What child didn’t know about Goosebumps growing up? And what adult looks back on their Goosebumps-filled childhood with any kind of joy or nostalgia? Certainly not me. As I have an older brother, Goosebumps was an inevitable part of my adolescence, and not one that I particularly enjoyed. The entire horror genre has never been my thing, and while looking back I hardly find any Goosebumps story scary, I had a much different opinion on the matter when I was seven.
Just about everything involving Goosebumps terrified me, and nothing was worse than that godawful puppet—you know which one I’m talking about—but there was one story that I actually kind of liked: A Night in Terror Tower.
I think I only liked A Night in Terror Tower because, unlike other Goosebumps narratives, this one never scared me. And it has a princess in it, so of course I liked it. I imagine that the story was supposed to be frightening to children, but it’s just not. It doesn’t feature any kind of supernatural monster or horrifying twist ending. Instead, it’s about a time-traveling prince and princess running from their oppressive murderous uncle. A Night in Terror Tower came out in 1995 and is the twenty-seventh book in the series. While I don’t remember the book all that well, I certainly remember its live-action adaptation.
While there is a famous castle called the Tower of London, Terror Tower is more or less a fictional medieval structure Sue and her younger brother Eddie go to see in their tourist trip. Way back when, Terror Tower used to be where people were sent to be tortured and executed. Among the victims were the niece and nephew of the current and unnamed king at the time. After their parents died, the king sent them to the tower for execution. However, they disappeared mysteriously and no one knows what happened to them.
Not very shockingly, it turns out that Sue and Eddie are the missing royal children, and they didn’t so much disappear as they were sent to the future by a magician named Morgred. Unfortunately, in the process they lost their memories. A Man in Black also follows them to the future, with the intent to take them back to the past. It’s not until they’re back in their own time that they remember who they really are. By the time the story ends, both Sue and Eddie escape from the tower again and return to present-day London—or you know, 1990s London—with Morgred as their new caretaker, and they get their happy ending.
While A Night in Terror Tower is my favorite Goosebumps story, I don’t remember it anywhere near as much as I had hoped. Normally before reviewing something I at least watch it again, but I actually couldn’t do that this time. I own A Night in Terror Tower and numerous other Goosebumps on DVD, but for some reason, even my computer hates Goosebumps and refused to play them. I then found Terror Tower on YouTube, but apparently YouTube also hates Goosebumps and promptly refused to play it as well.
I’m sure there are ways around these problems, and indeed, I’ve put off this review for a couple weeks now while I halfassedly tried to make the DVD work. But to be honest, this is still Goosebumps, and there’s only so much effort I was willing to spend. As such, while I remember the plot pretty well, being unable to rewatch it means that my opinion on this story is through the rose-tinted goggles of my youth. And I’m pretty certain that I liked A Night in Terror Tower a whole lot more when I was seven than I would now.
What I do remember about A Night in Terror Tower is that it makes no goddamn sense and it’s filled with numerous historical inaccuracies. For instance, there’s no reason why the king would execute his niece and nephew other than that he’s evil. What does he even gain by that? No heirs until he can produce children of his own. Also, how does he justify this to the other nobles and people of his court? Did Sue and Eddie commit a crime? Were they trying to usurp the throne? The king didn’t try to murder them in their sleep or hide what he was doing. Other people had to have known.
But other than nitpicking the plot and the complete disregard for how medieval society actually worked, like all Goosebumps stories, this one is not that great with characterization. One thing that had always annoyed me about the Goosebumps series was its complete lack of originality when it comes to the characters. An older sister and her younger brother seem to feature in a large number of the books, and while that’s not true for all of them, it’s certainly true for enough of them. It also doesn’t help that the live-action adaptations have some horrendous acting. I suppose I can say that Goosebumps is one of the few franchises from my childhood that often featured female protagonists—and many of those protagonists manage to beat back whatever monster is after them—but I’m not really going to look to Goosebumps for any kind of representation.
As these stories are designed to be kid-friendly horror, they don’t really offer that much to adults outside their ridiculousness. But even in this regard, A Night in Terror Tower fails, because it’s just not scary, even if you are a child. It certainly has its creepy moments, but overall, it was more like dark fantasy than anything else. As I said, there are no monsters—unless you count the Man in Black, but he’s not scary, so much as he is just creepy and mysterious. The main conflict also comes from an unexplored family feud and the children attempting to figure out their identities and place in the world. Like other Goosebumps books, the story itself isn’t bad, but it’s not executed very well, and in this case, it’s certainly not horror.
A Night in Terror Tower is the story I remember the most because it’s the one I hated the least. When it comes to recommending it and other Goosebumps, I’m a bit on the fence. On the one hand, I can’t think of anybody I know who actively looks back fondly on Goosebumps, even though so many of us grew up with these stories. On the other hand, whenever one inevitably pops up on TV during Halloween, there is a part of me that does want to watch it, if only to laugh at the bad acting and altogether ridiculous story.