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Yes. That’s the answer to the question you were wondering. Yes. There are werewolves. Yes, they ride motorcycles. 

And with that out of the way, we can talk about the enormity of this movie and the hundreds of things it also adds besides werewolves riding motorcycles. Because, beyond the obvious, there is so much more to this movie. There’s cultists, gang dynamics, tarot readings, beards (so many, many beards), Satan, existentialism, and frolicking bikers before the darkened days of “no homo”. 

People, this is WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS…

The Plot:

A biker gang be biker-ganging. They are a group of friends who love their hogs and live to ride them. They also love to drink beer and hug each other. They’re just living life, man, and those be damned to try to stop them.

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They have cool biker names like…”Scarf” and “Movie”. I’m sure it was much more menacing in the 70’s. However, our leader is the stern but patient, Adam (Stephen Oliver in a beard just as luscious as James Brolin in The Amityville Horror). His main “old lady” is Helen (D.J. Anderson), who is basically the biker mom of the group. And then there’s the mysterious (sometimes sexist and bitchy) Tarot…who plays tarot cards. Again, I’m sure that their names were much more menacing back then.

During their biker adventures (mostly just drinking and free love), they happen across a land owned by Satanist cultists…which they decide is the best place to get drunk and have an orgy.

But, alas, it is not.

Soon, a strange trace overcomes Helen and she starts trace-fire-dancing with a large nope-rope, and begins to change into a Satanic werewolf. Soon, bikers are killed off one-by-one in wonderfully 70’s-style slow-mo deaths. 

Tarot, ever the psychic, knows that something is wrong and tries to save Adam and the group before it’s too late. But can this wet-blanket go toe-to-toe with Satan himself, or is this band of beer-chugging brothers doomed to eternal damnation?

Thoughts:

I will be honest, I saw the cover and immediately thought, “Oh, this is going to be on Manos: The Hands of Fate levels of crap…terrific!”

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However, within the first shots, I was pleasantly surprised. The camera-work is actually very well done. The music (albeit being for a biker-exploitation film in the 70’s) was actually good and engaging. The costumes were terrific and while the acting was camp-good, there were a few scenes that felt actually genuine.

I’m going to detail it out in my brain roll segment, but the chemistry between Adam and Tarot mixed well together. Their scenes were the most enjoyable because they came off as the most genuine and expressive. D.J. Anderson did a great job with a lot of trope-y schlock coming her way. She was beautiful and fit into the role perfectly. 

There were quite a few shots that were artistically done and diverted from other horror of the time and what was to come. The editing was well-done and kept the pace (with the exception of the “filling up our hogs at the gas station” scene). 

So, all in all, this movie both exceeded and also met my expectations (which honestly were a bit low). 

Yes, I drew a sad-bear animatronic amalgamation on a crappy bike. Let’s all slowly laugh and point at Brannyk because I TRIED MY VERY BEST FOR ALL OF YOU!!!!

Brain Roll Juice:

So much. So, so much to say.

Okay I don’t know if you know this, but sometimes I have a special radar for certain things, especially in cinema (hint: it’s queer-related). Now granted the Hays code in Hollywood was ceremonially axed in 1968, it left a LOT of ripples in its wake, some continuing to this day.

We’ve all heard the shaking of heads and the utterance of “go woke, go broke” whenever a high-budget movie tries to step out of the trope-like binds and doesn’t financially succeed. 

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Hell, even my good pal, Jim Phoenix brought this up in our review of The Shed. Gay anything in a movie is a risk. Honest LGBTQ+ representation that actually looks queerness in the face and examines it is seen as a high-risk, low-reward venture for studios. Movies that are schlock and exploitation are more acceptable, but it’s still…not exactly welcomed.

So, what’s my pay-off to this massive lead-up? Hear me out.

Should I get this commissioned?

There’s a lot of chemistry between Adam and Tarot. And while Tarot is kind of a bitchy dude, he’s a likeable character (at least I like him). In fact, if made today, he’d probably be portrayed by a female. He is supportive and even virginal, a Cassandra-type figure trying to save his…very good friend

And I’m not saying that their relationship is that of a sexual one. The vibes I got from Tarot are even that of an ace, or an aromantic ace. He’s fiercely loyal and emotionally attached to Adam, which seems to be partially if not wholly reciprocated. 

Hear me out…Hollywood, sell me the rights to this film for a Del Taco meal, and I’ll re-write and direct. Same characters, but there’s a romantic triangle between Adam, Helen, and Tarot.

Helen senses something’s off, but not exactly what, meanwhile Tarot and Adam get closer, but Helen gets angry because Adam denies (or doesn’t recognize it yet). Helen, wanting to keep Adam close to her, willingly goes to the cult and asks for the power “to destroy anyone who gets in her way”. Of course Satan is a dick and makes her a werewolf. 

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Or sad-bear, whatever

Now Tarot can sense something (he’s still a psychic like in the original movie) is not quite right and tries to warn Adam about it. Adam thinks he’s just being a dick to Helen and gets defensive, thinking Tarot is trying to push their ambiguous relationship into something he’s not ready for.

Helen begins to kill the others because of stupid shit they say or do, and starts to lose more and more control over her werewolf-ness. It’s scaring her, but she can’t come clean because then Adam might leave her.

It all culminates into a final scene when Adam must choose who to believe – his lying but devastated lover, or Tarot and their confusing feelings. Both take courage to confront, and honesty is the only way he can save them. Will love win or will he doom them all? 

I have a few ideas for the ending, but I ain’t gonna spoil it for y’all. 

Anyway, Hollywood people, hit me up on Twitter (@brannykj). I got the goods.

Bottomline:

Super fun. Super retro. Super beards and biker lingo. A gem of exploitation nostalgia. If that’s your mama jama, then you’ll be all over this flick. 

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

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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