It begins! This is the book that started THE PHENOMENON that was Goosebumps and it is…well, it is a book. I kind of love the small teaser on the front of the book, which reads "It will just kill you." Because seriously, that is like the least teaser-y teaser I can think of. The place is called Dead House, so…I mean, I guess I just figured that the name was sort of evident enough and there's a part of me that suspects whoever's job it was to come up with the teaser plopped this gem in there as a placeholder and it just…got kept because they forgot to go back and look at it again. It's not even accurate. I mean, the house really has nothing to do with the killing. I think. Or…wait, does it? I…well, fuck, I guess I'll get to that later.
I should say right now, dear readers, that I'm drinking a Leinenkugels shandy variety pack and these flavors are probably scarier than this book. Seriously, Autumn Tea Shandy should probably not exist and it's somehow better than the Harvest Patch Shandy which is…not good. But again, this is all fairly well suited to reading this book, which sees Amanda and Josh (and their little dog Petey) moving from their old neighborhood to Dark Falls when their dad inherits a huge old house from his great uncle or something (whose name is Charles, naturally).
Now, part of what makes this story so ridiculous is because it is based around this central idea—that people will give no fucks about how shady something is if there's a free house in it for them. I swear the dad's all like "I never knew I had a Great-Uncle Charles, but he must have been a great guy to leave me a house." And no. Seriously no. Just…well, so the family packs up and moves and the first thing Amanda notices when she arrives is someone standing in the house. In what will become her room. And she tells her family. And they…don't believe her. Oh, and the dog goes all weird and aggressive, which marks what will become a Goosebumps classic trope of dogs being living, barking weirdness-detectors. But let's get back to the idea that no one believes Amanda, because I think this gets at something that horror does without even thinking to ramp up the TERROR. Which is…make the main character a woman or otherwisely non-dominant person (another reason to use children) so that NO ONE WILL BELIEVE THE COMPLETELY LEGIT THINGS THEY SAY. Which means that half the TERROR of the story is really just the daily reality of people who live with some serious shit and no one will believe them. Only here it all gets solved in the end and there are ghosts. Kinda. We'll get to that.
Anyway, things continue to get weirder and weirder. Petey runs off and Amanda convinces herself that all the weird shit going on is probably her imagination because that's the for sure safest and healthiest thing to do and doesn't at all reflect how actual women are conditioned to doubt themselves when it comes to strong negative feelings from certain situations and people. Nope. All good there. Only then it's not because Josh knows where Petey went and of course it's a graveyard and of course they go in the middle of the effing night because the dog's only been missing for days at this point so there's no time to lose. Amanda follows along because she knows it will be her fault if anything happens to her stupid younger brother and off they go into the night, where they meet up with one of the weird kids from the neighborhood. Who they've met earlier and who, oh yeah, is the same person Amanda keeps seeing in her room and house. But no, probably fine. Definitely nothing wrong going on. Give him the benefit of the doubt, Amanda! Oh wait, he's a ghost who wants to murder you? WHY DIDN'T YOU FIGURE IT OUT SOONER, AMANDA, FOR FUCK'S SAKE?!
Ahem. I feel like I need to write about the actually…uh…"scary" portions of this book. Spoilers for those who care. So, it turns out that the entire town was wiped out because of an industrial accident where a yellow cloud roved through town and killed everyone. Only it also turned them into ghosts. But not really ghost-ghosts. These are vampire-ghosts. I shit you not, they are ghosts who cannot stand light (so everyone is only out when it's overcast and that's why there's so much shade in the neighborhood). And they need to feed on a new family every year. People get duped with the old "Charles" trick and then they are killed and devoured and…and this is where I get confused. Because the book says that everyone comes to the same house to start. Which…okay, whatever. But after they die they sort of move out to different (vacant?) dead houses. A whole dead suburb, basically. But they're also like all dead inside the one house, too. Which confuses me. Maybe it's only the kids who are stuck in Dead House and the parents move off (sweet deal, imo). Oh, and there is an AMAZING exchange towards the end when everything is getting explained but who cares because we get this gem:
"Karen -- you seemed so nice," I said. The words just tumbled out. I hadn't thought before I said them.So just to confirm, all dead people are assholes. Good to get those ground rules established early, Goosebumps.
Her eyes glowed a little brighter. "I was nice," she said in a glum monotone, "until I moved here."
"We were all nice," George Carpenter said in the same low monotone. "But now we're dead."
But okay, okay, so the siblings sort of run all over and end up at the vampire-ghosts' ritual site which I don't really understand because did the vampire-ghosts build this after they turned or what? It has zero significance, really, except that it gets all of the vampire-ghosts in one spot so that they can be sun-fragged by the kiddos. Job well done and all that. Only two things. First, it was shown earlier that the vampire-ghosts can get around the sun with a wide-brimmed hat. Let that sink in. And yet in the end everyone's just sitting around, hatless (maybe out of respect for the about-to-be-eaten?), and this seems like a glaring oversight. Why aren't they wearing hats all the time? Then they'd just have to be afraid of flashlights and car headlights. But whatever. The bigger thing is that the story attempts a sort of "twist" at the end, where the family (minus Petey who died FOR REAL but came back as a ghost anyway because…vampire-ghost-dog was too cool to pass up I guess) is leaving to go back to their old house and Amanda finds out that there's a new family moving into Dead House and maybe the vampire-ghosts aren't dead after all but instead of thinking about this she just runs.
And that, my friends, is where deep political satire enters into the book, because here we have a system of violence and death that Amanda knows is going on but says shit about because no one would believe her anyway. Seriously, even after BEING RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING she'd still get argued with so she rightly just stays quiet and runs away, because she's learned that she should just put her own safety first. So what if these vampire-ghosts maybe rise up to conquer humanity? Amanda knows how to kill them and will likely run away at age sixteen anyway to go live in the sun-scorched desert where at least the snakes and the scorpions are honest. To hell with all of you, she'll say, rocking on an old wooden chair and cradling a sun-shotgun. I imagine she becomes that old awesome person who knows all the secrets that our plucky young heroes have to find and she will arm them for their task and then send them on their way. They'll ask her to join and she'll just spit and shake her head. Only when they're surrounded by giant vampire-ghost-dogs and all hope seems lost she'll be there with her sun-shotgun, sending those abominations back to whatever dead-end plastics factory job spawned them. The last anyone will see of her will be her waving them away as she takes a fist full of glowsticks and stands between hope and a vampire-ghost-Cerberus the size of an RV. Well played, Amanda, well played.
And okay, that was generally a weak book. I mean, it had its moments but it's pretty boring and the "explanation" is super lame. But let's break it down WITH NUMBERS.
On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 2/5 (I mean, there's always the possibility for sexyfun with vampires but ghost-vampires lack a lot of the appeal for me. You could do some Amanda/Karen but again, these ghosts are monotone and glum so unless this was like ghost-Karen hoping to feel again with like, light-bondage or something even if it might kill her...hmm...well, I could probably bump this up to a 3/5...)
On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 1/5 (this is bad, dear readers. Quite bad)
On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 2/5 (still below average but not, like, so awful that I had to throw the book down in disgust. Still, a rather weak start to the series. Probably for the best few people likely start with this one…)