Although R. L. Stine is best known for scaring younger audiences, namely with series like Fear Street and Goosebumps, the prolific children’s author has dabbled in adult stories from time to time. Sprinkled throughout his extensive oeuvre are the occasional grown-up tales of terror; four to be exact. In Stine’s third novel aimed at older readers, Eye Candy shadows a woman looking for love in all the wrong places. Specifically a website that caters to lonely hearts. Unfortunately, putting herself out there also paints a target on her forehead.
From scathing celebrity gossip blogs to burgeoning social media platforms and “stan” cultures, the mid to late 2000s was a wild time to be online. Dating for some folks had already shifted to the ‘net before Eye Candy was published in 2004, but not a great deal of fiction was covering this alternative for courting. There was once a general wariness toward online dating, whereas nowadays everyone does it. Yet before swiping right was ever an option, singles uploaded their personalities and desires to sites like Match.com and OkCupid in hopes of making an eventual connection offline. The “horror” stories born from these encounters were usually of the awkward variety. Stine, however, pictured a different outcome for his character Lindy Sampson.
Beautiful, smart, and humble — 23-year-old Lindy seems to have her life together in spite of a recent tragedy. Her ex, a cop named Ben, died in a car chase only one year prior to the story. Her friends and roommates, Ann-Marie and Luisa, encourage her to post a profile on Meet-Market.com; the former pal goes ahead and makes one on Lindy’s behalf. A username of “Eye Candy” catches the attention of three eligible men: bad kisser Brad, cheapskate Jack, and cinephile Colin. While her dates seem harmless enough, Lindy is soon faced with the possibility that one of them is dangerous. She enlists the help of Ben’s former partner, Tommy Foster, who advises Lindy to continues dating her four beaus as a way to expose her stalker.
Aside from the sporadic coarse language and a very brief sex scene, Eye Candy feels like something out of Fear Street. The characters are hardly that much older than the oldest protagonists in a Shadyside thriller, but the story distinctly takes place in post-9/11 NYC as opposed to small-town America. The big city setting adds to Lindy’s paranoia and summons a bigger playground for the cat-and-mouse games. Of course most of the suspense occurs in more intimate spaces or situations; Lindy’s room is ransacked and her dates gradually become sources of dread rather than pleasure.
By the early 2000s, society had slowly begun to embrace the idea of meeting their soulmate online. This is only after reconsidering a long run of distrust of the internet passed down by over careful parents and perpetuated by the media. Stine plays into that doubt without agreeing with it. He ultimately shows Lindy’s luck with guys she knows or meets in real life is no better if not assuredly worse. On two separate occasions, an acquaintance sexually harasses Lindy right beneath his girlfriend’s nose. Meanwhile, that fourth suitor, the accidental addition to her dating pool, is glaringly suspicious from the start.
Avid Point Horror and Fear Street readers will feel at home with Eye Candy. The story is like an old favorite outfit but in a new color. The characters have more defined personalities, the humor often at Lindy’s expense comes across as natural, and the internal, Maniac-like workings of the killer are on full display. And as usual with Stine’s output, there is a twist in the tail.
Even though there were reports of fellow adult Stine novels Superstitious and The Sitter being turned into films — with Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures attached to The Sitter — neither were adapted in the end. However, Eye Candy was sent to the small screen. Premiering on January 12, 2015, Lindy Sampson’s perilous dating life was retold in a 10-episode series loosely based on the book. Practically everything was changed in this short-lived MTV drama.
Rather than being an editorial assistant at a children’s books publisher, Lindy (Victoria Justice) is now an MIT dropout and an exceptional hacker who was arrested by her boyfriend, an undercover cop named Ben (Daniel Lissing). This is after she used her hacking skills to find information about her abducted younger sister, Sara (Jordyn DiNatale). After serving her time, Lindy is back to her old habits as she continues searching for Sara and evading the unwanted attention of a serial killer haunting a dating app called Flirtual. Someone Lindy met from Flirtual is a murderer, but who?
Another significant change is Tommy Foster, who is now the much younger and more suave Tommy Calligan. Casey Deidrick’s role also serves as a viable love interest for Lindy. Along for the deadly ride are three new companions not seen in the book: fellow hacker George (Harvey Guillén), best friend Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), and frenemy Connor (John Garet Stoker). They are later joined by Sophia’s troubled friend from school, Tessa (Theodora Miranne), who grapples with her own sizable secret.
A lot has changed since the Eye Candy book came out, so updating the dating scenario makes sense. Stine’s original story might have worked as a feature film, but stretching it into a serialized thriller would have been challenging. This TV version is modeled after the likes of CSI and other procedural dramas. When she is not investigating Sara’s whereabouts or fending off the Flirtual killer, Lindy solves other cases with the same cyber-crimes police unit that arrested her in the first place.
No longer blond and interminably nervous, Justice’s take on Lindy is a one-eighty. She is slightly edgier and definitely more confident than her literary counterpart. Something that carried over, though, is the humility that keeps Lindy grounded in spite of her head-turning looks. Stine wrote Lindy to be self-aware, but the TV portrayal has a tendency to overlook the obvious. On the other hand, the new Lindy comes preloaded with phenomenal computer abilities and general resourcefulness, thus making her a capable opponent for both the Flirtual killer and a potential archvillain known as Bubonic.
Regretfully, not everything is wrapped up by the last episode, which doubles as the series finale. Viewers are instead left with weighing, unanswered questions and a burning desire to see Lindy find peace and closure. The Eye Candy show is substantially different from what Stine envisioned, yes, but the changes allow for a more engaging television experience. The stakes are higher and the twists are aplenty in this tangled interpretation of the source material.