Fear Street Super Chiller #1: Party Summer
I had no recollection of reading this one, but according tho my recently unearthed notebook of book reports from fourth grade - I most certainly did. My favorite part of the book were it’s two main characters, Cari and Jan. The biggest letdown was that I didn’t feel like the book ever went far enough. While it was well-plotted and Stine accomplished what he set out to do, I still wanted more. The opening passage foreshadowed there might be some creepy occult stuff at play, which is my favorite kind of horror story, but none of that really panned out in a satisfying way. My favorite RL Stine is when he’s not afraid to get weird - and this one never really did. All in all it’s a well executed but forgettable story.
Observations & Spoilers
Fun fact about Fear Street - the series was initially aimed at high school aged girls. I can't say that I'm surprised. 10 year old me couldn't get enough of them. Early signs, Mom and Dad. Early signs. One of the bigger perks of this is that almost every book in the series features a female protagonist.
Party Summer turned out to be a cross between Psycho and The Most Dangerous Game. Simon Fear was also Edward Fear. The mysterious woman’s voice that Cari kept hearing was Simon impersonating his dead wife. In other words, the villain is essentially an old man who acts out three way conversations between himself, a made-up brother, and his dead wife. The Edward portion of his personality wants to hunt human beings for sport. As I said before, the book is methodically plotted out and well executed. It was a fun read, but I wish it had done a bit more to distinguish itself.
I was probably 10 when I was first reading these books. I remember the characters in them all seeming so much older and cooler - just like all high school kids. Reading them now and recalling that perspective feels utterly bizarre now. Cari and Jan were solid central characters, even though Eric and Craig were entirely forgettable. I loved how the place they were staying was called the Howling Wolf Inn; it seemed straight out of an old-school Scooby Doo episode. Which is fun. I would totally stay at a hotel called the Howling Wolf Inn, even after reading this book.
My biggest disappointment with this book is that all of Jan’s occult stuff tuned out to be nothing, which is also kinda Scooby Doo now that I think about it. It turns out she faked seeing the ghost, and placed the skull in that tunnel. She was fed up with none of her friends believing in the paranormal so she decided to prove them right by faking a bunch of it. In the end it left me wanting a legit paranormal element that never got delivered. I wanted The Craft but all I got was amateur store-bought witchcraft. Way to give goth’s a bad name, Jan.
My other disappointment was there were no deaths. One of the appeals of this series over Goosebumps was that there was usually more blood and murder, and that means higher stakes. Craig barely mattered to the plot, he could have been an easy kill. At the very least, I wanted the mounted human heads they found to be real. It would have been way creepier and it would have meant that Martin was at least partially complicit.
Speaking of Martin - Simon’s creepy Butler - I didn’t buy him turning out to be a hero in this. All of his rude and creepy behavior was just his very ineffective way of scaring the kids into leaving the Howling Wolf Inn. The bullets he bought Simon/Edward turned out to be blanks. But when you really parse it out, he was at best a neglectful caregiver who was in way over his head. Simon was unwell and should have been receiving proper treatment and care, not kept in isolation at an empty hotel on a private island. Then again, the horror genre has a long history of problematic depictions of mental illness and this book was written long before this was a commonplace discussion. What I wish Stine had done here instead was make Martin a complicit accomplice. Maybe he’d had enough and wanted out, or maybe he saw himself as a hero but had a twisted set of ethics. There were a lot of angles to to work with. I just wish he had been revealed as more chaotic neutral rather rather than chaotic good.
Complaints aside, it was a fun read. I was trying to find a Dungeons & Dragons Alignment Chart of famous butlers like Alfred Pennyworth and Geoffrey Butler for the final image, but I don't think I know enough butlers to make one on my own. So I opted for this image of Hanson from Scary Movie 2, as he is the best representation of Martin that I could think of.
- For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 point 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, Party Summer is ranked 12th of 13 among the Super Chillers, and 66th among the 79 distinct Fear Street books, placing it in the bottom tier of both series. 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 superfans being unchecked by more critical voices.
The story, while not original, accomplishes what it sets out to do. It’s well thought-out, just not a particularly memorable read.
Solid Plotting, kept me engaged and wanting to know how things fit together. Even when I figured things out before they were revealed, I still didn't figure every part of it out.
Jan and Cari were enjoyable characters to read, as were Martin and Simon/Edward. Eric was forgettable, and Craig basically didn't exist, but they didn't distract from the other characters.
Scare Factor: 0/2
The occult stuff had promise but turned out to be fake; more thriller than horror. Would have been spookier if the previous victims had been real.
The Most Dangerous Game meets Psycho with a teen slasher horror vibe. It could have added some new twists on its tropes but it ultimately fell short.