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+