The Babysitter III
by R.L. Stine
© 1993 by Robert L Stine. Cover Art not credited.
The Babysitter III felt like a sequel in search of a story. I’ll start with the good; at least Jenny wasn’t taking on yet another babysitting job after her experiences in the first two books. It changed the formula by introducing Jenny’s cousin Debra as this book’s titular babysitter. Unfortunately, I still saw the twist ending coming from a mile away. It had too many similarities to other Stine books. Everything he did here, he’s done it before and he’s done it better. There were a bunch of B-plot elements that ultimately served no purpose other than to throw the reader off the real trail. The B-plots are great for this function, but they work best when they also tie back into the main storyline. Almost none of them did. Jenny is also very clearly dealing with PTSD, but no longer appears to be in therapy or have any sort of support system in place. I’m used to dated and problematic depictions of mental health in these books, but this one just felt hard to watch. It was like one long, sad cringe. The book also relied on some characterization changes that I just couldn’t buy into. It made me wish the whole Babysitter series featured a different protagonist in each installment. Becasue the first Babysitter book was great; I consider it one of Stine’s best. The Babysitter II was less so but not bad. This one just felt phoned in. The ending of The Babysitter III does hold some promise for the fourth and final installment, but I can’t say I have a ton of confidence in that happening.
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Observations & Spoilers:
The Babysitter III opens with Jenny getting a job at a donut shop in the mall. The manager seems like your classic, cringy, middle management type on a power trip type. He tells Jenny she’s not allowed to sample the donuts, but then she catches him scarfing one down as she leaves. She meets up with some friends at the mall, then has a near-complete breakdown when she thinks she sees the dead Mr. Hagan. It was just some guy. Mr. Hagan died at the bottom of a quarry in the first book, and yet Jenny keeps seeing him everywhere. I have a feeling I know where this is going…
Jenny’s mother suggests that Jenny go and stay with her cousin Debra for the summer to get a change in scenery. All in all, not a bad suggestion for what Jenny is going through. Jenny agrees, but her boyfriend Cal is very disappointed in the news. Cal actually turned out to be a really good guy in the last book. Stine is not known for featuring good boyfriends in his books. Most fall somewhere on the scale from useless to murderous. Cal’s got good reason to be upset, and I suppose he acts like a teenager about it, but it was still disappointing to have him devolve into yet another shitty boyfriend.
Cousin Debra couldn’t be more different than the quiet, introverted Jenny. Debra is the sort of girl who moves on to new boyfriends quickly. She is already in the midst of a messy love triangle when Jenny arrives. Her ex Don has some serious incel stalker vibes. Her new boyfriend Mark seems pretty cool, but Debra can’t help that she has a crush on Terry. She’s even gone so far as to start calling Terry on the phone, speaking in a raspy sensual voice, and pretending to be his secret admirer. There’s no way that isn’t going to blow up in her face, right? If you’re already losing track of names, don’t worry. I did too. It’s usually a pretty good sign that, in the end, none of them will matter.
Debra invites Jenny to tag along on her babysitting gig so they can catch up. Jenny is reluctant but agrees because at least she’s not the babysitter. Debra takes care of an infant named Peter while his soon-to-be-divorced mother Mrs. Wagner goes to night school. Jenny gets Debra caught up on her babysitting escapades in the first two books and they wait for Mark to show up. Things are perfectly normal when they suddenly hear footsteps. It can’t be Mark because he and Debra have a secret signal. This means they aren’t alone in the house!
They find a drunk woman in the kitchen. Her name is Maggie and she is the former housekeeper for Mrs. Wagner. She explains to the girls in a very slurred speech that she was let go for stealing. She feels she was falsely accused and warns the girls to stay away from the house. They lock the door when Maggie leaves. Mark finally shows up. He tells Jenny he can get her a job at his dad’s friend’s horse ranch as a wrangler. Then Jenny goes upstairs to check on Peter and finds that he’s not breathing! Only he’s fine and Jenny is once again imagining things. Seems to be a pattern here. Jenny is embarrassed. The night ends without further incident, but they don’t bother telling Mrs. Wagner about the creepy drunk housekeeper who still has her house key. Seems like something you’d want to warn a parent about.
Jenny starts her job at the horse stable and things seem to be going well. She has a crush on Gary, the other wrangler she’s working with. Then a zombified Mr. Hagan rides up on one of the horses and Jenny screams. The next night, Debra tries to cheer Jenny up following her latest imaginary encounter with Mr. Hagan. She has Jenny call Terry to pretend to be his secret admirer. Jenny actually has fun with it, even though she’s reluctant. That all ends when Terry confesses that he’s figured out Debra has been behind the calls. Jenny hangs up quickly and Debra is mortified that she’s been found out. She’ll be the laughingstock at school. She goes off to her babysitting that night without Jenny. Things are going perfectly normal until she gets a phone call. The thick gravelly voice of Mr. Hagan is on the other end. “Hey Babes, I’m back.”
Debra thinks it’s just a sick joke. She confides in Mark about it but doesn’t tell Jenny. Because the last thing Jenny needs is more triggers. She finds out that Mark had mentioned Jenny’s ordeal to some friends, including Terry. Debra becomes convinced that Terry made the prank call in order to get back at her for the whole secret admirer stunt. She confronts him about it, but quickly realizes it wasn’t him. He wasn’t mad about the secret admirer calls, for one. Debra decides to invite Terry on a double date with her and Mark, setting him up with Jenny. The date goes well. They have a close call where Mark almost finds out about Debra’s calls to Terry. Jenny and Terry hit it off, which was a nice surprise for me and Debra alike. When Debra and Jenny get home, they find a discarded baby doll in the bushes. It has ribbons tied around its with a note from Mr. Hagan. It taunts them: “see you real soon.”
Jenny is now convinced that she has been right all along. Mr. Hagan is back from the dead. Debra makes her call Cal to confirm it wasn’t him. Cal’s parents inform Jenny that Cal has run away. They haven’t heard from him in days. That night, Jenny then has a dream that Cal rides up on a horse while she’s at the stable. She rides off with him but then his skin melts away and he talks in Mr. Hagan’s voice, telling her that he has her now and there is no escape. A few nights later, Debra is babysitting and waiting for Mark to show up. When she calls him, he tells her he isn’t coming. He found out about the secret admirer calls to Terry. Then Debra gets another call. It’s Mr. Hagan again, whispering threats that he’s coming real soon. To make things worse, Maggie pays another drunken visit. Debra tells Mrs. Wagner about it this time, at least. She says she will get the locks changed.
The next day at the stable, Jenny almost kills a kid when she’s distracted. Then she takes off riding on a horse while thunder sounds in the distance. She can hear Mr. Hagan riding up behind her. He’s coming to collect her. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Debra is babysitting. TA thunderstorm starts raging outside. She tries to call Jenny, but Jenny hasn’t made it home from the stables yet. She tries to call Mark and apologize, but he’s not home either. She’s trying not to creep herself out when she notices the front door cracked open. When she goes upstairs, she finds Peter’s crib empty. There’s a wet footprint still on the floor. Someone snuck in and stole the baby!
Debra goes to call the police and runs into Cal. Cal showed up at the house looking for Jenny. Debra thinks he took the baby at first but he’s just very confused. Once they sort that out, they go to call 9-1-1 but the phone is dead. They run through the rain to the neighbors and bang on the door until they finally get someone to call the police. Debra thinks it could have been Maggie but is starting to wonder if maybe it really could be Mr. Hagan. The police show up. Mrs. Wagner is a mess, which is understandable. The phone rings and they have Debra answer it. It’s Mr. Hagan. He says he got rid of Jenny. Debra is able to hear Peter crying in the background… and something else. She finally figures it out and knows exactly where the call is coming from. I hope you, dear reader, have done the same by this point.
Debra leads the police to the stables. They find a dark figure riding around on a horse, holding a baby, and yelling out in a deep gravelly voice: “I’m alive! I’m back, Babes!” It’s still pouring. You will be shocked to find out that it turns out to be Jenny! It’s been Jenny the whole time! Jenny holds the baby above her head and continues to speak in Mr. Hagan’s voice. Police officers close in. A gunshot sounds and Jenny is thrown from the horse. Debra thinks Jenny has been shot but it was just a crack of lightning. The baby ends up being fine somehow as if it wasn’t just thrown off a horse by a delusional teenager. Cal and Debra move to comfort Jenny who now seems confused. Cal makes a super deep revelation: Mr. Hagan was alive… in Jenny’s mind. Then Jenny is handcuffed and led to a police car, leaving her cousin and boyfriend to trial behind.
Now, I figured out it was Jenny when Debra got the first phone call. From there, the book just felt tedious. Jenny was a solid character and I felt like she deserved better treatment than devolving into a cliche of “insanity.” I didn’t buy the complete character change needed to pull this plot off. In the context of Jenny being a victim here, it’s hard to read this book as being anything but sad. Jenny was a survivor, but I don’t know what she was supposed to be here. It’s a big part of what made this whole book exhausting to read. Becasue when that happens, I stop caring. I really wish this book series had chosen to go with different characters for each installment. There are tons of directions to go with the horrors of babysitting. Because this approach just felt like beating a dead horse. It’s hard to even be snarky in reviewing this. It made me want to phone in this review, and maybe I did.
While the end of this might have teed things up for an interesting final installment in the Babysitter IV, I do not have much hope of that being the case. That won’t stop me from reading it, though. I suppose I can be a masochist like that.
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 strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes
I saw it coming from a mile away and was just hoping that I was wrong. It was too similar to things I’ve read by Stine before, including the Babysitter II.
It was reasonably well-plotted, but the feeling of the exhausted source material was inescapable. This was by the numbers but it required stretching a familiar character to lengths that didn’t make sense for her.
I did not buy Jenny’s character change AT ALL. I did, however, enjoy Debra and her messiness. I wanted to know more about Maggie’s story, too. I kinda wish she was more than just a red herring.
I guess it was kinda scary when Jenny kidnapped the baby, but it was all just so silly that I can’t really give any credit here.
Not an original thing about this book. Everything in here, Stine has done before and done better.
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