Reader Beware Month: Welcome to Dead House

The haunted house is one of the most famous sub-genres of horror.  Apparitions in the attic, demons in the dining room, banshee in the basement, all have been done countless times in movies and books.  Haunted houses have practically become a cornerstone of the horror genre.  It’s only appropriate, then, that the first Goosebumps book ever published was a haunted house story.  I just wish Welcome to Dead House wasn’t so boring.

We follow 12-year-old Amanda Benson and her 11-year-old brother Josh as they move into a new house in the town of Dark Falls.  It seems that their father inherited the house from a distant relative and their parents want to take advantage of the free property.  But Amanda keeps getting this strange feeling she’s being watched from the shadows…

For the most part, this story contains all the haunted house gimmicks:  creaky floor boards, billowing curtains, whispers in the dead of night.  The usual spooky suspects.  The problem is, for a 124 page novel, there is far too much build up and not enough pay off.  Most of the book follows this scenario:  Amanda sees or hears something weird, investigates, finds something completely normal, then writes it off as paranoia.  About 90% of the scares in this book amount to absolutely nothing.  The pacing for the first 80 pages is horrendously slow and boring.

If the story is boring and generic, the characters that run it are even more so.  Amanda just seems like that generic blank-slate, self-insert character kids need, which is pretty much what I expected in a main character in a kid’s book.  Her brother, however, is an obnoxious, annoying brat.  From the start of the story, Josh complains and annoys at every turn.  Toward the end, the character tried to redeem himself by not being as annoying, but it never worked on me.  The parents of the story might as well not exist for all the good they do.  Then again, it’s a Goosebumps story.  Parents can’t save you in those.

The twist toward the end of the story is one that sort of irks me.  I really don’t want to spoil it for any readers curious enough to read this book, so I won’t.  I’ll just say what is revealed is pretty predictable early on.  I’m just confused as to what these undead things were and why they needed fresh blood.

Also, this book takes a surprisingly dark turn and one that I didn’t see coming at all.  This is the only thing I’ll spoil for you because I was not prepared and you need to be.  The dog, the adorable pooch that wants nothing more than to warn his family that the house is evil… dies.  Yep, the dog gets killed off between scenes seemingly in a very brutal manner.  I know that the Goosebumps books don’t pull punches, but I didn’t think the first book would get THAT dark.

In the end, this is just your simple, basic haunted house story with not really many scares in sight.  Even for children, this book is fairly tame.  Just don’t expect it to be above getting really dark at moments.  It may not be the best, but it’s perfectly serviceable as the first installment of this creepy classic series.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to see why my curtains are blowing around when the window is shut tight…

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