The Haunted Mask II was originally published in October 1995 (Spine #36). The series adaptation aired on Tuesday, October 29, 1996 (runtime: 22 minutes and 22 minutes).
Sequels are part and parcel with the horror genre, inescapably ever-present and all but inevitable when any particularly scary, spooky or otherwise strange property manages to profoundly connect with the world upon which it is unleashed.
The Goosebumps franchise was no stranger to sequels, having served up three Monster Bloods, Return of the Mummy and a second Night of the Living Dummy by the time The Haunted Mask II hit shelves. And despite my adoration of all things Goosebumps, it was this late October set sequel that I had been most excited for. The Haunted Mask was one of my favorites and the idea of returning to the land of living faces and Halloween hijinks set my excitement ablaze.
Priming me for the expectation of endless entries in all of those horror franchises I would one day grow to so revere, The Haunted Mask II was my first lesson in the ups and downs of follow-ups. The undeniable comfort of returning to something you love mixed with the desire to experience that property in a new way can sometimes collide in dissatisfaction, fully delivering on neither emotion, falling victim to expectation or, worse yet, a simple lack of quality control. Still, the book worked for me, offering a different take on the original’s idea and amplifying peripheral characters to expand the world and add dimension.
Watching the Goosebumps TV series had already taught me a great deal about adaptation, the various ways in which one story might be worked and reworked into something new, interesting and yet complementary to its source. The Haunted Mask II elaborated on this lesson, bringing into sharp focus the nature of the sequel and the goals such a story sets out to accomplish.
Edited as two episodes which aired together in one night in late October 1996, The Haunted Mask II made its debut as the first sequel to a previous episode. Having spent weeks anticipating the series’ premiere of the show and this particular episode’s precursor, my expectations were high to say the least. To my eleven year old mind, The Haunted Mask didn’t feel like an entry in a greater franchise, but a franchise in and of its own right, and I was eager to see if the series would continue to do it justice.
The episode that aired that night was not at all what I expected. Deviating significantly from the page, playing more like a sequel to the original episode than the book it was based on. My intuition leaned at first toward annoyance, frustration that what I was watching felt less like something with its own identity and more like a retread of the first, but as the episode played on, my attitude changed.
The episode stood as an alternate universe version of The Haunted Mask II, taking the major players and rerouting their stories while infusing the added elements from the TV show’s initial adaptation. Again, like many of the show’s diversions from the source material, the adaptation forges its own distinct path through the text and provides an altogether unique and unexpected experience.
Sequels go hand in hand with horror as the genre’s fans cannot seem to get enough of that which they love. Of course, Goosebumps does not shy away from this conceit and with The Haunted Mask II, across the page and the screen, the series proves that there is more than one way to deliver a worthy successor to a beloved property.
Steve Boswell is tired. He’s sick of coaching the first grade soccer team— sick of their behavior and sick of their attitude. With Halloween approaching, he can’t help but think how great it would be to get some revenge on the little kids that make his life so difficult. If only he could find a terrifying mask to scare them with, like the one Carly Beth had last year. And soon, as he and his friend Chuck find their way to the basement of the old, closed down novelty shop in town, he might get his wish… and finally understand why it is that Carly Beth is so keen on warning him off from wearing one of those terrifying masks.
The Haunted Mask II was released in October of 1995, arriving just in time for Halloween. Following up one of the series most popular and iconic books, the story focuses on the peripheral antagonists of the first book and provides a new kind of menace while still embracing the characters and events of the original. With startling Tim Jacobus artwork that both reminds of the first while offering its own distinct personality, the book stands as a worthy successor and continuation of one of Goosebumps most cherished properties.
From the start, the book and the episode seem to disagree about who the story’s protagonist actually is. On screen, Carly Beth and her best friend Sabrina share an animated conversation while walking home at night. Evoking the first The Haunted Mask their talk quickly turns to concerned silence as they sense a spying presence, which Carly Beth all too easily identifies as bullies Steve and Chuck, getting the jump on them before the opposite could occur.
The book, on the other hand, opens with the trials and tribulations of Steve’s unsuccessful exploits as the new coach for his school’s first grade soccer team, a role he was given as punishment for setting a squirrel loose in the girl’s locker room. Whether it’s poking at him, climbing all over him, putting gum in his ear or even tricking him into kicking a concrete soccer ball, the kids are making Steve miserable. Deciding that his only course of action is revenge, he and his friend Chuck catch sight of Carly Beth and her friend Sabrina walking home one day and are reminded of the terrifying mask she wore the previous Halloween.
In both the show and the book, Chuck and Steve coerce Carly Beth into disclosing information about the mask, leading her to tell them about the novelty shop and the mask’s attempt to latch on to her. However, in the show Carly Beth says she buried the mask where no one would ever find it. It’s here where the show diverges in a major way, showing the original haunted mask levitating from the cemetery grounds and floating off into the night. The mask finds its way to the shopkeeper from the original episode who is busily disposing of the remaining masks in a fire, before latching onto him.
The book continues to follow Steve as he clumsily navigates his coaching duties, resulting in the ruination of his nicest sweater on picture day. His idea of vengeance solidifies when he discovers the closed down novelty shop. With Chuck in tow, Steve sneaks in an open trap door and rifles through the old boxes of masks he finds in the basement. Some old favorites appear here, such as the pig face mask with gobs of green goo issuing from the snout and the furry gorilla mask with long pointed fangs.
It’s not long before the shopkeeper finds them and Chuck makes his escape, leaving Steve to deal with the repercussions. As in the original, this version of the man differs significantly from the show’s. Rather than sneering and scarred, his hair is slicked back and he sports a pencil thin mustache and a cape. Refusing to sell Steve a mask and, quite reasonably, agreeing to call Steve’s parents in lieu of the police, Steve makes a run for it. Once home, he removes the old man mask he stole, tries it on and examines the scabby sunken skin and the oddly warm spiders in the thing’s scraggly hair.
As the show excises the soccer team and in so doing Steve’s motivation for wanting one of the masks in the first place, it’s simply a desire to scare that drives him to seek out the evil disguise on the screen. In the show, instead of stumbling upon the shop, Steve and Chuck catch sight of the shopkeeper donning the original haunted mask on Halloween night. He leads the boys to the old building and, inside, the one mask left unburned. Steve hurries home and tries it on quickly, watching it sink against his skin, before hastily removing it.
On the page, Steve’s master plan begins to unfold. He invites the soccer team to a Halloween party at the old, supposedly haunted Carpenter mansion, the perfect place to give the kids the scare of their lives. He heads home and tries on the mask. Tight and warm, the mask burns hot against his skin. Steve feels old suddenly, weak. The mask is stuck to him. There are no lines. Several chapters unfold as Steve realizes his voice and body are changing to match the face of the mask, forcing him to hide in his room and pretend to be sick, missing dinner, school and even the chance to eat his favorite cookies.
The show instead reverts back to Carly Beth as the original haunted mask wearer watches her from her window. Proudly dressed in her duck costume from the first entry, she heads out into the night with Sabrina before bumping into Chuck. Meanwhile, Steve fights off his over anxious dog and dons the mask. Similar to the original TV version of The Haunted Mask as opposed to the book, Steve starts scaring trick or treaters and laughing maniacally as he does. His energy does wane however, and as the first part of the TV adaptation ends, Carly Beth begs Chuck to tell her where they got the mask while elsewhere Steve gasps for breath.
In the book Steve attempts to call Carly Beth for help but her father refuses to give her the phone when he hears the voice of a strange old man. Still, despite his frailty and near inability to walk without a cane, Steve decides to proceed with his plan to scare the soccer team. He makes his way to the Carpenter mansion. Instead of fear, the kids’ faces don looks of pity, believing Steve to be an actual old man in need of help. Unable to muster the strength to even grumble at them, he accepts the children’s help in getting to Carly Beth’s house.
Believing Steve to be a creepy old man that’s stalking her, Carly Beth threatens to alert her father. With his little remaining strength, Steve calls out his name and Carly Beth finally realizes what’s happened. She informs Steve of The Unloved, the living faces created by the scientist in the shop and how a symbol of love— the plaster of paris head made by her mother— saved her the previous Halloween. Carly Beth helps Steve back to his house where he asks for one of the cookies his mother had procured and offered him earlier, but they’re gone. Then, he cradles his dog, hoping that the animal’s unencumbered affection will release him from the mask. Nothing happens.
As the second part of the show opens, Carly Beth insists that they find Steve. Meanwhile, clammy and gasping for breath, Steve seeks help from others in the night, realizing that there are no lines to his mask. The show splits its time between Carly Beth and Steve, Steve stumbling around looking for aid and Carly Beth making her way back to the novelty shop. Steve eventually finds himself at the feet of the shopkeeper wearing the original haunted mask. The mask informs Steve that the boy is under his control, that the mask needs Steve to acquire Carly Beth’s plaster head, her symbol of love, and bring it to the cemetery by midnight, lest he remain a disgusting old man forever.
Tricking Carly Beth’s mother into thinking he’s an old man in need of help, Steve sneaks into their house and steals the head. The characters collide in the cemetery, creating narrative symmetry with the first entry’s television adaptation. Under the duress of potential imprisonment under the mask, Steve follows orders and smashes the head. Carly Beth finds the original mask missing from the place she buried it and faces it once more. Threatening to finish what was started the year before, Steve holds her as the mask moves in to reclaim Carly Beth’s face.
On the page, Steve and Carly Beth solemnly make their way back to the novelty shop, at a loss as to why the symbols of love took no effect. Searching through boxes, Carly Beth finds a black suit covered in spiders that seems to match the mask. The mask itches and burns Steve’s skin until he’s finally able to remove it. The thing reconnects with its suit and performs a little ghostly dance before making its way out into the night. Steve and Carly Beth leave happily only to be frightened by a monster in the darkness. It’s Chuck in one of the masks, surprising them with the fact that he had stolen one earlier and is now having trouble removing it.
On the screen, Steve pushes Carly Beth away at the last second, inviting the original haunted mask to attack him instead. The released shopkeeper shouts for Steve to remove the mask amidst the chaos and Steve is freed. Both masks lay lifeless as Steve discovers that his attempt to save Carly Beth served as his freeing symbol of love. Later, the group watches as the masks burn in Carly Beth’s fireplace, not paying attention as the original mask inflates once more and the dog takes it outside to bury it in the garden. Dormant as Halloween night comes to a close, the mask lies in wait for some distant October the 31st to awaken its evil once more.
With finales that could not have been more different, from the villains, the struggles and the resolutions, in the end both seem to suggest that Halloween night is a time not to be trifled with and where anything is most certainly possible.
The sequel is a well trod rite of passage for any popular story in the widespread landscape of horror entertainment. Whether retreading old ground, mining the unexplored facets of the original or simply telling a new story with an old name, new chapters written to continue an old book are as much a symbol of an audience’s adoration as it is an extension of their appetite for more.
The Haunted Mask II had a lot to live up to in 1995. Coming in the wake of other Goosebumps follow-ups, R.L. Stine had proven that he could return to the well of certain stories and continue them in interesting ways without simply rehashing the same narrative over and over again. The book was no exception, moving away from Carly Beth and honing in on Steve and his disturbing exploits. Less about the horrors of his actions under the mask’s control, The Haunted Mask II concerns its terrors with the realities of losing one’s self inside of age and decay, juxtaposing youthful vitality against the fatigue of time.
Little did I know that when I read that book, I was getting only one of two completely different sequels to the same story. For, roughly a year later, The Haunted Mask II would show up on the television screen as a completely different entity than the pages which inspired it. Featuring Carly Beth as a co-lead and resurrecting the titular Haunted Mask from the first entry as the overarching villain, this adaptation would follow the well trod path of the more typical “Part II”. Using the book as a skeleton structure and little more, this two part episode series acknowledged the alterations that were made to The Haunted Mask for the screen and capitalized on them, prioritizing a faithful continuation to that version over an accurate adaptation of the page.
In the end, The Haunted Mask II is not only a fascinating example of the ripple effects of page to screen evolution, but a striking illustration of the many ways to continue a much adored horror property. Like any long running frightening franchise, there are entries hellbent on maintaining continuity, no matter how convoluted the narrative may be forced to bend in the process and there are others still more concerned with ideas left unplumbed. When considering both versions, The Haunted Mask II provides windows into multiple avenues of the sequel spectrum, satisfying and sparking thought in its young audience in equal measure.
As many sequels which came before The Haunted Mask II, there would be a great deal more that would go on to follow it, on television and the page. Slappy the Dummy would live again, more people would say “Cheese!” and perish, and the Monster Blood was far from being cleaned up. And after my experience with a new foray into the darkness of Halloween night, my haunted mask in tow, I was always ready to return to those terrors which so inspired me the first time around.
In horror, it seemed, sequels went with the territory, for better or for worse. There would always be more, consistent paths back to that thing so loved. Some might diverge and others might distract, but they’re all interpretations, adaptations, a testament to the power of the progenitor which spawned them. Far from a curse, these trails are blessings, forever shepherding horror fans, new and old, to that most sacred place where devotion is born.