Saturday, December 10, 2016

Remembering the Forgotten (and Insane): A Bone Chillers Retrospective

Did you read Goosebumps as a child? There are three possible answers to that question.

ONE) No. I’m older than thirty-five.
TWO) No. My family was really religious.
THREE) Yes. Of course.

Aside from Harry Potter, no children’s book series has captured the public’s imagination like Goosebumps. And like Harry Potter, there were plenty of imitators along the way:
Spinetinglers (by M. T. Coffin).
Graveyard School (by Tom B. Stone).
Deadtime Stories (also a TV series).
Spooksville (also a TV series).
And, of course, Bone Chillers.

Bone Chillers was hands-down my favorite off-brand Goosebumps series. Their covers were trashy perfection…
(and weirdly 80s)
Their plots were goofy, cliffhanger-heavy nonsense…

And some of their premises were so freaking strange that they almost felt like spoofs of other children’s books.

I tell people that Goosebumps was my favorite childhood series (and it is), but I think Bone Chillers hewed closer to my own personal quirks. In this series, there was an evil lunchlady who force-feeds people bugs so that she can turn them into bugs (or something).

There was a girl who loves horses and finds out that she has some connection to the queen of gargoyles. (There's also an evil painting of a horse, just because.)

There was a zombie turkey, for crying out loud.

Listen, these books are not good. They don’t follow the same (deeply satisfying) format of Goosebumps, or offer the immersive world of Spooksville, or key in to the real sense of danger in Strange Matter. (All three of those series are probably better written than Bone Chillers, which often felt like the first drafts of a crazy person.)

But God, you have to give series creator Betsy Haynes points for weirdness. And even better, the series was adapted into a short-lived Saturday morning show on ABC, one of the most gloriously inappropriate children’s shows in history. (More on that in a later post.)

It saddens me to think that the world has completely forgotten about Bone Chillers. Goosebumps has managed its own nostalgia-based Renaissance recently, but the same can’t be true for its less popular imitators. Some of the titles have been rereleased in ebook form, but they don't have the classic covers, and I doubt that new readers will stumble onto them without some sort of marketing push from the publishers. But you never know. Stranger things have come back from the dead.

(much better than the first one, honestly)
For now, all I’m left with are the fading memories of toilet monsters, magic pet shops, and doomed babysitters. Rest in Peace, Bone Chillers. I pray for your resurrection.

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