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?

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