Welcome to the second review in the Fear Street reread project in celebration of R.L. Stine rebooting the series! You can read the first one here.
Don’t open that door!
After the lackluster The New Girl, I decided to revisit a Fear Street that I knew was a favorite of my younger self. Turns out, The Secret Bedroom, is also a personal favorite of Mr. Stine’s. Apparently, he wrote it in 8 days. (On average, he says it takes him about 2-3 weeks to write a Fear Street book.) Anyway, Lea Carson moves into a creepy, old house on Fear Street with a boarded-up room in the attic where someone was murdered 100 years ago. Ghostly hijinks ensue!
Now, let’s break the cardinal rule of book reading and judge a book by it’s cover:
Scared girl, check, skeleton hand, check, glowing green room, check, high-waisted jeans and mock turtleneck, priceless. This cover was done by Bill Schmidt who has done the majority of the Fear Street covers. Bill gets cheese. His covers don’t take themselves too seriously as so many covers are often wont to do.
Lea Carson is the newest new girl at Shadyside High – the only other high school that can compete with Sunnydale High for number of deaths per capita. On her first day, Lea trips in the school cafeteria and spills lunchroom chilli all over popular girl Marci of the “stylishly short” red hair.
Marci storms off in a rage. While Lea is scrambling on the floor, a guy from Marci’s table helps her out. He flirts with Lea a bit, introduces himself (his name is Don, lol), and asks her out for Saturday night. Lea agrees and waltzes off happily thinking her “lonely days here are over.”
But this is Shadyside so we know that’s not true.
Lea tells her friend, Deena Martinson, about Don asking her out. Deena warns Lea to watch out for Marci because apparently Don and Marci have been dating for-like-ever. Lea is a little surprised, but shrugs it off because the young hetero women of Shadyside innately know pickin’s are slim. Cowards survive because they run away.
Lea and her hipster parents are checking out the old house. The real estate agent takes them up to the attic where they notice a boarded-up room. The agent reveals that there is a mysterious story surrounding the room and that “most of the houses on Fear Street have similar stories.”
So turns out someone was murdered in that room years ago. Instead of saying “no, thanks, we’re good,” Lea’s hipster parents are like *shrug* “no big.”
Saturday night rolls around, and Lea is waiting on Don for their date. As she anxiously waits, she picks up a copy of Sassy, and my affection for Lea increased tenfold.
Don is almost an hour and a half late so Lea decides to call him. His mom answers and says that Don is with Marci. Lea then decides to call Marci which while dumb is also kind of ovaries-y (that’s ballsy, but with ovaries, duh). Marci answers and turns out it was a trick! Oh, Lea, I hope you pull a Carrie on these assholes.
Lea decides to call it a day and go to bed, but she hears strange sounds coming from the boarded-up room which is directly above her bedroom. At first, she thinks it’s just the sounds of an old home, but then she realizes the sounds are too rhythmic to be old house sounds. Creeped out, she eventually falls asleep.
Back at school, Don apologizes to Lea. He explains that Marci gets jealous. It seems Don has the perception they have a non-monogamous relationship while Marci sees differently. Anyway, Don scampers off after Marci. Marci later comes up to Lea and apologizes, but, of course, she’s just screwing around with Lea. Notably, Marci is described as full-figured which means she’s an evil slut. #horrorlogic
Another Saturday night, and Lea is watching Ghost. Lea thinks “Patrick Swayze is a real babe.” Admittedly, I thought the same thing, but my go-to Swayze movie was Dirty Dancing.
Lea’s parents aren’t home so obviously something terrifying is going to happen. She hears the tapping again and decides to go investigate. Once in the attic, she realizes the sounds are coming from the boarded up room. She presses her ear to the door, but it seems the tapping has stopped due to her yelling like an idiot. Then a whole lotta blood starts to ooze out from behind the door!
Lea books it out of the attic and calls Deena to come over. Deena is icked out because she had a terrible experience on Fear Street (from Wrong Number, Fear Street #5, which I just tracked down!). Lea also calls the police. Deena arrives and is convinced it was a dream. Lea takes her up to the attic and turns out there’s no blood to be found. Then, the police show up. (Fun fact: one night, when my parents weren’t home, an 11-year old me called the police when I thought I heard strange noises.) Lea explains she freaked out, and the cop leaves. Deena leaves, too. Lea goes to bed and hears the tapping again, but this time it sounds like “fingers on a drum” because apparently the attic ghost plays the bongos.
The next morning, Lea’s parents try to convince Lea it was a bongo-playing raccoon and not a ghost because her folks are way more understanding than mine were. (Mine were pissed. I tried to argue that they would have been more pissed had Leatherface murdered me, but, alas, they were not swayed.)
Several nights pass, and Lea keeps hearing the tapping. Finally, Lea is so fed up she decides to investigate. She goes up to the attic and tries to remove one of the boards, but then iron spikes shoot out the door at her! Lea gets the hell out of there.
Once downstairs, she hears the phone ring. It’s Don Jacobs. He asks her to come meet him at the mall. Lea is skeptical, but she also is freaked out and wants to get out of the house so she agrees. She arrives at the mall only to find Marci there with Don. Don like shrugs, and Lea admits to herself that “he’s really weak.” She realizes she wouldn’t have gone if she hadn’t been so terrified.
Once she gets home, she hears the tapping again, and showing what is becoming a characteristic mix of bravery and stupidity, Lea determines to figure out the source of the tapping once and for all.
Once up there, she thinks she hears crying which leads to the logical conclusion that there is a “young person” in there because only young people cry. Lea calls out and finally someone answers back by pleading for her to open the door.
Lea is like:
The room is all Victorian-y, and as my reference point for Victorian was always Samantha of the American Girl series, I probably pictured this:
There’s a ghost-girl about Lea’s age in the room with golden ringlets and a black velvet ribbon in her hair (important later). Ghost-girl really wants to touch Lea’s hair. Lea is like “no, thanks” and hightails it out of there.
Lea convinces herself it was a dream. She tells Deena about the “dream” and finds out that Marci is spreading rumors about her being a boyfriend-stealing slutbag. I’m just assuming those are Marci’s words.
Things lie low for a while, but then one day Lea hears a thud. Realizing it might not have been a dream, Lea goes up to the attic to find the boards torn off the door. She opens the door and once again finds the Victorian room.
The ghost-girl’s name is Catherine. Her parents locked her away in the attic because Catherine was born out of wedlock. Catherine eventually tried to escape, and they killed her.
Lea understandably panics and tries to flee, but Catherine grabs Lea by the hair and insists what great friends they will be. Mega-creeper. Anyway, Lea books it out of the attic to her bedroom where she grabs her stuffed toy, but oh, it’s eyes begin to glow red!
At school, Lea overhears Marci spreading rumors about her. Lea is pissed and wants vengeance. She decides the best way to do this is by scaring Marci so Lea decides to employ ghost Catherine in this endeavor.
Lea goes up to visit the secret bedroom again. Catherine apologizes and continues to obsess over Lea’s hair though she at least refrains from grabbing it this time. Catherine describes Lea’s hair as “interesting” because she has bangs. (Fun fact: this is historically inaccurate as bangs came into popularity during the Victorian era. According to Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s The Body Project, at the end of the nineteenth century, mirrors become commonplace in middle-class homes which led to the great teenage experience most of us took for granted – popping zits. Bangs became a way to conceal blemishes when make-up was still taboo for proper young ladies.)
Catherine shows some of her ghost tricks like fading and glowing. Lea decides now’s a good time as any to introduce her plan to Catherine. Lea wants to convince Marci that she has evil powers. Catherine is totally down. They are about to embark on their little journey when Catherine vanishes, and Lea feels a strange pressure in her body. Turns out, in order to leave, Catherine has to possess Lea’s body. Turns out, Catherine is also unfamiliar with consent, and this whole thing could be a metaphor for rape.
They walk over to Marci’s. Catherine is very excited to be outside, and Lea can hear and feel all this in her head. They arrive at Marci’s, Marci is a bitch, some ghostly hijinks ensue, but oh Catherine goes a little too far. She pushes Marci over the upstairs railing, and Marci falls to her death. Oops.
On the way back, Lea tries to determine if Catherine meant to kill Marci, but Catherine, with no hidden glee, insists it was a “horrible accident.” Then Catherine tells Lea that since Catherine helped her, Lea now owes her. Catherine wants to take over Lea’s body again. Lea gets the hell out of there and tells her parents who, of course, thinks she’s bonkers. She tries to prove her point by showing them the secret bedroom, but when she gets up there the door is boarded up again!
Her parents call the doctor. Turns out Lea has a terrible fever, and it was all just a fever-induced dream. Relieved, she cuddles with her stuffed toy, but then the eyes start to glow again.
Catherine appears in Lea’s room and in classic villain fashion reveals her dastardly plan: the secret bedroom is actually Lea’s bedroom, and Catherine did some ghostly mind magic that gave Lea visions of the blood waterfall, the iron spikes, and the attic room. Catherine claims the actual attic room is evil, and she boarded it up years ago. Catherine then possesses Lea who, weak from fever, can’t resist.
For the next few days, Catherine occupies Lea’s body. Catherine makes the perfectly rational decision to off Don. Catherine-in-Lea’s-body meanders over to Don’s, but her dastardly plan is foiled when future pedophile Cory Brooks of The New Girl and some other dude show up at the door.
Catherine and Lea leave, and Catherine reveals she pretty much plans to kill anyone who so much as looks at her wrong. Lea realizes her only escape is to learn what is in the attic room. As soon as Catherine leaves her body for a bit to do whatever ghosts do when not possessing bodies, Lea hurries up to the attic. She gets to work tearing down the boards. Catherine suddenly appears and tries to stop her, but Lea manages to get the door open.
The room is the same, but with two decomposing corpses sitting on the bed – like wouldn’t the bodies have long done that being over 100 years old? Or is that room really well preserved? Anyway, they start to stagger towards Lea because they are…zombies or something:
Putrid baggy clothes, the odor rising in a vapor decay, parts of them dropping off, bones falling to the floor.
Classic Stine gore. I love(d) this shit!
Catherine possess Lea again, and we learn that the corpses are Catherine’s parents. One of them grabs Lea by the throat and attempts to strangle her. Catherine then leaves Lea’s body, and the zombie parents turn on Catherine. Turns out Catherine killed them because reasons. Catherine’s zombie parents vanquish her with a really big hug then they all burst into yellow, sulphurous flame.
And Lea wakes up in a hospital. She had a 106 fever for three days. It really was all a dream! When Lea returns home from the hospital, she wants to check the attic, but her parents insist she rest some more. She finally gets the chance to sneak up to the attic where she finds the boarded up room. Relieved that it really was a dream, Lea returns to her bedroom, but wait…
It’s a twist ending!
Catherine’s black ribbon is sitting on Lea’s dresser.
Moral of the Story
Twist endings can lead to severe injury, physical and/or mental.
Haunted house, creepy attics, ghostly possession, Victorian zombie parents, evil Furby
Sassy mag, Ghost, Patrick Swayze, movie rentals, United Colors of Benetton
4 out of 5 for plot twists that fucked with the minds of 10-year olds experiencing their first existential crisis. Is this real? Am I real? Are you?