There is something so nostalgic about recalling watching something scary, in the dark, when you were young enough to appreciate it. These days, the horror genre is dominating TV with hit shows like Bates Motel, The Walking Dead, and American Horror Story; but although it might seem like a new phenomenon, there was a fair amount of spooks to be had in the 1990s. However, back then, much of it was aimed at kids.
Horror culture has always functioned as something of a rite of passage for kids and teens, who always seem to need to prove something to themselves by watching it. Nightmares be damned, we could just stay up all night in the glow of a nightlight; no one had to know. Getting together with a group of friends and a bowl of popcorn, or just dimming the lights alone in the living room – this is what made the experience so exciting.
Goosebumps was perfect for that. Based on a stellar book series that elementary school libraries tended to be strangely stocked up on, the series was meant to teach, thrill, and entertain. Every episode was full of suspense, jump scares, and metaphors that connected to our young lives. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
15. A Shocker on Shock Street
An entertaining way to kick off Season 3 (the season where the show sadly started to lose its stride), A Shocker on Shock Street uses the timeless trope of the theme park ride gone awry. When Erin’s father scores her two tickets to the newest and much anticipated ride, she’s so excited. Her and her friend head over but when the ride breaks down, it’s clear that things aren’t going to turn out as she intended. What she could not have predicted, though, was the sheer magnitude of how bad things were really going to be. The episode played to that uneasy thrill inside every theme-park-loving child; what if the thrills are much more real than you were prepared for? Thrill-seeking youngsters got a real kick out of this episode, but others may never have gone to an amusement park again.
14. You Can’t Scare Me
Who says the teacher’s pet can’t be a s brave as she is smart? Courtney is one of Goosebumps most memorable protagonists because of her determined fearlessness. Despised and picked on, she doesn’t let anything bring her down. So when Hat and Eddie try to trick her into thinking a local monster legend has come to life, it’s no surprise it’s the two boys that get more than they bargained for. To bring the mud legend to life, they head down to the swamp, said to be a cursed burial ground for the town’s first settlers who tragically died in a mudslide. Bad idea, boys. Bad idea.
13. Attack of the Mutant
Skipper Matthews is obsessed with comic books, and one villain in particular. But when the Masked Mutant turns out to be real, Skipper finds out that being lost in his comic book fantasies isn’t as fun as he thought it would be. The episode was necessarily self-reflective, since it called attention to the absurdity and dangers of becoming too invested in our favourite stories, and reminded us that fiction and reality are two separate things. Conflating them can lead to very undesirable consequences. It’s also a cautionary tale about revering villains, something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another. As the lines between fiction and reality continue to blur, we all wondered if our favourite Goosebumps monsters were going to pop out from our closets that night.
12. Perfect School
The lesson of this two-parter episode – listen to your parents, because they have the power to send you to an evil boarding school. Sending his frustrated parents over the edge with one more prank on his little brother, Brian is sent away to a summer boarding school that will straighten out his behaviour. Once he arrives, though, he starts to get the feeling something more sinister is behind the school’s agenda. He decides to find out what is really going on, but the truth proves to be worse than he could have ever imagined. So, yeah – don’t piss off your parents. The message is a little troubling though, since the horror of it all is the level of power adults wield over children, and stresses behavioural corrective-ness.
11. Welcome To Camp Nightmare
For some kids, going away to camp is a nightmare in and of itself; even for others, there’s always a fear associated with being away from home in a strange new place. Welcome to Camp Nightmare (parts 1 and 2) plays on this by sending the kids to the uncomfortably titled Camp Nightmoon and having them encounter a strange creature. After a while, the kids become convinced that the creature is picking kids off one by one – in classic slasher movie style (only this creature wasn’t wearing a hockey mask, wielding a machete). The trouble with being a kid is that adults seldom listen to you, and are sometimes unreasonable. Take Uncle Al, for example, who seems to be growing increasingly threatening.
10. The Ghost Next Door
Another one of the series’ many two-parters, this one puts a creative twist on ‘the boy next door.’ When a new family suddenly moves in next door, Hannah is immediately intrigued by their son, Danny. But rather than a blossoming romance, this turns out to be a spiralling mystery, when it becomes clear that Danny is capable of surviving even the most fatal accidents. Not to mention, Hannah has that weird burning house dream right before he appears. Hannah, like many brave boys and girls in R.L. Stine’s stories, decides to investigate. But the more she does, the weirder things seem. And what’s with that shadow following her? Could Danny be a real life ghost? The story was also updated as part of the premise for the recent Goosebumps movie reboot.
9. Say Cheese and Die!
Ryan Gosling. Enough said? Well, just to refresh your memory, this episode featured Ryan Gosling, a mysterious camera, and a found-footage storyline. After finding a camera in a strange house full of abandoned gadgets, Greg is confused when he realizes the images aren’t coming out right. When he snaps a photo of dad and his new car, the car in the picture is wrecked. A little while later, dad wrecks the car. At first, it seems the camera might be predicting the future. But then a scarier thought occurs to him – what if it’s creating the future! Similar to the ancient lore that taking someone’s photo can steal their soul, this episode runs with the idea that taking a picture of someone can curse them. It’s quite clever, with great dialogue to boot.
8. One Day At Horrorland
Sticking with its long-established trope of useless or questionable parents, a family vacation becomes a living nightmare when a frustrated and lost mom and dad stumble upon a creepy amusement park. It certainly looks abandoned, and there is something so off about it, but needing to cool off they agree it’s a perfect place to stop. The kids are excited, and the workers look bloodthirsty, so what could be so wrong? The kids venture off ad even though older sis is supposed to be the responsible one, she lets her brother guilt her into an incredibly dangerous looking casket river ride. The episode poignantly addressed some of our biggest fears – including babysitting younger siblings, and family time in general.
7. Welcome to Dead House
Yet another one of Goosebumps’s oxymoronic titles – “Welcome to Dead House”, really? Something about invoking the concept of death just doesn’t seem very welcoming. This episode went with a clever update on the classic ghost story trope, which has to be appreciated. The fear of the unknown is pretty universal, and ghosts are one of the most intriguing supernatural theories out there. Whether we believe or not, a good ghost story is always worth your time. When Amanda and Josh’s parents drag them to a new house in a new town named Dark Falls, it’s already justifiable to be suspicious. Things quickly go from bad to worse when the siblings discover their new home is haunted by ghosts who are looking to cross them over into the land of the dead. A perfect metaphor for how traumatizing it can be to start a new life in a new place.
6. The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight
Though Goosebumps is always fondly remembered for its twist endings, an exceptionally twisted ending is what makes this episode so special. Airing just after Halloween, when the dust had finally settled on all the obvious spooky fun, the episode reminded us of the inherent creepiness of autumn itself. From All Hallows’ Eve, to Day of the Dead, fall is a time for the unusual. It invoked all the eeriness of the season and the mysterious icons associated with that – longer and darker nights; the fresh cold creeping in; quiet and lonely spaces such as cornfields; and, of course, scarecrows. The suspense in this narrative was palpable and if you were waiting for a happy ending, you might have been disappointed. But hey, at least you still had leftover Halloween candy to comfort you.
5. The Werewolf Of Fever Swamp
This book was adapted into a TV special, which was then split into two parts accounting for two episodes of the T V run. When it was released on VHS, it made the Top 20 Billboard best sellers list. In 2006, the book was adapted into a comic book story, becoming the first in the Goosebumps Graphix series. The story uses typical horror tropes, including the new kid in town (maybe don’t move to a place called Fever Swamp), and the determined scientist. When strange things start happening, kids are forced to ask themselves – are werewolves real? Werewolf lore is always most appropriately used within the pre-teen/teen ages, since the bodily changes tend to mimic an exaggerated experience of puberty. Terrifying, on more than one level. The werewolf also made an appearance in the Goosebumps movie, along with many of the other nostalgic creatures.
4. A Night In Terror Tower
Who says history can’t be fun? And that tourism is dangerous? R.L. Stine. In A Night in Terror Tower (parts 1 and 2), a trip to London turns into a living nightmare when a pair of siblings find themselves locked overnight in Terror Tower. Word of advice, never go inside of a building called Terror Tower. Bad things will happen, as Eddie and Sue soon find out. They are confronted by angry historical figures (making this episode one of the more educational ones), who are looking for vengeance. A bounty of jump scares lessen the learning opportunities and up the fright level for a very classic horror viewing experience. There is also an emphasis on the spooky, gothic, atmosphere which is perfectly suited to the horrific nature of history.
3. Stay Out of the Basement
In this two-parter, kids are taught the all-too-real tell-tale signs of something being wrong with your parents. Sure, there was a horrifying plant-monster; but the real horror came from the idea that these two poor kids could no longer trust their father. What starts as a clear metaphor for depression – dad has lost his job and now spends all his time in the basement, isn’t engaging with the children, and has a short temper – quickly becomes something far scarier. There’s a typical violent dad/in-denial mom dynamic at play that is reminiscent of any abusive home situation, made worse by her readiness to leave the children alone with a man who is clearly not well. And the worst 90s TV mom award goes to… The more monstrous he becomes the more apparent it is that we never really know what a person really is.
2. Night of the Living Dummy Saga
Night of the Living Dummy (parts 1 and 2), and Night of the Living Dummy II are not just some of the scariest Goosebumps episodes, they are some of the most chilling TV memories of the 1990s. Phobias surrounding clowns, dolls, and dummies are pretty common anyways, and Slappy was an embodiment of all of those fears, making him one of the best villains of his era. R.L. Stine was inspired to create Slappy by the story of Pinocchio, but where that beloved children’s classic was a tale about growing up, Slappy is a lot more like Chucky. In each of Slappy’s episodes, he would be brought to life after someone would find him and read the spell found in his pocket. Once alive, Slappy has a knack for destructive pranks that his keepers end up being blamed for. And isn’t that every child’s nightmare, even without the creepy talking dummy?
1. The Haunted Mask
This 2-parter special opened the series and launched the phenomenon of Goosebumps. Most kids had already been familiar with the material, since it was an incredibly popular book series first, but seeing the stories come to life was exciting nonetheless. The Haunted Mask was the perfect way to kick it off. In it, a cursed mask slowly attaches to the face of anyone who puts it on. Before you know it, the grotesque mask has become who you are. Since the story is told from the perspective of a teenage girl, it also plays out as a social commentary about young girls needing to wear masks to be accepted. After its success, the special was released on VHS and became a Top 100 Billboard seller.