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