Saturday, October 24, 2009

Goosebumps: Ghost Beach

Siblings Jerry and Terry Sadler are visiting their elderly second cousins once removed, Brad and Agatha Sadler. We open on the kids hanging out in a graveyard. Terri's doing some etchings of grave stones when some creepy kids surprise them. Their names are Louisa and Sam Sadler. Seems almost everyone in this town is a Sadler and they're all probably related. (Ooh, edgy--Stine, are you going to pull a V.C. Andrews on me?)

Louisa's sort of cute but Sam's so ginger, he must be a soulless demon. Can that be the twist, please?

The kids look at the grave of a guy called Harrison Sadler, and Louisa and Sam try to tell the others that the ghost of Mr. Sadler haunts the beach and lives in a spooky old cave. Jerri and Terri scoff and the others leave.

Terri and Jerry have dinner with Brad and Agatha that night. They try to tell Bragatha about meeting Sam and Louisa, and ask if they're related. The pair is visibly shaken and tells the kids that if they are, it's very distantly. Brad gets up and says he's got some reading to do. "I'll help," says Agatha. Yeah, that's not suspicious at all.

While Bragatha pore over their worn copy of "Reading for Dummies," Terri and Jerry shrug. The next day, they head for the beach. Jerry wants to look for the cave when Harrison Sadler lives but Terri's having fun looking for different kinds of seaweed. You guys both need better hobbies. May I suggest collecting scabs that look like St. Francis of Assisi, learning how to say a Bar Mitzvah blessing in Klingon, and determining the third word that ends in -gry.

Jerry trips over something and screams so girlishly that I half expect Macauley Culkin to step in and invite him to Screams 101.

It is the spitting image of the plasticine dinosaur model that I made in sixth grade as part of our biology project. Except I espoused the "Don't ask me, I'm just a girl" viewpoint of science and let my lab partner, the undiagnosed autistic child who lived in a world of his own, do all the work. That's my excuse for why my model looked so crappy--what's yours, R.L.?

Jerry and Terri wonder what it is. A raccoon maybe? Or perhaps this is the original Montauk Monster. Louisa and Sam pop up out of nowhere to proclaim that it's a dog skeleton. They explain that the ghost of Harrison Sadler killed and ate it. Ghost hate dogs because they know if someone's a ghost. (R.L.? Please tell me you were on some very expensive and obscure drugs when you came with dog-eating ghosts. The scary part is he was stone cold sober.)

These ghosts must be pretty soulless. Who looks at this and sees lunch?
I see at most an appetizer.

Louisa points up to the cave and says that the ghost has lived there for hundreds of years. They have never seen him but they've seen the flickering lights and dog bones. Wouldn't a simpler solution be that a Little Korea shantytown has developed in the cave? Lights start flickering in the cave, but Terri and Jerry show skepticism that's less characteristic of Goosebumps protagonists (and more characteristic of say...Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Ghostwriter kids) by dismissing these wild stories. Louisa and Sam look disappointed.

Later that night at dinner, Bragatha try to tell them the lights in the cave were aurora borealis. "It was the middle of the day--" Jerry pipes up. But Brad is having none of this logic and reason talk and tells them not go to the cave.

That night, the kids sneak out of the house for no real reason to go to the cave. They head in and see some fake bats. ("Come on, R.L., that was the best you could do?" "We used up all our budget shooting on location on a real beach! It was either this or use my son Matt's kiddie pool." "Oh." "And we already shot Deep Trouble there!")

Then they see a creepy looking man named Harrison Sadler who scares them. He tells them they shouldn't get involved with ghosts. (Man, tell that to Demi Moore and Lydia Deitz.) Then he tells them that despite what they think, he isn't a ghost. Simple mistake. It's easy to confuse British people with dead people. (Wait--no. That's Brits and gay people.) He says that the gravestone that said Harrison Sadler was just one of his ancestors.

He explains that Louisa and Sam are ghosts. They, along with their family and a bunch of other expatriates, emigrated to the New World but died of cold and starvation. Aw, poor, dumb, pre-Oregon Trail children. Didn't even have the sense to follow in the footsteps of the Donners or those people in Alive!.

Harrison Sadler says he's safe in the cave but can't leave. He tells the children that Sam and Louisa are evil. Jerry and Terri are understandably reluctant to believe him, so Harrison tells them to go to the graveyard and that they'll find their answer there. So the kids head to the graveyard and see...

That R.L. Stine totally cribbed the gravestones from Beetlejuice! I hope Tim Burton sues.

Oh, right, the kids are dead. Meh. Are You Afraid of the Dark? already did it, Stine! Plus, since Harrison Sadler just explained that his own gravestone was there because he's named after an ancestor, isn't there a fairly plausible explanation for this?

Then Sam and Louisa pop up, inexplicably wearing matching hoodies. Terri and Jerry explain what the ghost told them. Predictably, Louisa and Sam say that the gravestones are just ancestors of theirs, and that they need to stop the ghost by sealing him up in his cave. "But he's a ghost, can't he float through?" asks Jerry. Sam tells him that the cave is some kind of sanctuary that seals up evil. Jerry, I take back what I said about your strong skepticism. You're starting to make Marcia Clark look like a take no prisoners interrogator.

"You have to attack him before he attacks you!" says Louisa. No, that's Shark Bites and it's eat them before they eat you, but nice try, honey. Louisa and Sam explain that they haven't stopped the ghost because if they fail, he'll come after them. Oh, well, okay then.

So it's up to Jerry and Terri to go after the ghost and shut him up in the cave on their own.

"Use teamwork!" Louisa tells them.

Lightning crashes and Harrison appears. He thanks Jerry and Terri for bringing the ghosts to him. Harrison whistles and a Rottweiller appears.

("He's the adopted great great grand nephew of the dog in The Omen," Stine proclaimed proudly. "Aw, that's--wait, adopted?")

The dog growls at the kids, which means they're ghosts. Because dogs always know when someone's a ghost and start flipping out. Does that mean that Cujo was basically the canine version of that Sixth Sense kid? So Harrison was right. Louisa and Sam cry that they never had a chance to live, that they died during that first winter here on the beach.

During this heartfelt monologue, I pull Stine aside. "If they're ghosts of 17th century kids, why are they dressed like they stepped off a Gap commercial shoot?" "Well, the thing with that is--" "And if they came over from England, shouldn't they have accents like Harrison? Did they take speech lessons in addition to shopping at Old Navy?" Then I bit into the Monster Blood laced brownies that R.L. baked up in his lab and fell fast asleep.

By the way, the kids suddenly inexplicably change into Crypt Keeper types ghoulies when they're revealed as ghosts, but the version I have on youtube edited that out, so we can't snark that directly.

Lightning strikes and the rocks collapse.

When the kids look up, no one's there. They look around in awe. If I know my 90s kids shows, that's the cue for one of the kids to make a cutesy wise crack. True to form, Terri pipes up with, "Next time you see me sleeping, don't wake me up." Wait, that's IT? Come on, I can do better with one brain lobe tied behind my back. How about, "Man, life's a beach!" or "Jerry, is this a happy ending or a sad ending?" "It's just an ending, okay?"

Hey, wait a minute. Harrison Sadler died, too? Even though he wasn't a ghost and was in fact more or less a good guy? Lame. This cave is so the ghost equivalent of Guantanamo Bay.

The kids head back to Bragatha's place and tell them what happened. No one seems all that shocked to learn that ghosts exist and that an innocent old hermit just died, so either the Valium and old people medicine has taken effect or those mail order correspondence courses don't cut it for acting lessons. Then there's scratching at the door and the Rottweiler enters. He starts growling and whining at Brad and Agatha. "Looks like our secret's out," says Brad. Agatha puts on her apron--turns out that on tonight's menu is dog fried dog.

Man, they are what to cute old people what Every Breath You Take is to romantic love songs. But you know what, considering that last night's fare was Mrs. Lovett's meat pies, I'm up for anything.

I could say that this episode sucked in terms of plotting, acting, and dialogue, but I won't. Instead, I'll put a positive spin on it.

Here's where it excels.

Crappy lightning effects: A
Promoting negative stereotypes of the elderly: B+
Dogs who can outact people: A+

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor

There's an incredibly lame intro to this story by David, Betty Ann, and Kristen who hold flashlights under their chins and talk about about how you think you know a person, but they might really be a stranger. (Hey, beats the alternative--Betty Ann talking about how her nice neighbor ended up molesting her when she was five. Lesson there--if someone tells you that you can be the next Dora the Explorer, DON'T LISTEN.)

Betty Ann calls this story:

Billy and Karin are siblings who live on the twelfth floor of their building. They go up to the empty thirteenth floor to play because no one lives there. Today, the elevator guy, Guys, lets them up, telling them that he doesn't like them to play up there because it makes him uneasy.

The kids play hockey. Karin whines about how she's terrible at sports, probably because she's adopted. She wonders about her birth family, and Billy tells her to stop blaming her bad playing on the fact that she was adopted.

They decide to head down. When the elevator comes, Gus isn't there.

It's a guy called Leonid. Jesus, is Vice Magazine doing their photo shoot in kids' shows now? Leonid tells Billy and Karin that Gus has been called away. They decide to take the stairs instead. (Which they should have been doing anyway--they live one floor down! Grumble, grumble, obesity epidemic.)

That night, Karin sleeps while the TV in her room comes on. She wakes up and sees a guy talking to her through the TV, telling her it's time for a little visit. She thinks she's dreaming. Next day she gets a letter saying that there's a toy factory on the thirteenth floor, asking her to come up and test some toys. She can come any time the next day. She's a little reluctant, but that night she has another dream with the same guy begging her to come.

So Karin and Billy go up to the toy factory. They go inside. And it's basically the Fireworks, Candy and Puppy dog store. The kids are impressed--this place is FAO Schwartz on steroids.

Aww, I want free samples from this place even more than I did during that school trip to the veal farm!

A woman with a layered red bob and lots of eye make up introduces herself as Olga.

But I always thought you could tell someone was an alien because of said heavy eye make up and slanty eyebrows, not painfully hip hairdos--you lied, Gene Rodenberry! And, uh, oops, I did it again, I gave away the ending. Okay, I'm resigned--I am The Spoilerer. I can live with that. These people aren't pedophiles--they're aliens, Bruce Willis and Nicole Kidman were dead all along, and Hell is other people.

Olga tells Karin that it was nice of her to bring her brother but he won't be needed, and tells Billy he can leave his young sister in the company of strangers. Billy, having more sense than god gave a mule (and, apparently, Samantha Geimar's mother) insists on staying with her.

Olga introduces the kids to Raymond, the technician, who looks at her and says that he thought there was only meant to be one kid.

Olga explains that they have to deal with both the kids. So Raymond shows them both a fun game with buttons and lights and tells them to play. They both sit down and at first, Billy starts beating the crap out of his sister. But this is the nineties and it's not PC for a boy to trounce a girl at anything--unless he's a black, bespectacled dwarf who sits in a wheelchair and talks via a Stephen Hawking computer. So I expect a thrilling upset victory from Karin.

Karin starts winning and Billy congratulates her on getting the hang of it. Raymond adjusts something at the computer (we later learn he's changing the atmosphere) and Billy says he feels tired as Karin continues to win. (Oh, it's the Billie Jean King/Bobby Rigg match all over again.)

Raymond tells Karin to come with him while Billy continues practicing. Raymond straps Karin into an amusement park type chair and shows her a small ball about ten feet away. He asks her to try moving it.

To her shock, she can! Telepathy lessons. Man, if they'd had that back when Carrie White was alive, Chamberlain, Maine would still be a vibrant, buzzing town, and Stephen King would have no career.

Beween this and Alex Mack, I was so disappointed when I never got powers of my own. And I had a few Miss Trunchbull esque teachers who needed to be taken down a peg or eight.

Then Raymond takes off his face mask and presses a button and she begins to ascend in her strapped in chair. She screams in horror. And above her, she sees grey aliens reaching out for her.

Understandably unnerved, Karin uses her telepathy to push a few buttons and come down. And whatever she pressed makes Raymond freeze up. Seems that despite his technological prowess, he's not the Scotty of the group, but rather the Data. "Whatever you did to me, thanks!" she says.

Billy's still slumped over and won't wake up, so Karin tells him she'll come back with help. She runs off.

Olga comes in and switches Raymond the (dangerously un)Paranoid Android on, telling him they need to get Karin to the ship by six which is their time of departure. Olga looks at Billy and says, "Such poor specimens, these earth children," which is pretty much what Angelina Jolie says in her head each time someone asks if she'll adopt an American kid this time instead.

The aliens chase Karin all around the Fireworks, Candy, and Grey Aliens factory. She finally gets out by finding a remote control that powers Raymond the Android. Raymond and Olga try to stop her, and she points the remote at Raymond telling him to "Hold Olga." With her arm around Billy, she manages to get him to the elevator.

But Lenoid stops her, telling her she should come with them to outer space, how great space is and how you can fly like a bird and go to other worlds. But Karin tells him she won't abandon her brother and she leaves. Surprisingly, Leonid doesn't force her to go.

Finally back in Karin's room, Olga appears on the TV screen telling Karin that this was supposed to be her rescue.

Olga and Leonid are Karin's parents. They left Karin on this planet by mistake ten years ago. when they were visiting. Despite the fact that they seem to be more highly evolved than earthlings, their ability to do a headcount is fairly compromised. (Though let's face it--I think we humans and aliens alike are equally bad at that, from E.T. and his ilk to Kevin McCallister's clan.) Olga says that now it's too late and they'll have to wait another ten years before they can return for her. Billy eye rolls, asking what she's talking about and then turns to Karin, only to see...

He shrieks and runs off.

This moment creeped me out so much. And not just me. Based on blog posts, TV Tropes, and talking to people, pretty much everyone my age who saw this episode as a kid is refusing to adopt when they get older. Between this episode and The Orphan, the number of cute white girls getting adopted is going to be decimated in about ten years.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Goosebumps: How to Kill a Monster

Gretchen and Clark's parents have just gotten married and are off on their honeymoon, leaving their new stepchildren to stay with Gretchen's grandparents in the bayou during their adjustment period. Parenting at its finest. Gretchen and Clark are off to a rocky start already, too, what with their constant bickering. Hey, kids, want to truly piss off your parents? Make like Josh and Cher from Clueless and I foresee a really awesomely dysfunctional transition period. It's like I always say--incest is best.

The kids enter a house decorated in taxidermy. But no old people are to be found. Upstairs, they open a door to a closet when suddenly they're greeted by Gretchen's grandma. As she escorts them downstairs for gumbo, the camera pulls back to see...something under a sheet. Uh, Grandma, you might want to close the door.

Next scene. Gumbo.

Clark's having a hard time eating his gumbo because it's so spicy. He comments that this doesn't taste like any chicken he's ever eaten. A man in coveralls that don't quite cover all enters and tells them that it ain't chicken--it's gator!

Gretchen says hi to her grandpa who grins and says he didn't recognize his lil Gretchen. Grandpa tastes Clark's gumbo and adds more hot sauce. Heh. Then again, I can't find fault with Clark's inability to eat hot sauce. I myself choose the mildest salsa at Chipotle. Yes, Chipotle.

There's a horrible noise, and the kids ask what it is. "That was...swamp gas," grins Grandpaw. At this point, the prospect of there being no monster is a lot more frightening. Here's hoping you guys packed Depends and a shitload (so to speak) of Metamucil.

That night, Gretchen wakes up and goes to get a glass of water. She's curious about the closet, though, so she starts to open it. Grandpaw and Grandmaw appear and tell her it's just a storage closet, and she asks if she and Clark can go organize it tomorrow. (Or at the very least, make it preteen girl friendly with a lot of elbow grease and some Lisa Frank stickers.) Grandmaw tells her it's dangerous and things could fall on her.

Yeah, that's not suspicious at all. Honestly--when it comes to keeping nasty little family secrets, Grandma and Grandpaw need to take Philip Garrido's Correspondence Course.

Next day, Clark scares Gretchen by dressing up as an alligator. She freaks out and he runs off giggling. She tries to find him and then nearly falls down--turns out that the hallway is unfinished and the floorboards just end at one point. (Uh, wouldn't she have noticed this when she was DOWNSTAIRS? What kind of crazy house is this?) Gretchen turns on the light and looks around. She uncovers a white sheet and sees a monster lying there. She shrieks and hits the bulb which dangles around.

I see what you did, there, Stine. (I was about to congratulate him for having great taste by referencing Psycho--a film that I myself adore--but when I asked him his favorite character in the movie, he replied, "The one played by Vince Vaughan.")

Side note. I think it's hella odd that the monster is covered by a blanket. Does Grandpaw sneak in and tuck in lil Godzooky every night? Anyway, Gretchen backs out and sees Clark. She tries to tell him what's going on but he won't believe her and he goes inside the closet. He screams, but it's a fake out. There's nothing in there when they go in. Then the two of them go to the window, hearing something. Grandmaw and Grandpaw have driven off and left them unsupervised in a closet. Seriously, Grandmaw, have you never heard of a little thing called Flowers in the Attic? Or at the very least--R. Kelley?

Gretchen and Clark hear a noise and turn around.

They run out, locking the door, but the monster breaks through. (Why now?) Gretchen figures that they can use the ending hallway to make the monster fall and plummet to its death. They run and grab onto the railing and the monster falls.

Clark and Gretchen go downstairs, talking about how they're going to get out of here. Clark wants to go home to the city where the monsters are all human. But it turns out they're locked in. Gretchen says they'll have to go out a window or something and Clark points out there are no windows.

Then they see a letter from the grandparents. It reads that they needed to go into town on a special errand and to stay out of the storage room. Gretchen thinks that her Grandpaw must have thought he killed it when he was out hunting and brought it back...only for it to revive.

Just then, the monster appears. Turns out it was only mostly dead. Damn. Gretchen and Clark slam the door shut and put a bunch of horrifying chemicals in Grandmaw's gumbo. Then they hide and wait for the monster to eat it. It digs in as Clark sarcastically says to Gretchen that, "Great, it LIKES it." Monster likes it!

Binge, monster, binge! Binge like Blair Waldorf on some Godivas, after a wait list letter from Yale and finding out that Nate's fucking Serena again!

The monster falls over dead, and the kids head for the cellar to go out the coal shoot. Clark starts arguing that it probably won't work, and the two get into fight...and suddenly, the monster's back. Clark helps Gretchen up into the coal shoot but the monster tries to attack him. He sticks his fist down its throat and it looks floored and backs off. Okay, I turn to Stine and tell him that this is genuinely scary. But Stine just looks pissed.

"Um, you know my son Matt was on set that week. And we're STILL paying the psychiatrist bills." For a second I think he means his kid was traumatized for life until he tells me therapy started a few days later when he found his kid in the bathroom with a lot of lube, a couple of monster magazines, a how to guide entitled "Fist Your Way to Glory," and a photograph that can only be described as Goatse-illa.

Back to the episode. The monster sneezes and falls over. "Is it really dead this time?" Ah, budding skeptics. You guys will be ready in a matter of weeks. To answer your question, yes. Yes it is. The monster explodes covering the two kids with monster goo.

Next scene, the kids have left M.C. Escher's House of Taxidermy and are strolling through the swamp. Gretchen figures out that the monster must have been allergic to Clark. The kids start apologizing for all the arguing they did earlier and decide they make a good team. Nothing like battling a monster and dealing with demented old relatives to restore family unity. (It's how Howard Hughes' two pugnacious grandkids finally settled their differences.) Clark asks Gretchen to check the letter from her grandparents to see if there's any more info. And here we have it--the twist!

According to the letter, there might be more monsters out in the swamp (presumably pissed that Grandpaw pulled an Elizabeth Smart on their monster), so don't go out after dark. All of a sudden, it gets dark and the kids look scared.

Okay, can the REAL twist be that PETA, pissed at Clark and Gretchen for killing a poor defenseless swamp sea kitten, is going to bring a class action lawsuit against them?