This so-called review / trip down memory lane goes into some of my favorite scenes from the books, so treat it like garlic or sunlight to a vampire and stay away in your crypt if you do not wish to be barraged with such nostalgic plot-blowing reverie (both regarding the Bunnicula series and some other things thrown in for added flavor).
So to get on with it…
Anyone who spends a lot of time in this genre will nod and shake their heads in understanding when I say that it often comes up, “how or when did you first get into horror?” I don’t know many in this who haven’t been posed that question at some point or another. Hell, I’ve been on both sides of it myself – we all kind of want to know when any among us went through that initiation and what form it took for them… In response, many will often cite R. L. Stine and Goosebumps, or Stephen King, or Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and so on.
For me, it evolved out of my love for language play and my taste for the odd or for things that appeal to the opposite of expectation. I’ve always gravitated towards things that have a kind of off beat inside-joke humor to them. Puns and wordplay are generally a great addition. Surreal and other weirdness is also always good.
I grew up watching campy B-rated movies with my father. The old Universal Studios Classics like Lon Chaney as The Wolf Man or Bela Lugosi as Dracula. And some more obscure flicks too. His collection numbered in the thousands. My favorite was probably The Beginning of the End because of the final scene where the giant grasshoppers descend upon Chicago. I find it endlessly amusing how this scene plays out, since in filming it, they literally just dumped a bunch of grasshoppers on a photograph of Chicago and of the buildings and then tried to pan away whenever the insects would start to walk across the sky or fly off. This still humors me to this day.
I also loved The Addams Family. The old cartoons, the black and white television series, the movies… I especially loved how the movie directly translated scenes and imagery from the cartoons, with Morticia cutting off the roses to keep the thorns or Gomez asking her if she was unhappy and banishing the sunlight. I kind of saw my dad and my stepmother as Gomez and Morticia, and my stepsister and myself as Pugsley and Wednesday. I came to love it even more when it was revealed that their living room from black and white film was actually mostly pink, because that was even more me, especially as I aged into my love of pink things in decidedly un-girly contexts. The living room fit right in. I lived The Addams Family. It was totally a thing.
Like, seriously, get on with it already…
With that background, another big influence was the Bunnicula series by James Howe, which is the subject of this so-called review. I read these books over and over again. I loved the writing style, how the story was told from the standpoint of the dog Harold, and how Chester the cat was so mortified by the unusual happenings that began when the rabbit came into their lives and how obsessive he got about it all. Harold is all-dog and is rather food motivated, as one might expect – you’d almost think he was a beagle, but no. Still, he tells a compelling tale from the standpoint of a dog being a dog, and that’s pretty amusing in and of itself even without the horror twist.
Book 1: Bunnicula earns 4.0 Cthulus(4 / 5)
The original Bunnicula is the best book in this series by far. The characters and the story are compelling and the book is very amusingly written. It’s fun, especially if you enjoy wordplay, and offers some good lighthearted comedy that can appeal to readers of all ages. I also enjoyed how all of the animals’ personalities come into play and how Harold explains everything from a dog’s perspective. That point of view is truly rather delightful.
My favorite scene in Bunnicula is still the big standoff between Chester and Harold and the family, where Chester has misinterpreted his reading on vampires and is trying to stake little Bunnicula through the heart with an uncooked raw beef steak that had been left on the counter to thaw. Unsurprisingly Harold, being all-dog, is more concerned with when he would get to eat the wondermous piece of raw meat that was totally going to waste in the endeavor. It is just delightful how this scene plays out and still evokes a chuckle from me even this many years later.
Book 2: Howliday Inn
The second book Howliday Inn was not nearly as good as the first. It’s essentially a murder mystery whodunit with your stereotypical cast of suspicious characters: the jock, the floozy, the heartbroken, the sidekick, the crazy, the weirdos, the clumsy, and the annoying. Everyone has their schtick and they all have a motive. You know the scene – very 1980s. Makes for some decent comedy but limited depth… The end reveal of what happened isn’t implausible but at the same time it doesn’t really feel fulfilling, and the book just does not resonate with the same side-splitting humor as the first.
Book 3: The Celery Stalks at Midnight
The third book The Celery Stalks at Midnight revisits the same themes of the first with a lot of added puns thrown in. It was much better than Howliday Inn, but still not as good as the first Bunnicula. It’s funny to see Chester at it again, fretting over Bunnicula turning the town into vampires somehow, Harold still obsessed with food, and the new member of the family, dachshund puppy Howie, bringing his own unique energy to the mix.
Book 4: Nighty-Nightmare
The fourth book Nighty-Nightmare is kind of a cross between the second and third books. Rather than winding up at a pet hotel, the family goes camping as the basis for this spooky woodsy tale. But the book really isn’t all that suspenseful despite the new creepy characters that have joined the cast. Too much gets lost in Chester’s telling of how Bunnicula came to America. Mostly it just seems that Chester is overreacting and fabricating tales to get Harold and Howie (and their guide Dawg) worked up, and his tale is just not very compelling because the vampires seem like more bumbling idiots. But perhaps that’s just how animals see all humans in this world. Also, the ending was really lackluster in my opinion.
Book 5: The Return to Howliday Inn
I don’t recall reading the fifth book, The Return to Howliday Inn. Honestly, I didn’t like the second book set at Howliday Inn as well so I doubt I’ll seek this one out. Maybe it’s better. Maybe not. I don’t know. Pressing onward…
Book 6: Bunnicula Strikes Again
The sixth book, Bunnicula Strikes Again, was surprisingly good. I liked how Howie the dachshund puppy had gotten into the FleshCrawlers series as a direct riff on GooseBumps, in a sort of weird homage and strange disdain all at once. And this story built upon the first book well, coming full circle to the original plot, characters and setting. In the end, the book pulls for the two characters locked in epic battle, Bunnicula the vampire rabbit and Chester the cat, to somehow overcome their differences after they almost perish together, but this comes across as trying too hard to create a happy ending. I feel that the ending it had been careening toward would have been stronger, wherein both perished together, for all that it would likely be disheartening to the intended audience and would not have resulted in any further books in the series.
Book 7: Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow
There is a seventh book, Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow, but I have also not read this one. Honestly, I really kind of wish the series had ended with Bunnicula Strikes Again with the epic battle reaching a different end. But that is just my opinion and I’m not the writer, so here we are. Yeah, yeah, I know… what kind of series review is this that it doesn’t even go into all of the books in the series? But I honestly just missed those two and don’t feel like going back to them, besides which this review is too long already. So I’m leaving them out. If you are a die-hard fan, feel free to leave a comment to say how you felt about the books I skipped (or any of the others for that matter).
Apart from the original Bunnicula, I give the rest of the series 3.0 Cthulus.(3 / 5)
The others really just don’t hold up to the original book in my opinion. From a kid standpoint, they’re probably a more solid 3.5 but I suspect that depends on the kid. In fairness The Celery Stalks at Midnight and Bunnicula Strikes Again are better, but still aren’t on par with the original tale. Still the series is a decent introduction to horror for a kid who loved language and puns and animals and they are rather fun to read. And, given that they were purportedly written by the dog Harold, with the wonderful introductions by the so-called editor, they definitely all have truly dog-based insight moments which can be very amusing at times.
My child-self really enjoyed these books but in adulthood I’ve come to realize I really only remember the first, and for good reason. The others come across as kind of flat. The characters are all pretty caricatured to maximize humorous effect, and can all come across as a bunch of bumbling idiots at times. The series just doesn’t have the same depth as some of the more modern stories.
In other history, the first book was written by both James Howe and his wife Deborah, who also partnered with him on one other book (not in this series), while the rest were written solely by James. I have later learned that Deborah Howe died of cancer before either of the two books they collaborated on were published, and so she never realized just how popular the Bunnicula series became. I can understand, given the popularity of the first book, why James Howe continued it, and they are fun thematically, but sadly the rest of the series just lacks some of the same spark that the first had. If you only pick up some of the books in this series, definitely read the first Bunnicula, and then perhaps The Celery Stalks at Midnight and Bunnicula Strikes Again – those are by far the strongest and most heartfelt.
You can purchase Bunnicula and/or the box series on Amazon from the links provided above, just remember that, as always, if you do so we will get some $ back. The Dark Lord says shop away…
The Roots Grow Into The Earth
Launching next month The Roots Grow Into The Earth was a delightful read. It’s the premiere novel by horror author Bert S. Lechner. And after reading it, I hope it’s not his last.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth is a collection of nine short stories and novellas, including three previously published stories. The tales are all part of one larger story. A story of darkness, and madness. A story of a creature released that should never have been. That begins then to sink its roots into the Earth and infect innocent people far and wide.
One such example is The Wall. This is the story of a man named Sam and his wife Nat. They have a lovely normal life full of morning coffee and weekend pizza nights. Until Sam notices something on the wall of their home. While it appears to be nothing, a vision starts taking shape. With Sam’s help.
Another story that really moved me was The Orchestra.
Let me first stay that this was not a particularly fleshed out story. We do not see The Conductor before she’s infected. We don’t see the fallout. No real picture is painted for us, it’s more like a sketch.
In the case of The Orchestra, though, this is exactly the right choice. We don’t need to see the whole picture in gruesome technicolor to get what’s happening in this ill fated concert. We understand perhaps too well what’s occurring. And I thought that was brilliant.
I just want to start by gushing over this storytelling style. Short story collections always have a soft spot in my heart. In the case of The Roots Grow, all of the short stories come together to create one truly dark tale.
I also loved the clear Lovecraftian influence of this story. It’s clear that this was something that the author was going for, from interviews and social media comments. But I could tell before I saw any of that.
The story in The Roots Grow is one of madness. But more than that, it’s one of madness and destruction that the victims could not have avoided. There was no being clever enough to avoid these dark roots that touched them. There was no being strong enough, or selfless and good enough. If the roots reach out and touch you, you’ve already lost.
Finally, I want to extend some praise to my favorite character, Joanne. She is dealing with her own madness, her own demons. But she still finds kindness and strength to help others when they need her. Even against some truly dark odds.
What didn’t work
All that being said, I will say that some of the short stories felt incomplete. One prime example is What Lies In The Icy Soil. This appears to be nothing more than the tale of a person possessed by the need to dig. He digs up something that for sure shouldn’t be dug up. But there’s nothing more to the story. We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know who might be missing him, or what might come of this thing he dug up. As a part of the whole story, it fits. But if we are to consider every tale by its own merit, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
That being said, this is one story in a round ten that wasn’t much of anything. The rest of the stories were wonderfully eerie, both on their own and as part of a whole.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth comes out on October 7th. And I think it would be a perfect addition to your Halloween reading list. (4 / 5)
Strange Eons Review: Cornfields and Eldritch Gods
“The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.” – Strange Eons by Keria Perkins
Strange Eons is a short story published in Bourbon Penn Issue 30 by Keira Perkins. Perkins, is an Indiana writer of short fiction and poetry that has also appeared in Non-Stalgia and The Heartland Society of Women Writers. Bourbon Penn is an online and print journal that specializes in speculative, odd, and surreal fiction. All issues are available to be read online for free or can be purchased as a paperback from Bookshop.org.
Strange Eons follows a young woman struggling to adjust to a life post-Lovecraftian apocalypse. This is a cozy story, the majority of which takes place as the woman lays in a cornfield and hides from well-meaning but unhelpful family members. While cozy, the piece is ominous, tackling the terror associated with pregnancy. Specifically, the terror that comes from living in a Red State and finding a significant lack of resources or options.
As a Hoosier capable of becoming pregnant, Strange Eons resonated with me. The imagery of cornfields and cicadas were very Indiana. However, so is a young woman covertly asking her sister to drive her to Illinois to receive healthcare. I loved how Perkins merged cosmic horror with the horror of receiving reproductive healthcare in Indiana but also the United States as a whole. All that was missing were predatory billboards advertising fake pregnancy centers! Talk about maddening and terrifying! Throughout the short story, the most horrific part of the young woman’s ordeal is not the eldritch gods appearing but her rather typical, hellish circumstances.
Aside from content, Strange Eons is well-written. It keeps you guessing where the story will go next. If you like a non-tropey cozy take on Lovecraftian horror or have struggled to receive reproductive healthcare, I highly recommend checking out Strange Eons! You can also check out the other stories in this issue of Bourbon Penn here. Or you can see what else Perkins is up to on her website.(5 / 5)
Walking Practice – A Book Review
Walking Practice is Dolki Min’s debut novella about an alien named Mumu, who must learn what it is like to perform as a human. Victoria Caudle, the translator of this unique Korean story, experiments with the English language to properly convey Min’s style. This, complimented with Min’s various drawings of the story’s protagonist, creates a poetic, outlandish reading experience that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Walking Practice: Never Enough Practice
After the destruction of their home planet, Mumu crash lands their spaceship in a desolate forest far from human life. They survive by having sex with humans then, with graphic violence and great diligence, eats them.
Mumu has a strict schedule and regimen for this process; they must shapeshift their body to the specific gender and personality their date is attracted to. While this process of gender conformation is a difficult one (as the alien will often tell us), it is nowhere near as hard as the ridiculous habit humans have of walking on two legs. This is one of the many obstacles Mumu must struggle with while playing the game of life.
Mumu is a rich, self-aware character who seems to trust only one human: the reader. They address us directly, asking questions and indulging us with their theories on what it is to live on Earth. They are knowledgeable about the complexities of personhood, and aware that a person’s gender and sex are complex and not one-size-fits-all. After years of experience in multiple genders, the alien theorizes that humans are treated as people as soon as they have a sex and gender assigned to them. However, depending on the sex and gender, that treatment is never equal.
While Mumu performs various genders and personalities to match the sexual desires of their future prey, they do not identify as human. At the end of the day, they go home, stock their human leftovers in the fridge and freezer, and unleash their natural form. Their only priority is their own survival and pleasure (which, arguably, is their most humanlike quality).
“I’ve learned that my face arouses homicidal impulses”
Walking Practice uses horror, science fiction and satire to create a passionate queer narrative. While Mumu is a serial killer who prides themselves on their murderous skills, it is hard not to feel for them when karma strikes back and they are hurt. The poetic elements of Min’s story and Caudle’s translation support our empathy for such a vicious character
Min’s artwork, depicting Mumu’s alien forms, complements Caudle’s stylistic choices. There is enjambment in several paragraphs, (which can be interpreted as the alien either having a flair for the dramatic or genuinely pausing to find the right words), thus enhancing their internal dialogue. There are moments when the Mumu’s stream of consciousness confuses reality from imagination. They will also lose all learned human skills and revert to their mother tongue; words either run together or are spaced apart, and sometimes there are unintelligible symbols. At the surface, it looks like a linguistic nightmare. Once immersed in Mumu’s narrative, it is a work of art.
Walking Practice‘s balance of ambiguity and transparency keeps the reader close while also allowing an array of interpretations. It is an eccentric piece of fiction that plays with the literary status quo, resulting in an entertaining affair with an unforgettable alien. (5 / 5)