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.


  1. Assuming you are taking comments, two of the questions you raised are answered by the story version:

    * There are more scenes of Tara being horrible in the book throughout Michael's time travel; she is cruel to the family cat, got him beaten up by a bully, and even her baby self bites his finger. I wonder if she is supernatural herself?
    * Michael has free will in the Birthday, he realizes this when carrying the cake, but despite avoiding Tara's foot, she pulls him down from under the table.

    1. Happy to take comments, I hate that I rarely get them. And thanks.

    2. No problem.

      Happy to give them.

      Kinda of an unusual ending here. Most other stories would have him realize he loved Tara, she wasn't as bad as he thought, he did something to upset her earlier, or something along those lines.

      Instead he erases her from existence and decides she isn't worth bringing back.

      No Goosebumps style, he erased himself from existence or something, he gets away with it.

      So I think its a unique ending.