Monday, February 13, 2017

Recap: Goosebumps "The Girl Who Cried Monster"

February is Black History Month, that time of year where we honor the brave men and women throughout history who have given their time, effort, and in some cases, lives, to end slavery, stand up for equal rights, and strive to break racism's grip on the world. The idea that all peoples on this Earth can coexist, united in the knowledge that we are all just as human as each other, is an important one.

Unfortunately, there are only 12 months in the year. February honors a lot of other things, too. Most of them being things that nobody cares about.

February is also National Cherry Month, National Grapefruit Month, National Heart Month (because Valentine's Day, get it?), National Children's Dental Health Month, and many more, including National Library Lover's Month.

So on this, the spoopiest of all days, Monday the Thirteenth, I'll be looking at the only episode of Goosebumps, a staple of local libraries in the 1990s, to prominently feature a library. As well as one of my favorite female protagonists in the entire show, which is why I originally had this Recap reserved for Women's History Month before a certain library decided it would be a hoot to put anti-theft stickers on their DVDs that might break my DVD player, to say nothing of my computer’s disk drive.

"Not responsible,” my foot!
Yes, I realize that I’m observing Library Lovers Month in response to a library making things difficult for me.
I am well aware of the irony.
The episode begins with a narration from our protagonist, Lucy Dark.

Before we get into the narration itself, I'd like you to focus on that name for a bit.

Lucy Dark.

That is an awesome name. Sounds like a character from some kind of indie graphic novel series who hunts monsters and fights demons. Like Gravity Falls mixed with Atomic Robo. I would read the crap out of that.

Anyway, Lucy Dark (Deborah Scorsone), is narrating.

Lucy: "I love to scare my little brother Randy. I tell him scary stories about monsters until he just begs me to stop. And I'm always teasing him by pretending to see monsters everywhere. I guess that's why no one believed me the day I saw a real monster... until it was too late."

Less than a minute in, and the point of the title has already been explained. Just in case you couldn't figure out on your own that this is like the boy who cried wolf. Actually, I'm pretty surprised that this episode wasn't called "The Girl Who Cried Wolf." R.L. Stine is a big werewolf fan, and you'd think he'd relish another opportunity to write about one.

“Please, you think I’m that predictable?”
Hey, Stine, what’s the monster in the next episode, “Welcome to Camp Nightmare”?

“…A big wolf monster.”
Mm-hmm.

Today, Lucy and Randy are kicking a ball around in the yard. It ends up in the garden, so Randy tries to find it with his foot.

Lucy: "Randy! Haven't you ever heard of the razor-toothed Toe-Biter?"
Randy: "What do you mean 'Toe-Biter'?"

Figure it out, kid. You understand both of those words.

Lucy: "It got Becky and Lilah next door.... while they were playing in their wading pool."
Randy: "Couldn't they see it coming?"
Lucy: "Toe-Biter can can camouflage itself as anything. Even water."
Randy: "You're lying!"

Maybe not. This does sound like a monster that R.L. Stine would make up. When he’s not writing about wolves, that is.

“Could you drop it? Please?”
Sure. After I make a note to add “werewolf” to the post-Review checklist.

Lucy: "Ask Becky to take off her shoe. She'll show you. Ask her."

And so, Lucy steps into the garden to kick the ball out for her brother, claiming that she'll be safe if she goes fast.

And if this were the end of the episode, this is the point where a Lanx would latch onto her foot.
Lucy starts screaming in pain, so Randy starts screaming like a little girl. He runs inside and starts yelling about how the Toe-Biter got Lucy, but Mrs. Dark is a pro at dealing with situations like this by now. She calmly tells Randy that there's no such thing as a Toe-Biter, and she tells Lucy to quit scaring her brother.

"It's the Lanxes you have to watch out for. You know that."
Lucy walked in with all her toes intact, and Randy quickly formulates a hypothesis through scientific deduction.

Randy: "How did all your toes grow back?"

Not a correct hypothesis, but at least he tried. E for effort.

Mrs. Dark: "Haven't I asked you not to tell him monster stories?"

The words go in one ear and out the other as Lucy whispers to her brother that the Toe-Biter gave her her toes back in exchange for Randy's.

Lucy: "What's the point of having a little brother if you can't torture him?"

Oh, I could tell you a story or two about MY older sister. How she convinced me to eat a handful of red pepper flakes, or maybe how she wrote MY name on the wall to get me in trouble. She ended up getting in trouble because I was barely old enough to walk, let alone start tagging.

Mrs. Dark: "Lucy, don't you have Reading Rangers at the library?"

"Reading Rangers"?

I... I... I have too many joke options.

Do I make a Power Rangers joke? A Reading Rainbow joke?! A Rescue Rangers joke?!

GO GO BUTTERFLY IN THE CH-CH-CH-CHIP AND DALE!

"...The heck was that?"
...I panicked.

"I can tell. Looks like you wasted that opportunity."
Shut up.

"Make me."
Werewolf.

"...."
Anyway, Lucy heads to the library to return the copy of Black Beauty she borrowed to the librarian, Mr. Mortman (Eugene Lipinski).

Mr. Mortman: "Well? What did you think?"
Lucy: "Two thumbs down."

"What's got two thumbs and hated Black Beauty?"
Mr. Mortman: "But Lucy, Black Beauty is a classic."

Yeah, but that doesn't automatically make it good.

The most important thing I learned as an English Major is that not every "classic" is still good. Many of them are very important stories that helped define the ever-changing literary landscape, sure. But if we hold up the "classics" on a pedestal and blindly believe that they can't be matched, then that devalues the books in question. Instead of examining the themes and wordplay of a book and seeing why it’s good, we're just saying "it's good because it's a classic and it's a classic because it's good."

Lucy: "It would have been better if the horse had two heads."
Mr. Mortman: "[Sigh]"
Lucy: "And big ol' gnarly fangs."

Having said all that, I don't think Lucy's suggested changes would complement the book's central themes of the cruelty of animal abuse and the inexcusability of drunkenness and ignorance.

Mr. Mortman: "Why don't you pick another book?"

"We just got the latest Goosebumps book, if that's more to your liking."
"Nah. I stopped reading those after 'Monster Blood II' got most of the details from the first book wrong. I think R.L. Stine uses a ghostwriter."
"How about one of the Shivers books?"
"We're both going to pretend you never said that."
As her friend, Aaron comes over, Lucy picks up Frankenstein, which, personally, I didn't really care for. I bring this up because I don't think Lucy will, either. Primarily because of the way the book's written.

So, Frankenstein's on a boat to the Arctic, telling the captain his tale of woe. And the book consists of the Captain's letters as he relates that story that Frankenstein tells. It's a literary form that was very popular for a while because formatting it like a series of letters made it seem like it could be a real story. Think of it as the olden-times equivalent of "found footage" films like The Blair Witch Project.

So... yeah, I don't think Lucy's going to be very impressed with it. And Mr. Mortman seems to agree.

Mr. Mortman: "Are you sure, Lucy? Frankenstein is a classic as well."
Lucy: "Yeah. But this one's got a monster."
Aaron: "Wouldn't it be cool if there were real monsters?"

Don't push your luck, kid. Genre cliches point to you as the first person to die in a monster attack.
Mr. Mortman: "Well, I'm not so sure, Aaron. Most people like to be frightened in movies, or stories..."

"Or Canadian children's TV shows..."
Mr. Mortman: "Not in real life."

Lucy and Mr. Mortman stare at each other for an uncomfortable length of time before the action heads outside, where upon she indulges in something I'm sure every teenager has: talking about how creepy certain adults are. Specifically, Mr. Mortman.

Lucy: "Like his creepy, beady little eyes."
Aaron: "And his sweaty little hands."

An unfortunate fact of life is that there are some good-hearted people who look like creepers, and some genuinely distasteful creepers who look rather attractive. Ah, to live in the land of fiction, where your outward appearance reflects your soul nine times out of ten.

Lucy: "When he gave me my book, it was so slimy I almost dropped it."

Maybe he's got a medical condition that causes excessive sweating. You don't know, Lucy. Who are you to make fun of him?

Lucy: "Oh, my blades. I forgot 'em at the library."

Don't worry, Lucy doesn't cut herself, or do drugs, or anything. She's referring to rollerblades. After all, this was the 90s. All the cool kids went rollerblading without a helmet.

Aaron heads home while Lucy heads back. The library is closing down for the day, but she heads inside anyway, with only the sudden appearance of a cat to keep her company as she walks inside.

Look at that angle of descent. Who's throwing cats from off screen?
She makes fun of Mr. Mortman humming to herself...

Lucy: "Probably a 'classic.'"

...and only pauses because Mr. Mortman is talking to his "beauties." Since she's already trespassing, she decides to do some spying on Mr. Mortman. The man is feeding his spiders some crickets. I find this scene funny because he's simply unable to drop the crickets. They just keep climbing all over his hands. And yet, the actor just keeps on going with his lines regardless.

I mean, it's a little weird how cutesy he's getting with his spiders, but there's nothing wrong with that. Of course, that's before he eats some crickets himself. To make things worse, he suddenly transforms into a bug-eyed monster.

At least he didn't undo a zipper on his forehead.
Lucy rushes out of the building, and... I guess it's night now? Even though it was light when she entered the library? Man, it gets dark fast in Canada.

I guess that’s what happens when you’re that close to the North Pole.
Lucy runs home and tries to tell her parents what happened as they make dinner.

Lucy: "Mom! Dad! A monster!"

Not exactly the most credible way of getting that point across.

Lucy: "At the library!"
Mr. Dark: "Don't you say 'hi' anymore?"
Lucy: "Hi, Dad! There's a monster at the library!"

Heh. Okay, that was funny.

Randy wants to know details, but their parents are more interested in rolling up some meatballs for dinner.

Lucy: "A big slimy disgusting one! That eats bugs!"

Yeah, but that doesn't mean he's not a nice guy.

Mr. Dark: "Oh, I'd hoped this monster thing was just a phase you were going through."
Lucy: "Life is a phase I'm going through!"

If I had a nickel for every teenager's notebook that had that written down somewhere....

Mr. Dark: "Well, could you go through it, please, after you've washed your hands and set the table?"

Lucy continues to protest, but her parents have moved on to talking about her father's enormous balls.

Mr. Dark: "I happen to like big meatballs."

Before their conversation can develop any more innuendos, we cut to Lucy upstairs on the phone, trying to convince Aaron about Mr. Mortman. But he's more interested in the game he's playing on his Apple II. So Lucy gets an idea. She grabs her pink camera, because phones couldn't take pictures in the 90s, and returns Frankenstein to the library the next day.

Mr. Mortman: "Didn't you think that the monster was the most sympathetic character in this story?"

Frankenstein's monster (or "Adam") is often seen as a tragic figure. Through no fault of his own, Adam was born as a grotesque perversion of the natural order; a crude imitation of life born from death. As such, every person Adam met instinctively hated and feared him, despite the fact that Adam's greatest desire was simply to be allowed to live in peace. Keep that in mind when I talk about this episode in my Review.

Also, Mortman, you're not suspicious at all that she read Frankenstein in a single day?

Lucy: "Do you believe in monsters?"
Mr. Mortman: "Perhaps we all have a little monster in us... Lucy."

You know, take away the supernatural elements to this story... and that's basically a creepy pedophile line if ever I heard one. Which makes sense, seeing as how this episode definitely plays with that angle when it comes to Mr. Mortman. Well, as much as they can with a show rated Y7.

Anyway, he suggests that she should go find another book...

"Might I recommend Lolita?"
...and she finds one. She pretends to leave after a bit by opening and closing the library door, and Mr. Mortman gets ready to feed his spiders. After he transforms into his Mortmonster form to take a bite of one of his pets, Lucy snaps a picture, getting Mortmonster's attention with the flash.

Mortmonster knows that it's probably Lucy hanging around, so he chases after her.

Mortmonster: "Keep running, little one. I love fast food."

Certainly explains why Mortman's a portly fellow. It's hard to get fat on crickets.

In an ambush, Lucy ends up getting cornered. But she manages to crawl past him and escape with her camera and run home. Later, on the phone with Aaron, she guesses that the flash from her camera blinded him. But luckily, she successfully snapped that picture.

Here's the problem, kids. She does not have a digital camera. Her camera works on something called "film," which she has to take to special place where people will douse it in chemicals and do other things to turn it into a photo.

This is a problem because Lucy's library card has her address on it, meaning that Mr. Mortman could just attack her in her house before she gets a chance to develop the film.

And when Lucy opens the door to run somewhere to hide, Mr. Mortman is on the porch, asking if he can come in.

Lucy: "No."

And if he were a vampire, this would keep him out. Right now, all that's keeping him out is the broad daylight and the possibility of neighbors calling the cops on him as he attacks a young girl.

Lucy: "My parents aren't home right now."

You fool.

Lucy: "I mean, they'll be home any minute. I mean, they're in the bathroom. Mom? Is Dad still cleaning his rifle?"

That's an odd euphemism for "using the bathroom."

Mr. Mortman: "It's okay, Lucy. It's really you I've come to see."

...You know? I don't need to say anything else about Mr. Mortman's personal brand of creepiness. I think I can just let him speak for himself.

Mr. Mortman: "You left your backpack at the library."

"Lucy, you've got some 'splaining to do!"
She tells him to leave it on the doorstep.

Mr. Mortman: "Um, wouldn't it be easier if you opened the door and let me hand it to you?"

But stubbornness wins out, and he sets it down and leaves.

Mr. Mortman: "Oh, it was nothing, it was... on my way."

Once her parents are home, she runs outside and starts babbling about developing film. What catches their ear is her claim that Mr. Mortman followed her home. Her mom looks suitably worried. Her dad... not so much.

Mr. Dark: "He followed you home for no reason?"

Lucy mentions her backpack, which is enough for her parents to decide that Mr. Mortman is a wonderfully nice and thoughtful person. After all, as Lucy's mom mentions, it's not on his way home. Lucy's whining wins out, though, and they head to the one-hour photo.

Most of the photos on the film are birthday photos, but Lucy finds the correct picture before Randy grabs for the pictures and knocks them on the ground. Lucy tries to pick them up, but none other than Mr. Mortman beats her to it.

Mr. Mortman: "You're quite the photographer."

Before he can get much creepier, Lucy's parents thank him for bringing her backpack.

Mr. Mortman: "Oh, uh, it was nothing, uh, it was on my way."

This seems to catch their attention, but they apparently think nothing of it as they invite him over for dinner tomorrow night. He creepily agrees, and we cut to the next evening, where Lucy shows off a very monsterless photograph of the library interior.

Lucy: "Don't you see he's a monster? The fact that he's not in this picture proves it!"

I don't have time to explain what's wrong with that logic, and I think we all know what it is anyway.
Mom: "I don't care if he's a drooling werewolf, he's coming for dinner."

Hey! Lupine-Americans have worked for years to fight that "drooling" stereotype, and you just... you just whip it right out. To your kids. This is how racism stays alive, people!

Mr. Mortman soon arrives and helps himself to a delicious meatball... which means that they either made meatballs again, or they're serving him three-day-old meatballs. But that's just the appetizer. Mr. Mortman wants to know what's for dinner.

Mrs. Dark: "Well, it was going to be a surprise, but..."
Mr. Dark: "Since you asked, you are."

The elder Darks sprout fangs and chow down on Mortman. Once Mr. Mortman is no more (I guess Lucy and Randy don't get dinner tonight) they lovingly wipe each other's mouths and talk to their kids.

So... this is happening.
Mr. Dark: "Now, listen. Both of you. You can never ever let anyone know that we are monsters."
Lucy: "We know that."
Mrs. Dark: "And we can't have any other monsters in town, either."
Mr. Dark: "And do you know why?"

Why?

Lucy: "Because they might tell other people about us."

Okay...? Why?

Randy: "And they'd be frightened, and they'd chase us away."

What the heck kind of... what? What?

Mr. Dark: "Or worse. Mr. Mortman's the first monster to come around in twenty years."
Mrs. Dark: "That's why it took us so long to believe you, Lucy."

There are so many questions raised by this that I'll save it all for my Review.

Mr. Dark: "And when you two get bigger, you're gonna get your training fangs."
Mrs. Dark: "That's right. Before long, you and Randy will be able to transform just like your father and me."

But suddenly, a glimpse of a monster can be seen rustling through the bushes. The Darks get their fangs ready to go and let the new monster in... but it's only Aaron in a monster mask, so they quickly put their fangs away.

Aaron: "Hey, man, what's up?"
Mr. Dark: "Just finished dinner."
Aaron: "Aw, man. Talk about timing. Well, what's for dessert?"
Mrs. Dark: "Well, it was going to be a surprise, but... since you asked."
Mr. Dark: "You... like cherry pie?"

And so, everybody laughs. Ha ha, it's funny because only one innocent person is dying tonight.

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