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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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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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Mall Brats, Part 1

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Early nineties’ clothes are terrifying.

Aaaand we’re back in the room.

After a much-needed week off, we’re continuing the Pointless Horror series with The Mall, Richie Tankersley Cusick’s 1992 offering. Judging by the five-star Amazon UK rating, this should be a smidgen better than the book That Shall Not Be Named, also known as The Book That Broke Pointless.

I don’t really remember the killer or the premise of this story–except, you know, it’s in a mall–but I do know there’s a definite 21 Jump Street angle to it, with undercover cops posing as high-school students. It makes me wonder just how many cops actually look like children, and how much that must suck for them.

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The fabulous mullets make up for all the beatings.

Tune in Monday for what I hope will be a happy happy joy joy review of awesomeness, because I just know this is going to be the book that turns things around (even though we already had that).

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Just a Little Prick, Part 2

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I am losing the will to live.

Well, maybe losing the will to read.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was in a bad mood when I read Cusick’s Vampire. It happens. But I’m pretty sure that had I been in the best rainbow stuffed unicorn happy happy mood ever, I still wouldn’t have been able to cope with the protagonist’s full-on wandering womb hysteria.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Improbably named Darcy’s crappy mother is getting married again and taking off to Europe for her honeymoon, leaving Darcy with her Uncle Jake, whom she’s never met and her whole family hates for basically no reason. So we’re off to a good start.

Uncle Jake runs a horror museum, and although the exhibits are just static wax figures of classic horror monsters (think Bela Lugosi et al.), Darcy is pants-shittingly terrified of them.

As he pushed her to the guardrail, Darcy felt her skin crawl…Darcy turned away, strangely unsettled by the coffin…Darcy continued on…shuddering at all the gory details…Darcy shut her eyes, trying to force all the grisly scenes from her mind…

She is, in fact, pants-shittingly terrified of everything. Even before she has reason to be. Remember Martha and Belinda? Darcy has made me miss Martha and Belinda. I shed a single tear for their relative bravery, even though it hurt me to do so.

(But it’s okay that Darcy’s so hysterical–that just means all the boys can protect her. And they all want to protect her, are fighting to protect her, because she’s really pretty and that makes it easier to stare into the void where her personality should be.)

Oh god, this is awful, isn’t it? Let’s continue.

Not long after Darcy breezes into town, someone starts slitting the throats of teen girls for fun, leaving them with his signature: two dots, made with red lipstick, over their jugular veins. For some reason, the kids find the fake vampire bites more disturbing than the gaping throat wounds, because they’ve all been doing a lot of vampire research lately for reasons you just don’t need to know, and this killer could be any kind of vampire. Any kind.

‘Do you think this Vampire–the killer, I mean–really believes he is one?’

‘If he does then that makes him extremely dangerous…. Because he can be any kind of vampire he wants to be, so that makes him unpredictable.’

Right. He’s dangerous because his free rein in the vampire pantheon makes him unpredictable; the fact that he’s a homicidal fucking maniac is just a side note. Right, got it. Consider my priorities straightened.

Turns out the killer is totally predictable, being the only one of Darcy’s new peer group to be voted Most Likely to Not Be Suspected in high school. True to formula, I suppose…or is it? You see, I came out of this book more than half convinced that the main vampire-ish murderer plot is actually just a smoke screen to mask the real horror lurking beneath the surface of the narrative.

Uncle Jake.

Yes, ‘gorgeous’ Uncle Jake, who at twenty-three years old not only owns a horror museum, but also runs a club (I mean, ‘Club’) for minors where they serve Coca-Cola and kids can stay out of trouble, allegedly. Uncle Jake, whose only friends in the book are high-schoolers. Uncle Jake, who recently dated a seventeen-year-old, and who currently has the hots for his equally seventeen-year-old niece (oh my god no wait it’s okay he’s adopted!).

Uncle. Fucking. Jake.

Like I said, I was in a bad mood. Maybe I’ll revisit Vampire at some point, but I need some space, okay? Some…alone time.

Vampire gets one out of five Belas-in-the-headlights, because I didn’t like it.

 


I’m taking a one-week break to carve pumpkins and plan my (late) Halloween costume, so regularly scheduled programming will return on Thursday, 3 November with…The Mall!

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Happy Halloween!

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Pointless Horror series

Pointless Horror: Just a Little Prick, Part 1

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I’ve never really been a fan of the vampire as a horror genre construct. I’m not sure I can even explain why–vampires have always just left me a bit cold (geddit?!). Even when I went through my Anne Rice phase during university, I somehow managed to avoid reading almost all of her vampire novels, sticking to the fringe, Lestat-less stories like Violin and Cry to Heaven instead.

(I did enjoy the Interview with the Vampire film when it came out, though, which probably had more to do with my youthfully misguided crush on Christian Slater than the story. I say ‘misguided’, but man he is good in Mr. Robot, ain’t he? But let’s be honest–it’d be hard to be bad on a show like that.)

There are always exceptions to the rule, of course. I’ve recently reread some of the old Stephen King classics, and I was surprised to find that ‘Salem’s Lot is actually one of my favourites of his. The follow-up short, ‘One for the Road’, is great, but I’m less enamoured with the prequel/origin story ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’, and yet I feel like the ‘Salem’s Lot universe is one that could be, and probably should be, revisited.

Knowing my bloodsucker aversion, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that when it came time to write about Vampire, Cusick’s own take on the icon (I guess?), I couldn’t remember a single damn thing about it. Not one. I wasn’t even convinced she’d written the book–I had to double-check to ensure my sources were correct for my own peace of mind. Total memory vacuum.

Luckily, during a fifteen-minute yoga session this morning that has left me crippled (this health kick is brought to you by my birthday next month–please kill me), one major detail jumped unbidden into my conscious mind: the killer leaves two dots of red lipstick on his victims’ necks. That’s why the book’s called Vampire.

And that’s all I know.

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