and it’s utter carnage and I love it so much you guys it is so much better than both the book and the more direct adaptation. The whole thing is just a total Monster Bloodbath, it’s exactly what I want out of this kind of story. Zero complaints.

(A-Rank)

Goosebumps, #4: Say Cheese and Die! by R.L. Stein

This is maybe the Goosebumpiest Goosebumps book so far. The concept is easily digestible, the cast is annoying and like twice as big as it needs to be… really the main thing holding this back from being the model example of a Goosebumps book is that quite a few of the chapters don’t end with ridiculous fakeout scares!

The overall idea of the camera that shows the future is one I’ve encountered in creepy scifi movies before, and it’s a decent concept and I actually think it’s executed super well here. The entire framing is very pulpy and Goosebumpsy, which makes it a lot more interesting to me than it would be otherwise.

Oh, one more thing. This family gets way too excited about their dad buying a Ford Taurus I think it was? Like, they’re acting like he got a sports car or something. It’s so weird, especially since R.L. Stein goes to the trouble of telling you exactly what kind of car it is like it’s a big deal. Just bizarre.

(B-Rank)

Goosebumps 1×15: “Say Cheese and Die”

What the fuck is that camera supposed to be? And wow, this makes some choices. Definitely the worst episode of the TV series I’ve seen so far.

(D-Rank)

Goosebumps, #5: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb by R.L. Stein

Well, hmm.

I’m actually tempted to say this is the most well-written book of the series so far, but on the other hand mummy stories are pretty much always inherently racist and this one in particular was clearly extremely poorly-researched and made me roll my eyes several times… but like, it’s still just fantastically well-written for a Goosebumps book? So, yeah. That’s kind of where I’m at with this one.

Gabe carrying around a “lucky mummy hand” is just goofy, though, and I don’t mean that as a compliment like I often do with this series. Truly bizarre.

(B-Rank)

This one didn’t get a TV adaptation, which I have to imagine will get a bit awkward when we get to Return of the Mummy which… weirdly did? But we’ll have to wait and see!

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying these so far even when they’re kind of terrible. As I suspected, it really does feel like I’m reclaiming a part of my childhood that I managed to miss out on at the time. I’m really looking forward to continuing this project, and doing the same for Animorphs!

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