If, like me, you came of age in the 90s, chances are you’ll remember the Point Horror collection launched by Scholastic in 1991. I remember seeing them appearing in my middle school library when I was about 11 or 12. They were hard to miss. I mean, look at those covers! Look at them! There’s that distinctive Point Horror logo which made them super easy to find when browsing the bookshelves, the often mundane titles (The Window being a case in point – authors were apparently told to base their story on the title they were given, which frankly explains a lot), the vaguely spooky art, and the straplines. Oh, the straplines. I think my favourite strapline is Help Wanted’s “Part-time job or full-time nightmare”. It deserves to be read out by Movie Trailer Guy. At least, that’s how I hear it in my head. Those covers seemed to promise terror (or at least a mild case of the creeps), gory deaths, and even hint at the possibility of (whisper it) sex and drugs! They positively scream that these are books which your parents would certainly not approve of you reading, and as such they were checked out of the school and local library by me and every other girl I knew as soon as possible.
Looking back, I think a huge part of the appeal of Point Horror was also that it felt like the first time that books were marketed specifically for teenagers. It was essentially the dawn of YA; before then (and of course, before the Internet, so back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth) I remember going in WH Smiths to look for books, and finding a huge gap in between very young children’s books, and adult books. It didn’t prevent me from reading since I was the type of kid who looked at a giant doorstop of, say, a Stephen King novel, and just saw a challenge; but it was incredibly exciting to have something aimed for me as I was, a young girl just starting to become interested in teenage stuff.
It’s interesting now to see how much Point Horror established a lot of YA tropes and set a lot of YA rules, particularly around horror. The now ubiquitous love triangle cropped up in numerous Point Horror stories, such as Beach House, Fatal Secrets, Trick or Treat, and a whole bunch of others I won’t list here. It was Point Horror which taught me that if there are two guys competing for your company to Trixie’s Diner and the bodies are piling up, then it will be one of them who done it. Either that, or your best mate is completely off her onion. Long before Scream, Point Horror taught me that to survive, I must obey the rules; I must be good, I must not sneak out to practice driving, I must not go into the creepy-ass beach house with the cute but scary guy who insists he “has something to show me” (actually, that is still excellent advice for anyone) and, er, I must not make a deal with a vampire to be popular. It’s debatable whether without Point Horror, we’d have the likes of Twilight. Now, say what you like about Twilight, but the fact is that it got a lot of kids reading who otherwise wouldn’t have. I can’t pretend that Point Horror stories are superior literature – but they did prove to be a gateway drug for a lot of kids my age into other books. Plus, they are an indecent amount of fun to read even as an adult.
Let’s take a look back and celebrate some of Point Horror’s finest – and not so fine – moments. Spoiler warning, obviously!
Point Horror: Names
One of my favourite things about Point Horror books was the fabulously 90s American names given to some of the characters. Highlights for me include The Perfume’s lovely loon, Dove, naturally nicknamed Dove-Bar by her friends. Mm, I love the smell of soap in the morning. Then of course there’s Help Wanted’s blonde-haired, violet-eyed rich boy Parker Swanson, who undoubtedly grows up to be one of Patrick Bateman’s insufferable yuppie colleagues. There’s also The Boy Next Door’s Randy Bell, who it may surprise you to know is actually a girl. However, my personal favourite is The Train’s Lolly Slocum, clearly an escapee from a James Bond novel. Someone call Jurisfiction!
Point Horror: Protagonists
Generally, it has to be said that Point Horror protagonists are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, which makes The Silent Scream’s Jess all the more impressive. When she’s trapped in the cellar she not only manages to find a way out but then defends herself with a piece of glass while she’s being throttled. Cool moves, Jess! Admittedly she doesn’t exactly defeat the killer at the end; she just watches as he trips after a haunted photo flies into his face. But I’m sure she’d have done just fine without the photo’s help anyway.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the gang in Hit and Run, who spend literally the entire story pranking each other and their parents with a dead body. It was just a homeless guy, which makes it totally okay, obviously. I’m still waiting for the sequel to this, in which it’s discovered that the whole group has formed a modern version of the Manson family, for the lulz.
Point Horror: Climaxes
Stop sniggering at the back there, you know exactly what I mean! Besides, Point Horror has definite South Park morals: horrible deaths are ok, so long as there’s no sex or naughty words.
While The Boy Next Door isn’t the best example of Point Horror, it does contain one of my favourite moments: Randy Bell fends off the psychopathic Julian (who’s been living in the walls of the house next door, as you do) by throwing a block of cheese at him, and comes over all teen girl Arnie, quipping “TOO MUCH CHEESE IS BAD FOR YOUR CHOLESTEROL”. I do like a bit of cheddar in my entertainment.
I also have a fondness for Fatal Secrets, as it turns out that literally everyone in the book apart from the protagonist and her family are in on the secret about her sister’s mysterious death. It’s The Orient Express of Point Horror. They all did it!
Point Horror: Deaths
Let’s not muck about, this is what we were really here for. We might have been too young to legally watch Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street, but we wanted horror with a body count, dammit!
My favourite ending has to be the clifftop fight in The Hitchhiker, which results in killer Christina being thrown to a pool full of hungry piranha. Appealing to my love of horror and my love of monster movies it’s both an impressively inventive ending as well as being satisfyingly squicky.
However, a close second has got to be The Yearbook, in which our brainy protagonists David and Ariana defeat the tentacle monster living under their school by dissolving it with Coca-cola. It’s like a cross between It and Evolution. Brilliant.
Now if all this has got you nostalgic for more Point Horror, don’t despair! The undisputed King of Teen Scream, R.L Stine, is writing more in his Fear Street series and there’s even a Goosebumps movie on the way.
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)