Monday, June 19, 2017

Recap: Goosebumps "Stay Out of the Basement Part 1"

I mentioned previously that R.L. Stine was a huge fan of E.C. Comics in general- and Tales From the Crypt in particular- when he was naught but a young'un. And there's a definite E.C. Comics influence in many of his Goosebumps stories.

Last March, R.L. Stine broke into the medium of comic books with the release of his first issue of Man-Thing for Marvel. And may I be the first to wish Mr. Stine the best of luck in the medium!

...Yes, I do realize I'm probably not the first to wish him luck by a long shot. I guess that's what I get for taking such a long break.

Anyway, today, I've got a little something special planned in Stine's honor. Since Man-Thing is a comic book about a scientist who became a living plant monster, I'll be looking at an episode of Goosebumps that basically does the same thing. It'll be like seeing Man-Thing done on a TV budget!

Which shouldn't fill you with hope, since the actual TV Man-Thing has 17% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.
The episode begins with Mrs. Brewer (Lucy Peacock) exiting her house and heading toward her car. See, her sister, Eleanor, is pretty sick, so Mrs. Brewer is going to go visit her in the hospital, leaving her two kids, Margaret and Casey (Rebecca Henderson and Blake McGrath), with their father, Dr. Brewer (Judah Katz).

Margaret voices her displeasure with this arrangement as she walks her mother to her car. It's not that she dislikes her dad, but the man's been acting "weird" lately.

Mrs. Brewer: "He's under a lot of pressure, Margaret."

"That brings a building down. Splits a family in two. Puts people on streets."
But not only has Dr. Brewer been spending less and less time with his kids, he doesn't even call Margaret "Princess" anymore.

Mrs. Brewer: "I thought you hated that."
Margaret: "I do. But it just seems like he's changed."

Teenagers. There's just no pleasing them sometimes.

Casey, however, is in a much better mood as he runs up to his mom to hand her the card he bought for Aunt Eleanor.

"'Congratulations, it's a girl'? Casey, were you listening when I told you why your Aunt was in the hospital?"
"Gonna be honest. No."
But Margaret's still thinking about her dad.

Margaret: "And he's always been down in the basement. Ever since he lost his job."

Unfortunately for Margaret, her dad didn't react to losing his job by converting the basement into a mancave like many guys would. He's been busy with his work. And we get a glimpse of that work as we briefly cut to him in the basement, surrounded by all the plants he's been growing.

Margaret: "What does he do down there anyway?"

"I keep hearing Pink Floyd and there's this funny smelling smoke."
Casey: "He's a botanist. He studies plants."
Margaret: "I know that."

Yeah, well, the audience didn't.

Margaret: "But all the time?"
Mrs. Brewer: "He wants to prove to the university that they made a mistake when they let him go."

Oh, great, so he's a mad scientist and an angry one. Which means he's probably well on his way to committing an act of supervillainy. I can't wait to see how he's perverted the wonders of science into a grotesque mockery of the natural order!

But Aunt Eleanor lives far away, so Mrs. Brewer needs a ride to the airport. And since the only other person with a license is Dr. Brewer, Mrs. Brewer tells Margaret to go get him out of the basement.

As Margaret and Casey head down the basement stairs, their dad appears at the top of the stairs to let them know which episode they're in.

Dad: "Stay out of the basement!"

"Part One!"
The kids tell their dad that they're sore-y and explain that they were told to go and get him. He understands.

Dad: "Look. Kids. I'm sorry I raised my voice. I just don't want you down in the basement."

"You can tell a dirty story in the old conservatory, but don't go in the basement."
He heads over to get his coat, when he suddenly thinks that perhaps his words haven't sunken in within the past ten seconds.

Dad: "Don't forget what I said about the basement."

"You can make a scene on the mezzanine, but don't go in the basement."
As Dr. Brewer leaves, Margaret can't help but wonder exactly why her dad is so paranoid about the basement....

But she and her brother spend their alone time the same way most kids their age probably would. Oh, sure, fiction would usually have us believe that any modicum of time alone would have most kids raiding the pantry, inviting friends over, or contemplating a "spaghetti bath," but Margaret and Casey are simply chillin'. Casey plays what appears to be a Goosebumps video game, since the graphics are just a pixellated clip from "Welcome to Camp Nightmare" and the music is a synth version of the Goosebumps theme. And Margaret fiddles with what looks like a Nintendo 3DS, but what I think is actually a PDA.

Either way, Margaret hears noises coming from the basement. And like any proper Goosebumps protagonist, she takes it upon herself to justify investigating. She and her brother decide that it sounds like animal noises, and they should check to see if some animal got in the basement and got hurt. Somehow.

So into the basement they go, just to make sure that nothing's wrong. Once down there, they find themselves in a place that reminds me of the haunted house I used to work at. The final room before the exit featured green lights, fake vines on the walls, fake plants, and a guy in a really cool carnivorous plant costume. Take away the guy in a plant costume, and that's what you've got in Dr. Brewer's makeshift laboratory.

Casey: "I wonder if Dad's doing the rainforest. I'm studying it in school."

Just... just a solid contribution there, bud.

They take a look around the place, and Margaret finds a weird plant that seems to be breathing. So naturally, she decides to touch it. And, naturally, it reaches out with a vine, grabs her, and pricks her, getting its first taste of human blood. She manages to get free, but her brother doesn't believe her when she claims that a plant grabbed her.

The honk of a horn heralds the return of Dr. Brewer, so the kids decide to finally heed their dad's advice. Unfortunately, it was so hot down there that Casey took off his shirt when they were looking around. And it's still down there. So as Dr. Brewer slowly gets out of the car and heads toward the house, Casey rushes down and looks for his shirt.

The music here gets pretty odd. There's some percussion-based "jungle" music, which is exactly what you'd expect from this show, but occasionally, there's a random trumpet note that sounds like an asthmatic alcoholic is warming up his instrument.

But after all the tense action of a kid looking for his shirt, he finally manages to locate it and heads upstairs just before their dad comes in the house. Dr. Brewer seems to find it odd that his kids are waiting for him in the hallway, so he asks them if they went into the basement. Margaret tries to explain what happened with the sounds and such, but Dr. Brewer doesn't want to hear it. All he cares about is whether or not they went down there at all.

Margaret: "...Yes."
Casey: "We didn't touch anything."

Except for Margaret, but whatever.
Dr. Brewer: "You kids okay?"
Margaret: "Yeah, we're fine."

Unsurprisingly, telling his kids not to go down into his mysterious basement of secrets has resulted in two children in his basement. So Dr. Brewer decides to sit his kids down in the kitchen and try to explain what he's been up to.

Dr. Brewer: "Botanists often try to take good qualities from some plants and put them into another."

I'd harp on the oversimplification, but he is explaining his work to children, after all.

"And this is... you know. A kids' show."
Get out of here.

Margaret: "And that's what you're doing?"
Dr. Brewer: "No, no, no, no. I'm doing something... a little bit more unusual."

"A little less 'Punnet Squares,' a little more 'affront to the laws of God and man.'"
Dr. Brewer: "I can't tell you what it is right now."

You know, Dr. Brewer's explanation pretty much boils down to "You want to know what I'm doing? Sure. Well, you know this one thing? It's nothing like that. I can't tell you any more." Way to put their minds at ease.

Dr. Brewer starts to walk over to the basement, and Margaret hopes to entice him into staying upstairs with a couple movies her mom rented before she left, since Netflix doesn't exist yet. But Dr. Brewer has a lot of work to do, so into the basement it is.

We get a shot establishing that Dr. Brewer ignored his own advice by staying in the basement all night while Margaret slept, and we cut to the next day, where she puts the finishing touches on a nice breakfast for her dad. Two eggs, toast, bacon, it looks freaking delicious.

Margaret knocks on the basement door, but her dad doesn't answer. But instead of going down there and angering him, she decides to let him come upstairs when he gets hungry. So it just sits there for a while as Casey plays his video game and Margaret reads a magazine. They talk about their dad and his eating habits, when suddenly, he emerges from the basement and heads into the kitchen. For some reason, he's wearing a baseball cap. Also for some reason, as Margaret discovers when she spies on him from the other room, he's eating something from a jar under the sink and washing it down with a pitcher full of water.

She walks in and shows him the breakfast she made, but he claims to not be hungry, meaning that such a delicious breakfast is going to go to waste. It's not just getting cold, it's not going to be eaten at all. Two eggs, sunny side up, going uneaten. Crisp, pan-fried bacon that's going to get dumped in the trash. Buttery toast that...


Sorry, I'm just really hungry as I'm writing this and that breakfast looks really good.

So Dr. Brewer goes back into the basement to continue his work, leaving Margaret to peek under the sink and discover what he was eating.

Margaret: "Plant food?"

Man, whatever genetically-engineered weed Dr. Brewer's smoking down there must have given him a weird case of the munchies. I mean, how could he possibly eat that chemically-treated mulch when there's a perfectly good meal right there on the table? Runny yolks, just waiting to have crisp toast dipped...

I'm cooking myself breakfast once I'm done here. I don't care what time it is.

So in the space of a cut, Margaret's on the phone with her mom. Mrs. Brewer's remarkably chill about her husband eating plant food, but probably because her mind's on her sister. Aunt Eleanor is still recovering from her surgery.

Margaret tries to tell her mom that something is not right with her dad, but the man himself grabs the phone out of her hand and carries on a pleasant conversation with her while giving Margaret an icy stare the whole time. We only hear half the conversation, but I think the missing parts are pretty obvious.

Dr. Brewer: "Hi, honey. Everything okay?"

"Well, Eleanor pulled through and is doing well."
Dr. Brewer: "Awwwww. That's a shame."

"Hey, did you just grab the phone from our daughter?"
Dr. Brewer: "Margaret? Yes."

"Kind of a rude thing to do. You should make up for it somehow."
Dr. Brewer: "You're right. I should spend more time with her."

"Are you just creepily staring at her?"
Dr. Brewer: "Absolutely."

"You should stop."
Dr. Brewer: "You're right. We miss you."

"Oh, and if the cops drop by, tell them I fled to Maine. Then go hide the money in our mattress."
Dr. Brewer: "I will. Byyyyyyyyyyyye."

After he hangs up, he heads back down to the basement.

Margaret: "I hope Aunt Eleanor starts feeling better."

"That makes one of us."
That night, Margaret hears some strange noises coming from her dad's bathroom, so she goes to investigate and ends up peering through the wide slats in the bathroom door.

Okay, no. Just... no.
Why on Earth would the bathroom door have slats like this? She even opens them up from the outside of the bathroom. I mean, what if Dr. Brewer was simply making constipation grunts when Margaret peered in? Why was this bathroom made for peeping Toms?

But the only thing she sees come out of her dad's body is the green goo seeping out of his arm as if that wasn't weird enough, his head has sprouted leaves. But before Margaret can take it all in, Dr. Brewer looks over at the door, which is Margaret's cue to run back to her room and pretend to be asleep.

Dr. Brewer comes into her room to check on her, but she's pretending as hard as she can.

"Closing my eyes tighter means I'm more asleep, right?"
He ends up leaving after a bit and going back into the glowy depths of the basement. The next morning, Margaret heads into her brother's room and tries to tell him what she saw.

Margaret: "Dad cut his arm and this green stuff was oozing out of it."
Casey: "You're nuts."

"No, his arm."
Margaret: "And he was talking to himself and he had leaves growing out of his head."

Perhaps he got it from Grandma Mayzie's side of the family?

Margaret: "Do you wanna know what I think?"
Casey: "No. What?"
Margaret: "I think dad's a mad scientist."

Noooooooooooooooooo, really?

But then, alarming even Casey, Dr. Brewer calls his kids downstairs for breakfast. They arrive to find their dad wearing a baseball cap and what appears to be an apron from the set of Star Trek: Voyager. He tells his kids to take a seat as he finishes up with his pot.

...A cooking pot, I mean. This has nothing to do with his basement activities.
Casey: "Hey, dad, what's with the cap? I thought you hated baseball."

"I said I hated going to your Little League games. There's a difference."
Dr. Brewer: "So I guess you kids think that your old dad's acting pretty darn weird, henh?"

With only a little interrogating, Margaret reveals that she saw her dad last night in the bathroom with the leaves and the goo and all that. So Dr. Brewer starts explaining.

Dr. Brewer: "Well, that's... just a side-effect. It's only temporary. It'll go away soon and my hair will grow back."

Okay. Next question. Why are there leaves growing out of your head?

Margaret: "Why was there green stuff coming out of your cut?"
Dr. Brewer: "Well, uh, that wasn't coming out of my cut. That was fluid that comes from... the leaves."

Okay. Next question. Why are there leaves growing out of your head?

Dr. Brewer: "Now, I'm working on something. And it's very very unusual. I'm trying to build a plant... that is part animal."

Okay... why?

Dr. Brewer is perverting the laws of nature by putting animal cells in plants. And he's not explaining what he hopes to accomplish here, meaning that Margaret is just going to assume that her dad's a mad scientist.

Just make up something about feeding third-world countries by being able to plant beef in the ground, Dr. Brewer. That's all you have to do.

What does he say instead?

Dr. Brewer: "I can't say any more."

Oh, yeah, because that put her to rest the first time.

Anyway, time for breakfast. A nice big bowl of green slop that resembles the plant food he was scarfing down. The good doctor's kids aren't too keen on the foul-smelling gunk, but his stone-faced expression keeps telling them to eat it while he watches. For some reason.

Luckily, the kids are saved by the bell. Literally. The doorbell rings. Dr. Brewer goes to answer the door, giving the kids the chance to dump out breakfast into the sink and claim they ate it all.

The man at the door is one Dr. Marek (Hrant Alianak), Dr. Brewer's former boss. Apparently, Marek disagreed with the decision of "the board" to fire Dr. Brewer, which is why he's willing to see how Dr. Brewer's independent research is going. Dr. Brewer wants his kids to play outside while he and Dr. Marek are in the basement, and the two kids oblige.

They toss a novelty flying disc back and forth as they wonder about their dad some more. Casey runs off to find it once Margaret throws it too hard, and he ends up near the basement window. The two doctors seem to be arguing about something, and Casey leans in to be able to hear better. But unfortunately for him, a nearby vine decides to start stalking him.

I've been waiting this whole episode to use that pun.
To be continued! ...As if you couldn't read that already.

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