The Bookworm: The First Horror
The First Horror, by R.L. Stine. 148 pages. Pocket Books. August 1994.
“I knew the house was haunted,” Kody said, her voice just above a whisper. “I could feel the evil as soon as we arrived. And now it’s starting to come out.” (p. 55)
Back in June I bought six used Fear Street books. They are the first Fear Street books I have bought since I was probably 12. (I did my best to find them locally but could not find any copies at the local used bookstores. I will keep looking, though.)
Despite the fact I am eager to read two of the “new” books during high school football season, I want to finish reading the books in my original collection first. I thought I had only one book left, but then discovered four more books — an entire trilogy and one part of another — that I forgot about. Having more Fear Street books than I thought I had is not a bad thing, but it creates a small dilemma for someone as anal-retentive as I have become. Should I rush through these last five “old” books to finish my original collection first, or relax and mix in those two new books? Hmm…
Regardless, the next couple months — meteorological autumn — are ideal for reading Fear Street novels and I plan to read quite a few no matter what.
ANYWAY, my next re-read was the first of the 99 Fear Street: House of Evil series: The First Horror.
The First Horror tells the story of the Frasier family, which has unknowingly “moved into the one house that even their neighbors on Fear Street are afraid to enter”: 99 Fear Street. Immediately they receive bad vibes and a rude welcome. Cally is nearly crushed by a falling tree limb as she makes her way to the front door for the first time. Then, when checking out the basement with her fraternal twin sister, Kody, and their little brother James, she is attacked by massive rats.
The ominous events begin to pile up. Kody not only has a window close all by itself on her hands, she falls off a ladder when a mysterious force pushes it away from the house. Someone softly knocks on Cally’s bedroom door at night, but the hallway is empty when Cally tries to catch the knocker in the act. Mr. Frasier accidentally stabs himself at dinner and needs stitches. Someone paints “99” on the front of the house with red, blood-like paint. And despite the fact nobody can find Cubby, the family dog, the Frasiers can hear his barking and whimpering in the house.
Kody is convinced the house is haunted, by nobody buys it. Then she and Cally are told about the house’s horrible past. When digging the foundation, construction workers found an unmarked graveyard. Those buried there were presumably the people who had been tortured and killed by Simon Fear and his wife. Later, when the home was nearly finished, the man who had the home built took his wife and two children there for the first time. He left them in the living room for a moment, and when he returned they had all had their heads ripped off. The three heads were never found, and the man who had the house built later hanged himself.
Yeah. That’s some seriously gross and intense stuff for the Fear Street series.
Then all hell breaks loose. One night, the bathroom sink beings to overflow with putrid green ooze and blood drips onto Mrs. Frasier from the ceiling in the master bedroom. After Mr. Frasier runs up to the attic to investigate, he returns and says he saw the severed heads of a woman and two children. When the police arrive, though, they cannot find anything. A few days later, a boy Cally likes has his hand mutilated in the garbage disposal and then James disappears much the same way Cubby did: the Frasiers can hear his voice in the house, but they cannot find him. The Frasiers assume he is in the walls and ceiling, and Mr. Frasier uses a sledgehammer to rescue him. Instead of finding James, a ghostly hand closes around Mr. Frasier’s head and permanently blinds him.
The Frasiers decide they have to move. (I forgot to mention that the Frasiers cannot locate the realtor who sold them the house. When they go to the public library and consult the town historian, they learn the realtor had the same name as the man who had the house built and committed suicide after his family was murdered. Spooky.) But before they leave, the house takes another victim, literally swallowing Cally. She becomes an evil ghost who embodies the home’s “century-old rage” and “smoldering evil.” In the end, Cally sees the new owners move in and she beings making plans to terrify them.
Needless to say, The First Horror was intense. Usually, Fear Street series novels are relatively tame and not frightening at all; they are more overdramatic and cheesy than anything. The First Horror, though, was unsettling — at least to me. Personally, I am particularly spooked by haunted houses, malicious spirits, and unexplained bumps in the night. Perhaps it is because I watched too many episodes of Unsolved Mysteries. Regardless, that stuff freaks me out and the events of The First Horror are tailor-made for Robert Stack’s narration. Especially intense were the frantic, multi-chapter events when the sink overflows with ooze, Mr. Frasier finds the severed heads, and the family desperately searches for James. The Frasier’s gut-wrenching anguish and fear jumped off the page.
But despite the exceptional gore and intensified freakiness, the book still had all the telltale hallmarks of a Fear Street book. Some things were a little too convenient and left unexplained — though perhaps the next two books in the trilogy will tie up the loose ends. The Frasiers seem to have bought the house sight unseen and spent every penny on it. Despite their lower-middle class socioeconomic standing, the Frasiers hired a housekeeper, who mysteriously showed up on their doorstep one day. They hired a handyman, too, who also showed up at the door completely unsolicited. (He spends a lot of time out of sight in the basement, supposedly killing rats. I am pretty sure his story will be revealed later in the trilogy.) And, yes, at times The First Horror seemed a little too similar to Poltergeist.
On the cover, who is Cally and who is Kody? I have no clue. If Stine described them, especially the length of their hair, I do not remember it.
Overall, though, I think The First Horror is probably the best Fear Street book I have read.
Here’s an odd thing I realized while reading The First Horror: I always think Fear Street is on the west side of Shadyside. Why? West, I guess, just seems like the logical cardinal direction for a street steeped in mystery and bounded by thick, haunted woods. I think it has a lot to do with the emotional and conceptual connections I have made in relation to sunsets, twilight, and the advent of nighttime spookiness, especially in the fall. Also, Fear Street runs east–west in my mind.