Front Tagline: If looks could kill...
Back Tagline: Face to Face With a Nightmare...
Official Book Description:
How ugly is Carly Beth's Halloween mask? It's so ugly that it almost scared her little brother to death. So terrifying that efen her friends are totally freaked out by it.
It's the best Halloween mask ever. It's everything Carly Beth hoped it would be. And more.
Maybe too much more. Because Halloween is almost over.
And Carly Beth is still wearing that special mask...
The book opens with our hero, Carly Beth, eating lunch with her best friend Sabrina. Apparently, and this is some pretty edgy humor here, the lunchroom food at the school is bad! Take that, Public Middle School Lunches! Carly Beth is trying to decide what to be for Halloween. Sabrina, like all best friends in a Goosebumps book, is a total bitch and points out that Carly Beth is a scaredy cat who probably shouldn't even be celebrating Halloween. Sabrina reminds Carly Beth of the time that she thought Sabrina's attic was haunted when in fact it was just two boys from school walking around up there, trying to scare her. Wait, boys being in her attic at night is a lot more disturbing than if there actually were ghosts.
In the cafeteria, two boys, Chuck and Steve, scare Carly Beth. They do this by having Steve place his hand on Carly Beth's shoulder. I'm starting to agree with Sabrina here. Steve then offers her his turkey sandwich, and she takes it which is I bet a good idea. Carly Beth bites in and tastes a worm Chuck has placed in the sandwich. She freaks out but Chuck tells her not to worry, it wasn't a real worm. Then he tells her to touch it and see. Turns out it was a real worm. Very clever Chuck! Carly Beth runs away to the bathroom to upchuck Chuck's worm up. For those of you who got really excited by the synopsis of this scene, RL Stine would eventually go on to write an entire book about worm-eating. That's right, I'm of course referring Goosebumps #20: The Scarecrow Walks At Midnight.
That afternoon at home, Carly Beth talks to her mother, Mrs. Caldwell, who is described as wearing a big dirty sweatshirt over Lycra tights. I guess Mrs. Caldwell shouldn't expect a call from Mr. Blackwell any time soon. Carly Beth's mom shows her daughter the plaster replica head she made in her daughter's likeness. Carly Beth asks her mother why she made a lifelike plaster head of her, to which Mrs. Caldwell replies, "Because I love you," which is I guess a better answer than "Because it will be important to the plot later on."
Mrs. Caldwell tells Carly Beth that she's making her a duck costume to wear for Halloween. This is where the book takes a turn for the worse, because Carly Beth does not want to wear a duck costume. However, I'm pretty sure I'd rather read about her wearing a duck costume than whatever is actually coming next. Carly Beth tells the reader that she regrets admiring the duck costume when she saw it in a costume shop window and telling her mother. She regrets admiring the duck costume. Reader Beware, You're In For A Scare!
Carly Beth goes upstairs to sulk and regret admiring the duck costume some more. She opens the door to her bedroom and suddenly the duck costume has come to life and it attacks her! But wait, oh, it's just Noah, her eight-year old brother playing with her costume! Characters in these books are always getting scared by siblings waiting in their rooms, you'd think at least one of these kids would learn to leave their door open or something.
Sabrina calls Carly Beth to figure out a time to meet and finish working on their Science Fair project, which is a representation of the solar system using ping pong balls. Wait, "finish working" on gluing ping pong balls to strings? Did they have to leave three minutes into the last time they met?
At the science fair the next day, the girls are disappointed. Not only do they not win, but it turns out their project contains no science. We the readers are also briefly introduced to a character with the improbable name of Mary Sue Chong, who has built a robotic arm that waves at people. Isn't that called a fan? Someone's tarantula gets lose and then Steve pinches Carly Beth's leg to make her think he was a tarantula. Anyways.
At home on Halloween night, Carly Beth collects her life savings of thirty dollars and slips out to buy the scariest Halloween mask ever. After braving the creepy night atmosphere to walk to the local costume shop, she discovers that it's already closed! But luckily the shop owner, whose physical description fits John Waters if John Waters wore a cape, lets her in to buy a mask. He suggests she might want to buy a gorilla mask, but she decides against it because the gorilla mask isn't scary enough, which I guess allows for the gorilla mask to be scary to some degree.
The shopkeeper goes into the back to answer the phone and Carly Beth discovers a secret room with masks that are scarier than ten gorilla masks! She finds just the mask she's looking for, the mask on the cover of the book. The shopkeeper finds her, whips his cape around, and informs her that the mask is not for sale, as it is "too scary." So this book has gotten amazing.
She keeps trying to buy the mask and he keeps telling her that the mask is too scary. He even tries to give her a good deal on one of his scarier gorilla masks, but she insists, she has to have the scary mask to scare Steve and Chuck. He tells her she'll be sorry and sells her the scary mask. She runs home and tries to think of who to scare first, then decides that Noah, her eight-year old brother, has been "asking for it."
As Carly Beth enters the house, she smells her mom's cider and informs the reader that her mom really gets into the holidays. Um, which holidays exactly? Carly Beth passes her Christmas Tree, Easter Basket, Arrow-Shooting Cupid, and Arbor Day Tree on the way to find her little brother. She puts on the mask outside his bedroom door and barges in. Her plan to scare an eight-year old boy succeeds, but unfortunately her follow-up plan to remove the mask fails. The mask is stuck on Carly Beth's face.
Except not really as she just has to pull on it a little. Pshew, I thought there might be conflict or tension in the book, glad we took care of that. Carly Beth decides the best way to scare her friends is to wear the hideous mask and then also carry around the plaster head on a stick, as though she had decapitated herself. Hmm, that's pretty good, but just imagine how much scarier it would have been if she was wearing a gorilla mask.
Carly Beth manages to sneak out with the mask on, as her mother still thinks she's going as a duck for Halloween. If only Carly Beth had admired a hideous creature holding her own head on a stick in the costume shop window, she wouldn't be having these problems. She runs over to Sabrina's house and scares two boys who she thinks are Steve and Chuck but are actually just some young boys. The mother of the young boys scolds Carly Beth, and Carly Beth responds back in a raspy voice that is not her own. Carly Beth tells off the mother and starts thinking about how much she wants to maul and then eat the woman. This is what she gets for not picking the gorilla mask. She could be standing outside someone's house wanting a banana, but instead she's thinking of ways to murder and then ingest a mother of two. The mother wisely leads her kids away.
Sabrina opens her front door, dressed as Cat Woman. The two girls wait outside on a lonely corner for Steve and Chuck to arrive. Sabrina says something about how Carly Beth's mask must be making her sweat and Carly Beth retaliates by trying to choke her to death. Proportional response.
Carly Beth stops choking Sabrina and laughs it all off as her pretending to choke her. I'm not sure Carly Beth understands the concept of pretending. The two girls tire of waiting and start trick-or-treating. At the home of a little girl, Carly Beth tells the little tyke she's going to eat her and her mother. Sabrina as Cat Woman tells the little girl something a lot less dramatic in comparison.
This already pretty weird book (even by Goosebumps standards) only gets weirder as a middle-aged man invites the two girls in so that Carly Beth can scare his elderly mother, who is in a wheelchair. Carly Beth fails to get any response from the comatose woman and the two girls are given apples on their way out, which Carly Beth heaves back at the house in anger.
Sabrina wisely suggests the two split up. Carly Beth then takes to the night, scaring random trick-or-treaters and stealing their candy. Finally she happens upon Steve and Chuck, and she successfully scares them! She then tells them that she is some sort of creature who took Carly Beth's head. She then confronts the two boys and what follows is just too good to wait for the Great Prose Alert:
"Hand over your bags," Carly Beth insisted coldly. "Or your heads will adorn my stick."
Carly Beth looks up at the fake head on a stick and sees that the eyes and mouth are moving, and Carly Beth's voice escapes from the head, crying out for help. The two boys take off and Carly Beth haphazardly discards the head on a stick. Sabrina comes across Carly Beth and the two go back to Sabrina's to sift through their candy. After some cautious social commentary regarding differing types of candies, Sabrina takes off her Cat Woman mask and invites Carly to take of hers as well, except... it's stuck. For reals this time.
Carly Beth starts freaking out, as the skin of the mask has melted into her own. Sabrina grabs some scissors and prepares to cut the mask off, but of course the mask's skin is now Carly Beth's. Carly Beth freaks out royally and runs out of Sabrina's house, into the night. Sabrina calls after her... that she's forgotten her coat. Awesome.
Carly Beth wanders around the neighborhood for a bit scaring more kids and so on. She winds up back at the costume shop, where the caped shopkeeper, expecting her arrival, has stayed late. He invites her in. He explains that he can't take off her mask because it's not a mask at all, but a real face. He then takes her to see the secret room of masks again. He tells her the faces are The Unloved, real faces he cooked up in his lab. So he's a scientist. He explains how his experiments were taken out of his hands and turned ugly, yet he couldn't leave his faces behind so he keeps them in the secret room until they find a new home... a new body for their face.
But good news. There is a way to remove the mask, but it can only be done once, and whoever wears the mask next will forever wear the new face. When I become a scientist, I'm not going to create things that have such terrible, arbitrary rules attached to them. He tells her the mask can only be removed by a symbol of love. When I become a scientist, I'm also not going to make any rules I attach to my creations incredibly vague and maudlin. Carly Beth throws a fit and wakes up the other masks, and the shopkeeper urges her to run away from the store. Carly Beth lingers a moment and then runs out of the store as a parade of the floating heads fly after her. What.
The evil heads fly after her in single-file as she races through the neighborhoods, searching for her head on a stick. Jesus, read that sentence again. Carly Beth figures that since her mother told her she made the head out of love, it would work as a symbol of love and break the mask's spell. She finds the head on a stick in someone's yard, pulls the head off and slams it down over her own, screaming "Go Away, Go Away, This is my symbol of love!" The head slides over the mask like a second mask. She leaves the second mask on for a few moments, then slides it off. She discovers she can now slide the other mask off too and does so. She walks home, carrying both masks.
But the Twist is:
Once home, Carly's mother wants to know how her Halloween night went. Before she can tell her, Noah walks in wearing Carly Beth's mask and asking how he looks.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Kind of a tough one. Our hero Carly Beth Caldwell is better friends with her female friend Sabrina than say Steve and Chuck or her younger brother Noah. Luckily, she still disappears into her mask halfway through the novel.
Though it's never said directly, we the reader can ascertain that Mrs. Caldwell, being an "art mother," smokes copious amounts of marijuana.
Early 90s Cultural References:
Star Trek, Freddy Kreuger, "Mutant Ninja Turtles," Cat Woman, Indiana Jones, gorilla masks
Get Off the Stage! Alert:
Carly Beth on the plaster head: "Two heads are better than one, right?"
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
"Carly Beth pulled open the door-- and uttered a startled cry.
Great Prose Alert:
"Bad news," Carly Beth sympathized.
Not quite as scary as if she'd have gone with the gorilla mask. All told though, one of the stranger (and stronger) entries in the series.