Categories
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

Categories
Point Horror

The Yearbook

By Peter Lerangis.

We first meet David Kallas sitting on a hill above his hometown, Wetherby, which he claims to have destroyed. With him is Ariana Maas, the girl he loves. David recounts how he, a seventeen year old genius under-achiever, met Ariana for the first time during an earthquake and joined the yearbook committee to get to know her. One night, cutting through the woods on yearbook business, he stumbles across a dead body. Ariana convinces him to show Police Chief Hayes the corpse, and afterwards, Hayes recounts a tale from his youth about a schoolmate of his who went missing, in what he is sure was a racially motivated attack. He tells David that three white boys turned up dead shortly afterwards, and that this all happened just after the last earthquake hit Wetherby, in 1950.

When the finished yearbook arrives from the printer, David is horrified to find cruel, threatening poems have been included under several students’ names. This coincides with his discovery of an elite, secret society – The Delphic Club – led by teacher and yearbook co-ordinator, Mr DeWaart. Investigating further, David stumbles across a hidden basement under the school, covered in the graffiti of generations of students.

When David shows Ariana the basement, they discover something lurking even further below. From this point on, loose ends are tied up as David applies his genius brain to solving the mystery of what lies underneath Wetherby and what it has been doing to the town’s populace for generations.

To get a couple of minor gripes out of the way first: whilst the first person narrative helps to immerse us in David’s story from page one, the conversational, quippy style quickly gets annoying. Also, the finale is too long and confusing, and Ariana’s proposed ‘solution’ is more comedic than you would want or expect from a horror story. Apart from these minor issues, The Yearbook is one of the finest Point Horrors. It has a dense plot, with lots going on, and this can sometimes be tricky to follow. But it is always interesting and keeps us guessing the whole way through. David’s dreams about a boy called Mark, which are interspersed throughout the narrative, add another dimension of intrigue to an already fascinating story. We gradually realise how Mark fits into the story as each dream contributes another piece of the puzzle, helping us solve the mystery alongside David.

Thrilling, engaging, scary and memorable.

9/10

Fear Factor

The Yearbook is genuinely frightening – people die and have been dying for centuries. What David and Ariana are up against is powerful, deadly and ancient, and we know from the beginning it has destroyed an entire town. The descriptions of the basement scenes in the finale are a little vague and it is not always clear what is happening. Nevertheless, for a reader willing to apply a bit of imagination, this lack of clarity actually contributes to the sense of disorientation, uncertainty and unease. It makes The Yearbook one of the most terrifying entries in the entire franchise.

9/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Babysitter series

Reluctant baby-sitter, Jenny Jeffers, deals with bratty kids, annoying boyfriends, psychopaths, shrinks and ghosts, as R. L. Stine subjects her to ordeal after ordeal across four instalments in this Point Horror series.

The Baby-Sitter

By R. L. Stine.

Jenny’s overactive imagination is making her nervous about starting her new baby-sitting job, looking after Mr and Mrs Hagen’s son, Donny for two evenings a week. That the Hagen house is very old, creepy and in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t help. Donny is fun and adorable, but he loves to scares his new baby-sitter, and it isn’t difficult for him to make her jump. Jenny is on edge and it becomes clear that she is right to be nervous. Disturbing phone calls from a mystery man calling her ‘babes’; noises outside the front door and a suspicious neighbour, Willers, lurking in the garden soon make Jenny wish she’d never taken the job. And the recent local news stories about attacks on baby-sitters make her even more fearful. Despite a strict warning from the Hagens to never allow anyone to join her when she’s baby-sitting Donny, Jenny invites best friend Laura and new boyfriend, Chuck, to keep her company. But Mr Hagen was serious about this rule, and Jenny may have made things even worse for herself by breaking it.

R. L. Stine offers us three convincing suspects: the annoying Chuck who seems clownish but is difficult to read; snooping Willers, the unpleasant neighbour with his slicked back hair, thick eyebrows and leery manner; and Mr Hagen: intense, odd and highly strung. He provides us with a creepy setting: a gloomy, damp Victorian house with plenty of dark corners and creaking floorboards, described so effectively we feel trapped in there with Jenny. And the horror elements – scary phone calls, raps on the door, a mystery attacker targeting only baby-sitters – might be cliched, but they are used to good effect. The finale creates a sense of danger but unfortunately does not quite deliver the excitement it should, as it peters out to a disappointingly flat last few pages.

Nevertheless, The Baby-Sitter is a classic of the PH franchise, and whilst not breaking any moulds, it is well told, and consistently entertains in a nostalgic and comforting way.

7/10

Fear Factor

We know what it’s like to be alone in a strange place with odd noises, and be scared by them. R. L. Stine plays on those fears to strong effect. The Baby-Sitter never terrifies, but its pervading creepiness means we are constantly on edge, earning it a fear factor rating of…

6/10

The Baby-Sitter II

By R. L. Stine.

The action of The Baby-Sitter is neatly recapped at the outset, by having Jenny recount the trauma she suffered at the hands of Mr Hagen to her shrink, Dr Schindler. We are subtly reminded of her nervous personality and wild imagination, and that she had started a relationship with class clown Chuck Quinn, who we learn she is no longer dating. She bumps into a lovelorn Chuck after her appointment, who shows a more aggressive side to his personality, setting him up as a potential perpetrator… again! On a trip to the mall we encounter Jenny’s new friends, Claire and Rick, and Jenny meets a new love interest, tough-looking, just-arrived in town, Cal. And so, we have a fresh cast of possible suspects.

Despite her ordeal the previous winter, and the fact she is continuing to suffer from nightmares where Mr Hagen comes back from the grave to get her, Jenny decides to take on a new baby-sitting job for the Wexners. It involves looking after Eli, a 10-year old self-proclaimed mechanical genius who torments her from their first meeting by tricking her into putting her hand in a box with a tarantula. Jenny decides to persist with the job, despite the unpleasant child, because his disengaged, bickering parents are paying her $5 an hour. But then she gets a phone call from someone using Mr Hagen’s old catchphrases, “Hi babes, I’m back,” etc. and from here on, the story follows a similar structure to the original, with most of the horror being derived from the crank calls and Jenny’s own fears and paranoia.

We know Jenny, and her backstory, and already have some sympathy for her. But the plot still needs to engage us – we don’t want a repeat of the The Baby-Sitter – and unfortunately this is exactly what we’re served up. The new boyfriend is again set up as her potential tormentor. The friends come round to the house whilst she’s babysitting, getting her into trouble with Eli’s father, like Jenny’s old friends did with Mr Hagen. History is repeating itself. The finale even takes place at the same quarry. There is an attempt at a twist, but this falls flat due to a weak motive and rushed final set piece.

Unfortunately, although The Baby-Sitter II starts well, it doesn’t make effective use of the advantages it has as a sequel, and it fails to deliver a satisfying follow up to the original.

4/10

Fear Factor

The Baby-Sitter II focuses far too much on Jenny, as the object of every boy’s desire, without exploring any of the suitors themselves, or putting any effort into making them scary. Cal is mysterious and cagey, but he’s not at all sinister. Rick is bland and gets so little attention, it’s difficult to see why he even exists. And Chuck should feature far more than he does – both as a way of anchoring this sequel to the original story, and because he’s an interesting character deserving of greater attention. The scariest character in the piece is creepy Eli, but as he cannot realistically be the perpetrator, he takes up too much ink. The Baby-Sitter II feels like it’s over before it has really begun… and way, way before your spine has even begun to tingle.

2/10

The Baby-Sitter III

By R. L. Stine.

Almost two years on from the action of The Baby-Sitter, Jenny Jeffers is still haunted by the memory of Mr Hagen. Deciding a change of scene is the answer, Jenny’s mum sends her to stay with her cousin Debra for the summer, to the disappointment of her boyfriend, Cal. When we first meet Debra, she is making a flirtatious anonymous phone call to her crush, Terry, when she is interrupted by ex-boyfriend, Don, who threatens to tell current boyfriend, Mark, what he overheard. Despite juggling so many beaus, Debra still has time to babysit for a stressed divorcee, Mrs Wagner. Jenny reluctantly accompanies her cousin to Mrs Wagner’s house on the first night of her visit, where Debra assures her they can spend some time catching up. They are interrupted, however, by recently fired housekeeper, Maggie, who turns up drunk and intimidates the girls, before staggering off to make way for the arrival of Debra’s boyfriend, Mark. Despite the fact his presence turns Jenny into a third wheel, he is polite and friendly to his girlfriend’s cousin, and offers to get her a summer job as a wrangler at a nearby stables, which she gratefully accepts.

With Jenny now occupied, Debra is alone next time she baby-sits. And whilst on the job, she gets a creepy phone call from someone claiming to be Mr Hagen, speaking in the same raspy voice and using the words with which he had once harassed Jenny. Then the girls find a life-like doll on Debra’s stoop, with a note from ‘Mr Hagen’, claiming to be back from the dead. Whilst Jenny is convinced of Mr Hagen’s return, Debra more pragmatically wonders whether it could be Mark, who has broken up with her after learning of her phone calls to Terry; or Terry, who heard about Jenny’s ordeal from Mark; or Cal, who has gone AWOL after a fight with his mum. Discovering the identity of the perpetrator becomes urgent when, whilst baby-sitting during a terrible storm, Debra discovers someone has kidnapped baby Peter from his crib.

Jenny’s appeal as a character diminishes in each instalment, and in this third book, it is a relief to be introduced to cousin Debra, who takes on the mantle of protagonist, and is a far more interesting, likeable heroine. The other new characters are welcome additions, and the plot of The Baby-Sitter III is entertaining and engaging.

On the downside, most of the horror is relegated to the second half, and the few scares are carbon copies of those Jenny experienced two years earlier. The twist, though predictable, is well-executed and makes for a dramatic final few pages. It is an enjoyable read; a marked improvement on The Baby-Sitter II, and it rounds off the R. L. Stine Baby-Sitter trilogy* neatly, if a little predictably.

7/10

Fear Factor

A few prank calls and a doll in a bush constitute the only scares to which our new heroine, Debra, is subjected. The remainder of the horror comes from Jenny’s nightmares and her constant conviction that something terrible is afoot. Instead of exploiting the advantage of having a ready-made plot and characters, R. L. Stine simply delivers up the same material from his first two instalments, which is far from satisfying. Nevertheless, the tragedy and sense of peril evoked by the twist finale, and the terrible implication of what lies in store for an important character, contribute enough to earn The Baby-Sitter III a reasonable fear factor rating of…

5/10

The Baby-Sitter IV

By R. L. Stine.*

A year has passed since the conclusion of The Baby-Sitter III and Jenny has spent most of that time recuperating in a mental institute. Now she is back at home, trying to piece her old life together with the support of best friends Claire and Rick, and intense boyfriend, Cal. When new neighbour, Mrs Warsaw, persuades Jenny to look after her kids for 10 minutes while she pops to the shops, she’s apprehensive, but when nothing terrible befalls her, Jenny agrees to babysit the Warsaw kids next time she’s asked.

Blonde-haired Sean is a handful, constantly harassing his little sister Meredith, but his twin, Seth, is the opposite: sweet and helpful. When Jenny puts the boys to bed, she is startled to hear the sound of footsteps in the attic, but Seth dismisses it, ‘reassuring’ her they always hear noises at night. She cannot investigate anyway; he tells her their mother has locked the attic door because it is dangerous. But later that night, Jenny feels a cold, clammy sensation against the back of her neck, and hears a voice whisper, “Go away Jenny… Or you’ll die, too”.

Jenny starts to believe the Warsaw home is haunted, especially when, after a fun night of bowling with Claire and Rick, and kissing in Cal’s car, she returns home late to see the face of a girl in their attic window mouthing “Help me”. She also hears howling noises and sees a little blonde boy running across their lawn. Jenny tries to rationalise away her fears, but when she babysits again, she finds herself in mortal danger when invisible forces take control of her knife-wielding arm, and she almost loses a hand to a garbage disposal unit. Despite the danger, Jenny knows there is a mystery surrounding the Warsaw place, which must be solved, for the sake of her sanity if nothing else.

This fourth instalment of The Baby-Sitter series does something original with well-established characters. The move away from rehashing the same old Mr Hagen plotline, towards a supernatural mystery, is a welcome digression and makes for a fresh, compelling read. Jenny’s release from hospital and return to baby-sitting are treated in a convincing way, and the horror is introduced early and sustains the thrills until her terrifying and long-awaited confrontation with the entity that’s been haunting her. Unfortunately, this is undermined by subsequent pages of trite exposition and a bizarre finale which leaves Jenny on the sideline in favour of a confusing scuffle between two ghosts. Still, it is an entertaining read – much better than I had expected from a third sequel.

7/10

Fear Factor

The ghost imagery is chilling, and tingles the spine more effectively than anything in the earlier Baby-Sitter books. When Jenny is subjected to the mercy of invisible forces – whether they’re stroking the back of her neck or trying to chop her hand into mincemeat – the threat feels significant. It is such a shame that the absurd finale neutralises the horror, and that from this point until the naff last sentence of the book, Jenny is reduced to the role of spectator. Still, the scares throughout this entry are on a par with The Baby-Sitter and it gets the same fear factor rating, of…

6/10

*Whilst R. L. Stine’s name is the only one to be found on this book, it is Louise Colligan who is credited as author on Amazon, Abe Books etc. I think The Baby-Sitter I, II and III can be approached as an R. L. Stine trilogy, and The Baby-Sitter IV as a closely-linked spin-off, ghost-written by Louise Colligan.

Categories
Point Horror

Freeze Tag

By Caroline B. Cooney.

Nine year old Meghan loves playing with the Trevor siblings: Tuesday, West and Brown. The only thing that spoils their fun is the constant presence of their pale, strange-eyed neighbour, Lannie Anveill. One evening, when they are playing Freeze Tag and Lannie is It, she freezes the children for real and only unfreezes Meghan once West has promised he will always like Lannie best. Six years later, they have left their backyard games far behind. Meghan and West are in love and their romance is the envy of all the girls at school. Particularly Lannie, who approaches them one day to remind West of his promise.

When they laugh off Lannie’s warning of the consequences of their ignoring her, she freezes a girl in the cafeteria and threatens to keep freezing their classmates until West gives in. He relents, having lunch with Lannie and then driving her home. But when Lannie catches Meghan and West in a tryst, she uses her freezing powers again. Tuesday intervenes, but the friends realise Lannie has power over them all and if they do not go along with her whims, they risk being frozen to death. And so Lannie usurps Meghan’s place as West’s girlfriend, leaving her alone and friendless. At first, West is simply numbed by the situation, but the more time he spends with Lannie, the more cold-hearted he becomes. And Meghan realises that in spite of her fear, she must confront Lannie in order to save West’s soul.

The premise of Freeze Tag is interesting, but the action is slow-paced and the freezing/unfreezing quickly starts to become repetitive. Nevertheless, the pay-off of the shocking, twist ending makes it a worthwhile read and an intriguing entry in the PH franchise.

7/10

Much of the horror lies in Lannie’s creepy personality; discovering what she has done (to her dog, to her own family) and understanding what she has the power to do. She is like a second-rate Carrie, without the pathos. But what happens to Lannie in the end, and how that comes about, chills the bones. The conclusion is unexpected and horrifying, salvaging for Freeze Tag a respectable fear factor rating of…

7/10

Categories
Point Horror

Hide and Seek

By Jane McFann.

When we are introduced to sixteen year old Lissa, she is hiding in a tree trunk with her pet bird, knowing she is going to die and waiting for her killer to find her. To distract herself, Lissa recollects memories from her life, trying to work out what led to her impending death. We discover that Lissa’s short existence has been lonely and painful. Her temperamental, abusive father is a struggling artist, who spends his days working out in the barn, only coming into the house to eat, sleep and shout at his wife and daughter. Lissa has learned to be invisible, to avoid his wrath. But her invisibility has transferred across to her school life, meaning she has never made a friend or connected with any other person. That is, until she is noticed by her classmate, Josh.

Josh is uninhibited and unique. Liked by his peers even though he is different. His attentiveness towards Lissa thrusts her into the limelight against her will. She is uncomfortable but she is drawn to Josh, who shows her a kindness she has never known. It is her memories of Josh which Lissa finds the most painful to recollect whilst she sits under the tree waiting to die. As her reminiscences progress towards her present situation, they become increasingly dark and troubling. We grasp the danger Lissa is in and we feel her fear.

Hide and Seek makes a bold digression from standard PH fare. It is a tragic and deeply troubling read, well-paced and absorbing. We share in Lissa’s emotional pain as she relates the incidents of her life to us. Through her recollections, Lissa gradually brings us closer to understanding who she is and how she has come to be in this dangerous predicament.

One of the finest entries in the whole franchise.

9/10

Hide and Seek provides a devastatingly realistic insight into a child’s experience of growing up with an abusive parent. It is, at times, painful to read; the finale in particular. The horror lies in the arresting way the reader is confronted by Lissa’s reality, and the reality of those who have shared and continue to share her experiences. As such, Hide and Seek will haunt its reader long after the final page.

10/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Phantom

By Barbara Steiner.

Last year, Stony Bay High School’s star quarterback, Reggie Westerman, died after suffering a spinal injury during a game. His girlfriend, Jilly, is left devastated, forever changed by the experience. To her best friend Amelia’s dismay, when senior year begins, Jilly abandons cheerleading and joins the school drama department, shunning her old friends in favour of smarmy theatre major, Shelby. At a rally before the first football game of the new season, Amelia’s cheers are interrupted by the ghost of Reggie appearing on stage, stunning everyone in the bleachers. Few believe it is really his ghost. Rumours circulate that it was a stunt orchestrated by the Coach to inspire the football team, or just someone playing a prank. But then “Reggie” appears at a beach party and immediately afterwards Buddy Nichols, the new quarterback, falls (or is pushed) into the bonfire, sustaining serious burns.

When her boyfriend, Garth, takes over as quarterback, Amelia is scared. She starts to believe the position is jinxed, as Reggie’s sports journalist brother, Travis, has claimed. More worrying for Amelia, she notices Garth’s personality deteriorate, as he becomes arrogant and self-absorbed, like Reggie had been. When a series of ‘accidents’ befall the team, intended for Garth but missing their mark, it becomes clear that someone blames him for Reggie’s death, and they intend to make him pay for it.

It is obvious early on that The Phantom is not a ghost story, but a whodunit. And whilst it is fairly easy to guess who is behind the scares, it is an enjoyable experience getting to the ‘twist’. The Phantom offers up everything we know and love from decades of exposure to American culture: Friday night football games, cheerleaders, fast food diners and beach parties. It is far from being the scariest entry in the PH franchise, but it is certainly one of the most satisfying reads if you’re wanting a bit of nostalgia and the comforting reassurance of a completely familiar world you’ve never actually experienced.

8/10

Fear Factor

The Phantom offers up relatively few shocks or scares. Amelia is a strong, brave character and we never get the sense she is in serious danger (also, frustratingly, there is always someone else around when any threat looms). Nevertheless, it is a very sad story and the horror lies in the irreparable damage done to several of the characters, by both the figurative, and literal, spectres of Reggie’s misfortune. The finale eschews the action-packed, happy-ever-after resolution of most PHs, in favour of a more ambiguous ending, and by doing so, The Phantom becomes one of the more memorable entries in the franchise. Its originality and pervading sense of tragedy merit a solid fear factor rating of…

6/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Accident

By Diane Hoh.

Just before Megan’s 16th birthday, three of her close friends are involved in a horrific car accident. The same day, a wraith calling itself ‘Juliet’ appears to Megan from inside her bedroom mirror. Juliet tells Megan she died in a boating accident just before her sweet sixteenth, and she wants Megan to swap places with her for one week, so she can briefly experience life again. A disturbing proposal, but when her best friend, Hilary, becomes the next victim of an ‘accident’, Megan begins to suspect someone is targeting her friends, and she might be next. She hopes Juliet, with her supernatural powers, might be able to identify the perpetrator, and she agrees to the swap.

But Juliet’s world is terribly cold and lonely and Megan desperately wants to switch back. Still able to roam about, as long as she stays in the locale of the lake, Megan witnesses Juliet take to her life quickly, heating up her romance with Justin but alienating Hilary, and, to Megan’s particular distress, blatantly disregarding her warnings about the potential danger she is in. When a series of tragedies befalls Megan’s family, she realises she is the perpetrator’s main target. In trying to work out who is behind the ‘accidents’, Megan learns the devastating truth about Juliet’s past, and its terrible implications for her own future.

Much of the interest of The Accident lies in Megan’s isolation and impotence once she has given up her body and is abandoned to the dreary, solitary world behind the mirror. Juliet’s motivation for swapping lives with Megan, and the revelation of what happened to her when she died, are dangled in front of us whilst we flick through the pages in eager anticipation. But the finale, once all has been explained, is disappointing, with any potential horror sacrificed in favour of a neat and ‘happy’ ending.

5/10

It is scary when Megan first gives up her body, but the descriptions of her sense of isolation become repetitive and we quickly lose sympathy. The resolution is too easily achieved, with very little sense of fear or horror. For these reasons, The Accident fails to satisfy and gets a fear factor rating of…

3/10

Categories
Point Horror

Dream Date

By Sinclair Smith.

Katie Shaw is about to turn seventeen and so far she has lived an unspectacular life, with her straitlaced family, good grades and total lack of romance. The only interesting thing about Katie is that she occasionally suffers from insomnia. But when she moves into a creepy new house and is enrolled in a new school, everything changes. It starts with a recurring dream about a sexy bad boy calling himself Heath Granger, who has the hots for her. He instils Katie with greater confidence in her looks and she starts dressing more seductively, which is quickly noticed by the boy she likes at school, Jason. She finds it suddenly easier to make friends, such as Raquelle, and for the first time in her life, Katie is popular.

But then Heath becomes possessive, especially when Katie starts dating Jason. And he’s not just bothering her in her dreams, he starts sending threatening messages in the real world too. Soon Katie dreads going to sleep, knowing she’ll have to face Heath, but she’s tired more and more of the time and falls asleep unintentionally, even at school. When Heath starts coming after Katie’s new friends, it is evidence of his increasing power and the growing threat he poses. When she confronts him, Katie discovers that Heath’s intentions are even more sinister than she could possibly have imagined, and she realises he must be stopped at any cost.

Dream Date would be a more engaging read if Katie was more likeable. But we don’t really have time to get to know her before she dreams up Heath and her troubles begin. Part Nightmare on Elm Street (but less fun), part allegory for domestic violence (but lacking the appropriate level of seriousness) it doesn’t fully satisfy on either count. Still, it is consistently entertaining, with an interesting twist and a strong finish. Dream Date is a unique entry in the PH franchise and better than its title suggests.

7/10

Fear Factor

Dream Date is at its scariest when we are presented with evidence of Katie’s declining physical and mental health due to her self-imposed sleep deprivation. We see her personality change, her descent into madness, and her increasing isolation from her parents and friends. Also, the imagery invoked by Katie’s sleep-deprived hallucinations (melting flesh, cockroaches, ‘white worms’) is some of the most vividly gruesome in the whole PH franchise. If the character was more sympathetic (less annoying) Dream Date would earn the maximum fear factor rating. As it is, because I simply cannot bring myself to care what happens to Katie, it gets a lower, but still perfectly respectable…

8/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Window

By Carol Ellis.

Jody has been invited on a trip to an exclusive ski resort, organised by the beautiful and confident Wolf twins, Cal and Sasha. She barely knows them, or the rest of the party, which includes the wealthy twins’ classmates, Drew and Ellen, waspish Chris, and clumsy joker, Billy, but she quickly perceives that every one of the friends has a crush on one of the others. Including, before long, Jody, who is attracted to handsome-but-moody, Drew. To add to the tension, Leahna, Drew’s flighty ex-girlfriend, turns up at the resort, and no one, except Cal, is happy to see her.

On the first night, Jody realises she can see straight into Leahna’s cabin through the window by her bed, and unintentionally sees a fight between Leahna and a mystery visitor. The following day, Jody has an accident, badly spraining her ankle. Confined to bed whilst everyone else is out partying, Jody is bored. She starts watching Leahna through the window and observes another interaction between her and the unidentified visitor, followed by strange movements inside and outside the cabin. A mysterious red stain appears on the wall, which shortly afterwards disappears. Jody is convinced she has witnessed a murder, and when the body of a teenage girl is discovered in the snow, it seems her fears for Leahna have been confirmed. But when Jody hears someone lurking outside her door and listening in on her phone calls, she realises that she is in danger too: the murderer knows what she has seen, and now wants to take Jody out of the picture.

Until Jody witnesses the murder, which is about half way through, The Window resembles a teen-soap, mainly concerned with the romantic interests of its main characters. It entertains on this level, but it doesn’t really offer any horror until Jody realises she has been drugged and, therefore, that the perpetrator must be one of her party. The finale is effective in its surprise revelation of the murderer, but it is not a particularly satisfying denouement. The sense of peril is short-lived; Jody is rescued far too easily. Loose ends are neatly and quickly tied up, leaving the reader feeling that The Window was over before it ever really got started. It’s enjoyable enough while it lasts, but easily forgettable.

5/10

Fear Factor

After a slow start, the second half of this PH entry offers up thrills rather than horror, with its slow and subtle build up of tension. Nevertheless, it does ‘thriller’ well, conveying Jody’s sense of isolation and vulnerability effectively, and earning The Window a reasonable fear factor rating of…

4/10

Categories
Point Horror

Fatal Secrets

By Richie Tankersley Cusick.

On Thanksgiving, Marissa falls through some ice and dies, just as she was about to reveal a deep, dark secret to her sister, Ryan. Three weeks later, Ryan is still mourning her sister whilst coping with falling grades and her mother’s inability to cope with Marissa’s death. She also suspects she is being stalked by a mysterious figure in a lumpy coat and black ski mask. Things go from bad to worse when Charles Eastman, a young man claiming to be Marissa’s boyfriend, turns up, and Ryan’s mother invites him to stay for Christmas. Charles immediately makes it clear to Ryan that he blames her for Marissa’s death, exacerbating the guilt which already torments her. A series of dangerous ‘accidents’ befall Ryan and when no one takes her seriously, she decides to try to uncover Marissa’s secret herself. As Ryan investigates, it begins to look increasingly like someone murdered Marissa, and she fears that same person has now set their sights on her.

Fatal Secrets is consistently engaging, with a cast of interesting characters who are introduced smoothly as the plot progresses. Most of them are likeable: her caring step-father, Steve; her childhood friends, Phoebe and Jinx; her sweet employer, Mr Partini; and the love interest with a name straight out of a Sabrina Jeffries romance, Winchester Stone.

Charles, on the other hand, is a highly unpleasant character and we empathise with Ryan’s discomfort during their initial encounters. His continuing, sinister presence is one of the ways in which Tankersley Cusick makes Fatal Secrets such an unsettling and disorienting read. We shift constantly between danger and safety, which are often represented by cold and hot imagery. Marissa dies in the ice; Ryan’s mother is coldly distant due to her grief; Charles abandons Ryan to freeze in the snow. On the other hand, we are warmed by the familiarity of Phoebe and Jinx’s interactions with Ryan, along with Mr Partini’s kindness and the festive décor of the toy shop. The fireplace in Winchester’s cosy house makes Ryan (and us) feel safe. It’s an effective technique: because of the complacency we feel in the warmth, when we are plunged back into the ice, it is all the more terrifying.

Aside from the horror, Fatal Secrets is also an absorbing ‘whodunit’. Because the various suspects are so well-developed, we cannot help but wish for the murderer to be, or not be, certain characters, and our need to know the perpetrator’s identity makes this Point Horror a real page-turner. When the truth is finally revealed it is a genuine surprise, and the twist makes for a thrilling finale and a crowd-pleasing conclusion.

9/10

Fear Factor

The sense of threat in Fatal Secrets is persistent. It is genuinely unnerving when Ryan’s mental stability begins to waver. We see everything from her point of view, yet she’s losing the plot. She’s an empathetic character, who gets put through the wringer. This contributes to the horror, while making us like her more. The various ‘accidents’ and ‘incidents’ Ryan is subjected to might not be the scariest in the franchise, but the unrelenting weight of peril bearing down on her makes Fatal Secrets a thrilling, and often frightening, read.

8/10