Fear Park: The First Scream

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The Cover

 

I get what they’re going with in the original cover (stolen from its Amazon page), but considering the park isn’t even built until the last ten pages, it seems a little baity. Still, I like the imagery of a haunted amusement park a lot, so I’m willing to be nice. The boy leering over the scared girl is a nice touch too. I think it’ supposed to be a Ferris wheel because there’s not track underneath, but I don’t see any structure to support it.

The second cover is the collector’s edition (stolen from its Amazon page), which I’m reading out of. I actually do like this a lot. The amusement park with the sinister face leering over it is perhaps more apt to the story, especially since it seems to take place over decades. I like them both.

Tagline

Are we having fun yet?

I actually really like this one? It’s what these books need, something indicative of the danger inside, without revealing too much, and giving us a sense of foreboding. This one nails it.

Summary

Part one puts us in 1935, a few years after the stock market crash has plunged us into a depression, though besides a few people talking about “bringing more money into the town” it doesn’t really feel like the Depression. Not that I’m an expert, but everything seems pretty much the same.

We’re introduced to Meghan Fairwood, fiddling with a fountain pen her parents purchased her, thinking about her boyfriend Richard Bradley, football player and bully. She notices someone watching her, a pale solemn-faced boy with a familiar name. Robin Fear. Her magazines fall out of her locker, and he helps her pick them up, noting Clark Gable on the cover. They have a friendly conversation over their favorite movies and radio shows when Richard comes marching in, scooping her up in a kiss. Meghan’s a little annoyed that he does this without asking, and then he sneers at Robin, telling him to step off. He does some basic bully work, and Robin stutters away. He trudges home, so mad he couldn’t stand up for himself in front of his crush. He goes to his home on Fear Street, not the long abandoned mansion but a newer home. It seems the Fears have held onto their money somehow. He looks for his dad, opens the door to the study, to find a strange sight.

Nicholas Fear is floating in the air surrounded by purple swirling smoke like he’s doing light as a feather stiff as a board. He’s chanting something to himself, and Robin quickly leaves. He knows his father’s study is full of books on the occult. This apparently has never raised his suspicion before. I don’t know why the Fears don’t indoctrinate their children. Raise them on the black arts. Make them do their first blood sacrifice at five years old. I’m not saying you’re raising healthy children, but you don’t get situations like this.

He hears a soft thud in the library, which makes me think Nicholas stopped chanting and fell to the ground. The doorbell rings, and Nicholas emerges, telling his son to go answer it. Four men are there, one of them Jack Bradley, Richard’s father. Nicholas invites the men into his sitting room, and Robin peeks in from the doorway. His dad is pretty rude to these men who take it very kindly. Jack Bradley discusses Coney Island, and tells us that the town of Shadyside currently has little income thanks to the stock market crash. Most of the men in town are unemployed. Bradley has an idea to build an amusement park in Shadyside, offering work to the unemployed and bringing in tourism. But he needs land from Fear Woods to do so. They already have approval to start building. All they need is Nicholas to say yes.

Nicholas obviously says no and starts shouting at them. He tells them to get out, and Bradley won’t take no for an answer. He says he’ll send him the plans, that he needs to say yes, and then suddenly the men start choking. He’s pulled a Darth Vader on all of the men present, and Robin watches in horror as they start to collapse to the ground. He runs into the room shouting for his dad to stop it, and suddenly Nicholas pulls back. Nicholas plays dumb and says there must be something in the air, can I get you a glass of water, are you okay? But it’s clear what just happened.

I went back to my other recaps of the Fear Saga, because I remembered them saying the Fears had no money and I thought their land was forfeit too, but I forgot about Nicholas. I assume it’s the same Nicholas that showed up to claim his birthright, who went to one of the town leaders and ended up with a job, and who married his daughter after she killed everyone else around him. Book two in the sagas never revealed what happened after he decided to pledge his life to evil, so I’m assuming this is the definitive version. Nicholas is now completely evil. Ruth is now dead (don’t worry, we’ll see her soon), and all the land her father owned is now in Fear hands again.

After all this, Robin decides to get out of the house. He starts to leave and runs into his father, who offers to join him. Robin asks if he had to say no to those men (and if he had to murder them), and Nicholas tells him he’s a Fear, and the Fears stand apart in this town, they’re better. As they walk, they run into Mr. Bradley, holding a surveying tool in his hand. Nicholas calls him out for trespassing, but Mr. Bradley tells him the town council will back him on his plans. We’ll later learn that Mr. Bradley is on the town council, which suddenly makes this all look like a deeply unethical use of funds to put back into the pocket of Mr. Bradley himself, but I’ll forgive him because he’s not going to survive this book. Anyway, Mr. Bradley tells the Fears the town council is going to allocate part of the woods for the project. I’m not really sure how that works legally, though it’s possible the Fears don’t own all the woods, since that wouldn’t make much sense. I don’t think we’re ever shown the full extent of the woods, but they seem pretty large. It looks like that whole corner of Shadyside is mostly undeveloped.

Anyway, Nicholas storms back to the house, and Robin continues walking. He runs directly into Meghan. She says she comes to this spot in the woods because it’s her secret place. He calls the woods his backyard, probably showing off a little, and Meghan reminds us there’s a bunch of scary stories about the Fears, though she doesn’t name one. They make a little small talk, and then Meghan shouts because she got something in her eye. This is supposed to be the romantic moment where the love interest sees an eyelash on their face and leans in to get it off, fingers brushing against their face, eyes meeting, the protagonist vulnerable. But in this instance, there’s a dust mote in her eye, and Robin is described as touching her eye gently, which no. No. That’s not how anything works. He invites her inside the house for a drink, when two rough hands grab him. Guess who’s back! Richard is livid, thinking he saw Robin kissing Meghan. I actually love Robin’s internal monologue during these segments, because he’s always like “am I going to have to fight? Can I fight? This dude’s so much bigger than me.” Meghan shouts at Richard to stop, and he steps back, busting out laughing. He pretends it was all a big joke, and when he asks Robin if he really thought he was going to punch him, Robin’s like “Yeah dude.” It’s pretty clear Richard is covering up his anger after Meghan got so mad. Richard pushes Robin out of the way and starts making out with her.

Robin runs home, feeling empty inside. He pushes open the door and finds his father collapsed on the floor. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, and he shakes him, only to notice the purple smoke emerge again. Slowly Nicholas wakes and pretends he just fell. But once Robin gets him into the chair, he admits he was practicing. “Practicing what?” Robin asks, and Nicholas asks him if he saw his mother. Robin reminds him that she’s dead, and he insists that he could still see her. But they hear something at the door, and a figure floats into the room, veiled and surrounded by purple smoke. Nicholas rises from the chair, proclaiming, “It is she!” Robin can’t quite tell. It looks like a woman, yes, but more like a shadow or a flame. He tries to remember what his mother looked like, but he was so young when she died. Ruth leans forward, and her veil slips away, revealing a skeletal face of grey-green bone and rotted skin. Worms crawling across her face. Robin screams and doesn’t stop screaming for two full days.

He wakes in bed with a nurse over him and his father looking concerned. He’s told he had a nightmare, that he’s been in a “deep sleep” for several days. He tries to remember what he saw but can’t. Nicholas is raging because the council voted to take part of the woods away, and again I can’t help but note that Bradley is said to be on the town council.

We cut to Bradley himself with a handful of men who are getting started on the work. They’re doing some survey work and getting the land ready for when they have to build. Bradley says he doesn’t believe in all those stories, but he doesn’t want to stay past sunset either, and so they hurry. Or, they try to, until one of the men drives a wooden stake through his foot. The others take him to the hospital, and Bradley finishes up. As he’s working, he starts feeling itches on him from bugs he can’t see. He’s swarmed by them, his whole body now being bit and him scratching at it. He scratches the skin off his neck and chest but they’re still coming, and he can’t stop.

Meghan is wandering into the woods again to meet her boyfriend. Isn’t there a backseat of a car these kids would rather be in? He shows up late, and they walk and talk. She’s clearly annoyed at him, clearly more interested in Robin, but she isn’t sure she wants to give up the perks of being a sportsman’s girlfriend. Richard trips on the rope they were stringing up, and they notice what they think is a deer far away, but as they approach, it’s clearly not. It’s the skeleton of a man, but don’t worry. His head is intact. Richard drops to his knees when he sees it, the head still staring up in horror, but his skin and bones and muscle completely eaten away from the rest of him. It’s less a horrifying image and a more comical one, but it works.

Smash cut to a few weeks later, after Bradley’s funeral. The police don’t know what caused his death, but Robin does. His father is to blame. He hurries to his father’s study to confront him and hears voices. Multiple voices. Women’s voices. He pushes open the door, but it’s only Nicholas Fear, sitting in a chair, with a book in his lap. Robin asks him pretty directly if he killed Jack Bradley, and of course Nicholas says no. Robin, of course, does not believe him.

At school Meghan sees him again and chases after him. They talk about nothing at all, an then Meghan just kisses him. She has no impulse control. And, of course, Richard comes charging out of nowhere to punch Robin in the face. He wails on him for a while, and Robin’s only concern is that he’s not fighting back, that he looks like a wuss in front of Meghan. Robin runs all the way home. That night, Meghan gets a call from Richard who wants to apologize and she hangs up on him, only for him to show up at her house. He seems less bothered that she was kissing another boy and more that she was anywhere near Robin Fear. Meghan refuses to break up with him, and I guess after seeing his temper I would be too, but she never thinks that. She just doesn’t stop dating Richard. And when he tells her they’re going ahead with plans to build the park, she’s excited for him. Richard tells her that they’re asking all of the teenagers, even the girls, to come help clear stumps for a dollarĀ  a day. I went to an inflation calculator to see what that was, and it’s equivalent to about $17 of today’s money, which doesn’t seem like a ton but it’s the depression. She’s very excited about this.

Meghan sees Robin at school and asks him to meet her. Robin asks if she wants to meet in the woods, but she’s still scared after finding Richard’s dad, so they go get a malt together instead. It’s not very sneaky, even with Richard at practice, considering all their friends are probably also there. They got to the malt shop and listen to Cab Calloway on the radio. Robin is nervous, and Meghan at first thinks he’s going to ask her out, but instead he blurts out that his father is evil and might be doing something to stop construction on the amusement park. Meghan is confused, and when he tells her he’ll be on the work crew, she’s not sure it’s a good idea. He seems to realize this isn’t going the way he wanted, and he adds that he mostly wants to join the work crew to be around her. She kisses him again.

Once the school year is out, work begins. They’re all given extremely sharp hatchets to chop stumps with, and Robin shows up a few hours later, helping Meghan with her work. Someone takes a photo for the paper, which seems like a bad idea if Robin’s sneaking around, but whatever. Suddenly Richard comes rushing forward, axe in his hand, screaming at Robin to stay away from Meghan. Robin manages to avoid the first swing, and several kids grab onto Richard to get him to stop. Unfortunately, it means Richard slices open one of the other boys in response. Another kid strikes Richard down for it, and suddenly all the kids are doing it. It turns into a full on Battle Royale. They all start killing each other, and Robin grabs Meghan, pulling her away from the fray. She runs home, looking behind her to see the purple smoke rising up through the trees.

Robin also runs home, desperate to find his father. He runs into the room and tells him it worked perfectly, exactly as expected. He’s a real Fear now.

But that’s not all! We’re sent hurtling into “This Year” (publishing date looks to be 1996). Here we meet Dierdre Bradley hanging out with her boyfriend Paul. Paul is working at the newly built Shadyside amusement park all summer, which Dierdre’s dad owns, after spending so many years trying to get it built. The first week is free and open to the public to drum up publicity.

Dierdre’s a little guilty because her boyfriend gave up a better job upstate to stay in Shadyside with her, and when their date is over, she sneaks off with some other guy. She’s also worried because there’s been so many accidents building this park, but so far, on opening day, there’s been no problems. They go on some rides, and then he has to get to work. She goes off to meet her other boyfriend, Rob. I think this is supposed to be a reveal, but Stine didn’t even change his name.

She gets away from her second boyfriend and finds her dad speaking with some TV crews. Part of the park is a reenactment of the hatchet incident. Her dad says this is in honor and remembrance of those that died, but that’s a lot of horseshit. When they sit down to see it, it’s realistically done, from the sets to the limbs flying off. Which, there’s also barely any acting in it. A narrated tape is played over the action. The kids walk into the woods to clear stumps, and then they just start murdering each other. Limbs are flying, blood is gushing, and the reporter tells us it looks so real. This isn’t a way to honor anyone. This is gratuitous. But the kids get up once they’re done and take a bow, all except Paul. Dierdre runs up to the stage, but it’s just a cramp. She kisses him and realizes Rob is in the audience, watching them.

She sees Rob later and asks him why he was at the show. He’s mostly annoyed about her other boyfriend and brushes her off. She tells him goodbye and goes to meet Paul, only to find him crushed beneath the Ferris wheel. The park is shut down again, looking unlikely to reopen, and the workers have split. Dierdre’s dad bemoans his lot in life, but Robin arrives and offers his services. DUN DUN DUN.

Favorite Line

Wisps of purple smoke floated into the living room, carrying a sweet-sour odor. Spicy with a hint of decay.

Fear Street Trends

The fashions of the 1930s segment comes straight out of a magazine, with Meghan’s knee socks and Robin’s brown trousers. When doing work, Meghan wears men’s clothes and feels a little nervous about it, but so are all the other girls working. Nothing much from the modern sections, though we spent so little time there.

Rating

This first in the Fear Park series is pretty meh. There’s no real plot here, and no real climax. It’s all prologue, and if it’d been self-contained to just the 1935 segments, I think an actual story could’ve been built there. I think the idea is good, though as a late addition to the Fear mythology, it seems strange that something like that hatchet murders aren’t mentioned more often, especially since we’ve spent a lot of time in the Fear Woods at this point. I think I’ll like the concept a lot more once we spend time in the actual amusement park. Two hatchet mutilations out of five.

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