Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Dead Goldfish Are No Fun

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Hey guys, guys, you guys, let’s not think about how close my fortieth birthday is while I’m spending all this time thinking and blogging about teen horror novels written three decades ago during my first blush of youth, m’kay?

And that’s all I’m going to say about existential crises this week, because it’s time for some FUUUUN…house. Funhouse. 1990’s Funhouse by Diane Hoh, to be exact, also known as Point Horror #9. It’s just like the love potion, but with blood, blood, blood…and bits of sick. And let me tell you, Diane isn’t fucking around.

Tess Landers would always remember exactly where she was and what she was doing when The Devil’s Elbow roller coaster went flying off its track, shooting straight out into the air and hanging there for a few seconds, before giving into gravity and plummeting straight to the ground. The crash killed Dade Lewis, destroyed Sheree Buchanan’s face, and separated Joey Furman forever from his left leg.

Those, ladies and gentlemen, are the first two sentences on page one. So let’s dive right into this maelstrom of legless, faceless teen corpses, shall we?

I’d like to start off by telling you how our heroine du jour has just gotten a weird cash-in-hand job to pay for her prom dress or answered a creepily worded classified ad to catalog some old psycho’s library for mad benjamins, but none of those little plot movers apply here, because Tess’s family is rich. All of her friends are rich, too–the richest little Richies in town.

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An artist’s impression of Tess Landers.

She and her friends all hang out at The Boardwalk, which their parents own, because it has cotton candy and games and funhouses and roller coaster tracks painted red with the blood of teenage carnage. And their parents fucking own it, so they must get free hot dogs or goldfish with short lifespans or something to make the sacrifice worthwhile.

So Tess and her friends witness a roller coaster literally leaving its tracks, flying into the air and leaving their friends either mutilated or dead, and what do they do? Have a birthday party at The Boardwalk, that’s what they do. They are not pussies, as we used to say in the nineties and try not to now but rarely succeed. Trouble is, incidents on The Boardwalk keep happening and kids keep getting hurt, almost as if these incidents aren’t accidents. Spoiler alert! They’re not.

In between Tess navigating her frankly worrisome home environment (she left her dad’s mansion to live with her stepmother when they split; her stepmother promptly flew off for an extended vacay in Europe, leaving seventeen-year-old Tess to fend for herself in a condo in the woods, which is totally plausible) and the entirely intentional hazards of The Boardwalk, we get glimpses into the mind of the killer and, well, it’s all a bit complicated.

Ha, ha, ha. Shredded tires. Now her car won’t go!

Yeeeeeah.

So we discover, in detail, why the killer is killing the wealthy townspeople’s offspring, but we never find out why Tess’s dad, whose name is Guy Joe, Sr., thought it would be just the best idea to name his son Guy Joe, Jr. And everyone actually calls him Guy Joe all the time like it’s nothing, like his very name name doesn’t pinpoint him as the crazed hillbilly serial killer child of suicides who’s been terrorizing them this whole time. Oh shit…did I just give it away? Never mind.

You haunt my dreams, Guy Joe.

I was a little worried about straying from my beloved Richie T.; I know I read other Point books back in the day, but I don’t remember much about them because I’m old now and tired and everything hurts all the time. Would I lose the comfort of familiarity? Be disappointed by the probable names? Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Thanks Diane.

I give Funhouse 3 Killer Clowns from Outer Space out of 5 for the odd mix of old-fashioned dialogue and gleeful teen-killing.


Next week on Pointless Horror:

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If it arrives in time!

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Get Rich Quick or Die Tryin’

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As far as I can tell, 1993’s Help Wanted is the last book Richie Tankersley Cusick wrote for Point Horror before moving to Simon Pulse, so I regret to inform you all that this is the final post in the Pointless Horror series.

OR IS IT?!


After last week’s cluster of fuck, I’m pleased to report we’ve landed squarely back in Pointville (“All the Horror, All the Time”) with Help Wanted, but it’s possible we’ve gone just a little too formula with this one.

Robin Bailey, our tousled everyteen, is just minding her own damn business on the low edge of the middle class, getting good grades and staying responsibly boyfriendless, when out of the blue comes the chance of a lifetime: a spring break-style trip to Florida with her best friend. Problem? It costs money, and our girl doesn’t have a job. But that’s okay, because within ten seconds she spies a notice on the school corkboard or whatever it was they used to disseminate information to juveniles in the nineties:

HELP WANTED

GET RICH QUICK

NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY

I think we can all agree this job ad was posted well before the internet; if Robin had answered an ad promising “get rich quick” with “no experience necessary” today, we’d be reading a very different genre.

Luckily for Robin, digital porn hasn’t yet taken the world by storm and the job is for cataloging the local millionaire’s daughter-in-law’s books so he can dump them at the local library. Which is probably unnecessary, but Robin needs a job, so it makes plot sense.

“Will the interview take long?”

“Depends on how long you want to stay.”

“Oh. Not long, probably.”

“Then there’s your answer.[…] Hope you don’t scare easy.”

At her totally legitimate-sounding interview, Robin finds out that the local millionaire hates his dead-by-suicide daughter-in-law and his alive-but-crazy granddaughter-in-law (is that a thing?) Claudia, and that his grandson in none other than school heartthrob Parker Swanson. We’ve got a love interest! But he’s seriously obnoxious. But also cute and rich, so I guess he gets a pass on the personality fail.

As Robin tries to get on with her cataloging job (making $100 dollars a week in 1994!), she gets tangled in a web of lies, deceit, murder, money and some other stuff lurking in the deep dark woods smack in the middle of suburbia. It’s all a little…perfunctory, though I should mention Help Wanted was nominated for an Edgar Award, which is, after all, for mystery, not horror.

Still, we’ve got all the Cusick hallmarks here:

Robin’s actually quite shitty best friend Faye who disappears a quarter of the way through the book when she’s needed most:

Faye let go of the door before she realized Robin hadn’t quite crossed the threshold. Robin, struggling with her books, glanced up just in time to see the door swinging into her face.

Death-obsessed bewilderteen Claudia, who’s even more OTT than her namesake:

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I’m 400 fucking years old! I’ll eat as many snickerdoodles as I please!

The suspiciously suspect gardener:

“You better run, little girl, far away from this place! You better run for your life!”

And the obligatory love triangle between Robin, Parker and the improbably named Theodore “Walt” Waltermize.

He wasn’t handsome in that breathtaking way Parker Swanson was, yet there was something intriguing about him—his sandy hair, for one thing, hanging thick and wavy past his shoulders; his customary outfit of threadbare jeans and faded workshirt; the steady calm of his brown eyes; and his square stubborn jaw.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember any boys in my high school matching that description—and that was during the height of grunge.

Overall, I found Help Wanted disappointing. The mystery element is fairly by numbers (spoiler: the killer is the one you have no reason to suspect) and even the romance seems half-hearted, as Robin doesn’t actually spend quality alone time with either of the corners of her triangle, apart from a tensionless pizza date with Walt.

Help Wanted gets two-and-a-half out of five “We’ll get back to you some time next week”s, because it’s not my cup of tea, but it’s also not Silent Stalker


Next week on Pointless Horror:

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Yeah that’s right! We’re branching out, baby!

 

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: It’s Not a Blighty One

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I just don’t get it.

I’ve read Cusick’s Silent Stalker more than once, and I sat down to write this review several times before I gave up entirely. I have spent the past six months not writing a review for this book, because I can think of no other way, no better way to describe it than batshit crazy.

Silent Stalker is my white whale, so welcome aboard the SS Curious: we’re gonna harpoon a bitch.

We’re just going to get straight into this, because if I try to think about it too much, my brain will melt. First, let’s meet our ‘heroine’ Jenny and her douche nozzle father who doesn’t need a name and possibly doesn’t have one anyway, because he’s the nozzle of a douche, and who knows what that’s even called.

“You’re being a brat,” said Dad under his breath as he pulled their suitcases from the car. “You’re upsetting me.”

“Because I’m scared to stay here?”

[…]

“Just like your mother,” he snorted. “Always trying to ruin my plans—”

In case you haven’t already guessed, Jenny’s mother and father are divorced. Jenny’s mother, who only appears briefly at the end of the book but still manages to come across as the most well-adjusted of the characters, wants her ex-husband and daughter to spend some quality time together. So Jenny finds herself at a rebuilt English castle in the middle of rural America where her father is going write an article about a local Renaissance Faire. Sounds mundane, yeah? In case you think Jenny’s being hard done by, please note that she has a habit of coming out with daft shit like this:

“Is it…is it real? Jenny heard someone whisper, and then realized with a start that it was her.

I hate Jenny.

So Jenny and Superdad rock up to this castle during an actual dark and stormy night and a tree falls on their car, proving that even nature hates this book, which gives Superdad the perfect excuse to just invite himself—”oh and that pain in the ass I share my genes with I guess what a drag mmm cookies”—over to stay the night. Before you get all jealous, the castle is a mess. And it’s inhabited by an inbred gang of total fucking nobheads: the Worthingtons. There’s Derrek and Malcolm, dashing if you like that kind of thing identical twins, who dress up in “romantic clothes” all the time; their demented father Sir Something-or-other; and their younger brother, who dresses as a court jester. His name…his name is WIT. Yeah, you read that right. I don’t think I can take this much longer.

When Jenny wakes up the next day, her father’s already fucked off to go write some other article…and left his daughter in the care of complete strangers who talk in terrible rhymes and who, instead of calling Child Protective Services like reasonable human beings, proceed to torture the poor girl for no discernible reason. I mean, it’s obvious Jenny scares easily–that’s the Cusick protagonist trope–but they really go for it in this: chaining her up to the wall, playing mind games, going “woo-woo” while wearing sheets, and other things I didn’t bother to note down because I gave up. But it’s okay man, cos two of the brothers are wikkid hot and one is, like, boyishly handsome with dimples and sociopathic tendencies, and it’s not Jenny’s fault that she suspected them all along when actually, once she ends up in exactly the same climactic sequence as Kelsey in The Lifeguard, she finds out it was the third twin I mean triplet who’s truly psychotic and has been trying to kill her all along, even though the others knew the whole time and instead of warning her just fucked her about and put her in danger because they have such wonderful senses of humor okay cool let’s all be friends The End.

And then they literally all ride off into the sunset together as the best of friends in the epilogue.

Fuck off.

I give this blight five what-the-fucks out of I can’t even. Is this a good book? Goodreads thinks so. Is it a bad one? I honestly can’t tell, but some things should probably stay buried in 1994 where they belong. I only have myself to blame for digging it up.

I still love you Richie!


Next week on Pointless Horror:

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: It’s a Blighty One, Part 1

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You guys. It’s happened again–I know the title, I know the cover…but I have absolutely no idea of the story inside. No clue. I even broke my own rule and had a very quick and squinty-eyed peek at the synopsis, but no. No bells were rung, not a single memory was jogged. Let’s see what Open Road Media has to say about this:

Trapped in a madman’s castle, a young girl must fight to save her sanity

Thunder bellows as Jenny and her father pull up to the gate of Worthington Hall. As they inch onto the grounds of the ancient estate, a disheveled young woman thrusts her head through the open window. “Leave!” she yells. “Before it’s too late! He’ll kill you. I swear.” Jenny is terrified, but her dad laughs it off. The girl is just an actress—part of the medieval fair being held on the castle grounds. But it’s not long before Jenny wishes they’d heeded the warning. The house is a drafty maze of narrow hallways and dungeons. Jenny wants to flee, but her father is intent on the work he’s come to do. Soon the Worthington family sets upon young Jenny, playing twisted tricks on her until she forgets what’s real. The Worthingtons play cruel games—and if Jenny loses, it will mean her life.

Looks like Jenny’s getting off the block (of small-town middle America) for this one. But who the hell are these insane-sounding Worthington freaks? ‘Hey, uh, thanks for coming to help us set up our Ren Faire. Can we terrorise your daughter? Oh, no real reason, just for the lulz.’

Point Horror, ladies and gentlemen.

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Room 27

Pointless Horror: Mystery Meat, Part 2

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This cover makes me want to gag.

Seriously, Open Road Media? Clip art of a hole in the ground, that’s your cover for Fatal Secrets? It’s like you’re not even trying anymore.

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Me too, little buddy. Me too.

I’m sorry to say that my projected synopsis from Part 1 was completely and utterly incorrect, but I was right in thinking that I would be gutted about it. Such an idea, so much promise! And actually, now that I think about it, one detail wasn’t that far off, as we’ll see a bit later. So I’m patting myself on the back for that. And it turns out I have read Fatal Secrets before–I guess it didn’t make that much of an impression the first time round. Ouch.

Fatal Secrets opens with high school senior Ryan McCauley (surprise–it’s a girl) tromping through woods on a snowy evening with her sister Marissa in search of pine cones for some reason I don’t care enough to remember. Blah blah holly mistletoe Christmas spirit whatever, Ryan and Marissa have a bit of a fight because Marissa is being jumpy and paranoid and annoying and is not looking for pine cones hard enough oh my god don’t you know this is my life, so they split up and then Marissa screams, just as you knew she would. Marissa’s fallen through the ice and Ryan tries to save her but can’t quite get a grip. (Oh! The cover clip art is meant to be a hole in the ice, not in the ground! I totally get it now…and it’s still a crock of shit.)

Fast forward three weeks.

‘It’s Christmas time,’ she mumbled to herself. ‘And no more bad things can happen, because it’s my favorite time of year.’

Aw, Ryan’s so delusional it’s almost sweet. But also understandable, because she watched her sister die a few weeks ago and now her mother is just sitting in Marissa’s room all day mooning over her favorite daughter’s death and wishing the good Lord Jesus had taken Ryan instead. Or, you know, that’s how it feels.

IT’s okay, though–Ryan’s bestie Phoebe thinks all Ryan needs to get over her teenage sister’s untimely death under mysterious circumstances is a boyfriend, of course. So it’s a good thing we’ve got a candidate just hanging out for a body shop at night.

As Ryan gazed up into the young man’s face, she felt her breath catch in her throat. Winchester Stone was staring down at her, silhouetted against the slate-gray twilight.

Winchester Stone. Who the whiplashed fuck names their kid ‘Winchester’? But think about it…I pretty much hit the nail on the head with Tornado Lightningballs, didn’t I? You know it.

Sadly Winchester‘s going to have to take a back seat, because Ryan’s got some stranger things to deal with. Random friends of her sister turn up at her house and somehow manage to wheedle an indefinite invitation to stay, mom’s boyfriend Steve (such a common name) seems really interested in whether Ryan has a secret, as does Ryan’s comedy Italian boss at the toy shop, and (the moment you’ve been waiting for) a person (or persons) unknown is making a pretty decent attempt at scaring the crap out of Ryan. Because it’s a Cusick novel, that’s why, and I’m sure it’ll be explained at great length nearer the end.

In my review of The Mall, I mentioned that I was getting a little tired of characters acting weird for a single scene, with no clear motivation, just so the protagonist would suspect them. Richie must have known what I was thinking (way in advance, like twenty years ago), because while everyone is a suspect in this book too, it also transpires that everyone did it. Like, everyone. It literally takes twenty pages at the end to explain how and why all the characters are jumping out of the dark like evil Jacks in the Box. It’s hilarious, tedious, and surprising all wrapped up in a little misshapen package with appropriately Christmas-themed paper and bows. I gotta kinda sorta respect that.

Fatal Secrets gets three-and-a-half Red Ryder BB guns for turning my expectations on their head, even if the journey was a bit meh.

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Mystery Meat, Part 1

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Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers! And to everyone else, I pity your lack of pumpkin pie.

But we’re not here to talk turkey–we’re here for Point flippin’ Horror. And our next installment is going to be all Fatal, all Secret, all the time. That’s right, it’s 1992’s Fatal Secrets by Richie Tankersley Cusick, and if you’re wondering why I haven’t got straight into what I remember about the book, it’s because I remember nothing. Not a single damn thing.

Granted, I’m not one to recall titles all that well, but even this cover looks only vaguely familiar to me. It’s kind of a mishmash of themes, with its creepy doll, haunted-y house, and carnival detritus, so I’m not getting a clear sense of the story from that either. What about the tagline?

The killer is only a heartbeat away…

Yeah, that could mean literally anything. I know I must have read Fatal Secrets–I’m pretty sure I read every Richie title in the nineties, as her books were kind of my jam–but man, I got nothing. So let’s make some shit up!

Beautiful, young, and improbably named Titanic Nietzsche takes a part-time job at the local travelling night carnival to feel less lonely while her deadbeat Fortune 500 CEO mother honeymoons with the new husband on Mars. When creepy things start happening at the ring toss kiosk, she teams up with undercover cop Tornado Lightningballs who, disguised as a carousel horse, has been tracking a gang of possessed Punch and Judy marionettes intent on flooding the town’s black market with kidneys harvested from the local high school’s population. Can Titanic and Tornado the Wonder Horse stop the kindeynappings? Is it weird that no one ever wins at the ring toss, or is it designed that way? Find out if the gigantic metal bar anchoring Tornado to the carousel floor gets in the way of his budding romance with Titanic in Fatal Secrets.

If Fatal Secrets isn’t exactly like this, I’m going to be crushed.

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Mall Brats, Part 2

Holy crap, time got away from me for a minute there. Did you miss me? It’s been two weeks since Part 1, but since I didn’t remember a huge amount about this book pre-read, it probably doesn’t matter anyway. God, I’m starting to sound like a teenager again. I hate my life and stop telling me what to do.

Enough of that. To the review and beyond!


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Naked mannequins are well creepy. There’s no denying that they’re similar to dolls in their power to render even the bravest of us a slobbering mess. But on this cover of Cusick’s suburban teenage horror The Mall (1992), they just look a bit staid and generic. So sorry, Open Road Media, but the original’s neon hysteria wins the round. Again. (I’m beginning to think I might be some kind of throwback: ‘You kids don’t know how good you have it. Back in my day everything was hot pink!’).

It’s been a couple of weeks since I read The Mall, so let’s try to remember the story together, eh? Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young princess named…uh…Trish. No, yeah, it was Trish. She kissed a frog, and then it turned into a serial killer? Hang on, let me check my notes.

Ah, yes, here we are: Young Trish gets a job at the bakery in her local mall’s food court because teenagers like money and those white jean skirts aren’t going to buy themselves. Sounds pretty typical, right?

‘I’m telling you, weird things happen at this mall,’ Nita shook her head. ‘Gives me the creeps.’

That’s on like page four, kids, so we’re getting to the point real quick in this one. (Not that it ever takes long in Point Horror–this isn’t Stephen King we’re talking about.) Our Nita, along with her bookish and therefore instantly likable twin Imogene, are Trish’s best friends. They also work at the mall, in a clothing store called something embarrassingly nineties and a bookstore, respectively. I like Imogene best, for obvious reasons. Trish’s single mother is, of course, as far away from this plane of reality as she can get without actually being dead.

‘She’s still on that stupid business trip flying around Europe somewhere,’ Trish said ungratefully gloomily. ‘You’re so lucky your parents aren’t divorced. And that you have a normal mother instead of a business executive!’

Right. Moving along.

So Trish is working her first shift at the muffin grinder–grinding muffins–when she catches the eye of a slightly odd gentleman with a penchant for honey muffins. His manner is a little off, but she pays it no mind because at the pizza place across the court she’s just noticed the man of her effing dreams, guys. Get ready for it…

‘I never have trouble remembering his name,’ Nita sighed. ‘Storm Reynolds….’

Because who could possibly forget an improbable name like STORM REYNOLDS. You have truly outdone yourself this time, Ms. Cusick. Truly. And I love you for it.

Storm–may I call you Storm?–Storm is exactly what you’d expect him to be: tall, handsome, high cheekbones, hung like a…. And the ladies can’t keep their eyes off him (except Imogene, who prefers his friend and metal-enthusiast Weird Wyatt, which is also why I like her best.) The girls are just having their day in the mall, you know, when all of sudden Trish gets sort-of called away for a phone call (on a payphone yeah you heard me rite).

‘I’m eating the muffin,’ he said. ‘It tastes just like you.’

Well. Shit just got not funny. I guess Nita was right. Turns out weird things have been happening at the mall (lots of missing girls (some dead), merchandise disappearing, honey muffins all over the goddamn place like Winnie-the-Pooh got perverted, you name it). Trish is the latest in a long line of the Muffin Man’s obsessions, but that’s practically beside the point because Storm and Wyatt (spoiler) are undercover cops.

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Now, in Part 1 I said I hoped this would be the book that bleached my brain clean of all traces of Vampire, and I’m happy to report it was. Not only did Cusick have a little fun with her formula, she brought some realistic fear to an otherwise over-the-top (if pretty imaginative) crazy stalker/serial killer character. And with Cusick introducing both the possibility of a dangerous environment (creepy mall) and the Muffin Maniac* within the first ten pages, Trish’s immediate and escalating fear didn’t come across as unfounded and hysterical–just pretty fucking rational under the circumstances. No running from wet leaves like a Southern train for this girl.

A few tiresome cliches still poked through (how many times are the good guys going to have uncharacteristic attacks of outpatient behaviour just so we have weak reason to suspect them?), but all in all, an entertaining read.

The Mall gets four out of five honey muffins for genuine stalker fear and for releasing me from Vampire’s egregious embrace.

 

*Fun fact: The bakery Trish works at is called Muffin-Mania. MUFFIN-MANIA, y’all!

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