Like most 90s kids, I devoured Goosebumps books like nobody’s business. R.L. Stine was the master of childhood scares, in company with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Are You Afraid of the Dark? They were easy reads, super scary to 8-year-old me, and released faster than a litter of bunnies. Most of the stories were stand-alones, guaranteeing you’d discover a new phobia with each Goosebumps release. For few years, I’d get a new Goosebumps in my Easter basket, which is why this review is publishing on Good Friday.
I don’t remember the specifics of Welcome to Dead House because I probably only read it once or twice twenty-one years ago. Was it about a kid moving into a new house and finding out it’s haunted, or am I thinking of American Horror Story? Let’s find out…
Childhood Rating: probably 5 out of 5 Creepy Crawlers
It’s July when Josh and Amanda move into their new house. Their parents are excited at all the possibilities this new, bigger house promises once they clean it up. It’s been abandoned for a while and is overgrown with plant life. Josh and Amanda think it’s creepy from the start. The house is in a town called Dark Falls and was left to Josh and Amanda’s dad by his Great-Uncle Charles, who dad can’t seem to remember. Dad was so excited to leave his boring desk job and move into a free house to focus on his writing that they’re seeing the house only a week later. Amanda is willing to give it a shot, but Josh is adamant that he’s not moving into the house. Their dog, Petey, seems to agree with Josh, yapping at the house from inside the car. Mr. Dawes, the real estate agent, takes Amanda and her parents on a tour of the house. Amanda admires her huge new room and suddenly sees a blond boy in the doorway who then disappears without a trace until move-in day, when Amanda sees the same face peering out of a window. She investigates and finds nothing, except Josh sneaking up behind her like any annoying little brother.
Amanda keeps experiencing weird things, like cold gusts fluttering her curtains when the windows are closed, and more ghostly apparitions. She and Josh both have frightening nightmares on their first night in the house and the next day their parents encourage them to take Petey for a walk around the neighborhood. They notice how no one else is around, not even a single car passes by. They run into a group of kids, a few who claim to have lived in Amanda and Josh’s house. As the kids threateningly encircle Amanda and Josh, Mr. Dawes pops out to see what’s happening, shattering the intimidating aura of the meeting. When Mr. Dawes finishes checking in, he leaves all the kids to enjoy a game of baseball until the clouds part and suddenly all the other kids remember they have to go home for lunch.
For the next few weeks, Amanda and Josh continue having baseball games with the neighborhood kids, leashing the reluctant and skittish Petey to the fence. One afternoon Petey manages to break free and runs away. Amanda and Josh are distraught and sneak out one night when their parents are at a neighborhood potluck. Josh is sure Petey went to the cemetery, where he ran when he got loose the first time they visited the new house. They find Petey there, acting strangely. They also stumble upon a discovery that will bring to light all the creepy occurrences they’ve experienced since moving into the new house…Dead House.
Naturally, being an adult, I was able to notice all the foreshadowing and hints that totally went over my head as a kid. The writing style is well suited for children, but not interesting when Rereading as an adult. I will say the imagery made the scenes super creepy, from lightning to creaky stairs to blustery winds, all the usual haunted house scenes are there. It’s written to make it easy for the reader to insert him/herself in story and feel as if they’re exploring the creepy house. The mystery unravels slowly enough for you to second-guess your presumptions about where the story is going to go, but then it felt like it wrapped up quickly. I was expecting it to be lame and cheesy so far as “spooky” scenes, but there was some pretty graphic stuff. That’s probably why we found it scary as kids.
It was cool to Reread this, and I think I’ll continue Rereading some other installments of the series, but it definitely wasn’t as I remembered.
Adulthood Rating: 4 out of 5 melting skulls