OK, forget everything I said I was going to do previously. I would like to do an Anthony Masters retrospective, but I’m still feeling a bit burned out on that series. I also have a great book I would like to review at some point that will have to wait until I can think of a way to do it justice, as the book’s design is key to enjoying the … experience. So we’re moving on to Zodiac Chillers. It’s short (only six books) and rest assured I will, at different points, review stuff that isn’t children’s/young adult horror.
Where do we start with Zodiac Chillers? They’re pretty similar to Fear Street (and its rip-offs), they’re based around the theme of astrology, and they’re written by a few different YA authors. The series doesn’t seem to have been that well-received; a total of thirteen books were announced, but seven of them were apparently never published, which suggests they were cancelled due to poor sales. Are these books lost gems, or were they trashed at the right time? Let’s find out with Book 1: Rage of Aquarius.
Here’s the cover:
A ghost, who’s wearing a horrible toga-style dress, is floating above her grave in front of a full moon. In keeping with her Rapunzel hairstyle, she’s posing like she’s in a shampoo ad. Her tombstone informs us that she is “Rebecca Morris, died 16 years”, with a picture representing Aquarius because apparently her star sign is more relevant than her actual dates of birth and death. A tagline warns us “Becky’s killing from the grave …” Or is she?
First of all, let’s get the most obvious joke out of the way:
You know I had to.
We open with Becky standing on top of a cliff, surrounded by a bunch of her friends. There are so many of them that I won’t bother going over all their names and descriptions now. Anyway, they want to all hold hands and jump off the cliff into the sea, but Becky doesn’t want to do it. They’re all “But you HAVE to! You’re an Aquarius, so that means you’re REALLY ADVENTUROUS!” What a great reason to kill yourself. The book tells us what all the friends’ star signs are as well, and the dialogue is clunkier than a rusty old car: “Of course you would say that, Diane. You’re a SCORPIO!” Get used to it, because this is the whole book, basically. A guy called Tony points out that it’s a 30ft drop into the sea, but everyone is convinced it’s totally safe. Becky doesn’t agree, so … they just grab her and drag her off the cliff with them. OK then.
Six months later, Becky’s parents have given her friends a box of her stuff, because … here’s a shocker, are you sitting down? When she went over the cliff, she hit her head on a rock and died. Who could possibly have guessed that would happen?
Oh, THERE’S a big surprise! I think I’m gonna have a heart attack and die from that surprise!
No one knows her so-called friends killed her, which is why these assholes are inheriting her possessions. They talk about how obsessed she was with star signs. According to Becky’s book on horoscopes, Aquarians are all psychic and spooky and shit. Becky’s boyfriend Brad says she told him she’d had a premonition that she was going to die. Later, Tony is hanging out with his girlfriend Kara (Becky’s BFF.) They commiserate over Becky, then they have sex, because there’s nothing more erotic than talking about how your friend died horribly.
At school the next day, Diane is in a horrible mood. She’s just broken up with her boyfriend Alex, but that’s not why she’s upset. She got a threatening note: “When you crawl through the mall, you’ll shop till you drop.” Brad freaks out and says the note is in Becky’s handwriting – he’d know it anywhere! Now, I’m not Aquarius nor psychic, but I’m gonna make two predictions:
1. Diane is going to di(an)e
2. She’ll plummet to her death in the mall
Everyone agrees the writing looks like Becky’s. The note also has an “Aquarius symbol” on it (this one: ♒). Diane thinks Alex sent the note to scare her. Later, a couple of the boys in the group go over to Alex’s house and tell him this isn’t cool; but he denies all knowledge. He gets violent and aggressive during a game of basketball, and everyone agrees this is Very Sus. Meanwhile, Diane goes to her job at an ice cream store in the mall. She has to close the store alone, and there’s a tense moment where she thinks she’s being pursued by an intruder. Then someone shoves her through a broken railing into the fountain below. Wow! I really am psychic!
Diane’s friends go to her funeral. Everyone thinks she slipped on the wet floor and crashed through the railing. Kara accepts it was an accident, although she thinks Alex looks a bit guilty. Another friend, Trish, mentions the scary note Diane got. Trish thinks that Becky might just be a bit pissed off about her friends killing her, and could have returned from the grave to wreak her vengeance. We’re treated to a dream sequence from Brad, who dreams that he tries to save Diane from falling, but Becky pulls him away and says she wants her friends. Meanwhile, Alex is renovating his beloved classic car. He finds a note with the same writing and Aquarius sign, advising him to “buckle up” because he’s in for “a wild ride.” Then someone sneaks up on him and hits him in the head while he’s trying to fix the radio. Wild!
Brad tells Trish and Kara about his dream. Trish definitely thinks Becky could have killed Diane, but Brad points out this is impossible, because Becky’s dead. At some point their douchebag friend “EJ” joins in too. They discuss how weird Alex has been acting, and whether he really sent Diane’s note. So they decide to go over to his house and investigate. When they get there, they find that Alex is locked in the car with the engine switched on. They manage to break open the door and get him out; and he’s taken to hospital, still alive. Everyone decides he tried to kill himself, so the doctors apparently don’t bother to investigate the OBVIOUS BLUNT TRAUMA TO THE BACK OF HIS HEAD. The friends talk some more about whether Alex or Becky killed Diane, but then they get news from the hospital that Alex has died.
Kara goes over to Alex’s house to “say goodbye” to him, but she finds the note he got. There follows yet another tedious scene where Trish tries to convince her that Becky has to be responsible. Kara goes on a date with Tony and tells him about it, but he’s acting weird and distant, and tells her not to listen to Trish. Everyone attends EJ’s Valentine’s Day party, where he gets a scary email with the Aquarius symbol. During the party, the power goes out. EJ tries to fix it, and an unseen attacker shoves him into the fuse box, so he gets electrocuted on some exposed wires.
Trish insists Becky is killing everyone … again! Tony tells Kara not to listen to Trish … again! Kara starts having nightmares. She panics that all her friends will die and she’ll be the only one left … well, that’s optimistic, Kara. How do you know you’re not next on Becky’s hit-list? There’s a flashback where Kara remembers how they all jumped off the cliff, then realised Becky was dead, and Tony screamed WE ALL KILLED HER OMG. So then Trish is at home alone when she gets a phone call and hears Becky’s voice. Becky says she’s coming over. Trish runs to Kara’s house, but a car drives straight at Trish and crushes her against a tree. She survives, and wakes up in hospital, with her friends around her. Trish tells them about the phone call, and Tony turns pale and runs out of the room. Kara has a little heart-to-heart with Brad. Everyone who died got some kind of note or message from “Becky”, but Kara isn’t convinced. She thinks it’s … *drumroll* … ONE OF HER SURVIVING FRIENDS! Which means she’s either accusing him, or telling him it’s Tony. There aren’t many options left at this stage.
Tony angsts about how all his friends are dead, and he has a big secret, and Kara would hate him if she knew the truth. But he’s got an important mission that he’s been putting off for too long. Kara is also angsty, because today would have been Becky’s birthday; last year Becky was still alive, and had a wonderful birthday party with her friends, who were also alive. Also, her birthday cake had blue icing on it, because Becky was an Aquarius and all Aquarians love blue! Kara believes Tony is the one killing everybody. She checks the post and realises she’s got a “Becky” letter! It says Friends to the end, which Becky always said to her, but now “the end” seems a lot more ominous.
Kara catches up with Brad at the hospital. Brad has received a Becky email: Aren’t you DYING to see me? Kara tells him her suspicions about Tony, and they both agree he’s the most likely culprit. Yes, he does seem a bit too stupid to try to cover his own tracks. Tony isn’t answering the phone, and Brad’s stopped by his house and found out he isn’t there. But Brad thinks he knows where Tony is: miles away in the mountains, at a cabin his family owns. Kara and Brad agree that rather than call the police, they’ll go to the cabin and try to reason with Tony. I totally understand that. When there’s a murderer on the loose, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than alone on a mountain with them.
Brad drives Kara up to the cabin, but Tony isn’t there. They hang around for a while in case he’s gone out. Kara opens a door and finds what can only be described as a shrine to Becky, with elaborate and meticulously plotted astrological charts everywhere. She’s shocked, but has to admit Tony is the killer. At this point Tony bursts in through the door and wrestles with Brad. Brad ties him up with Kara’s help. Tony screams at Kara to run, because Brad is the killer, but Brad says he’s not – Becky is. Kara realises Brad’s gone off the deep end, pun intended. She remembers that his star sign is Gemini, and all Geminis have dual personalities, and now she’s seeing the eeeeeeeeevil side of Brad oh noes! She tries to make a break for it, but Brad captures her and ties her up with Tony.
Like Clarissa, it’s time for Brad to explain it all. He believes Becky is speaking to him, ordering him to bring her friends to her. (It’s mentioned that the call he made to Trish was an old answerphone recording of Becky’s voice. OK, I give him props for that one.) All the star charts say Becky was destined to die when she did; and now, the heavens are in alignment for the rest of the gang to join her. He wanted to have a group suicide on her birthday, but thought the others might just tell him to fuck off. So he’s been killing them one by one during the time period for the Aquarius sign: January 21st to February 19th. Kara was Becky’s best friend, so Brad decided to save her for the big birthday present/convenient final girl.
While Brad’s sighing over his Becky-shrine, Kara says she’s sorry she thought Tony was guilty. We get a brief scene from Tony’s POV about how he worked out it was Brad. Then he got a “Becky” email telling him to go to the cabin, but he worked out that Brad would bring Kara, so Tony went along to save her. Brad decides enough talking; it’s time to join Becky. He marches Kara and Tony at knife point to the cliff where Becky died.
They reach the edge of the cliff, and Brad starts raving about how good a view of the stars they have. But wait! Kara has managed to free herself somehow apparently! She tackles Brad, who drops the knife. He reaches to get it, and falls over the cliff. Tony tries to grab him, but Brad says he’ll say hi to Becky for them. Then he deliberately lets go and plummets to his death. Kara and Tony make out – wow, they really do have a fetish for their friends dying, don’t they? Kara decides it’s all OK now because Becky and Brad are finally back together. Well I guess that makes everything better. It’s not like he murdered three other people in cold blood, now is it?
This book is a pretty mixed bag. Like most ’90s YA horror fiction, its cast is too big and is an interchangeable parade of high school stereotypes. The horoscope gimmick is annoying, but you probably should have expected that when you picked up the book. Brad being the killer is obvious after a certain point: Tony is a blatant red herring, and Kara as “unreliable narrator” would be a bit too clever for a book like this. Also, while there are quite a lot of deaths, none of them is gory or described in much detail; no Fear Street-style fun decapitations or impalings or eyes being stabbed out. But the book’s not a total loss. It does use effective misdirection as to the motive behind the murders (making the reader think it’s guilt or revenge over the group killing Becky), and there are just enough unanswered questions to make you wonder whether she really was involved somehow.
Body Count: Becky – Dragged over a cliff
Diane – 3-storey plunge into a concrete fountain
Alex – Carbon monoxide poisoning from car fumes
EJ – Electrocuted
Brad – Fell off a cliff
Most Disturbing Death: It’s got to be Becky’s. Her friends pulled her over the edge of a cliff because she wouldn’t do a stupid dare. Worse, even though it’s made explicit that they physically took hold of her and dragged her over the cliff with them, they treat it as “we dared her, and she jumped, so we’re indirectly responsible for her death, but she still chose to jump.” No she fucking didn’t!
B.S.I: When Alex was taken to hospital and subsequently died, no one mentioned his head injury or thought it might be relevant to his death.
The Title Lies: Becky didn’t actually kill anyone, so the book isn’t really about her “rage”, is it? I guess that was catchier than the more accurate “Gemini Dickhead”
Signs of the Times: There’s a description of EJ’s crappy ’90s-style desktop computer.
Worst Dialogue: “That man over there is freaking out,” she whispered. “He thinks we’re going to take off our clothes, right in the middle of the public library.”
“Not a bad idea.”
FREE ASTRO-PENDANT! See Inside: Yeah, they actually have that. There’s a survey in the back of the book for you to complete and send to the publisher, and the first 1000 replies get the pendant (although it’s a generic moon/star design, not for your actual star sign.) It’s mentioned in the book that Becky had a necklace like this, presumably to encourage the reader to want one too. Hey, kids! Don’t you wanna look like the girl who gets killed in this book?
Up next: Zodiac Chillers #2, “The Scorpio Society”