The Halloween Party had a few scary scenes and a compelling main character in Niki, but it ended up being too convoluted for its own good. It was refreshing to have good representation of characters with disabilities. I just wish her character was featured in a better story. Aside from Niki, there were just way too many characters for a book this short. Half of them could have easily been cut and the story would have been better for it. This also turned out to be another case of R.L Stine writing a villain with really poor planning skills. Without naming any names, there was some truly baffling logic at play in this one. Random side note: I found a few of the scenes very reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and I’m wondering if Stine was inspired by it in some way. This is not a complaint, I’m just curious. Overall, this book was a let down considering it seems to be one of the top-rated books in the series. I guess I’m in the minority on this one.
Observations & Spoilers
Justine is a new girl in school who lives in the old Cameron mansion on Fear Street. She invites nine random kids at school to a Halloween party, which causes a mysterious buzz around the school. Terry and Niki are two of them, so is Terry’s former best friend (and Niki’s ex) Alex. Alex and Terry’s feud boils over into a weird jocks vs nerds competition, with our narrator Terry being a nerd. This was a really weird context for a book that just seemed to have way too many things happening. Niki hates the competition and refuses to take part. Instead, she focuses her attention on finding out more about their mysterious host, Justine. This is because Niki is by far the smartest person in this entire book.
The party starts out normal enough. There’s lots of food, drinks, and music. Justine and her uncle are playing host. They dance but are soon interrupted by drunk school bullies on motorcycles. Marty and Bobby were pissed about not getting invited to the party and decided to crash it by riding their motorcycles into the house. For me, this was probably the most unnerving scene of the book. Unhinged drunk white dudes who could seriously hurt people because of what they think they are owed is an all too common trend. The kids successfully get them out of the house, damaging their bikes in the process. Justine and her uncle don’t want to report it to the police though, which should have been a huge red flag for the partygoers. The motorcycle scene also gave me some serious Rocky Horror Picture Show vibes It made me realize I had been picturing Terry as the dimwitted Brad from the jump.
Following the motorcycle scare, there’s a scavenger hunt. Alex stages a fake death scene as a prank on Terry so that the jocks can win the scavenger hunt. Niki uses the hunt to go through Justine’s room and find out more about their mysterious host. She finds a secret closet filled with clothes and pictures and thinks Justine might live some kind of double life. She confides in Terry, but the two don’t know what to make of it. Things really start to escalate after this. First, someone sabotages a railing that causes Justine to fall and hurt herself. Then Les is found stabbed to death by Terry and David, but when they go to show the rest of the kids the body has been moved. In spite of all of this, Justine keeps insisting that her party go on as planned.
David goes to get help but is knocked unconscious by bullies Marty and Bobby, who have also slashed the tires of all the partygoers. Meanwhile, Justine continues party games despite the fact that now her uncle and Niki have gone missing. Terry finds Niki in the basement; she had been knocked unconscious when she was snooping around. She and Terry find a newspaper clipping from the sixties about a drag race in Shadyside that killed a young couple. The couple killed was Justine’s parents, which means she’s a lot older than she has been letting on. The drivers in the drag race who caused their death are all parents to the kids invited to the party. They start to put together that Justine is attempting to get some kind of revenge on them for the drag race that killed her parents. For me, drag racing only brings one thing to mind.
In spite of what they have figured out, Terry and Niki return to the party and follow Justine into the kitchen where she promises to explain everything. Not sure how they didn’t see that one coming. Of course, she locks them in and starts a fire. She wants to punish their parents by giving them all agonizing deaths like her parents suffered. She laughs evilly while doing this, which immediately makes her a cartoon villain for me. Niki is able to escape by fitting into the dumb waiter. She finds Justine’s uncle in the basement. He confesses to having helped Justine plan the party to scare the kids, but Justine took things too far. He and Niki free the kids from the kitchen before they die of smoke inhalation. Police and fire trucks show up while the house is burning. Justine tries to run back into the flames to die in them, but the kids stop her. My favorite line from this scene was: Justine was sobbing now, not in insanity, but in defeat, and pain.
Justine was a really frustrating character. Sure, she had a believable motive, but her plan to exact revenge was just bizarre and convoluted. Why not just kill them right away, rather than stage the whole elaborate party with dancing and scavenger hunts? I know there wouldn’t have been a book if that were the case, but that just means the whole thing was contrived. She made a whole elaborate plot when something simple would have made way more sense. Justine reminded me of one of the villains in The Venture Brothers. Does the Guild of Calamitous Intent offer seminars along the lines of “Villain Planning Skills 101?” If so, I have a couple of Fear Street and Goosebumps villains that I would like to recommend it to.
Finally, I want to talk about the number of characters in this 147-page book. Of the nine kids invited to the party, only five are worth remembering. I couldn’t even remember the names of the other four while I was reading the story. They didn’t lend anything essential to the plot and it was just way too many people. I also had a hard time believing that all of the kids from these nine different sets of parents all still live in the Shadyside and are the exact same age. This could have been alleviated by having them be different ages, and by having Justine do some leg work to get some kids there from out of town. But mostly it just needed to have way fewer characters.
Since this is one of the top-rated Fear Street books according to Goodreads, I seem to be in the minority in strongly disliking it. I really don’t get it. R.L Stine does complex plots well, but this was not one of them.
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, The Halloween Party is ranked 26th of 79 in the overall Fear Street series and 9th of 49 Fear Street books in the main series, placing it in the middle-high and top 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.
It would have made way more sense for Justine to go after the kid’s parents instead of their kids, or at least have involved them in some way. All of my frustrations boil down to Justine’s character being really bad at planning in spite of having months to do it.
It kept me guessing and had some weird, unnerving scenes. But too much of it relied on bad decision making by all of its characters. It made the climax feel contrived.
Too many characters. There were a few good ones but it just got hard to keep track of. They weren’t distinct enough or around long enough. Justine had motive but I don’t know that it justified how far she took things. I really liked Niki, though, and that’s the only reason I’m putting a point here.
Scare Factor: 1/2
The motorcycle scene, and how Justine and Philip refused to call the cops about it was unnerving. Hell, Bobby and Marty were scarier than Justine and at the end. Their only goal was chaos.
Shrug? I’m vaguely recalling Stine’s New Years Party, which has a similar concept that I remember being much better executed. The drag race thing has a very 60s feel to it that I liked. Staging a Halloween Party to murder the children of the people who killed your parents is unique I guess, but mostly because it’s a really bad plan.
Don’t miss the next post in the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street Super Chiller #5: Silent Night
COMING IN DECEMBER 2020
Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Pulp Horror blog series:
R.L Stine’s The Babysitter