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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Movies n TV

Fallout, The Head

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Episode three of Amazon Prime’s Fallout continued the themes we’ve seen so far, with an added twist. With comedy and gore already blending, the story has added an air of tragic history for one of its least cuddly characters.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Walton Goggins in Fallout.

Our story starts with a flashback to before the bombs dropped. We see Coop, filming a movie. His wife is on set as well, and their adorable daughter. Coop has a comfortable life with a family he loves.

Isn’t that just a knife in the heart?

Back in the present, Lucy is traveling through the wastelands with the head of Wilzig. And she’s doing so with the same fear and joy that we’ve seen from her so far. Until that is, she runs into a Gulper. And after eating a defenseless deer, it swallowed up the head.

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Eventually, The Ghoul catches up with Lucy and decides to capture her. After using her as bait, he decides to drag her along with him.

Meanwhile, Maximus gets a message from the Brotherhood of Steel. Rather than coming clean, he claims to be Knight Titus and is accidentally sent a new Squire. That squire is Thaddeus, one of Maximus’s bullies from the base. And Maximus wastes no time in taking some sweet, sweet revenge.

Finally, we return to Vault 33. The vault is healing from the Raider attack and the loss of Lucy. Norm and Chet are being punished for letting Lucy leave, by being fired from their jobs. This throws Chet because he had a cool job.

Norm, on the other hand, didn’t like his job. He didn’t like any job. So, since this is the only way anyone gets punishments in the vault, he’s given the task of feeding the Raiders.

And talking to the Raiders was maybe not a healthy thing for Norm to be doing. He might learn something he didn’t want to know.

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What worked

The first thing I have to talk about is the massive creature called The Gulper.

This thing was fascinating. It was voracious, fast, and horrifying to look like. It was like a giant axolotl from Hell, with human fingers lining its whole mouth and throat. Why did it need fingers lining its mouth and throat? The better to drag someone down its throat and into its stomach. And the better to drag itself into my nightmares. This creature was well done.

The Gulper from Fallout.

On the flip side of this, I love the fact that the people of Vault 33 are so kind. They’re so willing to forgive, willing to care for their fellow man even when their fellow man is trying to kill them.

I don’t trust it, to be clear. But the perceived kindness from these people is uplifting. And I’m sure it will make whatever is going to eventually happen to them all the worse.

Of course, I can’t talk about the goodness of the vault dwellers without talking about the absolute horribleness of The Ghoul. The Ghoul is not a good person. He is cruel, and selfish, and clearly dislikes Lucy for some reason we do not yet know, and is probably not her fault.

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But we kind of understand how he got that way, don’t we? During the flashbacks, we see that he’s lost his wife and daughter. We also see that he was used as a mascot for the very company that created the vaults. And, while we don’t have any concrete proof yet, we can probably guess that these are not the good guys. Even if we haven’t played the games, anyone who’s even slightly genre-savvy can already guess that.

Which is the last thing I want to bring up here.

We know something stinks with the vaults. Something beyond the obvious issues of wealth disparities and the people left outside to die while those who could afford a Vault spot were saved. Something is rotten with the vaults, we all know this. What we don’t know is what form this rot will take.

Not yet.

What didn’t work

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Now, I wish I could say this was a perfect episode. But sadly, it wasn’t. And my biggest issue with the episode is with the character Maximus.

Now, I love Maximus. He wants to do good things in the world. He’s the underdog, and who doesn’t love that? He’s honorable and believes in the organization he belongs to.

I don’t love that he cannot do anything right. It feels like he wins fights by falling over and tripping into succeeding. And this character deserves so much more than that. Can we please, just once, see him be good at something or make a sound decision?

All that being said, this was still a fun episode. It was funny and bright, with an ominous feel and a horrific finger-ridden monster. I had a great time with it.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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American Horror Story Delicate, Little Gold Man

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Last night’s episode of American Horror Story Delicate was wild. From its star-studded start to its powerfully quiet finish, I was enthralled through every moment.

Let’s discuss.

The story

We begin this episode at the funeral of Dex’s mom. While he’s giving a eulogy, which was very nice, Ms. Preecher walks in. She shouts to the room that Virginia didn’t commit suicide, she was murdered. She also tells Dex to listen to his wife.

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What a concept!

Touched by this, or maybe just curious, Anna goes to the hospital to check on Preecher. She falls asleep at the hospital. When she wakes up, Preecher is gone. A nurse says that she was discharged to a group of women.

While at the hospital, Anna also discovers that she’s been nominated for best actress.

Kim Kardashian in American Horror Story Delicate.

At a publicity event for the awards, Anna runs into Cora. And she sees the coat she remembers from her late-night visit near the start of her pregnancy.

With the slightest amount of pressure, Cora spills it all. She and Dex have been having an affair, and Cora was trying to sabotage Anna’s pregnancy. So Anna, channeling her inner Madison Montgomery, kicks him out and heads to the awards ceremony with Siobhan.

There, Siobhan asks her if she wants an Oscar more than anything. If she’d be willing to give up anything for it.

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And Anna says yes.

The bargain is then sealed with a kiss.

Kim Kardashian and Emma Roberts in American Horror Story Delicate.

What worked

I’d like to begin, paradoxically, at the end of the episode. We’ve seen Anna have some terrible, loud, frightening hallucinations in this season. At least, we assume they’re hallucinations. But this one wasn’t loud. It was, in fact, very quiet. Anna is led off stage, without a word, leaving nothing but a puddle of blood behind.

In horror, like in all art, the notes you don’t play are as important as the ones you do. And the notes that weren’t played her rang like a bell.

I also appreciated that this episode describes why being a celebrity would be a huge pain in the ass. Imagine going to an event where the whole purpose is for people to take pictures of you while holding their product. Imagine if they invaded your personal space, sprayed things on you, put things over your eyes, and you were expected to smile and pose.

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I don’t know what it is about being a celebrity that makes others feel entitled to a person. To talk with them, take their time, and share in their moments. To touch them without consent. Yes, there are way worse things happening to people. But this isn’t a great way to live. It’s no wonder so many of them go nuts. This is most clearly shown in the scene when Anna is sitting next to Preecher’s bed. She wakes up to find the older woman gone. But all anyone wants to talk about is how she was just nominated for an Oscar. At that moment, she doesn’t give a damn. She cares about this kind woman, and where she’s gone. Just like any other person.

Finally, I appreciated that this season didn’t do what so many AHS seasons do. Which is to say that this episode didn’t feel like the last episode. It felt like the penultimate episode. It felt like there was still more story to tell, not just loose ends to be wrapped up. I appreciate that the writers have finally learned that lesson.

For this season, at least.

What didn’t work

The first thing that bothered me in this episode was Cora’s confession. I said something about this during our live-watch event on Threads. (Join us next week for the finale. Bring popcorn and wine.)

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I don’t believe Cora’s confession. I further don’t believe that she just dumped all of this incriminating info on Anna with no more prompting than a wide-eyed look. There was just no reason for it. So, Anna saw her coat? Lots of people have similar coats. This feels fake, and she brought no receipts.

Tavi Gevinson in American Horror Story Delicate.

I also found Siobhan’s behavior confusing. At times she seems genuinely concerned for Anna’s wellbeing. At other times, she is more than willing to let her suffer and risk her pregnancy.

While this has been going on all season, it was happening every few minutes in this one. Either Siobhan cares about the welfare of that fetus, or she doesn’t. But she needs to pick a lane.

All in all, I don’t know what to expect from next week’s season finale. Anna has her Oscar, but now she might lose her baby. She might also get sucked into some horrible cult and experience a bad death. We won’t know until next week.

See you then.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Fallout, The Target

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Episode two of Amazon Prime’s Fallout was equal parts funny and bloody. This almost always leads to a good time.

The story

We begin this episode with the birth of some puppies that look like they’ve had a rough start to life. Each one is weighed, with the ones who fall short being incinerated.

One pup who is just below the correct weight gets a bit of a thumb on their scale. The scientist weighing them, Wilzig, writes down the proper weight. He later takes the puppy home to raise instead of putting them into what looks like an unforgiving training program.

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Eventually, we see Wilzig put some blue glowing thing into his neck. When a soldier comes for him, Dog attacks the soldier, and the two escape.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

We go from there to the wilderness, where Lucy is recovering from the last episode and enjoying a campfire at night. Wilzig and Dog come out of the shadows, saving Lucy from a bug monster. Wilzig tells Lucy she should go home. And if she’s not going to go home, she needs to evolve.

The next day Lucy finds her way to a town called Filly. As a Pennsylvanian, it hurts me to spell it that way. Lucy is entranced by this town, though clearly put off by the fact that no one is very nice here.

She eventually finds her way to a shop run by a delightful woman named Ma June. Ma doesn’t seem particularly interested in helping Lucy. Or, frankly, having Lucy in her shop.

Or in her town.

Eventually, Wilzig is tracked to this same shop, being tracked by The Ghoul. This is our final primary character. Lucy defends Wilzig, being aided at the last moment by Maximus.

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Maximus, by the way, has been having a terrible time. After finally becoming a squire he’s disappointed to find that his knight, Knight Titus, is a terrible person.

Fortunately, Maximus doesn’t have to put up with Titus for long. After Titus gets the bright idea to go hunting, he’s attacked by a mutated bear. Maximus freezes, unable to save him. Then, well, he decides not to save him.

It was Titus’s idea to go hunt the bear, after all.

What worked

Walton Goggins in Fallout.

The first thing I want to draw attention to is the shootout scene at Filly. This scene checked every box a fight scene should check. It was fun to watch, with great effects. But it also gave us insight into the characters. Lucy is a decent fighter and has a strong moral compass. The Ghoul is callus and desensitized to death. And Maximus continues to be, well, sort of bad at this whole fighting thing. But with enough moral fortitude that we have a hard time blaming him.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the dog. Who’s name, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, is just Dog. Which is fine. He doesn’t need to have a name to be a very good boy. He’s sweet, loyal, and fearless.

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Also, puppies. Puppies are always great.

Finally, I’d like to shine a spotlight on Lucy’s reaction to the world at large. She is both amazed and terrified by everything. And while she certainly doesn’t want to be rude, she also doesn’t want to be taken advantage of. The best example of this is when she stops to ask for directions with a bright smile and a gun.

Once again, I don’t have anything bad to say about this episode. It was funny, dark, and fun to watch. I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the season. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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