Check out the latest from R.L. Stine—A Midsummer Night’s Scream, out on July 2!:
It was a horror movie that turned into real horror—three young actors lost their lives while the camera rolled. Production stopped, and people claimed that the movie was cursed.
Sixty years later, new actors are venturing onto the haunted set. In a desperate attempt to revive their failing studio, Claire’s dad has green-lit a remake of Mayhem Manor—and Claire and her friends are dying to be involved.
At first, Claire laughs at Jake’s talk of ghosts and curses. He’s been too busy crushing on her best friend Delia to notice that she’s practically been throwing herself at him. What does he know? And anyway, this is her big chance to be a star!
When shooting starts, though, the set is plagued by a series of horrible accidents—could history be repeating itself?
“We’ll Slice Her in Half”
Back in 1960, Mayhem Manor was built on the back of the studio lot on a wide, empty field that wasn’t being used. It was meant to be a movie set, but the carpenters built an entire house with solid walls and floors and stairways that led to a basement and a second floor attic.
It was designed to look like the scariest haunted house ever built. The ceilings are low and cracked, and giant spiders and tarantulas hang down on long strings from a tangle of silvery cobwebs. The stairways are narrow and winding, and the steps are steep. The floorboards squeak and groan.
The windows are narrow and dust-smeared, and sunlight slants in at odd angles, never seeming to brighten the room. The house feels cold even under the brightest sunlight on the warmest summer days.
The furniture is heavy, old, and dark and covered in a powdery layer of dust. Big iron candelabras hang on the cracked, stained walls, and a giant chandelier juts down from the ceiling of the front room like a fat, black insect.
I feel a chill every time I step inside. But all the equipment and wires and lights and digital high-def cameras and crew members scurrying around help remind me that it’s a movie set, not a haunted mansion.
Delia and I stepped into the vast front room and let the cold air rush over us. My eyes adjusted slowly to the eerie darkness.
The dining room had been totally transformed into a movie set. A tall scaffold stretched high above the long table and held a catwalk jammed with lights and camera equipment. I saw two guys in denim overalls hoisting themselves up the narrow rope ladder to the catwalk.
Delia tripped over a clump of cables, and I caught her before she fell. Two crew members were setting the dining room table. The clatter of china and silverware was drowned out by shouting voices. A boom mike swung over our heads. Digital cameras were being moved into place.
I saw our director Les Bachman arguing with two of the camera operators. Les waves his hands a lot when he talks and always seems frantic and angry. He’s a big, blustery guy who wears big, loose sweatshirts and baggy, unwashed jeans and likes to bump you and invade your space when he talks to you. I’ve heard some crew guys call him Hurricane Les.
But everyone seems to like him and respect him. Mom says he’s the top horror director in Hollywood—mainly because he horrifies everyone who works for him. I told you, Mom is a riot.
“Claire, check it out.” Delia elbowed me.
I followed her gaze. Annalee was on the far side of the room. She was cozying up to a tall, red-bearded crew member. She kept touching the front of his t-shirt and smoothing her hand on his shoulder as she talked. The guy seemed to like it. He had a big grin on his face.
Annalee spotted us, let go of the crew guy, and came running over. She was wearing a pink, very low-cut top over white shorts. She almost knocked me over, wrapping me in a hug. Like we were long-lost sisters or something.
“Isn’t this exciting?” she gushed. “Can you believe it? We’re in a movie?” She backed off, nodded at Delia, and straightened the top of her blouse, which was almost down to her waist.
“It’s Lana’s big scene today,” I said. “But look at her. Does she look thrilled? Not.”
Lana huddled by the catering table with her co-star, Jeremy Wade, who plays Randy. She looked totally stressed. She kept flipping through the script, stabbing her finger at different lines. Jeremy had his arm around her waist and kept nodding his head solemnly.
“Jeremy keeps looking at me,” Delia whispered. “I think he likes me.”
I figured Jeremy just wanted to get away from Lana. But I didn’t say anything to spoil Delia’s fantasy.
“Jeremy is so sweet,” Annalee said. “I just love him. He and I have so much in common.”
Oh, wow. Please kill me now.
She squeezed my hand. She had to be the touchiest person on earth. “Claire, I’ve been texting you. About your birthday party. I want to help. What can I do? Why don’t you come over, and we’ll sit by the pool and toss ideas back and forth? I’d love that. I have all kinds of ideas for you.”
Annalee, I don’t even want to invite you to my party.
“Yeah. Thanks,” I managed to say. I pulled my hand free from her grip. “My parents are planning most of it. It’s going to be a huge deal. You know. Here at the studio.”
Her face twisted into a pout. “But you’ll let me know what I can do? I really want to be there for you, dear.”
Thank you, dear.
I know I sound catty. But trust me. She’s a terrible person. She’ll cling to you like a leech if you let her get too close. Why do you think Delia hadn’t said a word? She knows Annalee, too.
“I’m so pumped,” Annalee said. “I’ve been practicing my screams. I’m getting really good at it. I practiced them with Jake last night.”
My breath caught in my throat. “You were with Jake last night?”
She nodded. She had an evil grin on her face. She knew what she was doing to me. “He’s so awesomely adorable… isn’t he?”
Now I wanted to scream.
It was going to be a day of a lot of screams. Les Bachman wanted to get something difficult out of the way. So he decided to shoot Cindy’s horrifying murder first.
The writers wanted to improve the scene from the original script. In our version, the six teenagers are in the dining room. Randy and Tony get into a shoving match. They bump the dining room sideboard. A sword falls from the ceiling and slices Cindy in half.
“Cutting off a hand is too tame for today’s audiences,” Les explained to us all during rehearsals. “These days, you have to slice a whole body.” He shook his head. “Give the audience what it wants, right?”
Of course, it would be different from the original film. The slicing would all be done with computer graphics.
I shivered. It was freezing cold and damp inside the house. I wished I could pull on a sweatshirt or something, but I wasn’t supposed to mess up my costume or my hair.
I raised my eyes past the catwalk to the high ceiling and saw the two crossed swords hovering over the long dining room table. Seeing those swords made me shiver again. Nothing had changed in this house in sixty years.
And once again I saw the moment in the original movie when the sword dropped from the ceiling and cut off Cindy’s hand. Cut it off so neatly. So cleanly… clean until her blood started to pump out like a fountain.
A horrible death. Right here. Right where Delia and Annalee and I were standing.
And we were about to do the scene all over again.
Delia gave me a gentle elbow poke. “Stop thinking grim thoughts,” she said.
“Excuse me? Since when do you know what I’m thinking?”
“I could see the look on your face, Claire. Stop stressing. Everything’s going to be okay this time. You’ve been listening to Jake too much. It’s all going to be digital this time, right?”
I raised my eyes to the ceiling. “The swords are still up there, Dee. Lana is going to be sitting right under them.”
“Get over yourself,” she said. “History doesn’t always repeat itself. This time, it’ll all be fine.”
“Places, actors,” Les shouted. He waved us onto the set with both hands. “Look alive. This isn’t a zombie movie. Yet!”
A few people laughed at his lame joke. We all hurried toward the dining room table.
“Okay, let’s set you in your places,” Les said. “We’ll block this out and try a few run-throughs.”
Annalee stepped up to Les, fiddling with the top of her blouse. “Where am I, Les? Over by the end?”
Before Les could answer, I heard a man scream from above. “Hey—look out!”
I gazed up in time to see the sword fall. No time to move. It shot straight down. The long blade gleamed in my eyes—until it sliced down over Annalee.
“Noooooo.” I shut my eyes and opened my mouth in a screech of horror.
A Midsummer Night’s Scream © R.L. Stine 2013