Do you remember the first time you wandered into a bookshop, thrift store, or antique mall as a child and discovered the chilling majesty of Christopher Pike? For me it was reading his early work from the Scholastic kids genre imprint, Point Horror. Both Slumber Party and Weekend were perennial rereads during my childhood. Taking the slasher genre and translating it to the chapter book format was the horror entry point that I’d always dreamed of. And even when the more visceral experience of blood-splatter-filled gore-fests became part and parcel of my life, I never stopped reading Pike and his contemporaries like Caroline B. Cooney and R.L. Stine.
These books were so formative to me that I’ve gone out of my way to find copies of them to reread and revisit as an adult. In the lead up to Netflix’s The Midnight Club adaptation, I’ve been doing just that. It feels impressive just how influential many of Pike’s works still are. As the author of the monthly Nerdist Reading List, I get the chance to read all kinds of books. And one of the biggest contemporary trends is YA horror novels. While we are now blessed with a far more inclusive lineup of authors with all kinds of lived experiences, the impact of retro kids’ horror storytelling like the works of Pike can still be deeply felt in the current rush of YA horror.
It’s impossible to talk about Pike’s work and not mention the incredible cover designs which are still iconic today. Painted illustrations of young kids in dire danger, beautiful locales, and haunting strangeness, cut through with brightly hued, embossed titles. Pure book magic. And under those covers surprisingly dark and mature stories, sparked the imaginations of many-a-horror fan. Though in 2022 there must be the caveat that some of the stories didn’t age particularly well, though many did.
As a child, exploring horror is a way of making sense of the world and learning our boundaries. In Pike’s works he gives readers a chance to do just that, reimagining the trappings and tropes of classic horror stories and films for younger readers. The Slumber Party introduces a group of teens returning to the scene of a terrible accident in the hopes that this time their trip will be less tragic. Of course, things don’t go their way as their past begins to hunt them down. A killer’s quest for revenge features in many of the iconic slashers like Friday 13th and I Know What You Did Last Summer, itself based on a YA horror novel. The Slumber Party also uses strange crank calls ala When a Stranger Calls and Black Christmas, working as a primer for kids who want to explore horror and its patterns.
Remember Me was probably the first time I really interacted with supernatural horror after finding a copy in a second hand bookstore. The concept of a girl solving her own murder from the afterlife blew my mind. It’s also something we’ve seen again and again in contemporary horror. Both the time loop slasher antics of Happy Death Day to the recent (and very entertaining) How to Survive Your Murder offer twists on the concept. I would later try my own version for a school writing project, though the effects were far less enjoyable. This isn’t to say that Pike was the first to do such a story, but that for many young readers his versions were our entry point into some of horror’s most fun and recurring story archetypes.
It’s interesting then that Netflix’s huge upcoming Pike project is not one of his classic takes on horror tropes, but is in fact his most subversive and surprising story of all. The Midnight Club is one of the author’s most original and powerful works. Set in a home for children with terminal illness, the original cover promises readers another And Then There Were None inspired slasher as a hooded figure looms over the seated children. But the book itself delivers something entirely different: an esoteric meditation on life, death, and the great beyond. It’s an exploration of mortality and fear, along with friendship and the power of stories. When we revisit the brief but affecting horror now, it makes a lot of sense as a project for Flanagan. The filmmaker has made a career of delivering emotionally driven and unexpected horror—to take on.
Netflix’s upcoming adaptation is another reason to revisit Pike’s impressive collection of stories. Flanagan’s take on The Midnight Club will follow the classic book’s setup. A group of young kids meet to tell scary stories and ultimately make a pact that the first who dies must send a sign to the others from beyond the grave. But in an interesting twist—similar to Flanagan’s previous adaptations—it will also fold in other Pike stories. Presumably the tales that the children tell will be based on famous Pike stories. That’s an extremely exciting prospect.