THS Fright-A-Thon: A Goosebumps (1995) Retrospective

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Horror in the 1990’s was a strange beast. You had the last gasps of franchises like A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, and the other famous movies. You also had new beginnings like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Final Destination. Those last two might not be as famous anymore, but they did an admirable job of holding the torch. If you were like me, you weren’t too into horror. Like the THS Fright-A-Thon review yesterday, going straight into the horror genre, especially for younger audiences, is daunting. You might have seen A Nightmare On Elm Street a million times, but that is still a scary movie for newcomers. Shows like Goosebumps changed that process.

The show debuted on Fox Kids on October 27th, 1995. It was based on the gargantuan book series by author R.L. Stine. It lasted for four seasons from 1995-1998. It was an anthology series that showed just how you could get children into the horror genre. Watching it back these days, some of the performances are bad, the effects are dated, but it still retains that Halloween spirit. Which is really all you could ask for. The show would still be able to scare and entertain kids these days.

The first episode “The Haunted Mask” ran as a special in primetime on the Fox network on October of 1995. It was viewed by 14 million people. That episode set the tone for the rest of the series. It included the classic horror tropes from literature and films. Let’s take a look at some of the best episodes of the show and why the show worked so well.

“The Haunted Mask” Is Still Atmospheric And Scary To This Day

Goosebumps
A pretty damn scary mask for a children’s show.
Courtesy of: Goosebumps

“The Haunted Mask” is a story of a little girl named Carly Beth who is terrified of being scared. She gets tormented by her friends and young family around her. The torment gets so bad that she decides to get even. Her grand plan consists of buying a truly scary mask to freak out her friends. She makes her way to the costume store that’s helmed by the store owner know as the Tall Thin Man. He warns her that he has no masks for her, but Carly finds her way to his back room. There, she finds the truly horrifying masks that he has. All the while, the man is pleading with Carly not to take one.

In a moment, Carly takes the scariest looking mask and runs, leaving money for the man. She uses the mask to scare he younger brother, and after he’s sufficiently terrified, she tries taking off the mask, but it sticks to her face. After a bit, the mask finally comes off, but this foreshadows how the mask has powers over Carly. It ends up fusing to her face, and she can’t get it off without an act of love. Eventually she gets the mask off, but she winds up finding her brother wearing the mask, and cries out in horror.

A Fitting Start For Children’s Horror

It’s not Carly running around murdering people. It’s not too fanciful with it’s explanation of how the mask works. It just tells a good horror story in a similar way to The Twilight Zone. The whole premise of the episode is Carly trying to get revenge on the two little turds who constantly terrorize her. It actually teaches kids a solid lesson about not getting even or being too obsessed with revenge.

What I like most is that when Carly has the mask on, she’s going around scaring people and doing traditional Halloween activities. You might not have gone around TP’ing people’s houses and going hog wild, but that’s part of what Halloween is all about.

The ending of the episode when all the other masks come alive and start chasing her is truly scary, even for me. If you’re trying to get kids interested in Halloween and horror, this is a perfect episode to start with. I can see why they chose this to lead the show. It’s one of the best children’s horror stories I can imagine.

A Ventriloquist’s Dummy Will Always Scare Kids And Me

Goosebumps
Slappy scaring the crap out of me, and children around the world since the 90’s.
Courtesy of: Goosebumps

When will ventriloquist dummies not be horrifying? Never? Who knows. But Slappy the Dummy is probably the most long lasting and iconic of the Goosebumps villains. He’s the face of the franchise. Even more so that R.L. Stine is. So this episode is about Amy, who gets a new ventriloquists dummy from her parents. When she receives it, she reads magic words that bring Slappy to life. Slappy then one by one starts ruining things that her brother and sister loves. The family is strange in this one, but it sets up Slappy being truly scary.

It’s a pretty small story that’s told here. It’s just Slappy and the Kramer family. Slappy starts roasting her family, and they all think she’s crazy. The episode ends with Amy’s old dummy destroying Slappy and taking over.

The idea of a dummy coming alive and taking over someone’s life isn’t foreign to the realm of horror. Goosebumps just does it in a way that kids won’t be too terrified by. It’s still a scary concept and one of the best examples of how the show did such a good job of inviting an entire generation to horror.

For more on Horror, Fright-A-Thon, or any other general pop culture, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.

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