I’ve read Bentley Little * The Walking and I was enthralled by the prospect of another good horror novel, so I bought loads of Bentley Little novels, thinking I’m going to pick one up as the desire to read something grim and scary appears on my horizon. And it did. Pretty soon, I found myself looking at a cover of a haunted house and an evil-looking child on it. Yes. That would do.
The Japanese knew what they were doing when they started casting children as the object of terror in movies (The Ring, Grudge) and Stephen King did it too (Pet Semetary, The Shining, Children of Corn).
There is something scary about the idea that a pure representation of a child, all innocent, with no knowledge of the world, can be pure evil. Bentley Little went a bit further and created the corrupted idea of Donielle (also known as Dawn) – a girl of ten wearing a dirty shift dress, bare footed and with an innocent face. This girl is the creepy factor in the book as she appears unannounced in doorways, rooms, alleyways, lifting up her skirt and asking people to look at her genitals and perform crude sexual acts with her.
The creepy/murderous child trope goes back to The Bad Seed, from the most kid-centric decade, the 1950s.
Children are “innocents.” So the more they stray from that, the more frightening it is for all of us. For an innocent energy to be “taken over” is the gravest of abominations the world can reap upon us. Adults are expected to be corrupt and evil, in a way. Children are the last hope for good.
Dee Wallace, Actress, The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, Cujo, The Frighteners
Donielle is mean-spirited, cruel and a pure psychopath in the clinical sense. Besides being malevolent, she is dangerous when crossed and she kills a few. The book should have been called “The Girl” or “Dolls”. It was truly scary.
Five adults grew up in haunted houses and each had different recollections of a creepy girl they used to play with. As they reached puberty, the girl starts making increasingly disturbing requests – from burning ants, to skinning dogs and having perverted sex. Some of the guys / girls give in, the others are appalled by the girl and run away from the house to start a new life somewhere else. But now, something has happened and they start seeing the girl as she was when they were young. Their special others get killed or start behaving oddly and they get signs to return to the house of their childhood.
They needed to return to their homes and take care of some unfinished business. What that business was, they didn’t know.
Then we find out that the same Victorian house is in five different parts of the country and it’s a gateway barrier to some alternate reality. The five people go to their respective houses and then things morph so that they’re all together in the same house, which is now holding them prisoner. Without going into too much more detail, things started getting weird. And I can get into weird, but this weird was the same thing told five different times, over and over and over and…well, you get the idea.
They encounter their creepy butler from their childhood and he is the guardian of the house(s), making sure that the houses are always occupied and that the barrier between this world and the next is in place. Creating ritualistic acts (similar to the ones performed by “N”) like having breakfast at the same hour and dinner at the same time and not leaving the house.
Billings, the butler, is surprised to find out about the girl. The evil girl is a monster from the other side and she infiltrated the families in hopes to make them weaker and break the barrier. The five protagonists are scared (and for good reason) as the houses are filled with dangerous apparitions – there was a snake in the toilet scene which made me go for a tea.
Donielle is back and she gets the butler killed and is now going after each and every one of them. The houses split and they all find themselves as adults back into their childhood home, with their parents.
They use this occasion to talk it out with their parents, to come clean, to ask about the Girl and to find peace. But things go haywire when Daniel is killed by thugs possessed by beings from the Other World and the girl recruits one of the house guests to do her bidding.
I’m not going to spoil the ending too much but all I can say it’s filled with blood and gore but it also has some sweet spots like when two siblings meet (after one of them died) and the visits that Daniel makes to his grieving widow and child.
“The black room before him was the site of almost unbelievable carnage. Faces hung from hooks on the wall like hats, the drooping, sagging skin contorting their former shapes into stretched mockeries of human forms. Bones and skulls and pieces of flesh lay strewn across the blood-spattered floor next to a pile of discarded gossamer that looked like the empty bodies of the cloud-like ghosts he’d seen on the other side. Metal instruments that could only be tools of torture were scattered about the room.”
The crude sexual references are good shockers as well. You don’t want a horror story without some sex, no? No quotes here 🙂
The Barrier-like quality of the houses, sitting at the edge of the unknown, was also well described. Emotions and feelings and the re-connection with the parents, the strong bonds that make a family, is as much protection against the evil as showcasing a religious item to a vampire. As they say: best type of horror is the personal one.
“Infinite was illogical, the epic and the intimate were inexorably intertwined and while it might be hard to grasp and difficult to adjust to, a missed appointment could have as much consequence as the troop movements of an army a thousand soldiers strong. In the grand scheme of things, individual actions and large-scale events were both equally important.”
The bad bits
Some parts of the story grow repetitive and some plot points are never explained. How did the girl come through? What was she really? What’s the thing with the cheese in the sink and the rose sticking from it? What’s the point of the scene with the bald mom warming an empty egg like a bird?
Was Norton evil? Did he decide to stay in the house so he could bring something else out from the other side? Why were there dead people walking again but only in the Indian reservation?