welcome to dead house g1

Review :

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
From graphic descriptions of a family gnawing on moldy plates of human bones to a small town conspiring to murder the new family that has just moved into the creepiest house on the block, Welcome to Dead House easily could work as a standalone novel despite originally being marketed for children under the iconic and popular Goosebumps series. This bit of gothic supernatural horror is extremely dark and after backlash and censorship in the 1990's from horrified parents and teachers, R.L. Stine understandably toned down the content of his series in future installments to make them more comedic and less unsettling and sad. That being said, I think something was really lost when he did this, because Welcome to Dead House was one of the only books I can remember reading as a kid that was classified as horror but dealt with tragedy, family dysfunction and the overwhelming emotions and common fears associated with moving. He addressed these things both metaphorically and literally, and the book, unlike many other Goosebumps novels, doesn't try to avoid more serious themes, but instead dives into them with a surprising amount of depth and complexity for a book targeted towards twelve-year-olds.

I'll concede I was a much bigger fan of the TV film adaptation produced in 1997 and filmed on Toronto's industrial Unwin Avenue. I think the film did a better job at the scary factor with the usage of decrepit scenery, unsettling soundtrack and had the devastating chemical factory accident as more of a central plot device. I'd actually be surprised if there weren't a few adults not at least mildly creeped out by the film version (you have to watch it in the dark to get the full effect), created by the talented William Fruet who also brought us the 1980 horror film Funeral Home. The film also addressed economic depression in industrial towns in a way that seems much more appropriate for adults, with talk of people being fired from their jobs and a newspaper discussing an accident in the town's main employer, Dark Falls Chemical, an explosion which killed most of the workers and left the rest of the townspeople isolated and frustrated. The book vaguely touches on this but not in the same manner. The book, however, is still arguably the best children's horror story I've ever read. In it we have Amanda Benson, a girl who finds herself and her typical all-American family moving to a town that is anything but. Dark Falls is odd. More than odd. The sunlight is virtually non-existent, the townsfolk are asocial and rarely seen and everything seems abandoned. The other children living in town seem either very depressed or very menacing. We also have a real-estate agent, Compton Dawes, who seems to have no shortage of excuses for why the house looks "old and gross" or why the neighbourhood is so quiet. Amanda herself doesn't cope well with the move, having to leave a beloved friend behind in a very harrowing, tearful goodbye, and upon arriving in Dark Falls she begins to see things. As is often the case, her parents and brother begin to think she's troubled, chalking up her visions of dead people to be related to her anger over the move. Meanwhile dysfunction ensues within the family itself including Josh Benson running away from "home", the parents fighting over petty things like the crispiness of a piece of bacon and the family dog going missing.

Things eventually take a turn for the downright brutal and shocking, including Mr. Dawes having his head beaten inward with a large halogen flashlight, a boy being melted apart to the point where his eyes pour out from his skull, the dog being killed and eaten by the townsfolk, descriptions of an unnamed "yellow gas" from the factory floating over Dark Falls and killing off all the residents of the town (luckily Stine spared his readers from knowing exactly how the gas worked, because wow) and a teenage girl named Karen actually thanking Amanda for killing her. I can see why there was a backlash against children reading this story. That being said at the time of its publication and to this day, it took the "haunted house" trope and used it to sympathize with a plight that most kids have to face at least once in their childhood. Moving is difficult, whether you see it as an adventurous new start or a cut-off from your friends and school. With moving from one place to another often comes the feeling that nobody understands you, that the people in your new town are weird or rude or different, and that everybody is out to get you, that you can't trust anyone. Welcome to Dead House creates the perfect metaphor for this, where everybody really is out to get you and you can't trust anyone, because they're all secretly conspiring to murder your family as a cruel means of survival.


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