Friday, December 7, 2012

Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps #1)

Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps #1)
R.L. Stine
Scholastic, 1992

Genre: Horror


Welcome to Dead House tells the story of Amanda, 12, and Josh, 11, Benson who move to the town of Dark Falls. The siblings are very upset at having to move, mainly because it came on suddenly when their father received a letter from a lawyer informing him that he had inherited a huge home from a great uncle named Charles. Despite the fact that no one can remember Charles, Mr. and Mrs. Benson decide to uproot the family since Mr. Benson had been looking for a way to quit his boring office job and pursue his true love of writing.

When the family meets with the real estate agent, Compton Dawes, and view the home, only Amanda and Josh and their dog, Petey, sense that something is not quite right in this town. Despite the fact that it is the middle of July, the entire neighborhood seems covered in an artificial darkness created by massive, overhanging tree limbs. Shade and shadows cover everything. Amanda also sees a boy looking at her out of one of the windows . . . but that’s not possible—the house is abandoned. Soon after moving in, Amanda keeps seeing young boys and girls in the house and hearing strange giggling sounds. The friends she and Josh make also seem a bit odd.

One night when going out late to try to find Petey in the local cemetery after he has run away they are stopped by one of their friends, Ray, who tries to get them to turn around. When they refuse to go back home, Ray attacks Amanda while Josh is still looking for Petey, but Josh saves her when he shines his flashlight on Ray’s face which causes him to melt and become a pile of dust. Back at home they are surrounded by all the neighborhood children who tell them that they are all dead, having been murdered when they lived in the Benson’s new house. Once a year, they must have the blood from a freshly killed family to sustain their "living dead" existence. Suddenly, Mr. Dawes appears at the door and the dead children vanish. He tells them that he has already saved their parents and that he will take them to them.

They soon realize that Mr. Dawes is one of the dead people and that he is leading them to their deaths. When they confront him, he explains that long ago the whole town was infected with a yellow gas from its chemical factory and that everyone died, but was later resurrected as a town of living dead. Josh succeeds in killing the already dead Mr. Dawes with a blow of his flashlight. Their mom and dad are imprisoned in an amphitheater in the cemetery shaded by a huge tree. Amanda and Josh push on the old, nearly uprooted, tree which moves and allows sunlight pour in. The dead people melt away as soon as the sunlight touches them. Amanda and Josh save their parents. A few days later as the family is leaving the Dead House they see a new family pulling into the driveway. Driving away, Amanda swears she sees Mr. Dawes standing on the porch.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

Back in the 1980s and 1990s horror reigned in youth literature series. Following the success of the Fear Street novels for teens, the co-founder of Parachute Press, Joan Waricha, persuaded R.L. Stine to write a series of scary books for children—the young siblings of the teens reading Fear Street. The result was the original five-year long running series Goosebumps. (Doesn’t it seem like it ran for so much longer?) Stine originally signed a six-book deal and went on to write 62 books in the original series. Goosebumps has spawned numerous spin offs, a TV show, and merchandise. As of 2008, the series had sold over 350 million books worldwide in 35 languages.

The first book in the series, released in July 1992, was Welcome to Dead House. It established the formula for all the following books by having a raised (very goosebump-like) title with ooze flowing down the sides of the cover illustration. The back covers also claim the catchphrase, “Readers beware—you’re in for a scare,” with a title blurb of the next Goosebumps to look forward too. Each book also gives a few pages of a sneak peak into the next installment as well.

Most of the Goosebumps books average around 120 pages. The plots move fast and the language is very simple. One thing that bugged me, which only lasted the first short half page, was that the word “house” was used over and over again. Asides from that story is a bit predictable from an adult perspective and isn’t the best out of all the Goosebumps novels as there are some that are so out there they are stupid while there are some that are very original and well written (my favorites being Say Cheese and Die and the Night of the Living Dummy trilogy). It is a good introduction to the formula of the series and the cover is definitely eye catching with an old creepy house. There was to be a sequel many years later in 2000 when Stine had planned to write Happy Holidays from Dead House as the second book in his Goosebumps Gold series. Unfortunately, the series was never published.

Amanda and Josh represent a good example of typical 1990s sibling rivalry. The story is told from her point of view and she says that her “brother is the most impatient kid in the world. And when he makes up his mind about something, that's it. He's a little spoiled. At least, I think so. Whenever he makes a big fuss about something, he usually gets his way. We may look alike, but we're really not that similar. I'm a lot more patient than Josh is. A lot more sensible. Probably because I'm older and because I'm a girl.”

Amanda, upon moving in, begins seeing children in her room. Their first night there she sees a boy and goes to investigate. She’s looking around upstairs when Josh scares her. As she is yelling at him, her bedroom door slowly starts to swing open. She can hear movement and giggles from inside the room. Josh backs away from the door with a look of sheer terror on his face. Amanda goes in the room but no one is there. She discovers that the window was open and that must be the reason for the weird sounds. Josh calls from the hallway ask if she's all right but because he scared her she remains quiet to pull a trick on him. Unfortunately he screams for their parents—total tattletale move.

There is only one small mention of gender/physical description discrimination. Amanda's hardest job was saying goodbye to her friends, including her best friend Kathy. She says, “I think some people were surprised that Kathy and I had stayed such good friends. For one thing, we look so different. I'm tall and thin and dark, and she's fair skinned, with long blonde hair, and a little chubby.” Once again this is a prime example of the not so subtle comments that appear in many series books for youth that give them the idea that you really don’t want to be friends with the chubby kids. I love how the idea behind the sentence is that the two girls look nothing alike so it is shocking to others that they are even friends in the first place!

There are a number of good scenes in which Amanda and Josh interact with their parents. Usually, parents are pretty absent from series books (and books for children in general). While they aren’t totally in the picture, they are featured quite often and sometimes in a more unflatteringly realistic portrayal—as in they aren’t just one big Happy Hollister family.

When the family is first viewing the house and are ready to leave, Amanda can't find Josh anywhere. Her father seems to think he probably just ran away to blow off steam. Her mother is worried that he might have gotten lost. Mr. Dawes suggests they get in the car and drive around the block looking for him. The narration reads, “Mom shook her head and glanced nervously at dad. 'I'll kill him,' she muttered. Dad patted her on the shoulder.” I liked this line because it shows kind of an angrier mother when usually fathers are seen as the disciplinarians while mothers are the kinder souls. Over the next few weeks Amanda reminisces about the house she's about to leave. It all becomes reality when the boxes start to come in they need to pack up. She says, “Mom and dad were snapping at each other over nothing at all. One morning they had a big fight over whether the bacon was too crispy or not. In a way, it was funny to see them being so childish.”

Moving day has finally come and it's a rainy day. When they finally make it to the house, Amanda lags behind as something catches her eye in the window. It's the face of the same boy she saw on her first visit. Amanda tries to tell her mother about the boy she saw but her mother has no time for her: “Why didn’t she believe me? Why did she have to say it was a reflection of a tree I saw there?” When she hears mysterious noises in her room their first night there, her father promises to take a look at the window which seems to keep flying open. Amanda's mother says that she got no sleep last night and Amanda agrees, saying that she was worried the strange boy would show up in her room again. Her mother chastises her by saying, “Boys in your room. Curtains blowing. You have to realize that you're nervous, and your imagination is working overtime.”

Her parents have a lot of work to do still unpacking everything. They make a suggestion that Amanda and Josh go explore the neighborhood. Poor Josh wants his bike but it's buried in the garage. He then wants his basketball but it's also buried in a box somewhere and his father says that finding his basketball isn't his top priority of things to get done. As Amanda heads upstairs to get changed, she stops on the landing when she sees a strange girl smiling down at her with the coldest, most frightening smile she had ever seen. Amanda calls for her father. Her father tells her she's imagining things. He points to a pile of clothes that her mother has unpacked and says that must be her “girl” but Amanda knows that she's not crazy enough to mistake a pile of clothes for a person.

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