99 Fear Street: The House of Evil #2:
The Second Horror
The second outing of the 99 Fear Street trilogy brings a few new things to the mix, but not as much as I had hoped. I enjoyed the addition of Brandt’s character, and the ending was one of Stine’s better WTF moments. This is to say that my favorite parts of the book had very little to do with the titular house. Most of the haunting elements felt like a tired rehash of the first book, and we didn’t learn anything new about the motives or origins of 99 Fear Street. Cally is back as a ghost and totally evil now. I was frustrated by the lack of nuance in her character. I wanted to see the internal conflict between who she used to be and who the house had made her, but unfortunately, we never got to see that. It was a missed opportunity. Stine continues to demonstrate his hatred of house pets; I won’t spoil the particulars here on this recurring trope of the Fear Street series. You’ll have to wait until after the jump for that. Brandt’s storyline saved The Second Horror from being a forgettable slog, so kudos to that. It all made for a book that wasn’t nearly as bad (nor as good) as it could have been.
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It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Observations & Spoilers
It has been one year since 99 Fear Street terrorized the Frasier family, which means it’s time for a new family to move in. This time it’s Brandt, an only child with a pet cat and two college professors for parents. Cally, now an evil ghost, decides that Brandt is cute but wants to torcher and murder him anyway. And what better way to wear down the spirit of your new crush than to murder his cat? That’s right. Brandt’s poor cat barely makes it past the second chapter before one of his father’s tribal weapons inexplicably files off the wall and impales the cat. RL Stine loves to murder pets, and Cally was more than happy to keep this trope alive.
Brandt is upset about his cat, but that doesn’t stop him from being immediately popular at Shadyside High. He makes friends with a cute neighbor girl Abbie. He also makes fast friends with Jinny and Meg, two best friends. Both are interested in Brandt, but Jinny is currently dating Jon. Jon is your run-of-the-mill douche who carries a basketball around with him at all times. I guess because that’s his whole personality? Anyway, Jon convinces Brandt he should try out for the basketball team, but not as a friendly gesture. This is purely competitive. Brandt wants to take him up on this, but his parents are firmly against it because of his “condition.” We don’t get any more details as to what this condition is beyond the fact that Brandt appears to bruise and break bones very easily.
Some weird stuff keeps happening to Brandt, and he begins to think the house is haunted. After he hears scratching and noise in the attic, he goes to investigate. There’s a raccoon there. But when he goes back the next night, he finds Cally’s journal. It was left out in the middle of the floor like he was expected to find it. He reads Cally’s account of what happened to her family and the history of the house. He’s especially disturbed by the final entry which just says: I died today. Brandt also finds himself being stalked around town by a strange shadow, but he always gets away from it in time. Brandt tells his parents he thinks the house is haunted. His parents being anthropologists are excited about this, which is refreshing given the usual dismissal that parents give in these books.
Jinny comes over to “study” one Saturday afternoon while Brandt’s parents are out. She takes notice of the leather pouch that Brandt wears around his neck and asks him about it. He keeps his reply vague, saying it’s a good luck charm that saved his life once. When Jinny goes downstairs for a drink, Brandt hears her screaming from the kitchen. He finds her standing with shattered glass and both of her wrists bleeding. Brandt’s parents show up and help Jinny bandage her wrists and then take her to her emergency room. Jinny claims that the glass flew out of her hands and shattered in mid-air. When Brandt gets home that night, he finds Cally’s journal with a new entry: I made Jinny bleed. Abbie is next. The passive way in which Cally was making the threat to Brandt in her own journal was particularly unnerving, so props to Stine for that tough. The use of Cally’s journal was probably my favorite part of this book.
Brandt is worried about Abbie, but he doesn’t know her number or where she lives. So he makes out with Meg instead. Jinny comes by and interrupts this make-out sesh, and the girls start fighting over Brandt. Meg makes a good point that Jinny has a shitty boyfriend already. Brandt gets bored and heads home, where he finds another ominous threat in Cally’s journal. He then starts to hear a little boy’s voice coming from his bedroom walls. Having read Cally’s journal, he realizes that it’s probably James. He takes a mallet and breaks a hole in the wall where the voice is coming from. He finds the skeleton of a boy and a dog on the other side. Brandt’s dad theorizes that all of the hauntings are a poltergeist infestation stemming from the boy. They call the police who come and retrieve the remains of James and Cubby.
Brandt and his parents think all the haunting might be over, but of course, we know that is wrong. Abbie finally comes over and gets pinned by a suit of armor that Brandt’s dad had in his study. He tells Abbie about the threats to her in Cally’s journal, and Abbie agrees with him that the house is evil. Brandt also has a few more run-ins with his shadow stalker but manages to keep it at bay. Then Jinny and Meg both get shit in the neck by darts that were hanging on the living room wall. They survive the ordeal, mainly due to the fact that the darts were not laced with poison. Jinny is now two for two in trips to the ER stemming from hanging out at Brandt’s house. That’s not a very good record. I hope she reconsiders a third visit.
Abbie shows up, and Brandt tries to warn her away. But Abbie just laughs evilly and reveals that she has been Cally all along. This drew a slight eye-roll from me because it seemed pretty obvious from the jump. Cally now plans to kill him so they can haunt the house together (and have presumably had lots of evil ghost sex). When she smacks Brand upside the head with a hatchet, he doesn’t bleed or die. That’s when he explains to Cally that she can’t kill because he’s already dead. Cally is as dumbfounded as the rest of us.
Brandt explains that he was killed two years earlier by a curse that was meant for his father. His parents had brought his body to a shaman, who then killed a drifter to steal a new life force for Brandt. Brandt now carries the hair and fingernail clippings of the murdered drifter in his leather pouch because that’s what keeps him alive. Cally is excited by this prospect; she found herself a boy to haunt with. But then that shadow shows up again. You know, the one that has been stalking Brandt throughout the book. The shadow reveals itself to be the soul of the dead drifter. It snatches the pouch from Brandt’s neck and Brandt begins to rapidly decay. Then Cally is once again left alone in her rage.
There’s an epilogue in which Cally watches as Brandt’s mourning parents move out of the house and leave her once again with nothing. She’s back at the same exact spot she was at the beginning of the book; literally and figuratively. That’s because she had absolutely zero dynamics throughout. Stine included some bit on the nature of evil that Brandt looked up in a book, but I still didn’t buy it. Cally doing a 180 and becoming a one-note villain was such a missed opportunity. I wanted her to have some moments of doubt. I wanted her to struggle with the good and evil inside of her. I wanted some glimpse of the old her trying to break through. It was such a missed opportunity that we didn’t get that.
The Second Horror was saved from dull mediocrity by that WTF twist ending with Brandt being dead. There were some pretty disturbing scares, but they came nowhere near the death and gore of the first book offered. It also didn’t really reveal anything new about the house or the evil it embodies. Cally is part of the house’s evil, but she is seemingly all alone. What happened to the ghost of her brother James? What about the ghosts of the dead pets? It was implied that Cally caused all the mayhem in this book. So does that mean there was a different ghost making all the bad things happen in the first book? I ask these questions knowing that I’m probably not going to get a satisfying answer. But there is one more book left, and it brings back Cally’s sister Kody in some unique circumstances. Check back here next week to see if The Third Horror delivers a satisfying conclusion to the 99 Fear Street trilogy.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, 99 Fear Street: The Second Horror is ranked 16th of 79 in the overall Fear Street series, and the 99 Fear Street: The House of Evil trilogy is ranked 3rd of 6 among the Fear Street Trilogies, placing the book itself in the middle-high tier overall. The trilogy, as a whole, lands in the bottom tier when compared to other trilogies. It should be noted that the series ranking for the Fear Street books is a bit skewed in favor of the later books in the series, most likely due to the drop in popularity in the late ’90s. The books in the latter half of the series have a significantly lower number of ratings, which (I’m hypothesizing) is due to super-fans being unchecked by more critical voices.
Brandt’s storyline was the saving grace, the rest of this was a rehash of the first book that didn’t really reveal anything new about the house of evil.
The pacing was good. The structure and plotting were sound. It was more the content that was lacking.
Brandt was new and interesting. His storyline brought something new, just not to the 99 Fear Street mythos per se. Cally became a one-note villain who was genetically evil, my least favorite of Stine tendencies. There was a missed opportunity here to make her way more complex.
Scare Factor: 1/2
A bit of a letdown after the first book. Nothing that compared to James getting lost in the walls and the severed heads in the attic. A missed opportunity to elevate.
Again, Brandt’s story gets a point, everything to do with Cally gets an eye roll. Evil loves cliches and tropes I guess.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
99 Fear Street #3: The Third Horror
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer