Categories
Point Horror

The Perfume

By Caroline B. Cooney.

Dove’s name matches her personality: she is demure and timid; you would barely know she’s there. That is, until she takes the stopper out of a new bottle of perfume, Venom, and unleashes not only its potent smell but also a part of Dove that had remained dormant for her first fifteen years. Dove is convinced that this new personality is her twin Wing, who vanished from their mother’s womb before birth. However, Wing is not satisfied with sharing Dove’s body and mind. She wants complete control and Venom soon renders Dove powerless in the struggle against her evil twin.

This might not be one of the most accesible entries in the Point Horror franchise, but it is one of the most interesting and satisfying reads and well worth the effort of getting past the confusing first chapters. Whereas many Point Horrors focus on a ‘normal’ teenager being targeted by a maniac with a grudge, Caroline B. Cooney starts with an unstable protagonist (Dove appears to be unhinged from page 1) with an unhappy home life (her parents are aloof, unloving) before her troubles with The Perfume even begin. It is a claustrophobic experience. Whether you’re in her bland, box-like condo; crammed into the back seat of her friend’s car or stuck in one of the onion layers of Dove’s mind as ‘Wing’ takes over, you cannot help but feel her desperation, and her madness.

What really sets The Perfume apart from other Point Horrors is the notion that Dove may not actually be experiencing the supernatural goings-on. Schizophrenia is mentioned early on in the story when Dove, starting to believe her twin is insinuating herself into her mind, asks her science teacher whether a person can be born with two brains. It is never made clear whether ‘Wing’ exists in her own right, or only as a figment of Dove’s imagination/madness. Either concept is chilling in its own way and the ambiguity adds to the horror. A brief spell in a mental institution could have been expanded upon to further explore the possibility of Dove’s sanity vs madness. Unfortunately its brevity not only undermines this element of the story but also makes the ending feel somewhat rushed. There is a sense of resolution at the end which frustratingly detracts from the horror. It could be an intentional softening of the story to lighten the darkness and bring it more in line with the rest of the pre-teen friendly franchise. Nevertheless, The Perfume is a unique, satisfying and memorable read.

8/10

Fear Factor

The Perfume plays with concepts of which we are aware, but which we can only vaguely understand. When Dove is trapped in her own body but unable to control what it does, a prisoner of her own mind, it is like she is experiencing locked-in syndrome, and we are confronted with the terrifying nature of this condition. When she is committed to the institution, she is told that what she ‘knows’ to be true is, in fact, a symptom of her split personality disorder. The more she tells the ‘truth’, the more unstable she is considered to be. Because these things can and do happen in real life, Dove’s experiences are all the more terrifying, and the combination of realism and surrealism give The Perfumefear factor rating of…

8/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Girlfriend

by R. L. Stine.

Scotty has been with his girlfriend forever. He’s the star quarterback; she’s the bubbly cheerleader. They are about to go to Princeton together. He has been promised a position in her father’s architecture firm after graduation. The perfect life is being handed to Scotty on a silver platter. But then he cheats on his girlfriend with a redhead from the wrong side of the tracks, and a one-night stand turns into a nightmare when his spurned fling refuses to let him go.

Scotty is unlikeable from the outset. He is ungrateful to his girlfriend’s parents; a bad sport during his football game and sulky at the post-match bonfire. When he picks up his tormentor-to-be, Shannon, just a few pages into the book, I would happily have seen him offed there and then. But instead he has a couple of nights of fun before ditching the unsuspecting ‘fling’ in time for his girlfriend’s return from holiday. Admittedly, Shannon is creepy. Her small physique, childish voice and whispered threats give her a sinister edge. We are afraid of what she will do next as her behaviour towards Scotty becomes increasingly erratic and violent. However, at no point do I sympathise with cheating-Scotty and herein lies the main problem with the novel.

The Girlfriend is essentially Fatal Attraction for the teenage market, right down to the pet homicide. Which means that it raises the same questions for a modern audience as the Glenn Close movie. Why is the ‘other woman’ the villain of the piece? Why not the man who cheats on his partner, then lies to her to cover up his transgressions whilst physically and mentally abusing a woman whom he must surely realise is not of sound mind? Like the movie, the book ends with a violent confrontation involving all the points on the love triangle. However, like the movie, the lack of sympathy for the ‘bunny-boiler’ grates against modern sensibilities. And Scotty’s ability to dust himself off and carry on with his perfect life intact just makes me want to off him myself.

3/10

Fear Factor

There are several gruesome moments which are very well executed by R. L. Stine (the bisected snake, the broken fingers) and Shannon is not someone you would wish to be enemies with. However, the lurking ‘brother’ from whom Scotty is desperately trying to avoid a beating doesn’t provide the scares he might and is essentially just there to facilitate the novel’s denouement. Furthermore, because I was cheering on, rather than being afraid of, Shannon’s crazy actions, The Girlfriend only merits a fear factor rating of…

3/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Diary

by Sinclair Smith.

Avid diary-keeper, Delia, is approaching graduation and doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. When she finds an old journal in her locker, she becomes obsessed with the writer, ‘Laura’, who she increasingly comes to view as herself in a previous life. Delia’s personality starts to alter as she adopts Laura’s look and her wild behaviour, affecting her relationships with her envious best friend and her short-tempered boyfriend. Things take a sinister turn when Delia discovers that her ‘previous life’ may well have ended in murder and she finds herself spiralling towards the same, unfortunate end.

Most entries in the Point Horror series fall under either the ‘supernatural’ or the ‘whodunnit’ category. The Diary ambitiously aims to incorporate both elements into its 180 pages, but is unlikely to fully satisfy fans of either sub-genre. It lacks the confidence of a mind-bending, reality-altering Caroline B. Cooney entry (see reviews for The Perfume and The Cheerleader) and fails to offer the fun of working out ‘who’s behind the mischief?’ that many Point Horrors rely on for their entertainment value.

Nevertheless, its uniqueness and the likeability of the protagonist, Delia, make The Diary a worthwhile read. For one thing, she is more well-rounded than most of her fellow Point Horror Scream Queens. We can identify with and share in her real-world problems: the fear of leaving behind the safety of high school for college; a potentially abusive boyfriend; an over-bearing guardian and the sadness of drifting apart from an, albeit annoying and snarky, best friend. The personality change she undergoes can be viewed either as a psychological reaction to the stresses of early adulthood, or as the symptom of the past-life regression Delia is convinced she is experiencing. There are some plot holes and the passage of time is difficult to gauge. However, it is a less frivolous, more mature and thereby more rewarding experience than many Point Horrors.

7/10

Fear Factor (may contain spoilers)

Whilst The Diary is far from being sleep-troubling, it has a couple of solid ‘ghost story’ moments (the suggestion Delia has wandered into a neighbourhood that was demolished years previously; her creepy ‘self-portrait’ etc.) which linger after the last page. Unfortunately, the climax of the story is so rushed that your gasp of horror immediately becomes a sigh of relief. However, this Point Horror does something which most do not; by ending on a Michael Myers* moment, it gives the reader one last scare before turning off the bedside lamp and for this reason, gets a respectable Fear Factor rating of….

6/10

*Phew, everything is going to be okay… oh no… he’s not dead after all… will we ever be safe… let’s have another sequel just to be sure!