Why the 'Goosebumps' Books Still Give You Goosebumps Without Killing You
You remember those books, right? And the film? Which will have a sequel coming?
Sometimes scary stories for kids are told just for entertainment. That's it. If they happen to give you a few jump scares, that's gravy! The iconic series of Goosebumps happened to be just that right balance, which truthfully is what the horror genre is all about: entertainment.
But why did 'Goosebumps' charm so many without making you wonder what was behind you in the dark?
Let's be honest, though: Goosebumps never intended to scare the living hell out of you, by any stretch. But it did make you wonder ever so much about a lot of things. In a way, it was very much like some other lesser-known series, like Bunnicula, and introduced what could've been the true birth of "horror-comedy," something that many could've said Wes Craven was responsible for with a few additions of his Nightmare on Elm Street series and Scream.
Somehow it turned out that comedy did well with horror! It made it entertaining. Because that's inherently what horror was supposed to do in the first place. In essence, Goosebumps made horror fun. Not just for kids, but for a lot of people. Storytelling at its core is about drawing the reader or the viewer in. Nothing beats that goal more than the horror genre. It just so happens that a lot of the content we expect to see in horror happens to have material designed to bite your nails; but it's not the be-all end-all of what makes a story scary.
Case in point, take a look at 'Little Shop of Horrors' for a moment!
For those skeptical on what you'd need in a horror story, this would be an excellent example — ask yourself the question:
This story — developed into a modern "musical," no less! — features a flesh-eating plant, growing so large that it can ravage an entire city if it wanted to. Some of the pieces of the story, well, talk about "pieces" of human flesh — legs, arms, bones, the whole nine yards — and it's pretty gruesome.
The idea of carnivorous plants destroying an entire human race (and, if you're clever, you might actually catch the "alternate" ending of the film version of Little Shop of Horrors and watch the carnage play out) should be pretty scary....
But was that story scary at all? Be honest. It really wasn't! In general, it was all quite amusing, interesting, and, well, musical.
Or How About That One Film Called "Lights Out"? Arguably One of the Scariest Pieces of Horror Media and Not ONE Iota of Blood, Gore, or Nastiness.
Sure. It was about a ghost. But seriously a silhouette doesn't exactly raise the hairs on the back of the neck, nor does a sheet over someone with two holes poked for eyeballs. Beetlejuice, we're looking at you, man....
The fact is this is another example that presentation makes all the difference; it's what makes horror so phenomenal. You literally could make anything sound or feel scary by the ambiance you carry or the way the story's told. When Lights Out was nothing more than a simple bare-bones supernatural flick with hardly any smoke and mirrors, blood or gore, and it still wants to make you afraid of the dark, you know you've got a winner.
Crazy enough, examples like that prove that Goosebumps really is all about entertainment, laced with that right amount of horror story to please the frightened soul.
Goosebumps, of course, was designed to tread that fine line and make reading — and watching — specifically fun for kids. The trick was using classic content that would be scary (if presented a certain way) and developing a story more based for the younger minds of our humanity, allowing for digestibility.
That way, a Goosebumps story could easily describe anything from a vampire, to a demon, and even a succubus — or a flesh-eating alien from outer space — without raising red flags or causing parents to freak out and send their kids to mental hospitals.
The image is there. It serves the story. It's "scary," but in a way that's only identifiable to the reader, and not a "let's grab your heart, squeeze it until you die inside" sort of way. The horror genre exists in a spectrum. But the great news is this: no matter where you are in the spectrum, that content is always designed to entertain. Why? It's not the content that scares —
But the way it comes at you!