Goosebumps #11:The Haunted Mask
I think The Haunted Mask deserves its reputation as one of the best-remembered books in the series, unlike a certain living dummy that shall not be named. It was a character-driven plot driven by the internal conflict of who Carly Beth was and who she wanted to be. I felt that Carly Beth was a true Millennial, she spent her entire $30 life savings on a Halloween mask and has a whole roaster of budding anxiety issues. The theme of self acceptance ran heavy in this one, and the book was better for it. I didn’t care for the origin story of the mask, which mucked up the final act for me, but overall this was definitely one of the better ones. I can see why R. L. Stine considers it one of his favorites.
Observations & Spoilers
Most of the people I know do not have fond memories of middle school. I remember it as a time when kids were both at their meanest and most sensitive. It can be confusing as fuck. I have a friend who teaches middle school who told me that kids this age try on different personas as they are still figuring themselves out. When a kid does something bad, it’s not that they are bad but they’re trying out being bad. They are figuring out who they are. The Haunted Mask taps into that same notion. The scary part of this book isn’t an external force, but an internal one. And it’s rooted in the awkwardness that is middle school.
Carly Beth is scared of a lot of things. This is established early and often. Her “friends” Chuck and Steve torture her relentlessly. Her best friend Sabrina isn’t all that helpful. Even her little brother takes every opportunity he can to scare his sister. All of this culminates in Carly Beth deciding she needs the scariest costume she can find for Halloween. Then she can finally scare Chuck and Steve for a change. She finds the perfect mask in the back room of the new Halloween shop in town. It’s not for sale, but she begs the shopkeeper to let her buy it. He eventually gives in, and she leaves with it. I was thinking it would have been more fitting if she stole the mask, but the TV episode made that exact improvement. Regardless, Carly Beth is now on her way to becoming a badass and getting revenge on Chuck and Steve.
First Carly Beth’s voice changed when she put the mask on. She scared her brother, then took a sculpture of her own head (made by her mother) and put it on a stick. There were some pretty great scenes of her scaring children and causing chaos amongst suburban trick or treaters. The scene of her finally scaring Chuck and Steve is immensely satisfying. She steals their candy and sends them running. Even though some weird things have happened, Carly Beth is very happy with the night so far. She likes the new badass she has become.
Things take a sharp turn for the worst when she realizes that she can’t take the mask off. She runs back to the shop, and the shop owner tells her that there is no way to ever take the mask off. She is stuck this way. He explains that when he created the masks, they were beautiful. But then they became corrupted and ugly. He calls them “the unloved.” I was a bit disappointed with the explanation. It reminded me of the explainer Spidy gave for making the camera Say Cheese and Die. It killed the mysterious element that made it creepy in the first place. Masks throughout history have tons of magic and creepy stories that go with them. I think an ancient magic explanation would have worked much better than the cheap sci-fi one we got. Then he tells Carly Beth that there may be one chance for her to take the mask off. She must find a symbol of love. Clearly, that can only mean one thing.
OK, well not quite. The other unloved masks start coming to life, seeing Carly Beth as their new leader. She runs from the shop to find the plaster of Paris head that her mother made. It’s her symbol of love and a reminder of who she really is. After being pursued by a bunch of floating heads, she finds the sculpture head and is finally able to remove the mask and be free. While I love the overall moral arc for Caryl Beth, the floating head attack was kinda silly compared to the idea of becoming a monster. It would have been more interesting if she were fighting the mask she was wearing as it exerted more control.
Overall, this was one of the strongest Goosebumps books thematically. This series tends to be more scary and fun than message-based, but Carly Beth learning to love and be more accepting of herself was very much present here. I wanted more out of the ending and how the mask got explained, but the overall arc still held up. Now I just have to wait a few years to get to the sequel…
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that two ways 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, The Haunted Mask is ranked 6th of 62, placing it in the top tier of the series.
The concept of this one is probably the strongest point. It’s perfectly fitting for the age of its target audience. It’s driven by the internal conflict of Carly Beth figuring out who she really is. I appreciate it on a level that I probably wasn’t capable of recognizing as a kid.
The one thing that didn’t hold up for me was the origin of the mask. It reminded me of Spidy in Say Cheese and Die. I wanted the mask to be something more ancient and mysterious. I wanted it to be more fantasy than sci-fi.
Carly Beth was solid and believable, and The Haunted Mask is ultimately a character study of her in many ways. Steve and Chuck were perfectly believable as bullies/frenemies, and so was Sabrina as the sometimes supportive but other times unhelpful best friend. The shop owner was meh, but not enough to dock any points.
Scare Factor: 1/2
The fear of losing one’s self is legit, and it felt real as the Carly Beth we knew was consumed by the persona of the mask. Just as I didn’t care for the “unloved” origin story of the mask, I felt that Carly Beth being chased by the floating heads of the other unloved felt very out of place with the internal conflict. The much more interesting fight, and frankly the scarier one, was between Carly Beth and who she was becoming.
This one’s fairly original and imaginative. Avoids repetitive tropes for the most part and deserves its reputation as one of the best in the series. It stands out amongst the other Goosebumps books because of the internal conflict in represents.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• This was the first episode of the show to air. I remember it premiering on a Halloween night special and watching it with my friends after Trick or Treating.
• Those R. L. Stine intro/outro clips. Ouch.
• Some of the settings are a bit different, but the overall episode is pretty faithful to the book.
• Steve and Chuck weren’t her friends like they were in the book, which changed some of the dynamics. In the book, they were kinda shitty friends. In the adaptation, they were just bullies.
• I liked that the shop owner’s shop looked more like a weird pagan/witchcraft store than the popup Halloween store that the book described.
• Carly Beth stole the mask from the store, though she did throw her money at him. This was an improvement on the book. It very much fit the theme of Carly Beth being fed up with who everyone thought she was and trying to break free.
• Good voice change on Carly Beth’s mask persona. IMDB just confirmed for me that it was dubbed over by a different voice actor.
• The actress who plays her friend Sabrina also starred in the full hour special for A Night In Terror Tower, which I’ll be watching sometime next year. For some reason I remember that.
• I liked the implication that the shop owner was one of the unloved, even if I didn’t care for the whole concept of them.
• The chase scene with the unloved was just as disappointing in the adaptation as it was in the book.
• Masks are really uncomfortable Halloween costumes even when they aren’t haunted. I do not recommend it.
Don’t miss the next blog in this series:
Goosebumps #12: Be Careful What You Wish For
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street Cheerleaders: The First Evil