I should look back at Goosebumps books and think they are silly. After all, they are tiny novels dedicated to scaring children, but having read more than a dozen growing up, a few still leave me uneasy when I think about them. Of course, this probably has a lot to do with the fact that I haven’t read them in a little over a decade, but I digress. There are a couple that remain legitimately scary in my mind. In the interest of writing and the sweet feeling of nostalgia, I’ve decided to determine why.
Stay out of the Basement
I reserve the right to still be scared shitless at a book about a father turning himself into a man/plant hybrid in his basement. One of the scariest things a close relative can do, in my mind, is slowly morph themselves into something else via scientific experiments. Imagine how freaked out you would be if you saw leaves growing out of your dad’s scalp or him eating fertilizer out of a bag! This was the second Goosebumps book published and, holy hell, does it not pull any punches. I honestly cannot think of a good reason why this one wouldn’t legitimately scare adults equally. A few of these entries will be more of a “it’s not you it’s me” situation, but me still being afraid of this one is definitely its fault.
Also, I could have sworn it ended the following way, and I just went on the Goosebumps wiki page for it to check. The kids find their dad in the basement with a clone of himself, and they stab each one, and kill the one that bleeds green instead of red (which is way too intense for a kids’ book). But scarier yet, a week later, the dad decides to burn all of his plants, and the daughter gets poked by a small shrub and it whispers, “Help me… I’m your real father.” The fuck is wrong with you R.L.? I was like eight! I did not need to hear a story that ended in an impostor father setting a real father (who was now a plant) on fire! I’m fine being scared, but my elementary school self needed a happy ending.
Let’s Get Invisible!
A mirror that makes you turn invisible? How cool! There is no way this book could turn out in such a way that causes eight year-old Jake to question everything he knows about reality!
Of course, I was very wrong, as the meaty part of the book has very little to do with actually getting invisible. There’s this mirror that when you turn off the light in front of it, you go invisible. Then you get weaker the longer you stay invisible, and turning the light back on brings you back. What that description of the physics of this book neglects to tell you is that HOLY SHIT IF YOU STAY INVISIBLE TOO LONG THE “MIRROR” VERSION OF YOU WILL REPLACE YOU IN THE REAL WORLD AND YOU WILL BE STUCK IN THE MIRROR FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. The main character’s friends, who are children, mind you, get legitimately replaced by their mirror versions. These kids are going to go back home to their families and not be the same children they were when they left. My god.
As with many Robert Lawrence Stine, books, the scariest bit is the end, after the main character’s brother Lefty breaks the mirror right before the mirror version of the main character is about to replace him. Then, in the resolution, the main character of the book and Lefty are playing catch and, yes, you guessed it, the last line is “Lefty was throwing right-handed.” So great. This ten year old kid is gonna have to live the rest of his life knowing that his real brother is trapped in the mirror for eternity, and that the kid he has to live with is some nefarious spirit from another dimension because he was fooling around with an old mirror. I am not being glib when I say that this kid probably will commit suicide in the next few years. I don’t know if I’d be able to live like that.
The Ghost Next Door
Luckily, the one thing you never had to worry about when reading Goosebumps books was children dying. Oh, except when you do, because there is a dead child in this one. I don’t know if this one scared me so much as it did make me question every single thing around me for a week. If I recall correctly, this was the first Goosebumps book I ever read, and I was definitely too young for the existential questions it brought about.
Long story short, the main character thinks that her neighbor is a ghost because he claims to be in the same grade she is in, but doesn’t know any of the same people. As it turns out, the main character is actually a ghost who died five goddamn years ago in a fire! And she’s only back from the spirit realm to save her neighbor (I think his name was Danny) from a fire so the shadow version of Danny doesn’t take his place in the real world. The whole shadow Danny nonsense didn’t make much sense to me, but the idea that I might wake up one day with no recollection of dying, but actually being a ghost, was terrifying to me. That’s why I ask someone to try to put their hand through my chest every morning.
How to Kill a Monster
Lemme state for the record that this book contains the two worst grandparents in the history of fiction. They straight-up lock their grandkids in their giant house with a massive swamp monster in one of the rooms. What kind of monster, you ask? A green swamp monster with the body of a gorilla and the head of an alligator. How irresponsible do you have to be? And it’s not like these kids live with their grandparents all the time. They were dropped off there while their parents were on vacation. Why did they not have the decency to say, “Hey, we’d love to take the kids, but we lowkey have a monster on the premises, so it seems pretty unsafe.”
They manage to escape the house with the monster in it, but then they learn that the surrounding swamp is filled with monsters just like it, which is just dumb on the grandparents’ part. One word: move. If the spiders around my house are too big I’d relocate! I’m now always suspicion of locked doors in all of my extended family members’ houses. You can never be sure if someone is housing a swamp monster.
This is the entire reason I wrote this list, and I will freely admit that this one is my fault. If I were to reread it today, I would probably laugh at myself for ever finding it scary, but holy shit, did I find it scary. I can vividly remember being in fourth grade and sitting on my bed, virtually catatonic after reading this book. You know how I mentioned earlier that there are few things as scary as a close family member slowly morphing into something else? One thing that is scarier is you, yourself morphing into something else, whether through scientific experiment, curse, or being born a merman (a la that Frankie Muniz movie). In this case, a brother and sister are cursed by a witch, for a reason I don’t remember, that makes them slowly turn into chickens.
Why did I find this so scary? Imagine how terrified you would be if you were like 11 years old, and you found feathers growing out of your legs, and when you told your parents about it, they didn’t believe you. You try to speak and you can’t because your lips have transitioned from being chapped to being more of a beak. And then what if you can’t break the spell? You have to live the rest of your life as a chicken. How terrifying is that?! If I recall correctly, the siblings barely manage to break the spell just before they lose their ability to function as humans at all, which had my heart racing for a good hour. Believe me, I’m easily scared, but you would make me shit my pants if you put a bunch of feathers around my legs when I was sleeping.
I assume I’m not alone in feeling the residual scars of Goosebumps books, so let me know which ones you still think about. And check out the rest of PopCultureDeepDive.com.
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