News

How The Goosebumps TV Series Scared A Generation Into Becoming Horror Fans

The show based on R.L. Stine's hit novels had terrifying twists, gruesome effects, a dark sense of humor... and future genre fans couldn't get enough. We look back – with Stine himself – on the standard-bearer for pre-teen scares.

by | October 22, 2020 | Comments

Goosebumps

(Photo by © 20th Television)

After the ’80s saw a boom of horror movies that became commercial successes, the ’90s saw the genre open up to a whole new audience: kids. The decade was a golden age for gateway horror stories that introduced the genre to youngsters, with several shows scaring the hell out of them every week – while still providing some age-appropriate laughs.

No matter how many of these shows and movies came out during this time, there was one that reigned supreme when it came to balancing scares with kid-friendly entertainment: Goosebumps, the Fox Kids show based on the works of prolific horror author R. L. Stine. For almost three decades, the Goosebumps episodes produced between 1995 and 1998 have been keeping kids in fits of fright and laughter.

With the show celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, and Sony in development on a reboot, we’re looking back on the original series and the ways in which it prepped a generation of kids to turn off the cartoons and turn towards a new and ghoulish genre. And Stine himself is helping us break it down.


It understood that even really young kids liked the spooky stuff

R.L. Stine

(Photo by © Hyperion Pictures / Everett Collection)

Young-adult horror was not only a thing, but a major success by the time Goosebumps was released, but it was a genre mainly aimed at teenagers. That changed when author R. L. Stine started releasing the Goosebumps books in 1992, betting on the idea that kids even younger than that wanted to be scared too.

Nearly 30 years later, Stine is still writing Goosebumps, and the children’s horror landscape looks very different. “No one had done a horror book for 7-to-12 year olds, it hadn’t been done,” Stine told Rotten Tomatoes. “Twenty-eight years later and I’m still doing it. Scholastic just asked for six more. I’ll be 102 and still be writing these books.”

We may not have gotten Coraline or The House with a Clock in Its Walls if it wasn’t for Goosebumps, and the franchise just got bigger once the TV show started airing.


It knew when to scare us, and when to make us laugh 

Goosebumps - Slappy

(Photo by 20th Television)

Before Goosebumps hit the airwaves, Are You Afraid of the Dark? had already scared kids for five years with its campfire-side spooky tales. What made Goosebumps special was how it took Stine’s signature dry humor and made the TV show one that was scary enough for younger kids to dip their toes into the horror genre, but safe enough that it wouldn’t traumatize them.

“The people who did Goosebumps [the series] really understood the combination of humor and horror so it wouldn’t be too scary,” says Stine, who started his career in comedy. “If I think a scene is getting too intense, I just throw something funny to lighten it up. Every chapter in the Goosebumps books ends on a punchline. Horror and humor are very close together, and I think you get the same kind of visceral reaction from something funny or something scary, like when you go to a rollercoaster and hear people both laughing and people screaming.”

Indeed, the show was so successful as a gateway into horror because it eased audiences into it little by little, knowing when to pull back to let comedy deflate the tension. One of the best examples is Slappy the Dummy, the funny-yet-still-very-much-evil ventriloquist dummy who quickly grew into one of the most popular characters in the franchise (and the main villain in the 2015 theatrical film adaptation).

“I like writing Slappy sort of like an insult comedian,” Stine says. “I don’t really get it, what’s so scary about him, but people actually are scared of Slappy and like to send me mail and Tweets about it constantly. I think people are intrigued by an inanimate object coming to life.”


It featured seriously creepy – and catchy! – music

Every series needs good theme music, something that sets the mood for what the show is about, and eases you into its world. What’s Friends without The Rembrandts? Or The Simpsons without Danny Elfman’s title theme? For Goosebumps, the opening music and the visuals that accompanied it were creepy enough to live up to the famous tagline, itself a play on the tagline of the books: “Viewer beware, you’re in for a scare.”

It starts with the show’s intro, in which Stine himself – or at least a man in a coat with a briefcase marked “R. L. Stine” – is walking in a field where his briefcase flies open, sending a flurry of papers and a ghostly “G” into the air. The “G” floats through a town, in front of a bunch of scary signs, and past a creepy dog from hell with glowing eyes.

“When I saw the dog, I used a dog barking sound in a couple of places to make it sound like the melody of the theme music,” composer Jack Lenz told us. “And that made everybody laugh, and I thought if the music can’t scare you, at least it might make somebody laugh. It’s a fun theme for people because it’s simple, so it’s easy to remember, and it sounds scary.”

Lenz brought that scary-fun mix to the music used within the episodes, too. “Sometimes, if an episode wasn’t as scary, the producer Bill Siegler would tell me to make the music scarier,” he says. “We’d also use orchestra hits, which instantly makes a scene scarier. We got away with using them more than we probably should have. I thought the show was pretty scary for kids.”


Its twists left us gobsmacked, and took the edge off

Goosebumps

(Photo by © 20th Television )

Three decades after Rod Serling stopped inviting us to The Twilight Zone, Goosebumps introduced kids to a world full of twist endings and surprise turns, often with thoughtful morals. From stories about monsters that turn out to be told from the point of view of the monsters themselves, to a scary summer camp that is revealed to be a training facility for aliens preparing to visit Earth, the ghouls of Goosebumps were rarely what they first appeared to be.

“I think this is why the books and the show are so liked by kids, because they’re not linear,” Stine says. “I think kids like it if a story curves around, twists, and turns instead of going in a straight line. I try to think of an ending first so I can figure out how to keep kids from guessing the ending right away.”

The twists also helped balance the horror and humor, as they were often comic in nature. The series’ big reveals  often explained away monsters by making them something ordinary – if looked at a different way. (Which helped Goosebumps fans actually sleep at night.)


Its practical effects were monster-y greatness (and still are)

Goosebumps

(Photo by © 20th Television)

Goosebumps came out decades before spending millions of dollars on a single episode of TV was the norm for some networks, but even if the series’ early CGI hasn’t aged particularly well, the creature effects still hold up. The very first episodes of the show, parts one and two of “The Haunted Mask,” do a great job of selling the horror of the main creature because of just how good the practical masks still look. And who can forget the Carpenter-like blob from “The Blob That Ate Everyone”?

“We had a great monster shop in Toronto,” Stine says. “These guys had a very low budget and they still came up with all the wonderful monsters and masks and all that stuff. For the very first one we did, ‘The Haunted Mask,’ they had four different masks, each one tighter than the last. That’s still my favorite episode, it looks great even today.”

Goosebumps may not have been a huge production, but its creature effects offered young fans some ghastly imagery and a solid introduction to creature features. Add some sharp twists, creepy music and a great sense of humor, and you have the ingredients for the best ’90s horror show aimed towards the  little ones. And one that they – now grown-up and gore-happy – still fondly remember.


Goosebumps premiered on Fox Kids on October 27, 1995. Goosebumps is streaming on Netflix and available to rent or buy on Vudu and Amazon Prime


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Amazon harry potter 2017 Chernobyl indie mockumentary mutant strong female leads free movies Arrowverse Funimation fast and furious versus romance Turner Classic Movies Disney Channel comics Tubi SundanceTV OWN YouTube Red 4/20 Red Carpet Masterpiece Britbox Comics on TV Super Bowl Mary Poppins Returns APB renewed TV shows Winners CMT Nat Geo PBS doctor who rotten movies we love diversity screen actors guild golden globe awards Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Marathons true crime The Purge women Film Heroines parents Pop TV Spectrum Originals MTV ABC streaming television Rocky VOD Watching Series worst movies sequels Amazon Studios stop motion TBS History 72 Emmy Awards CW Seed cats VH1 Ellie Kemper 2018 festival nature FX Creative Arts Emmys laika Stephen King Tarantino Fall TV Best and Worst indiana jones documentary Rock cults name the review movies Classic Film Action disaster Marvel Studios scary movies natural history stand-up comedy Music Fox Searchlight 99% Tomatazos period drama Lucasfilm anime The Academy Kids & Family Food Network Hear Us Out Teen ViacomCBS National Geographic Disney Sci-Fi zombies Crunchyroll hollywood Comic Book festivals canceled italian nfl DirecTV CBS All Access Interview Mindy Kaling Cannes canceled TV shows boxing 21st Century Fox CBS films Nickelodeon Amazon Prime Video all-time Emmy Nominations DC Comics HBO Go Premiere Dates video on demand Walt Disney Pictures best 71st Emmy Awards revenge toronto anthology Box Office chucky a nightmare on elm street Disney streaming service foreign cinemax sequel Hallmark Christmas movies 2019 Adult Swim BBC America ID Pop jamie lee curtis independent Reality Competition miniseries Columbia Pictures hist IFC Films Peacock Netflix Christmas movies Amazon Prime Family Paramount Network First Reviews Mudbound historical drama E! reviews TCA Awards universal monsters Sony Pictures french vampires halloween tv New York Comic Con fresh San Diego Comic-Con Apple TV Plus Spring TV Lifetime rt archives BBC One TNT Avengers Musical TV President Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ratings TCA Winter 2020 crime thriller movie Paramount Plus A24 robots game of thrones Oscars TCA 2017 Cartoon Network Universal Podcast unscripted blaxploitation sitcom finale USA Network dceu Sneak Peek Pet Sematary dramedy NBC Summer VICE crime drama richard e. Grant black batman Netflix Biopics werewolf OneApp RT21 Black History Month blockbuster teaser Dark Horse Comics thriller Apple TV+ spain Song of Ice and Fire TLC FX on Hulu toy story james bond binge PlayStation Elton John El Rey emmy awards singing competition documentaries Mystery rom-coms ITV Trivia Shudder BBC Character Guide children's TV adventure stoner 20th Century Fox Writers Guild of America Superheroes Ovation Comedy asian-american psychological thriller reboot cancelled Fox News Western Musicals Ghostbusters Opinion crossover BET deadpool comedies Trailer YA Marvel police drama talk show space Quiz cars FXX book dogs dc joker Extras Animation theme song Syfy MCU Calendar Thanksgiving Binge Guide hispanic kids Discovery Channel Rocketman Hulu trailers The Arrangement franchise Horror cartoon Brie Larson politics justice league LGBT tv talk series docudrama cancelled TV series PaleyFest Emmys FOX Spike BET Awards LGBTQ The Walking Dead GoT Women's History Month Black Mirror See It Skip It dark Lionsgate BAFTA crime football Paramount casting what to watch spinoff TruTV screenings remakes Countdown DGA Toys comic Turner transformers TV renewals classics concert Endgame award winner 24 frames GIFs obituary Epix christmas movies Cosplay cops cooking satire criterion animated 007 Sundance Now The CW adaptation Awards Tour Logo witnail Photos golden globes Sundance Fantasy ghosts australia Apple serial killer Sundance TV Nominations worst USA die hard SXSW boxoffice X-Men A&E Marvel Television Crackle Video Games 2020 child's play AMC Captain marvel Pride Month SDCC Television Critics Association sports Disney+ Disney Plus political drama Certified Fresh psycho supernatural social media Star Trek American Society of Cinematographers ABC Signature ABC Family Holidays MSNBC Martial Arts RT History news quibi NYCC Mary poppins pirates of the caribbean Awards superhero IFC Comedy Central discovery The Witch 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards WGN jurassic park Schedule TCA green book slashers war spanish language spider-man elevated horror spanish Lifetime Christmas movies E3 Polls and Games comiccon Bravo Rom-Com Country 45 sag awards First Look Acorn TV TCM facebook Year in Review game show critics Superheroe Star Wars comic books halloween DC Universe Election twilight biography Vudu Disney Plus HBO Max 2016 cancelled television Hallmark Christmas 2015 Valentine's Day rotten zero dark thirty video composers dragons Academy Awards Mary Tyler Moore cancelled TV shows The Walt Disney Company breaking bad zombie Winter TV Esquire Freeform based on movie Trophy Talk nbcuniversal Holiday Pirates science fiction Infographic WarnerMedia Shondaland Film Festival Grammys south america Warner Bros. Reality spy thriller Starz scorecard Showtime technology Pixar mission: impossible Television Academy DC streaming service Set visit ESPN Travel Channel Alien HBO Anna Paquin GLAAD CNN venice aliens travel Baby Yoda TV One directors YouTube Premium Drama japanese latino Tumblr medical drama TIFF TV Land romantic comedy YouTube archives