As we’ve already discussed with our look backs at the first two volumes in the Goosebumps series, Goosebumps: Welcome to Dead House and Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement, the children’s horror series was a success from the first day it went on sale, with children across the world clamouring for each new release.
The 90s was an era where children’s and middle grade publishing pushed the big series releases, things like The Babys-Sitters Club, Animorphs, and Sweet Valley High. I vividly remember going to libraries and book fairs, and seeing shelves dedicated to titles that spanned dozens of volumes. And whilst most of these were designed to be picked up and read at any point (except perhaps Animorphs) they still felt a bit inaccessible. But Goosebumps stood out. It gave readers a new story every volume, and you didn’t have to rely on having read any others before to understand them. But the third release in the series ended up being one of the few Goosebumps stories that would continue for more than one volume.
Goosebumps: Monster Blood follows twelve-year-old Evan Ross, who is sent to stay with his deaf, elderly great-aunt Kathryn whilst his parents look for a new home for them on the other side of the country. Kathryn is set up to be a figure that frightens Evan, wandering around the house with a knife, laughing at her own weird jokes, and arguing with her cat like it’s a real person. Luckily, Evan has his dog, Trigger, with him to keep him company.
Playing out in the neighbourhood one day, Evan meets and befriends Andrea, and the two of them end up becoming close. When checking out an old toy store, Evan finds a tub of strange slime called Monster Blood. Despite the shop keeper initially not wanting to sell it to him, Evan purchases the stuff and brings it home. When he shows it to his great-aunt she mutters something over the tub, before handing it back to Evan with the warning to ‘be careful’.
As Evan plays with the Monster Blood, it begins to act strangely, getting warmer over time, and growing in size each day. When Trigger accidentally eats some of the Monster Blood he too begins to grow in size, doubling each day. As the Monster Blood grows out of control it seems to come to life, trying to consume Evan and his friend. It’s here that we get a pretty wild twist, something that would go on to become a big part of the Goosebumps formula. It turns out that aunt Kathryn put a curse on the Monster Blood, making it come to life. But she didn’t so it by choice, but at the command of her cat, who is actually a witch who has put Kathryn under her control.
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The Goosebumps books have become known for their twists, and whilst the first two books in the series did have a moment at the end that made it seem like things might not quite be as neatly wrapped up as it appears, this was the first time that the twist ending makes you ask ‘what the fuck?’. The ending for the book is delightfully wild, but absolutely comes out of nowhere. The cat has been an evil witch the entire time? Okay, why not.
This is something that comes up more as the series goes on, where you suddenly find out that the hero is actually an alien preparing to invade Earth, that the whole story was written by the monster and they’re sharing it with their monster friends, or that the kids turn out to have been robots all along. Stine would go on to become a writer whose endings you could never predict, because whilst you think you’ve figured out the ending there was nothing stopping him from revealing the main character to be a hundred hamsters in a trenchcoat at the end (that one isn’t a Goosebumps twist as far as I’m aware!), and Goosebumps: Monster Blood was the first of his stories that really did this.
And this book was also the first one in the series where the story would come back again in other volumes. Monster Blood would make a return in three direct sequels, all of which featured Evan as he continued his fight against the monstrous slime. There would also be two additional Monster Blood books that were part of the Goosebumps Horrorland and Goosebumps SlappyWorld series, which didn’t include Evan. Whilst it might not be one of the most famous titles in the series, it did go on to be one of the longest running.
Goosebumps: Monster Blood was the first really ‘weird’ entry in the series, and it taught the readers to never get complacent, to never think that you’ve figured things out or know how it’s going to wrap up. And I think this is part of the reason why it’s so well remembered, and why it inspired multiple stories – because it was the first time that Stine got to really surprise his readers.