Hello there! Welcome to Millennial Misremembers, where I look back at TV shows from my younger days. You know, the content that makes all us millennials feel warm fuzzies when we read about it in a “No one younger than 30 will remember this” listicle? But do we actually remember anything? Or do we just think we do? That’s where this column comes in!
This spooky season edition is all about the TV series Goosebumps. I’ll be sharing any memories I have of the show and then, I’ll rewatch and recap the pilot (S01E01 “The Haunted Mask”). Maybe you can pull out this info at your Halloween block party . Or, maybe it’ll inspire your Halloween-night marathon!
So, the Goosebumps TV series is based on the novel series by R.L. Stine. The first book of the series came out in 1992, while the TV show premiered in 1995. Readers beware … you’re in for a scare …
What I (mis)remember!
I actually remember the book series better than I do the TV show. However, there is one episode that has stuck with me, at least tangentially. There was this kid who was in this terrifying summer camp, and all these things kept going terribly, terribly wrong. Like, violence and death wrong? Then, at the end, it turned out his parents were just prepping him for his journey to … Earth! Dun dun dun!!!
Let’s rewatch the pilot!
Woah! The episode opens with R.L. Stine himself! He’s introducing the story to us. He tells us that we’re about to watch a Halloween story about a girl named Carly Beth! (Kathryn Long). Then he basically spoils the whole dang plot (which I won’t do to y’all … yet).
So the story proper opens with Carly Beth! and her Sabrina (Kathryn Short) walking by a newly opened store, called Novelty Shop. There’re all sorts of creepy masks in the window. Also, a creepy man (Colin Fox) is staring out at them. (Carly Beth!’s friends and family shout her name so many times, you could definitely play a really dangerous drinking game.)
Canadian friends are pumpkin picking at the literal last minute in some sort of public patch, filled with rotten gourds. (Maybe that’s how they do it up north?)
Carly Beth! finds a pumpkin she likes, but it’s attached to a hand! Oh lol, it’s just two classmates, Chuck (Amos Crawley) and Steve (George Kinamis), playing a practical joke. Sabrina thinks it’s kinda funny, but we soon learn that Chuck and Steve have a history of bullying Carly Beth! Sabrina tells Carly Beth! it’s because Carly Beth! is just so scare-able. Carly Beth! is afraid of everything.
When Carly Beth! gets home, her mom (Brenda Bazinet) has something really creepy to show her. She’s made a plaster bust of her daughter. Unfortunately, Plaster Carly Beth! smiles at real Carly Beth! Btw, mom tells her, she’s finished making her her duck costume.
Ok, this is getting ridiculous. Mom, get Carly Beth! some therapy and deal with her bullies, especially your son. Carly Beth!’s brother (Cody Jones) scares her with her own duck costume. The next day, when Carly Beth! and Sabrina are making Trick-or-Treat plans, Chuck and Steve again scare her, and they put a worm in her food.
Enough is enough, Carly Beth! says. Tragic music plays as she tears up her duck costume. She takes all her money ($30) and heads to the Novelty Shop. The shop is creepy, yet cool. The owner is just strange, as he asks her what he’s doing in his store. Umm … shopping?
Carly Beth! tells the confused shop owner that she needs a Halloween mask, but he tells her that his store is closed? And then still gives her five minutes to shop. Also, he has a vaguely Eastern European accent that doesn’t quite stick. He goes to answer the phone and yell at another customer.
Meanwhile Carly Beth! sneaks into the store’s backroom. There, she finds a secret lab and some truly terrifying masks. The owner finds her and tells her that this group of masks are too scary to be sold. When she mentions that her motive is revenge, the creepy man touches her way to familiarly (ew ew ew!).
Carly Beth! grabs the mask she wants and throws her $30 at the man, but he doesn’t run after her. She has a moment of hesitation and remorse over her thievery, but it passes.
Carly Beth! puts on the mask and is free to be a new person. Her lil brother is terrified by the mask, which like, is not that scary a mask, but whatever. Her brother doesn’t recognize her, and Carly Beth! is all, dude, you don’t recognize my clothes?
The mask fits a little too well, you know? it clings to Carly Beth!’s skin, encourages her to do mean and scary things. It “changes” her voice. Even dogs bark at Carly Beth! Sabrina likes her mask, at least.
That is, until she touches it. And it feels like real skin. It’s too gross for her. Carly Beth! doesn’t like that and attacks Sabrina. Yikes. But, Carly Beth! pretends it was a joke. Interesting that her friends don’t like being on the receiving end of the terror.
They ring their first doorbell and the kids at the door don’t like Carly Beth!’s costume. So, Carly Beth! threatens them and runs away. Sabrina isn’t pleased with her friend, but Carly Beth! insists the mask made her do it. Carly Beth! still doesn’t want to go home though, because Halloween is her night. So, she heads off into the night to destroy property.
Meanwhile, Steve and Chuck invade a cemetery … to dance? Oh, teenagers. Carly Beth! soon finds our bullies. They’re scared, but they catch on quick enough to she is. Lol, also, everyone is shocked by Carly Beth!’s “new” voice, but it’s like your standard Halloween-witch voice? She wants an apology. I think they’re supposed to apologize to the Carly Beth! bust she’s carrying around on a broom. The boys say they only teased Carly Beth! because they like her. UGH UGH. Though Carly Beth! also finds this gross.
The Carly Beth! bust then begs the boys for help. Holy crap. Then Monster Carly Beth! buries the bust. Holy moly. How did I watch this as a child without 💩 my pants? Next, Sabrina finds Carly Beth! and takes her home.
Back at Sabrina’s, Carly Beth!’s trying to take her mask off, but she cannot. It’s, like, stuck to her skin. She wants to cut it off. But, umm, there’s no separation between Carly Beth!’s skin and the mask. And now her eyes have been taken over by something sinister. Carly Beth! returns to the Novelty Store. He’s been expecting her.
The guy cannot remove the mask, for IT IS A REAL FACE! You see, in the beginning these face masks weren’t ugly, they were beautiful, but then they became ugly and monstrous. He calls them unloved … because “no one will ever love them.” Obvious dude is obvious.
Well, actually, Carly Beth! is the only one who has ever loved them. He’s sorry, but that’s her face now. Except there’s one possibility. Since she’s been able to take it off once, apparently she’s got a shot at doing it again? With a symbol of LOVE. Umm, OK.
This man made the masks because he, like Carly Beth!, didn’t love himself and wanted to be someone else. He wanted to cover his faults, alas the faults were inside him; that’s why the masks became monstrous. Ohhhh his current face is also a mask.
Then, the face masks wake up when Carly Beth! shouts, and they creep on her, Haunted Mansion style. They want her to join them. Carly Beth! runs to the cemetery to dig up the bust of her face. She shouts, “This is me! Go away!” to the face masks. That sends the monsters packing and allows her to finally remove the mask. The bust, of her true face, made by her mother, was the symbol of love all along.
Carly Beth! returns home and is immediately confronted with her brother bully-scaring her again. She’s still scared, so she hasn’t really grown, in that sense at least. She goes to hug her mom, tell her she loves her. Unfortunately, Carly Beth! leaves the damned mask where her brother can get to it …
Back to RL Stine, who closes out this episode of Goosebumps. He wishes the audience a scary day.
Does it live up to the nostalgia?
Woo! OK, Goosebumps certainly lives up to the nostalgia in that it’s still delightfully creepy. I honestly do not know how I handled this show as an eight-year-old. The episode even ends with a classic horror cliffhanger. Fantastic.
I do want to say that, apart from the issue of an entirely white cast, I also really don’t like the trope of outer ugliness = inner ugliness. It’s far too common to use beauty as a shorthand for moral character and we need to stop; it’s lazy and harmful. Unfortunately, I don’t think reliance on this trend has improved much since the time of Goosebumps.
That being said, I definitely recommend diving back into this series if you’re ever looking for something a scary-but-not-too-scary to watch.
This article was originally published on 10/30/21.