Chilling in Sweet Valley

Welcome, Boooo-kwyrms, to another Halloween Month at Postcards from La-La Land!

The theme this year is:

FeelGood Frights!!!

These are delightfully light, soapy, and/or melodramatic reads that give us just as many laughs and eye-rolls as shivers and gasps.

We’ll begin with a few (em)balmy books that give us a few last whispers of summer weather. For your eerie entertainment, I’ve gathered together two more spooky Sweet Valley books and one TV episode, all focused on CURSES. Because, as we saw in the last post, even a beachside utopia has to attract some malevolent mayhem to keep the citizens from getting too bored.

WARNING: There will be SPOILERS.

Rating: 5 out of 5 creepy chain letters accidentally e-mailed to your father’s entire company.

Playlist:

  • The Sweet Valley High TV soundtrack (which you can listen to on YouTube)
    …especially “Alive,” by PJ Oleson (there’s a handy track list, with time stamps, in the description).
Cover of Sweet Valley Kids Super Special: A Curse on Elizabeth.  Two blond-haired girls are staring in terror at a standing Egyptian coffin, which is leaning slightly against the right edge of the cover.  

The girl in front wears her hair in a ponytail, and is wearing a white t-shirt and yellow shorts.  She's standing, leaning back, and squeezing her fists together in an upside-down V against her chest.

The girl behind her has her hair down and is wearing a pair of blue jean overalls.  She's kneeling on her right knee, and her right arm hangs down while her left hand touches her chin nervously.

The coffin is slightly ajar and there's yellow smoke wafting out, plus a few creepy white fingers curling around the edge.

First, we take a frightful field trip back to Ancient Egypt in Sweet Valley Kids Super Special #3 (Hair Raiser edition): A Curse on Elizabeth. The Los Angeles Museum has apparently acquired the newly-discovered mummy of Ramses XIII! The seven-year-old Twins and Friends are super excited to see the fancy coffin, the shiny jewels, and even the live snakes!

But when Jessica* accidentally bumps the fictional pharaoh’s coffin, she awakens an ancient curse and the twins find themselves on the set of Night at the Museum Jr. Can Jess, Liz, and their nerdy classmate Andy escape the museum before they get run over by a wooly mammoth, poisoned by pythons, or even suffer the wrath of Ramses himself? Can they survive this deadly Egypt Game?

* Ok, first of all, the curse is technically on Jessica because she’s the one who bumped the coffin. Or, if the world were fair, it would fall on that jerk Charlie Cashman, because he’s the one who pushed Jessica. But noooo, Saint Liz has to bear the burden as usual because…I guess it’s good practice for her future career in professional martyrdom?

Anyhoo, apparently this new pharaoh was just discovered the previous year! Which…if the SVH books take place in 1983, would that make this 1974, which means “Ramses XIII” was discovered in 1973? Or did the twins’ whole class experience a magical de-ageing curse in 1995? Is the Sweet Valley Timeline as twisted as the museum director’s decision to keep live pythons in the building?

On a less snarky note, I love all the Libraries Are Awesome! references, and of course I had a few Egypt Game flashbacks when Liz and Andy discussed their research into the more mythic aspects of Egyptian history. This was honestly one of my favorite SVK books when I was a kid, and definitely my favorite Super Special.

Anyhoo, I love how adventures like this are dependent on the kids not trusting their problems to the adults. Like, the only reason Jess and Liz get trapped in the museum is that Liz doesn’t want to tell her teacher she lost her research buddy. That’s what adults are for, silly! Tell your teacher so she can tell the museum staff so THEY can go look for the missing kid, so you can go back to the bus and see that Andy was there all along!

GIF image of a woman shrugging with her palms facing up, pushing against big white letters that spell the word "oops."  The word is split in half so half of it is on the left side of her head and the other half on her right.  The background is bright yellow.

Also, I love how this Super(natural) Special ends, just like The Case of the Alien Princess, on an ambiguous Was it all a dreeeeeam??? note. Did the twins and Andy really get chased around the museum by a mummy until they finally crashed through the highest window in a giant model airplane? Or was it all a nightmare induced by a bump on the head? And what happened to Liz’s jacket???

Anyway, finally, if you’re going to change the subject of your project because Superstitions remind you too much of your nightmare(?), wouldn’t Mummies be equally off-limits?

Cover of Sweet Valley Twins and Friends Super Chiller: The Curse of the Golden Heart.  Liz and Jess are scuba diving near a shipwreck.  One of the twins, facing the audience, holds up a small golden heart with her left hand.  She's swimming slightly on top.  The other twin, below her, has her back slightly turned toward us and is looking down at the ocean floor at the red words "Super Chiller."  They're both swimming out from the left edge of the book cover, and you can only see their heads, arms, and torsos.

Next up is Sweet Valley Twins and Friends Super Chiller # 6: The Curse of the Golden Heart. First, that cover image and the back cover summary are totally misleading. The twins don’t find the magic heart or discover the sunken ship while scuba diving. They find it several days before that, while casually snorkeling in the shallowest part of Pirate’s Cove (I know, how would an 18th-century shipwreck be that well hidden in the shallows, and why isn’t it a famous historic monument?).

Second, maybe all these paranormal beings keep latching onto Elizabeth not only for the contrast (it’s more fun to scare the Good Twin), but because — as the Good Twin — she’s better at diffusing ghostly wrath? OR is it because she’s twelve and reads detective novels, making her literally more adept than the actual Sweet Valley police force?

In any case, five years after the mummy attack, Elizabeth is cursed again, this time by the 200-year-old ghost of a woman who apparently can’t find her own way back to her 200-year-old lover. Because, like Voldemort, she decided to trap part of her soul or whatever inside a locket and now she can’t rest until her half is physically reunited with her lover’s half.

Typical.

And, apparently, even though Carlotta can whip the sea into an excited frenzy when Liz picks up her locket half, this inconsistent hauntress somehow couldn’t just push the pieces together herself TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO, BEFORE THEY GOT COVERED WITH CRUSTY SAND AND CORALS. I guess Maui was right…some of these ocean spirits are coo-coo-cakes.

Two stacked screenshots from Disney's Moana.  On top, Moana has her eyes shut and is saying, "The ocean chose you for a reason."  On the bottom, Moana has her eyes open with an annoyed expression as Maui, far behind her, says "If you start singing I'm gonna throw up."

Anyhoo, it seems Carlotta can also write and deliver chain letters, and control computers (this one’s also set in the 90s, so we get to laugh nostalgically at the bewildered references to “electronic mail” and those newfangled desktop computers that only the wealthiest businesspeople owned).

Speaking of which, I love that Lila’s so stereotypically rich she can usually get her father’s secretary to copy chain letters for her. Except this time, because the secretary’s (gasp!) on vacation, so poor Lila has to ride the bad luck train until she finally lowers herself to the level of (sigh) writing the letters herself. To be fair, though, Carlotta’s not exactly being reasonable about any of this. I mean, breaking nails and making fancy fountain pens explode is one thing, but making a twelve-year-old trip down the stairs?? Eh, don’t worry, it’s a middle-grade soap opera, so it’s no more than an off-screen slightly embarrassing tumble with barely a bruise to show for it.

But back to the beach… While Liz and Jess argue over the merits of obeying chain letters, the Wakefield parents and their friends decide it’s totally appropriate to let their kids take scuba lessons from some randomer with no official credentials just because…well, he’s a crusty old sea dog! He MUST know his way around water well enough to teach seven minors by himself!

Stilled GIF image of the Flying Dutchman from Spongebob Squarepants.  He's the glowing green ghost of an old-timey pirate captain, and in this image he's making a very menacing face with glowing eyes and a wide screaming mouth, with all his teeth showing.  Also, his beard has turned into a bunch of snakes.

The caption says: "Tis I, the ominous Flying Dutchman!"

I mean, no, really, he’s also a nautical ghost who’s been haunting the beach for the past 200 years, waiting for his chance to atone for that fateful day he didn’t do The One Thing He Was Hired To Do, causing the shipwreck that killed the two lovers (and a bunch of less important crew members, but who cares).

So, of course Liz — being the only one besides Lila to refuse the chain letter mandate — impresses Carlotta enough to ask more nicely for help (by way of creepy dreams that keep Liz up at night so she can barely focus during her scuba lessons). Why this lady’s latched onto a bunch of sixth-graders instead of recruiting some more appropriately-aged locals to her cause, I don’t know. You can’t tell me there aren’t ANY local adults who believe in ghosts or who’d at least be curious enough to research the origins of an 18th-century locket… but again, it’s a middle-grade melodrama, so the kids have to be the ones to Save The Day.

At least the twins are accompanied by their very responsible 14-year-old brother when they sneak out for their final boss battle. He insists on getting in the water by himself, to free the other half of the heart from under the Pirate’s Cove pier. And it’s lucky that, once he finally breaks through all the barnacles, the totally-not-pervy John Filber…

(did I mention the twins go alone one day to a secluded part of the beach to meet another randomer who claims to have info on the Curse of Carlotta? Which, on the other hand, proves there’s at least one adult willing to participate in this ghostly mission, even if the plot Curse won’t allow him to put the locket together himself)

…only cares about the locket and its built-in treasure map (oh yeah, there’s also a brief treasure hunt C-plot whose only worth is that it gives us one of those classic over-the-top Jessica Fame-and-Fortune reveries). Filber grabs the locket and runs off, only to be pwned by Carlotta and her obedient waves.

So, the Wakefields bring the ghostly lovers back together, Filber gets his paranormal comeuppance, no one actually goes on a treasure hunt, and the three kids finally get to relax on their last day of Spring Break over a trio of hot chocolates while Jess and Steven gaslight Liz into wondering if she invented the whole Curse and started the chain letter herself. I guess that’s an interesting variation on the “Was It A Dream?” ending… Anyway, if this were a movie, their subsequent popcorn fight would be the 80s-style freeze-frame ending. With, of course, an extra end-tag to show Liz dream-watching Carlotta and her lover (FINALLY) sailing off into the sunrise.

ARE YOU HAPPY, CARLOTTA? WAS IT WORTH PUSHING LILA DOWN THE STAIRS??

Aaaand finally, if you’re in the mood for the cheesiest, most cringe-tastic Halloween Special ever, I highly recommend YouTubing Sweet Valley High season 1 episode 7: “The Curse of the Lawrence Mansion.” The Twins and Friends ditch a wholesome Halloween party to sneak into school because Bruce Patman wants to do a seance to bring back the spirit of a student who died trying to steal test answers (you know what they say, cheaters literally never prosper). I guess the episode title is supposed to refer to the ghostly student, whose name is literally Lawrence Mansion? :-/

But then scary things start happening and the living students start disappearing one by one. Surely it’s just a prank, riiiiiiight? Besides the oddly-paced dialogue (did the director tell everyone to wait two beats before delivering their lines?) and the gag-worthy “romances,” the best part of this episode is the old-school horror movie montage set to a song that’s as on-the-nose as the shop names in Sweet Valley (get it? Their worst nightmare is being stuck in school… *laughs at the unintentional meta commentary on a series where the characters loop through the same year at least a hundred times*)

Also, we get a few hilaaaarious burns:

BRUCE: So, Winston, break out the, uh, Spiderman underoos again this year? [insert obnoxious smirk]
WINSTON: No, Bruce, I thought I’d go as a rich snob. Can I borrow some clothes?

JESSICA: [wearing a Sexy Genie costume, shamelessly flirting with the guy she and Lila are fighting over]
LILA: Climb back into your bottle, Jess.

GIF image of the actress Emma Stone walking briskly, her long red hair bouncing off her shoulders as she pops her sunglasses on and purses her lips like she's saying "Oooh!" The whole effect is badass. The subtitle says "Oooh, burn!"

What about you, Bookwyrms? What are your favorite cheesy Halloween Specials? What trashy-in-a-good-way books do you curl up with in October? Don’t leave me and my guilty pleasures hanging!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Credits:

Pumpkin cat GIF from gifer.

Mummy clipart from clker.

Oops GIF from giphy.

Moana screenshots from Pinterest.

Stilled Flying Dutchman GIF from gifer.

Oooh, burn! GIF from tenor.

5 comments

  1. Ok, the biologist in me couldn’t let it slide – pythons aren’t venomous or poisonous. While they do have fangs, they kill through constricting. Phew! That just means that they couldn’t have been poisoned by pythons. Considering many of the ghostwriters and their lack of attention to detail, I’m not surprised ๐Ÿ˜›

    On a less technical note, I did enjoy hearing about the stories. My go to is usually Edgar Allen Poe and the Black Cat. Of course, he has plenty of spooky tales that are perfect for this time of year ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hahahaha! That was actually my bad! They were cobras, not pythons! Sometimes the desire to alliterate overcomes my memory of the actual details… ๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ˜…

      Poe is a definitely legit Halloween choice! I also sometimes re-read a few of Bradburyโ€™s Martian Chronicles stories in October. Thereโ€™s even a Poe-themed one called โ€œUsher II.โ€

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