Point Horror 11-15

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

1-5 | 6-10

It’s time for another nostalgic look back at the Point Horror series. In case you’ve missed my last couple of reviews, Point Horror was a Young Adult horror anthology series that was published between 1991 and 2014. Please note that, as there seems to be some debate as to the publication order of these books, I am working my way through a list that I pulled off Wikipedia. Also, as this is a retrospective post, there will be massive spoilers for the books in question. You have been warned.

In The Boyfriend (written by R.L. Stine), Joanna has everything that she could possibly want: money, freedom and a loving boyfriend. However, Dex is poor and she knows that the wealthy Shep would be a better prospect for her. Yes, before she can break-up with Dex, he dies in a sudden accident. Joanna is sorry, but glad that this now frees her up to pursue Shep. That is, until Dex comes back from the dead…

In Teacher’s Pet (written by Ritchie Tankersley Cuisick), Kate loves writing and is overjoyed when she wins a place on a writer’s retreat. Finally, she will have the chance to learn from William Drewe – a horror master. However, she is disappointed when she arrives to find that William has gone missing and his handsome brother, Gideon, has taken over his classes. It’s not long before things start to get strange. As Kate slowly becomes Gideon’s favourite, it becomes clear that someone is jealous. Someone who is prepared to kill…

In Mother’s Helper (written by A. Bates), Becky is excited to start her job as a mother’s helper on a remote holiday island. Devon is a dream to look after and it’s not long before she takes a liking to local boy, Cleve. However, Becky also soon starts to release that something is not right. Why is Devon’s mother, Mrs Nelson, so worried about Becky spending time in town? And why does she not seem to know the first thing about looking after her own son?

In The Accident (written by Diane Hoh), Megan is shocked when three of her friends are injured in a car accident, but stranger still is the misty figure that appears in her mirror. Juliet claims to be the spirit of a girl who died 40 years before. She is desperate to experience life again for just one week and begs Megan to switch places with her. In return, Juliet promises to help Megan find out who caused the accident. But can Juliet be trusted, and will she be prepared to give Megan’s body back once the week is over?

In The Baby-Sitter II (written by R.L. Stine), Jenny is understandably traumatised by her past experiences as a baby-sitter, but is sure that the only way to conquer her fears is to get back out there. However, Eli is a very strange little boy. He has vicious mood swings and keeps tarantulas as pets. It’s not long after Jenny starts her new job that the phone calls start again, promising her that “Company’s Coming”. But Mr Hagen is dead, isn’t he?

While the Point Horror series has been variable, I was disappointed to find that there were far more misses than hits in this little selection. It’s a bit of a shame to have to say that, as these five books did their level best to break the Point Horror formula. A lot of the previous books have been pretty predictable due to the fact that the stalker / killer tends to be the most quiet and unassuming character. While the books are becoming a lot less predictable, this is in part due to the fact that the twists are rapidly becoming more ridiculous.

Grumbling aside, these books aren’t entirely bad and there is still a lot of entertainment value in their incredibly 90s settings. Let’s take a little look at each of the novels in turn.

The Boyfriend was a relatively short novel, but I still struggled to get through it. As I noted in my review of Beach Party, Stine still seems to be chronically unable to write believable teenage girls. In horror novels, it helps if you are able to empathise with the protagonist. Sadly, Joanna has absolutely no redeemable features.

Joanna is rich, snobbish, constantly looking down her nose at people (especially poor people) and takes joy in stringing two boys along. These are all things we learn about her over the first couple of chapters, yet she manages to get worse as the novel progresses. Every time she opened her mouth, she seemed to become even more shallow and materialistic. The only development she actually receives is in the final two pages, by which point it is far too late.

If you can get past Joanna, The Boyfriend is a fairly breezy read. The plot is fast-paced and flows nicely, capturing my interest with Dex’s early accident and holding it until the very end. It became rapidly clear that there were only three ways that this story could end. Either Dex was dead, Joanna was in a coma, or Dex was elaborately faking. I must admit that I wasn’t sure which direction the novel would take until very close to the end.

Yet the ultimate twist was a bit of a disappointment. Dex is an excellent actor and it turns out that he was faking his gradual decay with stage make-up. Luckily, Joanna is so dim that she can’t tell the difference between makeup and an actual zombie. The lie was perpetuated by a couple of Dex’s other friends, so ultimately only Joanna and Shep were left in the dark. While this twist did allow for Joanna to have a modicum of development, forcing her to see how others viewed her, the abrupt ending made it unclear if she had actually learned anything from her experiences.

All in all, I was left feeling a bit indifferent to this story. While Joanna’s continued existence made me angry, nothing beyond this was especially memorable. The whole plot felt a lot more cartoonish and unrealistic than previous instalments, all of which were largely grounded in reality. While The Boyfriend did boast a few gross-out moments, this was nowhere near as effective as the creeping tension of April Fools and My Secret Admirer.

Given Cusick’s track record, I was more optimistic about reading Teacher’s Pet. However, unfortunately, I found this novel to be her weakest contribution to the series so far. That’s right, I’ve found a Point Horror story that I consider to be even weaker than The Lifeguard…

The tone of Teacher’s Pet is almost Gothic, which seemed over the top for a tale set at a summer camp. Yeah, it’s basically a camp story as not a lot of writing seems to actually go on at this writer’s retreat. The tone gave the story an oddly melodramatic feel, yet for the longest time I wasn’t certain what the mystery was supposed to be. A potential off-page murder, a spectral figure, a grisly warning left in a girl’s cabin. It almost felt as though the book was trying to include as many horror tropes as possible.

While Teacher’s Pet does build to a suitably dramatic climax, it also contained one of the weakest twists to date. While this was the first time that I did not manage to spot the killer a mile off, this is in part due to the fact that their identity is just so bizarre. This time it was Pearce the groundsman who believed himself to be possessed by the spirit of his former fiancé, Rowena. Naturally, “Rowena” was determined to do away with anyone who got close to Pearce, and all the ghostly sightings of Rowena were just Pearce running around in a dress. Even though Kate directly encountered this spirit, she was somehow unable to recognise that it was actually a man who was previously described as being tall and solid.

While Pearce’s female persona makes this feel a stage weirder than the twist of Beach Party, it’s impossible not to notice the similarities between these two stories. Dissociative Personality Disorders are rapidly becoming the most common motivator for Point Horror villains, and feels a very shallow reason for any murder spree. It’s always disappointing to reach the climax to discover that the killer was just “crazy”.

In terms of characterisation, this really wasn’t Kate’s story. Kate is a blatant Mary Sue – a masterful young writer who every male character instantly falls in love with a first sight. Not only do we have to question why Kate is even on this retreat at all when the first professional writer she encounters tells her that her work is perfect, but we also have to tangle with a love square as three potential suitors fight for Kate’s affections. While the supporting cast – a tortured English writer, a brooding groundsman, a cowboy who works in the kitchens, and a dim-witted maid – are all infinitely more entertaining than Kate, they are all so ridiculously overblown that there is not a realistic character in the bunch.

Although it was more of a thriller than a horror story, Mother’s Helper has been one of the better instalments of this series to date. The plot is far quicker to find its feet than Teacher’s Pet, introducing Becky and her role as a “Mother’s Helper”. This isn’t really a term that I’d heard used before but a quick Google search has assured me that it is actually a thing. It’s not long before it becomes clear that there is something not quite right with Becky’s employer, as she finds herself trapped in a rather frightening situation.

Mother’s Helper is fast-paced and maintains its tension really well. I actually finished this book in only two sittings because I was so eager to read on and discover what was truly happening. While I did think that the twist of this story was perhaps a little too well signposted – the fact that Mrs Nelson didn’t seem to know how to mother Devon because she wasn’t actually his mother – it did lead to the most dramatic of Bates’s climaxes so far.

Yet, at the same time, it was the ultimate ending of Mother’s Helper that disappointed me the most. After everything that Mrs Nelson had done – including kidnapping a baby, shoving a sheriff off a cliff, and attempting to murder both Becky and her ex-husband – it did not make a great deal of sense for Becky to just let her go. Really, this seemed to be the worst possible thing that she could have done, as it surely left Devon in danger of a repeat kidnapping. All in all, it just made the novel feel a bit open-ended.

Still, in terms of character, Mother’s Helper was fairly strong for a Point Horror story. Becky is strong willed and able to speak her mind, and I liked the fact that her relationship with Cleve built slowly over the course of the story. Mrs Nelson is also a very memorable character, receiving a lot more page-time and development than all of the secondary cast of the last couple of Point Horrors combined…

The Accident was an interesting read, as it is the first supernatural Point Horror story that I have come across. Yet, unfortunately, it was just a bit too bland to be truly memorable. While several accidents do strike down Megan’s friends and family over the course of the story, no one receives more than a few broken bones and so it ultimately isn’t that tense or scary.

I think that this is due to the fact that Megan spends half of the novel incorporeal. As soon as she makes the trade with Juliet, she essentially removes herself from the story as she cannot interact with anything and no one can see her. Due to this, Megan essentially just becomes an observer who describes the events to the reader, rather than truly ever being part of the action. The plot of The Accident never becomes boring, but it does seem to be lacking something fundamental.

The Accident is also incredibly predictable. While the last few Point Horrors have all had some kind of twist ending, it is incredibly obvious that Juliet is the villain and that all of the accidents have somehow been caused by her. It turns out that she has a grudge against Megan’s grandmother for supposedly causing her death, and therefore wants revenge by stealing Megan’s life. All the accidents were also additional punishment, but the trouble I have with this was that Megan’s grandmother had already died prior to the beginning of the novel. It’s not really an effective revenge if the woman isn’t around to witness it!

The ending of The Accident also felt incredibly rushed. In order to force Juliet from Megan’s body, she gets her boyfriend, Justin, to recreate the accident that caused Juliet’s death. Somehow, this just convinces Juliet to give up, at which point the novel just kind of ends. We don’t even get to see Megan’s “Sweet Sixteen” party, which is the driving force behind the whole plot!

Yet the weakest thing about The Accident was its characters. I didn’t mind Megan, but her framing as the protagonist almost seemed accidental in itself. The novel actually focused on three different teens in the opening chapter, until they were all put out of commission by the first accident! Megan, herself, did feel like a bit of a cardboard cut-out replacement. She did not really have any defining characteristics and Justin was just a typical handsome boyfriend. The only thing that stood out about Megan was her kindness, which lead to the biggest problem with this story.

Who on Earth would trust a ghost who appeared in their mirror? Worse still, who would offer to give up their body to that ghost for a full week, just because the ghost promised to give it back when she was done? Seriously, what is wrong with Megan? This goes above and beyond stranger danger. This is the most stupid thing that any Point Horror character has managed to do to date!

Which brings us to the last of the novels. Oh boy. I am really starting to dread R.L. Stine’s contributions to this series…

While the first part of The Baby-Sitter mini-series was actually not that bad, The Baby-Sitter II just felt entirely unnecessary. The plot meanders for most of its 166 pages, never really building to anything. As with the first book, Jenny has taken a job baby-sitting for a dysfunctional family. This time, the parents dote on their “genius” son, Eli – a boy who always seems a hair away from becoming a mini Patrick Bateman. Naturally, it’s not long before she receives a menacing phone call and an accident (possibly caused by Eli) injures one of her friends.

The problem is that nothing in The Baby-Sitter II really connects. Jenny’s dreams about Mr Hagen are only used for shock value. Eli’s erratic behaviour is never address or explained, and we don’t even find out if he did cause the above-mentioned accident. Nothing even really threatens Jenny in person until the last 15 pages of the book, which was way too late in the tale to be effective.

The reveal of the stalker’s identity this time is incredibly weak. In The Baby-Sitter, Mr Hagen was insane but you could understand why. His child had been killed by a negligent baby-sitter and so he was out for revenge. This time, the stalker is Miss Gurney – the receptionist of the psychiatrist who is helping Jenny to get through her trauma. Miss Gurney wants to kill Jenny because she is jealous that Dr Schindler is paying so much attention to her. Uhh…Yeah…Sure… One must question how many of the doctor’s other patients have been attacked by this mad woman in the past, or how she even got her job in the first place if she is that unstable.

Jenny is also still a problematic protagonist. While she is admittedly stronger than most of Stine’s female characters, she is just far too paranoid. Most of the problems that she faces are purely of her own making, due to the fact that she is clearly too nervy to be trusted looking after children. I can’t understand why Jenny would continue to put herself through this, and who in their right mind would trust her alone with their kids at night. Beyond Jenny, none of the new characters are memorable. The only character who briefly cameos from the previous story is Chuck, and Jenny’s new boyfriend – Cal – doesn’t really contribute anything of note to this story.

So anyhow, I think that covers everything. All in all, this selection was a bit bland and forgettable on the whole. The only one that I would really recommend reading is Mother’s Helper, as this instalment is fast-paced and pretty thrilling. While Teacher’s Pet and The Accident are good for a few chuckles due to their cheesy content, I’d definitely recommend avoiding Stine’s two contributions.

Anyhow, that’s all folks. Hopefully the next five Point Horrors will be a bit more exciting!

The Boyfriend is currently out of print. If you are interested in reading it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library

Teacher’s Pet can be purchased as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk

Mother’s Helper is currently out of print. If you are interested in reading it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library

The Accident can be purchased as an eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

The Baby-Sitter II is currently out of print. If you are interested in reading it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Point Horror 16-20 | Arkham Reviews

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