Television pilots are tough to make. It’s hard to introduce the concept and entire cast of characters of a show in one episode and still have that episode hold up on it’s own. But just because something’s hard doesn’t make it any more excusable when you fail spectacularly at doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Black Box, where we check out pilots that crashed and burned to see exactly what went wrong.
But none of that applies this week, because it’s Halloween!!!
And because I’m too old for trick-or-treating but too young to have to hand out candy to dipshit kids I guess I’ll stay in and watch something! But not just anything, I’m going to watch something that scared the ever-loving shit out of me as a kid. Something that I haven’t seen since. Something that might, in fact give me… Goosebumps.
Yes, that’s right, we’re looking at an episode of the classic Goosebumps TV show. I was an avid reader of the books as a kid, and I also liked the show. But this episode left me goddamn terrified as a child. And I’m not the only one. Everyone I’ve ever mentioned this episode around who remembered it immediately shouted how afraid it made them, with more than one friend confessing that it left them with a crippling fear of werewolves in general. And so, having not watched this thing since I was a child, I sat down with the most childish snacks I could find, (a bag of sour gummy worms and a chocolate wolf face) and decided to re-visit my childhood nightmare.
“The Werewolf of Fever Swamp” was originally aired as a tv movie, but was eventually broken in half and aired as the final two episodes of the first season of the television show. It was based on the book of the same name which was the fourteenth book in the series. The book is one of the Goosebumps books I haven’t read, so I don’t know how the tv movie compares, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to see just how much of a coward child-me (and all my friends) were, so let’s do that.
The show opens with a bunch of exposition about our main characters. First we have Grady, whose haircut is a hate crime.
Yeah, it’s real bad.
Grady is our generic child protagonist which means that he— Wait a second, I get to play my favorite game! Ladies and gentlemen, It’s time to play Goosebumps cliché BINGO!! Because R.L. Stine loves to do the same things again and again and again! If you don’t already have a card, I’ll provide you with one below to print out.
I…um… I may have spent too much time on this
So anyway, Grady, and his family have just moved to Fever Swamp, which is a swamp, supposedly. “Protagonist has recently moved to a new place”, SWEET, first square filled out!! Grady’s parents are scientists (we’ll get to that) and his older sister is annoying as hell. Immediately, we are introduced to the creepy old swamp hermit, who the show wants us to believe really bad is a monster. Of course, this means that he is the only person in the story who 100% isn’t the monster. It is then that we learn what exactly the parents “experiment” is. They have brought a bunch of deer to the swamp… to see what happens to deer when you bring them to the swamp. No, I’m not explaining this poorly for comedic effect, this is literally all the explanation we get for their experiment and its goal. This is gonna be a long one, isn’t it.
When I say that Fever Swamp is “supposedly” a swamp, that is because, listen good now, WOODS AND A SWAMP ARE NOT THE SAME FUCKING THING!!! This entire thing takes place in some New England-lookin’ woods but every goddamn character in this damn thing keeps referring to it as a swamp.
Pictured: not a fucking swamp
Then, we are introduced to Will, our protagonist’s token only friend for the story. Will is the neighbor boy who doesn’t seem to have any friends, or, like parents? Or a house…? As far as we know, he could just be a homeless street urchin.
Man, overalls and plaid are not the MOST flattering of fashion choices.
And then this happened:
Will: “Bet you had lots of friends where you came from.”
Grady: “Yeah, 20. Like, right on my street!”
Me: “Are… are they improv-ing right now? Because I find it impossible to believe that ANY WRITER wrote that dialogue.”
“Ok, we need a place and an activity!”
So Grady and Will venture into the
swamp fucking woods because there is nothing else to do. They are in the woods I-shit-you-not 30 seconds before Will shouts “Oh no, we gotta get outta here” and runs away. Will and Grady hide as the swamp hermit passes and they talk super fucking loudly for two people who supposedly don’t want to be spotted. Will tells Grady that the swamp hermit is a werewolf and to stay away from him. Grady rushes home to tell his parents about the swamp hermit bein’ a werewolf, but because his parents are scientists, they don’t believe hi– BINGO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I… I got bingo. I win. Woo.
Anyway, Grady’s parents don’t believe him and he’s all sad about it. But not for long, because he finds an adorable stray doggie he names Vandal, because he’s a huge fan of obscure DC Comics super villains. No, it’s actually because he causes damage to the front hall of their house. Grady convinces his family to take in the adorable puppy dog and this special just got better.
Who’s a good dog? You are!! That’s right, you’re a good dog!!
Grady’s mother mentions that night is going to be a full moon while she’s setting up a telescope because– wait a second. Why does she have a telescope? I know she’s a scientist, but she’s doing, like, biological experiments, she’s not a fucking astronomer. Whatever, so full moon, great, we’ve set that up. God, why the fuck was child-me afraid of this? Ok, so Will shows up again and talks more about were-persons, or as Will calls them “Were-folk”. I find that INCREDIBLY disrespectful. Everyone knows the politically correct term is “lycanthropically challenged”, god!! It’s 2015, there’s no reason to be discriminatory to the trans-species community.
When Grady comes back, his parents tell him that small animals have been turning up mutilated and they think Vandal the dog is responsible. Because, you know, it couldn’t be one of the thousands of creatures roaming the woods, no, it has to be that one fucking dog. So mom and dad want to get rid of the dog, but Grady says “no, don’t do that”. And his parents are all like “ok, fine whatever”. PROBLEM SOLVED. Grady then wanders into the woods with Will again and BOO THE SWAMP HERMIT SHOWS UP!!!
Will gets away but Grady gets captured. The Swamp Hermit just sort of silently stares at him for a while, then howls at the moon a bit. He’s (spoiler alert) NOT the werewolf, so I have no fucking idea why he does this. Also, it’s a good thing for the plot that the hermit can’t talk, because if he could, he could just tell Grady who the werewolf actually is and end this damn thing right now. Grady escapes and runs back home.
When he gets there, he yells to his parents about how they need to do something about the swamp hermit. When asked why, he responds “because the swamp hermit’s a werewolf” which his parents don’t believe, instead of “THE SWAMP HERMIT FUCKING KIDNAPPED ME” which is the more alarming thing. That night, the night of the full moon, something startles the deer. First off, we STILL have not explained why they have fucking deer but fine, I can deal with that. Because now that the full moon’s out, maybe this’ll get as scary as I remember it being. So, now shit starts to ramp up as the werewolf appears for the first time. And he… looks… absolutely…
…dumb. He looks dumb. Like, we barely see any of the werewolf suit because if we did, it would look worse than it already does. And it looks pretty bad. Worse, though is the fact that, when it chases Grady’s sister, the special goes into this weird stuttery slow-motion thing. The result is that it looks like Grady’s sister is running away from the “Take on Me” music video. So Grady runs into the woods (yes, a-fucking-gain) looking for Will. But it turns out that Will is the werewolf. My gosh, who could have seen that coming? Oh, all of you guys? Ok, cool. The werewolf chases Grady, until it’s caught by the swamp hermit who starts yelling at the werewolf about how it killed his entire family and waitasecond.
HE CAN TALK???!!!!!! THE SWAMP HERMIT CAN FUCKING TALK????????!!!!!!!!! Hey, swamp hermit, maybe, when you had that kid with the weird haircut in a net in your house, you could have just looked over at him and said “Hey, kid, I know you think I’m the werewolf, but I’m not. It’s actually that douchebag kid you’ve been hanging out with. So, like, watch out for him, cool?” instead of being all silent and weird like an asshole!!
Ok, home fuckin’ stretch now. The hermit is unable to kill Will the werewolf, or the Were-Will-f as I will not be calling it. The werewolf escapes and chases Grady until a lunar eclipse drains him of his powers temporarily. Will pleads for Grady to run away before he changes back, but Grady doesn’t because he’s a dumb fucking moron. Will wolfs-up again and resumes chasing Grady until Vandal the dog pushes him into the one square foot of actual swamp in this forest and he sinks.
Yes, somewhere in that too-dark-to-see image is supposed to be a drowning werewolf. Where? We may never know.
Ok, so now that Will has drowned and the swamp hermit has kinda sorta avenged his family, we’re done, right? No, because we have to take a look at the thing from this episode that I actually remember from childhood. Yeah, no, the rest of this special kind of faded from my mind over the years, but not this moment. At this point in the episode, Grady has a nightmare. In this nightmare, Grady’s parents are looking into Grady’s room while Grady sleeps. They remark that it’s good he’s sleeping so peacefully and close the door. And then THE SCARIEST MONSTER I’D EVER SEEN JUMPS OUT OF THE BED AND ROARS AT THE CAMERA!!! Or, at least, that’s how I remember it. As the special approached that scene, I tensed up in front of my laptop, readying myself. And then, the moment of truth. The door closes, the camera slowly approaches the bed. And then…
Hah, no. That’s not it. That can’t be the thing that scared me so much as a child. No, let’s look at the ACTUAL jump scare.
Wait, seriously? This is it? THIS is one of the scariest things from my childhood? THIS is the thing that left a friend of mine with a lifelong fear of werewolves? Hey, friend of mine, child-you was a goddamn coward. Child-me was too, but whatever. I mean, yes, the loud roar is kinda startling but that thing looks dumb as fuck. I can’t believe I did this. I took a thing I was scared of and paraded it in front of the world, only to find that I was afraid of a dumb thing. Great. This hasn’t been embarrassing at all.
So, yeah, that’s my Spooky Spooky Ghost Day Special. Awesome. Good for me. Join me next year, when I review something else I was scared of as a child, The Teletubbies Movie. Maybe… maybe that one will actually be scary.