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Happy Mother’s Day, everyone! Sorry I’m late to the game, but I had five mother-things to call today and you know how much they like to talk.

But thank you to all the womb providers out there that gave humanity a gooey sac to bump around in until we triumphantly punch, kicked and bit our way out. Like in Twilight – that’s how it ends, right? No spoilers, people.

So, when my internet pooped out on me, I went to my lovely collection of my dvds (I’m a dvd prepper for these situations; you can’t trust Uncle Sam to give you high speed internet at all times) and lo and behold, found a Mother’s Day movie in my “cheap schlock” pile.

Hence, I present: Mother’s Day Massacre.

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The Plot:

Your guess is as good as mine.

Jim is on the cusp of manhood, but is constantly emotionally abused by his over-bearing, hyper-macho Texan stereotype of a father. Never knowing his real mother, he does some research and finds clues to where she may be at.

Together with his friends, they find a ghost town and decide to get up to teenage shenanigans, only to find they aren’t alone. Thus begins the rampage and unraveling of so many secrets that were better off buried…

The informed and rational one…

Thoughts:

Yes, I know. Yep. Uh-huh. Looks bad. Real bad.

And I’m not saying that it isn’t…but…I’m saying that they knew the tone walking into it and kept it consistent. They knew it was a short (almost 80 minutes), low-budget redneck-y slaughter-fest and kept it on the same level throughout (although Jim was blankly devoid of any Texan culture or flavor), down to the rockabilly jams and gopher-killing guns.

So, what I’m saying is, don’t judge it too quickly or harshly.

The Good:

The casting was actually really well done. The “kids” had genuine chemistry together that made it feel like they actually liked each other instead of being actors saying lines. Most of the actors have had a lot of acting under their belts and it shows. They knew to chew that scenery because that’s the type of movie this is. This is aragoto style of horror – loud, exaggerated, and rough around the edges. It’s in your face and they (especially Mel Gorham, Joe Coots and Greg Travis) executed this to a ‘T’. There was a good amount of energy to the whole movie and I think a lot of that came from the actors themselves.

Also, that flippin’ kid – Trevor Heins. That kid playing the typically old grizzled gas station attendant who spouts exposition was a cute and funny twist to the trope. As cheesy as it was, I enjoyed it incredibly.

There was also a great scene that came after the initial incident that is rarely seen in movies – the aftermath of surviving something horrific. We see how the remaining characters interact with each other after watching their friends die and how that changes them. Say what you will about the crassness of some of the scenes, but I thought this was a seldom explored little gem of a moment in storytelling and acting. Often at the end of every movie I watch, I rate how flipped they are for the rest of their lives if they survive, and this one actually answers that. It was a clever moment of writing and expression.

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Good practical effects. They were scarce and probably cheap, but it was refreshing to see them…The CGI at the end…not so much.  

And it had an ending I didn’t expect. It wasn’t a great ending, but it was a weird and wild one. Definitely a different turn (but was set up in a previous scene).

The Bad:

It would have been nice to see Jim as also a Texan, but a nice one? I mean, he lives with his dad in Texas, too, right? He can still be a quiet, calm, and sensitive heterosexual Texan male – I mean, there’s always Austin. But that bugged me a bit…Maybe that was something I didn’t hear or get.

The story was a bit jumbled as stated in the plot category. I think with some more story-boarding, it could have been smoother, but they may have been working with limited time or shoots that prevented more time being put into it. I know, it’s schlock, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better schlock.

The biggest issue I guess I have is that the story had nothing to do with motherhood, really. It was all about dude-junk power, machismo, and pissing contests. Literally. There was peeing on people and things to establish a form of dominance more than once.

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The main villains were males, including the killers (I consider them sub-villains), that sexually abused women. The whole movie is extremely dude-junk-centered. In fact, there is a scene in which one of the killers enters the home of his (male) victims with a raging and enormous…and the other….well, here’s a representation:

And that’s fine, but I think it would have been better as Father’s Day Massacre, especially as Jim’s father plays a huge role in this life and the consequences of this movie. So, if you’re looking for a womanhood-type thing, I would pass this up and watch Aliens, Silent Hill, or, if you want schlock, Jaws 3.

The ending with the police is super-fast, confusing, and weird. I didn’t hate it, but I thought that it could have been edited better (and please get better line reads from that cop, even if it takes all night of slapping him in the face with fish oil).

CGI gun shots…bad.

Brain Roll Juice:

For some reason, our killers are “hillbillies”. I forgot the actual wording of grizzled exposition kid, but that’s the gist. And we all know shorthand for hillbillies in horror movies…

Developmentally and intellectually disabled people.

As great as the actors are, it’s still at the expense of the DD population. It’s a trope, yeah, sure. But it’s one that gets under my skin. This movie is rife with sexual assaults, which is part of the story and movie, but putting someone with DD in the mix when people with DD are seven times higher to be assaulted just…makes it a little less fun.

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As Nancy Thaler, a deputy secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, has stated,

“They are people who often cannot speak or their speech is not well-developed. They are generally taught from childhood up to be compliant, to obey, to go along with people. Because of the intellectual disability, people tend not to believe them, to think that they are not credible or that what they saying, they are making up or imagining.”

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been one of the most marginalized groups throughout history, experiencing forced sterilizations via legal action; denial of medical treatment; involuntary medical experimentation; mercy killings; physical and sexual abuses; neglect and homicides. In fact, one study showed that when it came to being murdered, the majority died as a result of neglect. This category included death by medical neglect and starvation. Can you imagine being cared about so little that you die from it?

Screw axes and chainsaws; slowly dying after a life of abuse, while not being able to speak or be believed, because society doesn’t care about you – that’s the real horror movie.

…Also, Latinas are not typically crazy, over-sexed, pot-growing, abusive brujas. Just throwing that out there (again, though, fun and campy performance by Mel Gorham).

A joy to watch

Bottom-line:

Rockabilly b-slasher with a Texan drawl. Goofy and gory enough for a movie night or two, but nothing to really knock off them socks or rocks. 2.7 out of 5 stars (2.7 / 5)

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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.

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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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Movies n TV

Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek

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The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.

The story

We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.

She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.

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Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.

Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.

She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.

Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.

Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.

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While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.

What worked

One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.

Then she killed it and started crying.

I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.

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What didn’t work

Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.

In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.

Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.

All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.

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