Dec 20, 2023 | Goosebumps

Goosebumps #50:
Calling All Creeps

© 1996 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Tim Jacobus.


Spoiler-Free Review

I was surprised at how much I liked Calling All Creeps. It really hit my sweet spot of being both incredibly dark and downright bizarre. This is what I crave in a Goosebumps book. It had a story rooted in the very real horror of bullying, and it gave us some great body horror that included four-way high-fives with lizard tongues. All of this culminated in one of the darkest endings I can recall in this series. Where the book fell short for me was with it’s clueless main character and the shaky logic that served as the book’s scaffolding. I was very sympathetic to Ricky. I even found it endearing how awkward he was at times. But as the book progressed, his lack of common sense became grating. While I enjoyed every scene that the Creeps were in, their logic and motives were a bit of a mess. In a casual read, I could let a detail like this slide. Which is to say that this book could be a five-star review if I squinted just right. Unfortunately, that is not what I do here. This is a place where I take apart and ruthlessly analyze my favorite things.  Calling All Creeps will not be the Goosebumps book for everyone, but it was very much for me.

Score: 4


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ERMAHGERD #50: Calling All Creeps.
© 2023 by Daniel Stalter. All rights reserved.
Photo by Daniel Stalter. Photo collaboration with Dierre Taylor.


Observations & Spoilers

The book opens with Ricky sneaking out of his house to carry out the most ruthless plan of revenge that he can muster. Which is to sneak a message into the school newspaper that says:


Calling All Creeps. Calling All Creeps. If you’re a real creep, call Tasha at 555-6709 after midnight.


We then flashback to how Ricky became such a mastermind of devious activity. Ricky Beamer is a hopeless middle school outcast. He is ruthlessly taunted by four bullies named Wart, Brenda, David, and Jared. They got the whole school calling him Sticky Ricky. He has joined the school newspaper to fulfill a school quota, but the editor Tasha doesn’t like him. Ricky has no interest in journalism or anything, he’s just doing what is available. He doesn’t seem to have any interests of his own. Despite all of this, he somehow manages to make friends with the new girl at school; Iris.


At first, Tasha just seems very indifferent to Ricky. Then there is an incident where Wart and his cronies try to take a can of soda from Ricky and he doesn’t back down. The can goes flying and lands on Tasha’s keyboard. She blames Ricky for it, calls him a creep, and tells him that he’s off the school paper. Because at this school, unilateral decisions like this are made by eighth graders. Then Tasha gives Ricky a second chance because she needs someone to take photos and write up an article about the winter car wash. Are winter car washes a thing? Sounds like a terrible idea to me. Anyway, She gives him her dad’s fancy camera to take photos with. It goes about as well as you would expect. 


When Ricky attempts to take photos, Wart and his gang turn the hoses on him. He fights back. They both get soaked along with the interior of the car they were supposed to be cleaning, and the camera gets water-logged and smashed. Tasha blames Ricky and kicks him off the paper. Wart and his gang suffer no consequences, except for some flack from Wart’s dad for getting the interior of his car wet. These were the events that culminated in Ricky’s attempt at getting revenge. I say “attempt” because you already know it’s not a great plan, and it’s going to backfire. It’s been established that Ricky is not the sort of kid who experiences good luck.


I want to give a special shout-out to RL Stine for including the detail that Ricky’s parents watch the weather channel constantly. It’s little bits like this that make characters feel real, and Stine does an excellent job at making them random enough to be believable. People are both weird and boring, and Ricky’s parents are proof. They are especially unhelpful when Ricky starts getting phone calls the following night. One call after another comes in asking Ricky when the creeps are going to meet. They want him to know that they are ready to plant the seeds. Ricky eventually takes the phone off the hook. The next day he finds out that Tasha had caught his note and swapped her name and number out for his.


Things get even weirder when Ricky realizes that no one is bullying him at school anymore. A note is thrown at him during lunch. All it says is: when will the Creeps meet?  After school, Ricky is accosted by Wart and his gang and dragged into the woods. They apologize for making fun of him and claim they had no idea that he was their Commander. Ricky goes from confused to terrified when they transform themselves into purple lizard creatures. They have been anxiously awaiting their Commander’s orders on where to plant the identity seeds. If they don’t plant them soon and turn the whole school into Creeps, then their mission will be a failure. Ricky plays along to buy himself some time. They make plans to meet the next morning and sneak the seeds into food at the cafeteria. Then the Creeps do their first of many four-way high-fives with their lizard tongues.


Ricky tries to tell his parents. They laugh and tell him that they are Creeps too, thinking it’s a big joke. He then decides the principal will believe his story about evil lizards taking over the school, and is shocked when she does not. This is where a smarter character would have tried something different when they realized no one would believe their story. He could have tried to sabotage them in other ways. Anything would have made more sense than telling the school principal about your lizard people problem. So Ricky reluctantly meets Wart and the gang to mix the seeds into the lunch at the cafeteria. Ricky finally has a good idea when stirs the seeds into the awful macaroni and cheese that no one ever eats.


When none of the children turn into creeps after lunch, Wart and company drag Ricky out to the woods again to re-strategize. They realize what went wrong with the school macaroni. Ricky is out of good ideas, as he didn’t have many to begin with, and so he commands them to bury the seeds. They’re beginning to openly question his loyalty to the Creep’s mission when Iris steps in. She claims to be Ricky’s second in command. She satisfies the Creeps with her new plan; to bake the seeds into cookies to give out at the upcoming bake sale. When they are alone, Iris tells Ricky that she saw Wart and his crew change into Creeps. She believes Ricky that they need to be stopped.


The bake sale comes around, and Iris and Ricky haven’t been left alone long enough to form a plan. Wart and his gang are passing the cookies out, so Ricky takes to the podium to drop some knowledge on the crowd. He begs them not to eat the cookies, and they respond by laughing at him and calling him “Sticky Ricky” before pelting him with baked goods. Wart pulls Ricky aside to question what his commander is doing. That’s when he informs Ricky that once the school is transformed into Creeps, he will be their commander too. Tasha and all of his bullies would be his slaves. So Ricky changes tactics. He goes back to the mic and tells the kids to enjoy their free cookies. Then he eats one himself. He doesn’t think about Iris, the lone friend who tried to help him. All he can think about is how things are about to change around here, and he can’t wait to see what happens next.


The End. I know Stine is not big on thematic lessons and overarching metaphors, but there is an unintentional one here with bullying, gun violence, and power structures. It had me wondering if there is perhaps a Creep-to-Incel-Edgelord pipeline. Ricky saw an opportunity to jump to the top of the food chain, and it’s easy to see why he would take it. As my memory serves, middle school kids could be particularly cruel, and that was very much the case for Ricky. As much as I loved the ending, I wanted to know what would happen with Iris. There’s an interesting story in that dynamic alone.


I said at the beginning that this book would be a five-star review if I squinted just right. My biggest issue is probably the Creep’s lack of cohesion. I loved the tongue high fives and the identity seeds. I loved that they were weird and had a societal structure. Their motivation seems to be reproduction, but it’s not clear what they gain by having everyone turn into Creeps. A lot of things start to fall apart if you apply even a tiny bit of scrutiny. Are the new Creeps going to join their military and spread more identity seeds? Are the Creeps aliens, or native to earth? Are there more operations like this happening in schools around the world? Is there a reason they chose a middle school to hatch their plans, and if so why? Who is the lead Creep and what will that mean for Ricky? Whatever happened to the real commander?


I am not suggesting I need an answer for every one of these questions, but I got the sense that there is no answer for any of them. I was having fun reading this, so I didn’t care at the moment that these details weren’t there. A great comparison to this would be One Day at Horrorland. Even though I didn’t know everything about the Horrors and why they did things, their culture existed in its own functional microcosm. This story could have been damn near perfect if we had just a few more specifics. One way of shoring up the loose ends would have been to have Iris be the real commander with her own motivations and reasons for doing things. Through her, maybe we could have learned more about the Creep’s plans beyond this one middle school.


There are no sequels here, which for once I’m kinda bummed about. There’s a bigger story here that would have been fun to see play out. I know I’m not in the majority in rating this book as high as I did, but I’m good with that. Stine won my heart with the tongue high-fives and then sealed the deal with that bleak-as-fuck ending. I want more like this.


Score Card

For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each.
I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are:
Concept: the strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes


Concept: 1/2
The concept itself is fun, but it doesn’t make a ton of sense if you zoom out just a little bit. The creeps needed to have a clearer motive and purpose for doing what they were doing. 

Execution: 2/2
The pacing was solid, and the ending was delivered. There were a few sloppier parts here and there, but nothing I found egregious.

Character: 1/2
I have to take off a point here because of how clueless Ricky was. After his parents laughed in his face, he thought his principal would believe him? Sure, Jan. I enjoyed the creeps, though. And Tasha was exceptionally hateable.

Intent: 2/2
As a revenge story, this works really well. It’s also got some great body horror, plus playing on the very real fear of being bullied. This was an example of all the things Goosebumps does well.

Originality: 2/2
This one had weird goods in plenty. Teenage lizards who high-five with their tongues are trying to take over a school? The ending was a real standout for the series, too.


Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, Calling All Creeps is:
Ranked 31st of 62 books in the original Goosebumps series.


TV Adaptation – Bullet Review

For every book that was adapted for the Goosebumps TV series, I will watch and do a bullet review.
Calling all Creeps” is Episode 2×19.


•  Ricky certainly looks the part for this, but I don’t think he had the acting chops to pull it off.

•  They made Tasha even worse in this. They made her the lead bully instead of the ruthless perfectionist with no empathy that the book portrayed her as.

•  They did a good job casting Iris.

•  The effects aren’t terrible for the Creeps, but they’re not great. At least they weren’t CGI.

•  They cut the number of creeps down to three. A solid choice, I think.

•  I am very sad to report that there were no four-way lizard-tongue high-fives ☹️.

•  No one eats the fantastically named Tuna Surprise. I can see why no one would eat that.

•  This episode really could have benefitted from being two parts. It was rushed and lacked the tension the book built up. The ending here didn’t feel earned.

•  The bake sale scene was done rather poorly. Like, why did they chant his name in unison instead of just eating the free cookies?



Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #51: Beware, The Snowman


Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Christopher Pike’s The Wicked Heart


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