Monday, May 6, 2013

Goosebumps Review: Welcome to Dead House

It will just kill you.
Hey! Saquarry here. So, I'm starting up a new review series where I plan to review every Goosebumps book and books kind of or semi associated with that series or R. L Stine in general. This is quite the endeavor, I hope you understand, but it's something I've been wanting to do for years. And now I finally have the energy and the resources to see it through to the end. And when I say end, I do mean even the current stuff- eventually.

I'm going to review these books chronologically when they were published, so it may seem all over the place at times, but that's what I would like to do. I also have some teen R. L. Stine books I'd like to talk about at some point, most notably some of my favorite of the actual Fear Street books. But we'll get there. I'm excited for the possibilities and the reviews. For the most part I haven't read any of these books in about twelve years or so, but I still have them all from the original run of the series. Now, I may have to buy a couple, most notably in the Ghosts of Fear Street books (especially the later books int hat series which were nearly impossible for me to find back then) as well as some of the short story collection if I decide to do them.

Anyway, this whole review series will involve everything with the Goosebumps name, even the Give Yourself Goosebumps choose your own adventure stories. And that's about it. I won't be touching any movies or television shows of Goosebumps though. I never watched them as a kid and have no real interest in them now. I guess I could talk about them at some point if interest is shown in this review series, but I'm not biting to do it.

I grew up reading these books, and they certainly have had a sizable impact on the person I am today. I probably wouldn't love horror half as much as I do without these books. They led me to many other avenues and other great books and movies as well, since a decent portion of these books play off of more famous actual horror or sci-fi movies, books, television shows, etc.

The series as a whole is fairly reminiscent of The Twilight Zone for kids, specifically the books with the crazy twists at the end. I will spoil these books as well, so read at your own risk. Since I'm sure people are terrified of having a twenty year old children's horror novel spoiled for them. I'm sure that keeps them up at night.

As for formatting, these reviews will come in two sections. The first will be what I recall of the book. I'll talk about my memories, whether I was fond of it or not, if it ever scared me, and how well the book stuck with me. Sometimes this section will be very long. Other times it may not exist at all. The second section will be my impressions and thoughts about the book now after reading it.

And that's about all I have. So, without further ado-

-let's go to Dark Falls.

"I'm surrounded by death, I thought."

Welcome to Dead House was published in 1992, the month of July. It was the first Goosebumps book released, and was numbered 1 in its original binding. It is the only book of the entire series that really felt like it was written for an older audience back when I first read it. The imagery, the nightmare that Amanda has, and the dog, Petey, dying in the book makes this one both memorable and slightly more intense than any other books in the series, in both my opinion and in my memory.

Now, for whatever reason this is probably the only book from the original series that ever scared me as a kid. I did not like some of the content, and the writing, to me back then, was so different than the other books of the series, that I tended to liken it much more to the older audience R. L. Stine books, like the Fear Street books or those Babysitter books. I didn't read this book very often, and tended to avoid rereading it unlike some of the others that I absolutely loved. It was probably one of my least favorites of the original series, but only because I felt that it was so different from the rest.

I have no real fond memories of it, and my memory of this book (not pleasant memories) was the biggest hurtle to actually starting these reviews in the first place. I tend to remember most of the other Goosebumps books having a lot of personality, but for whatever reason this one always struck me as very flat. The characters and the story barely seem to be able to work in a real world setting, and, in fact, the whole premise falls apart if you think on it too much. I did as a child, and I didn't like the answers my mind came up with.

I will say that the name Dark Falls was something I really enjoyed and remembered for years afterward. I would use the name to describe any town or area near me that had heavily shaded roads for miles around. Where I live has a ton of thick forests and trees that cover over the roads throughout the year. So, Dark Falls was a very real place to me, just not by that name.

Reading it again, I found this book interesting. It read better than I remembered, giving a ton of characterizations I simply didn't remember, mostly to Amanda, the main character and first person narrator. She starts a trend of R. L. Stine leaning (from my memory) to more female protagonists than males. Usually the protagonists are twelve and their sibling is ten. Their sibling is generally the opposite sex to them as well.

Amanda easily has the most characterization in the book, with her brother, Josh, a distant second as the annoying sibling who sometimes does useful things. The book moves slowly in the beginning, establishing the move in a long-winded way that grew tiresome. The slow build to the house being haunted was also flat, as nothing truly seemed to happen that wasn't also explained away. Nothing seemed scary exactly so much as slightly annoying. Even Amanda doesn't truly act scared. She seemed to think away most of the spooky elements so that nothing in the early part of the book really ever seemed ambiguous or actually creepy.

Once they're actually in Dead House and have met the other kids in town, that's when the story both picks up and grows much more interesting. I mean, it still largely falls flat around the edges, but it also starts having some personality. The set-pieces are well done, starting with Amanda's nightmare and the way she vividly describes it. Her not being able to move in the nightmare is a sticking point for me since that actually happens in real life, and it is legitimately terrifying. I know this from personal experience.

Petey's "death," or at least the kids finding him dead is also awful. I can't think of many other children's horror books (or adult horror books) that have the steel determination to actually do that and pull it off well. It's awful, but effective at being the turning point of the book.

Honestly, the second half is much better than the first at being an action piece, but the beginning is much better at having a creeping fear in the back of the mind. Both parts of the book undermine one another though, with neither coming off quite as effectively because of the other. The heavy characterizations of the first half are thrown out for action set-pieces in the second, whereas the action set-pieces are fun but are undermined by the slow-paced trudge of the first half. Many elements of the story never come back into play, for instance Kathy, Amanda's bets friend who she talks about at decent length in an early chapter, has no significance to the story besides showing up in her nightmare. The parents likewise have no real use to them, only showing up as damsels in distress at the end of the book, but having no real characterization besides that.

The cemetery, while a good set-piece, literally is never scary. There is never one moment that the cemetery is supposed to be scary. It is almost the most friendly and inviting part of the entire story, which should never be the case. It's a graveyard. They're supposed to be creepy and uninviting. Part of that is in the descriptions, which seem so strong for the nightmare and the skulls of the dead people, but seems very flat for the environments and locales. From my memory R. L. Stine fixes this very soon, but right here it's very evident that he had very odd priorities while writing this one. The transition from teenage horror and adult horror to kid horror must have been a difficult one, and this book hasn't seemed to quite hit the mark.

The story is pretty obvious. Parents and two kids move into a house supposedly left to them by a great-uncle. It's in a town called Dark Falls surrounded by shade. They meet some odd kids, see that the town is kind of dead, think that the house is haunted, and eventually are surprised when all their worst fears are realized. Their dog is killed because it can sense the dead people. And the family is ready to be put up as a sacrifice for the town, the newest dead people to enter and never leave, but Amanda and Josh save the day, the dead people are killed yet again, and they leave the house forever just as another family goes to check it out.

The twist at the end, with the question of whether or not everybody in the town is truly the at rest kind of dead, is a good one, but this town is not truly scary, and I never found investment in the story anyway.

This book is okay. It leads me to many questions about the logic of the story, but that's to be expected at times, especially with stories of this nature. I can't really use those problems as sticking points though. It would be as unfair as using cold hard logic against a Twilight Zone episode. It would unfair. And it would not be what the story was trying to do or say. Instead I focus on the parts of the Goosebumps books I used to like, and where I think this one didn't hit its marks. The characters are mostly very flat, the set-pieces, although good at times, are not consistent, and the goriness seems to be there for shock value but not really for good writing or storytelling. It's a quick, non-nonsense story that has little to offer beyond a little shock and awe and some dry characters.

As a kid, I didn't like it. As an adult, I'm not in love with it, but I see its value. It's not bad even if it has a ton of problems. The writing is mostly solid, and the issues there are seem more related to the nature of a kid's horror novel and what that means than to anything else. I think I appreciate this book slightly more now than I did as a kid, but I doubt I'd ever read it again. I don't really like it so much as tolerate it and understand its important as the first one. It's a weak book of the original series, but one worth starting out to read. They seriously can only get better from here.

1 comment:

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