Point Horror 25-30

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 | 21-25

It’s time for another retrospective look at Point Horror. Yay! In case you’re not in the know, Point Horror was a massively successful anthology series that hit its peak in the 1990s. There are a lot of novels in this series (and even some debate as to which Point titles count as being part of it) so I’m currently reviewing these novels in the order that they are listed on Wikipedia. Oh, and this is a retrospective so be warned that there will be massive spoilers for the novels in question….

Anyhow, let’s take a look at the next five books!

In The Fever (written by Diane Hoh), Duffy wakes to find herself in hospital suffering from a mysterious fever. While she was asleep, she is sure that she overheard a murder taking place in her room but has no idea who is guilty. Now she is certain that someone is trying to silence her before her memory can return. But how will she convince people that she is in danger when everyone believes that she is still delirious?

In The Hitchhiker (written by R.L. Stine), Christina and Terri are on their way home from Spring Break when they decide to pick up a hitchhiker. Christina thinks that James is charming but Terri is less than convinced. He seems evasive about where he is heading and news reports have been warning about an elderly driver who was recently beaten to death. Is Terri paranoid or is there more to James than meets the eye?

In The Mall (written by Ritchie Tankersley Cusick), Trish is not the biggest fan of her job at the mall but it becomes even more insufferable when she attracts a creepy customer. It’s not long before the same sinister man starts to call her at home and it becomes clear that he is watching her every move. The stranger is certain that Trish is the girl of his dreams and is willing to do anything to ensure that she is his forever…

In The Perfume (written by Caroline B. Cooney), Dove knows that she shouldn’t buy the latest trendy fragrance. Venom is a terrible name, yet she soon finds that she can’t resist. The perfume has an odd effect on her, releasing the spirit of her unborn twin from where it had been trapped within her and forcing Dove to become a passenger within her own body. Wing hates Dove for living the life that she always wanted and now wants to hurt everyone that she loves to get revenge…

In The Return of the Vampire (written by Caroline B. Cooney, also published as Evil Returns), Devnee has just moved to a new house and a new school but already feels as though she is being ignored. She hates being so plain and ordinary and therefore is quick to be tempted by the vampire’s promise of beauty and brains. Yet Devnee is slow to realise that her wish will come at a terrible price…

At this point, it’s starting to become clear that the assorted Point Horror authors are becoming a lot more creative. While the early novels that I looked at were pretty straight thrillers, now we’re starting to see some weirder and more unique stuff. It’s also becoming clear that certain authors do have a preferred genre. Cooney’s novels have all been of a supernatural nature so far, while Cusick sticks to having villains who are more ordinary and, arguably, are scarier because of this.

As the effectiveness and quality of these books is still very variable, let’s just get one with it and take a look at each of these five novels in turn!

The Fever was an incredibly unique Point Horror story but I did feel that it perhaps fell a bit wide of the mark. The plot this time took advantage of how creepy and isolating hospitals can feel, focusing on poor Duffy as she is forced to question whether she is delirious with fever or genuinely being targeted by an unknown killer. While the oddly quiet halls of the hospital did lend themselves well to a few unsettling scenes, The Fever was unfortunately lacking in focus.

Although Duffy does not learn that victim was her best friend, Kit, until the climax, it soon becomes very obvious to the reader. Kit doesn’t even get a chance to appear in the story as he conveniently “runs away to California” while Duffy is unconscious. Without saying goodbye. Or making any effort to contact Duffy. You know, as best friends do.

Due to the fact that Duffy never even suspects that Kit may have been harmed, she never actively hunts for the killer. This makes the killer’s attempts at her life seem all the more random. If she was worried that Duffy might be able to identify her, why did she not murder Duffy in her sleep? She kills Kit by injecting him with air. It would have been ever so easy to do away with Duffy in the same way rather than chancing her demise by swapping over the warning sign on the door of an elevator.

I also was never in doubt that Duffy was in danger. While the reader is supposed to question whether or not Duffy is imagining everyone, she never seemed sick enough for this to be in any doubt. Duffy’s flu seems to be surprisingly asymptomatic and does not really incapacitate her in any way. I’m not sure that people who have been hospitalised with a fever tend to be quite as coherent and focused as Duffy.

When the identity of the killer is finally revealed as being Cynthia, a volunteer nurse, I was disappointed to find that her motivations were pretty underwhelming. Cynthia accidently mixed up two patients’ charts, leading to one dying due to a penicillin allergy. Kit learned about her negligence and so she murdered him to silence him, and then was forced to try and kill Duffy as she may have witnessed this. Trouble was, all of these events occurred prior to the beginning of the novel and were merely related back to Duffy later. Hoh also held back a lot of the information needed to identify the killer until the climax, so this wasn’t one where you could really deduce what had happened.

The characters were also a bit lacklustre. While it was easy to feel sorry to Duffy due to her situation, she was still rather annoying as a protagonist as she spent most of her time whining. As the supporting cast was fairly large, there just was not enough space in a novel under 200 pages long to flesh them out. A couple of the volunteers that frequented Duffy’s room, in particular, seemed to blend into one.

And then we had The Hitchhiker. Oh, where to begin with this one. With Hit and Run, I thought that Stine’s work was on the up. That was before I had the pleasure of reading this novel…

To be fair, there are things about The Hitchhiker that I really liked. The early chapters built the tension as two somewhat-daft girls give a lift to a complete stranger, only to quickly find that he is shady as all Hell. This was where the novel was at its best, as Stine built the anticipation that something bad was going to happen to Christina and Terri, while simultaneous creating the sense that it was all a bit too straightforward and perhaps the reader could be missing something.

Sadly, this meant that the twist of The Hitchhiker was just a bit too obvious. As the novel entered its second half, it became quite clear that the story was designed to flip our expectations. James was not as bad as he first seemed, and it was actually the two girls (Christina in particular) who was responsible for the death of the old man. While the first half of the novel was told from both the third-person perspective of James and the girls, James became the sole protagonist as it became clear that Christina and Terri were massively unreliable narrators.

In the climax, James and Christina are taken captive by Art, the son of the dead man. He has apparently already murdered Terri and now plans to do the same to them. By throwing them both into his friend’s piranha-filled lake. Yes, you did read that correctly. No, this is not the novelisation of a James Bond film. This climatic fight that led to both Art and Christina being devoured (and Terri somehow being okay) was just so mind-bogglingly unrealistic that it stretched my sense of disbelief too far!

In terms of character, the book was also fairly weak. None of the three protagonists were likeable in any way. The first page of the novel led the reader to believe that James had injured (or possibly even killed) his girlfriend, revealing a violent temper and causing me to hate him. Although this turned out not to be the case in the last few pages, this was too late to really save him in my eyes. Christina and Terri were just overly silly and gradually revealed themselves to be equally as unpleasant as James. When Terri disappears, Christina basically just abandons her supposed best friend and doesn’t even go through the motions of pretending to be upset about this.

Luckily, things really did pick up in The Mall. This was the first Point Horror story that I found to be actively unsettling. This was mainly due to the way that it presented itself. It is the tale of a teenage girl who is stalked by an obsessive psychopath – one who starts out making sleazy comments and quickly escalates to threatening the protagonist’s loved ones if she does not do what he wishes. While the last few stories fell a bit flat, the setting of The Mall felt more grounded in reality and certainly very creepy to me as a female reader. You really do feel Trish’s isolation and helplessness at the hands of the very sinister “Athan”.

The mall setting was also made to feel nicely uncanny by Cusick’s Gothic writing style. While shopping malls are pretty creepy after hours, Cusick’s mall takes this to a whole new level. The villain of the piece goes by the name Athan for much of the story but is in fact Roger, a character who is in the background for a lot of the tale but evades suspicion purely because he’s a security guard. Roger is something of a modern-day Phantom of the Opera, occupying the passages and tunnels under the mall and even watching women in the changing rooms via one-way mirrors. Because Roger knows the terrain far better than Trish does, this only serves to isolate her further and make everything so much creepier.

The Mall had a very fast pace and the action escalated nicely. My only small issue with the story was how Roger escaped detection from Trish for so long. I really don’t think that a wig and fake moustache would have completely masked the identity of a man that she saw every day. Much as with Teacher’s Pet, it just felt as though the protagonist was blind to the identity of her tormentor for no good reason.

The characters in this novel, however, were a lot stronger. Trish was a level-headed protagonist and her friends were surprisingly well fleshed out for Point Horror supporting characters, possessing noticeably different personalities. While early chapters did make it feel as though a love triangle was brewing between Trish, Storm and Wyatt, this thankfully never got off the ground and was entirely put to bed by the final reveal – both Storm and Wyatt were actually undercover cops and were both a lot older than they looked.

While The Mall was one of the best Point Horror stories that I have reviewed so far, it’s sadly all downhill from there. While I have criticised Stine at length, I’m starting to feel that Cooney may be the author that just isn’t for me. All of her novels that I have reviewed so far have had deep problems, from the concepts and characters to the way that they are written. The Perfume and The Return of the Vampire are no exceptions.

It’s so hard to even describe The Perfume to another person because it felt as though even Cooney did not know where this story was heading. The protagonist – Dove Daniels – buys a bottle of perfume that acts as a catalyst to allow her evil unborn twin, bizarrely named Wing, to possess her. Or at least that’s how it first seems. While this appears to be what the novel is inferring for its first half, later chapters pour doubt on this explanation. At one point, Dove decides that Wing is actually an evil Ancient Egyptian spirit. At other points, Cooney tries to make you believe that Dove might just have had some kind of nervous breakdown.

While The Perfume gets off to a fast start, it quickly becomes clear that this is a novel about Dove’s internal struggle against whatever Wing is. For most of the story, Dove is merely a passenger and therefore is only able to describe what Wing is using her body to do, much like the ghostly protagonist of The Accident. Due to this, the novel quickly slowed to a crawl. Wing has no redeemable features and is not sympathetic in any way. Much like with Lannie in Freeze Tag, she openly admits to being evil. She even tries to murder a couple of Dove’s classmates to prove this fact and refers to her (Dove’s) mother as being “the maternal body”.

The Perfume never really felt as though it was building to anything and quickly became a chore to get through. Dove was perpetually unable to get the upper hand (until the climax, where she suddenly does for some reason) and no event that occurred seemed to have much of a consequence. Timmy was left disturbed when Wing tried to shove him out of a hot air balloon, but seemingly never mentioned this to anyone. Dove’s parents have her committed at the hands of the least professional doctor that I have ever seen, but this only lasts a week before she is returned home due to the fact that their insurance will not cover it. Nothing about this situation felt remotely realistic and we never even learn where the McGuffin perfume bottle originally came from.

In terms of character, the book was similarly weak. Characters are portrayed as either being sickening good or evil, with no shades of grey between. No characters get any development either. Dove begins the novel as the model daughter and does not seem to learn anything from her experiences, and her neglectful parents never seem to accept the error of their ways. Ultimately Wing is banished with a thought, with the assistance of a strong lilac smell and bright sunlight, making this entire novel feel utterly pointless.

Finally, we have The Return of the Vampire. This book is the direct sequel to The Cheerleader – the first vampire story of this series and one that I actually quite enjoyed. Sadly, this novel was nowhere near as strong. It really felt as though it was a weak re-write of The Cheerleader, focusing on a different unpopular girl who discovers the vampire and makes an ill-advised wish. Yet, strangely, this novel is nowhere near as fast paced as its prequel. While Althea makes her wish prior to the beginning of The Cheerleader, it takes almost 60 pages for Devnee to make the same mistake.

The Return of the Vampire follows the same pattern as its precursor, with Devnee sacrificing increasing numbers of classmates to the creature until she starts to regret her actions and gains the inner strength necessary to close the tower’s blinds and seal the vampire away again. Yet, the vampire seems to have changed a bit since the previous instalment. The monster no longer needs to be brought its prey – it can latch onto anyone so long as Devnee wishes it so. This does serve to make the creature a little more dangerous, but ultimately does to make much of an impact on the tale.

The biggest problem with The Return of the Vampire is Devnee herself. The protagonist is an order of magnitude worse than that of The Cheerleader. Althea makes a single wish – to be a cheerleader – and is forced to sacrifice people to the vampire to sustain it because he keeps changing the terms of their bargain. Devnee wants it all – beauty, brains and a handsome boyfriend. She also has far less remorse when it comes to destroying the lives of others to get what she wants, not regretting her actions until she accidently makes her mother the vampire’s target. Devnee is so self-centred that was don’t even get to know any other character in the novel. Her third person narrative is coloured by the way that she sees other people, tarnished by her jealousy and tendency to reduce them down to a single core attribute.

Well, this review is getting long now and I’m pretty sure that I’ve said enough. All in all, this selection was once again quite varied. While The Mall has possibly been my favourite Point Horror story to date and The Hitchhiker is worth a read for its hilarious ending, I would certainly recommend staying clear of The Perfume and The Return of the Vampire.

Check back in a few weeks to find out what I thought of the next five Point Horror novels!

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

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

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

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

The Return of the Vampire 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 31-35 | Arkham Reviews

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