Horror Novel Review: Bad Moonlight by R. L. Stine

Before I say anything else, I have a confession to make.  I read this book really quickly.  I mean, I basically sat down, and skimmed over every page and didn’t write out a single note about the book.

Why was I reading it so quickly?  Bad Moonlight is a book that I ordered off of Amazon last month with the intention of reviewing it for October but then I changed my mind.  As often happens, I ended up running behind and, with Halloween approaching, I decided to set aside all of the Stine books that I hadn’t yet read and reviewed because I wanted to review a different (and, to be perfectly honest, adult) horror novel for Halloween.

Unfortunately, the book that I was planning on reivewing turned out to be really bad, despite the fact that it was co-written by one of my favorite filmmakers.  I didn’t feel like getting all negative on Halloween, especially when it would involve being negative about a filmmaker who I adore and who is no longer with us and whose legacy pretty much defines modern horror.  So I decided to put off reviewing that book (I’ll write about it in November).  Needing something for today, I grabbed R.L. Stine’s Bad Moonlight and I quickly read it.  Fortunately, R.L. Stine wrote books that are pretty much designed to be a quick read.

Bad Moonlight was first published in 1994.  It tells the story of Danielle.  Danielle is 18 but, in a rather creepy aside, we’re told that she looks like she’s closer to 12 because she’s not as developed as the typical 18 year-old.  She’s the lead singer in a band.  The band’s struggling but at least they have a totally hot roadie named Kit.  Anyway, one night, Danielle is inspired to write a song called Bad Moonlight and then she bites Kit’s lower lip until it bleeds.  The band’s fans love the new song and Danielle goes onto write several other songs that all deal with moonlight.  She also writes a song that may or may not be about the death of Joey, “the sound guy.”  Joey was murdered but who killed him?  Everyone thinks it was Danielle, mostly because Danielle is always having these weird hallucinations.  Since this is a Stine book, Danielle is also an orphan with a mysterious background.  She lives with her Aunt Margaret and she sees a psychiatrist named Dr. Moore.  Dr. Moore likes to hypnotize her.  That’s never a good sign.

Anyway, you can probably guess, just based on the title, that this book has to do with werewolves and a big conspiracy to make Danielle into a werewolf bride.  It’s actually kind of a fun book, because you can tell that Stine actually wanted to focus on all of the band melodrama but, because he’s R. L. Stine, he also had to toss in a bunch of werewolves.  The effort to bring the band drama and the werewolf mythos together is a valiant one and it kind of comes out of nowhere and you have to appreciate just how weird Stine allows things to get.  It’s an entertainingly silly book.

If nothing else, it shows how strange the world can look when it’s illuminated by …. BAD MOONLIGHT!

Horror Novel Review: Blind Date by R.L. Stine

First published way back in 1986, Blind Date represents a significant moment in YA horror literature.  This is the first “horror” novel to be written by R.L. Stine!

Blind Date tells the story of Kerry, who is a teenager who has a lot of problems.  A year ago, he was in a really serious car accident.  He doesn’t remember much about the accident but he does know that, as a result of the accident, his older brother is now in a mental institution and his father doesn’t talk to him much.  Poor Kerry.  One thing that I’ve noticed from reading all of these Stine and Christopher Pike books over the course of this month is that both of them always seemed to come up with plots that featured car accidents.  I guess it makes sense.  When you’re a teenager, you can’t wait to get your first car but you’re also aware that you’re eventually going to have your first accident.

Anyway, Kerry is kind of a loser but he is on the football team.  Unfortunately, he apparently injured the school’s star quarterback during practice so now he has the entire team wanting to kill him.  Perhaps the only good thing going on in Kerry’s life is that he’s been set up on a blind date with a mysterious girl named Amanda….

Except, when Kerry goes to Amanda’s house, he’s met by two bereaved parents who explain that Amanda’s dead!  OH MY GOD, IS KERRY’S DATE A GHOST!?  No, actually, it turns out Kerry’s date is actually named Mandy and apparently, Kerry misheard.  Or something.  Who knows?  The important thing is that Kerry has a girlfriend who can comfort him whenever he gets his ass kicked by the football team, which is something that is definitely going to happen because Kerry goes to a school that’s ruled by mob justice..

Mandy is a little bit vague about her past, which should be a huge red flag but Kerry has something else to worry about.  His brother, Donald, has escaped from the mental hospital!  And apparently, he has a history of trying to kill Kerry!  Can Kerry pursue a successful relationship, mend fences with the football team, and avoid getting killed by his brother?  Or is the story going to end with Kerry getting beaten over the head with a stuffed moose?

(Yes, you read that right.)

Actually, the story ends with a twist that I’m pretty sure Stine came up with at the last minute.  To be honest, the whole book kind of reads as if someone said to Stine, “We need two hundred pages and we don’t really care what’s on them.”  The story goes from one strange development to another.  It makes for a kind of weird story that doesn’t always make sense but it is compulsively readable.

And really, that’s the thing with the work of both Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine.  You don’t reread these books because they’re particularly scary or even that well-written.  You read them because they’re just so damn strange.  It’s never enough to have just one twist.  Instead, there has to be a dozen twists and if they don’t really seem to make sense or go together …. well, so what?  That’s what life’s like when you’re a teenager, right?  It may not always make sense.  It may not always turn out the way you want.  But it’s still something you miss once it’s gone.

Book Review: The Perfect Date by R.L. Stine

In this YA novel from 1996, Brady Karlin is one of the most popular boys at school.  Everyone knows him.  Everyone likes him.  He’s got a likable best friend named Jon.  He’s got a beautiful and popular girlfriend named Allie.  The only problem that Brady has is that he’s still haunted by the death of his former girlfriend, Sharon Noles.

And really, he should be haunted considering that it was all his fault!  Sharon told him that she wasn’t ready to go sledding down that hill lat summer.  Brady, however, insisted and Sharon went hurtling down the hill and eventually ended up dead and without a face.  Honestly, I don’t care how good-looking or charming you are.  If your last girlfriend lost her face because of your stupidity, you’re simply not going to be attractive to me.  Sorry.

Anyway, it’s winter again and Brady is already thinking about ending things with Allie.  There’s only so many basketball games and pizza parties that he can go to.  However, instead of just breaking up with Allie, Brady instead starts to secretly a date a new girl named Rosha Nelson.  Brady soon finds himself growing obsessed with the mysterious Rosha, who refuses to tell him anything about her past and who seems to really have a talent for getting Brady involved in dangerous, potentially life-threatening situations.

Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious “scarred girl” following Brady and Rosha around.  Soon, people are mysteriously dying and the entire books leads to a climatic fight in which bodies are literally dismembered!

So, I liked The Perfect Date.  It was as grotesque and morbid as a Christopher Pike book without any of the pretentious philosophizing that occasionally turns up in Pike’s work.  While Rosha’s secret is pretty easy to figure out, Stine deserves a lot of credit for following the story to it’s natural conclusion.  The book ends with a scene so weird that I had to read it twice.  Really, what more can you ask for?

All in all, this book made me happy that I live in Texas.  No snow equals no tragic sled accidents.  This book made me appreciate our 60-degree winters.

Horror Novel Review: The Wrong Number by R.L. Stine

The Wrong Number, an R.L. Stine novel that was first published way back in 1990, is a real artifact.

The plot itself is pretty simple and kind of ripped off from an old Joan Crawford called I Saw What You Did.  Basically, two teenage girls — Dina and Jade — are totally bored so they decided to pass the time by prank calling people.  They call up Jade’s sister.  They call up Rob, the boy whom Dina totally has a crush on.  It’s all pretty basic and, to be honest, kind of stupid.  I mean, if you’re going to prank call someone, don’t pretend like you’re calling on behalf of the mall or something.  Instead, you call them up and say something like, “You need to come home right away.  Everyone you love is dead.”

While Dina and Jade are making prank calls, some unidentified man is having a stream of consciousness discussion with himself, all about how his plan has nearly come to fruition and he just has to make sure that all the loose ends are tied up and how he’ll kill anyone who gets in his way.  Though the identity of this man is not immediately confirmed, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that that he’s eventually going to get an unwanted phone call from Dina and Jade.

Actually, it’s all Chuck’s fault.  Chuck is Dina’s half-brother and he’s got a history of fights and petty crimes.  He seems like kind of a punk but this being an R.L. Stine book, he’s actually just a misunderstood rebel who plays be his own rules.  It turns out that Chuck is an expert on prank calls.  Long story short, Dina and Jade eventually call up a man who is in the process of murdering his wife.  Somehow, this leads to them deciding that they need to investigate the murder themselves.  Myself, I’d probably just try to get on with my life but, on Fear Street, everyone’s curious.

The Wrong Number is pretty much typical Fear Street.  Solve the crime, get a boyfriend, try not to die.  It’s the type of book where Chuck gets into a knife fight after only being in town slightly less than day yet, instead of worrying that Chuck might have issues, it just makes him more attractive to Jade.  (Actually, speaking from my own long and sordid history of developing crushes on bad boys, that might be the most realistic part of the story.)

The most interesting thing about The Wrong Number is that it’s totally a product of its time.  This a book that literally could not take place today.  This plot is dependent upon everyone having a landline (and only a landline) and no one having caller ID or the ability to block annoying numbers.  It’s an artifact of a past time.  Thirty years ago, the world was a much different place.

Horror Book Review: Night of the Living Dummy by R.L. Stine

Let’s just state the obvious.

Ventriloquist dummies are creeping as Hell and no one sane should own one.  Seriously, I’ve seen enough movies and TV shows about living dummies that there’s no way I would ever allow myself to be near one.  They’re always talking about their wild sex lives (which, considering the state of the lower half of their body, I kind of suspect that they’re lying about) and complaining about someone having their clammy hand inside of them and, apparently, if you don’t keep them happy, they’ll try to kill you and everyone that you love.  Stay away from the dummies!

R.L. Stine obviously understands the inherent creepiness of the ventriloquist dummy as well.  The 1993 YA horror novel, Night of the Living Dummy, is about two sisters who get into a dummy-inspired rivalry.  When Lindy finds a ventriloquist dummy in the garbage, she names it Slappy and soon, she’s the most popular kid around, which …. seems kind of strange.  But who knows?  Maybe in 1993, ventriloquism was really cool instead of being ultra creepy.  Lindy’s sister, Kris, gets a dummy of her very own.  She names him Mr. Wood.  Now, there’s two ventriloquist dummies in the house!

And …. they appear to hate each other….

Once you get passed the idea of a young ventriloquist being popular as opposed to shunned by society, Night of the Living Dummy is a fun little book, featuring both a realistic portrait of sisterhood and a memorably nasty dummy.  Mr. Wood is a real instigator, insulting everyone he meets and mocking a teacher for being overweight.  And yet, is Mr. Wood doing this himself or is he just an extension of Kris’s anger and jealousy towards her sister?  It’s an interesting idea, though Stine is smart enough not to get bogged down in subtext.  He understands that his readers are reading the book because they want some demonic dummy action and he delivers a lot of that.

I can’t end this review with pointing out that today is R.L. Stine’s 77th birthday!  Happy birthday and thank you for the chills!

Horror On TV: Goosebumps 3.1 “A Shocker On Shock Street”

Much as I knew that, when I started featuring horror-themed television show for October, I would have to include at least one episode of Are You Afraid of The Dark?, I also knew that I simply had to include at least one episode of Goosebumps.  

After all, R.L. Stine helped to introduce me to horror so I owe him a great deal.

The episode below — A Shocker On Shock Street — first aired on September 6th, 1997.

(AGCK!  Apparently, the copyright police suspended the YouTube account that hosted this video!  Sorry about that — Lisa)