Goosebumps #15: You Can’t Scare Me
When a Goosebumps book feels like a tedious read, you’ve got a problem. You Can’t Scare Me felt like a short story concept attempting to be a novel. The first 100 pages could have easily been nixed, and with a little added context the last few chapters would have made for a really cute short story. Which is to say that there were some great elements here, but they were unfortunately squandered. Eddie and his friends started out as relatable with their resentment of the obnoxiously perfect Courtney. But over the course of the book, their repeated failures and unrelenting determination to scare Courtney just came across as unhealthy and sad. On top of all of that, there’s barely any time spent on the most interesting part of the book: the mud monsters. It’s easy to see why You Can’t Scare Me has a reputation as one of the worst in the original Goosebumps series.
Ermahgerd #15: You Can’t Scare Me. Photo Collaboration with Lindsay Pacelli.
Observations & Spoilers
Eddie and his friends can’t stand Courtney. From page one she’s presented as that objectively hateable straight-A student. She’s not only perfect at everything, but she likes to remind everyone about it as often as possible. In this context (unless you were that straight-A student) Eddie and his friends are very relatable. They lose that sympathy with every one of their failed attempts to scare Courtney, and that is largely due to the fact that they don’t learn anything from their failures. Over the course of 100 pages, their quest becomes tedious. By the time the mud monsters finally showed themselves, I was checked out.
The cover of You Can’t Scare Me promises some pretty terrifying nightmare creatures. We got barely 10 pages of actual swamp monsters. Eddie and his friend’s hideout in the woods, where his brother and some friends are planning to jump out in swamp monster costumes and scare Courtney. Eddie and his friends think the gag is going great until his brother shows up late and they realize the swamp monsters they’re seeing are actually real. All of the kids, Courtney included, run from the woods screaming. Afterward, Courtney brags to everyone who will listen about how she defiantly faced down the swamp monsters while Eddie and his friends are left humiliated and too scared to leave their houses.
There was a cool suburban legend about the swamp monsters. Back in the day, it was said that a shantytown was built in the swamp. One day a horrible storm washed the town and its people away. Now, every year they come back to seek their revenge. I would have loved more time spent with this rather than the 100 pages of failed pranks we got instead. Maybe Eddie and his friends have been forced to work with Courtney in order to get away from the creatures. Or maybe they learn that the swamp creatures just want recognition for what they were put through, and the kids are forced to find some way of paying tribute. My point is that there was potential for learning to happen and none did.
The other side of Courtney’s story could have been more interesting, too. I pictured a girl who’s put under tremendous pressure by her overbearing helicopter parents. Instead, this book ends with the exact same character dynamics it began with, only Eddie and his friends are now afraid to leave their houses. It was like an unfunny episode of Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where failure is the point but it only works when the reader/viewer finds the characters detestable. You Can’t Scare Me was definitely more of a comedy premise than a horror one. And that would have been fine if it were funny or significantly shorter.
Sometimes the bad ones are at least fun to write about, but You Can’t Scare Me was just a slog. I do find it interesting how three of the five worst-rated Goosebumps books in the original series were released so close together (#15, #17, and #21). I’ll be writing up all of those this year; I just hope they’re more fun to hate than this one was.
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, You Can’t Scare Me is ranked 57th of 62, placing it in the bottom tier of the series.
This was a short story concept drawn out into a novel. Kinda cutesy but in the end, it felt pointless.
Most of this book was repetition bordering on tedious. It felt like 100 pages of exposition for a very small and predictable payoff.
The most relatable thing about this book is the resentment everyone else secretly holds for that seemingly perfect student. That being said, the obsession of Eddie and his friends after repeated failures started to become really unhealthy.
Scare Factor: 0/2
The title felt like a dare that the author ultimately backed out on. It was a comedy with horror elements, but the jokes were predictable.
The mud monsters were kinda cool but it took so long to get there and they were ultimately inconsequential. I wanted more of them and we got a few pages at most.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• Good job introducing the mud monsters earlier.
• They finally cast a person of color in the leading role for a Goosebumps episode. Why did it have to be for one of its worst books?
• Made some improvements in condensing the plot.
• They managed to make Courtney more condescending and unlikable.
• They eliminated a lot of characters, which makes sense, but it fucked with the dynamic a little bit.
• Eddie and Hat were pretty awful at planning in this. At least in the book they had Kevin’s costumes.
• Mud monster was singular. Because budgets don’t grow on swamp trees. I’m tired.
• The mud monster costume actually wasn’t bad. Better than a lot of the others in the series.
• I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I really, really hate freeze-frame endings.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #16: One Day at Horrorland