Goosebumps #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare
Welcome to Camp Nightmare wastes no time getting to the good stuff, and maintains good suspense all the way to the final scene. The most unsettling part of the book was the indifference that the camp councilors seem to show towards kids actually dying, suffering various injuries, and disappearing. It creates an isolation effect for the main character, Billy, as his friends are taken out around him. Even though I remembered the ending from seeing the TV episode as a kid, I still really appreciated this one. It’s easily the strongest in the series that I’ve re-read so far.
Ermahgerd #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare. Photo Collaboration with Naomi Abney.
Observations & Spoilers
I never went to sleep-away camp as a kid, and my social anxieties around meeting new people in that setting could have been a horror novel in and of itself. Stine uses the summer camp setting to maximum effect in Welcome to Camp Nightmare, with an increasing emphasis on themes of isolation and the unfamiliar throughout the book. Even though this one doesn’t have any paranormal elements (my usual favorites) this still really worked for me.
One of my favorite things about Camp Nightmare is that it is refreshingly short on gag scares. It’s one of Stine’s worst tendencies to have a slew of gotcha scares at the end of each chapter throughout the first half of the book. It gets exhausting pretty quickly (I’m looking at you, Night of the Living Dummy). Camp Nightmare has one at the end of the first chapter, then everything that happens from there progressively raises the stakes.
It starts with the kids being abandoned by their bus driver in the middle of the desert. Then a kid gets a snake bite that starts to get infected, and no one seems to care. Then another kid is mauled by a beast by the forbidden bunk, but no one remembers him. Billy knows something is seriously wrong and no one will listen to him. Kids are literally dying and disappearing, and the indifference of the camp counselors is increasingly disturbing. In the end, the kids are given guns and told they need to hunt down three girls that have tried to run away from camp; this is what finally gets Billy to turn a gun on Uncle Al and pass the test.
So in the end, it was all a test so that Billy could go with his parents on an away mission to a planet called Earth. While I was left with some questions, I think the reveal and quick resolution worked here better than it has in some of the other books. They weren’t the sort of questions that I found more interesting than the twist itself. There was also a really powerful thematic lesson in Billy’s actions: he was right to question authority when he felt it was wrong. Adults aren’t always right.
For the sake of having a little bit of fun, which admittedly can be hard to do with the books that I like, here are a few of the questions I was left with: Was Camp Nightmoon setup entirely for Billy’s test, or is this a test they run often? Do the other kids also work as government agents or are they just normal kids who were hired? Did they get training on acting and covert operations? What are the child labor laws like for Billy’s people? Were they even really kids or were they adults in really elaborate alien disguises? Do Billy’s people look exactly like humans already, or will they have to disguise themselves on earth?
There’s no sequel that I’m aware of, so I guess we’ll never know the answer to these very important and relevant question. Good luck sleeping tonight.
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, Welcome to Camp Nightmare is ranked 9th of 62, placing it in the top tier of the series.
It’s weird one but it was solidly thought out and put together. Yeah, I have questions I could dig up, but none that made the story feel incomplete.
I would say this is the most solidly constructed book I have read (so far) in this series. It doesn’t waste time on gag scares and it builds up tension with an increasingly disturbing set of actions.
Billy being a worrier going off to camp on his own for the first time made for a perfect setup when things started to go wrong. As a former child worrier who is now a full-grown adult with anxiety issues, I found him very relatable. While I’m not really sure how much of the other kids were constructed characters or even actual kids, they all look worked well in this for me. Uncle Al and the rest made for believable villains.
Scare Factor: 2/2
What’s truly scary in this one is that the adults of Camp Nightmoon don’t seem to care that kids are dying or disappearing. While it doesn’t involve the paranormal (the stuff that has always unsettled me the most) it more than makes up for that with creating the most disturbing and dangerous scenario in any Goosebumps book thus far.
A summer camp that turns out to be a weird alien training facility for the children of astronauts is a pretty inquest concept. No points deducted here.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• Probably the best adaptation of the series I’ve seen so far, which I have admittedly not liked overall. It was also working off solid source material and benefited from being two parts. I wish the whole series was adapted that way – the half-hour ones just seem like throwaways.
• They did a pretty good job at slashing and combining some of the kid characters.
• The camp counselor Larry was cast PERFECTLY. He had a very punchable face and an even more punchable haircut.
• Larry running off and not dealing with two kids drowning was way darker than the water rapids scene in the book. Like, it’s super fucked up when you think about it.
• It was nice getting to see the inside of the forbidden bunk.
• I’m not surprised they replaced the guns with crossbows for the final scene; the scene was plenty fucked up as it was without adding guns to the mix.
• Adding a very close planet earth in the sky was stupid. Does that mean they are on the moon and that the moon has an earth like atmosphere? Does Billy’s home planet have the ability to move about the galaxy? The emphasis they were looking for could have easily been added by making the scene at night so that the sky could be full of stars.
Don’t miss the next blog in this series:
Goosebumps #10: The Ghost Nextdoor
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street Super Chiller #3: Goodnight Kiss