May 212016
 

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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*:

Continue reading »

Feb 072016
 

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R.L Stine’s contribution to the world of youth-friendly supernatural horror is unprecedented. His novels – 62 books from the original series were published between 1992 and 1997, and many more followed – were hugely successful, and reading them was like par the course of the journey through primary school. Stine’s extraordinary imagination led to all sorts of disturbing tales of ghosts, creatures, and uncanny phenomenon. Is there a child who didn’t have nightmares after reading The Barking Ghost (one of the scariest early-reading experiences of my life), or second-guessed going to a theme park after reading A Night in Horrorland, or attending a summer camp after reading Welcome to Camp Nightmare? While there was a long-running television series, which doesn’t hold up particularly well (trust me, I have tried), 2016 feels like the perfect time for Goosebumps to make a nostalgic return. Continue reading »

Jan 142016
 

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This week may be one of the strongest release weeks of 2016 – especially if you are itching to see Quentin Tarantino’s spectacular new film The Hateful Eight in limited release 70mm projection. I will feature it in next week’s releases, when it hits wider release. Oscar contenders Carol and The Big Short, along with the goofy-fun of Goosebumps makes for a busy week ahead.

CarolIn Todd Haynes’ exquisite adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt is a beautiful film. After Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) spots the beautiful, elegant Carol (Cate Blanchett) perusing the doll displays in a 1950s Manhattan department store the two women develop a fast bond that becomes a love with complicated consequences. Every frame of this transcendent, heart-swelling attraction is a work of art, Carter Burwell’s score is lovely, and the two radiant leads are brilliant. Full review to come.

The Big Short – When four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: The Big Short. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything. What a colossal achievement. Adam McKay achieves an improbable task here; turning the dauntingly impenetrable catalysts for the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), and the terrifying-to-consider effects, into a tremendously entertaining comedy-drama. He also never ignores the tragedy of the event and isn’t afraid to dig deep into the world of complex mortgage derivatives and use inventive approaches to make it accessible. The film is a damning indictment of Wall Street, from the angle of men who saw the crash coming and who begin to realise what their unexpected profit opportunity meant for the U.S financial system, and the rest of the world. Shaping up to be a serious Oscar contender, full review at the link.

Goosebumps – Upset about moving from the big city to a small town, young Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) finds a silver lining when he meets his beautiful neighbour Hannah (Odeya Rush). The teen is surprised to learn that Hannah’s mysterious father is R.L. Stine (Jack Black), the famous author of the best-selling “Goosebumps” series. When Zach accidentally unleashes the monsters from the fantastic tales, it’s up to Stine, his daughter and Cooper to return the beasts back to the books where they belong. LOVED the Goosebumps books when I was a kid, and this is surely going to get a pass on nostalgia alone. 

The 5th Wave – A desperate teen (Chloë Grace Moretz) tries to save her younger brother as increasingly deadly attacks decimate most of the Earth. Based on Rick Yancey’s eponymous novel, this has a top cast but I expect one I will have to catch on home entertainment.

Recommendations: Both The Big Short and Carol are wonderful, and landed in the top 15 films I saw in 2015. The former is looking like one of the top contenders for Best Picture. But, if you also see an opportunity to make it to a 70mm screening of Tarantino’s bold, unruly, nasty and unforgettable Hateful Eight, do not surrender that chance. Goosebumps has an unfortunate release slot, because it is surrounded by some heavyweight films, but it looks like a good deal of fun.