With pumpkins abounding and the bite of frost in the air, it’s time to take a look again at that classic horror series for kids from the 1990s, R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps. For generations of fans, Goosebumps was their first entry point into horror. With plots running the gamut from ghosts to monsters to possession, no horror trope was off the table, and the series remains an excellent example of how horror can be reconfigured for younger audiences in such a way that its bite stays firmly intact. Goosebumps is especially worth a watch for both its storytelling prowess and creepy atmosphere. So if you want to curl up at home with these oldies but goodies, here’s where to start. And you can find them all on Netflix.
Before his face graced a million Hey Girl memes, Ryan Gosling was throwing it down horror style in this 1996 classic episode. Stine was clearly ahead of the found footage curve with this story of two boys who discover a cursed camera with dire results. If you enjoy ironic dialogue, this one is hard to beat. But its real claim to fame is its location, a seemingly run down house chock full of spooky yet appealing gadgets, which could easily double as a lair for a super villain.
While it tends to be mothers who get dragged for their poor parenting choices in horror, this episode refocuses that trope on the father. Margaret and Casey’s dad gets fired from his job and starts holing up in the basement. When the children sneak downstairs against their father’s wishes, they discover that their botanist father is not what he appears to be. The end result reminds children that you can never really know another person, even your parents.
The typical family vacation becomes atypical when the Morris family stumbles upon an amusement park where the monsters appear disturbingly real. With sets that up the creep factor and memorable scenes such as a runaway casket, this episode is a good example of how the series infused subtle comedy into its horror. It also confirmed for children that sometimes family time is a real drag.
As someone who at a disturbingly young age used to haunt the library in search of real crime stories, it is impossible for me not to love Lucy, a similarly obsessed reader of all things macabre. When she discovers that the librarian is actually a fanged monster, the stage is set for a showdown that ends in the most delicious of twists!
Less an exercise in the grotesque and more an exploration of the dangers of science run amuck, this story reminds me a whole lot of Neal Shusterman’s excellent dystopian series, Unwind Dystology. When Brian is sent to a “special” boarding school, he assumes it is because his parents are frustrated by his behavior. He’s right, but the training he receives is something he never could have expected.
As a fan of Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981), this episode evokes the horror classic by stressing the innate creepiness of cornfields and scarecrows. It also has some of the best characters seen in the series, as well as a legitimately suspenseful story arc. The far from happy ending, though, is what makes this episode especially notable. While the series usually defaulted to twist endings, this one is a notable exception.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of my complete and utter dislike of dummies, but the “Night of the Living Dummy Saga” severely creeped me out. Revolving around the exploits of a possessed eyed dummy named Spanky, this episode featured a surprise twist that taught children that there is no such thing as a happy ending: evil will always find a way to linger.
A trip to London leads two American tourists, siblings named Eddie and Sue, to Terror Tower. They get locked in over night and are forced to confront some especially angry historical figures who are out for blood. There are ample jump scares and an obvious emphasis on atmosphere that makes this one so scary that, upon first viewing it, my then seven-year-old cousin literally hid under the covers.
The ghost trope gets a creative update in this dark tale of fitting in. Amanda and Josh move to Dark Falls and are far from thrilled about it. Their troubles only increase when they discover that their new house also homes an array of ghosts hell bent on bringing them into the fold. Any kid who has been forced to move against his or her wishes will especially identify with this one.
The idea behind this one is classic horror. A cursed mask slowly attaches to its wearers until it becomes bloodthirstily real. Told from the perspective of Carly Beth, this episode plays with the idea of teen females feeling the need to wear a mask for acceptance. That the mask in question is grotesque to the point of distraction is an interesting social commentary that is hard to resist.