The Third Horror was a really interesting way to close out the 99 Fear Street trilogy. The main character this time is Kody, Cally’s twin sister from The First Horror. Kody has returned to 99 Fear Street in order to play her sister in a movie adaptation of what happened to their family. This seems like a really traumatic thing to put herself through, but she made a promise to return for her sister and this seems like the best way to keep it. I appreciated that this wasn’t a tired rehash of the first two books, even when its plausibility was a stretch and the execution got messy. There were some truly brutal kills and some great scares, which is something that The Second Horror was lacking. The ending was alright, but it could have been better. I really wish it had gone darker. It relied a bit too much on some characters making incredibly stupid decisions and ignoring the consequences. I was never sold on the characterization of Cally as an evil ghost. I keep wanting a more nuanced version of evil to show up in these books and I think it’s just too much to expect. The Third Horror was almost great; the elements were all there but it needed significant tweaking. I could say the same thing about the trilogy as a whole. Overall, the 99 Fear Street trilogy falls somewhere in between its predecessors. It couldn’t live up to The Fear Street Saga, but it was way more consistent than The Fear Street Cheerleaders. It’s messy but memorable, and it would be excellent source material for future Fear Street movies.
Observations & Spoilers
The Third Horror begins with Kody Frasier returning to 99 Fear Street several years after the events of the first book. Her family has moved to LA and sold the rights to their story, which is not being made into a low-budget horror film starring Kody playing her own sister. Also, cast in the movie are Persia, a stuck-up and washed-up child star who is playing Kody, and Rob, the son of some favorite producer with very little acting experience. The director is Bo, who has directed a series of flops and sees this movie as his make-or-break moment. Persia resents Kody for having the lead role in spite of it being her first movie. Rob, on the other hand, is a down-to-earth dude who takes a serious love interest in Kody. As you might expect, the filming gets off to a bloody start and goes downhill from there.
It’s difficult to fathom Kody’s decision to return to the house in this capacity, but I was sold on her true underlying motive. Yes, Kody wants to be an actress. But her main reason for coming back is to reconnect with her dead sister. At the end of The First Horror, Kody promised that she would come back for Cally. This movie is her chance to do so. Only Kody has no way of knowing that her sister has done a 180 and is now pure evil. And why would she? The logic of Cally’s turn to a full-time villain is never sold in a convincing manner. First, Cally makes a bunch of spikes shoot through a door that Kody is trying to get into. Then while the crew is setting up the props for the garbage disposal scene, Kody is pushed and the garbage disposal is switched on. The prop guy’s hand gets mutilated and Kody is suspected of having done it on purpose. Of course, we all know that Cally’s ghost is to blame.
Later that night Kody is in her trailer when she hears three knocks on her door. Flashback to the first book, this is what Kody had done to Cally when she was trying to convince her the house was haunted. Of course, no one is there. Kody wanders up to the house but is stopped by a security guard. The next morning Kody was on set while they were working on test shots. A PA stood in for Persia while they set up a rapid pan-in shot. Something goes terribly wrong, and instead of stopping at the end of the track, the camera rig plows full speed into the PA’s face and kills her. The investigation afterward reveals that someone loosened the screws that held the end of the track together. When the security guard reports having seen Cally snooping around the set the night before, she once again becomes suspect. Our girl can’t catch a break, but she’s still fairing better than poor Joanna the PA. She got the rawest deal of all.
While the police investigate Joana’s death, Kody and Rob start growing closer. They sneak away to rehearse scenes together and mostly just end up making out. Rob invites Kody back to his hotel room to “rehearse” some more, but when Kody gets back from her trailer Rob is gone. That’s when she hears Cally calling to her. Remembering her real mission, Kody follows her sister’s voice into the basement. She ends up stumbling upon Bo who is setting things up for his secret surprise ending; he plans on blowing up the house. He claims that he wants to capture the true shock and horror on everyone’s faces when it happens. While I appreciate the homage to the book ending of The Shining, the idea that the production could get away with secretly blowing up a house in the middle of the suburbs is absurd. Then again, this doesn’t exactly seem like a production that’s terribly concerned with securing permits or avoiding lawsuits.
Bo and Kody get attacked by rats and flee the basement. Definitely not a bad omen to read into there. They proceed to try and shoot the infamous slime scene, only they decided to move it into the attic so they’d have more room to work with. Kody and Rob are alone in the attic while the crew takes a break when the slime machine suddenly turns on. Instead of pumping out the synthetic paste they expected, it churns out the same foul-smelling slime that Kody remembers from years earlier. Not only does it smell terrible, but it comes out scalding hot. The attic fills up rapidly, trapping Kody and Rob. Kody is able to make it to the open window and pulls Robb out but he ends up in the hospital. Even though the books never go to any length to explain why 99 Fear Street likes making this green slime, I still enjoyed the scene. It built on the scene in the first book without being a simple rehash. In fact, I’ll take the green slime of 99 Fear Street over all three Monster Blood books any day of the week. This here is the less famous but far superior green slime.
In spite of the set now being home to three active crime scenes, the production continues. Gotta make them coins. Next up on the docket is the dinner scene where dad gets stabbed. Kody meets the actors who are to play her parents and brushes of snide comments from Persia. This whole time Persia has been trying to convince Kody to quit the movie. On break, Kody follows her sister’s voice into the basement again, where Cally overtakes her sister in a cloud of mist and everything goes dark. When Kody returns to set, she disrupts the scene by stabbing Persia’s hand through the table. She feigns ignorance as Persia screams. Bo tries to talk to her about it afterward, but she just smashes one of the hot set lights into his face and burns him.
If you haven’t guessed at this point, the Cally has taken Kody’s place. Kody is locked inside a small root cellar in the basement. Kody overhears talking and peers through the door into another room. She sees three people she recognizes, who has been in all three books but I have neglected to mention until this point. That is because they didn’t really serve a purpose in the other books. Mr. Lurie is the realtor who sold Kody’s family the house but is also the guy who built it and hanged himself inside it. Mr. Hankers is the guy who shows up and offers to be a handyman whenever new people move in, and Mrs. Nordstorm is the cleaning lady who shows up does the same thing. Kody watches them and learns that they are secretly rats? They are playing with the rats and letting them chew on their fingers and laughing about how Cally is carrying out their evil plans for them. It… doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.
When Cally returns, she gleefully informs her sister that she has ruined her life. Kody makes Cally come take a look through the door where Mr. Lurie, Mr. Hackers, and Mrs. Nordstorm are playing with the rats and bragging about their evil. Cally realizes that they have been using her all along and does another complete 180. She lets Kody out of the room and tells her to run. Kody barely gets out of the house in time before it blows up. I didn’t buy Cally’s first 180 and I didn’t buy this one either. She also didn’t take the time to make sure that the rest of the cast and crew were clear of the house before blowing it up. No one else is reported killed, but that fact seems contrived at best. In the epilogue, Kody is with Rob in LA. They are dating now and Kody has miraculously not faced any charges for stabbing Persia or melting the director’s face? They get to view the only film that survived the production. In the fire after the explosion, Kody can see Cally wave goodbye.
While I appreciated the ways that this book subverted some of my expectations and kept me engaged, it was still a bit of a mess. I’ve ranted enough in my previous reviews about Cally’s good to evil transition not being sold, and the same is true here. It’s like there’s a good/evil on/off switch that gets flipped. With a little more nuance this could have been done so much better. It was obvious from the first book that Mr. Lurie, Mr. Hankers, and Mrs. Nordstorm were a part of the house in some way, so that didn’t come as much of a surprise. Them being rats in human form was confusing. Was 99 Fear Street run by evil rats? Were they the ghosts of the people who had been buried there? Weren’t they the fictions of Simon and Angelica Fear, and if so why were they just plain evil now? Had Cally’s ghost really haunted this house for several years without noticing them? What exactly was the nefarious purpose Cally was carrying out for them? Why did James and his dog never get to be ghosts?
I thought a more fitting epilogue would have been Rob visiting Kody in prison while she awaits her trial. It’s odd that Stine has his darkest endings for the Goosebumps series. The Fear Street books may be bloodier, but on the whole, the characters have much more pleasant endings. Even when they don’t fit, like in this case. I also found myself wishing that instead of movie production, Kody was returning with a crew of ghost hunters and fake psychics. That would have been a lot of fun. If anyone reading this is doing research on any of the upcoming Fear Street movies for Netflix, hire me as a staff writer! I have ideas!
And that’s a wrap on yet another Fear Street trilogy just in time for Halloween. That leaves The Cataluna Chronicles and Fear Park, but next year I’ll be switching it up and doing Christopher Pike’s Last Vampire trilogy. If you enjoyed reading along; follow me on Instagram, Twitter, or wherever you go to lose your faith in humanity. I also have a newsletter.
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 Third Horror is ranked 9th 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.
It was a messy concept but it was interesting and kept me engaged. The reveals about the house were still lacking.
The pacing and structure were fine for the most part, but the resolution of Cally and Kody’s conflict was too abrupt.
Cally was the same. We got to see her change back to herself just as abruptly as she became evil. Kody was frustrating. It took her way too long to figure out Cally was working against her. I liked Rob and I liked hating Persia, though.
Scare Factor: 1/2
Not enough time was spent on the Cally making people think she was Kody. That would have been so much trippier. Still, we got a camera face smash, an almost-drowning in slime vomit, a deserved hand stabbing, and a less-deserved face melting.
I can’t knock this one on originality. Sure it didn’t resolve much in regards to the house, but the whole movie of the first book was weird, meta, and felt fresh. I’ll take that over something safe and loaded with tropes.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #17: The Best Friend
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
RL Stine’s The Babysitter II