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

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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

Categories
Point Horror

The Waitress

By Sinclair Smith.

Paula has blagged her way into a job at Trixie’s Dog House diner, despite never having waitressed before. But she has a lot more on her plate than just learning the ropes of fast-food service. She’s failing English due to a daydreaming affliction; she’s made no friends since moving schools part way through her junior year; and she’s managed to alienate the most popular girl in her class – Coralynn – by stealing her boyfriend, Garth. As if this wasn’t enough, someone has made Paula the target of their practical jokes: leaving her threatening messages on checks, making creepy late-night phone calls, slashing her waitress uniform, and tinkering with her car.

Paula immediately points her finger at Coralynn, but also has nagging suspicions about her fellow waitresses Cookie and Virgilia, as well as Trixie – the red beehived, eccentric owner of the Dog House. Then Paula discovers there used to be another hang-out in town – one which closed down when a high school student died after eating there: a victim of poisoning, whose murderer has never been caught. Suddenly the ‘practical jokes’ have a more sinister implication, and as they escalate, Paula finds herself in serious danger.

The Waitress is a really short Point Horror (just 130 pages) and we’re thrust right into the action from the start. Characters’ personalities are conveyed in a couple of adjectives and Paula is a victim of harassment from her very first day on the job. It’s all a bit much to take in, and it’s difficult to feel invested in her story. Also, such is the barrage of abuse that Paula is subjected to in consequence of her new job, it is baffling that she never once considers quitting, even though we’re told her mum has a high-powered job; we never see her spend money on anything; and she’s struggling in school…

The story improves considerably when we reach the finale, but it’s an arduous journey getting there.

4/10

Fear Factor

The relentless ‘pranks’ are trivial and silly, but the finale is a horror showcase: violence, peril, and serious threat abound. The whirr of an electric slicing machine; the whoosh of flames flaring up from the stove; the frenzied smashing of piles of crockery; the super-human strength of the maniac behind the mayhem… combine to create an atmosphere of terror. There’s also a pleasing nod to a well-known urban legend, just before the final showdown. The Waitress is unusual amongst PHs in that it is scarier than it is entertaining, as its fear factor rating attests.

7/10

Categories
Point Horror

Beach House

By R. L. Stine

In 1956, a creepy guy called Buddy, living in a creepy house on the beach, starts bumping off teenagers who made the mistake of insulting his pride. In the present day (1992) a new set of teens are having their summer ruined by a mystery predator. This time, the stalker’s identity is kept a secret and the action revolves around a girl called Ashley, who is the focus of a lot of male attention. Interestingly, the lads in her life – jealous boyfriend Ross, aggressive Denny, surly Kit and cute-but-humourless Brad – all share at least one characteristic with Buddy…

Beach House is a little longer than the average Point Horror, and it packs in plenty of action. The 1956 and 1992 timelines play out side by side; we get a few chapters of one, until we reach a particularly juicy moment, then we time travel to the other. It’s effective story-telling and makes this entry a real page-turner. Having a few characters from each timeline ‘disappear’ fairly early in the narratives is a welcome move; it makes the task of remembering who’s who a lot more manageable.

The groundwork is deftly laid for a satisfying pay-off, but such high expectations inevitably lead to disappointment. There are lots of ways to go that would offer up a more fun and exciting finale than Beach House’s humdrum ending. Several threads are left hanging, in favour of introducing a lacklustre and slightly confusing twist. I’m glad R. L. Stine made this foray into supernatural PH – it’s a much better offering than his usual whodunit/unhinged teenage girl fare. Though I suspect someone like Caroline B. Cooney could have made a more satisfying, darker-edged horror out of this plot. Still, it’s an entertaining read, and a stand-out entry from Stine.

8/10

Fear Factor

Whilst reading it, Beach House seems saturated with death, more so than any other PH I’ve encountered so far. But on reflection, this isn’t really the case. We’re only presented with one corpse, and we’re not privy to the actual killing or what led to it. Two characters disappear, but it’s implied they’re still knocking about somewhere. We see a victim tied up and left to drown and are told her boyfriend is ‘gone’, but it’s never actually confirmed either of them died. And the one ‘murder’ we ‘witness’ transpires to have been nonfatal. Still, the perp serves us psycho well, and his bloodlust is pretty terrifying, even though we rarely see him at work. It’s a shame he gets lost in the final section, playing second string to a weaker character, otherwise the finale could have offered up some real scares.

7/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Fever

By Diane Hoh.

In the throes of a burning fever, Duffy wakes in the dead of night to the sounds of a struggle next to her hospital bed. Clanging metal, a terrified voice begging for mercy, then nothing, as she slides back into unconsciousness. The following day, unable to ascertain from any of the staff what might have caused the fuss, Duffy focuses on getting well. But her enquiries have already made her an enemy, and soon she is in danger of more than just a bad case of the flu. A janitorial mix-up leads to her almost falling down an elevator shaft. Later, the brake on her wheelchair is released, and she is saved at the last second from plummeting into a freezing lake. Next, she is attacked in the shower room. The hospital staff attribute Duffy’s persecutory claims to the delirium caused by her fever. But when a patient’s heart medication goes missing, and Duffy starts experiencing the symptoms of a healthy person who has been given heart medication, it becomes essential she gets someone to believe her, before she ends up four floors below, in the hospital’s morgue.

The doctors, nurses and orderlies may be sceptical, but we know someone is out to get Duffy. We’re right there alongside her during each attack and, as with any Point Horror whodunit, we’re determined to work out who the perp is. With our protagonist stuck in a hospital bed, we might expect a smaller cast of suspects than usual. But luckily, a lot of her classmates and acquaintances happen to work at the hospital. Preppy Amy, workaholic Cynthia, arrogant Smith and burly Dylan buzz about her bed, fulfilling one role or another. Contrived, yes, but it makes for a more interesting mystery – and one which keeps us guessing. Best friend, Kit, notable by his absence, adds another layer of intrigue. He’s supposedly packed his bags and headed for California, but Duffy refuses to believe he would have left without saying goodbye.

It all comes together in a perilous confrontation in the morgue. There is a surprising twist, but it falls down on two counts. Firstly, the perpetrator isn’t a character we’ve had an opportunity to develop any real interest in, and secondly, their motivation is somewhat out of left field and requires a fair bit of exposition. Still, there’s enough threat and violence throughout to ensure The Fever keeps us entertained, and the morgue-setting for the finale is a fine choice.

7/10

Fear Factor

Duffy faces one attempt on her life after another, all the while suffering from a nasty flu and enduring the incredulity of everyone around her. If she wasn’t such an ill-mannered misery-guts, I’d have a lot more sympathy for her. It is left to the finale – to the maniacal ravings of the unmasked perpetrator, and the revelation of a genuinely tragic fatality – to inject some horror into this entry. Unfortunately, the swathes of new information the chatty perp brings to the final showdown distract us from the danger, and there’s too little time to feel afraid before Duffy is (once again) tucked up safe and sound in bed.

5/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Body

By Carol Ellis.

Melanie Jacobs has just moved to Clifton, Massachusetts and she needs a summer job and some new friends. It looks like both are on the cards when she is offered work as a reader to Lisa Randolph, a girl her own age who was recently left paralysed and mute when she fell from the cliff next to her mansion. The creepy house, and its stern housekeeper – Georgia Hudson – are almost enough to put Melanie off. But she needs the cash, and she senses Lisa desperately needs the company, so she accepts. Besides, there’s the added bonus of Jeff, the estate’s sexy gardener, who’s also new in town. Melanie starts reading Jane Eyre from its midpoint, where Lisa left off before her fall. When Lisa takes to lifting her hand at certain points in the narrative, Melanie wonders whether she’s trying to use the book to signal something; a secret about the circumstances surrounding her accident, perhaps. She confides her suspicion in Lisa’s boyfriend, Garrett, and friends, Kim and Neil, but they’re sceptical. Jeff, on the other hand, believes her immediately, and seems very interested in what Lisa has to ‘say’.

But someone clearly isn’t happy about Melanie trying to communicate with Lisa. First, she’s left a series of threatening messages, warning her to back off. And then someone tries to run her over. Melanie is terrified, and no closer to working out Lisa’s secret, or how Peter – a missing backpacker who disappeared around the time of her accident – might be involved. But as she starts to piece together the clues, Melanie comes to realise that Lisa’s fall was no accident; that she is still in danger from her attacker, and that the perpetrator is quite willing to take Melanie down too, to finish the job.

The Body offers up an interesting mystery that keeps the reader guessing. Okay, so the twist is predictable, and the finale lacks tension, but it’s still fun to see the girls join forces and turn the tables on their tormentor. In fact, Melanie and Lisa’s growing friendship and affinity for each other is genuinely sweet, and makes The Body a pleasure to read – even if it is somewhat lacking in the horror stakes. And the Jane Eyre quotes, woven through the narrative as ‘clues’, are a lovely and unique touch.

8/10

Fear Factor

Whilst Melanie is subjected to some classic Point Horror pranks – threatening messages, crank phone calls – this entry offers an alternative approach to providing its scares. The horror is subtle, and takes a backseat to the mystery, but it’s still there. It’s only once you know the whole story that you can really appreciate the fear and frustration Lisa must have constantly been feeling. The problem is, by this point, the danger has been resolved; the threat neutralised. This is one entry which could really do with an epilogue – a suggestion that the danger’s not quite over yet. Carrie’s hand erupting from the soil; Michael Myers vanishing from the backyard; Jason leaping out of Crystal Lake… anything that would enable me to bestow upon this entry – for which I have a lot of affection – a higher fear factor rating than…

6/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Dead Girlfriend

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.

5/10

Fear Factor

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.

3/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Train

By Diane Hoh.

Hannah is nervous about travelling by train on her class trip from Chicago to San Francisco. But her concerns about claustrophobic corridors and potential derailment pale into insignificance when she and her best friend, Kerry, discover a coffin in the baggage car. Worse still, it turns out to be the coffin of Frog, their reviled classmate, who recently perished in a fiery car accident and is being transported to his parents on the west coast. Mack and Lewis try to reassure their girlfriends by pointing out that Frog’s death – though tragic – renders him incapable of hurting anyone on the train. But as the friends share stories of the various ways in which they mistreated the creepy, delinquent dead boy, Hannah’s own guilt – which she keeps to herself – starts to eat away at her.

Then Frog’s girlfriend, Lolly, is attacked – strangled with a scarf as the train plunges through a dark tunnel. Hannah is the next victim, knocked unconscious and briefly imprisoned in Frog’s coffin. When Mack reports seeing someone who looked just like Frog during a layover in Denver, Hannah becomes convinced that someone else burned up in the car crash, and Frog is on the train, wreaking revenge on those who made his life at Parker High so miserable. It’s only after Lewis gets an ice pick in the collarbone, and their friend Jean Marie disappears, that the others start to believe she may be right.

The storytelling in The Train is tighter than the claustrophobic corridors Hannah hates so much, and once the action gets underway, it continues to gather pace like a runaway locomotive, hurtling towards the devastating conclusion. Even between the vicious attacks on Hannah and her friends, the atmosphere of tension and danger prevails because, on a train, there’s no place to run. Then comes the genuinely shocking twist, which is the most memorable across all of the PHs I have read. As if that wasn’t enough, Hannah’s long-withheld confession sets up an exciting, perilous, mist-drenched finale. A wild ride from start to finish, The Train is, for me, the absolute pinnacle of Point Horror.

10/10

Fear Factor

The lengthy description of Hannah, trapped, gradually realising where she is and then desperately, and in vain, trying to claw her way out of the coffin as she slides about on the satin, tears her nails on the wooden lid and, eventually, loses consciousness, is absolutely terrifying. As a child, the coffin scared me even more than the brief glimpses of Frog’s corpse which Diane Hoh cleverly describes in brief snatches – his form outlined in the dark on Hannah’s bunk, a tattooed wrist glimpsed through a barely open lid – just enough for our imaginations to fill in the gruesome blanks and conjure up monstrous bugaboos to haunt our sleep. It gave me nightmares back then, and made such an impression that down the years I have always recalled The Train as being my favourite Point Horror. On this re-read, whilst I’m not too concerned about sleepless nights, I still shuddered throughout Hannah’s ordeal, and was genuinely horrified by the ending I knew was coming. Frightening, tragic and fraught with peril, The Train merits no less than a top fear factor rating of…

10/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Mummy

By Barbara Steiner.

Lana is the ideal volunteer for her local museum’s Egyptian exhibition. Not only does she know everything about ancient Egypt, she even looks like a pharaoh’s bride. She could, it is remarked, be the reincarnation of Princess Urbena, the intended wife of Prince Nefra, who was supposedly murdered on the eve of his wedding, causing Urbena to commit suicide. Nefra’s mummified corpse and Urbena’s mysteriously vacant coffin are the highlights of the new exhibition, and Lana is obsessed with the doomed lovers; irresistibly drawn to the graven image of the handsome prince on his sarcophagus. She even starts to have vivid dreams where she is Urbena, going through the motions of the nights she and Nefra died.

But for many visitors to the museum, it is the priceless emerald necklace – a wedding gift from Nefra to his bride – which is the greatest draw, and which proves irresistible to a thief who smash and grabs the jewels right under Lana’s nose. Top of Lana’s list of suspects is Antef, a young Egyptian who has travelled with the artefacts from Cairo, to protect them. But when Antef is shut up in Urbena’s coffin – presumably by the real thief – Lana has doubts and starts to look elsewhere. Soon she is being subjected to threats – scorpions in her bedroom, a mummified cat thrown through her window – and they are using Lana’s resemblance to Urbena to frighten her, leaving notes in Nefra’s name telling her he wants them to be together again… All the while, her strange dreams and the bizarre attentions of a regal stray cat start to make Lana wonder whether she might actually be the reincarnated Urbana. And if someone really did murder the princess and her groom thousands of years ago – history might be about to repeat itself.

The Mummy is an intriguing whodunit, with particular appeal for anyone with an interest in Egyptology, or a fondness for museums. The varied, colourful cast – icy celeb-archaeologist Blair Vaughn; flirtatious, Brut-soaked Antef Raam; worldly history-nerd Rodney; and friendly, frumpy, fellow-volunteer Marge – entertains and keeps us guessing. There’s also a bonus scattering of possibly accurate ancient Egyptian trivia. Whilst the name conjures up Universal movie monster hijinks, the horror aspect is too often played down and that is frustrating. This mummy is a sad, romantic figure for our teenage heroine to fantasise and wonder about – a distraction from the very real threat she faces from a definitely human persecutor. It might not be what I hoped for from this title, but it’s a fun and memorable entry in the franchise.

7/10

Fear Factor

Lana’s superstitions and romance with a musty old corpse aside, the main action of The Mummy is driven by a theft and a thief’s attempts to cover his tracks. The grand larceny and intimidating behaviour of the perpetrator are real-world acts. We know there’s a human being behind the danger, and that they will eventually be unmasked. Lana’s dreams about being an Egyptian princess, and hints there may be supernatural forces at work, tend to jar against the story we know is actually being told. They might be entertaining digressions, but they take up pages which could be used to throw a bit of danger or threat Lana’s way. As it is, the few attempts at horror peter out frustratingly, without our protagonist ever really being at risk. I never thought I’d say this about anything – but maybe if there was a bit less of the cat…?

4/10

Categories
Point Horror

Help Wanted

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.

4/10

Fear Factor

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.

5/10