By Diane Hoh.
Sixty-plus Salem students are enduring a torturous bootcamp ahead of tryouts for the university’s junior varsity cheerleading squad. Delle aches so much on day one she doesn’t know how she’ll make it through the week. And when she finds out what happened to last year’s cheerleaders, she wonders if it’s worth the effort. Coming home from a regional competition, their bus skidded off the road ending in a crash that killed all but one of the passengers. The survivor, Jennifer, is still on crutches and has officially retired from cheerleading, making Rory and Marla, who for their own reasons didn’t take the bus that fateful day, co-captains by default. All three are helping the newly arrived Coach Truite put the boot-campers through their paces.
When her superstitious new friend Mojo tells her about the ghost who haunts the cheerleaders’ gym – the so-called Lady in Red – Delle is initially sceptical. But when she receives a visit from the Lady that night, which coincides with a fire inexplicably breaking out in her dorm room, she is forced to confront the possibility that there’s some truth in the ghostly rumour. A series of accidents and strange occurrences follows, distracting Delle and another potential-cheerleader (and Potential New Boyfriend), Greg, from tryouts. They decide to investigate the creepy gym and the mysterious goings-on in the hope of identifying – and putting a stop to – whoever has it in for the cheerleaders.
For a comparatively short Point Horror (164 pages) there’s a lot of unnecessary content in The Scream Team. We get an account of day one from the perspective of three different characters, one of whom doesn’t put in a second appearance for another forty pages; the bus crash and Lady in Red are disparate mysteries with one tenuous link between them, and too many characters only exist to be red herrings. Whilst there are some references to familiar Salem University people and places, the action of this Nightmare Hall instalment is relatively self-contained. It mostly takes place in two of the older buildings on campus – a now rarely used gym and a dorm no longer inhabited by students, which for some reason all the wannabe cheerleaders have been forced to relocate to for the week. It is never explained why they have all been excused from attending classes for the duration of the bootcamp – one of several omissions and confusing elements that make up this hodgepodge entry. It’s a frustrating read, exacerbated by the brief and pointless finale, in which a half-hearted ‘revelation’ raises more questions than it answers.
By that point, the lack of cohesion between this and the other Nightmare Hall entries feels like a blessing. I see no reason to revisit any element of The Silent Scream.
Someone is going round instigating nasty ‘accidents’ to scare a bunch of aspiring cheerleaders. Well, here’s the thing with acts of sabotage made to look like accidents… they could just be accidents. A small trash can fire, a faulty bit of gym equipment, a poorly maintained piece of apparatus are all we’re really offered by way of horror, alongside brief flashes of a figure in red which we can be pretty sure, even early on in the narrative, isn’t a ghost. A disfigured dolly and threatening note are the first concrete evidence that there’s a real life person pulling the strings, and if these amateurish pranks represent their best effort, do they merit Delle’s, our or anyone’s fear?
What happens in the Carrie-inspired finale could – and should – cause chills. But instead of focusing on the mass panic and prevalent danger, our attention is directed up, and away, for some dull exposition, by the end of which the firefighters have arrived and everyone’s safe. Really, really not scary.