Saturday, October 1, 2016

Recap: Goosebumps "The Haunted Mask Part 1"

To the surprise of probably no one, I read the Goosebumps books as a kid. Most boys I knew in elementary school did. And I distinctly remember that my third grade teacher actively discouraged the girls from reading them. She desperately wanted all the girls in the class to get interested in The Boxcar Children, or American Girls, or the one with that club of babysitters. I think it was Dear America...?

But when I was growing up, the Goosebumps craze was at its height, shortly before a certain 11-year-old wizard changed the face of children's lit. And actually, since I grew up in Nowhere, Michigan, the Goosebumps fad actually faded away earlier for my classmates than it did elsewhere. Mainly because we had the moderately tamer Michigan Chillers books riding that wave and stealing that thunder.

C'mon, Hollywood, I wanna see me some Kreepy Klowns of Kalamazoo.
When writing the Goosebumps books, R.L. Stine was inspired by the classic pulp horror tales by EC Comics. You might now recognize the company, but you might recognize their most famous work, the Tales from the Crypt franchise. And with Goosebumps, Stine continued the tradition of easily-consumable readables. Nothing meant to win any literary awards, but simply meant to keep you entertained; the children's version of a spy novel, or a Harlequin romance.

Now... I wasn't the bravest kid out there. I'll admit that right now. When I was in preschool, the scariest thing I could think of was the dancing trees in the Disney sing-along for "Grim Grinning Ghosts."

I didn't know they were trees; I thought they were many-angled creatures beyond human comprehension.
So when I entered elementary school, while I could read the books with no problems, the show terrified me.

Unleashing the haunted manuscripts was not an accident, R.L. Stine. You can't fool me.
Especially the shadowy letter "G," flying around, spreading misery and evil in its path like some sort of emissary of the dark ones, warping all creatures in its path into vile minions....

...It was scary as a kid, okay?
But now that I'm in my twenties, I'm confident in my ability to finally take a look at this show meant for children. And it starts with one of the most iconic books in the series, "The Haunted Mask."

So without further ado, let's get some Goosebumps.
The episode opens up with a small introduction before the story proper, as do all the Halloween specials.

R.L. Stine: "Hello. I'm R.L. Stine. I write the Goosebumps books."

What? You look nothing like Jack Black.

R.L. Stine: "In a few minutes, you're going to see one of my favorite stories come alive."

You're going to be talking to us for "a few minutes"?

R.L. Stine: "'The Haunted Mask' is a frightening Halloween story about a girl named Carly Beth. The horror begins when Carly Beth puts on the evil haunted mask, and it ends when she discovers there is nothing more powerful than the love of her family and friends."

Dude, just write the books. Recapping them is my job, thank you very much.

"At least my job pays."
Touché.

R.L. Stine: "What's so scary about that? You'll see. Viewers beware. You're in for a scare."

So the episode really begins with two girls walking around town at night. You might be wondering what kind of parents would let their kids walk around town when it's pitch black, but remember. This was filmed in Canada.

In Canada, home invaders don't steal anything, they bake you a pie just to brighten your day.
Being a Michigander, I adore Canada. It reminds me of home. So I'd like to apologize in advance for poking fun at your wonderful country and accent for about seventy episodes.

Anyway, these two girls have spotted a brand-new store on the street, just in time for Halloween. I'd assume it was a Halloween USA, but I don't think they have those anywhere but Michigan and Ohio.

They take a look at the new "Novelty Shop" and find a bunch of spoopy masks inside. But Sabrina (Kathryn Short) reminds Carly Beth (Kathryn Long) that they're not wandering through town in the middle of the night just to look at a new store. They've got work to do.

Sweet Tommy Wiseau mask, though.
Still, that doesn't stop the creepy store owner (Colin Fox) from watching them leave. Ladies and gentlemen, we are two minutes and thirty seconds into the first episode, and we already have our first creepy adult! That didn't take long.

See, this is why you should never leave your Colin Mochrie sitting out for too long. They rot quickly.
As Creeper McCreepington continues to creep, Sabrina and Carly Beth soon arrive at their destination: the pumpkin patch.

Sabrina: "Why'd you have to wait 'til the last minute to get a pumpkin?"

"Because if you wait until the guy running the place goes to bed, you can get pumpkins for free."
Carly Beth: "Why does it have to be so creepy oot here?"

2 minutes and 47 seconds in, and the show can no longer hide its true colors. White and red, with a maple leaf smack dab in the middle.

Carly Beth: "Do you hear breathing?

Yeah, you're both doing it.

Carly Beth: "I thought I heard footsteps...."

Yeah, you're both making them.

Sabrina: "I think you're right. Somebody's eut there. Somebody... or something."

Sabrina takes the opportunity to scare her friend by suddenly grabbing her shoulder, which gives us our first instance of a child being grabbed only three minutes into the first episode. Man, this episode is filled with staples of the show.

Sabrina laughs it up, but Carly Beth was genuinely scared by that. And she also gets genuinely scared by the sudden appearance of some pumpkin-headed monsters.

Wait a minute, I'm watching "The Haunted Mask," right? Not "Attack of the Jack O'Lanterns."
As it turns out, the "monsters" are just the local bullies, Chuck and Steve (Amos Crawley and George Kinamis), come to give Carly Beth a good scare. I have barely any idea which one is which, and I even have IMDb helping me out. So if I'm going to be getting these characters' names wrong, I might as well call them whatever the heck I want.

Rosencrantz: "Carly Beth, you should have seen your face!"
Guildenstern: "That was the best one yet, Carly Beth."

"Three days of waiting in the pumpkin patch paid off!"
Wait a minute... Arnold? That's Arnold from The Magic School Bus! Man, it is weird to hear that voice coming out of an actual person.

But it was only a matter of time before I recognized somebody. For a multitude of reasons, Canadian TV productions prefer to use Canadian actors. And since there are only so many actors in Canada... well, let's just say that pretty much every child actor in Canada has appeared in Degrassi.

Anyway, Carly Beth assumes that Sabrina was in on this prank and storms off.

Sabrina: "You know I'd never hurt you."

You know, random thought, the music choice for this part is less "Oh, woe is me," and more "Discovering strange feelings for your best friend." Couple that with that line, and ain't nobody can convince me that these two girls won't be getting married once 2005 rolls around. Not 2015, 2005. This is Canada, afterall.

Headcanon.
Carly Beth calms down, but is still upset over Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's pranks.

Sabrina: "They're creeps, they have no life."

No, these are Creeps.
Carly Beth: "Last weekend at your heuse, they pretended they were prowlers."

And... they were arrested, presumably? For trespassing? Harassment? No?

Carly Beth: "Last summer, they put that dead octopus on me."

Maybe they're just Red Wings fans.

Sabrina: "I'm sore-y they scared you. I really am."

But Carly Beth is still bummed that they single her out for this just because she scares so easily. And she's not exactly happy with this, so she heads home in a huff.

Sabrina: "You didn't get your pumpkin."

And so, their journey here was all for naught.

At least the creepy shopkeeper was entertained.
Carly Beth returns home, where her mother (Brenda Bazinet) immediately recognizes that something's wrong, even though she tries to hide it. Carly Beth doesn't really want to talk about it, so her mom shows her something she made earlier in an art class to try and cheer her up.

Carly Beth: "Mom, it's me. This face is me."

Well, it's you plus cold, dead eyes and a Michael Jackson nose, but sure, whatever.
Carly Beth: "It's kinda creepy, mom."

Agreed. It's actually creepier than the titular Haunted Mask.

Carly Beth: "I mean, why do you want something that looks like me?"
Mom: "I made something that looks like you, silly, because I love you."

Protip: All you artists out there with a crush on somebody? Don't use this scene to justify pages and pages of sketches of that person you're crushing on. I know you're hoping they'll come across you while drawing and immediately realize your undying love for them, but such things do not happen. 'Cause you're being creepy. Trust me, I know whereof I speak.

Speaking of creepy, Carly Beth suddenly thinks that she sees it smile at her. Her mom thinks that Halloween is just getting to her, and Carly Beth reluctantly dismisses the smile as a trick of the light. As she walks off, her mom says that her duck costume is ready and on her bed.

Carly Beth: "...My duck costume?"
Mom: "Remember? You saw a duck at the mall, and you said you thought it might be fun to be a duck for Halloween. I made one for you."

But Carly Beth doesn't want to wear an adorable duck costume this year. She wants to be terrifying.

Which is still possible with a duck costume.
Also, random smile from the fake head.
After a tense scene where she hears noises coming from her room, she opens the door to find her little brother quacking around in the duck costume. And after he teases her for a bit, we cut to the next day at lunch, where Sabrina and Carly Beth make plans for Halloween night.

And this girl's mind is freakin' blown by her sandwich.
As they talk, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take this moment to scare her with a novelty talking pumpkin. But they also apologize for their mean behavior. The apology, however, is just a distraction from the fact that they put a worm in her sandwich. Unknowingly, Carly Beth takes several bites before freaking out. The entire lunch area begins laughing at her, despite the fact that this would not happen in real life.

Yes, bullying is an ongoing problem, but this extends far past bullying. Literally nobody here is willing to say "Hey, that's not actually funny." I mean, these two losers apparently pick on Carly Beth all the time; you'd think at least one kid other than Sabrina wouldn't be laughing.

And it's not like Carly Beth is a "weirdo," or a nerd, or a social outcast of any kind. By all accounts, she seems to be just a normal, if timid, girl. Kids might be cruel, but they're very rarely cruel for no reason. If everybody's laughing at the kid getting picked on, then that kid is probably some kind of social outcast that the other kids dislike.

Sure, it sucks, and it's something that schools actively discourage, but it unfortunately happens.

This on the other hand seems to show that every kid in school ate a big ol' bowl of jerk flakes this morning and decided to laugh at an innocent girl.

You're in a clown costume, kid; you have no right to laugh at someone else. Eat your sandwich.
And you know what? I'm pretty sure Carly Beth could go to the principal about all this bullying specifically targeting her. There are plenty of witnesses this time. I'm sure that at the very least, she can get Rosencrantz and Guildenstern put into detention. But she'd rather run home and rip up her duck costume, it seems.

So, uh... you do know the school day's only half over, right?
See, the destruction of her duck costume represents the loss of innocence as she reaches the breaking point. Until this point, she was a victim, but now she's reached a point where she decides to pick her own destiny. You could even compare this scene to Selina Kyle demolishing her apartment in Batman Returns. See, from the standpoint of...

Wait, did I just find meaningful symbolism? In a Goosebumps story?

"And people say Goosebumps is predictable. Didn't see that coming, did you?"
After demolishing the yellow outfit, Carly Beth locates her stash of allowance money and starts counting it.

"Shoot. I still don't have enough to hire a hitman."
Instead of returning to school, she heads to the Novelty Shop and goes inside to look at the merch.
Sweet Venom mask.
As she browses, she gets caught by the creepy owner.

Creepy Guy: "What are you doing here?!"

Well, I don't know. What could Carly Beth possibly be doing in a store?

Carly Beth: "I... I... I'd like to buy a mask for Halloween. Please."
Creepy Guy: "We're closed."

Fair enough. Although closing your Halloween shop in the early afternoon right before Halloween seems to be a bit of a foolish business move.

But all she needs is a mask, so he gives her five minutes to finds what she needs on the wall o' masks and get out. He goes to answer the phone and talk to some guy about Paraguay while Carly Beth takes a look at the rather tame mask selection.

Man, who wouldn't want to be Hairy Potter for Halloween?
As the creepy guy talks, Carly Beth sneaks into a back room, where she discovers some odd chemistry equipment as well as a better selection of masks. She picks out the most monstrous one... but gets told off by the suddenly-arriving shop owner.

Creepy Guy: "No! I said no!"

No means no, Carly Beth.

He slams the door, shaking the masks, and even locks the door.

Creepy Guy: "You shouldn't be here."

Then... why did you lock her in? This can only end well.

"You shouldn't have done that."
He walks over to Carly Beth and acts like he's going to get all stranger danger, but actually goes to straighten the mask she had selected. And then he caresses them as he tells her that they're not for sale.

Creepy Guy: "They're too frightening."

Meh.
Carly Beth: "But that's perfect. I need a really scary mask."

But the man tries to push that gorilla mask out front.

Creepy Guy: "It's made with real gorilla hair!"

"Real gorilla hair"? Gorillas are endangered.

Creepy Guy: "I will give it to you for nothing!"

The guy must've had trouble fencing the fur. Trying to dispose of the evidence.

Carly Beth: "Uh, I don't think Chuck and Steve will be scared by a gorilla mask, though."
Creepy Guy: "Who?"
Carly Beth: "Oh. These guys at school. All they do is torture me."

"I'm dead inside."
Carly Beth: "And... I wanna get even."
Creepy Guy: "Ah. Revenge...."

Then he puts his hand on her shoulder and asks for her name again.

This will not be the last time creepy adults will randomly touch kids in this show.
Like an idiot, she gives him his real name.

Creepy Guy: "You have a nice face, Carly Beth."

NOPE NOPE NOPE SO MUCH NOPE STRANGER DANGER

She continues asking for one of the masks, and offers him her thirty bucks.

Carly Beth: "Chuck and Steve will just die, heh heh."

"And I will stare into their eyes as it happens, with fear in their mind and silent questions on their lips."
He still declines, and opens the door to send her away, but she grabs a mask and runs off after throwing money at him. So I guess she technically "bought" it?

Once outside, she realizes what she's done. But the store owner quickly closes up shop before she can go back to return it.

"You win this round, Carly Beth."
So she heads back home as tries the mask on, admiring her creepy new face. That night, as her brother walks down the hall...

Uh, I don't think this is what your son meant when he said he wanted a Spider-Man costume, Mrs. Caldwell.
...she uses the mask to scare him back for that stunt the day before. He freaks out, but she quickly reveals her true identity. But her brother is quite upset by the mask, and he begs her to take it off. She does, but it's very tight on her face as she struggles. Still, she manages to pop it off and show it to her brother, who wants to try it on. But there's no time for that, she has to meet Sabrina.

Noah: "How'd you change your voice like that?"

...By doing a scratchy voice. What, was it supposed to sound more inhuman? Because it sounded like she was trying to sound like a goblin and succeeded.

I'm just amazed she can enunciate through those rubbery teeth.
Anyway, Carly Beth, enjoying her new feeling of power, grabs a random broomstick from the closet and her sculpted head to complete the ensemble before quickly heading out to avoid her mom, who is still under the impression that she's wearing a duck outfit.

Dogs bark and children stare as Carly Beth makes her way through the suburbs, not helped by the fact that she starts snarling at random passersby.

Who's R.L. Stine's favorite evil detectors? You are! Yes you are!
She spots Rosencrantz and Guildenstern coming by and jumps out at them... discovering in the process that these two random people aren't the droids she's looking for. Gee, it's almost like Halloween is full of people who walk around in pairs.

As the two call her crazy and run off, Carly Beth takes their words to heart, yelling and screaming about how crazy she is before Sabrina comes out of the house dressed as a... um...

Mammal.
Sabrina is surprised to see Carly Beth dressed up in a scary outfit, but she definitely approves of the mask and the severed head.

Sabrina: "It looks so real. Where'd you get it?"
Carly Beth: "Oh, it's me. It's who I used to be."

Boy, the constant bullying has really taken its toll on Carly Beth's mind.

When Sabrina starts wondering what exactly that means, Carly Beth tells her to forget it and asks where the bullies are. Sabrina doesn't know, but the two head off to find them. On the way, Sabrina starts asking questions about the mask, like where it came from, how much it cost, and if she can touch it. Apparently, the mask feels oddly warm, like real skin.

Sabrina: "What's it made of? It isn't made of real skin, is it?"
Carly Beth: "Maybe."

Spoiler Alert: Probably.

The mask starts unnerving Sabrina, and she suggests that Carly Beth should take it off for a bit. As she continues to voice how the mask freaks her out, Carly Beth suddenly goes off the deep end and starts strangling her best friend.

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