Trick or TreatWhat’s it all about?

Martha Stevenson, an angsty Chicago teen who makes Bella Swan look positively cheerful, is relocated to small-town USA when her recently bereaved father remarries (so fast, it’s a wonder no -one mentions the possibility of overlap).

Martha’s sour disposition doesn’t improve when she discovers her new home is the local murder house AND she bears an ‘uncanny resemblance’ to the girl who was killed in her new bedroom. She’s barely hard time to complain about her stepmum’s cooking when she starts getting creepy phone calls, people lurking in her cupboard and hanging effigies outside her window.

The murderer, DENNIS (yes, I’m seeing Liz Lemon’s ex boyfriend too), was never found – is he back to claim his dead girlfriend once again?

 

 

The Girl

Martha is, by turns, miserable or hysterical. She takes particular issue with the perfectly pleasant Conor, her new half-brother. I think the following gif best sums up Martha’s disposition. She’s hardly described, but is said to have ‘bouncy blond hair’, so I think Elizabeth Berkeley is a fair casting choice.

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The Love Interest

Now this is where it gets weird. RTC presents not one, not two but THREE hot guys for Martha to fall for. Proper YA love square territory over a decade before Twilight, you guys. Bizarrely, for much of the novel step-brother Conor is set up to be the main love interest. He gets this description:

‘The square jaw and the way his mouth was always set – like he might be speculating over something – except the corners lifted slightly in a secret sort of amusement. The deep set eyes – so cool and steady and piercingly blue beneath low brows. He was tall and slender, but his shoulders were broad, and tonight he was wearing jeans and a bulky sweater, those strong shoulders hunched against the chilly night air. His hair was thick and always looked windswept, burnished gold and tousled across his shoulders.’

So we can only imagine he looks a bit like this:

kevin-sorbo-81072-ksnf

Please feel free to draw your own Conor designs too. Don’t forget the shoulders – I sense they’re very important to the author. However, as Martha hates Conor with an irrational rage I usually reserve for high street charity workers, she instead saves all her manners for high school star Blake Chambers AND his suave guidance counsellor cousin, Greg. She’s quite nice to both of these men. Poor Conor.

Of course, this being Point Horror, all three are firmly in the frame as the prank caller/prowler.

SPOILERS: This is my biggest issue with the book. CLEARLY Martha is meant to end up with Conor – the sparing hints at all kinds of underlying lust. Getting it on with your step-siblings (or just siblings in some franchises) is fertile YA ground. In the cellar based inferno denouement, Conor and Martha even do a spot of face stroking. I was SURE those kids would get it together.

However, as Blake (with whom Martha shares a literal roll-in-the-hay) ISN’T our stalker, she’s stuck with him at the novel’s end. You kinda hope Blake IS the killer just so Martha and Conor and free to braid each other’s tumbling locks.

I wonder if this will become a trend as we continue our Point Horror journey, but perhaps unlike modern YA, the boys are more developed than Martha is. Blake has real aspirations to get out of town after high school and gets a great sense of humour too – check out this saucy number:

‘She glanced at him, hesitating. “Can I ask you something?”

“Never on a first date.” His eyes met hers with a twinkle.’

Martha, however, is utterly humourless.

Dialogue Disasters:Oh Conor! Please don’t be dead!’

Oh Wynn! You scared me to death!’

Oh Wynn! You scared me again!’

‘Hey gypsy lady, how about a dance?’

‘Martha, my newest and prettiest student, how’s life treating you at dear old Bedford?’ Yes, teachers always say things like this…IF THEY WANT TO GET FIRED.

Body Count: 2

Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes, Martha is given a friend in the guise of Wynn Chambers, another member of the Chambers clan.

Is it scary? Actually YES. Properly scary. RTC plays cleverly with both horror film staples (Martha has to go into her empty school to fetch a textbook) and basic childhood fears (someone coming out of Martha’s closet – and not in the liberated homosexual way). The only criticism would be that Martha never truly feels in peril.

Did the best friend do it? Erm…

Is it good? YES. A modern reviewer might pick up on the abundance of adverbs. Hell, if I, as a recovering adverb addict, notice, there must be a fair few. There is also the unforgiveable line:

Like invisible leaves blown across the wooden floor by a cold, invisible wind.’ Rather than the warm, visible winds we’re so used to.

But that’s a one off. Otherwise it’s a well written, if unshowy, novel. The only downside to Trick Or Treat is how vile Martha is – one can’t imagine it was the intention to create a character you might quite like to see die. At one point I wondered if Conor HAD taken it upon himself to torture his hilariously uptight sibling for shits and giggles. That would have been pretty good actually.

Martha Stevenson, coming soon to a staff toilet, crying about how everyone in the office hates her and has been giving her evils when no-one else is watching.

Over to you!

Some questions to consider.

1. Is Martha’s attitude towards her new family warranted?

2. If you had to: Conor, Greg or Blake? Why?

3. What (if any) were your scariest moments? Why?

4. Would you describe Martha as empowered? Why?

5. What do you think happens AFTER the novel’s conclusion?

See you here again on 13th June for PHBC 2 – THE BABY-SITTER by RL STINE!

babysitter

12 thoughts on “PHBC1: Trick Or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick

  • May 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm
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    Great review; your Dialogue Disasters actually made me weep a bit.

    Oh, and HURRAY for the Point Horror Book Club. Big, joyous, giddy hurray for it. I knew I was right to keep that box of PH’s in the loft. In fact, I firmly predict that I’ll still be doing these nostalgic re-reads long after everyone else has lost interest.

    Anyway, Trick or Treat, or as I like to call it, The Adventures of Bitch-face Martha… No, I did not care for our bossy, ungrateful, hysterical protagonist. Bouncy hair or not (and a resounding yes to the Elizabeth Berkeley comparison), I was firmly pro-psycho from the get-go. Heck, I’m amazed MORE people weren’t trying to kill her. Lovely, perpetually-shirtless Conor for one, who could have been forgiven for letting Martha slumber on during the hi-octane thrills of The Dishcloth Fire.

    (Sidebar: Speaking of Conor, my theory is that he and Martha probably DID get together in an earlier draft – one in which love interest number two Blake turned out to be the killer – but that the close familial ties were deemed too icky for an early ’90s teen demographic.)

    Either way, creepy Greg was much more worrying. “Prettiest student” indeed. Report him, Martha, you brainless arse; he’s a Daily Mail headline waiting to happen. Still, I guess hiring a perv like Greg is only to be expected in a school that gives its students a day off after a Halloween party. What kind of education are these kids getting?

    Occasional lapses in logic aside (why didn’t Martha and Conor just go back the way they came when the cellar was lit on fire?), I thought this was actually a pretty solid, and frequently creepy, read. Sadly, adolescent me didn’t agree. In a bizarre turn, I seem to have penciled a mini-review on the inside front cover (“A bit boring. Six out of ten, but minus one half for the unspooky front cover”). Now, I’m not sure old Richie Tankersley Cusick would have had much say on the cover imagery, so adult me is giving it a solid eight, with an extra mark for the unexpected use of the word ‘bullshit’ which I’m sure never appeared again in the Point Horror series. Positively racy.

    Reply
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  • May 14, 2013 at 10:45 am
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    Great reviews both! Paul, I especially like your teen inside-the-book review. I may start doing that with all my books.

    Reply
  • May 14, 2013 at 10:46 am
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    James, James, James… Thank you so much for starting this and bringing me back into the melodramatic world of Point Horror in which I spent pretty much all of my early teenage years in. It has been a thrill, with more laughing than I expected, literally to go back to them again. I have done a very long but hopefully funny review of it here http://tiny.cc/x7k2ww shoudl you like to have a look.

    Now in regard to your questions…

    1. Martha is a pain in the arse, but werent we all at that age. I also, if I want to get deep which you might not want, think that to have your mother die and then have your dad boffing some artist and living with the wench in under two years might be just cause to be cross. Plus she herself fancies a poke with her step brother (clearly) which is also confusing and at that age simply leads to rage and psychopaths after you… them or poltergeists. Mustn’t forget the potergeists.

    2. All three… if I was a teenager again, we swapped lovers in our teens weekly in my day, we lived in the middle of nowhere too, was result of boredom, not whoredom.

    3. I was freaked by the building at the start, just the sense of otherness about it. Loved the tunnels at the end, had me gripped and chilled and of course the killers psycho breakdown. Plus the phone calls still chill, because that could happen to any of us at anytime with mobiles.

    4. Martha was not empowered, apart from in the ‘get a boy with my blonde hair and sense of utter victim’ way. She was mainly a misery and a moaner. I wanted to throttle her.

    5. I think she gets with Blake but secretly has an affair with Conor the whole time. Wynne escapes and then its time for Trick or Treat II… that or Martha moves to the city and screams at anything that makes a remote sound (see my post for my video prediction)

    I actually now cannot wait for The Babysitter.

    Reply
    • May 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm
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      Me too! I don’t remember Jenny being a moaner – let’s hope not. I LOVED your review – especially the Catherine Tate clip. GENIUS.

      Reply
  • May 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm
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    I’m glad we’re all agreed that Martha was a cow. I’m still really mad with her.

    And yes, an inspired choice for next time; RL Stine is the godfather of the genre, or at least its creepy uncle. I might even call The Babysitter seminal if I knew what that meant.

    (I’d also like to lodge a request for a Caroline B. Cooney title at some point. I’m pretty sure the B stands for Bonkers).

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  • September 9, 2013 at 3:36 am
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    1. Is Martha’s attitude towards her new family warranted?
    I think she is kind of annoying as a character, but, to be honest, her dad seems like a complete jerk. #1 She did not know that she was moving until the last second??? That seems impossible to believe. Do she and her father never communicate or what? It seems like her dad is so wrapped up in his career that he does not consider her at all, which may explain her at times babyish behavior. Seriously, what father takes his teenage daughter to a new house in the middle of nowhere after she has lived in the city and then deserts her there for a few weeks? What a jerk! I do think that Martha is a jerk to Conor. He seems nice enough. At times, it even seemed like he liked her. Neither seems to have the best people skills.

    2. If you had to: Conor, Greg or Blake? Why?
    Weird question! I’ll pass on that one.

    3. What (if any) were your scariest moments? Why?
    I am a grown woman reading this book for the first time, and, let me tell you, I was scared! I read this several times in the tub later in the evening after working out, and it was scary!!! Maybe I have an overactive imagination, but everyone in the house was asleep, and I kept thinking I heard noises! Scariest moments: 1) When Martha was hearing the whispering outside…creepy! 2) Getting chased in a dark school (stock scary moment) 3) All the descriptions of “the closet” moments where she thought someone was watching her!!!

    4. Would you describe Martha as empowered? Why?
    I would not because she seems to lean heavily on Conor, even when he is severely injured and STILL trying to protect her. She’s not what made the book good. Probably no one liked her.

    5. What do you think happens AFTER the novel’s conclusion?
    Well, hopefully the completely clueless father comes home and feels like a piece of crap for neglecting his child!

    Reply
  • December 13, 2013 at 4:15 am
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    This remains one of my favourite Point books. I reread it every few years and love it every time. Even if it IS so totally cheesy in so many ways (but then, they all are). I often fantasise about rewriting books like this one to be “better”, but still basically the same story. You could make them such kick-arse books, i.e. fix up dialogue so that it’s more realistic, less stilted.

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  • June 2, 2014 at 9:41 pm
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    Well this finally arrived from eBay and I managed to plough through it in a couple of hours. Loved the “haunted house” vibe that was going on (and alarmingly underused in Point Horror). Martha is a complete bitch and seems incapable and gently closing a door behind her as she literally slammed every single one. I was actually rooting for her to die towards the end I was so sick of her petulant behaviour.

    I had a complete LOL moment though when I read this brilliant paragraph:

    “I think he was in my closet! AGAIB! Doesn’t anybody care what’s HAPPENING around here!” Whirling to the stairs she ran smack into the newel post and grabbed her midsection with a groan.
    Conor bent over her, easing her down onto the bottom step. “Your exit could use some work – are you okay?”

    Reply
  • July 22, 2014 at 12:44 am
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    Great read! I do love a Halloween based story! RTC’s writing style is easy to become immersed in and I had to force myself to put the book down after ticking over midnight on a work night! I love good teen horror!
    To the questions!
    1. Is Martha’s attitude towards her new family warranted?
    Of course! Why wouldn’t you be positively horrid towards people who were only trying to be nice to you? Truth be told; I think Martha should be directing more of her angst towards her near oblivious father. “Welcome to your new town / home / school / family – is that the phone? I’m off for the rest of the story! Ta-ta!” Seriously uncool Dad.
    2. If you had to: Conor, Greg or Blake? Why?
    Has to be Blake – wouldn’t choosing Conor or Greg be either illegal or at least immoral? However given that Martha is going to be whispered about behind hands for a long time after this Halloween, I guess her rep couldn’t get much worse! But Blake’s going places, baby and surely he’ll take shiny, happy fun Martha with him?
    3. What (if any) were your scariest moments? Why?
    Def the after hours school visit. Wowee! Long, empty corridors, echoing footsteps…run!
    4. Would you describe Martha as empowered? Why?
    Well…no. Even by the time the time we hit the mausoleum she’s still dazed and dazzled by the police lights and noises. She never once scored a victory for herself; the nearest she came was trying to stop Conor’s bleeding in the cellar. So, no, she’s not exactly going to find herself in essays entitled ‘Women I admire most’.
    5. What do you think happens AFTER the novel’s conclusion?
    Firstly the parentals arrive exactly as the cops take the killer away. After the blended family all hug and bond, Dad offers to sell and move as far away as possible. With a faraway, wise beyond her years look in her eye, Martha declares that no, she wants to stay; the house isn’t haunted anymore. Cue ‘Family Ties’ style sha-la-la-la music. But wait! Smash cut to the police car off the side of the road, steam pouring from the caved in radiator where the squad car has made an unscheduled stop against a tree. The cops are nowhere to be seen – and neither’s our killer! A slow pan across the woods reveals nothing but a whisper on the wind declares: “You’ll never be safe Elizabeth…just wait until next Halloween. Trick or treat!”

    Reply
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