My Choose Your Own Adventure review series triumphantly returns! And this is a very special CYOA book: a lost treasure of the past, miraculously revived by the modern rebooted series. Re-released this week, but published in a very limited run years ago, Escape from the Haunted Warehouse is both an “old” and a “new” book, and it’s definitely one of the more interesting stories in the long history of CYOA lore.
Escape from the Haunted Warehouse by Anson Montgomery (illustrated by Keith Newton)
Published: April 2015 (will be released April 15, 2015)
Number in the CYOA Series: 185
In my last CYOA review, The Deadly Shadow, I promised that the next one up would be Spy For George Washington, and I know some of my readers are eagerly waiting for that. But the folks at Chooseco–the rebooted CYOA series that was started a few years ago to reprint the old titles and create new ones–offered me a review copy of Escape From the Haunted Warehouse, and I just couldn’t pass it up. So here it is, the second (to date) “new” CYOA I’ve reviewed, although whether this book really is “new” is open to debate.
Here’s what happened. Anson Montgomery, son of CYOA series co-founder R.A. Montgomery, originally wrote this book back in 1997 hoping to run it as a title in the old series. It never actually appeared–or, at least if it did, it was not widely distributed. Many fans know the CYOA “official” series had 184 books when it ended in 1998. This was supposed to have been book #185. A spooky horror tale, the rumor is that the publisher didn’t release it then because it was deemed too scary for CYOA’s mostly childhood audience. Now, times have changed, and Chooseco finally completes the old series with a book numbered 185. Although written years ago, this is CYOA’s first volume published since the death of R.A. Montgomery last November.
What I found reading Escape from the Haunted Warehouse was, in addition to being an amusingly chilling horror tale, that it’s also a sort of tongue-in-cheek self-parody of the entire Choose Your Own Adventure series. Almost all the clichés of the series are served up here on a silver platter, but they’re done with a kind of subtle self-awareness that particularly adult fans who grew up with the series will enjoy. And yes, it’s quite scary, at least by CYOA standards. Anson Montgomery throws basically everything he can think of at the audience, much of it couched in arcane historical and pop culture horror references that I also think adult readers, more than kids, will get a kick out of.
In Escape from the Haunted Warehouse, “you” get to drive a car that resembles this one. Stephen King fans should recognize it immediately.
It doesn’t have much of a plot, but that doesn’t matter very much. “You” are a kid who’s desperate for a summer job so you can put gas in your car. (I love how your car, pictured on page 92, resembles a 1957 Plymouth Fury–a reference to Stephen King’s Christine). You answer a mysterious ad for night work at a warehouse. The foreman, Del Grady (a reference to The Shining), puts you to work immediately without so much as an interview. The warehouse is, as the title warns you, haunted. The book is sort of an aimless meander through the various horrors resident in the warehouse, which include a creepy Chucky-like doll, a ravenous Cujo-style dog intent on eating you, blood-bathing maniac 16th century Countess Elizabeth Bathory, and the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, a famous English ghost. There’s no real point other than to survive your night in the warehouse and, if you’re lucky, escape. But again, what would have been a structural weakness in another book is actually no big deal here, perhaps because Montgomery was deliberately spoofing some of the tropes of the series.
The horror and pop references are a lot of fun. Aside from the ones I already mentioned, there are references to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, the Friday the 13th slasher film series, the Winchester Mystery House of San Jose, California, and the Mary Celeste mystery. There are also even more subtle references, such as to Madame LaLaurie–a famous ghost story from 19th century New Orleans–and things like The X Files. I was surprised to find an ending that takes you into the horrifying Aokigahara forest in Japan, one of the creepiest real-life places on Earth where hundreds of people have committed suicide over the years. There’s no real explanation for how you get there, but it was a great ending.
Aokigahara, the horrifying “suicide forest” near Mt. Fuji in Japan, makes a rare appearance in this book.
Some of the plots and choices branch into pretty outlandish tangents. The whole “human resources” plot, where your employers trap you into a bizarre Hunger Games-type scenario, is a head-scratcher, particularly when Montgomery refers to characters we’ve never seen before. The plot involving the FBI agents is a similarly it-comes-out-of-nowhere premise, but it’s fairly interesting. Outlandishness and audacity can work pretty well in this series; House of Danger is successful for that very reason. It works here too–but just barely. The reader forgives the non-sequiturs because that’s one of the features of the series, but it works mostly by tweaking the reader’s sense of nostalgia.
Was this book “too scary” to be released in 1997? I’m not really sure. It’s a bit more raw and graphic than many of the books in the series, but honestly, when measured up against The Horror of High Ridge–which I described as the “Evil Dead” of the CYOA series–it’s really not that shocking. This is just conjecture, but it could be that the book’s main strength, its obscure horror references, would probably have been largely lost on a childhood audience in the 1990s, and most kids wouldn’t “get” it. Seventeen years later, the CYOA series has enough adult readers to pull it off. Escape from the Haunted Warehouse could be the first book that’s an explicit nod to my generation: those of us who read as kids in the ’80s and ’90s, and who are still in love with them.
Next time I really will get to Spy for George Washington! I promise!