Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #13: Monster

By Diane Hoh.

There’s a big, furry monster terrorising Salem Uni, attacking students with its razor-sharp claws. And when it’s suggested the beast may have a human alter-ego, there’s no shortage of suspects amongst Abby’s circle of friends. Her jealous boyfriend, David, is high up on that list, until his handsome face gets slashed by the monster during a secret rendezvous with flirtatious drama major – and mistress of disguise – Sissy. Creature-feature obsessives, Jerry and Lenny, are absolved when they also fall victim to the beast’s rampages. Could it be sinister science nerd Stan, who is always in the chem lab creeping Abby out when she’s trying to finish her doomed extra credit project? Or her roommate, Carrie, who disappears all night and turns up with mysterious bruises? Or perhaps it’s hot upperclassman Martin, who has taken a sudden, ardent interest in Abby?

She has no clue, but a monster on campus is just one more thing for Abby to worry about alongside her complicated love life, exhausting study/work/socialise schedule, and desperate need to get her chemistry project finished so she gets that all-important A.

Monster is the daftest entry in the Nightmare Hall series; a silly take on the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde formula, where the race is on to work out the identity of the human side of the beast before they go as far as killing someone. It should work well as a whodunit, but the cast of suspects is quickly eroded when half of them cross over into victim status far too early in the narrative. Brushing aside these early-bath-takers – and the obvious red herrings – we’re left with two potential shape-shifters. That it turns out to be the slightly less obvious one isn’t necessarily a mark in Monster’s favour. It leads to a messy dismount in the finale and, when we’re left hanging on the last page, it feels dissatisfying rather than suspenseful.

A bold break from the usual PH formula, but one which quickly bubbles over into ridiculousness and predictability.

5/10

Fear Factor

I appreciate YA fiction is mostly enjoyed by pre-teens, but surely the vast majority of PH readers have long since grown out of a fear of monsters under the bed? It’s difficult to imagine anyone over seven finding this entry scary. And yet, it deals with some of the most adult topics covered by the franchise, including the desire to experiment sexually at college, and domestic abuse. At one point, it seems the whole ‘monster’ plot might be an allegory for violence in relationships, and it’s disappointing when it subsequently becomes clear that’s not the case. The horror of the Jekyll and Hyde story lies in a gradual loss of control as the monster takes over from the man, but that element is omitted from this re-telling. The violence of Monster is incongruous with the lack of horror, and it mars the whole narrative, making it an unpleasant, rather than a scary, read.

2/10

Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #12: The Whisperer

By Diane Hoh.

Shea Fallon does something she never thought she’d stoop to in order to pass an important Biology exam and keep her scholarship. She sneaks into Professor Stark’s office, and steals the exam paper. When the strict and universally loathed professor reveals she knows there’s a cheat in her class, Shea panics and rushes back to the scene of the crime to confess and beg for mercy. Instead, she discovers Professor Stark on the floor, out-cold and bleeding profusely from a nasty head wound. Shea calls for help, then leaves. Before the attack, the professor had announced in class that she had begun video-taping her office to catch potential cheats. So not only is there a VHS tape out there exposing Shea’s theft, but also her fingerprints are all over the office, including on the paperweight the attacker used as a weapon. All the evidence points to Shea; it’s only a matter of time before the police piece together the clues and bundle her off to prison.

Then she gets a creepy, whispered phone call from someone claiming to have the VHS tape and paperweight, saying they’ll hand the evidence over to Shea if she agrees to follow their commands. Shea knows that playing along with a blackmailer won’t lead to anything good. But what choice does she have, if she wants to avoid exposure and jail? So she complies, and follows the whisperer’s disturbing instruction to sneak into the Animal Behaviour Studies lab, steal a rattlesnake, and throw it into a specified dorm room in the middle of the night. What Shea doesn’t know is that one of the dorm room’s residents has a heart condition and a deathly fear of snakes, and the prescribed ‘prank’ lands that girl in the infirmary. Terrified that there could have been fatal consequences, Shea refuses to follow the whisperer’s next order, which is to chop off her roommate Tandy’s beautiful, long blonde hair. On her way to confess, and thereby extricate herself from her blackmailer’s control, Shea gets trapped in a lift just long enough for someone else to sneak into her room and hack off Tandy’s tresses… with Shea’s own scissors.

A single, silly mistake is now inextricably linked with other, far more egregious crimes, and Shea is implicated in them all. She must find a way to clear her name, and escape the whisperer’s vice-like grip, before they can put into action the grim fate they have in store for her.

Desperation and loss of control pervade the action of The Whisperer. From Shea’s initial error, she slides down a dark chute of ever worse decisions, landing in a place from where it is difficult to see her ever finding her way back. It’s this sense of doom which makes the entry a compelling read, rather than the set pieces which all too often fall flat. Deep down, I knew there was some salvation in store for our heroine, but I had hoped she might suffer a little more before she got there. The ambitious double-twist is far from guessable, but the second part of it is somewhat difficult to accept, and for me it didn’t work as well as it could have done, had the groundwork been more carefully laid. Still, it’s an entertaining read; one which offers something different and pleasingly unexpected, considering we’re now twelve books into the series.

7/10

Fear Factor

Up to a point, it’s easy to get on board with Shea’s thought processes, and to empathise with her desperate situation. We can imagine ourselves in her shoes for at least the first seventy-odd pages and we feel her guilt; her fear; her frustration and the loneliness of not having anyone to turn to. This starts to dissipate around the time of the rattlesnake incident (which is a wasted opportunity for some top-drawer horror) when things start to get a bit silly and our sympathy begins to wane. The Whisperer rasping out threats from inside a TV unit is a low point.

Following the surprise reveal, there should be ample opportunity for threat and violence, given the perp is utterly unhinged and has considerable advantages. But Shea never really relinquishes any of the undeserved control she’s blessed with in this final showdown, and this massively dampens the danger. The Whisperer is a story of two halves: it starts scary; ends tamely, and therefore it only merits a middling fear factor rating of…

5/10

Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #11: Last Date

By Diane Hoh.

When the Salem Chronicle starts featuring a personal column, aspiring reporter Demi senses an opportunity for a story. She places an ad, intending to write a feature on her dating experiences with Salem University’s lonely hearts. Basic bestie, Shannon, thinks it’s a terrible idea, even though it was she who dared Demi to place the ad in the first place. Her possessive ex, Jack, isn’t best pleased either. But her editor, Kevin, loves the idea – especially as he initiated the personal column in the first place. And it’s a great way to wind up Marge, Demi’s journalistic rival, and Kevin’s sort-of-girlfriend.

Demi’s first few dates don’t offer much hope of a Pulitzer, or true love. There’s the boring French major who superfluously translates the (subtitled) movie they go and see; there’s the creep she’s already had to reject in the past; and there’s the arrogant frat boy who becomes increasingly obnoxious throughout their date, before abandoning her outside a pool hall. But what happens to each of Demi’s dates after their disastrous rendezvous, is far more newsworthy. Boring Francophile, Lance, is seriously hurt in a hit and run; slimy loser, Phillip, is knocked unconscious and locked in a garage with his engine running in a staged attempted suicide; and arrogant tool, Andrew, disappears without a trace.

Despite this sequence of tragedies, and the fact Demi’s pretty high up on the police’s list of suspects, she decides to keep dating, justifying her reckless decision with the logic that it’s the only way to find out who is hurting the boys she goes out with. Besides, in Demi’s own words, she’s ‘not a quitter’. What a gal.

But date number four turns out to be a winner, in more ways than one. Not only is Brant someone that Demi actually fancies, he also manages to survive their date – despite being knocked unconscious by someone he assumes is a mugger. He’s even keen to see her again. But Brant’s luck runs out in round two, when their night-time picnic on the shore of the ‘bottomless lake’ is interrupted by the attacker. Both end up in the water, but only Demi is fished out safely.

Traumatised by the loss of Brant, and with her article finally abandoned, Demi starts to piece back together her life. But her stalker isn’t done with her yet, and a goading phone call is all it takes to prompt her into a final, dangerous confrontation with the villain, at the top of the clock tower.

Last Date has an interesting premise; one which allows for the systematic bumping-off of several characters in the gripping first sixty pages. The violence starts early and escalates quickly, hooking us in. There’s a slight credibility issue with Demi’s decision to persist in meeting boys after the first three encounters end so badly, but Brant is thankfully where it ends. He’s decent enough to merit a second date, and we therefore don’t have to dwell on our heroine’s lack of compassion for too long. The finale spins out the revelation of the perpetrator effectively, as we try to guess which of two characters is Demi’s antagonist, and which is her hero. Last Date is a short, snappy entry in the Nightmare Hall series which, whilst offering nothing particularly special, entertains without outstaying its welcome.

7/10

Fear Factor

Usually in a Point Horror, it’s our female protagonist who’s being perpetually harassed. In Last Date however, the victims are her beaux, and for much of the narrative, the greatest danger Demi faces is the prospect of running out of dates for her newspaper article. Still, whilst it’s the boys who end up bloodied, broken, or dead, the unknown figure causing these ‘accidents’ and, more importantly, his/her shadowy motivations, are a constant reminder that Demi is far from safe. Whether the perpetrator loves her or hates her, they’re still a psychotic menace. When it’s revealed to the reader that Andrew’s yet-to-be-discovered corpse is floating in a watery quarry, we’re opened up to the possibility that anything might happen. It ramps up the horror significantly, and sets us on edge right up to the final, fraught confrontation in the clock tower. It might not be the scariest entry by Diane Hoh, but the pervasive suggestion of danger is enough to make Last Date pretty damn creepy.

7/10

Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #10: Sorority Sister

By Diane Hoh.

Maxie McKeon feels honoured to belong to the most prestigious sorority at Salem University. She loves living with her Omega Phi Delta sisters: President Erica; Candie – the daughter of Omega royalty; and roommate, Tinker, in their comfortable sorority house, looked after by house mother, Mrs B. But not everyone has quite as high an opinion of the Omegas as they have of themselves. The Lester dorm roomie Maxie left behind, Jenna, is scathing in her assessment of sororities, especially the one her friend abandoned her for. Maxie’s boyfriend, Brendan, is also resentful of how much of Maxie’s time is taken up by sorority obligations. And then there are two of Omega’s more unhinged rejects, Isabella and Holly, who cannot get over their pledges being turned down.

The sisters are mostly oblivious to their enemies on campus, until one begins to make him/herself aggressively obvious. Cherished items go missing; their pantry is deliberately infested with ants; their fridge is crammed with garbage. Soon their tormentor’s actions turn dangerous, even deadly. New pledge Cath, recently arrived from Nightmare Hall, breaks her arm during a hazing stunt which turns out to have been sabotaged. Then half the girls come down with what looks like botulism and turns out to be poisoning-by-insect killer. And Maxie injures her ankle running away from the perpetrator, after they blag their way into the house masquerading as an outlandish hairdresser.

Whilst the perp’s motivation remains obscured, their method of accessing the house to carry out their dastardly deeds – by adopting a succession of wildly diverse and brilliant disguises – quickly becomes clear. Soon the Omegas are terrified of every stranger they meet, and dread whatever horrible punishment is next in store.

It’s unsurprising there is a Nightmare Hall instalment set in a sorority house; it’s a classic setting for horror and works a treat in films like Black Christmas and The House on Sorority Row. I was therefore looking forward to this entry, with high expectations. The underwhelming plot, however, does not live up to its gift of a setting. Going down the whodunit route is fine, but having the perp appear repeatedly in broad daylight, albeit in disguise, grates against believability. These sisters live together, eat together, spend most of their waking hours together, but all it takes is a bit of make-up and a wig or a tissue in front of the face to make one of them completely unrecognisable? And we know it must be a sister doing these things, because so little care and attention is given to developing those characters outwith the sorority, that if it had turned out to be one of them, I’d have felt seriously short-changed.

Sorority Sister is rarely dull, but it doesn’t feel particularly engaging and it’s not much fun. Still, there are a couple of exciting set-pieces, particularly the one involving the hot-pink/lime-green clad fake hairdresser, Tia Maria. I concede that my expectations were too high, given the prime subject matter and setting, and my affection for the aforementioned films, but I still feel an opportunity has been wasted.

5/10

Fear Factor

A sorority house may be a horror standard, but it also has the problem that the girls are always together, providing each other with a ready-made support network. They share the trauma and that dilutes the fear. Because of this, Sorority Sister never feels particularly scary until Maxie faces off against the perp alone – first as Tia Maria and again in the finale. And even then, it stretches our belief that none of the other girls are home (or about to get home meaning Maxie could easily be saved at any moment). I’d rather Sorority Sister had copied the sublime Black Christmas (1974) in setting the action during a vacation period. A few scared girls in a big empty house would be considerably more effective fear fodder than a place teeming with activity, vitality and supportive sisters.

3/10

Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #9: The Nightwalker

By Diane Hoh.

When Quinn Hadley is stressed or upset, she sleepwalks. It’s a frustrating, sometimes dangerous habit and she’s aghast when her roommate Tobie reveals that it’s followed her to university. Tobie isn’t over the moon about it either. She needs a lot of sleep, and is irritated when she has to get up in the night to guide her roving roomie back to bed. Quinn attributes the return of her childhood condition to having been recently dumped, unceremoniously and without reason, by her boyfriend, Simon. It’s because of her newly single status that she stays home when Tobie and her date, Danny, along with their friends Ivy and Suzie, go to Salem University’s Spring Fling dance. But it turns out to be a blessing in disguise, when the ball is cut short by a stink bomb attack that causes a messy stampede to the exit.

It is the first in a series of attacks seemingly targeted at happy couples. One pair gets doused in red paint; another is trapped in their car whilst a maniac smashes the windows and doors around them; and Ivy and her boyfriend Tim are assaulted with a hammer. No one has any clue who is to blame – except possibly Quinn. She’s always in bed asleep when these incidents happen, but there’s evidence after each one that she might have been involved, or at least present. Scared to admit her potential culpability, she hides the evidence and sets about investigating whether her grief over the break-up with Simon has driven her to violently lash out at couples in her sleep.

The Nightwalker is a really interesting entry in the Nightmare Hall series. Whilst we can be pretty sure Quinn is innocent, there’s a shadow of doubt over the narrative which makes us less certain about where this tale is taking us, than we might usually be when reading a formulaic PH. Even if she isn’t sleep-pestering couples, all the evidence leads to her, and she’s in danger of having the finger of blame pointed at her at any moment. It works well as a whodunit too; the peripheral characters are all shady enough to be valid suspects, whilst still having distinctive roles in Quinn’s story. Things get a little daft towards the end, but the various twists and turns are straight out of a solid 90’s Hollywood thriller, and the finale is bonkers yet satisfying.

8/10

Fear Factor

It’s Quinn’s own suspicion of herself which creates the most effective horror in The Nightwalker. A self-condemned, hammer-wielding somnambulist in muddy socks; she makes for a tragic and terrifying heroine. Even though I knew it would turn out to be someone else, I found myself genuinely hoping it wasn’t her, and that she wouldn’t get blamed. The actual perp, and their convoluted motivations, are a little too off the wall to be scary, but there’s enough peril and violence in the finale to maintain the fear effectively.

7/10

Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #8: The Experiment

By Diane Hoh.

Caryl is ecstatic when she gets a place in Professor DeLure’s “Experiment: Poets and Scientists” class. Her excitement is partly due to the course’s exclusivity (she’s one of only 12 students admitted); partly due to her literary aspirations; and mainly due to the fact she’s got a massive crush on the alluring professor, with his silver-streaked hair and sexy eye patch. Her friend, Anna, doesn’t share in Caryl’s obsession. She prefers his Teaching Assistant, Nicholas. Besides, Anna’s heard some pretty sinister rumours about Professor DeLure, which implicate him in the deaths of his wife and child. It seems they may hold some truth, when Caryl’s attempt to introduce herself to the mysterious professor ends with him chasing her off so he can continue torturing his pet fish.

And yet, he’s a completely different person at the first class. Warm, engaging, and very complimentary of Caryl’s poetry. Not only is she acing her school work, and back in the professor’s good graces, she also hits it off with handsome classmate, Dare. But the course of true love does not run smooth, and their mutual flirting attracts the wrath of Caryl’s sort-of-boyfriend, Ben, and Dare’s bitchy ex, Perri.

Someone who is infuriated about all the focus Caryl is getting, inside and outside the classroom, starts leaving her caustic messages… in verse form. At first, it’s merely vexing, but things take a sinister turn when Perri is poisoned by a tarantula, planted at the desk where Caryl should have been sitting. It’s the last straw. Caryl determines to find out whether her persecutor is Professor DeLure, living up to his crazy reputation, or whether one of her own friends secretly wants her dead.

The plot of The Experiment is all over the shop; it doesn’t seem to understand the tale it’s trying to tell. Until late in the narrative, only the nasty poems give Caryl any valid cause to believe something dodgy is afoot. Okay, the professor acts a bit strangely – but who doesn’t have a nutcase or two amongst their university faculty? Okay, he keeps a bunch of creepy creatures in his lab… he’s a biologist! Far scarier is the violent, controlling behaviour Ben displays when Caryl rejects him, but this is never addressed or treated with appropriate seriousness. If you’re going to go to the campus police about anything, send them in the direction of that mook.

Throw in Caryl’s bizarre encounter with Giselle, the Nightingale Hall ghost; a finale featuring an explanation which explains nothing; and the unconvincing exoneration of a major suspect (I don’t want to give anything away, but someone should definitely still be fired) and it all makes for a disjointed and unsatisfying entry.

3/10

Fear Factor

Diane Hoh is usually so adept at weaving an entertaining tale of horror – I genuinely don’t understand what has gone wrong here. The couple of scary moments turn out to be dreams, there’s some blatant overuse of an oblivious tarantula, and then there’s the random ghost, presumably thrown in for those of us who are unfazed by spiders but spooked by spirits? None of it makes sense, leaving the reader too baffled to feel afraid.

2/10

Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #7: Pretty Please

By Diane Hoh.

Johanna Donahue is one of Salem University’s ‘Beautiful People’; a nickname the group of friends earned by posing for a department store newspaper advert during fall semester. As the only singleton amongst couples (Nan and Reed, and Kelly and Carl) she is delighted when she hits it off with a strikingly handsome guy at Missy Stark’s party. Unfortunately, the night ends in tragedy rather than romance when a scuffle sends Johanna flying through a glass patio door. Waking up in the infirmary she nervously touches a face covered in cuts and bandages, and fears the worst. Despite the doctor’s assurances that she’ll be good as new once the stitches are out and her bruises have healed, Johanna can tell from her friends’ horrified reactions that the damage might be irreparable, and she starts to come to terms with the possibility she’s lost her stunning looks, forever.

But someone isn’t coping with Johanna’s transformation quite as well as she is. At first, they send subtle suggestions that she should spare the rest of the world the trauma of having to look at her – black shrouds over the mirrors; a tube of corrective make-up slipped into her bag. It’s only after she refuses to take the hint, and persists in parading her mangled face around campus, that they decide it’s better for everyone if Johanna disappears completely.

Most of us – and not least, the target PH audience – are pretty sensitive about our looks, and quick to overreact to the tiniest of blemishes or imperfections. In Pretty Please, Diane Hoh uses vanity as fertile ground for one of her finest horror stories. She begins with the disfigurement of a beautiful (and, it would seem, perfectly likeable) young woman and then ramps up the tension by subjecting her to the wrath of an aesthetics-obsessed lunatic, whilst having to deal with gaping classmates, an unsympathetic roommate and constantly peeling bandages.

The threat starts off slowly. After the accident, we’re given some breathing space to get to know Johanna, her friends, and new boyfriend, Evan, and whilst she adjusts to her injuries we settle back into the now familiar surroundings of Salem University for our second semester. Hoh never takes her foot completely off the pedal, though. The shrouded mirrors and messages to Johanna to hide her face, which attest to some malevolent foe on campus, also serve to build tension gradually, and to greater effect. This allows for the smooth introduction of other elements of the story alongside the main narrative, including references to a missing student who was disfigured in a car crash last semester, and flashbacks which give us insights into the perpetrator’s weird, isolated childhood.

The result is a cohesive, well-plotted and intriguing mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end.

9/10

Fear Factor

A crazy person has murdered a girl, simply because she’s damaged her face in a car crash. And that’s not even the main focus of Pretty Please! It’s just something that’s alluded to, in-between the cruel messages and violent physical attacks Johanna is subjected to during her recovery. The graphic descriptions of the assaults (the plastic bag painfully fastened over her head and neck; the gauze slowly applied to her face, gradually cutting off her oxygen supply) actually made me stop breathing for a few pages, and are two of the scariest moments in the Nightmare Hall series so far.

The finale suffers a little from being overlong, and if I didn’t have an abiding memory of who the perp is from my repeated borrowings of this book from Bury library, I may have found the extremely protracted reveal frustrating. However, once everything’s out in the open, the utter creepiness of the beautiful person behind all the ugliness is well worth the wait!

9/10

Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #6: Guilty

By Diane Hoh.

Kit Sullivan’s freshman year at Salem University gets off to a roaring start. Within a month she has a close knit circle of friends which includes a great-looking new boyfriend, Brownie. Despite being polar opposites, by autumn, they’re in love. But Brownie’s lust for adventure brings a tragic end to their relationship when he dies after saving Kit from drowning during an ill-timed canoe-jaunt. Wracked with guilt, Kit tries to suppress her grief by taking on an entirely new personality. She becomes Katie, an outrageous, irresponsible party-animal; everything Brownie used to be and Kit never was. Her high school bestie, Allan; her roommate, LuAnn; Brownie’s sister, Callie; and Callie’s boyfriend, Davis, are all worried about her, but Katie won’t heed their warnings to slow down. Because when the partying stops, the painful feelings of loss and guilt start to creep in, and she’s not ready to confront those yet.

But someone has decided it’s time for Katie to face the music, and it’s clear they share her conviction that she’s guilty. First, her things start to go missing. Then she hears Brownie’s voice accusing her through the darkness of her dorm room. When Katie is attacked in the popularly named ‘Nightmare Hall’, and again in the university pool, she realises her persecutor hasn’t just pronounced a ‘guilty’ verdict, they have also passed sentence – and they’re willing to carry out the execution themselves.

Kit/Katie definitely deserves a bit of sympathy. We know she’s not to blame for Brownie’s death, and to witness her negative personality transformation, and the self-punishment she inflicts, is to feel truly sorry for her. However, when it comes to the loss itself, surely Callie, the dead boy’s sister, with whom he was clearly very close, is more deserving of our pity than a girl who dated him for about a month? Especially when you consider the hints, dropped throughout, that Brownie was far from perfect, and that he was a moody, domineering, possessive boyfriend to Kit?

Still, whatever Katie’s true depth of feeling for Brownie, her sense of guilt and isolation in the aftermath of his death really come through. She experiences two near-fatal attacks (and that’s after almost drowning at the beginning) yet no one believes she’s in mortal danger. She only has us on her side, and that makes her an easy character to empathise with, and even to like. It also says a lot about her good nature that she doesn’t accuse any of her friends, even in her own mind, of being the culprit until very near the end. Whilst the usual PH whodunit element is there, the revelation of who is behind the attacks is actually secondary to their motivation. This makes for an intriguing final twist, and elevates Guilty to a really worthwhile read.

7/10

Fear Factor

Despite the number of times Katie almost dies, the sense of danger doesn’t really come through until the exciting, highly fraught finale. It’s her psychological deterioration as well as her increasing alienation from both her friends and her own true personality which stoke our fear, and these are deftly woven throughout the narrative. If anything, the violent episodes detract from this more effective style of horror, and had a better balance been achieved, Guilty would be a much scarier entry.

6/10

Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #5: The Scream Team

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.

2/10

Fear Factor

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.

2/10

Categories
Point Horror

Nightmare Hall #4: The Wish

By Diane Hoh.

Alex loves hanging out with her fellow Salem University students at Vinnie’s Pizzeria, that is, until Vinnie installs a creepy old fortune telling machine in the back of the restaurant. Unfortunately for Alex, her friends don’t share her distaste for the worn, plaster wizard and his claim to grant their wishes. Dropping their quarters into the ancient machinery, Julie asks to look less boring and her boyfriend, Gabe, a reluctant pedestrian, wishes he had wheels. Driving back to campus that night, Alex and her friends are involved in a nasty car crash, which destroys Julie’s face and leaves Gabe unable to walk for a week. Only Alex seems to notice the coincidence – that they both had their wishes granted, albeit in a most sadistic way.

One by one their social circle makes the same mistake. Kiki wishes to lose weight; within a fortnight she’s gaunt and passing out every five minutes. Marty wishes he didn’t have to give a speech to his sociology class and is rendered mute in front of the whole auditorium. And Kyle gets his wish for peace and quiet when he is thrown from the sixth floor of a tower and ends up in a coma. Luckily for them, Bennett and Jenny (Julie’s twin) are too distracted by their burgeoning romance to make wishes. Jenny is blossoming in her new role as ‘the pretty twin’ and Bennett is excelling on the football field.

Alex has her own distractions. She witnessed Kyle being thrown from the tower and it soon becomes evident the perpetrator saw her too. After a near-death experience on a hijacked shuttle bus she decides to confront The Wizard in the hope of putting a stop to both his supernatural, and his more earthly, machinations.

In The Wish, Diane Hoh offers us a ‘tale of the unexpected’ in the tradition of The Monkey’s Paw; a horrifying lesson in being careful what you wish for. It’s an entertaining story, with plenty to enjoy, particularly The Wizard’s malicious interpretations of the characters’ shallow wishes. It falls down, however, when it refuses to break fully with the standard Point Horror template and insists on introducing a human perpetrator acting alongside The Wizard. This only serves to dilute the horror, and to hinder what should be a truly scary and unique finale.

The Wish is likely to divide readers without being anyone’s full cup of tea. The supernatural aspects will alienate those seeking the reliable PH formula, and the unwillingness to abandon that same formula will frustrate those who would welcome something different. I fall into the latter category here, and feel potential was wasted. But I was nevertheless entertained by The Wish, and appreciate what it attempts to do, even though that isn’t fully realised.

7/10

Fear Factor

Diane Hoh shows us the consequences of making careless wishes in some gleefully horrifying ways. The gruesome details of the car crash and Julie’s mangled face; Kiki’s emaciated form lying in the infirmary; Kyle’s plummet from the tower… are all memorably macabre. When The Wizard is described to us it feels like we are standing alongside Alex, staring into his sinister blue eyes, smelling the musty old plaster and hearing the whirrs and clicks of his autonomous mechanical body. Not everything works: Alex almost getting blown over a balcony, and the runaway shuttle bus that causes zero damage to person or property, both fail to hit the mark. Still, there’s plenty to be afraid of, if you’re willing to embrace it.

7/10