Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween – Film Review

The scariest part of this film was spit balls.

“People respect us around here,” states Sam (Caleel Harris) as a saliva drenched portion of paper smacks into his face.

The projectile has been shot by the head jock and his cronies, who are now sniggering to themselves while referring affectionately to Sam and his offsider Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) as the ‘Junk Bros’.

“Spit Wads! What are you, nine?” retorts Sam.

And he raises a pertinent question. What is an appropriate age to begin using these phlegmy missiles?

I’m sitting in the darkened cinema surrounded by eight, nine, ten and eleven-year-old students, who luckily do not have the ingenuity or skills to engineer a ben into a missile launcher. But nothing turns my stomach like spit balls – or ‘wads’ as the American appears to phrase it in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween. Let’s be honest, they weren’t great as a child. I recall some of our classrooms having high ceilings, which allowed for a large target space above the whiteboards in each room. There was always some layer of encrusted paper framing the top of the board in an avant-garde papier-mache design.

As with all fads, there were long periods of time where nerd or vulnerable teacher would be free from onslaught in the creation of these paper-pulp pastiches. But when the trend was at large, you’d be living on a knife’s edge (probably the same edge of the knife used to dismantle the biro being used for the gun barrel).

Despite Sam implying it is a juvenile activity best suited for children in the single digit age bracket, students as old as seventeen have been known to assemble artillery from the art-supplies graveyard in pursuit of oppressing the weaker of the schoolyard species.

So, although this film features razor-toothed gummy bears, pick-axe-wielding garden gnomes, a jack-o-lantern-headed humanoid and the menacing ventriloquist doll Slappy, there is nothing that raises the hair on my back more than the inclusion of the loaded spit wad shooter. I’m glad to have avoided falling victim to its wrath.

A teacher’s worst nightmare

There is a re-occurring dream haunting my sleep. I’ve been having it for seven years. I’ve also been a teacher for seven years. Here’s the dream (which I’m sure is not a reflection of my psychological state; I just overheat under the doona/duvet):

Everything is normal. I’m normally going about my daily business, when suddenly there I am in front of a class full of children. Some faces I don’t recognise, some I do. The ones I recognise are not nice kids. They are usually the kids I hated. But everyone is getting on with their work. So its ok, considering the class is filled with 32 children – two kiddies over the standard recommendation of 30 children.

There I stand before the students opening my mouth with nothing coming out. Also I tend to not be wearing shoes for some reason (having no clothes at all would be too clichéd). I struggle to reach my feet to put on the shoes which appear in my hand. And when I finally speak, I’ve forgotten what I needed to talk about.

I regress into my early attempts as a teacher to be relatable. I try to tell a joke, do a funny voice, or smile. The children appreciate this. They laugh a bit. I become insecure. Are they laughing at the joke? Or are they laughing at me? After all, I’m standing there bare-footed trying to be buddies with them.

A child stands up and yells something. It’s indecipherable, as with many things in dreams. That being said, many children are indecipherable when they yell things in reality. I panic because he’s standing on classroom furniture. If my boss comes in they’ll wonder what’s going on. They’ll discover I’m a fraud who forgot to put his shoes on, cracks jokes with his students and has mistaken the school desks for climbing frames.

Luckily no one enters. But the children are still laughing. It is slowly becoming more manic. I lift up some textbooks to handout. They are too heavy. They feel like lead. I grab a pile of worksheets. They are also heavy, but more like a pile of aluminium sheets than lead. So I manage to lift one worksheet at a time to circulate them around the class.

No one is paying attention to what I’m doing. They walk around the room like zombie hyenas, unable to stop laughing. Perhaps if I get all these worksheets distributed they’ll start working. Yet, handing out one sheet at a time is completely inefficient. Five sheets in, I realise it will be the end of class before I’ve even finished placing all 32 worksheets on the desks.

I’m stuck with the remaining 27 sheets at the back of the room. I can’t make my way towards the whiteboard. There’s a young girl showboating at the front of the room, drawing obscene images on the board in permanent marker, strutting up and down the carpet space.

I begin asking the students to ‘calm their farms’. They get louder and louder. I get louder and louder to be heard. The chaos feels as though it will spill out of the classroom. I’ll be discovered as a failure. I won’t be allowed to teach again.

I shout more and more. They refuse to listen. The laughter turns to jeering.

The walls of the room begin shifting. The windows narrow, there are sofas on the side of the room, a television appears at the side broadcasting an episode of The Simpsons; I’m at home in my flat. But so are the children. They’ve infiltrated my personal sanctuary. I’m repulsed.

I look out the window for sweet relief. There it is a garden full of green ferns and limestone wall terraces. There’s a swing and a cubby house. Sand begins to cascade from the wall. This is the backyard of my parents from my childhood. Am I relapsing into the security blanket of my own youth? Why is the wall crumbling?

The phone rings. Someone close to me (relative/friend/whoever) has died in a horrible plane accident.

This is terrible. It’s the kids’ fault. They kept me here; away from what was important; away from people who cared; away from life.

Then black.

Kid #20 – How a papercut can escalate

The twentieth kid I hated made me bleed.

It was only a paper cut, but it really hurt. Plus fast-moving sheets of A4 copier paper is about as high-stakes as my classrooms get. The worst part was my ego was crushed, because I yelped in pain as it happened, thus dissolving the stern facade I was trying to project to the class. Worse still, the child decided my agony was hysterical and proceeded to mercilessly laugh his way across the room to his stool, continuing to smirk and snigger for a further five minutes.

I’d witnessed nastiness from children before. Yet in terms of callousness this was up there. I’d been innocently standing at the entrance to the room, sent there by a job agency to work a day of supply teaching. I was handing out the worksheets as the students came in, courteously greeting them and guiding them to their chairs. The hyena, who snatched the Science revision from my hand tearing the skin inside my index finger, was just the beginning of a very bad day. It was a day worse than a Daniel Powter song.

It was an all-boys school in some western suburb of London – one that I’ve blotted from my mind, due to the trauma. The rest of the lads lumbered into the room, each snatching their own copy of the revision notes, luckily not severing any more of my fingers. I tried to resume my stern approach as I read out the register. The class was so preoccupied with their self-absorption they refused to engage with the process and I resorted to having someone, who looked half decent, to go through the register with me. This turned out to be a useless proposition, as the student happily marked all 30 names on the register as ‘present’ despite the absence of at least ten of them from the room.

Luckily each student had a notebook with their name on it. There were a bunch of unclaimed notebooks, so I assumed these belonged to the missing students and marked them absent accordingly.

On with the lesson. I’d been left a note by the teacher informing me to show a short documentary and then spend the remaining hour and a half of the lesson letting students revise for an exam. An hour and a half was going to be a very long time for these chumps. It’s a long time for the best of us to spend in one spot. I took a deep breath and began the watch.

The screening of the documentary lasted less than three minutes due to cries of “switch it off!”, “this is boring!” and “who’s David Attenborough?”. I switched it off and set the monkeys to work on their revision.

At first they mostly got about talking to each other and avoiding any form of work. They were calm though, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. However, twenty minutes into the sit-in, the same child who’d injured my finger began to get fidgety. He was sitting at the back of the room and I could see him begin to rock from side to side.

“Please sit still.”

“I can’t sir, it’s the stool.”

“Well let me have a look,” I said and walked towards him.

“Oh no no. It’s fine. It’s fine.”

I backed off, knowing full well that naughty boys wobble stools and not the other way round.  Every couple of minutes there’d be another creak from the back of the room.

“Please stop,” I asked again politely.

After a solid ten minutes of this stool wobbling an almighty crash came from the back of the room. Giggling and more hysteria erupted from the boys. I collected the planks of wood from what remained of the stool and placed them on the teacher’s desk.

All of a sudden the students’ tone changed. They quizzed me on what I’d do with the pieces of the stool.

“I haven’t decided yet,” was my response.

Uncertainty is sometimes the best weapon for keeping kids on their toes. If they don’t know what you’re capable of, they won’t realise how little you are actually capable of. Mostly I intended to sit quietly pondering who had the hair-brained idea of installing cheap pine furniture in a school classroom instead of sturdy welded-iron framed bottom rests.

The serenity of the student’s fear was soon disrupted again.

“It’s hot in here, sir,” gasped a melodramatic pupil. “Can I please open the window?”

Before I could decide whether or not this was a sensible decision, the paper-cutting stool-breaking offender leapt from his new seat and lurched towards the back door of the classroom.

“I’ll open the door!” he shouted.

Now, why architects and builders construct Science classrooms with two doors is beyond me. It’s probably something to do with being able to escape when something explodes. Instead it tends to act as an escape for when a student’s mind implodes from their own stupidity. They may as well replace the ‘exit’ signs above the doors with the word ‘freedom’.

Thus a game of ‘cat and mouse’ began with students at one end of the room trying to distract me while their comrades escaped from whichever alternate exit was furthest from me. After less than five minutes of this nonsense, I sent for the classroom keys and locked the back door. Fortunately, the kid I hated was outside at this point, so I was given a fifteen minute break as he slowly navigated his way around the perimeter of the school yard before entering back through the main door of the classroom.

In regards to the fire safety, well it was too bad if anything ignited. Although since it was not a practical science lesson the odds of this occurring were low. The most likely thing to set fire to anything was the data projector, but I’d turned that off when the documentary proved to be a failed teaching technique.

Settling back into my chair to keep watch I hear an anti-Semitic comment thrown across the room. This is countered by an Islamophobic remark from the opposite side of the class. All of a sudden my classroom has become the Gaza strip. Here was a bunch of teenagers mimicking the violence, they’d seen on the news, both in Palestine and in their own city. Judging by the character of the pupils, some of them may well have had older siblings or relatives involved in some sort of gang culture. I did not want to know. I’m a patient person, but this sort of crazed anger and extreme hatred is what was causing the real-world wars. I’m not employed as a government diplomat. I’m employed as a teacher and at a stretch a vicarious student counsellor. I decided to bring in the big guns and sent for the deputy head teacher.

The deputy came into the room. “Stop fooling around for your teacher. We pay good money for these teachers to come in and teach when your normal teachers are away. For every teacher that comes we pay …” and then he mentioned a figure for a daily rate, which was twice what I was being paid. So either he was lying to shock the children into submission, or I was getting a raw deal from my job agent skimming a large commission off the top. Not only did I want to get home, but according to this deputy I was being ripped off as well. I never bothered following up the salary issue. I didn’t care to know.

“You can all have half an hour detention after school,” he said.

Then he turned to me. “Will you be ok to supervise that?” he asked.

Great, I thought. I’m being short changed already and now I need to spend an extra 30 minutes keeping an eye on these nuisances.

Finally the lesson came to an end, and was then followed by two more equally traumatic sessions with a year seven and then a year eight class. Plus of course the bonus detention at the end of it all. A horrible day bookended by horrible people.

As I left the school that afternoon, and was getting my timesheet signed, the deputy principal signing my form asked how my day had been. I responded honestly.

“They were a bit of a handful,” I said. “Not much work was done and they weren’t very polite”.

“I know,” he said. “It would be great if you could come back again though. They don’t really get a consistent set of teachers here. A lot of the relief/supply staff don’t come back.”

I wonder why, I thought to myself.

“Well, I’ll have a think about it,” I said.

As soon as I was outside the school I rang the teaching agency, who’d deployed me there, and said I’d rather not attend work at that school again. They sounded unsurprised and said that would be fine. It was the only time I ever refused to go back to a school.

And if I ever was to again meet the child who damaged my finger joint, I doubt I’d resist the temptation to sever the dermis of his inner hand with a nice sharp-edged piece of cardboard.

Kid #16 – A hyperactive attention seeker

The sixteenth kid I hated told me London had kebab shops, just before I moved to the UK.

I told him there were kebab shops in Perth, Western Australia. Perhaps he’d never been to the Australian ones because the best were only available past his bedtime.

To be honest, I didn’t really hate this kid at all. He was just a massive handful. If anything, I feared him. Feared how he might lead to my undoing as a qualified professional.

He was the ringleader of his 16 year old counterparts and their horseplay. I was left to babysit them under the guise of teaching them remedial English. The content of the coursework needed heavy dressing up to provide any engagement. Mostly it was a battle of wits between myself and the wannabe gangsters with their varied attempts to twist situations to their advantage.

One such win on their part involved the screening of a film about football fan violence in a West Ham football firm. The kid, in my class, had recently moved to Australia from Manchester. He had a thick accent and would regale his comrades with stories about the rough streets where he’d grown up – hence his referencing of kebab shops I suspect. In reality he probably grew up in a respectable suburb where his mother wouldn’t have allowed him out the house after 4pm. Lucky for him the rest of the cohort had not been further than the nearest Shopping Centre since birth; and their only experiences of gang culture would have been standing dopily in large groups inside Big W during Thursday late night shopping. So the rest of the class hung on his every word.

When he proclaimed the movies I was asking the class to study as ‘boring’, he raised the suggestion of Green Street Hooligans. This was a clear attempt to fool the other students into thinking he’d been part of a violent football firm himself, despite this anarchic culture having being at its height in the 1970s and 80s, well before his birth; and for that matter mine. Nevertheless I found a copy of the film in the bargain bin at the local DVD store and showed it to the students. They thoroughly enjoyed it and then bam I gave them a series of tasks and tests relating to the film. Seemingly unexhausted from the analysis I forced them into, they requested to watch Green Street Hooligans 2 and Green Street Hooligans 3. I refused on the grounds that Elijah Wood did not appear in the sequels. Even if he had, I had frankly seen enough of Frodo Baggins falling in with the wrong crowd to put me off any non-hobbit related outings by Mr Wood.

As if this student’s penchant for screen violence wasn’t bad enough – he also wanted us to watch Gran Torino, a film full of racial violence and Clint Eastwood – the student also insisted on pestering young staff members about their marital status. The less he was told, the more speculative the pestering became. On one occasion a young female staff member entered the classroom, at which point the kid I hated claimed I was blushing. This was awkward for the other staff member also. I told the child to stop projecting his infantile mating rituals onto his teachers. He did not take my advice.

About a month later he began concocting an elaborate conspiracy about myself and another male teacher being in a relationship (conspiracies had become all the rage again. It was around the time of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 so the media was whipping up a new frenzy of conspiracies at the time). Accusations of homosexuality were water off a ducks back to me, in comparison to the persecution I’d been subjected to as Harry Potter’s long lost brother. My colleague, however, was getting the interrogating questions and relentless earbashing worse than me. A curious fact, considering he didn’t even teach this imbecile of a person. So after weeks of wearing down our heterosexual standing with aspersions of doubt cast upon it, my colleague finally snapped, stating publicly that both he and I were dating separate female people and were most definitely not gay.

This of course opened a whole new line of questioning in regards to the nature of our dating partners. So the oppression never really ended.

This student was going too far. He was getting more and more obnoxious. He’d convinced me to show the class films that psychopaths may watch during their leisure time. All of a sudden I was thinking it normal to include episodes of Australian true-crime series Underbelly or the Will Ferrell and Mark Walberg buddy cop comedy film The Other Guys in my teaching of the English Curriculum. In addition, he now knew various sordid details of the fabricated events in my non-existent romantic relationship. Knowledge was power, and his file on me was getting bigger.

To aggravate matters further, the back wall of the classroom adjoined the room my head of department taught classes in. The student drew great pleasure from rocking his chair back to slam into the wall and disturb the other class. Luckily his reputation preceded him and the head of department was on him like a rash to stop it. His persistence with the chair banging charade, encouraged his flock of buffoon disciples to follow suit, eventually forcing me to move the entire set of desks two metres forward from the back wall. At this point, I was then forced up against the whiteboard with barely enough room to rotate my body and press the playback button on whatever crime thriller we were about to watch next.

It wasn’t just myself he caused grief for. He also clearly didn’t realise how annoying he was. Even after he had been told in no uncertain terms. He’d begun an apprenticeship two days a week at a local cabinet makers. Each week, when he returned to the classroom, he’d blather on about how he’d spent most of the time relaxing in the corner and passing his boss the wrong tools. He was learning little or nothing about work ethic from this apprenticeship. It also turned out that when he was at the worksite he blathered even more than in the classroom. I know this, because he proudly announced to us one day how his boss had become so agitated by the incessant babbling, he had grabbed the student and pushed him to the floor and given him a stern talking to. I remember thinking at the time, how nice it would be if we could do the same thing to our students every once in a while; albeit I don’t have the upper body strength. Nevertheless, the student learnt nothing from the dressing down. His quest in life was not to make cabinets but to make headaches for the grownups that surrounded him.

Despite the nonsense, there were times when the young lad was certainly an entertaining fellow. If you weren’t in a position of authority, I’m sure he’d have made a loyal friend.

When I finally left the school, I did not tell any of the students until the final week. This was due in most part to my fear of the delinquent class this child belonged to. If they knew I was about to leave, they would have gone from doing stuff all to doing whatever comes below that. So it was to my surprise that upon hearing of my departure on the final day of term, the student exclaimed that I should have told him earlier so he could have organised a proper farewell. In true cavalier style he jumped from his chair and rushed down to the English office to request some card. There was none. He returned with an A3 piece of paper which was neatly folded in half and passed around the room in front of me for the worst kept secret signing of a card I’ve witnessed. But it is always the sentiment. Even if that sentiment comes from a place of avoiding more essay writing. The kind words of well wishing, demands for Facebook friend requests, and usual misspellings of my name are still kept in that prided card now sitting on my bookshelf (or in the trash. I can’t remember exactly). There may even have been mention in the card of a recommended kebab shop

So if I ever meet this child again on a high street somewhere, at 2am in the morning, with a craving for E coli in a wrap, I know I’ll chip in a couple of pounds so he can get extra topping on his shredded lamb and salad snack; because sometimes there are kids I tolerated.

Kid #14 – The Wizard in the Hallway

The fourteenth kid I hated yelled “expelliarmus!” at me from the corridor. Not to be outdone I yelled “alohomora!” which only unlocked a filing cabinet. So then I yelled “crucio!” which unleashed intense pain on my victim. I later double checked the spell in my spell book (and on Wikipedia) to realise using this spell leads to a life sentence in Azkaban prison. But I don’t think anyone saw me.

These are the trials and tribulations of being a white middle class male who wears black rimmed spectacles. I don’t have a scar on my forehead, but I do have a scar on my chin from when I fell on a limestone wall in Pre Primary. When I first started teaching, students would question my age, claiming I looked as though I’d gone straight from Year 12 into the classroom as a teacher; without having been to University in between. Being told you look younger than you are may be a compliment in any other circumstance, but when you’re trying to wrangle teenagers, you want them to at least think you’ve got ten years more life experience than them. A wise colleague once told me to grow a beard as a method for stretching the age gap. It worked for a while, but by the time my beard had grown properly it was 2010, and Daniel Radcliffe was already collecting the Deathly Hallows while sporting his own grubby stubble. Thus my attempts to distance myself from this fictional prodigy wizard had backfired and I was one golden snitch away from becoming Harry Potter himself.

It became an ongoing whisper in every new classroom I entered. “He looks like Harry Potter”; “OMG it’s Harry Potter”; “Harry Potter”.

Had it not been my supposed resemblance to Harry Potter, it would presumably have been something else the children would cause me grief over. Students are always looking for something. I remember when we were students it would be everything from mimicking our teachers’ accents and nervous ticks, to critiquing their choice of fashion or poking fun at the volume of hair on their chest. Teenagers find a way to be cruel no matter the attempts to neutralise.

Despite being an adult, when a teenager pokes fun at you to your face or from a distance, you revert to similar defences you had as a child. Mine was usually to ignore the bullies. As an adult you tell yourself that children don’t mean anything personally and they’re just bored or trying to distract you.

This works for a while until you begin to take it personally. Like the time a student asked why the tongues of my shoes were sitting over the bottom of my trouser legs, instead of vice versa. There’s nothing worse than getting fashion advice from fashionable teenagers. Even if your fashion is fashionable those judging staring all-knowing eyes of the youth will cut through your soul, because they are fashion. The attempts to ‘ignore the bully’ turn to anger. Their remarks are met with “Be quiet and get on with your work”.

Other times you may fight their abuse with logic, “Well if you’ve seen the latest Russell and Bromley range you’ll know they’re worn in this way”. This of course will be met with, “Russell Who?”, a smirk and a snigger.

Trying to make a game of it lasts for a short while. Embracing the Harry Potter persona by raising my pen as a wand often garnered some attention and cooperation. The unknowing nature of the intellectually challenged students, meant that they saw me as unpredictable. They questioned whether the fountain pens in my top drawer really could leave them with a mutilated limb or a head replaced by that of an animal. However, soon enough the intrigue turns to disappointment and they realised the only sparks flying from the nib of the wand pen would be congealed lumps of blue ink.

The last resort worked the best. I got contact lenses (A different pair of less rounded brown framed glasses did not work – apparently all glasses look like Harry Potter glasses on a short haired male in his early twenties). Removing the glasses altogether did nothing for me in the school where I was already working. The kiddily-winks saw straight through it. But entering new schools in the years to follow meant they would know me only as the short-haired white middle-class male who did not resemble Daniel Radcliffe in the slightest. They of course found a new feature to pick upon. I think it was my vague resemblance to a famous footballer I’d never heard of. Probably the weedy one who never goes to the gym and watches American sitcom DVD boxsets.

There is no winning.

In regards to the child who cast his spell through the doorway of my Year 11 English classroom, I never saw him again after that. He was not one of my students. But the fits of hysterics, he sent my students into, haunt me every time I wear my spectacles upon my face.

So although he was probably joking as he lumbered down the hallway that fateful day, if we met again I doubt I’d offer him any of my chocolate frogs.