You remember Goosebumps? No not the undeniably incredible series of books but the far less discussed TV show adaptation? “Kinda” you say? Well then it sounds like you need some dude on the Internet to write a review of every single episode! And that’s me! Maybe! I tend to get bored! So we’ll see!
The Goosebumps TV series kicked off with an hour long special based on the book, The Haunted Mask. This was played up as a huge event back when it premiered. YTV was psyched about this thing! It was set to premiere during this annual horror event the station did called Dark Night, where they would run the season/series premieres of shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or that really shitty show where the cockroach puppet talked about urban legends. Freaky Stories? It was dumb, so I don’t really remember. And eventually they started running it at like 3PM so that tells you just how freaky it was.
As a huge fan of the book series (I used to have the first 60 or so of them but foolishly gave them away years ago), the idea of a TV show was pretty damn exciting and I have distinct memories of talking with my friends about which books we hoped they made into episodes. Man, schoolyard hype was way better than Internet hype. I know I really liked this episode as a kid, but how about as a nearly 30 year old adult? Well, read my words and find out!
We open with a very bored sounding R.L. Stine introducing the episode. Maybe he just isn’t comfortable in front of a camera, or maybe he was going for a low key and ominous tone, but he just sounds sleepy. It’s hard to get too amped up about this when someone is telling you in a monotone voice, “Oh man you guys better get ready to be scared because this is way scary you guys. I’m serious. Way scary. Yaaaaaawwwwwn”.
Our protagonist is Carly-Beth, and about 60% of the dialogue consists of other characters saying and usually shouting her name. It would be a fun drinking game to organize if you wanted to kill the participants. Carly-Beth is a known scaredy-cat (it works out great for taunting that those both have the same number of syllables) so she is mercilessly picked on by these two assholes. Most of the pranks do indeed prove her jumpiness, but for one of them they just put worms in a sandwich she’s eating. Scaredy-cat my ass, you show me a motherfucker on the planet that wouldn’t be upset about that. And she isn’t really scared, just grossed out that she was eating a worm sandwich. So the bullies aren’t sending a clear a message with their bullying but they are established effectively as assholes who are in dire need of some comeuppance.
Carly-Beth plans to deliver this by wearing a really scary mask and freaking them out, which in theory is a pretty lame plan. However, she finds this creepy shop run by the dude from Tommy Boy who was obsessed with guarantees. In the backroom he has a bunch of genuinely unsettling masks, however they aren’t for sale. Carly-Beth doesn’t play that shit though, so she steals it and runs away. Her mask is pretty good but did she not see the one next to it that was missing all the skin around its mouth? That shit was gold!
Now, of course, this wouldn’t be a Goosebumps story if she put on the mask, scared everyone, then took it off and had a normal night of trick-or-treating before going to bed at a reasonable hour because she has school in the morning. Maybe in one of the later, shittier Goosebumps stories, but this is old-school so it puts in a solid effort. Once she puts the mask on she becomes a total dick, running around cackling and scaring small children. She even gives one of their moms the business. She also ups the ante by placing a model of her own normal head (more on that later) on top of a broomstick. Needless to say she is quite successful at scaring the bullies. Then it comes time to take the mask off but oooooooo shit it’s her face now!
That idea gives me the jibblies. Imagine putting on a mask, only to find after that the seam between it and your face is gone and you cannot remove it. They even give you some POV shots from inside the mask to show how suffocating and terrible that would be. It’s a pretty creepy idea and presented well here. The actress playing Carly-Beth is surprisingly good, and shows the right amount of “holy fuck what?!” panic without taking it too far over the top. Her friend though doesn’t quite seem concerned enough about what is unfolding in front of her. She seems worried, sure, but not to the level you would perhaps expect.
So Carly-Beth goes back to Tommy Boy guy, who confirms that yep, those masks are indeed evil and also used to be his faces. I wasn’t completely clear on that second part but apparently yes, he keeps making himself new faces and then they rot away so he keeps them on display in his storage room. A strange decision but as the owner of a fully intact face maybe I just don’t understand his world. He says the mask can’t be removed, only to immediately reveal seconds later that it totally can be, you just need a symbol of love.
Now here’s where I have issues. We know immediately that the symbol of love will be the model of Carly-Beth’s head because her mom made a big show of it, saying she made it out of love. She also must have made it out of dark magic because there is something fucked about that model head. It talks a couple of times during the episode, asking for help and what not, which is likely meant to show it as a representation of Carly-Beth’s trapped soul. However the head is fucked long before Carly-Beth (so sick of typing that name) even finds the haunted mask. It smiles the very first time we see it. What is that?! What are you model head?! It’s never explained either, so I guess it’s just art.
I should also mention that while going to retrieve the model head, she is being chased by the floating disembodied masks from the shop, who are telling her to come and join them. This part used to scare the FUCK out of me as a kid. Now it’s tainted by the dated effects, but they’re still creepy floating masks so they get some mileage out of them regardless.
So she gets the mask off by holding the model head up in the air, and then for reasons I’m not clear on, takes the mask back home with her. If that were you, wouldn’t you throw that shit out or bury it or burn it or whatever it takes to immediately dispose of it? There’s also a strange moment when she gets home where her younger brother starts pleading with her to take the mask off. Oh no, is it really still on her head?! Well no, because we have eyes and we can see it’s not on her head anymore. I guess that scare worked better in the book. Also how would the little brother know to fuck with her like that unless he knew what she went through that night? Either way he’s fucked because the episode ends with him putting the mask on and I assume a symbol of love won’t work because nobody likes him. Pretty dark ending. Then bored R.L. Stine takes us home and that’s the first episode of Goosebumps!
The Haunted Mask holds up surprisingly ok. Obviously the fear factor is diminished because of my intense adult bravery, but it’s not too corny and the acting, especially by the lead, is pretty solid. The story often doesn’t make sense but it’s not boring and they do give the whole thing a pretty downer note to go out on. Overall, not bad! I remember this show getting pretty shitty though so stick with me because we’re only just getting started!