Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: The 10 Worst Goosebumps Episodes

March 15, 2018 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

I guess this is also going to be a sequel column, because I was feeling nostalgic. I’ve been going through some tapes I made as a kid, when found one with a bunch of Goosebumps episodes. One of them just happened to be one of the bad ones. And hey, I’ve never ranked the worst episodes in that show’s run, have I? I did look at the best episodes of the show’s run, and you can find that here.

Naturally, this show is a low-budget kids program from Canada and aired Saturday mornings on FOX in the 90s. There are going to be some bad ones, and I’d wager if one watched it today there would be more episodes that didn’t hold up than ones that did. On that note, don’t watch the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon if you don’t want to feel old and depressed. Trust me on that.

So let’s look at the episodes that either do not hold up at all today or weren’t that good even when we were kids in the 90s. Since we’re looking at the worst, you don’t get the memorable intro. You get the less interesting Ultimate Goosebumps intro instead.

#10: Say Cheese and Die…Again!
Original Air Date: February 28, 1998

The original Say Cheese and Die made my top ten list at #6. You may remember it as that episode that starred baby Ryan Gosling. It’s also about an evil camera, something that Hollywood is taking a serious attempt at with Polaroid whenever that abomination hits theaters. Anyway, Greg, no longer played by Gosling, apparently did not learn his lesson in the first book. In spite of the fact he nearly lost his best friend and possibly worse if Spidey kept him…he goes back to get the camera.

It’s mostly because the plot demands it. He writes about the camera for a real life story, the teacher doesn’t believe it and fails him. Now I know the pressure of school if you’re actually interested in doing well, but I think I would have taken the F. Greg goes to get the camera and prove it’s real. Pictures get taken, bad stuff starts happening. In particular, Greg begins to get really fat, with some terrible, terrible CGI effects to pull off the effect. The late 90s had everything using CGi and apparently budget didn’t matter.

#9: Calling All Creeps
Original Air Date: June 15, 1997

As always, you have to keep in mind when watching this show that good or bad, it was a mid-to-late 90s show for kids. It’s meant to be somewhat amusing for 20 minutes until whatever else comes on next. For those wondering, in ’97, I would be sticking around for Power Rangers Turbo or flipping to ABC for Looney Tunes. My point is that you can’t expect complicated stories and well-drawn characters from short TV episodes based on books meant for those at a 3rd-6th grade reading level.

But there’s something to be said about an episode which offers the message: “If people bully you, it’s okay to mutate them all into hideous creatures who will be your slaves forever.” Because that’s how this one ends. Some kids are mean to the nerd, so he allows them to change into “creeps” knowing he’ll be the leader. I assume the world ended after the group of Reptilian creatures left the school. Thanks for allowing schoolyard taunts to decide the fate of humanity, Ricky the Rat!

#8: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder
Original Air Date: December 8, 1995

I know, this one is pretty early in the show’s run. But it’s also one that I mocked relentlessly when it came on for how cheesy it was. Keep in mind, I was nine. I didn’t know what cheese was outside of the food. But even as a kid I could recognize that a man acting like a psychotic obsessed with “beautiful hands” was as narm as it got. Dude looks like Santa Claus and he’s chasing some kid over his hands. It’s..lunacy.

It gets even stranger from there, as we learn that Dr. Shreek (GET IT?) is actually a robot. His creator uses him to cut off the hands of kids (and possibly kill them) so he can have them play piano forever. It ends with a ghost forcing the inventor to play piano instead. I guess they couldn’t go with the books ending of a bunch of ghosts with bloody stumps chasing him away.

#7: Chillogy
Original Air Date: April 25 – May 9, 1998

Yes, this is technically a tie as it’s three episodes. But it’s three original episodes interconnected with one really annoying villain and is responsible for turning me off the show during its original run. Of course the show didn’t stick around much longer after this anyway, but it was at this point where I decided that maybe I should just watch something else on Saturday mornings. I mean, they weren’t even using the books anymore, as this was an original story from someone other than R.L. Stine.

The story revolves around three kids who get sucked into the town of Karlsville, let by the irritating Karl Knave, and they have to learn a lesson or something to get out. A girl is turned into a pig-monster, another has to play a weird baseball game, etc. The whole time Karl is mugging for the camera. I think it just broke my patience. It was equal parts dull and annoying, at an age when for me, everything annoyed me. Between this and the exit of shows I grew up with, I was quickly done with Fox Kids in general. Way to go, Chillogy, you killed the rest of my childhood!

#6: The Haunted House Game
Original Air Date: November 8, 1997

When your job is to entertain kids for a 30-minute block (plus commercials), the last thing you should be is boring. It’s probably why so many shows back then seemed like they had ADD. There were no slow spots. It was action, action, action. Why do you think it took the Power Rangers five minutes to morph per episode? So if your episode of your spooky kids show is neither spooky nor interesting, you’re going to lose the interest of kids.

In this case, we have one of the stories pulled from Even More Tales To Give You Goosebumps, books that were the same size as a normal book, but had multiple stories. So that means the writers of the show had even less to work with than a standard episode and it shows. FYI, this didn’t always result in bad episodes, as “The Perfect School” was a nice-enough kids version of The Stepford Wives. But this one, about a haunted-house version of Jumanji, has nothing to bring to the table in spite of what should be a neat premise.

#5: It Came From Beneath the Sink
Original Air Date: February 2, 1996

This episode actually gave me one of my favorite horror convention memories, as I got to mock it with its star Katharine Isabelle. Yes, that one. The actress in Ginger Snaps and American Mary. It’s not that she’s bad or the story itself is all that bad, given the context of the show it was on. It’s just…it tries to make a killer sponge with eyes and teeth scary. That’s the kind of thing that even kids laugh at (and we did).

Now I know what you might say. It’s children’s television, did you expect to be scared? As a kid? Yes. This episode followed episodes like The Haunted Mask and Night of the Living Dummy, which did creep me out at the time. Heck, the former still has an unsettling quality about it for reasons I can’t really explain. Maybe it’s the weird effect on the floating heads. My point is, kids are smarter than people give them credit for. They’re going to know the difference between a good creation like Slappy and a evil sponge monster.

#4: Vampire Breath
Original Air Date: November 26, 1996

Alright! R.L. Stine is taking on vampires! Oh…wait. It’s a weird and stupid attempt at comedy. Nevermind. Vampire Breath follows two kids who go into a part of of their house that they aren’t supposed to. They find a bottle called “vampire breath” and realize that the vampire that stays in the house really, really wants it. So does this little girl who is also a vampire, as it turns out. The vampire breath apparently restores their fangs and allows them to feed. That’s part of the lore they don’t teach you in Bram Stoker novels.

The twist at the end is that they’re all vampires, which is not only stupid but it was pulled off far better in The Girl Who Cried Monster. I guess it’s not plagarism if you’re stealing from yourself, right Mr. Stine? I was watching Universal horror at this point, so I knew what real vampire stories were. I didn’t need goofy takes like this.

#3: Strained Peas
Original Air Date: February 21, 1998

You may have noticed that a lot of these aired in the same period of time. In fact, Strained Peas was the first of five bad episodes, including Say Cheese and Die Again and the entire Chillogy. It’s really no wonder the show kinda died out in the fall. The books were losing popularity as their audience got older and the TV show was getting dumber. Maybe it was the censors, maybe it was budget, but it didn’t have the edge it used to.

Staying on that topic, here’s an episode about a talking, evil baby. This follows a kid who realizes something is wrong with his baby sister. She’s evil and wants to be the only kid in the house. There’s your plot. Oh and the twist is that she’s actually a monster and she was switched at birth. But…the real sister ALSO TALKS. Dun dun dunnn. Yeah, I got nothing. The “talking” effect is really bad too, worse than even Baby Geniuses was.

#2: Go Eat Worms
Original Air Date: September 28, 1996

And yet, somehow an evil monster baby seems more credible than…worms. A kid is obsessed with worms and frequently uses and abuses them in a variety of ways. This includes pranks, so when he starts seeing worms in his food he thinks it’s revenge. But then they show up everywhere and things get trickier. Long story short, he ends up in the presence of a giant worm. Don’t ask me, I just watch the stuff.

Naturally you don’t expect stuff like this to be too traumatizing, but outside of “ew, worms”, this had nothing to it. And considering this was also the time period when kids were reading How to Eat Fried Worms, even that didn’t seem like a big deal. The kid, by the way, escapes the worm and ends up in the same situation with fish. So no lessons learned here, folks.

#1: An Old Story
Original Air Date: October 4, 1997

This was one of the easiest #1s I’ve ever had to pick. I hate this story. The others I could take or leave for what they are but this is just gross. The story follows two boys who visit their aunt. They eat her prune cookies and turn into old men. Okay, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before on this show, so let’s roll with it. Oh wait, it gets worse. As it turns out, the aunt made them old on purpose so she could sell them off as HUSBANDS to her elderly friends. Keep in mind that these are still kids. They just look old. And she’s selling them to her friends for marriage.

As a kid, it’s probably nothing more than, “ew, I don’t want to be old.” I can’t tell you because this is one I didn’t see in its original run. As an adult, the context is much worse and icky. Even if you remove that, you still have a story full of dumb kid show old person jokes. It’s kind of horrifying, but not for the intended reason. I mean, even if the old ladies just want platonic companions and we leave the squick out of it, it’s still really messed up that this woman is SELLING HER NEPHEWS into what is essentially slavery. It’s just a bad idea, a bad story and a dumb episode.

Ending Notes:

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Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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