Point Horror 31-35

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

1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-20 | 21-25 | 26-30

It’s time for another retrospective look back at the Point Horror series. Yay!

In case you haven’t read my previous reviews, Point Horror was a horror anthology series that was at peak popularity during the 90s. The series was aimed at teenage girls and ran for over 100 novels which were written by popular horror writers of the time including R.L. Stine and L.J. Smith. As there isn’t really much by way of continuity in this series, I’m reviewing them in the order that they are listed on Wikipedia. Be warned, this is more a retrospective discussion so there will be massive spoilers for the books in question.

In The Train (written by Diane Hoh), Hannah and her friends are excited to be on a cross-country train trip from Chicago to San Francisco, but that is before they learn that they are sharing the train with a coffin. The coffin belongs to Frog – a fellow student who recently passed away – and one who each of them were responsible for doing nasty things to. When each of them are attacked, it becomes clear that someone is out for revenge. But Frog is really dead, isn’t he?

In The Waitress (written by Sinclair Smith), Paula has just accepted a waitressing job at a local diner, but things aren’t going well. Not only did she lie about her experience to get the job but weird things have started happening. What initially seem like harmless pranks grow increasingly sinister. Paula soon discovers that she can’t trust her colleagues, but why are they hurting customers and why are they trying to make it look like it’s Paula’s fault?

In The Window (written by Carol Ellis), Jody is nervous about going on the skiing trip as she doesn’t really know anyone. When she sprains her ankle on the slopes, she finds herself feeling more isolated than ever. With nothing better to do, she spends her time looking out of the window of her cabin. It is then that she sees the murder. Although Jody doesn’t see enough to identify the killer, is it possible that the killer has seen her?

In Camp Fear (written by Carol Ellis), Rachel is excited to start her summer job as a camp councillor but first there is a lot of work to be done. She and her new friends need to clear trails, clean cabins and generally get everything ready before the kids arrive. But then the pranks start happening, each corresponding with a fear held by one of her fellow councillors. It soon becomes clear that each of the victims shares a secret. Something terrible happened at the camp seven years before, and now someone wants revenge.

In Dream Date (written by Sinclair Smith), Katie is seventeen years old and desperate to find the perfect guy. Much to her surprise, it’s not long before he comes to her in her dreams. Heath is handsome and rebellious, but it quickly becomes clear that he’s also possessive and controlling. Katie soon finds that she’s sleeping more and more. What will happen to her when she gets to the point when she can no longer wake up?

The Point Horror series is now starting to finally achieve a bit of variety. While certain authors do seem to have their preferred tropes (as you will see shortly, you really know what you’re getting with a Carol Ellis story), the stories are now really trying to differentiate themselves in terms of setting and themes. In this little selection, we only have one supernatural story but at least the others are varied. A mystery on a train, a story set in the protagonist’s dreams, a rundown summer camp and a winter holiday – these are all memorable settings that help make these stories stand out better than some of the earlier instalments.

So, let’s take a little look at each of them in turn.

While I have been deeply critical of the last few Point Horror novels that I have reviewed, I must admit that I genuinely enjoyed reading The Train. I personally found the novel to be very creepy in places and it certainly formed a satisfying mystery. The novel focuses on a group of teens who all (except, initially, Hannah) admit to bullying one of their classmates, who has since passed away. While on a train journey across America, each of them is targeted in turn by an unseen person. Although all of the attacks are malicious, these naturally grow more vicious until one of the teens is killed.

This premise is not terribly original, but it was executed very well. The setting of the train helped add a sense of isolation to the story, as the villain moves unseen alongside the victims and there was no way that they could easily escape and hide. This also forces the villain to be very creative with their attacks, finding ways to isolate and hurt the heroes. This certainly kept me turning the page to see how they would strike next, if Frog was really dead, and how much of the novel was just the product of Hannah’s paranoia.

The ending twist works in much the same way as And Then There Were None. Lolly – Frog’s former girlfriend – was the first victim and apparently left the train after the incident. In actually, she had faked her assault, snuck back onto the train and had been hiding in Frog’s coffin (Frog had actually been cremated). Lolly’s final target was intended to be Hannah, who she viewed to be the biggest sinner. Hannah turned Frog away from a party, resulting him getting in a car accident and dying.

This reveal led to a brief, yet dramatic showdown between Hannah and Lolly that genuinely was rather intense. While I was disappointed that the novel ends rather abruptly after this, I was left feeling rather satisfied by the way that Hannah finally took down her tormentor. Really, the only issue with this story that some of the cast were a bit shallow. While Hannah and Lolly were pretty well fleshed out, some of Hannah’s friends did unfortunately fade into the background.

While The Waitress is the first of Sinclair Smith’s instalments that I have reviewed so far, my feelings towards it were a bit lukewarm on the whole. While its short page could made it an incredibly breezy read, I don’t think that I’ve ever felt so apathetic towards a Point Horror story. It was so formulaic that it neither gripped me nor angered the blood.

The plot focuses on Paula – a teenager who has just taken on her first part-time waitressing job after lying about her experience. Not that waitresses generally need a whole lot of experience, though the novel does it’s best to make waiting on tables seem immensely complicated. Paula has been doing her job for roughly ten minutes when strange things start happening.

Mean pranks begin to target certain patrons, especially Coralynn (the girl who bullies Paula at school who just happens to be the niece of her new boss). Naturally, this means that Paula is instantly blamed. On top of this, Paula also soon starts to receive notes that seem to be from a customer at the diner who has it in from her. Soon, Paula begins to suspect that it might be one of her two co-workers (or possibly even Coralynn herself) and the paranoia sets in.

While The Waitress doesn’t really do anything wrong, it’s biggest crime is that it fails to be memorable. Although the pranks slowly escalate, they stop short of causing lasting damage to anyone and just really come across as being mildly annoying. The most threatening one is probably when someone shuts Paula in the walk-in freezer. This incapacitates her for a couple of minutes before she finds a way out, thus being far less threatening than when someone almost died in the same circumstances in The Invitation.

It’s not until the climax when someone actively tries to kill Paula and, even then, their motivations were pretty weak. The villain this time is Trixie – the owner of the diner. Trixie is jealous that girls only work for her part-time before going to college, while she’s been stuck working in a diner her whole life. One would have thought that this midlife crisis could have been averted if she just stopped hiring teenage girls. It’s also revealed that Trixie actively murdered a teenager previously because she felt he was mocking her. So, yeah, she’s just a bit unstable.

Yet the main saving grace of The Waitress was its characters. Unlike some of the other Point Horror authors that we’ve seen so far, Smith actually does a brilliant job of fleshing out here characters. This can particularly be seen in the supporting cast. Although Paula doesn’t know her classmates and colleagues that well, she soon starts to uncover their motivations as the novel starts to whittle down the list of potential suspects. Although Coralynn remains an obnoxious character for the whole story, Cookie and Virgilia got a fair amount of development and were incredibly likeable.

So, while it’s not the worst instalment we’ve seen so far, The Waitress was sadly a bit forgettable. Still, Smith’s talent for writing characters makes me curious to read more of her books.

While it was far from being the worst Point Horror novel that I have reviewed, The Window just really failed to engage me as a reader. The plot was a bit of a rip-off of Rear Window and shared a lot in common with Ellis’s earlier novel, My Secret Admirer. Both of these stories focused on an outsider protagonist who potentially witnessed a murder.

The plot of The Window is very slow to find its feet. Jody does not get injured until halfway through the novel and it’s not even clear if there has been a murder until close to the end. However, the thing that The Window does really well is build a sense of isolation. Jody does not know anyone in the group and so the murderer could be any of them. She is also housebound in a strange location due to her injury, and only has sporadic contact with the others due to the fact that they are all out having fun.

This all combines to make it very difficult to identify the killer. Everyone has a motive and Jody does not know any of them well enough to narrow down the list. As Jody becomes more certain that she has witnessed a crime, the novel begins to build towards a gripping climax. Unfortunately, it never gets there.

The biggest weakness of The Window was the way it just sort of ends. The villain this time is Sasha, who accidently killed Leahna during a heated argument. Jody does not really get a chance to deduce this as Sasha confronts her and openly monologues her plan. Luckily, Sasha is overpowered by her brother before she can kill again, denying Jody any kind of showdown. Really, it just felt like a lot of build up for nothing.

This sadly made Jody a rather forgettable protagonist. While some of her new friends were more colourful, Jody’s inactivity meant that I was not given a chance to get to know her. She ultimately did nothing to unmask the villain and was very passive in her observations of the crime. If Sasha hadn’t decided to give the game away, she probably would have gotten away with everything!

As Camp Fear was also written by Ellis, it was unsurprisingly more of the same. As with My Secret Admirer and The Window, the focus was once again on a protagonist who had no real connection to the people around her. This time, it was due to the fact that they were a group of teenage councillors who had just met as they prepared for a summer camp.

Due to its over familiar tone, the biggest issue with Camp Fear is that it offered nothing new. Tension is once again maintained due to the fact that Rachel does not know who she can trust. Unfortunately, by the time that the villain selects their third victim, it becomes painfully obvious who it must be. It is revealed that four of the teens do know each other – they all attended the camp years before and were indirectly responsible for the death of a young boy. The villain – Linda – is the boy’s sister who is intent on having her revenge.

The only real difference between Camp Fear and The Window is the method by which Linda intends to get her revenge. The way that she exploits the fears of her victims is creative and lead to a few intense scenes – particularly when poor Steve finds a rattlesnake hiding in his sleeping bag. Sadly, these scenes are few and far between. At over 200 pages, Camp Fear is pretty long for a Point Horror and it did take quite a while before things started to happen. As with The Window, the climax was also a bit lacklustre. Once Linda reveals herself, the novel quickly ends with no sense of catharsis.

Yet the characters in Camp Fear were a bit stronger than those in The Window. While they do adhere to typical 90s tropes such as the bitchy girl and the wise guy, each of the teens did have noticeably different personalities. A couple tended to fade into the background, but I never found it difficult to remember who was who. Rachel is also a lot stronger as a protagonist than Jody, as she did actively try to get to the bottom of the mystery rather than just observe it.

And then there was Dream Date. While this instalment was slow-burning, it actually built into an effective little thriller. The story this time was a supernatural one, focusing on a girl who literally meets the boy of her dreams, only to find that he has some sinister plans for her. What carries Dream Date is the gradual sense that Katie is losing control. As her insomnia slowly becomes narcolepsy and friends and teachers begin to notice the change in her personality, you can really feel Katie’s fear and desperation take hold.

While it did take me a while to get into the story, I am glad that I stuck with it. Dream Date eventually reveals that Heath is the spirit of a very unpleasant teen who died young. He now intends to slowly drain Katie of her life energy, giving him the power to come back to life while leaving her in a permanent coma. This is a decent twist that actually added a lot of depth to the story. I also enjoyed just how active Katie was. She put a lot of effort into researching and testing Heath’s weaknesses, leading to a satisfying conclusion as she uncovered the way to banish him forever.

The characters in Dream Date were particularly strong for a Point Horror novel. Katie was very relatable, especially as her desire to find a boyfriend spiralled out of control. The story felt like a bit of an inversion of Cooney’s Vampire books, as Katie essentially wished her tormentor into being. The only difference was that Katie quickly realised her mistake and was not punished anywhere near as harshly as Cooney’s protagonists. The supporting cast were also very memorable, from quirky Raquelle to the utterly detestable Heath, which certainly made this story stand out amongst the other Point Horrors.

Well, I think that about covers everything. While none of these instalments were terrible, The Train and Dream Date are the ones that stand out as being surprisingly decent reads. The other three are enjoyable enough, but were not unique enough to be truly memorable.

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

Please note that these five novels are currently out of print. If you are interested in reading them, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Noelle
    Oct 15, 2020 @ 19:43:55

    The only horror books I’ve read are a few Goosebumps ones and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to these things, lol. This spooky series sounds like it has a few interesting ones though.

    It’s a shame how some older books are out of print!


    • Arkham Reviews
      Oct 15, 2020 @ 20:15:43

      Point Horror was one of the things that really got me into horror as a kid. In the 90s, it was like a stepping stone between Goosebumps and adult horror stories. They tend to be a bit cheesy and predictable now, but in the day I thought they were amazing 😉


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