After watching the Goosebumps Movie earlier in the year, and enjoying the nostalgia kick, I had an urge to locate my entire childhood collection of Goosebumps books. After hours of searching my parents’ house I found 40 of the original 62 boxed up in their attic. I definitely owned more than this, but either they remain boxed up and undiscovered, or I sold them off to a second-hand bookshop. Whether the ones I held on to were credited as my ‘favourites’ I cannot recall.
So, with all of these in front of me, I decided to put adulthood on hold and take a trip back to simpler times – a childhood where saving my pocket money for the new Goosebumps book was what I cared most about. A few books in I was hooked, and vowed to re-read all 62. I tracked down ways to read the ones I was missing and now, 10 weeks later, I have finally done it. Each book took me about 50-60 minutes to read, and I was covering 5-8 per week.
Over the course of 1992-1997 Scholastic released a new Goosebumps book at a rate of close to one every month, so author R.L. Stine was churning them out pretty quickly. And he has continued to churn them out with the Give Yourself Goosebumps, Goosebumps Horrorland series and others. Now, whether they were written in order is a fascinating question, and the chaotic inconsistency in fresh ideas and writing quality is what has made this journey a strange one.
It is hard to gauge exactly how old I was when I was in peak Goosebumps obsession. I think it must have been 1996, when I was 8. I don’t think I read any after 1998 – I feel like I had moved onto The Hardy Boys and Harry Potter books by then – but I find it interesting that I read most of them when I was aged 7-9. By age 10 I suspect I had grown out of them. Almost all of Stine’s protagonists were aged 12, though I realise now that he wrote them younger than that. My memory of most of them in 2016 was next-to-none, so I felt like I was starting on a blank slate. Plenty offered surprises, while others that I recall enjoying ended up being amongst the most awful. Back then they would have all been awesome, but I am not sure how well they will go down with kids these days.
I will admit, I hit some hurdles. About two-thirds of the way through this project I started to lose sight of the light. It became a chore. As the quality took a nosedive, the recurring formulas became tiresome, Stine’s worst tendencies were less effectively hidden, and the ideas dried up, I struggled to digest them. For most of the #30+, there was nothing there, but I was becoming desperate to make it to the end and put this foolishness behind me. But, rarely one to leave things unfinished, I persevered. I am glad I did, because there are some late gems, but this is not a venture I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Before I get into the rankings I thought I would flag a few observations from the series:
Best stretch of Goosebumps – #1 – #11
Worst stretch of Goosebumps – #42 – #50
Weirdest and most wildly inconsistent stretch of Goosebumps – #52 – #62
Here are all 62 of the original Goosebumps series, definitively ranked from 62-1. The number in brackets refers to the number of the entry in the series. Warning, there are *spoilers*:
62. Chicken Chicken (#53)
This may be a cliché pick, but you can definitely judge this book by its cover. It really is the very worst in the series. I never read it as a kid, but I was, even then, clued-up enough to know not to waste my hard-earned pocket money on this rubbish.
61. Egg Monsters From Mars (#42)
Even for Goosebumps this is diabolically thin and stupid. Dana, during an egg hunt at his sister’s birthday party, finds a large and unusual egg – it is green, has blue veins and pulses. It hatches the following morning in his sock draw – revealing a small scrambled egg-like Martian that oozes yellow goop. Inexplicably curious for answers he takes the creature to a local science lab to see if they can identify it, and finds himself held hostage by an evil scientist wishing to quarantine and study the creatures. So bad that it actually made me question what the hell I was thinking with this undertaking, and that ending…as lazy as it gets for Stine.
60. Deep Trouble 2 (#58)
I’ll be honest, I didn’t even finish this. I got about half way and looked up the rest of the plot online and decided it wasn’t worth the time. It starts out with William Deep Jr. (shudder) recapping the plot from Deep Trouble into about 100 words (yes, that book has a very thin plot) and then escaping an attacking octopus by tickling it. And then the octopus turns out to be his sister, and he was pretending she was a sea monster. Then there is something about the creatures in the ocean growing to abnormally large sizes…believed to be caused by…magic plankton…and more evil scientists come along. I don’t know. Stine’s set-ups were usually his strong suit, so this is the worst sequel Stine wrote – yes, worse than Monster Blood IV.
59. Monster Blood IV (#62)
The final book in the original series is basically Stine giving his readers the middle finger. Did Stine know this was the last one? I never made it this far, did fans know at the time? Did they eagerly wait for another Haunted School miracle to come along and wash this stink away? Evan, Amy, Kermit and Conan are all back, and this time they are terrorised by multiplying blue gelatinous creatures that evolve by ingesting liquids and fire blue slime. Then they get into Kermit’s latest experiment and grow hair. Worthless.
58. Say Cheese and Die – Again! (#44)
Or, ‘how to take one of the best ideas and completely ruin it’. So horribly conceived and idiotic. Greg, returning, is so desperate to avoid getting an F for his class oral presentation – which is about the discovery of the evil camera that takes snaps of not the immediate subject, but a disturbing future incident that comes true – that he decides to track it down again so he can prove to his teacher that he isn’t full of it. So, Greg willingly seeks trouble. More fool him when the camera wields its power again, but where it goes is…oh no, no, no.
57. Monster Blood III (#29)
Forget IV, no-one wanted a third instalment in the ‘Monster Blood’ franchise. Evan is one of Stine’s most boring lead characters, and we get stuck with him for four adventures. This time he is babysitting his science-obsessed younger cousin, Kermit – a whiz with concoctions, whose troublemaking always ends up being blamed on Evan. He decides to get Kermit back by sneaking some Monster Blood into one of his potions. This backfires, obviously, and Evan accidentally swallows some…growing enormous and terrorising the local neighbourhood. Actually improves on II for the most part, until the disastrous final chapters.
56. Go Eat Worms (#21)
Even as a kid I decided it wasn’t worth adding to my collection. A worm-obsessed little brat is committed to winning the science fair with his worm colony, dug from the earth beneath the school baseball diamond. But a bad-taste prank on his sister and a humiliating loss is all the day yields. Days later, after cutting a worm in two his sister claims that the worms in his colony show emotion for his sadistic actions, and he starts finding worms everywhere – inside the hat he rarely takes off, amongst his homework and in his dinner. This is revenge – but by the hands of a villainous human being, or the source of his obsession collectively uniting against him?
55. The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena (#38)
I remember this being one I wanted to read for ages, and I was eventually given it as a reward for competing in a primary school public speaking competition. Funny, the memories. For most of this unusually cumbersome, but overstuffed, Hardy Boys-esque Alaskan adventure, we wait for the Abominable Snowman to return to Pasadena, California and wreak havoc. I mean, the cover promises it. Most of the story is set in Alaska as the sibling protags and their father – a nature photographer, hired to take a snap – search the icy wilderness for the creature. This has potential, but frightened dogs and warnings from their grumpy guide don’t amount to much suspense. After clearing page 100 we finally make it back to Pasadena, and what follows there is amongst the worst stretches of writing in any Goosebumps book, ever.
54. Legend of the Lost Legend (#47)
This ending left me in hysterics. Stine seems to have completely given up here, and this had me concerned for the fifteen I still had to read. Thankfully, only a few of them were worse than this. All that exploration of youthful angst and social awkwardness – taking the time to establish relatable traits in the protagonists – is over. Now, it had become a sprint to the next cliffhanger. The average chapter length in this book is three pages. A somewhat promising start soon takes a bizarre and irreparable turn, as a pair of siblings find themselves forced to take a test of survival in a fantasy forest world filled with strange creatures, including mice that hatch out of eggs (?). They are on the hunt for an ancient manuscript – the ‘Lost Legend’ – and a Viking woman promises to deliver what they seek if they can make it through alive. The Beast From the East meets A Shocker on Shock Street.
53. My Best Friend is Invisible (#57)
Sammy Jacobs, the black sheep of a family of scientists, has an interest in science fiction, aliens and ghosts. He and his best friend Roxanne decide to film a haunted house for a school project, and that search for paranormal phenomenon coincides with the discovery of a torch capable of illuminating the invisible and an obnoxious ghost boy named Brent Green, who invades the Jacobs’ home desperate to be Sammy’s friend. Okayyy. Brent messes up his room, easts his cereal and leads to ridicule, when Sammy tells of his new friend to Roxanne. Like Brent, this is one of the most obnoxious in the series, with lengthy stretches of inactivity and a twist ending that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Boo.
52. Monster Blood II (#18)
This is the first genuinely awful one in the series, but doesn’t look so bad in comparison to those above. Evan spends most of this one harping on about the sticky, fast-expanding green substance that changed his life the Summer before and complaining because no one believes him. Not surprisingly he finds himself tormented by the school bully, and repeatedly disciplined by his science teacher. The punishment: hamster-sitting after school. It does open with a dream-within-a-dream sequence, always fun, and there is a tense infiltration mission to steal back the squandered Monster Blood, but this is all rather boring.
51. Calling All Creeps (#50)
Its dark, completely messed-up ending is the only redeeming feature of this wacky tale of misfired revenge. Getting to the ending is an unforgivable slog, however. In an attempt to get back at the bossy editor-in-chief of the school paper, who has kicked him off the writing staff, Ricky plays a prank – sneaking a message into the paper: “If you’re a creep, call Tasha after midnight”. This backfires and results in him getting the phone calls instead. It is actually the local bullies, and they aren’t playing a prank on him – they are actual creeps (purple Raptor-like lizards) in disguise and they believe he is their leader, set on them achieving their takeover mission.
50. The Haunted Mask II (#36)
Another very poor extension of an excellent idea. It is distinctly problematic, but does bring back one of Stine’s most interesting characters, Carly Beth, in a supporting capacity. One problem, our protagonist seeks Halloween revenge, via the scariest mask imaginable, on a group of year-one kids. They’re six. Another, what these kids do to him does suggest they are Satan’s spawn. Has an identical premise to the first one, but our guy isn’t much of a hero. And his behaviour is less dangerous to others, and more to himself – the mask’s influence is more ‘gross, sad old-man’ and soul-sucking than anything. We do learn more about the origin of the masks, and their effect is expanded to include further physical transformations for the wearer.
49. The Horror at Camp Jellyjam (#33)
Lacking any semblance of originality, I think it is only memorable for its vividly disgusting final chapters. This bizarre, and frankly odious, camp-based entry features counsellors possessing a Nazi-like obsession with forcing the campers to compete in every sport imaginable around the clock, and to play to win. Or else. Not the best lesson. Turns out winning a lot secures you a ticket out of camp…and a serious demotion in the social scale. The un-athletic Wendy infiltrates the cult, and unlocks the ‘horrific’ secret behind Camp Jellyjam. It also contains perhaps the worst parenting decision in all of Goosebumps – allowing kids to hang out in a towed caravan – and the most unfathomable failure to locate the missing kids, once said caravan disconnects and rolls off into the forest.
48. Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes (#34)
Unbelievable how much this is a re-tread of the superior Night of the Living Dummy II, released just a few books earlier. For this trait alone, its pretty ordinary. Lots of this book is about gardening – neighbours who are rival produce growers and an obsession with tacky lawn ornaments. The latest addition to Joe Burton’s yard are two gnomes, named Chip and Hap. When their neighbour’s prized garden gets repeatedly defiled – melons are drawn on, and tomatoes squashed – blame gets thrown around. First, it is the Burtons’ family dog, then Joe himself. But, he starts to suspect the mischievous little gnomes. Of course no one believes him. Again takes prank-making to sadistic levels, and adults who stubbornly have little faith in their children, fighting their enthusiastic claims to ‘almost’ the very end.
47. The Beast From the East (#43)
It’s different, I will give it that. Ginger and her twin younger brothers find themselves lost in a strange alien forrest, and are then coaxed into a deadly game of tag (you’re it!) with some furry English-speaking and surprising jovial monsters. That’s it. They learn the inexplicably accommodating rules as they go, but I also suspect that Stine was writing the rules for this one as he went along.
46. How to Kill a Monster (#46)
Umm…not Stine’s finest moment. Gretchen and her stepbrother Clark get dropped off at their grandparents’ house in the middle of a swamp. Upon exploration of the house, they encounter a locked room. Curious about what could be inside – they had spied their grandfather delivering a plate of pancakes to someone, or something – they open it to find an extremely dangerous swamp monster. They then discover that their grandparents have fled, but have left behind two notes, one including instructions on how to kill the monster. So the second half is an extended chase sequence of the kids trying everything to stay alive and eliminate the monster. It beggars belief.
45. Deep Trouble (#19)
As I was re-reading this I wondered if I had ever read it. I recall none of it. Lead kid, William Deep Jr. (points deducted for that alone), and his sister go on a water expedition with their world-famous marine biologist uncle. With an ocean of potential monsters; this doesn’t feature any sharks or deadly marine life and is pretty dull. It is actually about the discovery of a Mermaid and the family’s attempts to keep it out of the hands of greedy businessmen who wish to use it for a Zoo attraction. Yawn.
44. Attack of the Jack-O’-Lanterns (#48)
Not as terrible as widely-claimed but Stine makes some grave mistakes – scenarios haphazardly introduced that end up being daydreams, the bizarre absence of any identification of the main protagonist with a gender, and an ending that rather embarrassingly cheats its audience – which ruin the otherwise nail-biting premise. It also steals directly from The Haunted Mask and You Can’t Scare Me, with a Twilight Zone twist, in telling a revenge-fuelled Trick-or-Treat mission that ‘misfires’. The book opens with some flashbacks, which quite cleverly establish the motivation for the ultimate Halloween revenge scare, and the Pumpkinheads’ hijacking of the evening has an undercurrent of child-abduction that’s rather unnerving, but the ending is so ridiculous that this is the only spot it deserves.
43. Bad Hare Day (#41)
At this point I am more inclined to forgive the stories that have some semblance of originality. This one doesn’t resemble many others, aside from shitting the bed with a lazy cop-out finale. It has a promising set-up, though. Tim, a wanna-be magician, who keeps embarrassing himself when trying to perform even simple illusions for his schoolmates doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to see his idol, Amaz-O, perform live on stage. In quite the gambit, he and his sister sneak out in the middle of the night and infiltrate the club. After the show, Tim ‘borrows’ Amaz-O’s magic kit in the hope that he can utilise a real magician’s tools, and learn a trick or two. But, he finds that he cannot control the cursed props – he turns his sister into a rabbit, for one – and desperately returns to Amaz-O with his tail between his legs. Don’t meet your idols, folks.
42. Don’t Go To Sleep (#54)
Nowhere near the quality of the time/reality bending The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, but this is still interesting. Every time our protag, Matt, goes to sleep he wakes up in a new body, and a new life, but still his 12-year-old mind. These range from being aged 16, and struggling to understand 10th grade texts, to an 8-year-old and part of a travelling circus, to a giant car-eating lizard. The reason for all this chaos: he hates his tiny bedroom so much he sneaks a sleep in the larger guest room and breaks through a reality barrier, skewing it further every time he falls asleep.
41. My Hairiest Adventure (#26)
Larry is part of a band practicing for an upcoming Battle of the Bands competition, and during one practice session he finds an out-of-date spray-on tan that has a strange side effect. Strongest element is the exploration of the teen anxieties associated with body image – strange hair growth, acne, and other physical developments that cause daily stress and embarrassment. The final reveal is truly bizarre, but there’s nothing that constitutes a scare here. Released between two of Stine’s strongest entries, so while it isn’t very good, I suspect this makes it look worse than it actually is.
40. Beware, The Snowman (#51)
For the first half I was thinking I had found an underrated gem in the #50s (nope, they were actually still to come), but this ultimately is not so bad, despite another wild second half. Jaclyn has just moved from Chicago to a small town in the Arctic Circle with her aunt. There she discovers that all of the homes have a similar feature, a creepy-looking snowman constructed on the lawn to protect the residents and honour the town legend – one involving a huge snowman residing in a cave at the top of the mountain. Jaclyn hears warning whispers at night to ‘beware the snowman’, makes a connection between the legend and a rhyme her late mother sang to her as a child, and is understandably curious about what lurks up the mountain. It possesses a sense of macabre small-town secrets, and builds a relatively compelling mystery out of its outrageous premise, before becoming disastrously…preposterous.
39. How I Got My Shrunken Head (#39)
Jungle Magic and shrunken heads. Yeesh, this is close to as absurd as they get, but also a bit of a guilty pleasure one (from memory, its hazy). It throws Mark Rowe into a jungle voodoo adventure and a situation with some unusually credible threats.
38. Return of the Mummy (#23)
Pretty much a re-tread of The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (#5), and a return to the Egyptian pyramids was indeed welcomed at this point in the series. The bummer is that not a lot happens for a long time. Eventually, Gabe is dared by his cousin Sari to repeat six words believed to raise an ancient curse from the chamber they are on the verge of discovering. Of course, they don’t believe this could be true – but it turns out the real threat has already infiltrated the party (via seduction, a new one) and been granted far to much access to the tomb.
37. Vampire Breath (#49)
Probably listed higher than it deserves to be, but this at least felt like something different after a flood of rehashed ideas. Freddy and his friend Cara find a hidden door in the basement that leads to a small room containing a coffin. The release of a substance found inside known as ‘Vampire Breath’ resurrects a vampire named Count Nightwing, and sends them all back in time to his castle. With a replenished supply of Vampire Breath, Nightwing can re-grow his fangs…and feed on the kids…but at the same time it is the only way the kids can make it back. Becomes a Vampire v. kid battle of wits in a cavernous castle with some nice gothic touches.
36. Piano Lessons Can Be Murder (#13)
There was something about music lessons that made me nervous as a kid so I think this one would have worked on me. Jerry and his family move to a new house, and he finds a dusty old piano in the attic. His parents agree to pay for his lessons, after he shows interest in learning. But, there is something strange about his new piano teacher – who is obsessed with Jerry’s hands – and something creepy about the old abandoned building on the town’s outskirts he visits for his lessons. Not to mention the ghostly figure who is playing the piano in the middle of the night. Things get unwieldy and grisly in the end, but Jerry investigating the source of the music alone would have given me the chills.
35. Night of the Living Dummy III (#40)
The weakest entry in the Slappy series, easily, but still fairly decent because of the natural creepiness of the dummies, who have multiplied here but still appear in unexpected places around the house and throw blame for their diverse mischief on the hapless protagonist. So, the same as the others. More on the Slappy series below.
NOTE: I found everything from here on pretty good and worth reading if you’re so inclined. If I was rating on a 5-star scale these would be fresh/2.5 stars+.
34. The Headless Ghost (#37)
A pretty self-contained ghost story with some chillingly effective parts, and one of the better twist endings in the #30+ entries. Duane and Stephanie are best friends who love to scare the neighbourhood children and are so scare-immune they repeatedly take the Hill House ghost tour. The stories involve a lost sea captain who stalks the halls calling for his lost love, who fled the home when he went missing at sea, and a mischievous boy who moved in years later and discovered the sea captain’s hiding place and consequently was stripped of his head. The pair decide to explore those Hill House rooms off-limits on the tour in search for the head. Has a kitchen-sink of haunted house tropes, but proves again that Stine was at his best working with ghost stories.
33. You Can’t Scare Me (#15)
Widely disliked, because it is almost-entirely lacking in scares or any sort of otherworldly threat, which addicted readers would have experienced in every edition until that point. It is very much centred on real-life problems; bullying and the desire for revenge, and the competitive urges of kids – in this instance the motivation to out-scare one another. The cover depicts these gruesome looking mud monsters, but they don’t come into it for a good three quarters, and in the end…*spoiler*…it is the kids who are the real monsters. One prank involves dropping a tarantula onto someone’s head, and that’s pretty horrible. Interesting, because it was a ballsy stray from the formula.
32. Why I’m Afraid of Bees (#17)
Certainly one of the weirdest entries in the series, and another unpopular one, but Why I’m Afraid of Bees has lingered a lot longer than expected. The central idea is pretty cool; lifted straight out of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds. A kid, Gary Lutz, with poor self-esteem and body image issues sees an ad for a bizarre ‘vacation’ in the paper about a company claiming to be able to swap your body with someone else’s. The process involves moving your mind into another body for a period of time with the other person’s consent. The experiment messes up, and Gary finds himself trapped in the body of a bee. His adventures take him deep into his neighbour’s hive, and in his attempts to communicate first with his family and then ‘himself’ (who is suddenly popular, with another person’s mind inside), and he finds new admiration for his biggest fear…and his personality.
31. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (#5)
I liked this one as a kid and this was probably due to an obsession with Ancient Egypt and Mummies at the time. It does delve into some genuine fears – abandonment and the threat of abduction, claustrophobia, labyrinthine tombs, scorpions. On a family holiday in Egypt Gabe is left in the care of his archaeologist uncle who has just discovered a secret burial chamber in one of the Great Pyramids. Gabe and his know-it-all cousin Sari accompany him to the site, and despite warnings about an ancient curse and the ease in getting separated, Gabe finds himself repeatedly lost in the tunnels and becomes the intended victim of a desperate cover-up.
30. It Came From Beneath the Sink (#30)
Features one of the most unusual monsters that Stine ever conjured up – an old kitchen sponge known as the Grool that brings bad luck for the individual who claims it as their own. This is another one centred around a family who move into a new home, and during the initial clean-up the Grool is discovered under the sink. The kids’ obsession with the sponge is a little hard to accept, but the sponge thrives – expands and appears to shake with glee – on horrible things happening to them, their family and friends, and they come in spades.
29. Be Careful What You Wish For (#12)
A gangly klutz, the subject of rather intense bullying, helps a mysterious woman in the street and is granted three wishes. Whatever she likes. Chaos ensues when the wishes backfire due to her use of semantics. The bullying is pretty full-on – the protag Sam is having a tough time of it, so her frustration and wishes to be the best player on the basketball team and for her bully, Judith, to completely disappear are understandable. This could have been really crazy, but Stine keeps it grounded in the realities of Sam’s world; her rivalry with Judith and her social alienation. Sam is a pain, though – the internal dialogue is dialled to the extreme, here – and while this does become tedious by the third wish it does encompass everything that Goosebumps was all about. Kids willing to exert the most sinister of revenges on others. Sam gets her just desserts in one of the darkest and most troubling endings in the series. Another one that seems weak in comparison to the early novels, but considering what is to come later, very solid.
28. The Blob That Ate Everyone (#55)
Enjoyable, because it deals with the ability to influence the world you live in. Write your own story. Builds its nifty premise around the suggestion that anything written on a particular ancient typewriter comes true. For aspiring horror novelist Zackie, this is both awesome! and a nightmare. After messing around with his abilities for a while he ends up writing his small town into trouble, when his Blob creation comes to terrorise. Plucked straight from the ’58 classic, but with the ‘ideas-coming-to-life’ angle. This is the story that the recent Goosebumps film used most directly – Stine’s original manuscripts possess the power to unleash the monsters on the world, and this fun late entry does just that. Issues: makes Stine’s lack of minority characters throughout the whole series glaringly obvious with what is essentially a pointless cameo by a black woman, and that terrible ‘oh-who-cares’ ending. Again.
27. Ghost Beach (#22)
This is a sad one, and though it does re-tread some similar ideas explored in earlier entries in the series, it is creepy if ghosts are your guilty scare. Siblings visit their aunt and uncle in a small beachside town that seems to offer nowhere near enough recreation options to justify the lengthy stay, meet some strange local kids, discover a dark, dangerous-looking cave overlooking the beach, and learn from the local graveyard that they have a lot of relatives buried there. Their adventures are mostly focused on the cave; discovering the secret of the late-night flickering light, and what info it can shed upon the supposed curse on the beach.
26. Ghost Camp (#45)
At the time of reading this was easily the best Goosebumps book since A Shocker on Shock Street (#35). Stands out amongst a wave of stinkers. Harry and his brother Alex get sent to Camp Spirit Moon, and soon find out that the camp traditions, and their fellow campers, are a little strange. For one, they don’t seem to react to serious injuries, including tent pegs through the foot and forks to the neck, and their pranks on the new campers cross a line. A campfire story about a camp full of kids who were killed by a mysterious black mist…ends up being this very same camp, and Harry and Alex find out that the only way their ghostly fellow campers can leave the grounds is if they take over the body of a human…and guess who the only two humans are? Keeps the pretty obvious reveal to the building mysteries elusive for a commendable amount of time.
25. Monster Blood (#3)
Fun. It isn’t sinister or creepy in any way; but it spawned a lot of the tropes that would follow. Evan, not so annoying here, is spending a few days with his aunt (and her slinky feline companion) and on his adventures around the new neighbourhood he meets Andy, an energetic girl his own age. He also picks up a dusty container of Monster Blood, a novelty slimy green substance that can bounce and be moulded into shapes, from a local joke shop. After breaking the seal, they find that the substance grows uncontrollably and has the ability to consume anything it envelopes. Household buckets, and eventually the bathtub, cannot hold it. It spawned three disastrous sequels, but this voice-less menace has a decent origin tale.
24. I Live in Your Basement (#61)
For sure, this is the most f’d-up entry in the series. I have no idea what to make of it, and won’t even try to recap the plot here. It is made up of very vivid nightmares-within-nightmares-within-nightmares in the wake of a serious head injury that deals with PTSD and mental impairment. The narrator, Marco, becomes increasingly unstable and unreliable, as he navigates the waves of dreams and semi-consciousness. Figuring out what is a dream and what is reality in this book is nearly impossible, but the vivid descriptions – at one point a character grabs their tongue and turns themselves inside out through their mouth – are so unnerving that it is no wonder it was one of the few to not be republished. Kinda love this one for ‘going there’. Also, note the strange symmetry to all of the entries as both the second, and second-to-last, novels feature basements.
23. The Curse of Camp Cold Lake (#56)
Dark, dark stuff. Shy, antisocial Sarah is having such a tough time of it at a water sports camp – for starters she hates swimming, and the outdoors – that she decides to fake her own death to make everyone who had picked on her feel bad. The fake suicide attempt (a terrifying description of how it would feel to drown) is very unsettling, the description of debilitating anxiety very emotive, and the final twist/s caught me unaware.
22. The Werewolf of Fever Swamp (#14)
The other relatively competent werewolf-themed one. Looked pretty good until the underrated Werewolf Skin came along. Grady Tucker moves into a new house near Florida’s Fever Swamp with his family. An icky investigation of the swamp sets up palpable tension – Grady and his older sister Emily get lost, encounter numerous obstacles and discover a creepy old hermit living within. When a deer is murdered one night, Grady’s father believes their newly-adopted docile-seeming dog, named Wolf (there’s a strike Stine), is the culprit, but Grady fears that the mythical werewolf is terrorising the swamp. Several suspects emerge, and Stine maintains the intrigue throughout – leaving the reveal of the Werewolf’s identity to the every end.
21. The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight (#20)
This one is genuinely nightmare-inducing, and often. Cornfields that tower over the kids, and gruesome scarecrow silhouettes. I had flashbacks to the filmed adaptation of Steven King’s The Stand – the cornfield dreams. There is a sequence in a barn that I imagine would make a terrific set piece in a filmed adaptation. Jodie and her brother Mark visit their grandparents farm, and find that they aren’t as hospitable as usual and there is a strange morose atmosphere. Could it have something to do with their mentally-challenged farmhand Stanley, who is convinced that he has unleashed a curse on the farm by bringing their scarecrows to life? Doesn’t quite stick the landing, but amongst Stine’s strongest build-ups of suspense.
20. The Barking Ghost (#32)
Speaking of nightmare-inducing, this did it. May be the scariest book in the series – and definitely gave me nightmares as a kid. I remember. I believed there was something lurking right outside my window at night, and if I investigated I would see the glowing red eyes described in this story. On re-read it actually shocked me how full-on it is, especially if you possess a phobia of aggressive dogs (or animals) invading the sanctuary of the family home. The experience of seeing two dogs walk into your kitchen, and knowing you’re the only one able to see them, is a very eerie piece of imagination. This again features a kid being gleefully terrorised by a sibling – pranks that call for extreme patience and sick sense of motivation – but here they also have to contend with these stalking dogs. They are, in fact, humans trapped in dog bodies attempting to lure him into the woods so that they can switch places. Has a heartbreaking sense of dislocation from family – even if they scare you, or don’t believe you, they are the most important to your sense of humanity.
19. Night of the Living Dummy II (#31)
Has an uncanny resemblance to the first one, but does enough differently to stand successfully on its own. But, why mess with a formula that worked? With 23 novels separating the two, Stine established anticipation for the return of Slappy. Another wannabe ventriloquist, Amy, comes into the possession of the mischievous dummy on her birthday, all-but given away at a pawn shop to her father. She is again invited to perform at a young child’s birthday party – with predictably disastrous results – but Slappy’s menace is predominantly focused on disrupting the harmony of the family. Who hasn’t woken up in the middle of the night imagining something creeping out of their wardrobe? Also has a touching sisterhood subplot – there’s quite a conflict between Amy and her perfect A-grade student sister Sara, as Slappy’s sinister defiling of Sara’s room leads to finger-pointing at Amy.
18. The Girl Who Cried Monster (#8)
Surely no one saw this ending coming. The first twist ending in the series, and a very solid early entry. Remember ‘that’ teacher with the unusual traits (be honest, it was often the librarian) and wondered what their life is like outside of school hours? What if you found out, and it was so out-there that no-one believed you? This is the premise here. During the summer holidays Lucy is participating in the local library’s reading program, in-between trying to find new and inventive ways to scare her younger brother with stories of monsters. When she spies the librarian transforming into a foul fly-eating creature after hours, everyone thinks it is just one of her stories. Cue her attempts to prove it by hiding out in the library. Has some tense stretches and works in a potent lesson about the double-edged sword of fib-telling.
17. The Cuckoo Clock of Doom (#28)
After what you emotionally credit as the worst day of your life – whether it is being part of an embarrassing prank, losing someone you love or having your birthday party destroyed by your bratty younger sibling – don’t you wish you could turn back the clock and re-live it? Change it for the better? In this nifty time-travel based entry, 12-year-old Michael is instructed not to touch his family’s new antique cuckoo clock, but in an attempt to get aforementioned devil-sibling in trouble he messes with it – and finds himself transported into the past, and living through several embarrassing days of his childhood over again. But, now that he is trapped in a time before the cuckoo clock was in his family home, how does he get back to the present? The ending is quite disappointing, because this has such a great idea and raises worrisome stakes, before completely defying reality in its neat, late closure.
16. A Shocker on Shock Street (#35)
I don’t want to say too much about this one because it doesn’t adhere to any expectations at all. It is about two young horror fans, Erin and Marty, who are picked by Erin’s dad – a theme park designer, what a gig – to take the first tour of the newly developed Shock Street theme park. There have been a series of schlocky horror films made under the Shock Street banner, of which Erin and Marty adore, so this would have been a movie geek’s best nightmare. The world is brought to life in what turned out to be a realistic-feeling tram-carriage ride. As the threats escalate they begin to wonder if these creatures are actually real, and if their ride has malfunctioned (a la Jurassic Park) and left them helpless in the company of giant praying mantes.
15. How I Learned to Fly (#52)
Ridiculous is not a term I had in my vocabulary at this stage of things, but this one is definitely ridiculous. However, I like it because it has one of the most surprising, sweetest twist finales in the series. It features a character making a bold choice that leads to immediate embarrassment, but the eventual relinquishing of a great burden and ultimately a win not only over his rival, but in life. This unusual entry deals with the pressure placed on world-class athletes and the anxiety that accompanies being a celebrity. Not where I expected this one to go. To one-up his serious rival Wilson and win the heart of his crush, Mia, Jack Johnson finds a book that teaches humans how to fly. Briefly blessed with the unique ability, he soon finds out that Wilson has also learned how to fly, and has challenged him to a race. Once everyone is stunned with their abilities, they become reluctant celebrities. Jack becomes ‘The Amazing Flying Boy’ and Wilson gets his own TV show, Jack’s father (a talent agent) elevates him to #1 client and the army grill him for the secret to flying. So, who’d want to fly?
14. Let’s Get Invisible (#6)
In this slower-paced, but deceptively smart early entry the thrill of being able to turn invisible collides with the unsuspecting terror of being sucked into a mirror and being replaced by your reflection. The discovery of a mirror in his dusty attic livens up Max’s 12th birthday party, as he, his brother and three of his school friends learn they can turn invisible after illuminating themselves in the light above the mirror. They become obsessed with it – who wouldn’t be? – but their adolescent competitive urges (and fragile vanity) and strong group peer pressure to participate results in them all being sucked into a risky game. Max starts to wonder where his invisible friends are actually disappearing to. One minute they are still in the room, joking around, the next they don’t react to their name. When they return, there’s something different, but he can’t place it. Then Max finds out for himself.
13. Stay Out of the Basement (#2)
The second entry in the series has always grossed me out, but it takes loose some inspiration from The Fly and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as a pair of siblings witness their father’s grotesque transformation, the side-effects of a series of experiments so crazy he couldn’t even convince his employer to fund them. He starts to ooze green blood, sprout leaves from the top of his head and eat dirt like it is cereal. Is the man in their house even their real father anymore? Even human? Covert missions into the basement to learn the truth reveal a lurid, humid environment of living/breathing plants. Explores the emotions stirred up by neglectful parenting, an absent father/parent, or one so absorbed in their work that their family is given no time. Left alone at home with him, they spend their days concerned about their father’s health and wishing he would join them to throw a frisbee around once in a while. They are impressionable and would be forever scarred by these experiences. Also, this is one of the few Goosebumps books to be written in the third person.
12. Attack of the Mutant (#25)
One of the lighter entries in the series, and from my understanding not a particularly popular one, but I found this a whole lot of fun. It follows comic book addict Skipper who, after missing his bus stop, discovers the pink and green headquarters of his favourite comic book villain, The Masked Mutant, on the outskirts of town. Initially, he can’t believe it, but a return visit reveals the headquarters now hidden under a spell of invisibility – exactly as the latest edition of the comic describes. He, along with his new friend Libby, enter the lair and explore, discovering a large printing press and layouts for the latest issue. He also sees some preview panels, and it includes a boy that looks exactly like him. His reality becomes warped and finds himself caught up in a real-life comic-book tale; tasked with saving the comic’s hero, The Galloping Gazelle. A series of wild twists could have derailed, but Stine was never trying to scare here, and just rolling with it offers a really good time.
11. Welcome to Dead House (#1)
The first in the series, released in July 1992, is neither groundbreaking or a wobbly first try. But it is a scary book for a seven-year-old, which is when I first entered Stine’s world. This wasn’t the first one I read (in 1995), but on this re-read it is certainly one of the finest constructed. It is as much about the town of Dark Falls as the Benson family who move into their new house, a sinister-looking antique, there. The entire neighbourhood is covered in an umbrella of darkness by overgrown tree limbs, and you get the sense of remnants of past tragedy. Stine took the time to build his worlds, and develop his characters, in these early novels, and they prove to be much more rewarding. 12-year-old Amanda, shortly after arrival, spots a young boy in her room. A second later, he disappears. These inexplicable sightings, and strange house-sounds, continue – as the story heads towards its gruesome finale set in the town’s cemetery. The big reveal is The Wicker Man-ish and involves Amanda and her brother Josh discovering that all of the children in the neighbourhood they befriend are dead, having been killed in the Benson’s house, and that the family have been lured there as part of an annual ritual to maintain the resident’s living-dead existence.
10. One Day at Horrorland (#16)
One of the most action-packed in the Goosebumps series, this is a fan-favourite and was amongst my own as a kid. The copy I still own must have now been read close to 10 times. The Morris family, meeting the worst luck on a day trip out to a theme park called Zoo Gardens, find themselves without much option but to spend the day at a creepy-looking one called HorrorLand – essentially a deserted Disneyland, where the rides feel life-threatening. Though the kids quickly lose the parents they amuse themselves with the awesomely scary rides, but it is as they all attempt to leave that the signposted warnings and the monster-disguised attendants start to make sense – this has all been staged, and the Morris family have been watched and filmed the entire time.
9. Werewolf Skin (#60)
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Stine conjured up not one but two consecutive ‘Goosebumps-masterpieces’ this late in the game. This was the second, and it is seriously underrated. The final twist is perfect, but it is all just so well crafted. In this book, there are horrible things happening around Alex, the central character – werewolves terrorising Wolf Creek, near where he is staying with his aunt and uncle – but Alex doesn’t jump to the worst conclusions, or immediately buy into a potential supernatural explanation. While his aunt and uncle are certainly acting strange – locking him in his room to stop him from sneaking off into the woods is definitely too far – there are clever misdirections. Alex essentially becomes a detective (equipped with a camera, he is a nut for photography), piecing together the clues he witnessed and the interpreting the contradictory stories his aunt and uncle and his new friend Hannah tell him about the creepy Marling couple next door. Werewolf Skin also has an undercurrent of sexual idolisation. It, I think, is the only time the boy-girl relationship isn’t purely asexual. Alex has a crush on Hannah – it is clear almost immediately – and following an instance where she defends him from a pair of bullies I totally get why he would have become infatuated with her. There is a sweet moment where he almost catches her changing, and she playfully tells him to wait a second. Their relationship is highly unusual in these books.
8. Welcome to Camp Nightmare (#9)
There are several Goosebumps novels set at Summer camps, and while Ghost Camp and The Curse of Camp Cold Lake are decent, this one is unanimously claimed to be the best. Jellyjam borrows a lot of elements from here – campers mysteriously disappearing, fake phones, and the counsellors complete disregard for the health of the campers – but that awful-by-comparison entry lacks the stakes here. Nightmare builds genuine unease in the environment. 12-year-old Billy is sent to Camp Nightmoon and not long after arriving senses that something is strange going on. There’s no medical facility (one of Billy’s bunkmates nurses a serious snake bite for days!), the campers’ daily letters home are never sent, and there are rumours of a creature known as the Sabre who lives in the Forbidden Bunk and terrorises those who break curfew at night. Stine throws in a second consecutive balls-out-crazy twist ending, and unlike many of the late ones, it actually makes sense. This one provokes reflection, and like the first dozen or so stands up pretty well.
7. A Night in Terror Tower (#27)
Interestingly, this may be one of the only Goosebumps books in the series set outside the U.S. Sue and Eddie are American tourists in London, and join a tour group to visit Terror Tower. From there the thrills never let up for this pair as they find themselves lost in the castle and pursued by a caped, black-clad figure into the sewers. After making it back to their hotel they discover that their parents are not in the hotel, and their suite is empty, and they have completely forgotten their last names. Eventually, they are captured by the man in black and sent back to medieval times – turns out they are set to be executed but were sent into the future by a sorcerer for protection. Its a breakneck one, infusing a sense of humour into imagery of medieval torture devices, and filthy peasants, while delving into that overwhelming fear of losing your parents in a foreign city. And it was a big hit. In the Goosebumps TV adaptations this was also one of the very best eps.
6. Phantom of the Auditorium (#24)
Brooke and Zeke have been cast as the leads in the new school play, ‘The Phantom’, but their enthusiasm is repeatedly challenged by strange things that suggest the play is haunted. Back in 1923 a production of ‘The Phantom’ was marred by tragedy – the sudden disappearance of the boy meant to play the lead role. The play has never been performed again, and only one version of the original script was kept. This year Brooke and Zeke’s class were going to ignore the rumour of a curse and resurrect it. This is Phantom of the Opera: Goosebumps Edition and it throws up a gauntlet of scares; a haunted auditorium with deep dark tunnels below the stage, nasty warning letters, and a mysterious figure who infiltrates the rehearsals posing as the phantom. This actually prompted my friend and I, in primary school, to pretend that our performance auditorium was haunted and that one of our classmates was actually a ghost impostor so it is…uh…influential.
5. Night of the Living Dummy (#7)
The first genuinely unnerving entry in Stine’s series. Slappy, the focus of two aforementioned sequels and a character so iconic that he became Stine’s primary foe (the most mischievous of monsters) in The Goosebumps Movie, is a supporting player in this one. When Lindy Powell finds a ventriloquist dummy (Slappy) in the trash, keeps it and begins mastering ventriloquism, her jealous twin sister, Kris, gets one as well. She names hers Mr. Wood. When destructive pranks begin happening, the siblings start to wonder if their dummies are the culprits. As a teenager you often spend most of your day trying not to embarrass yourself in front of your friends, or disappointing your parents with bad behaviour. Mr Wood is the catalyst for all of those things; building a dangerous competitiveness between the siblings, alienating Kris from her community and forcing the girls to resort to destructive means to eliminate the menace that has set up a collusion in their bedroom.
4. Say Cheese and Die! (#4)
This is a great idea, and Say Cheese and Die! is an all-round well-constructed children’s horror novel. In this instance it is the children coming face to face with, or getting a snapshot of, their own mortality when Greg and some of his friends discover a strange camera in a hidden compartment of a basement well of an old, abandoned house. So, it wasn’t meant to be found. Instead of snapping the subject, it depicts a future event with that subject in danger, or being injured. Now, while none of the characters actually die, this is the equivalent of seeing your birth certificate printed (or slowly appearing on the polaroid) and being unable to do anything. While the camera does show awful things happening, before the story takes it’s effective supernatural turn, it isn’t directly responsible for them. They are the result of real-life accidents that could very well have happened anyway, so Stine keeps us skeptical about the camera’s power. I am surprised Stine didn’t delve into the natural ghoulishness of the super-8 film at all, because he makes great use of the polaroid here.
3. The Haunted School (#59)
Wow…I nearly fell off my chair as I was reading this. This is an addictive, disturbing, and quite ingenious book. An extraordinary sense of late inspiration for Stine. Tommy Frazier has just started at Bell Valley Middle School – his father has just remarried and he has a new stepmom, so he’s going through some big changes. When he decides to volunteer with helping to decorate for the upcoming school dance he makes some new friends in Ben and Thalia. On a mission to find some red paint for a banner he gets lost and stumbles across a room which has a memorial for the ‘Class of 1947’, 25 students who mysteriously disappeared that year, and hears whispers through the wall. On the night of the dance Tommy and Ben have to return to the art room for supplies, and Tommy leads them astray. Believing a rundown elevator will offer a shortcut they find themselves transported sideways into Grayworld, a place where everything is in black and white, and where the missing class have been trapped for 50 years. The pair immediately start to lose their colour, and in their attempts to escape encounter an anarchic existence. Half of the class have remained in the school hoping to be rescued, while the other half reside outside the school as savages, partaking in grisly rituals to transform any invaders into one of them. The link between the two worlds is revealed in a clever twist I don’t dare reveal, but real thought has gone into the characters here, and there is a sequence towards the end that is amongst the most insane in the entire series. Remember how eerie empty schools are without the bustle of kids? Deserted classrooms, remnants of the rubbish accumulated for the day, vacant corridors. Having stayed at school late during my youth, it is disorienting to be one of the lone human beings in that space – but imagine if you were a new student and got lost? Stine builds an atmosphere, and then continues to surprise by escalating it.
2. The Haunted Mask (#11)
In The Haunted Mask the heroine becomes the villain. This is one of the few Goosebumps books to feature the lead character doing the horrible things; and turning into the monster of the story. Carly Beth Caldwell, one of Stine’s most sympathetic creations, is a naive, timid and overly-trusting 11-year-old, is sick of being the butt of everyone’s practical jokes. When she is appalled that she would be participating in Halloween with yet another lame costume, she decides to buy a hideously deformed mask from an off-limits section of a strange local costume shop. Despite the warning from the shopkeeper that the mask is ‘too real’ she knows that this will be her ticket to revenge. But, throughout the evening she begins to act more aggressively, finding that not only has her personality been warped by the mask but that it has become her face and cannot be removed. Everyone can relate to the desire to be someone else for a day; to have the guts to dish back to the bully what they served you, to become someone so unlike yourself that you send a message, be a complete jerk for a day to see what it feels like. To persevere with that is courageous on its own, but what if you couldn’t control that alter-ego and it affected everything you value about your life? The Haunted Mask nails this idea.
1. The Ghost Next Door (#10)
This is the closest Stine came to transcendent. It doesn’t feel like at all like a Goosebumps book, and is the saddest and most quietly devastating in the series, with unique existential gravity. Little did I know that this is pretty much where M. Night Shyamalan ripped The Sixth Sense from. This wasn’t my favourite at the time of reading, but I have been unable to shake it and I now believe it is the very best Goosebumps book. Hannah Fairchild, a very likeable narrator, is startled to wake up from a horrific nightmare of her house burning, to find that the empty house next door has suddenly been sold. She is having a boring summer, writing to her friends at camp and then never receiving a response. After meeting the son of the family, Danny, she begins to suspect that he might be a ghost. He’s in the same class, but she doesn’t know any of his friends and he often seems to just disappear into thin air. She is strangely drawn to him, but she is also being stalked by a shadowy figure who warns her to stay away from Danny. The twist – one in which Stine shows all of his cards at the three-quarter mark, and not in the final pages – is that Hannah is actually the ghost and that she and her family had died five years previously in a house fire for which she was responsible for. Talk about a gut-punch. She spends her days feeling sad and guilty, but not sure why, remaining the 12-year-old prior to the tragedy. Turns out she has been sent back to save Danny from a similar incident, a guilt-reprieve before she joins her family in the afterlife. Yeah.
Thank you for checking out the list. This has been an immense project, so I appreciate the time taken to read it. I value any feedback or thoughts in the comments.