July 24, 2011

#1 Welcome to Dead House

Judging a book by its cover:

This blog is about so much more than the actual contents of the books but the actual exerpience of Goosebumps. The Oozy Logo, the two-tone color schemes, the silly taglines, all of. Since this is the first book I'll probably touch on it a bit more than later ones since so much of it will apply to the whole series, but here we go.

It will just kill you

Look alive!
Ah yes, now this just feels so familiar. The look is so iconic. It's funny how it is really simply and appealing to children without feeling like it saying THIS IS FOR CHILDREN! The Goosebumps logo actually has pressed up bumps- a nice touch that I had forgotten about. The cover art for this kind of a generic looking spooky old house with a creepy gnome looking dude peaking out the window. Each book always had a tagline for the cover art. This cover art's is "It will just kill you." Not the most clever thing in the world. There is also usually one on the back if I remember right. This one's "Look Alive!" Slightly more clever with the double meaning and all. You know I am not actually sure who did the cover art for the books and the inside doesn't seem to mention it. Sucks to be that dude! Although assuming the same guy did all of them (and they do seem to all be similar style) he probably made a bundle.

If we go inside the book we can see that he already had the next two books out (or on their way)
when this one was released. I wonder how many books at a time they contracted him to write.

In back there is a listing of books you can mail away for. I remember this being pretty common for kids books. Interestingly even though the front of the book lists 2 more books in the back you can buy books 1 through 20! I guess this is good evidence of my "I didn't start reading until the teen number books" theory.

Well the fact is, I remember very little about this book. Actually, I always remembered it being "Welcome to THE Dead House." I'm not sure why my brain added the 'The." So beyond this book being obviously about a haunted house of some sort I can't recall details.The back of the book says it's about kids named Amanda and Josh moving into a spooky house in a strange place called "Dark Falls." Their parents don't believe them. Shocking! They want to make friends, but their potential new friends want to be friends.... FOREVER! Ooooooo. Well then since I have nothing else to say about it, time for me to read the book. Be back in a second!

Getting Goosebumps

So now I've actually read the book. It's written in a first person perspective from the view of 12 year old Amanda. Being the first book I reread I'm really wondering if first person narration is standard for the series. I suppose it would make sense, but it makes for some awkwardness. Stine does an acceptable job of narrating for a 12 year old girl some times, but then there are times where he tries to shove in details that and author would and it just doesn't make sense. Why would Amanda tell you what kind of shorts she was wearing when things are happening? Also the Stine-ster really enjoys starting sentences with "but." I get that sometimes this works out just fine. But it doesn't always make sense.

Anyway, Amanda, her 11 year old brother Josh, and her parents I don't remember the names of but that doesn't matter because they aren't particularly important, inherit a house from a great uncle that no one knows in a place called Dark Falls. Nothing odd about that right? They go there to check it out and of course everything is spooky. There are tall spooky trees, with dead spooky leaves on the ground. Their house is big and spooky. Stine probably uses slightly better descriptors, but that is the gist of it.

A dude name Compton Dawes is showing them around the place while Amanda's brother Josh is busy being a whiny bitch. This whiny bitchness continues pretty much through the entire book. At the end of the first chapter he is missing! Unfortunately he gets found. Turns out their dog Petey ran away and Josh had to go find him at, where else, the cemetery.. The dog is tweaking out and barking at everything which standardly means, "this shit is haunted, yo." Just because throughout the rest of the book the dog happens to bark at every single person in town doesn't mean they are all dead, does it? SPOILERS: it does.

So anyway they find the brat and the mutt and head back home to pack up for their move. At this point you can really tell Stine's trying to relate to kids. Amanda's having a hard time moving away from her friends. For youngsters with little life experience, this is something that they have actually probably gone through. I recall a couple of friends moving away, and back in the 90's you couldn't just be like, meh, we'll still message each other on facebook. You had to write actual letters to each other. Who is going to do that for more than 3 weeks? No one, that's who.

Amanda, by the way has the best friend ever even though no one expects them to be good friends. Why is that you ask? Well for starters, they look different. I'm shitting you not, this is the example given for why no one expects them to be friends. Amanda is tall and skinny, Kathy is sorta chubby. Amanda has dark hair while Kathy is blonde. How on earth did that friendship last?!

After their tearful goodbye Amanda's family heads out to make Dark Falls their home. It storms while they move in of course. Then Amanda keeps seeing people inside her house and hearing voices, but is it only her imagination? But she just making things up? But is it real or just in her head? Sorry, but the book asks it so often I just thought I would too. Of course she isn't imagining it, this is a Goosebumps book! If it was all in her head it would suck.

So she meets some kid named Ray and the dog barks at him and he introduces her to more kids and the dog barks at em and then the kids act menacing and the dog barks at em and that Compton guy shows up and the dogs barks at em and then the kids are nice again and the dog barks at em. GEE THINK THEY ARE GHOSTS? Well one day they are playing softball with the totally not ghost kids and their dog breaks loose from his leash. Amanda and Josh try to find em but can't so they go home where there mom tells them to eat dinner before they look for the dog some more. Seriously? You can't go cruise around dog searching in a car for awhile before eating? Isn't the family dog a little more important than PB and J?

Well eventually they rode around in the family car looking for Petey but the parents gave up because they had more important things to attend to. Party time baby! Gotta go have cocktails with the neighbors, who cares about some dog. They ditch the kids and go off gallivanting about but do the children give up? Yes. At first anyway, until midnight when Josh has a brilliant idea: Maybe the dog is at the cemetery like he was the first time? Could it be? They get flashlights and head there. On the way Ray the first boy they met in town finds them and wonders what they are doing. He seems oddly disturbed by the flashlight and tries very hard to keep them from getting to the cemetery. Not suspicious at all.

Oh but they got to that cemetery all right. They found some weird outdoor auditorium there, the tombstones of all the friends they just made in town.They also found Petey! Too bad he was dead... well undead. Still though ghosts kill a dog in this book? Harsh. They didn't even do a good job of dog killing because I didn't cry my eyes out. Old Yeller this is not. Anyway turns out Ray was "The Watcher" which actually manages to sound way creepier than Ray "The Undead Spirit Kid." His job was to make sure Josh and Amanda didn't find out about their deadness. Way to drop the ball dude. Turns out he shockingly made up the dead great uncle story to get them in the house, and most of their other kiddy ghost friends had lived in that house, because they need "new blood" once a year. Unfortunately for Ray whatever form of zombism, vampirism, or ghostliness he was afflicted with seemed to not be very flashlight resilient because Josh definitely melted his flesh off. Do the undead need flesh? Apparently, because Ray seemed pretty dead-dead after that.

Despite the fact that they have a fool proof method to slaughter any of these dead dudes they book it home in terror. I get it, I mean even if you could stop these dead things it would still be pretty creepy and they had their parents on their mind. Unfortunately their parents were still at the party. All the ghost kids (sans Ray) show up to spook Josh and Amanda good and deliver the best line ever, "We used live in your house. Now we're DEAD in your house!" Clever shit right? Too bad it gets broken up by good old "Couldn't Be A Ghost" Compton who shows up to help. Turns out their parents were in trouble too! So Compton takes em back to cemetery where we find out *gasp* Compton is dead too. Apparently Dark Falls was a fine little community until some yellow gas was released. Now everyone is dead. "Dead and buried." Wait what? If they all died, who buried them? Did they each die one at a time until everyone got buried but the last guy? Why are there different dates of death on the tombstones? I guess the "new blood" they trick to come in each year would have a different date of death... but why on earth do they bury them? Is that really necessary?

But I digress, so light kills these undead guys and they have a flashlight so of course they take the utmost care of theirs right? Wait, no? They break it? Of course. Josh does however literally chuck it at Compton's head, so bonus points for style. They run away and find their parents tied up at the cemetery auditorium thing. If only it was getting to be daylight out! Oh, it is. Unfortunately for them this tree does a hella good job shading the cemetery. Unfortunately for the undead, the tree is old and brittle and the push it over, obliterating all the undead mofos.

The last chapter is really brief and pretty much explains that after the incident the family immediately packed up and got the hell out of there. Personally, if I just conquered a gang of ghouls and secured myself a rad uninhabited town I'd probably run wild for awhile, but I suppose high tailing it is also a valid option.

So what did I think of it?

You know this book is kind of hard to "review." I mean, is it cliche? Of course. Is it well written? Not particularly. It was competent enough and had more descriptions that I would have expected, but a bit of it was rather clumsy. RL Stine can't decide sometimes if he'd rather make a run-on or an incomplete sentence. It doesn't overwhelm the book, but as an adult it's noticeable.

One thing I did like however, is that he tends to leave you hanging at the end of each chapter. There are sort of mini cliff-hangers that keep you reading. Also, since the chapters are like 5 pages each it's hard to tell yourself not to read just one more.

I suppose that as an adult now I also appreciate that these are b-movies for kids. Not just subject-wise, but quality wise. I can also appreciate that there isn't anything essentially wrong with that. People who criticize them for being simple and silly are just kind of missing the point.

For kids, I feel like there was a bit to relate to. I already touched on moving away from friends. Beyond that, there was the fact that the parents never listened to the kids about the spooky goings on. Parents never listen, do they? And what do they get for it? Almost killed, that's what! Serves em right, kinda. 

I'll say though, that this book did feel a little overly cliche. The classic "haunted house" and dogs barking at ghosts... I don't know, I always remembered the series being a little more uniquely cheesy than this. Oh, and Amanda kept getting grabbed on the shoulder from behind, all. the. time. Who could it be? A ghost! No, it's only chapter 2. What about this time? It's chapter 3, so it's probably still not a ghost. Chapter 4, is it a ghost grabbing her this time? Nope!

Ultimately though, being a bit generic is a decent way to ease into things. If by book 20 I'm still complaining about how generic things are, I'll be disappointed. With titles like "Say Cheese and Die" and "Piano Lessons Can Be Murder" coming I think I wont have to worry about things being too overly generic though.

So lets get to some ratings:

How familiar was this book: About 40%
Just picking it up and looking it over I remembered very little. Actually reading it however I thought, "oh yeah, I remember that!" all the time. A lot of it blended in with other books in the series though. Tends to happen with books with over 50 entries I suppose.

Overall rating: 3 Tombstones out of out of 5.

Despite being first in the series, it's probably not the first one I'd recommend. Still, it does a decent job of setting the pace for things to come.

Overall all rating for this blog entry: 2 out of 5 interwebs

I'll be honest, I babbled more than I intended. Who is going to read a blog this long? We'll see I guess! I'm still working out exactly how things will go down, so don't expect each entry to be exactly like this one. Feel free to leave me constructive criticism. "You suck," is only valid if it you tell my why I suck!

Up next!

One thing I half forgot about Goosebumps is that they include a preview chapter of the next book in the series. This is kind of clever, but I don't think I ever actually read them because I usually already owned the next book in the series! Anyway, check back soon for book #2, Stay Out of the Basement.

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