By Richie Tankersley Cusick.
When Robin Bailey answers a ‘Help Wanted’ ad in the paper, she is surprised to learn she’ll be working at Manorwood – the mansion-home of the most sought-after boy in school, Parker Swanson. Though admittedly gorgeous, Robin is immune to his charms and repelled by his arrogance. And it turns out his family is very strange. His eccentric grandfather, Herk, hires Robin to catalogue his deceased daughter-in-law’s vast library, and Herk wastes no time in revealing his hatred for Lillith – Parker’s step-mother – who killed herself six months previously. Or his disdain for Lillith’s delicate and unbalanced daughter, Claudia, who claims to be haunted by her mother’s ghost. Swansons aside, Robin also has to contend with a nervous housekeeper, Winifred, and the drunk, lecherous caretaker, Skaggs.
What at first seemed like an easy way to make some fast cash, soon finds Robin embroiled in family drama, as each member of the Swanson clan takes a turn telling her their side of the story. She becomes convinced someone really is out to get the permanently terrified Claudia, and it seems they have no qualms about taking Robin down with her. With the help of potential new boyfriend, Walt, Robin aims to find out which of the Manorwood residents is targeting her new friend, before Claudia goes completely insane.
Help Wanted invites us to trudge through a rich family’s murky history, whilst working out which of the Swansons – alive or dead – is trying to drive a young girl crazy, and why. As a mystery, it’s occasionally engaging and entertaining, but the horror moments are few and far between, and there’s too great a focus on the relationship between Robin and Claudia, both of whom are really annoying. More interesting plotlines, such as the disappearance of their classmate, Vicki, are given short shrift. Most of the action is left to the confusing finale, which bangs through three twists and a fair amount of exposition in the last thirty pages. Whilst the premise of Help Wanted has potential, it delivers only a handful of horror moments, which are baggily held together by weak characters and a wishy-washy narrative. A disappointing entry from the usually reliable Richie Tankersley Cusick.
Much of the tension in Help Wanted is diminished by the fact that our protagonist often shares the burden of fear with Claudia who, we are led to believe, is the main target of whoever is behind the mischief. The only times when Robin is left to face the danger alone, are in her encounters with sleazy Skaggs. The booze-sodden, pock-marked janitor is truly vile, and his perverted attempts to seduce her are cringeworthy. There is also some fine grotesque imagery in the description of a dismembered corpse Robin stumbles across in the woods. It is frustrating that these fertile grounds for horror are left largely unploughed, in favour of the bland and comparatively tame Lillith/Claudia storyline.