Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
The Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise has come a long way since its debut in 2014. It started as a simple Indie horror and has blown up in an instantly recognizable titan that recently debuted its newest game, Security Breach, during a Sony event. There is no horror game franchise like it nowadays, especially as it expands its reach into other mediums of entertainment.
Which brings us to Fazbear Frights, a horror anthology series for young audiences. It features many of the characters and ideas from FNAF, along with a few new twists and original nightmares. While its continuity and how it ties into the main franchise is purposely loose, each book tells three creepy tales that stand on their own. It’s like the modern-day equivalent of things like Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark, or even Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
In the spirit of the spooky season, we will dive into the first book of the franchise, Into the Pit, and see how it all started.
Into the Pit
The first story of the Fazbear Frights series is a pretty solid start. It tells the tale of Oswald, a young boy who lives in what essentially is a dying town. After the big business that supplied almost everyone with jobs went under, everything changed with people leaving and other places closing down. His summer vacation was looking to be a long, painful slog with absolutely nothing to do and no friends. That is until he found a little surprise in the corner of his local grungy pizzeria, a ball pit from a bygone era.
What makes this story work is that it does well at establishing and building things. Oswald as a character is very well-written, feeling like a rather believable kid. He’s trying his best to deal with things, can be appropriately frustrated with life, just longs for something good or exciting to happen, and smart enough to figure how to act in the situations he finds himself in. The town itself feels real, and depressingly reminiscent of the real-world itself, from a child’s eye, watching it become this shell of its former self. The book is great with helping build this world, its characters, atmosphere, and mood. Even the horror, which sounds odd when read out loud and imagined, gets creepier the longer it goes on.
The story’s biggest weakness is in its pacing. Everything about the story works well with its setup, twists, and its climax in how they play out. All the parts are good and are effective, but the pace is off. It comes across like the story that both takes too long to get to the point, while also speeding through a lot of its events. At around sixty pages, the story could have benefited from either getting several more pages or maybe be expanded into a full book itself.
To Be Beautiful
The second story focuses on a young, teenage girl named Sarah. She longs to be beautiful, to fit in with the popular girls, and maybe hang out with this boy she crushes on. She has terrible self-esteem, only seeing herself as ugly and imperfect. That’s when she discovers a little thing abandoned in a junkyard that promises to give her exactly what she wants. Of course, something like this must be too good to be true.
Of all the stories, this tale feels the most bog-standard and predictable of the bunch. After reading only a few pages, it feels like almost any reader can tell exactly where this is going and how it’ll play out; girl wants to be beautiful and fit in with the popular crowd, girl finds a way to do so, something happens where the girl learns a lesson, and so on. Yes, something horrible and freaky does happen, but it still plays out how one could guess regardless.
The story is not helped by the fact that Sarah is boring, and it takes a long time to get anywhere creepy. She’s less well-rounded, only laser-focused on becoming beautiful and thinking about beauty. There’s very little else beyond that with her. The horror element doesn’t kick in until nine pages before the ending, so it feels tedious. Now, when the horror does happen, it is messed up and disturbing to read with how it is described. That’s when things get really good, which is a shame since it is almost over. It feels like the horror part of To Be Beautiful should have been more evenly spaced throughout the tale instead of saved until the end.
Count the Ways
In a shakeup to the format, the final story of the first volume tells the tale of Millie, a goth girl with a love of the macabre. In the present, she is trapped inside of this strange animatronic who is looking to help end her life with various, nasty suggestions. Through flashbacks, we see her current life and how it led her into this particular situation, from loneliness to heartbreak.
Count the Ways is the most different in the Fazbear Frights series due to how it’s told. As such, it gives the reader a fresh and unique experience that is decent. It’s menacing and off-putting in the present while the flashbacks help build up Millie in her own lonely, sad state. It leans heavily into teen angst in these moments, but with the story always switching back and forth, the reader never has to linger too long on it and can get back to the more off-putting parts of this tale; the cartoonishly, mean-spirited attitude of the animatronic.
Speaking of which, Millie as a protagonist. She is a much more flawed protagonist than the last two, constantly in a mood and trying to always act superior as a person who’s above everything. She barely gets along with anyone, pushing away others and rarely letting them get close. A goth with a focus on death and depression, she can be a bit annoying, but also real in a lot of ways. The story does hint enough at why she is depressed and why she is that way, making her more understandable and sympathetic, especially the more terrified she gets.
The horror side of things is different. While the villain is certainly off-putting and creepy, going on about the ways a person can die or methods of execution over the centuries, it is not what makes this unique. The horror lies in the build-up and tension, since you don’t know what will happen and if the character will get out of her not. It just keeps building and building, going on this long, eerie climb as Millie gets worse and worse. The ending doesn’t help matters either, being far more ambiguous than other tales do.
At the very end of the book is an epilogue involving a new character named Detective Larson, who is assigned the case of Stitchwraith. This is sort of a recurring feature in the series, setting up this odd, mysterious figure and legend around them, while also tying back into a previous story in that particular volume. There’s not a lot to say about it by itself, but it does serve as an excellent hook to intrigue the audience in coming back for the next volume.
The first volume of Fazbear Frights is a very solid start to this small series. While the middle tale is weaker than the others, the overall package does provide plenty of scares, creepy moments, and surprises to keep any kid sucked in. The writing is fairly decent most of the time and none of the characters ever grate on the reader. For kids and fans of the franchise alike, Into the Pit is definitely worth a look.