I distinctly remember reading The New Evil first as a kid. I saw Santa Clause about to murder a cheerleader at the library and thought “I NEED THIS.” I then went back and read the whole trilogy because, clearly, I loved it. Re-reading 25 years later and… let’s just say that this title does not live up to the glory of my fifth-grade memories. The New Evil is about as unnecessary as sequels come. It delivered a few memorable scenes and some truly weird moments but ultimately failed to elevate the story in any way. The Evil Spirit is the same as it ever was, hellbent on murder and petty high school drama. And it loves to dance in the middle of the night for some reason. I wish it had been given a name. Names have power. Corky, Kimmy, and Debra are back as our core cast. Unfortunately, the plot relies heavily on them having horrible ideas and making some really dumb decisions. It felt like a disservice to what they all went through in the first three books. There were way too many supporting characters in this book to keep track of. I stopped caring enough to keep track of them after a while. Compounding that was the way that the book wasted a ton of time in the first half without really going anywhere. It made for a far better second half, but it still relied heavily on some pretty terrible decision-making. Come to think of it, the whole Cheerleaders subseries has been a steady decline since The First Evil, so I’m glad to be done with this saga for a while. I’m officially all cheered out.
Recap & Review
The New Evil opens with Hannah getting seriously injured in a car accident after practice. Kimmy was driving, conditions were icy, and the girl refused to put on a seatbelt. Even though the problem was with Kimmy’s brakes, Kimmy becomes convinced it was The Evil. Corky tries to brush it off and focus on her new boyfriend Alex. Only, Alex has been acting weird so she’s not sure where she stands. Corky and Kimmy are now the captains of the squad. That means it falls on them to host cheerleading tryouts and find Hannah’s replacement… because apparently they’ve never heard of having alternates for this exact sort of thing. They are about to make their pick when they catch Ivy snooping on their conversation. Ivy was going to be their second pick, their first choice was Rochelle. But before they can tell Rochelle she got the gig, Rochelle gets stabbed in the neck by a falling screwdriver. Seriously, that’s what happens. Long story short, Ivy makes the team with Lauren as an alternate, but Cory and Kimmy are very suspicious. Could Ivy be The Evil?
A series of other accidents befall the girls. Naomi is burned during her fire baton performance, which elevates Lauren to a full-time member of the team. Ivy and Lauren are close, meaning they must have an evil pact. Then Heather is injured in a mishap with the confetti canon, and right after Ivy had wanted Heather’s role in the routine. After school Corky has Alex take her to the lake where she had drowned The Evil the previous summer. She sees steam rising from a hole in the ice and thinks it might be The Evil escaping. Because that is the most obvious conclusion. There’s no other reason you might see steam around a large body of water. Definitely don’t consider a scientific explanation here. The Evil is back! You can’t deny it! Do you know what that means? That means Corky, Kimmy, and Debra need to enact an absolutely terrible plan.
Kimmy and Debra have been dabbling in some very generic occult stuff. First, they try to cast a protective spell over themselves. Then the three girls invite the cheerleading squad and basketball team to a winter party ice skating on Fear Lake. There’s a big tournament coming up, so they use that as their cover story. They’re building team spirit or something. Alex, Corky’s maybe-boyfriend shows up in a Santa costume and they pose for the cover photo (she didn’t know it was him at first). Then the three girls enact their master plan. They do a little seance on the side with some candles on the ice, where they do some chants to call The Evil forward. They believe Ivy has been possessed, so their plan is to draw Ivy out, then drown her and revive her? It was never that clear how this was going to work, but fortunately for all involved, we never had to find out. It turns out that The Evil was never on the loose, but their little seance set it free.
It would have made a very different story if the girls just drowned Ivy and then had to explain themselves. On a general level, I would love for there to be more dire consequences for the characters in these books and some of the ridiculous shit they get away with. What I just laid out in the last three paragraphs took 100 pages to establish in the book. I left out all kinds of names and details because I just didn’t want to write about them. It all felt unnecessary. Thankfully the second half of the book is a marked improvement. The cheerleaders and the basketball team set out for this big tournament. Corky, Kimmy, and Debra are scared because they know they fucked up. They just have yet to experience the consequences of those actions.
The Evil reveals itself pretty quickly in the second act. Remember those confetti canons? During the Shadyside Cheerleaders halftime show, the canons spray the crowd with hot tar instead of confetti. Then, during warmups the next day, the lead cheerleader from the rival team is showing off with some backflips when suddenly she can’t stop backflipping. This is honestly my favorite scene in the whole book. It’s so fucking weird and unsettling. The whole gymnasium watches helplessly as this girl begs for help while repeatedly backflipping. This almost made up for the lacking plot. The Tigers win the game, but afterward, their coach is found murdered. Someone had forced a water bottle down his throat and drowned him. Gotta give it to Stine here for a creative death scene. Seems like a pretty awful way to go.
Anyway, it becomes clear that The Evil is back with a vengeance. The girls try to get some sleep that night when they spot Ivy sneaking out of their hotel room. Kimmy and Corky follow her, where they link up with Debra who was following Lauran and Heather. Our three main girls hideout and watch as the rest of their squad meets up with members of the basketball team, including Corky’s boyfriend Alex. The group then takes off into the woods and eventually makes their way to a frozen lake so they can do a creepy coordinated silent ice dance on the lake in the middle of the night. This is when the girls realize that The Evil somehow had possessed all of their friends that were there for their failed seance. And the only reason they knew this is because The Evil, now plural, couldn’t resist an opportunity to go ice dancing with itself on a lake at midnight. I really want to make a dating profile for The Evil. Disembodied evil spirit seeks petty high school drama, murder accomplices, and partners for midnight ice dancing. Must be willing to host.
As soon as the girls make this realization, The Evil finds them out and chases them down. The girls get split up on the run. Corky is caught but manages to slip away and lose them. Daylight starts to break, and that’s when she finds Kimmy: dead and floating beneath the ice. I remember that scene very vividly from when I read this as a kid. That might be the only thing that stuck with me. Corky makes her way back to the hotel where her possessed teammates are boarding the bus to go back to the tournament that somehow wasn’t canceled after the COACH WAS MURDERED. Corky sees an opportunity when the bus driver runs back into the hotel to get something. She sneaks onto the bus, pulls the partition over to hide herself from view, and then she drives the bus full of her friends off a fucking cliff and into the fucking frozen lake.
Of course, Corky jumped out just in time. She sees the bus sink and deliriously walks back to the tournament. She tries to find Debra when she gets there, but then all the kids she just killed on the bus show up as zombies. They are zombies, but they are ready to play basketball. That’s when Corky passes out and wakes up in the hospital. She had hallucinated that last bit. The kids survived the weird bus crash and have no memory of what had happened or how. Some local ice fishers had seen the crash and helped them. No one suspects Corky for having attempted to kill/save them. No one remembers being possessed by an evil spirit at all. For some reason, Corky is the only one in the series so far who remembers being possessed. I found this frustratingly inconsistent. So that’s the ending. The Evil has presumably drowned once again in a different lake. Kimmy might be dead, but it can still be a Merry Christmas after all or something.
The New Evil is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t ever make sequels. I’m not saying I’m against sequels, just that there is a strong body of work both for and against them on principle. While not quite as bad as Christopher Pike’s Remember Me 2, it was still very not good. The last act was entertaining enough but it could save the book from feeling like a rehashed slog. I did honestly love the ‘can’t stop back-flipping’ scene. It embodied what Stine does best in horror. It started out ridiculous and funny, but then it gradually became more and more horrifying. The whole thing was weird and unsettling, and those count as positive attributes in my reviews. Give me more of this and fewer chases through the woods. Seriously, I condensed the woods chase scene down to like 3 sentences but the real thing was much longer. All of this is to say, this book delivered on enough goods to save it from a one-star review.
I get the economics that drives the need for sequels. I as a reader can share some of the blame in books like this being written in the first place. If you build it, they will come. If you write it, I will read it and write a snarky review. Welcome to my field of broken dreams. Hashtag Poetry. This means there will be yet another sequel before I throw in the towel on reviewing these books. The last Fear Street Super Chiller before they rebooted the franchise in the late nineties; The Evil Lives. You can look forward to my review in… let’s say two to three years? After this book, I’m more than OK with waiting that long.
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, Cheerleaders: The New Evil is ranked 28th of 79 in the overall Fear Street series, and 4th of 13 Fear Street Super Chillers, placing the book itself in the top and middle-high tiers respectively. 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 like the idea that they accidentally brought the evil back, but I think there was a way to have them do it without coming across as stupid as they did.
The execution felt messy. The first 100 pages felt like a cop-out. There were way too many characters to keep track of and it just got silly. Even so, there were some solid isolated scenes in there.
The only character who made any sense at any point was Corky in the final act. Her decision to crash the bus into the lake showed some depth. The too-crowded cast of other characters just made the rest feel static and forgettable.
Scare Factor: 1/2
The third part had some good scares, like the whole bus crash, Kimmy’s demise, and my favorite: the back-flipping cheerleader. But the first 100 pages were a complete waste.
I liked that there was a new element to the Evil this time (possessing multiple people) but it still didn’t bring any new depth to it.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #22: Bad Dreams
Also, be sure to check out the next post from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Sinclair Smith’s Dream Date