Monday, May 30, 2011


Just when you thought it was safe to read again...

     Kids watch horror movies. Sure, they may be Rated-R, but back in the ‘80s and ‘90s what kid didn’t know about Jason, Freddy, Pinhead, Chucky, or Michael. These horror icons have transcended the realm of just being ‘horror-movie’ characters and have become something more akin to ‘supervillians’, in much the same way that the Joker or Dr. Doom have entertained comic readers (just in gorier ways). No one can deny that Freddy Krueger may have started out as a frightening, nightmare-inducing threat, but by the first sequel he became a wise-cracking merchant of menace that developed a loyal fan-base always ready to hear his next quip and see his next exploit. 

Marvel Comics' 'stab' at Freddy-based stories.
        Of course, Hollywood became aware of these characters’ appeal with fans and a subsequent storm of merchandising followed. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween each received their own video games on the Atari, while Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street were both featured as Nintendo games. Matchbox released a short-lived toyline in the late-‘80s of Freddy Krueger goodies, including a dress-up ‘special effects’ figure and a talking pull-string doll. There were trading cards depicting these horror legends, comic books, t-shirts, and in the early-‘90s a line of young adult novels! 

And that’s where we are focusing today – on every kid’s favorite pastime: reading. Well…maybe not. Even so, the ‘90s had an unprecedented influx of horror-themed young-adult novels. R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Fear Street series were best-sellers and Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire (among his many other works) proved that young people loved their horror stories. It was only logical that the biggest names in horror, like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers would soon stalk their way into the unsuspecting pages of YA novels. 

What kid from the '90s didn't read Goosebumps?

Jason's Back! And he wants his mommy...

In July 1994 Berkley Books released three young adult novels in the Friday the 13th ‘Camp Crystal Lake’ series. Written by Eric Morse (a pen-name for William Pattison – but we’ll refer to him by his alias for the remainder of the article for the sake of consistency), wrote the series, beginning with the first novel, Mother’s Day. Many elements of the novels stayed true to the source material, for example, each one took place at Camp Crystal Lake, featured the typical ‘cannon-fodder’ assortment of teenagers, and had ‘kills’ reminiscent of the Friday the 13th franchise. Yet, what the novels didn’t have overshadowed the aforementioned positives. Jason, the hockey masked icon of the films was missing. New Line Cinema, who owned the rights to the Friday films at the time, gave Morse free reign save for the fact that he couldn’t write Jason into the stories.

The advent of the Friday the 13th novels came fresh off of the release of New Line’s Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday film, so for all intents and purposes, Jason Voorhees was dead. Morse, faced with a difficult task of making the novels relevant to fans of the franchise, factor in New Line’s latest film. The first novel, Mother’s Day, uses the ‘Jason’s death’ story to its advantage. While the killer himself is gone, his evil still lives within his hockey mask, which is conveniently found by a hunter. You can guess what happens next. Hunter finds mask, has a strange urge to put it on, and is possessed by the vengeful spirit of Jason Voorhees. 
          Mother’s Day also has an appearance by Jason’s mother – albeit in the form of  her decapitated head. The back of Morse’s first ‘Camp Crystal Lake’ novel features this blurb: 

"Billy Boone and his friends were fearless. Why else would they go camping at Crystal Lake? They had heard all the gruesome stories about Jason. And they knew why Jason wore a hockey mask - Jason had a face only a mother could love. But there are a few things Boone and his friends don't know about Jason. Like whatever happened to his mother's decapitated head? How did his hockey mask get into the hands of a local hunter? And why is the hunter trying to kill every teenager at the camp?
Because it's Mother's Day. And Jason's mom doesn't want flowers or candy...
She wants corpses."

Apparently, despite the hundreds of
murders, Camp Crystal Lake is still
a romantic getaway spot.
Okay, maybe it doesn’t have the real Jason, but it sure beats any required school reading like War and Peace. The following two books, both published in July 1994, were Jason’s Curse and The Carnival. In many ways Jason’s Curse was a direct sequel to Mother’s Day. The novel features a female character, Kelly, who attempts to track down Jason (not the real one, mind you) to avenge her brother, who had been killed during the previous bloodbath in Mother’s Day. Of course, all is not well in Crystal Lake – especially after a backwoods hillbilly finds Jason’s mask while fishing. 

The Carnival is less of a continuation in the way that the previous novel was. In this case, a carnival comes to Crystal Lake and a carnie gets a-hold of the mask. What’s particularly interesting (i.e. strange) about Morse’s third novel is when the ‘spirit’ of Jason takes over the carnival rides. In some instances it makes Jason X seem tame by comparison, yet it is an intriguing take on the Jason mythos nonetheless. 
Even Jason enjoys a good roller coaster.

That guy lurking in the back...
safe bet he isn't the mechanic.

        In September of 1994 the fourth and final Camp Crystal Lake novel was released, Road Trip. This one consisted of a van full of high-school football players and cheerleaders making their way through Crystal Lake. They happen to crash their means of transportation during a rainstorm and blame the mascot/nerd/waterboy (quite a guy) – who subsequently stumbles upon Jason’s hockey mask. Needless to say, they don’t bully him anymore. 

        The success of the Friday the 13th novels sparked a line of Nightmare on Elm Street follow-ups in 1995. These were titled Freddy Krueger's Tales of Terror. The first in the series was titled Virtual Terror, which deals with a hapless young man who purchases a virtual reality machine. Being a young adult 'horror' novel, things go wrong and the young guy is thrust into a life-or-death struggle of survival, all the while dealing with incidents that are sure to resonate with youthful readers (I could have wrote the blurb!) Now, you may already be saying, "that doesn't sound like something that would ever happen in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie! What's this got to do with Freddy?"
        As with the Friday the 13th novels, a deal between New Line Cinema and the book publisher, Tor, had decided on not featuring Freddy Krueger in the actual stories - though unlike in the Jason books, he does actually show up - but acts more as a host or overseer of the proceedings and engages in the story oftentimes indirectly. It's similar in form to the short-lived Freddy's Nightmares television show from the late-80s. 

Your host for the evening...
     Altogether, five Freddy Krueger's Tales of Terror were published. All were written by David Berganting, save for 'Book Two' which was written by a fellow named Bruce Richards. Richards' outing was titled Fatal Games; it follows a young man named Al who's been having intense visions of a demon - as the back of the book puts it - "from beyond the grave!" Ooooh!

     Book Three, Deadly Disguise, took place around Halloween. The back-of-book blurb is below, for your reading pleasure:

"It's Halloween in Springwood and the place to be is the old Appleby mansion where the lord of the manor is none other than Jack Spyder, himself.

Born John Appleby, Jack Spyder changed his name when he was eight, right after he was discovered in a national talent search and landed a role on a hit television sitcom. But like many child stars, Jack rose to fame too fast, and when he lost his parents suddenly in a terrible accident, he returned home to the mansion they owned in Springwood.

Then teen idol Jack throws a Halloween bash--the party to end all parties. Not only has the local boy-made-good returned home, but it has also been rumored that the accident which Jack himself had been in had ruined his clean-cut good looks. Will he be as hideous as the gossip papers have suggested? Will the party be beyond Springwood's wildest expectations? Everyone is literally dying to find out."

Who's scarier? Freddy, or the guy behind
him with the psychotic grin?
      Twice Burned is the appropriate title of Book Four. It centers around Colleen, a girl who has nightmares of being burned at the stake. According to a psychic, she was Joan of Arc in a previous life - but as the night-terrors escalate, Colleen finds that she needs more answers...before it's too late. 

     Help Wanted, released in August 1995, would be the last in the 'New Elm Street Novel' line.

     The final horror icon to be immortalized in young adult fiction was Michael Myers. A series of three Halloween novels, each penned by Kelly O' Rourke, would be published between late 1997 and early 1998. Unlike Jason or Freddy, Michael Myers would be featured in the Halloween novels. Although, for the most part, the character could have very well been anyone in a mask, since many of the film mythos that were established were discarded. There were no appearances by Laurie Strode or Dr. Loomis, or the recurring plot of Myers tracking down members of his family. However, there were substantial mentions of what transpired in the films, especially in the second and third books. Strangely, O' Rourke seen fit to make Myers 'growl', which was an odd addition to the previously silent character portrayed on the screen.  Oh well, it could have been worst. People could have been 'possessed by Myers' mask or he could have just 'hosted' the stories...

      The first of the series was The Scream Factory, published in October 1997. The back-of-book description follows:

"When Lori and her friends are asked to create a haunted house in the basement of Haddonfield's city hall, they jump at the chance. But an old pro soon turns their little horror show into a bloody death trap. Michael Myers has returned to Haddonfield - and it's a homecoming they won't soon forget."

"Was that the Boogeyman?"
"As a matter of was."
     The second entry in the series arrive in December of 1997, titled The Old Myers Place. What makes this one superior to the first is that it actually has a number of references to the films. The premise focuses on Mary, a teenager who's family has just moved to Haddonfield. All is well, until she finds out that their new house has quite the history and her bedroom is where the infamous murdered, Michael Myers, killed his sister so many years ago. 

The attic. Nothing ever goes wrong up in the attic...
      The third and final Halloween novel, The Mad House, was released by Berkley Books in February 1998. 

Visiting hours are over!
    The plot consisted of a film crew working on a documentary inside the shut-down confines of Smith Grove - the very same mental hospital Michael Myers had been locked away in fifteen years ago. Well, of course, Myers sees fit to check in on his old stomping grounds, assuring the film crew that they won't 'check out'.

   While the third novel has the most references to the films, it also seems to have many similarities to 2002's Halloween Resurrection, which it predated. For those who seen  Resurrection, it featured a film crew setting up a reality-show inside Michael Myers vacant house. Many comparisons between the novel and film can be made, except, O'Rourke's novel doesn't have Busta Rhymes karate kicking Myers against the side of the head. Audiences must have been waiting for that scene since '78. 

    In actuality, some have claimed that O'Rourke's Halloween novels are superior to the later batch of Halloween films including everything from Halloween H20  to Rob Zombie's remake/sequel. Though others may tend to disagree. 

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