Categories
Point Horror

The Claw

By Carmen Adams.

Best friends, Kelly and Rachel, have landed summer internships at their local, rundown zoo. Aspiring vet, Rachel, is ecstatic, but Kelly secretly finds the zoo creepy and is afraid of any animal larger than her dog. It doesn’t help that she gets a crank call the night before starting the internship, warning her to stay away. Kelly’s parents are absorbed by their frantic search for her older sister, who ran away from home a few months earlier. Not wanting to cause them extra worry, she tries to put the creepy call out of her mind. The next day, the girls meet the zoo’s eccentric director, Dr Hoffstadter, and their fellow interns, pleasant Sandy, handsome Griffin (who catches Kelly’s eye and vice versa) and Jon and Melissa, whose respective parents are on the zoo board and have forced the internships on their reluctant kids. Kelly and Rachel are delighted to be assigned to the big cats, whose keeper, Lonnie Bucks, unnerves the girls with his own feline qualities and tendency to talk to the cats as if they were human. That evening, Luther, a black leopard, gets out of his cage (which has been mysteriously unlocked) and chases after the girls. They narrowly escape his claws, and Luther dashes out of the zoo gate, which has also been left open.

Having been comforted and driven home by Griffin, Kelly gets another crank call… from the leopard (or possibly someone playing a recording of his roar). The next day, Jon reveals he has also received an intimidating phone call, and Melissa was threatened by an unidentifiable stranger whilst out jogging. More worrying, Sandy is missing. They trace her route and find her in an underpass, having been mauled by the leopard, with a gash of five deep cuts across her arm. Kelly is convinced that the missing leopard, and the harassment of the interns, is somehow wrapped up in a larger mystery concerning the zoo itself (possibly linked to an audit of the zoo’s accounts which the hunt for the missing cat has put on hold). As she attempts to discover what is going on, Kelly finds herself getting into ever increasing danger.

There is very little mystery in The Claw. Clearly someone unlocked Luther’s cage, and someone wants to scare away the interns, but the narrative doesn’t do much to encourage us to wonder who it may be, or why they might be doing it. It is unusual for a Point Horror, as most tend to be whodunnits, but it wouldn’t be an issue if the story managed to satisfy our horror-yearnings in another way (for instance, by having the leopard actually pose a threat rather than disappear for pages on end). Following the attack on Sandy, however, a clue is dropped which not only finally makes it clear we should be trying to guess who the perpetrator is, but also makes their identity and their motive glaringly obvious. But we still have to plough through another hundred pages of wheel spinning and boring exposition, before what we already know is eventually confirmed.

It doesn’t help that Kelly is a particularly dull protagonist. All we are told about her is what she doesn’t like: animals, the zoo, Jon and Melissa (and rich kids in general), violent films, Rachel going to the movies without her… Kelly’s one positive ‘quality’ is her supposedly psychic sense of intuition, which only gets a mention when it helps the plot along. The one, mildly interesting aspect of The Claw is the mystery of Kelly’s runaway sister, Heather, which ends up being just another ropey plot device. It gets an extra point for having more ethnic diversity than probably any other Point Horror, but that is really the only thing going for this entry.

2/10

Fear Factor

What is there to be scared of, aside from a couple of half-hearted prank calls and some fake claw marks? The actionless finale is dry and lacks any sense of threat or danger. Even the errant leopard only seems to be bothering sheep.

1/10

Categories
Point Horror

Double Date

By Sinclair Smith.

After colluding in a practical joke in eighth grade, Tracy snubs Travis’s affections, even though she likes him, because the popular clique think he’s weird. Travis leaves town soon afterwards and returns four years later, quite the hunk. Tracy’s old feelings resurface, and she is secretly pleased when her domineering boyfriend, Kyle, sets them up on a double date with Travis and his girlfriend, Christie. Travis promises them an evening they’ll never forget, which turns out to be true, for all the wrong reasons.

For Tracy, the date starts badly and gets worse. Travis plays one practical joke after another, each one more disturbing than the last. Christie is terrible company, talking constantly and flirting with Kyle; vacuous and dull one minute, throwing violent temper tantrums the next. The couples end up at an abandoned hunting lodge, which Travis’s brother is developing into a ski hotel. Tracy, initially impressed with the elaborate 1920s furnishings and hidden speakeasy, is on the verge of actually enjoying herself. But then Travis tells them about the mass murder that shut down the lodge in the 1940s, and the subsequent hauntings which have kept it closed ever since. When Travis disappears, and strange things start to happen, the others assume it’s another practical joke. But then Christie vanishes, and Kyle, and Tracy is left to face the ghost, alone.

Double Date is a story in three acts. In the first act, we meet the couples, quickly tire of Travis and Christie’s stupid jokes and share in Tracy’s frustration at Kyle’s sycophantism towards his new best mate. There’s no horror here, and the characters quickly start to grate, but it effectively sets up the second act in the abandoned lodge, which is the strongest section of the book. The dusty, archaic surroundings are perfect for a ghost story. There are some fine spooky moments and a creeping sense of dread which culminates in Tracy ending up alone, afraid and locked in a boiler room with a corpse. It has the makings of a solid supernatural mystery. But in the final act, we get a complete change of direction. An unexpected – but not very satisfying – twist takes this Point Horror down a path that is unusual for the franchise, but quite typical of the horror/thriller genre. I think with this PH entry, enjoyment of the final section is all down to personal preference. It isn’t to my taste, but it’s nevertheless well written, and delivers some thrilling moments.

6/10

Fear Factor

Double Date offers up a villain whose threatening, maniacal presence dominates the last fifty pages. Teetering constantly between quiet intimidation and violent excess, he is a genuine threat and more than once gets the upper hand just as it seems the kids are in the clear. The problem is, I’m on his side most of the time, and rather than being afraid for Tracy and her annoying friends, I’d quite happily see them all freeze to death. The best scares are in the middle section, and a last-page attempt to recapture a hint of the second act ghostliness comes too late to improve its fear factor rating of…

5/10

Categories
Point Horror

Homecoming Queen

By John Hall.

Melissa Brady has had a transformation over the summer and, starting her senior year at Westdale High ‘hot’, she decides to run for Homecoming Queen. Despite having the full support of best friends Izzy and Celeste (and it being an ideal way to attract the attention of handsome jock, Seth Powell) there are two major problems. Firstly, she’s going up against Mean Girls, Betsy and Laurel (Seth’s ex), who hold nothing back in their attempts to ridicule and bully Melissa into submission. Secondly, there hasn’t been a Homecoming Queen at Westdale for 25 years; not since the last one, Brenda Sheldon, was decapitated in a car accident the night of the dance.

Melissa’s campaign gets off to a flying start and she’s soon dating Seth. But her sudden popularity, and new friendships with fellow nominees Tia and Faith, cause friction with Izzy and Celeste. Then strange things start happening. A malfunctioning tanning bed leaves Faith with third degree burns, Melissa gets threatening messages from the ghost of Brenda Sheldon, and a bee hive stuffed in her locker misses its mark but lands Tia in hospital. Supernatural being or a maniacally jealous cheerleader, as the danger escalates it becomes clear that someone wants to make sure no Homecoming Queen is ever crowned at Westdale High again.

The first half of Homecoming Queen focuses a lot on the social side of high school – the normal girls taking on the Plastics. But it’s fun hanging out with Melissa and her friends as they watch John Hughes movies, go dress shopping and plan elaborate campaign gimmicks. The moments of horror may be few and far between, but when they occur, they are gruesome, scary and memorable, and they escalate to a level few Point Horrors dare to go.

As with many PHs, we are presented with a protagonist who is vain, annoying and self-involved. But it is less of an issue here, as Melissa is surrounded by a cast of likeable friends and gloriously nasty villains in Betsy and Laurel. With strong characters, an engaging plot and plenty of references to 90s teen life, there is so much to enjoy in Homecoming Queen.

9/10

Fear Factor

The violence, gore and murder in Homecoming Queen set it apart from most Point Horrors. The vagueness of detail in the more gruesome moments is perhaps the result of teen-friendly editing – frustrating for older readers, but forgivable, given the target audience. Still, with a slight effort of the imagination, the imagery conjures up some pretty nightmarish scenes. Homecoming Queen’s scares may be sprinkled sparingly, rather than generously dolloped, but what it serves up is very tasty.

9/10

Categories
Point Horror

The Hitchhiker

By R. L. Stine.

We meet The Hitchhiker, James, as he’s heading north out of Key West, escaping from… we’re not sure what exactly… but it involves the remembrance of a crying girl begging him not to hurt her, which haunts him as he walks along the highway, trying to thumb a ride. He is an angry, parentless young man with a fierce temper. When an old man stops to give him a lift, the focus switches to Christina and Terri, best friends travelling through Florida on Spring Break. Terri is the more cautious and sensible of the two girls, admonishing Christina for speeding and then driving away from a truck accident that she causes. It is Christina’s carefree attitude that prompts her to stop for the handsome hitchhiker. But Terri is wary, and remains aloof towards James, who quickly shows signs that he may indeed pose a serious threat. 

It starts with a display of his aggressive temper in a diner. Then a violent encounter with his cousin at whose house they spend a night. Mysteriously, James insists on turning the radio off when a news item comes on about an old man who has been attacked by a hitchhiker. Soon the girls are caught up in the danger, when a car driven by a strange man runs them off the road, and then Terri disappears from the motel they are staying at. Christina is left alone with James, and with their pursuer not far behind. The question of which of them is in the greatest danger comes to a head in the exciting, surprising finale.

The Hitchhiker is a thrilling page-turner with an action-packed final set piece. R. L. Stine piles twists upon mysteries and it makes for one of his best entries in the franchise.

8/10

Fear Factor

James’s threatening persona is dispensed with a little too quickly, resulting in a dearth of scariness in the middle section. But the last 30 pages or so go a long way towards making up for this, and the twisting, terrifying finale earns The Hitchhiker a decent fear factor rating of…

6/10

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

Fear Factor

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