The Big Goosebumps Re-read #3: Stay Out of the Basement (R.L.Stine, 1992)

basement-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…

Stay out of the Basement was a very interesting re-read. My younger self never considered it to be one of his favourites in the Goosebumps series and so the 2019 edition of Me had little enthusiasm for reading it again as part of this epic revisit. However, I really enjoyed it this time around and found new appreciation for the general premise. That’s what this series is all about really: looking at these books through adult eyes and seeing if I have a different response to what I’m reading. Onto the blurb:

The Blurb

Dr Brewer is spending a LOT of time down in the basement, and Margaret and Casey Brewer think their dad has been acting pretty strangely lately.

Maybe it’s just  a little harmless plant-testing. After all, he IS a botanist, and he needs something to do now that he’s lost his job.

But now he’s developing distinctly plant-like tendencies and Margaret and Casey are worried. What’s going on down there? It’s getting harder and harder to stay out of the basement!

The main reason I enjoyed Stay out of the Basement so much more this time around was because I appreciated the creepy, sinister sci-fi horror vibe of the plot. Nothing in the Goosebumps universe is what we’d call “realistic” but this is one of the more believable horror tales from the series. There is no supernatural monster or aliens involved. This is science run amok. The majority of the book is about the mystery of Margaret and Casey’s botanist father and his suspicious activity in the basement. Being twelve and eleven year-olds respectively, the temptation to disobey their father’s strict instructions to not enter the basement proves to be overwhelming. Their dad hasn’t been speaking to them too much of late and he spends most of his time down in the basement with his plant experiments, rarely coming up for air.

His fury at their intrusion scares the living bejeezus out of the Margaret and Casey but only fuels their curiosity. Why is he so secretive about the basement and so vague about what he is up to? Thus begins the mystery. Margaret and Casey find some strange plants in the basement that sound alive, as if they are breathing but that is far from the worst of it. Their dad is changing, becoming almost plant-like. It’s this creepy transformation and the tension within the house that I really enjoyed.

When she was sure that he had gone downstairs, Margaret walked eagerly into the kitchen. She had to know what her father had been eating so greedily, so hungrily.

She pulled open the door under the sink, reached into the rubbish bin, and pulled out the crinkled-up bag.

Then she gasped aloud as her eyes ran over the label.

Her father, she saw, had been devouring plant food.

There is also a really sinister scene that takes place at night. Margaret decides that she is going to confront her shifty father over the freaky anomalies that she and her brother have noticed and straight-up ask him what is going on. However, she witnesses him bleeding bright green fluid into the bathroom sink (as opposed to human blood) and sneaks away before he notices her behind him.

Margaret pulled the covers up to her chin. She realised she was trembling, her whole body shaking and chilled.

She held her breath and listened.

She could still hear water splashing into the bathroom sink..

But no footsteps.

He isn’t coming after me, she told herself, letting out a long, silent sigh.

How could I have thought that? How could I have been so terrified – of my own father?

Terrified.

It was the first time the word had crossed her mind.

But sitting there in bed, trembling so violently, holding onto the covers so hard, listening for his approaching footsteps, Margaret realised that she WAS terrified.

Of her own father.

And yes, I am very aware that the above quote could be taken way out of context and linked to much darker, horrible scenarios. The thought crossed my mind when I was reading the above passage so I guess that’s one downside to trying to read a children’s book with an adult mindset.

The endgame of the book and the explanations for everything were also pretty creepy and though the execution is typically rushed and a little ridiculous, it doesn’t spoil the tone that the preceeding three-quarters of Stay out of the Basement establishes. Dr Brewer had accidentally discovered the ability to fuse plant DNA with human DNA hence the bizarre vegetation that seemed a little TOO lifelike. In a twist of events, the kids’ father also accidentally created a plant-based clone of himself that was so life-like, it was able to take his place while the real Dr Brewer was kept captive. The kids come face-to-face with both versions of their father and have to choose which one to believe and which one to kill with an axe.

As with Say Cheese and Die!, I finished Stay out of the Basement and thought that it would be another perfect candidate for a more grown-up, eery suspense-filled horror movie. More importantly, I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the book as much as I did considering my preconception of it being one of the weaker Goosebumps releases.

The Cover

It’s a face surrounded by leaves and the bubbling slime is an appropriate green colour this time. Not one of my favourite Goosebumps covers but it does at least accurately represent the plot.

The incredibly dated bit

There were actually two amusingly dated bits that leapt out at me so I’m not going to choose between them.

Margaret moved closer. She felt sorry for Casey. He and their dad were really close, always ball or frisbee or Nintendo together.

This is SO 1980’s/early 90’s. It harks back to a more primitive time in the world of videogames when Nintendo’s NES and SNES systems were so popular and all-conquering in the US that you weren’t just playing computer games; you were playing Nintendo. The power of the household name that Nintendo had acquired would soon be dramatically eroded when Sony’s Playstation hit the scene in 1994/95.

They looked through some old magazines in Margaret’s room, listening to some tapes that Margaret had recently bought.

“Tapes” and “recently bought”…need I say any more?

The nostalgia rating

Reasonably high. The book – largely helped by the outdated aspects quoted above – feels totally early-nineties. Obviously, I don’t have massive nostalgia for Stay out of the Basement as a Goosebumps book though because, as already stated, I kind of didn’t really like it as a kid.

Up Next: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Movie Talk: Heat (1995)

Heat-Poster-1Release Year: 1995     Directed By: Michael Mann   |   Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Kevin Gage, Natalie Portman, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Trejo, Jon Voight

[Not to be confused with “The Heat” (2013) or Heat (1986), Heat (1972), Heat (1996 Australian TV film)…how many times has this name been used? Jeez…]

I’ll go ahead and begin by stating that Heat is my favourite movie of all-time. It hadn’t used to be; that honour tended to switch between Terminator 2 and the first Kill Bill. Each time I re-watched Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece however, it crept up the order until I decided that, fuck it, Heat may as well be my favourite movie. I can’t say enough good things about it.

The film centres on professional thief, Neil McCauley (De Niro) and determined LAPD homicide detective, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Pacino). Both are dysfunctional individuals with their own code and the cat-and-mouse game between these two main players of the movie is one of its main draws. McCauley heads up a proven crew of organised thieves and is a loner by nature, living with the philosophy of not having anything in your life “that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner”. For McCauley, making the big scores is his life and all he wants to do. Hanna on the other hand is a workaholic cop that puts his job first at all times, even at the expense of his increasingly frustrated wife (Diane Venora) and step-daughter (Natalie Portman). Hanna is determined to take McCauley and his crew down and is unable to avoid putting the hunt aside to rescue his marriage.

The thing I absolutely love about Heat is that there are no irrelevant, filler scenes or dull moments – quite an achievement for a film that goes beyond the two-hour mark. Even the scenes that involve characters simply talking are enthralling because the writing and characterisation is brilliant. Obviously, the stars are De Niro and Pacino but the supporting cast are just an important. From the crazy Waingro (Kevin Gage) to the disillusioned Donald (Dennis Haysbert), there are so many memorable performances. Then there are the women who have to suffer for the actions and decisions of their other halves – just one of many subtle plot threads woven together to produce the epic tapestry that is Heat.

Another notable bit of genius is that it’s impossible not to like the characters no matter if they are good-hearted and innocent like Eady (Amy Brenneman), psychotic and violent like Waingro or greedy and unsavoury (most of the criminals). Heat is a character piece as much as it is a crime thriller or action movie and it feels natural to understand where everybody – good or bad – is coming from. Many of the characters blur the line between being wholly good or bad and this is probably what makes them so endearing as this is what it means to truly be human. We viewers may not partake in anything as dramatic as holding up armoured cars or putting big-time crooks behind bars but we can still relate to the characters and their motivations.

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[Source]
The action scenes are another highlight of Heat, particularly the gun battle in downtown LA as McCauley’s crew attempt to escape following their carefully-planned bank heist gone wrong. This kind of scene just wouldn’t exist today for many reasons. First up, there are no unrealistic and unnecessary explosions or dynamic action shots. There’s no music either. What you get is a group of guys simply trying to get away, using cars as cover while shooting at the LAPD, deafening bursts of assault rifle fire echoing off the buildings. It’s exactly what a real-life version of this scene would sound like and I’ve even read that their tactical retreat was used as a reference for police or military training (though how true this is, I can’t say). The whole thing feels raw and natural and is totally immersive.

The final showdown between McCauley and Hanna is another scene that would never be permitted today. Hanna gives chase to a desperate McCauley across the runways of LAX, even running across the path of a taxiing passenger plane at one point. As I understand, this kind of filming is now strictly prohibited in a post-9/11 world which is a shame but completely understandable.

Heat is a masterpiece of scripting backed up by superb performances from all actors involved. Every set-piece, every action scene and every conversation is special. I know I’m probably gushing over this fim and I haven’t said anything bad about it but really, I can’t think of anything. If you’ve somehow missed it then you should really rectify that mistake because – as cliched as it sounds – they really don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Music Talk: CD Pick-Ups #1 (Trance, Dance, Electronic)

While I download most of my music these days, I still enjoy hunting out and collecting physical media for my favourite artists. After all, it’s nice to have something to actually hold for your money and more importantly, singles and EP’s tend to contain exclusive mixes or B-Sides that aren’t always available on places like Youtube. I still haven’t seen the Talvin Singh mix of Blondie’s ‘Maria’ on Youtube for example.

Anyway, I’ve recently been getting into old-school 90’s Trance, Dance and Electronic music and discovering more types of sounds in general that I absolutely cannot get enough of. The added bonus of buying used CD’s in 2018 is that nobody wants them and so there are some scandalous bargains to be had that represent insane value for money. My recent pick-ups for instance.

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Chicane – Saltwater    CD Single (1999)   |   Price Paid: £3.99

Tracklist (* = standout track):

  1. Original Radio Edit
  2. Original Mix*
  3. Mothership Mix

Maire Brennan (of Clannad) really makes this track with her beautiful, haunting vocals but it’s also an outstanding Trance track in general, the kind that takes you on a bit of a journey.

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Chicane – Offshore     CD Single (1996)   |   Price Paid: £1.69

Tracklist (* = standout track):

  1. Disco Citizens Edit
  2. Original Version
  3. Disco Citizens Remix*

Another classic, old-school Trance anthem. The Disco Citizens Remix is fantastic.

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Way Out West – Ajare   |   CD Single (1997)   |   Price Paid: £2-3

Track List (* = standout track):

  1. Radio Edit
  2. Way Out West remix
  3. Brothers in Rhythm club mix
  4. Original Version*
  5. Matthew Roberts Cloud 10 mix

Sometimes you find or re-discover old tracks through the strangest means. For example, I was watching some old ITV Formula 1 highlights videos on Youtube and they’d used ‘Ajare’ as the backing track for the end-of-season footage montage back in the day. The ‘original’ version is my pick but all of the mixes are worth sampling. Also, a reminder of the fantastic value we used to get back in 90’s with CD singles such as this that have five tracks. 99p for a single track today is still nothing to complain about but we certainly were spoilt with singles, especially factoring in manufacturing/distribution costs.

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Apollo Four Forty – Gettin’ High On Your Own Supply   |   CD Album (1999)   | Price Paid: £2.50

Track List (* = standout track):

  1. Are we a rock band or what?
  2. Stop the Rock
  3. Crazee Horse
  4. Cold Rock the Mic
  5. Lost in Space (Theme)
  6. For Forty Days
  7. Heart Go Boom
  8. The Machine in the Ghost
  9. Blackbeat*
  10. Stadium Parking Lot
  11. Yo! Future
  12. High on Your Own Supply
  13. The Perfect Crime

Electronic music is another genre I have been getting into recently and Apollo Four Forty is one of those seemingly forgotten groups that produced some great stuff in the 90’s. £2.49 for this thirteen-track album was a steal and there is quite a lot of variety in the ‘sound’ of Gettin’ High On Your Own Supply. ‘Blackbeat’ is my favourite track from the album but there are several big hitters on here such as ‘Stop the Rock’ and the theme from the movie, Lost in Space. I will definitely be looking out for more Apollo Four Forty albums.

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Mortal Kombat Original Motion Picture Soundtrack   |   CD Album (1995)   |   Price Paid: £2-3

Track List (* = standout track):

  1. A Taste of things to come
  2. Goodbye (by Gravity Kills)
  3. Juke-Joint Jezebel [Giorgio Moroder Metropolis Mix] (by KMFDM)
  4. Unlearn [Josh Wink’s Live Mix] (by Psykosonic)
  5. Control [Juno Reactor Instrumental] (by Traci Lords)
  6. Halcyon + On + On (by Orbital)*
  7. Utah Saints Take On The Theme From Mortal Kombat (by Utah Saints)
  8. The Invisible (by G//Z/R)
  9. Zero Signal (by Fear Factory)
  10. Burn (by Sister Machine Gun)
  11. Blood & Fire [Out of the Ashes Mix] (by Type O Negative)
  12. I Reject (by Bile)
  13. Twist the Knife [Slowly] (by Napalm Death)
  14. What U See/We All Bleed Red (by Mutha’s Day Out)
  15. Techno Syndrome [7″ Mix] (by The Immortals)
  16. Goro VS Art
  17. Demon Warriors/Final Kombat

I have to admit that I bought this CD purely for Orbital’s ‘Halcyon + On +On’ which is an amazing track that takes you on a journey and is very absorbing. I haven’t listened to the rest of the album yet but I have been assured that there is some “heavy shit” in there. For the price I paid for a seventeen-track CD, I had to buy it rather than just download Orbital’s track.

Movie Talk: Demolition Man (1993)

I love a good old-school action film that doesn’t pretend to be anything else other than big, loud, dumb and macho. These sorts of movies are in shorter and shorter supply these days and if you want to stay away from the arty-farty, insightful releases that the critics and award-givers love to wank themselves into a frenzy over then you mostly have to fall back on comic book adaptations or shameful cash-ins of old franchises being resurrected for the modern day. The 80’s is home to the bulk of the truly good stuff but the 90’s also had it’s share of classic action such as 1993’s Demolition Man.

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Right from the off, it’s terrible one-liners, massive explosions and bulging muscles so you can immediately throw your brain out of the window, kick back and enjoy some simple entertainment. The basic premise is this: maverick, OTT cop John Spartan (Stallone) is placed into cryogenic imprisonment following his latest battle with the deadly criminal, Simon Phoenix (Snipes) due to the death of thirty hostages that Spartan’s superiors believe were killed as a result of his reckless battle with Phoenix. Phoenix is also cryogenically frozen and manages to escape in the year 2032 during a routine parole hearing.

The future has become a utopian society however where the police force haven’t had to deal with violent criminals or non-natural deaths for over twenty years so they are woefully unprepared to deal with a psychopath like Phoenix who immediately kicks off a rampage of murders and destruction. The only way they can combat Phoenix is to (reluctantly) release John Spartan prematurely.

The plot of Demolition Man is nothing special but really, it is just a vehicle for the two stars to pick up where they left off before imprisonment and wreak havoc in the future. The film has very little lulls and is either a rollercoaster of punch-ups, shoot-outs and explosions or Stallone’s character trying to get to grips with the future, leading to several comical moments and amusing quips.

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Bizarrely – and in direct contradiction to what I’ve just said about about this being a simplistic action film – Demolition Man‘s 2032 setting actually feels a lot more relevant today and is a right-wingers worst nightmare come true. Crime has been eradicated completely in order to create a peaceful utopia but as a result, a lot has had to be sacrificed. Anything deemed “bad” has been made illegal be that salt on your meal, swearing and even physical contact. So no high-fives, no kissing and certainly no sex. Everybody looks perma-happy and perfectly fine with having absolutely nothing happening at all – ever. Is this the direction that we are heading in reality? It’s possible to see some parallels, especially here in the UK where an increasing number of things are classed as “hate crimes” (resulting in murky waters where a casual, jokey insult might be interpreted as “offensive”) and unhealthy foods are constantly being watered down or taxed in order to protect unhealthy people from themselves.

Putting all of that political/social crap aside though (there are other sites out there that have explored the parallels and the films accurate predictions in much greater depth), the star of the movie is undoubtedly Wesley Snipes in full flow as the nutty Simon Phoenix. His performance as the crazy psychopathic killer is fantastic fun to behold and there is never a dull moment when his character is on-screen. Certainly one of those times where an otherwise repulsive character becomes almost lovable and I would go as far as to say that Demolition Man is worth watching for Snipes/Phoenix alone.

Many look down on movies like Demolition Man as lesser, braindead fodder for those who can’t comprehend “thoughtful” cinema but there’s nothing wrong with simple entertainment at all. Demolition Man is just a lot of fun and sometimes that’s all you require from a movie. Oh and Sandra Bullock looking dynamite in very tight trousers for the duration is pretty nice too.