Phantom of the Auditorium
© 1994 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Tim Jacobus.
Phantom of the Auditorium is one of the more solid Goosebumps books I’ve read so far, though it is not without significant flaws. It had a few scary moments, but it mostly kept things light-hearted. I would say it was more entertaining than truly scary. It was even surprisingly sweet at times. I liked the character dynamics of the kids, even though it was way too easy for them to break into their Middle School at night. The sloppiest parts of the story revolved around the villain and their motives. Bad guys in Goosebumps books tend to make some really baffling decisions. Phantom is no exception. Ultimately this didn’t detract too much from the story, however. That’s because Phantom’s strength is in layered storytelling, with multiple plotlines interconnecting. This allows it to succeed on some levels even as it falls flat on others. That’s about as specific as I can get without dropping major spoilers.
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ERMAHGERD #24: Phantom of the Auditorium.
© 2021 by Daniel Stalter. All rights reserved.
Photo by Daniel Stalter with assistance by Lindsay Pacelli.
Background photo by Ryan Brownell; Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Observations & Spoilers
Phantom of the Auditorium revolves around the middle school production of a play called The Phantom. Legend has it that the play is cursed! The only other time it was performed, 70 years ago in this very middle school, the boy who was cast to play the Phantom disappeared on opening night. A sickening scream was heard, and the boy was never found. Brooke and Zeke are cast as the lead roles of Esmerelda and the Phantom. Both are huge horror fanatics and get really excited about being in the play. I want to note here that while The Phantom is clearly an homage to The Phantom of the Oprea, they are two different plays. I also genuinely appreciate the allusions to the cursed production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (aka The Scottish Play).
After their first rehearsal, Brooke and Zeke stick around to check out the trap door they’re going to be using for the show. It turns out that the door goes down much further than they thought, and way below the stage is a strange dark tunnel. They almost get stuck down there before accidentally tripping the switch to bring the platform back up. When they get out, they meet Emile, the night janitor, who scolds them for playing with the platform. The next day a play rehearsal, a Phantom appears and warns the cast to “stay away from my home sweet home!” Everyone thinks it was Zeke until they find out he was at a doctor’s appointment. So who is the phantom of the auditorium?
A new kid named Brian starts at the school. He really wants a part in the play, but all of the roles have already been cast. He becomes friends with Brooke and Zeke and works on painting the sets. Brooke finds a note in her locker warning her to “stay away from my home sweet home.” Zeke, ever the practical joker, is once again suspected. Things get weirder when Zeke inquires at the school office about the night janitor Emile. It turns out there is no one by that name who works for the school, and there is no night janitor! Armed with this new information, Zeke convinces Brooke and Brian to sneak back into the auditorium that night so they can explore the tunnel beneath the stage. Clearly, there is no way that this could go wrong.
First, it was way too easy for the kids to break into the school after hours. They get into the auditorium and find that someone had taken red paint across the newly finished set of the play and written “stay away from my home sweet home.” The kids are then immediately caught by their teacher, who thinks they vandalized the set. They all follow a trail of red paint, and it leads them back to Zeke’s locker. Zeke protests, but is promptly kicked out of the play. A few nights later, Zeke convinces a reluctant Brooke and Brian to go back and really explore beneath the stage this time. This time they aren’t caught; they get on the platform and descend beneath the stage.
Beneath the stage, they find the humble living quarters of Emile. It turns out he is homeless and he has been living under the stage. He decided to dress as a phantom to scare the kids away from discovering his home. This here is the biggest flaw in the story. All Emile had to do was lay low, maybe invest in a lock, and wait out the production of the play. Instead, he decided to dress up as a phantom, vandalize a set, get seen by multiple people, and tried to frame a seventh-grader. None of these things stopped the play and only succeeded in alerting the kids to his presence. Like Sarabeth in Monster Blood, all he had to do was nothing and he would have been fine. Instead, he made a bunch of really bad decisions that lead to the exact thing he was trying to stop; the kids finding his “home sweet home.” His logic was sacrificed for the sake of the plot. It made Emile’s story equal parts tragic and comically bad.
The saving grace for Phantom of the Auditorium is that Emile is actually a red herring. The kids escape and report Emile to the police. When the police get there, Emile is gone. Zeke gets his part back in the play. Then it’s the night of the play. Esmerelda and Zeke have performed great and they are on their final scene. That’s when Brooke notices that Zeke is no longer playing the phantom! It’s someone else… someone familiar. The Phantom tells the audience that he was the kid who was killed in the original production in an unscripted monologue. Brooke tries to remove the Phantom’s mask, but he backs away and falls into the trap door. The audience cheers thinking it’s all a part of the play.
When the curtain drops, she finds Zeke dressed in his regular clothes in a daze, claiming he had been knocked out. They search for the boy who played the Phantom but nothing is ever found. Later, Brooke and Zeke are looking through an old yearbook and discover that Brian was the boy who died in the original production. I really liked Brian’s storyline and the way it was presented as a B-plot when it actually contained the heart of the story. There is the fucked up bit where Brooke ruined it for him by killing him a second time, but the ghost boy finally got his moment to shine. It was bittersweet in a way that isn’t too common in the Goosebumps books. As much fun as these books can be, I wouldn’t typically say they have a lot of heart.
As much as Emile’s character was riddled with contrivances, the other characters were done really well. Zeke and Brooke had a good dynamic from the jump. I also like that Brooke’s parents called her Babbling Brooke because of her tendency to ramble. Kudos to parents making fun of their kids. My personal favorite bit was regarding Tina, the girl who really wanted Brooke’s part in the play. The way she kept asking Brooke if she was coming down with the flu (and not-so-secretly hoping she was) made for some great comedic moments. All in all, Phantom of the Auditorium was an enjoyable mystery with some serious flaws, but enjoyable nonetheless.
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 idea was sound and the right elements were all there. It ended up being a kind-of sweet ghost story.
It was paced nicely, and it was a good use of a red herring. But Emille was sloppily executed for the sake of the plot and I can’t let that slide.
Brooke, Zeke, and Brian were great! I even liked some of the minor characters. Emile, however, brings this whole category down a notch. It might have made more sense if he was a methhead, but that would have been poor taste and inappropriate.
Being stuck in pitch black under the stage, realizing your friend is actually a ghost, a creepy homeless guy living beneath the stage of a middle school auditorium. It had scary elements, but it was more mysterious than scary.
I thought the homages to Phantom of the Opera and Macbeth were well done, and it kept me guessing until the end. The story has some real heart, and it stands out from the rest of the series for that reason alone.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• They cast Tina perfectly, but they made her more obsessed with the curse than with getting Brooke’s part. You can only do so much in 22 minutes.
• Brooke has nightmares in this rendition, which helped save some time I suppose.
• There are lights in the tunnel under the stage in this one. Very useful.
• They have to make the characters so paper-thin in these adaptations. I really wish they had done fewer episodes and given a bigger budget to more hour-long specials.
• They cut a few scenes but kept almost the entire plot intact.
• One of the better adaptations, but it still lacked any real connection to Brian’s character.
• I like that it didn’t have to rely on cringe-worthy 90s CGI. These are some of the benefits of doing a story set around a middle school play.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #25: Attack of the Mutant
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #9: The Stepsister