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AKA Exposition and Witticisms

Who said romance is dead?

We kick off the great saga of Buffy with the lamest date ever – Welcome to the Hellmouth. A Sunnydale high school graduate of indeterminate recency has brought his petite blond friend to see the gym roof.  Apparently the petite blond agrees that this is lame, because she gets all snarly and attacks.

Credits:  Howling!  Guitars!  Cheerleaders!  Potions!  Stakes!  Dancing!  Hero formations!

Maybe high school is the real Hellmouth

Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) wakes up from a cryptic nightmare.  If the boxes in her bedroom weren’t expository enough, her mother’s urging to not be late to (or get kicked out on) her first day at her new school lets us know she is new in town.

Meanwhile, a teenage boy is clinging for dear life on a skateboard he evidently got that day.  This is Xander (Nicholas Brendon) friend to Willow (Alyson Hannigan), resident nerd.  She agrees to help him with his trig and suggests he pick up a specific text in the library, “where the books live.”  Xander and pal Jesse say the phrase “new girl” back and forth in increasingly distressing ways.


Buffy meets with Principal Flutie (you can call him Bob, but should you?).  He desperately wants to give her a clean slate, but he backtracks pretty quickly after learning that her expulsion was the result of burning down a gym that was full of totally not-vampires.

As Buffy is leaving the office, she quite literally runs into Xander. He helps her pick up the spilled contents of her bag with all the goofy charm he can muster.  So much charm, in fact, that she forgets her wooden stake.

In class Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) shares a textbook and many Sunnydale social insights with Buffy, including the need to identify losers on sight.  She invites her to The Bronze that night shortly after insulting Willow’s dress – a bold move in lime green pants, Miss Chase.

Welcome to the Hellmouth picture of Julie Benz with a white shirt and black vest
Welcome to the Hellmouth – She sure does look familiar…maybe take a stab where we’ve seen her last?

Slay it ain’t so

In a suspiciously ornate library a suspiciously British librarian named Mr. Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) thrusts a book labelled VAMPYR toward Buffy. But Buffy hates archaic spellings so she quickly leaves.

Since her plan to acquire textbooks has fallen through, Buffy seeks out the tutelage of one very confused Willow.  Xander tries to be way too witty (aside from his “tiny fences” joke he makes when returning her stake.  I’ll give you credit for that, X).  Cordelia runs up to let Buffy know that gym is cancelled due to the dead guy in someone’s locker.  Buffy responds in the totally normal fashion of asking if he had holes in his neck and was drained of blood.


Cordelia does not have that information, so Buffy makes easy work of tearing off the gym door and checking out the scene for herself.  After confirming her fears re: vamps, she has it out with Giles.  He lectures her about her sacred duty as Slayer, his sacred duty as Watcher, and the extra-supernatural nature of Sunnydale.  Buffy is well aware of her responsibilities. She is also aware that it is a lonely life. Slaying meant to be a secret identity situation, a la Bruce Wayne/Batman.  Too bad Xander was in the stacks and overheard the whole thing.

We quickly cut to a super dramatic, quasi-religious underground monologue given by a very large vampire.

Proper socialization

Then we are back to Buffy. She is struggling to pick out an outfit for tonight, a task she was good at once upon a Slayer-free high school experience.  Her mother is trying very hard to remain positive about their move.

On her way to The Bronze, she senses she is being followed. She does this slick little handstand maneuver to turn the tables on her pursuer.  He calls himself a friend (but not hers), refers to Sunnydale as the “mouth of hell,” and warns of a harvest.  Oh, and he gives her a cross necklace. 

[At this point, omnipotent as I am, I warned my first-time viewer husband Trav that this is the least dramatic we will ever see this character.  He does not believe this can be possible.]

At The Bronze Buffy and Willow get to know each other a little.  Willow details her friendship with Xander (he once stole her Barbie). She also describes her difficulty speaking in front of most guys.  Buffy gives her the most generic carpe diem life advice ever. The she spots Giles and excuses herself to confront him.


[Trav cannot emphasize enough how distressed he is that Giles is hanging out at this teenage club.]

Buffy gets out some interesting insults, including “skanky” and “textbook with arms” (only one of which is appropriate for a librarian, and I’m not elaborating on which). At the same time, Giles chides her on not honing her Spidey Slayer senses to locate the vampires that are definitely in this club.  She wins the argument with a fashion technicality. But this is a short-lived victory, because she sees that the vampire she spotted is leading Willow outside.  Buffy tries to intervene but only succeeds in nearly staking Cordelia, who now officially hates her.  We see that at that moment Jesse is talking to our petite blond vampire from the beginning, Darla (Julie Benz).

The “why” in Vampyr

Back underground our monologuing vampire, Luke, is monologuing a much uglier vampire out of a red hot tub.  This is the Master. He is 1) apparently trapped underground by a mystical forcefield and 2) very hangry.  MonoLuke informs him that Thomas and Darla are out hunting for him now.

On her way to save the day, Buffy runs into Xander. He fesses up to eavesdropping in the library earlier. He then insists on helping her help his friends.  Darla, Thomas, and their “dates” have wound up in a mausoleum. Jesse is slightly paler than before because Darla had a nibble on the way over.  When Buffy and Xander arrive at the scene, Buffy stakes Thomas. He disappears in a cloud-of-dust effect that I will give due credit to for it being 1997. While she fights Darla, Xander and Willow carry Jesse out only to be surrounded by more vampires.  In the mausoleum, a new player has entered.  He throws Buffy into a coffin and MonoLukes his way all the way to a “To be continued” card.

I asked Trav for a one-sentence review for this episode: “All I can think about is how creepy the librarian is coming across.”

Welcome to the Hellmouth is a fairly pilot-y pilot, what with the exposition, but it’s pretty dang fun and sets you up for action, fun dialogue, and the hope that that SFX will improve along with way. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Where to watch Welcome to the Hellmouth (sponsored links!)

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die



Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.

So, how was the first episode?

The story


We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.

We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.

The teens end up not being thrilled either.

Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.


All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.

What worked

For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.

It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.

That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.


More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.

This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.

What didn’t work

All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”

Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.


It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem



“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.


Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 


[USR 4.2]

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Movies n TV

Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek



The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.

The story

We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.

She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.


Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.

Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.

She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.

Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.

Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.


While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.

What worked

One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.

Then she killed it and started crying.

I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.


What didn’t work

Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.

In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.

Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.

All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.

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