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: 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: 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

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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