Fits of Nostalgia: Goosebumps #2
I really enjoyed the concept of this one, though it was a little more sci fi than horror. The biggest weaknesses were the characters and the plotting. First, Margaret and Casey are incredibly boring. It felt like they had no interests outside of throwing frisbees and being worried about their father. Maybe I just don’t remember what it’s like to be a bored 12 year old, but I wish Margaret at least had an interest in botany or something like it. That would have brought a much more interesting dynamic to her father’s sudden reclusiveness. Unfortunately the first two acts of the story dragged, and it took too long to get where it was going. There were a lot of start and stop moments. The third act was exciting and had a lot of great stuff; visibly breathing plants with human appendages made for some pretty gruesome imagery. The climax was exciting and I was mostly satisfied with the resolution. Also one of the better “...is it really over?” endings that this series is famous for.
Observations & Spoilers
Amanda and Casey were pretty goddamn basic. I get that the characters in these books are supposed to be more relatable than compelling, but it’s possible to do both. Several other books in this series reflect that. Margret has no discernible interests outside of worrying about her father, reading Sassy magazine, throwing a frisbee, and worrying about her father. Casey was pretty much the same except he played video games, too. Moral of the story: scary things can happen to boring people, too.
Plant Dad basically turned out to be an evil version of Swamp Thing - sorta like Floronic Man. I’m a big fan of Swamp Thing so I liked this similarity. I wish a little more time had been spent exploring his motives rather than shrouding his actions in secrecy. Was he trying to create his own plant family? Did he want to turn Margret and Casey into plants? Did he intend for his plant clone creations to take over the world? There were a lot of possibilities here and I wish they were more of the focal point. An intelligent plant would likely be very alien in its thinking, even if it were half human.
I’m beginning to recognize Stine’s three act structure in all of these books, which is not a bad thing. All plots are formulaic in some level. Shakespeare had five acts; Stine has 3.
Act I - Nothing too serious yet, lots of gotcha moments and character development.
Act II - It’s starting to get weird and dangerous but things haven’t gone off the rails yet.
Act II - Shit is getting real and it’s time to GTFO.
The basement in Act III was probably my favorite part in the book. Plants with human appendages that also inhale and exhale like animals. It was like a gloomier version of Little Shop of Horrors, only there was definitely no music. I bet Margaret is one of those people who doesn’t really care for music. I bet she couldn’t name a favorite song if pressed on the subject.
In the end, Plant Dad was brutally cut in half with an axe because he forgot to call Margaret “princess.” Now if that’s not the most basic-ass nickname of basic-ass nicknames, I don’t know what is. I bet he also called Casey “sport” but Stine never got around to mentioning it. In a nice classic Goosebumps denouement, Margret bends down to tie her shoe and a flower rubs up against her ankle and claims that he’s her real father. These sort of endings are a staple of the series, but this is one of my favorite so far.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 point 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, Stay Out of the Basement is ranked 25th of 62, placing it in the middle high tier of the series. Based on the card below, I rated it a 2.5.
The concept was solid enough, but it would have been better if Plant Dad had a clearer motive. Was it to turn them all into plants? Was it vengeance for human kinds omnivorous ways?
The fact that the bulk of the story had to take place in the one house made for a lot of start and stop moments that ended up killing a lot of the tension. The final act was really enjoyable once we got there. Also, this was one of the better mini-twist endings of the series.
Margret and Casey seemingly have absolutely no interests outside of throwing frisbees, reading Sassy magazine, and worrying about their dad. I get that the characters are supposed to be relatable for any kid, but I have never been able to relate to anyone who doesn’t have any interest or passions. There are plenty of boring people out there in the world; but they don’t usually make for good storytelling.
Scare Factor: 1/2
The breathing plants and the ones with human appendages were notably creepy. As far as childhood fears go - the idea that one of your parents is secretly a monster could be pretty frightening. Overall though, this one felt a bit more Sci-Fi than Horror.
The science in it was pretty cool, and it avoids falling victim to horror tropes. Aside from Swamp Thing and Little Shop of Horrors, I can’t think of too many plant-based horror stories.
TV Adaptation - Bullet Review
I was admittedly never a huge fan of the show as a kid, and I can’t say it’s aged terribly well. That being said I overall liked this adaptation better than the book. And thanks to the Gods of Netflix, all of these episodes are currently available for streaming.
• Kudos to the lead actress for a solid performance. She gave a bland character some much needed depth. Can’t say the same for the actress playing Mom...
• Another two-parter, so the pacing ended up working out better than in the book. They were able to condense a lot of the slow first two acts and draw out the third.
• The plants in the basement scene wasn’t as creepy as it was in the book, but I imagine the budget to make it so would have been extensive. That being said it wasn’t bad either.
• I didn’t dwell on this point above so I’ll mention it here because both the book and the adaptation had Dad get his job back at the end. If you accidentally created a plant clone that kidnapped your boss AFTER he fired you for unethical experimentation, I don’t think you would be getting your job back just because you rescued him from said plant clone. Then again, he's white and the nineties were a different time.
• No freeze frame at the end! I like this. I want more of this.