R.L. Stine writes the kind of stories that entice children to read under the covers in the middle of the night, armed with flashlights. Stine is among the most prolific children’s authors alive, with more than 400 books to his name, including the wildly popular “Goosebumps” and “Fear Street” horror series.
Now, the Hub TV channel is bringing two of Stine’s anthologies to life in a new prime-time kids’ show called “The Haunting Hour.” The show, which premieres with two episodes on Christmas Day, oozes with Stine’s hallmark blend of humor and scary fare – ghosts, monsters, life-like dolls and twist endings.
“It never gets too scary, but it’s kind of creepy,” the 67-year-old Ohio native said. “It gives you shivers but not nightmares. That’s what I always aim for.”
The half-hour, live-action show is based on stories from Stine’s HarperCollins anthologies “The Haunting Hour” and “The Nightmare Hour.” “It’s a lot of fun for me,” Stine said. “I really enjoy this whole process of seeing my work adapted. It’s always a lot of great surprises for me. Sometimes something’s lost, and sometimes it’s a lot more vivid. I think that monsters are a lot scarier on television than in books.”
Though it isn’t his first television show (the “Goosebumps” TV series ran for four seasons in the late ’90s, and “The Nightmare Room” ran for one season in 2001-02), “The Haunting Hour” is Stine’s first prime-time show, and it’s a bit darker and edgier than its predecessors.
On the scariness scale, “The Haunting Hour” falls somewhere between the “Goosebumps” books, in which nobody dies, and the “Fear Street” series, in which Stine “killed off a lot of teenagers,” he said. The new show isn’t violent, but rather feels like a “Twilight Zone” for kids.
“It never really gets too disgusting or anything,” he said. “It’s always sort of played for laughs and teasing. You don’t really want to terrify kids, right?”
Stine, who started off writing kids’ joke books under the name “Jovial Bob,” has been writing scary stories for two and a half decades.
“I hear from all these 20-somethings on Twitter who grew up with ‘Goosebumps,’” he said. “It was such a big part of their childhood. That’s thrilling for me. That’s very exhilarating. And it really keeps me going.”
Stine certainly keeps going. His 2003 thriller “The Sitter” is being adapted for the big screen by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures, the production company announced in October.
And after an eight-year hiatus, Stine recently signed to write 25 books in for the “Goosebumps HorrorLand” spinoff series. The challenge, he said, is to keep from repeating himself after so many books.
“It’s the one thing I’m really good at in life,” he said. “The ideas come. I’ll be walking the dog in the park, and a title will just — ‘Little Shop of Hamsters’ - pop into my head. Where did it come from? I don’t know. But I thought, ‘Oh my God, what a great Goosebumps title.’ And then I start figuring out what the story will be. That just happens to me a lot.”
Stine also strives to stay current with kids’ lingo and trends. He used to rely on his son, who is now grown. Now, he watches his nephews and nieces and does school visits.
“I spend a lot of time spying on kids, seeing what they wear and what they talk about and what their language is these days and what technology they use and what games they play. I think that’s an important part of my job,” he said. “Technology is all changed, what they do is all changed, but you know, when you write scary stuff, it’s the same fears. Fears never change. Everyone is still afraid of the dark and afraid something is lurking under your bed, ready to grab you, or somebody’s in the closet.”
And the creepiest villains in Stine’s books, he said, are the ones that already live in kids’ rooms. “It’s like dolls and dummies coming to life,” he said. “That gets the most reaction. More than werewolves, more than vampires. Slappy the Dummy is the most popular character I ever created. People are terrified of that.”
Aside from “normal adult fears,” Stine himself faces only one fear, he said. “I have one phobia, and it’s boring. I cannot jump into a swimming pool,” he said. “I have to walk in. All my nephews just think that’s hilarious. I’m supposed to be the scary guy, and I’m there, climbing down the ladder.”
“The Haunting Hour” comes at a time when horror fiction’s popularity is at a high. Zombies and vampires seem to lurk in every library, TV channel and movie theater, and Stine said he isn’t surprised by the genre’s resurgence.
“I think the world is a really scary place, for real,” Stine said. “And I think whenever the world becomes a really scary place, this kind of horror fantasy becomes more popular because it’s an escape. It’s sort of an attempt to deal with horrors where you know you can close the book at any time. You know you’re not going to lose. You know you’re safe. It’s one reason why everyone likes it. Every age, people like scary stories, because it’s a way to face fears and know you’re safe at the same time.”
– Noelene Clark
RECENT AND RELATED