By Sinclair Smith.
After colluding in a practical joke in eighth grade, Tracy snubs Travis’s affections, even though she likes him, because the popular clique think he’s weird. Travis leaves town soon afterwards and returns four years later, quite the hunk. Tracy’s old feelings resurface, and she is secretly pleased when her domineering boyfriend, Kyle, sets them up on a double date with Travis and his girlfriend, Christie. Travis promises them an evening they’ll never forget, which turns out to be true, for all the wrong reasons.
For Tracy, the date starts badly and gets worse. Travis plays one practical joke after another, each one more disturbing than the last. Christie is terrible company, talking constantly and flirting with Kyle; vacuous and dull one minute, throwing violent temper tantrums the next. The couples end up at an abandoned hunting lodge, which Travis’s brother is developing into a ski hotel. Tracy, initially impressed with the elaborate 1920s furnishings and hidden speakeasy, is on the verge of actually enjoying herself. But then Travis tells them about the mass murder that shut down the lodge in the 1940s, and the subsequent hauntings which have kept it closed ever since. When Travis disappears, and strange things start to happen, the others assume it’s another practical joke. But then Christie vanishes, and Kyle, and Tracy is left to face the ghost, alone.
Double Date is a story in three acts. In the first act, we meet the couples, quickly tire of Travis and Christie’s stupid jokes and share in Tracy’s frustration at Kyle’s sycophantism towards his new best mate. There’s no horror here, and the characters quickly start to grate, but it effectively sets up the second act in the abandoned lodge, which is the strongest section of the book. The dusty, archaic surroundings are perfect for a ghost story. There are some fine spooky moments and a creeping sense of dread which culminates in Tracy ending up alone, afraid and locked in a boiler room with a corpse. It has the makings of a solid supernatural mystery. But in the final act, we get a complete change of direction. An unexpected – but not very satisfying – twist takes this Point Horror down a path that is unusual for the franchise, but quite typical of the horror/thriller genre. I think with this PH entry, enjoyment of the final section is all down to personal preference. It isn’t to my taste, but it’s nevertheless well written, and delivers some thrilling moments.
Double Date offers up a villain whose threatening, maniacal presence dominates the last fifty pages. Teetering constantly between quiet intimidation and violent excess, he is a genuine threat and more than once gets the upper hand just as it seems the kids are in the clear. The problem is, I’m on his side most of the time, and rather than being afraid for Tracy and her annoying friends, I’d quite happily see them all freeze to death. The best scares are in the middle section, and a last-page attempt to recapture a hint of the second act ghostliness comes too late to improve its fear factor rating of…