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Welcome to “Notes from the Last Drive-In,” Haunted MTL’s review and recap series of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder. This December we received a Christmas treat in the form of a new special, “Joe Bob Ruins Christmas” which brings back the telethon format of the last Christmas special with a few fun surprises and two decidedly un-holiday films.

Nothing quite like spending the holidays with the Mutant Fam taking in the delights and horrors of Ice Cream Man (1995) and Gator Bait (1974).

Ice Cream Man

Ice Cream Man is a 1995 direct-to-video slasher produced and directed by Norman Apstein/Paul Norman. The film was written by Sven Davison and David Dobkin. It stars Clint Howard, Olivia Hussey, and David Naughton. David Warner, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Lee Majors II make brief appearances.

The plot of the film is pretty simple: a man, Gregory Tudor, is released from a sanitarium and reopens a childhood favorite ice cream factory. However, soon enough the secret ingredient of the ice cream “hardpack” is every other customer. As a result, a group of local kids, fueled by the story of the Pied Piper, seek to stop Gregory’s murderous sourcing of ingredients.

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Ice Cream Man (1995) Poster
We all scream, for ice cream…

Ice Cream Man is not a good movie, but it is a fun movie. It is entirely possible to enjoy something while pointing out it is not very well made. The movie hits the sweet spot (pun intended) between awful and awfully funny, and it makes for a great selection for The Last Drive-In. I mean, any film you could reasonably define as a “Clint Howard vehicle” is pretty much going to have some laughs. The guy is fantastic and made some strange, strange films, such as last season’s Evilspeak. If there is peak Clint Howard, however, Ice Cream Man is it, and we’re all the better for it.

The film is very 1990s and direct-to-video. It doesn’t look particularly good. The quality of the lighting is muddy. Cinematography is virtually absent as well. At no point does the film introduce a shot that is unique or visually interesting. The music is budget for even 1995, cheesy synthesized plinks.

And yet it is a movie you can’t walk away from because of the sheer magnetism of whatever the Hell Clint Howard is doing with the character. Most of the performances are functional at best. The only real stinkers of the bunch are Jan-Michael Vincent and Lee Majors II as the one-note cops. David Warner shows up for about five minutes of screentime and does his thing (excellently), but beyond that, nobody stands out, especially when in a scene with Clint Howard’s Gregory Tudor.

The story can be non-sensical at times, the character motivations a mystery, and the film is full of strange, offputting moments. The special effects are low-budget mid-90s at the best of times. Yet something about this film is compelling. It’s exactly the sort of cheesy, direct-to-video material that horror fans will watch at 2 AM. The comedy, while largely unintentional, buoys the film and makes it a great drive-in movie.

Joe Bob-servations

This movie was Joe Bob’s gift to Darcy. He initially gave it three stars, but gave it an extra star bump due to the spirit of the season, making Ice Cream Man a four-star Drive-In movie.

Joe Bob did a lot to contextualize this movie for me. I had only seen it once before when I was a teen, and it didn’t really draw me in. Having watched it now with some guiding words from our venerable movie host, I have a better appreciation for it. The movie is very much a mess, as Joe Bob points out that the film was originally going to be a children’s film. That changed, however. That does explain the strange tonal shifts in the movie. It feels like a knockoff of The Goonies young cast set-up, only with Clint Howard manhandling the ice cream instead of treasure hunting.

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Part of the odd tonal shifts in the film is also explained by the director, Norman Apstein/Paul Norman. A former pron director most known for Edward Penishands, he might be the last choice you would expect for a horror film, let alone what was to be a children’s film. But considering the amount directors who started in porn and moved onto horror, such as Wes Craven, this isn’t that odd. Regardless, the shift in tone within the movie stems from some of these elements, undoubtedly, as well as the fact that the director was going through a painful separation from his family during the production. It’s a pretty crazy story.

The film is just filled with some bizarre little moments that Joe Bob Briggs points out in the host segments. Whether it be the pillow stuffed under the shirt of child-actor Jojo Adams to make him look fatter, David Warner showing up to film for a day or two, or the rather bonkers nature of the scene at the asylum, which feels like another movie entirely. There are, of course, rumors that the asylum scene was a troubled shoot due to Jan-Michael Vincent being wasted. Plus, with Clint Howard being the focus we also heard a wonderful little bit about his screaming out the window of his car on the drive to the set to get that graveled voice for Gregory.

Final Thoughts on Ice Cream Man

Ice Cream Man is fun as Hell. It is not a good movie by any stretch of the conventional definition, but the Mutant Fam is not obligated to derive enjoyment based on the quality of a movie. In fact, collectively we tend to value the rougher films. Ice Cream Man was a lovely little treat for fans of The Last Drive-In, and the culmination of what’s been a fun little joke over the past couple of years regarding Darcy’s love for Clint Howard. While I did have a lot of fun, the movie does have some significant flaws. I can’t award it anything more than three Cthulhus. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Best Line: “Trolling for Tuna!” – Ice Cream Man, grabbing Tuna from his bicycle

Clint Howard as the Ice Cream Man from the 1995 movie, Ice Cream Man
Clint Howard lends his own brand of menace to the film.

Gator Bait

The 1974 hicksploitation film Gator Bait was a special treat from Darcy to Joe Bob for the telethon. Gator Bait, directed by the married Beverly and Ferd Sebastian, is most famous for starring former Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings. The film also stars Douglas Dirkson, Bill Thurman, and Sam Gilman. The film was written by Beverly Sebastian with Ferd responsible for the music.

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Gator Bait is set in the swamps of Louisiana and follows poacher Desiree Thibodeau (Jennings) who lives in the swamps with her kin. One day, two men seek to rape her while trapping alligators and in the pursuit, one of the men dies. Soon the sheriff, the surviving, the serving deputy, and the incestuous family of the dead would-be rapist hunt her down for revenge.

Gator Bait (1974) Poster
Claudia Jennings had ’em gator batin’

Gator Bait is a rough film. It is pretty good, all things considered, but it can be quite graphic and disturbing for the unprepared. It is in many ways an ugly, brutal film. It is also a prime example of what a hicksploitation film is and makes wonderful use of the setting, which coincidentally was in the same area as another Drive-In favorite, The Legend of Boggy Creek. The violence of the movie, more specifically sexual violence is what will generally cause most people to reject it as too far, but it is worth powering through for a strong string of revenge sequences from Desiree.

The writing of the film is the greatest strength, crafting interesting characters that I found myself really hating or intrigued by. Specifically, T. J Bracken, played by Sam Gilman, is a fairly complex antagonist who leads a rather horrific brood that he can’t keep in check. While a great deal of credit goes to Sam Gilman, such characters are a collaborative art and Beverly Sebastian’s writing creates a compelling and ugly situation that spirals out of control. It’s a feel-bad movie that creates some genuine interest in the destruction of three families brought on by an attempted rape and a cowardly lie.

Claudia Jennings is also a strong performance. Largely silent, her dialogue is a bit childish and simple, constructed of short sentences in creole, befitting her nature as a child of the swamp quite effectively. It may take a moment to let that idea set in as you watch, but it comes across quite well. She also has a certain physicality in her performance as well. Obviously, there is sex appeal, but there are moments of genuine strength where her demeanor and the framing of the shot establish that she will have her revenge in no uncertain terms.

The movie is cruel, perhaps the cruelest that has been on The Last Drive-In since Cannibal Holocaust, but that cruelty does serve a point. Gator Bait, beneath the trappings of sex, violence, and the assumed stereotypes of swamp people is a morality tale in which nobody really wins. It’s worth a watch if you can make it through a couple of particularly brutal scenes.

Joe Bob-servations

When he wasn’t expressing utter shock and dismay at triathletes, Joe Bob regaled Darcy and the rest of the telethon crew with his love of Gator Bait. He is a fan of the movie for a couple of reasons, and at least two of them involve the presence of Claudia Wells. it can be fun when the show dives into the more exploitative nature of sex. Audiences love a sexy actor or actress, and it is one of those things that the show highlights as part of the Drive-In appeal. While this is mostly revolving around the male gaze, the show is as evenhanded as possible when it has to be.

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The big punchline to this is that Joe Bob established the idea of Darcy replicating the iconic look of Claudia Jennings from the poster for the film, which does happen, of course. That’s not until after Darcy subverts the gag by wearing an alligator costume. Over the past couple of years, Darcy and Joe Bob have established a wonderful rapport and in my estimation, the show is very much equally Darcy’s at this point, as she serves as the sexy angel and devil on our host’s shoulders. The Last Drive-In makes good use of their back and forth as well as the expanding roster of the guests, such as Felissa Rose, and contributors to the show such as John Brennan and Yuki Nakamura.

The host segments for this section of the film were full of fascinating information, of course. One example includes a very funny, bizarre connection to Walt Disney that I don’t believe happened, but is just odd enough to be true. There was also a lot to discuss regarding the married team who made the movie possible, particularly Beverly, who sounds like a real badass. Beverly and Ferd Sebastian strike me as representatives of the drive-in spirit we celebrate through the show, so it was particularly fun for Joe Bob to give them their due and to put these two filmmakers on more people’s radars. This was my first experience with Gator Bait, and I am happy that Joe Bob’s show was able to put this challenging yet compelling movie on my radar.

Final Thoughts on Gator Bait

Gator Bait isn’t my favorite movie that has been shown on The Last Drive-In, nor is it my favorite movie that has been introduced to me through the show. But the movie has stuck with me quite a bit since I watched it. It is a visceral film, for sure, and likely to be as divisive with the Mutant Fam as Cannibal Holocaust. As far as shock pictures go, I’d argue Cannibal Holocaust is the stronger one and features a more compelling theme, but Gator Bait is quite good. Joe Bob, being a fan of redneck pictures, gave the film four stars. I am not as enthused by it, but I did enjoy it, rough spots and all. I give Gator Bait three-and-a-half Cthulhus. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Best Line: “She ain’t got no choice. She either screws us, or she gets behind bars. Puttin’ a wildcat like that behind bars is bad.” – Deputy Billy Boy, immediately raising concerns in us all about the nature of law enforcement

Claudia Jennings in 1974's Gator Bait.
Claudia Jennings in one of the least practical swamp outfits you can imagine.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

Here are the official tallies from Shudder.

As for our own tally, we have…

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  • One Dead Dog
  • Two Darcy Cosplays
  • Four Causes Championed
  • Thirteen Items Auctioned
  • One Dozen Snakes
  • Christmas Joking
  • Jesus Joking
  • Incestuous Son Whipping Fu
  • Drunken Stumbling Through Asylum Set Fu
  • Zoom Call Yuki Fu
  • Gratuitous Holiday Musical Verses
  • Gratuitous Musical Number
  • Gratuitous “Reason of the Season” Lecture
Joe Bob Briggs, Diana Prince, and Felissa Rose on the set of The Last Drive-In.
A night of several stars!

Episode Score

I do appreciate the telethon format for the previous Christmas special that has carried through into this one. I also really like that the items up for auction were also a little more substantial than last year’s. I just wish I could have afforded to bid. But even then, allowing flat donations in exchange for merch was an excellent tough and with luck, the telethon has raised a substantial amount of money for each of the organizations and causes selected this time around. The selections were all themed around the nativity story of the three wise men, and throughout the night the show had a welcoming, encouraging atmosphere.

This was probably best punctuated by the recurring gag where everyone would burst into a line from a spontaneous Christmas song, to which Joe Bob would play the bah-humbug role. Of course, that led to Joe Bob taking us into a full musical ending, which is always welcome. I am always impressed with the show’s embracing of original songs and how good John Brennan and his crew are at putting them together.

After a long stretch of episodes dealing with the isolation that reflected the world struggling with COVID and all-around suck, this Christmas special felt like a great example of the togetherness that The Last Drive-In can bring for horror fans.

Plus, there was the Chili Bandit again. I love that little hog. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

And that is where we leave you until The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs returns to Shudder in 2022. I would love to read your thoughts on the special and the films chosen. I’d also like to read your thoughts on the reviews. Are they too long? Not long enough? Please, let us know.

Otherwise, please, have a Merry Christmas, and may all your gators be baited safely.

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“There’s room for everyone at the Drive-In. Everyone pays the same price to get in. We’ll make room for you.”Joe Bob Briggs

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask

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Episode two of Goosebumps was honestly more fun than the first. It was dark, funny, infuriating and wonderful. Best of all, it has a killer twist ending.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.

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Cover of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask.

We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.

Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.

Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.

The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.

Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.

When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.

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What worked

I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.

Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.

Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.

On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.

But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.

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We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.

And the same can be said for Isabella.

Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.

Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.

What didn’t work

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If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.

Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.

Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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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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Book Reviews

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

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“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.

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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. 

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[USR 4.2]

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