Is that a chill I feel in the air? As a kid, we all knew what cooler days meant: back to school! New sneakers, unsharpened pencils and shiny new textbooks, oh my. While I don’t remember the last time that I had a new textbook – which speaks to my age more than I’d like it to – I still remember the anticipation of a new school year. Over the years, I’ve had plenty of folks in the young adult fiction world to keep me company when gearing up for a brand new year. Harry & the gang at Hogwarts, Kristy, Claudia and the rest of the Babysitters Club, Meg Cabot’s many teen heroines, the list could go on forever.
As the years ticked by, I shifted to the likes of Fear Street and Point Horror, which brought me to one of my favourite adolescent discoveries: Nightmare Hall. A spinoff of the Point Horror series (written by prolific young adult authors like R.L. Stine, Caroline B. Cooney and Christopher Pike) Nightmare Hall was authored in it’s entirety by Diane Hoh, who set the series at Salem University, a fictional school that seemed to have more supernatural and spooky occurrences than an entire season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
What Was Happening at Nightmare Hall?
My love of the series was much like my love of many things as an adolescent – great but fleeting. I plowed through several novels in the series, but never stopped to actually ask the fundamental question: How is all of this happening at one university? Perhaps this is simply a school where bad things happen, but that explanation seems too simple. My reading leads me to believe that something more sinister resides in the empty hall, overlooking the university campus. But whatever could it be?
Is the school sitting on a burial ground? A portal to hell? What is it about the hall that makes people so fearful?
Unfortunately we may never know for sure; tracking down an interview or any information from the author herself proved fruitless for this lover of young adult horror fiction. She hasn’t published a new title since the late 1990’s, and lives quietly in Austin, Texas. Maybe she’s investigating something strange and unusual in her hometown, writing more teen thrills and chills… or maybe she’s just enjoying her retirement.
These books were escapism at its finest, filling my young mind with the potential fears of college, and what might be waiting for me in just a few years. I will admit however, that these books are very niche; very much written to thrill a young audience. They were almost a taboo subject, to be read in the dark of your bedroom away from the prying eyes of parents and teachers. We talked about them with our friends, but not our folks.
As I’ve gotten older however, I’ve seen more and more of the legacy of these novels. We’re entering a resurgence of the love for teen spooks, with Netflix releasing a trio of Fear Street films as early as 2021, and HBO Max actually developing an anthology series based on the Point Horror novels.
Nightmare Hall will always remain one of my favourite fictional schools to explore; following Quinn on her sleepwalking adventures in The Night Walker, or Delle discovering a grisly secret about the cheerleading squad in The Scream Team. And with our generations voices entering the film industry more and more, who knows? Maybe someday soon, we’ll all be attending Salem University, and staring up at the looming figure of Nightmare Hall perched on a hillside. It’s where the terror begins…