For the past 20 years, R.L. Stine has made a fortune scaring children. His Goosebumps series is the second-bestselling book collection of all time, trailing only the Harry Potter books. Aside from Stephen King, Stine is probably the most famous horror writer in the world, especially now that many of his first readers are in their thirties, which opens up a new market: With the maturity of his early acolytes, the Goosebumps auteur has ventured into adult fiction—first with Superstitious, and now with his latest, Red Rain.
After weathering a massive hurricane on a small South Carolina island, travel writer Lea Sutter takes two orphaned twins home with her to Long Island. Her husband, Mark, and children are suspicious, but Lea’s determination convinces the family to adopt the boys. Once situated, the twins begin a rampage of destruction, using demonic abilities to hypnotize or kill anyone in their way. It’s clear from the first page that they’re evil, but Red Rain amps the tension by making them monstrously powerful, and seemingly unstoppable.
Stine knows his way around a horror plot, but very little in Red Rain rises above the workmanlike writing he showcased over the years in his Goosebumps and Fear Street series. Evil twins have been a trite concept since The Shining, and Stine does nothing here to change a stock idea. But the boys are just one example of the lack of originality throughout Red Rain. The book is laden with overused genre tropes (nubile coeds, murders that frame the wrong person, etc.), making it more a horror-novel cutout than something scary in its own right. Instead of trying to find new ways to create chills, Stine simply points at his characters and says, “Look! Evil children with powers! That’s scary, right?”
Stine’s other scheme for shocks in Red Rain is to go heavy on gore. There’s a lot of murder in Red Rain, and it always involves dismemberment and burnt flesh. The grisly scenes are stomach-turning, but it’s lazy to simply use revulsion to frighten. A burnt corpse is disgusting, but Stine is content to merely point that disgust out, instead of capitalizing on what makes charred human remains unnerving.
It’s a shame Stine so quickly falls back on tropes, since the beginning of Red Rain suggests he has something original, and scary, in mind. Lea’s time on the mysterious Le Chat Noir island is genuinely spooky, especially when she witnesses a bizarre quasi-pagan ritual where men commit suicide, only to be brought back to life moments later. The island, where the dead coexist with the living, is interesting enough to deserve its own series, but is quickly set aside in favor of the Stephen King-esque Northeast setting of Lea’s home. By the end of the book, the island is an afterthought, the catalyst for the story, and nothing more.
Stine had the beginnings of a unique book, delving into a world that mixed voodoo and the real-life disaster of hurricanes together into a frightening whole. He squandered that possibility, instead opting for obvious plots and piles of gore. The result is resoundingly mediocre. Stine is a competent enough writer to make sure the book is never terrible, but he does nothing to distinguish Red Rain from the pack.