The first two volumes of “The Haunting Hour,” the newest TV series based on the works of kids’ horror author and “Goosebumps” creator R.L. Stine, hit DVD recently from Shout! Factory. Stine, whose work typically places kids and young adults front and center of stories featuring supernatural terrors, peppers his work with some pretty obvious and simple morals for his audience.
But for a kid watching this show, how messed up is the R.L. Stine-verse? It’s not just scary and unfair, but actively out to get you. You wouldn’t just be prey for ghosts, haunted dolls, wall monsters and bullies, but a skewed scale of cosmic justice that was just the worst. Oh, and if you were an otherwise decent person who happened to screw up just once, it could mean your doom. So with that in mind, I looked at some of the potentially traumatic life lessons a viewer might be able to take away from the first two volumes of “The Haunting Hour.”
5. The (likely horribly ironic) punishment will be disproportionate to the crime
As seen in: “The Red Dress,” “Ghostly Stare,” “Game Over,” “The Dead Body”
Like I said in the opening, many of Stine’s stories are morality tales: don’t lie, don’t be mean to your little brother, don’t… not be a good team player? Anyway, in the cruel and unfortunate universe of “The Haunting Hour”, any of the above can result in death or at the very least eternal existential torment.
Consider “The Red Dress” where a young woman steals the titular frock to impress a boy at a dance (don’t do it, girls, we really, really don’t care!). Really, she should be doing six months of community service but what does she get? A hex put on her by the blind shopkeeper who, to be fair, did say “You must pay” over and over again. Then there’s “Game Over” where its lead only does what any awesome gamers out there would do–he plays to win. So sure, it was dumb to go meet some guy who contacted him on the Internet at some mysterious location for an incredibly sketchy-sounding secret tournament, but was it really worth trapping his soul inside of a video game for eternity?
4. Never trust a ghost
As seen in: “The Dead Body,” “Ghostly Stare”
This one goes without saying, but still: ghosts are jerks and they’ll hose you the first chance they get.
Case in point: in “The Dead Body,” a bullied kid simply wants to prank his two tormenters so they’ll leave him alone. So when a a kid who looks conspicuously like a little Fonzie shows up offering some payback, why wouldn’t he agree? When he finds out the kid died in a prank-related fire 50 years ago, the kid actually saves the vengeful spirit from repeating his flaming torment. And what does he get for it? He’s turned into a ghost and gets to watch lil Fonzie make a play for the girl of his dreams.
“Ghostly Stare” is a little less horrible but no shortage of unexpectedly dead kids. When her annoying brother is replaced by a ghost after a visit to the cemetery, Lauren goes back to save him before he’s trapped forever as a spirit. Good on her! But after being misdirected by a creepy nurse ghost and ultimately rescuing her brother, Lauren discovers that she’s the one who’ll be making ominous “wooooooooooooo” sounds for all eternity.
3. Parents just don’t understand
As seen in: “The Walls,” “Really You,” “A Creature Was Stirring,” “Nightmare Inn”
This is such a universal fear, and it’s an effective one to exploit in young viewers. But man, is the “The Haunting Hour” filled with some kind of bad parents.
In “Nightmare Inn,” Jillian is still suffering from the trauma of her father’s recent death and plagued with nightmares. So what does her mother do? Drag them both out near the site of his death to spend the night in a spooky inn run by a secretive caretaker.
But that’s not so bad–it’s just a case of a parent trying to kid closure as their child copes with a shared tragedy. That’s deep stuff (until the werewolves or whatever show up).
“A Creature Was Stirring,” “The Walls,” and “Really You” exploit something worse: adults who simply won’t believe you now matter how thoroughly you’re being trolled by the thing living in your walls or the cursed doll trying to “Single White Female” you or the vicious goblin tearing its way through the house.
The moral of these stories: if something really terrible has happened or is happening to you, adults will simply not believe.
2. Even if you win, you lose
As seen in: “The Dead Body,” “Ghostly Stare,” “Game Over”
This is kind of an addendum to #5, but yeah, even if you somehow manage to get out of the horrible situation you’ve gotten yourself into, there’s always some kind of ironic twist that’ll stick it to you.
So never try, kids. Let the horror win.
1. Parents are the real monsters
As seen in: “Really You,” “The Walls”
Oh man, this is the worst although it’s only in a couple of episodes. Essentially, the moral here is that sometimes, in some cases, those benevolently neglectful parents might be okay with something horrible happening to you.
The parents in “The Walls” are guilty of some pretty overt harm to their son who’s being tormented by a creature living in the walls of their new home (also, never move in the R.L. Stine-verse–it’s always going to lead to something bad). At first, it seems like they’re just convinced that he’s acting out, and that there isn’t, in fact, a scaly green man-monster demanding that their son, Jeffrey, pay it tribute in sugar products.
Well, it turns out not only did the parents know about the monster, but that they moved to the house so they could acquire its luck properties in order to get ahead at their jobs. They wouldn’t tell Jeffrey what was going on because one, the more people who know about the monster, the more it would dissipate the luck it doles out, and two, because they’re freaking a freaking horror show in terms of parenting who didn’t mind if some creature was physically and emotionally battering their kid.
The mom in “Really You” might somehow be worse. Sure, her daughter is an entitled, obnoxious brat who demands her own mirror image RealDoll (what horrible little girl doesn’t want one)? But when the kid starts acting out, the mom takes the doll away from her and starts heaping affection on the huge lump of plastic. At first, it seems like Mom is just doing it to get her daughter to see what she expects from a well-behaved child (silent obedience, apparently?). But when her daughter, emotionally frazzled when she realizes that the doll might be trying to replace her, starts getting sick and suffering what’s obviously some kind of junior nervous breakdown, Mom ices her out and lavishes even more attention on the doll.
So yeah, the moral of the story is that parents suck, and then you ironically die. Or something.
Volumes one and two of “R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour” are available now on DVD from Shout! Factory.