Categories
Point Horror

The Cemetery

By D. E. Athkins.

In the wealthy coastal town of Point Harbor, a group of teens get ready for an exclusive Halloween party being hosted by their catty, influential classmate, Cyndi Moray, at a disused local cemetery. In the first chapter, we are introduced to the ten young people who comprise the cast of The Cemetery. We follow them to the party, where they engage in typical teen Halloween activities: playing music, dancing, drinking beer, participating in a séance and telling ghost stories. A game of hide and seek ensues, during which Cyndi’s ex-boyfriend, the equally rich and obnoxious ‘Wills’, gets murdered – his body ripped to shreds – and is discovered by current girlfriend, Lara, and the mysterious, new-to-town Jones. The only person not in the vicinity of the victim is Charity Webster, Char, who quickly becomes the blandly pleasant heroine of the piece, and whose romantic interest, Jones, told her to make a run for it just before the game began. Suspicious, much…?

The shaken teens report the grisly incident to the police, at which point Cyndi finds herself the prime suspect (the crime scene, her party; the victim, her ex) and sets about trying to prove her innocence by identifying the murderer. Char also investigates by trawling through the newspaper archive at the library, where she bumps into Jones immediately before someone plants an old whaler’s journal in her bag which describes a creature which rips its victims to pieces… The survivors of the party try to get on with their lives, but there is a sense of doom hanging over them, like they’re lobsters in a tank. Lara, doped up with prescription drugs, tells Cyndi she knows who the killer is but cannot be induced in her near-catatonic state to say anything further. Cyndi’s brother, Dorian and his misfit girlfriend, Georgie, revisit the scene of the crime to find clues. Super-rich but insecure Jane falls off the radar for a while, before pairing up with Cyndi’s bad-boy boyfriend, Dade to turn detective. Peripheral characters Foy and Rick pop up occasionally, to little purpose.

Georgie, despite her death having been confirmed to us when Dade and Jane overhear her father being given the bad news at the hospital, turns up as Dorian is examining a bloody hook attached to his car. When Dorian realises that what is speaking to him in his garage is not Georgie, but rather her (and Wills’s) killer, the thing becomes an ‘it’, confirming that they are not being terrorised by a person, but by a supernatural being. An explosion brings the surviving teens together at Jane’s house, where Char realises that the entity mentioned in the old whaler’s diary, which caused ships to sink and haunted Cemetery Point (the town’s previous name) years ago, is back, awakened from its temporary resting place in the cemetery. This is where the finale takes place, and it is Char who must fight for her own life and soul in a vivid confrontation with the evil, shape-shifting being that has been terrorising her and her friends.

Apart from thirty-odd pages in the middle, where the excess of characters and a brief attempt to masquerade as a whodunit slow the pace and try the patience, The Cemetery is a compelling, unique and often scary entry in the Point Horror franchise. Despite the extensive dramatis personae, Athkins skilfully introduces us to them in such a way that we are soon able to distinguish one from another, though some are gifted with more interesting and realistic personalities than others. A sub-plot involving Cyndi and Dorian’s sibling rivalry adds variety, and whilst its conclusion is anti-climactic, it helps build suspense for the finale by stretching out the action. The vagueness of the last chapter in addressing what has been tormenting them, and where Jones fits into the mystery, marks another digression from the standard PH habit of neatly and succinctly tying up all loose ends (albeit often in a frustratingly contrived way) in the last couple of pages. While it might frustrate some, it enables a more imaginative reader to fill in the blanks and create their own explanations. The many good points of The Cemetery more than compensate for a trying few pages in the middle, and combine to produce a very entertaining and satisfying read.

9/10

Fear Factor

The first section, in the cemetery on Halloween night, unfolds with creeping suspense, culminating in a grisly murder the likes of which we rarely find in a Point Horror. Early clues that something is amiss become significant during the finale, which combines gory imagery and an atmosphere of pain, grief and loneliness, to vivid and terrifying effect. The unfolding of the final confrontation has an indistinctness which requires some participation on the reader’s part, but this effort is rewarded with a thoroughly tingled spine and a haunting sense of unease. One of the scariest entries in the franchise, The Cemetery merits a fear factor rating of…

9/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Watcher

By Lael Littke.

Catherine Belmont is obsessed with the soap opera, Lost River. She dreams of living the lifestyle of her favourite character, Cassandra Bly, with her mansion, great car and string of perfect boyfriends. They’re the same age; they look alike; they even have the same initials. But someone else has noticed the similarity, and when Cassandra starts being terrorised by an unknown tormentor, Catherine finds herself living the latest storyline of her favourite soap. Catherine’s best friend, Liz, and her neighbour, Kade, indulge her obsession, even accompanying her to Andersen’s Appliances during lunch-breaks to catch the day’s episode live. Others, like bitchy Britny Marsh, scorn her fangirl behaviour whereas newcomer to town, Travis, is a fellow Lost River fan and becomes a handsome distraction from Catherine’s problems.

The similarities between what’s going on in Cassandra’s soap world and Catherine’s real life are harmless at first. Both girls are left red roses by an unidentified person, which could be a coincidence; both receive anonymous phone calls where the same words are spoken, which could be a practical joke (literally everyone knows of Catherine’s obsession with Lost River). But as Cassandra finds herself in mortal danger on the soap, so Catherine’s tormentor ups their persecution of her, culminating in kidnapping and murderous machinations.

It’s an interesting idea and one which might well appeal to those with a fondness for Americana and 90’s nostalgia. Glossy US soap operas with their outrageous storylines and beautiful people are a far cry from the dreary cobbles of Coronation Street and the po-faced market traders of Albert Square. You can understand why a young person would rush home every day to watch the latest episode they have taped on VHS. Nowadays, with whole seasons of shows released in one go on streaming services, gone is the drip-fed pleasure of watching a storyline unfold. Cliffhangers no longer prompt week-long (or even summer-long) anticipation and water-cooler debates about “who shot JR” and “what happened after Ross said Rachel”. Instead, they lead to watching a season finale at 3 am when you’re too tired to fully appreciate what’s happening. It’s pleasant to be reminded of a time when TV didn’t need Hollywood A-listers and multi-million-dollar budgets to inspire a bit of mild obsession in its audience.

But there is another, parallel, and far more compelling plotline in The Watcher. That is, the arrival of sexy Travis Cavanaugh in Greenville, towards whom Catherine feels an instant attraction and an unplaceable sense of recognition. Travis seems perfect, despite Britny’s warning that he’s got a ‘problem’. Catherine is able to dismiss this as rivalry for an attractive boy’s affections from a girl who already dislikes her, but it is more difficult to ignore her mother’s bizarre reaction when she finds out Travis has been in their house. Weirder still is the fact that her mother has photos of him in an album hidden under her bed… This secondary storyline turns The Watcher into a real page-turner, for a little while… Unfortunately, it starts to reveal its mysteries about 30 pages too soon, making for a disappointing finale which follows an awkwardly executed twist. The explanation of how the perpetrator did what they did is particularly contrived and merely serves to stretch out a dull final section. Nevertheless, the duh-duh-DUH ending, which neatly brings together the soap opera and the real world one more time, is a nice touch. Whilst it’s not one of the best, there’s enough to make The Watcher a memorable and worthwhile read.

7/10

Fear Factor

Predominantly in the mystery rather than the horror camp, The Watcher has few scary moments and most of these are reserved for the finale. The ‘pranks’ of which she is made victim throughout the story are uninspired and forgettable. Nevertheless, the mental state of the perpetrator, and the genuine danger Catherine finds herself in at the end, inspire a sense of threat which borders on frightening. The creepy cliffhanger on the last page also ensures it ends on a note more in-keeping with the horror genre, and earns The Watcher a reasonable fear factor rating of…

5/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Surfer

By Linda Cargill.

When we meet The Surfer’s protagonist, Jessie Rogers, she is not in a good place. Her strict parents are going through a messy divorce and they are giving her a hard time about her lack of accomplishments; she enjoys being on the swimming team, but is an average competitor, and she is suffering from vivid, recurring nightmares about drowning. She escapes her troubles by spending time alone on Virginia Beach, staring out to sea. On one of these occasions, she witnesses a beautiful surfer get thrown from her board and, despite Jessie’s efforts to save her, the girl apparently drowns. Her closest friend, Nick Stieveson, sees this happen and is reminded of a terrifying family legend, which he recounts to Jessie. In his story, his Norwegian ancestor, Captain Olaf Stieveson, is bewitched into marrying a mysterious lady, Ingrid, who bears him a child. When Olaf realises his error, he tries to escape to Virginia Beach to unite with another woman he has impregnated, but Ingrid catches up with him, imprisons him in the crystal of her necklace and curses all future generations of the Stieveson family.

Nick’s parents return from a cruise with Marina, a beautiful girl who was dragged from the sea the night before and who, it is quickly established, is the same girl Jessie tried to save. Marina enchants almost everyone she meets, including Jessie who seemingly forgets the story Nick has told her. Marina takes Jessie under her wing, even becoming her swim coach, and Jessie flourishes under her tutelage. Nick, however, is convinced that the stranger is dangerous and, along with Jessie’s friends Tricia and Dot, he tries to work out why Marina is so interested in Jessie. But it becomes clear that Marina is determined to carry out her plan, whatever it may be, through to its successful completion, and she will let nothing, especially Nick, stand in her way.

The Surfer is consistently interesting, especially the fairy-tale-eqsue digression about Olaf and Ingrid. We can guess Marina’s true identity, but her motivations are a mystery until fairly late in the action, and it is an enjoyable build up to the revelation. It has a refreshingly different approach from most Point Horrors, and Jessie is even temporarily ‘lost’ to us when Nick’s POV takes over. This is unusual for a PH, which usually follows the action from one character’s perspective only, but it works really well here. It emphasises Jessie’s own detachment from reality whilst under Marina’s spell. That Jessie is so entranced by Marina is scary – we wonder who will win out, Marina or Nick. It is sometimes difficult to like Jessie, and often our sympathy lies with Nick. However, Linda Cargill seems to be aware of this, and it is Nick who most often finds himself in danger.

Despite the occasional sense of threat, there is not enough horror to make The Surfer a satisfyingly scary read. The final section, in particular, has a disappointing lack of tension. Whilst the twist is an interesting one, Jessie’s discovery of the truth could be more exciting. And the action which follows is merely a spiritless tying-up of loose ends. Nevertheless, The Surfer exceeds the low expectations I had based on its title, front page and blurb. It is a unique and memorable entry in the PH franchise.

7/10

Fear Factor

Although an enjoyable read, The Surfer is unfortunately not very scary. Marina is creepy, especially when her façade slips, but we don’t see enough of her in Linda Cargill’s vague descriptions. More should be made of her being the monster of the piece. There is a Brothers Grimm-ish element of horror in the story of Olaf and Ingrid, which is never quite matched once we are back in the modern day. This is a real shame, as there is plenty of scope for some dark horror in the second half of the novel. Because this never materialises, we cannot help but feel slightly cheated, and The Surfer only musters a fear factor rating of…

4/10

Categories
Point Horror

Beach Party

By R. L. Stine.

Karen and Ann Marie’s friendship has often been troubled by jealousy and arguments over boys. But having recently broken up with their boyfriends, the girls are looking forward to spending a carefree summer together in Karen’s father’s apartment on Venice Beach. On the first day of their vacation, the girls meet bad boy Vince and clean-cut, handsome Jerry… and Karen is instantly attracted to them both! But when they go out with Jerry that night, Karen discovers he already has a girlfriend, Renee, who is not shy in warning Karen to back off and leave her man alone. When Karen shuns Renee’s advice, she becomes a victim of threatening phone calls and spray-painted messages, warning her to ‘Stay away from Jerry’… As if this wasn’t enough, Karen has to contend with the surprise appearance of her ex, Mike, as well as Ann Marie’s increasingly suspicious behaviour. When the threats turn to violence, and even murder, Karen realises she needs to identify her tormentor, before it is too late.

The blurb and the first couple of chapters of Beach Party suggest it is about a love triangle between Karen, Jerry and Vince. However, there is a more defined love triangle between Karen, Jerry and poor Renee. Renee, the most obvious red herring in a novel teeming with obvious red herrings. Beach Party clearly aspires to be a whodunit, but the mystery of who is targeting Karen is subordinate to the far more compelling enigma of why every male character is so attracted to her. She’s self-involved, overly critical of others, and repeatedly snubs her best friend – who has travelled cross-country to be with her – in favour of boys who are described as looking like James Belushi and Sting. Such is R. L. Stine’s understanding of what teenage girls found attractive in the 1990’s. We also get various references to places in LA and more than one shout-out to the clothing company, Esprit – making me wonder whether this book might be the result of a tax-deductible vacation and a product-placement bung. If so, R. L. Stine got far more out of Beach Party than the reader ever could.

A bland entry in the Point Horror franchise, with weak characters and a dull twist. Instantly forgettable.

1/10

Fear Factor

Even if there was a sense of danger at any point, it would be impossible to care.

1/10

Categories
Point Horror

Vampire’s Love

By Janice Harrell.

Part 1: Blood Curse

In part one of this two-part mini-series we are introduced to James, a handsome high school student, who catches the eye of a two hundred year-old Transylvanian émigrée vampire, Rina. Besotted, and determined to bind James to her with the end goal of making him a vampire, Rina enrols in his school, jeopardising her anonymity and her safety. On the evening before her enrolment, she is almost caught by the police when she kills and feeds off two burglars who are trying to steal computers from the school. The next day she encounters Chelsea, James’s girlfriend, who is immediately suspicious of the new girl. James soon falls under Rina’s spell, but when he tries to resist, the vampire decides that in order to make him fall in love with her, she must eradicate Chelsea from his life, permanently.

Although we are introduced to James first, we spend more time with Rina and therefore it is difficult not to take her side. Because she is likeable, we empathise with her, and prefer her to the obnoxious and annoying Chelsea. However, we cannot ignore Rina’s violent actions during the first half of the book: the computer lab murders; almost killing the janitor; the discovery that she inherited her house from an old lady whose life she slowly drained. Rina is animalistic and brutal, but also sweet and vulnerable. She creates a quandary for the reader – we want her to end up with James, but we know this result would be contrary to our traditional moral conventions. Blood Curse takes a more adult approach than most Point Horrors: the intense, consuming grief James is experiencing due to the death of his sister; the sexual suggestiveness when Rina breaks into his room to bite him… we begin to wonder whether the ‘villain’ might come out on top, for a change.

***Major spoilers from this point onward***

But then comes the twist, and the tale takes an unexpected turn. Rina no longer has all the power, her secret is revealed. Now she is in danger. Chelsea is scary, a force to be reckoned with. There is humour in Chelsea’s reaction to becoming a vampire, but her enthusiastic embracement of her new power is rapid and alarming. Whilst Rina has been trying to bring James under her influence by gradually making him love her, Chelsea takes control of James’s best friend, Trip, without a second thought. She is dangerous and ruthless and suddenly we fear for Rina. Is this because Chelsea is already more powerful, or because Rina has become more ‘human’ since we first met her, and so we empathise with her more? The cliffhanger is exciting but there is a strong sense of foreboding. We, the reader, know something the characters do not. We know there is another player moving towards them, a dangerous element from Rina’s past, who will change the game completely, and we have to read on.

Part 2: Blood Spell

The action picks up where Blood Curse left us, but the promise of an exciting confrontation between Rina/James and Chelsea/Trip is unfulfilled, due to a bland escape and an early bath for one of the characters. Still, the plot moves along at a fair pace and the first half of the book sees Chelsea tormenting James by returning to school; the constant threat that she will make him a vampire looming over him and Rina as they try to reconcile their feelings for each other. Deciding that their only option is to get out of town, James and Rina head for his grandmother’s stables. With Chelsea and Vlad (the aforementioned ‘dangerous element’) in close pursuit, the change of location might not make things any safer for the couple, but it does bring them closer to someone else from Rina’s past, who could hold the key to fulfilling her dream of becoming mortal again.

We are by now familiar with the characters and their back stories, and there are only a couple of new introductions, so the focus of Blood Spell should be on the action, but this never really gets off the ground. It is unclear who the villain of the piece is. Chelsea is horrible but in a bratty, selfish way rather than scary. Her goal of making her boyfriend a vampire seems designed to make us side further with Rina, rather than causing us to see her as a true threat. We also never feel Rina is in much danger from Vlad. In Blood Curse, he is described to us in Rina’s flashbacks as a sinister, cruel, Dracula-like figure, but it is difficult to reconcile this with the Vlad we are presented with in Blood Spell. He is just a good looking young man (despite the ponytail and old lady’s earring) who is strung along by Chelsea, made a fool of by her, and then whines (a lot) when she ditches him.

There is some excitement when Vlad and Chelsea turn up at the stables, with the attack on the grandmother and Rina’s accident meaning either one of them could be dead. But the finale is a disappointment, with very little action. Vlad and Chelsea die too easily and everything else is too neatly tied up. Rina may be human again, but given how many hundreds of people she must have killed as a vampire, can her crimes really be whitewashed by a few weeks of abstinence?

Part one is interesting and engaging; part two sadly wears the patience. Our ‘hero’ James is more concerned about his reputation than anyone else’s safety. He jeopardises his own grandmother and shows little concern when she is in serious danger. He is cruel to Rina, but inconsistently so, leaving her confused and hurt. Then as soon as she changes into a human he is all over her, which is a worry, because her personality is defined by her being a vampire, making us wonder what lies ahead for the couple. Even Rina loses our sympathy – the more ‘human’ she becomes, the blander she gets! What is more, the piece desperately lacks a proper baddie. Vlad is a loser (the references to his grandfather who may/may not be Dracula only make us wish Vlad Senior were present, instead of his insipid grandson) and Chelsea never fulfils the villainous potential she has in Blood Curse.

This two-parter could easily be a fun vampire romp, or it could be a dark and scary tragic-romance but it strives for neither and therefore fails to satisfy on either count. Such a shame.

5/10

Fear Factor

Vampire’s Love takes an uncommon approach to the Point Horror franchise, with its supernatural plotlines and exploration of the vampires’ own perspectives. There is no ‘whodunit’ element and very little mystery. The interest lies in getting to know the characters, but in getting to know them, we do not fear them. The only real moment of horror is the cliffhanger at the end of Blood Curse. This is when Chelsea is at her scariest; James and Rina at their most vulnerable. But from the beginning of Blood Spell, once this situation is resolved (with unsatisfactory haste) we are taken on a journey with the main characters which focuses more on the relationships between them, and creates dull exposition whilst we wait for Rina to find the cure to her vampirism. It is occasionally interesting, sometimes fun, but never scary. Part two therefore sadly drags the combined fear factor rating down to…

2/10 

Categories
Point Horror

Mother’s Helper

By A. Bates.

Becky thinks she has landed the ideal summer job, looking after Mrs Nelson’s toddler, Devon, on a lovely, secluded island. The only condition is that Becky must keep a low profile. Mrs Nelson has confided that she is hiding Devon from kidnappers, who wish to hold him to ransom. Nevertheless, such concerns do not prevent Mrs Nelson from leaving her son with Becky for hours on end whilst she visits the nearby tourist town on undisclosed errands. Stuck inside the cabin all day, every day, Becky longs for some time off. Finally granted an evening to herself, she meets her mysterious neighbour, Cleve, who offers to show her round the town. Cleve is definitely odd, but Becky is attracted to him and she welcomes the company. Whilst things might be looking up in her social life, her job is becoming increasingly strange. Becky decides to confront Mrs Nelson about the persistently ringing phone in her employer’s off-limits bedroom, and the generally bizarre set-up the three of them are in. On discovering the truth about Mrs Nelson’s past, Becky realises that she will have to risk her own safety if she is going to protect Devon from serious danger.

Mother’s Helper is a fairly short novel, with a straightforward plot and few characters. However, what should be a fast-paced thriller is actually a dull account of Becky doing housework, looking after the baby and moaning about being bored. The latter sensation, we can easily identify with. But it’s difficult to have sympathy for a protagonist who has no sympathy for anyone else, and is so judgemental about her employer and new friend.

With its one red herring, and easily guessable ‘twist’, Mother’s Helper completely misses the mark as a mystery. There are a couple of careless plot holes which cannot be overlooked: Becky not noticing that Cleve knows the truth about her employment situation, when he supposedly believes Mrs Nelson to be her aunt; Devon disappearing from the action near the end, with a hastily made up explanation a few pages later. And the ending, which sees Becky voluntarily putting herself back into a dangerous situation, is particularly weak. It prolongs the action, but in a pointless and drawn out way. I’d already checked out.

2/10

Fear Factor

Whilst a persistently ringing telephone might be annoying, prank phone calls are only scary if you actually answer. Even if there was a sense of threat, we are presented with such unlikeable main characters, that there is no point at which we ever care what happens to them. Mother’s Helper is not just dull, it also barely qualifies as horror and makes no effort to satisfy fans of the genre. As such, it earns the lowest possible fear factor rating of…

1/10

Categories
Point Horror

Funhouse

By Diane Hoh.

Tess and her friends hang out at the Boardwalk all the time. It’s their town’s main source of revenue, and has proved a lucrative business investment for their families. Tragedy strikes when the roller-coaster derails, killing one of Tess’s classmates and maiming two more. When she tells her friends she saw a mysterious figure fleeing the scene, at first no one believes her. But then she receives a disturbing note from someone threatening to take more lives. When another horrible ‘accident’ happens in the Funhouse, it becomes clear to Tess that the children of the Boardwalk’s owners are being targeted, meaning Tess, her brother and her friends are all in danger.

From its eventful first chapter, we are hooked. Funhouse is a captivating read, maintaining interest with its steady pace and plenty of action. Tess’s story is interspersed with snippets of first-person narration from the point of view of the perpetrator, whose motivations are revealed gradually, building suspense. This avoids the need for tedious exposition during the finale, clearing the way for an exciting, fast-paced climax. Funhouse is a whodunit, with a varied list of suspects. However, some of the characters suffer from a lack of depth, making it tricky to keep track of who’s who. Beak, for example, features often; he is a main character. But all we’re ever told about is his penchant for practical jokes, making him frustratingly one-dimensional.

The ‘pranks’ Tess is subjected to (creepy phone calls, a poison-pen letter, a stuffed cat) are archetypal Point Horror, but her isolation – both literal (she is alone in the house because her stepmother is travelling abroad) and figurative (everyone thinks her fears are unfounded) – encourages our sympathy. When Tess is scared, we are scared. The chapters written from the killer’s POV are creepy, particularly the chilling epilogue. The last section is a little hard to swallow: the perpetrator takes some unbelievable risks, then Tess takes a while to fight back, and when she does – and has already essentially saved herself – a male character turns up and gets credited as a hero. Nevertheless, the killer’s sinister intentions and dark motivations (of which we, unlike Tess, are fully aware) make for a thrilling final section. Funhouse is an atmospheric mystery and a satisfying whodunit, which captivates from the first to the last page.

8/10

Fear Factor

Whilst some of the intended scares fall flat, Funhouse does have a few creepy moments, especially in the chapters where we experience the killer gradually discovering the truth and plotting their revenge. Furthermore, the brief epilogue is the most chilling last page of any Point Horror I have read so far, earning this otherwise average entry an extra point, and an overall fear factor rating of…

6/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Bride

By D. E. Athkins.

Jamie is overjoyed about the impending marriage of her supermodel cousin, Blaine, to super-rich playboy, Pres. As a bridesmaid, she has been invited to join the wedding party early, for a couple of days of rehearsals and parties. There’s just one hitch: the magnificent wedding venue is haunted by a vengeful bride who died after being jilted years previously. Jamie gets a visit from the spectre on her first evening there, and from that point on a series of strange happenings suggests that the ghostly bride, or perhaps someone more corporeal, will stop at nothing to prevent Blaine and Pres’s wedding.

Luckily, there are plenty of other young people in the wedding party for Jamie to confide in, whilst serving the dual purpose of providing a cast of suspects. Blaine’s frenemy, the acerbic Alison, and another fellow supermodel, Kelly, take Jamie under their wings. Alison is the most likeable character of the piece (both despite, and because of, her on-point bitchiness) and the story is at its most engaging whenever she pops up. Kelly’s brother, Drew, is disconcertingly keen on Jamie from the second they meet, instantly and artificially cementing his role as romantic interest. The other bridesmaids are there solely as potential perps: Patricia, Pres’s ex-girlfriend who resents Blaine for stealing her man, and Pres’s sister, Stephanie, representing the Alden family, who openly disapprove of the marriage. And finally, Blaine’s mousy assistant, Clara, whose every appearance is tediously accompanied by the suggestion that she’s ‘not what she seems’.

So, The Bride presents us with plenty of characters, all with their own motives (even Blaine, it is suggested, could be courting publicity by sabotaging her own wedding). But there are not enough clues for us to deduce who the perpetrator is, or what their motivation might be, by any rational thinking. The story is a mystery; not a whodunit. A fast paced final section, in which concurrent snapshots of what each of the main players is doing at that moment, builds tension and creates suspense for the grand reveal. Unfortunately, the finale does not take advantage of this genuinely exciting build-up, and the ghost’s last hurrah is a wasted opportunity for a good scare. No sooner does the ‘ghoul’ show up than we find out who is behind the curtain. It is an unsatisfactory ending to a story which struggles to ever fully get off the ground.

4/10

Fear Factor

The Bride is more mystery than horror. The concept of a ‘ghost bride’ has great scare potential, but the descriptions of her are frustratingly brief and vague. If D. E. Athkins had focused more on the tragic spectre and less on her earthbound cast of suspects, The Bride might have scared up a higher fear factor rating than…

3/10

Categories
Point Horror

Twins

By Caroline B. Cooney.

Mary Lee’s whole identity revolves around her being an identical twin. She and Madrigal, because of their beauty and their twin-ness, are (in their own opinion, at least) an ‘event’. But her parents, having decided that the twins’ relationship is unhealthy, send Mary Lee to boarding school two thousand miles away. Whereas Mary Lee is miserable under this new arrangement, Madrigal thrives at home without her sister. A devastating accident occurs when Madrigal visits the school, giving Mary Lee the opportunity to assume her twin’s identity. But she soon learns that the life Madrigal has been living was far from perfect. And when she meets Madrigal’s boyfriend, Jon Pear, she begins to uncover horrible truths that force her to see her sister in a very different light. As she gets dragged further into Jon Pear’s sinister world, Mary Lee risks never getting her own life back.

Twins is a story in three parts. In the first section, we follow Mary Lee as she is torn away from her home and her twin – who she sees as the other half of her ‘whole’. The emotional pain caused by Madrigal’s aloofness towards Mary Lee elicits our sympathy, but there are other clues that Madrigal is not as close to her twin as Mary Lee assumes; clues which she either does not notice, or purposefully ignores. In the middle section, there is a terrible accident and the fateful decision, made by Mary Lee, which drives the rest of the action. And in the final section, the meatiest part of the story, Mary Lee learns what it is like to be Madrigal; to be hated by an entire school, and especially loathed by the only friends she ever had: brother and sister, Van and Scarlett. She meets the sociopathic Jon Pear, who not only loved Madrigal, but also recruited her to participate in the cruel games which made an entire school fear and despise her.

As with other Caroline B Cooney entries, we spend most of Twins following one character’s thoughts, making it an absorbingly intense and claustrophobic read. There is a pervading sense of dread, but it is not until Mary Lee meets Jon Pear that the story becomes truly horrifying. We are desperate to know what Madrigal and her boyfriend have been up to, and when we experience one of their disgusting ‘games’ in nightmarish detail (there are rats involved) we finally understand why they have been condemned by the whole school. But even worse is the hint that Madrigal’s visit, which ended in tragedy, had a far more nefarious intention than Mary Lee could ever have imagined. This terrifying suggestion, never fully explored, is haunting in its ambiguity. Unlike most Point Horror entries, Twins does not end with a sense of resolution or a return to normality. Jon Pear’s fate is in doubt, and we are left to wonder whether his evil has spread and infected those around him, as he hoped it would. And there is no happy ending for our heroine, as even though we leave her surrounded by people, with friends and with her true identity established, Mary Lee is still very much alone.

10/10

Fear Factor

The atmosphere of hatred and dread is suffocating. The tragic events which occur in Twins are terrible, but these are surpassed in their awfulness by the suggestion of what else might have been. The sense of evil genuinely disturbs and takes the reader somewhere far darker than any other Point Horror. Twins is Caroline B Cooney’s scariest creation, and one of the most unsettling entries in the whole franchise, earning the highest possible fear factor rating of…

10/10

Categories
Point Horror

Spring Break

By Barbara Steiner.

Angie is looking forward to spending spring break at the beach with her best friends – Paula, Kerry and Chad – and her chaperone/brother, Justin. Arriving late, the only accommodation they can find is a supposedly haunted house which is being renovated by creepy local character, Eldon Minor. Their first night in the mansion, the friends hear voices and music coming from the inaccessible third floor. Angie is bothered by the ‘ghosts’, but is more concerned about becoming a fifth wheel when Paula and Justin pair off. This problem is soon solved when she meets the mysterious Val, who is camping out on the beach. Angie and Val hit it off, and she starts to enjoy herself, but the ghosts won’t leave the group alone. And when her friends start disappearing, Angie realises that to find them, she must first solve the mystery of the haunted house.

Spring Break is, at times, confusing. The way the action weaves throughout the ‘haunted house’ seems architecturally improbable – though perhaps this is intentional; a ploy to discombobulate the reader. The main characters are a little tricky to distinguish between at first. Nevertheless, once personalities are established, they are presented as a likeable group and this helps maintain our interest in the story. Angie is a relatable heroine, and her behaviour towards new crush Val, whilst a little desperate at times, resonates with us all. (Who wouldn’t get just a little bit obsessive over an intriguing Brad Pitt lookalike, who can catch you a fish supper?) However, whilst we are plunged into the ghost story early on, the romance soon takes over and the story frustratingly loses sight of what it is meant to be.

Spring Break is not a whodunit; we know early on who the perpetrator is, because there is only one character it can possibly be. It has the potential to be a solid mystery, but not enough is made of the creepy mansion’s background story (the explanation is left until the very end, and is not very satisfying). It is, therefore, a ghost story, but one in which the scares rely too much on creepy music and disembodied voices. The event which has the greatest potential for horror – Angie’s discovery of the dog with its throat viciously slit – is neutered by her bizarrely calm reaction. Whilst the finale is set up for thrills, the action focuses way too much on the technicalities of escaping down a ladder, rather than the psychology of the perpetrator. This, and the lack of any actual gore, makes it dull and instantly forgettable.

4/10

Fear Factor

An atmospheric creepiness pervades Spring Break. The musty, dark house with its secret stairways and eerie sounds; the ferocious tropical storm with its lashing rain and howling winds; the isolation of the friends from the nearest town. It’s the recipe for a perfect horror story. Which makes it all the more frustrating that Spring Break offers up so few scares. The story is overly reliant on the music and voices from the third floor, and these quickly lose their scare-potential. The only real moments of horror (the dead dog and the revelation of who/what has been hiding upstairs) arrive too late, and are not used as effectively as they should be. Spring Break therefore gets a disappointing fear factor rating of…

3/10