From 1992 to the latter end of that decade, children across the United States of America would often flock to their local supermarkets(usually with parents in tow), and happily approach the “Goosebumps” display rack located within its walls. We all remember that awesome looking logo slapped on all the books in various colors. It was one of the most easily recognizable registers to our world, right next to the golden arches and the “D” in Disney that we all thought was a G for the longest period. Within the pages of these books we’d chronicle what was then considered to be some fairly creepy stuff. Through basement dwelling mistakes to Yeti’s that claim a northern based LA suburb as their home, R.L. Stein made sure we had our choice of cool kid reading material narrowed down to one option. As the series took off, merchandising did as well. We saw school supplies, home decor, video games(most notably “Escape From Horrorland”, which was AWSOME!)and even its own anthology horror show. This show was great for kids who’d want to take a break from Nickelodeon’s take on scare-of-the-week programming. Much like the aforementioned show however, the acting, production value and translation to film was never that great. But we didn’t care. Not only was this show not about the technical stuff, it had something extra behind it that “Are Afraid of the Dark?” and “So Weird” didn’t. It had adaptation from highly collectible source material. Shove that in your crypt and smoke it.
Not only one is it regarded as of the best books in the series, “The Haunted Mask” has also been deemed as one of the best episodes of the original television series as well. Opening to a pretty unique, independently run Halloween shop, Carly Beth(a name you simply can’t forget)and her best friend Sabrina are on their way to pick out some pumpkins to perform lobotomies on. Once they get to the patch, we quickly learn that Carly Beth is tortured beyond reason by her classmates, and her being scared of her own shadow doesn’t help matters any. Returning home and full of humiliation, she must witness the terror that is an overly affectionate mother. Having just made a plastered replica of her own daughter’s face in art class that same day, Carly has every right to be as creeped as she is. After experiencing what should have been the low point of her day, her mom then reminds her of the incredible duck costume she’ll be wearing this year! After declaring that she wants to be scary for once on Halloween, her mom then sends her 5 steps backward. She her little brother jumps out of her room and scares her with it. Yes that’s correct, she gets scared by a duck costume… Well, let’s not stop the barrage of bad luck just yet. Lest we forget the next day at school, in which her 2 neighborhood bullies, Chuck and Steve, decide to pull the old, “Let’s distract her with fake apologies so we can slip an earthworm into her sandwich and risk giving her dysentery” trick. Try watching up this point while listening to Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” for the full effect. If the viewer is at all educated on the general chain of events that take place in the origins of vigilantism, seeing her return to that cool little Halloween store from the beginning will help anyone confirm her actions.
As she arrives at the store, she is greeted by a creepy, pissed off, Bela Lugosi-ish store owner. He tries to kick her out due to the store being closed, but she timidly begs for 5 minutes to buy something scary enough to exact revenge on Chuck, Steve and her brother. With her wish granted, she get’s distracted by a backroom full of really high quality faces. With the owner busy on a phone call and his main merchandise anything but up to standards, she sneaks in and takes a fancy to a particular green goblin mask(notice that wasn’t capitalized in order to show this has nothing to do with Marvel Comics). Carly Beth gets caught browsing in the room and is swiftly threatened to leave immediately. Having stumbled upon something she apparently shouldn’t have seen, she tries to beg, bribe and reason with him in order to have this certain mask. After explaining she wants it solely for revenge, a glimmer of ominous satisfaction overtakes the store owner’s face. He then snaps out of this trance and again, tries to kick her ass out. So, she does what any, timid and obedient middle schooler would do after being told repeatedly to exit someone’s personal property. She steals the mask out from under him and ru… Wait, what? Surprisingly, this is the exact reaction Carly Beth has to her own actions. Looking down at the mask she can now call her own, she simply asks, “What am I doing?” A foreshadowing remark that will come back to haunt those searching for a bit of philosophical interpretation. Once at home, she decides to take her new face for a test drive, with her brother begin her first victim. She re-imagines an internet jump scare video on him and it works wonders. He begs her to remove the mask as if it has some kind of power over those it’s used on. She laughs and decides to take it off out of pity. Sadly, pity is the one thing the mask itself doesn’t have. Later that night, Carly Beth and Sabrina are in full costume for candy scavenging. Upon trick or treating at neighborhood household though, Carly Beth begins acting a bit out of character to those who know her best. Her voice is altered, actions are completely executed without regard for others and she doesn’t seem to be very easy to reason with, even for Sabrina’s sake. Knowing her motives of the night must be met with success, she heads out to find Chuck and Steve before they pass out from sugar comas.
With her mom’s plaster replica of her real face being carried around with her on a stick, Carly Beth finds her prey in the town cemetery. After stalking them grows tiresome, she jumps out from amongst the trees and practically convinces them she is no longer Carly Beth, but a demon out for revenge in her place. She gets them to admit they liked her and only teased her for such a reason. They’re very sorry, but soon can’t form the words to say so. The plaster head begins speaking, asking for help from only person who can provide such help. However, she’s currently under the control of something else and powerless to act upon the request. Chuck and Steve run, and Carly Beth is alone now and must now put herself under self-intervention. Once inanimate objects begin to possess your soul, it’s clear that must happen. But instead she buries the sculpture and leaves. Of course! Soon, she gets a talking to from Sabrina, someone concerned who wants her best friend back. She then gets through to the real Carly Beth and she agrees to take off her mask. But then those plans go right down the shitter, as the mask won’t come off. Sabrina goes to her aid, and notices that there is no longer a separation from the mask’s material from her skin. She’s officially become the mask and everything it represents. The personality attached to it, the skin it was made out of and the emotions it passes onto its host. It has chosen her as this said host. Running out into the streets in a blind panic, she asks every single person she sees for help. They run from her. Her face is far too terrifying. No one believes she is who she says she is. It’s getting hard to control her voice and her memories are slowly fading. All that remains is fear and a nasty grin. She knows only one person who she can turn to at this point. And he’s probably still angry about the whole thievery thing.
Carly returns to the store front. She explains to the owner that she can’t take the mask off. The owner is not surprised one bit. He explains that he created the masks in which he warned her about. He had created the masks in order to hide himself from the monster he sees within him. In the end, they had become so disfigured by him self-depravity that they were fit for no one. Only a “symbol of love”, he says, can remove the mask from one’s being. The one emotion he never allowed himself to experience. Just when logic overwhelms the episode’s turn of events, all the masks then awake and start chasing her out of the store. She realizes the very symbol she may need to overturn her condition and heads back to the cemetery. Unearthing her sculpted head from the grave she laid it in, she takes with pride and shows it off to the pursuing masks as way to prove who she really is. The negative personalities the masks possess then realize the error of their ways. They take their leave and with it, the spirit of the mask within Carly Beth’s as well. She removes the mask, returns home and is able to finally live as herself once more. Apologizing to her family for what she’d almost become, she’s a changed woman after realizing changing isn’t meant for her at all.
The Haunted Mask was later followed by a sequel episode, however this follow up didn’t include any level of depth that this entry did. It is sad to realize this upon viewing it, as this TV special went to such a great length as to share a universal lesson in character. Watching this the first time, you’ll see the story of a girl haunted by a mask, leading her do things she cannot control. This is what a surface level of interpretation will tell anyone with two eyes. Yet, if one reads in-between Mr. Stein’s fine lines, you’ll see it’s not a story about that at all. But the story of how one’s surplus of peer pressure and built-up anguish can lead us to change ourselves from the inside out. We lose our past nobility in exchange for the chance to fit in through becoming something we are not. We become the bully in order to fend off the bully. We ignore the feelings of those in our lives for our own “needs”. Sometimes even for something as selfish as revenge. Further more, the kind acts of love received by the family unit are tossed aside and labeled as an embarrassing curse, all while forgetting the importance and beauty of having such a unit in our lives at all. The mask in this episode slapped its brutality upon Carly Beth as any symbiotic personality trait would. Through weakness, we succumb to the desires of society and as a result, it makes us “ugly”. A contorted version of what we used to be and completely unrecognizable at face value form that day forward. This mask and it’s host were the representation of this act occurring before us. Instead of taking life head on and embracing who we are, we submit and become what Roddy Piper’s sunglasses warns us about. It happens everyday, and not everyone is as lucky as she was as to allow an epiphany to save them. We’ve all known those in school who we’ve lost to popularity campaigns, vapid changes of heart and substance abuse. R.L. Stein apparently has as well. And we must commend him for such, as that is a true horror story of life if we’ve ever lived one.
– Sterling “The Spork Guy” Anno
The full episode can seen below. “Viewers beware, you’re in for a scare…”