Hello, Spongey here.
Welcome to October, my friends. Usually I’d say we’re now in the scariest month of the year…but insert obvious joke here. I don’t have as much for you this time but hopefully what I do have is good. And for this month’s Stine review we’re finally going into an area we haven’t touched on before: Point Horror
Basically, this was a series of YA novels published by Scholastic that was launched in 1991 that was home to many authors like Christoper Pike and other people that don’t matter as much. There were some books they did for the authors prior to 1991 so those got republished for the point line, including Stine’s debut novel that I swear I’ll get to.
They actually attempted a revival in 2013 with new authors but that didn’t last long. What a shame, I’m sure Wickedpedia is a classic.
I’m not that familiar with these in general so I can’t say how those fare or compared to the Stine stuff. He has plenty of Point Horror entries and so far I’ve only read one. But from what I can tell, they seem to be about as mixed as his other works, perhaps even more so. We’ll see as we possibly do more.
But for now we have this one from 1993, after he had been doing Fear Street for quite a bit and basically just started Goosebumps. It’s of course a Halloween book so naturally I decided to start my Point Horror reading with it. The results were…well, you’ll see.
By the way, I am aware that they are making a series out of just Stine’s entries for HBO Max. I’m really curious to see how that goes but for now let’s focus on the literary world. Will our first Point Horror book be a trick or a treat? Let’s see.
This, is Halloween Night
The artist isn’t credited but I do quite like this cover. It’s cheesy in a good way with this knife lodged into an evil pumpkin. Slightly generic in a sense but overall, a fine cover.
The book starts with our protagonist Brenda Morgan comparing a gross Halloween mask to her cousin Hailey. That lovely introduction aside, Brenda happens to be our red-head so yeah. Hailey is staying with the Morgans for a bit as her parents are currently going through a divorce.
You’d think Brenda would be sympathetic because of that but instead she’s complaining about how Hailey is basically stealing her room and such during her stay. To be fair, Hailey is apparently a bit of a bitch when adults aren’t around but at this point she isn’t acting that much better.
Surley this won’t be a huge problem in the long run…right?
Brenda is hanging out with her friends Dina Smithers and Traci Warner, who rightfully say she should be more fair to Hailey, even if she can be nasty. Brenda doesn’t agree and just keeps going on and says she suspects that Hailey has her eyes on her boyfriend Ted.
Speaking of the supposed devil, Hailey walks in with Ted and she asks to borrow Brenda’s car so Ted can do a driving lesson with her. She actually says sure and thankfully saves her bitching for after Hailey has left to do so. Still, I really wish she wasn’t so annoying about it.
We cut to Ted finishing up the driving test, as Hailey thanks him for doing it. She opens up a tad saying she is grateful that most of the Morgans are nice to her, and she isn’t even saying anything terrible about Brenda since she is toned down around Hailey. Staying over here has been a nice break from her parents constantly fighting as lawyers come in and out.
Gotta say, the divorce element is a bit more important and maturely handled than usual for these. For now at least.
Ted accidentally knocks over Hailey’s pocketbook…and Hailey’s driver’s license tumbles out. Whoops, turns out she was trying to get Ted alone and she actually is at least a bit awful. Drat.
Back with Brenda sometime later, we see she has an annoying younger sibling named Randy who is mostly just there. He annoys her a bit and leaves her and her friends to their girl talk.
“Charming, isn’t he?'”
“It runs in the family”
Oh snap Traci is my favorite character now. Although otherwise she is just there while Dina at least seems like the nice one, who even works at the vet. Brenda talks about how Ted has been distant lately, like something is going on. While I get it’s all very awkward, I feel like his reaction should be at least a bit different, since she would very much freak out if she found out.
Anyway, they’ve been given one of those weirdly specific class assignments no one outside of fiction gets, in this case it’s to write a Murder Mystery story or something. They decide to have the characters be people they know and Hailey is the murder victim. While they aren’t actually planning a murder like a fake out makes us think, perhaps even doing this a bit much and not so healthy.
By the way, they discuss the concept of Red Herrings, which amuses me for some reason. They start getting into this and Dina gets worried about using her real name.
“But it’ll be so much more satisfying to kill Hailey off! Even if it’s only on paper”
Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen!
We find out Dina’s parents have gone through a divorce so she can relate to Hailey and thinks Brenda should be more understanding. Never mind, she’s my favorite now, if only for being the most sympathetic. This hits Brenda hard so hopefully this will cause her to turn around a tad.
…Or not, as they randomly look outside and see Hailey and Ted making out in the car. Okay, Hailey is now confirmed awful so I guess there’s no one to root for but Dina I guess. I can understand Brenda’s bitterness to seeing this at least.
The next morning, she tries to talk to her mom about this and she rightfully says Brenda should be a lot more mature about this. She doesn’t bring up the boyfriend at all even though it’s the one good point against Hailey she could bring up.
” I bet her parents are fighting not to keep her, Brenda thought bitterly…Brenda snickered at the thought”
…Is it too late to pick a new protagonist?
Later that day at school, Brenda and Dina see Hailey getting all sweet with Traci’s boyfriend Noah. She can’t even stick with one stolen boyfriend smh. Hailey leaves and Noah notices Brenda was watching and begs her not to tell, claiming they were just talking. So Dina is gonna remain the only non-trash character, eh?
Brenda agrees to it and just moves on, although it tears her up inside to do so. So at this point I think it’s finally time for something even slightly scary to happen in this horror novel. So how about later that night, Brenda finds some mask with a note saying “See you on Halloween”? Yeah, that’ll do.
Also oh yeah, this is a Halloween book.
She naturally blames Hailey but doesn’t do it out loud likely since she knows the parents won’t agree. The next day, Brenda and Traci are doing pumpkin stuff when Dina arrives, telling us that she wants to quit her animal clinic job but she needs the money since her dad is between jobs at the moment. Is it too late for her to be the main character? She’s infinitely more sympathetic.
They get into talking about their murder plot and decide it should be set at a costume party and at this point this murder plot is more interesting than the story we’re currently reading. Brenda upstairs to get something and sees that someone has written “See You on Halloween” in blood on the walls.
Okay now we’re getting somewhere, that’s good.
We don’t get her reaction though, as we cut to her telling Traci all about how the parents reacted and how they didn’t buy that Hailey possibly did it. I mean, even she would have a hard time finding all that blood. Brenda whines about them not believing her but story with how she’s set up, it’s hard to really care at all.
They are out at some local hangout during this and spy Hailey in a booth with Noah. Oh boy we’re back to the boyfriend stealing stuff. Hailey should get new tricks. Traci gets angry and storms out, fully agreeing that Hailey sucks.
That night, we get a dream sequence involving a Jack-O-Lantern to pad things out. I’m almost glad Brenda is awful, because at least that is getting a reaction out of me while so far most of this is just boring. The dream is sadly the most exciting part.
The next day, Ted tries to talk to Brenda and at least seems to be somewhat apologetic but of course Brenda is still bitter. Given what happened I’d be understanding but Brenda is just a bitter person by default so it’s easy to just get mad at her. However, she does relent a bit as Ted admits he still does like Brenda (somehow) …but he pulls the “we should see other people” line which is just the worst thing to do in a situation like this.
And yet he still wants to go to the Homecoming dance with Brenda. Whatever, I don’t care. They kiss and…end scene, I guess. Later, Brenda and her friends are still planning that murder. They are getting way too into this so Dina rightfully asks if they can change the victim’s name but of course they ignore her. Still the best character.
They need a murderer and they were told it should be the person you least expect, so they pick Dina since she’s actually likable.
“Yaaaay!” she cheered. “I’m a murderer!”
Okay, that’s funny. Their session ends and Brenda goes to her room to find a rotting pumpkin and the body of a dead bird, along with a note that finally says something new: “You’re Next, on Halloween”. I’m not sure I approve of their methods but they’ve got the spirit. Also, it really isn’t a R.L. Stine book without dead animals.
Once again, Brenda accuses Hailey and she denies it. The parents attempt to have them sit down and calmly discuss this but Brenda just wants to scream at Hailey the whole time. She even goes as far as to call her evil, which is a bit much, Also, does she ever mention the stealing boyfriends thing? That’s something you can actually prove!
“Hailey fled from the room, sobbing uncontrollably. “She’s evil! Evil!” Brenda shrieked”
…Nah, it doesn’t deserve the MermaidMan clip.
Sometime later, Dina comes over to work on the murder thing while Traci is out visiting family. She has a big family which Dina is jealous of since it gets lonely with it being just her and mom. After the divorce, dad’s relatives just dropped them like they weren’t part of the family anymore. I know I keep repeating myself (In my defense, it’s because the book keeps repeating itself) but can we seriously switch protagonists? These little bits are more engaging than the actual story going on.
Hailey comes in, claiming there has been a horrible accent, so they go out to look.
“Goosebumps climbed her bare arms”
Oh quiet you, Bad Moonlight did it better.
The accident in question is one Hailey got into while driving Brenda’s car, meaning it is now a bit totaled. Her claims of it being an accident are believable but Hailey’s track record isn’t spotless and neither is Brenda’s so yeah just use your imagination on what happens next.
The parents come on to break it up, but even after that happens Brenda thinks about how she’s gonna kill her. Usually that wouldn’t be literal but with that whole murder plot, I wouldn’t put it past her to actually do it at this point.
Then Stine finally fulfills my request to switch to Dina as we cut to her talking to Traci on the phone. Traci says she caught Ted making out with Hailey in his car after school. So yeah, everyone is trash, got it. Also Hailey should stop making Brenda’s hate justified.
Sadly we have to jump back into Brenda’s mind as there’s some post fight awkward-ness at home. Nothing really happens during the day but that night Brenda tries to sleep only to discover a bunch of maggots in her bed. A step down from the blood and dead animals but not bad.
And with that…we just cut to the Homecoming Dance. Guess it’s more important. Also, the scene ends by stating that Brenda “knew” and knows what she has to. We’ll get back to that. The dance is pretty bumpin’ but things very odd. Brenda bumps into some other guy.
“Oh. Hi, Mark”
…Oh my god. This book has now been redeemed. Quick tell Hailey she’s tearing you apart!
She loses track of Ted…but finds him dancing with Hailey, and kissing her. Then Noah appears and they get into a fight. This scene is weird because the way it’s written makes it seem like it’s gonna turn out to be a dream but it’s not. I get that it’s meant to be dream-like I guess but it’s just weird.
Brenda runs home and calls Traci.
“You know our murder plot? You know our plot to murder Hailey? Let’s do it, okay? Let’s really kill her!”
I know she was smiling at the fight but I feel like Ted deserves at least some of the blame there, even if she was seducing him. Also, at this point I buy that Brenda would do this for real which is a sign that you’re protagonist sucks.
Brenda and her friends gather the next day to discuss the matter further. Dina suggests simply talking things out with Hailey but come on, Brenda doesn’t roll that way. They’re going to follow their murder plot where things take place at a costume party and they will switch costume at one point to throw people off as to who the killer is.
Okay, try and follow this: Brenda told everyone she would be a clown but instead she will wear a Frankenstein’s monster costume and Traci will be the clown. Dina will wear Traci’s planned peacock costume. Then after Brenda kills Hailey she will put on Dina’s planned monk costume which will throw people off.
That’s somewhat clever, as confusing as it sort of is. She seems to be actually into it here, this is for real. I’d only be cool with this if it’ll turn out that this whole time Brenda was meant to be the true antagonist while Dina is the true hero the whole time. That would actually be kind of clever. Place your bets on if they go that way.
Anyway, Dina is naturally very much against this and opts out, running away. I’ll stop claiming she’s the best character when she stops being the only smart/likable one. Brenda doesn’t care about her worries because of course and just adjusts her plans accordingly.
However, it turns out that Hailey heard all that through the air vents. Whoops. It’s worth noting that the air vents were mentioned at least twice earlier on, so points for the setup and payoff at least.
Later, Brenda goes to the mall and happens to see Ted and Noah actually getting along somehow. Maybe they realized they should hook up with each other? Ted approaches her and attempts to apologize but for once I’m with Brenda on just shutting him down.
She does invite him to the costume party though, but she tells him to come as Frankenstein’s monster which is clearly part of their murder plan. So it’s still part of her being awful, whew.
As she walks home, she thinks about Dina opting out and we find out that when Dina’s parents were going through that divorce, Brenda couldn’t bear to be with or see her. It was just “too sad”. Okay, I get it to an extent but I’m on a roll with complaining about Brenda. Besides, the wording implies Brenda was avoiding Dina rather than Dina avoiding them which would make more sense.
Anyway, Brenda goes home to see Hailey sitting on her bed, saying she has been expecting her. I love this image. Suddenly, Hailey tells Brenda she overheard everything earlier and actually starts crying. She didn’t realize how hateful she had been until the murder attempt.
She goes on about how messed up her head was due to the divorce thing and Brenda didn’t help by not being friendly the whole time. Apparently she took the boyfriends to teach her a lesson for rejecting her. As bad as I feel for Hailey, I’m not sure this tracks. This just gave Brenda more ammo and it didn’t make you look great.
I mean I still feel for her way more than Brenda but it doesn’t totally go together. She does admit she can’t defend it at least. It is an actually nice vulnerable moment for her at least, that just makes me dislike Brenda even more, frankly.
They hug and Brenda seems to accept all this, even if she doesn’t react to much. …But she thinks to herself that she has to go through with her plan anyway. Okay we’ll see where this is going but we are still led to believe this is true. Just leave it ambiguous by going “Could she still do it?” or something.
After some padding involving a dumb Randy prank, we finally get to Halloween night. It only took them 164 pages into this 181 page book. Brenda’s costume party is in full swing, and there’s a line where it says “much to the peacock’s consternation”. I’m pointing that out not because it’s funny out of context….because I had to look up consternation as I didn’t know what it meant.
R.L. Stine made me look up a vocabulary word. Hell is truly freezing over.
Eventually murder strikes as a Frankenstein monster puts a knife in a gorilla’s chest. There’s a sentence. It does the job quietly and slips away. A bit later someone finally notices the dead gorilla and we get a real “jazz music stops” moment. The kids assume it’s a joke though and take off the mask. However…
“It’s Brenda! And she’s dead!”
Oh hey this had a happy ending after all.
It seems like there was a mix-up and Dina blames Traci. They argue over whose fault this is and realize Ted was also a Frankenstein monster and blame him. Him being the killer would be unexpected at least but he’s sick that rules him out.
Suddenly, Brenda springs back to life because life is full of disappointments. Okay I’ll stop. She reveals who the true killer is…by pulling a Frankenstein mask of Dina’s monk robe.
“I stabbed you Brenda, why aren’t you dead?!”
Yep, that’s right, Dina is the villain. Okay first off, that means they basically gave away the killer halfway through but in a way that wouldn’t be a big tip off to less genre savvy people. That’s admittedly kinda clever.
But anyway, Brenda goes into how she used extra padding as not die as she figured this all out. She figured that a lot of the scary things were animal related and Dina would have access to those due to her vet job. Brenda and Hailey traded costumes and Dina overheard it, thus fully planned to kill Brenda.
“Brenda is your friend!”
“No! She wasn’t my friend when I needed her…When my parents were getting divorced…where were you then, Brenda? …You dropped me, when I needed you the most!….Then I saw you doing the same thing to Hailey. I saw you shutting her out when she needed you.”
…She’s not wrong. That wording back there made it seem like Brenda straight up ditched her rather than Dina seeming to want space. And she was being bad to Hailey even before she got cozy with Ted, so it’s not like she started off well. So I’m sorry but I have to totally side with the villain here.
Especially since Dina had only planned to scare her with those things, not straight up kill her. But when they decided to kill Hailey for real, it gave her the idea. So the only reason she can be seen as the villain was totally Brenda’s fault. Sure, Brenda says that was actually all a trick to draw Dina out once she figured everything out, it was all to trick her into confessing.
You could have just…talked to her about all this once you figured it out. She hadn’t done anything dangerous yet so you can easily talk her down and resolve things. But nope, being emotionally there for people just isn’t your thing I guess. And yeah they never thought Dina would actually kill Brenda but still.
Dina tries to run away but trips on a pumpkin. Girl couldn’t even hadvea dignified defeat. Then it cuts to sometime later as Brenda is hanging with Hailey. She bemoans how she had no idea Dina held such resentment, as she didn’t drop her on purpose cuz it was such a mess and yada yada, usually I’d buy that but from Brenda…nah.
Maybe if this was a sobering moment that made her realize how cold she can be to people, but as it is it’s worded like she’s pinning the blame mostly on Dina. Although they do say she will get “the help she needs” so there is enough sympathy for her.
But hey, at least Brenda is bonding with Hailey now. Let’s end on a high note: Hailey notices that there’s still a mess around the house, but she suggests just waiting until tomorrow to clean up.
“I think we’re starting to understand each other really well!!”
Ha ha, you are all awful.
I’m not sure if you could tell but I didn’t like this one. Infact, it was pretty bad. I actually did hear bad things about it going on hence why I picked it first to read as I wanted to see if it’s a case where I’m easier on it. Nope, it’s just bad.
To start with the positives, there’s good setup and payoff with the air vents and Dina’s job. The murder story thing is a tad clever especially when the twist is basically given away but in a way that would still surprise the target audience. And uh…yeah that’s about it. The other sort of positives are snuffed out by everything else.
The biggest problem, of course, is Brenda who might be the worst protagonist in any R.L. Stine book I’ve read so far. I and many others complain about Evan, Greg Banks, Gabe and others but they’ve got nothing on her. While they do have decent moments here and there, Brenda is just an inherently bitter person from the start.
A part of that is the point, as we are supposed to think she really wants to kill Hailey by the end. I get it but they go far with that and it wasn’t really needed. If you’re going to do that, you should still balance that out with some good moments so that her still being a good guy by the end feels justified.
I mean, even with Reva Dalby (who we’re supposed to dislike), Stine did that as he knew there it was needed to make her balanced. Outside of maybe like a small bit here and there, Brenda does nothing that good and is just insufferable the whole time, even as Hailey is doing some shady things.
And yet Hailey’s excuse for stealing boyfriends feels weak so while she’s more likable, she’s not totally cleared so that leaves Dina as the best character….and she’s the villain. What is even the point of adding that her dad’s side of the family dropped them or that she’s trying to make ends meet at the job if all it does is make me like the villain more?
I’m all for sympathetic villains, but they still need to come across as less likable than the supposed hero. Something like The Stepsister handled that pretty well, not so much here. On top of that, this book is just boring. It’s mostly a bunch of romance drama I don’t care about since the characters suck and it’s not even really resolved anyway.
There’s a lot of filler to boot. Oh and for a book called Halloween Night, there’s not a lot of Halloween Night in it. I get that you gotta build up to it but there’s so little of it and it’s easy to forget this is even a Halloween book.
There are small bits to show some promise but this is mostly a boring chore with a terrible protagonist and a limp story where the villain comes across as far more likable. The Stepsister basically did a lot of what this was trying to do, but much better.
I know he can do better based on that one alone and while I hope the other Point Horror books are better, this was a flop.
But before we end things..
Yep, we’re finally doing this again. I hate being a backseat writer but much like Revenge R Us, I had been thinking of ways to improve this. I don’t have anything as complex as with that one. I’m more or less just spitballing ideas here.
One would be to just go for it and have Brenda be the villain and reveal that Dina is the true protagonist all along. It would be balls-y do but I think this works better since we’re almost there anyway. Have more scenes with Dina to build up to this and boom, have Brenda’s anger get so bad she actually kills for real and she is the one carted off at the end.
Another idea is to have the party start about midway through and there, Hailey vanishes and all eyes are on Brenda. We’ll toy with the idea that she did it but this will mostly get Brenda to think things over and realize that the fact that everyone is blaming her is quite telling. And we’ll have Traci be the killer since she was pretty into it too since she was also wronged. This will serve as a mirror for Brenda to really show what will happen if she lets her anger get too far.
The book itself gets close to the idea that when someone/you is having problems, it’s best to talk them through and let others in instead of letting all this happen. It doesn’t quite get there but a version that addresses that more can work. Heck, that’s basically what Silent Night was. Actually, that’s a theme in some of Stine’s work, in this essay I will-
That’s all I got for the re-write, just a couple ideas that would be good places to start with improving this. Speaking of, I wonder if the HBO Max show will end up doing this one and improve on it. Guess we’ll see.
Next time, we’re going back to the world of IDW for some witch-y fun.
At least I can take solace in the fact that I won’t deal with these characters ever aga-
…You’ve gotta be kidding me.