One Day at Horrorland
© 1994 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Tim Jacobus.
This one was tons of fun, and it earns its reputation as one of the best books in the series. It takes the familiar “family vacation gone wrong” premise and gets real weird with it. It had a great sense of adventure, some solid characters in a unique setting, and it didn’t waste any time with fake scares. Horrorland actually sounds like an amusement park I would go to. Hopefully, my car wouldn’t explode in the parking lot and trap me there, but I would still ride the Doom Slide. I really enjoyed the Horrors and their idiosyncrasies; they were the right amount of creepy and utterly ridiculous. It really felt like they had their own Horror culture outside of this story. Overall, One Day at Horrorland is campy comedy horror at its best.
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Ermahgerd #16: One Day at Horrorland.
© 2020 by Daniel Stalter. All rights reserved.
Photo by Lindsay Pacelli.
Observations & Spoilers
One Day at Horrorland wastes no time on fake scares, which is my biggest overall criticism of the Goosebumps books. I get that fake scares are a part of the formula, and they have their place, but it can get really tedious. Especially when it takes up two-thirds of the book (that’s right, I’m looking at you Night of the Living Dummy). Thankfully that was not the case here. I was fresh out of reading the abysmal You Can’t Scare Me, so this was really refreshing. Not all of these books have aged well. Some were never that great, to begin with. But One Day at Horrorland still stands on its own 25 years later.
The story plays out like a kid-friendly version of National Lampoon’s Vacation meets a murder-free version of Killer Clowns from Outer Space. Horrorland is pretty wild right off the bat when the family’s car explodes in the parking lot and strands them at the amusement park they’d never heard of. The kids are left on their own while their parents try to sort out their exploded car situation. There are signs everywhere that say “No Pinching.” The theme park is mostly empty, and the workers dressed as horrors seem to take their roles very seriously. In the beginning, the kids are thrilled. They don’t care about the park. Horrorland seems strange, exciting, and new. But they start to have second thoughts after their trip down the DOOM SLIDE!
Things only get worse from there. They get trapped in the claustrophobic nightmare of closing glass walls inside the House of Mirrors and get trapped inside the shitty-smelling Bat Barn. When they finally find their parents, the kids are ready to leave. But Dad talks them into taking the coffin cruise on their way to the exit, a ride where they lay down in floating coffins and drift down a river. I’d be a firm Hell to the No on that one, but the whole family agrees to do it and immediately regrets it when the coffin lids close. When they finally get out, the parents no longer doubt what the kids have been saying about the place. They make haste to the exit, only to find that it’s locked.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this book is how it embraces and has fun with its tropes without being weighed down by them. As the family is starting to despair, The Horrors show up en mass with cameras and inform them that they’re on Horrorland Hidden Camera; a game show on The Monster Channel. Lizzy and her family had been featured on TV since they arrived, with millions of monsters tuning in at home to watch them. The Morris family are about to meet their untimely deaths when Lizzy remembers all those “No Pinching” signs scattered around the park. With nothing left to lose, she decides to give pinching a shot.
It works. It turns out the Horrors rapidly deflate when pinched. The Morris family quickly pinches their way out of the park, steals a bus, and doesn’t look back the whole way home. When they pull into their driveway they discover one of the horrors still clinking to the side of the bus. He offers them free passes to come back next year.
Like I said in the beginning, this one was just plain and simple fun. It was also the first of many horror novels set in amusement parks to come from R.L. Stine. Over the course of this project, I’ll eventually be getting to The Shocker on Shock Street, The Beast, The Beast 2, and the Fear Park trilogy.
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
The concept was simple and tons of fun. It balanced out its weird great sense of adventure.
This was a fun romp that didn’t waste our time with fake scares. It earns its rep as the top-ranked book in the series.
Some questionable parenting choices aside, I enjoyed the Morris family. Lizzy, Luke, and Clay were well-balanced and believable. The Horrors were wried and creepy in the best ways. No pinching!
It wasn’t the scariest book, but it kept things creepy and never took itself too seriously. The camp factor was high, but it worked really well in this case.
I can’t think of another quite like it (that predates its publication). It was like a kid-friendly version of Family Vacation meets a murder-free version of Killer Clowns from Outer Space.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• The show’s budget really shows here. Horrorland looked less like a theme park than it did a cheap B-movie shot in a state park somewhere.
• The Dad was pretty dumb in this adaptation. That does not bode well for the Morris family.
• Clay was eliminated, and the car didn’t blow up. I’m guessing that explosions were not in the budget.
• In Part 2, the Morris family finds themselves as contestants on a game show. By moving into the TV studio, the overall look and production value increased drastically.
• The Moris family is quintessentially American. Let’s risk our lives for a new car by competing in this monster game show we never heard of. This definitely won’t turn out badly.
• Here’s a queer representation first: the makeup artist monster that preps the family before they go on camera. “We might be monsters, but we’re not monsters!” I don’t feel this accurately represented the gay monster makeup artist community. For starters, all he did was throw powder on their faces.
• They definitely recycled the Fever Swamp werewolf costume. You could see it as the family was escaping the TV studio.
• I liked the twist ending that showed The Horrors at home watching the Morris family struggle on TV.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #17: Why I’m Afraid of Bees
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Pulp Horror blog series:
Diane Hoh’s The Accident