After finishing Goosebumps Graphix 2: Terror Tales, I've started reading the original series by R.L. Stine. I remarked in an earlier review of the aforementioned graphic novel that what really caught my curiosity as a kid was One Day At Horrorland. However, as tempted as I have been to begin with this particular book, it seemed best to follow the series in order. Over the past few nights I've been reading several chapters at a time, and having finished last night I can share my thoughts on Stine's first Goosebumps novella, Welcome To Dead House. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)
The story begins simple enough. Amanda and Josh Benson are apprehensive about their family's move to a new neighborhood, as most children would be. But when Mr. Benson inherited the large, old house in Dark Falls from his late, Great-Uncle Charles it was more or less decided. Rather odd, considering that neither Mr. or Mrs. Benson can recall this particular relative. Regardless, the inheritance seems like a godsend and Mr. Benson leaves his mundane office job to pursue his dream of being a writer. (I find this device a little cliché when the author self-injects themselves into the story, albeit indirectly.) Amanda has a tearful farewell with her best friend Katherine and Josh, an annoyingly obstinate boy, whines during the entire move. At least their dog, Petey, helps as a distraction. However, like most animals in horror stories, the normally friendly family dog seems to have a sixth sense. He's leery of the old house and especially hostile towards Mr. Compton Dawes, the real estate agent. It's not long after that Amanda begins witnessing strange things that give credence to the dog's behavior.
Being twelve years old, and already aggravated by Josh's persistence to act like an infant, the Benson parents brush off anything that Amanda brings to their attention. The strange girl in their house is simply a pile of clothes in the hallway, the billowing curtains of a closed window is just a hidden air leak in her bedroom. Typical excuses are found for each sight, up to the point where Amanda becomes half-convinced herself that these are only figments of the imagination. Maybe Amanda would be more inclined to accept her parents' explanations if it were not for the neighborhood or the children, both of which are equally unsettling. Every house in Dark Falls is overshadowed by trees, blanketing the town in a constant darkness, save for the road and town schoolyard. The neighborhood is all too still with no signs of life, save for the circle of kids they become acquainted with. As for the town children, they seem friendly enough, but occasionally Amanda catches hints of an of inside joke and moments of malice. Then again, it could just be her imagination.
During an afternoon playing with the local kids, Amanda and Josh notice that Petey has gone missing. Strange, since Josh could swear that he tied the dog's leash tight to the schoolyard fence. This was a necessary precaution, since the dog barks and bites at these kids, too. So the two siblings spend the rest of the day searching, but to no avail, and return home before their parents leave for a neighborhood potluck that evening. Putting themselves to bed, Amanda lies awake with worry until Josh enters with an idea to search the Dark Falls cemetery. During their first visit, Josh had chased after the dog and followed Petey there. It seems very likely that the dog returned there. Unable to deter her brother, Amanda comes along, guided by Josh's flashlight since there are no streetlights in town.
It's no surprise that Ray, one of the younger town's children, accidentally startles them at such a dark and late hour. Apparently allowed to wander when unable to sleep, Ray warns them to stay away from the cemetery, but to no avail. Hastening their search, the children find Petey, but the dog acts eerily distant and unfamiliar. It's while Josh chases after it that Amanda discovers the gravestones of their new "friends", including Ray. The dead boy explains to a terrified Amanda that animls have the sense to recognize the living dead, so they have to go first, alluding that Petey was killed by the kids. It was his task to keep the town's secret hidden from the Benson children until the time was right to bring their family into the fold, that Dark Falls is a town of the undead. Fortunately for Amanda, Josh returns in the nick of time, shining his flashlight on the two of them. Light, as it turns out, is the weakness of these undead and Ray decays to bone.
Now knowing this horrible truth the Benson children run back home to find their parents and flee Dark Falls. However, their parents have not yet returned and it dawns on them that they may have been taken captive. It's then that the other Dark Falls children appear from the shadows, explaining that this is the "dead house" and every year a living family is lured in to give the town's inhabitants new lifeblood. Each of them, it turns out, used to live in this house. As the dead close in on them, Mr. Dawes comes to their rescue. Having escaped the potluck with their parents, he drives Amanda and Josh back to the cemetery, claiming that it is where they are hiding and meeting up. Of course it's soon discovered that Mr. Dawes is dead as well. Building on Ray and the dead children's earlier explanations, Mr. Dawes adds that Dark Falls fell victim to a yellow gas leaked from its plastics factory that killed everyone. However, the inhabitants didn't remain dead and returned from the grave, becoming a all too literal ghost town.
As dawn breaks, Mr. Dawes is forced to draw back into the shadows of the cemetery, as do the rest of the townsfolk, which the siblings witness from their hiding spot. Discreetly they trail behind and are led to an amphitheater at the end of the cemetery, likely constructed by the citizens sometime after their resurrection. It serves as a town meeting place and is where their parents are being held. Very ideal, the amphitheater is enveloped in the shade of a large tree, much like the houses of Dark Falls. However, this tree leans so far over that the Benson children use this to their advantage, forcing the tree to topple over and destroy the undead in one fell swoop. The Bensons are reunited, the living dead eliminated. All's well that ends well, right? Later, after the Benson family is packed and ready to leave Dark Falls permanently, Amanda sees a new family moving into the house and welcomed by someone who appears to be Mr. Dawes. But it couldn't be him... right?
All in all, Welcome To Dead House is a good read and is easy to see why the books caught on with children. Even as a twenty-four-year-old, I can appreciate it. Change the storytelling enough and it could very well be adapted into a horror novel for adults. I'll wager the same could be said for many of the other Goosebumps novellas. The detailed bits definitely draw you in. Personally, I would like to have read more about the history of Dark Falls and the strange cemetery amphitheater. And the yellow gas from the plastics factory, though obviously unrelated, couldn't help but make me think of 'Return of the Living Dead'. I give it four out of five Goosebumps Gs.
- "Man behind the Curtain" Drew
- Well, here's yours truly. The name's Drew, in case you were wondering. The Niche is my personal site, while the comic-in-progress is a partnered effort with Don, a lifelong friend of mine. We collaborate on the stories, but my partner's the writer in the outfit while I am the illustrator. This is currently little more than a side project, but we hope to make something of it.