Book: “Infidel” by Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Image Comics, September 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:A haunted house story for the 21st century, INFIDEL follows an American Muslim woman and her multi-racial neighbors who move into a building haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia.
Bestselling editor Pornsak Pichetshote (Swamp Thing, Daytripper, The Unwritten) makes his comics writing debut alongside artist extraordinaire Aaron Campbell (The Shadow, James Bond: Felix Leiter), award-winning colorist and editor Jose Villarubia (Batman: Year 100, Spider-Man: Reign), and letterer / designer Jeff Powell (SCALES & SCOUNDRELS).
Review:Even though horror has almost always had stories with some kind of hidden themes within their works, I feel like as a genre people are starting to really realize the possibilities of metaphor for greater ills beyond a monster or a ghost. With books like “Lovecraft Country” and movies like “Get Out”, we are starting to see more expansion and room for not only POC characters, but also critiques of racism within our culture and society. “Infidel” by Pornsak Pichetshote is the most recent story of this kind that I have come across, and I can tell you that I was waiting very impatiently for my hold on it to be filled at my library. Given that NPR listed it on their ‘100 Greatest Horror Stories of All Time’ selection, my enthusiasm and anticipation was greater than most other books I request. It was also a lofty claim to make, and while I was open to the claim I wondered how much my own final opinion of it would line up with it.
Our story follows Aisha, a Muslim American woman who has recently moved into an apartment building with a tragedy attached to it. A few years before, a Middle Eastern man’s homemade bombs went off, killing a number of the tenants. Aisha and her friends, most of whom come from non-white backgrounds, are aware of the history, and aware of how the white tenants aren’t as welcoming to them as they are to non POCs. What Aisha and her friends don’t know is that the building is haunted by a very angry and aggressive set of ghosts. It’s Aisha that first sees the twisted and violent entities that haunt the complex, their rage focusing on her. The visual manifestations of these things are truly horrific, as they are warped and filled with rage and able to cause serious physical harm. Much like “Lovecraft Country”, racism and bigotry is the true villain of this book, with the ghosts targeting Aisha because of her Muslim faith and their association that gives them to the man whose bombs were their demise. Aisha isn’t the only one who has nasty encounters with the ghosts, as their ire holds a lot of the other characters hostage and puts them at risk as well. It starts slowly for all of them, noticing it bit by bit and making them wonder if they ACTUALLY saw something, or if it’s just a figment of their imaginations, a direct metaphor for those who are victims of racism in our day to day lives.
But the other kind of racism that Pichetshote shows in this book isn’t just the over the top obvious kind in ghost form; rather, it’s mostly micro-aggressions and fear based on ignorance and paranoia. Aisha is dating a while man named Tom, who has a daughter named Kris from a previous relationship. Kris’s mother is dead, and Kris is very connected to Aisha. Tom’s mother Leslie has just started warming up to Aisha and seems to be trying, though in the past she’s shown discomfort and flat out hostility towards Aisha and her culture. Aisha is more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, though Tom and her childhood best friend Medina are not. There are also other tenants in the buildings who are more mistrustful of Aisha because of her faith. From a neighbor who is convinced she saw Aisha committing a crime (though Aisha herself at this point is a clear victim), to a woman who is actually in Aisha’s circle of friends but still doesn’t trust her fully, it’s these interactions that left me a bit more unsettled than the ghosts that pop out of the walls. These moments are based in realism, and show how people can be influenced by fear and prejudice even if they think they are open minded and accepting.
The artwork is stunning. There is a certain jarring atmosphere that the artist, Aaron Campbell, creates, with lots of vibrant colors and use of shadows. The ghosts within the building are especially grotesque, their distorted features harkening to disease and decay. At one point Medina refers to racism as a cancer, and the entities absolutely reflect that.
I think that one of the few criticisms I did have about this book was that it ended a little too quickly. I realize that this was very much a mini series, as it was only five issues all together, but for it to build slowly and complexly and then to be wrapped up very fast left me a little feeling unsatisfied. There were a couple of plot points that were tossed out into the fold that sounded like it would take a lot of work to get through, only to be resolved quickly, sometimes off page. Because of this, I did close the book wanting more.
“Infidel” is an effective story with some genuine scares. I highly encourage horror fans to pick it up, but know that it may feel a bit rushed by the end. That said, I am very much looking forward to see what Pornsak Pichetshote brings us next.
Rating 8: A unsettling ghost story that takes on racism and xenophobia in our culture, “Infidel” is a graphic novel with as many real world horrors as supernatural ones.
Marty never liked the cat—it always got in the way at basketball practice. But he never meant to kill it.
Now Marty thinks he’s going crazy. He sees cats everywhere. He knows they want revenge.
Too bad Marty doesn’t have nine lives. Because his first one is almost over.
Had I Read This Before: No
The Plot: When we meet our protagonist Marty, right out the gate in the prologue he’s talking about how much he hates cats. So from the get go, I don’t trust him and/or despise him. I get that he’s allergic, but he also doesn’t like them because they are ‘evil looking’, and are always ‘slinking around’. But he assures us that he didn’t mean to KILL that cat even if it drove him crazy, and that he’s now paying for it.
We now jump into the story itself. Marty is on the Shadyside Tigers basketball team with his BFFs Dwayne and Barry, and Coach Griffin is being really hard of “The Three Musketeers” because they have a big game on Friday. Marty and his friends are the best players on the team, but Marty is the star, so much so that people will sit in the bleachers and watch him during practice, like Kit Morrisey, one of the prettiest girls in school and one that Marty is very obviously fixated on. Gayle Edgerton and Riki Crawford walk into the gym, which isn’t good for Marty because he went out with Riki and then ghosted her. Gayle is hoping to write a story for the school paper about Marty, Dwayne, and Barry, and how they’re best friends and star players, but before they can start the stray cat that has been living under the bleachers runs out and causes a Benny Hill-like chase scene. The cat has been supposedly living in the gym for awhile now, and to that I say ‘no way’. Stine tries to play if off as really clever and no one can catch it, and that the kids leave it food and water, but I’m telling you a live trap would do the trick so something’s going on. The chase the cat but then Coach Griffin tells them to knock it off and focus on practice. Marty is paranoid that Riki is telling Gayle all about the kind of prick he was after they went out, and is so distracted by this concern he doesn’t see the cat dart back in front of him. He trips and lands on his knee, injuring himself like a dummy. Coach Griffin says that he may not be able to play in Friday’s game, and Marty blames the cat. As his friends and Gayle and Riki help him to a seat, he tells them that he may not have actually gotten the basketball scholarship he claimed he got so he NEEDS to play (and tells Gayle she can’t write that in her story). They see the cat again, and the boys chase it up the bleachers with Gayle telling them to stop. Marty grabs it saying that this is all it’s fault, and the cat, being a cat, squirms and claws at his forehead. He stumbles towards the edge of the bleachers, and loses his balance. He drops the cat and grabs Dwayne’s hand, but the cat falls off the top and lands with a crack on the floor. Gayle proclaims that it’s dead and that Marty threw it off the bleachers, killing it. Marty protests that it was an accident (kind of like when the cat tripped you, you sonofabitch?!), but Dwayne thinks that now is the time to make jokes about ‘roadkill stew’. Gayle says that Marty is a monster, and Marty insists that he LOVES animals and that he didn’t mean to do it. All the while, Dwayne asks Gayle if she’d like to make a fur coat out of the cat and makes jokes like ‘cat got your tongue’, and MY. GOD. Riki tells Marty she thought she knew him, but she guesses not, and Marty says he isn’t sad the cat is dead but he didn’t kill it. Gayle says he won’t get away with this, and she and Riki run out of the gym. The boys toss the cat in the trash can.
At school the next day Marty is instantly shunned and snubbed by his classmates and even his teachers! Gayle has worked her magic and I am living for it. Everyone knows that he killed the cat and now he’s Public Enemy Number 1. He complains to Dwayne and Barry that Gayle as gone too far, and Dwayne continues to make nasty cat jokes. They inform Marty that Gayle is the president of the Animal Rights Club at school, and they all figure that she’s probably seen an uptick in membership because of this. Gayle even goes so far as to make flyers with his face on them as well as mutilated animals, and that may be a bit much. Marty finds Gayle and says that he thought they were friends, and Gayle informs him that they sure aren’t anymore and that he’ll be hearing from her soon. Riki tells Marty to cool it and to focus on getting his knee better for the game next week, and ALSO tells him that she DOES think he killed the cat but the playoffs are more important, so he needs to play. Marty gets so riled up at her continued berating that his scratch wound opens and he starts bleeding. After he cleans himself up he is confronted by Coach Griffin, who says that he believes that he didn’t mean to kill the cat, but that if the papers find out about this it will be a BIG problem for Marty and the team. He tells Marty to face the Animal Rights Club’s charges against him in front of the Student Court. The problem with this is that it’s packed with Gayle’s friends, so Marty doesn’t think that he will get a fair shake and that none of this is his fault. I think that someone needs to explain to Marty Intent vs Impact.
At the Student Court in the gym things seem far more official than I imagine the Discipline Committee at my high school ever was (though I never had to stand before them; my detentions were sentences that didn’t stem from a day in court). Dwayne and Barry testify, as do Riki and Gayle, and Marty thinks that Gayle is perjuring herself when she says he threw the cat over the side but you did, Blanche, you did! The ‘attorney’ for the Animal Rights Council, Jessica, asks him if he did or did not say he was going to ‘get rid of’ the cat, and he can’t deny that. But somehow he’s still found not guilty for the murder of the cat, yet guilty for animal cruelty. He’s sentenced to 30 hours of community service at the animal shelter, and I’m not sure that this is at all enforceable, but it does seem like a fair sentence. Marty is pissed, and then is horrified when he sees the cat under the bleachers, staring at him! He tells everyone that the cat is alive after all, but they don’t see the cat and tell him that he isn’t funny.
Marty is sitting on the sidelines at practice working on homework, when Jessica sits next to him. She tells him that being the prosecutor for Student Court was something she had to do for a class, and she didn’t actually want to get him into trouble. They talk and flirt, but Marty notices Riki staring at them. When they call to her she leaves, and Jessica asks what HER problem is. After practice ends she leaves, and Marty tries to study but hears cat noises. It might have been the girls behind him, but was it really? Coach tells him that he will try and get his sentence reduced, but Marty says that he should serve all of it. That night at home Marty gets a phone call, and it’s Riki, who is berating him for flirting with other girls when they aren’t even together. She saw him with Jessica, and knows that he has a thing for Kit as well. He tells her he’s sorry that it didn’t work out between them, and she yells some more and why is she still so invested in this guy who killed a cat? Get better taste!
The next night Marty goes the the basketball game. He’s benched because of his knee, but that doesn’t stop the other team from meowing at him. Eventually he and Jessica talk and she asks if he’s actually dating a girl named Lisa, and he tells her no, and she’s happy to hear it. She also tells him that once Gayle’s rally is done things will probably calm down, but he didn’t do himself any favors when he claimed he saw the cat. He insists that he DID see the cat though. That night Marty is hanging out in his room when he hears to cats yowling and fighting outside his window. He then hears a clatter against the glass, but it’s just Dwayne and Barry, the creeps. Marty climbs out his window and they tell him they’re going to The Corner, a hot hang out spot for Shadyside teens, and THE HELL IT IS! I’ve never heard of this place! If it isn’t Red Heat or Pete’s Pizza it’s NOT a hot spot. Dwayne and Barry also have questions about his cat related freak out at Student Court. Marty tells them that he saw the cat, but they are skeptical… Until they are all walking home, and a cat drops from a tree on top of Barry’s head!!! He manages to get away from it, and asks Marty if it was the cat, and Dwayne says it CAN’T be, but bitches, you are in Shadyside, it absolutely CAN be.
The next day Marty starts his community service at the animal shelter. His supervisor, Carolyn, tells him to sweep the floors and feed the animals, and call her if any animals seem to be ill or sick. As he’s sweeping, however, the animals start freaking out at him because they KNOW he’s no good. He calls Carolyn to come back and help him, but of course, when she arrives they have stopped.
At school on Monday Marty tells his idiot friends about this and they don’t really know what to say. A bigger development, however, is that Kit Morrissey, back in school after a bout with the Flu, now has HER eyes set on Marty. She asks him what happened to his knee, and he keeps things close to the vest regarding his animal cruelty and just says he hurt it at practice. They hang out at The Corner (STOP TRYING TO MAKE THE CORNER HAPPEN) and have a wonderful time together. Marty notices Riki sitting in a back booth and glaring at them both, but who cares? He accompanies Kit back to her house, but when he walks inside he sees a LOT of cats.
She says that they are all hers, and that they’re freaking out because they’re hungry. Marty knows better, and bolts.
FOR SOME REASON, Marty, Dwayne, and Barry think that stealing a bunch of rats from the biology lab and setting them loose on the Animal Rights Club is a really good way to show that Marty has been unfairly maligned. Gayle says that she’s going to get them for this, and Marty is unfazed. He has another date with Kit that day and she LOVES this prank. They hang out some more, and even arrange a date for that weekend, and Kit kisses him when he drops her off. He isn’t interested in Jessica anymore because Kit has all of his thoughts. But as he’s walking home he realizes that he’s being followed by a bunch of cats. He makes a break for it, and while they chase him and do manage to get a few swipes in, they disappear pretty fast.
Things are going fine for Marty. He and his dick friends didn’t get in trouble for the rats, and while Jessica and Riki are still mad at him that’s okay because he’s with Kit now. And even though he still gets the occasional midnight phone call with a cat meowing on the line, things could be worse! He’s even back to playing on the team, and they win a huge game! Everyone celebrates in the locker room but then they go their separate ways, and Marty is driving home when he remembers he left his books in his gym locker. So he goes back to the school, and sees Gayle sprinting across the parking lot. He goes into the dark gym, and fumbles for the light…. but when the lights come on he sees Dwayne!!! He’s dead, and it looks like he’s been clawed to death! It’s then that Marty hears another disembodied meow!
Barry thinks that Gayle is the one who killed Dwayne, but Marty knows that it had to be a cat. Kit is very understanding and empathetic, and says to call her if he needs her, even if it’s just to talk. Marty knows that he has to confront Gayle, so he goes to her house. But when she opens the door she bursts into tears. She apologizes for how she’s been acting, and says she feels so awful that he found his best friend’s body like that. He asks her why she was running from the school that night, and she explains that she had been training for gymnastics and forgot about a babysitting job she was late for. She says that if she hadn’t been in such a rush maybe she would have seen who killed Dwayne.
After the funeral Coach Griffin gives the team armbands to wear in honor of Dwayne. Marty isn’t sure that he will be as good now that Dwayne is gone, but Barry says Dwayne would have wanted them to do their best. The team promises to play as hard as they can for Dwayne. Gayle, Riki, and other kids watch them practice, amped for the big games, and once practice is over Barry asks if Marty wants to study with him, but he has a shift at the animal shelter and says he’ll come by after. Barry asks for a ride home, and Marty says sure, but hurry up. He waits for awhile but Barry doesn’t leave the gym. Marty goes back to look for him, and is worried that he’s going to find Barry dead next, but nope, Barry is preoccupied with Riki, as Marty walks in on them making out. Marty, relieved that Barry is alive AND that Riki has moved on, heads off for his shift.
Carolyn tells Marty that the new big dog, Brutus, isn’t to be trifled with because he’s violent and is going to be put to sleep. Marty is more than happy to do that, but as he’s cleaning up he realizes that he’s slowly being surrounded by cats. Someone has let them out of their cages, and they are poised to attack him. As he tries to defend himself with his broom, Carolyn walks in and all SHE sees is an animal abuser abusing more animals. She tells him to go with her to her office, and explains that she understands that he’s been through a shock, but it had to have been HIM who opened the cages. She tells him that he can come back when he feels better. So Marty goes to Barry’s house for their study session, and the door is open so he walks in. But wouldn’t you know it? Barry and Riki are in the middle of a heavy petting session instead. Marty tells them about what happened at the shelter, and they think that he’s losing it too. A nosy neighbor walks into the room, having seen the open front door, but Marty and Barry say everything is fine.
The next morning Marty is awakened by his mother, who has been crying. She tells him to come downstairs because there are cops in the living room that need to speak with him. Marty puts on some clothes, and walks to the living room. The cops tell him that Barry is dead, that he’s been clawed to pieces, AND that the nosy neighbor said that Marty was acting weird. The cops also bring up the fact that Marty killed a cat AND that he was the one to discover Dwayne’s body. But they also concede that Riki says that Marty left before she did, and that when she called Barry that night around 11:30 he was still alive, so really it seems like questioning Marty when he has an alibi is a big ol’ waste of time. They also mention that Marty had told Riki and Barry that the door was open when he arrived, but Riki swears that it was locked behind her. So perhaps the killer was in the house!!!!
School is cancelled that day, and Marty takes Kit up on her ‘call me if you need me’ offer. She is also devastated and says that if everyone was just nicer to each other things would be okay. He says that he can’t believe this all started because of the stupid cat that they all were complicit in killing (I may be embellishing his train of thought). At practice the next day Marty says that he doesn’t know if he can play with his best friends horrifically murdered, but after the team has a meeting they all decide to play for both Barry and Dwayne. Marty, overwhelmed with emotions, leaves the meeting, and runs into Gayle and Riki. They point out that two of the three Musketeers have been murdered, and Marty is the only one who is left. Does he think he could be next?
Deciding that he needs to take his mind off of his imminent mortality, Marty goes to the shelter to burn some more community service hours. Carolyn is surprised to see him, but says that he can sweep up. She also informs him that Brutus the Evil Dog may have a stay of execution, because someone who wants a vicious guard dog may be buying him to guard his store. HOW RESPONSIBLE, I don’t see anything going wrong with that decision. Carolyn leaves and Marty starts to sweep, but, of course, the cats start freaking out. Marty calls out, asking if someone is there. And lo and behold, there is. It’s Kit! He says that he’s glad to see her and asks why she’s there, and she tells him that it’s his ‘turn’. She then raises her hand and the animals stop. She reveals to him that he killed her, and that his friends laughed. Because KIT is THE CAT! She is a shapeshifter, one of the few shapeshifters left on Earth, and that she would shift into a cat to watch him play basketball because she liked him so much, and he killed her!!! She explains that she has nine lives, natch, and that’s why she was able to come back after he killed her. Marty thinks that Kit is nuts, but then she turns into her cat form and attacks him.
After Kit gets some good swipes in Marty is bleeding and dazed, but then when pulling himself up with the dog cage he sees Brutus. He lets Brutus out, and Brutus does the dirty work for him and snaps Kit’s neck in his teeth. Marty passes out.
The doctor gets him all stitched up and Marty just contends it was a cat. He doesn’t mention shapeshifters to his parents. Riki calls him after he gets home and after they talk awhile NOW Marty decides that she’s ‘terrific’. The big basketball tournament is that Friday and Marty starts out strong. But then he sees glowing eyes under the bleachers, and sees The Cat. With blood stained paws. Marty begins to scream. The End.
Body Count: I guess three, since the Cat and Kit are one and the same.
Romance Rating: 3, only because Barry and Riki had a good thing going there before he bit the dust.
Bonkers Rating: 7. Because SHAPESHIFTERS NOW?!
Fear Street Relevance: 3. Sure, Marty lives on Fear Street, but that was barely touched upon.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Squinting hard, my eyes fell on a crumpled, still form at half court.
Oh no… not again! my mind screamed. ‘Nooooo!'”
… And then it’s just Barry’s green backpack!!! How did he mistake that for a body!?
That’s So Dated! Moments: It is said that Barry looks like ‘the dude that plays Superman on television’, and Stine HAS to be talking about Dean Cain, right?!
“‘You idiot,’ Gayle sneered. ‘Rats are vermin. Cats are beautiful, sensitive animals.'”
Hear hear!!! A girl after my own cat loving heart!
Conclusion: While I had high hopes for “Cat” given the subject matter, I found it to be lacking on the suspense and then REALLY out of left field with the ultimate conclusion. That said, if you like cats and like hearing about them stalking dumb boys, give in a whirl. Next up is “Fear Hall: The Beginning”!
We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘genre mash-ups’, where we pick two random genres and try to find a book that fits both.
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson
Publishing Info: Viking, 1959
Where Did We Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!
Genre Mash-up: Historical and Horror
Book Description:First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
I first read “The Haunting of Hill House” in middle school, egged on by both my mother and my love for the 1962 film “The Haunting.” Even though I knew pretty much what to expect then, it still managed to creep me out, the story of a haunted house and the paranormal investigators within in giving me a serious dose of terror. Revisiting it for book club has been a real treat, especially with the recent (and VERY different) adaptation on Netflix being so fresh in my mind.
What struck me again as I listened to it is that Jackson does a really good job of not only setting up moments that are genuinely terrifying, but that she is just as good at writing the ‘down time’ moments. The slow build of the actual threat is fun to see, as Eleanor, Theo, Luke, and Dr. Montague go from mildly skeptical, to amused, to anxious, to outright horrified. The escalation, starting with doors closing on their own and cold spots turning into banging on doors and hallucinations, is slow and it burns as such, and it builds up terror in ways that few authors can achieve. Jackson holds her cards to her vest, but as she lays them out at her own pace the reader is continually caught unawares and left breathless.
I also like how well rounded our four characters are. While it’s mostly from Eleanor’s point of view, I think that we get a pretty good sense of Theo, Luke, and Dr. Montague. The only focused upon characters (as opposed to one offs like Eleanor’s sister) who are laughably awful are Dr. Montague’s wife, and her ‘friend’ Arthur (what is up with Arthur? Is he a lover of Mrs. Montague’s or just a weird hanger on?), as her prim condescension is laid on VERY thick and his toxic masculinity is overdone even for the original time period. But even this serves the purpose of banding our four together tighter, which makes the ultimate climax and fate of one of them all the more upsetting. My favorite is Theo, the empath with a snide streak, who may or may not be goading Eleanor on for her own amusements. Given that Eleanor is our primary character, and she is slowly slipping into obsession and madness, it’s hard to know just how manipulative Theo is, and I like the second guessing Jackson made me do (another side note: Is Theo coded as bisexual? If so, is that a facet of a too often trotted out trope of the untrustworthy bisexual? So many questions).
I quite enjoyed my second reading of “The Haunting of Hill House.” It’s a classic endeavor into the gothic/haunted house story, and I feel that it holds up pretty well after all this time. If you are interested in reading it because of the Netflix series, know that it’s VERY different. But don’t let that dissuade you. I think that it would give you a better appreciation of what the show did. In any case, it’s a spooky read for a dark night.
Poor Kate is a real trooper about bookclub. As you may have noticed, our bookclub is made up of an over-abundance of fantasy readers, so that genre gets probably more than its fair share of representation in the titles we choose. Obviously this works out great for me! But it leaves Kate and a few of the others having to read out of their comfort zones quite a bit. And they’re great about it! But it’s also probably not as good for the fantasy fans among us, as well, since we’re often less challenged to read books that wouldn’t cross our paths anyways. Not so this month! We have swapped roles and here I am, in all of my magic system and unicorn-loving form, reviewing a horror novel! (Another shout out to Kate for finding an audiobook version of this for me on YouTube since the book is understandably pretty popular right now due to the Netflix adaptation and my place on the holds list at the library was getting me nowhere fast!).
Obviously, I don’t read horror stories, so I don’t have a lot of comparisons to draw from. Instead, sadly, what I do have are a lot of tired tropes that I’ve seen ad nauseum in the few horror movies that I’ve somehow watched (how, HOW, did I end up seeing not only “Saw” but several of its sequels?!). This has unfortunately tinged my perception of horror novels, and while I’m sure that the equivalent torture porn, jump-scare prone type storytelling can be found in horror fiction as in this genre of film, this was thankfully nothing like it. It feels almost insulting to type this out about what is known to be a classic work of horror literature, but I was so surprised and impressed by the writing itself.
It was through this immense strength in imagery and poetic turns of phrase that Jackson was able to rise about what is, now at least, a fairly familiar set up: a bunch of people going to a haunted house to “test” how haunted it truly was. I quickly became truly invested in the characters and the detailed descriptions not only helped create a strong sense of place, but obviously helped ratchet up the tension. And yes, tense it was! Again, I don’t have anything to compare this to as far as its creepiness level, but I, for one, was pretty spooked by a good bit of this. But because of the strong characters and even stronger writing, I was too invested to think of putting it down.
As Kate referenced as well, the ambiguity of everything that is happening only adds to the tension. Our main character becomes more and more unreliable and readers are left questioning everything they’re told. Is the house truly haunted? Is someone playing a game with them? Are they all just going mad? A lot of horror producers, mostly for film, often talk about how it’s what goes unseen that is the most scary. Once you “reveal” your monster, that original level of fear is hard to regain. And in this book, so much is unknown!
Ultimately, while this book completely freaked me out, I definitely enjoyed the push to get out there and read something that is so far outside of my comfort zone and not a book I would have ever picked up on my own. Frankly, if I wasn’t such a scardy cat, I think I could really like horror fiction, especially the type of horror that crosses over into the supernatural. Alas, I’m too chicken.
Kate’s Rating 9: A classic in horror literature that still brings readers back again and again, “The Haunting of Hill House” is a must for readers who want something scary.
Serena’s Rating 8: With no bench mark to judge it from, I really enjoyed “The Haunting of Hill House,” especially the strength of Jackson’s writing.
Book Club Questions
Why do you think each person was motivated to come to Hill House? What do you think motivates the Dudleys to stay?
The house is a character itself—could some of the strange phenomena be explained by the strange construction? The history of its inhabitants?
What parallels can be drawn between past inhabitants of Hill House and the current visitors?
The author chooses to have several characters witness strange phenomena, making it very definite that they are happening. What do you believe?
How does Eleanor’s past influence her choices and actions?
What do you make of the repetition of the passage at the beginning and the end of the novel?
For those that have seen adaptations of this story—how do they compare? What is good/bad/different about them?
Book: “The Rich Girl” (Fear Street #44) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Fear Street — Where Your Worst Nightmares Live…
Emma and her best friend Sydney always share their secrets. And now they have a big one: They found a duffel bag filled with cash and swore never to tell anyone. But Sydney broke her promise — she told her boyfriend, Jason.
Now Emma is terrified. She doesn’t trust Jason. She knows he would do anything to get the money for himself.
Even if it means killing someone who gets in his way…
Had I Read This Before: No
The Plot: Sydney Shue and Emma Naylor are best friends to the end. They’ve been BFFs for years, though Sydney thinks that they’re growing apart because Emma doesn’t like Sydney’s boyfriend Jason. But they get to spend time at work together, as they both work at the movie theater. During one of their shifts, Emma is talking about how she’s worried, because her mother needs an operation on her knee, but without insurance Emma doesn’t know how they’re going to pay for it. Emma and her mother are practically broke, while Sydney lives in North Hills and therefore isn’t lacking anything (but insists that she isn’t spoiled because her parents made her get a job). Emma is also worried because the diner her mother works at six days a week is threatening to fire her because her bad knee has made her slower, and some things never really change, do they? Sydney thinks that she probably never could understand Emma’s anxieties given that she’s rich, and while I appreciate the self awareness, I wonder if Sydney could do more than just acknowledge her privilege? At the end of their shift they are taking trash out to the dumpster, when Sydney drops her charm bracelet into the heaps of garbage. She insists that Emma help her look for it, and a dumpster diving we will go! Sydney finds it, but it’s stuck to a garbage covered duffel bag. They climb out of the dumpster with the bag, and as she untangles her bracelet they notice a fifty dollar bill poking out of the sack! And when they unzip it, they find STACKS of them! By Emma’s estimation, it’s probably close to 100,000 dollars!!! Sydney is ready to turn it in, but Emma says that they should totally keep it! If they keep it her mother can have her operation, Emma can go to college, AND she can buy some nice clothes! I don’t know if I care for this ‘the poor person is going to be the duplicitous one’ development. Sydney says that it’s wrong, and Emma tells her that she wouldn’t get it because she’s RICH and of course this is chump change. To which Sydney says that hey, SHE isn’t totally spoiled or anything! After all, she has a VERY tight allowance AND has to pay for the insurance to the car that her parents got her for her birthday!
Emma says that if the keep it they can split it and then Sydney can spend it on whatever she wants. Sydney points out that they have no idea where it came from, and that the police could be looking for it. So Emma suggests that they hide it for now, and if they don’t hear anything about it then they go back and get it. Sydney agrees, and ladies, this could possibly end with a crazed assassin chasing you down with a captive bolt pistol.
Emma and Sydney agree to hide it out in Fear Woods, and while they are digging Sydney starts feeling paranoid. After they bury the money a raccoon jumps out and scares her, and Emma says they need to stop being paranoid. When Sydney gets home and drives her car up the long driveway and to the horse stables (but don’t worry, since they ONLY have TWO horses they converted most of the stables to a garage), she sees Jason working on her father’s Beemer. She totally forgot that they were going to study that night! She gets out of the car and he asks her why she was late, and when she tries to lie and say that she had to work late he gets VERY mad and says he knows she’s lying. He demands to know if she’s been cheating on him. Because obviously THAT’S the only reason she could be late, of course. Sydney can’t think of another good lie on the spot, so she tells him about the money. I can think of a few lies that could have worked, dummy.
“Emma was having a rough time because of her mother’s health issues and we had to talk.”
“I realized that I forgot something at work and didn’t want to wait until my next shift to get it.”
“It’s actually none of your business where I was.” And that’s not even a lie.
Once Sydney sings like a canary, Jason asks if it was her who found the money. Sydney says she found the bag but Emma was the one who opened it. Jason says that’s too bad, because since she has claim to it they would have to murder her if they wanted to split the money between the two of them. Okay, first of all, NONE OF YOU HAVE ANY CLAIM TO IT, and second of all, YIKES. Sydney is shocked, and Jason says he’s kidding. I, however, am not so sure.
At school the next day Sydney is a complete basket case because she can’t stop worrying about the money. But Emma is far from worried, she’s excited because there hasn’t been any news reports about it as of yet, and if that continues for two weeks it’s all theirs! Sydney says they shouldn’t talk about it so brazenly, and Emma tells her to chill out. As they are walking to class they approach the big cement staircase, a group of classmates sweeps in behind them, and suddenly Emma plummets down the steps, screaming! She lands on the concrete below, and Sydney sees that Jason is standing there, possibly smiling at this turn of events! Sydney runs down the steps to get to her friend.
Luckily, Emma isn’t dead, and after the school nurse checks her out Sydney drives her home and calls her family’s personal doctor to check her over. After he leaves, Sydney goes to sit with Emma, who confides that Jason pushed her! Sydney freezes up, and Emma asks her if she told him about the money, to which Sydney admits her dumb mistake. Emma says that he must be trying to kill her to try and get her share, and Sydney asks why he would do that given that he’s pretty well off himself, and Emma says that it’s because he’s GREEDY! Sydney doesn’t want to believe it, but she can’t help remembering what his face looked like…
Sydney confronts Jason the next day, and he says that no way, he didn’t push her! But he does admit to accidentally bumping into her, which sent her careening down the steps. He says that she’s never going to forgive him, and Sydney, relieved that her boyfriend isn’t an attempted murderer, tells him that he can just explain what happened. He suggests that he could look at Emma’s junky old car and give it a tune up as an apology, and Sydney thinks that’s a great idea! So later Sydney is back at home, and gets a phone call from Emma who tells her that Jason has fixed her car and it sounds much better now! She says that she’s still suffering from headaches, but that Jason also told her everything and she isn’t suspicious of him anymore. She then tells Sydney they should go to the mall so that she can plan out everything she’s going to buy with the money (though I THOUGHT that she was going to use it to pay for her mother’s operation and college? Both those things would eat up $50,000 I’d think). She tells Sydney to meet her at her house and she’ll drive, and Sydney agrees. After she hangs up, Jason calls and sees if she’s busy, and Sydney says she’s going to the mall with Emma in her now fixed car. Jason, of course, starts acting strange asking that she isn’t going in EMMA’S car, is she, and Sydney says yes, and he says that she should cancel and hang out with him instead! Sydney says no, and hangs up.
Sydney arrives at Emma’s house and the girls get in Emma’s junk bucket (though it sure does sound better), but as Emma is driving down a hill the brakes don’t work! Would she not have noticed this when she was pulling out of her driveway and through her neighborhood??? Regardless, the car is out of control and side swipes some other vehicles as it blasts through an intersection, and Sydney tells her to pull the emergency brake! The car eventually comes to a stop, and Emma says that it has to have been Jason! He IS trying to kill her, and while Sydney balks Emma’s fears do seem more realized. They get out and inspect under the hood, and low and behold, the break lines have been cut. Sydney admits that when Jason called her and she told him she was going to the mall in Emma’s car, he sounded strange, and for Emma that tears it! Emma says that Jason is so greedy he will probably kill Sydney next, and while Sydney doesn’t want to believe it, she starts to think maybe Emma is right. She wants to call the police, but Emma says no because she needs the money for her Mom’s operation!!
Emma then has a really good idea. She suggests that, so he won’t try to kill the girls for it, that the cut him in for a third of it. That way he will get more money than he had before, but he’ll stop trying to murder her and then probably Sydney. Sydney agrees.
So they go to confront Jason about the brake lines, and he swears, SWEARS that the car was fine when he was done with it. Sydney thinks he’s telling the truth because he looks ‘so upset’, and Emma proposes that they give him a cut of the money. Jason is ecstatic! 33,000 dollars is no joke, and they all seem happy with the new arrangement. Jason then says that they should go look at the money right now! Sydney is hesitant, but the eventually decide that they can just quickly go and dig it up to take a look. By the time they get out to Fear Woods it’s dark, and Jason grabs the shovel from Sydney’s trunk and they trek out to the site. Sydney gets cold, and goes back to her car to get her sweater, but as she’s coming back she hears Emma screaming! She runs the rest of the way and sees Jason and Emma struggling! When Sydney yells at them to stop, Jason turns to look at her… and Emma smashes him in the head with the shovel! He falls to his knees, and then falls on his face. And doesn’t get up. Emma checks on him, and tells Sydney that he’s dead!! Sydney asks what the FUCK happened, and Emma says that he tried to take the money, and when she tried to stop he he went nuts. She offered him half, but he said he wanted it all and tried to hit her with the shovel! They struggled, and that’s when Sydney arrived. Sydney says that they’re murderers, and Emma says that SHE is the murderer. Sydney wants to call the police, but Emma says she will take care of everything! She will sink his body in Fear Lake and none will be the wiser! She tells Sydney to just sit and relax (?!) and she’ll take care of it. Sydney falls against a tree, and Emma buries the cash again and drags his body into the darkness. Sydney hears a splash, but then Emma calls for her. Sydney comes running, and Emma says that his body won’t sink! Sydney gives her her belt so that she can tie it to his body to attach a weight to him, but then is feeling way too sick all of a sudden to help Emma find something to weigh him down. Emma is surprisingly cavalier about the whole thing and says she’s on it. Sydney looks away, and eventually Emma finds her and tells her that it’s over.
Sydney drops Emma off, who starts to cry as it starts to hit her just what she did. Sydney assures her that no one will know what happened and that they had no choice. That seems to calm Emma down, and Sydney goes home. She tries to study for her upcoming history test, and then goes to bed. But in the middle of the night she wakes up to see waterlogged corpse-y Jason standing at the foot of her bed, glaring at her!!! She screams and jumps out of her bed, but when she turns on the light there’s no one there. Just a dream…. But then the next morning she finds muddy footprints on the floor by her bed! And they’re size JASON!!!
At school that day Sydney is telling Emma all about this, and Emma says that she has to be imagining things. A dream can’t leave foot prints, after all, and they must just be Sydney’s footprints because she was in such a daze. All day people keep asking Sydney where Jason is (AS IF SHE’S HIS KEEPER), and her guilt gets worse and worse. She ‘s sure she flunks the history test, and then when she opens her locker she finds an envelope… and inside is Jason’s class ring, all muddy!!! Sydney freaks out and shows Emma, and tells her that it was on Jason’s corpse last night when he was in her room! Emma says that she has to be mistaken, she didn’t see the ring on Jason’s hand. Maybe he left it for her yesterday, but Sydney doesn’t remember seeing it. But then again, Sydney feels like she’s going crazy! Emma tells her to calm down and not to lose it. Sydney tries to get a grip, but doesn’t have a chance in HELL of doing so because when they get to her car, they find the muddy and bloody shovel in her back seat!! Emma says that she forgot to hide it, and now they think that someone must have seen them! They get in Sydney’s car and drive back to Sydney’s house (after Sydney thinks that someone is following them for a bit). Sydney THEN finds a note in her stack of mail that says ‘I saw you in the woods, I know your name. It’s MURDERER’. Sydney starts to panic again, and Emma says that even if this person DID see them, they have no proof that they killed Jason… But then Sydney points out that they used her belt to tie a weight to him! Emma says that they can’t go back to the lake, but Sydney insists. SO, they drive back out to the lake so they can retrieve her belt. Emma leads them to the pond scummiest part of the water and says this is where she dumped him, but when Emma plunges her arms into the water to grab for him, she can’t find him. Emma insists this is where she dumped him, but the body is gone!
Emma says that someone must have moved the body. It couldn’t be the police since they would have told Jason’s parents about his death. Sydney is on the verge of a nervous breakdown as they’re leaving.
Sydney gets home and sneaks into the house so she doesn’t have to explain to her parents why she looks like she just crawled out of the Black Lagoon. After she showers her mother tells her that she and Sydney’s father are going to a fundraiser for the evening. Sydney is happy to stew in her guilt alone, and as he goes into her room she notices that someone has tied something around her teddy bear…. And yeah, it’s her belt, with a note in Jason’s handwriting that says ‘murderer’. She calls Emma and tells her what she found, and asks Emma if she was sure that Jason was dead, and Emma says yes, she was sure, and Sydney asks if Emma believes in ghosts. Emma says that she got a note too, and it must be someone from school and Sydney can’t get hysterical. But Sydney says she’s pretty much already there, so it’s a little late for that. Emma says she’ll come over. Sydney can’t be in the same room as the belt and note, so she goes to wait for Emma on the porch. When Emma arrives Sydney takes her to her room to show her the note, but of course the note and belt are gone!!! Sydney starts to tear her room apart looking for them, and Emma watches her, telling her to stop! Sydney says that she isn’t crazy, but when her Mom knocks on the door she tells Emma she can’t let her mother see her like this, so Emma covers. Mrs. Shue says she and her husband are leaving for the fundraiser. Emma helps Sydney clean up her room, and tells her that she needs to get some sleep. Sydney says she’ll at least walk Emma out, and she watches her friend drive away. But when Sydney goes back to her room, algae and mud covered Jason is standing there! Sydney tries closing her eyes, but when she opens them he’s still there! He starts to lurch forward, rasping about how she let him die, and he descends on her.
Cut to a hospital waiting room, where Emma is sitting. When a doctor comes out, JASON is following him! The doctor says that he thought that his patient was ready to see him, but apparently not. Jason says that he’s so sad that she sees him as a monster. He and Emma leave the waiting room, and when they get to the car she asks if all is well. And he says that yes it is: Sydney is completely nuts! And they drove her to it! Yep, they faked his death and used it to drive her mad. The night after Emma and Sydney found the money, Emma went to Jason with the plan to drive Sydney crazy because she knew that her conscience would get the best of her. They figure that she’s so rich already that she doesn’t NEED the money! Plus, they’d been hooking up behind Sydney’s back for awhile, their antagonistic relationship all a ploy. Now Sydney is in a mental institution, and even if she does get out and get better, no one will believe her because she’s been diagnosed as delusional!
So the whole time it wasn’t “No Country for Old Men”, it was “Les Diaboliques”. Now that Sydney is out of the way, Jason and Emma are content to take the money for themselves and now they can really be together. They go on a shopping spree with a handful of the cash, and pick out a lot of really expensive clothes to buy! But when they get up to the cash register, the clerk laughs at the money. When Emma looks down at the cash, not only does it say ‘UNTIED STATES OF AMERICA”, it also has Ben Franklin sporting cross eyes and a backwards baseball cap. Emma is about to faint, and the sales clerk asks her if she ‘brought any real money?’ The End.
Body Count: 0. I wish there had been a zombie plot line, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Romance Rating: 0. Jason was cheating on Sydney with her supposed best friend and they gaslit her to the point that she had a mental breakdown. Gross.
Bonkers Rating: 4. I am giving it a four because sure, there was a big crazy twist at the end there, but it’s, like I said, just a rip off of “Les Diaboliques”! It’s not original in any way!
Fear Street Relevance: 6. They buried the money in Fear Woods and then dumped Jason’s ‘body’ in Fear Lake.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“‘Come here!’ Emma’s voice shook with fear again. ‘You’ve got to see this!’
Sydney scrambled out of the car, rushed up to Emma, and stared under the hood. ‘Huh?’ she cried, her heart racing. ‘I don’t see anything. What are you showing me?'”
… This isn’t a cliffhanger!!! This would have been a cliffhanger if you stopped at ‘You’ve got to see this!’
That’s So Dated! Moments: Given that there is talk of pre-ACA insurance issues, I’d say that dates this, but not in a fun and kooky way. But I did have to laugh that one of the extravagant gifts that Sydney bought Jason in the past was a beeper. I feel like even for 1997 those were on the way out…
“‘That’s their fourth breakup and make-up this year,’ Emma remarked… ‘Let’s see, this is April, right? They’ll probably break up and get back together at least two more times before school’s out. They’re definitely going to set a record.'”
It’s not great, but there wasn’t much to work with.
Conclusion: “The Rich Girl” was ultimately disappointing and a serious bummer in a lot of ways. It wasn’t as bad as some of the other books I’ve read in the series, but it’s definitely one of the most frustrating. Next up is “Cat”!
Book: “The New Year’s Party” (A Fear Street Super Chiller) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1995
Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!
Book Description:Ring in the new fear.
P.J. wasn’t supposed to die. It was just a practical joke, no big deal. But P.J. had a bad heart…
The kids at Reenie’s Christmas party couldn’t tell the police what they’d done, so they hid the body…and then it disappeared.
Now someone is killing them, one by one. Someone is taking P.J.’s revenge…but who?
By midnight they’ll know. Because when the clock chimes, they’ll all get a kiss. The kiss of death.
Had I Read This Before: Yes.
The Plot: Happy 2019 everyone! I hope that you were able to ring in the new year with friends, family, or a good book, and that you are ready to say goodbye (and maybe good riddance too) to 2018 and have a new beginning. Much like my last foray into “Fear Street”, I decided to do a festive little ditty for our recap today. Ring in the New Year with a ridiculous teen thriller, everyone. My gift to you.
We start in 1965, with a group of teens having a New Year’s Eve party, listening to The Beatles and having an all around keen time. A girl named Beth Fliescher is dancing in her new white gogo boots and super hip mini skirt (because it’s 1965, GUYS!), and a dreamy boy named Todd tells her it’s a groovy party and starts to dance with her. She thinks that she likes Todd because he’s so dreamy, but she can’t help but gaze out at Jeremy, a cool loner who I am now imagining as Michael Fitzsimmons in “Peggy Sue Got Married”, and if he’s HALF as ridiculous as that kid he’s a true winner. Beth is also wondering where her best friend Karen is, who is also the host of the party and who has disappeared from the festivities. The clock winds down and Karen is no where to be seen, but Beth does see some popular boys picking on Jeremy and wishes that he would stand up for himself. After Jeremy is knocked to the floor Beth considers going to him, but Todd pulls her away for make out times I bet. But then suddenly TWO MASKED MEN WITH PISTOLS run through the door! They tell everyone to get up against the wall, and then start to rob them. One of the guys grabs Jeremy and points a gun against his head, and Jeremy begs for his life, but hey, no worries, it’s all just a prank set up by Karen, who congratulates the robbers. Who are just seniors for Shadyside high school. The party starts to mock Jeremy, as if they too wouldn’t have been pleading for mercy with a gun against their heads. Beth calls Karen out for her prank, and Karen says it was just a joke. Jeremy runs out of the party, and Beth tries to follow, but Todd grabs her and says that he’s sick of being ignored. I don’t know, TODD, it seems to me that she’s been dancing with you all night, that isn’t really ignoring you. When she says that Jeremy needs her he says that he’ll find someone who pays attention to him, and BOY, BYE. Beth runs after Jeremy and jumps in his car with him, and he starts driving like a lunatic on icy roads. She begs him to slow down but he doesn’t, and then they hit something, and it looks like a boy! Jeremy skid ahead, and says that they have to go back, but Beth says no, because it couldn’t have been a person, but it must have been a raccoon, and then they hear police sirens! Jeremy speeds off, but he loses control of the car and crashes it, killing them both.
Now it’s present day! And by that I mean 1995. Reenie Baker has arrived home and goes to her room to see her group of friends, waiting to work on a group trigonometry project. There’s her best friend Greta, Greta’s boyfriend Artie, and their mutual friend Ty. They’re still waiting on Reenie’s boyfriend Sean. Artie says that Sean was last seen getting cozy with the school beauty Sandi Burke, and that now it’s Ty’s chance to make a move on Reenie. Artie’s going to be the one that I have no remorse for when/if he dies, I reckon. Ty seems embarrassed, but Reenie thinks that if he knew that half of the girls at Shadyside have wanted to bed him (my words) since he transferred to Shadyside he could have his pick. Artie complains about their homework and Greta basically implies that if he doesn’t get trig he’ll never amount to anything, and maybe she, too, can be lost without any mourning from me. Reenie goes to put her sweater in her closet, and out spills Sean, looking dead as a doornail! But Reenie isn’t falling for the dumb joke they all decided to play on her, and after that crazy prologue I actually for a moment believed that Stine was going balls to the wall with twists and turns so I was fooled too. It’s made clear that playing pranks on each other is pretty standard for this group, and Reenie wonders if they should stop escalating it lest it go too far.
At school the next day Greta is confiding in Reenie that she and Artie fought after they left her house. Greta is worried that Artie isn’t going to go to college, and he’s even been hanging out with the local bad boy of this story, Marc, who has been trying to convince Artie to drop out of school like he did. Marc makes good money at a car factory in Waynesbridge, and Artie’s family needs money now because his little brother Davy is having health issues. As they turn the corner they see a girl trying to break into Reenie’s locker! They confront her, and the girl says that she’s new and the secretary gave her this locker number, but Reenie tells her that the note says B-9, not 89, and they all have a good laugh. She introduces herself as Liz, and then points to her brother P.J., who was standing there the whole time but went unnoticed by Greta and Reenie. Reenie notices how handsome P.J. is, but he isn’t saying much and stares at the ground mostly. As Reenie opens her locker, two hands reach for her throat! Liz screams, and Reenie yells at Ty who, so committed to the bit, has wedged himself into her locker just so he could have this moment. She says she wasn’t scared, she was startled, because scared lasts longer than a moment. Reenie introduces Ty to Liz and P.J., and while P.J. is still asocial Ty’s gaze is locked on Liz, and Reenie figures that maybe he’s finally taken interest in someone. As Ty leads Liz to her locker, P.J. stares at them all strange like, and then tears after them, leaving Greta and Reenie confused.
Some time later (a week maybe?), Reenie, Greta, and Sean are hanging out and eating their food outside the Burger Basket. Reenie is talking about how cool Liz is, and while Sean and Reenie think that P.J. is kind of weird Greta says that he’s probably just shy, and it seems that maybe she has a crush on him. They speculate about Ty’s seeming crush on Liz, and as they all talk about the new kids Reenie realizes that they don’t know where Liz and P.J. live or much else about them. Then Artie pulls up beside them with Marc in Marc’s new car, and Greta’s mood instantly sours. Marc offers to give them a ride, and while Reenie and Greta say ‘hard pass’ Sean says he’d like to see how the car runs, so I guess that means that all three of them have to ride in it. Greta insists just for a ride around the block. But Marc, being a total douche, not only drag races with them in the car, he decides to take them beyond the block and towards Fear Street. Eventually he drives off road and up to Fear Lake. When they all get out he says that he wants to show them something but they have to go to the cliff side. As he gets closer, he suddenly screams and falls off! Reenie runs forward to try and see if she can see him, but then she TOO falls down the side, and slides out onto the frozen lake. When she gets up to try and make her way back, the ice cracks and she falls through!!!! But luckily Sean is able to rush out onto the ice, slides on his belly, and pulls her out. She asks what happened to Marc, and then Marc shows up unharmed. Apparently it was a joke that he and Artie cooked up. Given that hypothermia is probably setting in, they wrap Reenie in coats and high tail back to Marc’s car, Greta livid and Reenie hoping that this is the end of the stupid pranks.
At lunch the next day Greta is railing about the terribly joke that Artie and Marc pulled, though mostly about Artie. Sean and Reenie tell her that it was an accident, but I’m kind of on #teamgreta on this one because actions have consequences and Reenie could have died. Greta goes to get some dessert and Reenie and Sean discuss her crumbling relationship with Artie. To make matters worse, they see Greta flirting with P.J., and just as they see, Artie comes into the cafeteria and sees as well! Sean is able to go over and diffuse the situation by intercepting Artie, and Artie stalks off instead of starting a fight. After school Reenie is walking home in the dark and grey weather, and sees Liz in the parking lot. They get to chatting, and Liz says that she heard about the bad joke that went awry, and Reenie asks her how she and P.J. are adjusting. Liz says fine, but P.J. is having a harder time because he’s so ill, what with his heart murmur and all. Liz asks that Reenie not say anything about his heart to anyone, and Reenie promises not to. She breaks off from Liz when Ty shows up with a clear intent to ask Liz out, and she starts to walk by herself when Artie pulls up in Marc’s car. He offers her a ride and says he’s borrowing Marc’s wheels (no freaking duh), and while Reenie isn’t totally comfortable, she deems cold wet weather to be a bigger threat and gets in. He apologizes for the bad joke as they get to an intersection, but then he continues his streak of Questionable Decisions, as when the light turns green he peels out and speeds through the next intersection… and gets t-boned by a green van.
They climb out of Marc’s now wrecked car, and unfortunately the driver of the van is none other than P.J. Reenie sees him slumped over the wheel, and is worried that his heart gave out, but he’s okay. Artie is livid, saying that P.J. ran a stop sign (though my guess is that it was a four way stop if it’s on a road with stop lights not a few blocks earlier, so perhaps it is YOUR fault, Artie), and bangs his hands on the car. Reenie begs for him to stop, still thinking of the heart condition, and Artie blows up at her and gets in the car and speeds away.
At lunch the next day Greta is telling the gang about how Marc ripped Artie a new asshole over his car, and Reenie says that it isn’t Artie’s fault because P.J. ran a stop sign (I still refuse to believe that Artie bears no fault in this situation). She’s relieved that Liz and Ty are now dating because that means maybe she won’t be as concerned about her weird brother. Greta just hopes that Marc will be out of their lives now, even though she worries that Artie is wrecked for life because of his influence. Sean tells the group that Reenie’s parents are going to be out of town and he’s trying to get her to throw a Christmas party! Before they can dwell too long, though Sandi suddenly runs into the lunch room and tells them that they have to come to the weight room. They rush to the weight room and see Artie sprawled on the floor. Apparently he was doing his weight training and demanded that P.J. be his spotter in an attempt to humiliate him, but then he couldn’t get the barbell back on the rack. And then, as if this should be a surprise to ANYONE, P.J. couldn’t get the weight back up either and it fell on Artie. Coach Wilkins says that he’s calling a doctor and both of them are to blame for dicking around without supervision, and Greta comes to P.J.’s defense. As soon as Coach Wilkins leaves, Artie stands up and accuses P.J. of trying to kill him, and is SICK of people standing up for ‘poor little P.J.’. He is about to lunge at P.J. but Coach Wilkins comes back and tells him to stop moving for fuck’s sake, and tells everyone else to go on to their next classes.
After school that day Reenie, Artie, Greta, and Sean are hanging out. Artie announces he’s made up with Marc, who now realizes that somehow this is all P.J.’s fault. They start to discuss the Christmas party guest list (and name off “Fear Street” alumni such as Corky Corcoran and Deena Martinson), and Artie says that his ‘first choice’ is P.J because he and Marc have a trick planned. Reenie and Greta are both disapproving, but Artie says he has the best plan. He and Marc are going to get Sandi to ask P.J. to the party, and then while at the party she is going to kiss him… and then pretend to DIE!! P.J. will think that his kiss is, and I quote, ‘too hot to handle’, and that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. But Sean thinks it sounds awesome, and for whatever reason Reenie and Greta agree???? Reenie thinks that it may make P.J. feel more included since the group tricks each other all the time.
The night of the party comes and Reenie is kind of hoping that Sandi and P.J. don’t show. But there are so many other characters of Fear Street’s past in this scene it feels a bit like the Mickey Mouse Club roll call. Artie and Marc, both drunk, are waiting for their moment, but still no sign of Sandi or P.J. Liz and Reenie start talking and Reenie feels a need to warn her about the dumb prank. Liz is horrified, and tells Reenie that this is a terrible idea and super mean. Reenie tries to reason that it’s like all the dumb tricks they all play on each other, but Liz disagrees, and runs off to try and find P.J. before he arrives. Ty comes back into the room and asks Reenie where Liz went, and goes off to try and find her just as Sandi and P.J. arrive. Everyone is shocked that the new kid weirdo guy is with the hottest girl in school. But P.J. doesn’t look totally comfortable, and when Sandi pulls him onto the dance floor he is very clearly not digging it. When Sandi goes in for the kiss it seems way aggressive to THIS reader, and then she goes through with the joke, pretending to drop dead. As Artie delivers a Jolie-esque performance of histrionics about how she’s dead, P.J. starts to freak out. He then starts to yell and convulse and then he keels over. Artie says that he probably just fainted, but when Reenie listens for a heart beat she can’t hear anything. She announces to the shocked room that he’s dead.
Back to 1965! In an unexpected turn of events, Jeremy and Beth are able to crawl out of the car wreck. They stumble around and realize that somehow neither of them have a scratch on them. In hopes of finding help they start to walk back towards the road in hopes of flagging down a passing car. Beth realizes that she isn’t cold at all. They go back to the road and don’t see any body of a boy they hit, and cars whiz by and don’t stop for them. They find a farm house and knock on the door, but no one answers. So they go back to the car in hopes of taking shelter from the cold… and then find their own bodies in the wreck! They actually are dead! And they are ghosts! Jeremy tries to jump back in his body, but to no avail, and they both disappear into the void.
Back to the 1995 Christmas party. Reenie tries to blow air into P.J.’s lungs as Sean does CPR on him, but to no avail. She blames herself because she knew about the heart murmur but didn’t tell her friends. Sean says that P.J. is definitely dead, and while they debate what to do the headlights of a car pull into the driveway. Panicked that Reenie’s parents have come home, the group lifts P.J.’s body up and decides to hide it in the basement.
Okay. Here lies a giant, GIANT, plot hole. At no point was there a mention of the party clearing out. In fact, Stine made it VERY clear that it was still crowded when they pulled the joke. And yet, the party has suddenly disappeared. Are we to believe that the entire party cleared out and made a pact that they would never speak of what they saw that night? I mean, I get that this is Shadyside and ALL of the people at this party have seen some shit, but this is a TERRIBLE CONTINUITY ERROR. Like unforgivable!
They stuff P.J.’s body behind the furnace, but when they get back upstairs they realize that it wasn’t Reenie’s parents, but someone just randomly turning around in her driveway. They decide that they really should call the police and explain what happened, and then after they’ve done so they realize that they have to take the body out from behind the furnace because if they don’t that looks HELLA SUSPICIOUS. They also note that Sandi and Marc have high tailed out, but make no mention of the other party guests. When they go back down to the basement to retrieve the corpse, the body is gone! So now they decide that P.J. must have run into Liz, knew about the joke, and decided to turn the tables. The police do come and chastise them for making a fake call, but they tell them they didn’t realize it was a trick when they called. The police search the house and don’t find anything. After they leave the group decides no more pranks, and they clean up and Reenie feels good…. Until Liz calls her, asking where P.J. is. Reenie says that P.J. isn’t there and that he can tell Liz everything when he does get home. But she doesn’t sleep well that night, because Liz didn’t know where P.J. was…
But at school the next day, P.J. is nowhere to be found. And Liz is way emotional. Reenie overhears her talking to Ty about how P.J. is missing and that she’s worried about him, but Reenie’s friends think that she’s in on P.J.’s joke so Reenie doesn’t know what to believe. She also doesn’t understand how mourning is different for everyone because seeing Liz kiss Ty in a long and serious fashion makes Reenie think that maybe she isn’t worried about P.J. Reenie gets called to the principal’s office, and sees that there are policemen there. They have questions about P.J. and the party. When they try to tell the cops that it was just a joke, the cops say that P.J. didn’t come home the night before, and that his jacket was found in Fear Woods. The gang (with Sandi) are trying to convince themselves that P.J. was alive and well when he left the house after his prank, but Reenie isn’t sure.
A week later there is still no sign of P.J., and as Reenie and Greta work on trig homework they talk about how guilty they feel. Greta also says she’s going to dump Artie because he’s STILL hanging out with Marc and is going to drop out of school. Greta asks if Reenie will go with her now to dump Artie, and Reenie agrees. They get to Artie’s house, and he says that he’s working on a car in the garage with Marc. Greta asks if she can talk to him without Marc there, and Artie says sure, he’ll go let Marc know that he has to go. But shortly thereafter, they hear a horrible scream from the garage. Reenie and Greta go to see what happened, and they find Marc’s body sprawled across the hood of his car, his head turned around totally backwards. GNARLY! Artie says that he was fine when he went to answer the door. They go to call the police, and as they wait for the cops to arrive, they surmise that whoever did it had to be strong so that they could snap Marc’s neck so easily, and fast so they could do it in the span of three minutes tops.
So now Reenie is super paranoid given that there’s a killer out there. She’s driving to pick up Sean and Ty from The Burger Basket, watching her back the whole way. When she gets there she’s surprised by a mysterious person who comes up behind her, but it’s just Sandi. She thinks that Liz knows more than she’s letting on about P.J. and is hoping to pump Ty for information. Reenie and Sandi meet up with Sean, who says that he’s going to to find Ty. Reenie goes to wash her hands, but when she comes back the dining area is deserted. She goes to look for everyone, and when she enters the kitchen she slips and falls. But when she gets up, she screams! Sandi has been stuffed in the garbage!! Sean and Ty run out to see what the commotion is, and all Ty can muster is a couple of ‘wows’. They pull Sandi out, and her head has also been twisted all the way around.
Reenie, Greta, Sean, and Artie are all hanging out after Christmas, still scared about the death and destruction that surrounds them. Sean thinks that P.J. did it, because he’s been mysteriously missing and had a vendetta against Marc and Sandi. Reenie asks how he could have gotten into Burget Basket to kill Sandi when the doors had been locked for the night, and he has no response to that. Artie says that P.J. is too weak to twist people’s heads around anyway. Greta thinks that maybe she should follow Liz, who may lead them to P.J. if he is alive. They suggest that Reenie go talk to her at least to see if she says anything, so Reenie goes then and there to see her, going to her house on Fear Street. She knocks on Liz’s door, and Liz answers, but makes it very clear that she doesn’t want to see Reenie even though Reenie tries to apologize. Liz says that she can’t forgive Reenie for what she did, and goes back inside, slamming the door in Reenie’s face.
A few days later Greta and Reenie walk inside Reenie’s house. Reenie’s mom gives her some mail, and the two girls go up to Reenie’s room. Reenie opens the letter, and it’s an invitation to a New Years Party. From Liz! Apparently she is sorry for being irrational, and says she wants to throw a party to start off the new year with all of her closest friends. Oh yeah. THIS seems totally legitimate.
So the group heads to Liz’s house on New Year’s Eve! Sean and Reenie arrive first with Greta and Artie meeting them on the walk as they walk up to the house. Liz lets them in, but it’s strange because there’s no music and no one else at the party. And it’s been decorated in black everything. Also, there’s very little furniture in the house, outside of a punch bowl on a single table and a big book next to it. It’s a yearbook from 1965. Reenie starts to page through it, but Liz snaps at her to stop snooping. So why the heck did you leave it out, Liz?! There’s a knocking on the door, and Liz goes to get the new guest, who is, of course, Ty. Sean says that he hasn’t seen Ty around much at all lately, not even at work, and Ty seems to want to remain mysterious about this. Liz says that it’s time to start the party, and gives a toast to the departed. She then bursts into tears, and Ty tries to comfort her but she pushes him away. She tells the group that she invited them here because it would be ‘easier to kill you all at once instead of continuing one by one’! That’s right! LIZ IS THE KILLER! Reenie is in disbelief, but Liz says that she really liked hearing the crack of the bones as she broke Marc and Sandi’s necks. When they ask her why, she says that it was the stupid practical joke that caused her brother’s death! Liz grabs a knife and asks Reenie if she’d like to be first, since she was the first to pretend to be her friend (ICE COLD!), but before she can stab her Sean wrenches the knife away from her, and demands that she unbolt the doors so they can leave. She says that she will, but instead of going for the door, she tackles Sean to the ground and they fight over the knife. After biting Sean’s wrist, Liz gets the knife back in her possession and is about to stab him, but then a voice tells her to stop! It’s P.J.!!! He’s alive!! P.J. tells Liz to put the knife down, and once she does, he tells her that he’s glad she stopped… because he wouldn’t want her to kill them without him!!! P.J. confirms that Liz killed Marc and Sandi, but he likes to watch her when she does such things. Greta says that they were worried about him and he was their friend, and to THAT I say ‘ha’, and Sean tries to grab the knife from Liz but there’s a stumble and he accidentally stabs her with it. But… BUT… There is no blood. And Liz says that none of them can kill her OR P.J., and you wanna know why? She tosses them the year book, and Reenie opens it up to the “In Memorium” page. There on the page are Elizabeth “Beth” Fliescher and her brother Philip Jeremy!!!!
Liz is pulling a full on Pamela Voorhees and blaming all pranksters for her and her brother’s deaths, on New Years Eve like this one. Thirty years later and there are still asshole teenagers in this world, and Liz is NOT pleased about it. So these guys are going to pay! Throw in some weird mythology about going to a cold grey place and slowly gaining power, blah blah blah, and they’re back in their old bodies and back for revenge. But then….. THEN…. Ty jumps between Liz and the others. And he tells her that it wasn’t she and P.J. who were brought back for revenge. HE WAS!!! HE WAS THE KID THEY HIT WITH THEIR CAR THAT NIGHT!!
He didn’t know why he’d been brought back, but as soon as he saw Liz and Jeremy he figured it out. I also want to add that I kind of love that Ghost!Ty just kind of kept doing teenage things before he figured out why he was brought back to life, such as going to school and getting a job at Burger Basket. Responsibility!! P.J. screams that they should have gone back, and Liz is still insistent that they hit a raccoon and not a person! Ty says that he’s back and he’s going to kill them! He throws his arms around Liz, and then P.J. tries to get him off of her, but as the clock strikes to midnight the three struggling ghosts fade into oblivion. After they are gone, Reenie says that it’s all very sad and scary and that she doesn’t know if there’s much more to say. To which Sean says “How about Happy New Year?” The End.
Body Count: I mean, I guess that it has to be five!! Which is pretty damn high for a “Fear Street” book!
Romance Rating: 3. Sean and Reenie are barely a couple, Artie is a jerk, and Ty and Liz’s relationship was built on Ty ultimately hoping to drag her back to hell, so it’s not gonna be a high score this time.
Bonkers Rating: 9. There were so many crazy twists, turns, and ridiculous continuity issues that my head was spinning around and around.
Fear Street Relevance: 7. With appearances from Fear Woods AND Fear Lake AND the final confrontation being on Fear Street, this was solidly Fear Street oriented.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“‘He’s dead!’ Ty gasped. ‘Sean is dead!’
‘Good,’ Reenie said.”
…. Like, doesn’t that just giveaway that Sean very obviously ISN’T dead????
That’s So Dated! Moments: Outside of the fashion descriptions (like Sandi wearing an oversized sweater and leggings for an outfit) and the mention of CDs here and there it wasn’t terribly dated. Oh except for Reenie saying that Liz and P.J. were killed ‘more than ten years before the rest of us were born’, which would be QUITE a different timeline today.
“They spent hours talking about boys and movies and rock music – especially The Beatles. They made up stories about how they went to London and met the Beatles in person, and all four of the rock stars asked them for dates. The hard part was deciding which two Beatles to go out with, since all four of them were so far out.”
I’ll make it easy for you: John was a prick and Paul’s one true love was Linda who was a saint, and you can’t get in between that. George and Ringo are the obvious winners.
Conclusion: “The New Year’s Party” was completely insane in all of the best possible ways!!! A really fun read that every “Fear Street” fan ought to pick up! Happy 2019 everyone! Next up is “The Rich Girl”!
Book: “Silent Night” (A Fear Street Super Chiller) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1991
Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!
Book Description:Don’t open that present!
If only Reva Dalby had listened to that warning.
But beautiful, cold Reva won’t listen to anyone. Reva thinks she can have whatever—and whoever—she wants. After all, her daddy owns Dalby Department Stores.
Now, someone has some surprises in store for her. Robbery? Terror? Even murder? Someone wants to treat Reva to a holiday she’ll never forget.
Holiday cheer quickly turns to holiday chills for Reva. Someone is stalking her, someone is trying to get to her.
Her money can’t help her. No one can.
After all, who can you turn to when murder comes gift-wrapped?
Had I Read This Before: Yes.
The Plot: Chanukah may have passed us, but my Jewish/non-denominational turned secular household still has Christmas/Yule/whatever to look forward to, and given that R.L. Stine felt festive while writing his “Fear Street” books I, too, thought that I could get in the spirit of the continuing season. Therefore, it just made sense to pick up “Silent Night”, one of the “Fear Street” Super Chillers! Had Stine written a book based on Chanukah I would have read that too (he could have called it “Eight DEADLY Nights” or some shit), but as it is, we get us some Christmas themed scares. But seriously, to all our Jewish readers, I hope you had a pleasant Chanukah!
We meet our protagonist Reva Dalby, the spoiled daughter of Shadyside’s department store tycoon. She’s barely doing her job at the counter, and is instead judging all the plebeians around her because she is SO above working. What’s worse, it’s the Christmas season so the store is playing “The Little Drummer Boy”! While I’m sure that her hatred of it is supposed to denote what a jerk she is, if you ask ANY retail person this time of year what they think of holiday music they will probably tell you they’d rather puncture their eardrums rather than listen to the store soundtrack. Reva covers her ears, and then is confronted by her manager, Ms. Smith. Ms. Smith tells Reva she has to go work on some back room Chanel stuff, and Reva flat out refuses, saying she can’t because she ‘did her nails’ and doesn’t want to ruin them. Ms. Smith tells her that it’s the last straw, but we all know that since Reva’s dad owns the entire store she won’t do anything about it, and she stalks off. Reva ignores a customer and then decides to apply some lipstick to her mouth, but when she does a sudden pain leaps across her lips, and they start bleeding. When she looks at the lipstick, she finds that someone has stuck a needle in the tube! And given that she had used it previously, it must have been ON PURPOSE!
Now we jump back two weeks. Reva is driving with her boyfriend Hank Davis, and wondering why she’s been dating him for the past six months because he’s SO not her type. So she pulls over, and promptly tells him that they’re through, excited to see how badly it wrecks him. She then realizes that she liked going out with him because he is such an emotional lunkhead, so she REALLY hopes that he freaks out. When he asks if she’s mad at him she says no, she’s just done and he shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. When he asks why, she says she wants to spend the New Year with someone ‘interesting’, and this girl is a piece of work. He is understandably upset, and she tells him to walk home and unlocks the car doors. He tells her that she’ll be sorry as he gets out to leave, and when she calls for him he gets excited that maybe she’s reconsidered, but nah, she just tells him ‘happy holidays’ and literally LAUGHS as she guns it and drives away, planning to steal a guy named Mitch Castelona from some girl named Lissa Dewey. We’re putting Reva up there with past awful protagonists like Bobby Newkirk and Brady Karlin!
Shortly thereafter she arrives at Dalby’s Department store to pick up her Dad. As she walks through the empty store she’s scared for reasons she can’t really articulate to herself, but the empty space gives her the willies and it always has. She runs into a mannequin and freaks out, but then composes herself and goes up to the sixth floor. She runs into Mr. Wakely, head of security, who is in a piss poor mood as he storms on past her. She goes into her Dad’s office and asks him why Mr. Wakely was so mad (as she knows his son Mickey from school), meanwhile musing to herself that the picture of her mother on his desk must make him sad. See, she died four years previously, of course. It’s plot exposition. Mr. Dalby tells her that he just fired Mr. Wakely for drinking on the job. And the store has been having even more problems, what with rampant electrical issues and an employee shortage. He reminds Reva that she can have a job over break, but tells her that she should recruit her friends. Reva says she will, and immediately thinks of Mitch and how she will be able to steal him away all the easier that way.
Reva calls Mitch and offers him the job, and he accepts because he could use the money. He then asks Reva if Lissa could also have a position, and Reva grudgingly says yes. When Lissa gets on the phone to thank her, Reva hatches a very cruel plan and tells Lissa to wear her best outfit when she reports for duty, because she’ll be at the perfume counter. But in actuality she will be loading and arranging items in the stock room. WHAT A HOOT REVA IS. Her little brother Michael comes in, and Reva is actually pretty okay to him because I suppose Stine thought that humanizing her a little bit was more in the Christmas spirit, but shortly thereafter the phone rings again and it’s Pam, Reva’s cousin who happens to be poor and lives in a tiny house on Fear Street. And Pam is wondering if there are any job openings at the store. Reva hates Pam because 1) she’s cuter that Reva, and 2) she’s poor. I guess this implies that Reva’s Dad really did build an empire on her own since Pam’s a Dalby that doesn’t have jack shit, but it also shows what a wretched family this is if Pam is literally calling begging for a job to make ends at her house meet. Reva lies and tells her that no, the store isn’t hiring, and hangs up, patting herself on the back for being such a goddamn bitch. But Pam seems to know that Reva is full of shit, because she says to herself she’d love to pay her back somehow. And girl, I hear ya, #teampam!
Shift to Pam’s perspective. She’s upset, but decides that meeting her friends Mickey and Clay will take her mind off of everything. She drives to the 7-11 to meet them, and thinks about how she enjoy’s Mickey’s company (he’s described as kind and funny, though sullen lately), but is kind of scared of Clay (who has a mysterious scar on his face and has been suspended for fighting before). The three hang out musing about various candy brands, as Mickey LOVES candy, but then decide they should go when the cashier is eying them. They go up to pay, and the cashier accuses Clay of trying to shoplift. Pam tells him that they weren’t stealing anything, but the cashier is insistent and says he’ll call the cops. Clay loses his cool and physically attacks the cashier, grabbing him and throwing him against the cash register. They hear sirens, and bolt, piling into Pam’s car, but the car won’t start no matter how much Clay tries. Eventually it does start, and then they’re in a chase with the cops! Eventually after a prolonged and unrealistic chase they lose them (though I would THINK that the cops would have taken a license plate number), and when they stop it turns out that Clay had been shoplifting after all, and he brings out his spoils to share with them. Mickey tells Pam that he needed to have fun like that because his Dad was just fired, and Pam tells them she’s mad at that family too because Reva said there weren’t any jobs for her there. But then Clay tells her that Reva handed jobs to Mickey and Lissa just that night. Pam tells them she’s going to get her cousin.
That next Sunday Reva is driving around town, thinking about how she’s blowing that pop stand soon because she got accepted to Smith starting that Fall. She then sees a classmate named Robb, a guy she thinks is nice and funny, but she’d never go out with him because he’s fat. She pulls up next to him and asks if he’d be interested in making money at Dalby’s, and he accepts under the pretense that it’s going to be an important PR job. She can’t wait to see his face when he finds out it’s actually a job for Store Santa!! Because how funny! Because he’s overweight!!!
That night she’s babysitting her brother and fantasizing about Mitch when there’s knock on the front door. It’s Hank, and he asks her why she hasn’t called him back. She tells him to take a hint, and then he asks her if he can have a job at the store and that this isn’t easy for him. She tells him no, happy to see him upset. He grabs her in his desperation and rage, and she LITERALLY SICKS THE GUARD DOG ON HIM. He pulls himself away from the dog’s mouth, and runs to his car, saying he’ll get her back, but Reva just laughs and laughs like a god. damn. sociopath.
At work that Saturday Reva laughs laughs LAUGHS in the faces of Lissa and Robb, both of whom she has humiliated with her ‘dress up nice for demeaning work tasks’ trick. Her boss, Mr. Rawson, chides her, but what power does he actually have given that she’s the CEO’s daughter? She tells him to put Mitch and Lissa in different departments. She goes back to her work station patting herself on the back, and then gets pulled into a closet by Hank, who is now working security. That’s inappropriate behavior and I just don’t have a horse to bet on here. As she leaves him in the closet she’s suddenly intimidated about how angry he is.
Jump to Pam, Mickey, and Clay all hanging out in Mickey’s living room, Clay futzing with a knife. Mickey confides in them that this father has been drinking nonstop now that he doesn’t have a job and only leaves the house to buy more beer. He asks Pam where their friend Foxy is, and she says that he got a job at Dalby’s, and she’s still mad at Reva but doesn’t want to start any family feuds. She and Mickey have a grudge against the store, and Clay asks if they can keep a secret: he plans to rob the place and asks if they want to help. He sees himself as Robin Hood and that they’re taking stuff from the rich to give to the poor (i.e. themselves). Plus he has a plant on the inside; his friend Maywood is a security guard there who is still mad about Mickey’s Dad, and he says that he’ll leave the door open for Clay to take whatever he wants, and they’ll stage it like an actual robbery. Pam understands why Mickey is bitter. She then remembers a time when she and Reva got along really well. In fact, they were thick as thieves until Reva’s mom died. Then Reva changed. But now she hates her cousin, and is considering going through with the plan. But she decides that she can’t rob the store, so Clay asks if she’ll at LEAST be the getaway driver. THAT she agrees to. And before they can discuss it anymore, Foxy shows up and they keep their plan to themselves since he wouldn’t approve.
Cut to Reva (with her cut lip, so we’re back up to date now) talking with Pam on the phone. Reva’s Dad told her to invite Pam and her family over for Christmas Eve. She resents Pam because she still has a Mom, after all. After they hang up, she thinks about maybe not going to work because of the needle incident, but then her mind wanders to Mitch and why he hasn’t fallen all over her yet. After all. Lissa is a ‘drip’, so how could he possibly want to be with HER over pretty, rich Reva? How indeed, bitch. Little brother Michael comes in asking if she’ll take him with her so he can see Santa, but Reva says not today, chump, and instead promises herself that today is the day she seduces Mitch. She corners him in the electronics stock room, and after some tepid overtures she kisses him (hoping that Hank is watching on the security cam). When Lissa walks in, she acts like Lissa, his GIRLFRIEND, is a mere inconvenience. Lissa runs off, and Mitch chases her, and then Reva chases HIM saying that he should let her go. He says that what they did was wrong, but she tells him he seemed pretty okay with it in the moment before heading back to work. When she gets back to her station (fifteen minutes late, inconveniencing Ms. Smith), she finds a present for her. She opens it up to find a bottle of perfume, but then she realizes that it isn’t perfume, it’s BLOOD! In her shock she drops the bottle, and it smashes, splashing blood all over her white sweater. With a card, mocking her, of course. Instead of freaking out, she storms to Hank’s office, ready to get him fired as she’s convinced he did this. But he’s been busy since that morning, helping install security equipment. She says he’s lying, and runs to her father’s office to tell him all about it. Then she hears popping noises, the sound of gun shots, and when Mr. Dalby leaves his office he sees her bloody shirt and faints, convinced she’s DEAD. When he comes to, it’s explained to them both that it was a power surge that made some Christmas lights explode. She tells her Dad she has to go home and change. But as she’s driving she realizes she’s being followed by a strange man with a moustache! Being a dim bulb she drives straight home, and when she gets out of the car he parks and gets out too. Is this her stalker?! No, it’s a guy who accidentally bumped her car with his and broke her tail light. He just followed her to give her his insurance info. Reva thinks that she’s really going nuts.
It’s the night of the robbery! Pam is way nervous even though Clay assures her that all is going to plan and that the new security system isn’t even hooked up yet. They arrive at the store and Pam says that she doesn’t want to wait outside stewing in her nerves, so she accompanies them inside. Clay has brought a gun with him for some reason. As they go through the store and the boys start looting, Pam hears a noise that makes her cry out. Mickey and Clay convince her it was nothing and continue to try and figure out how they’re going to carry their stuff. But then another noise makes Pam turn around to see a tall security guard. She thinks that it must be Maywood, but SURPRISE. IT’S NOT. Clay COCKED IT UP!! The guard tells them to raise their hands above their head and he’s going to call the police, but then Clay pulls out his gun to match the guard’s and then SHOOTS HIM. In the chaos they all bolt. As they are driving home police cars zoom towards the department store, and Pam somehow gets the guys home and gets herself home.
The next morning, she wakes up hoping it was a dream, but it wasn’t. She sees on the TV that the guard was fatally shot, but then the TV also says that the burglars made off with $25,000 from the safe. And THAT isn’t right, because they didn’t take any money! She calls Clay, telling him that the money thing is wrong, and then HE tells HER that his gun wasn’t even loaded!!! So he couldn’t have shot the guard! She says that they have to tell the police about this, but Clay says that there’s no way they’d believe them, and Clay is right on the (not taken by them) money.
As Mr. Dalby is driving to him and Reva to work that next Monday, he’s exhausted and telling her that the burglary must be an inside job, but even that doesn’t make much sense because everyone liked Ed, the guard who was killed. He was also shot in the back, so it doesn’t make sense for there to have been a stand off. He then realizes he never asked Reva what that stain was on her shirt (nice, Mr. Dalby), but she doesn’t want him to worry so she says it was just a ‘practical joke’. They get to work and Reva’s morning drags until Mitch asks if they can talk. They go to be together somewhere and he starts kissing her. He tells her that Lissa dumped him, and asks if she wants to go to a movie that Saturday. And Reva, being THE GODDAMN WORST, says ‘nah, I’m good’. Mitch gets so mad that he throws a bench against a wall, and she smirks to herself and walks back to her work station. When she gets there Ms. Smith tells her there’s a package for her, and it’s HUGE! Reva is excited and opens it, but then she starts to scream when she sees a body folded up inside! But surprise, it’s just a weird looking mannequin. And there’s another note, and this one says ‘HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM A FRIEND’. Reva runs away, and nothing’s gonna stop her now. It’s a “Mannequin” joke, get it?
Three days after the robbery gone afoul, Pam, Mickey, and Clay are sitting in Mickey’s house, trying to figure out just what’s going on. Mr. Wakely is going out for more beers, so it’s good to know he’s still having issues. Clay says that he can’t get a hold of Maywood, because work said he called in sick, and that he swears he didn’t bring a loaded gun. They ask Pam if Reva’s father suspects anything, but Pam hasn’t been able to get ahold of Reva either. The phone rings, and Pam picks it up (even though it’s Mickey’s house?), and the voice says that THEY SAW WHAT THEY DID AND THEY WANT THEIR SHARE!
That next night Pam and Foxy are hanging out at her place and Foxy asks where she was the night before. She tells him that she was just hanging out with Clay and Mickey, and asks if he’s JEALOUS? Before they can continue their flirtation, the phone rings. It’s the guy again, saying he wants ten thousand dollars! Pam says that she doesn’t have any money, and freaks out as she hangs up. Foxy asks what the heck is going on, and she tells him everything. He’s horrified, and she tells him that she’s just so goddamn sick of being poor while her awful cousin gets everything, and hey, that’s totally fair. Foxy says that she needs to call the police, but she says that Clay would never go for it. He suggests they go talk to Clay together, and they drive to Mickey’s house (on really icy roads) because I guess Clay is a member of the household or something. Clay says he’ll kill the person threatening her, and I just… these Super Chillers are so long.
At work that Thursday Reva confronts Hank asking him if he’s the one who’s been sending her the creepy presents, and he says that no, he isn’t, and she says that it HAS to be him because who else would be doing it? And Hank points out that it could be anyone, LITERALLY ANYONE, because everyone HATES her because she is such a fucking ASSHOLE.
Reva realizes that since her mother died she’s become very cold and very cruel, as if that makes it all better, and Hank comforts her.
Meanwhile Pam is trying to get ahold of Reva and Foxy. When Foxy doesn’t answer (because she expected as much from Reva), she decides to go and find him. But when she gets to his house, someone grabs her from behind and clamps a glove over her mouth. The person tells her that they want ten thousand dollars, and that they could hurt her if they wanted to. They also tell her not to turn around, and then she does, of course. The attacker shoves her and pins her to the ground, but runs to their car and speeds off. Foxy shows up, and Pam tells him that she knows who’s been calling her.
Reva gets to work the next day, feeling a little better, but then stumbles upon Robb and Mitch physically fighting. Mr Rawson stops the fight, and Mitch says that Robb started it but Mr. Rawson is more concerned about opening and doesn’t want to hear it. She asks Mitch what happened and he tells her to suck it, in so many words.
Another jump in time. Reva has finally taken Michael to see ‘Santa’ (aka Robb). After he’s done he tells her it wasn’t the real Santa because he could feel the padding, but she assures him the tried and true ‘it’s a helper’, blah blah blah, what’s MORE important is that she sees Ms. Smith who tells her that another gift has arrived. Reva is ready for anything now, and when she opens the huge box she expects to find another mannequin. But sadly, it’s not Kim Cattrall this time, it’s DEAD MITCH WITH A KNIFE IN HIS BACK!
After the police are done questioning her, Reva is sent home and is basically in a daze for the rest of the day, feeling bad that she never apologized to Mitch. And as she’s falling asleep that night, at 2am she bolts up and realizes that she knows who did it!
Pam, meanwhile, thinks it was Clay, and asks him as much. Because it was Mitch who saw them the night of the robbery and was blackmailing them. Clay denies it, though, and says that he wouldn’t throw is life away for a worm. When Mickey asks if he’s telling the truth, Clay SCREAMS at him that he’s not a liar, and Mr. Wakely tells them to get out if they’re going to fight. The three of them leave, and Mickey apologizes for his Dad, and tells Clay he knows that he didn’t kill Mitch.
Reva, on the other hand, thinks she knows who did. She brings her Dad to the security office to watch the tapes, and points out Santa Land the day Mitch died. She thinks that it’s Robb that did it, because Michael told her that it wasn’t the real Santa because he could feel the padding, whereas, in Reva’s mind, Robb is so FAT that HE DOESN’T NEED PADDING. This bitch. Mr. Dalby says a murderer that does not make, and she tells him about the fight Robb and Mitch had. Mr. Dalby says that’s good enough for him, and calls the police. The police arrive and plan to arrest Robb IN HIS SANTA SUIT, but them Pam runs up, asking why they’re arresting Foxy?! Robb IS Foxy!! Suddenly I ship them all the more! As the police take him away he tells Pam that he did it for her! Pam is horrified, and Reva sees the awful glare that Robb/Foxy is giving her. Pam is also giving her a glare. When Reva leaves work that day at closing, Pam is waiting for her and tells her there is no WAY that Robb/Foxy could have killed Mitch. Pam explains that Robb/Foxy was fighting Mitch because Mitch was blackmailing Pam (but doesn’t tell her why), and that Robb/Foxy was only trying to protect her because they’ve been dating for six months. Robb/Foxy was the one playing the mean tricks on Reva (I don’t think that a needle in lipstick is a TRICK, but okay) because 1) Reva had been so awful to Pam, and 2) because Reva had humiliated him with the Santa gag. Reva kind of starts to realize what a jerk she is, and apologizes sincerely to Pam. Pam offers to drive her home, and Reva says sure, she just has to go grab her purse from her Dad’s office.
But when she’s inside, she hears a strange noise. It’s Mr. Wakely, with a pistol aimed at her (as “Silent Night” blares on the store speakers, natch). So here’s what happened! He and Maywood were going to use the three kids as a distraction while they robbed the safe, but when Mr. Wakely saw that one of those kids was HIS kid, he freaked. And then when he saw the security guard Ed aiming a gun at his son, he shot him. Then he found out that Mitch saw the whole thing, and overheard Mickey and his friends talking about the blackmail, so he killed him. When Reva asks why he sent Mitch’s body to her, Mr. Wakely is confused, and says that he just stuffed him in the first box he saw, which happened to be the mannequin box that still had her name on it. He came back this day to get more money, but now Reva has seen him and that won’t do. Reva runs, and lucky for her Mr. Wakely is drunk, as is the new normal, so the chase is on. Eventually he lunges at her, but misses, and he sails over the balcony, and lands on a huge Christmas tree. And the lights short out, electrocuting him. And Hank shows up, telling Reva that he saw the whole thing, and the confession recorded on the security footage. She collapses in his arms.
Reva, Hank, and Robb/Foxy are at the police station together. Robb/Foxy has been let go since he didn’t do anything, and he apologizes to Reva. She forgives him and says that she kind of deserved it (and I don’t want to say yes, but I also can’t say no). Pam eventually leaves questioning, and there is going to be a hearing regarding the whole quasi robbery thing, but since she’s never been in trouble before she’ll probably only be charged with trespassing. No news on Mickey and Clay, and Jesus, poor Mickey. The group all walks outside, and Reva and Pam hug, Reva thinking that finally, FINALLY, she feels again, but how sad that such horrible things had to happen before she could. And she walks with Hank into the ‘silent night’. The End.
Body Count: 2, the poor security guard and Mitch, who I’m not as sad about because what a tool.
Romance Rating: 7 for Pam and Robb/Foxy, but the wretchedness of Reva and her dalliances brought it down from an 8 or 9 that Pam and Robb/Foxy probably could have had.
Bonkers Rating: 6. It wasn’t terribly over the top, but the blood in the perfume bottle and the Mitch in a Box was kinda nuts.
Fear Street Relevance: 3, just cuz Pam lives there, but so little happened on site.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“He stood over her, then dropped down, pinning her to the drive.
‘Too bad you turned around,’ he whispered.”
… And then he just ran away!! I mean, good for Pam, but what a clunker!
That’s So Dated! Moments: Mickey’s go-to for stealing is a couple of VCRs, and Reva laments the fact that Hank always wanted to take her to Arnold Schwarzenegger movies on their dates, and WHAT THE HELL, how can you LAMENT that?!
” ‘Hey, man, did they really stop making Zagnuts?’ Mickey asked, upset.
‘Why don’t you write the company and ask?’ Pam suggested, reading the headlines of The Star and The National Enquirer.
‘Yeah,’ Clay said. ‘Write to Mr. Zagnut himself. ‘Dear Mr. Zagnut, I am desperate.”
‘I don’t think there IS a Mr. Zagnut,’ Mickey said seriously.”
I don’t know why, but this whole exchange tickled me.
Conclusion: “Silent Night” was long, but it was actually pretty okay!! Definitely a fun holiday read! Reva was awful, but Pam is a solid person to root for, and the story itself was entertaining. Up next we’re extending the holiday madness, with “The New Year’s Party”!
Book: “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” by Mark Verdheim, Den Beauvais (Ill.), Sam Kieth (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Dark Horse Books, April 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:In 1986, James Cameron’s “Aliens” brought to theaters the horrors of a new kind of war against a terrifying enemy. Long before Alien3 was even a glint in director David Fincher’s eye, Dark Horse Comics was already crafting a terrifying post-Aliens continuity for Ripley, Hicks, and Newt.
Earth is overrun by xenomorphs with no hope of saving it for humanity. But that doesn’t mean just leaving it to the Aliens. Ripley has a plan to capture, from what they believe is the Alien homeworld, a “Queen Mother”–a super queen that rules multiple nests–and bring it back to Earth. There the Queen Mother will command the xenomorphs to gather where they can all be destroyed by nuclear bombs.
Collects Aliens: Nightmare Asylum #1-#4 and Aliens: Earth War #1-#4. Includes cover art for all issues.
Review: Even though Science Fiction isn’t really my preferred genre, if there is an excellent horror theme to it I’m assuredly going to be game. So it most likely isn’t shocking that I love both the movies “Alien” and “Aliens”. Not only does it have a solidly excellent female protagonist (Ellen Ripley for LIFE!), it also has a very scary adversary in the Xenomorph, a creature that is essentially a giant parasitic space bug that you COULD fight, but you have significantly better odds if you just run away. The first two movies in the “Alien” franchise are awesome, and while I love them both my heart probably belongs to “Aliens” the most. Not only does Ripley get to kick more butt, but she picks up a rag tag group of friends along the way, specifically the Colonial Marine Corporal Hicks, the android Bishop, and the orphan Newt, a girl saved from an overrun colony. “Aliens” ends with the Alien Queen vanquished, and Ripley looking forward to taking her life back with her new found family in the wake of the one she lost while drifting in space post “Alien”.
…. And then “Alien 3” happened, and it completely trashed that perfect ending by crashing the ship, killing off Hicks, Newt, and Bishop, and throwing Ripley into a new clusterfuck of a PRISON COLONY SETTING because apparently she doesn’t get ANY breaks whatsoever.
What does this have to do with “Aliens: Nightmare Asylum and Earth War” you may ask? More than you’d think. SO, after “Aliens” came out, Dark Horse created two mini series set within the “Alien” universe, focusing on Hicks, Newt, and Ripley a few years after the action in “Aliens”. But when David Fincher’s dark for the sake of dark “Alien 3” came out, Dark Horse decided that it had to be retconned because HEAVEN FOR FUCKING BID THAT HICKS AND NEWT REMAIN ALIVE IN COMIC FORM. So Dark Horse went back and changed the names of Hicks and Newt to Wilkes and Billie, and they were SOMEHOW not Hicks and Newt in spite of the fact they were CLEARLY Hicks and Newt, and re-released the two series with a brand new ‘now agreeing with film continuity!’ seal of approval. Given how “Alien 3” ended and what happened to Ripley, what with her DYING, I don’t understand why the comics decided to change Hicks and Newt to fit THEIR deaths, but let Ripley come back unaffected. But whatever, what do I know? Happily, in 2017 Dark Horse went back and righted this wrong, and both “Nightmare Asylum” and “Earth War” were re-released in a hard cover collection with Hicks and Newt back in tact. And now that this “Short Brief History” has concluded, let’s get to the review.
I’ll start with “Nightmare Asylum”. Ripley wasn’t seen much in this story, but I was surprisingly okay with this because it gave Hicks and Newt some time to shine. Set a fewish years down the line from “Aliens”, Newt is now a young woman, and has been living as a surrogate daughter/sister/friend to Hicks. They have been floating in space, as Earth has been taken over by the Xenomorphs and they escaped by the skin of their teeth (along with an android named Butler with whom Newt has been in a relationship). But unfortunately they run afoul a crazed General named Spears, who has gone full General Kurtz and thinks that he can make an army of Xenomorphs to fight against the Xenomorphs on Earth, namely by torturing and trying to condition an Alien Queen to make her control her brood lest he destroy her eggs. And while Ripley is nowhere to be seen for the most part, I REALLY enjoyed “Nightmare Asylum”, if only because Hicks and Newt (her in particular) had some fantastic story lines and moments of riveting action. Given that I have ALL the love for both Hicks and Newt, I am a-okay with the focus being on the two of them. For Newt it’s because she has taken on the role of the determined and scrappy Ripley character, and it shows how she has gone from scared orphan girl to be saved to an adult who is out to save the world. For Hicks it’s his continued journey of being a tough and competent soldier who is more than happy to let the tough ladies around him take the reins. He had the utmost respect for Ripley and trusted her, and he has the same respect for Newt. And also, Hicks was played by Michael Biehn, who was foxy as HELL in the role, so yes, my libido has SOME influence over my affinity.
But I also REALLY liked the main plot with the crazed General trying to use the Xenomorphs to his own ends. Any “Alien” fan worth their salt is going to know that this is a TERRIBLE idea, but it feels original enough that it could totally fit within the hubris that we see so often in this universe. And with new but familiar protagonists coming in to deal with it it doesn’t feel like just another instance of ‘Ripley is right AGAIN and why doesn’t anyone listen to her?’. Ripley can be right til the cows come home, but admittedly it would get a bit old. And yes, Ripley DOES show up, right at the end, so it doesn’t feel like she’s been forgotten or thrown to the side. One note I do have, though: I didn’t like that there were so many sexualized drawings of Newt. Sure, she’s an adult in this story arc, but was it REALLY necessary to have multiple shots of her in skimpy underwear and spread legs?
“Earth War” was next, and that one brings Ripley more into the fold. As she, Hicks, and Newt (along with other brave fighters) gather together to try and take Earth back, Ripley also has to contend with her leaving Newt and Hicks behind after “Aliens”. I liked the device that was used in this case, as it doesn’t feel too cheap (like “Alien 3” did, and no I will NOT shut up about how much I hate that movie) and also feels wrenching. To Ripley Newt was sort of seen as a stand in for her daughter, who died while Ripley was in hypersleep out in space, and so it was important to give a GOOD explanation as to why Ripley would have disappeared after “Aliens”. “Earth War” absolutely achieves that. But I think that the reason I found it to be the weaker of the two, in SPITE of Ripley’s presence, is that it feels very rushed. While the smaller story of “Nightmare Asylum” works in four issues, trying to cram a reunion for Ripley and her friends, information as to where she was that whole time, AND a battle to take Earth back from the Xenomorphs in the same number feels VERY rushed. Plus, I think that for me there was a HUGE disconnect from the artwork between the two, and I much preferred Den Beauvais:
Versus that of Sam Kieth:
I generally like Kieth (I REALLY like his work on “Sandman”), but I didn’t feel like it fit in as well with the content at hand. Which means I was taken out of it a bit more than I would have liked.
All that said. this collection is FINALLY back the way it is supposed to be, and I am SO happy that I finally got to read it. “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” gives “Alien” fans the stories that we’ve always deserved, and it gives Ripley, Hicks, and Newt a lot to do without getting dour or unnecessarily bleak. I greatly enjoyed this series as a whole.
Rating 9: The “Alien” continuation that we deserve to have, “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” is action packed, powerful, and a shining light on favorite characters from the first two movies.