Monday, October 3, 2016

Recap: Goosebumps "Phantom of the Auditorium"

In R.L. Stine's time as a horror writer, he has paid homage to most of the classics in the genre.

Frankenstein gets a nod pretty much any time he writes about a mad scientist perverting the laws of nature. Which is basically every other book. Dracula is pretty much the direct inspiration for the vast majority of his vampire characters. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mummy, The Invisible Man... and yet, unless you count the Give Yourself Goosebumps Books, he didn't write about an evil clown in the vein of Stephen King's It until 2015.

We Michiganders contented ourselves with some Kreepy Klowns of Kalamazoo.
And while Mr. Stine is more than content to write books about werewolves until the cows come home (See: "Werewolf Skin," "The Werewolf of Fever Swamp," "The Werewolf in the Living Room," "Full Moon Fever," and numerous short stories), it was only a matter of time before our good Mr. Stine drew inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera and its rich character interactions involving madness, obsession, and all-too-human evils.

Ten bucks says that the story will focus more on an actual ghost instead of all that interesting stuff, though.
The episode begins with a gloomy, foggy stage as a boy's voice says "Esmeralda."

I know it's early for a digression, but this has been really bugging me. In the original book, the name was "EsmerElda." But in the episode, it's spelled "EsmerAlda."

Just... why? I know the change doesn't even matter... but that kind of why it bugs me. Why even make such an inconsequential change? Hang on, I'm looking it up.


According to the internet, "Esmeralda" is the usually-preferred spelling. I did not know that. I also did not know that this is how the character from The Hunchback of Notre Dame's name was spelled. Everything I thought I knew as a child is a lie.

Anyway, the episode continues with a few random jump cuts to a skull, a girl's face, some trees, a flashlight, a shadow... Gah, this episode needs to chill out. Take your Ritalin, Goosebumps. I know I wasn't the only one they handed those out to like candy in the 90s.

Boy's Voice: "Come with me... to eternal darkness."

I'd like to point out that the subtitles refer to this as a man's voice, despite the fact that it's clearly the voice of a fourteen-year-old. Not only that, but it's literally the voice of Ralphie from The Magic School Bus. And let's face it, Ralphie wasn't exactly the scariest kid in Ms. Frizzle's class.

Despite his best efforts.
Oh, and chalk that up as another actor shared between Goosebumps and The Magic School Bus. Won't be the last.

It turns out that this ADHD editing is just the nightmare of a girl named Brooke (Jessica Moyes), who wakes up screaming.

The next day, she sits in the school auditorium and looks over her copy of the script for The Phantom. Not The Phantom of the Opera, just The Phantom. So I can only imagine that this play is an adaptation of the old pulp adventure comic.

The 90s had at least one of those.
Also, get a load of this. Of the five characters in this play, only one of them has a name.

Does Esmeralda refer to her boyfriend as just "Boyfriend"?
Reminds me of that one play by Shakespeare. You know, the one with Danish Prince, and his vendetta against his stepdad/uncle, Danish Prince's Stepdad/Uncle. I did that play in college.

Anyway Brooke underlines the name "Esmeralda" to establish to the audience that she got the part. And to really hammer it home for the particularly dimwitted children in the audience, some boy named Corey (Philip Eddolls) walks up to congratulate her on getting the part of Esmeralda before the rest of the students arrive to begin their read-through of the script. But Brooke's nightmare seems to have put her in a bit of a mood, though her understudy, Tina (Julie Annis), sees to be raring to go.

Corey: "She might poison you so she can play the lead."

And then Brooke comes back as a ghost to demand that Corey avenger her murder most foul. Just like that play I mentioned, Danish Prince.

Brooke: "She'd never do that. Throw me down a flight of stairs? Maybe."
Tina: "Real funny. I wouldn't want the lead."

Then... why are you her understudy? Do you just want to be close to Brooke? Brooke can't be that cool.

"I hear she does car commercials. In Japan."
Tina: "Haven't you heard? This play is cursed."

Oh, like MacB... You know. Scottish Play.

As Tina goes on about her grandfather's stories about the cursed play, a POV shot stalks the kids from above, since whoever's up there couldn't find any foliage to creep around in.

Tina: "He went to this school 72 years ago."
Corey: "And you wanna know the weird thing? He hasn't graduated yet."

Excuse me, Corey, but jokes like that are my job, thank you very much.

Tina: "It all started the year the school was built. The drama club was putting on the same play we are. The night of the play, the boy who was supposed to play the Phantom disappeared. They searched everywhere. His parents were freaking out. They called the police, but they never. Found. The body. A year later when they tried to put on the play again, his ghost appeared on the stage."

Brooke flashes back to her dream, but I'm more interested in that creepy hand reaching out toward our main characters from the curtain.

Because it wouldn't be an episode of Goosebumps without somebody attempting to grab a child.
The hand in question belongs to someone in a fedora and mask. But it's not the Spirit, it's the Phantom.

Phantom: "Can I borrow some lunch money?"
Brooke: "Oh, Phantom, you already owe me ten dollars. I hope you starve."

Finally, the drama teacher, Ms. Walker (Kathy Greenwood), comes along to wonder what's with all the noise back stage.

Ms. Walker: "Zeke Mathews, take off that mask, please."
Zeke: "I was just getting into the character."
Ms. Walker: "There will be no more visits from the Phantom unless it's in the play."

Hm. Almost as if she was setting that line up so the events of the episode could serve as an ironic counterpoint.

Tina: "We shouldn't be doing this play, Ms. Walker."

I kind of agree. Since Tina's story about a disappeared kid is actually true, this play has a bit of uncomfortable baggage attached to it. It's kind of in bad taste to do this play.

Tina: "My grandfather says...."
Ms. Walker: "I don't want to hear that old story, Tina. The only haunting we need to be concerned about right now is the one that's in this play. Let's go through the show. Corey, you are Carlo."

Wait, who the heck is Carlo?

He's not in the script.
Ms. Walker: "You are Esmeralda's father."

So... these characters have names, but the script lists the majority of them by their occupation?

Ms. Walker: "You own a theatre and you think it's haunted."

Did he not read the script, then? Why are you spelling it out for him?

Ms. Walker: "Zeke."
Zeke: "I am the Phantom who lives in the basement."
Ms. Walker: "Right. And you are secretly in love with the theatre owner's daughter, Esmeralda."
Brooke: "Do I have to be?"

...Do you have to be what? She was talking to Zeke.

Ms. Walker: "Now Esmeralda, the Phantom kidnaps you."
Brooke: "Then how come I stay in love with him?"

Excellent question.

Ms. Walker: "Oh, because! You're attracted to his mystery."

Like why he lives in a basement? And not his own parents' basement?

Ms. Walker: "But! Your boyfriend finds out about it, he kills him, and that breaks your heart."

Because Stockholm syndrome. Also, The Phantom is starting to sound suspiciously like a ripoff of The Phantom of the Opera as written by somebody who only half-remembers the movie version after seeing it once.

"No, it's an homage to The Phantom of the Opera."
You do know that The Phantom of the Opera was originally a book that's now in the public domain, right?

Zeke: "And the Phantom returns as a ghost, haunting the theatre foreverrrrrr."

Which reminds Tina of the incident with the kid, and she reiterates that they shouldn't be doing this play. But Corey begins to slowly descend through a trap door as the teacher shuts Tina up.

"Wait for my cue...."
"Pardon me..."
Zeke: "Maybe the Phantom will kidnap Esmeralda again, hanh, Brookie?"

Before anyone can dwell on this creepy kid playing the Phantom, Ms. Walker finally takes note of Corey's descent.

Ms. Walker: "He must have accidentally pressed the switch."

Call me crazy, but aren't trap doors usually locked when not in use to prevent things like this from happening?

Ms. Walker tells the kids to not go down there because the trap door hasn't been used in years and the maintenance guys are still working on it.

Brooke has another quick flashback to her dream shortly before Ms. Walker cheerfully explains that the trap door was built for the first production of the Phantom. Along with the rest of the school, since the Phantom was the first play the school put on.

As the rehearsal continues, someone in a Phantom costume looks out from the rafters while Ms. Walker asks her students for the profiles she had them write on their characters. Profiles which, as she explains, are supposed to include details like when they were born. Because knowing your character was born in 1678 will result in a different performance than if they were born in 1679...? Just have them research the time period the play takes in, lady.

I can only assume that a long night of rehearsal ensued, because the next thing we see is Ms. Walker shutting off the lights and leading the kids out of the auditorium. Now, you'd think that a teacher would stand in the back of all the kids to make sure they all left the auditorium instead of staying behind to cause mischief.

Ms. Walker, on the other hand, Gs the FO without a second look as soon as she can, meaning that Zeke has the perfect opportunity to call Brooke over to try out the forbidden trap door for themselves.

Brooke: "Listen, Zeke, this trap door. I dreamt aboot it last night!"

Really? This was supposed to be the trap door? Not sure how you could actually tell.
Brooke: "I've never seen it before!"

And it must be the same trap door because it's not like trap doors are a common element in stage theatre, right?

Brooke: "I just think it was weird!"
Zeke: "Life is weird. And it's about to get weirder."

This can only end well.

Reluctantly, she joins him on a ride on the slowly-descending platform into the basement. Oddly enough, the lights are already on. But that doesn't mean Brooke can see anything, since the jerking motion of the elevator knocked her glasses off like her name was Velma Dinkley. And Zeke is nowhere to be found.

You'd think this would be setting up a later plot point. You'd be wrong.
Fearfully, she paws through some cobwebs before Zeke pops back up with her missing glasses, scaring the crap out of her.

Brooke: "Where are we?"
Zeke: "I don't know. We're not in the basement."

How do you know that?

Zeke: "We're way below the basement."

Again, how do you know that?

Brooke: "Why would the platform come all the way down here?"
Zeke: "Maybe this is where the Phantom brings Esmeralda after a long day of haunting."

Brings her to do... what, exactly?

That's the problem with PG (or in this case, TV-Y7) versions of abduction tales; you can't exactly imply that anything untoward happened, so it just seems like the dastardly villains imprisoned the attractive young lady for no particular reason. You know, just stuck her away in a cage. To have. Like Donkey Kong.

The two kids head back to the platform, but Zeke can't find the return switch. But they do find a rat. The platform begins going back up for some reason, so they scramble aboard. It gets stuck halfway up, so Brooke gives Zeke a boost, only for him to disappear. Brooke ends up getting pulled up by a creepy lurker (Eric Fink) who introduces himself as Emile, the night janitor.

Emile: "School's closed."
Brooke: "We had a late rehearsal!"
Emile: "How do you know about the trap door?"

Uh... because there's no reason for it to be a secret?

Emile gets after them for messing with the trap door before letting them leave, shouting "Stay away!" no fewer than three times.

This seems like a mentally stable adult.
The next day...

At this static photo that they're using to represent a school....
...Brooke shows up in the auditorium and tells some random kid (Stuart Stone) to get out of her seat.

Don't be that person, Brooke. Sit somewhere else.
She admits that it doesn't matter, though, and introduces herself to him.

Kid: "Brian Coulson."


He's the Phantom.

I could elaborate on the usual method of introducing a new minor character shortly after the beginning of a story who usually turns out to be the culprit in any given mystery... but I figured it out mostly because he also sounds just like Ralphie from The Magic School Bus. And the things he says don't help.

Brian: "I just moved here from up north."

This was filmed in Canada. Where did you more from, the North Pole?
Brian: "You're in The Phantom, right?"
Brooke: "Yes. I play the tragic heroine. What do you think?
Brian: "I think you're perfect."


Brian: "At my old school, I was in all the plays."

It sounds so weird to hear Ralphie say Phoebe's catchphrase.

Brian: "Just wish I could have tried out for this one."


As Tina comes in to meet the Phantom Brian...

"Who needs a third wheel?"
...Brooke remembers that she forgot her script in her locker and goes to get it, only to find....

A spooky scary skeleton.
And a creepy note that says "STAY AWAY FROM MY HOME SWEET HOME ESMERALDA!"

Also, what the heck is that cutout on her locker door? Von Kaiser? Tifa Lockhart? On roller blades?
A creepy authority figure (as if there were any other kind in this show) shows up to ask why she isn't in class, and she explains the whole thing with forgetting her script and all. Down the hall, she tosses the mask in Zeke's face, but he claims to not know anything about the note in her locker.

Zeke: "I didn't write that."
Brooke: "Then who did?"

Brian, obviously.

Zeke: "The Phantom. It's obvious."

As I just said.

After Brooke has more spoopy flashbacks, we cut to her screaming in her room. Not because anything scary's happening, but because she's going over her lines.

As an aside, is anyone else getting a Night Trap vibe here?
Heck, does anyone even remember Night Trap?
And because this episode needs more jumpscares, she opens her closet door, where checkers fall on the ground!

This is where the show starts trying to get clever by having the Phantom show up in the mirrored door when she closes it; a move pioneered by many a horror film.

But "the Phantom" turns out to be Zeke... which raises the question of how the heck he even got into her room.

Zeke: "Aren't you even gonna tell me how good I look?"

They keep rehearsing their lines, which is our segue to a later rehearsal as Brooke goes over her lines backstage. Hasn't she learned them yet? They seem to mostly consist of screaming; that shouldn't be too hard to memorize.

Tina: "Learned your lines yet, Brooke?"

Tina, leave the snark to me and go make out with a hot dog or something.

In her defense, it was a very sexy hot dog. It had nice buns.
Tina: "Remember. This play is cursed."

Yes, we get it, Tina. It's cursed. The play is cursed. It's a cursed play.

Cursed the play is. Is play cursed the.
While Brian paints the sets, saying he's happy to be part of the production, Ms. Walker has the kids go over the scene with the argument between Esmeralda and Carlo.

"Carlo": "Go to your room, Esmeralda. I will not lose my daughter to a monster!"
"Esmeralda": "But, Father, I love him!"

Isn't this the plot of Hulk?

The lights go dark, and the Phantom is spotted on the catwalk above them. Heck, even Ms. Walker ends up seeing him. Though he's pretty hard to miss when he swings down on a rope like they were performing It's a Wild Wild Web.

Once onstage, the Phantom grabs Brooke and warns her to stay away in an adult's voice.

"Should I do something about this?"
Then he very slowly makes his getaway using the trap door.

"Hey, didn't I say they weren't allowed to use that trap door?"
"Eh. I guess I'll let this play out."
"Man, I could go for some White Castle."
But then Ms. Walker actually does something useful as she yells "Look out," warning Brooke that there's a door about to drop on top of her from above.


Brooke: "I don't like this."
Ms. Walker: "Neither do I."

But the strange adult tussling with one of your students was a-okay?

The lights come back on as Zeke enters the auditorium from the rear.

Ms. Walker: "You have gone too far this time, Zeke!"


The Phantom exited through a trap door that doesn't even connect to the rear of the auditorium; so you think Zeke exited through the basement, changed his clothes, and re-entered the room less than thirty seconds later from the door he couldn't have possibly gotten to unless Wolverine taught him the secret of the Transported Man trick? Or maybe Zeke has a secret twin brother that wears a fake beard.

Zeke protests his innocence, but Tina points out that there's a trail of paint on the floor which they might be able to follow. And follow it they do, right to Zeke's locker, which now has an open can of red paint inside. Ruh-roh.

Ms. Walker tells Zeke to go get the janitor and clean up the mess he made, even though Brooke protests that the kid who breaks the rules and tries to scare people through dumb stunts wouldn't break the rules to scare her with a dumb stunt.

Ms. Walker: "I'm calling your parents, Zeke. You're out of the play. And if anything else happens, I'm canceling the production."

Sometime later, Brooke walks and talks with Brian and Zeke, trying to get to the bottom of all this. They pass a janitor and tell him about the mess in the auditorium, but the janitor tells them that it'll have to wait until morning.

Brooke: "Can't the night guy do it later?"
Janitor: "Night guy? What night guy?"
Brooke: "Emile. The night janitor."
Janitor: "Night janitor? There's no night janitor."

Wait, then who cleans the school after all the extra-curricular activities finish up for the evening? Man, this school's probably gone through some major budget cuts. Which explains why we've only seen about five adults. One of whom apparently doesn't even work there.

That night, the kids walk through the auditorium and prepare to investigate.

Brooke: "I don't know aboot this. Maybe we should call the cops."
Brian: "No, we can't! If the cops come around here, Ms. Walker will cancel the play for sure."

Oh, good point. Looks like the three fifth-graders are going to have to investigate the creepy guy hanging around a school at night. Logical.

Zeke: "You can't go, Brooke. The note. The backdrop. The Phantom wants Esmeralda. That's you. Maybe your dream was a warning."
Brooke: "If the situation was reversed, would you go?"

Why would Zeke be playing Esmeralda?

Zeke: "I don't think they'd let me play Esmeralda."

Why is every kid in this episode trying to do my job for me?

The three kids head down into the sub-basement and start Scoobying around for a bit. After making their way through the corridor, they find a shoddy living area. When they look around the place further, they also find a man in a Phantom costume.

And I have to call foul on this adaptation. I understand that they have to condense the material to fit a 24-minute time slot, but I will never be able to forgive them for cutting out the bowl of Corn Flakes. See, in the book, they find a freshly-poured bowl of Corn Flakes on the table. And they realize that since the cereal isn't soggy, then the "Phantom" must still be around somewhere.

Cereal as a plot point. It's as awesome as it is stupid.

Anyway, the Phantom yells at them that they should have stayed away...

While doing his best impression of the Shadow.
So the kids lightly jog away from the crazed madman, who lightly jogs after them until he manages to nab the only girl in the group. But she manages to knock his mask off, revealing...

Old Man Emile! Jinkies!
Brooke stops on Emile's foot and runs back to the trap door elevator as the voice of another teacher, Mr. Levy, asks who's there. With an actual authority figure imminent, Emile runs away.

And so, Ms. Walker and the cops are brought in to assess the situation.

Ms. Walker: "Well, it looks like that Emile character got away...."

Uh, no, lady. That's not how you react to the news that a creepy guy was living under the school; you're making it sound like you lost track of a mouse that was scurrying through the halls.

Seriously, I think this teacher might actually be on drugs.

Ms. Walker: "But. We found a hat and this old mask down there, and the officer thinks that he was a homeless man who was living underneath the stage."
Brooke: "That's why he gave us those warnings. To keep us from finding his home!"
Principal: "You kids didn't use the best judgement."

Yeah, if Emile had been some kind of pervert, this would have been a very different episode.

Principal: "If we didn't have a staff meeting tonight, you might have been stuck down there."

Ms. Walker apologizes for wrongfully accusing Zeke, and he gets his role back. Just in time for us to cut to opening night, where Zeke gets chloroformed while attempting to make his big entrance through the trap door. Ironic.

The Phantom that actually appears onstage knows his lines by heart, but seems to be taking the role a bit seriously.

Brooke: "Not so rough, Zeke!"

"Ow, Zeke, you're bruising me!"
"Don't break character, Brooke!"
But the fires of Hell burn within the Phantom's eyes as he continues.

Goosebumps is getting hardcore.
And let me take back what I said about him knowing the lines by heart, because he goes way off script.

Phantom: "Fair Esmeralda, I have lived under this theatre for more than seventy years. I was to play the Phantom on this very stage. It was to be the greatest night of my life. But it was not to be. For one hour before the curtain was to rise, I fell into the abyss, where I became a real phantom.... hoping for this night where I would finally play my ultimate role!"

And... you wasted that opportunity by going off script and reciting your life death story instead.

But real life imitates Brooke's dream as the Phantom bids her to come with him to eternal darkness. Brooke thinks otherwise, so she rips off his mask.

Hey, Brian.
Who for some reason decides to trip backwards for no reason and fall through the trap door.

"So... do you want us to go ahead and proceed to Act 1, Scene 2?"
"I guess not."
The curtain falls, the audience applauds, and Ms. Walker is ecstatic, despite the Phantom's weird ad-libbing, and she collects everyone for curtain call. Hilariously, after Ms. Walker praises Brooke for her performance, Tina comes up to ask her about how she liked the scenery, whereupon Ms. Walker pushes Tina aside to give Corey a big hug for his performance as Carlo. And then she heads over to Zeke, who's rising up from the trap door.

Ms. Walker: "I don't know where those lines came from, mister, but they were brilliant."

They made no sense in the context of the play and clearly referred to the incident with the missing kid. "Those lines" sucked.

I'm pretty sure this teacher's been smoking or drinking something only legal in certain states. It would explain her behavior. Like how she failed to notice that Zeke was unconscious as she praised his performance. Zeke wakes up, though, and mumbles that something hit him. And a 1923 yearbook seems to have materialized out of nowhere.

If that title's accurate, it should have some interesting entries.
"Adolf, live your artistic dream, bro. Best Friends Forever, Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili."
After curtain call, Brooke exposits that the ghost of that boy from 72 years ago was there. He was the one who played the Phantom onstage in Zeke's place. And when Brooke shows Zeke the yearbook, we see that the kid who disappeared... was Brian!

Even though this was already revealed through Brian's distinctive voice and visible face when Brooke pushed him over! What a twist!
And with that, the episode ends. Let's review.

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