Monday, August 18, 2014

Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs

As you can see, I've taken the next logical step up from a long children's horror series: another children's horror series! This one's a recommendation from a fan named Ian. I'll be doing this every week, with maybe a few breaks for one-book recommendations or miscellaneous updates. So, without further delay, I bring you Gnarly Book Reviews's second full series.

1. "The Hermit of Collins Peak"
OK, get ready for this, there are quite a bit of proper nouns coming up: so Rickie, Steve, Sean, and Nathan are telling Kurt, the new kid, all about the Hermit living at- you guessed it- Collins Peak. Just remember Rickie and Kurt, they're the only ones that do anything at all in this story. Anyway, this story really captures the wonders of childhood because we all had that one old guy whom everybody accused of capturing and eating children. In this particular story, he lives in a shack on a mountain.

Later, Kurt goes home and talks with his parents. Kurt's mom found out the hermit's wife died giving birth to his son, so... I mean, poor guy. That's awful. Kurt does the kind and reasonable thing when he not only tells all his new friends but also goes to Collins Peak to see the house. All they do is spy on the guy, but the next day, after hearing that he had a heart attack, they decide to break into his house. Wow, these are legitimately awful human beings. Like, as people go, these kids are just bad.

Meanwhile, the old hermit is lying on a hospital bed, at peace with his unfortunate death, when he realizes he needs to tell someone about "the cave." As the boys walk into the shack, the hermit coughs himself to death in an attempt to issue a warning. As he dies, he sees the kids opening a door to a cave in his house, and the last thing he sees is them being pulled into the darkness. Spoooooooooky.

Conclusion: I liked this one a lot. Although it could have used more content, it was a very good story considering the length. It made a great short story, and I think it wouldn't have worked well as a full-length novel. So, awesome.

2. "Dead Giveaway"
All children's horror writers, both aspiring and current, listen close: cats aren't scary. They just aren't. It is very difficult to make a cat scary, and it's almost never worth the effort. There is only one time I've every been scared of a cat, and since I'm having a flashback, I guess I'll just take you guys, too.

It was Oklahoma, this past year. I had to sleep in my grandparents' barn with some cousins. It was the middle of the night, we had just seen Insidious, and we took a quick trip outside. Also, we had locked ourselves out. So we were trying to climb up to the porch when a black cat dashed across the path. I said, "Jesus Christ, did anyone else just see that demon cat?" This was greeted by words of agreement. The third time the cat made its move, I was ready to get revenge. Upon suggesting this dish best served cold, my cousin Julian said, "But we're still locked out of the barn."

"Back burner, Julian, we have a demon cat and killing that little bastard is our number one priority," I said. In retrospect, that cat wasn't worth ten minutes of searching in pitch darkness, but I'm way off track so I'm going to stop digressing. The point is that cats aren't scary.

So fifth-grader Terry is getting ready to go to his teacher's funeral. I can already tell this is an upbeat one. Terry didn't like his teacher, but he didn't want her to die. All of a sudden, Terry's new cat, Midnight, which he'd found on the streets recently, jumps through Terry's window after a small absence. That's another thing I don't like about the story: it's so predictable. The cat's obviously responsible for his teacher's death, I read stories like this before, it's pretty easy to tell. And just to top it off, Terry learns at the funeral that his teacher saw "a dark object" in front of her car. I guess subtlety isn't R.C. Welch's strong point.

Terry later decides that the school bully, Howard, should die. The next day, he gets scared and falls in a lion cage at the zoo. Yes, because that's something that happens ever. When he gets home from school, Terry accidentally knocks over a display case. His father grounds him, so he can't go to a birthday party. Terry "accidentally" condemns his father to death by evil cat. In the middle of the night, Terry hears a thump and finds Midnight to be a giant monster-cat. The Midnight monster-cat chases Terry into a bathroom, where he realizes that the window is barred from the outside and turns to face his inevitable demise.

Conclusion: Too predictable and it doesn't seem like it would be scary, even for a little kid. The ending was definitely suspenseful, and there will always be something terrifying about being in a small, enclosed room while something inhuman bashes its way in. Still, the antagonizing threat is a cat. I didn't really like it.

3. "The Gift"
Oh god, this story. Before I start, let me get one thing clear: I love bugs. I love insects, I love arachnids, not so hot on the gastropods, but everything else is cool. I honestly don't think I've ever killed a spider, and I haven't regretted it once, which is strange because I was one of the few people I knew who got spontaneous black widow invasions. They would just appear, only at night, and exclusively in my backyard. I've held them, I've poked them, I've woken up with one on my arm, but I never got bitten. I think I had a mutual understanding with them. I started taking some as pets; in fact, I currently have a pet tarantula and a scorpion. But I've digressed, just keep in mind that I hate the senseless killing of bugs.

So this story starts as Jason pokes ants with an eraser before covering the hole to their nest. I can already tell this is going to be an enjoyable protagonist. Jason is grounded because he told his cousin that the ant farm Jason received for his birthday was stupid. First Jason shakes the farm, then he goes outside to play. He soon gets bored, and solves his boredom by shaking the farm again, leaving the ants to "dig out their trapped comrades." Then he tries pouring vinegar, water and alcohol on them, but nothing happens. He should try Red Bull, maybe they'd start flying.

Even more bored, Jason decides to try boiling water. I'm serious, he kills them with boiling water. Then he uses hydrogen peroxide, and they go crazy and spaz about in pain before dying. Wow, if this protagonist is anything short of burned alive, I will be severely disappointed. After torturing the ants for "a couple hours," Jason asks to go to his friend's house. When he gets home, the remaining ants have used tunnels to spell out the word "HATE." So he murders them, with hydrogen peroxide. Ladies and gentlemen, we may have a new worst protagonist. Move over, Spooky. That night, he wakes up covered in ants, slowly eaten to death. Cool.

Conclusion: Completely lacking in morals, this story is a chore. The characters suck, it's not scary because it's not relatable. Or maybe it is, I don't know, I was always overly-empathetic. But I will say one thing: this story makes me feel, man, it really tugs at my heart-strings. Of course, it only inspires anger, but it does it well, and most likely intentionally. So... I don't know what to think of it, I'll get another opinion. I guess it's not a bad story, all told.

4. "A Camping Trip"
This story begins as Alex and thirteen other boys, including his best friend Darrel, are going camping with their new, unpopular teacher, Mr. Kane. I guess it's a way to improve his rep, we all know how much popularity matters in middle school... for the faculty. When they get up the mountain, they begin to set up the tents when a ranger shows up. He chats a little bit, and shows them his gnarly crossbow. But when the kids ask him to shoot it, he says no, he might see a dangerous animal later.

That night, Mr. Kane tells them a story about three brothers that explored the mountains, found out it was an Indian burial ground, and were killed by a mummy. The book says he's a good storyteller, but the book actually describes him telling the beginning of the story and I don't know, maybe they just have really low standards in this universe, but I don't buy it. Anyway, a boy named Bret goes missing. The next morning, they split into two-person groups. Mr. Kane goes with some kid named Kent, who also goes missing. Mr. Kane leaves the remaining kids so he can get help from the ranger, and the kids understandably start accusing the teacher once he leaves. Alex and Darrel volunteer to spy on him, so they start going up the trail. That's... actually a pretty smart thing to do. Good job, Alex.

They're sneaking in the bushes when they see the ranger. Relieved, they jump out and approach him before noticing that his crossbow bolt is dripping with blood.

Conclusion: Totally awesome. This story was great in that I liked the characters, and although there were signs, I honestly didn't see the twist until the moment it happened. The ending gave me chills, and I love this story.

5. "Mummy's Little Helper"
Anne is laying in bed, listening to ghostly voices call for help. Anne had slept in her parents' room the night before, and already knew that her parents couldn't hear "The Voice." She's understandably pretty freaked out, but The Voice shuts up once Anne asks to whom it belonged. At school the next day, Anne tells her friend Robin, who is the only person in this story with any common sense, about The Voice. She agrees to have a sleepover, a little ghost-catching slumber party (which seems to be a common theme in this genre). When they hear The Voice, they actually don't make a reference to the TV show and instead decide to go track it. That's might be passed off as OK, but then they discover the voice is coming from the basement, and they decide to go after it. Why, what could they possibly hope to gain? In every scary movie, every single one, awful things always happen in the basement. Even in Cabin in the Woods, an awesome movie meant to parody the stereotypical horror film, does the conflict begin in the basement. Despite all this... you know what, that's strike two. Maybe they can redeem themselves.

The reason I like Robin is that she hesitates to enter the basement, and when they find out the voice is coming from the floorboards, she flat-out refuses to go and stays on the stairs. Anne, in a move that somehow takes care of strikes 3, 4, and 5, decides to break open the floorboards. Underneath is buried the mummified body of a child. Which has lived under a basement for years. I guess its home decorating sense died when it did, am I right? Anyway, it reaches its hand up and pulls in Anne. Then Robin realizes that it might have been saying "help" because it was hungry and freaks out. So what, can Anne not take a dead baby in a fight? Plot hole alert.

Conclusion: Despite the blatant stupidity of the protagonist, I did connect to the experience through Robin, so that's good. Overall, pretty gnarly, pretty frightening. One thing I didn't like is that there was an illustration of the mummy reaching through the boards a page before I even knew there was a mummy, so that's not super cool. Also, how the hell did a mummy get under her house?

6. "Shadow Play"
David's family just moved into a new house. I can already tell that this author likes that setup. He's messin' around outside when a kid named Greg shows up. He tells him that the last family that lived there disappeared without a trace during a storm.  That's all he says, then he leaves. I can already see their friendship blooming. So David asks his parents, and they feign ignorance. But that night, he hears them talking about how not only did the family disappear, but the walls were splattered with blood.

When David gets in bed, he notices a shadow moving in the corner, so he turns on his lamp... and falls asleep. I don't know how these kids do it; if I heard a ghostly child voice asking for help, got a death threat from ants, or was visually assaulted by a living shadow at night, I would be watching TV with a crucifix until 7:00 a.m. Sometimes, I think I forget what genre I'm reading. The next night, the shadow flows along the floor toward the bed, so back on with the lights. The next night, he has to turn them on again when he sees the shadow on his wall, flickering about "like black fire." That's really good, I can picture that really well. I'm serious, that's a great simile, good job R.C. Welch.

The next night, there's a terrible storm, and the electricity goes out. David sleeps with his parents, and they leave a candle on. Soon, they wake up because the candle's out, and when David's father lights a match they see his shadow begin to strangle him. David's mom's face is covered by her shadow, and when he looks up, there's a kid's shadow floating down from the ceiling.

Conclusion: This story is awesome. I mean, the whole family's shadows murder them all because of an absence of light, that is terrifying. This probably would have scared me if I'd read it as a kid, but it's not gory or ridiculous, it's just... it's just awesome. This is one of the best children's horror stories or books I've ever read, it's great.

7. "The Dollhouse"
Karen is walking to her friend Jenny's house, looking back on her life. Jenny moved to the location of the story recently, and has no other friends because she's really quiet and shy. They became friends over a miniature wooden elephant Karen brought to school, and it turned out they both love miniature sculptures. Pretty stereotypical friendship story, nothing special there. So Karen invited Jenny over.

They fawned over Karen's large display of smaller versions of larger objects when Jenny invited her over to her house to see her collection of things made smaller. Great, now we're up to speed, thanks for making me write in the past tense for a paragraph, R.C. Welch.

It turns out Jenny's house is a complete mess, but she has an amazing and exquisite dollhouse, complete with living dolls. Please, read that again if you need to. It turns out she shrank her parents and all her past friends. Then she turns on Karen.

Conclusion: I knew the ending from the moment Jenny says "My dolls are my friends," about halfway through the story. That being said, it was pretty well executed, but I felt that Jenny's character was inconsistent throughout the story, and since there's no character development, that's not a good thing. Overall, it wasn't bad.

8. "Frankenkid"
Jeffrey, after watching a robot movie, decides to build a robot. There's really not much to say about this one since literally- and I counted- 80% of this story details Jeffrey building a robot. I don't think he could have made a more boring short story except maybe if he had made it just a list of more boring subjects, though that's actually sounding pretty good right about now. First, he makes the legs with an erector toy set. Then, he uses a metal breadbox for the body. Then, he uses metal rods as arms with pliers for hands. Gosh, does this ever stop getting exciting? Then, he uses a coffee can for a head, Christmas lights for eyes, and a light bulb on top for style. This is the stupidest thing I've ever read.

Then, he gets an idea- hook a lizard up to the robot to control it. His brother finds a dead lizard, so Jeffrey hooks it up to the robot and shocks it with the wall socket. First, it burns. But that night, the robot comes to his room and reaches "into" his throat. Whatever.

Conclusion: Its stupidity topped only by its ability to inspire boredom, this story is bad. Very bad. The part about building the robot was so detailed and needlessly lengthy that it left no room for excitement, it was longer than some of the whole short stories. And when the exciting part finally came along, it was so predictable and quick I had lost all interest. It's bad.

9. "The Girl of Their Dreams"
A new family just moved in(!) to the house across the street from Lisa's, the old Muller's place. That night, she dreams that a princess moves in and invites Lisa to live with her in their palace of riches. Way not to conform to gender stereotypes. Anyway, the next day her brother Chris suggests that they go to the old Muller's house and meet the new people there. They meet a man named Benjamin, who is not described as anything more colorful than just "a man." Wow, what Beautiful Imagery. He bought the house with his daughter, Brinn, and he invites the kids back to meet her for dinner. Of course, if the invitation is issued by a vaguely described man, they have to accept.

On the way back to their house, Lisa discovers that Chris had a similar dream to the aforementioned one, except they had a cool museum with swords and armor and stuff. Way not to conform to gender stereotypes.  That night, at around Twilight, the siblings go to the old Muller's place, where they meet the pretty female, Brinn. They have dinner and find out that she's moved all over the place, and that she's been sick, and it wasn't just a fever, runny nose and coffin. So the siblings offer to come over the next night. It becomes a regular thing, but one night, the siblings have a dream that Brinn is dying in front of them and they can't do anything to help her. God, that really sucks.

The siblings go over to her house the following night to check on her. She's fine, and reveals that she wants to show them something since she unpacked everything. She leads Chris to a closet full of swords and armor and stuff. I guess you could say Brinn's a creature of the knight. Anyway, all Lisa sees is rusty old plumbing. Then Brinn shows her to a closet full of jewels and money and riches. Eventually, she starts to wonder about her brother. She wanders to the living room, where she sees that the sofa is really a coffin, a skeleton wearing the clothes of Brinn's supposed father perched on top. Then, Chris stumbles to the top of the stairs, bleeding. Brinn, now an adult, leaps at him and bites him. Surprise! She's a vampire. I suggest you reread paragraph two and onward.

Brinn runs out the door and to her house. But when she enters her door, she's back in the old Muller place, where a bloody Brinn leaps at her.

Conclusion: One of the best newer children's vampire stories out there, which isn't saying much because other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, vampire media is not exactly the cream of the horror crop. Still, quality story.

10. "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"
This story begins as Craig's classroom discusses the latest brutal murder happening in their town. Each victim was brutally shred apart. Because of this, their teacher announces a guest: a police officer. He warns them to be careful and Craig just sorta zones out for the rest of the speech. At lunch, Craig gets in an argument with a boy named Jack, who thinks that the killer is some kind of literal monster. Craig thinks he's human, which... I mean, it's not a bad position to have, I'd want to be on that side of the argument. Anyway, Craig walks home after playing a game of football.

It turns out his parents are always really busy, so he's a pretty independent kid. He starts walking home when it turns to night. He keeps thinking he sees something behind him, so starts running and hears footsteps. He turns in to an alley. There, he sees Jack, who saves him by leading him farther into the alley. At this point, we already know that Jack's the killer, but we'll humor the author: so what happens next, R.C. Welch? Jack is a werewolf.

Conclusion: A werewolf? Seriously? What is it with Welch and classic movie monsters? Mummy, vampire, and now werewolf... they're rarely scary now. Also, Welch pulled an M.D. Spenser with this one; he wasted pages on nothing. Nothing happened in this story, it was pretty weak.

11. "The Thrill-Seekers' Club"
Peter really wants to be in the Thrill-Seekers' Club with all the other gnarlidocious, super cool males! These zumboociously radical lads are always up for an adventure, and boy does it land them into trouble! Peter wants to get in, because it's the club to be in, even though logic suggests a club of that name should have a maximum of one member! Peter has a chance to join, but there's only one problem, (insert record skip sound here) he has to steal a flower pot off an old man's grave! Now Peter and his best friend David must prove they're just as k√ľambadingus and tubular as the Thrill-Seekers!

11-year-old Adam Sandler stars in this hit family film where a lame best friend might just be the most rad thing of all!

OK, they go into the cemetery where the creepy gardener Mr. Finch works. They can't pull the pot out, and then they hear a grunting sound, so David ditches Peter. I guess he's not that rad after all. As he runs after him, Peter trips and falls to the ground. Mr. Finch grabs Peter, and it turns out he's the Grim Reaper and Peter's dead.

Conclusion: I don't get it. It just seems kind of lazily done, and I really don't understand the ending.

Insight into the Complex Minds of Characters:
When Craig's teacher says they have a special guest coming in, "Craig had a vision of a wild-eyed killer springing into the room with a meat cleaver. Instead, the door was opened by a young policeman." Yes, because the teacher would bring the killer in to talk to the children.

Beautiful Imagery:
Eight pages of an 11-year-old building a robot. Eight pages.

Hip References:
Poltergeist, which I somehow haven't seen yet. Also The Voice.

R.C. Welch's Favorite Joke Setup:
Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula, and The Wolfman walk into a bar after recently moving into a new home.

Book Conclusion: Great, I thought this book was awesome. The ratio of good stories to bad was surprising, and this book is exponentially better than most Shivers books, so I think I'll find a way to move on.

4 comments:

  1. Re: Story 5 Mummy's Little Helper: "Also, how the hell did a mummy get under her house?" Parents killed previous child using ancient curse, hid it under the floorboards, lied to the daughter about not hearing anything. (I read this book when I was little and I wanted to share my idea, I'm sorry.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. So glad I came across this blog! I first discovered these books when my friend brought this one to a Halloween sleepover. Camping Trip and Wolf in Sheep's Clothing used to scare the crap out of me!

    ReplyDelete
  3. A Camping Trip and A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing scared the shit out of me as a kid!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I had completely forgotten about the name of this series, just remembered bare outlines of some of the stories. These and the Dare to Be Scared books stand out to me as the first horror stories I read where kids fucking died. Why were they in my elementary school library?

    ReplyDelete