R.L. Stine is the author of “Goosebumps,” a series of books second only to Harry Potter in ubiquitousness, with over 400 million sold around the world. Stine has seen his scary-but-not-too-scary stories for tweens turned into a television series, a theme park attraction, board games and merchandise ranging from fake blood to glow-in-the-dark boxer shorts, and now a second film, “Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween.”
In an interview with RogerEbert.com, he talked about the inspiration for his most popular recurring character, a 1948 British film, the scene in the movie we both agreed was the highlight, and about the connection between horror and humor.
In the movie, there are characters we might think of as traditional monsters like ghosts, or inherently scary like the giant purple spider, and characters that are ordinary or adorable but become scary, like the gummy bears. What’s scarier?
I’d always go for adorable. I’d go for ordinary and adorable. That’s my favorite scene in the movie.
I love that idea. I just love it. Who would think you could take gummy bears and turn them into monsters!
Apparently you would.
Oh, no, somebody wrote that for the movie. It wasn’t me. But I love that idea. You don’t start with monsters and weirdness and a castle in medieval Europe. You always start in the kids’ back yard or in the basement, or on the kitchen table. It’s much scarier to kids if it is something they can see and relate to and it starts right in their own house. That’s why I’ve never set a Goosebumps book in New York City. Because most kids can’t really picture New York City. I try to keep everything ordinary.
The idea of a Goosebumps story set in Halloween is almost too perfect.
They wanted to do a Halloween movie. We’ve done haunted mask, haunted jack o’lanterns, we’ve done haunted costumes. So why not do everything! Why not have all of all of Halloween just explode!
Who is more scared, the children who read your books or the children characters in the books?
Oh, the children in the books are much more scared! The books are not really that scary. They’re much more of a tease, and also they are funny. I don’t think the readers are that scared but the kids in the book have horrible terrifying things to worry about and the parents are useless, so the kids are on their own. They’re not there or they don’t believe the kids, so the kids have to solve things on their own.
I read that your wife is your editor.
Yes, I am married to my editor. For real. She is actually paid to be my editor. It’s a nightmare! The only things we ever fight about are plots. I always say, “Jane, the next book will make sense.” But I don’t get away with that.
Who is right more often?
I’ve never been right. It’s true. We’ve been married over 40 years and I’ve never won a bet.
You’ve said that humor and horror are related. How is that?
It’s the same visceral reaction. When you sneak up behind someone and you go, “Boo!” first they gasp, and then they laugh. It’s like two sides of the same reaction. I use humor a lot. And I never really wanted to be scary. I never planned on being the scary guy. I always wanted to be funny. And so I use the humor to balance it out. If I think a scene is getting too scary, I throw in something funny.
This movie features your most popular recurring character, Slappy the ventriloquist’s dummy who comes alive. He reminds me of the scene in the 1947 British horror film, “Dead of Night.”
You’re the first person who ever asked me about that movie and that is where the idea of Slappy came from. I saw that dummy come to life and that just stayed with me. And then there was a “Twilight Zone” episode and the William Goldman book and movie, “Magic.” The reaction came as a surprise to me. People write to me, “I’m scared of dolls, now,” and I don’t really get it. Why be scared of a doll? But I’ve done 14 books about him and I’m working on one now called The Dummy Meets the Mummy.
I understand that you are an opera fan.
Yes, I’m going to the opera tonight, to see “Otello.” I know my readers think I’m only interested in horror. But I live in New York City! I go to the ballet! They’re horrified to hear that!
I think they like to imagine you living in a creepy gothic mansion, eating scorpions.
Oh, I do that!