Not to be confused with another teen horror series called Horror High, which was a collection of Point Horror and some other YA horror titles re-printed. “Nicholas Adams” doesn’t really exist, but was a collective pseudonym the publishing company used. When this happens, it usually means the quality of the books will vary wildly – but I guess we’ll see how that one turns out.
One thing to note is that all the Horror High books were re-named for their release in the UK. I don’t know why the titles needed to be changed. I can understand Pep Rally being changed to Blood Game, because schools in the UK don’t have pep rallies (although if you’re a fan of American high school stories presumably you would know what a pep rally is), but the others didn’t really need it?
A diary left open, with the words “Tonight I met the perfect guy” written in huge handwriting all across one page. Underneath that is a blood smear, and there are two roses lying across the book. This image implies that as the diarist was in the middle of writing, their “perfect guy” showed up, gave them the roses and then killed them. If he were going to do that, why waste money on the roses?
This, by the way, is the UK cover:
Yes, there is a panther in this book. The panther is very important. I can’t stress that enough, and in fact, I don’t have to. The book will do it for me.
Quick warnings: death, animal cruelty, gore, stalking, threats of sexual assault. I think that covers it. Onwards!
Brad Forester roams the grounds of his massive estate, with his panther by his side. Well, it made you take notice, didn’t it?
He angstily thinks about how he and the panther are the only ones who truly understand each other, because they’re such daaaark tormented souls who have read Wuthering Heights too many times. What happens next is confusing, but basically, Brad keeps hearing a voice in his head that tells him to do bad things. When his girlfriend Alice tried to break up with him, the voice told him to kill her and bury her body on the grounds – so he did. Brad has flashbacks to Alice’s death and the sight of her corpse. He bitterly regrets murdering her, but the voice keeps saying that she was a “tramp” and “had it coming.” This is repeated a lot, by the way. The voice says this every damn time. Now I’ve got Cell Block Tango playing in the back of my head. Brad feeds the panther and then goes upstairs to his room, where he has erected a shrine to Alice. He needs sleep so he can go back to high school tomorrow, where he leads a double life as “Mr Popularity.” Title drop!
Cassie Arthur is clumsy and unlucky and oh, by the way, she’s the prettiest girl in school but she doesn’t know it! Hey, authors – this kind of introduction does not make the reader “identify” with your protagonist. It makes them want to push her in front of the next passing motor vehicle. Cassie has a huge crush on Brad and is rushing to get to the bus stop, so she’ll catch him as he passes and he might kindly offer to drive her to school. Her mother warns her about Alice Gilbert, who mysteriously vanished a year ago. Alice even had her picture on a milk carton (that’s a whole other YA series), but was never found. GEE, I WONDER WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED TO HER.
Someone scares Cassie in a dark alleyway, and she panics, thinking she’s going to “disappear” like Alice. But it’s only Jake Taylor, a boy in her class. He warns Cassie not to walk in such a dangerous place, and offers to take her to “meet friends” (throw herself at Brad) at the bus stop. More exposition: Jake has a huge crush on Cassie and wants to ask her out, but doesn’t have the courage. Brad doesn’t show up, so Cassie deliberately misses the bus, thinking that now Brad will have to offer to take her to school. Well, that’s optimistic. Maybe he can throw in a chariot pulled by unicorns.
Brad has slept late, and is still having flashbacks to Alice’s death. The voice in his head tells him again that she deserved to die. Brad has a friendly breakfast-time chat with his dad, who abuses Brad’s mother but is nice as pie to Brad himself and gives him $500 for getting straight As at school. His dad is really embarrassing and calls him “Brad-man”, and jokes about him “slaying the ladies.” Brad is afraid of what will happen if Mr Forester finds out Brad did kill someone; and predictably, the voice in Brad’s head tells him to just kill his father too. Alice’s voice cuts through, telling Brad not to do it, and Brad is confused as all get-out. This bizarre three-way conversation continues all through his drive to school, until the evil voice encourages Brad to run over a dog that stepped out into the road. He does – and narrowly avoids crashing his car into the bus stop where Cassie is waiting.
Put our foot down, preciousssssss. Run over the tricksy hobbitses.
Well, Brad killed the dog, whose owner (an old lady) starts screaming that he deliberately ran over her pet. A police officer gets involved, and asks Cassie what she saw. Cassie doesn’t want to believe Brad would harm an animal so she supports his story that he swerved to avoid the dog. The cop takes Brad’s side, knowing that Brad’s father is very rich. Brad ham-fistedly gives a bribe, telling the cop to look in the glove compartment where Daddy’s money is stashed. So the cop just takes the money, and Brad is left alone with Cassie. The voice in his head tells him that Cassie is “special”, like Alice. Brad mustn’t do anything bad to this one. He agrees that she is just like Alice; they even look alike. He drives her to school, and Cassie is so loved-up she forgets that he deliberately killed a dog in front of her.
At school, Jake and Brad get into a fight over the last parking space. The voice warns Brad that Jake is a rival for Cassie. Jake works at the country club Brad’s father runs, and has always thought him creepy and weird; Cassie’s interest in Brad makes Jake angry. The principal intervenes, and Jake has to find somewhere else to park, which makes him late for science class. Now the only seat left is next to Brad. Upon the instructions of his inner voice, Brad tries to set Jake on fire using the Bunsen burner, but only manages to ignite Jake’s sweater. They get sent to the principal’s office, and predictably Brad twists everything around to make himself look innocent. Jake runs into Cassie, and she’s concerned about him, until he tries to tell her that Brad deliberately set him ablaze. She doesn’t believe a word of it. Later, she tries to call him to apologise, but he’s not at home, and Cassie doesn’t want to give him “the wrong idea” by calling again.
Cassie finally gets what she wants: Brad asks her out. Everything’s perfect for everyone except Jake, who’s still sulking. This does not escape Brad’s notice, and when he and Cassie attend a dance together at the country club, he gets angry that Jake happens to be working that shift. The evil voice takes over again, and a couple of days later, Brad tries to run Jake off the road. Jake almost goes over a cliff but is saved when the same cop from the beginning of the book shows up again. Once more, Brad bribes the cop, and Jake is the one that gets in trouble.
When it becomes clear that Cassie won’t hear a word against Brad, Jake decides it’s time to take action. He steals his dad’s gun and stalks Brad and Cassie on their date. They kiss, but then Brad breaks down in tears and talks about how he’s waited so long for someone to love him. Someone like Alice – WHOOPS FORGET I SAID THAT. Cassie is confused, and Brad agrees to take her home. Jake, having eavesdropped on the whole thing, is convinced that Brad murdered Alice Gilbert. He drives to Brad’s house, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
There follows a scene in which Jake stalks Brad, and is almost caught by the panther; but not before he’s seen Alice’s grave. If you’re wondering why Jake didn’t just shoot the panther, it’s because he’d unloaded the gun, having realised that he just might get sent to jail for breaking into someone’s home whilst carrying a firearm. Anyway, Jake escapes and rather than go to the police, he goes to Cassie. This is probably wise, since the cops are all in Brad’s back pocket (or glove compartment.) But Cassie is still stuck on Brad like he’s covered in Loctite. She threatens to report Jake to the police.
Jake wants to spy on Cassie and Brad at prom, so he gets a job working the spotlights. Cassie and Brad predictably win the “most popular couple” award and as they wait backstage, Jake overhears Brad inviting Cassie home to meet his parents. So of course he follows them. Cassie is thrilled that the relationship seems to be getting more serious. She gets into Brad’s car, and he’s gone into a happy delusion, thinking that if Cassie forgives him for killing Alice it will all be OK. Because after all it’s not like murder is illegal, or like he took Alice’s life away and all her future and she probably had friends and family who miss her. Yeah.
They arrive at the house, which is completely dark. Brad’s forced to admit his parents aren’t there. Cassie gets angry and demands to be taken home, but Brad turns on the charm, saying he’s sorry and he just wanted to show her something special! She reluctantly agrees to stay. This scene is really creepy and comes far closer to convincing horror than anything else in the book. I won’t discuss that any further here, so just read this awesome review that talks about rape culture in detail by Point Horror’s Wing. So, Brad has about a hundred bouquets of flowers for Cassie and a cake with her name on it in ominous blood-red icing. He gives her his class ring, which is a Very Big Deal apparently. Then he says he wants her to meet a “friend” of his. He takes her into his basement, where he keeps his cat. And by “cat” he means “ginormous fucking panther.”
Cassie is understandably terrified. Brad talks about how his dad brought him the panther from a hunting trip last year, and her name is Alice, say hello! There’s some confusion as Brad thinks about both Alices. Cassie says she wants to go home, and Brad remembers how human!Alice said something similar before she died. The voices in his head start up again and he begins raging and screaming. Cassie takes this opportunity to run for it, and she’s nearly got away, but the panther catches up to her and knocks her down. Brad says he thought Cassie was different, but No, she’s just like all the rest; so he’s decided to kill her. (Who “the rest” are isn’t specified.) He ties her up and stashes her in the boot of his car.
Brad drives Cassie to a clifftop and frees her. He plans to throw her off the cliff and tell everyone she fell. They’ll believe him because he’s the most popular guy in school! (And pays off local law enforcement.) But Cassie kicks him and tries to fight back. During the struggle, Brad calls her Alice. Cassie realises he’s talking about the human Alice, who disappeared. Brad gets her over the cliff, and she’s hanging on by her fingertips, just as Jake conveniently shows up to save her. Cassie throws a rock at Brad, and he jumps into his car to dodge the blow. Somehow he accidentally hits the gear stick and his car accelerates forwards and careers off the cliff. This is the most convoluted thing they could possibly have had him do. Why couldn’t he just trip over the edge? Why get into his car to avoid the rock? Couldn’t he, I dunno, dodge?!
Cassie cries about how she killed Brad. Jake tells her not to feel bad; she only did it because Brad was going to kill her. Cassie insists they go down to the bottom of the cliff and check that Brad’s really dead. Jake is reluctant, because it’s a private road and pretty dangerous in the dark; but they go anyway. Brad’s car is completely crushed and they decide he could never have survived. Jake says “I always wanted to spend prom night with you, Cassie, but not like this.” Keep your gross fantasies to yourself, stalker boy.
Cassie and Jake try to tell the sheriff what happened, but the following day, he accuses them of wasting police time. There was no car and no body at the cliff – even a police diver didn’t find anything. The cops called Brad’s house and a maid said that Brad was travelling with his parents. So Jake and Cassie are accused of playing a prank. Later, Cassie’s left alone overnight while her mother and sister are away. That night she has a nightmare about Brad, and is woken by someone calling her name. Cassie wakes up to find Alice Gilbert’s diary beside her. Somehow Brad is still alive! Cassie calls Jake, who comes running over to the house. They read Alice’s diary and confirm that she was dating Brad. Alice becomes more and more suspicious of him until, two days before she was last seen alive, she’s written that she is finally going to dump him. No one ever knew about this because Alice was keeping the relationship a secret.
Cassie and Jake argue over whether or not Brad is really alive, and whether to go to the police. Then the lights in the house go out. Cassie panics – Brad’s here! Jake thinks it’s just a power cut, but then they hear Cassie’s sister screaming. Yeah, apparently she came back at some point, who cares? The door to her room is locked, and when Jake breaks the lock, they see she’s gone. Brad has apparently kidnapped her. Upon going back into Cassie’s room they find a dress hanging up, which Cassie recognises as the dress Alice wore when she was reported missing. Never fear; Jake Has a Plan! He drives Cassie to Brad’s house and they go in armed with Jake’s gun. Cassie is terribly unsettled (as you might expect) and is still not sure whether Brad is a ghost. Jake tells her there are no such things as ghosts and you know what, watching Ghostbusters seems a lot more appealing at this stage than finishing this book.
Jake hears Cassie’s sister Andrea screaming, and follows the screams to the basement, where Andrea is being menaced by Alice (the panther.) Jake tries to shoot the panther, but Brad wrestles the gun from him and holds him prisoner. Brad smugly explains that he was thrown clear of the car and swam to shore, since he’s captain of the diving team. I’d like to remind the reader at this point that being plunged into a freezing river puts your body under shock, and is very different from being in a swimming pool. Brad then just happened to see a tow truck passing, and bribed the driver to tow Brad’s car to a scrapyard. When the cops called, Brad disguised his voice to sound like the maid. OK then.
Jake pleads with Brad to let them go and try and get some professional help, but Brad doesn’t want to. He knows he’ll be in serious trouble for killing Alice (the human.) The voices in his head start up again and he begins writhing and screaming. They’re demanding blood, so he decides to kill Jake and Andrea. He plans to put them into his car (another car, presumably), push it off a cliff, and make it look like they were joyriding. He forces them outside at gun/panther point, but then Cassie comes along, wearing Alice’s dress. Jake’s plan worked: Brad believes she is Alice. Here comes one of my least favourite “tropes” in horror fiction. A disturbed person is trying to kill everybody, so why not pretend to be their dead girlfriend or little brother or someone else they loved? Surely they’ll listen to that person when ze tells them to stop? Then it either works, even though it plausibly shouldn’t (Brad has full visual faculties and should be able to see for himself that Cassie isn’t Alice.) Or the victim screws up their impersonation and gets killed (“My husband always called me Snooglebum, not Darling!” *Stabs*)
Cassie, as “Alice”, tells Brad she’s not dead. She gets him to give the gun back to Jake, and suggests they put Alice (the panther) somewhere “safe.” But then a car pulls up. It’s Mr Forester. A relieved Cassie and Jake tell him everything. He tricks Jake into giving him the gun – and then holds up the kids. He’s not going to just let them hand his son over to the cops! Brad still thinks that Cassie is Alice, and Mr Forester yells at him that Alice is dead. Jake is shocked that Mr Forester knew about the murder, and Mr Forester says “(Alice) was a tramp. She had it coming.” This is what the voice in Brad’s head has always said. Suddenly, it all comes flooding back to him!
Brad didn’t kill Alice – Mr Forester did. The voices in Brad’s head are just repeating everything his dad said when Alice died. Mr Forester was “after her”, but she “wouldn’t give in to him” (yeeeuuurrrrgggghhh) so he killed her. He ordered Brad to dispose of the body, then hit Brad in the head, magically erasing his memory of everything – until now. Whilst Brad and his dad are wrestling over the gun, Jake and the girls take the opportunity to run, but the gate is locked and Forester easily catches up to them. He plans to kill Jake and keep the girls as “his” and I don’t even want to think about this. We’re told that Andrea is only twelve years old!
But then Brad shows up! He’ll never forgive his dad for killing Alice. He coldly orders the panther to kill Mr Forester – and she does. But he shot her just before she mauled him, so the panther dies too. Jake and the girls scream and throw up in the background. Brad breaks down screaming and crying, then gets taken away in an ambulance after the cops show up. But the sheriff suspects Jake, who brought a gun and has a history of “causing trouble” for Brad. Jake and Cassie are about to be taken down to the cells when Brad’s alcoholic mother shows up. She fully believes her husband would murder someone, and wants the police to dig for Alice’s body. They find it, so Jake and Cassie are off the hook.
Some time later, Jake is glad that the school year is finally over. He and Cassie aren’t officially an item yet, but he’s hopeful – after all, they saw each other a lot at Brad’s court hearing! Brad’s been committed to hospital, and his mother has hushed up the whole thing, so everyone thinks he just went on holiday to recover from his dad’s tragic “heart attack.” Mrs Forester is selling the house and her family’s reign over the town has ended. Now everyone can get back to the important stuff: high school romance! Cassie invites Jake over for dinner. She tells him she wants to take it slowly, and he agrees. Hurrah! It’s like nobody died!
The plot is horribly contrived, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for a book like this. I think my major bugbear with it is that we’re supposed to see Jake as the “good”, nice, correct love interest for Cassie; when he’s almost as bad as Brad. OK, he doesn’t kill people or keep panthers in his house but he does follow her around, stalk her on dates, and assume that she will automatically fall for him if he can get her to dump Brad (apparently, choosing neither of them is not an option.) There’s also plenty of confusion with two characters named Alice, and the various voices in Brad’s head. The book does throw around the word “crazy” quite a lot but thankfully doesn’t go into much detail about his apparent schizophrenia.
Something I notice is that, despite the title, there is little evidence of Brad actually being popular. He has a lot of accolades (popularity awards, team captain of various sports, etc.) and is respected around town because of who his father is. But there is no mention of him ever going out with friends, or hanging out with anyone other than Cassie. I guess that’s realistic. He invests so much time and effort in trying to maintain his “perfect” image that he can’t sustain any actual friendships or a social life; even a shallow one. Also, he would much rather take his panther for a walk. Say what you like about the panther, at least it’s unique and gives this book something to distinguish itself amidst a sea of similar YA horror novels.
BODY COUNT: Buffy the dog – Run over
Alice (the girl) – Head bashed in by Mr Forester
Alice (the panther) – Shot by Mr Forester
Mr Forester – Mauled by Alice (the panther)
A two-Alice kill count. That’s impressive, Forester.
MOST DISTURBING DEATH: The dog’s – it’s described in a bit of detail and is pretty unpleasant, especially because it’s unexpected (whereas the book makes it obvious that someone will get killed by the panther at some point.)
QUESTIONABLE PARENTING: I think I’ve said enough about the fucking panther. Honourable mention goes to Cassie’s mother, who wants to discourage her from dating Brad, so casually shouts out “Hey, remember that girl who disappeared last year?” as Cassie is leaving the house.
THE COVER LIES: Alice didn’t write that in her diary, obviously, because she already knew Brad well when she was murdered.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: It is frequently mentioned that Brad drives a red 280ZX. Apparently that is a Datsun. I don’t know, I kind of thought someone like Brad would have a more expensive car. A lot of rich people are frugal with money, but not Brad, who’s handing out bribes left and right and at one point didn’t care when thousands of dollars were stolen from his car.
WORST DIALOGUE: It’s a close call between “There are a lot of dangerous scum-puppies hanging about in these alleyways” and “You little puke. Did you really think you could kill me? I’m invincible!”
FUCK THE POLICE: The entire police force in town is on the Foresters’ payroll, so that’s something.
STRONGEST COMMITMENT TO KEEPING A DIARY: Alice’s diary couldn’t have been given to Brad by her family (who didn’t know she was seeing him), and it seems like it would have been difficult for him to break into her house – which would have been full of police investigating and probably have someone there all the time in case she came back. So we can only surmise she took it with her when she went to break up with Brad.
MOST NONCHALANT DESCRIPTION OF A PANTHER-MAULING: Blood poured onto the moist ground. Edward Forester gulped for air, but he no longer had a throat. Brad stood over him, watching his father die.
Up next: Either another Zodiac Chillers, or Horror High #2.