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Here are all of the Bunicula books included in this review (two in the series are missing): Bunnicula, Howliday Inn, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, Nighty-Nightmare, and Bunnicula Strikes Again
Here are all of the Bunnicula books included in this review (two in the series are missing)

SPOILER ALERT

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.

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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 out of 5 stars (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.

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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 out of 5 stars (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.

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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…

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Jennifer Weigel is a multi-disciplinary mixed media conceptual artist residing in Kansas USA. Weigel utilizes a wide range of media to convey her ideas, including assemblage, drawing, fibers, installation, jewelry, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video and writing. You can find more of her work at: https://www.jenniferweigelart.com/ https://www.jenniferweigelprojects.com/ https://jenniferweigelwords.wordpress.com/

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Nicole C. Luttrell

    August 17, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    Oh my goodness, I freaking love these books!

    • Jennifer Weigel

      August 21, 2022 at 4:16 am

      Yeah it had been a long time since I read them but they were really influential on my child self. 🙂
      Did you happen to read the ones I missed? If so, please offer some thoughts. How do they compare?

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Book Reviews

Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review

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“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.

The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot. 

As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew. 

Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless. 

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4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

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Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review

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“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.

I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.

My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house. 

A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book. 

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4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)


Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!

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“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%

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Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?

The Plot

Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.

During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.

As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?

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The Verdict

Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.

The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.

As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.

It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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