Goosebumps books could very well be considered my gateway into horror. I was always interested in the covers of VHS movies when my dad owned a video store, but I was too young to really experience them – I had to be content with looking at them from afar and imaging what happened within those 90 minutes. However, Goosebumps was a good lead-in to the genre – and it was even better when the Goosebumps television series hit networks in 1995.
That first episode was seriously a doozy, too. A two part episode tackling one of R.L. Stine’s most popular – and Halloween-set – book, “The Haunted Mask” adapted a spooky tale of a bullied girl who decides she’s sick of being herself, and because of All Hallow’s Eve, she has the perfect opportunity to change herself into something else. It’s an idea that fits right into the context of teenage high school life; there’s a constant push and pull to try to fit in, to alter one’s personality to get along. In “The Haunted Mask,” we see that struggle manifested in Carly Beth’s life, whose fragile emotions and scaredy-cat tendencies are the main focus of part one of the hour.
Back when I was a kid, Carly Beth seemed like a compelling protagonist even if I couldn’t exactly relate – I mean, in general I was the one doing the scaring, obsessed with Halloween and horror in a way that most others weren’t. Watching now, though, Carly Beth seems overly fragile and perhaps coddled, and “The Haunted Mask” almost works now on a different level – one that expresses the potential consequences of allowing someone to avoid being scared throughout their day-to-day life, never being faced with having to come to grips with the reality of the world.
“The Haunted Mask” also hints at a more sinister illness underneath Carly Beth’s request to become a new person while donning a mask. There’s a hint of dissociative identity disorder here when she puts on her spooky new face and decides that she’s going to become a different person; she adopts the anonymity of an Internet troll, allowing her change of outward appearance to lessen the consequences of her actions.
“The Haunted Mask” feels a bit cheesy from an adult’s perspective, and some of that Canadian TV quality is apparent; but it is a fun watch that capitalizes on Halloween. Carly Beth really grew up in the wrong town because it seems like everyone is into Halloween but her. Surprisingly, “The Haunted Mask” also influenced a lot of my own nostalgia for the holiday – trick-or-treating late into the night passing by graveyards, scaring kids willy-nilly out on the road, even the damn orange-and-black dyed sandwich that a girl is lucky enough to eat for lunch. It’s fun looking back on this tale of understanding childhood identity and glean something a bit different from Carly Beth’s experience; it’s also fun to just admire the presence of Halloween in Goosebumps’ first episode.
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