Being a child of the 70s and 80s, I missed R.L. Stine's 1990s "Goosebumps" children's book series, and was completely oblivious to the Fox Kids TV series it spawned, which originally aired from 1995 to 1998.
Having since watched several episodes on DVD, I can say that the "Goosebumps" TV series, with its spooky stories based on the books (think "Tales From the Darkside" meets the ABC Weekend Specials) would have been right up my alley as a kid, although I find the quality and tone too inconsistent from episode to episode to unilaterally recommend the series as a whole.
That said, one particular episode stands out, not only for being legitimately frightening, but for managing to capture some timeless Halloween magic. It's "The Haunted Mask II". Yes, that "II" indicates this episode is a sequel, but don't be put off... all necessary exposition about the cursed Halloween mask that this story centers around is contained in "II".
Set entirely on Halloween, "The Haunted Mask II" sets the mood by showcasing plenty of trick-or-treaters in typical costumes.
And if you look closely, you'll notice that many of the houses are decorated with classic Beistle Company cut-outs, as called out below:
The story opens with grade-schooler Steve lamenting that tonight will be his last real Halloween (he worries that he may be getting too old to celebrate it next year. In a way, he's already feeling nostalgic for his own childhood while he's living it). Determined to make this last Halloween the scariest ever, he now finds the too-cute pirate costume his Mom made for him to be a bit underwhelming.
Fixated on finding the ultimate scary costume, he seeks out a mysterious novelty and mask shop with his friend Chuck.
The shop is boarded up and abandoned, but the door is open, and there are masks for the taking, including this gnarled old-man mask with a hairful of plastic spiders.
What Steve doesn't realize is that the mask comes with a curse. Wear the mask once or twice, and nothing unusual happens.
But when Steve dons the mask for a third time as he heads out for a night of trick or treating, the curse takes hold. First, Steve's voice is transformed to a low, raspy growl, that sounds normal to him, but terrifies anyone he tries to talk to. His breathing becomes labored, and he has an insatiable craving for Halloween candy.
I should note that this is not played for laughs--Steve is clearly tortured inside this stifling mask, which he can't remove no matter how much he struggles. Unable to control himself, he steals some one's trick-or-treat back and shoves candy into his mouth with a savage intensity.
The plastic spiders in the mask's hair are soon accompanied by real living spiders, crawling out of his nostrils and mouth!
Desperate, he enlists a passerby to help him remove his mask, but they can't find where the mask ends... it has become Steve's actual face!
He notices his hands have also transformed!
Meanwhile, Steve's friends Chuck, Carly Beth and Sabrina head back to the spooky old novelty shop looking for clues to help lift the curse.
What they don't see lurking in the shadows is the shopkeeper, who is having his own mask-related issues...
Lifting the curse will involve performing a midnight ritual at the graveyard... surely making this the BEST HALLOWEEN EVER!
I won't spoil the ending, other than to confirm that it leaves an opening for another sequel.
The Haunted Mask II was released to DVD, but is out of print as of this writing.
6 months ago