By R. L. Stine.
Annie Kiernan is exploring her new home of Shocklin Falls, and ends up at the town’s namesake, a stunning waterfall plunging from a cliff which overlooks the whole area. Here, she meets Jonathan Morgan, who is Luke-Perry-gorgeous and shares her passion for bike riding. He offers to show her around town and introduce her to his friends; so far, so great. But Annie quickly discovers Jonathan’s moody side. Laughing and joking with buffoonish best friend Caleb one minute; angry, dark and introverted the next – especially when his friend Ruby is around. And then Dawn, Caleb’s long-suffering girlfriend, tells her about Louisa – the former love of Jonathan’s life, who supposedly committed suicide at the falls, a few months earlier. This explains Jonathan’s moodiness, but not the sudden, targeted abuse of which Annie finds herself the victim. Her bike tyres are slashed, her floppy disk is erased, she gets creepy, threatening phone calls – all by some anonymous perpetrator who really doesn’t want Jonathan to have a new girlfriend. Is it Louisa, back from the dead? Or someone more corporeal, with their own reason for wanting Annie out of the picture, who can perhaps shed some light on the mystery surrounding Louisa’s death?
The Dead Girlfriend differs from most Point Horrors in adopting a first-person narrative. The aim, I suppose, is to engage us in the story and its main character, and to enhance the horror with a greater sense of immediacy and relevance. It doesn’t work. The heroine is at best, dull; at worst, unpleasant, and she’s permanently uptight. Being inside her mind only exacerbated my frustration with her. Furthermore, R. L. Stine’s use of the first person, combined with his tendency to use very basic language, and short, simple sentences, means it all too often reads like an Oxford Reading Tree book.
On the plus side, there are some pleasing throwbacks for fans of 90s nostalgia (with references to MTV, Luke Perry and those good, old-fashioned Apple Macs). But, with its lacklustre plot, containing very little horror, threat or action, this entry seems doomed to obscurity. That is, until the shocking twist finale when The Dead Girlfriend gleefully unfolds all the revelations it’s been holding to its chest for the previous 150 pages. It is an action packed, satisfying payoff, which almost achieves a genuine sense of tragedy. Whilst R. L. Stine skilfully destroys the pathos of his deranged killer’s downfall with a few saccharine, unnecessary words, the finale offers up enough thrill to redeem this entry, a little way.
The Dead Girlfriend, for most of its 180 pages, seems to go out of its way to avoid any suggestion of horror. Suspenseful, creepy moments are nipped in the bud by Annie’s cat jumping on to some part of her person. The only violence she is subjected to – mild electrocution from the keyboard of an old Mac – is vaguely ridiculous. The one moment of pure, nasty horror that we get, really does horrify by its unexpectedness. But, though it shocks, it also jars against the teenybopper terror of the rest of the story. I’m not sure whether this one moment rescues the entry from obscurity, or whether it is just incongruously obscene. Either way, changing the species of pet does nothing to hide the fact that it is completely ripped off from a film that came out about 6 years earlier.