Goosebumps #30: It Came From Beneath the Sink
It Came From Beneath the Sink has a great title, a solid concept, and a unique monster. Unfortunately, it never managed to raise the stakes high enough for any of that to really matter. The characters are fine, the plot is technically fine, and it doesn’t rely on faulty villain logic to explain itself. Kudos to Stine for another great dog name; the cocker spaniel named Killer was a great touch. The book’s biggest crime is that it was boring. Stine had the opportunity here to get real weird and he didn’t take it. The Grool was gross and creepy, but it could have been way more powerful and menacing. I honestly think this concept had the potential to reach One Day at Horrorland or Welcome to Camp Nightmare levels of weird and fun, but it just kinda got stuck in the first act. It needed to do more than bring bad luck, or the bad luck needed to be way worse than it was. It Came From Beneath the Sink had all of the elements needed to make a great Goosebumps book, but it ultimately fell short.
ERMAHGERD #30: It Came From Beneath the Sink. Photo assistance by Dierre Taylor
Observations & Spoilers
Kat and her younger brother Daniel find a sponge underneath the sink in their new house. Only, it’s not just a sponge. It has eyes and it breaths. The kids are both excited at this discovery at first, but their dog Killer really hates it. Their parents don’t see what the big deal is. It’s just a sponge. And everyone knows that magic evil sponges naturally go dormant around parents and authority figures in order to continue tormenting their owners. That should be obvious. Just like it should have been obvious that a breathing sponge creature with glowing eyes might not be something you want to keep as a pet. Not every sponge is Squarepants material.
So the sponge starts bringing bad luck. It even seems to have an orgasm of sorts every time bad things happen. This is described as it beaming joyously but it was really hard not to read it as an orgasm of sorts. All sorts of bad things happen; Killer goes missing, it rains on Kat’s birthday, Kat’s teacher slams her fingers in a drawer, and yeah. It’s a lot of that. Here is where Stine really needed to raise the stakes. Have Killer go missing, but maybe they find his torn-off collar in the yard. Make it ominous. Instead of rain on the birthday, maybe all the kids get food poisoning from the cake and it turns into a vomit fest. It would have kept things PG, Kat would have been made an outcast in addition to getting sick herself, and Kat’s parents could be worried about getting sued by the other kid’s parents. That’s just off the top of my head. My point is that the stakes needed to be raised much higher than they were.
Kat and Daniel look up their creature in the Encyclopedia for the Weird and find that it’s called a Grool. It’s the less evil counterpart to another bad luck creature that looks like a potato with teeth. That one’s called a Lanx. They find that there is no way to kill it or get rid of it. Trying to get rid of it will cause death within 24 hours. This Encyclopedia is oddly specific to their exact dilemma. Daniel’s friend Carlo causes panic by taking the Grool so he can show some friends. This leads to a scene where Kat and Daniel manage to lift a sewer grate by themselves as though those things aren’t incredibly heavy. Kat encounters rats in the sewer before rushing out. They find the Grool and eventually get it back from some boys in the park. This was the climax of the book.
Kat falls off her bike several times on the way home. She has finally had enough of all her bad luck so she decides to sing to the Grool. She sings a lullaby. Daniel and Carlo are confused until it starts to work. The Grool writes in agony (or maybe it just shrinks, let me add some spice to this story) as Kat continues singing. See, she figured out that they couldn’t kill it by any conventional means, so why not try showing it some love. The Grool shrivels up and dies. Killer comes home. The kids think everything is great until Killer finds a potato with teeth in it. It’s a Lanx. Kat and Daniel’s rotten luck is about to get a whole lot worse! The book ends by setting up what might be a better book than the one I just read, but We shall never know. It Came From Beneath the Sink did not produce any sequels. This is a good thing.
As I said at the top, this book had all the necessary elements to make it one of the greats. It had a weird campy premise, a simple concept, and even a weirdly funny ending. What it was missing were actual scares. I like my book characters to be traumatized and Kat got off easy here. Her bad luck has nothing on Sue and Eddy in A Night in Terror Tower. She’s not dead like Hannah in The Ghost Next Door. Stine is no stranger to giving his main characters a raw deal, which is why it’s a shame that he pulled his punches here. If he had kept the plot the same but seriously raised the stakes, the same ending would have had a completely different impact. When someone finally invents a time machine, let me know so I can go back in time and assume the identity of a senior editor at Parachute Press. I have ideas.
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 overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, It Came From Beneath the Sink is ranked 41st of 62, placing it in the lower middle tier of the series.
The concept was solid. The Grool was weird and gross. The ending was silly but fun. It was the in-between that was lacking, but the core concept was sound.
The plot was well organized and didn’t waste a ton of time on fake scares. There was no twist that relied on characters making really dumb choices. But it never took things to the next level and was rather dull as a result. It needed to lean into the weird it already had.
The characters were fine, just like the plot was fine. I liked that the cocker spaniel was named Killer. The brother/sister relationship was a good balance of supportive and adversarial, which felt right.
Scare Factor: 0/2
Gross and weird, maybe. But the events in this book fall under unfortunate/inconvenient more so than scary. It could have been scary. The sewer moment came close but ended too quickly.
One point for the Grool and the lullaby at the end. No points for the lack of creativity anywhere else. This book had perfect score potential but it squandered it on a middling plot.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• They made Kat a lot more morose to start out with.
• Killer the cocker spaniel was recast as a german shepherd, which was probably a production decision based on cost and availability, but it ruins the joke.
• I love these 90s CGI moments.
• I liked the angle of Kat being totally alone and losing her shit over a kitchen sponge. The book had some fun with this, but the show gives a better idea of the parent’s perspective.
• This one more or less follows the plot of the book, changing only the climax. I actually think this was an improvement.
• The climax is set in the school and has the kids about to choke on toxic vapors before Kat has the idea to pay the sponge compliments.
• There is no discussion of the trouble the kids got in for breaking into the school and knocking over a bunch of shit. “We had to kill the evil sponge” would definitely not pass as an excuse.
• I liked that the Grool stays alive at the end, with Kat keeping it in a sunny cage and playing happy music for it every day.
• I wish it included a side-eye from mom and dad wondering if they should be worried about their daughter keeping a dirty kitchen sponge in a cage in her room.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #31: Night of the Living Dummy II
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Pulp Horror blog series:
RL Stine’s The Babysitter II