The Babysitter IV
by RL Stine
© 1995 by Robert L. Stine. Cover Art not credited.
I did not go into this book with high expectations, so I was very pleasantly surprised when this book took a fresh direction. The Babysitter III had squeezed every last bit out of using Mr. Hagan as a villain, so I was happy to see that he was barely mentioned all in The Babysitter IV. In a lot of ways, this book was about Jenny reclaiming the narrative for herself. The way that Jenny’s past experiences caused her to question her own sanity at every turn made for a unique perspective that a lot of sequels miss out on. I figured out some of the twist ending early on, but I wasn’t bothered by it. What did bother me was how rushed the ending was. There was a whole other story received in the last few pages that deserved its own spotlight. It was a shame because I really liked the story it was telling, I just wanted more than an eleventh-hour info dump. I can’t be more specific without dropping massive spoilers, but almost all of the issues I had with this book stem from how it ended. I still liked The Babysitter IV more than I didn’t, and I was happy to see the final installment in the series end on such a strong note.
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Recap & Observations:
The Babysitter IV opens with Jenny finally coming home from a one-year stay at a mental hospital following her breakdown in The Babysitter III. Her breakdown is my nice way of saying that she was so scared of the dead Mr. Hagan that she started to believe she was him so she kidnapped a baby and tried to ride away on a horse. It was a cringe-worthy representation of actual mental illness and a product of its time. I also found it to be a narrative stretch using Mr. Hagan as a villain yet again when he had in fact been dead for two whole books. The Babysitter IV avoided my side-eye by giving Jenny a female psychiatrist and finally letting the ghost of Mr. Hagan rot in the rock quarry.
During her stay, Jenny and her friend Claire wrote lots of letters. Claire is now dating their friend Rick. Jenny is still dating Cal, who has been a good boyfriend for the most part. Jenny’s mom recently bought a house and has a new boyfriend. One afternoon when Jenny is reading in her backyard she is approached by the new neighbor Mrs. Warsaw. Mrs. Warsaw asks Jenny if she can watch her kids for twenty minutes while she runs to the store. Due to her traumatic history with babysitting, Jenny is very reasonably hesitant to say yes. She also has people-pleasing tendencies (same, girl) and she can’t see the harm in helping her neighbor out this one time. She says yes. I want to say that I appreciate the measures taken to show why Jenny would say yes to babysitting again after what she went through. It’s easy to see how Jenny would empathize with a struggling single mother after watching her own mother do the same for years. This book would not have worked without these measures having been taken.
The first two kids we meet are Sean and Merideth. As soon as Mrs. Warsaw leaves, Sean’s twin brother Seth walks out. We quickly learn that Sean and Merideth fight a lot, but Seth seems like the calm and rational one of the group. Seth goes back inside just before Mrs. Warsaw returns. If you find this bit suspicious, I am right there with you. It’s sus as fuck. Jenny is asked to babysit again later that week. It’s another emergency so she agrees. The boys play video games and she breaks up a fight over who plays next. Things go fine until after the kids go to bed. That is when Jenny feels an icy presence while she is on the phone with Cal. Cal rushes over to see if she’s OK. It was a false alarm, though. Jenny starts to openly question if she left the mental hospital too soon.
There are other strange happenings surrounding the Warsaw house. There is a locked attic door that Seth told her they couldn’t open. Jenny hears strange howling at night and sees a blonde boy in the yard. Jenny also sees a girl in the attic window of the Warsaw house. She can’t be certain, but it looks like the girl is mouthing the words “help me.” Jenny babysits because being a single parent with two young kids is an unmanageable nightmare. She feels the icy ghost’s presence once again. She was just trying to cut some cake for the kids when the knife got ripped from her hand and almost stabbed her. She hears a whispered voice warning her to go away or she will be killed.
That night, Jenny reflects on her own sanity. She’s lost it before, and she could be losing it again. There was a girl she had made friends with at the psychiatric hospital who got the all-clear to go home, but right before she was about to leave she regressed again. Jenny wonders if they had been wrong about her being ready, too. She confides in her friend Claire about the paranormal experience. Claire tells Jenny’s mom because she’s scared for her friend. I honestly can’t fault Claire on that one. Jenny seems determined to be OK even though the evidence suggests otherwise. Ultimately, Jenny trusts herself enough to know that something is going on in the Warsaw house, and she needs to get to the bottom of it.
The next time Jenny is asked to babysit, her mother tries to talk her out of it. I would have done the same thing, Mom. One of the twins, Sean, tries to confide in Jenny about something but stops himself when Seth walks in the room. Things go pretty normally until bedtime. Then Jenny is attacked by the ghostly presence once again. The threatening voice whispers in her ear. She flees into the bathroom where she sees Seth in the mirror, even though he’s not in the room. She ends up smashing the mirror, and cutting herself on the edges. Mrs. Warsaw comes in and finds Jenny dazed and bloody, then brings her home. When Jenny mentions the twins, Mrs. Warsaw doesn’t know what she means. Because she only has two kids: Sean and Merideth.
Jenny overhears her mother and Mrs. Warsaw talking. Apparently, Mrs. Warsaw knew that there had been a murder in the house before she bought it. Ten years prior, a babysitter had murdered a little boy. It’s also implied that Mrs. Warsaw knew Jenny’s history and asked her to babysit anyway, which is kinda fucked up. Maybe don’t ask the girl who has multiple specific babysitting-related traumas to watch your kids. Anyone, Jenny’s mom calls her doctor. Everyone thinks she’s cracking up again. But Jenny also knows that Sean and Merideth have also seen Seth, and interacted with him. She knows she’s not making that up. She watches Mrs. Warsaw leave the house with Sean and Merideth to stay at their aunt’s for a few nights. Then she sneaks out and back over. She needs to find out what’s in the attic.
Seth tries to stop her. He admits that he is a ghost and that he made himself look like Sean’s twin because he missed having a family and always wanted a twin brother. He says the babysitter who killed him is trapped upstairs. If Jenny lets her out, she will kill them both. Jenny calls a spade a space and decides she can’t trust Seth’s word. She opens the door and Monica comes out. Monica, the ghost of Seth’s former babysitter, thanks Jenny for setting her free. Then she infodumps the story that Seth had killed her, then fallen down the attic steps and died himself. She had been trapped in the attic ever since. The only reason Merideth and Sean never told their mother about Seth was because he had threatened them. The icy presence, haunting voice, and all of the pranks have been Sean the whole time.
Then in a classic RL Stine ending, a ghost fight ensues. Anyone who has read an RL Stine ghost fight scene knows that all of the ghosts will disappear into a cloud of smoke, There is no way to tell who is the true winner in a ghost fight, but I’ll call this one for Monica. I really wish she had been given a bigger part in this whole story. She had a natural relatability to Jenny’s story, and she fucking deserved to be vindicated. I also think that Seth being a child ghost villain was unique, at least among Stine’s teen horror books. I also found it interesting that this book went in a supernatural direction, after having no supernatural elements in the first three books. It felt fresh.
Jenny’s Mom shows up with Cal just as the ghost fight is evaporating. Jenny assures them that she is very much OK and not crazy (with no supporting evidence since the ghosts are gone). She even confesses that she is quite fond of babysitting after all. The end. I really wanted Jenny and Monica to have some vindication at the end. For Merideth and Sean to corroborate what Jenny said, and for a new equilibrium to be found. For the fourth and final book of the series, it would have made for a nicer send-off. It could have been as simple as a “two weeks later” epilogue. It just bummed me out that the book did so well in setting things up just to rush the final scene like that.
The first Babysitter book was released the same year as the first Fear Street book. Each book feels a lot like a Fear Street book without the familiar Shadyside setting. I would argue that they are RL Stine’s most notorious books outside of the Goosebumps and Fear Street franchises. I really loved the first book in the quadrilogy, but I had been feeling increasingly let down with each sequel. I’m glad that the fourth book changed tactics and turned things around. In spite of my problems with it, I felt like this was a nice note to end things on.
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 thought the concept was a fresh take on a tired franchise. I liked the idea behind Seth’s haunting and Monica’s entrapment, and I like how it played with Jenny’s sense of reality while she tried to do the right thing.
The pacing was good but the end got rushed. We needed more time with Monica, and something better than an info dump at the end to explain what happened. Also not the first and not the last time RL Stine has ended a book with a ghost fight.
Jenny’s growth was the strongest point. Seth and Monica’s storyline was underdeveloped. A clearer motive from him and some basic I also think Mrs. Warsaw should have been more weary of hiring Jenny, as the final scene with her indicated that she knew Jenny had issues.
I think the book was exciting and creepy. It kept me engaged and had some solid scares. It also used its history with Jenny to the advantage of the narrative, which had me questioning Jenny’s reliability as a narrator from the first supernatural incident.
Comparing this to the other books in the series, it was nice to have a completely different direction. It kept me guessing, and it leaned into its strengths with Jenny’s character.
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Christopher Pike’s The Wicked Heart
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #25: One Evil Summer