Fear Street #10: Ski Weekend
Ski Weekend was a solid thriller that made good use of its characters and setting. I liked Ariel as a protagonist. She had some Nancy Drew vibes when it came to seeing through some (but not all) of the bullshit around her. The cabin owner Lou legitimately made my skin crawl. I’ve met people like him and my first instinct is always to get away as fast as possible. Aggressive, misogynist drunk dudes with an affinity for collecting guns set off more red flags than I could count. The setting was perfect for a horror story to play out, with the kids being trapped with strangers in a remote cabin during a massive snowstorm. Isolation is one of the key ingredients to good horror. There were some issues with bad planning and the overlooking of obvious suspicious activity, but there was nothing so egregious that it took me out of the story. In fact, the stupid criminal element coupled with the winter setting reminded me of Fargo on more than one occasion. That’s a high compliment coming from me. Overall, Ski Weekend is one of the better Fear Street books I’ve read so far.
Observations & Spoilers
Arielle and her friends Doug and Shannon are on their way home to Shadyside from a ski weekend trip when they get stuck in a massive snowstorm. Arielle is mad at her boyfriend, Randy, who left their getaway early for a basketball game. They are traveling with Red, a boy they met at the ski lodge, and offered to give him a ride home. Red suggests they take a country root, saying that those get plowed faster. Arielle and her friends go along with it. Then the car breaks down and they get stuck. Fearing the worst as the snow piles up, Red spots a cabin with lights on a nearby hill. They once again take his suggestion, as they really don’t have any others. No one is suspicious of Red at first, but they should have been.
Living in the cabin is the gross, loud, and boisterous Lou and his quiet wife Eva. Lou sets off all kinds of red flags right away, but they can’t turn down his hospitality in the middle of the storm. Lou makes really creepy advances on Shannon because he “loves redheads,” has an affinity for drinking and collecting guns, and tells the kids a “funny” story about the time a friend of his accidentally shot and killed himself. In addition to Lou being a total creep, Arielle notices that Eva doesn’t seem to know where anything is in the kitchen. It’s as though she doesn’t really live there. Arielle keeps her observations to herself, as the kids call and check in with their parents, then settle in for the night. Lou as a character worked really well for me because I’ve met him before. He’s the type of person who triggers a fight or flight response when you meet them. He talks a big game but he’s actually very fragile and it seems like anything could make him snap. Too many red flags to keep count.
Arielle really hits it off with Red. She tells him about how she wants to be a scientist. When she catches Red later that night coming in from outside, he tells her about how he heard Lou and Eva fighting. It ended with what sounded like Lou hitting Eva. The snowstorm had let up so he took a walk to clear his head. The next day things escalate when they find that their car has been tipped over into a ravine. Now they’re really stuck. They try to get Lou to drive them into town with his jeep (which doesn’t have the right state plates), but the car won’t start. The kids try to phone home again but there’s too much interference on the line. This is really turning into one shitty ski weekend for the kids. Things only get worse when Arielle spots a prowler in a ski mask walking around outside.
They go outside to look but no one can find anybody hiding out. Red overhears more of Lou and Eva, hears that they are plotting to rob the kids and leave them stranded. But Red has a plan; he had been secretly working on Lou’s jeep and got it running. That night they can sneak out, steal it, and go to the police. As they sneak out, Red has Doug and him take guns. Arielle objected to them doing this but was overruled. When they get into the dark barn where the jeep is being stored, they spot the prowler again. Doug instinctively shoots the prowler in the chest. They check to see if the man is OK, but he’s dead. When they remove the ski mask, Arielle recognizes the man from the photos she found hidden in the drawers of the cabin. She’s got good Nancy Drew detective skills like that.
Things move very quickly from there. Lou hears the gunshot and comes out, he accuses the kids of trying to steal from him and then killing someone who was trying to help. They move the body to the basement and go to call the police. Lou wants them to tell the police everything that happened and confess to their crime, but now the phones are completely out. Lou gets pissed and rips the phone out of the wall. Arielle sneaks into the basement and confirms her suspicions; the guy was dead before Doug shot him. There wasn’t enough blood to show otherwise. Arielle goes and tells the news to the other kids that Doug was innocent and something far more nefarious is going on. They decide to make another run for it, but Red turns on them and tells Lou.
As it turns out, Lou is Red’s brother-in-law, Eva is Red’s sister, and the dead guy is his brother Jake. Jake screwed Red and Eva out of their inheritance, and when they tried to threaten Jake to get their share of the money, Lou took things too far and killed him. So then they launched an elaborate plan for Red to find some naive kids on a ski weekend that they could trap and frame. This is an admittedly terrible plan, but it had a believable “stupid criminals” element to it. Having Red accuse Lou of always having to over-complicate things really sold that part. Even if the kids had confessed, it would have been obvious on an autopsy that Jake was dead before they shot him. It never would have worked. It gave me some strong Fargo vibes; the good kind. The snow helped.
Lou threatens to kill the kids if they don’t go along with their plan and confess to the murder. Eva throws hot water on that, though, and tells Lou she called and got through to the police. She hated her brother Jake but never wanted him dead. She was done with the cover-up. The kids take the opening and run for it. Arielle has them split up; she takes the snowmobile from the barn and leads Red and Lou away from Doug and Shanon. Red chases her out onto the frozen lake. The ice cracks and Red slips in, but Arielle manages to slip away just in time. Then the police arrive and all is saved.
Ski Weekend had a lot of similarities to The Halloween Party, but it ultimately worked significantly better for me. While they both centered around stupid criminals making very complicated bad plans, Ski Weekend succeeded by having better (and far fewer) characters. It also made good use of its elements, really stranding and isolating the kids. Red and Lou arguing as their plan went to shit sold it to me. Compare that to Justine at the end of the Halloween Party who just laughs evilly and tries to run into the fire. I can buy into stupid criminals making bad plans. I can even buy into smug laughing. But maniacal laughing about one’s own evil plans is a villain trope that really needs to go away. Not everyone can or should be the Joker.
Anyway, I hope Arielle still breaks up with Randy when they get back to Shadyside. Because they never would have picked up Red if he hadn’t been a selfish asshat. Way to be a dick and not suffer any consequences, Randy. You deserve to at least get dumped.
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, Ski Weekend is ranked 45th of 79 in the overall Fear Street series and 25th of 49 Fear Street books in the main series, placing it in the middle-low and middle-high tiers respectively. 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.
A solid concept; family inheritance and greed are great motives for murder. The plan to frame the kids was weak, but it had a stupid criminals Fargo vibe that I really dug.
I’ll take a point here because the biggest flaw was how obvious Red’s involvement was. They just met him. He had them turn down the county road. He saw the cabin. He was outside the night their car got dumped into the ravine. He was the only one who ever heard Lou plotting to rob them. I couldn’t place HOW he was involved or what his motives were, which did keep me interested. But it got frustrating that none of the kids suspected him sooner.
Easily the strongest point here. I liked Ariel, and how she was the one to unravel everything. I liked Red, even though I suspected him from the start. You could tell he had mixed feelings about the choices he had made. Lou was a loose cannon and exactly the sort of person who could make my skin crawl. I hated him exactly like I was supposed to.
Scare Factor: 2/2
Lou and his unpredictability alone gave me the creeps. He was gross and short-tempered with an affinity for guns. Having met people like this, they scare the fuck out of me. Being isolated in the snowy wilderness was also very effective.
Nothing about this felt particularly original to me, but it also didn’t feel over-burdened with cliches. I’ll give it half credit.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #12: Lights Out
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
Richie Tankersley Cusick’s The Locker.