99 Fear Street – The First Horror

It’s Halloween on Fear Street and the ghouls are out! To celebrate this fiendish month, I started reading the 99 Fear Street series. I don’t think I read these back in the day and have zero nostalgia for them, but I’m told by others that they remember them fondly. Let’s dive into this haunted house!

The Cover

the first horror

The cover (borrowed from this Fear Street blog) is alright. I’m not sure which twin is supposed to be which, though I guess Kody is more tomboyish and Cally is more femme. I don’t really get the knife in the book. I think it might’ve been more imposing to just have a shot of the door, or the 99 splattered in blood. It’s alright, but I don’t love it.

Tagline

The House of Evil

I’m not actually sure if this counts as a tagline. It’s alright. It tells you exactly what to expect.

Summary

We start in 1960, where two boys, Jimmy and Andy, are doing construction work on a house in Fear Street. Andy calls it a bad luck job and mentions there were bodies found when digging out the foundation for the house. Jimmy cuts himself by accident, and a crack opens in the foundation, pouring out rats. A strange shadow emerges and blankets the two, and they’re dead.

We jump ahead to Cally Frasier, her sister Kody, their brother James, and their parents in the now, which is the 90s. Kody and Cally are twins who bicker on occasion and clearly see each other as the better twin. Kody is described as “quick and smart” while Cally is the funny one. Neither of these things are ever proven. They arrive on Fear Street, and all kids are disappointed to see how run down their house is. The house is old and peeling with parts torn off and streaked with brown. It’s also clearly based on the Amityville house with its two large eye-like windows on top. Kody is instantly proven a believer in ghosts. She tells everyone just by looking at it that it’s haunted, and Cally jokes to her that she thought their last apartment was haunted too.

Cally is almost immediately injured when a branch falls through the porch roof, but she manages to jump out of the way. While her family helps her up, Mr. Lurie the real estate agent arrives. He’s a little strange. He’s got white hair but appears young and smiles even after they tell him about the accident. He also lets slip that the house hasn’t been lived in for thirty years, and I think after a while they’d probably just bulldoze the place but I don’t actually know anything about houses.

The kids explore the house. James wants a game room and insists they use the basement. He and his sisters go down to look, and they’re attacked by rats. Cally tells her mom that a rat jumped on her, to which her mom replies, “I’ve never heard of a rat doing that.” which seems insane because rats can jump like crazy as far as I’ve ever seen. They decide to go out for lunch, and they meet a man on their doorstep, Mr. Hankers. He tells them he’s a handyman and they can pay him peanuts to fix up the house, which should’ve bee suspicious. They tell him about the rat problem, and he goes to get traps and spray to tamp down on them.

The next day the girls go out to find jobs. Kody’s hands get slammed in a window which I think is also straight out of Amityville Horror. She’s not really injured, though, and the girls go to town. Cally finds a job at a little clothing shop, and she waits to meet back up with her sister at a cafe, where she meets a cute boy named Anthony. Kody arrives soon after, disappointed she didn’t get there first to meet Anthony and that she doesn’t have a cute job too. They head back home and are jumped on by their brother’s new dog, named Cubby. Their parents tell them they got a housekeeper who, like Mr. Hankers showed up on their doorstep. It’s a real American Horror Story Murder House in here. Kody’s dad tells her she’ll work for him in the summer fixing up the house, and he’ll pay her hourly and they’ll treat it like a real job. They have a roast for dinner, but when their dad starts to cut it, his hand jerks, and he accidentally stabs himself.

Kody is now convinced their house is haunted and that a ghost attacked their dad. Cally doesn’t really believe her and tells her to stop. But at night, Cally hears a strange knocking at her door, and when she goes up to answer it there’s no one there.

They start doing work on the house the next day. Cally holds the ladder as Kody climbs up to the roof, but something starts shaking the ladder so hard Cally can’t hold it down. The whole thing tips back, and Kody falls, though she’s not severely injured. Their dad starts to lose it a little after that, just repeating, “So many accidents.” Cally writes in her diary everything that happened, goes to sleep, and when she wakes up all her clothes have been thrown out of her closet.

Everyone at the kitchen table is irritable and mad. Kody argues with her mom over eggs, their dad is arguing with the housekeeper, James and his dog are running around. Cally goes outside for some air, but on their porch someone splatters in red paint: 99. Kody tells them the ghost is trying to communicate with them. James comes back and says Cubby ran outside. The sisters agree to go help him look.

They can’t find the dog anywhere, but they do run into Anthony. He and Cally talk some while they look for the dog. She asks him if he lives on Fear Street, and he gets serious when he tells her no. She let’s him know she lives on 99 Fear Street, which shocks him. He asks her if they told her what happened there, and she invites him back to the house to tell the whole story.

They don’t find the dog, but that’s less interesting now that there’s a boy in the house. Anthony starts telling the story, claiming the “town historian” told them, which seems like not a thing Shadyside would have but don’t worry he’ll show up later. He tells them about Simon and Angelica Fear and how they were evil. They would kidnap people and kill them, dumping the bodies. Specifically in coffins. With the Fear crest on them. Which is insane. If you’re going to do a crime, don’t plant a bunch of evidence, and don’t bother with the coffins. It seems more likely they’d find a dumping ground of skeletons, but whatever, this is Fear Street. The bodies were dug up when they were laying foundation for the house, and the owner told them to keep building (which reminds me of an A Haunting episode that enrages me, in which they find a body and are like fuck it we’re going to keep building our garbage house for our children to live in and proceed to tell no one). Anyway, the guy building the house moved his family in, and one day he came home to find his family sitting in the living room, all of their heads removed, as though they’d been torn off. Everyone in Shadyside knew the story, and that’s why no one’s lived in the house for thirty years.

They’re distracted when James starts screaming because he hears Cubby barking from somewhere. It sounds like he’s outside, and they go to look, but they can’t find him. They go back to the kitchen, where he’s loudest. They search the whole house and can’t find anything. Cally goes to bed that night, unnerved by the story and by Cubby’s mysterious barking, and the ghost knocking happens at her door again. She manages to spring the door open, surprising her sister, who’s on the other side. Kody tells her she was doing it to make her believe the house was haunted, the same reason she smeared the 99 in red paint on their porch. Cally tells her she can’t do that, and they should keep the house’s history from their dad, who’s been getting more and more neurotic as more things keep happening. They both go back to bed, but Cally can’t sleep. She gets up, goes to wash her face, but what hits her is green, putrid, chunky water.

The whole sink starts filling up with what seems like vomit (and I’m trying not to vomit as I type that sentence). James wakes up as well as she’s screaming, shouting about hearing Cubby again, and then their mom starts screaming too. She’s covered in blood that’s been dripping from the ceiling, their bed completely soaked in it, and their dad goes upstairs to see what’s causing it. He staggers back down a few minutes later completely horrified, as he’s found the head of a woman and two children above their bed.

They call the police. They find no bodies in the attic, and the family spends the whole night cleaning the sour gunk out of the bathroom. They don’t finish until 5 a.m., and the whole family is exhausted. Their dad decides to call the real estate agent, especially when he hears the stories the kids tell him, but in looking at his business card, they find no phone number. This really should’ve been a red flag way earlier, but it’s the 90s. They call the operator to find the listing, and they’re told it doesn’t exist. Cally and her dad drive to the location they have, but when they get there it’s an empty lot.

With no idea what to do, they go to the town historian, an older man named Mr. Stuyvesant. He works the reference room at the library, which probably means he’s a librarian with an interest in town history, but I don’t know the qualifications for “town historian” so whatever. As a librarian, I absolutely love the exchange where he’s ready to discuss local history, and they tell him they’re looking for a real estate agent, to which he becomes noticeably annoyed and responds, “Have you tried the Yellow Pages?” My job would certainly be easier if people just learned to Google. But they tell him the name, which he says sounds familiar. He pulls out a historical record and finds an obituary for Jason Lurie:

Jason Lurie, real estate agent. In July of 1960, found his family murdered in the house he had built for them. Hanged himself one month later in the same house. House located at 99 Fear Street.

Not specifically stated to be an obituary, but terribly written anyway. I have no idea why they would write his death like that. Anyway, the whole family is freaked out. They can’t move, since they have no money, and they can’t sue a ghost. It does raise a few questions about them owning the house, but I guess they must’ve signed a legal document at some point. Still, I think you could get out of a haunted house based on ghost realtor (and I did in fact search whether anyone has sued over living in a haunted house and found this). They’re strangely trapped in the actual house, as they seem to refuse to leave, including Cally not going to her job. I think I’d find literally anywhere else to go after all that, but whatever.

Cally’s only spot of happiness is Anthony, who she’s been seeing. They’re going to the movies, and for some reason she has “a great idea” to invite him over for dinner while her parents are away. It sort of feels like she thinks this a great opportunity to do it, but Kody will be at dinner with them, so I don’t know why else she would invite him over, especially since he’s clearly terrified of the house, and they all have every reason to be. They make spaghetti and brownies, and the three hang out for a while before going to the movie. Anthony offers to help with dishes, but as he’s washing them in the sink, the garbage disposal starts, mangling his fingers. As a side note, a long time ago I Googled if it was possible to actually cut a finger off in your garbage disposal, and I think the answer is no, but it seems debatable (has Mythbusters ever done this?). His hand comes up a stump, and they have to drive him to the hospital, where they’re able to reattach the fingers, but he can’t use them.

Their dad seems to break from this, and refocuses efforts on cleaning up the house. The housemaid says something about the house being cursed, and I sort of assumed she was a ghost too, but she never really does anything sinister. He sends everyone off to bed, but James comes to Cally hoping she’ll comfort him. She goes to sleep, and in the middle of the night she hears him crying. Like Cubby, he’s trapped in the beyond. They can hear him, and he calls out to them. Cally’s mom sees him briefly as a ghost, but no one else does. They take a sledgehammer to the wall, and a lot of rats come pouring out. Her dad starts pulling the wall away with his bare hands, and then their mom falls on the stairs, breaking her arm. They try to call an ambulance, but the phone is dead. Their dad thinks he hears James in the attic, and when he goes up the ladder, a shadowy figure consumes him.

They manage to drive their mom to the hospital. They called their cousins, who offered to let them move in with them. When they return to the house, Cally tries to sleep again, but she hears the knocking at her door. She pulls it open, expecting Kody to be there, but instead its a ghostly figure in white, wearing her own face. The house absorbs her, the floor turning to a bubbling tar that drags her down. Kody tries to save her, but she’s drawn into the darkness. (Stranger Things has some answering to do, I think, with this ghostly otherworld.)

Her family has a funeral for Cally and James I guess. Cally seems to have absorbed all of the house’s anger as well, as she hates her family for still being alive, her twin sister in particular. Luckily the ghost real estate agent lures in another family with an attractive teen son, and Cally is ready to do some haunting. TO BE CONTINUED…

Favorite Line

“You’re not interested in his story! You’re interested in his bod!” Kody accused.

Fear Street Trends

No notables show up, though I believe The Corner, the coffee shop were the twins meet Anthony, has shown up before, and I think might be the one our protagonist works at in First Date, but I could be wrong. Simon and Angelica, of course, get name dropped. This was published in 1994, a year after the Fear Street Saga came out, so the details are a little more concrete, unlike Party Summer. I don’t recall them filling mass graves, but it may have been offscreen. We don’t really get their perspective after they move to Shadyside.

Fashion is truly alive with the girls wearing faded jeans and GAP t-shirts. Anthony is stated to wear one earring, which is how we know he’s a dream boy.

I realized that the idea of doing construction work as a teen summer job is a trend here and in other Stine books, which feels like an old fashioned thing. I don’t know anything about construction work, but it doesn’t seem like something most kids do as say a summer job.

Rating

The First Horror is derivative and just a bit cruel. I can tell Stine took the majority of his inspiration from The Amityville Horror (which is about as bleak) and Poltergeist. I liked it more than I expected, but not by much. Three decapitated bodies out of five.

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