The Big Goosebumps Re-read #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare (R.L. Stine, 1993)

Camp-Nightmare-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

It’s taken nine books but we’ve finally reached the debut of another of Goosebumps‘ recurring staples: a creepy summer camp. Being a Brit, I’ve never really been able to relate to the whole summer camp thing but I’m guessing that it’s a pretty big thing in America given how there are four (if I remember rightly) books in the original Goosebumps series that take place at camps. Welcome to Camp Nightmare is the OG ‘camp’ story though…

The Blurb

Life at Camp Nightmoon is not exactly what Billy imagined. Okay, he can handle the bad food and the weird counsellors, but the crazy Camp Director, Uncle Al, takes a lot of getting used to. And that’s not the half of it…

When his fellow campers start disappearing, and his parents don’t answer his letters, Billy starts feeling just a little scared…What is going on?

Camp Nightmoon…Camp Nightmare, more like!

Things get off to a weird start straight away for twelve year-old Billy. The bus taking him and the other kids to Camp Nightmoon drives out through a desert and into the middle of nowhere. Then – without warning or any explanation – the driver drops them all off on a concrete platform (still in the middle of nowhere), dumps their luggage and roars off. Then the kids are attacked by strange, wild beasts before being rescued at the last minute by Camp Director, Uncle Al.

“Hi, kids! I’m Uncle Al. I’m your friendly camp director. I hope you enjoyed that welcome to Camp Nightmoon!” he boomed in a deep voice.
I heard muttered replies.
He leaned the rifle against the bus and took a few steps towards us, studying our faces. He was wearing white shorts and a bright green camp T-shirt that stretched over his big belly. Two young men, also in green and white, stepped out of the bus, serious expressions on their faces.
“Let’s load up,” Uncle Al instructed them in his deep voice.
He didn’t apologise for being late.
He didn’t explain about the weird animals.
And he didn’t ask if we were okay after that scare.

“What were those awful animals?” Dori called to Uncle Al.
He didn’t seem to hear her.

Then, they are all herded onto another bus and taken to the camp. Talk about inefficient and badly co-ordinated. Unfortunately for Billy though, poor organisation soon becomes the least of his concerns.

Billy shares a cabin with his new friends – Mike, Jay and Colin – and it isn’t long before the strangeness at Camp Nightmoon ramps up. Mike is bitten by a snake hiding in his bed and is told that the camp has no nurse. Translation: just deal with it yourself, kid.

Later, around the campfire, Uncle Al demonstrates how not to tame the curiosity of kids by explicitly ordering them not to go near the “Forbidden Cabin”. Gee, that’s not going to make them want to check it out even more, is it?

“I want you to make sure you see that cabin,” Uncle Al warned, his voice thundering out above the crackling of the purple fire. “That is known as the Forbidden Cabin. We don’t talk about that cabin – and we don’t go near it.”

I guess the first rule of the Forbidden Cabin is that you don’t talk about the Forbidden Cabin.

The unsettling developments arrive thick and fast from there on. Mike disappears with no explanation. The payphone on the main cabin turns out to be a dummy, made from plastic. Jay’s new friend, Roger, is apparently torn to shreds by a creature while they are going against Uncle Al’s warnings and exploring the Forbidden Cabin. According to the counsellors however, there never was a Roger on the camp’s register. Billy sees Larry intentionally throw a softball at the back of Colin’s head and knock him out during an organised game but the counsellor claims that the ball simply “slipped” from his grip.

Worse still, Jay and Colin are taken on a mysterious hiking exercise by a counsellor called Frank and all three never return. Billy also discovers that all of their letters home are being stored up at the main cabin and not actually delivered to their parents.

Any attempt to extract answers from either Uncle Al or the counsellors is met by stone-walling or a complete lack of concern as if people disappearing or being attacked by beasts in the dead of night is nothing to bat an eyelid over. These counsellors are complete assholes!

Larry turned his back on us and continued eating his breakfast. “Don’t you care?” Jay screamed at him. “Don’t you care what happens to us?”

I have to say that this is one of the better Goosebumps books so far. You really do wonder just what on earth is going on at this fucked-up, weird camp and the book keeps you guessing right until the end. You might assume that the camp is killing kids off for some nefarious reason or that the Forbidden Cabin could come into play again. You’d be wrong on both counts however. There is a good twist at the end – two in fact – and I genuinely didn’t see either coming the first time I read Welcome to Camp Nightmare as a kid. If you backtrack however, there are a few tiny hints earlier on in the book that all isn’t as it seems.

The idea of a summer camp that is more than it seems certainly gets overused further along in the Goosebumps series but Welcome to Camp Nightmare will always get a free pass for being the original. It’s also a suspenseful, creepy little story in its own right that doesn’t end in the way you might expect it to.

The Cover

Yet another extremely well-drawn cover but it isn’t one of my favourites. First of all, I can’t tell whether the two boys are screaming for help and drowning or if they are simply having a blast at camp. Also, why does the kid on the left have Colin’s headband when the other kid – with the long hair and shades – is clearly meant to be Colin?

The incredibly dated bit

Nothing that stands out too much this time but writing letters to be sent home in the mail is probably a redundant concept in the age of smartphones and email.

The nostalgia rating

Incredibly high for me with this book. This was one of the first Goosebumps books that I ever read and good memories are attached to it. I won a free book (for a reason I don’t actually remember) when I was at primary school and I got to pick something from a travelling library which was at school for a few days, selling books and trying to promote reading. I remember my dad taking me there after school and I chose one of the Goosebumps TV Special collections that contained Welcome to Camp Nightmare.

Up Next: The Ghost Next Door

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