This week, Goosebumps gave me a two-part episode. Welcome to Camp Nightmare was the ninth book in the series and the first to take place in the common Goosebumps setting of a camp.
Welcome to Camp Nightmare (Parts 1 and 2)
The story starts off with the weird when the bus to Camp Nightmoon stops en route and the kids are ushered off the bus in the middle of nowhere. Without saying a word or looking up, the bus driver pulls off every piece of luggage and then speeds off. Enter Uncle Al: the head counselor at Camp Nightmoon.
In case you weren’t sure you were supposed to dislike Uncle Al, he has a mustache, removing all doubt. He’s pretty shady and seemingly has no concern for children, even when a snake bites them, go missing, or drown in the lake. It’s one thing to not be a big fan of kids, but when it’s your job to look after them, you think you’d show a little bit concern; especially when they fail to come up from a swim.
If there’s one person worse than Uncle Al, it’s Larry, one of the counselors of the boys’ camp. While Uncle Al is dismissive of everything the main character Billy has to say, Larry is downright abusive. He nearly takes a kid’s head off with a throw during a baseball game and just shrugs it off like the kid got in the way. I’d call him a sociopath if it weren’t for the twist ending, which calls into question everyone’s mental health.
The twist is (SPOILER ALERT!), in part, something pulled from The Twilight Zone (specifically, the episode entitled “Third From the Sun”) and another part completely stolen for Shutter Island. You see, there is no Camp Nightmoon. Early in the episode, the protagonist makes mention that his parents are scientists that work for the government on super secret projects, and wouldn’t you know it: that comes in to play. Apparently, the entire camp was orchestrated as a series of tests to measure Billy’s character. Kids drowning, campers disappearing, and others getting mauled by a big old bear-like creature were all to make sure that Billy was ready to go on a trip with his parents. They’d be going to an alien planet. A place called… Earth! (Dun dun dun)
This is a weak story made weaker by a hard to believe and unnecessary ending. It stands to reason that the super secret government assessment ending would have sufficed without the addition that we’ve been watching Human Aliens the whole time. However, the idea that it was all the machinations of the government seems like the government on this alien planet is putting a lot of effort to figure this kid out.
Personally, I hate endings that make us believe that the very fabric of what we’ve experienced is one big performance by dozens of people. It calls into question too many plot points in hindsight that kind of unravel the whole story. Why, for example, could Billy not find either of his friends that supposedly drowned when he dove in to rescue them? Also, isn’t it a little dangerous to fake one character’s concussion by nailing him in the head so hard with a baseball that it dented the helmet? Couldn’t he have gotten an actual concussion? It asks a lot from us to believe that everyone was in on it the whole time and there’s probably a cooler ending somewhere in this story. I’d much rather it wind up that Billy was crazy the whole time.