If you grew up in the 90’s, odds are R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series acted as your horror training wheels; a gateway into the genre that substituted slime for blood and had strange – sometimes disturbing – twist endings. Starting with the publication of Welcome To Dead House and Stay Out Of The Basement in July 1992, the franchise would go through seven different incarnations (including one that was marketed but never published) and sell over 350 million copies worldwide in dozens of different languages. In 1995, the powers that be decided it was time to adapt it into a horror anthology show for kids.
Working within the range of $14 million per season, the Canadian-made series was of surprisingly high quality aesthetically and, for the time it was made and the budget constraints it had, featured decent practical and CGI effects. The episodes, as well as the books they were based on (a handful were created just for broadcast), all featured the same plot structure which placed the youthful protagonist(s) in a new situation that removed them from their normal surroundings while melding horror with humor and putting a twist on things during the last few minutes. The books got kids interested in reading and no matter how basic and unchallenging the material was, at least it got them to flip the page.
The televised version, on the other hand, was and still is pure camp, with occasional episodes that come across as demented. The “Goosebumps is rated GB-7, because it may be too spooky for children under seven” disclaimer holds true for a few including A Shocker on Shock Street, which is memorable because of the twist ending that has a character tortured with electrocution after its revealed that some of the children are robots testing out a theme park; for Tales From The Crypt, that’s nothing new but for a show geared towards 7 to 10-year-olds (some of which haven’t read the source material), it’s a bit much. Years later, I come to find out that episode specifically was heavily edited by the BBFC and several others were never aired in the UK. But, regardless of that, most of the episodes are in good fun and are a hoot for the age group they’re intended for.
Out of the 74 aired episodes (Cartoon Network is rumored to be broadcasting the unaired episodes of the series sometime soon, some of which premiered on DVD), only 5 have yet to make their way to DVD after the two recently released volumes, which include Attack Of The Mutant Parts I and II, Phantom Of The Auditorium, Ghost Beach, The Barking Ghost, and Be Careful What You Wish For. Out of all the aforementioned episodes, only Mutant is noteworthy because it’s much more action and fantasy oriented than horror, and it has a fun – but brief – Adam West cameo. The rest are unmemorable in the grand scheme of things, but they’re fun time wasters. The DVDs have no bonus features, which is a shame, but none of the releases have them so it’s not a huge surprise.
Like Are You Afraid Of The Dark?, Goosebumps is a decent gateway into horror. It might not have the level of unfiltered weirdness that Eerie, Indiana had – which is my favorite children’s genre show, probably because Joe Dante was a creative consultant – but the nostalgia you’ll feel from the handful of good episodes makes the series worth a watch.