Friday, September 22, 2017

Revenge of the Creature

In my review of The Creature from the Black Lagoon I noted that this series more-or-less formed a thematic trilogy. To be clear: that is not to say that these films are all truly good. While Revenge of the Creature could have been a lot worse, and it’s evident that a lot of work went into it. It also gets credit for actually moving the story forward, rather than repeating it. However, it’s still a pale comparison of the original.

That said, the movie opens with an expedition to capture the Gill Man, and withing a few minutes the task is achieved and the Gill Man is on his way to an Oceanarium to be put on public display. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before he falls in love with a woman and breaks out. Basically, it’s the end of King Kong without the build up or fantastic locales.

The underwater scenes don’t look quite as good as in the first film. I’m honestly not sure if that’s because the budget was lowered for the sequel, or because the characters are now in an aquarium, so the movie made no effort to disguise the fact that the actors are as well. I’m also uncertain if the costume is inferior, or if it’s effect is just hindered by a mixture of chaining the Gill Man up underwater, and having him walk through parking lots, neither of which are situations that seem appropriate to this iconic monster.

The film’s human plot follows a love triangle between the Gill Man’s captor and keeper, Joe Hayes (John Bromfield), psychologist Clete Ferguson (John Agar, and no I don’t know why a psychologist is studying a fish person), and ichthyology student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson). Honestly, the character’s really aren’t interesting enough to merit much discussion. Helen loves Clete, Joe loves Helen, but for the most part they’re all portrayed as too professional for much real drama to come out of it. They work together without much incident until the Gill Man kills Joe.

As with the last movie, there’s definitely an environmentalist message here, but once again I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. The researchers “train” the Gill Man to understand the word “stop” by luring him with food and then delivering an electrical shock (also, they’re in the water mere feet from him when using the electric prod...just thought I’d point that out…). This may have been intended to elicit sympathy, or it may have simply been the way animals were trained in the 1950s.

What little tension the film does have comes from the final act. After his escape, the characters apparently assume that the Gill Man is heading back to the Amazon, and are caught off guard when he somehow tracks down and kidnaps Helen in Jacksonville (so we get at least a brief period of Florida swamps, which look a lot cooler than the aquarium). I could complain that a fish man is a terrible symbol for primal masculinity, but that was true of the first film, and it works better here than many other things. Also, the idea that the Gill Man realizes that Helen is air-breathing, and transports her by carrying her along a river, and leaving her on the bank to re-submerge himself every few minutes, is pretty clever.

The single thing that annoys me the most about this film is the periodic cut to news reports. The Newscaster (Ned Le Fevre) serves two purposes: reminding us of what we just saw, and informing us of things that the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to show us. Either way, he just annoys me.

Also, for some reason Clete is put in charge of the Jacksonville Police Department when they go hunting for Helen. I assume it was because he “understood” the creature, but it still comes across as awkward. It even seems silly by the usual standards of a 50s B-movie.

The film ends with the Gill Man being shot multiple times and killed, despite being immune to bullets in the previous movie. Then again, it’s Universal, continuity was never their strongest suit. No one ever expected these movies to be watched back-to-back. That said, the final shot of the film seems only to exist to show that the creature had died, and not merely run away, in a bizarre reversal of the standard Movie Monster final shock.

I don’t really recommend this film, honestly. It’s more appropriate to MST3K than to a straight viewing. Watch it there if you’re going to watch it. There’s a reason that it was this film, and no the original, that was picked for riffing.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

I wish they would hurry up and remake this movie. The Creature from the Black Lagoon has an engaging story, and beyond that the Gill-man (yes, that's his official name) is a memorable character in his own right. I'd actually say that in making the three Creature films Universal unintentionally created an early example of the film trilogy by sheer chance, as each film thematically follows the previous film. The first film takes place primarily in the Gill-man's natural habitat, the creature is taken into the human world in the second film, and loses his ability to re-enter the sea in the third. That’s not to say that the later films are “good” by any stretch of the imagination.

This movie works best when you take it with a heavy dose of Death of the Author. The filmmakers likely didn't intend to create an environmentalist film, or at least intended it to be subtle, but to modern viewers it'll seem like the main take-home lesson. Many scenes now stand out as showing the pinnacle of human arrogance. Plenty of people have discussed the scene in which Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) throws her cigarette into the lagoon, and the camera zooms over to show the Gill-man peaking out from the water, staring at her.

The scenes that really stuck out to me, however, were the discussions of evolution. Anyone who passed High School biology in the last few decades can tell at a glance that the characters' understanding of evolution is nonsense, based on the idea of some guided purpose beyond simple survival. The suggestion that lungfish represented a “failure” because they survived millions of years unchanged is obviously laughable. These are characters who imagine humans as nature's sole great achievement, and have no concept of themselves as part of a larger system. I don't want to go full tree-hugger in this review, but these people are just so dumb to modern viewers that it's very difficult to not read them as villains.

Moving to the actual story, however, it's simple but effective. An unusual fossil was found in the amazon: a webbed hand. So, a group of ichthyologists decide to launch an expedition to look for more evidence connecting sea and land animals. They decide to travel to a mysterious place called the Black Lagoon, despite their boat captain Lucas (Nestor Paiva) warning them that no one who entered the Lagoon ever returned. Unknown to them, they disturb the Gill-man, an aquatic humanoid who defends himself aggressively against intruders into his territory.

The Gill-man was the last of the six (seven counting The Phantom of the Opera, or eight with The Bride of Frankenstein) classic Universal Monsters to premiere, his first film coming out after all the others had completed their full run of sequels. The fact that he was canonized along with the others is a testament to just how good this film is, and it's my personal favorite.

When discussing the other Monster films I often talk about how they tend to feel more like filmed plays than movies. This film is absolutely exempt from that criticism. Coming out in 1954 it was a time when filmmaking had started to come into it's own as an art form, and director Jack Arnold was born in 1916, the only classic Monster director born in the 20th Century. The movie, by extension, feels far less dated, with some truly dazzling underwater shots, and a costume for the Gill-man that's simple, yet spectacular. Also, the music is just downright awesome.

The story eventually develops into a conflict between Mark (Richard Denning) and David (Richard Carlson). I feel the conflict between the two of them has likely undergone a shift in modern interpretations as well, with Mark coming across as far more reasonable. Mark wants proof of the Creature, but would be happy to just shoot him and bring his body back.

David, on the other hand, wants to capture the Creature alive, but has no inhibitions about using tranquilizers on the entire Lagoon to bring him to the surface, and when the Creature is eventually captured is happy to cage him up in a tiny tank that even David admits may be too small for him to survive. To a modern viewer Mark is the pragmatist, and David is the sociopath.

Needless to say, the creature breaks out, a final confrontation happens, and Mark dies. The others escape the Lagoon, having apparently learned nothing, and the creature gets shot a few times but survives and escapes into the Lagoon. Everyone is happy, except the audience because David is still alive.

It makes me sad that this movie, possibly because of it's sequels, has become synonymous with cheesy B-movies and terrible special effects. Yes, the science is cheesy, but the story and acting are both strong, the Gill-man looks cool. Beyond that, the underwater photography is cleaner than most underwater photography today. I’d say give this a watch when you get the chance.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Goosebumps: Episodes 18-19 The Werewolf of Fever Swamp

If I had to name an episode of this show right off the top of my head, it probably would have been this one. The episode was aired as a special three months after A Night in Terror Tower to wrap up the season. While it’s better than most of the previous episodes, I find it somewhat amazing that Fox decided that this would work better as a finale than the truly awesome Terror Tower. Going back to my own memories, I remember thinking this episode was a big event and being really impressed. I have no idea if it was actually significant in the television landscape, though, or if it was just my nine-year-old imagination.

A boy named Grady (Brendan Fletcher) moves into Fever Swamp with his parents (Geoffrey Bowes and Maria Ricossa) and sister (Mairon Bennett). His parents are “scientists” of no specified discipline who are studying how a group of domestic deer survive being released in the swamp. First, though, they all have to be fenced up in the yard for what seems like several days to a week, presumably because deer actually roaming the swamp would be harder to film.

Grady and his sister are miserable, living in a place where they can’t even get television reception, and the only other child present is a boy named Will (Michael Barry). There’s also a creepy old Swamp Hermit (Don Francks) who apparently lost his family many years ago, and now wanders the swamp aimlessly. As Grady is forced into a friendship of convenience with Will, he begins to pick up local urban legends about werewolves. Will believes the Swamp Hermit to be one, and thinks he has halted his aging by killing people in the swamp.

Going ahead and spoiling the obvious twist: Will’s status as the werewolf makes him hard for me to classify him as a character. When he briefly regains his humanity due to an eclipse he tells Grady to run, so it’s clear he’s not malicious, but his attempts to mislead Grady about the identity of the werewolf make me uncertain of what his intentions are. He also claims that both wolfsbane and silver bullets are useless against werewolves, but this isn’t a theory we ever see tested, so I’m not sure of his motivations on that point.

To go even deeper, he makes references to “werefolk” as if werewolves are some kind of community. His claim that werewolves can stop aging as long as they kill makes me wonder how old he really is. Finally, he makes a reference to having a “yard,” but we never see his parents. However, I believe the building behind him in his introduction scene is intended to be his home, but could be part of Grady’s parents’ property. So I’m not sure if he even lives in a house or just wanders the swamp.

At the same time, a dog breaks into the family’s house, and Grady takes him in, naming him Vandal. However, after finding a dead rabbit, and some additional property damage, his parents and sister begin to suspect that Vandal is a very bad dog and plan to call the sheriff to get rid of him. Will feels that this makes it his duty to prove that there is a werewolf. And no, I don’t know why a pet killing a large rodent in the swamp is a problem.

In his effort to “prove” that the Swamp Hermit is a rabbit-killing werewolf Grady wanders out into the swamp, and ends up trapped in a net set by the Hermit, who for some reason brings Grady back to his home and...sits there eating and looking creepy. Then, when Grady tells the Hermit that his parents are coming with Elephant Rifles to save him (a joke, as the family had earlier been established as pacifists), the Hermit picks up his own gun and howls at the moon. My best guess is he was trying to attract the real werewolf, but I have no idea why kidnapping Grady was a part of his plan. Grady gets away while he’s howling, and runs back home, resetting the entire story to square one.

After the werewolf frees all the deer (no, don’t know why he didn’t eat them), Grady tries to lock his mother inside a shed to keep her safe, and we get a series of shots of Grady’s sister sneaking around in the dark with werewolf sounds playing over her. I think they may have also recycled Saber from Camp Nightmare for a few shots. During the attack sequence they can’t seem to make up their mind how wolfed out Will is, but I can possible excuse that as the eclipse taking effect over time.

Sister and Mom end up locked together in a shed. Grady, meanwhile, goes looking for Vandal, who ran off, and for some reason I don’t understand Will as well. When the werewolf is done terrorizing the family he comes after Grady, but gets caught in another net trap, and we get a speech from the Hermit explaining that his family was killed by the werewolf. However, he turns his back while standing right next to the werewolf, and is strongly implied to be killed. You’d think someone who spent years hunting a werewolf would be a bit more careful, but I guess the adult fixing everything wouldn’t be as interesting for the kiddies in the audience.

This is when Will is turned back into a partial human by the eclipse, and tells Grady to run. Grady is an idiot though, and is attacked by the werewolf who...picks him up and shakes him. Then vandal arrives and fights the werewolf, pushes it into the bog at the center of the swamp, which Will had earlier earlier compared to quicksand in an obvious set-up, and the werewolf sinks. It’s probably one of the more overtly violent endings, with a character either drowning onscreen, or (if werewolves are immortal) being trapped potentially forever.

Having seen the creature, Grady’s parents now accept that there was some sort of wolf involved in the attack, rather than Vandal. They’re still insistent, however, that there are no werewolves. Grady, however, is now beginning his transformation into a werewolf, getting nightmares and howling at the moon. An obvious twist, but a fair one for someone attacked by a werewolf. I guess we can just assume shaking is now the manner of curse transfer.

The episode isn’t bad. If you want to relive nostalgia for your childhood, or introduce your children to the show, this would be a decent episode to do it with. The production values are pretty high, the acting isn’t half bad, and it actually leaves some major questions unanswered for us to play around with. Also, you get to see the early days of Brendan Fletcher, later known for his ground breaking role as “the guy in the thing.” Also, he starred in Uwe Boll’s Rampage, and gets points for starring in something by Uwe Boll that was actually enjoyable to watch.

So, yeah. Check it out.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Goosebumps: Episodes 16-17 A Night in Terror Tower

A Night in Terror Tower is the best of the first season. Beyond that, it’s actually so good that it feels as if it came from an entirely different show. The budget is still low, but the discussions are amazingly frank, and the villain truly menacing. In keeping with the requirements of 90s kids’ television the word “death” is never uttered. But, the show has no problem with referring to the villain as the “Lord High Executioner,” or making reference to “execution by beheading.” It’s as if the writers were flipping the censors the bird.

The episode also succeeds in giving us a plot that’s unpredictable, while still holding together fairly well. Unlike most other episodes there’s no sense that the writers were simply treading water until they could release their twist on you, nor that the twist is somehow separate from the rest of the story. There is all one narrative, and it fits together flawlessly.

Sue (Kathryn Short) and her brother Eddie (Corey Sevier) are taking a tour of London that’s dragging them around from museum to museum. They’re both excited when they find out that their tour guide (Peter Messaline) is going to “Terror Tower,” the knock-off of the Tower of London in which the Prince and Princess of York were once imprisoned by their usurper Uncle (an obvious reference to the historical Princes in the Tower).

I feel like I’ve pointed out the obvious plotholes in plenty of previous episodes, so I can’t let my love of this one get in the way: To see if York had ever been independent I checked Wikipedia for “King of York,” and it took me to a list of Kings of Northumbria, one of which was specifically crowned King of York in 918, with their territory being absorbed by England in 954. That said, however, why in God’s name would the Kings of Northumbria have been locking people in a Tower explicitly stated to be located in London! Did they just rent space rather than have their own dungeons?

Sue and Eddie become separated from the tour group, and find themselves chased through the tower by a strange man (Robert Collins) who wants to take them somewhere. Getting away from him, they’re caught by a security guard (Robert Buck), who doesn’t believe they’re being chased, insisting he’s the only person on the property. Escaping him, the two take a cab back to their hotel.

It’s here that they find...they can’t pay the cabbie (Michael Polley). When they make the attempt, he tells them that the money they have isn’t real British currency. Looking for their mother and father, they’re told that the conference their parents are supposed to be attending isn’t at the hotel, and that their room is unoccupied. Then, it dawns on them that they have no memory of anything that happened prior to that day up to and including their own last names. Honestly, more scenes like this could have made Goosebumps a far better show. No bad effects, or poorly-designed monster. Just two kids who are terrified, and for good reason.

At this point a brief chase ensues, with the cabbie searching the hotel for the kids who can’t pay him. You could complain that being arrested by the British police would probably be the best thing that could happen to you if you’re wandering around London with no memory of who you are, but I honestly can chock that up to irresponsible teenagers being idiots. In the kitchen they’re attacked by the strange man again, and suddenly find themselves in the Middle Ages, still being chased by the same man.

When Sue asks a woman to hide her in exchange for the coins she had (which turn out to be gold sovereigns), the woman immediately turns her over. It’s from her that we finally find out that the mysterious man is the Lord High Executioner. I actually think I may have asked my mother what that word meant during the commercial break.

Locked in the Tower, the children encounter an imprisoned sorcerer named Morgred (Diego Matamoros) who finally explains what’s going on. The two main characters are, in fact, the Prince and Princess of York. Morgred, a servant of their late father, had sent them into the future with new memories to save them from execution. He intended to give them completely new memories, and send himself with them, but was interrupted by the Executioner before he could complete the spell, allowing the Executioner to come after them with Morgred’s three magic stones. It’s at this point that that the spell wears off, and they suddenly find themselves in Renfest clothes with British accents (oddly, the Prince of York seems to be aping Cockney).

I may make fun of the sets and costumes, but honestly it’s a huge step up from what this show usually produces. The music, lighting, sets, costumes, and performances are all cheap, but used as effectively as a gourmet chef making a meal of cheap ingredients. You don’t need fancy stuff to make it work.

As it typical, the final confrontation is quick and relies on the momentary incompetence of the villain, but there are much worse cases. Eddie picks the Executioner’s pocket for the stones, throws them to Morgred who begins the spell. Sue trips some hapless guards, and the scene fades out as the Executioner desperately charges at Morgred.

And with that, they’re back in the present day, being berated by their tour guide for wandering off from the group. Morgred appears, introducing himself as their “Guardian.” They finally get the chance to hear the end of the story, being told that the Prince and Princess mysteriously disappeared before their executions could be performed.

The final twist is probably one of the best justified of the first season. Morgred finds that one of his stones is missing, and believes Eddie pick pocketed it. The camera scrolls over, and we see the Executioner holding the final stone. Given that he was charging Morgred just as they were transported to the future, and the stones were balanced on his open palm, this makes perfect sense.

Honestly, I recommend this episode. It’s not just better than most Goosebumps, it’s legitimately better than many of the movies I’ve reviewed. It’s scary, and if you want to raise a horror-buff child it’s the perfect introduction.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Goosebumps: Episode 15 Say Cheese and Die

Just a personal theory: I think I may have found an example of a good actor, playing a bad actor, playing a character, without the makers knowing. Or maybe with. Who knows, really. Director Ron Oliver actually has a pretty long history in children’s television, so I have trouble believing that he was completely unaware when a young Ryan Gosling played Greg Banks, our protagonist, in a dull “read my lines and emote” manner that seems to be copied directly from standard Tales from the Crypt episodes.

A fun fact: This episode was based on a Twilight Zone episode called A Most Unusual Camera, which was also the basis of an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark called The Tale of the Curious Camera. Goosebumps wiki acknowledges this, and as of this writing incorrectly claims that two actors from this episode are shared with the original Twilight Zone episode, but somehow misses the fact that Ron Oliver also directed the Are You Afraid of the Dark version.

This is a pretty fast-moving episode, with a surrealist feel. Greg, and several of his friends, have apparently become interested in a local homeless man nicknamed “Spidey” (Richard McMillan). They decide to break into the abandoned building where he lives, and discover...a camera. It’s weird looking, but they’re able to figure out pretty quickly that it’s basically a Polaroid. Greg takes his friend Bird’s (Akiva David) picture, right before he has a tumble off a flight of stairs...then, Spidey shows up, and they all run. After leaving, Greg is amazed to find that the picture shows Bird falling off the stairs, although Greg is convinced he took the picture before it happened.

To be fair, this is an episode where the short length does help somewhat. We have an evil camera, and it doesn’t take the characters long to figure out that it’s evil. Greg has one nightmare where his family is killed by the camera (or as close as can be implied by a kids’ show), and it causes two disasters. His father’s (Marvin Karon) new car shows up in a picture damaged, after which the family has a near miss, and the father eventually crashes the car alone. He also photographs his friend Shari (Renessa Blitz), who doesn’t show up in her picture at all. He also finds that the camera is undamaged when thrown onto concrete. I can imagine that in a longer film the protagonist would have kept “experimenting.”

There are definitely some weird moments in the episode. The aforementioned dream has Greg taking his family’s picture at a picnic, and then looking at the developed photo to see skeletons standing in their place. Also, he finds out about Shari’s disappearance when two cops (Karen Robinson and Scott Speedman) show up at his house to literally interrogate him without the slightest shred of evidence he had anything to do with the disappearance. That said, it works to get the kiddies hyped up, and as an adult I guess I can just say “meh, surreal” and move on.

The ending of the episode is quite strong, and probably the most memorable part. Greg decides to return the evil camera to the place where he found it, and finds Shari along the way. Apparently she reappeared at her home after he tore up her picture, which makes the camera a lot less impressive, but they continue on their journey.

Back at the abandoned building they’re confronted by Spidey, who gives his villain speech. He’s one of the more interesting villains. He attempted to make a camera that could predict the future, but instead produced one that made horrible futures come to pass. There’s a certain sympathetic touch to the idea that he became homeless to keep the camera hidden and unused when he discovered it was indestructible. However, I can’t see any particular reason he couldn’t have put it in a weight metal box and dropped into the ocean, where it would have likely been undiscovered for a period much longer than his human lifespan.

Overall, though, he comes across as a jackass with some vague notion that he wants to be a good person. He gives us a line about “primitive tribes” believing that cameras can steal souls that I will politely assume was an intentional attempt to paint him as a racist. He also believes, of course, that the two children now know too much and cannot be allowed to leave.

Shari snaps his picture, in a move that’s both surprisingly smart and ruthless for a children’s show protagonist. He disappears, and we see him screaming to be released from inside the camera. The protagonists leave the camera behind, and we get our final scare when two bullies from earlier in the episode find the camera, and take their own picture...and then Spidey is behind them.

I recommend this episode. Each episode of this show seems to have it’s own tone, and here the tone I get is, as I mentioned earlier, very Tales from the Crypt. It’s a scary story, compressed into a product that bears little resemblance to the real world, and I could seriously imagine Crypty laughing and throwing out a few puns (if complaining a bit about the lack of blood, sex, and curse words). It’s cheesy, everyone knows that it’s cheesy, and they make it work.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Goosebumps: Episode 14 It Came from Beneath the Sink


As the season progresses this show is definitely getting better. This is an episode that’s way better than it has any right to be. I really get the impression that at some stage this was intended to be a throwaway filler (hence the half-hour runtime), and the people involved just decided to give it their all anyway. It also doesn’t hurt that, relative to most of Season One, there’s a disproportionate number of people who are still working. Direct David Winning has dozens of other credits, mostly for television. We also have Katherine “American Mary” Isabelle as our lead, Kat, and Amanda “SG-1” Tapping as her mother.

Our heroine moves into a new house (a few blocks away from her old one, dodging the “new kid” cliché that this show has already used five episodes ago) and finds a mysterious...sponge. The sponge seems to move, and even has a face when no one else is looking, with bright red eyes of evil, and teeth that an orthodontist would hate. Furthermore, a series of strange events begins to occur shortly after Kat finds the sponge.

This is actually a surprisingly subtle point in the episode’s favor. Rather than making the evil overt from the very first moment, they actually build up a series of events that, in isolation, would not be cause for concern. Kat’s mother’s dishes are broken, her brother (Tyrone Savage) cuts his foot, the family dog disappears, and Kat’s bike crashes. The family’s reaction is also fairly realistic. Everyone is concerned, but no one rushes to panic.

Finally, Kat goes to her friend Carlo (Ashley Brown), an X-Files fan who tells her the creature is a “Grool.” The Grool is actually one of the best monsters in concept not just in Goosebumps, but that I’ve ever seen. A living bad luck charm that attaches itself to a person to curse them, and grows stronger by feeding on their bad luck. However, if the Grool is given away, the owner dies, effectively creating a no-win situation.

Honestly, Carlo is one of the best things about this episode. He’s sane enough that you can believe him, but just crazy enough to be a memorable and unique character. All three of the child actors do decently, and are even fairly smart in discussing the logic of the Grool. (They’re legitimately unsure if Kat loaning the Grool out to a science teacher “counts” as giving it away.)

And yes, the Grool is defeated by the Power of Love. It loves bad, so it hates good. However, the episode manages to make the twist work with one addition: even at it’s weakest, the Grool can never die. Instead, it can only be contained. And so, Kat has to spend the rest of her life greeting the Grool every morning, and putting on pleasant music for it to listen to throughout the day. It’s a cute scene, but as an adult I definitely have my doubts that she could maintain this ritual for the next sixty years.

...oh, and then there’s a vampire potato. Such a creature was mentioned earlier in the episode by Carlo, so it gets at least slight set-up, and honestly it’s probably the funniest stinger this show has ever given us. Most of the “twists” are barely even worth addressing. But “vampire potato?” That I want to talk about.

If this episode was presented to me just as a short film, without the context of being a Goosebumps episode, I’d still recommend it. It’s a nice way to spend twenty minutes, and had a lot more talent behind it than most of the episodes in this season combined. Definitely gets a big, fat thumbs up from me.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Goosebumps: Episodes 12-13 Stay Out of the Basement

Stay Out of the Basement, more than any other episode of Goosebumps I’ve seen to date, knows exactly what it is. It’s a goofy throw-back to the silly science fiction of the 1950’s, and it is glorious in its stupidity. I can just see the creators laughing over this script. They even included the line “I think Dad is a mad scientist.”

The premise is that Margaret and Casey (Beki Lantos and Blake McGrath) are being left with their botanist father (Judah Katz) while their mother (Lucy Peacock) is away caring for her sick sister. Their father, however, has been isolated of late, working on some project intended to regain his recently terminated post at the local University.

However, as soon as their mother is away the two go down into the basement, and their father runs up behind them screaming the episode title. Apparently he feels that what’s down in the basement is dangerous, and wants the two to stay away. While the idea of a scientist not allowing his kids into his laboratory is actually far more believable than the insane behavior of most Hollywood science (looking at you new Ninja Turtles franchise), this is easily the last moment of the story that isn’t downright absurd.

The children begin to grow suspicious of their father when Margaret sees him eating plant food, and catches a glimpse of him in the bathroom, having taken off his hat to reveal leaves growing from his head, and was washing off a cut that was bleeding green. To allay their suspicions, their father begins attempting to spend more time with them.

He first explains to this that he’s working on an animal/plant hybrid. This was the scene that convinced me the episode was being intentionally stupid. The process is described as “putting animals cells in a plant.” I really doubt the writers were unfamiliar with the concept of DNA in the 90s.

He also attempts to force them to eat a weird green slop for breakfast. This is treated as insidious in some unspecified way. Even having watched the episode twice I’m not clear on whether or not they would have been harmed by eating it, or if it was just a sign that he failed to recognize the slop as unappetizing to normal humans.

When a family friend from the University (Hrant Alianak) disappears after going down in the basement (the two never saw him leave), they venture down into the basement, which they find now resembles a rainforest, and has plants that can reach out and grab them. I’m not sure exactly how many times the two of them slipped down into the basement over the course of the episode, but it was enough to rob their final descent of any tension, as we already knew more-or-less what was down there.

On their final trip down they discover...their actual father! He explains that some of his blood had mixed with an experiment, resulting in a plant that looked exactly like him, and who was planning to replace humanity with plant copies! Honestly, the reveal wouldn’t have been that far out of place in a black-and-white sci-fi film in the middle of the 20th century, and here it had me nearly rolling on the floor. If every Goosebumps episode was made this perfectly in imitation of old horror films I would have flown through this season.

The climax is the single goofiest example of “who do I shoot!” I’ve ever seen. Margaret has to decide which “father” to spray with weed killer. Apparently “spray them both and call the Toxin Helpline to see if their real father needs to go to the hospital for skin contact or not” didn’t occur to her, and instead she has to guess from her father calling her “Princess.” Naturally, only he would know to call her this, not the plant copy who as far as we can tell has all of his memories (I mean, it’s not like he had to ask their names or learn English).

Even if you’re not interested in Goosebumps, I’d say check this episode out. It’s fun, and you’re sure to get a few laughs out of it. I don’t remember if it scared me as a kid, but my reaction as an adult is more than enough reason to justify its existence.