By Carol Ellis.
Janna is spending the summer before she starts college on a bi-state tour of Grease with a regional theatre company. Janna loves performing, but someone loves watching her even more. It starts with red roses and anonymous notes, then phone calls, and soon she feels like she’s being watched all the time. Roommates Toni and Gillian are worried, but fourth roomie, Liz, has zero sympathy: she’s too busy resenting Janna’s centre-stage position in the final dance number.
Janna is convinced that her stalker is possessive ex-boyfriend, Jimmy Dare, but when a lipstick scrawled message on her mirror doesn’t match his handwriting, she turns her attention further afield: first to her super-fan, Stan; then to Assistant Stage Manager Ryan, with whom she had a couple of great dates before she caught him making out with Liz. Adding fire to her suspicion, it turns out Ryan was working with the theatre company when Kathy Kramer was its main star – before she went to Broadway and got brutally murdered; her killer, never caught. As the stalker’s actions become more violent, it is clear that whoever it is, they are determined to take the spotlight off Janna, forever.
A mystery predator harassing a young dancer whilst she experiences the highs and lows of being on tour for the first time is a sound premise, and there’s lots to enjoy in the descriptions of dance rehearsals, dressing rooms and motel-living. Janna, despite the name, is a likeable heroine; reasonable in her actions and concerns. But many of the peripheral characters lack fibre, which makes it difficult to feel fully invested in the mystery (we care about Janna, but can’t get enough of a foot-hold on any one character to care whether they might be the perpetrator). Toni and Gillian as the above-suspicion ‘friends’ are interchangeable (their only distinguishing characteristic is that one has red hair; I can’t remember which). And their presence does more harm than good: as her confidantes, they constantly reassure and sympathise with Janna, denying her that sense of isolation which is endured by many PH heroines, and which often contributes to the horror. Still, the triple-twist ending is enjoyably fraught and fast-paced, and the stalker’s unmasking is an unexpected treat – surprisingly surprising!
The creepy notes and phone calls are standard PH, but the set pieces where Janna is alone with her stalker are often thrillingly tense, and the fact she somehow always ends up with blood all over her, adds a vivid splash of horror. But it’s the finale that packs the scariest punch – when Janna finally comes face-to-face with her psychotic, vicious, home-made-weapon-wielding tormentor. It delivers in spades the ending that the premise and preamble promise; an action-packed sequence of escalating dangers as Janna is chased round a deserted auditorium, culminating in a ‘fight to the almost-death’, dangling perilously above the stage on the catwalk: frantic, visually impactful, Point Horror hijinks!