How The Goosebumps TV Series Scared A Generation Into Becoming Horror Fans

The show based on R.L. Stine's hit novels had terrifying twists, gruesome effects, a dark sense of humor... and future genre fans couldn't get enough. We look back – with Stine himself – on the standard-bearer for pre-teen scares.

by | October 22, 2020 | Comments


(Photo by © 20th Television)

After the ’80s saw a boom of horror movies that became commercial successes, the ’90s saw the genre open up to a whole new audience: kids. The decade was a golden age for gateway horror stories that introduced the genre to youngsters, with several shows scaring the hell out of them every week – while still providing some age-appropriate laughs.

No matter how many of these shows and movies came out during this time, there was one that reigned supreme when it came to balancing scares with kid-friendly entertainment: Goosebumps, the Fox Kids show based on the works of prolific horror author R. L. Stine. For almost three decades, the Goosebumps episodes produced between 1995 and 1998 have been keeping kids in fits of fright and laughter.

With the show celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, and Sony in development on a reboot, we’re looking back on the original series and the ways in which it prepped a generation of kids to turn off the cartoons and turn towards a new and ghoulish genre. And Stine himself is helping us break it down.

It understood that even really young kids liked the spooky stuff

R.L. Stine

(Photo by © Hyperion Pictures / Everett Collection)

Young-adult horror was not only a thing, but a major success by the time Goosebumps was released, but it was a genre mainly aimed at teenagers. That changed when author R. L. Stine started releasing the Goosebumps books in 1992, betting on the idea that kids even younger than that wanted to be scared too.

Nearly 30 years later, Stine is still writing Goosebumps, and the children’s horror landscape looks very different. “No one had done a horror book for 7-to-12 year olds, it hadn’t been done,” Stine told Rotten Tomatoes. “Twenty-eight years later and I’m still doing it. Scholastic just asked for six more. I’ll be 102 and still be writing these books.”

We may not have gotten Coraline or The House with a Clock in Its Walls if it wasn’t for Goosebumps, and the franchise just got bigger once the TV show started airing.

It knew when to scare us, and when to make us laugh 

Goosebumps - Slappy

(Photo by 20th Television)

Before Goosebumps hit the airwaves, Are You Afraid of the Dark? had already scared kids for five years with its campfire-side spooky tales. What made Goosebumps special was how it took Stine’s signature dry humor and made the TV show one that was scary enough for younger kids to dip their toes into the horror genre, but safe enough that it wouldn’t traumatize them.

“The people who did Goosebumps [the series] really understood the combination of humor and horror so it wouldn’t be too scary,” says Stine, who started his career in comedy. “If I think a scene is getting too intense, I just throw something funny to lighten it up. Every chapter in the Goosebumps books ends on a punchline. Horror and humor are very close together, and I think you get the same kind of visceral reaction from something funny or something scary, like when you go to a rollercoaster and hear people both laughing and people screaming.”

Indeed, the show was so successful as a gateway into horror because it eased audiences into it little by little, knowing when to pull back to let comedy deflate the tension. One of the best examples is Slappy the Dummy, the funny-yet-still-very-much-evil ventriloquist dummy who quickly grew into one of the most popular characters in the franchise (and the main villain in the 2015 theatrical film adaptation).

“I like writing Slappy sort of like an insult comedian,” Stine says. “I don’t really get it, what’s so scary about him, but people actually are scared of Slappy and like to send me mail and Tweets about it constantly. I think people are intrigued by an inanimate object coming to life.”

It featured seriously creepy – and catchy! – music

Every series needs good theme music, something that sets the mood for what the show is about, and eases you into its world. What’s Friends without The Rembrandts? Or The Simpsons without Danny Elfman’s title theme? For Goosebumps, the opening music and the visuals that accompanied it were creepy enough to live up to the famous tagline, itself a play on the tagline of the books: “Viewer beware, you’re in for a scare.”

It starts with the show’s intro, in which Stine himself – or at least a man in a coat with a briefcase marked “R. L. Stine” – is walking in a field where his briefcase flies open, sending a flurry of papers and a ghostly “G” into the air. The “G” floats through a town, in front of a bunch of scary signs, and past a creepy dog from hell with glowing eyes.

“When I saw the dog, I used a dog barking sound in a couple of places to make it sound like the melody of the theme music,” composer Jack Lenz told us. “And that made everybody laugh, and I thought if the music can’t scare you, at least it might make somebody laugh. It’s a fun theme for people because it’s simple, so it’s easy to remember, and it sounds scary.”

Lenz brought that scary-fun mix to the music used within the episodes, too. “Sometimes, if an episode wasn’t as scary, the producer Bill Siegler would tell me to make the music scarier,” he says. “We’d also use orchestra hits, which instantly makes a scene scarier. We got away with using them more than we probably should have. I thought the show was pretty scary for kids.”

Its twists left us gobsmacked, and took the edge off


(Photo by © 20th Television )

Three decades after Rod Serling stopped inviting us to The Twilight Zone, Goosebumps introduced kids to a world full of twist endings and surprise turns, often with thoughtful morals. From stories about monsters that turn out to be told from the point of view of the monsters themselves, to a scary summer camp that is revealed to be a training facility for aliens preparing to visit Earth, the ghouls of Goosebumps were rarely what they first appeared to be.

“I think this is why the books and the show are so liked by kids, because they’re not linear,” Stine says. “I think kids like it if a story curves around, twists, and turns instead of going in a straight line. I try to think of an ending first so I can figure out how to keep kids from guessing the ending right away.”

The twists also helped balance the horror and humor, as they were often comic in nature. The series’ big reveals  often explained away monsters by making them something ordinary – if looked at a different way. (Which helped Goosebumps fans actually sleep at night.)

Its practical effects were monster-y greatness (and still are)


(Photo by © 20th Television)

Goosebumps came out decades before spending millions of dollars on a single episode of TV was the norm for some networks, but even if the series’ early CGI hasn’t aged particularly well, the creature effects still hold up. The very first episodes of the show, parts one and two of “The Haunted Mask,” do a great job of selling the horror of the main creature because of just how good the practical masks still look. And who can forget the Carpenter-like blob from “The Blob That Ate Everyone”?

“We had a great monster shop in Toronto,” Stine says. “These guys had a very low budget and they still came up with all the wonderful monsters and masks and all that stuff. For the very first one we did, ‘The Haunted Mask,’ they had four different masks, each one tighter than the last. That’s still my favorite episode, it looks great even today.”

Goosebumps may not have been a huge production, but its creature effects offered young fans some ghastly imagery and a solid introduction to creature features. Add some sharp twists, creepy music and a great sense of humor, and you have the ingredients for the best ’90s horror show aimed towards the  little ones. And one that they – now grown-up and gore-happy – still fondly remember.

Goosebumps premiered on Fox Kids on October 27, 1995. Goosebumps is streaming on Netflix and available to rent or buy on Vudu and Amazon Prime

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

casting stand-up comedy 4/20 italian Animation Avengers jamie lee curtis SundanceTV The CW sequel true crime FX on Hulu Pirates Hear Us Out richard e. Grant USA Network technology Election ghosts Turner Universal cops series LGBTQ Pop TruTV The Walking Dead Brie Larson 2016 stop motion dc Tarantino animated Marvel venice 2017 Awards franchise Toys ratings independent mutant ID cancelled TV shows romantic comedy ABC Family tv talk MSNBC reviews BAFTA festival Apple anime stoner boxoffice comedies National Geographic Nat Geo Hallmark Christmas movies Black Mirror TLC BBC America criterion CBS movies Peacock remakes rotten concert dceu Holiday Quiz Elton John streaming Grammys australia cults war crime drama Dark Horse Comics Song of Ice and Fire Trophy Talk BET MCU Christmas Western BET Awards diversity YouTube Red Ovation DirecTV Britbox WarnerMedia Cartoon Network scary movies french Chernobyl based on movie X-Men nature Disney Spring TV Amazon Prime teaser NYCC CNN The Academy SDCC Ellie Kemper quibi Emmys classics Television Academy GoT Nominations breaking bad period drama cartoon IFC Ghostbusters TIFF Syfy Disney Channel adaptation spy thriller 2018 rt archives Logo Amazon Prime Video ABC revenge Pixar Reality Competition Comics on TV Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt YA zombie Fall TV Hulu screen actors guild DC Comics cars VICE TCA Winter 2020 Thanksgiving japanese Emmy Nominations The Purge Esquire New York Comic Con Action Rock halloween tv spider-man Superheroes Mary Poppins Returns Paramount Acorn TV blockbuster Arrowverse science fiction IFC Films Bravo BBC San Diego Comic-Con TCA 2017 Cosplay Academy Awards latino Tomatazos dark police drama Fox News asian-american comics Star Wars Rocketman Tumblr Musicals Valentine's Day crime social media Star Trek halloween hist Premiere Dates Apple TV Plus directors composers Disney Plus movie OneApp TCM USA Cannes rotten movies we love CW Seed WGN A&E twilight Captain marvel talk show Watching Series See It Skip It Binge Guide strong female leads Super Bowl name the review Crunchyroll a nightmare on elm street DGA History Heroines crossover Comedy video on demand Netflix Christmas movies Photos Rocky james bond Sundance TV Food Network chucky anthology Extras Lionsgate Disney+ Disney Plus Film Vudu HBO YouTube Premium slashers children's TV President toy story Horror best Sneak Peek The Witch versus SXSW Oscars Red Carpet adventure Creative Arts Emmys theme song Epix Trailer E3 justice league parents foreign dogs news renewed TV shows 24 frames First Reviews Paramount Network HBO Go die hard The Arrangement CBS All Access blaxploitation Biopics elevated horror Travel Channel what to watch 45 AMC docudrama book Crackle Character Guide American Society of Cinematographers Apple TV+ Winners sports Women's History Month Rom-Com PlayStation deadpool Lucasfilm all-time historical drama comic books biography cancelled Fox Searchlight Family spinoff PBS Set visit Teen indie Schedule Sony Pictures sitcom Year in Review Shondaland politics worst movies TV Land cancelled television 71st Emmy Awards Spectrum Originals Video Games kids political drama OWN Nickelodeon Reality Mindy Kaling Trivia 21st Century Fox TCA Awards Film Festival witnail films Winter TV GIFs NBC Stephen King disaster Baby Yoda Pride Month Fantasy Summer PaleyFest RT21 toronto Endgame reboot hispanic CMT Interview space Drama doctor who serial killer FX facebook Kids & Family free movies Marvel Studios comic TBS Podcast supernatural medical drama RT History Comedy Central Hallmark El Rey cancelled TV series Amazon Sundance Music mission: impossible romance HBO Max LGBT joker robots spanish Columbia Pictures binge GLAAD Black History Month football E! BBC One FXX 2015 2019 Walt Disney Pictures Superheroe Calendar DC streaming service Freeform Best and Worst Mudbound Musical worst Sci-Fi zero dark thirty fast and furious critics Lifetime Lifetime Christmas movies 20th Century Fox archives travel documentaries festivals universal monsters canceled TV shows ITV nbcuniversal DC Universe Chilling Adventures of Sabrina dramedy laika Anna Paquin Spike crime thriller sag awards miniseries Mystery TCA sequels psycho nfl christmas movies unscripted Awards Tour documentary cinemax VH1 Sundance Now APB aliens Classic Film Funimation FOX emmy awards game of thrones cooking Amazon Studios hollywood Tubi Holidays Box Office First Look Martial Arts zombies spain transformers Marvel Television game show Television Critics Association Marathons indiana jones VOD Polls and Games video scorecard natural history thriller spanish language YouTube Certified Fresh canceled finale child's play batman mockumentary Pop TV A24 award winner dragons TV renewals Mary Tyler Moore werewolf Opinion Writers Guild of America ESPN Showtime psychological thriller 72 Emmy Awards Adult Swim obituary TV golden globes Masterpiece green book Discovery Channel Disney streaming service Mary poppins 007 Country Warner Bros. Starz harry potter south america Turner Classic Movies black singing competition comiccon satire Infographic television discovery Netflix superhero vampires MTV TNT Pet Sematary Comic Book Shudder cats Countdown 2020 screenings