I’m pretty sure I loved Bad Moonlight as a kid. Because what’s not to love about being a rockstar werewolf? In its best moments, Bad Moonlight reminded me of Coyote Ugly and its banger of a theme song “Can’t Fight the Moonlight.” 14-year-old me would have given that movie the academy award for Best Picture back in 2001. At its worst moments, Bad Moonlight read like a very rough first draft. Certain scenes and details felt like they were perhaps meant to be hashed out later, but then the book got rushed to print instead. It had some really fun ideas, but the execution was messy and the characters were largely bland and forgettable. This was one of those books that felt overly driven by the plot, even when it was ripe for something much deeper. There was a chance for this book to go really dark and creepy, and I really wish it had. As much as I love some good campy horror, I don’t think this story ultimately benefited from it. Overall, Bad Moonlight was still fun in spite of being messy. If it had been bolder with its ideas, and if it had cleaned up its more convoluted bits, it really could have been something great.
Observations & Spoilers
The book opens with a prologue. It’s one of those “middle of the story” prologues that give you a glimpse of the things to come. At least, that’s how I read it. It’s not super clear where it fits in the overall timeline, and the plot is messy enough that it doesn’t really matter. Anyway, Danielle is in the supermarket with her Aunt Margaret and little brother Cliff. She’s on a short break from a tour with her band. She misses home and loves her Aunt Margaret, who has taken care of both kids since their parents were killed in a car accident two years earlier. The scene ends abruptly when Cliff catches Danielle tearing into a package of meat and eating it raw.
Part One: Songs. Because the Super Chillers are always divided into parts. Danielle is in the tour van with the band. Joey is driving. I don’t remember what instrument Joey plays but it doesn’t matter because he establishes himself as a shitty person right off the bat by repeatedly making misogynist jokes with his majority-female bandmates. Sitting shotgun is Dee, the lone black member of the band. Dee used to be the lead singer before Danielle joined the band, and Danielle is pretty sure Dee resents her for it. Let’s be honest here, who wouldn’t? Kit the hot roadie is asleep in the back with Billy, the band’s manager. Danielle is sandwiched between Mary Beth and Caroline, who represents a classic case of two characters who should have just been one. They are arguing about finally deciding on a band name when Joey drives their car over a cliff and they all die.
Just kidding. Just an R.L Stine classic early-chapter fake scare. There’s a twist on this one though. It turns out it was just another one of Danielle’s violent fantasies. She’d had them a lot since her parents were killed. Joey apologizes for driving like a dick but not for being a dick. They get to their show location and Danielle finds the moonlight cold. It makes her hair stand straight up. It’s not clear how they are able to get gigs in spite of not having a name? This was also a missed opportunity to change their name between every show. Stine always has fun with naming things like that and I would have appreciated the gag. Instead, they check into their hotel and Danielle goes for a walk afterward with Kit. She can’t get over how hot he is. They make out and she bites his lip, drawing blood.
Mortified, Danielle runs off back to her hotel room. She hears howling in the distance. Then a song comes to her with the lyrics “Bad Moonlight.” Danielle realizes she needs to take a trip to see her psychiatrist, Dr. Moore. The next day she gets permission to drive back to Shadyside so long as she can be back for their show that night. Dr. Moore’s office is in a weird old house. He hypnotizes Danielle just like usual. He tells her not to worry about her violent fantasies because it’s just trauma from the death of her parents. When she gets up to leave, she notices the arms of the chair have been destroyed by claws of some kind. It doesn’t take a particularly observant reader to figure that Dr. Moore is clearly hiding something. I bet you couldn’t guess what it is, because I sure as hell didn’t.
The band has a great show. The new song is a hit, and the band realizes they might finally have a name: Bad Moonlight. Joey hits on Danielle after the show in a way that makes her uncomfortable. She decides to skip celebrating with the band after because she feels compelled to go running. She starts kinda turning into a werewolf, looking down and seeing claws on her hands. She is surprised when she finds that Joey has been following her. The next morning no one can find Joey, and Danielle has no recollection of anything after leaving her bandmates. Dee seems really upset about Joey, even though they always fought with each other. She ends up being the one who finds his body Joey’s body soon after. It’s been torn up and discarded in the park as though he were attacked by a wild animal. It’s really starting to seem like our protagonist is a werewolf with memory problems and now she’s got blood on her hands. But maybe that’s just what they want you to think.
Part Two: Cries. We pick back up three weeks later. Joey has not been replaced but they are still playing gigs. His instrument wasn’t that important, I guess? I don’t remember his instrument and I don’t feel like going back into the book, so my official headcanon is that he exclusively played the tambourine. Danielle tries to make peace with Dee by saying she wants Dee to sing the new song she wrote. It’s another song that just kinda came to Danielle. The peace offering does not go well as they lyrics seem to imply that she killed Joey. Kit and Dee disappear together before their gig but show up in time. Billy is really upset about it. Danielle can see there are dynamics at play that she is not aware of, but she can’t figure out what. She’s a rather passive character in this whole book, so she also doesn’t do much to try and figure these things out. I really wish she took a more active role early on in the story, but we are still quite a ways from that.
They have a great gig in spite of how awkward things were between Danielle and Dee. Kit still seems interested in Danielle in spite of her biting him. She laps up water from a puddle like a dog at some point, which was gross and fun. Back in Shadyside, Danielle overhears her Aunt Margaret on the phone with Dr. Moore saying that she’s very worried. Danielle feels betrayed and confused by it. Dr. Moore assures Danielle it’s fine. It was the first time they talked and her aunt was just worried. They do more hypnosis because of course they do. Dr. Moore is totally not gaslighting Danielle! How could you even think that? You sound crazy for even bringing it up. RL Stine always has shitty psychiatrists (with the lone exception of The Sleepwalker). Clearly, Dr. Moore is just another shitty Shadyside psychiatrist and you’re just paranoid for being suspicious.
Part Three: Howls. Who’s ready for shit to go off the rails? Because I sure as hell am. The band is finally playing the infamous Shadyside night club Red Heat. The day before the show, Danielle is playing with their brother Cliff. He gets a cut and she drinks his blood. This scares him, and Danielle feels super embarrassed about it. Both reactions are perfectly understandable. Later, Danielle and Dee get into another fight in the mall parking lot. Danielle feels an overwhelming urge to kill Dee and taste her blood. Caroline breaks up the fight. It’s probably obvious to everyone except Danielle at this point that Dee is trying to warn her about something. The question is: why the hell is she being so cryptic?
Billy shows up at Danielle’s house the night before the show to tell her that Dee had just quit the band. He seems distraught by it but won’t tell Danielle anymore. Danielle calls Kit because she needs to talk to someone. Kit seems understanding. They’re having a romantic moment when she feels the urge to run again. She takes off sprinting, leaving Kit behind. Then she hunts for a rabbit. The night of the show arrives, and Billy is still acting weird. They hire a replacement for Dee because clearly, her role mattered way more than Joey’s tambourine. Then Danielle finds Dee’s body in the dressing room stuffed into their equipment. It’s been slashed up just like Joey had been. And just like that, the lone black character is dead. At least she wasn’t killed first? That’s grasping at progressive straws. They did Dee dirty. Super disappointing.
Shit happens fast from this point on. Billy walks in right as Danielle discovers the body. Danielle becomes convinced that Billy killed her. It would explain all his weird behavior! Danielle runs from the club screaming. Caroline catches up to her in the woods, but then Caroline turns out to be a werewolf too when the “bad moonlight” hits them. Clouds cover the moon and Caroline turns back. Caroline tries in vain to convince Danielle that she has nothing to fear from her; she claims that she just wants to help. Billy and Mary Beth catch up to them with the van. Billy tells her she can’t escape. Then Kit comes to the rescue. Billy tells Danielle that Kit is one of “them,” too. He tries to convince her that she’s safer with Billy and the girls. Danielle is forced to decide. She picks Kit. But Kit gets taken by the others when they change back into werewolves. She takes the band’s van and drives home.
Danielle finds her Aunt Margaret and tells her everything. Aunt Margaret calmly explains that this has all been a part of the plan. That’s because she’s not really Danielle’s aunt. Danielle’s aunt is dead. Whoever this woman, she had been pretending to be Danielle’s distant aunt ever since her parents died. It’s all a part of the plan for Danielle to become the werewolf bride of their master. Danielle assumes that Billy is the master. She tries to get her little brother to call the police, but Cliff is clueless as to what is happening. Her escape is interrupted by Billy. She manages to escape again but is forced to leave her brother behind. She then heads to Dr. Moores because there’s no way he’s in on it, right? RIGHT?
Turns out Dr. Moore is in on it, too. I’ll give you a moment to get her yourself from the shock. Dr. Moore makes sure Danielle is securely locked in his office before dropping the big reveal and introducing her to his son; Kit. It turns out that Kit is the werewolf master and he’s got an infodump for the ages. He has chosen Danielle to be his bride and he won’t be denied. Apparently, he had seen Danielle at a show three years earlier and he knew immediately that he had to have her. I need to point out that Danielle would have been 15 at this point, making her very much under age. This gives Kit an added layer of creepiness. Kit had ordered Danielle’s parents and real aunt killed so that the creepy woman posing as Aunt Margaret could come and take care of her and Cliff. Then Dr. Moore set to hypnotizing and preparing her for her role as Werewolf Bride, a title which I think deserves to be capitalized.
Artwork by Freakinblack.
Because Kit is the master, it means he has alpha mind control over all of the others in the band. Joey kept trying to get Danielle for himself, which is why Kit decided to kill him. Dee had been trying to warn Danielle so she had to go, too. No Billy and the rest will have to die for interfering as well. So it sounds like the band (minus Joey) has largely been trapped in their werewolf situation and forced to serve Kit. This is in contrast to Fake Aunt Margaret, whose real name is never revealed. She is presumably some random crazy lady who has sworn allegiance to Kit of her own volition. I can’t help but think of her as some fundamentalist Christian lady but instead of Jesus, she worships werewolves. That certainly is a choice, but maybe she has her reasons.
BeforeBilly dies, they need to perform the Ceremony. They gather out in Dr. Moore’s yard under the full moon. Fake Aunt Margret is there. So are Billy, Caroline, and Mary Beth. They encircle Danielle. Once Danielle becomes Kit’s bride, she will fall completely under his control and be a slave just like the rest of them. Billy whispers a cryptic message to her when they get close. He says “raise your hand to the bad moonlight.” Not seeing any other promising options, Danielle takes a chance that he is really trying to help. She raises her hand to the moon, turns into a werewolf, and murders Kit. Dr. Moore and Aunt Margret then spontaneously combust for some reason because they had to die somehow, I guess.
Billy, Caroline, and Mary Beth are finally freed from their curse, and can’t wait to live as normal humans once again. Danielle thinks about how she will now need to raise her brother herself, then gets excited about the rising sun. And that’s how it ends. Definitely not the ending I saw coming. I did not have a werewolf bride on my radar. I appreciate that Stine took some big swings here, even if the execution was messy. I was kinda hoping that Danielle had killed her parents when she first became a werewolf and that Dr. Moore was a hypnotist because she couldn’t live with the guilt of it. When it came to this werewolf cult/pack, I wish there had been more attention paid to the weird rituals they observed. The little details can count for so much in adding layers to groups like this. Give me weird little details, Robert!
One of my biggest issues with Bad Moonlight was Kit’s character. He needed way more development. Why did he like working as a roadie if he had all this power? It would have made way more sense if he was an aspiring rockstar who wrote shitty songs. He was used to getting his way, and who doesn’t want to be a rockstar. That of course would have made things way too obvious and we wouldn’t have his twist reveal (and infodump) at the end. Stine has an unfortunate tendency for writing half-baked villains. Kit’s a little better than some, but not by much. I suppose he had a clear and creepy movie at least. It didn’t help that Danielle was such a passive character. I know some people enjoy passive main characters; I am not one of them. It’s like watching having the bag in the wind from American Beauty as your protagonist. Maybe there’s something poetic there but it can’t carry a whole ass book.
The other thing I need to mention again is the treatment of Dee. We don’t have many Fear Street books with black characters on the cover. The only other one I am aware of was The Thrill Club, and they killed that character first. Dee was presented as a strong character who was trying harder than anyone else to do the right thing. But her reward for that was to be murdered and stuffed in a suitcase. Yeah, people die in horror novels. That’s not what the issue is. But when you only have one character of color in a large cast, it’s never going to be a look if they die. The same goes for queer characters. There’s a really simple way to avoid this trope; add more queer and POC characters to your books. The more diverse your cast of well-developed characters, the more you can red wedding the fuck out of them.
And so concludes the super chiller that prominently featured two of my favorite childhood obsessions; dogs and rockstars. I’m pretty sure I loved this book then. Bad Moonlight did not hold up, but it also did not fully disappoint. It was still fun in spite of its flaws.
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, Bad Moonlight is ranked 48th of 79 in the overall Fear Street series, and 8th of 13 Fear Street Super Chiller books in the series, placing the book itself in the middle-low 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.
I know it wasn’t a perfect concept, but it was fun and refreshing. I also felt like it didn’t take itself too seriously, which gave it wiggle room around some of its more far-fetched moments.
The execution felt sloppy from the beginning. It was clear everyone was in on something that Danielle wasn’t privy to. This felt more like a good first draft than a finished book. It felt overly driven by plot rather than story.
The characters in this were by far the weakest element. Danielle was supposedly this creative rockstar type but she seemed to lack a discernable personality. She needed a few eccentricities, and I wish she had played more of a detective role instead of the chronic victim until the very end.
Scare Factor: 1/2
The book went more for camp than scares, which is fine, but it also missed some real chances to amp up the scares. Danielle’s lapses in memory and her violent fantasies were used more for fake scares and campy moments.
I wish RL Stine’s take on werewolves was more unique. There was a chance to really play into the rockstar elements and flesh out Kit as a character, both of which could have given it that something. That being said, this felt unique among the Fear Street books I’ve read and I had plenty of fun with it.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #19: Sunburn
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Richie Tankersley Cusick’s April Fools