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.

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.

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.

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.


Bunnicula: 40th Anniversary Edition (Bunnicula and Friends) (Paperback)

List Price: $10.99
New From: $6.99 In Stock
Used from: $6.99 In Stock
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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…

About the Author

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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