Thursday, March 3, 2016

Guide to Goosebumps #3

Episode #10: Night of the Living Dummy II - (Originally aired: 1/12/96)

Brian: My first puzzling query is thus: why did they adapt a sequel before producing an episode on the first Night of the Living Dummy book? For non-readers this would have been their first introduction to Slappy the Dummy. We get underway as the Kramer family is having a family night in their living room. Our protagonist Amy sits by anxiously awaiting her turn as her sister shows off a painting and her brother airs his latest video. The video is a hidden camera spy bit exposing his family in their moments of privacy and which he suggests could make him some bank on Fractured Family Video a show Id love to DVR if it actually existed.

Amys old dummy was falling apart. Literally. Slappy however is dashing in a tuxedo but by all appearances is creepier than hell. Right away hes speaking for himself and pushing Amys old ventriloquist dummy to the floor where pogs and G.I. Joe weapons go to die. The morning after Slappys arrival Amys sisters painting has been defaced. Red paint smeared on its canvas. Red? The color of passion? Of the devil? Amy doesnt seem too worried that her family is shouldering the blame onto her when shed noticed Slappys puppet hands were mysteriously wet with red paint. What will it take to clue Amy in? Shes heard the dummy talk. Shes discovered him making a painted tableau look someone blew a bloody nose on it. Yet she remains steadfast. Then her and Slappy give their first performance together.

Toby: And what a performance it is, Brian. Jefferson Q. Slapplewight, or "Slappy" as he is known to fans, was a failed insult comic who committed suicide after his career tanked in the late eighties with the rise of observational comedy. He was condemned to spend eternity as one of Carrot Top's props, but was instead bartered to Louis Vendredi, seller of cursed antiques from the old Friday the 13th series, in exchange for the ginger comedian's first dose of steroids. It was there in the front window of Curious Goods that the clearly demonic ventriloquist dummy, displayed as he was amongst a maddening array of severed monkey paws, dried spiders, and drug paraphernalia, caught the eye of the hapless Kramer patriarch, who was scrambling as usual for a last minute consolation prize for the least talented of his children, daughter Amy, who was all but certain to lose (once again) the in-retrospect poorly thought out weekly talent contest that he had instituted some time ago. Amy, with her disappointing penchant for ventriloquy (Where had they gone wrong, he wondered? Surely this was some strange idiosyncrasy she had picked up from his wife's side of the family…) had outgrown her improvised sock puppets, and the old dummy he had picked up at that estate sale from the family whose little boy had died under mysterious circumstances just didn't have the kind of sass she needed if she were to really make a go of this, or so she said. Like she had a chance in hell. No, he'd have to continue to play this silly game with her, for her mother's sake, for a while longer, until she figured out she was no good at this either and gave the whole damn thing up

Presumably that was all covered in the first Night of the Living Dummy, but I'm not really sure since they never bothered filming that one

Instead, we're launched straight into hot, sequel-ly action as Slappy wastes no time springing to life and wreaking havoc. When he's not bombing out and ending friendships with his Don Rickles-esque stand up routine, he's creeping around the house at night and making unspecified threats to do harm to the Kramer family. Amy is understandably spooked by all this, but her pitiful cries for help go unheeded by a family who, truth be told, was probably already looking for an excuse to ship her away to a boarding school or mental institution. Eventually, though, Slappy gives the game away by going on a Chucky-like rampage which is put down in a twist ending sure to blow the minds of our 8-12 year old audience.

Slappy, we hardly knew ye, friend. But as they say, we're "two and through", so no chance that we'll ever, ever see Slappy again. RIP

Brian: Yes, Slappy with the sick burns! “Youre such a booger-brain you tried to grow an eggplant by burying a chicken! Thats modern comedy for you I guess? The kids work on a poster for their schools Save the Rain Forest Dance. I wonder how that turned out? Doing the Na Na to fight deforestation. I will give the production staff credit that doll is legitimately creepy. If I rolled over in bed and Slappy was lying next to me I might try to incapacitate him by doing a poor attempt at Booker Ts Harlem Hangover somersault leg drop off the headboard. Amys parents crashed on the couch presumably nine-hours into Jacque Rivettes Out 1 and Amy stops Slappy from bashing her fathers skull with a guitar a la Jeff Jarrett. They even stole the gimmick outright from Childs Play of giving the doll life via reading aloud a cursed sentence off a fortune cookie scroll. What sick demented plans did Slappy have when he professed that Amy and her family now belonged to him? Dont worry Toby, Slappy will only be appearing in three more episodes during our quest so lets hope youll become fast friends.

Episode #11: My Hairiest Adventure - (Originally aired: 1/19/96)

Brian: Judging by the episodes title Id nervously suspected theyd found the video I made on the night of Prom back in 2000. Toby give us the breakdown on this hair-brained hoot!

Toby: Brian, you're not too far off the mark, because this episode definitely takes us down a Freudian rabbit hole of awkward pubescent dimensions that we do not escape from until we arrive at the by-now expected and almost conventional plot-twisted ending

Our story begins as Larry Boyd and a young Marissa Mayer (pre-Google) pretend to have a garage band, in that they meet together in a garage with some of their lame friends to beat their hands over instruments in an attempt to produce noise. As they (and we) quickly tire of their tragic jam session, Larry finds a bottle of tanning lotion, prompting his presumed girlfriend to remark on his overall pastiness. Larry takes the hint and wastes no time at all in smearing the sticky white spooge all over his hands and arms, as the rest of the gang join in. Do you see what he just did there, Brian?

And what would you say comes as a consequence of such activity

You guessed it. Hairy hands

And so begins about 15 straight minutes of pubic hair and masturbation analogies that seem more appropriate for movies like Porky's and Fast Times at Ridgemont High than our beloved family-friendly spookfest. I mean we actually get treated to scenes like Larry asking Marissa if she has any hair growing in weird places, and Mom and Dad banging on the bathroom door demanding to know *exactly what it is* he's doing in there. It's a cringefest all right, but one due less to Vincent Price levels of shock and horror than to the embarrassment we feel toward these kids, who incidentally are disappearing one by one under unexplained and very sinister circumstances. Brian, if you can get past all the teenage awkwardness and over the top innuendo, you see the bare outlines in the plot of some sort of parental homicide cult, which would have been an interesting place to take things, but perhaps a tad dark for our show. As it is, the whole thing was resolved in a gentle way that made it plain that this episode was in no way about what you were thinking it was about, you dirty minded gutter-crawler.

Brian: Right off the bat I found it odd that Larry and Lisas band played in the garage of an abandoned house. One of many in the neighborhood they point out. I assumed this was a breadcrumb left out that’d bring things full-circle in the end but it’s never explored further. Sometimes the stories in our own heads are more interesting than the ones we read/watch.

The band’s keyboardist Jared should have went solo with that ridiculous three sizes too big acid wash red and white striped t-shirt. They find some suntan lotion with a warning Caution: Do Not Use After 1991. They should have printed the same warning on Yomo & Maulkie’s album “Are U Experienced?”.

Larry’s bedroom pays homage to both Venom and John Wayne. Couldn’t be stranger set dressing than had the prop master put a Norodom Sihanouk bobble head on his dresser. The band quartet becomes a trio as we find out Manny went the way of the buffalo when a creepy realtor appears literally from within a teen boy’s closet. Larry is invited over to Lisa’s for a diner of three-day old tuna loaf, tossed salad, and corn on the cob (which Larry slaps out of his Lisa’s father’s hand in a fun bit). Larry escapes out a window and literally leaps off of the roof of Lisa’s house to escape discovery by her parental unit of his recent rapid hair growth.

Larry finds a dog thats wearing Lilys necklace and has her eyes. “There is no Lily. Forget about her” hes told. As things start to become clearer they also . . don’t? So in this community a doctor/scientist is turing people’s house pets temporarily into children. By the show’s end Larry and his pals are all back to their original dog form. I’m still unsure on the subplot of empty houses and a weird maniacal realtor. It’s not like Larry’s family was in any rush to leave.

In fact, as the episode ends we see Larry’s folks welcoming the newest member of their odd family a baby girl named Jasper. A baby that has the same eyes as Larry’s old house cat who wisely jumped off of his bed and scurried away any time his hairy torso got too close.

Episodes #12 & 13: Stay Out of the Basement (Originally aired: 1/26/96)

Toby: Brian, let's turn our attention now to the two-part episode entitled "Stay Out of the Basement", an admonition that is almost never a good sign coming from anyone, and should normally be followed up by a call to the police. Seriously, if somebody tells you to stay out of their basement they've either got drugs in there, or victims. There is literally nothing else it could be

So right off the bat you can already tell this one's going to be above average.

The show centers around Margaret, or "Princess" as she is known to her dad. And she really goes out of her way to make sure you know that, too, because it'll be crucial later

(A little personal aside here, Brian. We're both fathers of young girls, and maybe you have your own opinion on the thing, but I've never really gone in for the whole "Princess" approbation. That has in no way affected her desire to look like one, however, at least with respect to the length of her hair. I blame Disney for that and don't plan to encourage it any further. I will start calling my daughter Princess around the time she starts calling me M'Lord.) 

Her dad's a botanist who's been spending all his time in the basement (in his "lab" so to speak) after getting laid off from the university

Think about that for a minute

He grows plants. In the basement. After losing his steady income

I know, right

Well you're wrong. Dad's not growing pot or shrooms or poppies or any of that good stuff, but something is definitely up, something involving PLANTS down in the basement, and is causing Dad to act like a colossal creep. Seriously, the portrayal of the Dad here is probably the most sinister thing we've seen in the series so far, including Slappy the Dummy's vague threats to slaughter a family. And although it's all resolved nicely in the end, I'd say it breaks through into straight-up adult chiller territory, Brian. What do you think?

Brian: Dad lost his job and now wont leave the basement. Whats he doing down there? Trying to beat Hank Chiens Donkey Kong score? Mommy has to bounce to care for a ailing relative so the wary kids are left alone with a father whos forgotten them in the name of botany. When we first see Dad hes rocking a lab coat and pocket protector and sternly startling the children urging them to, as the title of the episode proclaims, stay out of the basement. Left to their own devices a spooky sound makes Margaret interrupt her brothers video game binge to interrogate the odd sound emanating from the basement. Is it a Hostel like torture dungeon? More like a jungle! Bathed in the eerie incandescent glow of green lights theres more ivy, weeds, and leaves growing down there than the Amazon! I thought basements were for pool tables and storage not recreating Audrey II or Piranha Plant. Why does Father beep the horn repeatedly while pulling in the driveway? Makes no logical sense but propels the plot forward as a warning for the kids to escape upstairs and act as if they hadnt just been tampering with daddys “dirty” (get it a gardening pun?) little secret.

No personal disdain for the usage of princess on this end. My daughters favorite movie is Tangled and were headed to Walt Disney World in a few short weeks so you wont find me disparaging Disneys princesses or casting aspersions on pretend pageantry.

I nearly flunked botany in college (thanks a lot Dr. Gladish) but even I can tell something is not right about Dads plan to “prove the university wrong” about firing him. I mean, all of our fathers grew pot in our basements, right? But this is too far. The next morning Dads breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast goes cold as he doesnt answer the call. Little bro Casey ditches the joystick to go outside to play leaving Margaret to discover her Dad wantonly eating green stuff out of a jar in the kitchen. Is that fertilizer for a snack? Late at night Dads making some suspicious sounds in the dark emitting from the bathroom. I wouldnt peek but Margaret does and what she finds is more disturbing than imaginable. Dads seeping green goo from an open wound and appears to be washing his thinning hair from a scalp thats sprouting leaves in the sink using green goop.

Next morning Dad is wearing a flowery apron and allegedly making omelettes. Casey rightly calls him out saying why are you wearing a baseball cap I thought you hated baseball? Well played, kid. Soon Dad is on the defensive as the kids question his weird behavior and propensity for green leakage. He gives the big reveal: hes mixing animal and plant cells! If that doesnt shock the kids their breakfast sure does as Dad dishes out some sloppy soppy gooey green gunk into their bowls. Im an adventurous eater but I wouldnt even sample that. The kids go out to toss frisbee while a fellow scientist pays Dad a visit as the first episode ends as a vine violently wraps around Casey. Toby, take us into the second-half of this story and the depths it plums and if we ever do answer what is indeed lurking in the basement?

Toby: Not before I take issue with your criticism of plant/dad's cuisine, Brian. You see, to me it looked like a nice, hot spinach artichoke dip. An unusual choice for breakfast, maybe, but had I been in Margaret or Casey's place I might have just broken out the pita chips and dug in. Love that stuff, personally

But as you were saying, yes, our heros are out playing a robust game of backyard frisbee when Margaret conveniently tosses the flying disc over by the basement window. After Casey stoops to retrieve it he is entangled by a sentient and somewhat Sid and Marty Kroft-esque attack vine coming from the basement. Just what the hell is down there, anyway? And could it have anything to do with psycho dad creating an army of killer plants? Probably, but these kids are still not sure. Sounds of an angry squabble are heard coming from the basement, but Dad later denies everything in his cold, plant like way

Since angry threats are insufficient to keep the kids from poking around in the basement, Dad decides to install locks on the doors and windows. By now the kids want out of this family drama and decide to call Mom, so they can't find Aunt Linda's phone number. Dad never told them to "Stay Out of the Bedroom", so they decide to search for the number in there, maybe on top of the night stand? On top of all the other depressing revelations about Dad they've made in the past couple of days, they now discover he's a total slob; the room looks like it's been ransacked. While there they get a call from Dr. Marek's wife which they let go to the answering machine (remember those, 90s kids?), inquiring as to the whereabouts of her husband. Margaret's totally convinced her Dad is a murderer, and doesn't even call her Princess anymore. As dad drives up (where the hell did he go for five minutes anyway?) Margaret hides under the bed while Casey stalls. In the show's most dramatic scene Margaret's suspicions are confirmed when she notices from her hiding place that Dad has Dr. Marek's wallet, and also that his bed is full of earthworms! Gross! What exactly does that guy get up to when Mom's away? Surely Margaret does not want to know

The kids decide it's time to end this, so they grab a huge backpack canister of herbicide, the kind all botanists apparently keep handy around the house, and head down into the basement for the final confrontation with Dad and his unholy garden. Dad's experiments have surely gotten way out of hand. The kids discover a plant with a human face then Dr. Marek's briefcase, and finally, their own Dad(?), bound and locked in a closet. Dad pleads with them to untie him, which they do, when they are suddenly surprised bywho elseDad! What is going on here? It's the classic TV trope of the Evil Twin, followed by the equally classic TV trope of "who to kill", as Margaret has to decide which father to squirt with a lethal dose of Round Up. IMDB mentions that this little scene is somewhat contrived, as the herbicide would not have affected her real father, only the plant knock-off, and therefore she could have simply squirted them both. Personally, I think this is a testament by the writers to the harmful effects of Monsanto's chemicals, by having Margaret take into account that if she made the wrong choice she might have exposed her father to potentially carcinogenic or hormonally disturbing herbicides, perhaps impairing his reproductive functioning or worse. Now it's curious to note that at this point Margaret is still confused, apparently thinking that psycho Dad just might be her actual father, which has got to say something about their family life. But in the end she can tell her real father because he calls her Princess, which she hates, as Mom mentioned early on in part one. So her real Dad was the more annoying one? Hard to say

The episode is resolved by Dr. Marek making a reappearance, and despite his having been brutally attacked and robbed in the basement by Dad's sentient plant monsters, was apparently really impressed by the whole experience, and gave a glowing review to the university's employment board. Dad has his job back, the university is primed to get some serious dark money research grants, and the kids have their Dad back. And after Dad promises the kids never have to eat another vegetable again, all is well. Except for the fact that Dad continues his abominable experiments in the basement, and has turned all their house plants into living, possibly dangerous monsters. But that's just life with Dad.

On the whole, Brian, I thought this two-parter was fairly creepy in its way, and featured a genuinely sinister performance by Judah Katz as Dr. Brewer (aka Dad). He apparently had a role in David Cronenberg's very weird and disturbing 1996 movie, Crash. The kids' performance was relatively soft, but the themes of family tension and paranoia felt real.

BrianId agree that this may in fact be the most genuinely creepy of the episodes weve encountered thus far on our perilous pilgrimage through R.L. Stine’s salad years. And now I’m having flashbacks to college inevitably putting off doing the finishing touches on a paper as I procrastinate by reading SWAT Kats fan fiction. So that’ll wrap up this third tasty examination of the Goosebumps TV show. Next time we take a peek under the sink, play photographer with Ryan Gosling, and spend a night in a time-traveling tower of terror!


  1. Goosebumps was aired in Latin América via FoxKids channel. I remember "My Hairiest Adventure" episode. This series was so dark That I liked it (I was around 16 and I was fed up of kid's happy-ending stories). Eerie Indiana is another memorable series, less dark and more colorful. "Are you afraid of the dark" looked cheaply made in comparison, so I didn't watch it.

    1. Oh, no! Are You Afraid of the Dark? was actually really, really terrific! Seek it out! Each episode is a different, un-related story so not every episode is strong but there's some really great ones mixed in throughout. I Never saw Eerie, Indiana though.