Thursday, September 24, 2009

Goosebumps: The Girl Who Cried Monster

Before we begin, R.L. and I want to make a special announcement. This episode may be a little bit dark for some viewers. It's about a young girl who sees an older man in a position of authority over her doing something. And when she tries to tell, not even her parents believe her. It also concerns the "M" word. I'm talking of course about monsters.

Lucy Dark is obsessed with monsters. When the episode opens, she's telling her little brother a story about the toe-biter monster. She finishes by sticking her toes in the mud and then screaming that all her toes were bitten off by the toe-biter.

Randy freaks out and runs inside. Mother Dark tells her daughter not to tell silly monster stories. Besides, it's time for Lucy to go to the library for the reading program. She heads over with her best friend, Aaron. At the library, creepy old Mr. Mortman the librarian asks Lucy what book she read this week. She said she read Black Beauty and that it was boring because it should have had more monsters. (Or it should have been the kind of book you can buy on the side of the street in Harlem and featured a shirtless, glistening Seal look-alike on the cover.)

Lucy chooses Frankenstein as her next book and Mortman says that that's also a classic, like Black Beauty, and is she sure she'll like it? (I'm with Mortman--Classics aren't that scary. The most frightening reading experience I had was when I read my last Goosebumps book, The Beast from the East as a child, the twist being that I'd wasted my childhood and had nothing to show for it other than an in depth knowledge of every outfit that looked good on Claudia but terrible on everyone else.)

When Lucy and Aaron leave the library, she mentions how creepy Mortman was and how the book was dripping wet when he handed it back to her. Nasty. But at least your creepy old vaguely molestery guy works at the library and not at the pizza shop like in my hometown. Now that's-ah a soggy-ah meatball!

Lucy realizes she forgot her roller blades at the 'brary and heads back inside while Aaron leaves. She spies on Mortman and sees him feeding flies to his pet spiders. She watches him shovel flies into his mouth and then morph into a monster. She gapes.

Lucy runs home and tells her parents that the middle aged unmarried male librarian unleashed his two-eyed monster to her. They think she's making up stories. (Say what you like about girls who tell outlandish stories--if I were standing in B&N looking for memoirs about weird experiences, I'd buy Lucy Dark's book way before buying Kathryn Harrison's or Mackenzie Phillip's.)

Lucy's dad says that he had hoped this monster thing was just a phase she was going through. Lucy emos, "LIFE is just a phase I'm going through." (Hide the razor blades and the dark eyeliner, folks.) Also, the smug smile on R.L. Stine's face that had appeared when he thought he was going to get the Judy Blume Award for Understanding the Psyche of the Adolescent Girl disappears when I break out into laughter.

Later, Lucy phones her friend Aaron and tells him about her plan. She's going to take a picture of Mortman as a monster and win James Randi's money. Also, prove to her parents that she wasn't lying.

Next scene, at the library, Mortman and Lucy discuss Frankenstein. "Didn't you think that the monster was the most sympathetic character in the story?" Don't fall for it, Lucy! This is just like the time my high school English tutor asked me if I thought Humbert Humbert was the most sympathetic character in all of literary history and then slipped me a lifetime membership card to NAMBLA. "Perhaps we all have a little monster in us, Lucy," he says. Uh, no, Mortman, I don't want a little monster in me, and don't try and tell me how you'd try and rearrange the alphabet to make "U" and "I" right next to each other.

Lucy pretends to leave and then hides in the library again. She watches Mortman eat spiders this time and takes a picture of him. But he sees the flash going off and tries to find her as she hides. She runs away but he's seen her and yells for her to come back. Also, the Internet starts to blaze with indignation as every Feministing, Jezebel, and Broadsheet commenter races to condemn Lucy for photograhing Mortman without his consent. (Sadako: "But he's a MONSTER." Average Commenter: "He got photographed without his consent! And lied about other monsters. She has nothing to be proud of. What a disgrace.")

Back at home, she locks the door. But Mortman shows up on the porch asking if he can come inside. Lucy tells him that her parents aren't home. Then she realizes what she said, and this whole segment turns into an anti strangers PSA from the early 90s. "I mean, they'll be home any minute...I mean, they're in the bathroom. Mom, is dad still cleaning his rifles?" Mortman mentions that she left her backpack at the library, and she tells him to just leave it on the doorstep. Pedo-Bear gets the message and goes.

Okay, R.L., I take back the snark--this truly will haunt my dreams, no jokes. And as for you, Mr. Mortman, sitting backwards in chairs is the way to reach out to the kids. Not smiling creepily. Now I'm going to give you to the count of ten, to get your ugly, grey, no good sweater vest off my property, before I pump your guts full of lead. See, Lucy? You have to be firm.

When her parents come home, Lucy tries to tell them about how Mortman came over to drop off her backpack. They think it's nice of him to go out of his way to do that. Yeah, and it was really nice of wacky old Arnold Friedman to give all those computer lessons to supple pubescent boys in the 80s. But Lucy really wants to get to the crime lab to get these photos developed.

So, her parents take her to the mall so they can go to the One Hour Photo. Coincidentally, Mr. Mortman is here. I bet he's here because he wants to go next door to the video store to get Monsters, Inc. and then go home and write X-rated fanfic with him as Sully and Lucy as Boo.

"Quite the little photographer, aren't you?" he asks Lucy. He looks all huffy, like a bicurious girl who went wild in Cancun confronting Joe Francis, along with her rich daddy's tax lawyer. For the record, though, the photos Lucy took show everything in the shot except Mr. Mortman. Because monsters don't show up on film.

I turn to R.L. "That's the best you could do to resolve this plot point? Monsters don't show up on film?! Besides, I seem to remember monsters photographing plenty well in the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, book 38 of Goosebumps, and in One Day at Horrorland--" And that's when the chloroform kicked in. I admit, I push him too far at times. Okay, okay, on my list of Photography Don'ts, I'll add the monster rule, along with "Don't violate the rule of thirds," and "Out of focus shots of disembodied breasts are not great art even if they are in black and white."

Next, Lucy's parents interrupt and tell Mr. Mortman what a great librarian he is and could he come to dinner that night? He agrees.

That night, Mortman shows up. He asks what they're having for dinner and Lucy's dad says, "It's funny you should ask," Then the Darks grow fangs and there's a cutaway to what looks like a Nature program clip of rattlesnake going for a hipppo (with a grey cardigan and glasses photoshopped onto him) and when we come back, Mortman's been eaten.

The parents explain that, of course, the Darks are all monsters and that when they're older, Lucy and Randy will grow fangs of their own. So why'd they kill Mortman if he's one of them? Because there's only room in town for one set of monsters. It's the same reason Beth Ditto, Amy Winehouse, and Keith Richards rarely headline shows together.

Then there's something at the window that looks vaguely monstrous and the parents get ready to kill again. But it's just best friend Aaron wearing a rubber monster mask. They tell him dinner's over but dessert is still to come. When he asks what it is, they say, "You..." Pause. "...Like cherry pie?" Can the twist be that they're offering up the hymen of their nubile young daughter?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The Tale of the Midnight Ride

The Midnight Society has had to say good-bye to both David and Kristen, what with their families moving and Kristen needing to go method act by studying Alicia Silverstone's every move to prepare for her role as the smaller screen version of Cher Horowitz. So we have room for two more. Gary brings his little brother Tucker to be the newest member because his parents are making him. The rule is that each prospective member has to tell a story, and if it doesn't suck (or features a cool teen celebrity like Melissa Joan Hart or the Mowry twins), they're in. Of course, since nepotism is the rule of the day, Tucker's audition makes about as much sense as that one lone producer asking Ashlee Simpson if she knew what the key of C was (to be fair, it was his first day).

Frank, Kiki, and Betty Ann are skeptical that Tucker will do a good job but apparently they have no choice. So Tucker calls his story the Tale of the Midnight Ride. (Apologies to Mr. Longfellow.)

It takes place in Sleepy Hollow. Oh, so the twist is you're not ripping off Longfellow, but Washington Irving? Tucker tells us the story of how a Hessian soldier got his head blown off by a cannon ball and so became the Headless Horsemen. Said horseman went on to haunt Ichabod Crane. Right off the bat you know that Tucker probably spent less time writing this and more time in the library with Cliff Notes. (Hey, who can blame Tucker? This was a golden age of TV for kids and he probably wanted to watch Power Rangers that night.)

Ian, our main character, is a dorky bookish type who's really into a pretty girl named Katie. Katie's being courted by the boorish Brad but she's really not that into him. Did you get that? Ian=Ichabod, Katie=Katrina, and Brad=Brom Bones. Oh, subtlety, thy name is Tucker. (And before you can self-righteously pipe up with, "The word is homage," no, Tucker. No, it's not. For anyone who's not a pretentious bohemian art student, it's "send-up," "spoof," or "allusion," but not, for the love of god, homage.)

There's a dance at school where Brad spends a lot of time hitting on Katie but she's more interested in dancing with Ian.

After all, they came in matching his and her three corner hats. When Ian tells Brad to get lost, the two take it outside.

Oh, Ian, I didn't know it was possible, but somehow you make the Cowardly Lion look as butch as a Tom o'Finland drawing. Instad of fighting, Brad tells Ian about the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, how Ichabod Crane took the wrong path and went deeper into the woods instead of across the bridge where the horseman couldn't get him. I wonder if this will be at all relevant later. You know, since we've only been told about Ichabod Crane twice. I think the real twist would be if Rip Van Winkle turned up passed out in the bathroom and the gang had to figure out whether to call 911 and risk not going to good universities, or dump him in the river and brave what insane hooked killers may come.

Brad tells Ian that he should go try to find the headless horseman's pumpkin at the bridge to prove he's brave. (I'm pretty sure that even if this story were based on real events, said pumpkin would be a rotting mess by now.) It's either that or a fight. So Ian goes.

At the bridge, he turns around and sees a headless fellow. Don't get too excited. We're less than halfway in, and if R.L. Stine and Caroline B. Cooney have taught me anything, you always reserve the real scares for three quarters through.

It's Brad in a headless get up. He's also surrounded by everyone who was at the dance who presumably came to laugh at him. Katie's there, too. If she knew what Brad was up to, why didn't she warn Ian?

Brad snaps his fingers and assumes Katie will come with him, but she stays with Ian and asks him to walk her home. He tells her it's the one thing that would make this night worthwhile and extends his elbow to her saying, "Take thee my muddy arm." (Please, please, please, don't ask her to grant you her dainty hoof in marriage, Ian, and we'll be cool.) As they head off, we pull back to see...

He's the real headless horseman. If the fact that he's on a horse didn't clue you in, the swirling fog and ominous music let you know for sure.

Then the two run into a guy in whiteface on a horse who tells them his name is Ichabod Crane and he's the new schoolmaster. Ichabod-ghost simpers, "I'm afraid I have lost my way in these wretched woods. Would you be so kind as to direct me to the bridge of souls?"

They tell him to take the left path in the fork in the road to get to the bridge. "Lucky thing," he responds, "I surely would have taken the right!"

(Note to whoever's playing Ichabod Crane. There's a difference between playing a role gay and playing it old-fashioned. And an even subtler distinction between gay and British but I guess the Joey Tribbiani School of Soap Opera Acting didn't cover that unit yet. I bet it was lessons like this that explain why he went on to such meaty roles as the voice of Mr. Ratburn on PBS's Arthur.)

Ian walks Katie home and then heads back to get his bike at the school. He realizes he forgot his key in his jacket and can't unlock the bike. Katie shows up with the jacket and key in hand. He says, "Come on, I'll ride you home." (Um, Ian? It's 1994--chivalry is dead and Ani DiFranco just did a tap dance on its grave. And also...ew.)

In the distance they see a shadow of the headless horseman. This time, he's actually on a horse and he's got a pumpkin for a head.

They eye roll, thinking it's Brad but they soon realize it's not...when the shadow comes out of the wall and materializes.

The kids run, realizing that their only hope is to get to the bridge because the horseman can't cross. They wonder what the horseman is doing. Shouldn't he be off terrorizing Ichabod Crane? But they realize that they messed up the story when they told Ichabod to take the left path, and now the horseman is after them.

Ian tells Katie the horseman can't get them both so they should split up. He proposes to distract the horseman while Katie runs for the bridge. But because this is the nineties and Katie has been reared on a steady diet of "Take Your Daughter to Work Day," American Girl dolls, Title IX, and RiotGrrl, she immediately says that she will distract the horseman. She runs off and Ian starts for the bridge. But Katie falls flat on her face and girls everywhere put down the Sleater Kinney CDs, burn the zines, and head to Victoria Secret for push-up bras.

Ian turns and runs for the bridge while Katie encourages him. The horseman chases Ian (passing up an incapacitated teenage girl? Well, I guess we know that's not the ghost of William Kennedy Smith running around) but disappears in flames as it tries to cross the bridge.

Why a fiery mass? Well, the FX crew really wanted to try out that insta-flame effect. Don't laugh. Back in Canada in '94, this was a big deal.

Katie makes sure Ian's okay. He's hanging from the edge of the bridge and he pops up saying, "And I thought this place was boring!" Zany understatements. Is there any kind of traumatic experience that they can't smooth over?

Ichabod Crane shows up again to scold the kids about staying out too late. (And not to yell at them for stealing his signature look?) They ask him what he's doing here, and he said he thinks he lost his way and should go back to the fork in the road and take the other way to set things straight. Gotta love literary characters who are resigned to their fates. Though I have to ask--how can you see the ghost of a fictional character?

I also have to smack Tucker with a copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow because if we're to believe this is a send-up of the original story, it makes zero sense. In the original, there was no actual ghost. Brom Bones (dressed as the headless horseman) was the one who got Ichabod. And no, Tucker, you don't have the excuse of, "But the movie said--" because that particular love note of Tim Burton to Johnny Depp doesn't come out for another four years.

Tucker finishes and looks around to see if he's in. Kiki's reaction: "That'll do, pig, that'll do." Betty Ann smiles warmly and tells him how awesome it was, and Frank, playing the Simon to Betty Ann's Paula, just warns Gary to keep Tucker out of his face. I'm with you, Frank, I haven't seen such desperate courting of the 7-10 demographic since the Planeteers took on that damned "Heart!" kid and his simian pal. Gary high fives Tucker and then as he puts out the fire, says to himself that he hopes he doesn't regret this, in the same tone of voice as Aaron Spelling when he finally decided to let Donna Martin pop her cherry.