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

travel cancelled TV series cancelled television Nickelodeon Calendar crime thriller Trivia Sci-Fi CNN 90s A&E Black Mirror zero dark thirty BBC One heist movie asian-american Spectrum Originals revenge zombies CW Seed Lionsgate comic book movies spider-man book Holidays DC Comics unscripted festival Trophy Talk toronto Ovation Polls and Games Comedy Nat Geo legend quibi obituary kaiju latino E! fresh GIFs documentary mcc critics justice league spain ABC Family Broadway BET Awards Tomatazos disaster romantic comedy Pop political drama comedies nbcuniversal dceu ID universal monsters Freeform Academy Awards television period drama Election worst Shondaland NYCC Pixar Sundance TV Video Games game show finale Avengers HBO Go 93rd Oscars 2021 dc Tokyo Olympics prank OneApp Countdown classics festivals satire football posters adenture DC Universe thriller Captain marvel politics DirecTV dark TruTV new zealand hidden camera venice Spike Comics on TV Classic Film Discovery Channel El Rey PlayStation Starz Red Carpet Disney streaming service supernatural Shudder rt labs discovery TV One archives mockumentary Superheroes ratings critic resources Paramount streaming movies APB Logo a nightmare on elm street TV strong female leads action-comedy Musicals 45 video on demand Mudbound Super Bowl comic books Rocky Apple TV Plus Fantasy Paramount Network anime 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards elevated horror Columbia Pictures space Pacific Islander crime drama new york PBS Cartoon Network independent technology cops Mary Tyler Moore Valentine's Day blockbusters 2017 Trailer HBO Max TV renewals VICE MSNBC Alien what to watch TCA Awards Tarantino canceled cars Mary poppins 99% godzilla vampires harry potter Musical Disney Plus National Geographic Interview south america saw Oscars aliens Baby Yoda richard e. Grant serial killer First Look Marvel suspense pirates of the caribbean Action FXX VOD See It Skip It Summer remakes Amazon Studios FOX Sony Pictures japan GLAAD Kids & Family japanese feel good adventure basketball Animation Infographic christmas movies Amazon Prime Video 72 Emmy Awards award winner die hard screenings foreign name the review Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt TBS Endgame SDCC social media Character Guide Legendary binge OWN Peacock sag awards Apple slashers GoT Thanksgiving movies Amazon Prime kids Horror BET Film Festival know your critic Podcast halloween 73rd Emmy Awards superhero 21st Century Fox golden globe awards superman SundanceTV live action WarnerMedia Emmys rom-coms Britbox 2018 zombie Winter TV Warner Bros. worst movies Star Trek game of thrones aapi Hallmark Christmas movies Reality reboot razzies ViacomCBS Television Critics Association Disney Masterpiece boxoffice Film The CW Set visit high school Holiday children's TV Premiere Dates Family facebook slasher Stephen King diversity E3 Hulu news young adult 2019 based on movie green book Universal doctor who DC streaming service Hear Us Out Funimation versus biography Epix CBS All Access Image Comics true crime child's play IFC Films Pop TV Acorn TV Travel Channel Lifetime olympics The Arrangement ESPN docudrama Netflix Anna Paquin Television Academy miniseries RT21 Women's History Month DGA rotten movies we love Winners concert Sundance Now science fiction TNT Lifetime Christmas movies Showtime Crackle Heroines Teen BBC Disney+ Disney Plus indie halloween tv Exclusive Video NBC international dramedy LGBTQ ABC spanish language Schedule spinoff Marvel Studios 2016 LGBT deadpool Music sitcom sequel Wes Anderson Ghostbusters toy story TV Land new star wars movies king arthur psycho Disney Channel Netflix Christmas movies Western Mary Poppins Returns Fox News YouTube comiccon SXSW french teaser American Society of Cinematographers Comic-Con@Home 2021 Star Wars Awards Tour spanish Best and Worst VH1 hispanic Crunchyroll italian X-Men mutant kong emmy awards sequels cats breaking bad Lucasfilm Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Elton John romance series Turner Classic Movies TIFF hist hispanic heritage month dogs joker animated natural history First Reviews The Walt Disney Company rt archives streaming 71st Emmy Awards women TV movies dragons comics stoner Fox Searchlight TCA 2017 Paramount Plus parents Cannes scary movies documentaries stand-up comedy robots Dark Horse Comics Syfy Rocketman talk show Pride Month USA Sneak Peek nature war wonder woman Hallmark gangster crime marvel comics video anthology blockbuster royal family batman ghosts Pirates tv talk jamie lee curtis mission: impossible docuseries Ellie Kemper YouTube Red President police drama ITV transformers boxing IFC nfl twilight BBC America psychological thriller medical drama Nominations Spring TV franchise dexter target werewolf Biopics Certified Fresh Marathons king kong History chucky The Walking Dead FX on Hulu all-time WGN 20th Century Fox Brie Larson MCU PaleyFest monster movies black RT History cancelled Rom-Com jurassic park Chernobyl Apple TV+ FX james bond blaxploitation MTV telelvision biopic Tumblr witnail cinemax BAFTA Superheroe Reality Competition indiana jones Photos Walt Disney Pictures Black History Month Rock Year in Review 24 frames Country best Arrowverse Turner The Purge Christmas adaptation trailers golden globes Box Office Mindy Kaling Comedy Central hollywood The Witch book adaptation ABC Signature Emmy Nominations Song of Ice and Fire laika criterion 1990s Fall TV AMC 007 Mystery USA Network comic San Diego Comic-Con rotten TCM CMT Writers Guild of America cancelled TV shows historical drama A24 films CBS cooking lord of the rings Awards Martial Arts Bravo spy thriller Tubi Pet Sematary NBA fast and furious Esquire Comic Book Marvel Television cartoon renewed TV shows Food Network composers movie Drama Grammys The Academy canceled TV shows 2020 crossover stop motion scene in color YA Sundance debate sports Amazon casting Extras Vudu cults australia singing competition New York Comic Con TCA popular HBO 2015 TCA Winter 2020 rt labs critics edition theme song Quiz Creative Arts Emmys Binge Guide 4/20 YouTube Premium free movies screen actors guild Toys directors marvel cinematic universe Watching Series Opinion Cosplay Adult Swim scorecard TLC reviews comic book movie