Welcome to Dead House was first published in 1992, kicking off R.L. Stein’s global phenomenon, Goosebumps. In the thirty years since, the kid-friendly horror book series has proved to be timeless, inspiring a TV series in the 90s and a film franchise in the past decade. And now, it’s being reinvented once again in a Disney series aimed at both adults who grew up with the books and a new generation of kids and teens. We got to talk with executive producers Pavun Shetty and Connor Welch about their own Goosebumps origins, their goals for this series adaptation, and what R.L. Stein thinks of it.
Benji: What makes this series so different from other Goosebumps adaptations before it is that you combine two storytelling devices. It has its open serial storyline in addition to telling stories inspired by classic Goosebumps books. How did you settle on this approach?
Conor Welch: We were lucky enough to have access to all of the Goosebumps books because R.L. Stine gave us his blessing, and our partners at Scholastic gave us access. There are so many great titles to pull from. And our creators, Rob Letterman and Nick Stoller, came up with this great structure where for each of the first five episodes, we're following a different character who's dealing with an issue from one of the books Say Cheese and Die!, The Haunted Mask, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, and midseason, they come together and realize what's going on, and they decide to take matters into their own hands. There's a little element where we're embracing these individual books for the first five episodes, but they're not purely anthropological like the original 90s show was. We're following a serialized story that goes through the whole season, but I think for Goosebumps fans, you'll see there are a lot of Easter Eggs throughout the entire show that are pulled from many of the books that weren't even included in the first five episodes.
Benji: With over 60 books in R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, how did you decide on the ones you would incorporate into the series?
Pavun Shetty: One of the geniuses of R.L. Stine is most of the horrors and hauntings in his books come from the seed of a very relatable issue that adolescents deal with. Whether it's insecurity about being a wallflower, or invisible, or the weight of the world on your shoulders, or wanting to present as someone you're not, or wishing you could take something over again. We found the five that we felt could best define the quirks and issues of our five main characters. The Cuckoo Clock of Doom follows our character, James; he's kind of the class clown who wants to be a different person to everyone; he wants everyone to like him. The cuckoo clock allows him to go back in time to try to win over a boy, but he learns shortly thereafter that each time he goes back in time, he creates a new version of himself, a clone of himself. So they're all starting with really small, relatable issues and then blowing them up into this cinematic, scary place.
Benji: Being that the show is aimed at a younger audience, how do you balance making something that’s spooky and enjoyable while avoiding becoming truly scary?
Conor Welch: When we were reading the books growing up, and when kids read the books, there's an element of reading a story that they feel like is a little too old for their current age, that they're reading something that they shouldn't be reading, and it adds an element to the scariness. We wanted to do something that took those iconic stories and did an elevated take on them but kept that same feeling. So we're following these high school kids who are dealing with real, identifiable issues, but we're also following their parents who are dealing with adult issues. And a lot of times, the emotional issues are the same for both the kids and the adults. But the things that are scary, the monsters, the puppets, the possessed teachers, feel like they're elevated and just scary enough for adults to enjoy on their own. But kids feel like they're getting scared a little bit older than they should be.
Benji: Given that Goosebumps is important to several generations, is there an added pressure to get this adaptation right?
Pavun Shetty: Totally. I mean, R.L. Stine's name was plastered in bright green across most of the books in my childhood bedroom library. So this is an iconic, seminal creative in my young life. The pressure was huge, but it was wonderful that he was actually creatively involved. He read some scripts, watched some cuts, and gave his blessing all along the way. When he watched the pilot for the first time and reported back that he really loved it and was excited by the direction we were going, it was probably the most thrilling feedback that I've had professionally. It was really cool to have him as the North Star and then to learn that he was proud of what we had done.
Conor Welch: And this is a big international book series. 400 million copies sold in 32 languages. And so we wouldn't have even done it had R. L. Stine not allowed us to and not given us the go-ahead. For Connor and I, in particular, we were very nervous when he was watching the first cut to make sure that he actually liked it. It was super important to us, being Goosebumps fans growing up, that we honored what he created. And now my oldest daughter is reading the books, devouring the series, and so are her friends. She's so thrilled to tell her friends that I'm involved in this television adaptation. So the pressure there to deliver is probably even higher, really.
Benji: Since the books and this adaptation twist the anxieties of growing up with the horror genre, what do you hope that today’s youth takes away from the show? And how to you balance having a message without sounding preachy?
Conor Welch: Hopefully, our series feels a lot more like a “Spoonful of Sugar.” There are real scares in here. There are real laughs in here. A lot of times, building to what you think will be a laugh and then becomes a scare, building to what you think will be a scare then becomes a joke. Hopefully, it's entertaining first, full stop. But under that, through these hauntings that are born of these seeds of different sorts of insecurities and issues, hopefully, we unravel to the core of what these adolescent and high school problems are in a way that a young audience can relate to, maybe zoom out from, and understand some of the issues that they're going through.
Pavun Shetty: And we always joked about, in developing the show, that the kids in the show are dealing with crazy things like possessed teachers and giant worms. But actually, the scariest thing is being a high school kid right now; getting rejected by your crush is way scarier than putting on a mask that won't come off. And I think those elements of high school are relatable, whether you're in high school now or whether you went to high school in the nineties like a lot of parents did who are going to be watching the show. Those horrors of high school never go away, regardless of what age you're in and what timeframe that took place. So I think we really embrace that.
(Please note this article contains affiliate links. Your purchase will support LaughingPlace by providing us a small commission, but will not affect your pricing or user experience. Thank you.)