Posts Tagged ‘Goosebumps’

(WARNING: Light spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned)

I’ve heard this book mentioned so many times in one of my Facebook groups. And when I heard earlier this year that a movie adaptation being made, I knew I would read it eventually. I downloaded the audio book from Audible and started listening over ParaPsyCon weekend. And I can see why it’s been mentioned so much.

Also, don’t let the goofy, Goosebumps-esque title fool you. This is a straight up horror story.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism chronicles the friendship of Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang, two girls of very different backgrounds growing up in the 1980s. During their sophomore year, after a night of partying, Gretchen’s personality and health takes a change. Abby, frightened and confused, worries about what is happening to her best friend. Is it drugs? Mental illness? Or something else? Something very evil and dark? Something that has a dark purpose for Gretchen, and for everyone else.

Damn! What a horror novel! And definitely up there with Stranger Things when it comes to decent 80s nostalgia stories.

The strongest point of this novel is definitely the relationship between Abby and Gretchen. You see how it first formed during Abby’s tenth birthday party, the ups-and-downs of the early teen years, and finally into high school, when both girls are at the height of popularity but also at their closest. Like it says in the opening, they are friends when the word can draw blood. And even before anything scary happens, the strong phrases and emotional writing centered around their relationship is enough to engross the reader.

And that helps pack a huge punch when things start getting dark. You feel Abby’s concern as she notices Gretchen’s condition change and deteriorate. And as things continue to get worse, you really start to worry. Not just for Gretchen, but for Abby, who becomes almost obsessed with Gretchen’s condition.

Speaking of which, you’re just as confused as you are worried for Gretchen. There’s a lot of ambiguity around what’s causing all these changes, and it doesn’t really get resolved until close to the end of the book. Even when it starts throwing clues about what actually causes the change, there’s enough red herrings left to confuse you.

The scares are decent, as well. There are plenty of scenes that made me cringe while listening. Scarier than the horror, however, is the terror of growing up and of interacting with others. Abby learns throughout the novel just how difficult the real world is, as well as how little help adults can be. And then, during a particularly bad section of the novel, Abby finds herself socially isolated and it’s hard to listen to. Even curmudgeons hate to be isolated from the rest of the world, so it’s hard for Abby. And for us, the reader.

I also liked how the novel approached the topic of exorcism and divine power. It was a nice twist on an old trope, and not just for being outside the Roman Catholic tradition (do you know how rare that is in and of itself?).

And as for 80s references, they are everywhere and they are neither excessive nor done tastelessly.

If there are a few things I can criticize, I thought the opening chapter was a bit of a fake out. And then there were some things about the denouement I wish had been different.

Still, I did enjoy this novel. On a scale of 1 to 5, My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix earns a solid 5. A dark and heart wrenching slow burn which will get you right in the feels, as well as the 80s nostalgia. I look forward to seeing how the movie adapts the novel, as well as reading Grady Hendrix’s other work (I just acquired his original novel Horrorstor). And in the meantime, I hope you’ll give it a read as well.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If nothing occurs between now and Friday, I’ll be back with a review of the next Conjuring film (lot of exorcism-themed stuff lately, isn’t there?). So until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Today I ordered an Uber ride from my apartment to the Drexel Theaters in the Bexley neighborhood for a special event. And there I saw something terrifying: the poster for Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. That film is horrible! I’ve seen clips of it, and it’s painful. And apparently the theater shows the film every now and then. And people apparently come to see it. That’s some dark, sadomasochistic stuff right there.

But I was really there because Gramercy Books Bexley was having a big weekend in honor of its opening, and the highlight of this opening weekend celebration was a viewing of the Goosebumps film, followed by a reading and a book signing with RL Stine himself!

Now if you don’t know who RL Stine is, what rock are you living under? Well, he’s the author of the popular Goosebumps children’s books, which are probably the most famous horror series for kids in literature. I’d read them as a kid, well before I knew I wanted to write horror, and was probably an early influence on me. So when I visited Gramercy a couple weeks ago (they’ve been open for a little while now, but they had their celebration this weekend. Kind of like a belated birthday party, I guess) and saw they were hosting RL Stine, I knew I had to buy a ticket to meet him. And I bought a couple of his books too, including some of his adult fiction (did not know the guy wrote adult fiction, but I was happy to purchase a couple books from him).

Sunday came. I enjoyed the movie (see my review of the movie from 2015), and was amazed by the mix of adults who grew up with the series and kids who were reading Goosebumps twenty-five years after the first book came out (yeah, twenty-five years. Time flies, huh?). I always thought Goosebumps was a phenomenon of the 90’s and early 2000’s, but it’s endured beyond when I stopped reading the books. Perhaps kids will be reading the Goosebumps books years and years from now, like how we read Alice in Wonderland and Anne of Green Gables over a hundred years after each book came out. I certainly wouldn’t mind reading them to any kids I might have in the future.


Anyway, the film ended. We waited as the staff from Gramercy set up a podium and microphone at the front of the theater. And then Mr. Stine himself ambled down the aisle, a hunched-over over man in a dark red shirt and dark khakis with large glasses and an amiable smile. He told us about how he had used to visit the Drexel Theaters to watch cartoons and old monster movies, the titles of which he said influenced how he titled his own stories. He also told us a story about how he actually might’ve seen a ghost as a kid (and which he hinted very heavily he made up for us), and then read for us some stuff from his upcoming book, Slappy Birthday to You. Hearing him read it brought me back to my childhood, I tell you.

After that, we all got in line in the theater lobby to get our books signed. The line was very long, circling around the lobby, and I managed to get into it around the circle area. After about ten minutes in line or so, I finally got to the table. And the whole time I was thinking to myself, “Don’t embarrass yourself, Rami. Don’t embarrass yourself.” His wife took my copy of Stay Out of the Basement, the book I’d decided to have Mr. Stine sign and which might’ve been the first Goosebumps story I ever read (I can’t remember very well, I think I was six when I started reading them). He asked me my name, and I said it, though I think he heard “Robbie,” given the noise of the lobby. He signed it, and then I told him what I wanted to tell him:

“I just wanted to thank you, Mr. Stine. I read your books as a kid, and now I write horror and science fiction. And I think you were an early influence of mine. I just wanted to thank you for that.”

Me with RL Stine himself.

Me with RL Stine himself.

He gave me back my book with a smile. If he said anything, I can’t remember what it was. Maybe “That’s nice,” or “You’re welcome,” or perhaps just “Uh-huh.” I think he’s heard that maybe a few times at this point in his career and that he’s used to it, but I was happy to have told him.  And I was allowed to take a photo with him afterwards, which you can see here.

I left after that, got an Uber home. Overall, I was happy. I said I’d felt like a child earlier, and in a way, I was. My inner kid was there this whole afternoon, from watching the movie to hearing and finally meeting RL Stine himself, feeling wonder and exultation at getting to meet this early influence of mine. That kid is often with me, reminding me why I write scary stories and powering the imagination needed to tell these stories. And I’m glad he came out with me today.

I sadly didn’t get Mr. Stine interested in reading my books, but that’s okay. I was just glad I didn’t embarrass myself by saying something stupid or offensive (I sometimes get a little starstruck in front of famous or powerful people, and that makes my logic circuit misfire sometimes). And it’s something to aim for, you know? I’m working on finding ways to make sure more people want to read my stories, and maybe someday one of those people will be RL Stine, along with all the other authors I look up to. I just have to keep writing and working hard and maybe someday all I dream will come true.

And I have four RL Stine books on my bookshelf in the meantime to keep me occupied. Definitely feel happy about that.

Thanks to the Drexel and Gramercy Books for making my weekend. I hope you can tell what this opportunity meant to me just by reading this post. I look forward to continuing to support you both in the years to come.

I’m telling you, I have been wanting to see this movie since I first heard of it, and it was killing me inside that I couldn’t see it when I was in Germany…or right after I got home. I was a fan of the books when I was a kid, and some of them even scared me so bad that I needed to take breaks from them. They were my King before I got into King. It really hurt me physically not to indulge in my childhood nostalgia and go see this film. But tonight my dad had some free time, and he was like, “Want to go see a movie?” So I said yes. And suffice to say, I was not at all disappointed (and neither was my dad, thankfully).

Based on the beloved series of children’s horror books by R.L. Stine (who by the way is Jewish, from the neighborhood I grew up in, and went to Ohio State. Coincidence? Probably), Goosebumps stars Jack Black as the author himself, living a reclusive lifestyle in the small town of Madison, Delaware with his teenager daughter Hannah. When Zach Cooper moves next door and becomes attracted to Hannah, he starts investigating the mysterious family next door and accidentally causes the monsters from the Goosebumps books–who are very real–to be released from their manuscripts and go on a rampage. Now Zach, Hannah, and R.L. Stine have to get the monsters back in their books before they tear Madison apart.

Let me just say, this was a movie with a lot of love and hard work put into it (unlike some other films taking advantage of people’s childhood nostalgia I could name). The story is very well written, and even has some twists in it that I didn’t see coming, and I pride myself on usually being able to see the twists in scary movies. The humor is also very good, keeping the mood of the movie light without getting too ridiculous or stupid. And the actors are just great. Jack Black plays Stine as a misanthrope who finds some way to steal every scene he’s in, while Dylan Mimette (who I’ve always liked whenever I’ve seen him in other works like Scandal or Agents of SHIELD) as Zach is funny and sarcastic and likeable, the kind of guy I’d like to hang out with.

The only characters I really had problems with are Champ, Zach’s friend, and Hannah, R.L. Stine’s daughter. Champ is comic relief, and while he’s funny as an awkward teen who just inserts himself into Zach’s life because…maybe he’s lonely and hopes the new kid is too slow to learn to avoid him? I don’t know, but the moments where the humor is a little much do come from him mostly, and he doesn’t contribute much to the story otherwise. As for Hannah…she’s just really there to be a love interest. And unlike River Song from Doctor Who, who was created for that very purpose, there’s not much to her beyond that role she plays. Her actress, Israeli Odeya Rush, is fun and gives off a snarky teen vibe, but that only does so much for the character.

Of course, I can’t forget the monsters. That’s the main attraction, the reason people who grew up with the books came to see the movies, because that’s what they remember most. Now obviously, in a movie that’s an hour and forty-five minutes and has to spend time developing characters and getting to the main conflict of the story, you can only spend so much time on each and every monster, which means a lot of them only appear in big group shots, but even in those you see a lot of work went into them. And for the monsters they focus on, they are great. Yeah, a lot of them are CGI, but even then they’re fun to watch. They make you believe they’re there and that we should be scared of them.  And Slappy the dummy, who leads the monsters, is like a little mini-Joker. He’s not the best villain I’ve seen on film, but as a talking dummy who enjoys causing chaos for chaos’s sake and to get back at Stine, he does the job well.

I could go over some other thoughts I had about the film, but I’ll leave that for the YouTube critics who around next Halloween will be putting out videos going over this movie with a fine-tooth comb. I think instead I’ll just wrap up by saying that this is a fun and wacky horror-comedy, earning a 4.1 out of 5. It may not get kids to read the Goosebumps books if they haven’t read them before, but it’s fun for the whole family and if you know the Goosebumps books already, you’ll enjoy seeing them on screen.

By the way, having the characters from my stories come to life is something of a dream of mine. I always feel like a parent to my stories and the characters within though, so I think if they did come to life I’d have a very different experience than R.L. Stine in the movie did. In fact, if I were to write a story about what that experience would be like, it might start something like this (#ExcerptSunday, anyone?):

The author heard his alarm go off and opened his eyes reluctantly. He wanted to go back to sleep, but today he really couldn’t afford to sleep in, even if he had the day off. So still feeling sleepy, he rolled out of bed, turned off his alarm, and headed to the bathroom. A few minutes later, teeth brushed and freshly shaved, he stepped into the hall, thinking about what he was going to wear and all the errands he was going to run today…when he noticed a tiger in the hallway.

The author froze. Even with his glasses still in his room, he knew what he was seeing. Tawny coat, black stripes, big face with whiskers and yellow eyes. There was no mistaking it. There was a tiger in his house. Am I dreaming? he thought. Am I still in bed?

The tiger padded towards him, its breathing heavy. Before the author could think how best to react, it stood up on its hind legs, placed both paws on either side of his head against the wall, and licked his face. The author, dumbfounded and amazed, could only laugh as the rough tongue scratched gently at his cheek. What is going on? he wondered, pinching himself to see if he was dreaming.

The tiger stepped down and rubbed its head against his stomach. And suddenly the author realized that this wasn’t a tiger, but a tigress. And even stranger, he knew this tigress. He knew her very well. After all, he was her father.

“Lizzy?” he said, hardly daring to believe. The tigress regarded him with intelligent eyes before turning around and padding down the stairs. The author wanted to call after her, but then something black streaked out of his room and past his face. He jumped as the black thing briefly stopped and formed a familiar body in the air before rushing down the stairs. Confused, the author went to his room, and saw someone had laid his clothes out for him.

For a moment, the author did nothing. Then he whispered, “Is this really happening?” Then, “Do I dare believe it?” Quickly the author threw his clothes and glasses on and rushed downstairs, where the biggest surprise of all awaited him:

The black shadow he’d seen earlier and the tigress were there. So was a wolf and a leopard. And scores of children, children he knew to be much more than they appeared. And a masked man dressed all in black, talking to a woman with green skin and pink hair. And a man with a gas mask, and a Grim Reaper, and a raven-like creature, and a hairless cat who sidled up to him and said, “Surprised?”

The author picked up the hairless cat, feeling like he’d ingested some amazing drug without realizing it, and said, “Very. How is this possible?”

The cat didn’t answer, but instead purred loudly and climbed onto the author’s shoulder. Moving through the sea of people and creatures, who all greeted the author with smiles and warm words, he made it to the kitchen, where a teenage girl in a witch’s costume made a plate with a Belgian waffle on it and a mug full of black tea float from the counter to his normal seat at the table. Sitting down, the author thanked the witch and dug in. It was delicious.

“So,” said a man in the doorway, whose face and body were half-transformed into a familiar-looking demon. “Today’s your day off, and we’re all yours till tomorrow morning. How about you blow off the errands and do something fun? Huh?”

The author thought about it as he took a sip of tea. He was aware of so many eyes on him, hopeful and expectant. And then a devilish smile came to his face. He knew just what they were going to do today.

When I was a kid, I read the Goosebumps books, as did a good number of other kids in my generation. Some of us even watched the TV series based on the books. Back then, they were, although not traumatic, pretty scary. When you look back at them now though, you realize that not only do they seem somewhat tame, but the stories have plot holes that only a kid would miss (like why haven’t the authorities figured out there’s a theme park that is being run by homicidal goblins and called in the National Guard?). Still, one tends to have fond memories of those books.

Which is why when I heard recently that there is a movie being made based on those books with Jack Black set to play author R.L. Stine (who happens to be from Columbus, by the way), I got a little excited. In fact, here’s an interview with Jack Black from San Diego Comic-Con on the movie, about a week or so after filming ended.

I’m certainly going to look forward to this movie. I’ll probably laugh at most of it rather than being scared, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something in the movie made me jump out of my seat. And when you add in the news that CBS Films had bought the rights to the Tales You Tell in the Dark books with the hope of producing a movie based on them and that MGM is developing an animated Addams Family movie, it gets me excited.

But these are kids stories. Why should any of us care? Most of my readers (I assume) are past Goosebumps age, and if any of them do like a good horror novel or movie or TV series, they’re more likely to read a Stephen King novel or see As Above, So Below when it hits theaters or try and guess what’ll happen in the new season of American Horror Story (I have a feeling most of that speculation will be wrong).

Expect this freaky mask, plus Slappy the dummy and a few others to make it into the new movie.

Remember in the video above, how Jack Black was talking about how his kids like being scared but they don’t like blood or any of that other stuff? We were all like that once. We wanted to be scared, but we didn’t want to have our heads messed up too badly (though mine was plenty messed up to begin with). Goosebumps, Tales You Tell in the Dark, or even Are You Afraid of the Dark?* were all like gateways into the world of horror for youngsters, allowing them to be scared while also allowing them to have fun. And getting a love of horror through kids horror is way better than a first exposure through a King novel or through watching Scream. Even when you’re an adult, those stories can turn you off from the genre if they’re too intense.

Heck, those books even helped me out a little. I remember once in third grade our teacher reading to us a story from Tales You Tell in the Dark that had me terrified and excited all at the same time. And later on when I got really into Goosebumps, they may have been getting me ready for when I would sit down and read Interview with the Vampire and later It, which were key to me deciding to become a horror writer.

So when Goosebumps (and Tales You Tell in the Dark and Addams Family, if they ever get past the development stage) reaches theaters, adults with or without kids will go to see their old favorite stories come to life on the silver screen. And if any of them have kids, they’l come along to, maybe leading to another generation of horror lovers. And maybe even the next generation of horror writers and filmmakers.

Well, that’s all for now. Join me tomorrow though, because then I plan to reveal what my next big project–which also doubles as my thesis for my senior year–will be. Should be exciting. Have a good night, my Followers of Fear.

*That last one I’ve watched a few episodes of recently. It’s actually got some pretty solid stories in that show. A few even resemble Stephen King short stories in the way they’re told.