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This might be the best night in the history of The Last Drive-In, especially in a season that has largely been nothing but highs. We not only get an excellent anthology in Scare Package but we get the infamous, the legendary, Hogzilla. A night so full of Joe Bob he was also in the damn movies!

Scare Package (2019)

Opening Rant: Graceland!

How the hell do I review an anthology given the current format of Notes from The Last Drive-In? One segment at a time, apparently. Scare Package is a hilarious horror-comedy anthology comprised of seven films that tackle different horror genres and have their own unique style. As a whole, the anthology is largely excellent and worth a rewatch. At an individual level, however, some of the segments are stronger than others.

I say seven films, as that is how Scare Package was marketed, but that is slightly misleading as the cold open and framing decide end up also coming together into a third, distinct narrative. As such, we technically have eight narratives, not counting the overall package itself, the anthology. Between the first half of the night and the last half, then, I need to review 10 things.

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You’re killing me, Joe Bob. So, I guess we dive in then?

“Cold Open” / “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium”

“Cold Open” is a fun little way to start the anthology, presenting a suitably meta riff on horror tropes and displaying a goofy and endearing earnestness. Jon Michael Simpson’s Mike Myers and his simple desire to have a bigger part than a bit player make for a nice, quick narrative that also features some decent horror references. Mike’s story segues nicely into the framing narrative, “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium.”

“Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium” is not really much in the way of a story as it is more written into small sketches that move viewers between segments. With that being said, the framing device really works. It’s a fun video store with a goofy owner, a new guy, and a frequent customer. Each framing segment features plenty of gags for horror fans. Jeremy King’s Chad Buckley is the clear focus of these moments and his broad, obsessive characterization works quite well, particularly with the later payoff of the final segment.

Joe Bob’s assessment of these two segments was glowing, at four stars. While I think “Cold Open” was more entertaining, “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium” is no comedy slouch either. Staying in line with Joe Bob’s scoring, I’d put the two of them together at four and a half Cthulhus. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

“One Time in the Woods”

A few of these segments are more like sketches than real narratives. But that is a given with anthologies, especially with an anthology so absolutely stacked full of stories. Granted that this is no The ABCs of Death, but there are still a lot of segments, here. “One Time in the Woods” is a wacky and I dare say Pythonesque bit. I reminded me of the classic “Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Salad Days’”sketch from Flying Circus.

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Joe Bob gave “One Time in the Woods” four stars and as a sketch I completely agree. It’s hilarious, gory, and I was laughing so much I had to stop taking notes. I give it five Cthulhus. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

“M.I.S.T.E.R.”

“M.I.S.T.E.R.” is an interesting idea that feels a little too scattershot and undercooked. It features some very familiar faces (Noah Segan and Jon Gabrus) and a hilarious segment of werewolf slaughter, but the logic of the story is a little weak and it feels strung together as a whole. The connection between predatory werewolves and Men’s Rights Advocacy makes a lot of metaphorical sense and is worth exploring. It just does not necessarily work here.

Joe Bob gave “M.I.S.T.E.R.” two and a half stars. That seems about right. I give “M.I.S.T.E.R.” three Cthulhus. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

“Girls Night Out of Body”

“Girls Night Out of Body” was not the strongest of the narratives but it was more developed than a few of the other segments. Where “Girls Night Out of Body” succeeds is in style. This was the most gorgeously shot and arranged of the segments with bold color choices reminiscent of Giallo. The lack of a strong narrative here works against it but as an anthology segment it still ends up being fun. It presents some cool visuals and has a fun, if not particularly deep, story. It works well enough for its runtime.

Joe Bob gave it about two stars. I feel like he was a bit stingy here. I was more enthused by it, giving it three and a half Cthulhus. I’ll be first in line when they expand it into a full movie.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

“The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill”

Another segment that feels more like a sketch than a story, but it is absolutely hilarious. For my money, it might tie with “One Time in the Woods” for the funniest segment of the anthology. This segment is presented as being part of the ending to a longer film. We catch the finale of the slasher where the protagonists have captured the clown-killer and try to dispose of him in hilarious and graphic ways. This segment might be the tropiest of the bunch.

Joe Bob gave this one four stars. He likes the messy ones, apparently. I give this one four Cthulhus. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

“So Much To Do”

MST3K-alumn Baron Vaughn’s “So Much to Do” is a cute little segment. It’s pretty cheesy down to stock 1980s title cards on the TV, and it’s definitely more on the skit-side of the anthology spectrum. The fight is fun and the crosscutting between the living room and the tv-show makes for some frantic editing here and there. The story makes little sense, but beyond that it’s still pretty neat.

Joe Bob only gave it two stars. I am a bit more generous, particularly because I am a fan of Vaughn and I am allowed to play by my own rules. I give it three Cthulhus. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

“Horror Hypothesis”

The largest and most developed segment of the anthology ends up being the strongest one, narratively speaking. It also features one of the best Last Drive-In twists… at least until Hogzilla later that night. This segment builds on “Cold Open” and “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium” taking the Chad character and putting him into his own little meta-horror film. All of the gags built around researching horror and the lampshade-hanging present are worth a laugh. I put it pretty succinctly in a tweet during the marathon.

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The film predates the Joe Bob Briggs’ resurgence via Shudder a bit so it is fantastic to see a movie that thinks so highly of him that they brought him in. Joe Bob plays himself here and it is every bit as funny as you’d expect. The segment also features Goldust himself, Dustin Rhodes, as the tragic serial killer.

Joe Bob had some fun stuff to say about the movie, but considering each break was the presentation of more and more Drive-In Totals this is probably one of the lesser nights for the level of film insight we are used to. But you know what? That’s okay. It was a stacked night. Scare Package didn’t get an overall rating, but “Horror Hypothesis” did at four stars. so I have no stars to report beyond the individual segments. As for me, I give Scare Package four and a half Cthulhus. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Best Line: No line needed when we have this absolute gem of a Tweet.

Nuts.

Hogzilla

Opening Rant: Joe Bob can’t even right now.

Hogzilla is one of those monkey paw sorts of movies. It obtained an almost mythical status among viewers. The MutantFam hyped the film up to a huge degree because it starred Joe Bob Briggs and was considered a lost film that never really saw release. A film so neglected it took Diana Prince, our very own Mail Girl, to engage in tracking it down and getting a re-edit of the film prepared to be shown on Shudder.

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The problem is, Hogzilla isn’t very good at all. It’s more of a curiosity than a movie. I mean, just read this synopsis according to IMDB.

A tabloid news crew ventures into the backwoods of Central Florida to investigate reports of an aggressive feral hog who the locals call Hogzilla. What they find, though, are demons, devils, creeping things and pure evil.Hogzilla synopsis courtesy of IMDB

This is not the movie we saw during The Last Drive-In. The above sounds vaguely structured and at least conceptually weak but still somewhat sound. It’s hard to really view Hogzilla as a movie at all. It’s some sort of tulpa of Drive-In wackiness we have collectively willed into existence.

And yet it made for a memorable and delightful evening.

The movie teases an showdown with a giant, feral hog and never really delivers a satisfying glimpse of the beast. Budget and technical issues prevent than and most of the hog-murder-action comes in the form of offscreen antics and POV shots from the porcine killer. It’s like a backwoods Floridian JAWS, only without any real merits beyond a surprisingly earnest performance by Joe Bob Briggs.

Joe Bob Briggs, also known as John Bloom, is not just our favorite horror host, but an author and actor. He’s been in some good movies and he’s not a bad actor in the least. He’s never really had to carry a movie, but he is certainly no slouch when he’s popped up in different films. Sure a great many of these rolls are the sort of wink-wink-nudge appearances you expect from movie-obsessed directors, but appearances in The Stand, Great Balls of Fire!, Casino, and Face/Off are genuinely pretty good moments on his part.

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So it was fitting that the only real thing that worked in Hogzilla was Joe Bob Briggs. It’s impossible for anyone to carry Hogzilla but we spent an hour and thirty minutes watching him do his best and it was pretty damn satisfying. At this point I don’t know if Joe Bob can really get more serious, non-winking film roles, but the guy deserves some.

Joe Bob had Hogzilla sprung on him (as much as a scripted movie marathon show can “spring” anything on the guy who writes it) but it was a genuinely charming and entertaining night, leading in from Scare Package, where he kept needling Darcy about the second film and playing it with all the spoiled, requisite grumpiness we’d expect. The segments surrounding the feature were a treat with what appeared to be a progressively more hammered Joe Bob Briggs poking fun at himself and the movie.

The biggest moment of the night, however, was the delivery of the Drive-In Totals by Darcy. This was a Drive-In first. I have loved all the mail girls across the various Joe Bob shows but Darcy is the best of them all, shaping her role into more of a co-host than a supporting player. Tonight proved that Darcy is absolutely indispensable to The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. The show may be named after Joe Bob Briggs but Darcy has become the beating heart of the community that has grown around the show.

Not only does she provide a fun foil to our host but she has her own impact through cosplay, checking Joe Bob on dumb crap he sometimes rattles off, and going above and beyond the role of the supporting character. She accompanies Joe Bob across the country on his tours, she live-tweets with the MutantFam, and she has networked to get great guests and Hogzilla onto the show.

We should all be so lucky to find a collaborator and friend like Diana Prince in our own lives. Joe Bob and Darcy are The Last Drive-In.

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Darcy’s take on Hogzilla was that of a cheerleader. I don’t mean that in a dismissive way, either. Hogzilla is a great moment for the show and I get the four-star rating. It made for an amazing episode of television. However, I can’t really give Hogzilla a pass. It’s a one and a half star film, and that one star is reserved for Joe Bob, the only bright spot in that mess. 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

Best Line: “It’s gonna get nasty.”

A creepily effective dramatic turn for our host.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

We have a lot of Drive-In totals tonight, and Drive-In Total history as well. Each segment of Scare Package received its own totals, and Darcy got to share the Drive-In Totals for Hogzilla. What a night!

What, you think we’re done? Nope, we have our own totals. A smaller set, but Totals none the less!

  • 8 Directors
  • 4 Cold Opens
  • 6 Attempts to Kill the Killer
  • Shear Fu
  • Cracker Barrel Fu
  • Epistemology Fu
  • The-Ate-Er Fu
  • Wilhelm Fu
  • Denouement Fu
  • Hurricane Fu
  • Ghost Fu
  • Corpse Digging
  • Shoplifting
  • Bowel Shitting
  • Macguffin Dropping
  • Horror Host Joking
  • Religious Joking
  • Darcy Jailing
  • Tusk Stuffing
  • Blonde Joking
  • Meta Madness
  • Graceland Darcy
  • Gratuitous Joe Bob
  • Tactical Piggy Hat
  • Darcy Cosplay: Joe Bob Briggs
  • Silver Bolo Winner: The Signal Podcast
HOGZILLA HOGZILLA HOGZILLA

Episode Score

File this episode under “all time great.” I am curious if The Last Drive-In is going to even attempt to top this one. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Remember, folks, keep your hogs at bay lest ye end up prey to the mighty Hogzilla. Also, join us for the live-tweet session during The Last Drive-In season two finale next Friday!

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

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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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