Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Smell My Feet, Part 1

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I look at this house, this clearly haunted-ass house with its creepy horror-novel font and mysterious glow in the background and a random but possibly dangerous man knocking on the door who we know can’t just be the Amazon Prime delivery guy because Jeff Bezos hasn’t invented it yet, and I think, Dream house. (Though I could do without the twee gingerbread gables.)

I have particular tastes.

Published in 1989, Trick or Treat is Richie Tankersley Cusick’s second novel in her prolific Point Horror career. How prolific? Try eleven Point-branded novels in six years (not including the two adult horror books she published with Pocket during same period). Overall, before taking what seems to have been a hiatus between 1997 and 2002, Cusick published seventeen YA and adult horror novels between 1988 and 1996. On average, that’s more than two books a year.

That’s a lot.

Open Road Media has limited itself to reprinting only the Point and adult books, but adult isn’t Point, so here’s the list we’re working from:

  • The Lifeguard (1988) [Part 1, Part 2]
  • Trick or Treat (1989)
  • Teacher’s Pet (1990)
  • April Fools (1990)
  • Vampire (1991)
  • The Mall (1992)
  • Fatal Secrets (1992)
  • Silent Stalker (1993)
  • Help Wanted (1993)
  • The Locker (1994)
  • The Drifter (1994)

When I do these introductions I try not to read even a synopsis of the current title, but rather conjure whatever I can from the depths of my memory so I might, perhaps, be surprised. Exceptions will have to be made, of course; for instance, it’s a good thing I accidentally read the first line of Trick or Treat’s synopsis, because all my memories of that book are actually April Fools in disguise. Oops.

I do remember a bit about this book, but not really what it has to do with Halloween. There’s probably a dance or something, maybe a haunted theme park–that tends to be popular with the YA crowd (and me). Mostly I remember the love interest’s name is Blake. Blake. Why do YA novel protags always have such unusual names? Blake, Neale, Kelsey, Skip–it’s like a Primrose Hill primary school roster.

Well. On the surface, Trick or Treat includes two of my favourite things–Halloween and haunted houses–and as luck would have it, I will be reading it at the beginning of October, so I think I can forgive Cusick her Improbable Names Fetish just this once.

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Swimming with the Sharks, Part 2

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Let’s talk about this cover for a moment. While it’s extremely similar to the original edition in composition, it has some marked differences that make it more effective as a YA horror novel cover. First, the subject isn’t hiding his crow’s feet with aviators and he doesn’t have Miami Vice permastubble. Which, as I think we all knew then as well as we do now, isn’t a feature of seventeen-year-old boy face. Second, the silhouette not only looks younger, but projects an air of mystery–we know he’s a lifeguard, but we have no idea which lifeguard, and guess what? That’s the thrust of the entire book, summed up succinctly in one illustration. Well played, Open Road. Well played.

Now onto the meat of this retro roast dinner. The Lifeguard follows Kelsey and her mother, whose name is either not given or totally unimportant because I’ve already forgotten it, as they visit Beverly Island, home of mother’s playwright boyfriend Eric, his daughter Beth and his two lifeguard sons Neale and Justin. But lo! As soon as Kelsey and mother step off the ferry, they’re informed that Beth has gone missing (and is pretty much presumed dead by cold and unfeeling but also sexy and piercing Neale who spent time in a mental institution where murders happened but is totally okay now maybe but we just don’t talk about it). Kelsey, who is deathly afraid of water due to her father’s drowning two years prior, finds a note from Beth suggesting her disappearance isn’t an accident, and then super weird shit starts happening. Super weird murdery shit. (No spoilers!)

In the pregame commentary I mentioned that The Lifeguard wasn’t my favourite Richie book, and this reread has done nothing to change my opinion. Overall, I think it suffers from an overflowing kettle’s worth of red herrings–pretty much every male character except one has ample cause to be a murderous psycho, so guess who’s the murderer? Yeah. Kind of a rookie mistake when it comes to mysteries, but this was only Cusick’s first Point novel and her second overall, so I’m not going to judge her harshly. Also, while getting rid of the parents is a necessary trope of Point Horror (and one of my personal favourites), the manner in which the kids were separated from their primary caregivers made the parents seem neglectful and borderline dickish.

By the way, your mom took off for the mainland…. She said she forgot to tell you.

Kelsey’s mom took off and left Kelsey on a strange island with strange teenagers she literally only just met and no adults and she forgot to tell her? Seriously? I know I’m old and less excited by the prospect of parental neglect, but come on.

That said, the atmosphere of the story held strong, with all its isolated beaches and disused lighthouses and fogs and storms, so it was a pleasant ride if not a mindbending one. Kelsey’s friend Donna was as much of a joy of a character as I remember her to be–nuanced, naive, complicated and fun to be around. I just wish we could have seen more of her (especially as I liked her a lot more than Kelsey, who came off as a bit of a drip most of the time). There were a few amusing-in-the-wrong-way moments peppered through the story, mostly as a result of the book’s seemingly ancient milieu:

She wished she could just go down and ask him where the phone was, but if it was in the same room  with him then he’d be able to hear everything she was saying. No, better to find an extension.

Remember when you had to find an actual phone to make a phone call and that phone could only stay in the room it was plugged into and other people could pick up a totally different phone and hear everything you were saying on your phone, the one you were standing right next to with no privacy because the cord only reached so far?! Me neither.

She paused on the steps and slid her arms into her purple windbreaker.

Thank you for dying young, windbreakers

Kelsey averted her eyes, but not before noticing his thick black hair, the firm set of his jaw, the high cheekbones, the sinewy curve to his upper arms.

Ha! This genuinely made me laugh out loud. Ah, Richie, you tickle me.

All right all right. I’m giving The Lifeguard 2 1/2 bonfire beach parties out of 5–it’s quite flawed, but nascent Cusick is there, so if you’re a fan of beachy YA horror you could do a lot worse.

Next up, 1989’s Trick or Treat. And ooooh, it’s a doozy.

 

Buy The Lifeguard ebook on Amazon here. (For the ebook editions, she’s listed as Richie T Cusick.)

Publishers Weekly review from 1988 here.

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Swimming with the Sharks, Part 1

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Look at those muscles. Seriously, look at them. This is a book for teenagers and that guy is at least 35. A chiseled, five-o’clock–shadowed, Top Gun–handsome 35 years old. This isn’t just any lifeguard, young ladies. This is The Lifeguard by Richie Tankersley Cusick.

I’ve decided to read through Cusick’s books chronologically, and while The Lifeguard is her first Point book, it isn’t her first novel. That distinction goes to 1984’s Evil on the Bayou, which was released as part of Dell’s Twilight: Where Darkness Begins series. Dell ceased publishing Twilight about four years before Point barged onto the scene like a brash young boxer with something to prove (sort of), but Twilight, with its twenty-six standalone young adult horror titles, very much blazed Point’s trail. Casting an eye over Twilight’s list of books, Evil on the Bayou is the only title I can definitely remember reading, but the series had a decent stable of authors so it might be worth a punt if you can find them.

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In the 1980s, women did the hokey pokey with snakes.

Evil on the Bayou wasn’t bad at all, very atmospheric, and I think it was the only novel Cusick set in her native Louisiana. It’s all sticky sexy heat, voodoo, and moss-dripped bayous–I was reminded of it when I watched The Skeleton Key. Like, really reminded of it. (Maybe someday soon I’ll read the book and then watch the film to see how similar they truly are–you know, make a night of it. A laaame night.) Sadly, since it’s not Point it’s out of scope for our purposes, so these brief reminiscences will have to suffice.

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This Laurel-Leaf reprint has the cover I remember.

On to The Lifeguard. Now, in my previous post I mentioned that Point Horror began in the early nineties, and some sources confirm that, but Cusick’s own website (does she know I’m stalking her?) states that The Lifeguard was published in 1988. So let’s take her word for it–in which case, this must have been one of the series’ launch titles. Now, I don’t think this was the first book of hers I read–that was probably Teacher’s Pet or Trick or Treat–but it was an early one. It wasn’t one of my favorites, but neither was it an unqualified stinker. I loved the remote, isolated beach location, which may or may not have influenced the establishment of my current abode by the sea. I technically lived by a body of water when I read this book as a kid, but it was a thirty-minute drive away and the ‘beaches’ were covered in industrial and medical waste, so sand and surf wasn’t really part of my childhood.

Anyhoo, lifeguards and beaches and sun and romance and murder and clean water and, crucially, no parents. That’s what I remember of The Lifeguard.

Hang on…did I just say MURDER?!

 

Note: All pre-reading Part 1 posts will henceforth be posted on Thursdays. Part 2 (The Reviewening) will be posted on Mondays.

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Pointless Horror series

Burnin’ Rubber on Nostalgia Road

…with a crate-load of Point Horror books in the passenger seat of my hot rod. Because there were still totally hot rods in the nineties. Leave it alone–this is my dream.

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Actually, hot rods never figured in my teenage daydreams (and still don’t in my late-thirties), but any number of Point Horror protagonists did. Would I choose Sexy but Dangerous or Sexy but Safe? Well, the only thing I could be sure of is that at least one of them was out to kill me, but that didn’t stop me from trying to outsmart them all…in my head. Unsuccessfully.

But I do still think about Point Horror, occasionally and fondly. Being a girl who loved horror and had pretty much devoured the full raft of Victorian, Edwardian and early (and many late) twentieth-century ghost stories by age fourteen, I found myself looking for something a bit closer to home. Of course I read all the Stephen King novels and Ann Rule true crime books on my mother’s shelf, but as an early teenager in the nineties, stories of single mothers in peril or real adult men committing heinous acts–along with the almost de rigueur sexual violence against women–didn’t satisfy my desire for inclusion. Those books were arguably less scary, less meaningful to me because I couldn’t see myself in the protagonists’ shoes.

Enter Point Horror. I can’t remember the exact moment I first found a Point Horror novel on the library or bookshop shelf and decided to give this unknown a go, but I can remember spending my summers plowing through volume after volume with absolute pleasure. (I will always and forever associate scary stories with lazy days and sunshine.) This was also the time I started getting seriously into music; the radio was constantly on (CFNY Toronto, anyone?), and I began buying tapes and CDs of my own choosing. Even now, when certain songs come on the radio or in the pub, I am instantly transported to a scene from a Point Horror book, and I may not recall the details with clarity, but I always remember the feeling. And it is good.

Point began life in the early nineties as a division of Scholastic and published paperback originals from a host of now-notable authors, including Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine (one of his first was a Point book). They were geared towards teenage girls–unusual in itself for anything horror-related–and were very popular with their target demographic. They are, it seems, well remembered for the most part, although some criticism has focused on the representation of their female characters and the dearth of practical problems. Point Horror stopped publishing in 2005, although there was a mini-revival in 2013.

Twenty-plus years later, I’m interested, mostly, in whether the shine of Point Horror has dulled. I’m no longer the target audience, of course, and though contemporary at the time, the nineties are long gone, long enough for clothes from that era to be deemed ‘vintage’ (gross). So Point may very well just not be for me anymore. But is it true, as Will Davis wrote in the Guardian, that as an adult I’ll feel embarrassed I ever read ‘this trash’? That Point Horror failed because ‘today’s kids [writing in 2008] have higher standards’, and that the books’ escapist nature prevented them from treating real-life issues that would appeal more to contemporary teenagers (just like Twilight…oh wait)? Davis was ambiguous on that last point, but I’m firmly opposed to it. Do thirteen-year-olds really need the drudgery and despair of everyday life shoved down their tender throats, and if that’s truly what they desire, why are they fleeing headlong into the arms of sparkling vampires and boy wizards? Is escapism such a bad thing? Is Point Horror, well, pointless? Let’s not be so hasty with our adult-shaped judgments in hindsight here.

The point to this Point is that I just found out Open Road Media has republished ebooks of a number of novels from my fave fave fave ever Point Horror author, Richie Tankersley Cusick (you won’t find much on her author website–technology doesn’t seem to be her strong point). I’m a bit late to the game on this one, but hey, it’s new to me. So I’m going to read my way through all of Cusick’s Point Horror books that are available in ebook–and try to source any that aren’t–giving my thoughts and memories beforehand, which might not be much (it has been a quarter of a century since I read them, after all), and then revisit my position after. Does the legacy persist untarnished? I don’t know. Will I emerge disillusioned and ashamed of my teenage self? I highly doubt it.

At least I was reading.

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