If you were a kid in the 90s, it’s almost impossible that “Goosebumps” didn’t have some sort of presence in your life.
Created by R.L. Stine in 1992, the creepy and quirky book series rapidly exploded into a pop culture phenomenon with titles like “The Haunted Mask” and “Night of the Living Dummy” enthralling young readers worldwide.
Once the books became a success, it was only a matter of time before a screen adaptation followed. In 1995, “Goosebumps” made its way to television and the mania surrounding the franchise rose to a new level. The series would go on to be the highest rated kids show for three years and produce iconic episodes that are still fondly remembered today.
To celebrate the upcoming 25th anniversary of the “Goosebumps” TV series, Andrew interviewed various people involved with the show! Get ready to learn about the trials and triumphs of the most ambitious kids show of the 90s!
Players in alphabetical order:
Timothy Bond (director)
Amos Crawley (Chuck, “The Haunted Mask I & II”)
Steve Levitan (producer)
Kathryn Long (Carly Beth, “The Haunted Mask I & II”)
Ron Oliver (director, writer, associate producer)
Corey Sevier (Eddie, “A Night in Terror Tower”/Ryan, “Cry of the Cat”)
Ron Stefaniuk (creatures creator, puppeteer)
I. One Day at TV Land…
Levitan: In the late eighties and early nineties I was running a production company that produced a TV series called “My Secret Identity” with Scholastic. After my contract with that company was up, I started my own company, Protocol Entertainment. I flew to New York and met with the people at Scholastic to talk about new projects. At that point they were telling me they had these new, what they called in those days, chapter books that were flying off the shelves called “Goosebumps.” They gave me a few books, I read them on the plane and I called them when I got back to Toronto and said “Let’s do this. Let’s make a TV series out of this.” Their first response was “I don’t think we can make a deal with you because Fox bought the movie rights.” It turns out Fox did not buy the TV rights. Oddly enough, once we got the TV rights Fox Kids Network was our broadcaster in the states.
In those days, technology was not what it is today. The children’s television business was not what it is today. The idea of making a TV series based on an anthology series of books where every episode has different characters, different locations, different monsters, different animals… for the TV production business, that’s very expensive to shoot. I think I was the only one whose plan was to make it a live action show rather than animated and I think that’s what persuaded R.L. Stine.
One of the biggest keys to making the series work was the special effects. With only a few years of animatronic work under his belt, Ron Stefaniuk and his team were hired to take on the daunting role of bringing the monsters to life in every episode.
Stefaniuk: I went into the interview and I didn’t have the biggest portfolio, but I had a unique portfolio. Our team didn’t just do make up and gore and zombies. Our background was a lot wider in the sense that we did animatronic puppets, we did Muppet style puppets, we did giant creature suits. When we looked at the covers of the books, it was clear the show was going to need a range of odd creatures. I think I got the job because when I went in to pitch it I said “A lot of people might come into this work thinking that you’ll be lucky to have them. If I were you, I’d hire someone who would kill themself to impress you everyday. I would go out of my way to make you never regret the fact that you hired our company.”
It was important that the show’s creative team captured the style of Stine’s books while also making sure the stories were technically achievable for children’s television. It was also essential to stand out from popular horror series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”
Levitan: We had a fantastic writing team led by Billy Brown and Dan Angel. They were the heart and soul of the show. Our deal with R.L. Stine gave him the right to approve or reject every script based on first drafts. We started going through all the books published up to that point to figure out which ones could be successfully adapted into a TV show. Not many of them could.
Oliver: I was doing “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” in Montreal and Fox called me and asked me if I wanted to do Goosebumps. I flew to Toronto and met with the executive producer Deborah Forte from Scholastic. We were trying to define the difference between “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and “Goosebumps.” There was a specific tonal difference.
Levitan: “Goosebumps” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” were in the same genre, but “Goosebumps” always had an ironic, humorous, tongue-in-cheek self consciousness that “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” didn’t have. I’m glad we went in that direction because I don’t think there would have been enough room for two completely similar shows.
II. Act Naturally
One of the challenges Goosebumps regularly faced was casting. Almost every episode required a different cast and finding enough talented child actors was a frequent concern.
Levitan: The talent pool of adults was really easy because they didn’t have much to do. The tough part was finding kids. In each episode, the main characters were twelve years old and they always had an eight or nine year old brother or sister. Twelve is a difficult age to work with. The hardest thing was finding directors who could work with kids. The best directors would find a way to have the kids say the lines the way they would really say them instead of acting them. You don’t want acting chops. You just want kids who aren’t gonna be spooked by the camera and can be themselves. There were some who were naturally talented and super bright.
R.L. Stine (via The Verge, 2015): “We used every Canadian kid there was. It was a totally Canadian production. I would do book signings here in the United States. Kids would be in line and they’d say, “I’m an actor. How can I be on the Goosebumps show?” And I would say, “You have to be Canadian,” and every time the kid would say, “What’s that?”
Long: I honestly don’t remember much about my audition. They auditioned a lot of girls for the role. I think I went to a few callbacks and they narrowed it down to three people before I got it. Goosebumps was a little bit like the Harry Potter of the 90s, but I wasn’t really into it. I didn’t realize how big it was. After I got the part, my mom bought me a huge set of the books and I started reading them.
Sevier: I was a huge Goosebumps fan. When I found out I had an audition for the show, I was very excited. I actually hadn’t read “A Night in Terror Tower” yet, so when I went in to audition, I only had the provided scenes to go off of. Maybe that was for the best because I might have been more nervous had I already read the book. What made the process unique for me was after reading the first callback alone, they had me come back and read with Kathryn Short, who was cast as my sister “Sue” in the episode. I was only eleven at the time and it was my first experience with a chemistry read. Luckily for me, Katie and I clicked right away, and I was told shortly after that I had gotten the part.
Side note: Kathryn Short also coincidentally starred alongside Kathryn Long in “The Haunted Mask.” Why they didn’t become a full time show business duo, we’ll never know…
Bond: I think I remember some “long and the short of it” jokes going around on set. Who could resist?
Long: We thought it was really funny. I remember at one point, there were people on IMDB who thought we were related. There were all these weird rumors that circulated about her being the daughter of Martin Short and us being half-sisters or something.
Oliver: I met Ryan when we were working on an episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” in Montreal. He had just come back from “The Mickey Mouse Club” and he was trying to figure out what to do next. I was headed to Toronto for Goosebumps, so I talked to his mom and said “Look. Why doesn’t he come to Toronto and he can come do an episode of this show?” Then he started working in Toronto a lot more often and we became great friends.
Stefaniuk: I remember we were working late at the half torn down Labatt beer factory. We would film Goosebumps on the third floor of this place. We were there in the middle of the night filming and Ryan Gosling was having trouble with the scene. I remember Ron Oliver coming over to him and saying “Listen man, you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re going to be a huge star. Trust me on that one.” I remember thinking “Well, that’s nice to say, but how does he know that? Why would he say that?” The next time I heard Ryan Gosling’s name, he was a massive star [laughs]. That memory always stuck with me.
Occasionally, the series would score a well known adult guest star. Most notably, the original Batman himself Adam West.
Levitan: I remember the star we had the most fun with was Adam West in “Attack of the Mutant.” It was really hard to get him. We went back and forth with his agent numerous times because we really wanted him to play that part. His agent kept saying “No. He’s sworn that he would never perform in tights again!” We finally got him to do it and his agent said “He’ll do it, but you have to promise that you’ll let him keep the costume.” So he went home with the costume, but he was a delight to work with. He was just great.
III. Behind the Haunted Mask
Goosebumps started shooting its first season in the summer of 1995. Kicking off the show would be the one-hour primetime special “The Haunted Mask,” based on the eleventh book in Stine’s series.
Levitan: Goosebumps was very unusual because there was no pilot. Once we got the rights to do the TV series, there were already a number of broadcasters interested in picking it up. They didn’t want to see a pilot, they wanted to go right in production. It’s unusual for a show to go straight to a production order.
Crawley: I remember being aware they were sparing no expense as far as kids TV was concerned. Kids TV doesn’t generally have a huge budget and “The Haunted Mask” probably looks a little cheesy by today’s standards, but at the time they were really putting money into it. I seem to recall that there was a TV exec from Fox whose kid loved the books so she was convinced that it was an important project.
Bond: One of the neatest things about the whole experience was meeting RL Stine. Mainly because he hardly talked to adults. He spent all of his time with the young actors.
Long: Meeting him was really cool. He had kind of a Stephen King vibe to him. He’s a very stoic and quiet guy, but he was actually very warm once you talked to him.
Crawley: Despite what most would assume about people with horror leanings or slightly deranged imaginations, he could not have been a more lovely guy. He was great with us. He actually kept in touch a bit over the years through social media.
“The Haunted Mask” relied on the performance of its lead actress Kathryn Long who would spend long hours performing under a grotesque, skin tight mask.
Long: To make the mask, they made a mold of my whole face. They put two straws in my nose and covered my whole face with plaster. They were all worried about me and saying “You’re not going to be able to see. You’re only going to be able to breathe out of these two straws.” Someone was even holding my hand and making sure I was okay. I was a kid so I wasn’t super worried, but I remember when everything got closed in for a while and I couldn’t hear or see, I started to panic a little bit.
Stefaniuk: I sculpted her mask and then each guy in the shop was told to sculpt a mask for the scenes in the costume store. It wasn’t written in the script, but we decided to base each mask off the seven deadly sins. They were all made of soft prosthetic foam. Because foam shrinks when it’s finished cooking, it fits the head quite snug. In the part of the episode where the mask sucks to her head, we put air bladders into the mask and deflated them and it stuck to her face. Then we went in and glued around the eyes and put artificial gums and teeth on top of her lips.
Long: The makeup process was about two to three hours which really wasn’t that bad. It was the glue around the eyes that was really difficult to get off at the end of the night. I remember there were a few nights where I would cry because I’d be getting the glue off at like six in the morning after filming all night. The mouth was also just icky. I remember I would rip off the glue during lunch and then they’d have to put it back on. I had to eat lunch wearing my mask and it was so weird.
Bond: She was a real trooper. It wasn’t much fun being inside that mask, but she never complained. I remember her being lovely and I remember R.L. Stine just adoring her.
Long: Tim Bond was the best director. He gave me so much creative freedom. I remember him saying we were going to dub over my voice when I was wearing the mask. I had been doing voice training for so long in musical theatre and I just said “No. I can do it!” All of my evil mask voice was actually done live on camera. It wasn’t dubbed over in ADR which a lot of people might think. It wasn’t computer modified. It was actually a bit strenuous. I had to use the front of my vocal cords for a long time to do that, but it was so worth it.
Viewers might remember a scene where Carly Beth bites into a sandwich and discovers a worm. The crew was originally going to use a rubber worm, but Long insisted on using a real one.
Long: It was a real worm and I bit into it. I didn’t swallow it though. I remember going “If it’s not real, I’m not really gonna gag. It would look so much better and realistic if I actually bit into it.” They just said “Here, do your own stunts. Eat your worm!”
Crawley: I haven’t seen her in many many years, but I’d be interested to know if she’s a vegetarian now.
Thanks to Long’s committed performance and the episode’s eerie visuals, “The Haunted Mask” was a powerhouse episode that managed to frighten the networks.
Levitan: After watching the initial cut of “The Haunted Mask,” the broadcasters said “We cannot put this on the air because it’s too scary.” In every Goosebumps episode, there’s kind of an ironic twist at the end. In “The Haunted Mask” the brother comes out wearing the mask and Kathryn screams. The initial way we shot that scene was too scary for adults. Her performance in that take was so fantastic and we loved it, but Fox just said “It’s way too far. We should make it milder.” That footage exists in a vault somewhere, but nobody will ever see it.
R.L. Stine (via Scholastic, 2012): My favorite TV episode was The Haunted Mask. I think it’s very scary, the mask is horrifying, and the actress playing Carly-Beth was just perfect.
When the episode premiered on October 27th, 1995, it was watched by almost eight million households in the US. It continued to be a hit when it was released on VHS the following year, selling close to 3 million copies and being ranked by Billboard as the 75th best selling home video of 1996. The Goosebumps franchise quickly found a successful second life on television.
Levitan: We were expecting it to be really big. When we got the rights to make the show, I think there were only eight or ten books published, but they were growing. We knew during shooting it was going to be huge. Before we went on air with Fox, the books were selling a million a month. When the show started airing, they went up to five million a month. We knew the series was becoming as popular, if not more than the books. I used to drop my kids off at school and there would always be seven or eight kids there wanting to talk about the show.
Long: I think I recognized the scale the night it premiered. My mom wanted to throw a party for the premiere and literally the whole school wanted to come to my house. Then after it came out on video, the fame and scale of people recognizing me became really intense. I couldn’t even go out in public for like a year, it was so bad. I would go to the skating rink or shopping mall and then get mobbed by kids and have to leave.
Bond: At the time, I had a publicly listed phone number and I had to delist it because lots of little boys were calling asking to talk to Kathryn Long. I guess it was that first shot of testosterone that got them going.
Levitan: One year, right before Power Rangers hit its peak we had more kid viewers than any other show on the planet for a brief time.
IV. Blood, Sweat & Fears
Working behind the scenes on Goosebumps was rarely an easy task. The show strived for the highest production value despite any budgetary restrictions that came its way.
Levitan: Almost every episode was a huge challenge. We broke all the rules that you’re not supposed to when you’re making a movie or TV show: don’t work with kids, don’t work with animals, don’t do anything dangerous, don’t do anything that could never happen in real life. Every episode involved all of those things.
Stefaniuk: I had worse hours than a lot of surgeons. We only had five days to build these things. We were building all the way through the day and all the way into the night. Then it was raced off to set and puppeteered by the same people. Sometimes the shooting day would go on for fifteen or sixteen hours and then there’d be an hour and a half of celebrating after it was done. Then in eight hours the whole thing starts up again. That went on for four years.
Levitan: We were essentially making a half hour movie every week. Every part of every show was different. Our set designer designed what we call “lego sets” or “modular home sets.” If we were shooting in the studio you could literally take walls apart and make each living room look different with the same flats. That was really ambitious.
Stefaniuk: The original idea of the show was supposed to be one creature per episode because of budget. In “One Day at Horrorland,” we had five guys in horror outfits and the entire fun house ride had three or four prosthetic creature gags in it. I was actually in one of the horror outfits. All of this was being created by the same five or six people in about a week’s time. People say they know what tired is, but I don’t think they really do!
Oliver: One of the episodes of Goosebumps that I directed was “Perfect School.” It was originally supposed to be a half hour episode, but while shooting, it became a bigger story. When we cut the footage, it was about thirty six minutes long. I went to the network and said “There’s a lot of great stuff here. What if we went back and shot for three extra days and we could give you an hour-long special?” They said it would be great.
Sevier: I have so many great memories of working at Casa Loma. You really can’t ask for a more exciting and authentic shooting experience as a kid! Acting scared while being chased through underground tunnels and down narrow spiral staircases by a man with an ax, albeit a fake one, comes pretty naturally. I’ve been back to the castle a few times as an adult and I still marvel at how incredible it is.
Levitan: Our prop, set, and costume design teams were brilliant on that episode. It reminded me of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I think we had better costumes and period aesthetic than they did.
Sevier: I’ve always loved roles that are physically demanding and “Terror Tower” allowed for plenty of that. One of the biggest challenges was making sure we didn’t hyperventilate after long takes, since our characters were often frantically out of breath. I remember there was a scene where Kathryn and I had to climb out of a sewer in the middle of a downtown Toronto street. We pop our heads up, just as a car zooms past, narrowly missing us. It was the middle of winter and VERY cold that day. I remember that being a huge logistical challenge for the entire set. It was all done safely though, and everyone is proud when you can pull something like that off.
On other occasions, the show was able to execute its stories in simpler and smaller ways.
Levitan: On the other end of the scale, we had an episode called “Bad Hare Day” which involved a talking rabbit. The script had about thirteen pages of rabbit dialogue. We had to figure out how to actually do this. We had three teams running at the same time: a video effects team, an animal wrangler, and Ron Stefaniuk’s monster shop. We held a meeting on a Saturday which was unusual, but we were pressed for time. The CGI guys went first and said “It’s gonna cost a little bit more, but we can do the same thing they did for the movie Babe. We don’t know how long it will take or how expensive it will be.” They always said the same thing and they were always late and over budget. Then the animatronics guys said “No problem. I’ll make you a mechanical rabbit and nobody will be able to tell the difference.” The animal wrangler came in with a rabbit and said “I can make this rabbit talk. Where do you want it?” So we had our DP set up cameras and we put the rabbit on a barrel. We started rolling and the wrangler pulled out a water gun and squirted the rabbit in the face with sugar water. For the next twenty minutes the rabbit kept moving its mouth like it was talking. That cost nothing. It was a really brilliant, creative way to do it on a budget and make it successful. We later had Colin Mochrie record the voice of the rabbit.
Stefaniuk: I think I’m actually most proud of the shrunken head from “How I Got My Shrunken Head.” It is smaller than your fist and it’s a completely autonomous, no cables attached, radio controlled puppet that blinks its eyes, opens its mouth, and moves its jaw. I remember after I finished Goosebumps, I was one of the puppeteers on “Bride of Chucky” and I controlled Chucky’s left arm. I brought in the animatronic head to Kevin Yagher who designed Chucky and he thought it was amazing you could get so much out of such a small package.
V. Slappy Days
While the show featured a variety of villains, the most popular was the sinister ventriloquist dummy, Slappy. Bringing him to life would present its own set of obstacles.
Levitan: Slappy was in a bunch of episodes. The first time we used him was when we had the most difficulties. Anytime you’re making a mechanical thing like a puppet or a monster and it has to be run remotely, you’re gonna have glitches. If we had the time, we’d do tests before shooting. Sometimes we’d be playing it by ear on the floor.
Stefaniuk: People ask “Puppeteering, how hard could that be?” and I give them an orange and say “Okay. Hold the orange above your head for five minutes” and then leave it at that. A puppet can sometimes weigh two and a half pounds. Slappy weighed more than that because he was built like a ventriloquist doll. He wasn’t built like Kermit the Frog. When you take all of that and hold it above your head while you’re lying on the ground for a couple hours, you find out that blood is affected by gravity.
Bond: I loved doing that episode [“Night of the Living Dummy III”] and conquering the challenges of it. The funny thing about directing shows like that is you have to have people perceive this dummy as a dummy, yet also be creepy which is hard to achieve. I used a little actress to play him in a lot of the wide shots. It was really fun working that out and the girl who played him in those shots was really good.
One question fans have pondered through the years: Why was the first “Night of the Living Dummy” book not adapted into an episode? Some have theorized there could be a lost episode, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Levitan: There were a bunch of books we tried during the outline stage before there was a first draft script. We would just decide “No, this isn’t going to work. Let’s move on to another one.” There’s no lost episode that was shot.
Also, Ron Stefaniuk wants you and IMDB to know that he did not do the voice of Slappy.
Stefaniuk: People keep saying I was the voice of Slappy. I was not the voice! I was just the puppeteer. I actually had the voice of Slappy call me and leave me a rather snotty message blaming me for being credited as the performer of Slappy. I said to him “I am the performer of Slappy.” We designed him. We built him. All three shows that we puppeteered him, I was the one lying underneath him, walking him, and providing the guide track for the voice. Even though the person that did the voice and the guide track weren’t all that considerably different, they did dub the voice.
VI. Be Careful What You Wish For
Prior to its fourth and final season, the show saw behind the scenes tension with the networks that would lead to changes in its creative personnel.
Oliver: Dan and Billy didn’t want to come back for season four. They wrote a script for “Werewolf Skin” and the network didn’t like it, but they were sticking to their guns to keep it the way it was. They parted with the franchise, so I went back and rewrote it. We had no showrunners, so I was drafted into doing it. We only did four two-part episodes for the final season.
Though short lived, the last season would feature an underrated highlight in “Cry of the Cat,” an episode that was almost entirely different from its literary counterpart.
Oliver: The book was an homage to “Pet Sematary.” I read it and thought “We’ve done scary animal stuff before, we’ve done monsters. What can we do that’s different, but might still be interesting?” I turned it into a meta version of the show. “Cry of the Cat” became about the behind-the-scenes documentary of Goosebumps and then it becomes a horror story. I remember sending the script to R.L. and Jane Stine to get their approval. They sent me a note back saying “You’re either completely insane or this is the best episode of the entire series. We’re not sure which it’s gonna be.” It was my absolute favorite episode of the show to shoot.
Sevier: “Terror Tower” will always be special because it was my first time doing anything like it. “Cry of the Cat” had its own special appeal, though. We got to explore so many fun tropes like playing a spoiled actor screaming for “HAIR!” and reenacting anything from a classic like the “The Exorcist“ is pretty cool. Being a little older, I really enjoyed the horror combined with the tongue-in-cheek humor. I’d have to say that eating a mouse at the end of “Cry of the Cat” was a pretty sweet way to finish off my stint in the Goosebumps world. Hint: it involved a rubber mouse and some black licorice.
While it had a successful run, all good things must come to an end. After four seasons and seventy-four episodes, the Goosebumps television series was put to rest.
Oliver: I think it ended because the books stopped selling at a certain point. The sales dropped and they were like “Well, I guess that’s the end of that.” They bounced back again in subsequent years, but it’s because you’ve got that wave of kids who will read the books and then they age out of them, and you have to wait for the next generation to discover them which has certainly happened.
Levitan: I think what happened was Fox as a kids network was coming to an end. A few years after, it stopped being a kids network. One of our episodes was called “Be Careful What You Wish For.” One concern we had originally doing the show was that for kids programmers, they depend on kids watching the same show over and over again. They didn’t know if kids would watch a live action show over and over again like they would for an animation. It turns out we held up just as well in reruns so they figured they didn’t need more episodes. Other things came along that were more lucrative for networks. Pokemon and Power Rangers were toys. That’s big business. Goosebumps was just a TV show and even though we tried to get merchandising going, there’s just no defining character. There’s no one look for Goosebumps, there’s no one tone for it. It’s an anthology, so it’s hard for that to work.
VII. Final Words
Stefaniuk: Even when we were awake for thirty hours, one thing we never lost sight of was the privilege to work on that stuff. Those were exciting days when we brought those creatures to life on set. When you put it together and look back on everything, Goosebumps was one of the catalysts of what our creature shop became. The core people I did the last few years of Goosebumps with were with me for twelve to fifteen years. We were really a family.
Oliver: It was a wonderful creative experience and I loved every second of it. Some of the stuff I did on those shows like “Perfect School” is creatively some of the best stuff I’ve ever done. I’ve got young people on my crews now who became filmmakers because of “Goosebumps” or “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” They watched those shows, loved them and wanted to make movies. That’s probably the greatest reward out of doing that work.
Crawley: I remember having a really good time. Tim was awesome, the other kids were awesome. I have these cool conversations every now and then like you reaching out to me or I’ll be chatting with someone and they’ll figure it out and go “Oh my god, I remember you from when I was a kid!”
Sevier: When I look back on Goosebumps, I will always feel very lucky. As a young person, not only did the books have a profound effect on my love of reading and teaching me about the possibilities of storytelling, but I also got to play a part in bringing a few of these stories to life. “Terror Tower” was my first lead role in a show, and the demands of that, the focus and stamina it took, those are lessons I’ve kept with me my whole career. I feel grateful to have been a young actor in Toronto at a time when such an amazing kids show was being produced.
Long: I always look back on Goosebumps very fondly. I think it set a work ethic precedent for me at a young age because it was so demanding to film. It’s also really great to know that it’s something people fondly remember. I think there are things that define our childhoods and Goosebumps defined that for a lot of kids. I’ve always thought it would be super funny if they did another movie or even just a one time special where I could come back and play the mom of the new girl. I would love that so much.
Bond: It was so long ago! It’s funny how people keep a hold of Goosebumps. Through my agent, I got a letter several months ago from an autistic, twenty six year old kid from Australia who’s a fan. I wrote back and he started finding other people from the show and there’s a whole network spreading from that.
Levitan: It was a totally positive experience all the way through. It was fantastic coming to work everyday and hanging out with guys like Billy Brown and Dan Angel. That’s not to say it wasn’t stressful and there wasn’t a lot of pressure, but it was a lot of fun. I would do it again in a second.
R.L. Stine (via Reddit, 2013): I was very pleased with the Goosebumps TV show. They did a quality job.