Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Nostalgic 90s: Shadow Zone
Goosebumps cast a long shadow. For the bulk of the 1990s, R.L. Stine's middle grade horror series was ubiquitous, raking in millions via books, backpacks, pogs, and all sorts of ancillary materials. (Remember Curly, the skeleton with the purple hair? He never appeared in any Goosebumps book proper, but he was the bony face of the brand for much of the 90s.)
Of course, with great success comes a flood of rip-offs. We've already talked about my love of Bone Chillers. The same can be said for Spooksville, Deadtime Stories, Graveyard School, Strange Matter, and Spinetinglers. All of them carved out their tiny niche-within-a-niche. And they've all more-or-less been forgotten within the last two decades.
Because I've got nothing better to do on this long winter night, I thought I'd pay tribute to one of the many series that time forgot. In this case, it's the 13-issue Shadow Zone. Like Graveyard School and Spinetinglers, this series was written by a rotating band of for-hire writers. (Their collective pen name: J.R. Black, which is slightly less tongue-in-cheek than Tom B. Stone or M. T. Coffin.) Because of this, the house style was a little loose. Everything from chapter length to (over)use of cliffhangers changed from book to book.
So without further introduction, here's the full list of books:
The Ghost of Chicken Liver Hill
Guess Who's Dating a Werewolf?
The Witches Next Door
The Undead Express
Good Night, Mummy
One Slimy Summer
Bite of the Living Dead
Alien Under My Bed
Scream Around the Campfire
My Teacher Ate My Homework
Skeleton in My Closet
Attack of the Mutant Bugs
The two novels that stand out are The Undead Express and My Teacher Ate My Homework, both of which were adapted into TV movies for Showtime. (The latter stars Shelley Duvall as the kooky teacher. She's great, even if the movie isn't.)
This series was always an also-ran for me. I only read five of them (from what I remember), and none of them really sunk into my memory banks the way that certain issues of other books series did. (Deadtime Stories had the truly terrifying Invasion of the Appleheads, for example.) Instead, Shadow Zone gave us fun, inconsistent mini-thrillers that seemed to cater more toward female readers.
There was nothing overly strange or trashy about these, especially compared to the gloriously wacko Bone Chillers. Instead, the Shadow Zone series represents the blandest possible mid-point for mid-90s horror. If you're interested, though, check out both of the TV movies. They're endearing.