I remember around the time Nightmare Hour came out, because I was at the stage in my life where I started to outgrow young adult books. By this time, I'd already slogged through Stephen King's It and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon; Goosebumps was in the rearview mirror, man, and I was motoring towards the adult horror section of the bookstore.
But that didn't stop me from picking up R.L. Stine's collection of short stories, because I still had an affinity for the author and I wasn't one to pass up a good scary tale regardless of whether it was meant for kids or adults. Luckily for me, Nightmare Hour featured tales that were almost exclusively focused on Halloween - so even if I was a little too grown-up to be reading kiddy fright rags, at least I could enjoy the numerous mentions of my favorite holiday.
I didn't remember any of the stories when I found the collection on my bookcase this year, so I decided to re-read the selections for the season to do a quick post on them. We'll call it Halloween Hijinks.
There are ten short stories in this collection, all of them including introductions by the author at the start of the story. At the time, I was considering writing as a career, and the introductions from Stine were a nice way to get inside the head of a published author. Now, however, they feel like the tall tales of an uncle who's trying to impress his neice and nephew.
Each of the stories is told from first person point-of-view; it's scarier for the child because they're placed in the protagonist's shoes, but it also gets a little overused at times. Still, there's a reason why these books are meant for young adults - as grown-ups, we tend to overthink the fantastical, and that's exactly what I did throughout all of these stories. "There's no way a guy could keep stealing children and planting them in his garden like pumpkins!" I exclaimed as I read the story "Pumpkinhead". "There's a system of checks and balances to insure the wrong patient isn't given the incorrect procedure!" I shouted after reading "I'm Not Martin".
But you know what? Nightmare Hour is fun simply because, and it's also a book that unflinchingly puts its protagonists in terribly grim situations. Most of the time, they don't even make it out alive. That's surprising for a book meant for even younger audiences than the Fear Street series, but it also gives the younger reader a spark of excitement. There's real danger for these protagonists, and life isn't as safe as children tend to think.
But it helps that Halloween is a topic in some of the stories. "Pumpkinhead" involves picking out a pumpkin for the holiday; "I'm Not Martin" takes place in a hospital on Halloween. These are superficial references, sure, but at least it adds an ambiance to the book. Some of the other stories don't mention Halloween but feel as though they could happen around the time, especially the atmospheric story "The Dead Body".
Nightmare Hour is a good book to read in between mouthfuls of Halloween Oreos, underneath the dim orange and purple lights in your dark living room. For adults, it's probably not going to have the allure like it does for children, but your enjoyment is only limited to your own imagination.