Recap #124: Nightmare Hall #8: The Experiment by Diane Hoh (Nola Thacker)

cover of Nightmare Hall - The Experiment by Diane HohTitle: Nightmare Hall #8: The Experiment

Summary: Professor Maximillian DeLure. Award-winning poet, scientist, and professor at Salem University. Dark, sexy, attractive…dangerous. Caryl Amberly is excited to be one of the few students specially selected for his new seminar. Until she finds out what his previous students think of him. Everyone says he’s a real killer. And they’re not talking about his exams….

Tagline: None.

Notes: I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall.

Initial Thoughts

I’ve been procrastinating when it comes to this recap. We’ve once again got Nola Thacker doing ghost-writing duties, and I’m simply not a fan of her work in this series so far. Possibly in general. Sigh. Here we go.

[Wing: Normally, I try to go for the original cover, but I’ve been dreading this cover, which has a spider in that window frame part. So … have this cover instead. I couldn’t handle seeing the other one over and over. Sorry.]


The prologue has the Professor admiring a female of the species. She’s a killer, and that’s why he’s attracted to her. A third predator stands outside the window, watching them. Only time will tell who will live and who will die: the observer, the Professor, or THE SPIDER. Considering that Thacker has written prologues that have fuck all to do with the rest of the book means I don’t place much stock in this opening.

[Wing: *sobbing* This is going to be terrible. I haven’t had to deal with this sort of crap since Arcadia #4: The Attic by T. S. Rue.]

The casual ableism gets cracking right in the opening chapter where Caryl Amberly is told that she is crazy for being attracted to Professor Maximillian DeLure, because he’s a killer. This coming from her best friend, Anna Singh. Caryl agrees that she’s crazy – crazy for the Professor. [Wing: Oh, good, ableism and inappropriate student/teacher feelings. This is off to a great start. Also, how do you pronounce Caryl? Is it like Carol? Is it like Car-lyle? I need to know.]

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 points

Caryl watches Professor as he leaves Griswold Hall. He’s the biology professor at Salem University and also a poet. He wears a black patch over one eye. Professor’s student assistant, Nicholas France, hurries out of Griswold Hall, calling after the Professor. It would seem Anna has a crush on Nicholas. She introduces Nicholas to Caryl. Caryl sees that he has a small scar near his hairline. Nicholas tells Caryl that she reminds him of someone. He tells the girls that the notices about who successfully applied for Professor’s “Experiment: Poets and Scientists” seminar should now be in the mail. Caryl and Anna go to the Salem University post office. Caryl goes to her mailbox, undoes the locks, reaches inside, and starts screaming.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 point (seriously?)

It’s just the antics of Ben Cage, a slight boy with a mop of reddish-brown hair who works at the post office. How he got his hand inside the mailbox from behind is beyond me, but oh well. He gives Caryl her mail. She discovers she made it into the seminar. She and Anna go to Morte par Chocolate to celebrate. Wow. Real subtle, Thacker. We learn that you had to submit your own poetry to get into the class, and only 12 students were successful. At the café, we meet Perri Biddle, and it quickly becomes apparent she’s supposed to be the mean, shallow girl. Caryl is very Judgy McJudgypants about Perri, thinking that her dress style is trashy. Later, she even thinks to herself a nasty comment that people could learn what sort of person Perri is by reading comments on the bathroom wall. Yuck. You’re just as bad as what you’re telling us Perri is, Caryl.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 10 points

Caryl ponders how a stupid, trashy, horrible person such as Perri could have gotten into the seminar. Then she recalls what she knows about Professor. Or should I call him Max? His poems are dark, intricate puzzles, full of pain and violent images. What a turn-on! There are rumours that he was once married and had a child, but he’d killed them both. Or that he’d never had children, but driven his wife mad and had her put into a mental institution; that she’d gouged his eye out while trying to escape him. But Caryl doesn’t think Professor is a madman. Only in the way that all great poets were supposed to be mad. [Wing: This is such a bullshit idea, that madness drives creativity. It can. People who have mental illness can also be incredibly creative. But there’s this idea that being crazy is truly a great thing because it makes you creative, and that is a dangerous load of shit that can lead to the idea that people shouldn’t pursue treatment because it will take away their creativity. That’s some of the irrational fear that kept me from pursuing treatment for so long, and I nearly died for it. Here’s another take: No, Untreated Mental Illness Isn’t the Sign of Artistic Genius.]

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 5 points

So she decides to go pay him a visit to introduce herself. She finds her way to his office. The door is ajar. She pushes it open. Professor is seated facing a window. She notices an aquarium, where a fish is repeatedly throwing itself against a mirror suspended in the water. So Professor likes to torture animals. Sexy! Caryl tries to introduce herself. Professor turns around in his chair. He demands to know who she is. She asks him to do something about the fish, so he removes the mirror. Then he tells her to run for her life: “That’s right! That’s right, my pretty. Run! Run! Run for your life!”

What the fuck is this shit? Page 27 and I’m not sure I have the strength to go on. [Wing: Damn it, Thacker. I really love your writing as Tom B. Stone. Why can’t you be better here?]

Of course, when Caryl tells Anna, back in their dorm, Anna says Professor is crazy.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 15 points

Perri shows up randomly to be mean.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 11 points

Anna and Caryl discuss what happens, with Caryl saying he’s not crazy, Anna telling Caryl maybe she’s crazy, and Caryl wondering if, yes, maybe she is crazy. So I’m just going to call it now, and that way I don’t have to do a counter every 10 seconds.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: INFINITY

[Wing: This might be one of the fastest times we’ve hit that number. Fuck off, Thacker.]

All of a sudden, in the next scene, Caryl is at the indoor pool. She’s swimming, but the pool seems much bigger all of sudden. And she realises she’s being chased by a giant, monstrous creature, and can hear Professor’s voice going, “Swim! Swim, my pretty! Swim for your life!” Because that’s just what we need right now: a gratuitous dream sequence (and a stupid one too). Page 33 and I already loathe this book.

Finally, the day of her first class with Professor arrives. As Caryl heads there, she is approached by Ben, who asks her to come see Night Of The Living Dead with him. After first deriding his taste in gory, violent movies, she agrees. While sitting in class, she recognises a few students, particularly Dare Winters, with his blue eyes and black hair. [Wing: Tell me that’s a fake name. COME ON.] The Professor arrives and launches into his class, and Caryl is mesmerised by him, making the scene in his office feel like a distant memory. After class, it seems as if the assignment they have been given is to watch a cat or dog for an hour…or something. Dare asks Caryl if she knows a place, and she suggests Prospect Park, where dogs can be let off their leashes. [Wing: Was this a recurring theme in 80s and 90s YA? Because I can think of at least one other book off the top of my head where the assignment is to watch animals for awhile.] Perri shows up so that more catty remarks between her and Caryl can be exchanged.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): 20 points

When Dare says they should go together, Caryl is thrilled, and happy with her life. But the chapter ends ominously, as it tells us she wouldn’t be so happy if she had seen the figure emerge from the post office, watching her, eyes full of rage. Lazy writing there for a rather pointless cliffhanger.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 points

The next morning, outside the post office, even more catty exchanges between Caryl and Perri are thrown around. So I’m just going to call this one now, to save me the pain of doing it over and over again in the remaining 120 pages.

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): INFINITY

Caryl goes to her mailbox, opens it, and pulls out a soggy envelope, with her name and box number on the front. When she opens it, out falls a dead red fish with black markings. For some reason, Anna is suddenly there, and retrieves the dead fish – and a note:

Roses are red / Violets are blue / Guess what I’m going / To do to you

Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m going to fucking kill you: 20 points. Hahaha. Almost word for word!

[Wing: Oh damn, that is close. I’m also super entertained to see this. It’s been awhile since we had threats in rhyme]

Anna asks if Caryl has any idea who might have done this. Caryl suggests Perri, of course, but then remembers Ben is one of the only people who knew about the incident in Professor’s office. Really? When was he ever told about that? I certainly don’t remember Ben being given the details about that encounter. God, this book is so lazy.

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1 point

Since Ben works at the post office, Caryl finds him and confronts him, but he denies it vehemently, and she eventually accepts that he’s telling the truth. Despite being unnerved at not knowing who is sending her threats, she traipses off to Prospect Park. She and Dare watch the dogs, and get along famously. She tells him about what’s been happening to her, and they share a kiss. They agree to a proper date on the weekend. Perri shows up AGAIN, but thankfully no bitchy barbs are thrown around.

At the next class with Professor, Caryl gets her assignment back, with Professor writing “excellent” on it. Nicholas tells her she’s the rare student who “gets” the Professor and appreciates him. After class, Professor calls out for Caryl, telling her she’s a rare talent, and introduces her to the chairwoman of the science department. That night she goes on a date with Ben, and they go to see Halloween. She holds his hand throughout the whole movie, and once they’re back in Ben’s car, he’s all over her. Caryl tells him she only sees him as a friend, and he gets really angry, saying he knows she’s into Dare Winters, and that she can’t cheat on him like that. He’s grabbing at her, calling her “Mine”, so she escapes from the car and runs away.

I beat you because I love you: 1 point

Ben chases her in the car, before getting out and chasing her on foot. Caryl scrambles over a fence, with Ben grabbing her foot. She kicks him away, and falls over the other side. She keeps running. Basically, she finds herself at Nightmare Hall and meets Giselle McKendrick. That’s all I’m going to recap about it, because it’s utterly stupid and doesn’t belong in this book. [Wing: …why is this here, Thacker? WHY? Continuity or something? Because it doesn’t fit and it slows the pacing.]

Back at her dorm, Caryl takes a bath, and recaps what has happened so far to herself, and tries to reason which of her “friends” would want to hurt her.

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 1 point

Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1 point

Dare calls her and confirms their date for the weekend. [Wing: Why isn’t this book called Carly and the Thirty Dates?] They go to see a poet, and afterwards go to a party at The Kennels. Their conversation exchange kind of makes me like Dare, silly name aside. He’s probably the most likable character in the book, although that’s a pretty easy title to claim. Perri shows up AGAIN to be bitchy. That INFINITY counter sure is coming in handy when it comes to Caryl and Perri. Good grief. Caryl returns to her dorm (at The Quad, I should mention), and goes to find Anna to discuss her date. Anna reveals she was at the party too, where she ran into Nicholas.

At the end of the next class with Professor, Caryl is called aside by Professor, who wants to discuss her latest assignment, as he was impressed by some of her observations. They start walking to his office. Nicholas comes over to them, wanting to discuss his assignment with Professor, saying he needs to redo some his experiments (remember, Professor is handily the Biology professor). Professor effectively gives Nicholas the cold shoulder, and goes into his office with Caryl. They return to discussing her assignment.

“The rest of the afternoon flew by, until the Professor reached up to turn on his desk lamp, looked at his watch and exclaimed, ‘The time! I must go.’” They were talking about her assignment that whole time? Or something more kinky? The book doesn’t suggest anything of the sort; I’m just bored. Professor walks Caryl to her dorm. Before she goes inside the building, the gets the feeling that someone is watching her. She decides to go to the Quad café for a coffee and to study. The place is deserted, which she is thankful for. Seated at a table with her coffee, she grabs her bag, and her notebook falls out. She flips through to the last page, where a message has been scrawled in black:

Star light, star bright

She’s the teacher’s pet tonight

But when the sun begins to rise

Teacher’s pet is going to die

Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m going to fucking kill you: 40 points

[Wing: By god, if the Muffin Man is in this special poetry + science class, that class is clearly a sham.]

She overturns her chair and dashes out of the café, “heedless of the stares and whispers that followed her.” Two pages ago, we were told the cafe was deserted!

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 10 points

She goes to Anna’s room, where they discuss who could be responsible. Perri and Ben were both at the party at the Kennels, where she put her bag under a sofa, so they would have had the opportunity, and they both have reasons to hate her. By the very nature of this genre, I’d say it’s neither of them. Caryl refuses to notify authorities. She tries to find Ben at the post office, but he’s called in sick. So she heads to Professor’s office. He’s not there. She starts to leave a note for him, asking for his help.

Why? What can Professor do that campus security can’t?

She abandons the note, and notices the door, a heavy door with a curious ornate handle. So she decides to investigate. Why are you trespassing, Caryl? Why aren’t you keeping this door locked, Professor? He probably should, because it’s like his own private laboratory, with beakers, aquariums, terrariums, tubes, and jars containing things in formaldehyde. In one terrarium is a tarantula the size of her hand, eating a live cricket. In another terrarium is a coral snake. Creeped out, Caryl makes to leave, but the door handle turns under her hand, and she stumbles backwards. She hits something, hears glass breaking, and then the door slams shut and the lights go out. [Wing: Please don’t be going where I think you’re going, book. Please.]

The door appears to be locked. She beats against it, screaming for help, and hears somebody on the other side laugh. She’s been trapped in the laboratory deliberately, with things crawling, slithering and creeping around her. It’s hella creepy, though would a Professor be allowed to keep deadly venomous pets such as tarantulas and coral snakes? I’ll let it slide, because the sequence genuinely freaks me out, and it’s nice to have an effectively scary bit, at last, after 100 pages.

She feels like she’s in there forever. She thinks she hears footsteps, but nothing happens. About to lose consciousness, she throws herself at the door, and this time it flies open. She escapes the lab, and is about to leave the office, when she runs into Dare. He’s come to drop off an assignment early. They’ve had, like, three classes. How many assignments can there be? The two are then discovered by Professor and Nicholas. The Professor looks furious as Caryl explains her story and shows him the notes. He says he’ll take care of it, and gets Nicholas to clean up the lab. Apparently, Caryl broke the terrarium with a tarantula in it, and she’s lucky she didn’t get bitten. Yikes.


When Caryl drops by Anna’s room, there are several girls there, pigging out on food. They talk about Nightmare Hall and name-drop Giselle, and Caryl realises she was talking to a ghost that time. Whatever. The next few days are apparently a nightmare of Caryl thinking she’s being followed. One afternoon, Professor catches up with her to assure her the notes are being investigated. A little while later, Nicholas catches up with her, insistent that she come with him, grabbing her arm and everything. She eventually goes with him. He takes her to Professor’s office, and pulls a picture out of the bottom drawer. Caryl wonders why Professor has a picture of her.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 points

The picture is actually of Claire DeLure, Professor’s daughter! Nicholas says Professor is the way he is because of Claire – because he killed her. Instead of hanging around to learn more, Caryl runs away. It’s not specified how much time later it is, but Caryl is in bed, and Anna wakes her up to tell her she has a phone call from Nicholas. Anna refuses to lie for Caryl and tell Nicholas she’s not there. Caryl takes the call, and Nicholas insists they have to speak – it’s a matter of life and death! Caryl tells him she’ll talk to him at Morte par Chocolat the next day at 1pm. After the phone call, Anna accuses Caryl of hooking up with Nicholas despite knowing that Anna is into him, and tells Caryl that she hates her. Sigh. [Wing: Thacker, why are you so good at friendships for the younger kids and so shitty when it comes to teenagers and young adults?]

At the meeting with Nicholas, he tells Caryl that Professor was in a car accident with his daughter. It killed her, and is how he lost his eye. I’m not sure how that equates to murdering her, but anyway. Nicholas says that he thinks Professor has snapped because of Caryl’s resemblance to his dead daughter. Caryl refuses to believe him, and Nicholas warns her not to do anything crazy. As Caryl dashes from the restaurant, she runs into Dare. He goes with her to class. She takes a seat up the back, obviously now unnerved by Professor. Perri takes Caryl’s normal seat next to Dare. Caryl thinks about who could be doing this to her, yada yada yada. She even suspects Dare, because he’s always conveniently nearby. Maybe he has a dark side. Maybe he’s truly crazy, yada yada yada. Professor starts handing out envelopes with some readings for them. Caryl sees Nicholas, and he seems surprised to see her in class. Then a horrible shriek fills the room. Perri jumps up, knocking her desk over, crying out she’s been bitten, and falls to the floor like a corpse.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 points

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 1 point

Perri’s been bitten by a tarantula. [Wing: WHAT FUCK NO THIS IS NOT OKAY THIS BOOK IS SCARRING ME FOR LIFE.] Holy shit. Professor tells Nicholas to call an ambulance and for them to bring tarantula antidote. I’m creating a counter specifically for the Nightmare Hall books:

This place deserves a lawsuit: 1 point [Wing: Good addition!]

Caryl realises the spider was meant for her, because Perri was in her seat, and can finally rule out Perri as a suspect. I’m not sure how much time has passed, but Caryl has a couple of pointless nightmares. She looks out the window, and is pretty sure she can see a person-shaped shadow on campus, watching her. It’s a long time before the shadow slinks away.

The next day, she goes to the post office, where she receives another note.

Every move you make

I’ll be watching you

You’re the next to die, Carol

And there’s nothing you can do

Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m going to fucking kill you: 60 points

[Wing: Terrible poetry AND plagiarism. This Muffin Man is super good at whimsical threats.]

She rounds the corner of the post office and sees Anna and Ben, heads close together, deep in conversation. She wonders if they’re working together to drive her crazy. Then she runs into Dare. He tells her that Perri is alive, and they think she might make it. Caryl shows him the latest poem, and he remarks that he wonders if the spider bite was an accident, or if it was deliberate, but not meant for Perri. Then he walks off. Sigh. Why is everybody in this book such a bag of dicks? Anna sees this and comes over to taunt Caryl, then says they can’t talk because she’s still too angry. Again, everyone in this book is awful.

Caryl makes an appointment to see Professor between 8 and 9pm, as this is one of the nights he keeps evening hours. How convenient. She heads over, and the door is ajar. Caryl steps inside. Professor is in his chair, facing the window. She swivels the chair around. Professor is dead. His face is grotesquely distorted and unnaturally shiny and red. His tongue protrudes between his lips. His patch has lifted, exposing the empty socket. Looking down, she notices he clutches an empty vial in his hand. Caryl screams, turns around, and Nicholas France is there.

He’s delighted that Professor has killed himself. He tells Caryl that she played right into his hands. Nicholas believes that Professor committed suicide out of guilt because he caused his own daughter’s death, and Caryl’s presence exacerbated that guilt. Nicholas blames Professor for Claire’s death too. He was in love with Claire. He was a university student and she was in high school. Professor hated Nicholas and forbade Claire to see him. So one night Nicholas picked her up to take her away so that they could be together. Professor gave chase, and they were involved in a wreck. Professor lost his eye. Nicholas was severely injured, and horribly disfigured. He got to choose a new face. So he then tracked Professor down, who didn’t recognise him, and became his most loyal student, while he plotted his revenge. He wants to make it look like Professor was obsessed with Caryl, before finally going crazy and killing her, before killing himself.

That’s some major soap opera bullshit going on there. Disfigurement? A whole new face? Stretching it, even for this genre. Although, to be fair, Caryl noticed Nicholas had a scar when she first met him, so Thacker obviously didn’t pull this out of her hat. But it’s still totally Bold And The Beautiful territory. [Wing: It really is! And that one scar seemed very small earlier, so I’m not sure I can handwave all of this.]

As Nicholas comes at her with a rope, Caryl notices Professor lift his head. She tries to warn Nicholas, but he thinks she’s faking. When Nicholas wraps the rope around her throat, she falls towards him, rather than away from him, momentarily surprising him, and letting her slip her fingers between the noose and her throat. With a free hand, she lands a punch in his face. Around the same time, Nicholas’ throat is now in the grip of Professor’s hands. Caryl blacks out and “dies”.

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 3 points (Caryl and Professor)

When she comes to, Dare is conveniently there, like he has been through the whole fucking book. Professor is alive and well, and explains all. He apparently noticed there was something off about Nicholas from the get-go. When he saw the notes, he knew who Nicholas really was. He was the madman who had kidnapped Professor’s daughter and caused her death while trying to escape with her. He then came to Salem to get revenge on the person he blamed for her death. Didn’t you know such a thing was a logical thing for a madman to do? Well, thanks to Professor, now you know.

Once Professor realised who Nicholas was, he decided to deal with him by himself this time, to ensure he wouldn’t hurt anybody again. Instead of, you know, going to the police. [Wing: I mean, psh, who needs the police in a Nightmare Hall book.] Professor drank a potion he’d come across in his studies that produced a zombie-like state (he’s drinking the antidote as he tells Caryl this utterly ridiculous explanation). He anticipated Nicholas’ response, notified the police, and waited for Nicholas to act. But Nicholas acted faster than he thought. Or something. Fortunately for Caryl, Dare had also had suspicions about Nicholas, and came to check things out.

Yeah, real convenient. Why is it, in some of these books, certain folk are clued in as to what is happening but do fuck all about it until the very last minute? You get a lot of it in adult books, as well. For example, the detective who says, “I suspected so-and-so for a while but kept quiet to make sure I was right.” I came across the same sort of thing recently in The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. It’s such bullshit. I try to avoid such things in my own writing, but I’m beginning to think, if everybody else gets a free pass, why can’t I? [Wing: Because it is lazy writing and you are better than that? I understand the temptation, though. Writing would be far easier and less stressful if we could just do that lazy writing.]

Anyway, Nicholas is now catatonic, and Caryl even feels sorry for him, but Professor gets angry, saying he doesn’t deserve anybody’s sympathy. He then apologises to Caryl: “My dear Caryl, I am more than sorry than I could say for your sufferings in all this. Had I seen any other way to proceed, I would have.”


Let’s get this straight: Professor DeLure has figured out his student assistant is the same guy who kidnapped and killed his daughter. Instead of going to the police, he decides to take a potion that turns him into a zombie, hoping it will totally freak Nicholas out and make him catatonic, but leaving him helpless to assist anybody who might drop by? Was this his plan? Can anybody explain this one to me? Holy fuck, that goes beyond the realm of stupid, into some sort of bizarro-land that makes my brain hurt.

But all is well and good. Professor assures Caryl he wasn’t misleading her about her writing talent, she says this has been the hardest class she’s ever taken. Dare tells her that she definitely passed.

Final Thoughts

Well, that was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Relentlessly stupid, from beginning to end. Cheap foreshadowing, pointless supernatural activity, gratuitous dream sequences, horrible characters all around, and a climax that helps the story escalate from dumb to utterly ridiculous. It’s got to be one of the stupidest, laziest things I’ve ever read. Did I say it was stupid? Nola “Hack” Thacker is slowly but surely killing my brain cells more effectively than any big night on the beer ever will!

[Wing: Thacker’s characters always seem to carry the idiot ball and/or show up conveniently when they have no reason to be there, at least when it comes to her teen and young adult characters, and I do not understand it. Her writing is GREAT when ti comes to the Graveyard School series, and yet these have consistently been terrible.]

Final Counts

He’s dead! He’s dead! HE’S FUCKING DEAD! … oh wait, he survived: 3 points

Roses are red, Violets are blue, I’m going to fucking kill you: 60 points

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 points

This place deserves a lawsuit: 1 point

Continuity? Fuck that shit: 10 points

I beat you because I love you: 1 point

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 1 point

Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 1 point

I hate the hot chick! (And she hates me.): INFINITY (although Caryl does think about sending Perri a get well card right at the very end)

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: INFINITY