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

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