Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: Goosebumps "One Day at Horrorland"

The vast majority of the time, I divide these Reviews into relevant sections focusing on the plot, the themes, the characters, et cetera. The exceptions to this layout occurred mostly during the earlier days of this blog, when I didn’t have formatting figured out, but I still occasionally branch out from this structure.

And this two-parter defies my usual structure, since in talking about any aspect of it, I have to discuss another aspect of it. It’s like a gigantic Gordian Knot of what-the-heck.

The Original Book
In the original story, Lizzy and Luke Morris (and Luke’s friend, Clay) were being taken by their parents to… well, it doesn’t matter, since they end up at Horrorland.

Luke and his buddy have a “Mad Pincher” routine they find funny, but cut it out when they see the “No Pinching” signs all around Horrorland.

They go on a few horrifying rides, get taken into the back, discover that the Horrors are actually monsters, escape a deathtrap by pinching the Horrors (their one weakness), drive home in a stolen vehicle… and discover that a Horror stowed along to give them coupons for their next visit.

…Okay, that’s a funny ending.

The book was not one of R.L. Stine’s best. In most of his other books, he manages to cram in a plot beyond “survive.” But what made the book memorable was Horrorland itself. Every kid who read the book probably imagined the same thing. Grey skies above rickety roller coasters, tattered big top tents, and monsters around every corner.

Horrorland is a really cool setting that managed to buoy up an okay story. And why wouldn’t it be? You can write anything you can imagine down on paper and create a world. That doesn’t cost anybody a dime.
Adapting the story on a children’s TV budget would be a problem akin to going to the moon with bottle rockets.

Why This Episode Fails
Now, this is just speculation on my part, since information regarding this show is virtually non-existent… but it seems to me like the majority of the problems with this story could very well be chalked up to budget issues.

First up, Clay. His primary purpose was to egg on Luke and the Mad Pincher routine, providing setup for the Horrors’ lame last-second weakness. In the book, pinching the Horrors made them deflate, an effect that would cost money even if done badly. And hiring a child actor to portray Clay would be prohibitively expensive either way. Best to cut the character and the pinching subplot and save money.

Instead, having a Horror help the humans escape from a recycled costume would save even more money.

Second, the actual plot.

The ending deathtrap? Too expensive. Replaced with a game show parody.

The sets and costumes are going overbudget for a single episode? Make it a two-parter, even though Part II only covers chapters 22 through 28.

Not enough plot in chapters 22 through 28 to justify a two-parter? Add commercials to the game show parody, a pointless scene with a stereotypically gay makeup artist, and more scenes of the kids going on rides.

Not enough money to film another deadly ride? …Screw it, just film more scenes of Luke and Lizzy walking through Horrorland while being stalked by a Horror, or something.

Third, the costumes. Now, admittedly, they’re all very well-made, but some definitely look better than others.

I think they reused that one mask for several characters.
Hey, look, you can see a human mouth inside this one's mouth.
Oh God, he ate someone!
Obviously, this is to save on budget. Less elaborate masks with no need to hire a guy to put green makeup around the extras’ eyes.

But even after all of that, the set budget was clearly spent on the game show set.

This is honestly a pretty good set.
This is honestly not.
Horrorland looks like a community park with a spooky nature walk. Plastic skulls, fake cobwebs, and nothing that actually looks like… you know. A theme park. No roller coasters, no Doom Slide from the book, a single concession stand that was probably also used as the ticket booth, and the only actual ride we see consists of a dock and two coffins.

When you get down to it, Horrorland looks cheap, even with all the cost-cutting they probably did so they could spend money on it. They cut all the corners they could so they could deliver… a forest.

I hate to say it, but perhaps this episode shouldn’t have been adapted? There are plenty of Goosebumps books that would be cool to see adapted that weren’t for probable budget issues. "Why I'm Afraid of Bees," which features its protagonist as a bee for most of the story, would need a tricky combination of effects, like CG, modelwork, and maybe the odd live bee to pull off. It would have been tricky, but doable.

"Egg Monsters from Mars" would be nigh-impossible, since the script deals with several monsters that look like scrambled eggs moving under their own free will. And when you take a look at the Goosebumps episode that did give us a blob monster....

Perhaps it's for the best that they left this one on the shelf.
I mean, when the only saving grace of the original story is the cool setting, and you can’t do that setting justice, then maybe you should adapt a different story? Why not “Beware the Snowman”? I imagine fake snow and Styrofoam snowmen are cheaper than building a game show set filled with latex monsters. Or what about “The Haunted School”? All you’d need is a buttload of grey makeup for the black-and-white world, which, again, I’d imagine would be cheaper than building a game show set. 

Look. Long story short, with what they were working with, “One Day at Horrorland” was probably very hard to adapt. So they got creative with stretching out the story… but they still failed.

Lizzy Morris (Heather Brown)
Insert my typical “The actress does a good job with the material” here. Though I will say I like her expressiveness. I love how she looks like she’s barely tolerating the crap Horrorland throws at her.

Luke Morris (Luke Morris)
Without the Mad Pincher routine, the character’s pretty darn bland.

Mr. Morris & Mrs. Morris (Jonathan Whitaker, Kirsten Bishop)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the late Kirsten Bishop’s plethora of voice work for the English dub of Sailor Moon. But even though she and Whitaker get occasional times to shine, the parents don’t do much but worry. Which is a darn shame, because they get a moment or two to deliver funny lines, and they seem to have good chemistry.

Monster of the Week: Horrors
I like the Horrors. As a generic monster race, they seem much less one-note than the Creeps, who simply want to take over the world. The Horrors all have different personalities, and desires, and that really makes it seem like they’re an actual race of monster living in secret, rather than a stock character type. For contrast, look at 90% of Klingons who all have the same motivations, background, and look to them.

The Horrors are played by Neil Crone (Blek, Host), Ron Stefaniuk (who also worked on the show’s practical effects), and Jason Hopley. As such, I am inclined to believe that Holly Tosis was played by one of them in classic Shakespearean fashion.

Speaking of the practical effects, the Horror costumes look really good. Even the relatively cheaper ones with the painted-on eyes are passable. And the ones with the actors’ actual eyes showing through look really good. No joke, this is the one part of the episode I can praise with no caveats.

Barking Dogs: 0

Child Grabbing
Part I: 3
Part II: 2
Total: 5

Foliage POV Cam: Yes

Red Paint: No

X-Files Shout-Out: No

Final Thoughts
The most amusing thing about this episode is the fact that the actors occasionally make "Horrorland" sound like "Whoreland," allowing for little gems like this.

"It's just that parents usually don't let their kids go running around Whoreland."

While the actors give it their all, this episode’s reach exceeds its grasp. While this two-parter has its moments and its fans, all I can see are compromises, cut corners, and a Horrorland that fails to measure up to even basic expectations.

Next time, if you can believe it, an episode with fewer redeeming qualities. See you then.

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