Moonlit Terrors: Dark Moon and Bad Moonlight 

Darkness and shadows conceal a wide range of terrors in ‘90s teen horror, so it would stand to reason that when the moon is full and there’s more light in the darkness, that would be better, right? Not exactly. Sometimes light dispels the darkness but other times, particularly when that light comes from a full moon, it just serves to help us get a clearer look at these horrors—and in some cases, creates totally new ones. This is certainly the case in Diane Hoh’s Nightmare Hall book Dark Moon (1995) and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Super Chiller Bad Moonlight (1995). 

In both of these books, the full moon is a catalyst for power and violence. Dark Moon centers around a campus and community Founder’s Day festival at Salem University. The town and university collaborate to host a week-long event commemorating Salem University’s founding, which includes a kickoff parade in downtown Twin Falls, a week-long fair on the Salem University campus with rides and game booths, and dances to close out the festivities. There doesn’t seem to be any town/gown tension here, with a committee of students and townspeople working together to organize and put on this ambitious schedule of events. The committee is chaired by two Salem University students, one of whom is freshman Eve Forsythe. Eve is intense, in large part because she was raised by a demanding single mother and in their household, failure was not an option. Eve’s father left her and her mother when Eve was nine years old, telling his daughter “this man’s breaking out of jail, and the warden there… says you can’t come… I just hope you have the strength to escape one day. Don’t wait too long, honey” (10). While this is certainly a dramatic and traumatizing thing to say to a child, he doesn’t seem to be wrong. Eve’s mother demands perfection and Eve’s life is rigidly structured, with straitlaced expectations that follow Eve to Salem University, including her mother’s demand that Eve major in accountancy rather than graphic design and Eve’s tightly bound hair, which is a frequent touchstone throughout Dark Moon as a signal of her uptight repression. Even far from the daily influence of her mother, Eve has internalized these expectations and brings this seriousness to her role on the Founder’s Day celebration committee, worrying that “The whole town will blame us if something goes wrong” (18).

And of course things start to go wrong almost immediately. No one really seems to have thought through the challenges of traffic control and parking for the parade kickoff, which causes some early headaches, though that seems an incredibly minor inconvenience when one of the horses in the parade goes wild, throwing his rider and kicking another student in the chest when he tries to intervene. Alice, the girl who was thrown by the horse, dies. The kicked student ends up in the infirmary with broken ribs. While it initially seems like it could have all been just a tragic accident, the planning committee has to rethink this assumption when they find out that someone intentionally tampered with the horse by putting a sharp burr under his saddle blanket. This seems like a pretty good reason to increase security or at least suspend the festivities for the evening, if not cancel the festival altogether, but that’s not the call the Salem University administration makes. When the dean of the college calls the planning committee into her office, she tells them “canceling the planned events will not bring [Alice] back. I have also spoken with her parents. Although they are distraught, they have assured me that Alice herself would have wanted the celebration to continue. Therefore, I have decided that we will dedicate the entire week to her memory, and use a portion of the carnival funds to establish a scholarship in her name” (33). While a memorial scholarship is a lovely tribute to Alice, this all comes together remarkably quickly, over the course of just an hour or two, and seems to entirely gloss over this intentional act of violence. 

Wandering through the festival later that same night with Garth Draper, a young man from town who helped catch Alice’s horse, Eve decides to try out the Mirror Maze, though this quickly becomes a much more personal attack, as she is separated from Garth and a low voice begins to taunt her, saying “Eve. That’s not the way out … It doesn’t matter that you’re going the wrong way … Because you’re never going to get out of here … Not alive, anyway” (58, emphasis original). The voice continues to threaten her as mirrors begin to shatter along the corridors, with the damage getting ever-closer to Eve, who sustains a nasty cut on one leg and an impaled earlobe from the flying glass. Despite the deadly start to the festival, no one seems to take this attack on Eve all that seriously and as the week goes on, the unfortunate “accidents” continue to pile up: another student named Boomer is hospitalized when one of the rubber-tipped darts at a game booth is switched out with a metal-tipped one and he gets stabbed in the chest. There’s a mechanical failure with the Ferris wheel, which spins out of control, hurtling riders from their cars. The same stalker who terrorized Eve in the Mirror Maze chases her through the festival grounds and when Eve hides in one of the roller coaster cars, they set the coaster going in the hopes of throwing Eve from the ride. But still, the Founder’s Day festival must go on, apparently. 

While there’s understandably a lot of stress about this Founder’s Day festival violence, Hoh also includes brief chapters from the perspective of the person orchestrating this mayhem. As we get a glimpse into the attacker’s perspective, it becomes clear that they wholeheartedly believe that their power to wreak destruction comes directly from the moon. As they directly address the moon early on, following their attack on Eve in the Mirror Maze, “I know you’re watching, Moon. Helping me out. We make a great team. Thanks. I did good, didn’t I? Stay tuned. This is just the beginning. There’s much more to come, I promise” (63, emphasis original). There are repeated, overt discussions about the potential power of moonlight because many of the student committee members enrolled in the same parapsychology class, and there’s a lot of tension between the believers and the non-believers. Eve is firmly on the side of the skeptics, which actually further enrages her attacker, who doubles down on targeting and attempting to kill Eve. 

After a couple hundred pages of speculation about who’s doing this and why—is it Garth, the handsome new love interest? Is it Eve herself, having some sort of psychotic break?—it turns out that it’s actually one of the student committee members named Serena. Serena has been mostly in the background of the story, hovering around the edges of discussions, just one face among many. However, it turns out that Serena believes she has used the power of the moon in the past to first kill her mother and later, her best friend, though it turns out that this “power” pretty much boils down to the fact that Serena looked at the moon and wished these two people dead, and then they died, which she wholeheartedly believes is a direct result of her intent. Serena was temporarily off the suspect list because she almost fell off the madly spinning Ferris wheel and while many people might interpret this near-death experience as proof that the moon doesn’t wield the protective power that Serena has been banking on, she rationalizes this by saying “I knew I couldn’t die. I knew the Moon would save me” (200). 

Eve and Serena have their final confrontation in the attic of Nightmare Hall. After Serena knocks Eve out and drags her body there, Serena explains that the motive behind her violence was two-fold: Eve made fun of the mystical power of the moon and Serena felt like she should have been the head of the Founder’s Day festival committee. These seem like odd reasons to commit murder, but they’re hers and she might have a bit of a point at least about the first one, because Eve continues to make fun of Serena even as Serena is attempting to kill her, telling Serena to “not be so melodramatic. It just sounds silly” (202). When Eve catches on that Serena is actually going to kill her, she crawls out onto Nightmare Hall’s precariously affixed fire escape. Eve warns Serena not to come out onto the fire escape, which won’t hold their combined weight, and when Serena comes charging out anyway, certain that the moon will once again protect her, Eve gives the fire escape a shake and Serena plummets to the ground three stories below and dies. After this traumatic experience, Eve does seem to gain a bit of self-awareness, telling Garth that “tomorrow, I need to think about some of the things Serena said up there in the attic. Maybe some of it made sense” (211). Whether this will come to anything is uncertain, but there’s at least the possibility that Eve will open her mind to others’ beliefs and be a bit more kind. 

While Serena’s belief in the power of the moon is delusional, in Stine’s Bad Moonlight, the moon’s power is supernatural. Bad Moonlight is firmly situated within the context of werewolf mythology, as main character Danielle Verona inexplicably finds herself eating raw meat, growing coarse hair, and losing awareness of where she goes and what she does on nights when the moon is full. Stine keeps the bait and switch going throughout most of the book, giving readers plenty of opportunities to doubt the veracity of Danielle’s perceptions and question her sanity, particularly in how she is coping (or not coping) with the death of her parents and her struggles with therapy and hypnosis, which becomes further problematized when it turns out that her therapist, Dr. Moore, is part of the werewolf pack that is working to claim Danielle. 

Bad Moonlight negotiates werewolf mythos in interesting ways. While the moon plays a role in the werewolves’ transformation, it doesn’t seem like a person becomes a werewolf by being attacked or bitten—instead, they just have to be willing to tap into their own violent potential and embrace their inner monstrosity. This is explored through Danielle’s violent nightmares and the rebellion inherent in the central group of characters being an up and coming all-girl rock band that includes Danielle, Dee, Caroline, and Mary Beth. Their music is wild and cutting-edge and Danielle finds herself channeling this intense energy to write lyrics like “Bad moonlight, falling over me, / Bad moonlight, shining down on me” (50), which the crowd loves (or at least Danielle thinks she’s channeling this renegade energy—she later finds out all of the songwriting work she’s so proud of are hypnotic suggestions she got from Dr. Moore). This rough and tumble rock and roll lifestyle also includes unpredictable interpersonal band dynamics, hiccups with gigs and rehearsals, and (horrifyingly) a range of male characters who attempt to force themselves on the young women in the band, while simultaneously claiming to act as their protectors. This virtually unknown band inexplicably has a manager (Billy), a roadie (Kit), and a driver (Joey), all of whom are men and all of whom accompany the young women to each performance (and seem to be at every practice and band meeting too, with the young women given no opportunity to speak privately among themselves about their goals, plans, and dreams for the band). As a result of this troubling behavior, all three of these men are suspects from the very beginning, first for the violent attacks that kill Joey and Dee and later, as leader of the werewolf pack. In the end, the leader of the pack ends up being Kit, who has actually behaved in the least horrifying ways, seeming to genuinely care for Danielle, treating her kindly and not belittling her fears, proving once again that in ‘90s teen horror, the bad guys are bad, but so are most of the “good” guys. 

While Danielle and the others cut the guys a ridiculous amount of slack, they don’t have the same sympathy for Dee, who was the sole lead singer of the band before Danielle came on board. Dee and Danielle don’t get along and the default assumption is that this is because Dee is angry about having to share the spotlight, jealous of Danielle’s voice and popularity, and later, because Kit likes Danielle better than Dee. Dee repeatedly tells Danielle that she doesn’t belong in the band and she ought to quit, even physically attacking Danielle at one point. Dee is the least sympathetic and most overtly hostile of the characters in Bad Moonlight and notably, she is also the only BIPOC character in the whole book, reduced to a caricature of an Angry Black Woman, right up until she gets murdered and slashed to bits by the werewolf. When Danielle finally figures out the truth, she realizes that Dee was trying to warn Danielle and keep her safe. This is something almost no one else had the guts to do and Dee died because she tried to help Danielle, which retroactively reframes Dee as a hero, though she remains an underappreciated one, with this reality almost a footnote in the mayhem of the book’s final werewolf confrontation. 

Another troubling element in Bad Moonlight is Danielle’s own uncertainty about what she’s capable of, her agency, and her control of her own actions. She suffers from invasive traumatic thoughts, many of which are drawn from her parents’ deaths in a car accident three years ago (though Danielle later finds out they were actually killed by werewolves, collateral damage to clear the path so Kit could claim Danielle as his bride after seeing her at a random rock concert and deciding she was the one for him. Rock music is just dangerous all the way around). Throughout the book, Danielle identifies these thoughts as “violent, terrifying fantas[ies]” (16), which seems a bit misleading, since she isn’t intentionally indulging in these ideas and derives no pleasure or enjoyment from them. In addition to a hallucination of the band’s van crashing over the side of a cliff, echoing the false description she has been given of her parents’ accident, she also has violent thoughts of chasing animals and attacking Dee. These thoughts make Danielle doubt her own sanity and safety, including whether she may be a danger to others and responsible for the violence around them. Some of this odd behavior blurs over into real life, as the full moon starts to exert its influence on her, and Danielle finds herself eating raw meat in the grocery store and licking blood off of her little brother Cliff’s cut arm. Danielle isn’t sure whether or not she can believe herself, so she turns to others to tell her what’s true, putting her trust in Kit, Dr. Moore, and her Aunt Margaret, who actually turn out to be the head werewolf, the head werewolf’s dad, and a werewolf in disguise who killed the real Aunt Margaret to take custody of Danielle and Cliff after their parents’ deaths (Danielle hadn’t seen Aunt Margaret since she was a small child, so apparently this imposter was able to just kill the real Aunt Margaret and slip into her place undetected. I guess there weren’t any pictures of Aunt Margaret in the family albums). Danielle can’t turn to her bandmates for help either, because they’re all werewolves too, turned by Kit to form a loyal pack. There are literally werewolves everywhere

While Danielle is relieved to learn that she hasn’t actually attacked or killed anybody, when she is captured and surrounded by the werewolves, about to be forced to marry Kit, she actually has to tap into this potential for violence in order to survive. There’s no mention of silver bullets or any other traditional approaches to lifting the curse, just the fatal option of fighting violence with violence. While Billy hasn’t been particularly useful throughout the rest of the book, in this final confrontation, he advises Danielle to “Raise your eyes to the bad moonlight … Go with it. Let it happen … Let the moonlight take you. You will know what to do” (189). While Danielle is still horrified by the possibility of violence and uncertain about what it will mean for her sense of self and identity if she becomes a killer, she doesn’t see any other way out of her predicament. She does as Billy says, which leads to an incredibly odd werewolf fight scene. Danielle turns into a werewolf and bites Kit’s throat, which is pretty straightforward, but the aftermath gets weird. As Danielle turns back into a human and looks at Dr. Moore, “His entire body began to quiver and shake … His arms flew up and his body shook even harder. And then parts of him began flying off … Dr. Moore’s arms flew off his shoulders. His ears flew away from his quivering head. And then his head flew apart. Danielle covered her mouth as it splattered on the ground” (193). They literally explode, with body parts flying everywhere. It’s memorable, but it doesn’t make a ton of sense, and there’s no explanation for why this happens. Their pack leader has been killed and these explosions seem to have an incomplete domino effect: Kit and Aunt Margaret undergo this same gross and inexplicable disintegration, with bits and body parts flying everywhere, but for some reason, Billy, Caroline, and Mary Beth are transformed back into their human selves rather than exploded like the others, grateful that Danielle has set them free from their werewolf curse. Since Danielle became a werewolf because she was willing to give into her violent desires (rather than suffering a traditional werewolf attack and subsequent curse) and Kit is now dead, presumably she just won’t be a werewolf anymore, which seems an almost unbelievably convenient solution.

The power of the moon plays a significant role in both Dark Moon and Bad Moonlight, though this takes two really different forms, with Serena’s delusions in Dark Moon and a whole pack of werewolves in Bad Moonlight. In both cases, however, the belief in the power of the moon is a driving force behind the stories and in the interpersonal conflicts within them. Themes of light and shadow abound, not just in the presence of the moon itself, but within the characters, as they explore the parts of themselves they keep in the darkness, whether that’s Serena’s belief in her own destructive powers, Eve’s shaky process of self-actualization, or Danielle’s capacity for violence. Under the light of the full moon, anything is possible. icon-paragraph-end

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