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We head back to the drive-in with Joe Bob and Darcy this week to watch The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976) and Housebound (2014). Lock your doors and stay inside with Shudder, because this Friday the 13th double-feature is agoraphobic-approved.

We pick up from last week’s Walpurgisnacht fun to another creepy day for horror nerds, and along the way, we learn some cool history about superstition. But does the theme land, or does this week’s double-feature premise feel a little thin?

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a 1972 “cross-genre” film with elements of a teen drama, thriller, horror, and character study. It is certainly no feel-good film, either. It is a dark satire of the worst fears of parents subverted by a protagonist who has lived more than most adults. Directed by Nicolas Gessner, the film stars Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Mort Shuman, and Scott Jacoby. The film is a Canada/French-produced adaptation of Laird Koenig’s novel of the same name. The film would be written by Koenig.

Poster for The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

The plot is simple; a thirteen-year-old girl named Rynn (Jodie Foster) lives in apparent isolation in the town of Wells Harbor, Maine. Her apparent isolation draws the curiosity of the community, including that of a local pedophile, Frank (Martin Sheen), the son of Rynn’s landlord, Cora (Alexis Smith). Rynn’s privacy is repeatedly under assault by the larger community and the obsession of Frank as her father, a poet, is never seen by locals. A chance encounter with a young man, Mario (Scott Jacoby), nephew of local cop Ron (Mort Shuman), unravels the complicated and tragic circumstances behind Rynn’s apparent isolation.

This is not a pleasant film, not in the sense that it is not a good film, but in the sense the mood is oppressive and the world depicted is cruel and unfair. The film frustrated me several times because of what liberties adults take against a child in her own home, against her wishes. The writing in this regard is excellent, with several great moments of conversation. This is one of the “talkiest” films shown on The Last Drive-In, perhaps akin to The Changeling. The film itself is limited in scope as well, mostly playing out within Rynn’s house. The story’s limitations reveal the intent of Koenig, the writer, who originally sought to adapt his novel into a play. I would love to live in a world where The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane was a theater staple.

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The film is tightly written with a fairly efficient run time, though two montages cause the film to drag a bit. This is also compounded by the use of Chopin’s piano concerto No. 1 in E Minor, as performed by pianist Claudio Arrau and The London Philharmonic Orchestra. Chopin’s composition overpowers the film score by Mort Shuman and Christian Gaubert. It feels odd to say, but the use of Chopin seems a little much and is used so frequently that having repeated through montages makes them feel longer due to simple aural repetition.

The film’s cinematography is fine, but René Verzier’s work does not do much to sell the film as needing a film adaptation. The quality and the cinematography are fairly rote. Most of the tension comes from performances with little added effect from Verzier’s camera.

The performances are largely excellent, and the critical praise of Jodie Foster, who was twelve as the production began and then turned thirteen during, is well deserved. Foster is one of the finest actresses to ever work in film and seeing her command the screen so readily is impressive. You feel anxiety for her and can’t help but feel broken at the end of the movie because of how wonderful she is.

Sheen is a revelation as well, only three years away from the role that would cement him as Hollywood royalty in Apocalypse Now. Frank as a character is so manic and aggressive in such a weirdly charismatic way. Imagine the worst person in the world with leading man looks and charm, and you get a sense of just how insidious and dangerous the character of Frank is. The truth is, we are lucky to see such a top-tier actor play such a horrific character.

Now, singing the praises of Foster and Sheen is not to say the rest of the cast does not deliver. Alexis Smith’s Core Hallet is an icy busybody who takes her sparring with a child personally, and her brief time in the film results in wonderful dialogue with Foster’s Rynn. Scott Jacoby plays the handsome and charismatic weirdo, Mario, who creates a bright spot in the overall dark life of Rynn. And not least, Mort Shuman’s Officer Ron Migliorti represents a gentle, good man who tries to help but is kept at arm’s length.

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Joe Bob-servations on The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

Joe Bob’s host segments were a lot of fun this week, especially with the recurring discussion on superstition. Perhaps the best of the night came early when he discussed the origins of The Thirteen Club. The whole history was quite fascinating, but also gave way to one of the best laughs of the night: when he cracked a joke about everyone in the club dying, catching Darcy off-guard. The whole night was filled with interesting little asides into the superstitious mind.

Regarding the film, Joe Bob was quite effusive with his praise, as the film deserves. Of the various aspects, he discussed, however, he was particularly vocal about how this film was very much lucky to cast who it had and the time it was made. You get the sense that maybe The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane couldn’t be made today and have quite the impact it did with the one-two punch of Foster and Sheen. Regarding Foster, Joe Bob made a very important point: by the time she was twelve she had already had a strong career as a child actress, so her professionalism in the film isn’t overly surprising as some make it out to be.

Final Thoughts on The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a largely excellent film, among some of the best of the ‘serious’ films that have been shown on the show. The nature of the film as being like that of a play may limit the audience a bit, given how dialogue-heavy it is, but for those who can manage there is a lot to love.

The film does drag at times given the overly artsy montages set to classic Chopin compositions, and the internal logic does frustrate at times given the number of privacy and property violations that seem to occur over the duration of the film. It gives one the impression that maybe the oppressiveness is a more heightened element than was necessarily true. It does certainly inspire a reaction, however. As I was not alive in the 1970s I would love to know the accuracy of how the characters would have behaved from someone who was.

Joe Bob gave the film 3 and 1/2 stars, which seems about right. I feel that perhaps the half-a-star deduction was due to the arthouse quality, as this is a drive-in show. Mutants can only go sophisticate for so long a stretch. As for me, I’d about where Joe Bob is regarding my assessment, giving the film 4 and 1/2 Cthulhus out of 5.

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4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Best Line: “School is having people tell you what life is and never finding out by yourself.” – Rynn

A still from The Little Girl That Lives Down the Lane (1976)
Soul: Rotten. Threads: Fresh.

Housebound (2014)

Housebound was the night’s second feature. This 2014 New Zealand horror comedy was written, edited, and directed by Gerard Johnstone. The film made its debut at SXSW where it quickly became an indie darling. The film was a New Zealand accelerator project where government funding was granted in order to assist in the production. The film stars Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, and Cameron Rhodes.

Poster for Housebound (2014)

Housebound follows a troubled young woman, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), who botches an ATM robbery and is sentenced to house arrest for eight months under the care of her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata). Stuck at home with an ankle monitor, Kylie and her mother discuss past instances of hauntings that seem to trigger an awareness of strange things going on within the house. However, Kylie uncovers more about the strange circumstances of the home with the aid of her parole officer, an amateur paranormal investigator, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), and the guidance of her psychologist, Dennis (Cameron Rhodes).

The film is quite funny but is fairly light on the scares and gore, despite a particularly explosive death that results in a shower of blood. The film was quite critically appraised at the time of release and made waves in the American film industry, but today you do not hear much about it, nor do you hear much about the man behind it, Gerard Johnstone. Indeed, the film seems largely forgotten, which is a bit of a shame given the fresh approach it takes, but also a bit expected in that it doesn’t quite land the punches it throws.

The film’s approach to subverting the haunted house theme is clever at first until contrivances and dialogue dumps begin to drag down what started as a rather tight little haunted house project. The foundation that was so strong progressively begins to look like a tower of Jenga blocks the further on the film goes and the revelation within are clever, but I struggle to say they’re necessarily worth the ride. For example, the Teddy Ruxpin knock-off makes absolutely no sense in the context of the film when all is revealed. Having seen the film twice I am still failing to understand why the bear was able to do what it did, even if it had a “helping hand.” This may be one of the most glaring issues with the logic of the film, in my opinion. That being said, the film has a number of them.

My other big criticism of the film is that the protagonist is unlikeable. A protagonist does not need to be likable to be compelling, but there needs to be some reason to want to follow their journey. I think Morgana O’Reilly is fine as Kylie, but Kylie is such a shit that it is largely hard to root for her. Nor does there seem to be a real sense of growth in her character either as most of the decisions in the final act are largely driven by survival impulses and leave little room for a sense of growth. Rather, the film’s most appealing characters are Amos and Miriam. Amos because he is a weird, earnest dude, and Miriam because Rima Te Wiata does a fantastic job playing a mother abused by her child.

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Simon Riera’s cinematography is effective, but nothing particularly outstanding. It is serviceable for the type of film this is. There is a fun moment where Dennis is menaced by the ‘spirit’ of the house and the sequence set across an entirely blacked screen flashes to a chilling reveal of the spirit hovering over the psychologist. A scene involving dentures is also suitably framed to be as uncomfortable as possible, which I appreciate as someone who has a particular fascination with teeth as a vehicle for horror. As for Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s score, I found it to be effective, but nothing that really pulled me in, either.

Ultimately, I think the description of “effective but did not pull me in” is an encapsulation of my overall attitude regarding this film. It was, for lack of a better word, fine.

Joe Bob-servations on Housebound

The survey of superstitious carried on into the second film of the night with digressions into rabbits’ feet and the potential origins of the term “knock on wood.” What felt lacking was a real example of the connection of either film to superstition. The connective tissue was the idea of refusing to leave the house, but neither film presented the shut-in nature of their leads as being tied to superstitious anxieties.

Of course, with any New Zealand-sourced film on the show, Joe Bob returns to beating his drum on the misappropriation of the terminology “Kiwi horror” as it relates to the film in question, just as he did back with Deathgasm. In case you missed it with previous horror films out of New Zealand on the show… “Kiwi horror” does not exist – it is not a distinct genre, it is just a label attached to films made out of New Zealand with incubator money during a period of time and there is nothing particularly of New Zealand about them.

Expect to hear that same point again the next time a movie from New Zealand is shown.

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Final Thoughts on Housebound

Housebound is a fun mid-2010s horror film out of New Zealand with a clever play on the haunted house trope, but cleverness isn’t enough to win me over completely. Between a thoroughly unsympathetic protagonist, an overly convoluted series of backstory reveals, and the fairly limited amount of horror, I would be hard-pressed to claim this among my favorite on The Last Drive-In. I didn’t really feel a sense of shock or dread. Granted, I was entertained, but the film didn’t blow my mind. The same can’t be said for one of the characters, that’s for sure.

Joe Bob gave the film the 2 and 1/2 stars treatment. I think that is entirely reasonable. It’s worth a watch, but it doesn’t seem like one that will stick with me and other Mutants of my ilk. As for my assessment, I would give it 3 Cthulhus out of 5. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Best Line: “You cannot punch ectoplasm.” – Amos

A still from Housebound (2014)
The most unlikeable protagonist ever in a movie on The Last Drive-In?

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

As for the official drive-in totals, we have the following.

We also have the Haunted MTL Drive-In totals…

  • 1 Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Achievement in Non-Fiction
  • 1 Dead Hamster
  • 2 Moody Montages
  • 3 instances of “Thee-ate-er”
  • Clipboard Fumbling
  • Superstition Tempting
  • Heaven Joking
  • Cocktail Joking
  • Gratuitous Plot
  • Gratuitous “Hello Moto”
  • Child Rights Advocating
  • Water Moccasin Anxiety
  • Suprise Italian Racism
  • John Brennan Musical Number
Screencap from The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs season 4 episode 3
My wife suggests Darcy’s top is made from the same material as yoga pants. What say you?

Episode Score for The Last Drive-In: S4E3 – The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane and Housebound

I had expressed some doubt about the theme of last week’s double feature, but I am happy to say this double feature’s theme was much more coherent, although admittedly a bit of a stretch. Friday the 13th is a day about superstition, and while that thread was woven in quite well through the host segments, the film selections were tangential – built around the idea of a “shut-in night” for the ultra-paranoid and superstitious.

The only problem was that neither film really dealt with being shut-in due to superstition. One was a girl living by herself trying to do her own thing as the world pushed back at her and the other is about someone under house arrest. The host segments were fun, but I am wondering if stating a theme outright is the right route to go down with these episodes. Perhaps if the themes were stated as being more open-ended the double features would gel a bit better through juxtaposition. However, setting an expectation of a theme and not really delivering on it feels like a misstep.

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I am probably taking this sort of thing a bit too seriously, but I also think the past two weeks represent a stretch that could lead to misfires in the future. I vastly prefer the themes of the double features being more subtle or interpretative outside of the holiday sets. Soon we’ll find ourselves seeing an environmental awareness pairing where one film is set in the woods and one film has a beach… and that is about it.

The episode as a whole is still great, of course, and the host segments are as fun as ever. Yet, something about the loose associations between the last four films is rubbing me the wrong way. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

And that is it for Notes from the Last Drive-In this week. This has certainly been a little bit more critical than most of the reviews I’ve done, owing largely to the fact that the show is usually firing on all cylinders the majority of the time. Four seasons and multiple holiday marathons in, however, it would make sense that maybe there are some performance issues to be aware of.

What did you think, though? Why not share your thoughts in the comments with us about the show and the two films shown. Did you have a favorite?

With that, please join us on Twitter next Friday as we live-tweet with the rest of the Mutant Fam during The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs

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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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