SPOOKY HOUSE OF HORROR!Today, I present something recommended to me by multiple people as "a big part of their childhood," and do I ever wish I could have said the same. Just take one look at the cover:
Spooky House of Horror is everything I ever possibly could have wanted in a book with such a title, and it technically only even has four pages. That doesn't sound like much, but this divine work of artistry packs at least several children's books worth of content into those four pages, and did we mention it's a pop up book? Scratch that - it's THE pop-up book. Who ever heard of any other pop-up books. Certainly not me, anymore.
As soon as you open up the cover, you know you've found something magical. The entire actual house is represented within, including the beautiful, bat-wing style rooftop, multiple rooms, multiple floors and dozens of resident creatures, some cleverly hidden, and most of which we're going to be looking at up close!
Before we continue, it should be noted that my copy of the book is not entirely complete. On the back of the book, we're told that there is, in fact, a "story" to the Spooky House of Horror, and that there's supposed to be an additional booklet of "clues and riddles."
As revealed in this photograph by Splittyhead on Flickr, who seems to have pretty good taste in just about everything by the way, this booklet was also the man in the moon, and we were supposed to get three cardboard characters you could place anywhere in the house. What secrets were revealed by this bonus material? You won't find out unless you're willing to shell out several hundred bucks for a pristine, plastic-wrapped edition, but really, I wouldn't want to spoil everything about the Spooky House, and maybe some day, I'll get to read that moon-man's secrets. For now, let's check out the house itself...
A lot is going on in the first major chamber of the house, where you're greeted immediately by a staircase formed from a gigantic snake. We've also got a remarkably frightening hybrid between an elephant and a gorilla, a hairless cat with a devilish tail, and a large but not impossibly large slug. I always know I'm living as well as I can expect myself too when animals I already keep as pets apparently qualify as residents in a "house of horrors," and we'll be seeing plenty more of that in the coming pages.
Up those stairs, we find a haunted suit of armor and a remarkably unsettling polar bear, who still watches passing guests despite being taxidermied. It's interesting what a household fixture taxidermy used to be; pretty much everyone with any level of wealth was expected to dabble in hunting, and the presence of taxidermy in a "haunted house" was only creepy insofar as it might spring to life like this. To most modern people, however, hunting trophies are already weird and creepy enough to have around the home.
Even the forces of hell hang out here, and on some pages, seem to be slaving away as household workers. This, to me, implies that whoever may have owned - or owns? - this house dabbled in a lot of demon summoning. Either they traded their own soul to command an impressive number of imps, or they traded a bunch of other, more deserving people's souls, the smart thing to do.
Reach the top of the stairwell, and your reward is a mauling by this wonderful purple bird-creature, looking like a fat potoo or frogmouth with hands instead of wings and an oddly whale-like underbelly. This totally feels to me like some sort of Dungeons and Dragons monster, maybe a seashore cousin to the owlbear...and it looks like a more traditional if very small owlbear is hanging out on the bookcase.
So, let's assume we've escaped a beaky death by swinging down from this lovely chandelier, formed from four gargoyles whose tongues, and in one case the nose, taper off into lightbulbs. I think it goes without saying that it eats whatever's drawn to its light when the rest of the house is dark enough.
There, we can find an easily missed little doorway contained a devilish pig crab with a dead eye, obviously just the thing we all expect to find in secret doorways under staircases.
Check out this frog, too, up to positively no good. In fact, there's a mouse in a mouse hold directly in the path of this huge, heavy block. That frog's got murder on the brain.
Under another hidden panel is one of the eeriest beings in the house; a completely ghost-white, pupil-less monkey, which either is a ghost or simply some horrible, luminescent, troglodytic primate that evolved in darkened catacombs deep below the house. I can't help but be reminded of William Hope Hodgson's Swine Things from The House on the Borderland.
THE HALLWAY AND ATTIAC
The next page over features a beautiful upstairs room I was interpreting as an attic, but attics don't usually have their own furnaces, do they? It's a living furnace, too; a pig-faced living furnace. Lots of pigs in the house of horrors.
You'll notice on one wall of the attic is a large, white rabbit panicking over an apparently radioactive machine of some sort, inside of which is...a stuffed bunny. What's the story, here? Is there one?
The first thing we want to look at up close is obviously his cutie, and you know you're in the presence of wealth when they've got a maid that exotic. Where do you even find a race of beings whose noses evolved specifically to snuff out candles? Classy.
Sprawled out on most of the attic floor is this enormous, toothed toad, beautifully illustrated with every wart and wrinkle and even the bulging poison sacs behind its eyes!
No surface of the Spooky House is devoid of otherworldly life, by the way; you have to check out the attic ceiling to see this giant, rodent-faced wasp. You might think that insects without insect faces are some of my least favorite insects, but as long as those faces are still interestingly weird, I don't really mind at all. It's still a fun way to shake things up.
What's weirder, however, is this hanging spider, clutching an eyeball, whose face is probably a caricature of someone I'm not old enough to recognize. A little uncomfortable a caricature, with the giant pale lips and everything, but I guess it depends on who this is specifically supposed to be, which may also shed light on why he's now a spider clutching a giant eyeball.
The final detail of the attic? This pull-out panel full of insects, rodents and a snake that all sort of remind me of the giant, hybrid wasp-thing up there, like maybe that machine was used to splice a few of them together?
Dropping down out of the attic and into the stone hallway, we find a couple of nasty-looking naked birds and a "stuffed" fish that wriggles away from the second bird's hungry beak when a tab is pulled. The undead piranha is definitely cool, but I'm really delighted by these horrible plucked pelican-whatsits.
Across from these whatsits is an even more horrible bird-dog, with a weirdly human cranium and immaculately trimmed mohawk. Now I'm sure there's some gene-splicing science going on in this house. I doubt they just "found" a walrus with horns somewhere, too.
Perhaps the most noticeable item in the hall is a coffin, and you know what that means! I gotta say, this is actually up there with the best looking vampires I have ever seen. It has the pallid Count Orlok face I love so much, gorgeously fiery eyes and such lovely red-brown bat wings with such satisfyingly prominent bones. Add the spindly legs and musty old shoes and everything about this bloodsucker oozes maximum goth style.
But right by the vampire's coffin is...a crab? That will make sense later, but I'm already loving the idea of a crab as a "creepy" haunted house creature, and it makes sense, I mean, they're crawling, spiny things that love to eat corpses, aren't they? At some point, crabs came to be associated more with seaside fun and whimsy than with creatures of darkness, and while I appreciate whenever people find an arthropod "cute," I don't see why that has to be mutually exclusive with "creepy." We certainly still accept the spookiness of vampire bats, but who doesn't want to cuddle with one??
One of the most surprising inhabitants of this area, and our last one to look at, is an enormous isopod hanging out on the ceiling between hall and attic. Despite how incredibly common they are in the real world, terrestrial isopods seldom appear anywhere in fiction, and especially not as "monsters." I am absolutely loving the green-rimmed eyeballs and fuzzy whiskers of this roly-poly.
THE KITCHEN AND DINING ROOM
At least, I'm assuming that upper level is a dining room. It's certainly not a living room or bedroom, is it? There doesn't actually seem to be a living room or a bedroom in this messed up place.
Anyway, the first thing welcoming us into the kitchen is this wonderful clock, which has seen some shit for a clock...and reminds me almost of the Mayor's sad face in the Nightmare Before Christmas.
Even the ventilation duct above the oven gets to look like a monster, with "teeth" all around and bolts or dials subtly resembling either three scowling eyes or two eyes and a nose.
On top of said oven, some ghastly naked rabbit-rodent stuffs its face with leftover veggies, and there's even an entire brain on the cutting board!
Can we open that oven, though?
...We absolutely can, and there is a human being being roasted alive inside. Okay, that is FAR more gruesome than I expected from this book. At first glance, I just thought this was one of those fat, red devils, which would have just been cute and funny because a devil obviously isn't going to die from being cooked, but...this poor guy, dressed like he was the chef only moments ago, doesn't have any horns and his skin isn't nearly as red as the demons. It's only kinda *blotched* reddish, exactly like his skin is cooking. Holy shit. Who's responsible for this?!
My obvious favorite resident, of course, a gigantic fly we can assume only just stole that chef's hat before serving up the original cook for dinner, as funny a visual as it is horrific.
Just take in that artwork, though. The transparent, veiny wings, the dribbling proboscis...this fly is one of the prettiest things painted in the book, and it's pretty steep competition.
It's a little strange to be putting an entire roast turkey, undead or not, on top of the refrigerator. Do people do that?? And what's IN the refrigerator anyway, since we're obviously going to find out?
Huh. Well, I guess a dinosaur had to show up here sooner or later, but I'm not sure why exactly that'd be in the refrigerator. I might have expected something more along the lines of that pig crab from earlier, honestly...and the refrigerator door seems to be opening up on completely the wrong side, doesn't it?
We do get a peek at what's on that door, too, and it includes more dinosaurs, at least in eggs.
So, across from the fridge is something hidden under another pull tab, and it unfolds into...another insect-vertebrate hybrid. This time, something with a wasp-like face and a more reptile-like body, with webbed feet like a frog and scales like a crocodilian!
Last but not least is the spaghetti monster on the kitchen ceiling, with olives for eyes! Something, however, is pulling one of its tenta-noodles through a hole...
...Which turns out to be one of these delightful pig maggots. That's the second arthropod-pig chimera and the fifth or sixth thing we've seen crossed with an arthropod in general. Someone went completely Seth Brundle in this house and never stopped.
Dominating the upstairs dining room, or whatever it is, is this classic carnivorous plant, something you truly must have in any spooky house worth its weight in creaky floorboards. Interesting that only some of the plant heads have eyelashes. As we all know, that would strictly denote both "girl" and "boy" plant heads in accordance with cheesy cartoon logic.
The very last and perhaps most important room of the house.
The first thing we see? This superb amphibian monster, snout lined with prehensile feelers as it presides over a staircase crawling with tadpoles...but not its own tadpoles. Look closely, and they're progressively developing into...
...Crocodile frogs! Or maybe gharial frogs, judging by the length and width of that snout. This adult is even preying on a fish, which is precisely what gharials evolved their long, thin jaws to do.
Amphibians are a natural fit for a spooky bathroom, and up in the rafters is an almost black, horned frog with blank, pearly white eyes. We have seen so many different frogs and toads in this house, and this last one is appropriately the most haunting.
But speaking of haunting, you may have noticed the ghost-shaped, translucent window on the roof of this last page. With the help of a transparent plastic sheet, any light pouring in through the hole will project an illusionary ghost into the rafters. I have never seen this done in a pop-up book. This is brilliance. Have I already said "brilliance" or "brilliant" in this same review? I seldom use the term in general, and now I've used it more than once to describe things in a pop-up book called "Spooky House of Horrors."
Wary of that ghostly activity, or perhaps of the creepy toad, is the very last of the book's giant, upside-down arthropods, and like the isopod, it's another one I seldom see getting any representation - an earwig! Why doesn't anyone like earwigs? Why are they almost never IN anything?!
Moving along from invertebrates for now, we find the source of the slimy eels scattered around the room - they're pouring out of the sink, and have caught the attention of two majestic avians, including a wonderfully awful pelican-walrus hybrid and a strikingly realistic feathered dinosaur that pre-dates conclusive mainstream proof of such a thing ever existing.
Meanwhile, some sort of giant mole is coming out of the toilet, which from the color scheme would also appear to be part lemming.
Last but not least in the bathroom proper is this prehistoric Diplocaulus in the floor of the shower, a choice completely out of left field and sure to delight anyone well versed in extinct salamanders. These were one of my all-time favorite things as a kid, and I remember drawing all sorts of monstrous creatures who happened to borrow their heads.
What's that pulling the poor thing down the drain, though?
An IMMENSE, completely bone-white octopus lurks just under the bathroom floor, with the most lovely big, black doe-eyes. It's funny, unlike the crab from before - who no doubt wandered over from this very room - octopuses are one marine invertebrate that has managed to balance both a "cute" and "monstrous" image in the public eye, and have also been a staple of monster-ridden houses as far back as I'm aware. When it comes to real animals, nothing feels quite like a "monster" than any given giant cephalopod.
So, I guess what we're seeing here is basically the house's "septic system," or at least some sort of terribly flooded basement beneath the bathroom, and of course that would be filled with sharks and piranhas. Why wouldn't it? Sharks, piranhas, and...wait...what is that? Is that a damn MUDSKIPPER on the right?! It's at least some kind of goby, but it looks most of all like a mudskipper if you ask me...and it's got a pull tab in its mouth.
Oh my god. I was so caught up in all the giant insects, weird frogs and mutant pigs that I somehow never noticed the complete absence of human skeletons in this spooky house, but that's because they opted for quality over quantity, saving just a single skeleton for the very end of the book...taking a bath inside the mouth of a giant goby. I guess the stomach acid of a fish would be a little better for cleaning bones off than traditional soap.
So, there you have it, almost everyone and everything that lives inside the Spooky House of Horrors...but there's one last thing that lives outside the house, and I very nearly missed it entirely!
I am so sorry to have disrespected the memory of David, Daniel & Antonio, but their unreasonably large "This Book Belongs To" sticker was covering up one of the book's very best monsters, an oversized earthworm with THE MOST lovable beady-eyed buzzard looking face I've ever seen. Check off another invertebrate grossly under-appreciated for monster potential.
In fact, come to think of it, it seems like the vast majority of Spooky House residents are either animals or combinations of animals not usually associated so much with "horror," despite the fact that they very logically could be. Many of them aren't even all that exaggerated from something you could pick up at a reptile show, for that matter, which is possibly the best part: according to this book, all you need to have your own "house of horrors" are enough frogs, birds and bugs. Easy!