Remembering the TV Adaptation of R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps”

As one of the most popular horror authors of the 1990’s who penned two very popular series of horror novels “Goosebumps” and “Fear Street,” author R.L. Stine had a humongous influence on kids everywhere. He helped introduce many to the joys of spine-tingling horror and tongue-in-cheek mystery, as well as the art of storytelling. “Goosebumps” and “Fear Street” thrived on creating unique and realistic protagonists, along with introducing genuine plot twists and ironic endings that channeled Rod Serling and Richard Matheson. “Goosebumps” books a hallmark of school book fairs and local libraries across the country, and as a horror buff myself, I can attest to cutting my teeth on everything the man wrote at the time.

I read everything that I could find by him when I was in middle school, and I was always chasing the next chapter of his “Goosebumps” anthology novels. One of the things I loved most about Stine’s books is that he never talked down to his audience and met them eye to eye, which is probably why so many people my age embraced his work. Sure, he wrote PG rated horror novels, but they’re among some of the most inventive horror yarns you’re likely to find outside of “adult” novelists like Stephen King, Clive Barker, or Ray Bradbury. I must have re-read the second “Goosebumps” novel “Stay Out of the Basement” at least three times, which says a lot for someone who had to have his arm twisted to read anything when he was a child.

With the rabid success it was only a matter of time until studios took notice and a television adaptation of the Goosebumps series soon followed. Premiering on October 27, 1995 as part of the US afternoon line-up FOX Kids, Goosebumps kicked things off with one of the more notable tales from Stine’s cannon, “The Haunted Mask.” The two-part episode involves young Cary Caldwell (Kathryn Long), who buys a Halloween mask from a local store and is warned by the store owner (famed character actor Colin Fox) that if she wears the mask more than three times, she’ll begin to get possessed by it.

Naturally, Caldwell doesn’t heed the advice of the shopkeeper and the mask begins transforming Caldwell in to a vicious monster. Other notable episodes include “The Girl Who Cried Monster,” about a young girl prone to spinning tall tales who suspects that her local librarian is in fact a monster. There’s “Night of the Living Dummy,” where a young girl named Amy is given a ventriloquist dummy named Slappy with a nasty attitude, “Be Care What You Wish For…” in which another young girl is granted three wishes by a mysterious amulet that gives her good fortune, but causes pain for everyone else; and “Calling All Creeps!,” the tale of a bullied kid named Ricky who arouses the attention of three aliens masquerading as school students who confuse him for their commander.

Suffice to say, if you like your Stine stories a little bleak, these are the episodes to watch (especially “Calling All Creeps!”). One of my fondest childhood memories involves my little sister being reduced to tears during “Night of the Living Dummy” and “Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes” episodes. You might think it’d be hard to take Stine’s novels and conjure up the same magic on to television, but Goosebumps managed to accomplish the feat, sticking to what made the novels so accessible right down to the monster designs.

And though the series garnered a pretty small budget, it perfectly evoked a lot of Stine’s more notable installments from the Goosebumps label for young audiences. Even the opening credits—involving the man in black releasing pages from Stine’s books onto an unsuspecting populace and spreading the terror—cemented the anthology series as its own breed of horror. The energy and genuine novelty of the show was absolutely infectious and, thankfully, the series paid great respect to the original novels.

With every episode you were guaranteed some decent scares, a lot trademark R.L. Stine dark humor and a surprise ending that would almost always leave you dumbstruck. “Goosebumps” still gets mentions for featuring future stars like a young Ryan Gosling (who’d later return to FOX playing a young “Hercules”), Hayden Christensen, Scott Speedman, Laura Vandervoort, Kevin Zegers (who’s since starred in a ton of horror based film and TV projects), Katharine Isabelle (also now known for her work in horror based film and TV projects) and Caterina Scorsone, respectively.

“Goosebumps” is still compared to this day to Nickelodeon’s “Are you Afraid of the Dark?” and while I’d the latter any day of the week over the former, FOX did a bang up job conjuring Stine’s energy and vibe. There’s nothing really that can top R.L. Stine’s original novel series from 1992, but “Goosebumps” is still a strong kid friendly horror anthology that will assuredly help provoke imagination and builds some creative monsters that helped identify with children, turning them in to protagonists we could root for and sympathize with. I wish more modern kids could get their exposure to Stine and his series, as he helped influence so many horror buffs, including yours truly.