The Bookworm: The Third Horror
The Third Horror, by R.L. Stine. 163 pages. Pocket Books. October 1994.
I’m afraid things aren’t going to go right on your movie, Kody. I’m afraid there might be a lot of tragic accidents. (p. 68)
When I started reading The Third Horror, the final edition of the 99 Fear Street: The House of Evil trilogy, I expected a lot. I expected more information about the house and why it was so evil, why it was supposedly haunted by the spirits of those tortured by the Fear family, and why the evil tormented the home’s unfortunate occupants. I expected its mysteries to be explained, expected all the loose ends to be tied neatly into pleasing bows. Why is the basement infested with rats? What are the stories behind the handyman, the maid, and the disappearing real estate agent?
In the end, however, it turns out I expected too much because The Third Horror revealed very little of what I wanted to know.
Just as she promised she would when the Frasiers left two years earlier, Kody Frasier has returned to 99 Fear Street to see her sister, Cally — albeit under somewhat farfetched circumstances. (I do not think I mentioned that in my review of the first book. Before the Frasiers leave the house for good at the end of The First Horror, Kody sees Cally in a window and promises she will return.) After leaving Shadyside, the Frasiers moved to Los Angeles where Kody finished high school and started an acting career. Her first acting job is to play her sister in 99 Fear Street, a horror movie based on the Frasier’s experiences at the house. To save money, the studio has opted to film most of the movie on location so a film crew has descended on the house.
Instead of being thrilled to see her sister, the spirit of Cally is disgusted and bitter, a testament to how evil the house has made her. “You’ve come back to be a movie star. You’ve come back to play the role you always wanted to play, haven’t you? You’ve come back to play me!” (p. 18). As Cally alludes to in the quote above, production is beset by a number of tragic accidents. Metal spikes pop out of the front door when Kody is leaning into it, trying to enter the house; the associate producer has his hand mutilated by the garbage disposal (ironically when rehearsing the scene from the first book when Anthony has the same thing happen to him); a boom camera impales a stand-in; and a malfunctioning pump fills the attic with green ooze, nearly drowning Kody and another actor.
Despite all the trauma and production delays, the director is dead set on finishing the movie; having directed a number of “turkeys,” he believes 99 Fear Street is his last chance. Production continues, but the director has suspicions about Kody. She was present at each traumatic event on set, and Kody had been seen in the house the night before the boom camera malfunctioned. She pleads her innocence, though. The director wants and needs her in the movie because of the publicity she has drawn — “Kody Frasier Returns to the House of Horrors to Play Her Own Dead Sister” (p. 8) — but the pressure is on Kody to perform. Otherwise she will be replaced.
Kody hopes to see her sister once again. One night she hears Cally’s voice calling her and follows the voice into the basement. But before Kody can see her sister, the director finds Kody there and see she’s literally stumbled over the big surprise for the final scene. None of the actors had been given the last ten pages of the script to keep the ending a secret, but Kody stumbles over crates full of dynamite. The director is planning to blow up the house. She promises to not tell anybody, but the ending of the book has basically been spoiled. It is obvious the house is going to blow up, but the question becomes: Who is going to light the fuse?
Kody follows Cally’s voice to the basement on another night and is led to a small, hidden back room. There, Cally reveals herself and engulfs Kody in a cloud of mist. Production begins the next day with the scene when Mr. Frasier stabs himself. While Kody and a rival actress are rehearsing, Kody stabs her in the hand. (Didn’t see that coming. Not!) The director decides he has had enough of Kody and the mysterious events that surround her and fires her on the spot. In a fit of rage, Kody burns him with a spotlight.
The chapter ends and on the next page we learn Kody is actually tied up in the basement; Cally was playing her evil stand-in. While in the hidden room, Kody finds a small hole in the wall and sees another room on the other side. She sees rats and the mysterious characters that have appeared in each of the two previous books: Mr. Hankers, the handyman; Mrs. Nordstrom, the maid; and Mr. Lurie, the disappearing real estate agent who shares the same last name as the man who built the house. They are sitting in the room, talking about how good it is to have Cally doing their evil deeds.
When Cally returns to the basement, Kody tells her she is being played by the handyman, maid, and agent. Cally is unconvinced at first, then peeks through the hole in the wall herself and listens to them speaking. Cally releases Kody, then helps Kody escape from the basement when Mr. Hankers, Mrs. Nordstrom, and Mr. Lurie arrive to kill her. (In the process, the Mr. Hankers, Mrs. Nordstrom, and Mr. Lurie turn into rats. Why? I have no clue.) Kody runs outside and the house explodes. In the towering flames she sees the burning bodies of rats and the tortured souls of those buried by the Fears rising into the sky.
Kody is sad she did not get to say goodbye to her sister. However, at the end of the book she receives a tape with the only footage shot at 99 Fear Street. It shows the house burning, and in it Kody sees the figure of Cally waving from within the flames. The end.
And that’s when the cheese started to ooze from the binding.
What a tease! When I finished The Third Horror last night, I could not help feeling cheated because not every loose end was tied. Frankly, I’m not sure any loose ends were tied.
So much is left unexplained. We learn that Mr. Hankers, Mrs. Nordstrom, and Mr. Lurie have some kind of connection to the house and its evil, and are apparently using Cally’s spirit. But who the hell are they? What is their connection to the house and the evil there? Why are they using Cally and why did Cally feel the need to turn against them? What about the green ooze and the ghostly hand that blinds Mr. Frasier in the first book? (A ghostly cloud also kills two construction workers at the very beginning after the basement is overrun with rats.) What happened to Cubby and James and how did they end up inside a wall? What beheaded the woman and two children when the house was first built? Why did Mr. Frasier find their heads in the attic? What’s up with the rats? How are they connected to the people who the Fears supposedly buried there? Where is the hidden room that Kody sees through the hole in the wall?
Questions, questions, questions. So many questions — and none of them will ever be answered. (Perhaps I should write Stine and demand that he provide answers. I can’t let him off the hook that easily!) I think one expects answers at the end of a series or trilogy like this. I expect the puzzle to be complete at the end with no left over pieces and holes. At its conclusion, the 99 Fear Street series puzzle had both holes and left over pieces. I suppose I could tolerate one missing piece or a couple additional pieces — the story, I guess, does not have to be completely air tight — but I do not want to be left hanging, do not want to be unsatisfied. At the end I do not want to be left thinking, “Hey! What a minute! What about [fill in the blank]?” Too much was missing, even for Fear Street standards.