Hello, Spongey here.
So I’ve been wanting to make up for the lack of monthly Goosebumps reviews lately, with some reviews of Stine’s other works that I had been neglecting. You’ll start seeing some of those soon enough, hopefully. While I was gathering some ideas for reviews, there was one series I wanted to get back to. I reviewed one book from it and had been wanting to cover its TV series after reviewing all of Haunting Hour.
Man, remember those reviews? I spoiled too much but they were fun to do. That series was The Nightmare Room. Goosebumps ended in 2000 after R.L. Stine chose not to renew his contract with Scholastic after a big dispute. He did some stuff between then and 2008, and in 2000 he tried to replicate the success of his previous series.
It worked in a similar way, with kids facing supernatural scares, complete with random full stops and cliffhanger chapter breaks. Also, twist endings. It was given a big push, with a gloriously early 2000’s website that was advertised and kept up and a tie in TV Show in 2001 on Kids WB, making it their first live action show.
It sadly didn’t quite catch on so the series only lasted 12 books (sort of, we’ll get to that) and the TV show only had 13 episodes. As you saw when I reviewed The Howler, this series tended to be a bit more mature than Goosebumps.
It seems like he was trying to age his kids books up a bit, as this series could often tackle slightly deeper themes while still generally being aimed at the same market, Yes, it worked the same way and most of the books are the same kind of stories but at times it served as a nice medium between Goosebumps and Fear Street.
The TV Show, likewise was less goofy than Goosebumps and was a testing ground for what Haunting Hour was able to do. I actually got into the books in middle school around the same time I got into Goosebumps, as it is fairly close to me and thus I find its underrated-ness to be more of a shame.
I was going to make this post mostly about the TV Show but this year I finally gained access to the whole book series (thank you, Public Libraries) so…yeah, we’re including everything. We are going to (somewhat) quickly review everything this series had to offer.
From the books, to their TV Episodes, to the episodes that weren’t based on any book, we’re going through it all. We’re going headfirst into this nightmare to see how it all holds up. Did Stine make the right move with this series, or was he right in just eventually going back to giving us Goosebumps?
And yes, the title and set up (with Stine intro-ing into the stories) is clearly a take on Twilight Zone, just to make his cribbing of it more obvious. Let’s hold that key and open that door, as we’re heading in.
This, is A Look At The Nightmare Room
(Interesting thing: On the copyright page for some of them, there’s a thing saying “Special Thanks to Mr. George Sheanshang”. I had no idea who this is or what this means. It possibly means ghostwriter but looking him up, I can’t find anything on who this could be. I actually tried asking Stine on Twitter but got nothing back so this will remain a mystery)
(Also, this is missing from the ebooks and I only had a few physically so I’m not sure exactly how many he had a hand in)
Book #1: Don’t Forget Me!
Danielle Warner and her brother, Peter, move into a house where the basement is haunted by the ghosts of children who have been forgotten by their friends and families — and lure living children in by making their friends and families forget about them.
We start with a pretty strong one that shows how this series will do things in general. For one, the protagonist is 15 rather than 12, although the only thing it adds is a reason for her to be left home without a sitter.
Also, it allows her to be more into boys. This actually happens a few times in the series and it’s interesting to see Stine acknowledge romance without going deep into love triangle stuff like in Fear Street. As for the actual story, it’s pretty effective.
The book does a good job of showing how Peter slowly starts to act strange, forget Danielle, and get forgotten by others. It happens slowly but the pacing is steady and we really see how this affects her. I also like how Peter is only annoying to her due to their clashing personalities, and she learns to appreciate him more.
It’s nice to see a more natural-ish sibling dynamic where the lead starts to like him more, compared to what we get in Goosebumps. (But Peter is still a redhead, baby steps I guess). The descriptions in this are pretty effective, especially when it comes to the kids in the basement as Peter becomes one of them.
It feeds into that fear of being forgotten and forgetting the things you know, or the people you love. It’s scary in a more mundane but still really interesting way. It’s a different kind of scare that is also pretty sad.
The payoff with this creepy guy that keeps popping up is a tad lame though, I feel he could have been used better.
The climax works and even involves paying off a plot point from earlier. The usual rushed ending is still effective, although you gotta wonder why they stay in the house given the parents do know what it did to them. (Yep, the parents do eventually find out, another miracle!)
The twist is good, leaving you with questions while not being maddening. Overall, this is a great way to start the series as it gives us a scary idea that is executed pretty well, being effective and sad in the right areas.
It shows us what Stine seems to want to do with this series, as its more nature while keeping that winning formula. Some slightly weak points aside, it’s a tale I won’t forget.
Writer: Paul Bernbaum
First off, the show has some effective narration by James Avery aka Uncle Phil, who claims to be R.L. Stine. Yeah sure, and Jack Black is R.L. Stine too. Wait…
Anyway, this was actually the first episode and it’s a solid start. The main beats of the story are hit and manage to be effective, like with Peter forgetting how to play his favorite game. The differences mostly come with having to condense the story, so certain things happen a bit quicker and the stuff with this boy she’s into is removed.
Also, the female friend Addie is now a male friend named Chris. I have no idea why.
The pacing isn’t quite as effective as it has to quickly go through the story, so it’s not as effective as the book with how things get worse. While the book was rather sad with the scares coming from that, the episode leans more into the scares which is fine but can sometimes come across as cheesy.
On the positive side, the reveal of who the creepy guy is makes more sense here and leads to a nice moment. And the family actually moves away, although the twist is now changed to be super cliche.
The book works better as a whole, mostly because the episode feels kind of rushed at points, but they did make some improvements and it represents the story well enough.
Also, Danielle is played by Amanda Bynes who is pretty good here, as is Peter which helps make the nice moments more effective. So yeah, it could have been better, but it works pretty well on its own.
Book #2: Locker 13
Superstitious Luke Green gets assigned Locker #13 on his first day of school and tries to quell the bad luck that goes along with it by finding a good-luck charm. But the good-luck charm has a twisted secret of its own.
Remember that Goosebumps Hall of Horrors book The Birthday Party of No Return? I compared it to this book but after re-reading it for this section, I realized just how apt that comparison is…and how much better this one is.
Certain similar scenes happen in both but are switched around. The twist from Birthday Party is an earlier plot point in this one and that works well for both books but it works better here, as we see that Luke’s friend Hannah (Huh, Stine does like that name) was forced to give him the good luck charm by The Fate Master, a creepy figure that decides who gets good or bad luck.
The book starts off slow but picks up once the nature of what is going on becomes clear. Luke is a pretty likable lead, as he is worried about Hannah when her luck gets much worse while his improves. He even has a chance to give her the charm back (he doesn’t know about Fate Master yet) and while he doesn’t take it, he feels totally guilty about it and keeps wondering if that was the right move.
Both kids are proactive and really try to fix the problems they face. It’s such a breath of fresh air compared to what Goosebumps did with this set up, where they were okay but made some dumb mistakes.
The book does a good job with showing just how bad this luck is, with Hannah getting horribly injured at some points, Luke’s parents getting briefly hospitalized at another point, and of course even some bits of blood.
There’s also a surprising and decent message about getting ahead through hard work and skill, rather than relying on luck. Not exactly deep but it is a good one for kids. The main drawback for this one though is how The Fate Master works.
We don’t really know exactly why he’s bothering Hannah and then Luke and how the former even met her. I get making him mysterious but his deal doesn’t make much since and it took away from the story a bit for me.
It also gets repetitive with how it keeps reminding us they have bad luck, and it makes the book feel longer than it is. Things like that do take away from what is otherwise a solid one.
But there’s still some solid scares and really likable and smart protagonists. And hey, no stupid twist ending! So while it has some damaging issues, it has enough good luck to override the bad luck.
Writer: Richard Rossner
(I’m not listing all the directors but I have to mention that his highness Ron Oliver did return for a couple of episodes, this being his first that we’re covering.)
This is a case of sticking to the plot well enough, with the main changes being there to streamline the story into 22 minutes. Luke gets the charm right away (and it looks like a cheap toy here) and the bad luck happens in the form of Fate Master draining his life force. I think that’s fair given they still wait a bit to fully show him and it makes Fate Master more proactive.
And smarter. In both versions, Luke is forced to give the charm away to a poor soul but here, Fate Master actually figures it out because he can see him everywhere I guess. Also, TV Fate Master is a discount Emperor for some reason.
On the flip side, the bully is now way more stereotypical and serves no purpose. That’s because Luke now has to give the charm to his friend, who is…NOT Hannah but instead is some annoying boy named Jeff. You still have the moral dilemma with Luke not wanting to give it to someone despite this causing pain for him now it’s with a far less likable friend.
That moral is gone, as the solution is to give the life draining charm to a dying frog used for a science experiment. He’s still a bit smart but the book did it better. Also, basketball is now wrestling and the coach is played by the dad from Kwnan and Kel. Neat.
Overall, the plot is right and the streamline works but the odd detail changes makes it so the book easily wins out. Episode is still fun enough though.
Book #3: My Name is Evil
A carnival fortuneteller accuses Maggie of being evil. Maggie brushes it off as a joke — until accidents occur in school and all signs point to Maggie as a suspect.
This was a step down but it’s still fine enough. The concept is a good one, with Maggie’s powers making her life a living hell as her friends are driven away from her. There’s some good scares with how they get hurt and the book does a good job of making me feel sorry for Maggie.
She’s a likable lead and the book really pours on the misfortune as things keep going wrong. The book captures the feeling of helpless-ness as everyone turns against here. The reveal of the true evil here is decently done, even if you will likely see it coming.
That stuff is pretty effective but we have some problems. First off, The foreshadowing is really blatant here, as the book often spells out what bad thing will happen before it happens, often through some subtle dialogue. (The first line of the book is someone calling Maggie evil…for taking a cupcake. Yes) Like the previous book, it can get repetitive with how we get reminded she has evil powers she can’t control.
Her J named friends are also of the jerk variety at times, especially to this kid named Glen and often for little reason. You still feel generally bad for them but they don’t really apologize for those actions and since they factor into the reveal, that is an issue for me.
I like that we again have no stupid twist, but the climax is pretty rushed and gives me questions about the villain. I feel like this idea could have been played around with a more to be honest. Help! We Have Strange Powers honestly did this base idea better in a few ways.
So yeah, it works fine enough with some good scares and such, but it does make a few mistakes that hold the story back despite being a pretty fun concept. It’s a fine read but lesser than the first couple.
(Side note: Maggie has divorced parents and we find out her Dad often forgets her birthday and stuff like that. I feel like there’s a sad story going on here we’re not being told about)
Writers: Lee Goldberg & Biff Radkin
Oh boy, if you thought changing the female friends to a male was odd in the previous episodes, this one ups the ante. Instead of a girl named Maggie, we got a boy named Morgan, with his friends Justin and Jordan. In place of Glenn is a girl named Kristen, played by Kaley Cuoco.
…I don’t get it. The general plot is the same, so why the gender swap? Does this show hate women or something? This episode does have a “bros before hoes'” thing going on, come to think about it..
Anyway, the reveal of the real evil is way more obvious here, and the fortune teller was just goofing in this version, and is played by Zelda from Sabrina the Teenage Witch. And the climax is pretty lame, it’s barely even a climax.
…But that aside, I actually like the episode a bit more. I think the “driving their friends apart” aspect registers more here because Morgan has a rep of being very nice so this hurts even more on that level. The bad events being blamed on him makes a tad more since here, they happen during moments when he would be jealous/angry.
There’s also the twist they added, which is actually really good and ends this on a haunting note. Overall, it’s a weirdly botched adaptation, but on its own it is a decently suspenseful story with a great twist ending, despite a weak villain and non-climax.
Don’t worry, there are no more missing ladies in the rest of these.
Book #4: Liar Liar
Years of lying suddenly catch up with Ross when he finds himself in a parallel world where an evil twin tells him that he will die in two days.
This series’ general consistency couldn’t be kept up forever, so there was bound to be some weaker ones, but this one frankly kind of sucked. It has a solid set up, with some decent humor as his lies get him in sticky situations early on but the book wastes the potential it all had.
The story is a mess with this odd alternate reality concept that doesn’t make much sense. If it was written better I could let the odd concept slide but alas, it is not. The more we find about what is going, the less sense it makes.
I mean, his alternate reality self is exactly the same down to lying to him a lot, so shouldn’t his lies have made him go into Normal Ross’s reality? It also takes too long for Ross to figure out the obvious and the characters often make dumb decisions that make it hard to care.
Some of the suspense can be good as Ross existing in this reality causes parts of it to crumble, and one part is surprisingly graphic. But in general this book is messy, complete with a weird solution and a twist that makes no sense and makes the entire book pointless.
The whole thing with Ross’s lying nature biting him in the ass isn’t used as well as it should. Hell, they tease him being an unreliable narrator but then drop it, even though that would have added to the humor. Plus, it would be a clever way to use the chapter break fake outs
Overall, this feels more like classic Jovial Bob, with a poorly written goofy story that doesn’t work as well as it should. It’s a fun premise, with a weak execution and stands out among a series that is usually at least a tad better than this.
Book #5: Dear Diary, I’m Dead!
Alex Smith discovers a diary in his room that predicts the future, including his death.
Both the title and basic concept remind me of Say Cheese and Die but thankfully this is the better version of that one. The diary at first just predicts normal things that give Alex an advantage, as he has a bad betting habit so correctly predicting basketball scores for example will help him out.
So even when it starts predicting bad things, it still predicts good things so it gives him a good reason to press his luck. The diary has a sort of hold on him, causing him to do certain things he can’t control.
Thus, we’re given a reason for why he keeps using the thing, and the power it seems to have over him is pretty creepy. The tone is generally oddly comedic even with the bad things going on but the shock moments still work.
Alex is sort of unlikable but it works in the book’s favor as his betting habit gets him in real trouble and he does eventually realize that the danger he puts himself and others through isn’t worth a few bucks. There’s also a thing with the Alpha Bitch where she starts to become sort of a friend after joining their band.
But sadly the ending kind of ruins the story overall. The twist makes no sense at all and the ending is one of the most abrupt I’ve ever seen. Yes, even by Stine standards. It’s not set up at all and throws away the really solid progression it had going on.
The opening is pretty great though, with the teacher and Tessa nitpicking and critiquing his creative writing story in a way that feels like either Stine making fun of himself or a ghostwriter really taking the piss. (This one of the George Seanshang ones. Just saying)
But yeah, this one is mostly pretty good with a believably flawed lead, a solid progression and some decent suspense. The ending is pretty dumb but it’s good enough before then to be called solid.
This was almost a really good one in the final quarter, but that ending has to be taken into account and some of my praise is forgotten about due to how abrupt it is. Still, it’s a mostly solid way to bounce back after the last couple.
Writer; Paul Bernbaum
Much like Locker 13, the plot itself is the same, and this at least keeps the same climax but the background stuff is pretty different. Tessa (who is played by Brenda Song) is in Alex’s (who is played by Drake Bell) friend group/band from the start, although she still does the same stuff Book Tessa did in the 3rd act.
There’s no 2nd male friend, leaving just Shawn, played by the guy from You Wish. Man, even for this show there’s a lot of people I know here. Anyway, Alex is less of a betting man, so he’s a bit more dick-ish but that still fits the kind of story this is.
The diary doesn’t force people to do things here, which I can live with I suppose. The events themselves are different, include a wood shop scare involving a teacher who could not care less about his job.
Sadly, they keep the nonsensical twist ending. Sure, Uncle Phil clarifies things a little bit but it still makes no sense and makes for a bad abrupt ending, despite a better climax.
Overall, it represents the story okay despite the changes and is a fun episode with good comedy ,with it getting more suspenseful as it goes on. However, I’d say I like the book a bit more in terms of story progression.
But yeah, there’s that. On a…note, this episode aired in February 2002, meaning it was likely made in late 2001. And when he first opens the diary, tomorrow’s date is September 12.
That means the opening scene is set on…okay, moving on!
Book #6: They Call Me Creature
Laura’s usually cheerful Dad has been distant ever since he lost his job and that gets worse when he starts doing strange things in the shed and animals start turning out dead in the woods.
Oh boy, this one. We’re finally back to sad times. In terms of how it’s written, this is the biggest example of the series being somewhat mature. The concept in the next book is deeper, but this one becomes mature due to the writing.
The book is surprisingly melancholy, going into how alone Laura feels with her Dad starting to seem like a total stranger, and a dangerous one at that. The book begins with a prologue from the POV of the creature that really sets the mood and tells you what kind of story this will be.
There are small bits of levity with her friend (who naturally disappears halfway through) but it feels natural and there’s not much in the way of Jovial Bob humor. Honestly it gets so depressing I almost wish he’d give us some humor.
Her parents are divorced and there’s a part where Dad suggests possibly sending her to live with Mom back in Chicago and we see how devastated she is by all this. I’m not saying this is the most adult book ever, but even compared to other Nightmare Room books, this gets rather introspective and sad.
The reveal of who the creature is is on the obvious side, but the ride is well written enough that I wasn’t rolling my eyes at how obvious it is like I usually might be. The explanation actually makes sense and the villain is sympathetic but still clearly going too far. Yeah, we have something closer to an Anti Villain this time around.
And we’ve got plenty of Stine style animal violence to go around.
On the downside, while the climax is fine enough, the very ending is weak. It’s abrupt and ends on a note that really makes me want a sequel, or at least a more complete wrap up. It’s also a bit sadder than it needed to be on one character’s part. I do like the bittersweet nature of it though.
If the ending were a bit stronger, this book would be basically perfect as far as these kind of books go but it’s still of a really high quality. The tone is downbeat in a good way, with tragedy and a very likable protagonist.
And yes, the setup is very similar to Stay Out of the Basement (down to the explanation for how the creature was created) but it does set itself apart once we get into what is really going on and is on par quality wise. (It also borrows from Jekyll and Hedi but I haven’t reviewed that one yet)
Despite a weak ending (and being a tad repetitive at times), this is one of Stine’s stronger works to the point where it almost feels ghost-written but I see no point in using those for this series. So I guess he just really hit a stride. (It’s a George Seanshang one. Guess I was wrong)
Either way, it’s good stuff.
Book #7: The Howler
I reviewed this one so you can go there for plot details. But I will admit I have a different point of view on this one now. It’s still really good, with a sad set up and a good lesson but it has a few too many fake outs at times.
But the biggest issue is the parents really should have been more involved. I get that Spencer is pretending to not be bothered by Ian’s death but he clearly is and most stories like this would have him talking to them and admitting his problem.
Nope, instead everything’s fine once he talks to Ian’s ghost. You could have had a heart to heart talk and perhaps have them try to stop the evil ghosts with him or something like that. (And also have Scott and the brother be less terrible, as they feel rather insensitive given the reason Spencer is doing this)
But despite that, it’s a strong entry with a great premise that is used well.
Rating; Very Good
But I get to have a padded section due to the..
Writer: Scott Murphy
Oh boy. Some of the adaptations in the Stine shows can be loose but this is basically In Name Only. This has the concept of a machine helping kids contact ghosts, but that’s about it. The biggest omission is Ian. Everything regarding him is gone so now it’s a more typical story.
That’s a pretty big and odd change. This show was more interested in being scary than deep, compared to the books but you can do both like Don’t Forget Me’s episode. The other changes are minor in comparison, like how Spencer is now more of a prankster and in place of Scott, we have a coward named Charlie.
The device in this version can store ghosts, the main ones being these kids who want to take over the heroes’ bodies. In the end, thy get trapped again and the device is smashed, but some random guy finds it and it still works well enough for him to be taken over, dun dun dun.
On its own, it’s a fun enough episode but it’s nothing that special. That’s fine, I just think perhaps adding the Ian stuff would help it stand out more. And on top of all that, the guy running the store is playing by Freddy himself, Robert Englund.
And he gets nothing memorable to do and is barely in it. That’s…lame for a horror show. Not a big deal but rather odd.
A fun episode but a bad adaptation. That Are You Afraid of the Dark’s Tale of the Shiny Red Bicycle is a better adaptation than this episode, to be honest. Watch that instead. (Haunting Hour’s Toy Train is another good option)
Book #8: Shadow Girl
While visiting her cousin, a bored girl named Selena discovers that she is really a superheroine named Shadow Girl, and, like all superheroes, has an arch-enemy who wants her dead.
This one is like They Call Me Creature when it comes to the writing style, as they both have a prologue and don’t feel very Stine-y. (I Didn’t have a physical copy to check but I’ll just assume this is Mr. George’s doing again)
Like that one, it works really well. The reveal of what is going on presents us with a really fascinating and sad idea, with people being put in roles they have no desire to be in. When it comes to superhero stories, it’s more Unbreakable than Attack of the Mutant.
I haven’t seen Glass so I can’t make any jokes about that. (Now I’ve seen it. It was good, don’t have a joke though)
The scenes of Selena figuring things out as Shadow Girl as scary in a different way, with this 12 year old girl having to face actual criminals who want to harm people. I can’t blame her for not wanting to deal with that on a nightly basis.
It’s not quit excellent though. We get enough time to explore these ideas despite it being introduced 20 something chapters in but I do feel like it could have introduced earlier on. Certain elements could have been fleshed out more and some filler scenes could have easily been cut out.
It’s explained well enough for the most part, but there’s just not quite enough time to touch on everything, especially the reveal of who this burglar guy going around is. Although this whole thing revolves around a Book of Fates, so I blame The Fate Master.
The climax is rushed, but works in context, I guess. The twist annoys me because it’s actually a really good twist, but it’s another one that demands a sequel. Maybe if the series went on, we would have had Shadow Girl: Endgame but alas the story just sort of stops on this note that leaves me with a bunch of questions.
It feels like the end to a chapter, instead of the end of a book. But overall, this is a strong entry with a likable lead, fascinating ideas, and a good sad tone, despite slightly wonky pacing and an ending that leaves me with too many questions.
It’s almost the best one and while the problems take away from it, it’s still a really good read that shows more of how “mature” this series could be.
Rating: Very Good
Book #9: Camp Nowhere
At summer camp, Russell and his friends row over Forbidden Falls — and find themselves in a summer camp haunted by Native American spirits.
I like how the 9th book is a camp one, just like in Goosebumps. It’s nowhere near as good, but it’s still pretty solid. The best thing about this book is that despite the presence of spirits, it feels mores subdued than other entries.
It plays out more like a general survival story, as they get lost and have to fend for themselves, without their guide. It’s a scary situation, even before ghosts get involved. The book has a decent pace to it as things get more intense.
It helps that while some of the characters are shitheads at times, they;re generally smart and seem to care about each other, especially Russel. As in, he’s especially proactive. He clearly takes after Billy. And he’s a redhead while still being all this!
As for the whole Native American thing, I think it could have been worse. The book at least sees them as tragic, as their backstory includes their land being defiled by the white man and being rightfully pissed about it. They don’t even turn out to be that evil in the end when they do show up.
One kid even corrects someone who calls them Indian, even if they go back to calling them that until the end when they go back to Native Americans, weird. Not perfect, but not totally the evil Native American Spirits trope either.
The main drawback for this one is once again the incredibly abrupt ending. Seriously, it basically just stops once they get out. No dumb twist at least but it just feels like Stine ran out of time and ended things on a random note.
There’s also this thing where Russel is picked on for being a bit of a wimp and he wants to prove them wrong, but that’s dropped later on. He still proves to be awesome, even early on but there’s no moment where this arc feels really complete, it’s just a thing to drive him for a little while.
The book is so solid otherwise that this sticks out, it just needed a more fleshed out arc to make the story more complete. It’s almost a really good one but even that issue doesn’t take away from one of the stronger entries.
The pacing is solid, it’s a good adventure, the lead is smart and it overall is a fun camp story that doesn’t’ rely on the usual cliches these stories typically hit. Besides the “Phone doesn’t work” scene, you gotta have that at least.
By the way, there’s a line in the Camp Nightmare TV Episode where Roger jokes that they’re in ‘Camp Nowhere”. Foreshadowing! Speaking of TV…
Writer: Paul Bernbaum
So only half of Part 1 of this two parter is on YouTube, while they have all of Part 2. So I’m missing like 11 minutes of this 44 minute experience, so I can’t tell you if they keep some of the survival stuff or this prank Ramos pulls.
But I can say what I did see was actually pretty spot on. As far as changes on, the main one is them getting rid of Forbidden Falls in favor of an overnight where they have to spend the night at a creepy cabin that’s supposed to be near a legendary ghost camp. (Wrong
Stine story, guys)
I don’t mind this given maybe a big falls scene would be hard to film on their budget. It does add in hammered in foreshadowing in though, and focuses more on the “spooky” stuff than the survival element I mentioned.
The characters feel less proactive and are more reactive here which does make the story feel weaker but it’s not too drastic all things considered. Also, I failed to mention Ramos before which is fine as he’s way less important to the episode.
And here he merely has Native American roots while Book Ramos was full on Native American, which they changed so they could cast a white guy. Speaking of, when the spirits show up, they are clearly voiced by some guy doing a generic deep voice. Yikes.
That aside, they got most of the story right, especially when they get to the creepy camp. Ever beat is hit and they keep the ending while making it feel less abrupt. Although the aborted wimp arc is kept, so it’s oddly faithful to a fault.
Overall, if you twisted my arm, I’d say the book was a tad better but both were actually pretty good. This was the final episode and it was a good one to go out on.
Book #10: Full Moon Halloween
It’s a frightful Halloween night as a teacher gets four of his students, and he suspects one of them of being a werewolf.
I’m surprised it took this long to finally get to Stine’s old favorite: Werewolves. Also, Halloween. This one is more straight-forward than most of the others, but in a good way. It’s just these kids trapped in a house, being forced to do these weird games that supposedly will prove one of them is a werewolf.
Mr. Moon and his wife are pretty messed up, even if one of the kids is a werewolf. More dangerous than any big monster I’ve seen in this series. They even bring out these random fictional creatures that are at least somewhat dangerous, even if they only apparently are enemies to werewolves.
They also trap the kids with bars over the doors and such. Again, even if one of them is a werewolf this is really bad. Oh and they have a son, making them the obligatory awful parents.
The situation is decently intense and I do feel for these kids. The pacing is steady as the tension ramps up, and it taking place in only one location doesn’t hinder it too much. It’s a fun change of pace at least. The first twist works overall despite how kind of anger inducing it is, mostly because of a certain magical thing that happens. (Not literally, just to clarify)
The 2nd twist is well handled since there was enough hints without it being too obvious, although it does raise a couple questions. But once again, we’ve got an abrupt ending that takes away from the story. Stine has this issue in general, but these books have it worse since they’re generally better.
It’s not the worst abrupt ending ever, but it just sort of stops and is another one that leaves me wanting a more complete ending. But outside of that (and the Halloween element not being that important), this book works pretty well.
There are no deeper themes, nor is there anything as impressive as there have been in some of these others, it does what it does well. It has an intense situation with solid pacing and despicable villains. Tristan and Rosa are pretty likable leads, who are also smart. That’s cool too.
Overall, just a solid werewolf story with a weak ending. It’s simple in a good way.
Writer: Naomi Janzen
This adaptation is odd. They kept the basic setup and it flows about the same in the first half, and keep those weird creatures, called plogs. As well as a similar twist.
However, instead of Mr. Moon, a kid named Freddy sets this all up. The first twist from the book is revealed about halfway through here, and it turns out the plogs become human eaters when exposed to light thus putting them all n danger. The focus shifts to getting away from them with the whole werewolf thing being put on hold.
They start to focus more on the mystery aspect than the book did, before shifting gears in a way that is both closer and further away. As I said, an odd take on the story. It’s still spooky fun though, even with a few Stine style lame fakeouts thrown in.
I do wish they kept the focus on the mystery, as I feel the book could have done that to make the tension work better. Also, the true reason Freddy is doing this is pretty lame to be honest.
Oh and yeah, this has the same exact cast from the original episode School Spirit. Not sure why but I bet after filming that one, they had to do another to meet a quota and this plot was easier to do since it’s a bottle episode. Either way, it’s neat.
So yeah, a weird adaptation but a fun episode, even if it is tad clunky in places.
Book #11: Scare School
Sam is haunted by an imp at his new school who preys on new students.
Here’s another pretty straight forward one, which works out decently well. It’s cool to see Stine tackling a creature he’s never used before. It’s not just a random monster that he just calls an Imp to pretend to be more original either, he takes advantage of the Imp’s mischievous nature with how this imp loves to play with people but hates to be challenged.
He does add his own spin though, as this imp has magic powers and can disguise himself as humans. A bit odd but it makes him more of a threat at least. What I find interesting is that Sam is set up to have a temper that got him in trouble in his old school, and this makes him really not like to be picked on by the imp.
It makes him similar to the villain with how they both hate to be challenged, which I found really neat. But sadly this doesn’t quite go anywhere and Sam doesn’t really learn anything about being easily agitated. Sure, it makes him proactive as hell but it does get him and his new friends in danger at some points.
I feel that could have been addressed but ah well. There’s this thing with wordplay that’s both lame and clever at the same time and the twist they do with that is neat but a tad cheap. The climax is actually good here although the ending is abrupt and the final twist is pretty whatever.
This feels the most Goosebump-y of all the books, but it doesn’t have that many fake-outs or any other major trope (the parents at least have a reason to not believe him since they say he often blames his problems on others and might be making up a silly story) so maybe that’s not true. It’s still basically How to Kill a Monster meets Creature Teacher though.
Overall, a simple but fun entry with good pacing and a solid threat, even if there’s some themes with the lead that could have been touched on. He’s still likable enough in the end since he is proactive, but this needed an extra re-write.
But even with that, it’s a fine one.
Book #12: Visitors
UFO enthusiast Ben Shipley discovers that aliens are covertly invading Earth.
And so we the main book series ends with a one part version of Invasion of the Body Squeezers, that also has elements My Friends Call Me Monster would later steal from, although that element is already kinda like one part of Calling All Creeps.
Originality aside, this book is pretty solid. I liked Body Squeezers fine, but this showed it could have been told in one book. The book builds up a good mystery that no one else seems to care about since Ben is already a bit alien crazy. It even threatens to end his friendships, which I found to be added an interesting trickle to the story.
We don’t get a ton of time with the evil aliens but we get enough and see how they need to be stopped. Ben is a likable and proactive chap, and there’s some pretty decent tension once we see their full plan.
Most of it is just a fun read with a good mystery, but then there’s a pretty big twist later on. I won’t spoil it but is a major reveal that’s really interesting.
It adds an interesting layer and is done in a really nice way. We see how this affects them and is an interesting idea to have. I hate being so vague but I don’t wanna give it away. It’s not super deep, trust me, it’s just a neat reveal.
But if you guessed the ending is rather abrupt, you’ve been paying attention. After the twist happens, I wish we got more time to explore it before moving to the climax. What we get works fine enough but given how great that scene was, I wish THIS had been a two parter instead of Body Squeezers, it has more to it.
The climax and final scene themselves are fairly lame given what came right before it. There honestly feels there’s page missing between the last two chapters. I think it’s either just a bad abrupt ending or a scene was cut in production and he never really changed things up.
Either way, it makes the ending feel empty although the note it ends on is amusing, and not a dumb twist. It’s nice that this series had a happy ending at least. But even with that, this is a strong entry. It has a good threat, solid build up and is decently written with a great twist that could have been explored more.
Not much to really add. It’s a pretty solid way to end the series, even with the flaws and missed chances here and there.
But we’re not quite done with the books yet…
Thrillogy #1: Fear Games
Yep. We’ve got a little mini-series that was published in between Camp Nowhere and Full Moon Halloween. Stine claims while he was writing Book 1, he thought it couldn’t all fit into one book so here comes a trilogy with a name only slightly stupider than Chillogy.
It’s not part of the main series, so that’s why I put it here instead of when it was published. I knew very little about this trilogy, since I never read it back in school so this should be interesting. Let’s see how this series handles a trilogy.
Twelve kids with special abilities have been selected to take part in a reality show called Life Games, set on an island haunted by a psychotic witch.
This did feel like a Part 1, but it was a pretty good part 1. It gets off to a rough start as April is kind of a jerk. She is dealing with an Alpha Bitch but she seems overly harsh for no reason. This section does have April jokingly pretending to have evil powers, which does play a part but I feel it could have been done better.
But she gets better once the games begin, being far more likable and even pretty proactive. Although the thing they do where bad things happen that she is blamed for is a rehash of My Name is Evil. At least it’s pretty engaging as her team starts to distrust her, but they gotta push through to win.
It has elements of Camp Nightmare too, but I think that’s always a good thing. The most interesting thing about this book is that it’s structured like some of the Fear Street trilogys, as it is split into parts with one part being set in 1680.
The writing in general is closer to Fear Street than the main series, just with a more kid centered plot. This section has a village girl being accused of cursing everyone and it’s honestly the best part part of the book. It’s written pretty well and I felt so bad for this poor girl. The maturity of stuff like Creature comes back here and it was pretty engaging.
Although the part where two boys seemed to be turned into chickens made me fear this was secretly a prequel to Chicken Chicken.
In the end, this was good for a part 1 as it sets things up decently well, with an intriguing story. I’m really curious to see how this all connects together and if making this a trilogy was justified. Nothing is super complicated but we have an okay cast of kids and a solid cliffhanger.
Despite a rough start, this was a good way to kick off this Thrillogy.
Writer: Richard Ressner
So…for some reason they just made this one into an episode and didn’t adapt the whole trilogy, and changed things up so this could be just one episode. Not even a two parter either. As a result, it’s pretty dang different.
This version of Life Games is a broadcast reality show while the book one was just a non televised one, and there’s no April being blamed for bad things. Kristen is also quite the bitch, whose actress is pretty bad to be honest. Although it does actually have some token references to the other books, to the point where it arguably spoils a part of them for those who assumed the other books would be ignored.
(I’m glad i wrote the TV Ep sections after doing all the books in this case)
There’s also an extra twist with a bit after it that makes things rather confusing. It’s a really odd “adaptation” but it feels like they read at least a summary of the trilogy, which is more than I can say for others. On its own, I actually enjoy it due to some decent suspense and a fun concept.
And the witch is played by Tippi Hedren. Yes, really. And she’s pretty great in it. It’s fine on its own despite some bad acting from Kristen and a dumb ending but it’s a very odd take on the trilogy. I personally wouldn’t have bothered if they couldn’t fit another multi parter in there. An odd way to end the TV Episodes section.
Thrillogy #2: What scares you the most?
April and her teammates are stranded on the island and must fight their biggest fears in order to escape.
It’s hard to talk about this one without going into spoilers, so this will be shorter. I will spoil that the title is kind of a lie. April goes through some scary stuff, but no one has to conquer their biggest fears, unless April’s biggest fear happens to be a witch. (There is a random title drop though)
It’s more about general survival and dealing with the fall out of a reveal that happens early on. This reveal is kind of cheap and is something Stine has done before but he does make sure some of what came before mattered, and he does make up for it in the end.
This feels like a middle chapter of course, but I feel they are justifying this decision more than I expected given how parts of Fear Games line up with some reveals here. But some parts do make me question their existence now that I see where this book goes.
We’ll see if Part 3 makes things more clear but I do have questions that I feel will not be answered, as well as the usual odd plot holes. That said, it’s still pretty strong with April being much more likable, as I start to really feel for her.
Once again the flashback to 1680 is the best part, even more so as we find out the deal behind the witch. And oh boy, with her Stine has created one of his most hateable villains ever. Trust me, once you see what she has done, you’ll agree. In the process, he also made one of his most sympathetic characters ever given what the villain does to them.
This one is odd, as I actually got into more than the first part, but it does make me question some of what came before and is clearly a middle chapter where less happens than you may expect, at least in a broad sense.
Still, it is a good followup with strong moments, and a great backstory for the villain. Regardless of how it all ends, this is a really solid middle chapter.
Thrillogy: #3: No Survivors
April has returned to the haunted island in order to rid it of the witch’s spirits.
The trilogy comes to an end and this final note is…fine. Yep, we’ve got one of those cases on our hands. I can’t say too much without spoiling but I’ll try.
t feels like the least amount of things happen in this one, since it’s meant to repeat things and answer questions more than anything else. Most of the stuff that impressed me was already done in the other books so this was just more of that.
As for how it concludes the overall story, some questions were answered well enough and some parts of course made me question why certain things happened. There’s logic issues and a surplus of “Why didn’t you do that earlier?!” moments.
April’s side works out okay, with one moment that did make up for her actions in Part 1 of all this, even if it is small. But seeing Deborah’s story really makes me think this could have been all her, as she ends up being the most important. April has a role in terms of her reactions but that could have been explored more.
My biggest problem is the very ending. The nature of it was to be expected, but the actual note it ends on was confusing and felt off to me, especially one certain small line that made no sense given the context. It doesn’t lessen the good stuff but it does muddy things a tad. Could have been worse I guess.
So yeah, a mostly fine final chapter but it has some problems as a final chapter that prevent it from being more than just a fine ending.
Rating: Decent (a high one but that final note did hurt it in the end, sorry)
In the end, this trilogy was mostly pretty good and while I guess it could have been two books, being a trilogy didn’t hurt it too much. Stine was allowed to flesh certain things out more than usual but it did make some of the problems stand out more, like with the ending and logic issues.
The backstory alone makes this worth more than one book, so it can balance that with April so the problems are more general story ones that are made worse by the format. That said, some of the strongest Nightmare Room stuff is in here, especially all the Deborah scenes which I’ve gushed about.
I compared it to Fear Street and this feels closer to that overall, and in a good way. One part in No Survivors was the darkest thing I’ve seen in this series and belongs more there, even if it’s not as extreme of course.
So yeah, a weak ending is a blight on what was a pretty solid trilogy that could have been the best part of this series. Still, it is pretty good.
Thrillogy Rating: Good
Well, that does it with all the books. But of course, we’re not quite done yet.
ORIGINAL TV EPISODES:
Since there’s only 12/15 books, and they wanted this series to last, they chose to do a few TV Episodes that were original ideas. It’s an early peek of what they would do with Haunting Hour, in that way. Anyway, here they are.
Scareful What You Wish For
Writer: Naomi Janzen
While packing away all of the toys from his childhood days before his 14th birthday, Dylan Pierce (Shia LaBeouf) is haunted by a strange little boy (Dylan and Cole Sprouse) who turns out to be Dylan’s favorite childhood doll come to life — and not willing to let his human friend go.
This was a good way to start the TV exclusive episodes as it feels like a very Stine idea, but done in its own way. Again, much like what Haunting Hour did in its first outing, interestingly enough. This episode has a bit of a quick pace to it but still manages to be pretty creepy.
Seriously, this was surprisingly effective with its scares. Buddy just has this unnerving feel to him, both as a doll and as a person and Dylan/Cole Sprouse are genuinely good here. I never thought they could be scary but they are here. The direction helps too.
Shia is good too, really selling how Dylan thinks he might be going crazy. I also like how his Mom is actually very caring and is concerned when he starts making these claims, and does take part in the story. I’d make a comment about how that’s how you know it’s not based on something Stine wrote but I think I bust his balls a bit too much on that front.
Wait, I just did, dang it.
Anyway, this episode is about Dylan wanting to grow up and asking if you should put away your childhood stuff or not. It doesn’t make a big statement although it leans towards wanting Dylan to mature, especially with the climax. Sometimes you do have to grow up and if you’re a doll, you should let him do so and not try to hurt his friends.
This episode mostly pulls off the scares really well along with an interesting theme without being preachy about. it. My only complaint is that the explanation for why Buddy is alive was unneeded. It doesn’t hurt the story too much but that kind of story works better without that kind of thing.
But aside from that, this episode was is really strong, and has a great dark ending. It has good scares and a solid story, not much to really dislike here.
(Also, one of the toys Shia tosses away early on is a “Megamorpher”. No comment.)
Writer: Paul Bernbaum
An incorrigible liar named Josh (played by Justin Berfeild) suddenly finds all his tall tales are coming true after his substitute teacher tells him he believes everything he says.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume the producers read Liar Liar, hoping to adapt it but realized how dumb it was and just made their own version. Either way, this is the good version of that one. The premise makes more sense with the liar concept and it’s done well.
They create some crazy situations that are both scary and funny, like Josh having a hard ass military brother. There’s a comedic bent to the episode but it also has decent suspense and some alright scars. The pacing is a bit quick but it is mostly good as things get crazier.
David Carridine plays the teacher and while he is underused, at least he makes some sort of impact, which is more that I can say for Robert Englund in The Howler. Speaking of special appearances, there’s a very unexpected but awesome one near the end I won’t spoil.
But the thing that really makes this episode is the ending. It’s slightly abrupt but the note it ends on makes up for it. It does something I never expected from this kind of show but it makes for a haunting note to go out on. It’s very well done and drives home the moral further.
Overall, I can see some finding some parts a bit too silly but I think the tones are balanced pretty well. It’s a basic but well told “lying is bad” story with surprisingly good suspense, decent comedy, and a great ending.
I wasn’t expecting to like this one as much as I do but it’s pretty well done.
Rating: Very Good
Writer; Scott Murphy
A group of students that are serving detention must help the ghost of a teacher whose contributions are being buried and forgotten.
This episode sadly has no purgatory but it’s still pretty good. I do feel it can try too hard to be scary though. There’s some effective enough build up and atmosphere as the kids keep getting picked, off, so you don’t need the loud boo noises they use at some points.
They also do that thing where most of the characters don’t have memory of the scary events by the end, which I typically find pointless and that applies here. Aside from that, this works pretty well. As I said, it builds up a solid atmosphere as Mr. Langley pushes them for their sins. His words, not mine.
Well actually, only one of them really did anything to him. The rest are either unlucky enough to be related to someone who wronged him or the like. I think he should have punished the school staff for burying his contributions, but I’m not a ghost so what do I know.
Either way, this does have a good lesson about respecting teachers and such. You do feel bad for the teacher and he’s a solid threat with an okay motivation. The twist ending is a solid enough note to end as well.
This episode could have perhaps gone a bit deeper and toned down the jump scars, but overall it was pretty solid. It’s a good story with a good character in the form of Langley with a pretty decent flow to it. It’s almost really good but I’m happy enough with it to call it pretty good, boo scares and all.
(Also, are these the exact same characters from Full Moon Halloween? If so, that raises a question regarding the former…)
Writer: Scott Murphy
Jeremy Clark’s new glasses gives him the power to see aliens secretly living among humans and ready to take over the world.
So in other words, They Live for kids. There, got that obvious comment out of the way. Anyway, this episode is a lot of fun. It’s not a comedy one, it’s just that the way it plays out is more fun and suspenseful rather than scary. They never got to do an episode for Visitors so this is a nice way to have almost done one.
The doctor is played by John C McGinley (such range, right?) and he does decently well, but he doesn’t have too much to do. He’s fine, but just sort of there in the end, to give him the glasses and tell him what they do later on.
This feels fairly close to something Stine would do, complete with a fake out where someone claims to see what is going on, but is just kidding around. And it works to give this a more fun vibe. The suspense is solid, as you don’t quite know who will turn out to be an alien.
The make up on the aliens looks decent and the female friend has decent chemistry with Jeremy. The cliche bullies weren’t needed though. The twist is ending is actually well handled, being foreshadowed nicely and was a decent surprise.
My only real problems are that A. I wanted more explanation is how Dr. Cox knows of the aliens to begin with and B. the ending almost feels s like setup for a Part 2 we never got. The climax didn’t quite feel big enough for this to make for a satisfying ending.
But the nature of the episode makes that less of an issue. Overall,it’s a simple setup used to god effect that makes for a fun episode. Nothing deep at all, but it’s good fun with a solid twist. That’s about it, a good end to our journey.
And that was all of The Nightmare Room. Overall, it was a pretty interesting series for Stine and honestly, it paid off for the most part. It’s able to take the basic set up of his previous series and make it a tad more mature.
The structure is similar enough but does enough different to be worth being another series. This could have just been a cheap attempt to do more Goosebumps with a different skin and while some books like Liar Liar feel like that, most do their own thing.
You’ve seen how the books are able to fix the flaws Goosebumps can have by having more proactive/likable protagonists with some slightly deeper/darker stories. Even some of the lighter entries had some miracles like the proactive leads.
The problems really just come with his natural problems as a writer rather than anything built into this series, most notably the rushed endings which I’ve complained about quite a bit.
I do wish he hadn’t done it monthly, that’s always been more of a thorn, forcing him to rush some of the stories.
I wish it caught on but I get why it didn’t . Stine would later say himself in an interview that looking back, it was presented too much like Goosebumps so people just assumed it was the same thing and passed on it. I think doing it so soon after Series 2000 ended was a mistake.
That’s sad because he made an effort to age it up a bit, and it managed to be a fair bit better despite how short it was. As for the TV Show, it was fun but it did peak early on and never rose above “good” after Tangled Web.
That and Scareful are really strong but the rest is simply good fun, and they don’t exactly represent the books very well. It was an important step in the evolution of Stine shows, so it was fun to look back on.
As a whole, The Nightmare Room was a noble attempt to “mature” a bit while still keeping what kids enjoy about how his work. It wasn’t all great, but even with some books having rushed endings and such, I at least appreciate the effort.
I’d say this nightmare turned out well for how it short it was. My favorite book was Don’t Forget Me, by the way. Best Episode was Scareful What You Wish For. Yeah, both the books and TV Show peaked pretty early on, but They Call Me Creature came close.
I’d recommend most of the series if you’re interested, all the books have an ebook so you can have easier access. The show is all mostly on YouTube with a couple DVDs that have 8 of the 13 episodes.
Feel free to dive into the nightmare, it’s a solid footnote in R.L. Stine’s ever growing bibliography. Even with some problems, it’s worth discovering if you’re interested.
Not sure I needed to do such a deep dive on it but there you go, that’s all I got. Should have more Stine reviews soon, but hopefully this is enough for now. Infact, I’m so ready to do more that I think we’ll do monthly Stine book reviews, provided I have room, so I can avoid the problems I got into last time.
So screw it, join me next month as we go back to Goosebumps, and a certain new millennium of fear.