What if I told you that the skeleton, broken doll and book title are all beveled and embossed?
If you’ve ever read a mass-market fiction book from the ’80s, you’ll recognize those details. Much like a soft white cover–with an oval cut out of it to reveal a hand painted portrait of a shirtless guy and a swooning woman–will let everyone know that a book is about fucking… that embossed skeleton on black background tells the ’80s reader exactly what they’re getting into.
What you’ve got here is a cheesey premise sketchily linking together a bunch of horror-ifying scenes. Seriously. Just look at that list of Tags down there. This thing hits all the bases. And it executes them all
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? This book even starts like a joke. Two nuns are smoking pot in a secret garden. I shit you not. That’s your opening chapter. When they hear children’s voices screaming in the ol’ abandoned mine nearby, they run off. Probably in search of Scoob and the gang.
Meanwhile, some overly religious patron for a super-secret-definitely-not-shady-charity-organization finds the town’s local school principal, and tells him that the organization he represents wants to give two high-risk students, and two high-achiever students, a shiny, new, FREE COMPUTER. There’s absolutely no strings attached, except that the organization must remain secret, and is absolutely not shady in any way. Don’t worry, they’ve never even been to Ogdenville or North Haverbrook.
Enter the Four Kids. By some incredible coincidence, the two highest academic achievers in Local School just happen to be in a secret We-Love-Shit-Disturbing-With-Science Club with the two highest-risk kids. They’ve named the club The Cougars. The membership includes Divorced-Mom-With-Stepdad Boy, Coddled-Good-Student Boy, Smart-But-Jealous-Of-The-New-Baby Girl and My-Mother’s-A-Whore Girl. We’re introduced to them as they try to Frankenweenie a neighbour’s cat because they’re sure it’ll work because they’ve got some kind of switch or something.
Well, once these innocent but misguided kids get a hold of their shiny new computers, they discover that they’re not nearly as lame as FREE COMPUTER might imply. They come with an awesome War Game–literally titled War Games–that awards points for treating POWs cruelly (but unfortunately has nothing to do with Matthew Broderick). The graphics are amazing. If that’s not enough, there’s this awesome Private Tutor that can talk, listen and
project subliminal messages see what’s going on. It gets the kids to hook up the phone-line into the back of the computer, and offers them helpful advice like “WOULDN’T YOU BE HAPPIER IF YOUR STEPFATHER DIED?” and “KILL THE DOG.”
So, some terrible shit happens. One of the nuns gets sent for Electro-Shock Therapy, which (SURPRISE!) turns out to be at the hands of a rapey lunatic mad psychiatrist who has a snake tattooed on his dick. The kids get compu-brainwashed by, as it turns out, elongated blue Alien-Human Hybrids being managed by a complete asshat human who’s selling out the rest of humanity to a crash landed alien who lives in a bubble. Parents die, kids are tentacle raped, and the day is saved by a kid with a mean streak and colour-blindedness. In the end, unwilling to face the consequences of step-patricide, one kid flies off in a space ship, presumably to bully the kid from Flight of the Navigator.
All in all, this thing runs the complete Sci-Fi/Horror gamut. You’ve got your completely tacked on religious characters to provide the Religion-Is-Mind-Control/Science-Creates-Mind-Control comparison. You’ve got a guy selling out the world for money. You’ve got a human weakness triumphing over superior technology. You’ve got tentacle rape. You’ve got an abandonned mine turned into secret society/military facility. You’ve got kids acting like adults. You’ve got SUBLIMINAL MESSAGING. And there’s more. It’s like a shitty American Horror Story up in this bitch. If you can think of a trope, this has got it covered. Poorly.
But… that’s why the book works. The 80s was all about novels with Way-Too-Adult Content “definitely not” being written for–but still being read by–Young Adult audiences. Maybe today we rail against the violence present in The Hunger Games… but in middle school I was reading Stephen King as he stuck a clothes-pin on a dick, or cut a guy’s balls open with a straight razor. So, as I said in the opening, what you get here is exactly what you should expect. Even on those grounds it’s more cheesey and hilarious than scary… but that’s exactly what these black, embossed skeleton covered novels always delivered.
Unfortunately, even the best of this kind of regurgitated chum can really only rank at