Point Horror 21-25

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20

Now that I’ve finished reviewing all of those summer reads for young readers, it’s probably a good time to take look back at the Point Horror series. In case you haven’t read any of my previous posts, Point Horror was an anthology series for young adult readers that was at its peak in the 1990s. As there are a lot of novels in this series, I’m reading them in the order that they are listed on Wikipedia. This is also a retrospective post, so be warned that there will be massive spoilers for the novels in question.

Anyhow, without further ado, let’s take a look at the next five books.

In Fatal Secrets (written by Ritchie Tankersley Cuisick), Ryan is left plagued by guilt when her sister drowns during a walk in the woods. Although Ryan feels that she could have saved her, Melissa ultimately succumbed to the frozen water. However, three weeks later, Ryan starts to see her sister everywhere. Although her family and friends think that she is crazy, Ryan is sure that her sister’s death was no accident and she hides a secret. But does it connect to the mysterious stranger who claims to be Melissa’s college friend and has asked to spend Christmas with them?

In Freeze Tag (written by Caroline B. Cooney), Meghan has always been in love with her neighbour, West. However, when they were children, their sinister neighbour Lannie made West promise he would only ever love her. Now, several years later, Lannie has claimed her prize. Meghan now must find a way to free West from her evil clutches, yet it will not be easy to do so. Lannie holds a terrible power – the ability to freeze a person with a touch. The only way to save West might be to do away with Lannie permanently…

In Hit and Run (written by R.L. Stine), Cassie has always been friends with three boys – Eddie, Winks and Scott. With their driving tests fast approaching, the group decide to sneak out at night and go for a joy ride to practice. On remote stretch of road, Eddie gets in a terrible accident and kills a man. In a panic, the group drive away and swear never to talk about it again. Yet, it’s not long until they start to receive threatening notes. Did someone witness the accident, or could their victim possibly still be alive?

In The Cemetery (written by D.E. Athkins), it’s Halloween and Cyndi gathers a group of friends at a remote cemetery to have a secret party. Although Char is not convinced it is a good idea, she is keen to use the time to get closer to mysterious newcomer, Jones. Everything seems to be going well until someone suggests a game of hide and seek, and one of the party-goers winds up dead. Everyone flees to safety, but for some reason the game does not end there. Someone is still playing and won’t stop until everyone who went to the party is dead…

In The Dead Game (written by A. Bates), Linnie, Ming and Jackson hate cheaters. All of them would be in a better position at school if they had not been sabotaged by their cheating classmates. In order to get revenge, Linnie proposes that they start playing an assassination game. Each of them would be assigned a target and have to find a way to publicly humiliate them. Yet something goes wrong and one of the targets winds up dead. Although Linnie, Ming and Jackson agree to stop playing, the hits continue to happen. Someone is still playing the game, but what will happen when they run out of names?

While we’ve seen so far that Point Horror novels can be pretty varied, this little selection does a fantastic job of showcasing this. Not only are the five novels all written by different authors, but they actually cover a fairly wide range of horror themes, from supernatural, to monsters, to thrillers. Unfortunately, they also vary quite wildly in quality. While there are a couple of really good novels in this selection, it also contains one of the very worst Point Horror stories that I have reviewed so far.

Anyhow, there is a lot to get through on this post so let’s get stuck in and look at each of the novels in turn.

While Fatal Secrets did share a lot in common with Teacher’s Pet (an earlier Cuisick novel which I did not enjoy), I did feel that this book was a lot stronger on the whole. While a lot of Point Horror stories so far have done their best not to depict the death of a teenager on page, Fatal Secrets shockingly opened on the very sudden demise of a protagonist. From this point, the novel became an exploration of the grief felt by her younger sister. The plot balanced on a knife-edge. Something is clearly fishy, but for the longest time it’s unclear if Ryan is losing her mind or if her sister’s accident was somehow planned.

The story is very fast-paced and certainly kept me turning the pages as I was genuinely curious to find out what was going on. While I did feel that more focus could have been made on the investigation, as Ryan’s sister tells her about some undeveloped photographs at the very beginning and this plot-point is forgotten until the climax, the story is still well-written and very atmospheric. It does a great job of presenting the fragile mental states of both Ryan and her mother, who are trying to deal with their grief in very different ways.

While I did think that the ultimate twist was a bit mundane, I must admit that I was surprised by how deep the conspiracy went. Basically, Melissa had uncovered evidence of a drugs ring and had been silenced to stop her from revealing this. A lot of Ryan’s “madness” had been caused by members of the ring trying to erase evidence and find out if Melissa had revealed anything to her sister.

While I had figured out parts of this, I was truly impressed by how many little insignificant details from earlier in the tale, such as Mr Partini’s “toy” deliveries, wound up being incredibly relevant to Melissa’s death. It was also surprising just how many people were in on the conspiracy, with a surprising amount of the secondary cast being somehow involved, or at least aware, of how Melissa truly met her end. The novel ended well, nicely wrapping up all of the loose ends in a surprisingly optimistic way.

My biggest issue with Fatal Secrets was with the characters. As with Teacher’s Pet, Ryan is ultimately a bit too much of a Mary Sue. She’s portrayed as being a quiet girl who everyone seems to love, managing to attract two admirers over the course of the story despite only having spoken to one of them twice. I also found the willingness by which Ryan’s mother invited Charles into their home to be rather weak. What kind of person would allow a complete stranger to live with them over the holidays, just because he claimed to know her deceased daughter?

While I quite enjoyed The Cheerleader, which was the only previous Caroline B. Cooney story that I have read, I must admit that I found Freeze Tag a lot harder to get into. The novel opened on a traumatic childhood incident but never really achieved this level of drama again. It merely becomes a novel in which a small group of teens are terrorised by their neighbour, who possesses a poorly defined power. Beyond this, it is slow-burning and never truly manages to build to anything.

My first issue with Freeze Tag was that Lannie’s desire for revenge was misdirected. It was West’s sister, Tuesday, that deliberately excluded Lannie during their childhood. Meghan’s only crime was that she failed to stand up for Lannie when she was not invited to a sleep over, so it doesn’t entirely make sense for her to only want to make Meghan’s life miserable.

While the story does carry a vague allegory about prejudice and that everyone is deserving of love, it does not go out of its way to make Lannie easy to empathise with. Readers can pity her due to her tragic childhood, but she quickly proves not have any redeemable qualities. It readily becomes apparent that she takes pleasure in torturing and murdering those who have “wronged” her, and never gives any indication that she regrets her actions.

The ending of Freeze Tag felt very abrupt, as it does not show any signs of wrapping itself up until the final chapter. Meghan discovers that Tuesday has managed to trap Lannie and left her to die. Being a decent human, Meghan can’t go through with this and runs to her rescue. I’m not really sure what to make of this ending. It implies that all it takes to break Lannie’s curse is a single act of kindness, but I’m not sure if that’s right. Although I liked the concept that Lannie’s evil was infectious (corrupting first West and then Tuesday), I felt that more really needed to be made of this earlier in the tale. Ultimately, it felt as though it had been tagged on the end.

In terms of character, I did not find any of the protagonists in this novel to be especially likeable. The problem went further than Lannie. None of the characters were very well fleshed out and they all turned out to be jerks as the story progressed. Even Meghan seemed to fail to learn anything. I expected at first that she was going to learn that she did not need to tie herself into a long-term relationship when she was so young, but the novel ultimately left this very open ended.

I must admit that I am surprised to be writing this given my earlier criticisms but, for an R.L. Stine story, Hit and Run actually isn’t half bad. A lot of the issues that I have raised about Stine’s earlier entries are not present in this one. Instead, it is a fast-paced and breezy read, focusing on four teenagers who find themselves in deep trouble after they flee the scene of a crime.

My only real problem with Hit and Run is the fact that it is highly predictable. I figured out the villain, the motive and how they actually pulled off the crime immediately after the hit and run occurred. This time the villain was Eddie, the character who you are supposed to believe caused the accident. The previous chapters reveal that Eddie’s friends like to play mean pranks on him, and also that his cousin works in a mortuary. Yeah, you can pretty much figure out what Eddie does on the basis on these two pieces of information alone.

Due to this, the twist of Hit and Run did not hold any surprises for me whatsoever. Yet, in a way, this was a relief. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you might remember how I felt towards Stine’s twists in the past. The Boyfriend and Beach House in particular had utterly over the top twists that really ruined the stories that they were attached to. It was nice to read one that was a little more grounded in reality.

In terms of characterisation, Hit and Run was also fairly unique as Cassie was very different to the last few heroines that we have seen. She came across as being more of a tomboy, as every other member of her circle of friends was male. While there was some vague romance between her and Scott, the story was more focused on the protagonists as a group. Each of them had their own unique personalities, although it was a bit concerning how blasé they all were with the prospect of having potentially killed a man.

The Cemetery is the first instalment of this series by Athkins that I have read and, unfortunately, I was not impressed. The novel opens by introducing a surprisingly large cast of characters. Although the book is very short, even by Point Horror terms, it splits its narrative focus between eleven protagonists. This is just far too excessive and really bogs down the story.

There is also not a lot of substance to the plot. While I was surprised to find that The Cemetery felt a bit more mature than the earlier instalments, as it features on-page murder, references to drug and alcohol use and vague sexual references, there really wasn’t that much to the actual story. The sentence structure was very short and clipped, often containing overly Gothic language, and a lot of the dialogue seemed to be random and served little purpose.

The novel initially takes the form of a classic teen slasher story but seems to forget itself halfway through. While initially seeming to be a murder mystery, it abruptly switches to being a supernatural tale close to the end. Basically, Char discovers a book which explains how a shape-shifting monster was sealed beneath the cemetery, and it rapidly becomes apparent that this is what the teens have somehow unleashed.

This revelation led to an incredibly confusing climax. The nature of the monster is never explained. Seriously, I was even unclear how they managed to evoke its wrath in the first place. The manner by which it is defeated is also somewhat unclear, as the teens go to face it without actually having the first clue of how to defeat it. The way that they do destroy it is only briefly touched upon, but this is only after Char manages to kill it by accident. Yes, as you might be able to tell, this is the novel that I did not enjoy.

The characters of The Cemetery are also pretty forgettable. While a couple of them did fit typical horror tropes, including the bitchy rich girl and the bad boy, most of the large core cast just blended into one. While Char is probably the main protagonist, there was not much to her and her eleventh-hour connection to the monster (the fact that they share a name) is never explained. Jones was also a bit of a disappointment. Although he seemed to be connected, or at least had some idea of what was going on, the novel never took the time to explain why.

The Dead Game was another instalment that was more than a little weird. It focused on three teens who decided to engage in a kind of weird assassination game. To explain for the uninitiated, a true assassination game allows players draw names out of a hat and then have to think of ways to isolate and “kill” their target. They then gain that person’s target and play continues until one person remains. The game in this book differs because there are only three players, their targets are unaware of the game, and the goal is public humiliation.

While the premise is unique and interesting, I did have some issues with its execution. Firstly, a lot of the motivations seemed to be pretty weak. While some of the targets were genuine cheats, most of their crimes seemed to be largely subjective. Rafe, for examples, stopped doing sports to pursue other interests. While Jackson claimed that this let down the team, how does this make him a cheat in any way?

It also felt as though The Dead Game lost steam as it progressed. While the setup made me curious to read on, the second half of the story felt unfocused. Most of the hits occurred off-page and none of the protagonists seem to be in any danger until the climax. The eventual reveal of the killer is also problematic as it comes out of left field. Basically, Linnie turns out to be the killer (although the death could possibly have been an accident). She is eager to punish true bad eggs due to the fact that she has historically always been punished for her sister’s bad deeds, therefore has built something of a complex.

This reveal comes entirely out of the blue as it is not even hinted at earlier in the story. As Linnie is one of the narrative focuses, it also means that her chapters make little sense. She is such an unreliable narrator that she feigns surprise when a brick is thrown through the window of her home in once chapter, despite the fact that this would mean that she had to be the one doing the throwing. It’s only a hair away from being another Point Horror that blames everything on a person being “crazy”, as the likes of Beach Party were.

The protagonists of The Dead Game were at least varied, though most of the supporting cast failed to make an impression. Yet Linnie, Ming and Jackson did all blend into one after a while. While they had remarkably different home lives, little was done to flesh these out. Jackson, in particular, did not sound much like a teenage boy as his narrative voice was largely the same as that of the two girls.

So, I think that about covers everything. All in all, this little selection of novels was a bit of mixed bag. While Fatal Secrets is worth a read, I would certainly recommend steering clear of the likes of Freeze Tag and The Cemetery. Here’s hoping that the next five novels are a bit more engaging!

Fatal Secrets can be purchased as an eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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

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

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

The Dead Game can be purchased as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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