Friday, February 13, 2009

Chamber of Fear or “There Must Always Be An Evil Twin”

Another saga, near the end of the Fear Street run. This historical horror is OPENLY written by Brandon Alexander – as in, it says so on the copyright page if you look carefully. What does Fear Street look like with no input from R.L.?

It looks like an evil magician and his “chamber” of “fear.” Based on the front cover, I believe an owl may be involved as well. All of this sounds very promising ...

Carolyn ponders her beautiful mother’s mysterious demise while lying awake at night in the orphanage. She was killed while working as a magician’s assistant when Carolyn was two. Her father, who died before she was born, was a carpenter who built coffins. The year is 1842. Before you go thinking this is all too Dickensien for this book’s own good, this is a “good” orphanage. The woman in charge is elderly and kind, and Carolyn is happy here. She wants to stay forever to teach the lovely little children. Gag. Carolyn sounds like a nun – a classic romance novel heroine.

She discovers the next morning she is being sent into the employ of the man who her mother used to work for, a Mr. Fier, magician extraordinaire. Fier has always blamed himself for her mother’s fatal “accident” and took an interest in Carolyn’s upbringing at the orphanage. Now he wants to employ her as his servant – how deliciously generous of him. She has to go live with Fier at his estate of Owlhurst. The brave Carolyn has no choice but to leave her beloved orphanage. There are tearful goodbyes all around, except from Carolyn’s tarty best friend Liza, who tells her Fier is a murderer, and she should run away. Super supportive friendship behaviour.

Owlhurst is predictably covered with statues of evil owls (perhaps representing both wisdom, and evil). You can tell these aren’t Harry Potter owls. No one answers Carolyn’s knocks, so she wanders out back, and sees an old man forcing a boy her age into a black trunk. Okay, pretty fucked up, I wouldn’t want to know what kind of games they’re playing ... Fier sets the trunk on fire. Oh. It’s that kind of game. Carolyn freaks out, until the boy pops up behind her smiling. Just a trick! Wait ... no. They douse the trunk and the first boy gets out all sweaty and angry. I would be too if I’d drawn the short straw in that trick. They boys are the Fier twins, both devastatingly handsome. Not one, but two men for our nun? The real question is: which one of these twins is evil?

The Fier troupe calls themselves the Fearsome Fiers, and put on magic shows involving fire. Oh, Fiers, will you never learn? Carolyn first falls for David, because he’s all intense. This lasts a few minutes, until he shows her his room, which is full of nooses, coffins, and a working guillotine. Her love is fading fast. She’s probs just reacting to being around men for the first ime in her life. David wants to uncover the secret of death. Creep.

On her way downstairs, Carolyn sees an emerald door and goes to open it, but death-loving David tells her she’ll die if she goes in there. So they go find Marcus, the other twin, and Carolyn immediately falls in love with him, as he is the charming, fun-loving one. David is written off as a creep, and potentially the evil twin. She’s also introduced to Tess, the magician’s dramatic assistant, and Mrs. McGregor, the no-nonsense cook and housekeeper.

Her first night at Owlhurst, Carolyn’s mother’s ghost visits her, and takes her inside the emerald room. There is an evil looking coffin standing upright in the middle of the room, and her mother is sucked inside. Carolyn wakes up – only a nightmare. Or was it? She goes to see the room for herself, and sure enough, the evil box is standing there. She’s about to touch it, when David comes in, surprising her. She rushes back to her room, afraid she’s angered him. In her room, she finds a nice surprise – a redheaded woman in her bed. Carolyn figured Tess joined her that night so they could ... gossip. I don’t know, she’s pretty excited about a woman showing up unannounced in her bed ... the plot thickens on our nun.

Only it isn’t Tess ... it’s a life-sized doll that she had seen in David’s room ... yes, he has life-sized dolls ... This one’s head has been chopped off by a guillotine. So is this a macabre warning, or a fucked up come on? Not too sure about the crew at Owlhurst.

The next day, Carolyn tries to pretend everything is fine, starts her cleaning duties. Marcus shows up to distract her. Clearly he’s the good twin ... he shows her some magic tricks, and makes a rose appear for her. Swoon! He tells Carolyn there’s nothing to fear from the Chamber of Fear (evil coffin box), and takes her to see it. There is a legend that anyone who enters the Chamber goes insane or dies, and their spirit is trapped within forever. If you so much as touch it, you experience your greatest fear. Carolyn wants to prove how brave she is and grabs the handle. Suddenly water starts pouring in from the ceiling, slowly drowning her ... she wakes up dry on the floor, but wants nothing more to do with the Chamber.

Daily life starts to take shape in the Fier household, with Marcus flirting and David scowling, and Carolyn trying not to go near the Chamber. Until ... Tess has to leave the house, to visit a sick grandmother. Fier decides Carolyn will be an excellent assistant, and she unwillingly begins to help him and David with their tricks. Another assistant of the Fiers had been accidentally killed during one of David’s tricks. She’s afraid that David is going to kill her “by accident” when he does his crazy tricks – like that one with the girl in the box impaled by swords. But it turns out that David is actually quite nice, and has a sense of humour, he’s just very serious about his illusions. Carolyn starts to get closer to him ... I’m so confused as to who the evil twin is! David tells her that the accidental death wasn’t an accident – Marcus had done it on purpose. They were using a guillotine, and instead of bringing up the trick silk blade, he brought up the real blade, very effectively decapitating their assistant. Carolyn doesn’t know who to trust.

Marcus proves to be quite the creep by attacking Carolyn in her bed at night. Oh, no, he just wants her help, that makes it plenty okay to jump people while they’re asleep. He wants Carolyn to read his Latin books on the Dark Arts to find the secret to the Chamber, because apparently our little nun/orphan is proficient at Latin. They read all night until Carolyn finds the secret ... they must splash the blood of a murder victim over the box, in order to make it safe to enter and discover the secret of all magic. Marcus half-heartedly promises not to murder anyone, and Carolyn goes back to her room, only to find Tess’ body actually in her bed. She runs to the Chamber to find her mother (???) then passes out. Marcus wakes her up and tells her Tess isn’t dead, she just had a vision of it. Yah, right, I’ve heard that one before.

So has Carolyn, apparently. She just wants the hell out of Owlhurst, thinking she’d rather work at a textile mill then with the Fiers. Unfortunately, Marcus has started guarding her 24 hours a day, so she can’t get away. She must find another way ... which comes up when the Fiers decide to take her as their assistant to one of their shows. Carolyn thinks it’s her only way of getting away from them ... but that she might die in the process. Sad little orphan, what will you do?

They go to the performance, and Carolyn fakes passing out, saying she can’t go on. David flips out, saying she has to do it, but they decide they’ll have to get a girl from the audience. Carolyn sits in the house, waiting for her moment to get away, as a girl from the audience is chosen. The girl giggles and laughs all the up to the box she needs to get in. She stops laughing when David spears her with real swords, and her blood starts splashing out of the box. Carolyn is sure she was meant to die tonight, and runs ... all the way back to the orphanage. She gets away from Marcus, and thinks she’s safe back in her cozy little orphan bed.

Until the next morning Fier comes to get her, and her kindly guardian makes her go with him, because he’s a gentleman or some shit like that. The girl murdered the night before was deemed to be an accident – David was nervous and grabbed the wrong sword. So – kids will be kids? In 1842 you could shove a sword through someone because you were nervous, and that’s all good? Anyways, all the stuff Carolyn is saying about murdered assistants and rooms that trap spirits does sound like a lot of nonsense. So, back to Owlhurst she goes.

That very night, Marcus creepily wakes her up once again, telling her he needs to show her something in the Chamber room. She blearily follow him, but is revolted to find he’s brought a bucket of blood with him. It’s the girl who was murdered at the show the night before, he collected her blood afterwards, and since David technically murdered her, he hasn’t broken any promises! What a sweet guy!

The blood is splashed over the Chamber, and slowly the door opens, allowing Marcus to step inside. Then it flashes blindingly, and Marcus starts screaming. Oops, guess it wasn’t easy as all that. Fier comes running in, and is horrified to see Marcus step out of the Chamber, hair bright white and eyes blinded over, screaming (ooh, this reminds me of the Stephen King short story The Jaunt – it freaked me out so bad!). Skeletons grab him to pull him back in. Fier goes after Carolyn, saying that it wasn’t just anyone’s blood the Chamber needed, it was HER blood. Her father, the coffin carpenter, was a descendant of the people who made the Chamber, and so was she. He goes to kill her, but David steps in between them.

Creepy disturbed David was the good twin all along! Fier and Marcus had been working together to somehow murder Carolyn ... you think they could have just done it one night, who’s going to miss a little orphan? The whole charade of bringing her to an outside performance to “accidentally” stab her seems a little contrived. Anyways, David gets knocked out in the fight, and Fiers about to stab ... when Carolyn’s mother comes out of the Chamber, turns into a gross skeleton, and grabs him. He’s pulled into the Chamber and the whole thing bursts into flames.

Carolyn grabs David and they run out of the estate, as the whole thing comes down in a fiery mess. The Fier curse strikes again! All the spirits who were trapped in the Chamber float up in the smoke, and her mother’s smoke/ghost comes over to talk to her. She says that Carolyn’s ancestors made the Chamber, so it was good she destroyed it. And that there were more ...

I don’t know how I feel about this saga. On the one hand – historical horror/romance = awesome. And a chamber involving the secret of magic that makes you go insane – pretty intense idea. In execution, though, I didn’t believe. The Fiers were so effing dumb, and all of them were very creepy, even the good twin, it just didn’t do it for me. Do you know what this book needed? It needed R. L. Sorry Brandon Alexander. I give this 35 soul-trapping coffins out of 64.


A. M. Stine said...

OOO I love the Jaunt! Stays with you forever, right? Does anyone remember the name of the Stephen King short story where an oilslick sucks kids through a raft and eats them? Or did I make that up?

Chad Walters said...

That would be The Raft, found in the collection Skeleton Crew.

Anonymous said...

Was it sufficiently gothick?

Anonymous said...

the raft is also featured in the creepshow 2 moive