By: James A. Moore and Jeff Strand
Release Date: October 1, 2007
Horror novel The Haunted Forest Tour was co-written by James A. Moore and Jeff Strand, two authors with significant writing skill and a plethora of novels to each of their names. Moore is an award-winning author of more than forty novels. Strand has also written upwards of forty novels and has been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award ten times. Here, the pair come together for a creature feature of epic proportions.
The story opens in a small town where enormous, fully grown trees have begun sprouting up around town. One appears in a front yard, another popping up right through a front porch. Before much can be done, homes and businesses are being destroyed, and an enormous forest now stands where a town stood only yesterday. This mysterious, unreal forest is, of course, quickly turned into a tourist trap. After a few years, a tour of the “haunted forest” is established, where visitors ride a tram-like system that keeps them safe from the mysterious monster-like inhabitants of the forest.
The majority of the novel is centered around this tour, following one tour bus in particular as things quickly go from strange and spooky to outright deadly. Chapters shift at times, showing the events occurring at the visitor’s center and edges of the forest as those on the outside begin to realize that something has gone terribly wrong.
The cast is composed of quite a large ensemble, split between the bus and the visitor’s center. The number of characters can feel a bit unwieldy, and many don’t have much substance to them—there simply isn’t time to expound with the very splattery nature of this horror novel. Many characters fall within stereotypes: the sexist one, the dumb one, the hardened military one, the terrified one, etc. This leaves many of the characters much less memorable than they could otherwise have been. While this can’t necessarily be helped in some situations—the splattery nature of the tale means that many characters aren’t exactly on screen for any length of time—many of the main and secondary characters that also wind up feeling a little less fleshed out than expected.
The tale starts out with a wild but extremely fun premise. As the story continues, it tends to get a bit over-the-top, even for a creature-feature horror. The oddities and mystery of the forest as seen in the prologue are quickly swept away and broadly accepted as fact, removing the naturally built tension and palpable suspense that immediately draws in the reader within in the first chapter.
The start of the tour itself is well-crafted. Odd happenings slowly build, and monsters that were thought to have been well-studied and understood act out of the norm. Suspense builds extremely naturally in this section. However, the inevitable happens very quickly, catapulting the story into what feels like a premature first climactic incident.
This is the book’s greatest Achilles heel—it wants to be everything at once. The odd, unexplained forest and mystery surrounding it is cleared up almost immediately. The fear of the unknown and suspense built in early chapters, something so expertly handled, gives way to what will obviously be a creature feature that includes plenty of gore almost as quickly.
This creature feature includes almost too many monsters as well. Every monster under the sun is in here, including dragons. Many have roots in traditional horror, legends, and mythologies, and while these can and are often quite terrifying both in myth and modern stories, none are given enough time on the page to really establish themselves. The monsters often feel scary because they are monsters, not necessarily because they are doing scary things. Even then, some of the monsters aren’t truly terrifying in any way, an odd thing to say in a book about monsters chasing hapless humans.
In the end, The Haunted Forest Tour is a novel that is entertaining but doesn’t have the lasting power the opening chapters promised. Characters blend together and monsters are interesting but not quite frightening. Fans of monster mash horror may want to take a look here, but those looking for a more frightening, mysterious experience in a forest, won’t find what they’re looking for here.