“Let’s murder her!”
What started out as a morbid joke among friends is now dangerously real in the 1993 book Halloween Night. A simple class assignment — plan the perfect murder — inspires Brenda Morgan and her two best friends to kill. Things have been tense since Brenda’s cousin Halley moved in with her family; the two teenage girls aren’t getting along, whatsoever. Eventually one thing leads to another, and Brenda decides this year’s Halloween will be Halley’s last.
Before anyone can commit a crime in this book, author R.L. Stine introduces the potential murderer and her accomplices. High-school senior Brenda has been miserable ever since Halley came to live with her and her folks; she shows no sympathy even as her cousin is caught up in her parents’ messy and drawn-out divorce. And until the adults can sort things out, Halley stays with the Morgans. At first Brenda is merely upset over having to give up her bedroom to Halley. Soon enough, the main character finds an even better reason for wanting her cousin dead — she catches Halley kissing her boyfriend Ted.
Brenda’s best friends feel differently about the Halley situation. Traci is more inclined to humor Brenda and even take her side in the matter, especially later once Halley goes after her boyfriend Noah. As for the always dispirited Dina who works at a vet to help provide for herself and her mother, she pities Halley. Dina had to endure her parents’ bad divorce all on her own because her friends — namely Brenda — weren’t there for her until recently. So watching Halley go through something similar strikes a nerve in Dina. As the murder plot thickens, Brenda’s friends become the devil and angel sitting on her shoulders, although neither Traci nor Dina truly want to hurt Halley.
As homecoming and Halloween approach, Brenda starts to receive anonymous threats. A well-placed, scary decoration in her bedroom window is only the beginning; the villain escalates to less ambiguous forms of intimidation, including putting rotten meat in her bed, stuffing a jack-o’-lantern with a beheaded bird, and painting the message “SEE YOU ON HALLOWEEN” (in blood) on her bedroom wall. Brenda jumps to conclusions and assumes her boyfriend-stealing cousin is responsible for these twisted pranks, but both Mr. and Mrs. Morgan are dismissive. Now, the parents in these kinds of stories are notorious for playing down obviously malicious acts against their children. Brenda’s folks, however, are in a class of their own as far as negligent YA parents are concerned; they don’t call the cops, much less worry about their daughter’s safety.
In the story Brenda, Traci and Dina originally wrote for class, the victim is stabbed at Brenda’s upcoming Halloween party. Now that they’re actually considering murdering Halley for real, they (minus Dina, who refuses to participate anymore) have the killer pull a costume switcheroo to avoid detection. Think Terror Train. Traci still has her doubts, assuming her best friend will snap out of her obsession sometime soon, but after Halley accidentally wrecks her cousin’s Geo, there is no stopping Brenda. Brenda even hopes to pin the murder on her ex-boyfriend Ted by having him wear the same costume as the would-be killer.
There is a point where Brenda could’ve changed her mind. After overhearing what Brenda and Traci have in store for her, Halley confronts her cousin. Rather than being angry, though, Halley breaks down, admitting she is messed up because of the divorce. And when Brenda treated her so icily upon her arrival, Halley decided to get back at her. Hence the Ted drama. There seems to be a moment of understanding between these two clashing characters, yet Halley’s emotional confession only appears to fuel Brenda’s silent rage.
The dreaded Halloween party takes place, and as planned, someone dies. Except the victim is not Halley — Brenda, dressed in Halley’s gorilla costume, is found stabbed to death. Ted was sick and couldn’t come, and Traci and Halley both deny plunging the knife into the gorilla. All of a sudden, Brenda wakes up, revealing she had retrofitted the costume with extra padding so she wouldn’t be hurt. And her plotting against Halley and this other ruse were all part of a super scheme to draw out her real stalker — Dina! The best friend was triggered by Brenda’s treatment of Halley, another kid from a broken home, and she remembered how abandoned she felt during her own parents’ divorce. Working at the vet provided Dina the supplies necessary to terrorize her friend: spoiled dog food, a dead bird and animal blood. Finally, Dina is hauled off by the authorities so she can get some much needed professional help.
In Halloween Night II, Brenda is trying to put the past behind her, but Dina unexpectedly shows up at her house one year later, claiming she’s recuperated. Brenda doesn’t bite, and she sends her former friend away. In the meantime, Halley has since moved in permanently after both her parents were deemed unfit to take care of her, and the Morgans were given full custody. The cousins’ bonding following the Dina incident last year didn’t last too long, seeing as Halley has resumed her old ways. She takes Ted out for another spin before ditching him for Brenda’s new boyfriend Jake. History continues to repeat itself when Brenda is threatened by someone close to her in the weeks before Halloween.
This sequel feels a lot like a rerun; it practically repeats the first book’s story. Brenda and Halley are fighting over a guy, the antagonist uses similar scare tactics, and the core characters devise a Halloween prank when wanting to get back at someone. Brenda’s parents aren’t as callous as before, though they hardly react when Halley “accidentally” burns their daughter’s hand with sulfuric acid. The biggest difference here is the fact that Stine delivers a genuine death; someone is murdered, and the culprit is — surprise, surprise — Brenda’s friend. This new character Angela lives in a creepy house decked out in Halloween decorations, and she calls a pair of skeletons her “parents.” Angela’s motive for menacing Brenda? Why, of course, Jake, the guy she also liked and then killed when she couldn’t have him all to herself. In addition to being Brenda’s latest stalker, Angela is apparently the town creep who’s been beating up women and kids on the street.
Stine’s ability to write wholly unpleasant teen characters is incomparable; virtually everyone in these stories is unbalanced and hard to stomach. Their flaws don’t make them too interesting, either. However, if you can get past this one glaring weak spot, the Halloween Night duology is obscenely entertaining in the most unexpected ways. These books ultimately work better as a pageant of insufferable people doing foolish things than an actual whodunit.
There was a time when the young-adult section of bookstores was overflowing with horror and suspense. These books were easily identified by their flashy fonts and garish cover art. This notable subgenre of YA fiction thrived in the ’80s, peaked in the ’90s, and then finally came to an end in the early ’00s. YA horror of this kind is indeed a thing of the past, but the stories live on at Buried in a Book. This recurring column reflects on the nostalgic novels still haunting readers decades later.
The post R. L. Stine’s ‘Halloween Night’ Duology Offers Twisted Teens and Nasty Tricks [Buried in a Book] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.