Point Horror 16-20

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 | 11-15

It’s time to take another look at the Point Horror series. Hooray! In case this is the first of my posts that you have read, Point Horror was a young adult anthology series that was published between 1991 and 2014. As this is intended to be more of a retrospective look at the series, please do bear in mind that this post contains massive spoilers for the books in question.

In The Cheerleader (written by Caroline B. Cooney), Althea has always dreamed of being popular but no one in school seems to notice her. However, that is before she first encounters the vampire. The mysterious creature promises that it has the power to grant her deepest desires, but in return Althea has to provide it with a victim. While the vampire is true to his word, it’s not long before Althea realises that his hunger is endless. Does she have the strength to stop him, even if it means losing her newfound popularity?

In The Girlfriend (written by R.L. Stine), Scotty and Lora have always been a couple yet, when Lora is out of town, this doesn’t stop Scotty from going out on a date with Shannon. Scotty justifies this slip by rationalising that nothing really happened, but now Shannon seems convinced that they are a couple. She won’t stop calling him, and turns violent when Scotty tries to turn her down gently. How can he find a way to make Shannon stop, and what will Scotty do if Lora finds out about his mistake?

In The Invitation (written by Diane Hoh), only the most popular kids are invited to the wild parties at Cass’s mansion. When Sarah and her friends all receive invitations, Sarah is sure that it’s some kind of mistake. After all, they barely know Cass. When they arrive at the party, they discover the horrible truth. They aren’t intended to be guests – they are to be some kind of sick party game for the other revellers. However, things quickly grow nasty as someone else uses Cass’s game as an excuse to target Sarah and her friends. Can Sarah free all of them before they fall victim to the killer’s cruel traps?

In The Snowman (written by R.L. Stine), Heather has undergone years of abuse at the hands of her cruel uncle. Not only does he control all of her money, but he is constantly trying to ruin all of her relationships. When Heather meets Snowman, she is immediately blown off her feet. He is attractive, charming and seems to be unfazed by her Uncle Jack. For a while, everything seems to be perfect, but then Heather sees Snowman for who he really is. How can she manage to break her ties with Snowman, when he has the power to ensure that she is implicated in a murder?

In Beach House (written by R.L. Stine), the beach was once the scene of a horrible spree of murders. It all began when Maria was supposedly devoured by sharks, but after that her friends were all targeted one by one by the evil Buddy. However, 40 years later, it all seems to be happening again. When Ashley’s friends, Lynn and Kip, both vanish, she realises that that something sinister is going on. But how does this connect to the mysterious, abandoned beach house?

After spending the last couple of reviews complaining about Stine’s instalments, I must admit that I was dreading reading this little selection. Especially as The Snowman is actually one of the Point Horror stories that I remember vividly from when I was younger, and did not especially enjoy it much then. While these instalments don’t necessarily showcase the worst of his work that we have seen so far, they do make clear that his writing does have certain problems. In particular, I’ve come to notice that Stine’s contributions frequently contain domestic abuse as a plot device – Scotty is tormented by Shannon, Heather is both verbally and physically abused by her uncle, Ashley somehow ends up back with her abuser after leaving him earlier in the story. This is certainly problematic, but we will look into this further as I talk about each book in turn.

Issues with Stine’s writing aside, it’s clear that the Point Horror stories are starting to grow more varied and creative. While we had our first ghost story last time in The Accident, we now get noticeably more supernatural plots in The Cheerleader and Beach House, as well as stories like The Invitation that try to put a unique little spin on the slasher genre. It doesn’t always work, but it’s great to see that the authors are trying to make their instalments a bit more memorable.

So, anyway, let’s take a little look at each of these books in turn.

The Cheerleader is a really odd addition to the series, as well as being surprisingly dark compared to earlier Point Horror stories. The novel gets off to a fast start, opening as Althea makes her deal with the vampire with no preamble. How the vampire actually manages to grant Althea’s popularity, or what it does with the girls who are given to it, is not explained, but it does create a very eerie backdrop for the tale.

Althea’s creepy home and the vampire itself are described in Gothic detail, making is very appearance unsettling, but I was disappointed by how little was ultimately explained in this novel. We never lean exactly where the vampire came from, how it was trapped within the tower room or what the extents of its power are. We also never see anything of Althea’s family. Her parents are oddly absent in the story and no reason is given as to why. Are they aware of the vampire under their roof, or have they already become its victims?

Yet, after a very fast start, the story is surprisingly slow burning. While the vampire always demands fresh victims, we never witness it actually doing anything beyond luring people away into the night, so nothing sinister ever truly happens on page. Instead, the novel forms more of a character study for Althea – a girl who no one notices and is desperate to become popular. While Althea’s motivations are understandable, and her loneliness is certainly felt, her actions make her really unsympathetic. She does, after all, feed two girls to a vampire before she has a change of heart.

The ending of The Cheerleader is also utterly surreal. In the very strange climax, Althea somehow figures out that the vampire only has power over people who are insecure, therefore embraces her unpopularity to be able to overpower and trap him once again. As the novel closes, it is revealed that the moral of the story is that popularity is something that you need to earn by doing good things and, you know, not by making a cursed deal with a vampire. While this isn’t the clumsiest ending of a Point Horror story to date, it is certainly one of the strangest.

However, this moral is somewhat overturned when you look at Althea’s “friends”. The supporting cast of The Cheerleader are very unlikeable. Everyone that Althea interacts with at school turns out to be hideously shallow and are only interested in maintaining their own popularity. While they seem nice enough to Althea when she is popular, it’s clear that they are all pretty awful people. While the this is almost certainly the point that Cooney is trying to make – that beauty is only skin deep – why then does Althea come to the conclusion that you become popular by doing good things? It’s clear that none of the cheerleaders that Althea idolises have ever done anything kind in their lives…

So, all in all, I was left a bit on the fence by The Cheerleader. While I like its style and unique vampire, I was put off a bit by the slow-plot and unlikeable cast. Still, at least it was a whole lot better than what followed…

I will say this now. I actually find more reasons to dislike The Girlfriend every time I think about it. While the novel actually starts out fairly well, it was completely undone by its ending. While I have found Stine’s contributions to be more hit than miss so far, this one in particular has not aged well.

To begin with the positive, the writing in The Girlfriend is incredibly tense. Unlike many Point Horrors, the villain is revealed incredibly early on as the novel quickly devolves into the series’s answer to Fatal Attraction. I wanted to read on out of morbid curiosity, just to see what level of crazy Shannon would sink to next in her mission to become Scotty’s one and only.

Yet, beyond this, The Girlfriend is incredibly shallow. Most of the things that Shannon does are actually crimes. She pesters Scotty with constant phone calls, breaks his hand, murders two pets, and sets his car on fire. When she breaks his hand, one of Scotty’s friends actually witnesses her attack on him. If he had gone to the police then and there, the story could have just ended. Instead, we are treated to a plot that rapidly becomes repetitive. Scotty asks Shannon to stay away, and she responds by doing something unpleasant. The outcome of this is all somewhat predictable, including the identity of the hulking stranger, as it’s incredibly similar to Stine’s Beach Party.

It was over the final twenty pages that The Girlfriend descended into utter lunacy. Shannon’s behaviour is swept aside with the bare minimum of explanation (as with many of Stine’s villains, she is simply crazy), and Scotty suddenly snaps and commits a shockingly violent act against her. So violent is this act that he actually believes that he has killed her, leading into the most ridiculous ending of any Point Horror. Get this: Scotty tries to hide Shannon’s corpse at his girlfriend’s house, accidentally wandering into to a surprise party with the body slung over his shoulder. He admits to everything he has done, but then it is revealed that Shannon is luckily still alive. What do you think happens next?

If you thought that Shannon is arrested and that Scotty’s existing girlfriend, her family, his family and all of his friends laugh off the fact that he just almost beaten a girl to death, you would be correct. Yes, this is seriously a thing that happens in The Girlfriend. Scotty suffers no ramifications for his actions, naturally, as he is a white teenage boy who was under a lot of stress. This does not sit well with me at all. While this shouldn’t have been acceptable in the 90s, it certain is not in 2020. It completely undid all the tension built up by the rest of the story and was unforgivably shallow.

Luckily, The Invitation is a staggering improvement and I was actually surprised by how entertaining it was. The story sees a group of five protagonists separated and locked in five separate rooms as part of a mean prank. They are to be entertainment at the party, as a living scavenger hunt for the other guests. Trouble is that someone at the party seems to hold a grudge against the five and uses this as an opportunity to kill them.

While this is an outlandish story, its focus on multiple protagonists made it feel very different to the earlier instalments of the series. While it was quite slow to set the scene due to the way that the perspective kept shifting, the story quickly gains momentum as the unseen villain starts to isolate and attack the main cast. What followed was actually a surprisingly tense story, as Sarah and Riley race around the party, solving the clues to find each of her friends before they succumb to deadly perils, such as a garage full of carbon monoxide or freezing to death in a walk-in freezer. While this premise requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, especially as it becomes clear that Riley is the only one of Cass’s guests who seem to be repelled by her actions, it is also a lot of fun.

My only real issue with The Invitation was its twist. As the villain is not even mentioned by name until very close to the end of the story, it is impossible for the reader to deduce their identity or motivation. Ultimately, it is an ex-friend of Shane (one of the protagonists) who holds Shane responsible for ruining her life. The two girls were once shoplifted an expensive ring, but Shane’s family then moved away to escape the stigma for this while Lynn was left as a social outcast. Unfortunately, Lynn’s defeat and apparent death occurs very close to the end of the novel, leaving no time to really wrap anything up.

In terms of characterisation, The Invitation was actually very good. Although some protagonists get more time in the spotlight than others, all are very different and Hoh captures this well in her writing. Sarah, in particular, is incredibly strong for a Point Horror protagonist and is quick to seize control of the situation. The only real weak point was Cass, as it was difficult to believe that even a mean girl could be so cold. Cass comes across as borderline psychotic, taking personal offence when three people are almost killed on her property and blaming them for ruining her party. Wow.

And then we’re back to Stine again…

To be fair, The Snowman is actually one of Stine’s better contributions, which surprised me as I did not like this one at all when I was a teenager. It is a very slow-burner, seeming almost like a slice of life drama until over half way through. The turning point of this story is the murder of Heather’s abusive uncle, who is very suddenly killed by Snowman. The rest of the novel is more of thriller, as Heather tries to break her ties with Snowman, while he attempts to extort money out of her under the threat of implicating her for the murder.

Although it is an incredibly tense read, The Snowman is not without its flaws. Not only are there some surprising continuity errors, such as the total in Heather’s bank account changing three times, but Snowman just entirely lacks in motive. He seems to be interested in Heather before he even finds out that she is “rich”, and goes a surprisingly long way to ensure that he has access to her fortune (which only seems to be somewhere between $2,000 and $9,000 depending on what total in the novel you are taking into account). Even in the 90s, this seems like a paltry amount to kill a man for. As with The Girlfriend and many of Stine’s other instalments, I suppose we just have to assume that Snowman is just a psychopath.

The ending of The Snowman is also highly overblown, featuring a scene in which Snowman tries to murder Heather by encasing her in a giant snowman. You know, instead of just stabbing her or something. While I was impressed that Heather managed to hold her own without needing to be rescued, the method by which she defeats Snowman is still kind of crazy and defies real-world physics. Who could have known that a pocket lighter can both melt the way outside of a surprisingly hollow snowman and also instantly set a man on fire? The mind boggles.

In terms of characterisation, The Snowman is also a bit varied. While Heather is likeable, she is still incredibly daft. Who in their right mind loudly and publicly declares how much money they have in their bank account? While Snowman can be very sinister, he is also a very shallow villain. While the novel tries to briefly infer that he had a tragic upbringing, there is nothing to really say if this is actually true or why it has turned him into an opportunistic killer.

The plot concerning Uncle Jack also felt a bit off at times. While his abuse of Heather made him detestable and I wasn’t sorry to see him die, there was no catharsis here. Heather was denied the opportunity to confront him and was left with some odd kind of survivor’s guilt concerning how her actions “led” to his death. I was left feeling that Heather’s abuse in the first half of the story was merely for shock value, as it seemed to have no lasting impact on either her or her aunt in the second half.

And, finally, there is Beach House. This is certainly the strangest Point Horror story that I have reviewed so far, and I’m not even sure where to begin. The idea of splitting the story between events that happened in 1956 and the present day was an interesting one, but I felt that it really stretched out the plot too far. As the book was only just over 200 pages long, this really just wasn’t enough space to tell two separate stories. There isn’t really any connection between these two murder sprees until the climax, where it is revealed that they share the same killer.

While the dual plot gives Beach House an incredibly fast pace, it also unfortunately removed all of the tension. Virtually all of the deaths occurred off-page and those in the present (if they even were ultimately murders), did not seem to have any rhyme or reason. Buddy, in the past, was spurred to murder four teenagers because they pulled a mean prank on him. Buddy, alternatively known as Brad in the present, had absolutely no motivation to target Ashley and her friends.

It was the twist of the story that truly put me off, and I think will certainly divide readers. While Buddy infers that there is something special about the beach house throughout the story, it is only in the final chapters that he reveals its secret. There is a closet in the house that contains a time portal, allowing him to move between 1956 and the present and escape accusation of murders. Also, his maid was Maria who somehow survived the shark attack and has waited until that precise moment to have her revenge. Personally, I found this sting to be a bit too out there. There were no hints that time travel was even possible earlier in the story, and it felt more like this twist belonged in a Goosebumps book than a Point Horror.

Yet my biggest issue with Beach House as its characters. Once again, Stine seems to struggle with portraying older teen protagonists. Buddy was another insane psychopath, and the story this time had two teen protagonists who seemed to be trapped in relationships with abusive douche-bags. Beach House even seemed to suggest that this wasn’t really an issue, as Ashley actually managed to escape her relationship only to go running back into her abuser’s arms at the end of the novel!

Anyhow, I think you get the picture. While this selection contained a couple of really original entries to the series, it also showed that Stine’s instalments are starting to have a lot of issues. Not only do they contain many of the same twists and concepts, but also have an uncomfortable habit of using abuse as a plot device. Here’s hoping that this isn’t going to be a reoccurring theme in the next few instalments.

The Cheerleader is currently out of print. If you would like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library

The Girlfriend is currently out of print. If you would like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library

The Invitation can be purchased an eBook from Amazon.co.uk

The Snowman is currently out of print. If you would like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library

Beach House is currently out of print. If you would like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Point Horror 21-25 | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Point Horror 25-30 | Arkham Reviews
  3. Trackback: Point Horror 31-35 | Arkham Reviews

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