Today marks 20 years since the unfortunate and untimely passing of one of horror’s most prolific writers, Richard Laymon. On February 14, 2001, Mr. Laymon sadly left this world far too soon, dying at the tender age of 54. To honor his amazing legacy and life, I can’t think of a better time than now to share some memories and highlights. So whether you’re brand new to Laymon’s lunacy or a long time fan, sit back and grab a cold one. This one’s for you, Uncle Dicky!
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Ever since the ripe age of 6 — when I first experienced John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Halloween — I have been a huge fan of horror. Naturally, that love carried into the mid ’90s with R.L. Stine’s classic Goosebumpsbooks.
Following Goosebumps, the next logical evolution was Fear Street. R.L. Stine wrote this series for a teenage audience. I had a blast reading these books, especially The Babysitter and its sequels. Fond memories of reading Hit and Run in one sitting late one summer night in 1995.
Given my history with horror, one might assume the next step to be venturing out with adult horror books, such as Stephen King’s It. Except I didn’t. By the time I hit high school in the fall of 1997, I stopped reading for leisure and only read to fulfill class assignments and essays. Reading — something I once loved dearly — became strictly perfunctory.
Fast forward over 20 years to April of 2019. Randomly visiting a Goodwill by my girlfriend’s place 2 hours out of town, I hit the mother lode. Displayed enticingly before me on the shelf were over 50 R.L. Stine horror books. And just like that, I was back in.
2 short months later, in the summer of 2019, I did a random search for horror books on eBay. Came across CANNIBALS by Guy N. Smith. Up to this point in my life, I had yet to read an adult horror novel. I knew right away that Cannibals had to be the one to pop my cherry. It was, and it was glorious.
Suddenly, the floodgates opened. The summer of 2019 began my obsession with buying and reading as many vintage horror paperbacks as I could. Books like SPIDERS by Richard Lewis spooked the shit out of me, and I couldn’t get enough.
Sure, there were some disappointments along the way, such as Guy N. Smith’s MANITOU DOLL. But I loved the fantastic art of these (cheesy) vintage horror paperbacks from hell, and I loved hunting for the next great creepy read.
Enter Richard Laymon. In July of 2019, I was browsing the horror aisle at a mom and pop book shop and came across THE CELLAR. I had been reading online and the name “Richard Laymon” had crossed my desk more times than once. I picked it up, recalling that the word on the street was that Richard Laymon isn’t for the faint of heart. And boy, were they not kidding.
A week or so later, I won a lot of Richard Laymon books off eBay. One of the books was The Woods Are Dark. It was the first Laymon book I read. It was graphic, insane and read like a trashy 1980s slasher movie. Admittedly, it wasn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read, but it certainly left an impression.
In September of 2019, I struck gold when I won a massive lot of 39 Richard Laymon novels. As the auction title suggested, it was an “instant collection.” I remember making an $87 offer, so with shipping it would be just under $100. The seller was nice enough to accept, and I won the whole shebang for $99.63 (this was right before eBay started taxing winning bidders). $2.55 a pop? Sign me up!
I remember the day the package came. My heart raced a bit faster when I got home from work and saw that big brown box sitting gloriously on the porch. Opening it felt like Christmas morning! There were so many books that the seller organized them in two layers. Here’s the top…
And here’s the bottom. The rest of that year I started devouring Richard Laymon novels like crazy. One a month, sometimes two. Although many of his books are over 400 pages, because of the plentiful dialogue and the crazy plot points that move briskly, those pages (often times) fly by rather fast!
From that picture I’ve read One Rainy Night, To Wake the Dead, and The Beast House (sequel to The Cellar — the first Laymon book I bought). Of those 3, I enjoyed To Wake the Dead the most — it’s a creepy story about an ancient mummy that comes back to life and wrecks havoc on an unsuspecting community! Throw in a ludicrous sub-plot about the (really) dark side of human beings and you have a truly horrific and harrowing read!
From this pile I’ve read Out Are the Lights, The Woods Are Dark (the version in the picture above is the unedited edition), Endless Night and The Traveling Vampire Show. My wife and I are currently reading Darkness, Tell Us. That one involves a Ouija board and some college kids. As you can expect, much mayhem ensues. The Traveling Vampire Show is a coming-of-age novel that’s often lauded by many horror fans. I was actually somewhat disappointed in TVS. I thought it would be a lot more epic but it ended up being a bit uneven.
I’ve read In the Dark, Night Show, and After Midnight. In the Dark is easily my favorite of this pile. It’s about a quiet librarian who one evening discovers a note offering her some cash in exchange for completing a simple task. As one might guess, the tasks get increasingly more complex and dangerous as the cash offerings go up. Not to mention… is the “Game Master” even human at all… or is it some kind of monstrous demon? It is a very unsettling read at times. Laymon, at his best, paints these horrific and vivid images in your brain that you’ll NEVER forget.
The last pile I’ve read Island, Funland, Bite, Come Out Tonight, The Cellar and Night in the Lonesome October. NitLO is hands down my favorite Richard Laymon horror book of all time. I don’t think anything will ever top that, or even come close. You can read my review for more. One of the most atmospheric and addicting books I’ve ever read. Funland takes place in a beach town and involves a corrupt amusement park. “The Trolls” are running roughshod and people are disappearing after dark. A local gang of teenagers decide to take matters into their own hands and do some investigating. But has this group of vigilantes bitten off more than they can chew? The climax is all sorts of trippy and insane. A lot of people love Funland but it had some pacing issues for me. Still, definitely a fun Laymon entry. Also notable for being the first 500+ page book I ever read!
But my favorite book in that pile, and my second overall favorite Laymon novel thus far, is COME OUT TONIGHT. This book is just a notch below Night in the Lonesome October for me. It captured the seedy streets of Los Angeles perfectly. Check out this bat shit crazy plot: it’s one of LA’s most scorching summer nights. Duane and Sherry are about to get it on, but there’s no condom. So Duane goes down to the local 7-11 and never returns. Sherry, sensing that something terrible has happened, ventures out into the muggy and sweltering LA night… what she finds will change her life forever. Very underrated and reads just like a movie. You can almost see every single scene unfolding in your head and it’s just magic when a writer can do that!
BTW, Island is my wife’s favorite. I enjoyed that one, too. It’s brutal, and if it wasn’t made clear to you yet, just know that Laymon isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of potential trigger warnings. Rape and a heavy focus on women’s breasts are pretty much in all his novels. Every book of his has the word “rump” in it many times over. He had a very distinct writer’s voice, and you can tell a Laymon book almost right away. No one wrote like how he did.
Although the horror world lost Richard Laymon all too awfully soon, his legacy lives on with his 40+ published books. So far I’ve read about 20 of them, with my top 3 favorites being Night in the Lonesome October, Come Out Tonight and In the Dark. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had his fair share of 2 star duds. Bite was a sack of shit and Out Are the Lights was a bad day at the office for ol’ Uncle Dicky. But for the most part, his books are entertaining and wild. If you have any interest in horror at all, I recommend reading a few of his works before all is said and done. I especially recommend Night in the Lonesome October. That one MUSTbe read exclusively at night. I often wish I could go back and read that one for the first time again.
It’s been 20 years now since Richard Laymon’s passing. And yet the horror community still raves about his work and he is often recommended in horror book recommendation topics. It’s not hard to see why. I’m sad knowing I’ve already gone through half his catalog. I will certainly savor the last 20 or so Laymon books I have yet to read over the next 10-15 years. I hope this article inspires you to pick up a Laymon book in the near future. Happy reading!
As a kid I loved going to the library. My mom and dad would take me there at least once a week. I always made a beeline for the scary books. Anything that had to do with ghosts, monsters and the macabre — I was there. Over time however, namely around high school and college, I fell out of love with reading. Reading became a chore. Something I had to do in order to ace a test. I lost my way with reading, and every year “reading more” became a New Years resolution that would inevitably crash and burn by February. But as readers of Adventures in Book Shopping know, over the past year I’ve rediscovered my passion for books. So much so that I decided to add a brand new category to RVGFanatic: BOOKS R US.
I understand this may seem like quite a deviation as for the past 13+ years I’ve used RVGFanatic mainly as a platform for all things Super Nintendo. However, I have never shied away from writing about other random things. I will continue to write SNES game reviews and articles when I feel inspired to. But to be perfectly honest and frank, over the past year the bulk of my down time has been devoted to reading the many books on my to-be-read shelf. Due to this rediscovered passion of reading, I’d like to share some quick thoughts about the books I read. I hope this addition to RVGFanatic will serve you in some small way, whether it conjures nostalgic memories about books from our youth, or simply gawking at the trashy, pulpy horror fiction paperbacks that proliferated bookstores throughout the ’80s and early ’90s. I hope you will come along for the ride! Now, let us continue on with the main show…
HOW THE FEAR BEGAN
My love for R.L. Stine began in the early-mid ’90s, when I, like countless other kids, fell helplessly in love with his Goosebumps series. My best friend Nelson and I devoured them often in one sitting.
But I knew Goosebumps weren’t the only “scary” books R.L. Stine wrote. Prior to evil talking dummies and egg monsters from space, R.L. Stine wrote scary books for a slightly older audience. His Point Horror books (such as The Babysitter series) and his Fear Street franchise were popular sellers back in the day. Reading one was sort of like a rite of passage. After consuming Goosebumps by the dozens, Fear Street was the next natural step.
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on a Fear Street novel. One day in late 1992, Nelson and I were on our way to the kids section. But you could never get there first before passing by the aisle displaying the latest teen novels. Remember those movable glass panels libraries used back in the ’90s? It afforded you a glimpse at those teen covers and it was here that Nelson and I had our very first Fear Street encounter. The cover showed a high school cheerleader, possessed by an evil spirit, clutching her pom pom. But there was something eerie and unnatural about the pom pom. We did a double take and realized there was a skull staring back at us. Nelson and I, in our typical exaggerated dorkiness, looked at each other, looked back at the book cover, then looked back at one another with our mouths wide open. We forced ourselves to creep toward the teen section to get a closer look. The forbidden book stood high on the top glass panel as if not to be touched. He dared me to reach up and take it down. Naturally, I countered by double dog daring him. Finally, after some back and forth ribbing, we agreed to call it a tie. Maybe one day we’ll both read it, but for now, hey, we were only 9 year old kids…
There was nothing like going into Waldenbooks and heading straight for the horror section. There was a new Goosebumps book published each month, but perhaps even better than that was scanning the covers of all those teen thrillers. When you were only 9, it felt like you were getting a glimpse behind the curtain.
RETURN TO FEAR STREET
In January of 2019, my girlfriend and I were out for lunch one day. We ordered some Chinese food and picked up some Popeyes fries since the two stores were in the same plaza (nothing like combining different comfort food together). We had about 15 minutes to kill and saw that there was a Goodwill nearby. We checked it out and I ended up buying a book and an Ernest collection DVD for $2. The very next month we found ourselves back in that plaza and I came across an old childhood book, Bunnicula. I bought it for a buck and thus began the nostalgic book hunting adventures.
April 13, 2019. My girlfriend used to live about 2 hours away, and she worked on Saturdays until 8 PM. Both were less than ideal but we worked around it. It was on this fateful cloudy Saturday afternoon that I met up with her during her lunch break. Before heading back to work, she loaned me the key to her apartment so I could hang out at her place to watch sports or play my Switch until she gets off at 8. Before heading to her place though, something told me to check one of the Goodwill stores near her place. I had never been there before, and I kind of had this crazy feeling that I was going to find some nostalgic books from my childhood there. After pulling into the parking lot, I noticed two things right away. Number one, it was FREAKING HUGE and second, it was one of those beautiful lazy cloudy spring afternoons you never wanted to end. The good gut feeling I had prior to entering the parking lot had just multiplied tenfold! There was going to be a special find inside that Goodwill store. I could feel it in my bones…
I was speechless when I arrived at the books section. It was a freaking gold mine. Most of the books were in great condition, and each book sold for $1.99. It wasn’t long before my eye caught sight of the wonders hidden within.
R.L. Stine’s teen thrillers and Fear Street franchise haunted me as a kid, but I didn’t get to read very many of them. Mostly, I remember gawking at their gaudy covers as a kid and wishing I would be able to read them. I never got around to, other than reading maybe 5 or 6 of them. So seeing all this left me speechless. Talk about taking a time machine and rewinding the clock some 25, 30 years!
For those counting at home, there are 52 teen thrillers in the cart, 51 of which penned by R.L. Stine. I bought most of the Fear Street books in one fell swoop. All of them were in good to excellent condition, and it felt like one of those lucky legendary finds that you’ll never forget. I was at the right place at the right time.
In addition to the 52 books, I found 15 other books from my childhood. Stuff like Old Yeller, My Teacher is an Alien and Aliens Ate My Homework. I spent $133.33. Each book sold for $1.99. It was insane to buy 67 books, and I remember laughing to myself at what a stupid crazy find this all was, as well as how to break this to my girlfriend
Last month, it hit me that it was the one year anniversary since I bought these books. April 13, 2019. What an incredible haul, and what a fateful Saturday that proved to be. It made me recall that day and weekend with a deep fondness. Truth be told, I haven’t read any of these books in the past year until recently. But that’s the thing about a library… just as it is with video games… it’s nice knowing you have a copy for whenever the urge strikes to read (or play) a certain title. Now that I’ve added a section devoted entirely to books on RVGFanatic, be on the lookout for random book reviews and such. I’m sure I’ll end up writing about some of the books you see above. So until next time, happy gaming AND happy reading!
Growing up there weren’t many things better than going to the local library. Unlike a trip to the toy or video game store, with the library you knew you were never coming home empty-handed. A journey to the library meant wild adventures with seafaring pirates, chocolate factory crazed CEOs and magical phantom tollbooths. Your imagination had no limits and each book took you somewhere exciting and new. My childhood is filled with good memories of heading to the local library with my parents and my best friend, Nelson.
For kids growing up in the mid ’90s, GOOSEBUMPS was a phenomenon. It was a monthly horror series for kids. The books were not really scary but R.L. Stine found lightning in a bottle. Dark humor, twist endings and spooky happenings that was as addictive as it was macabre. Many kids in the mid ’90s became readers because of R.L. Stine’s tentpole series. Because of Goosebumps I came to love reading. Not only that but I became interested in writing as well. I am far from the only ’90s kid for which that rings true. 20+ years ago all the kids were reading them and discussing the latest chapter (excuse the pun) in the famed franchise out on the playground. The writing wasn’t Hemingway or Fitzgerald, and there was a certain cheesiness to them, but in a way, it was all part of the charm. And a sign of the times. It was more about the feelings that these books evoked. Seeing a new Goosebumps book on the shelf sent a quick shiver down your spine. Be it mutant worms or sinister scarecrows, the books gave kids a rush like few other books did.
THE BIRTH OF A MONSTER
It all began in July 1992. Right away the embossed title and spooky artwork grabbed my attention. At the time there really wasn’t anything else quite like it. WELCOME TO DEAD HOUSE. Oh wait, is it called Goosebumps, or Welcome to Dead House? And just who is that creepy bedraggled figure in the window there? So many questions raced through my mind. And so too for Amanda and Josh, the two protagonists of the story. Arriving at their new home in Dark Falls, they can’t help but feel a strange sense of dread about their neighborhood. Despite being the middle of July, there seems to be an artificial darkness created by massive, overhanging tree limbs. Dark brown leaves and shadows are everywhere. Just who is that ghost in the house that Amanda saw? And with this classic first entry, the cult series was off and running.
STAY OUT OF THE BASEMENT was its second entry in the series.
It’s a lovely warm winter day in California. Siblings Margaret and Casey Brewer are outside playing frisbee. Margaret flings the frisbee her dad’s way as he passes through the backyard. Mr. Brewer gruffly declines, stating he has too much work to do in the basement. But, what exactly does he do in the basement, anyhow? Neither Margaret nor Casey knows, but something is happening down there…
Ever since he got fired from PolyTech, their dad has buried himself away in the basement. Slaving away at all hours of the night, he’s been experimenting with plants. Once, Margaret tried to get a sneak peek at her father’s laboratory, only for him to fire her a stone cold glare, yelling STAY OUTTA THE BASEMENT!
Goosebumps returned in September 1992 with its third entry, Monster Blood. It opens with 12 year old Evan Ross being dropped off at his creepy old aunt Kathryn’s for a few days. He soon bumps into Andy, a cute 12 year old girl in the neighborhood, who asks him to accompany her into town to pick up an early birthday present for her cousin. All too happy to oblige, Evan joins her as the two end up at a toy store in town called Wagner’s Novelties and Sundries. There they find a metal can with the words MONSTER BLOOD written on it. Naturally, the shopkeeper warns them not to buy it but they insist and pandemonium soon ensues.
Kris rearranged her pillows, then glanced across the room to the window. The dummy’s face was half covered in shadow now. But the eyes glowed as if he were alive. And they stared into hers as if they were trying to tell her something. Why does he have to grin like that, Kris asked herself, trying to rub away the prickly feeling on the back of her neck. She pulled up the sheet, settled into the bed, and turned on her side, away from the wide, staring eyes. But still, even with her back turned, she could feel them gazing at her. Even with her eyes closed and the covers pulled up to her head, she could picture the shadowy, distorted grin, the unblinking eyes. Staring at her. Staring. Staring. She drifted into an uncomfortable sleep, drifted into yet another nightmare. Someone was chasing her…
Goosebumps was quickly turning into a household name. Initially, I purposely avoided it. I was a quirky kid: if something became too popular and I was not there in the beginning as a fan, then I hated hopping on the bandwagon. So while everyone at my school was raving about Goosebumps, I stubbornly held out. That all changed one fateful day in late ’93. It was reading time in Mr. G’s 5th grade class. I chose The Girl Who Cried Monster. Figured it couldn’t hurt to read a few pages. A few pages turned into the entire book. It was a spin-off on the classic tale The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Lucy is obsessed with monsters. Late one night, in search of her roller blades, Lucy gets locked in when the librarian closes up shop. She never realized how spooky the library can be until she found herself shrouded in its dark, twisted corridors. That’s when she discovers a horrifying truth: Mr. Mortman is a monster!
I’ll never forget standing there that day in 5th grade, staring at Mr. G’s books trying to pick one to read for silent reading time. I saw The Girl Who Cried Monster near the top of the shelf and finally succumbed. I never looked back.
October 1993. In time for Halloween, The Haunted Mask is one of the greatest Goosebumps books of all time. It tells the tale of Carly Beth: a shy, overly trusting, reserved girl bullied by some guys at school. Carly Beth is often a target for torment. After being scared yet again by the bullies, Carly Beth decided it was time to deliver a little payback. Riding into town she heads for the local costume shop. Distraught that it’s closed for the evening, fate stepped in. The mysterious owner of the store opened the door, ushering her in. As the owner tends to his shop, Carly Beth stumbles into the backroom where she finds the most hideous and grotesque mask one could ever hope to see. The owner refuses to sell her the one she wants, but she throws her money at him and takes off. After racing home she puts the mask on. It feels horribly warm and flesh-like. Her voice changes as well as even her demeanor when adorning the foul mask. The more she put it on, the harder it became to take off. What follows is an unforgettable Halloween night of mischief, revenge and terror. Steve and Chuck get the scare of their lives, and Carly Beth relishes her ultimate conquest. However, Halloween is now over… and the mask justwon’t come off. Packed with Halloween atmosphere, The Haunted Mask is arguably R.L. Stine’s finest work.
By December 1993 there wasn’t a single kid who didn’t have Goosebumps fever. The last entry that year was The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. One of the gnarliest covers in the series, the book opens with this chilling intro:
We moved to Florida during Christmas vacation. A week later, I heard the frightening howls in the swamp for the first time. Night after night, the howls made me sit up in bed. I would hold my breath and wrap my arms around myself to keep from shivering. I would stare out my bedroom window at the chalk-colored full moon. And I would listen. What kind of creature makes such a cry? I’d ask myself. And how close is it? Why does it sound as if it’s right outside my window? The wails rose and fell like police car sirens. They weren’t sad or mournful. They were menacing. Angry. They sounded like a warning.
You Can’t Scare Me opened up 1994 with a bang. The 15th entry in the franchise, it sported a strikingly creepy cover that you couldn’t help but stare long and hard at. The aesthetic of the design is perfect. From the embossed title to the memorable artwork to the cheesy little tagline, each book’s cover was special in its own way.
Courtney is a total show-off. She thinks she’s so brave and she’s always making fun of Eddie and his friends. But Eddie’s had enough. Eddie is going to scare Courtney once and for all. And he’s got the perfect plan. He’s going to lure her down to MUDDY CREEK. Because Eddie knows she believes in that silly rumor about the monsters. Mud monsters that live in the creek. It’s too bad Eddie doesn’t believe the rumors…
#16, One Day At HorrorLand, still haunts me to this day. As a little kid I always fancied amusement parks and small town carnivals. It always spooked me to think… what if the attraction site holds a terrible secret… a secret no one is supposed to ever know. What if there was a bloody murder or mishap years ago that haunts the place? I mean, working in a carnival has got to drive one a bit nutty. Who knows what kind of death trap we could be stepping in? One Day At HorrorLand examines those childhood fears and more.
When the Morris family got lost trying to find Zoo Gardens Theme Park, they stumbled onto another amusement park instead. Never seen or heard of before, there are no lines, no crowds and no hassle at HorrorLand. It seems to be everything one could ask for: killer rides and none of the wait. But as the Morris family is about to find out, the rides are killer indeed. Because there’s something weird about the rides at HorrorLand…
One of my favorite things about Goosebumps was reading the back cover. It always sported a lovely caption along with prose that made you want to read the whole book in one sitting right then and there. But the best part was down at the bottom. It actually revealed the title of next month’s entry! Why I’m Afraid of Bees, #17 in the series, is one I will never forget. My best friend Nelson received the book one cold morning. Nelly and I sat across the room from each other. I saw his jaw drop as he read the back cover. What could it be? Nelly showed me the back cover but being across the room I couldn’t quite make it out. That’s when Nelson flipped to the end of the book where there was a page with bigger text. And there I saw it.
At that point I knew about sequels in the world of movies and video games. But I never saw a sequel to a book before. Mind you I was 10 at the time and not the biggest book connoisseur, but yeah. It just blew my mind that R.L. Stine was penning a sequel to one of the most iconic books in his famed franchise. It gave Nelson and me great hope that there may be sequels for other greats in the months to come, such as Night of the Living Dummy and The Haunted Mask. (We got our wish, by the way).
#20 in the series holds a distinct soft spot in my heart. I have always been big on round numbers and coming out in May 1994, it was the last book order of 5th grade. Heading into the summer with the latest Goosebumps entry sounded like a pretty bang up way to kickstart one’s summer. And one of the coolest things about these books was hoping and wishing that R.L. Stine would write one centered around a certain monster or nightmare you were particularly fond of. For me, it was scarecrows. I’d always been fascinated by them; the idea that evil spirits could possess them was a scary thought. With their hideous burlap faces and twisted bodies, scarecrows are the last thing I want to stand next to under a full moon. No thank you!
October 1995. The long awaited sequel to The Haunted Mask finally arrives, a full two years later. This time, Steve (the bully from the first book) finds a horrible mask and it latches onto him like a face hugger. Yeah, sure, it makes Steve the king of scares on this Halloween night, but the problem is, the longer Steve wears the decrepit mask, the older and older his body feels…
R.L. STINE BEFORE GOOSEBUMPS
In the early ’90s it was a weekly tradition for my mom to take me and my best friend, Nelson, to our local library. On our way to the children’s section we had to pass by the aisle containing teen novels, displayed in movable glass panels. Their cover would stick out and you could see some of the books. One day in late ’92 Nelson and I were strolling by when we caught sight of a cover so incredibly disturbing and creepy that it would forever haunt us. A high school cheerleader, possessed by an evil spirit, clutches her pom pom. But there was something eerie and unnatural about the pom pom. We did a double take and realized there was a skull staring back at us. Nelson and I, in our typical exaggerated dorkiness, looked at each other, looked back at the book cover, then looked back at one another with our mouths wide open. We forced ourselves to creep toward the teen section to get a closer look. It stood high on the top glass panel as not to be touched. He dared me to read it. Naturally, I countered by double dog daring him. Finally, after some back and forth ribbing, we agreed to call it a tie. Maybe one day we’ll both read it, but for now, hey, we were only 9 years old…
R.L. Stine’s teen horror novels from that point on became the stuff legends were made of. Nelson and I would peek at the covers whenever we went to the library, but neither of us dared to even pick one up. We definitely made them out to be scarier than they were, but it was all part of the fun of being a kid and being best friends with someone who also loved monsters and horror as much as you did. Throughout ’93 and ’94 it became sort of a running joke between the two of us to see who would read the first teen horror novel. Nelson and I both saw Stine’s teen novels as Goosebumps on steroids. While they scared me as a kid, that didn’t stop me from admiring the covers whenever I stopped by the book store or the library. One of the most gripping and memorable covers was CURTAINS. The image of the lady trying to stab the guy is one that has never left me. These teen novels seemed legitimately disturbing, especially when you were 9 or 10. Even more than 20 years later, most of their art covers are still firmly embedded in my mind.
THE NEXT LEVEL OF FEAR
Fall 1995. I just began the 7th grade. It was silent sustained reading (SSR) time in my language arts class. I thumbed through my teacher’s library of books, trying to find something decent to pass the time. That’s when I first stumbled upon The Babysitter. It’s actually one of the older books R.L. Stine wrote. The Babysitter tells the awful tale of a high school babysitter being stalked by a stranger in the night. Creepy stuff. The back had the best description:
From the minute Jenny accepted the Hagen babysitting job, she knew she had made a mistake. First there was the dark and disheveled Hagen house, moaning and groaning with her every step. Then the crank phone calls started. “Hey babe. Are you all alone? COMPANY’S COMING.” When Jenny discovered a creepy neighbor prowling in the backyard and a threatening note in her backpack, she realized this wasn’t just a harmless game. But who would want to hurt her? What kind of maniac wanted to scare Jenny… to death?
I love this book and actually reread it about six years ago. It holds up well; I believe it’s perhaps Stine’s finest work. Published in the summer of 1989, it also has the distinction of being one of his earliest efforts. The Babysitter made ya think twice, even thrice, about babysitting.
SEND IN THE CLONES!
As with anything else that catches fire, inevitably you’ll get some clones popping up in an attempt to get their own slice of the pie. Goosebumps inspired a string of horror novel series for kids. The first I can recall was Betsy Haynes’ Bone Chillers. Even the title was embossed! There was no shame. The Bone Chillers series opened with Beware the Shopping Mall and ran for a solid 20-plus entries. Of all the clones, I liked this one the most. I’m particularly fond of Frankenturkey. It’s as absurd as it is abominable. Like the other clones, I never chose Bone Chillers over Goosebumps, but they were a decent alternative whenever the latest Goosebumps book was checked out at the library. Hell, there was even a 13 episode run of Bone Chillers on ABC television in the mid-late ’90s. Not bad, Miss Haynes, not bad at all.
Ah, Shadow Zone. My least favorite of the clones, it does hold a special spot in my heart, though. My mom took me and Nelson to the library as usual one day, and we saw Shadow Zone sitting there. Another clone, I thought to myself, and I know Nelson thought the same. There’s something unspeakably awesome about discovering something alongside your best friend. The books themselves weren’t very good. They seemed to lack the charm of Goosebumps. The artwork was also quite awful. The Goosebumps covers were more often hit than miss, but Shadow Zone had some terribly unappealing art Nevertheless, Shadow Zone was a sign of the times: a time when seemingly everyone and their brother was hopping on the youth horror novel bandwagon. If nothing else, it gave us plenty of choices to choose from.
Deadtime Stories. Again with the popular embossed letters, this series was written by the Cascone sisters. I felt it fell somewhere in-between Bone Chillers and Shadow Zone. It wasn’t bad, but it was not my favorite of the clones either. It was just… kinda there. They did have some pretty badass covers, though, so I’ll give them that much. The Faerie Tale one sticks out in mind… it was genuinely creepy to see back in the day, and even now it remains a bit unsettling to look at.
Finally, we have Graveyard School. They were unique in the sense that all the stories revolved around the students of Graveyard School. It was cool to see some sort of connection from one book to the next. Plus, as a kid I got a huge kick out of the author’s fake name, Tom B. Stone. Oh Mr. Stone, you are a funny one, good sir. I was not a huge fan, though. Like Deadtime Stories it was just kind of there for me. Still, not a bad read from time to time when Goosebumps was checked out.
AND A SPECIAL SHOUT OUT TO…
I would be gravely remiss if I didn’t give a special mention to SCARY STORIES to Tell in the Dark. Published in 1981, it’s one of those infamous books we saw in bookstores growing up that we wanted to pick up but were too scared to. I finally read through it in the 4th grade. And simply put, it scared the shit out of me. The stories were as disturbing as the twisted artwork itself. It seemed like something that crawled straight out of hell. Those eerie black and white drawings are firmly embedded in my soul. If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, you probably have a memory of Scary Stories as well. It was just one of those infamous books that everyone knew about. It was damn near mythical.
The one story that haunts me most, as well as many others, is the one about the lady who got bit by a spider. A red spot appears on her left cheek. She thinks nothing of it. One day she begins scratching it because it’s so itchy. The spot pops and out comes crawling dozens of baby spiders. Ugh. The drawing still creeps me out to this day. This was the story my friends and I always referred to whenever we talked about Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories book. In fact, they’re making a movie about it. I’m excited to see how it turns out. If it’s half as disturbing as the book was, it will be a mega-hit! Do our childhood proud, Guillermo Del Toro!
Goosebumps played a big role during my childhood. Not only did they cement me as an avid reader, but it grew my love for horror. Goosebumps came during a special period in my life. Right around 1993 and ’94 when the SNES, Saturday morning cartoons and toys were all running wild — what a great time to be a kid. My old best friend Nelson and I used to have friendly competitions where we’d see which one of us could read the latest book each month first. Then we would discuss our thoughts the next day out on the playground. It was all part of the fun. Talk to any kid who grew up during the mid ’90s and they’re sure to fondly recall Goosebumps. Yeah, it was a little cheesy. But there is no denying the success the franchise enjoyed and the profound impact it had on a generation of kids who are now grown adults. Thanks in big part to R.L. Stine, we came to love books and things that go bump in the night. Simply put, Goosebumps struck lightning in a bottle, and I’m lucky to have lived through that era. Looking back, it was truly a magical time.