Flashback to 2008. I’m in fourth grade. The teacher gives all of us the monthly Book Orders (remember those?), and being the avid young reader I was, I carefully investigate each offer, as my parents always allowed me one book per order. As I scanned those flimsy yet colourful pages, my eye was caught by one cover in particular – Goosebumps Horrorland #1: Revenge of the Living Dummy.
For the next few years, that franchise made up a good amount of my childhood, and really set up my love for scary stories, regardless of just how “scary” Goosebumps books were. So today, I decided to talk about this series that I loved ever so much, because why not? (Also there will be spoilers of course because, let’s face it, the series is over a decade old, and those who know it can have a nostalgia nut over this blog.) (Oh, and if you want some music to accompany the reading, have this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVA1JRGzE-8)
Goosebumps Horrorland was a new series of Goosebumps novels written by R.L. Stine. Though each book still had an independent story that made up the majority of the page length, much like the OG novels, the Horrorland series was different in the way that there was also an overarching plot that connected each book. The Horrorland plot would take place shortly after (insert protagonist here) had faced off against a scary villain, where the child would then be invited as a Very Special Guest to the horror themed amusement park, returning from the book One Day at Horrorland from the original series. Once there, the child(ren) would be separated from the parents, and after seeing the baddie they thought they had beaten stalking them in the park, would try to escape. A Horror by the name of Byron would try helping the kids on multiple occasionally, acting as a double agent to Horrorland Staff.
The interesting plot twist I did not see coming as a kid, and still find pretty interesting to this day, is that the Horrorland Staff are actually the good guys. It’s revealed that you can “escape” Horrorland by looking into a mirror in the park, which will transport you elsewhere (Yes, this was a plot point.), hence the kids’ constant need to find a mirror in the reflection-less park. But upon doing so, the kids would be transported to Panic Park; a supposedly safe place revealed to be a shadowy remnant of what once was another theme park. Panic Park was up and running in 1974, but after the Fear Levels of the park got too high, it shifted into another dimension. Now, The Menace, the park’s former owner, wants to use the fear of the bravest kids on Earth – since they have faced off against previously mentioned villains - to bring the park back. (Yes... this was, indeed, a plot point.)
As cliché and not uber scary these first twelve books were, they were still entertaining. The ongoing narrative really drew me in, and I was determined to solve the mystery behind it all. After book twelve, the series went on to another arc focusing around a shop keeper named Jonathon Chiller. If you’ve seen that Rick and Morty episode where the Devil owns an antique shop, it’s the exact same premise but for kids. The arc overall wasn’t too impressive, but it was at least seven more books of Horrorland. Then there’s the Hall of Horrors, six short books that were... fine. They didn’t have any real connecting thread to them. Oh, and I can’t forget the amazing Survival Guide, that served as an in-depth look at what Horrorland has to offer. This book also killed any sense of enjoyment I found in puns, due to the excess amount of scary puns it had to offer.
From here, I will only be referring to the first arc when talking about the books (mostly because they’re truly the only ones that matter). The book designs are also worthy of mention: the cover art was always fantastic and colourful; they were made from thicker paper/cardboard so they could add bumps and grooves to the covers; the back covers had a carnival theme in displaying the book’s summary inside tickets; and each book had halves of coins on the back, able to line up perfectly with the next book’s back to create the full coin. As well, when held up to a mirror, the script on each coin could be read. It may not have been the greatest piece of literature in history, but when it came to branding, did they ever come through.
Moving on, the books weren’t the only piece of media that Horrorland spawned. There was an online game site called EnterHorrorland.com that released new sections of the Horrorland map as each book was released. Each map was filled with minigames and a story to defeat the map boss. Slappy the evil ventriloquist dummy returned three times to be a map boss, and genuinely map 4’s reveal surprised the hell out of me. I played on this site all the time as a kid, whether it was replaying fun games with kickass music, to sitting in the Cafe creating monsters to submit to the world for them sweet upvotes. Regardless of however often the site glitched or minigames just straight up didn’t work (I only beat the Map 5 boss ONCE because it was always unplayable any other time. Not exceedingly difficult or anything, it just literally didn’t work.), EnterHorrorland remains a cherished childhood memory, and to this day there are still some people petitioning online for Scholastic to bring it back (even though we all know how far those go if they’re not on Reddit.)
(Author’s note: I’ve spent the last while looking for the song that played during the final boss of map 12, it was the main menu theme turned heavy metal, I must find this song, please let me know if you have a source, k thx bye)
The last piece of media I’ll touch on was another form of electronic play: the video game. Yes, Goosebumps Horrorland had a video game. That took me five years after its release to find a copy that was on a device I could play (DS). And I loved it. Like the site, it had lots of fun minigames and such, though it was of low quality in almost every other department. Still, I 100%’d that game in just two days, and continued playing those games over and over again even after just out of fun.
Goosebumps Horrorland may not be the scariest piece of children’s horror out there (it had some good moments though), nor is it the best example of an overarching plot. But it still holds a special place in that tiny fragment of my heart that exists, and only had good memories attached to it.