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Sitting alone in an empty theater on opening weekend wearing my N95 mask because I trust no one, not even myself, The New Mutants was the first movie I saw when theaters opened up again after the great lockdown.  Nearly two months later watching it again, it may in fact be the last movie I get to see in theaters this year.  

Maybe because this movie was the last in the era of 20th Century Fox X-Men movies, or because it was stuck in production hell for almost 3 years before finally being released at the height of a global pandemic, but given it’s cursed status having The New Mutants come out this year of all years seems oddly fitting.

A bear walks into an asylum. . .

The movie starts in a blizzard of chaos and confusion as our young protagonist, Danielle “Dani” Moonstar (Blu Hunt) is awakened in the middle of the night to some unknown terror ripping apart the reservation where her and her father live.  Dani’s father hides her in a hollow tree right before he’s killed by the unseen force and his body unceremoniously dumped at Dani’s feet.  Running in fear though the woods gets Dani knocked unconscious and when she awakens she’s cuffed to a hospital bed with a werewolf looking down on her, which isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds.  

Dani is quickly introduced to her new doctor, Dr. Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga) and her fellow mutant prisoners, I mean patients, Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton), Rahne Sinclair (Maisie Williams) and Roberto da Costa (Henry Zaga).  Dani learns they’re all being kept at the hospital against their will for their own good, of course, until they can learn to control their powers.  

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While Dani’s own powers are something of a mystery, it becomes quickly clear that all the teenage mutants have caused some sort of tragic death when their powers first manifested.  While there is budding romance and a few instances of casual racism, in general there’s less of the typical teenage angst you would expect with a group of super powered teens left almost entirely up to their own devices.  That might be because everyone comes with a pre-packaged traumatic backstory they’re busy trying to work though. The nightmare visions that start plaguing the teens when Dani arrives also keep everyone a bit too preoccupied for the usual teenage drama. 

Will friendship help them to survive their prison?  It’s an X-Men movie, what do you think?  

Fear. Shame. Self Destruction.  

A group of powerful teenage mutant killers trapped in a mental hospital with deadly powers they can’t fully control yet should be an awesome setup for a horror movie, right?  Unfortunately, this one falls pretty short in the horror category, though it isn’t for lack of trying.  The theatrical release poster at least is on point.  

If only the movie could have gone as hard as the poster

All the charred corpses, smiley faced Silent Hill-like monsters, undead priests, and cool looking nightmare demon bears didn’t help lend much in the way of a spooky atmosphere.  If anything this movie should come with a slew of trigger warnings for suicide, child abuse, self harm, PTSD, etc., that should be the real horrors experienced by the teens, except that no weight is ever given to any of these issues.  A character might be ready to jump to their death or having a panic attack  because of past CSA one minute, and the next, they’re cutting through an army of Slendermen like nothing is wrong.  

The movie leaves almost no time for grief or real reflection on the horrors they’re experiencing, and by that account, not much time for character growth either.  The best parts of the movie are clearly the quiet moments between the characters when they get a chance to actually slow down for a night and talk about their pasts.  It’s a shame too, because these characters and their backstories are interesting.  

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Rahne probably gets the most fleshed out in terms of her personality since her mutant power (turning into an adorable werewolf), backstory, and sexuality is tied up with her religious upbringing.  Her budding relationship with Dani is one of the few things that gives the movie a real heart, and it’s a great positive representation for young LGBT teens.  Sam’s visible torment over the people he’s killed is another real moment of feeling in a movie that’s tonally all over the place, and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things, Color Out of Space) does an amazing job with what little he’s given.  Dani’s Native American heritage does play a part in her story, but mostly in a ‘there’s a Native American legend about this’ type of way.  

Despite being a horror movie veteran at this point, Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch, Glass, Split, Thoroughbreds) through no fault of her own, fairs less well with the character of Illyana.  Even though she’s supposed to be the crazy dangerous one, she mostly comes across as racist and bitchy to the point you wonder why the others bother to put up with her.  Dr. Reyes is barely given a chance to have an emotion since she’s too busy delivering exposition, but for a mutant that creates force fields maybe that could be considered a personality trait.  Still, it would have been nice to know if she really is a monster, or simply a product of the same circumstances Dani and the others find themselves in.  

At the end of a very empty second viewing of the movie, it’s really the sense of missed potential that sticks with you more than anything else when leaving the theater after watching The New Mutants. Despite that, the movie does have a lot going for it.  This is very much a female character driven movie; Dani, Rahne, Illyana and Dr. Reyes are the real forces that propel the plot forward.  No offence to the very likeable Sam and Roberto, but they were just along for the ride.  The casual, yet not at all subtle, chemistry between Dani and Rahne is such a nice change of pace from the forced heteronormativity of most horror, or pretty much any movie really, romances.  That’s why this movie is, if nothing else, rated Horror LGBT Positive by me.

Bad move going after the werewolf’s psychic girlfriend, doc.

Final Girl Thoughts


While I would recommend seeing it for the interesting characters and all around good performances, you can probably wait the 2 weeks or so for it to come to VOD or Disney+ instead of risking your life by heading to the few remaining open theaters in the country to see it if you haven’t already. Enjoyable?  Sure.  Would I want to see these characters again under different circumstances that don’t involve a pandemic?  Absolutely, although by the time they get a second movie out they may have to call it The Midlife Crisis Mutants. A solid 3 out of 5 Cthulhu. A good effort at something a little different.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 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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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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