Friday, July 21, 2017

Goosebumps: Episode 9 Return of the Mummy

Just as I was beginning to lose hope, I find a one-part episode that doesn't feel rushed. Return of the Mummy feels a little like the script had a razor blade taken to it, but somehow it still works. I suspect this was at least partially because the show lacked the budget to portray an actual pyramid or anything of appropriate scale for ancient Egypt, so we're limited to scenes of people in small rooms. However, these scenes function to deliver the story in a fun, if somewhat campy manner, carried by actors who are clearly enjoying themselves in the roles.

Gabe (Daniel De Santo) is a kid sent to Egypt to spend the summer with his archaeologist Uncle Ben (Elias Zarou) and his cousin Sari (Annick Obonsawin) who are in the process of opening a Pharaoh's tomb. I seriously doubt that the first people to enter a Pharoah's tomb would be the lead archaeologist together with his young daughter and nephew, but this is clearly set in fantasy world. In fact, a good argument could be made to place this story in the same continuity as the old Universal Mummy films.

Before the episode even begins Gabe has already purchased a “summoner” from a man at the airport. Apparently this is the hand of an actual Mummy, which can be used to awaken other Mummies. Uncle Ben, while suspecting the hand was a scam, expresses a willingness to let him try it on the Pharaoh. We get rapid exposition dumps, such as giving Ben a piece of amber with a scarab in it while explaining that possessing a scarab grants immortality. Meanwhile, Sari acts as the standard Goosebumps antagonistic sibling.

We get a reporter (Afrah Gouda) who shows up the site, having mysteriously found out about the dig. Strangely, she has a piece of amber with no scarab in it, because apparently all pieces of amber are supposed to have bugs in them. For some reason she's allowed to enter the tomb with them, because why not.

The Mummy's appearance is fairly sudden. The episode assumes that we knew it was coming, even if the characters didn't, so why pretend otherwise? The real twist, however, is that our reporter is actually the Pharoah's sister, who controlled him throughout his reign, and gained immortality by becoming a scarab. She slept in her piece of amber every night, while able to become a human by day. This is all infodumped on us when she appears, so don’t think I’m rushing. She even continues infodumping after her brother, uninterested in re-establishing their Kingdom, smashes the amber and she’s transforming back into beetle-form.

Her brother then attacks Gabe and Sari. Why he cares about attacking them I'm not sure, but destroying Gabe's summoner appears to stop him and destroy the tomb. So, my best guess is he wanted to get rid of the thing that was keeping him awake.

The episode ends with Uncle Ben trying to figure out how to explain the events to reporters. I'm not sure why Uncle Ben believes them, since he was unconscious for most of the events, but I suppose the 8-year-olds in the audience don't think of things like that. Honestly, the plot hole just adds to the glorious cheese for me.

Unseen to Gabe, however, the supposedly destroyed summoner slips back into his suitcase, headed home for America. I'd actually be curious what happened when it got there. Can it only bring back mummies, or could Gabe cause a zombie apocalypse? I guess we'll never know.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Goosebumps: Episode 8 Piano Lessons Can be Murder

I'm hoping that I'll eventually encounter an individual Goosebumps episode that wouldn't have worked better as a two-parter. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely when they're boiling down a 100-page book to just 20-minutes. Piano Lessons Can be Murder certainly fits into that category, as it tries to combine both a ghost and evil robots into a single story.

That said, however, I'm really not sure that this is a story that deserved two parts. It isn't horrible in concept, but it's also less memorable than you'd expect for such a story. I can safely say that I would sacrifice this episode for a second half of The Phantom of the Auditorium.

Jerry (Ben Cook), a kid with few friends and a big imagination moves into a new house with a piano in the basement. Jerry develops a crush on a local girl named Kim (Erica Luttrell, kudos for the interracial romance) with an interest in music, and decides that he wants to learn to play to impress her. However, the Ghost of a former music teacher who lived in his house (Brenda Devine) warns him to “stay away” from the Shreek School, where he gets his parents to sign him up for piano lessons.

Dr. Shreek (Aron Tager) is a strange man, with a weird obsession with hands, who employs a maintenance main named Mr. Toggle (Geza Kovacs). Eventually, Dr. Shreek tries to take Jerry's hands, only to be shut off by Mr Toggle, who as it turns out is a robotics genius who built Dr. Shreek and various other piano-playing robots...and Mr. Toggle then tries to take his hands because robotic hands are hard to build. However, the ghost comes, revealing that Toggle had been a student of hers (she claims he was lazy, he claims she was too demanding), and for attacking Jerry the teacher traps Toggle in the school and forces him to practice for all eternity. Jerry gives up on the piano.

I run through the plot quickly to make my point: All of this material might have worked if there was proper time for build-up. Most of the actors are pretty good, and Jerry is one of the more memorable protagonists from this show. Rather than being a bland everykid, he constantly narrates imaginary adventures the instant he's out of earshot of an adult (and sometimes within).

However, the characters other than Jerry seem to get only two, perhaps three scenes. Dr. Shreek gets one scene teaching Jerry the piano, and throwing in a comment about how his own hands don't “work like they used to” as blatant foreshadowing, and a scene of him going crazy. Mr Toggle, likewise, gets his introduction where he shows off his robotic floor sweeper, and says that he “programmed” Shreek to call him a genius, the scene of his own breakdown, and the final scene of him being forced to play.

Most notably, Kim gets her introduction, and then returns at the end of the episode. Apparently it would be too much to remind the audience of why Jerry wanted to take piano lessons in the first place. If she couldn't be worked into the story, then her presence probably wasn't necessary. It's not like parents have ever needed a reason to put a kid with minor problems in piano lessons.

The ghost is the one element that does work. I'm not sure if it's the repeat appearances throughout the episode, or just the actress, but whenever she's onscreen warning Jerry that he's in danger I feel the tension. The ghost is also fairly unique, neither falling into the cliches of the harmless, helpful ghost, nor the purely wrathful. She clearly has a moral compass, and cares about Jerry even as a boy with no particular connection to her. Her motivations remains surprisingly human.

That said, it's clear you don't want to get on her bad side. She's a strict disciplinarian, and is apparently prepared to stay with Toggle forever to make sure he's suitably punished. I’m not sure of the creative process that went into this spirit, and I kind of suspect it was a simple “we need to make the ghost scary,” but what we got by design or accident was good.

The revelation that Toggle was the true villain worked, but having him shut down Shreek ruined the whole effect. Either Shreek should be working for him at the end, or Toggle should have motivations at least slightly different from those of his creation. As it plays now, the scene is awkward. They basically took one villain out of the story to replace him with another, effectively identical villain.

Even so, they were good villains. This is hardly the only time this series gave pedophillic undertones to it's villains (hell, it’s more rare for the villains not to have them), but the decision to have them obsessed with a young boy's body-part seems like the kind of thing the studio would likely forbid today. It’s legitimately unsettling.

More than one source on the internet have noted that this is the rare episode without a twist ending. That seems to be more-or-less true. The revelation of Toggle's punishment was, according to the Goosebumps Wiki, not in the book, but it's not really surprising once he was taken by a piano teacher. Ironically, it still managed to be more frightening than many of the actual twists. Playing piano for the rest of eternity, kept alive by magical forces? Or continuing as a ghost? Not a way I’d like to spend my time.

I don't exactly recommend the episode. It has all the parts for several good stories, but it's nothing special in and of itself. It seems like a waste of a lot of talent, and a number of good ideas.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Goosebumps: Episode 7 The Phantom of the Auditorium

I’m actually starting to dread one-part episodes of this show. Even when all the other parts are in place for a good story, the actors still rush through their lines. This episode is another lost opportunity. The kids are mostly passable actors, and borrowing the costumes and organ music from The Phantom of the Opera is a cheap way to get chills, but it works.

The story takes place in a school where the drama class is about to do a production of The Phantom, an obvious knock-off of the above-mentioned story. We’re told the story of the play, and for the most part it’s the same basic premise as the name-brand Phantom. One major change, however: in this play, The Phantom is killed by the Raoul equivalent out of jealousy, and then returns as a ghost.

Brooke (Jessica Moyes) is cast as the female lead in the play, “Esmerelda.” Her friend Zeke (Shawn Potter) is the Phantom. The two of them have excellent chemistry together, and seem like one of the more realistic friendships I’ve seen in children’s television. Zeke is a prankster, who enjoys startling Brooke in his costume. However, Brooke doesn’t really seem to mind, and the two project a sense of trust.
However, Brooke’s snobby understudy Tina (Julia Chantrey) informs us that the play is cursed. Seventy years earlier the play was performed, and the child who was to play The Phantom disappeared, his body never found, and a year later his ghost appeared on the stage when the play was performed again.…also, there’s a new student named Brian (Stuart Stone), and a creepy “night janitor” named Emile (Erik Fink) hanging around.

Of course, things start to go wrong with the play. And by “things” I mean “thing.” As far as I can tell, putting aside a jump scare or two by Zeke, and a bad dream Brooke had at the beginning of the episode, the entire plot seems to be driven by a single incident disrupting rehearsal, when someone in a Phantom costume zip-lines in and causes a prop to nearly hit Brooke. Zeke, having the costume and being a prankster, is blamed and kicked out of the play.

Granted, in the real world this might be enough to create a real issue, but in the world of Goosebumps, where parents and lawsuits are the things of legends, it hardly seems up to snuff to shut down production. This is yet another case of a full hour being needed. At least three or four incidents would have really built up the tension.

Naturally, the two leads team up with Brian to investigate under the stage, and find that the Phantom has been living there. As it so happens, “Emile” was not a janitor but a homeless man living under the school with a Phantom costume. Apparently he felt that the play being performed would create a greater chance of discovery than…people believing that children were in physical danger. There’s no real climax to this storyline, as Emile apparently just runs off when he realizes he’s been discovered, but I’m okay with that. I imagine it’s pretty accurate to what a real homeless person would do if he knew his shelter had been found.

And then, the twist: on the night of the play, someone knocks out Zeke and takes his place on stage. Brooke realizes that she’s on stage with an actual ghost (the flames in his eye sockets were probably the give-away). The Phantom gives a speech in which he explains that he fell down the trap door, died, and became a ghost…oh, sorry, he “fell into the abyss” and “became a real Phantom.”

Honestly, the inability to directly reference death works here. The Phantom is quite effective if you interpret him as an overly dramatic child suddenly given supernatural powers. He even asserts that playing the Phantom in his Middle School play would have been “the greatest night of my life.” And apparently he plans to take “Esmeralda” with him into “eternal darkness.” He’s defeated when she rips off his mask.

And for an extra twist: the Phantom was to be performed by Brian seventy years ago. Brian was the ghost. This would have been a good twist…if we’d had time to develop Brian properly. As it is, he was the background character who painted sets, and was sad that he’d moved to the school too late to audition (…if he could fool the teacher into thinking he was in the class without records or a social security number, why not do so early enough to audition?).

Still, the scenery and atmosphere gives this episode a huge advantage. I really want to know who thought The Haunted Mask merited twice the running time of this episode. This is a rare time when not only was I willing to do my second viewing, I was actually looking forward to it, because the episode is really that enjoyable.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Goosebumps: Episodes 5-6 Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Only four episodes in, and I'm already starting to form a list of things that make for a good Goosebumps episode: a two-parter for good pacing, a director who can provide atmosphere, human villains to minimize cheesy special effects, a protagonist a few years older than the show's target demographic, and a surreal environment that makes the final twist seem less stupid by comparison.

If you can't tell, I'm listing off the things I like in Welcome to Camp Nightmare. This is another step up from the already good Girl who Cried Monster, which still had problems with cheesy make-up and pacing. It still has a certain degree of hamminess to it, but moreso than any previous episode there's a sense that the cheese is intentional. All of these actors are having a blast, and the Summer Camp environment invokes the sense of an '80s slasher made appropriate for small children.

Our protagonist this time is named Billy (Kaj-Erik Eriksen), a kid whose parents frequently go off on expeditions every summer. Normally, he stays with his Aunt and Uncle, but this summer they decided to send him off to camp. I like how downplayed his reaction is. Billy comes across as less hyperactive and emotional than our three previous protagonists right from the start. He mentions that he prefers Camp over his Aunt and Uncle, but doesn't seem especially thrilled to be there either.

Most of the other kids at the camp come across as more typical Goosebumps protagonists, either easily freaked out, or snarky as hell. Billy acting as straight-man for the group works well. We get to spend the most time with the character least likely to grate on our nerves. It also goes perfectly with the eventual twist.

The episode probably embodies the fear of childhood powerlessness better than any other single episode. The majority of tension in the episode is driven by one primary conflict: the adults at the camp seem oblivious to danger. The episode starts with the kids being left in what appears to be a random part of the woods by their bus driver, and nearly attacked by a large canine creature. The camp director, Uncle Al (Chris Benson) makes his appearance by scaring the creature off with a flare-gun. He assures them that “Saber” will leave them alone if they stay on the trail, not bothering to comment on why they would build a Summer Camp at all in woods that had such a monster in it.

Uncle Al is contrasted with counselor Larry (Paul Brogren), a snarky and disinterested jerk. Where Al comes across as friendly, Larry is constantly rude and demeaning to his campers. To the episode's benefit, neither of them come across as villainous from the start. Al seems happy-go-lucky, but oblivious. Larry, on the other hand, initially comes across as a guy who's just fed-up with stupid kids who don't listen.

After arriving, camper Mike (David Roemmele) is bitten by a snake. Billy and Mike beg Larry for a doctor, but Larry tells them to just wash it off and wrap it. I remember that as a kid this seemed horrible. Now, looking at the scene, I see Larry as someone who knows there are no poisonous snakes in the area, and thinks the kids are over-reacting.

Gradually, however, it becomes clear that something is wrong. First Mike disappears, and the counselors refuse to say where he went. Then Roger (Benjamin Plener) is attacked by Saber offscreen, apparently killed. Finally, Larry turns and runs away when he sees Jay and Collin (Jeffrey Akomah and Ken Mundy) drowning. Eventually, Uncle Al begins refusing to acknowledge that campers of those names even existed.

Finally, Billy runs to hide in the “Forbidden Bunk,” where he encounters Dawn (Sarah Mitchell), and escapee from the Girls' Camp across from them, who tells him stories similar to his own. They also find that all of their letters home have been stored in the bunk. The sequence is right out of a nightmare.

When Billy goes out to investigate further, he's captured by Larry, and finds Uncle Al in fatigues, handing out crossbows loaded with alleged “tranquilizer darts” to subdue Dawn. Apparently it's camp policy to rally all the boys into a hunting party whenever anyone tries to run. The scene seems surreal, but the use of human villains helps here. The scene works as well as the actors selling it, and they sell it.

Billy, however, is having none of this, shooting Uncle Al with the crossbow he assumes to be lethal, determined that no one else can be allowed to die. And then, the reveal: the crossbow dart was harmless, and Billy just passed a test by the government. Everyone is alive, Saber was mechanical, and his parents (Alec Bachlow and Michele Duquet) set the whole thing up because they couldn't take Billy with them on a long-term expedition unless he was able to show courage, and an ability to act independently of authority. This ending works because, unlike a lot of protagonists, Billy does show himself to be a kid with exceptional control of his own emotions, much more so than any previous main characters on this show.

...oh, and they're all human-like aliens on another planet, and the expedition is to Earth. And this planet is so close that Earth is clearly visible in the sky, but Billy has never heard of it. Yes, the final twist is kind of insane, but it doesn't really bother me. It doesn't fundamentally change anything that came before it, and the actors are good enough to get me to go with a fundamentally stupid idea. It's silly, but it kind of makes me smile. exactly did the Night of the Living Dummy episodes become the face of this franchise? I suppose there really isn't a marketable villain for this episode. Still, so far as I've gotten (granted it’s only four stories), this is the most bang you're going to get for your buck by a mile.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Goosebumps: Episode 4 The Girl Who Cried Monster

Wow, an episode of Goosebumps that I an enjoyed unironically. The cheese is still there. The dialogue has to be condensed to fit this story into a 30-minute time-slot, so characters rapidly spout out exposition. However, this episode seems to have been directed by someone with at least a general understanding of atmosphere, who knew how to use close-ups, camera angles, and the occasional jump scare effective.

The episode follows Lucy (Deborah Scorsone), a girl who loves scaring her little brother Randy (Brandon Bone) with monster stories. However, one day she leaves her backpack in the library and discovers that the librarian, Mr. Mortman (Eugene Lipinski), is a monster who turns green and grows sharp teeth and eye stalks when he eats bugs.

When her family reacts exactly as the title of the episode suggests, Lucy decides to prove it, and Mortman catches her attempting to photograph him. The term “monster” here seems quite generic. Apparently being inhuman is assumed to make Mortman evil, and it's taken for granted that he would eat humans in addition to bugs. But, I’m not here to fight for acceptance for beings that don’t exist.

After a few close calls with Mortman, her parents (Lynn Cormack and Dan Lett) invite him over for dinner. Lucy is of course in absolute panic. Mortman makes his intentions known by saying “It’s been so long since I’ve had a home-cooked meal.”

Scorsone and Lipinski, in addition to the direction, give this episode life. Scorsone appears to be a bit older than the protagonists from the first two episodes, and she plays the role more naturally. Nothing special, but a notch up from the usual child actors.

You might also know Lipinski from the Animorphs television series, where he played the role of Visser Three. Here he's much better, with the episode allowing him to play the role in a less serious manner, hamming it up as both a classic book nerd, and an over-the-top farce of a villain.

I wish the episode could have been in two parts. There are a number of scenes, particularly between the leads, when certain lines felt like they were written to have space, but are crammed together. The lines have weight, but they aren't allowed to sink in.

As for the final twist: Lucy's family are all monsters. Lucy and her brother, being to young to transform, were apparently unaware of this. However, both of her parents are reptilian creatures who invited Mortman over with plans to eat him. The final confrontation happens mostly through close-ups, but it works. We get the idea: Mortman dies screaming.

I'm somewhat surprised that this episode isn't better remembered. It might be that the cheesiest episodes were the most memorable, but I honestly think as an adult horror fan this was worth half an hour of my time. And, honestly, I wish I could see Lipinski in more things.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Goosebumps: Episode 3 The Cuckoo Clock of Doom

I'm not sure if the child actors in this film are bad, or if they're just badly directed with poor dialogue. Notably, the actor who plays the main character (John White) is still working as an adult. This makes me inclined to think its not the director's fault.

That said, the premise of this episode isn't terrible. It's an idea that's both relatable and frightening. An act of sibling rivalry leads to our protagonist being punished. Even though I'm an only child, having been a kid at all I can definitely understand the desire for revenge on other children.

Our protagonist, Michael (White) has a younger sister named Tara (Kristen Bone) who seems to take joy in his suffering. She intentionally embarrasses him at his birthday party in front of his crush, tripping him so that he face-plants in his cake, and shooting him with a Super Soaker full of gunk and running to his parents when he chases her. These are really the only examples we get, because the episode only has twenty minutes after commercials, but it gets the message across: Tara is a little monster, and his parents don't see it.

Then, his father (Larry Mannell) gets a Cuckoo Clock. Mannell is the only actor in this episode who I like without qualification. His performance actually seems to change in subtle ways over the course of the story, as we see him at different points in his life to reflect his maturation as a parent. In the present he's very no-nonsense, in the past he comes across as making more vain attempts to relate to his child on an equal level, something clearly impossible.

And with that, I've given away the conflict: Michael overhears his father threatening to punish Tara if there is any damage to the clock, assuming it would be her. Michael, naturally, sees his chance for revenge. Sneaking out of bed, he twists the head on the cuckoo around, and the next morning wakes up to a repeat of his birthday party.

I'm a little unclear on what happens at the party. It seems to be implied that Michael is somehow forced to relive the most humiliating moments, even with foreknowledge of them, but later in the episode he seems to have complete free-will within the past. Maybe the clock just decided to have fun in this scene.

At first, Michael assumes he's caught in a time loop, circling the same three days over and over again. No such luck, as he wakes up as a six-year-old the following day. This is the point when it hits Michael: if the clock continues to send him back in time he could very easily cease to exist. He attempts to get to the antique shop where his father purchased the clock, and we get a false scare involving a creepy stranger. While the clock is there, the shop is closed for the day, and he finds himself dragged back home by his father.

While Michael assumes that's that end, we as an audience know both that there's time left in the episode, and that it would hardly be an acceptable conclusion if he never reached the clock. So, he gets one last a one-year-old. I'm not sure if his parents actually went to the antique shop on his first birthday, or if the clock wanted to give him a chance. I lean towards the latter, actually, it seems a bit more satisfying to think the Clock merely wanted to teach young Michael a lesson.

I also find it unlikely that the parents of a one-year-old in a shop full of expensive things would leave him alone in his stroller long enough for him to get out of the stroller, walk over to a clock on his one-year-old legs, and twist the head of a cuckoo-bird back into the correct direction (yes, it's backwards before he twisted it in the future, just go with it). With that, Michael finds himself back in the future, being lectured by his Dad that he shouldn't touch the clock.

This is one of the few, if not the only, Goosebumps episode where the twist is actually to the protagonist's benefit. The final twist: Tara no longer exists. The clock had a series of panels that listed the years, and in the shop Michael accidentally knocked off 1988, the year that Tara was born. The episode ends with him contemplating that he should find a way to bring her back, but seems extremely uncertain if he wants to.

I'm not really sure how to interpret this final twist. Is the clock's magic completely without sentience, just wiping out important events in Michael's life that happened in 1988? Did the clock decide to reward him for some perverse reason? Or did it simply fail to realize that removing Tara would not be a proper punishment for the brother who hated her? I really don't have an answer that I like.

The episode isn't bad, I can say that much. It's cheesy, could use better direction and dialogue, and as with many kids' shows seems a bit rushed at times. But, it actually has some moments that are unsettling as an adult. And the actions of our protagonist do feel like something a kid would do. If you want to revisit this show, give it a watch.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Goosebumps: Episodes 1-2 The Haunted Mask

I knew when I started blogging I’d need some easy filler posts to stay ahead. When I first started my plan was to go episode-by-episode through a season of Z Nation every year. That was after the first season, when the show was firmly established as my favorite show. When I wrote my first draft of this review, in February 2016, after the second season definitely took a bit of a tumble as it’s become clear that the writers never expected to get a second season and had no idea what they were doing for most of it. Furthermore, I’m not sure if I want to subject what little readership I have to a show so obscure that it could only be called a vanity project for me.

And now as I write this final draft (Layers upon irritating layers. Sorry if it’s a tough read.), in late July of 2016, I’ve made the decision to go back to school while still working full-time. Because of this I’m going to have to wildly redirect the focus of my blog to make sure I have time to continue it. Rather than my original intention of one season of a show per year, I’m going to be focusing mainly on a wide variety of anthology shows, tackling them in season-long chunks, with whichever movies I’m able to get watched lumped in-between.

I’d love to tell you that I chose this first series after careful consideration of many shows, but sadly no: Goosebumps is well-known among people my age, has four seasons and plenty of episodes for me to cover, and is easy to write about because the material is intended for children. It shares these traits with Are You Afraid of the Dark? The tie-breaker is that the copyright to that show are owned by people who care about it, so the episodes available on Youtube are sporadic. Goosebumps is much easier to find.

Now that I’ve admitted what a cheapskate I am, discussing the actual show, I’d say that Goosebumps doesn’t hold up very well to nostalgic expectations, even when compared to its aforementioned competitor. Watching this first episode it’s pretty evident why: this is a series adapted from a book series that was heavily based on inhuman monsters that had to be adapted with a television budget. AYAOTD, on the other hand, was more easily able to create scripts and monsters suitable to a television budget. Being on cable probably didn’t hurt either.

The entire premise of this episode would be difficult to film, even without the restrictions of the Network. The titular Mask is horrifying to anyone who sees it. The mask does not simply startle people with a jump-scare. Just looking at it creates real terror. That alone is going to make it difficult to film, since no possible mask could scare everyone.

Does this mean that the episode is “bad?” Not really. I’m sure by now you all know that I tend to focus on the negatives first. To talk about the positives, this is an episode that takes the Power of Love cliché and turns it into something terrifying. Most entertainment for children make love out to be some great force for good, rather than the complicated and potentially dangerous emotion that it really is.

Most brilliantly of all, though: the Power of Love still saves the day. While I don’t think many children consciously got the point, it’s an idea we can come back to as adults: Love is amoral. It has no interest in the happiness of the people it effects, and can be just as destructive as it is useful.

Now to talk about the actual episode, I give them props for having the only good child actor present as the lead. Kathryn Long plays Carly Beth Caldwell, a girl with a reputation around her school that she’s “scared of everything.” She’s the target of constant bullying by two boys (George Kinamis and Amos Crawley). While the dialogue isn’t great, Long does a good job of portraying a girl constantly on the brink of a panic attack.

So for Halloween she goes to a mask shop looking for something that can scare the two bullies. She stumbles across a group of grotesque masks in the back, which the shop owner (Colin Fox) refuses to sell her. In desperation, Carly Beth steals one and runs out.

The Mask isn’t exactly bad, and Carly Beth knows how to get a bit creative. She carries a plaster copy of her head that her mother along with her on a stick to complete the costume. Even in real life, this would probably have gotten a few points for effort in any neighborhood. However, once Carly Beth goes out for Halloween the effects are underwhelming. The mask apparently changes her personality, but the effects seem to be limited to her saying mean things, and jumping out at people.

I strongly suspect the network is at work here. One mother (Anne Marie DeLuise) threatens to call the police because Carly Beth makes an obnoxious comment to the woman’s children. This is a story where the protagonist needed to do some property damage,

After getting her revenge on the bullies in an extremely satisfying scene where they’re forced to apologize to what they seem to believe is their victim’s decapitated head, Carly Beth discovers that she can’t take the mask off, which seems to have melded into her skin. In desperation she returns to the mask shop to be told “I was expecting you.”

Fox’s performance is easily the most chilling thing in the episode. He has the demeanor of a man long-since jaded to evil, and irritated by the stupid kid who stumbled into it. It’s clear that he’s willing to help, but isn’t going to waste his tears if the mask can’t be removed.

It’s implied that he’s in some way deformed, and created beautiful, perfectly-realistic masks to hide his face, but over time the masks decayed and became hideous. The face he presents to us is one of these, in the early stages of decay. Whether he’s a scientist or a magician isn’t elaborated upon. His scenes avoid making the rules of the Mask explicit, but manages to convey them fairly well by implication: the first time worn the mask can be removed (an event that happened at Carly Beth’s house), the second time only a Symbol of Love can remove it, and the third time the mask will remain on permanently.

And my mention of the Power of Love? The masks are called “The Unloved Ones,” because no one will ever want or love them. No one, that is, except a girl desperate to create fear. The masks are drawn to Carly Beth because she is the only person who could love them. In fact, to give us a more exciting climax, the other masks start flying and come after Carly Beth (not a clue how that happens). She uses the cast of her head that her to fend them off, and finds that she can remove the Mask through the power of her mother’s Love.

On a technical side, the episode isn’t horrible. I think the Mask’s mouth gains more mobility over the course of the episode, which makes sense. If there is a problem it’s that we’re told multiple times that Carly Beth’s voice sounds strange. Honestly, she sounds like…a girl lowering her voice. I’m amazed they didn’t ADR a deeper voice. It certainly would have been a cheap effect.

As scary stuff aimed at kids goes, you could do better than this episode, but you could also do a lot worse. It’s cheesy, and held back by networks standards, but it’s clear there was effort. It’s not the best of the season (that title will eventually go to A Night in Terror Tower), but it’s in the top half, and probably more thematic than any other episode to come.

And one thing I have to mention: The actress who played the main character was Kathryn Long. Her best friend is played by Kathryn Short. What are the odds?