There's no denying it: I wouldn't be a horror fan today if not for R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books.
Before I could talk about Dario Argento during post-movie discussions, before I discovered the work of John Carpenter on VHS at my local Blockbuster and before my Saturday mornings were spent devouring the Universal monster movies, there was my big stack of Goosebumps books, each of them practically in tatters from being subjected to so much reading and rereading. In that stack were stories of zombies, mutants, living puppets, disembodied hands with a life of their own and cursed sponges.
In that stack was a rudimentary horror education.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the Goosebumps books are long-lost classics worth of reevaluation, because they're not. But I will sit here and tell you what they were: light horror lit intended for very young audiences with an interest in the grotesque and the scary. Sure, some kids took the plunge and were watching Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street before they were in double digits, but for scaredy cats like me, Welcome to Dead House and Monster Blood were more than enough. They were kids' books, but they were kids' books that scratched a very specific itch... an itch that disapproving school librarians all over the country refused to help scratch.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a twinge of nostalgia when it was announced that a Goosebumps movie was on the way. Sure, I've moved on to bigger and better things, but I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for those thin little books with their large fonts and frequently nonsensical twist endings. Nostalgia is only a bad thing when you let it rule over your current tastes -- in this case, I wasn't as nostalgic for the books themselves as I was for the experience of discovering the horror genre for the first time. After all, every horror fan has to build a thick skin and force themselves to be a little jaded. It's the only way to deal with the sheer amount of junk that gets thrown our way all the time. It's nice to remember the days when every concept and every trope was brand new to us and still awesome.
When the nostalgia died down and I started to think about all of this logically, my brain gears started turnin'. How, exactly, does someone adapt Goosebumps to the big screen? Take any individual volume of the series and you have a simple, paper-thin campfire tale that can barely sustain 100 pages, let alone a movie. The joy of the series to youngsters was not any single book, but the fact that there were dozens of them. Didn't care for that story about the haunted Halloween mask? Don't worry, there's also a book about werewolves and one about a demonic amusement park and one about mummies and one about... You get the point. The Goosebumps brand was about the big picture, a tapestry of horror stories for a kid to get lost in. It was like a first grade education for new horror buffs.
It would be incredibly easy for director Rob Letterman and screenwriter Darren Lemke to just pump out a generic, PG-rated horror movie, slap the recognizable Goosebumps title on it and make a quick buck (or no buck -- do modern kids even read these things anymore?). However, there's one way to capture the spirit of the books: make it an anthology.
Although there are tons of horror anthologies from the '60s through the '80s, they're far less common these days. However, the success of the V/H/S films proves that there's still life in this format yet. Since Goosebumps was never about a single story, making the film a collection of shorts tackling wildly different subjects would not only capture the spirit of Stine's series, it would do what the series set out to do in the first place: expose an impressionable, young audience to the variety and joys inherit in the horror genre. I graduated from the books with a basic template for the potentials of horror firmly in place, wanting to know and see and read more. Goosebumps set the stage. It made me hungry. A couple of years later, I was watching "real" horror movies and reading Stephen King. It would be foolish to deny the roots.
What if everyone involved in the Goosebumps movie realized that they could hook some fresh horror fans while they were young? What if they selected four or five separate stories with wildly divergent plots and styles and placed them in the same movie? Kids want to be scared, so why not scare them with style? Why not take advantage of the fact that Goosebumps wasn't a horror story, but all horror stories? Look to the Twilight Zone movie, which used the anthology format to capture the ridiculous breadth of the series that inspired it.
It's hard to imagine a future where I fall in love with a Goosebumps movie. Like the books, I fully expect that the movie will be strictly for children... and that's perfectly fine. I have my horror movies. Hell, I have too many horror movies. But if done right, a Goosebumps movie can transform an entire generation of kids into horror nuts. And that's great.