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Point Horror

Amnesia

By Sinclair Smith.

A girl wakes up in hospital with a sore ankle and no memory of who she is. Her sister, Marta, shows up, giving her a name – Alicia Taylor – and takes her home where she reveals that their parents died in the same car accident that caused Alicia’s amnesia. Back at home, nothing she sees or is told by Marta feels familiar. Her sister tends to her every need, but soon becomes overbearing, and even manic, in her efforts to keep Alicia safe and at home. The feeling that something is not right keeps Alicia in a near constant state of anxiety. Determined to regain her memory and rebuild her life, she sets about discovering the truth of her relationship to Marta, with the help of flirtatious Mark, who works in the video store down the street.

Amnesia often requires considerable suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part. Surely it cannot be that easy to poach an amnesiac from a county hospital, no matter how stressed and distracted her doctor is? The ludicrousness of the first few chapters sets the tone for most of Alicia’s thoughts and actions throughout the narrative. When the truth finally dawns on her, she asks herself, “how could I have been so gullible?” A question we had been wondering, repeatedly, from the outset.

However, Sinclair Smith distracts us from Alicia’s naivety, and lack of personality, by focusing on the far more interesting character of Marta and in doing so she turns a laughable premise into an entertaining page-turner. Amnesia clearly owes a debt to Misery, and Marta is a thinly veiled Annie Wilkes. She even uses similar hokey phrases like ‘fiddle faddle’ and ‘oopsy daisy’. But the transparency of Marta’s supposedly well-meaning actions does not detract from the tension. If anything, we know she is a ticking time bomb and we eagerly anticipate the explosion. Marta’s motivations remain tantalisingly obscure for much of the story whilst her irrational, aggressive behaviours gradually build towards a thrilling finale.

7/10

Fear Factor

Clearly a wrong ‘un from the start, Marta maintains an oppressively creepy presence throughout. The way she lurks, watching over Alicia and dictating all her actions, the transparency of her lies, her cruelty and the random bursts of rage are all terrifying. Like Misery, Amnesia is more thriller than horror, but also, like Annie Wilkes, Marta is a truly fearsome villain and she earns this PH entry a respectable fear factor rating of…

7/10

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Point Horror

The Mall

By Richie Tankersley Cusick.

There are pros and cons to Trish’s new job at the mall. On the plus side, she’s working near her best friends, twins Nita and Imogene. And from her vantage point at the counter of Muffin-Mania, she can sneak glances at sexy Storm Reynolds working across the food court at Pizza Park. On the downside, her manager Bethany is really mean, and there are persistent rumours of weird happenings in the mall at night, such as things – and people – vanishing without trace. Plus, there are some peculiar characters hanging about the place: a customer with sunglasses and wispy grey hair, who orders muffins in the creepiest way imaginable; abrasive bus-boy Wyatt, who Trish catches hanging round her car; and a mystery someone who lures Trish into the parking lot so he can call her on a payphone and whisper sinister things at her.

Late at night, Trish finds herself stranded in the abandoned carpark. When a security guard lets her back into the mall via a service door, she discovers the corpse of a girl with an ice-pick through her throat. The guard bundles Trish into a taxi so he can call the police without her having to become involved, but when she tries to track him down the next day to thank him, she’s told by another guard, Roger, that there is no night-time security at the mall. And there’s nothing on the news about a murder. The mysterious guard has disappeared… and so has the body.

When Trish is humiliated by Bethany in front of the entire food court, she decides she’s had all she can take from the mall. But before she can hand in her notice, Trish takes a tumble down a faulty escalator and ends up in hospital. In the middle of the night, she’s visited by her mystery harasser. Calling himself Athan, he tells her they are destined for each other, and will be together very soon. He threatens to harm her friends if she tells anyone about him. Forced to confront the danger she’s in, Trish reverses her decision to quit Muffin-Mania. She needs to get back into the mall to find her tormentor and put an end to his delusions, once and for all.

The Mall is a gripping read. A tightly narrated, action-packed story which keeps its focus on the mystery and makes few digressions into the minutiae of American teen life. Normally I can’t get enough of the PH page-padding tropes of beach parties, fast-food dates and school-based shenanigans. But The Mall compensates for its lack of nostalgic Americana with a tough, likeable heroine, interesting cast of peripheral characters, and relentless sense of peril. Not really a whodunit, as there are only two suspects (and neither of these turns out to be the stalker – I’ll come back to this in a moment) it nevertheless satisfies as an intriguing mystery. The narrative unravels a little towards the end, getting caught up in an overlong set piece involving a freight elevator. But when Trish finally stumbles into her tormentor’s lair, things get scary very quickly. With two corpses that we know of, and allusions to other murdered girls, there’s no doubt this guy means business, and Trish is in mortal danger.

There’s also a genuinely surprising twist when the perpetrator is unmasked, though I’d have preferred the person in question to have featured in the narrative a little more, and earlier, than he did. Still, the clues were there, so perhaps I’m just annoyed with myself for failing to guess who it was. The two actual suspects have a significant role to play in the finale, though they morph into a slightly ridiculous double-act with questionable sexual morals, and their presence is incongruous with the tense and highly fraught showdown.

If it wasn’t for a couple of odd choices in the last few chapters, The Mall would be faultless. As it is, this highly enjoyable and memorable entry still gets an almost-perfect score.

9/10

Fear Factor

The Mall subjects its heroine to a frighteningly realistic ordeal, rather than relying on gross pranks or typical PH scare tactics. We follow Trish from the first encounter with her stalker – when he orders a honey muffin in his wispy-grey-beard disguise – through every threat and act of mental torture, until his nefarious intentions are revealed in the macabre finale. Along the way, there are some terrifying set pieces: the mutilated corpse in a bin; Athan’s visit to an incapacitated Trish in the hospital; and the discovery of his lair – complete with giant spiders, wedding cake and headless mannequins. Trish’s slapstick rescue, by the two characters she had pegged as villains, detracts a little from the horror in the finale, but we are nevertheless left with a delightfully sinister parting shot, and an unshakeable sense of unease.

9/10

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Point Horror

Night School

By Caroline B. Cooney.

Mariah lives inside her own head: in a world where she’s adored by Andrew (who rarely speaks to her) and part of the teen-royalty clique of Julie-Brooke-Autumn-Danielle (who barely acknowledge she exists). When she sees Andrew sign up for an unidentified ‘Night Class’ it seems the ideal opportunity to finally get close to him and make her daydreams a reality. Autumn signs up to get some distance from her suffocating friendship group, and Ned adds his name to the list because, after years of being labelled a loser, he’s willing to try anything to cobble together a personality for himself. Andrew is drawn to the class for the simple reason that it is at night time, and, despite his huge ego, he loves watching others from the shadows, rather than being seen, and having to be perfect. And it turns out the class is all about the darkness: learning to control it, to become one with it, in order to create fear in the vulnerable and ‘Easy To Scare’. At the end of their disturbing orientation, the instructor gives his four students their first assignment: to pick an ETS so they might scare that person out of their wits.

Mariah is appalled, but she cannot drop out of the class. The instructor makes it very clear that if she tries to quit, her brother Bevin – a quiet, lonely boy who is being bullied towards suicide – will be designated an ETS for another Night Class. Each has their own reason for staying, and so the four students cling together, justifying each other’s actions, choosing their victims, and, in so doing, they discover the darkest, most unpleasant parts of themselves.

Unsurprisingly, for a story which revolves around darkness, Night School is a particularly dark entry in the Point Horror franchise. Caroline B. Cooney tends to revisit certain themes: the supernatural; the pain and loneliness of being an outsider; and the concept of choice and consequence. She explores all of these in considerable detail in Night School, and whilst it makes for a fascinating, unique and unsettling entry, there’s not much time for actual plot development. The last chapter feels like the midway point, and though it ends on a bone-chilling shock, I was left wanting – and expecting – more. There are strong parallels with Cooney’s Vampire trilogy, so it is possible further instalments were intended. I would happily revisit this group of characters, and the intriguing ideas Night School introduces.

8/10

Fear Factor

Whereas most PHs go for discrete shocks and scares scattered between classes, homework, dates, and trips to the mall or pizzerias, Night School never relieves the tension. Every page is saturated with darkness, fear, oppression and secrecy. It’s suffocating and yet, there’s another layer of horror on top of it all: an unspeakable suggestion which is hinted at throughout; the constant implication that a character is going to do something truly awful. Of course, they never do, but when the issue finally comes to a head towards the end, we feel a genuine sense of dread at what we might find behind a closed door. And that last sentence is so terrifying, it sent an actual shiver down my spine.

10/10

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Point Horror

Hit and Run

By R. L. Stine.

Cassie has three best friends, and they’re all boys: there’s practical joker, Winks; Eddie, a frequent victim of practical jokes; and bulky jock, Scott, on whom she has a not-so-secret crush. Bored, one night, the four of them decide to take an illicit joyride to practise for their upcoming driving tests. Driven to distraction by Winks’s relentless japes, Eddie accidentally runs a man over. Certain that the guy – whose wallet reveals to be one Brandt Tinkers – is 100% dead, and that there were no witnesses, the friends commit a hit and run.

In the days that follow, they are plagued by guilt – especially Eddie, who is desperate to confess. The others convince him to keep it together: there’s nothing about their crime in the local paper; they’re almost in the clear. But the absence of any news story is disconcerting in itself – where is the body? They call Eddie’s cousin, Jerry, who works at the city morgue, and are almost relieved when he confirms a Brandt Tinkers was brought in. That is, until Jerry reveals that the corpse has since vanished without trace! Cassie and her friends are already freaked out, but then they start receiving creepy phone calls and notes – supposedly from their victim – and pretty soon, guilt turns to terror. When Winks is himself knocked down (by an unknown driver, who absconds) Cassie realises they’re all in danger, and sets about solving the mystery before she finds herself next on the hit (and run) list.

Polaroids of a corpse in a Volvo aside, much of Hit and Run is believable. The four teens act how you would imagine sixteen year old accidental killers to act. And just as guilt, remorse and the overwhelming need to confess kick in, they’re distracted from ‘doing the right thing’ by a new problem: their victim’s corpse vacating his mortuary slab and launching a campaign of vengeance against them. We know, of course, that the mischief-maker will ultimately be revealed to be an alive human being (and an easily guessable one, at that) but this doesn’t diminish the fun of getting there. Whilst for the sake of their souls, we wish the kids spent a little longer feeling bad about what they’ve done, their callous self-obsession means the plot moves along at a lively pace and there’s rarely a dull chapter. Okay, so the characters could do with a bit more depth, their actions and consequences lack complexity, and an extra scare or two in the second half wouldn’t go amiss… Hit and Run is nevertheless a fun read, and a textbook example of the PH genre.

7/10

Fear Factor

Whilst it offers up some solid scares, Hit and Run makes a wrong turn when it diminishes the angst its protagonists endure in the aftermath of their crime. There’s a rich cache of dread and terror in those fears: that they might be caught; that their parents and classmates will vilify them; that their futures are at stake; that they might go to jail… All of this is glossed over in a few paragraphs, in order to usher in the supposed ‘horror’ element of the story – that a definitely dead corpse is taking selfies in their cars and leaving them vaguely menacing messages. Surely there are few things scarier than the prospect of being banged up in the American penal system? The potential for a more complex, psychological instalment in the franchise is abandoned, due to R. L. Stine’s fervent allegiance to PH tropes.

5/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Boy Next Door

By Sinclair Smith.

Randy Bell’s life is just about perfect. She has an adoring boyfriend in Ted, a reliable best friend in Alice; she’s on the cheerleading squad; she’s ever so sensible, responsible… and boring. Which is why her father has no qualms about leaving her unsupervised for weeks on end, in their ramshackle old house, in a deserted part of town. But everything changes when sexy, sophisticated Julian moves into the long-abandoned house next door and sweeps Randy off her feet. She quits cheerleading, breaks up with Ted, and starts living recklessly. At Julian’s behest, she carries out cruel practical jokes on her obnoxious teachers and classmates. Randy can shake off the occasional slight tugs on her conscience, because the jokes give her a thrill, and, more importantly, she gets to laugh about them afterwards, with Julian.

But then his demands become sinister. He wants her to carry out pranks that could seriously hurt the target, and when Alice upbraids Randy for her recent behaviour, Julian insists she cut her best friend out of her life. Soon, Randy is terrified of her new boyfriend – fearful of what his next sick idea might be, and what harm she herself might be capable of causing.

A lot of The Boy Next Door feels like analogy for being in an abusive relationship. Julian overwhelms Randy with his charm, and then tries to change her personality and isolate her from her friends so he can gain complete control. It’s a strange choice for a PH entry whose register definitely aims towards the younger end of the YA market, with its simple language, massive font and overuse of capital letters (to signify shouting or any expression of emotion). You have to wonder whether the message isn’t going to fly over the heads of the eleven year old readers. Anyone older might get the point, but will also be frustrated by the childish storytelling.

Then the rug is pulled from beneath our feet! And The Boy Next Door suddenly ‘reveals’ something far more troubling is afoot. Ah-ha, we think, the tweenie-bopper-friendly preamble was a ruse to make the dark twist all the more shocking… Actually, no. We end up back on the original path – and all too quickly; potential wasted, ambition abandoned. Without that brief sojourn into psychological thriller, The Boy Next Door would be totally unremarkable. But those twenty-odd pages inject some genuine suspense into the story, and earn it a slightly less woeful rating.

4/10

Fear Factor

There’s little to fear in The Boy Next Door, other than in the aforementioned section, when our imaginations are led down a deceptively sinister garden path. Julian is supposed to be the antagonist of the piece, but he’s more of an arsehole than a villain; annoying, rather than scary. And Randy, our ‘heroine’, behaves so shadily at the start when she sabotages her entire life at other people’s expense and is rude and unpleasant to everyone, that she banks no sympathy. If she was more likeable, her suffering towards the end might have made the finale more thrilling. As it is, her redemption comes too late in the day and at too small a price, and had the worst happened, it would still have been better than Randy Bell deserves.

3/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Stalker

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!

8/10

Fear Factor

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!

8/10

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Point Horror

Driver’s Dead

By Peter Lerangis.

Kirsten Wilkes is a hopeless driver; every Driver’s Ed lesson ends with Mr Busk yelling at her. There’s no way she’ll pass his class. If she still lived in Manhattan, it wouldn’t be an issue. But her family has just moved to Long Island, and a car is apparently a must-have for the suburban teenager. Still, moving to Port Lincoln has had its upsides. She’s made decent new friends in Maria and her boyfriend Virgil. And she’s caught the eye of the school’s resident bad-boy, Rob Maxson. Despite Maria’s warning that Rob is a sleaze who turned their once-pleasant classmate, Gwen, into a snippy bitch, Kirsten agrees to go on a date with him.

It starts well; Rob gives her a driving lesson and is so sweet and patient that she consents to a movie, then dinner, and finally they end up at the local park – the favourite make-out point of the town’s hormonal teens. But the perfect date ends horribly, with an acrimonious parting of the ways, followed by tragedy. And Port Lincoln is no stranger to tragedy. The house Kirsten and her family have moved into was previously owned by the Trangs, whose nephew, Nguyen, committed suicide by driving a stolen car into a ravine. Nguyen – Gwen’s ex-boyfriend; Nguyen – who had a rendezvous with Rob and Virgil the night he died…

When weird things start happening around Kirsten, especially when she’s alone in the house, she decides to clear up the shady circumstances surrounding Nguyen’s death, and the more she discovers, the more she realises that his supposed suicide is somehow connected with her own personal tragedy.

Driver’s Dead is a compelling mystery, that hooks us with a perplexing, violent prologue and then hurtles us forward in time, to ferret out the truth alongside heroine, Kirsten, who knows only slightly less than we do. At least we are equipped from the get-go with the knowledge that Rob Maxson is bad news. And yet, he’s so charming on their date that even we are lulled into a sense of false security, making the subsequent action all the more shocking. The whole way through, Driver’s Dead dangles clues and for every question it answers, it throws up two more. Alas, as it approaches the finish line, the story-telling starts to waver, and the answers we’ve waited for with anticipation are resolved a little too predictably. The finale is action-packed, but they are actions without consequence, and we’re left with a lot of hanging threads after the last page. Still, whilst Driver’s Dead promises more than it delivers, what we are offered up is, for the most part, prime Point Horror.

8/10

Fear Factor

Driver’s Dead is a mystery, but one which aspires to be so much more than your typical PH whodunit. By having two surprising acts of violence early in the narrative, we are left with the pervading sense that no character is safe. It makes for a tense narrative, where anything could happen. There is also a supernatural element to the story, though this is used with varying degrees of success. Whilst it occasionally strays towards silly, when it works, it’s chilling. The finale fully embraces the fantastical, abandoning horror for more of a Twilight Zone inspired surrealness; a choice which might divide readers. For me, promising scare potential is frustratingly frittered away in a sequence of daft moments. Nevertheless, Driver’s Dead gets credit for being a unique, and enjoyably darker, entry in the PH franchise.

7/10

Categories
Point Horror

Sweet Sixteen

By Francesca Jeffries.

Just before they turn thirteen, cousins Leslie and Trish have their fortunes read by their grandmother’s weird friend, Mrs Kashmer. The outlook is ominous: both girls will encounter grave trouble before their sixteenth birthdays. Before they can find out more, the reading is interrupted by the sudden death of Granny Barrows.

Three years later, and Leslie Barrows’ life is pretty much perfect – on the surface, at least. She’s doing well in school, has a hot new boyfriend, Rick, and is looking forward to the elaborate Sweet Sixteen party her loving parents are planning for her. Trish’s parents, on the other hand, have just gone through an acrimonious divorce, and now she’s constantly over at the Barrows’ house, being moody. Even more of a nuisance is Rick’s ex-girlfriend, Caroline, who just won’t leave him alone. And Rick’s refusal to shake off the needy Caroline goes hand in hand with his overbearing attitude towards Leslie. Her new relationship is also causing problems with best friend Deborah (who has become addicted to talk shows) and ex, Steve, who is now dating Trish, despite being clearly – and intensely – still into Leslie.

In the run-up to her party, Leslie encounters a streak of really bad luck. Her handmade invitations go missing; her restaurant reservation is cancelled; her dress arrives, ripped to shreds… and Trish is faced with a similar string of catastrophes. Then the mishaps turn to violence – someone tries to run Leslie over and Trish is pushed down an escalator at the mall. It seems Mrs Kashmer’s prediction is coming true, and the cousins start to wonder whether either of them will make it to sixteen.

Sweet Sixteen is the tale of a girl having a really lousy month in the run up to her birthday. Leslie is subjected to one grievance after another so we can have the fun of working out who is behind the mischief. The peripheral characters comprise our list of suspects and are, therefore, key to our enjoyment of the story. The problem is, they’re all so horrible (the boys, possessive and manipulative; the girls, shrill, petty and jealous) that it’s little comfort when the psycho is unmasked and overcome, because boring Leslie is still surrounded by arseholes.

Still, Sweet Sixteen deserves credit for its well thought out twist and refreshingly subtle final showdown. Loose ends are tied up, a positive life decision is made (and then unmade), and the perp’s psychological problems are acknowledged and treated with sympathy. The last 30-or-so pages go a long way towards making up for the mediocre preamble.

6/10

Fear Factor

This Point Horror takes a gentler, more PG approach to the horror genre, with the victims being subjected to stressful – rather than fearful – situations, for the most part. As the story progresses, there is some violence, but it isn’t until the finale that Sweet Sixteen approaches anything resembling scary. There is one ominous scene involving Leslie’s granny, which may be slightly unsettling if, like me, you’re a bit feretrophobic*, but it’s clear from the get-go that the episode is all just a vivid dream. This entry may offer a suitable gateway into pre-adolescent horror for a curious ten-year-old (in fact, Sweet Sixteen was my own first foray into Point Horror) but I think it would leave most fans of the genre wanting.

3/10

*fear of coffins (not ferrets).

Categories
Point Horror

Prom Date

By Diane Hoh.

Every year, the girls of Toomey High flock to Quartet to buy their prom gowns, designed by the boutique’s owner, Adrienne Dunne. But Adrienne’s only daughter, Margaret, has no need for a dress; she isn’t planning on attending her own senior prom. Throughout high school, Margaret has gone on the occasional date, but no boy has ever asked her to prom: why would this year be any different? She intends to spend that evening with fellow wallflowers: Caroline, Lacey and Jeanette, and experiences only slight pangs of envy when she’s forced to witness the most popular girls in her class (the “The Pops” as she’s named them) buying their dresses in her mother’s store. It’s only Queen Bee Stephanie whose custom she resents; who is mean and unpleasant, especially to Margaret and her friends. Liza and Beth are pleasant enough, and their friend Kiki is too rich to confine her shopping to their little New Jersey town, anyway.

Still, the prom is getting someone all riled up. On the senior picnic, Stephanie falls to her death from a lighthouse; an incident the police later determine was no accident. Margaret is disgusted when the very next day, her friends are musing over lunch about whom Stephanie’s boyfriend, Michael, will ask to the prom now she’s ‘unavailable’. They’re also far from supportive when Margaret reveals she’s been asked to the prom by Liza’s ex, Mitch. She shakes off their negativity, and tries to set aside the disturbing thoughts she’s been having (that her discovery of The Pops’ prom dresses, destroyed in a puddle beside Quartet, is somehow connected with Stephanie’s death). But Margaret’s hopes of a perfect prom are shattered, when she is locked in a burning dumpster and nearly dies. Shortly afterwards, Kiki is brutally attacked – a metal cash box smashed into her face, breaking her nose and leaving her disfigured. It’s clear someone desperately wants to go to prom, and they’re punishing those who have already snagged the most eligible dates. Margaret, as one of that lucky group, had better watch her back – or she won’t make it to prom night.

Even with its grandma-sized print, Prom Date, at 270 pages, is one of the longest entries in the Point Horror franchise. Yet far from outstaying its welcome, the extra length works to its advantage. It’s a consistently entertaining read, punctuated with several nail-biting, memorable set-pieces. The only way in which Prom Date fails to deliver is as a whodunit. We’re pretty much told who the perp is, with 120 pages still to go. It’s one of the maniac’s monologues (about half a dozen of which are scattered throughout the narrative) that gives the game away, and I wonder whether these first-person interludes were an afterthought; an unnecessary last-minute addition that does more harm than good. Still, the action hurtles thrillingly towards prom night, and the promise of a gripping final showdown is amply fulfilled. A chilling yet poignant ‘one last scare’ more than compensates for the unsurprising twist.

9/10

Fear Factor

The early murder scene, to which we’re witness, is frightening not just because of the loss of life, but also the cold-heartedness and cruelty of the killer, as they nudge their victim towards her fatal fall. We’re also treated to a graphic description of the corpse’s, “boneless mass of sodden flesh,” and “glassy doll-like stare”. Similarly, later in the story, Kiki’s mangled face is depicted in full, gory detail. And for me, these aren’t even the scariest moments in Prom Date. When Margaret is violently forced into the stinking dumpster, it’s gross; when she’s locked in, it’s claustrophobia-inducing; when the rat scurries past her, it’s revolting; and when a lighted newspaper is shoved through a gap in the bin and the rubbish surrounding Margaret is set alight, it’s actually terrifying. This has to be the scariest set-piece I’ve come across in any Point Horror, and Prom Date accordingly merits an unbeatable fear factor rating of…

10/10

Categories
Point Horror

Silent Witness

By Carol Ellis.

The unexpected death of Lucy’s close friend and next-door neighbour, Allan, hits her hard. It takes her a while to fulfil her promise to Allan’s mum, to distribute a box of his things amongst their circle of friends. Lucy’s best friend Jenny takes a couple of CDs, studious Robert gets a Michael Jordan poster, Brad grabs some comics (to the disdain of his omnipresent girlfriend, Suzanne) and newcomer Jon, who Allan introduced to the group just a couple of months before his fatal accident, inherits a basketball. Lucy keeps a videotape (Allan constantly had a camcorder glued to his face) which on first watch seems to be just a montage of the friends hanging out together. There’s no soundtrack, but she decides it would make a nice tribute to Allan if she edits and adds music to the video, with tech-minded Jenny’s help.

Then Lucy finds herself the victim of a stalker: she gets phone calls and blank answerphone messages from an anonymous breather; someone breaks into her locker and her school bag; and when she’s home alone, she hears a prowler in the backyard. When Jon asks her out, it’s a welcome distraction from the creepiness. But he acts strangely on their date, and when she sees him on the videotape, angrily confronting Allan about something, Lucy has to question how well she really knows him. And Jon’s not the only one acting strangely. Suzanne is openly hostile towards Lucy every time they meet. When Jenny is mugged on her way home from the video lab whilst wearing Lucy’s distinctive yellow poncho, it finally dawns on Lucy that the stalker is after Allan’s videotape. She realises that if they’re willing to resort to violence, the tape must hold a terrible secret, and one which will perhaps shed new light on Allan’s untimely death. Lucy resolves to watch the video, and get to the bottom of the mystery, to rid herself of the stalker, once and for all.

Silent Witness revolves around two compelling mysteries: the identity of Lucy’s stalker, and the secret on the videotape. There’s a lot of filler as we meander towards the truth, and the circumstances that get in the way of Lucy just sitting down and watching the video tits-to-teeth are sometimes frustratingly contrived. Still, whilst it’s not the most interesting, fun or thrilling Point Horror, our curiosity is nevertheless maintained; the obligatory red herrings are deftly laid, and the guessable-yet-satisfying twist makes for a dramatic finale.

7/10

Fear Factor

For most of the narrative there are very few scares, but when Lucy eventually cottons on to the danger she is in, and the significance of the tape, the action ramps up and things take a sinister turn. The empty video lab is a suitably creepy setting for Lucy to (finally) watch the tape the whole way through, and the tension simmers away as we draw close to the truth. Unfortunately, the long-awaited revelation and final confrontation are not as scary or thrilling as they should be, and much more could be made of the perpetrator’s psychotic personality and chilling lack of remorse. There is danger, and action, but very little horror in this entry.

4/10