Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement (R.L. Stine) – Throwback 30

The first entry in the Goosebumps horror series, Goosebumps: Welcome To Dead House, was a huge success for Scholastic, and it seemed like Goosebumps fever was going to sweep through schools across the world. Luckily, the next few entries in the series were already written and ready to go, and just a few weeks after the first volume hit the shelves it was followed by Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement.

The plot of the book follows Margaret and Casey Brewer, who live with their mother and father in a quiet small town in the US. Their father, Dr. Brewer, is a specialist botanist, but was recently fired from his  job. As such, he’s become obsessed with the work that he’s carrying out in the house’s basement, hoping that when he completes his experiments it will prove those who fired him wrong, and redeem his reputation. He warns Margaret and Casey to stay out of the basement no matter what.

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When their mother has to travel to see her sister the kids are left alone with their father; who continues to concentrate on his work in the basement, and pays little attention to the children. When their father drives their mother to the airport, the kids sneak into the basement to check out what’s got their father so obsessed, and find strange, large plants that make breathing and groaning noises. When they try to check it out one of the plants grabs Casey with its tendrils. They manage to break free, but are caught by their father as they exit the basement.

As time moves on their father begins to act even stranger. He starts wearing a hat at all times but has leaves sticking out of it, secretly eats plant food, sleeps in a bed full of soil and worms, and bleeds green when cut. The kids begin to suspect that their father has turned himself into some kind of plant hybrid with his experiments. But the truth waiting for them in the basement is much more shocking than that – if only they can survive long enough to find out.

Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement is similar to Goosebumps: Welcome to Dead House in the fact that you can see that Stine is still trying to find the style and tone that will eventually become a big part of the series. This is one of the few Goosebumps books that isn’t written in the first-person by one of the child characters, and instead takes a third-person perspective. This make the book stand out straight away, as it’s a style that the series never normally uses, and the character-driven narrative of the rest of the series is something that many who read the books when they were first released will remember.

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There’s also a lack of much humour or weirdness in the book. Many of the Goosebumps books will have peaks in tension, where Stine builds something up to end a chapter on a cliff-hanger scare that is quickly resolved at the start of the next chapter, often as an ‘I was scared of nothing’ reveal. This doesn’t really happen in this book, and instead there’s a pretty constant tension throughout that builds as the book progresses. This comes from the fact that the entire book is centred around the Brewer house, and we never get away from the horrors lurking there. But it’s also because there’s no one for the kids to confide in or ask for help from. Their mother is gone, and the only adult left in their life is the figure of which they’re afraid. It makes for a pretty dark and oppressive read from a series that’s known for being a bit fun and silly at times.

Despite this, the book was as much a success as the first, and helped to cement that Stine wasn’t a one-hit-wonder, and that the Goosebumps brand was one to keep an eye on. The book ended up becoming one of the more iconic entries in the series, and inspired a plethora of merchandise. The creepy, plant-like hand from the front cover of the book became one of the most recognised images in the series, and was seen everywhere. There were t-shirts with it on, and door hangers warning parent to ‘stay out’; you could get big plastic plant hands to go over door handles, and there were even really odd pieces of merch like tape dispensers, scissors, and protractors all designed to look like they were made of plant matter. Some of the items that got the Stay Out of the Basement treatment were a bit odd to say the least; but boy did they sell.

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The story was also one of the books that was adapted as part of the much popular Goosebumps television series, and was one of the few stories to get a two-part adaptation. The TV version stuck close to the events of the book, though some of the smaller details are changed to deliver a less bloody and violent finale.

It’s hard to think of a time where Goosebumps would have been seen as a gamble, where it would have been a risk to take a chance on a writer who would go on to be the biggest selling horror writer alive today, and that’s in part down to Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement helping to show that it wasn’t a one-off, that this was a series that had a lot of promise, and one that kids would happily return to time and time again.

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