Saturday, 24 October 2015

Are you Afraid of the Freaky Tales to Give you Goosebumps?

According to about twelve thousand Buzzfeed articles, I am a 90s kid. 1991, in fact, so I was born at the beginning of an era which a whole lot of people think 'sucked'. Now, it did suck in a few ways, but with the benefit of nostalgia we can look back on these crappy, crappy times with a sense of child-like wonder and joy at the plasticky commercialism, the over-enthusiastic children's programming and embarrassing pop music that is only listened to on mp3 players with headphones on and dialled down to the lowest volume.

One of the many things which I look back on with a mixture of ironic and unironic admiration is a series of books written under the name of R.L. Stine, the awesome Goosebumps series. An anthology horror series, these books were actually written by a wide variety of ghost writers (I mean writers that were paid but uncredited, not literally ghosts, as much as I wish it were otherwise). But I didn't know that at the time, and these were actually some of the first proper stories I ever read.
I mean, the first book I ever owned and read was "Ten on a Train", a cut-out book. But Goosebumps were the first novelas, and the first books that I ever consciously read, for fun, and helped to develop me into the reader and writer that I am today. My first one was #50, Calling All Creeps, and I remember reading it in the car while we drove from Queensland to New South Wales to visit family, late at night with just star-studded night and empty paddocks out the windows as I read with the car's interior cabin light.
When I grew older, I actually frequented market stalls and garage sales hunting down old books, and I actually managed to gather my own collection of all 62 of the original, classic Goosebumps books. This was partially because many people sold bundles of them for about $5, but also because I do enjoy the atmosphere of these stories. Some of them really are dreadfully written, but I like the creepy vibe of reading this spooky tales.

In fact, I remember that Goosebumps was really big, back in the day. I remember, even in Australia, there were promotional deals with Pizza Hut and other fast-food chains, because I remember getting served ice-cream with weird spoons that reacted to the cold, and when you put it in your ice-cream the bright neon green plastic turned into a dark, forest green.
I also remember watching some of the TV show during the month when we were given a free trial of Foxtel, as well as owning a Goosebumps board game. It was really crappy, because it had three "minigames", a ferris-wheel, a slide and a bridge with a monster, but they were made out of cardboard, and you had to physically spin the wheel and monster around or roll plastic skulls down the slide, and it took a long time to assemble, and although it was sturdy cardboard, after a few games with it, the cardboard began to peel and fall apart.

So, why am I talking about Goosebumps? Well, two reasons. Firstly, because it's Halloween and recently someone has decided to pay a lot of money to make a Goosebumps movie . . . it looks really stupid; maybe they're trying to market this to other Buzzfeed 90s Kids, but both my Beloved and I think this looks ridiculous.
But the second reason is, I think that Goosebumps is really influential. It was the Twilight of its day, many of these stories were poorly written even if they had an interesting story to tell, but nonetheless kids clung to them because it was a niche market, nobody was really exploiting the Horror for Kids audience.
In fact, according to Stine himself, the series was originally aimed towards young girls, with female protagonists and adding comedy elements so as not to scare the little ones, but after recieving fanmail from both boys and girls equally, the publisher broadened their marketing demographic

But what I find fascinating is how ever since that time, there have actually been an awful lot of TV shows and books in the genre of "Children's Horror Anthology". I was first introduced to the concept with Goosebumps, but even before that time, there were several scary compilations for kids.
I've mentioned Scary Tales to Tell in the Dark before now, a series by Alvin Schwartz, it was written in 1981 and was a collection of scary campfire stories; also, there was a book written in 1990 called Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids by Jamie Rix, which I never read but I saw the television show, a series of cautionary, morality tales for kiddies which included horror elements. And after Goosebumps, first written in 1992, there were a few copycats like the parody Gooflumps by "R.U. Slime"; in 1994 there was Graveyard School by "Tom B. Stone", a series which was like Goosebumps, except that every story utilized a single setting, like Bone Chillers by Betsy Haynes in 1997. Even R.L. Stine himself created his own spin-off an earlier teen franchise Fear Street, as Ghosts of Fear Street for younger readers.

But that's just the books . . . television is much more widespread, and even I encountered a few more of those Children's Horror Anthologies. I already mention that Grizzly Tales became a TV show, and I saw the Goosebumps show; but there was also Freaky Stories, a show based around urban legends, I remember being freaked out by the Mexican Dog story.
But other than that, I also know about some American/Canadian shows, because of my girlfriend, such as Are You Afraid of the Dark, and The Nightmare Room.

So, why am I talking about all these shows? Well, because I find it fascinating that one, single genre, even something as specific as that, can not only have so many iterations but also that it had a rise in popularity. And with this new movie coming out, I wonder whether the popularity of the children's horror anthology will once more peak. But more than any of that, what really intrigues me is why the genre became popular in the first place. After all, it was horror.
Horror always struggles in the adult market, because much of it is considered poorly written, and even when it is it is usually R-rated, and most such severe content ratings perform poorly at the box office.

So, why is horror such a blast with kids? Why do kids love dressing up as monsters on Halloween, besides the candy? Is it because it's a way to feel better about feeling scared? A safe way of feeling unsafe? Is it because we flaunt our safety, by using fear as enjoyment?

I think it relates back to what I said at the beginning of this countdown . . . I think it's about that anxiety and adrenaline. We find it exciting, because fear is a manipulator and a great motivator. It's enticing, even for kids, we crave that feeling, because while it can make us weak, it can also drive us to do great things.
I guess that's what people mean when they say the only thing to fear is fear itself. Because when we are afraid of our own fear, we put ourselves as a severe disadvantage.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and what scary nostalgic shows or books did you like as a kid? Leave a comment and let me know, and until tomorrow night, don't worry; you have nothing to be afraid of.


  1. With horror, it was also that we could feel scared and safe at the same time. Most of the stories in Goosebumps were rooted in fantasy or science fiction, so they couldn't be replicated in real life.
    A Series of Unfortunate Events filled that niche that R.L. Stine made possible, and I highly recommend those books. Anything by Neil Gaiman obviously, and Vivian Van Velde's scary short tales. Those have lots of nostalgia vibes.

    1. Ooh, I've never heard of Vivian Van Velde. I'll need to look that up.


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