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.

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