A few months ago Alex over at For Book’s Sake posted a bit of nostalgia about the Point Horror series of Young Adult novels. I was transported to the library at my middle school, sitting in the quiet with a bag of contraband Bombay mix and devouring Point Horror novels with gusto. They were mandatory, it seemed, for my generation. If you hadn’t read Teacher’s Pet, Trick or Treat or The Cheerleader you were no one. Like watching Blossom (Friday evening, 6pm, Channel 4) or wearing a Sweater Shop sweater with the collar of a plaid shirt visible at the neck, if you weren’t involved you simply weren’t part of the culture. We didn’t know what zeitgeist was in 1994, but we were all about it.
So, I high-tailed it over to Amazon and placed a very exciting order.
A couple of days later a package thunked on to the doormat. Inside sat three well-loved, thick books. I’d never had a ‘Collection’ before, three novels bundled into together. But now I had three of them. They sat unloved for some time, while I wrestled with an essay on Katherine Mansfield, then I someone recommended The Winter Ghosts, so I had to read that. The Point Horror collections got buried under a pile of academicy looking papers, half-completed forms, and detritus.
Last week I wanted, no, needed something trashy to read in the bath. The feeling, to quote Meat Loaf, came upon me like a tidal wave. I had just the thing. And so it was that over the next few days I wallowed in teenage horror. Collection One – Mother’s Helper, The Invitation and The Beach Party, Collection Two - My Secret Admirer, The Accident and Funhouse, Collection Nine – The Perfume, Silent Witness and Phantom: I read them all.
They vary wildly in quality. Formulaic and predictable, they vascillate between true explorations of teen angst and empty frivolity. They utilise stock characters and simple plots. In The Perfume, for example, a teenage girl is drawn to a new fragrance on the market – Venom – which unleashes her evil twin. She could be called Tiffany. She could be called Cloud or River. She could be called Laine. I can’t remember. These are the characters we’re dealing with. Whatever, The Perfume is awful. It’s like a kick in the teeth to any teen with an ounce of intelligence. It is prosaic, formulaic, simple.
Now, simple isn’t necessarily bad. Reading through my stash of Point Horror, I was reminded frequently of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A plot like that of The Perfume in the hands of Joss Whedon and chums could have been sassy. Something witty and scary and engaging. We could have had a protagonist to identify with – after all, the evil twin trope is ripe for exploration of some of the issues close to adolescent hearts: that fear that no one knows who we really are, that our changing bodies are capable of things we don’t like or understand. But we don’t. We have a ridiculous story that isn’t buffered by smart dialogue or worthy introspection.
It’s not all bad. The Invitation is genuinely interesting. Revolving round that almost unthinkable adolescent quandry of why a Popular Girl would bother to invite little old you to a party, it teases genuine emotion from its heroes. It resonates. It speaks to the AV geek in all of us.
No new Point Horror books have been produced since 2005. In a world where the Saw franchise can make more than $850 million, perhaps there is no need for them. But would I press a copy of The Cemetery in to the hands of a bored twelve-year-old looking for entertainment? Probably, yes. They’re not edifying or complex, they’re escapist. And sometimes that’s just what you need.