I'm pretty sure pre-Harry Potter, Goosebumps books ruled the '90s. As they rightfully should have, because even for all the terrible things about them, there is just something so fascinatingly engaging about their simplicity and stupidity that any preteen child could easily pick one up and get lost in it for a few hours. These books are easy reads, that is, not only no complex wording, but the way they are written makes it so that they boil down to being little more than wordy prose with a few silly jump scares. Goosebumps books rarely had gore, though they were horror stories, they were far more reliant on a feeling of fear rather than any actual danger. Even in the stories where the kids seemed to die, there was such a rife degree of humor that it was hard to really take it seriously.
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That said, these books were not particularly clever either. They just had memorable ideas (Ideas that typically pulled from more universal ideas like living dolls and haunted houses) and really good cover art that often made you wonder what the story was really about. Some of these titles, like "Go Eat Worms!" give no indication as to what they're about, but in the case of 'Stay Out of the Basement', which featured a green, leafy hand against a door, you had a decent idea. They became particularly popularly because they suddenly became collectible items in Scholastic Book Fairs, and the $4.00 USD price tag meant you could nag your mom for one like one would a pack of gum, and I did. I was about nine when I started reading them, and had just about every book in the series when I realized they weren't cool anymore, in fact, they were never cool, and threw them all in the dumpster. I don't really regret doing that, the idea of staring back at a set of those fifteen years later actually makes me kind of sad inside, but I am slowly rebuilding my collection regardless.
#1 Welcome to Dead House is the first official book in the series. And it's an OK one. I am going to review these as children's stories but there is still a whole lot to make fun of about them. The story is simple, some kids and their parents move into a house, house seems haunted, there is something strange about the town, twist, twist, twist, and the story is over. Actually the twist here is pretty cruel and silly. But first there needs to be a whole lot of buildup for forty pages which explains nothing about the town's predicament and serves only to annoy the reader.
It's hard to really take these books seriously even as jokes, if that makes sense. Let me give you an example. In any elementary school class, I was taught that sentences cannot be one word. However, in Goosebumps, grammar is irrelevant. It's like if really bad gothic prose written by a preteen was being spit back at the preteen by a balding forty year old jewish man. In fact, that is what it is.
It wasn't his father or his grandfather. He had told us he was the only Compton in his family.
So Mr. Dawes was dead, too.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
Dead as everyone else.
He was one of them. One of the dead ones.
Josh and I stared at each other in the purple darkness. Surrounded. Surrounded by the dead.
Alright, to be fair, the books are Stephen King-lite. No bad language and no gore. It turns out that this character Mr. Dawes is I guess recruiting the dead, I'm not sure, honestly I can't read these under scrutiny. He has the mannerisms of a pedophile who seems nice up close but turns out he wants to harm the children. This book has the rare incidence of involving the parents. Yeah so there was an accident at a plastic plant which caused all the plastic to spill over and kill everyone. It's basically a hefty garbage bag version of the chernobyl incident. Why this man is actually recruiting the dead, or why they are mysteriously still around, makes no sense, but it's actually a ghost town. They have this scene where they have to restart the car, which they do, but it's not exciting because the fates of these characters aren't developed enough in sixteen short chapters to make you care. Finally they escape and as it turns out Mr. Dawes is just recruiting another family to die, but nobody does anything because I guess in the Goosebumps universe it's every man for himself. Couldn't they stop Mr. Dawes? Did they not care enough? Was the word quota filled? I pick the latter (Haha, epinions, haha)
This is not the best book in the series and it is far from the worst. It's just mediocre. As I delve further into the series I know there are far more ridiculous twists, grammatical horrors, cheap jump scares and more. The case with this story itself is that it's just not exciting enough to really engage the reader, and it's not scary enough to really leave an impact. Even for a kids' story, there are some really good scares in some of these books. Night of the Living Dummy has an appropriately crude villain, say Cheese and Die actually has the lingering fear of souls being trapped in photographs, but a few like Welcome to Dead House fail to connect the pieces of their own bad writings into something cogent. As a kids' story, it's not scary, and I remember as a kid I was all the way up to watching Tales From the Dark Side at this age, so it wasn't really easy to scare me, but all the same, even the idea that the rug has been pulled from under me would have helped. I do recommend this one, but there are better ones to pick up in the series.
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