Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: Goosebumps "Calling All Creeps"

After watching this episode, I can't help but wonder if R.L. Stine was inspired by the conspiracy theories about shapeshifting lizardmen infiltrating the highest levels of government.

The War of 1812 was an inside job! Lantern oil can't burn hot enough to melt the White House!
Regardless, this plot was actually based on a similar event from R.L. Stine's college years. I am, of course, referring to the ad in the paper and not the invasion of lizardmen.

I think what I like the most about this story is that there's no easy way out. Many of R.L. Stine's stories feature monsters with convenient weaknesses that are used to save the day at the last second. I think the most ridiculous occurrence of this would be when an army of inhuman Horrors was defeated by pinching them, causing them all to deflate like balloons and die. Yeah, say what you will about the TV adaptation (and I will, rest assured), but the one thing it got right was removing the "No Pinching" subplot.

But here we have a secret invasion of shapeshifters. And the only human who knows about it gets confused as their leader. He makes token efforts to foil their plans, but the story makes it abundantly clear that the Creeps are willing to eat him alive if he even indirectly foils their plans.

And when you add in the fact that Ricky's entire life is constant bullying, it's no wonder that the kid finally snaps.

This is actually a great cautionary tale against bullying in that respect, just like "The Haunted Mask." Whether you're bullying somebody as a joke, to hide your feelings, or even just to be a jerk, you really only have yourself to blame when they snap and come after you, whether that entails putting on a haunted mask or transforming the student body into their evil minions.

Of course, there is another interpretation....

Ricky Beamer (Zachary Carlin)
It could very well be that Ricky is a piece of crap.

Now, I'm not saying that he deserves to be bullied. Far from it. But look at what this kid does, and it makes sense that people wouldn't like him.

He berates the lunch lady for making tuna surprise, when for all we know, she's the sweetest old lady and all the other students love her like a grandmother. We don't know. Nobody else is ever rude to her about her cooking. Even if they all hate it, they don't look her in the face and yell that nobody likes the tuna surprise. Just Ricky.

As soon as he makes a new friend, he decides what she gets to eat. Since we never see him with any other friends, it could very well be that Ricky simply treats his "friends" like this.

"You can't wear that shirt."

"Don't hang out with Jeff."

"You can't go see that movie. We're playing Mario tonight."

I mean, when the first thing we see him do is enact an elaborate revenge scheme.

Yes, the way Tasha and the bullies three treat him is inexcusable, but Ricky isn't the innocent victim he likes to paint himself as. He's incredibly manipulative, and in that respect, is it any wonder that the Creeps believe him to be their Commander in disguise?

Of course the book goes into much more detail with the events that lead to him enacting his revenge on Tasha. (He accidentally poured Coke on a computer, deleting Tasha's article, and getting himself fired.) Without that detail, TV Ricky loses his specific motivation for revenge, meaning that his reasons for doing so seems less like he was pushed to the brink and simply that this is the kind of spiteful person he is.

This interpretation of the character is supported by the actor's performance, which is very good, but puts emphasis on the character's already-strong manipulative qualities.

Not helping is the fact that the actor also appeared in an Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode where he willingly became the minion of some evil power that promised great gifts in exchange for being fed bullies and the main character's annoying little sister.

Iris Candler (Hamille Rustia)
Much like the Flash character of the same name, Iris is the protagonist's link to a normal, happy life. For once, Ricky can have a friend. Somebody who doesn't know about his reputation. He has the chance for a clean slate.

And to see him lose that is the ultimate tragedy here, because their friendship is well-handled, forms naturally, and has some genuine chemistry between the two actors.

Tasha McClain (Maia Filar)
Her only purpose is to be smarmy, smug, and mean. Which is why Maia Filar can't exactly branch out into a 3-dimensional character. She's sort of like the first boss of a Final Fantasy game. She seems like a major antagonist at the beginning, but the focus changes to a greater threat and she suddenly seems like small potatoes.

Bullies (Matthew Lemche, Tonya Johnson, Travis Kutt)
As great as it is that these bullies have got the diversity thing going, the only one whose name I actually caught during the episode was Wart. Their personalities are Mean, Mean, and the Big Guy.

I can't help but wonder if they were transformed into Creeps, or if their parents are also Creeps, or what, though, which leads me to my main problem with the Creeps as villains.

Monsters of the Week: The Creeps
Scaly, shapeshifting lizardmen who want to transform the entire human race into more like them. Okay, cool. That's a good horror setup with all sorts of possibilities for twist reveals... that don't happen. The thing with Iris was more like an un-twist, if anything.

But the more I think about the Creep hierarchy... actually, that's the problem right there, isn't it? Thinking about something that wasn't made to stand up to modern world building scrutiny.

Are all the Creeps kids? Are there any adult Creeps trying to transform humans? Are the kid Creeps some kind of band of evil rebels who want to spread anarchy while the adults prefer secret infiltration? What other ranks are there among the Creeps? Is it a military caste? Are Creeps born into their rank? Do all Creeps have a rank? Are there civilian Creeps? If transforming the humans is so easy to do in large batches, why aren't Creeps the majority by now?

These questions and more will never be answered.

On a minor note, the Creeps are yellow instead of purple. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was decided that yellow would look better on screen. Perhaps it was to avoid the inevitable Barney jokes and comparisons.

The morphing effects for the Creep transformations are what you'd expect from a 90s TV show. Though I have a problem with the Creep hands. The long, scaly, rubber fingers are so long that the Creeps can't hold things with their fingertips, which looks really unnatural, and it's really distracting when you notice it.

The eye holes aren't really that noticeable in the episode itself.
Barking Dogs: 0

Child Grabbing: The Ultimate Example

Child grabbing to the max.
Foliage POV: Not quite.

Red Paint: Yes

X-Files Shout Out: No

Final Thoughts
While it's not perfect, it's certainly one of the more memorable endings, which helps to make this one of the more memorable episodes. Actually, it's one of my personal favorites because of its willingness to defy the usual Goosebumps stereotypes. Of course, I'm well aware that this isn't one of the more popular stories, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Next time, a two-part adaptation of the very first Goosebumps book. See you then!

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