Back to Fear Street Special – Return to Fear Street: The Wrong Girl

Back to Fear Street Special – Return to Fear Street: The Wrong Girl

We’re back with another special edition and a review of the latest book in R.L. Stine’s new series.  From the back of the book, The Wrong Girl is about a girl named Poppy who swears to get revenge after a guy named Jack plays a cruel prank on her in front of her friends.  But then her classmates start turning up dead. As the back of the book says, “Is Poppy being framed? Or did the kids of Shadyside High mess with the wrong girl?”  I was going to do my best to not spoil this book in case some of you readers wanted to check it out for yourselves. But that was before I read the book. And I have since taken an oath to spoil the hell out of this book so that no one else will have to wade through it and suffer as I did.  Where to begin?

The book bounces around between different characters’ perspectives but is mainly written from Poppy’s point of view.  Poppy and her group of friends – Ivy, Jeremy, Manny, and Jack – decide to start playing pranks on people and filming it for social media.  The group of friends also included Keith, Poppy’s boyfriend, but she breaks things off with him and starts dating bad boy Jack instead because Keith is too boring and not interested in pulling pranks on people.  The group decides to call their group the Shadyside Shade because, as Poppy says, they’re “throwing shade on everyone.” I might not be completely up on the slang of the youth, but my understanding of “throwing shade” is throwing insults, not playing pranks.  So I guess this is what happens when a 74-year-old writes books about teenagers. The group’s prank club stars off innocently – they unleash a bunch of dogs into a pet store. Then Poppy decides that they should play a prank on her arch nemesis, Rose. Poppy and Rose have apparently been in competition with each other since the fourth grade, and Rose has just beaten out Poppy to get the lead role in the school play.  Poppy first thinks that they should put a laxative in her water because Rose always drinks water right before she goes out on stage. But Jack tells her she’ll get arrested for assault. Poppy then decides that they should keep people from making it to the play by staging a car accident in the intersection and blocking people from the school. As ridiculous as this sounds, everyone’s totally fine with it because they figure they can just tell the police, “Punked you!” and say that they were just doing a high school prank.  Yeah, because that’s how the police work. Also, does anyone actually say “punked” anymore?

These kids go through with the prank, and to really sell it Poppy puts a smoke machine in the back of Ivy’s car.  Why she wouldn’t think people would clearly see smoke coming from the backseat is beyond me, but she’s clearly an idiot as evidenced by her coming up with this plan in the first place.  Somehow all of the cars catch on fire, but apparently the kids suffer no real consequences aside from making their parents a bit upset. Afterwards, Poppy and Rose get into a physical fight at a restaurant after Poppy smashes a hamburger bun in Rose’s face.  Why? Mainly because Poppy’s upset that her sister has started hanging out with Rose. Other than Poppy and Rose being a little competitive and bitchy towards each other, the book doesn’t really establish any big beef between them that would lead to a physical fight in the middle of a restaurant.  Plus, Poppy, Rose, and Heather all seem to have some anger management issues which served no purpose except to make them all possible suspects when the shit hits the fan.

After the car prank, Jack decides that the group should pretend to rob a store, with the owner in on the prank, and film it to share on social media.  However, they go and “case the joint” which made me think that the store owner actually wasn’t in on the prank. A weird aside – before they pull off the prank, Jack gives everyone a ski mask, and Jeremy asks about the material of the ski mask because he’s allergic to wool (and a bunch of other things).  Jack tells him not to worry because the ski mask is fake. I didn’t understand this. Maybe he meant it was fake as in a synthetic material, but that still doesn’t make sense to me. A ski mask is still a ski mask. It’s not like someone being robbed would be all, “Hey, wait a minute. This is a prank! That’s not a real ski mask!”  But I digress. The group goes through with the robbery, but as they’re entering the store Jack slips a gun in Poppy’s hand, and she ends up shooting and apparently killing the store owner when she sees him going for his gun. After the incident, Poppy feels extremely guilty and decides to turn herself in to the police, specifically Manny’s brother Benny.  Benny and Poppy go to the store… and the store owner is there! Alive and totally fine! Turns out he was in on the prank all along, as was the rest of the Shadyside Shade. And it was actually Jack and Rose’s idea because they’ve actually been dating this whole time behind Poppy’s back. You know who else was in on it – Office Benny! That’s right – a police officer was totally fine with a group of kids filming a fake robbery in which one of the kids thinks she kills someone.  I guess that makes sense – these are the same police that had no problems with the same kids staging a fake car accident in which multiple cars exploded. Also, let’s not just skip past the fact that the couple behind this prank are Jack and Rose. The star-crossed Titanic lovers are reunited, and they’re bigger and badder than ever!

So now to the core of the story – the big revenge!  Which doesn’t start until page 240 of a 328-page book.  And remember all of those classmates that start turning up dead?  Yeah, it was just two people. Ivy gets acid put in her shampoo but lives; Jeremy has his room filled with hornets who sting him to death ( remember he’s allergic to everything – a My Girl moment); and Rose gets strangled just before taking the stage for her lead role in the rescheduled school play.  But that’s the extent of the revenge. It’s almost as if Stine remembered “oh yeah, that’s what this book is supposed to be about.”  Another thing – I’m pretty sure that Fear Street isn’t even mentioned until page 262, and even then it’s just a throwaway mention about Keith, Poppy’s ex-boyfriend, thinking about death a lot ever since moving to Fear Street.  Maybe this was another “oh yeah” moment for Stine – I mean this new series is called Return to Fear Street after all.

Let’s skip to the big finale.  The remaining kids, Officer Benny, and another police officer are all together in a room shortly after Rose’s body is discovered.  Poppy (in all of her brilliance) and her sister Heather decide they know the perfect way to get the real killer to confess – Poppy confesses to the acid attack and murders, but then Heather steps in and says that she’s the real killer, and she stabs Poppy in the chest with a knife.  And then Keith confesses that he did everything because he wasn’t good enough for Poppy and because nobody wanted to get to know him. Can’t imagine why? When it comes out that the stabbing was staged, Poppy explains, “We figured if we confessed, the real culprit wouldn’t be able to just stand by.”  I’ve watched a lot of Investigation Discovery shows in my lifetime (there’s actually one on in the background as I’m writing this), and this has to be the dumbest plan to get someone to confess that I’ve ever heard of. First off, there’s two armed police officers in the room, so Heather basically risked her life by pretending to stab someone right in front of them.  Second, what if Keith had been all, “Hey, I’ll just let one of them take the fall. This worked about better than I could’ve imagined!” All the evidence pointed at either Heather or Poppy anyway – a bottle of jewelry cleaner containing acid is missing from their home; Jeremy was killed by hornets and Poppy and Heather’s mother just happens to be an entomologist who’s doing a study on hornets; and Rose gets strangled with a scarf and it’s mentioned a few times in the book how wearing scarves is Poppy’s “thing.”  So, Poppy and Heather’s idea to get the real culprit to confess was pretty stupid. But hey, in the world of Fear Street it worked perfectly. By the way, the whole stabbing-and-confession thing happens in the last seven pages. A whole lot of ridiculous buildup for an even more ridiculous conclusion.

In case you can’t tell, I really didn’t like The Wrong Girl.  And I actually left some things out of this post for the sake of time, space, and my sanity.  I gave this book a 1/4 rating on Goodreads. I would’ve given a lower rating if I could, but you can’t give a half-star rating and giving no rating at all is equivalent to not voting – your voice won’t be heard.  And I wanted my voice to be heard loud and clear! The next installment in the Return to Fear Street Series is called Drop Dead Gorgeous, and it’s set to be released in February 2019.  Here’s a look at the cover:

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They say the third time’s the charm, so maybe we’ll have better results with the next installment.  Thankfully, I don’t have to find out until next year. So next month I’ll be going Back to Fear Street to review Ski Weekend, the tenth entry in the original Fear Street series.  These last two books of the new series have left a bitter taste in my mouth, but I’m looking forward to going back to the original series.  I’ve had better luck with those and they’re less than 200 pages so any suffering is swift!

Before I go, I’d like to end on a good note and recommend some fun reads that are perfect for the Halloween season – The Ruins by Scott Smith; The Amulet by Michael McDowell; My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix; The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon; NOS4A2 by Joe Hill; Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror, an anthology with multiple contributors; Midnight Movie by Tobe Hooper; and Let the Right One In and Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist.  And some suggestions for you comic readers – Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young; Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook; Outcast by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta; Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack; and American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque.  I could recommend many more books and comics, but these are the ones that came to mind.  I can guarantee you’ll enjoy any of these more than The Wrong Girl!

Have a happy (and spooky) Halloween, and I’ll see you in November!

Back to Fear Street Special – Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill the Bride

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Back to Fear Street Special – Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill the Bride

Hello fellow travelers!  I’m sure you all remember that in my very first Fear Street blog post, I mentioned a new series called Return to Fear Street, and in my August post I shared the beautiful cover art from the first book in the new series, You May Now Kill the Bride.  Well, I have since read this book and will share my thoughts on it and future books in this new series in these special edition posts.  I can just see the ear-to-ear smiles on your faces! So let’s get started. And I’ll be immediately spoiling this book, so consider yourself warned.

The premise of You May Now Kill the Bride from the blurb on the back of the book is that a curse that haunts the Fear family affects two sisters at two Fear family weddings decades apart.  Seems pretty straightforward. The story begins in 1923. Seventeen-year-old Ruth-Ann Fear discovers a secret attic in her house where she finds old spell books and learns about the hatred between the Fear family and the Goode family.  Ruth-Ann starts doing spells and casts a spell on a boy named Peter Goodman to get him to like her. He does initially but ends up falling for her older sister Rebecca. However, at the wedding (which takes place the following year on a cliff at the Fear family lodge in Colorado), Peter picks Rebecca up right after kissing his new bride and hurls her off the side of the cliff.  Why? Well, you probably didn’t see this coming, but Peter Goodman is actually Peter Goode, and there is a curse where a Fear and a Goode can never marry each other and live. Well, Ruth-Ann’s father gets upset with Ruth-Ann because when she found out about Rebecca and Peter she got upset and told them that they would never get married. Ruth-Ann and her father struggle and then SHE falls off the cliff after losing her balance.  The moral of this story – don’t have a wedding on a cliff. Ruth-Ann’s father gets even more upset as can be expected and vows to take his revenge on the Goodes. The fact that Ruth-Ann dies was a great mislead because I really thought she was going to a be a more prominent character throughout the story, and I thought this was a great start to the book. It was well-written and just really grabbed my attention as a reader, and I thought that R.L. Stine was back with a great new series!  Mr. Fear will have his revenge and somehow that will affect a future generation of Fears and Goodes – just like the back of the book promised!

Well…none of that happened.  The story flashes forward to present day – we’re back at the Colorado lodge, only now it’s no longer part of the Fear family because it was sold.  Our main character is now seventeen-year-old Harmony Fear, and she and her family are at the lodge for the marriage of her older sister Marissa to Doug Falkner.  Harmony and Marissa’s father says the place is cursed and that that’s why it was sold, and some of the family know about what happened there in 1924. But Marissa’s heart is set on getting married there, so we’re back for another wedding…on a cliff.  What could go wrong? Well, shenanigans happen the day before the wedding, including an uncle choking on chicken feathers and the wedding party getting attacked by squirrels. Uh-oh! Must be the curse! But no, it just turns out to be Harmony doing some silly spells because she also discovered the Fear family spell books.  Her grandfather warns her about doing even harmless spells at the lodge because the place was cursed and spells could get out of hand. The grandfather, Harmony, and Harmony’s brother Robby talk about what happened at the lodge back in 1924 and about the hatred between the Fears and Goodes that went back hundreds of years, but the grandfather mentions that no members of the Goode family had been heard of since then and that Harmony and Robby’s father hired two different investigative firms to make sure none of Doug’s family were related to the Goodes.  As a reader, I’m thinking “Oh, there’s definitely a Goode at this wedding and the curse will strike again.”

Wrong again.  Turns out the curse between the Fears and Goodes was stronger than anyone realized.  Remember when Peter threw Rebecca off the cliff back in 1924? Well that happened right after they were officially married.  The curse was unleashed – hence Peter killing Rebecca. But the curse also caused people to be trapped in the lodge after death – they were dead but not dead and unable to control when they lived, sometimes living in their own time but sometimes living in the present.  This curse trapped Ruth-Ann and Rebecca and also some lodge workers from 1924 who Harmony talked to, thinking they were workers from the present time. This curse also traps Marissa. On the day of her wedding, she goes missing, and it turns out that she was killed when she was pushed off of the cliff.  But she wasn’t killed by a Goode – she was killed by her scorned ex-lover Aiden Murray. Not scorned because Marissa dumped him but scorned because, about a year ago back in Shadyside, Harmony injured his hand while doing some woodworking and ended his dream of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Harmony discovers Marissa, Ruth-Ann, and Rebecca at the lodge where she learns about Aiden’s actions.  She also learns that Aiden has taken out his revenge on Robby by stealing his girlfriend. I understand being upset at Harmony for injuring his hand, but it seems far-fetched for Aiden to be so angry at the other family members. Plus his revenge on Marissa and Robby seems extremely unbalanced – I mean Aiden went from stealing someone’s girlfriend to pushing someone off a cliff. Talk about going from zero to a hundred.  This all gets wrapped up when Harmony goes from doing silly spells to a big spell – transporting herself back to 1924 where she uses another spell to send Peter flying off of the cliff before the Fear-Goode marriage can take place and unleash the curse.

I left this book just feeling really confused.  I’m unsure how Harmony stopping the Fear-Goode marriage would impact the present day events.  It would keep people from being trapped at the lodge after death, but I don’t understand how it would’ve kept Aiden’s hand from being injured back in Shadyside and then seeking his revenge.  The book makes clear that the lodge is cursed, so it’s unclear as to how the events in Shadyside would have been prevented from happening. Also, I thought that Ruth-Ann and Rebecca’s father’s swearing to take revenge on the Goodes would have something to do with the rest of the book, but as far as I can tell that was a big dud.  Maybe his revenge has something to do with why no member of the Goode family has been heard of since the events in 1924, but that’s just speculation on my part. The book also gives no details as to the why the Fears and Goodes hate each other so much or why the Fears, according to Harmony, have a long history of meanness. Maybe Stine already dealt with this in one of his previous books – I know he’s written several on the history of the Fear and Goode families.  But I don’t think it’s safe to assume that new readers will be familiar with the older books or that old readers (like me) will remember or that we even kept up with the series. I know that I stopped reading the Fear Street books in the early 90s, and I definitely don’t remember the specifics of the books I read when I was kid.

Also, I didn’t get the point of the magic spells.  Maybe this also harkened back to an earlier entry in the Fear Street series, but it seems misplaced and pointless in this book.  I’m guessing the whole purpose for the spells was so that Harmony could all of a sudden become a powerful magician or sorceress (because her grandfather tells her earlier that he believes the magic runs in their family) and transport herself back to 1924.  It all just seemed a bit too convenient for me.

I didn’t really like this book (in case you couldn’t tell) and gave it 1/5 stars on Goodreads.  A lot of other reviewers gave it three or four stars, but I noticed that most of those reviews started with the reader going on about nostalgia and how they loved Fear Street when they were younger.  I’m not reading with my nostalgia glasses on, so this was a big miss for me. I’m still looking forward to the next entry in this new series, The Wrong Girl, which comes out later this month.  From the description on Amazon, it doesn’t seem to involve the Fears or Goodes.  So if you’re dying to know about the Fear-Goode saga or need to refresh your memory, you might need to track down the older books.  I’ve had a rough patch of disappointing books here recently – The Elementals by Michael McDowell, Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, and You May Now Kill the Bride.  I read the new Flintstones comic by DC to clear my palate but was a little disappointed by that too (although I loved the artwork).  So, where do you go when you want maximum entertainment and minimal disappointment? The world of organized crime – Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi.  I’ve seen Goodfellas plenty of times but now I’m ready for a little deep diving.  Hmm, going from the Flintstones to the Mafia. Makes me think of one of my high school friends who wrote in my yearbook about me buying Britney Spears and Metallica CDs at the same time.  I live outside the lines. See ya in October!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

Back to Fear Street – The Stepsister (Fear Street, #9) & R.L. Stine Presents: Scream and Scream Again!

Back to Fear Street – The Stepsister (Fear Street, #9)

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The wait is over and it’s time for another trip back to Fear Street!  If you’ve been keeping up, you know that the last couple of outings were pretty disappointing.  But I’m happy to say I fared much better this time around! Like any book or movie named after a step-relative, The Stepsister is a tale all about the sinister side of blended families.  Emily Casey, our protagonist, is excited about her new stepsister and stepbrother moving into her house on Fear Street, but then a lot of terrible things start happening.  Emily knows that her new stepsister, Jessie, is behind everything but no one will believe her, and she has to expose the truth before Jessie goes too far. A basic premise but a very enjoyable read, although I again predicted the twist ending.  That left me a little underwhelmed, but I still gave The Stepsister 4/5 stars on Goodreads.  The story was well-paced and fun and the characters were interesting, so even though I saw the twist coming I still enjoyed getting there.  I also liked that the chapters had titles – don’t know why but I did. So I definitely recommend you drop whatever you’re doing and check this book out!  Or you can just read ahead for spoilers. The choice is yours.

SPOILERS AHEAD…

So let’s talk about those terrible things that Jessie does because they range from serious but harmless pranks to attempted murder.  She rips the head off of Emily’s favorite teddy bear, steals her sweater, deletes her school report from the computer, and puts peroxide in her shampoo.  Serious but harmless. Jessie then kills Emily’s dog by stabbing it in the chest, sets a school bathroom on fire after trapping Emily inside, pushes Emily down a steep flight of concrete stairs at a concert arena, makes out with Emily’s boyfriend, and pushes Emily into an open grave during a family camping trip and tries to bury her alive.  With the exception of making out with Emily’s boyfriend, I’m pretty sure these others would warrant a mental diagnosis. And in fact, Jessie is seeing a psychiatrist twice a week. But here’s the twist…

It turns out the actual culprit is Nancy Casey, Emily’s older sister (although Jessie did accidentally rip the teddy bear and steal the sweater).  Nancy blames Emily for the death of their father (who drowned while boating with Emily during a family camping trip to Fear Island) and for losing her boyfriend Josh (who dumped Nancy and started dating Emily).  I was already suspicious of Nancy just from knowing about her father and ex-boyfriend and also because when all signs are pointing to one character that usually means it’s someone else entirely. But the real giveaway was right after the bathroom fire scene.  Before going into the bathroom, Emily had run into both Nancy and Jessie, but after getting rescued she thinks to herself that Jessie was the only one who had known she was in the bathroom. That was a pretty obvious sign to me that Nancy was involved. Now to be fair, I thought that maybe Nancy and Jessie were both involved and working together but still leaned more towards Nancy as she had the most to be upset about.

Quick aside – I think it would’ve been awesome if the antagonist had turned out to be Emily’s mother!  It wouldn’t have made sense as she wasn’t always in the right place at the right time to pull some of the stunts, but how cool would it have been if she was all, “You killed my husband!!!!”  I mean, that would’ve taken the Fear Street series to a whole new level. But I digress.

Now Jessie isn’t completely innocent.  She definitely did some bitchy things. She was kind of insulting when she first moved in and took over the bedroom that she and Emily had to share.  She also secretly talked on the phone at night and was overhead saying, “I could kill her. I really could kill her.” She also sneaked out of the house a few times.  But it turns out she was talking to and meeting up with her boyfriend who her father didn’t approve of because he was three years older. As for Jessie seeing a psychiatrist, she was apparently blamed for the death of her best friend but was actually innocent.  So I’m assuming she had to see the psychiatrist to deal with that, although I don’t think a specific reason is actually given. And I guess the threat she made on the phone was maybe just innocent teenage anger over her and Emily not getting along. Maybe Jessie can schedule a group therapy session at her next appointment because this family’s definitely got some issues to work through.

Speaking of the other family members, Emily and Nancy’s mother is pretty basic and falls into the trap of being more into her new husband than into believing her daughter that something terrible is going on.  The new husband, Hugh Wallner, is interesting. He’s more rough around the edges than Emily and Nancy’s real father and picks on his thirteen-year-old son for doing typically stupid teenage boy things and for engaging in that dangerous gateway activity – reading!  Mr. Wallner mentions that his son, Rich, is a “real bookworm” and brags that he himself hasn’t “picked up a book since high school.” Not sure that this a good bragging point. Mr. Wallner also has a couple of sexist, pervy moments. When Mrs. Wallner asks who’s going to clean up after dinner, Mr. Wallner says, “Not me.  That’s what I like about living with four women. There’s always someone to clean up after dinner.” Mrs. Wallner responds, “You’re a sexist pig,” smiles, and kisses him on the forehead. Now, I’m no stick in the mud so I can laugh this off. But I can also see how Emily and Nancy would definitely not appreciate that this is the man their mother chose to replace their father with.  Then during a camping trip in South Carolina, everyone except Mr. Wallner is feeling less than excited, so he says, “Come on, gang. How can I get my harem into an up mood?” EEEEEWWWW! Who uses the word “harem” to refer to their wife, daughter, and step-daughters? And I guess also Rich? I feel like Mrs. Wallner should be making some mental notes – sounds like we have another issue to address at that group therapy session.

As for Rich, Emily describes him as “that weirdo with his Stephen King books.”  And of course, he’s reading Pet Sematary, so when the family dog gets killed he immediately falls under suspicion.  This prompts Rich to yell out in teenage angst, “Just because I read books doesn’t mean I’m a killer!”  If I had a nickel for every time I had to say that. Just kidding – I’ve never had to defend my love of reading.  So it’s a bit weird that Rich has to. But I’m wondering if this was a bit tongue-in-cheek of R.L. Stine – maybe there was some parental backlash when kids started reading Fear Street books.  I don’t specifically remember my mother having any problems, but who knows? Maybe it gave her pause when my reading list went from The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High to books about teenagers being murdered.  This leads me to an interesting side note that Craig brought to my attention – at the age of thirteen, Rich is reading way more mature material than I was at his age, including the Fear Street series.  And looking at Young Adult fiction today, the books definitely seem to be way more complicated and detailed than the books I read as a kid and teenager. It’s amazing to me when I find my old books just how small and thin they were – it seemed like I was reading full-fledged novels at the time when they weren’t even two hundred pages.  So I applaud Rich for his literary maturity! And kudos to his open-mindedness as by the end of the book he’s reading The Hardy Boys.  Variety is the spice of life!

As for our recurring characters, this time around we have Della O’Connor (the protagonist from The Overnight); Ricky Schorr (the character I mentioned in my last post as being the first to have two terrifying Fear Street experiences in The Overnight and Halloween Party); and our lasting couple Lisa Blume and Cory Brooks (making this Lisa’s now sixth appearance in the series – the most overall).  However, they were all relegated to honorable mention status as students that Emily and her best friend just notice in the hallway or cafeteria.

Now for a bonus feature!  Back in my very first Back to Fear Street blog post, I mentioned that Stine was coming out with a new Fear Street book called Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill the Bride.  Well, that book has arrived and here’s what it looks like:

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Gorgeous cover!  And this would also make a killer back tattoo!  I haven’t read it yet but definitely looking forward to it!  And Amazon shows the next book in this series comes out in September and is called Return to Fear Street: The Wrong Girl.  That’ll definitely be added to my collection!

Wait, what?  There’s more?  Yes! Because Stine put out ANOTHER book.  It’s a short story collection called R.L. Stine Presents: Scream and Scream Again! that includes a story from Stine and stories from the Mystery Writers of America.  It also has a pretty great cover:

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I just got finished reading this one and gave it 4/5 stars on Goodreads.  The collection included some really good stories that made me think of Are You Afraid of the Dark.  They’re definitely written for kids, but they’re still a lot of fun and a few genuinely creeped me out, especially the last one, “The Platform” by Peter Lerangis.  Some of my other faves were “Ring and Run” by Steve Hockensmith, “Area Code 666” by Carter Wilson, “The Only Child” by Joseph L. Walker, “The Girl in the Window” by Tonya Hurley, and of course “The Best Revenge” by Stine.  A good read for adults and some family-friendly scares for the younger readers!

So happy reading and I’ll see ya in September!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

 

“Fan of the 13th: A Small Compilation of Friday the 13th Fan Films”

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“Fan of the 13th:  A Small Compilation of Friday the 13th Fan Films”

By Adam Troutt

It’s that glorious, erratic, ever changing time of the year again:  Friday the 13th!  While for most of the country, the maligned and misunderstood holiday is a host for people’s dread and fear of mishaps and a 24 hour cornucopia of a relentless unlucky streak, for horror fans it brings a polar opposite effect.  Just like Halloween, it becomes a day for merriment, celebration, and murder (fictitious….for the most part).  Now, if you’re a ravenous horror aficionado, as myself, you spend your damned near religious holiday exclaiming with an incessant vexatious sense of glee “Happy Friday the 13th” to every passerby that crosses in your generalized direction, but also ingesting a healthy helping of the oeuvre of Friday the 13th films.  Whether you’re the nitpicky or time constrained fan that pulls just a few choice selections that rank as your favorites to bookend(or jumpstart) your day, or you’re the gluttonous, masochist fanatic who tries to sate your hunger with the grueling task of trying to fit every last film in before the night comes to a close, and Saturday the 14th takes over, but that flick and its sequel is a whole other article.  Having completed this feat multiple times, I can tell you it’s not for the faint of heart.  Now, while I’d never be so blasphemous as to say that the franchise has reached a stalemate, let’s be real:  with 10 films, a crossover flick, a remake, and a in name only T.V. show there’s plenty of blood soaked carnage to entertain you, I thought I could offer up an alternative, or a welcomed addition, to your holiday festivities.  Which brings me to the subject of fan films.

Fan films, as I’m sure most of the are well versed in, are celluloid love letters to our cherished characters and creators of intellectual properties that have imprinted on our psyche and gassed us up to bring to life our wildest, out there theories, alternative storylines, and what ifs that dare to be.  Ranging from kids ketchuping it in the backyard with a VHS camcorder to actual productions churning out a quality film that could easily mask as an addition to the already exhaustive parts that exist.  Films, usually short in nature, that curb our hunger for more of the worlds that have engulfed our being.

Seeing as Friday the 13th remains a celebration of our fandom into a franchise of characters that we know and love as much as our own families, I thought I’d offer up a couple of these endearing films of fandom as another way to commemorate the franchise and our obsessive adoration for it.

1.  Slash Up:  Sarah Connor Vs. Jason Voorhees – Much of an explanation and plot synopsis of this tome is not really necessary from the title.  I’ll have a go of it though.  The year is 1988, and Ms. Connor is taking up to freelancing for Cyberdyne and I guess combing the country side and busting baddies.  I’m assuming in this world that Skynet has been effectively defeated, or just not an issue yet(it’s been a while so I can’t recall the timeline exactly), and given her newly exposed penchant for badassery she decides to dump the diner and take up the philanthropic work of damning evil time and time again.  After Sarah cozies up in the quiet New Jersey outskirts of Crystal Lake, she stumbles, with great agility, upon a group of raucous teens YOLOing it in a cabin of decadent sin.  Her arrival proves a little too late as the hapless teens get effectively picked off with sanguined glee by the SkyNet like(Shit!  Is that the connection?!  Was Jason Voorhees just another T-800 created by Cyberdyne?  But I digress, that’s another fan flick altogether) murder machine Jason Voorhees, and his life partner and best friend that I’m sure he lovingly referred to as “machete”.  Now, with the body count diminished, superfluous characters canon foddered away, it’s up to Sarah Connor to save herself and whatever still functioning body parts are left of the teens, as Jason’s murderous rage laser focuses on her.

Working on what I assume was a basically nonexistent budget, and running at only about ten minutes long, this isn’t going to leave you frothing at the mouth for the next installment of the “Vs. Jason” spinoff series, but it is a fun spirited entry into the Jason mythos.  Having seen many no budget atrocities in my days I’m pretty lenient on the production value of independent art.  So, take it with a grain of a grain of salt when I say that I thought the look of the flick and the acting within were actually pretty good.  The teens imitating the 80s predecessors pull it off in being satirical without venturing into the work becoming cheesy itself, or just plain obnoxious.  While Nicole Marines isn’t going to nudge Linda Hamilton, or even Lena Headey, off her spot, she does a solid job of tussling with her undead adversary.  I know what you’re saying:  “Shut the fuck up about all this shit with the teens and Sarah, Adam!  What about Jason?!”.  To which I say:  *crawls into corner and starts rocking while sobbing uncontrollably*.  After that, I stand up super manly like and rest your weary soul by informing you that you have no worries.  Derek Russo, as before, isn’t the hulking beast that is Kane motha fuckin’ Hodder, but he does possess enough of a threatening presence to get you to set aside the pitchforks and torches.  Considering it’s a slasher film, or at least plays in that wheelhouse, I thought it a tad too lite on spilling the red stuff and assembling creative kills, though I imagine this was simply due to budgetary constraints, and seeing as this is more of a novelty to see these popular figures go head to head, it’s a small gripe.  Really my only real complaint is that there is an unnecessary introduction to the short talking about making it and sizing up the opponents.  Basically, preproduction stuff that could’ve easily been a bonus video or included at the end credits.  Overall, it’s a fun, short but sweet flick not meant to be taken too seriously.  So, if you’re strapped for time or just need a cap off, kill ten minutes and watch Sarah battling it out with Jason.

2.  Camp Crystal Lake – Friday the 13th Fan Reimagining 2017 – Now, admittedly, this bite sized slasher isn’t sporting the catchiest of titles, but nevertheless don’t let that put you off of it.  Camp Crystal Lake – Friday the 13th Fan Re-imagining 2017, or CCLFt13FR2017 for short, for the most part plays out like an omitted scene from one of the sequels.  It’s not until the end that CCLFt….we’re just going to lovingly refer to it as “CCL” from now on.  Anyways, it’s when the dust has settled and the blood coagulated that CCL becomes its own unique murderous mutant.  The plot remains simple.  Camp counselor Jack has slipped off to the woods to start toking up.  Jack’s bogarting break is interrupted by his counselor peer, Marcy.  Marcy brazenly hot boxes herself into his smoke break to partake in the fruits of the earth without so much as even offering to put five on it.  Despite this egregious faux pas, the two hit it off swimmingly and take to the dense woods for a light stroll of toke and talk.  Getting well acquainted doesn’t last too long for Marcy and Jack, seeing as the number one D.A.R.E. supporter comes along and helps them kick their habit.

I was actually really impressed with CCL.  The photography, direction, and acting are all solid, and effectively builds tension once the threat becomes apparent.  Even the script works, playing out like a Kevin Smith slasher short.  The dialogue is essentially just pointless back and forth between developing characters that aren’t going to make it past the 10 minute mark(or will they?!) making it effective in holding your interest and sucking you into being a part of the movie instead of just an uninterested spectator.  Upon first viewing you can’t help but get that knee jerk reaction of frustration whenever Jason shows up because the Jason in this short isn’t the Jason we are familiar with.  Bear with me though, and press play with an open mind because without giving anything away, come the end we leave with all being forgiven and questions needing to be answered.  Lucky for us, the ending credit scroll shows that this is just Chapter One of a series, and I personally look forward to Chapter Two.

3.  Voorhees (Born On a Friday) – When compiling this list I knew I wanted to provide you with works that were entertaining, but to also give you a variety of different takes and voices.  Cue Voorhees (Born on a Friday), gifted to us from blinky500.  For the uninitiated, blinky500 is the YouTube channel of filmmaker, and Jack of all filmmaking trades, Chris R. Notarile.  Mr. Notarile has spent the better part of a decade making cinematic art, from the full length narrative feature to the brief wonder of the short form concept trailer, and all that in between, specifically lots and lots of fan films.  In all this time Chris has proven his prowess for creating compelling stories from already existing properties.  In short, this dude is the god damn king when it comes to fan films!  In this extensive list of fan films is Voorhees (Born On a Friday).  What pulled my attention was that instead of watching Jason dispatch horny, unruly teens deep in the woods of Crystal Lake we follow the OG slasher herself, Pamela Voorhees.  With the change of M.O. we get to step away from the titillation of mowing down nubile young tarts and brainless roided up jocks and explore the psychological torment of a broken character who can’t find a constructive way to deal with the pain, anger, and grief of losing someone you can’t live without.

Voorhees opens up on the saccharine scene of Pamela setting up a birthday party for Jason.  As an upbeat doo wop from the 50s drowns out(pun!) any dialogue, a sheriff approaches and delivers news that while we don’t hear it it’s apparent it’s the crushing blow that her one and only son has died.  We leave Pamela in a mess of tears and jump ahead a year to find Ms. Voorhees channeling that pain and rage in the best way she knows how:  chasing down and murdering Crystal Lake camp counselors.  We follow Pamela in the singular event that sets off the chain reaction that plagued the 80s as she approaches her very first victim.  What I love so much about this short is the emotion that comes with traveling along with a character that to some degree we can all sympathize with.  Even in a fit of manic rage and with bloodlust soaked into her fingertips you can’t help but feel sadness for her.  Despite her actions, which in all reality are heinous and unconscionable, she lost the person she loved more than anything else in existence, including herself, because of an unjust, unfair, and unforgiving world.  Beyond the toxic waste, the telekinesis, the dead fuck dances, the Ethels and Juniors.  Beyond the late night skinny dips, post coitus impalings, hockey masks, and 3D gimmicks is a tragic story of a parent losing their child and finding a warped sense of justice in the only way their damaged mind can surmise.  Voorhees does a great job of showing a version of Pamela that I imagine Betsy Palmer or herself would be proud of.  Showing the audience not just a villain that hunts down premarital fornicators, but a fractured mind that has been hurt beyond repair.  Admittedly, the acting is a bit dodgy here and there, with some lines of dialogue being delivered flawlessly with the weight of every word felt, while others turn out a bit flat.  Given that this whole ten minute short was filmed in just about 3 hours, I can forgive those lost bits of dialogue and just chalk it up to the actors not being able to knock it out of the park without a few more takes to find the characters.  Despite the weaknesses, Monica Dinatale does an impeccable job of bringing to life Ms. Voorhees.  In such a short running time she impressively fleshes out Pamela into the terrifying but sympathetic character she is.  While we all love Jason and he has always satisfied with the more impressive body count, Pamela was always a much more interesting and nuanced character.  Voorhees does a solid job of exploring a part of the franchise that has been largely left behind and forgotten about.

4.  Revenge – Revenge is easily the most ambitious of these fan films just by the simple fact that the run time is that of a full length feature.  It clocks in at one hour and thirty minutes.  Don’t let that put you off, Revenge does a valiant job of structuring its run time properly.  The story is a simple one, and though it takes place within the franchise timeline after part eight beginning with Jason crawling from out of a sewer and instantaneously vomiting up toxic waste, it could easily be seen as a remake of the first Friday the 13th(except with Jason as the killer instead of Pamela Voorhees).  Revenge follows a group of camp counselors as they, along with their hapless camp director, set out to ready the camp into fighting shape for the kids who will soon be showing up for a summer filled with fun and excitement.  As we all well know, that summer will never come to fruition as Jason shows up to whittle down the intruders one by one.  The characters parallel the assortment that lived in the franchise with the likes of the “crazy Ralphs” who will stop at nothing to shut down progress, the obligatory final girl, the sharp tongued jokester, the awkward shy guy, the hottie with loose morals, etc.

While set in modern day(at least modern to when it was filmed around 2004) it plays out like a flick from the 80s, mainly in part to the music and the camera set ups.  Regardless of its production flaws from what had to be a meager budget, Revenge can easily be viewed as a long lost direct to video sequel that never surfaced before Jason Goes to Hell came out.  The acting is a bit lackluster but then again the franchise has never been praised for the chops of its thespians.  The kills, although a bit bloodless, remain creative enough to hold interest, and Jason is an impressive force that harkens back to the Jason Voorhees from parts two through four.  I’m not going to speak too much more on Revenge as the flick speaks for itself as a slasher that fits in smoothly with the later sequels.  Set its low budget aside and go in with the mindset of Paramount taking a last stab at the franchise before New Line could take over.

5.  Friday the 13th:  The Curse of Jason – I can say with relative ease and the utmost of confidence that this is one of my favorite shorts of this faniest of films list.  Be not confused, you won’t find Hollywood quality or a moving painting of artistry beaming from the frames of The Curse of Jason.  What you get is a frenzy of cheesy, bat shit anarchy.  The flimsy plot revolves around poor Jimmy as his family and friends are mowed down erratically by the potato sack donned Jason Voorhees.  10 years later the traumatized Jimmy resurfaces along with Jason, eager to dismember and disembowel the new group of walking talking body bags.  What’s so great about this love letter to the series is its constant references and nods to the franchise that it aspires to be.  It plays out like a collage of scenes and concepts littered throughout the OG flicks and then assembled by the likes of Neveldine and Taylor.  From the opening scene, Jason casually and nonchalantly strolls into frame and commences with the proverbial hack and slash that doesn’t really let up until the credits roll.  The Curse of Jason easily has the highest body count of any of the other fan films, and what they lack in blood and tangible fear they make up for in hilariously awkward action choreography and bad acting.  A taunt, intense horror masterpiece this is not.  What it is though is twenty-six minutes of digital insanity that will warm your dark withered soul.  When you lack a budget and means to produce an A list quality product, then this is how you make do with what you have.  The Curse of Jason is an absolute blast that any Friday fan is going to gush over.  Friday the 13th fandom at its very finest.

6.  Never Hike Alone – If you’re a dead set stubborn bastard that will only end up venturing into the woods on one of these treats I’ve pointed you to make damned sure Never Hike Alone is the one you trek down.  We’ve come to the end of the list and with our last hike we’re going to grab our survivalist knapsack, complete with tent, MREs, and sick ass bowie knife accented with serrated blade to really get interesting when 127 hoursing it up, and join YouTubemans Bear Grylls, Kyle McLeod.  Kyle runs a popular(at least I assume it’s popular, I don’t know his life or his subscriber amount) camping/survivalist/hiking video blog.  He travels around documenting himself as he makes his way through different forest terrains.  During Kyle’s most recent excursion he stumbles upon an abandoned camp ground.  I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this.  Nailed it!  It’s Camp Crystal Lake.  Now, defunct and dilapidated, Kyle sets out to explore his new-found ghost town, of sorts.  Upon discovering just what camp he has nomadicly inhabited, he regales his audience with the legend of the camps past indiscretions.  Of course like all the counselors before him, he writes the threat off as just another urban legend used to torture little tikes around crackling campfires.  It doesn’t take long before the myth becomes all too real and Mr. McLeod is fighting for his life and having to implement those collective survival skills.  Will Kyle be able to survive his way out of Crystal Lake or will Jason gain another sacrifice for mama’s murderous vengeance?

Well, shit, I’m not going to answer that for you.  Watch and find out for yourself.  Even though my vocal range is garbage, I can’t sing enough praise for this fan flick.  The creative force behind Womp Stomp Films has created something masterful.  A tight, aggressive horror force that rises above the standard generics of most slasher films.  Never Hike Alone does what damn near none of the original franchise is capable of doing, assembling something that is knuckle white intense and at times truly fucking scary.  Be forewarned, if you’re looking for creative gruesome fodder and nubile young women who have an allergic reaction to having clothes on, you won’t find that in Never Hike Alone.  This is survivalist horror thrown into the middle of a slasher franchise.  Given that this is a fan film I can’t imagine the budget being that high, but despite that, the movie looks like, well, a movie.  The cinematography is beautiful, stark, and vivid.  The acting is top notch, and action choreography directed flawlessly.  Lack of budget wasn’t made to be a crutch for this crew, everyone brought their A game, firing on all of the cylinders.  Fan films don’t really happen in this condition, a rarity of a gem.  Should I mumble along some mention of Jason?  This is the Jason I want to see portrayed in these fandom fests.  He is terrifying.  A vengeful, menacing force.  The best performance I’ve seen in a fan film about the titular series.  This is the sequel you need to see!  I don’t want to discuss the ending too much, I’ve kept pretty spoiler free up to this point, no need to start mucking it up now.  I’ll just mention that the ending sailed this bad boy right up to the Crystal Lake docks with a satisfying conclusion that added to the flawless climax that came before it with a mind blowing twist connecting it to the original series and revved up my excitement to compile this list.  If you’re looking for something fresh that can compete and elevate the Friday the 13th series, Never Hike Alone is what you should be watching.

Time for me to shut the hell up and let you get to watching.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my incoherent ramblings, and let me know what you thought of the flicks within this list.  Also, if you got any suggestions, like Lundgren, I’m all ears.  To all you Friday fans:  Have a murderously safe and Happy Friday the 13th.

Adam Troutt is an obsessive horror cinephile. He aspires to one day be a filmmaker, but in the meantime he devours more horror films than is healthy for human consumption

Back to Fear Street – Halloween Party (Fear Street, #8)

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Back to Fear Street – Halloween Party (Fear Street, #8)

It’s July and ninety degrees outside – what better time for a Halloween party?  October. That’s a much better time. But our imaginations aren’t bound by such restrictions, so on with the show!  This month’s outing is Halloween Party, and it’s all about and mainly takes place at a Halloween party.  I was really looking forward to this book because I figured a Halloween party would be the perfect setting for some Fear Street hijinks.  But I have to say I was pretty disappointed. This book has an overall rating of 4/5 stars on Goodreads so it’s pretty well-received, but I gave it a 1/5.  I had the twist pretty much figured out by page eleven and not because of my finely tuned intuition but because a character pretty much lays it all out. I don’t really know if I’m about to spoil anything since it’s spelled out so early but just in case….

SPOILERS AHEAD.

Let’s see if you can figure it out. So by page sixteen we know the following – (1) the new girl in school, Justine Cameron, invites only nine people from Shadyside High to an all-night Halloween party, including our main character Terry Ryan and his girlfriend Niki Meyer; (2) these nine people know of Justine but aren’t actually friends with her; (3) the party takes place in the Cameron mansion where Justine lives with her uncle – the mansion is located just beyond the Fear Street Cemetery and is rumored to be haunted; (4) Justine’s parents are out of the picture because, as one character says, they’re “dead or divorced or something”; and (5) Justine tells the guests that it’s not the kind of party where dates are allowed.  I don’t know about you, but at this point I said to myself, “So her parents are probably dead, these kids had something to do with it, and she’s gonna get back at them at her party.” I didn’t know the specifics, but I figured that was the plot twist. Turns out I was right. Once I had the plot twist figured out, reading the rest of the book was not as exciting as reading the others because I wasn’t swayed by the red herrings.

Let’s talk about those red herrings.  There’s a couple of characters, Bobby McCorey and Marty Danforth, known as being the biggest bullies at Shadyside High, that are ridiculously upset about not getting invited to Justine’s party.  They threaten Justine, telling her that she better change her mind about not inviting them. They corner her outside the high school and practically assault her to the point where she screams out, “You’re hurting me!”  They also crash her party in spectacular fashion, driving their motorcycles into her house and getting into physical altercations with some of the party-goers, including Justine’s uncle. It reminds Terry, our main character, of Animal House but made me think of Weird Science.  Then Bobby and Marty assault a party-goer, David Sommers, who leaves to get help after one of the party guests turns up dead.  When David falls and hits his head on a gravestone, Bobby and Marty think he might be dead so they drag him out of sight and leave.  These guys are definitely horrible people, but since I had already figured out the twist, I just thought that they were over-the-top distractions and found it hard to believe they were this upset about not getting invited to a party that only nine people got invited to.

Another slightly red herring is party-goer Alex Beale, who used to be Terry’s best friend and Niki’s boyfriend.  That’s right – Niki dumped Alex and started dating his best friend. That made me feel some type of way about Terry and Niki because aren’t there codes about this kind of behavior?  Anyway, Alex still seems a bit upset (who can blame him), and when the nine party-goers decide to make the Halloween party a “jocks vs. wimps” event to see who can stay up all night in a supposedly haunted house, Alex takes it pretty seriously.  In fact, according to Niki, he’s “deadly serious.” Yeah okay. The next words should’ve been “RED HERRING” because it’s pretty obvious that’s what this was.

There are also some unexplained red herrings.  Terry and Niki both get threatening letters at school – a gross chicken head in Terry’s locker with a note telling him to stay away from the party and a note in Niki’s textbook telling her she’ll wish she was blind too.  I forgot to mention that Niki’s deaf, which apparently served the sole purpose of having her read Justine’s lips while at a pizza place. What did Justine say? “They’ll pay. Every one of them will pay.” Why this wasn’t enough to immediately give Terry and Niki second thoughts about the party I’ll never know.  I mean, they’ve just been invited to a nine-guest Halloween party in a possibly haunted mansion next to the Fear Street Cemetery by the new girl in town who nobody really knows. Nothing to see here folks! Somebody also slashed everyone’s tires at the party. It’s never revealed who did all of these pranks. It could’ve been Bobby and Marty or it could’ve been part of the pranks the party guests played on each other as part of the “jocks vs. wimps” thing.  It just seems that these particular pranks were way more threatening, and they were definitely written in a way to make the reader think more of them than the others. However, it doesn’t make sense that Justine would’ve tried to keep Terry and Niki from going to her party, although it’s possible that her uncle could’ve slashed the tires since he’s in on the revenge (to a certain extent). Regardless, these pranks are never cleared up, and they didn’t make me second-guess my plot theory.

One thing I liked about Halloween Party is that a couple of recurring characters had meatier roles.  Bobby is actually a character that appeared in The Wrong Number – he got into a fight with Deena’s half-brother Chuck and was one of the kids that Chuck prank calls.  Another character, Ricky Schorr, was part of the Outdoors Club in The Overnight.  Ricky gets an invite to Justine’s Halloween party, so right away we know he’ll be more than just a cameo.  And even better, while they’re playing a game called Truth – where you tell the worst thing you’ve ever done and other people vote on whether you’re lying or not – Ricky starts to mention his overnight experience on Fear Island but then says “I really can’t talk about it.”  I thought that was a great callback and a fun payoff for those reading these books in order. This also makes Ricky the first character to be directly involved in more than one terrifying Fear Street experience. Some other fun mentions – Niki tells Terry that her friends Deena and Jade weren’t invited to the party.  If you remember, Deena and Jade were our prank callers from The Wrong Number.  Finally, Lisa Blume returns for her fifth appearance – the most appearances of any Fear Street character thus far.  As I mentioned in a previous write-up, Lisa works on the high school newspaper, and in Halloween Party she’s described as being a gossip who “usually knew everything that was going on.”  In fact, it’s Lisa who gives us our page-eleven rundown that pretty much laid out the plot twist.  I wonder if Lisa will serve the same purpose in future books. If so, hopefully it’ll be done in a less revealing way.

Now for some fun asides.  At the start of the book, Terry is very surprised to hear that Justine lifts weights, letting out a low whistle and exclaiming, “Whoa!”  It’s hard for me to believe that this would’ve gotten such a reaction even in 1990 when Halloween Party was released, but anything’s possible.  Another fun aside has to do with Terry’s costume.  The party guests all wear costumes to the Halloween party as expected, and Terry goes dressed as a 1950s greaser complete with black chino pants, saddle shoes, a tight white T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve, a dark jacket, and slicked back hair.  But he’s also apparently wearing a mask. Of what? Like a face? I just couldn’t figure out what mask he would possibly be wearing. After everything else he put on, I hardly feel like a mask was needed to really set things off. Finally, at her party, Justine turns on a song with “a relentless synthesized rhythm, over electronic-sounding voices repeating ‘Get your freak on, get your freak on,’ over and over.”  Either Missy Elliot was reading Fear Street when she was nineteen (unlikely) or R.L. Stine predicted her hit song “Get Ur Freak On” (much more likely). Is it as clear to you as it is to me? Stine is obviously a psychic specializing in early 2000s hip-hop. I mean, what other logical conclusion could I come to? None, but I’m open to suggestions.

‘Til we meet again…

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

 

Back to Fear Street – Haunted (Fear Street, #7)

Back to Fear Street – Haunted (Fear Street, #7)

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And…we’re back!  I know you all have been waiting with bated breath for my next Fear Street entry, and well, the wait is over.  So let’s talk about Haunted.  The seventh entry in the Fear Street series follows a girl named Melissa (“Lissa”) who’s being haunted by a ghost who’s trying to kill her, making this the first book in the series to delve into the supernatural.  It’s a basic premise that we’ve seen a thousand times in movies but with a couple of twists. And it’s because of these twists that I gave Haunted 1/5 stars on Goodreads.  That makes Haunted my lowest-rated Fear Street book thus far.  It was bound to happen sooner or later – can’t win ‘em all.  And one star is better than no stars, amirite? This is another post where I think spoilers are necessary, so consider this your first and final warning:

SPOILERS AHEAD!

So, Lissa is being haunted by a ghost named Paul.  He pops up in her bedroom where he tries to push her out of the window, and he even shows up in her brand new, shiny blue Pontiac Firebird (a birthday present from her dad) where he takes over her steering wheel and tries to run her off the road.  And when he’s not trying to kill her, he rips up all of her birthday presents during her party. Sassy! Paul eventually tells her that he plans to kill her because she killed him, except they’ve never met before and he doesn’t actually remember how she kills him because impaired memory is apparently a side effect of being dead.  Lissa eventually sees Paul out with his friends – and he’s totally alive! Obviously, this confuses the hell out of Lissa, but after seeing the live Paul a few times and the ghost Paul having no idea what she’s talking about, she figures out that ghost Paul is actually from the future and that he’s come back to prevent her from killing him.  Whew! Didn’t see that one coming, but I thought it was a pretty good twist. I’m sure there’s all kinds of plot holes and complications when you get into messy timeline situations, but all that’s usually over my head. So, yeah – pretty good twist. Lissa and ghost Paul then attempt to convince live Paul to stay away from Lissa so that he won’t get killed.

Another good twist is that while all of this is going on, Fear Street is being plagued by the Fear Street Prowler, and Lissa is rightfully terrified as she actually lives on Fear Street.  Well, it turns out that the prowler is none other than the live Paul. Once you find that out, it becomes pretty clear right away how Lissa could kill Paul.

Now the bad stuff.  R.L. Stine really doesn’t portray poor people very well in this book.  I first noticed that in the way he has one character go on and on about how horrible this girl’s clothes are.  She’s clearly disgusted by this girls “plastic pedal pushers,” her “tacky top with the fringe,” and her “white plastic boots.”  When she mentions how tacky the girl’s outfit is, Lissa responds, “She’s just poor, that’s all.” Meanwhile, Lissa shows up later wearing her own fringed top, but I’m sure it’s top-of-the-line as it’s made clear throughout the book that Lissa is rich (or at least her parents are).  Later, while Lissa is trying to figure out who ghost Paul is, she decides that he probably didn’t go to her high school, Shadyside High School, but to South because “ he said he was poor and everything.” South is then described as a “pit,” and another character mentions how she “unfortunately” knows all of the kids at South.  Lissa eventually makes her way to live Paul’s neighborhood which she describes as being “creepy” and “horrible” – this coming from the rich girl whose house is haunted. Finally, live Paul and his friends are just bad seeds – they’re constantly drinking and they’re always making very lewd and sexually suggestive comments to Lissa, not to mention literally running after her in a parking lot.  Plus, on more than one occasion Paul physically assaults her, grabbing her and refusing to let her go. He even says to her, “I don’t like it when rich, snobby girls hurt my feelings.” And let’s not forget that live Paul is the Fear Street Prowler, and the only time he’s portrayed as a decent guy is when he’s a ghost. So, the portrayal of poor people was off-putting, way too heavy handed, and didn’t really serve a purpose.

I also wasn’t a fan of all the convenient things that happened at the end.  Throughout the book Lissa complains about it being so hot in her room, and she often sleeps with her window open despite being terrified of the Fear Street Prowler.  Then at the end, while her parents are out of town, she decides it’s too hot to sleep in her room so she’ll sleep in theirs…because it’s air-conditioned! This whole time I’m just thinking, “Man, why don’t these people just turn on their AC,” when it turns out they’ve had air conditioning all along but for some reason not in Lissa’s room.  Who needs a new car for their birthday? I’ll take some ductwork please. I mean, her parents are rich right? Surely they can afford it. It seems that the revelation about Lissa’s lack of air conditioning at the end of the book is solely for the purpose of relocating her to her parents’ bedroom. Why? Well, it’s revealed rather early in the book that Lissa’s father keeps a gun in his nightstand.  And this just so happens to be the night when live Paul (aka the Fear Street Prowler) decides to break-in to Lissa’s house, and of course the window he comes in through is the window in Lissa’s parents’ bedroom. There’s a confrontation, and Lissa gets the gun but refuses to shoot Paul despite him being very threatening towards her. Eventually, ghost Paul shows up, and he’s able to take the gun away from live Paul and throw it to Lissa.  For some reason, he was never able to make live Paul see him, which surely would’ve caused live Paul to rethink his life choices. The gun accidentally goes off when Lissa grabs it, killing Paul. Instead of saving his own life, ghost Paul decides to save Lissa’s life because he didn’t want her to get hurt and because he cared for her. Even ghost Paul hates live Paul. Maybe I’m being overly critical, but by the time I got to the final showdown, I had already predicted everything that was going to happen and was a little underwhelmed by how all the elements came together.

Tallying everything up – I talked about two things I liked and two things I didn’t.  That should even out, but the bad stuff just really dragged the book down for me. Hence, my low Goodreads rating.

Now for the fun stuff.  We have some more recurring characters – Lissa’s best friend is Della O’Connor, the main character from The Overnight, and Della’s boyfriend is Pete Goodwin, who also appeared in The Overnight.  Della also makes a cameo in The Wrong Number, while Pete gets an honorable mention in Sleepwalker.  Neither of these characters play significant roles in Haunted, and for some reason Lissa never even tells Della about ghost Paul (or live Paul for that matter).  She only asks if she knows a student who died named Paul. A minor character from The New Girl and The Surprise Party that I’ve never mentioned before, David Metcalfe, also makes another minor appearance.  He’s basically the class clown of the Fear Street series, but maybe we’ll see him develop as the series continues.

Tom Cruise gets another mention as Lissa comes across a Tom Cruise/Paul Newman movie (I’m guessing The Color of Money).  She’s trying to take her mind off of being alone in her house, but the movie has too many commercials so she just turns the TV off.  I’m sure this is an indicator of just how nervous she is, but from my 2018 perspective, maybe also an indicator of how few TV options she probably has.  While her TV options may have been limited, Lissa’s clothing options certainly weren’t, and Haunted gives us a great description of 1980s clothing.  Haunted was copyrighted in 1990, but we all know that’s still basically the eighties  Lissa goes to a teen dance club with her boyfriend (who spends the book not believing Lissa when she tries to tell him about ghost Paul) dressed in a “sparkly midriff-length top and black Spandex bicycle shorts under a thigh-length purple skirt.”  It’s like the eighties exploded and landed perfectly on her body. Wait, there’s more – she’s sweating so much from all the dancing, so she wipes her forehead with a tissue “from the small bag belted around her waist.” If that’s not a fanny pack I don’t know what is.  And her outfit sounds like what I used to wear around my house to act out Kids, Incorporated – except I tied my bicycle shorts around my hair so I could “whip my hair” while performing “Tell It to My Heart.”  I didn’t care who was in the living room – that was my stage so watch me perform! Great times!

Finally, I don’t have any ghost stories of my own, but my grandmother told me that she used to always see her father’s ghost in her doorway when she was about to get sick and that my grandfather once saw a headless ghost while walking through the woods to work.  He dropped his lunch pail and ran all the way home. She also told me that her mother saw a ghost in a hallway when she was getting off of an elevator. I used to pray that the ghost of my Aunt Betty would visit me, but that never happened. I was always a bit scared of it actually happening, although she wouldn’t have threatened to kill me like ghost Paul.  But she would’ve definitely pinched the hell out of my cheeks. By the way, these weren’t the adorable prayers of a six-year-old. I was in high school, so it was more like The Craft.  Anyway, I usually believe ghost stories (although not of the ghost hunter variety), and I believe my grandmother.  I’m not so sure about ghosts from the future, but I’ll keep an open mind.

See you in July!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

HAHC Monthly Roundup: May 2018

Nothing could stop the HAHC train in May. NOTHING.

Kicking things off on May 11th, was Jeff and Craig’s retrospective video on their cult classic film Fish Wolf.

THE PEOPLE ARE RAVING:

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Next on May the 13th, Kia once again returned to Fear Street with her review of the sixth installment in R.L. Stine’s teen horror series, “The Sleep Walker”.

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What dated references jumped out? What characters from previous novels make an appearance? How does it hold up? Kia has your answers!

Read it here: https://halfassedhorrorcast.com/2018/05/13/back-to-fear-street-the-sleepwalker-fear-street-6/

On May 21st, the HAHC gang dropped a podcast:

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Listen here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-27-halloween-4-the-return-of-michael-myers/id947687270?i=1000412035757&mt=2

Finally. on May 28th, the HAHC crew returned with another podcast to answer listener questions!

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Listen here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hahc-mini-episode-listener-questions/id947687270?i=1000412431288&mt=2

Thanks so much for listening, watching and reading our stuff! More on the way for June!