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R.L. Stine talks Goosebumps movie and meeting Stephen King for the first time

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In this exclusive clip from Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls, young teens dance like monsters while slowly falling in love. It reflects the aesthetic of the latest movie from Goosebumps creator R.L. Stine, which moves the author’s trademark horror/humor combo from children’s stories to a more YA setting.

Monsterville, which arrives on DVD and Digital HD on Sept. 29, isn’t the only Stine tale on the horizon. After years of TV (old episodes of which are still available on Netflix), Goosebumps itself finally hits movie screens on Oct. 16. The film version stars Jack Black as a fictionalized Stine, who must help a group of kids stop a sudden onslaught of monsters from Goosebumps history.

In a recent conversation with Entertainment Weekly, Stine talked about the genesis of Monsterville, meeting Stephen King for the first time, and what he’s most looking forward to from the Goosebumpsmovie.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Monsterville come about? 

R.L. STINE: Well, it came about because these two guys who did a lot of our TV, Billy Brown and Dan Angel, came to us and said, “We’re trying to think of another series.” My series The Haunting Hour had just ended. It had run for four seasons on this network, The Hub, that just closed down. We were all disappointed that it closed because we had won Emmy awards for Outstanding Children’s Series three years in a row. So they said, “We gotta think of something else… Maybe we could do a series based around monsters, and limit it to that area.” I said, “Oh that sounds very good.” We came up with the name Monsterville and tried to think of how we wanted to do it. So that’s how it got started. These two guys have done TV for me for 20 years and I’m so happy. I mean, the Goosebumps show is still on Netflix, and they hold up pretty well. They kind of get what I do in these books, and that’s a combination of humor and horror. There’s always something to lighten the mood.

What differentiates Monsterville from Goosebumps or Haunting Hour?

I think it’s a little older than Goosebumps. It’s more of a YA thing than a children’s show, and the concentration is on monsters. There’s more teen involvement. It’s not really a kids’ show. I think that’s the main distinction. Otherwise it’s the same kind of scares. I mean, we’re all afraid of the same things, and we all like scary stories. I think everyone, from tiny little kids, they all like to be scared. When you sneak up on a little kid and say, “Boo,” they think it’s funny. They laugh. We all enjoy scary stories as long as we know it’s not real, and as long as we know we’re safe at the same time.

How do you still come up with fresh horror ideas and new monsters?

Yeah, how do I? I don’t know. I’ve done every story you could do. I just met Stephen King for the first time at the Edgar Awards last April. I’d never met him before. For 30 years, I’ve been telling people, “I’m Stephen King for kids,” but I’d never met him. And then I finally did and we had a nice talk. But he [jokingly] accused me of using every amusement park theme any writer could ever use. He accused me of using them all up, and he’s probably right. [Laughs] I know I’ve done every Halloween story you could possibly do. I can’t say that it gets easier. I think it’s more of a challenge to come up with new scary ideas and not repeat myself. But that’s the fun part. And the books keep coming — four or five a year. It amazes me, too. “What, another Halloween story? Are you kidding?” And somehow I do it. 

Are there any other horror writers like King who have influenced you over the years?

Not horror writers. I mean, I’m a real Stephen King admirer, but I don’t read much other horror. I read mostly mysteries and thrillers. I’d say the biggest influence on me when I was young was Ray Bradbury. He actually turned me into a reader. I just could never believe how imaginative and creative and beautifully written his stories were. He was a very important influence. Have you ever read Dandelion Wine? It’s not science fiction, but sort of like a portrayal of his life as a kid in the Midwest in this world that never actually existed. It’s just beautiful writing, a description of a different time and being a child. It’s a wonderful book, just a wonderful book. I read it once a year. It’s nice to remind myself what good writing is.

Even Monsterville has a little bit of a Something Wicked This Way Comes in it.

Oh yeah, definitely. That whole carnival idea can be really scary. Something Wicked This Way Comes is terrifying. This evil carnival, I think that’s always in my mind. 

Do you have any favorite monsters you’ve created over the years?

Well, the most popular villain I’ve created is Slappy the Dummy. You hear about him all the time, and he’s very prominent in the Goosebumps movie. People are scared of dummies. Somehow the idea of this inanimate object coming to life really creeps people out. So I keep writing Slappy books, which is kind of fun because he’s very rude — he insults everyone. So I get to write a lot of insults. It’s kind of a fun character to write. That’s my most popular villain.

He kind of combines your passion for horror and humor in one character.

Yeah, right. In the Goosebumps movie, he looks just like Jack Black for some reason, and he calls him “Papa.” They took it a little farther than I have, the relationship between the man and the dummy. It’s a little more literal than I had imagined.

What kind of creative feedback did you have on the Goosebumps movie?

Since I’m the main character, I had a lot of input as to how I was treated and how they handled me. I read the script, making sure that it had that combination of horror and humor that I do in the Goosebumps books, that it wasn’t just a horror movie. That was really important to me. So yes, I had a lot of input in that script. 

What inspired you to okay a Goosebumps movie after so many years?

We’ve always had movie deals, for 20 years. It was originally at Fox and Tim Burton was gonna produce it. It’s been around forever. Movies are insane; I’m glad I’m working books. I’m so glad I’m here in New York and not out there. I just have the fun part.

The problem was, they spent all this time trying to figure out which book to dramatize. “Which book should we use?” “Which monster should we base the movie on?” And then somebody had this idea to put them all in, to put all the monsters in from the early Goosebumps books, and to put me in the movie. Once they had that idea, then they really could proceed very quickly and get a good script that they liked. That was the big turning point, to not just do an individual book.

Is there something in particular you’re excited for people to see from each one?

Monsterville, that would be hard to answer. I like a lot of the scenes when the kids go into the tent and see what’s happened to themselves. I thought that was very clever. In the Goosebumps movie, I loved seeing the giant praying mantis from Shocker on Shock Street. The special effects, I have to say, are pretty amazing. They didn’t cheap out on these at all. They’re pretty incredible. The giant praying mantis is pretty amazing. 

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