As the introductory book in R.L. Stine's classic horror series for children, Goosebumps, Welcome to Dead House works very well. It successfully sets up a template Stine would go by when writing most of the rest of the series all while serving up sufficient scares.
The plot is a simple one, and is as follows: Josh and Amanda's parents have decided the family should move to Dark Falls, a creepy little town that seems exceptionally dark and quiet all of the time. The kids' father inherited the house from a great-uncle, and off the family goes. Some creepy things occur in the home and neighborhood, and there's a pervasive sense of impending doom. One thing I really noticed and appreciated on this reread that I was simply unable to pick up on as a small kid is Stine's skill at creating a creepy mood and atmosphere without allowing it to overtake the story or be too creepy for his target audience (9-12 year-olds). There's a delicate balance of light and dark at work here that looks much easier to accomplish than it actually is.
The family soon finds out the entire town is dead due to a chemical leak from a local factory. The townspeople have become vampiric beasts with a yearly thirst for blood, hence the reason they tricked this family to move to Dark Falls. Spoiler alert: there isn't really a dead great-uncle. Life sucks, kids. There is a semi-scary battle between the family and their deceased neighbors, but sadly it comes to an end all-too quickly. The family immediately packs up and leaves, and all seems okay . . . but in usual Goosebumps fashion, there is a twist in the last few sentences.
Overall, I was pretty impressed at how well this book has withstood the test of time. I thought I'd roll my eyes and laugh at how silly it is, but in actuality Stine's first Goosebumps book is a roaring success. It's cheesy as all get-out, but that's sorta the point -- Goosebumps is and never was meant to be taken too seriously. So, it works. On top of that, there were a few quick moments in this read that actually sort of, well, gave me goosebumps. There's one moment in particular I'm thinking of, but I don't want to give that away.
The reason I docked a star from the score is this book spent almost a hundred pages tantalizing the reader, only for (almost) everything to be okay within a short chapter or two. I just feel like Stine could have padded this one out with an extra twenty or thirty pages and it would have been okay. However, I realize he wrote this book with a kid audience in mind, so I suppose he's off the hook. I still prefer the way the TV series adaptation handled things in the second half, though. (Who could forget the family boarding up their house's windows with furniture in a futile attempt at keeping the living dead out?)
All in all, I'd say this book is a success.
Next time: What's dad doing downstairs? We'll find out in Stay Out Of The Basement!