Originally published in Eritas Daily.
First, listen to the Goosebumps theme song while you read this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdbO0uldDRs
Goosebumps is The Twilight Zone for kids. It’s the Black Mirror of the 90s — and it’s better than Black Mirror (but that’s for another conversation).
Who can forget R.L. Stine’s even-keeled baritone and the sometimes expected, sometimes unexpected plot twists? All of the episodes are good — except for that one with the shrunken head and the blatant racial Othering — but we’re here to choose the best of the best so we’ve compiled a list of seven. This post will contain spoilers but not many. If you haven’t watched Goosebumps, sign on to your ex-whatever’s Netflix account and get rolling with it.
7: “Perfect School.” Season 3, Episode 11/12
This episode had a real Battle Royale feel. Not ’cause the kids have to battle to the death, but because the parents are just overall unconcerned and negligent apparently.
I hated the main character, Brian O’Connor, because he has a total shit-eating grin, but later on I was impressed with him wanting to bring down the school. It had a very cool “fuck the system” vibe to it. Brian wasn’t going to leave those other students to their fate.
6. “Welcome to Dead House.” Season 2, Episode 21
OK can we first of all just talk about the fact that the city this family moves to is literally named “Dark Falls”? I mean, I would move there because I like goth shit but it’s absolutely ominous sounding. This was that “moving into a strange small town where all the residents are off putting in a way you can’t place” trope. I for sure thought the mom was going to turn out to be evil, because when they move into the house she hangs up this weird, dead ass wreath on the wall. The only explanation from her is that it was passed down through her family. To me it sounds like the mom’s a witch but that’s not canon.
5. “Go eat Worms.” Season 2, Episode 6
This episode is about a boy named Todd who loves worms and pranks his friends and family with worms a lot. But then they start popping up unexpectedly, surprising even him.
I can really identify with Todd’s love of worms. I mean, who doesn’t love them, right? But this seemingly innocuous worm obsession paints him as the boy who cries wolf when worms start showing up out of ~nowhere~.
Turns out there’s a giant worm. The message is clear: sometimes in life there are just giant worms.
4. “Stay out of the basement.” Season 1, Episode 11
NOT recommended if you have father issues. This dad is a total dick. And although it’s revealed to be the influence of nature or whatever, it’s still annoying to watch. At the end, the university he was fired from just offers him his job back like he isn’t an evil scientist? Bonus points for scary green sludge seeping out of the dad’s wounds. Grade-A freaky stuff from Goosebumps. I also have to appreciate a plot line that involves the brother and sister trying to work together to defeat a great evil. Give me less bickering siblings, R. L. Stine!
Side note, have you noticed Stine is obsessed with the nuclear family?
3. “Shock on Shocker Street.” Season 3, Episode 1
Man, this title really hits you over the head. I mean, there’s actually electrocution in the episode. Shock on Shocker Street. Get it? There’s no mystery to any of the pronouns associated with Goosebumps. It’s all pretty much what you think it is, which is kind of why it’s perfect.
If this episode isn’t a chilling overture on the dangers of A.I., then I don’t know what is. Side note, for a similar conceptual idea, watch the movie Artificial Intelligence featuring young Haley Joel Osment in his prime. It’s literally only relevant for the child robot element.
2. “Awesome Ants.” Season 3, Episode 15
Let’s start with Lantz the exterminator. Like, honestly, just secure that huge ant to the top of your car so it doesn’t maim another child, dude.
Also, that twist ending. This is seriously some alternate universe weirdness. Nothing could have prepared me for the possibility of humans living in an ant-monitored enclosure. It’s truly a harrowing look at what could happen if we start feeding hot dogs and ice cream to our local ant population.
1. “The Haunted Mask.” Season 1, Episodes 1/2
Are you even surprised? The main character’s name is Carly Beth. I could not make this shit up. But R.L. Stine can. This episode got 14 million views upon airing. I think it’s because everyone’s inner child can relate to the desire to terrify mean boys at school. The feminist in me is absolutely tickled. Things take a dark turn, however, when the monster within is revealed. Carly Beth’s descent into madness is one that happens to everyone who puts on a mask (think of the Jim Carrey movie The Mask).
On a separate note, the moaning plaster doll head is actually the creepiest part of these episodes. I respect that her mother is expanding her creative output, and it’s also interesting that it turns out to be exactly the witch magic that Carly Beth needs to become herself again (seriously, alternate Goosebumps theory: all the moms are witches), but that plaster head is arguably way creepier than the creepy mask Carly Beth steals from the man in the mask shop.