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Welcome back for another night at the Drive-In with venerable host Joe Bob Briggs with an arrested development double feature of Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981) and The Baby (1973). This episode is S4E7, and we get a night with a theme that works better than previous nights this season, anchored by two strange films about sexual confusion, infantilized male victims, and bold and assertive character actresses.

So, does Shudder‘s best show dazzle this week, or is it caught in a state of arrested development? How does it compare to last week’s double feature? Let’s find out together.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981)

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (sometimes referred to as the confusing Night Warning) is a 1981 exploitation horror film directed by William Ascher with some uncredit segments by Michael Miller. The film was written by Stephen Breimer, Boon Collins, and Allan Jay Glueckman, from a story by Glueckman. The cinematography is credited to Robbie Greenberg, but Jan de Bont has uncredited work on the film’s exhilarating and chaotic opening sequence. The film stars Jimmy McNichol, Susan Tyrrell, Bo Svenson, Julia Duffy, and Bill Paxton.

The Last Drive-In S4E7 poster for Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981)

The movie is an Oedipal nightmare about a teenager, Billy (McNichol), who has been raised by his aunt, Cheryl (Tyrell), since infancy after the death of his parents in a tragic car accident. As Billy’s sights are set on leaving home for college, Cheryl begins to spiral into incestuous and murderous sexuality. In time, a bigoted detective, Joe (Svenson), begins to theorize wildly about a gay element in the events, abusing his authority and his community.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a mess of a film anchored by a handful of great performances and some thematic ideas that, while interesting, never coalesce into something more significant. The film’s twist is introduced somewhat haphazardly about mid-way through the runtime and doesn’t land. The movie also has an odd ending comprising two endings and a text crawl depicting later events. In many ways, the story is handled pretty poorly – the twist doesn’t feel earned, the more exciting elements of the story are brushed aside, and the overall pacing feels uneven.

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The film also has an uneven feel due to direction and cinematography as the credited director and cinematographer, Asher and Greenberg, fill in for the original crew who were removed for the film. The opening sequence depicting the car accident is wonderfully shot and paced and has a real film quality. The rest of the film has the texture of a made-for-TV movie of the 1980s. One wonders how the film would have ended had the studio had more faith in Michael Miller and Jan de Bont.

The real appeal of the film comes from some of the performances. One performance that falls short is 1980s teen heartthrob Jimmy McNichol. McNichol’s Billy is generally wooden and ineffectual, with little going for him beyond looking good in peril. In most other slasher films, such a performance would be reserved for a female victim, which is an exciting component of the film’s queer coding. I get a sense of an “arrested development” theme to Billy’s story, but Billy’s aunt may better express the theme. Cheryl drives the movie.

No, the real performances in the film are those of Susan Tyrrell and Bo Svenson. The film’s energy is highest when the two are together on screen. Susan Tyrell’s menace as Cheryl is both disturbingly sexy and brutally unhinged. Her overall character actor performance style pulls the movie together through the sheer force of will that are her character choices. Bo Svenson is just a game, playing the detestable ideal of the bad cop, the one people envision when they think about the abusive excess of the law. Bo Svenson is the toxic masculinity to the unhinged femininity of Susan Tyrell.

Oh, and Bill Paxton is there being Bill Paxton. Always a welcome presence in any film.

Joe Bob-servations on Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

I think that Joe Bob did a great job selling the arrested development theme of the night overall. While the film ostensibly centers around the dangerous developmental restraints placed on Billy by his unhinged Aunt, we also see that by the end, the film is very much focused on her lack of development.

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I’ve been hesitant to embrace the show’s tendency this season to make a definitive claim on the themes of the pairings, especially when they do not work. I am likely the only person in the Mutant Fam who is fixated on this, but I’d prefer pairings to be less explicitly unified by the show and instead uncover them for myself. But that is just me.

Naturally, Joe Bob’s insights were welcome as ever. We return to the fascinating topic of Susan Tyrrell again after last Halloween’s Angel (1983). We also get some background on Bo Svenson and learn that he wasn’t necessarily the most popular guy on set.

My favorite discussion was about Jimmy McNichol’s role in the film’s creation and just how big of a deal he was. The McNichol craze was before my time, but I managed to get a real sense of why McNichol being in this movie was such a strange thing. While I feel Joe Bob can be a bit hit or miss regarding queer subtext in films, I think his discussion on McNichol’s relationship to the queering of the 1980s was fascinating. A great deal of it was based on a book by Jefferey P. Dennis titled Queering Teen Culture: All-American Boys and Same-Sex Desire in Film and Television, but I found the overall discussion quite interesting.

Final Thoughts on Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is such a strange film, but one that is anchored by some incredible acting by Susan Tyrrell and Bo Svenson that you cannot help but be sucked into it. Ultimately, it seems that Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a film that seeds loftier themes and ideas than it is capable of sewing, resulting in a curious, yet ultimately minor, chapter of queer cinema. It is a film that could benefit from a remake, though any such remake would struggle to capture the scene-chewing fun of Tyrrell and Svenson.

Joe Bob gave the film 4 out of 4 Stars. I would beg to differ. I’d give Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker 3 out of 5 Cthulhus.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Best Line: “Perverts and sluts! They are doing everything they can to take him away from us.” – Cheryl

The Last Drive-In S4E7 still from Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981) for arrested development night
Susan Tyrell chews the scenery, blood and all.

The Baby (1973)

The Baby is a 1973 psychological thriller directed by Ted Post and written by Abe Polsky, a playwright. The cinematographer is Michael D. Marguiles. Curiously, the credited director and cinematographer came into production after it had already begun. The film stars Anjanette Comer, Ruth Roman, Marianna Hill, David Mooney (credited as Manzy), and Suzanne Zenor.

The Last Drive-In S4E7 poster for The Baby (1973)
The poster is deceptively quirky.

The Baby follows social worker Ann Gentry (Comer), who is still traumatized by a car accident that has had severe repercussions on her husband. Her latest case puts in in touch with the Wadsworth family consisting of Mrs. Wadsworth (Roman), sisters Germaine and Alaba (Hill and Zenor), and the intellectually disabled son, known only as Baby (Mooney) who has been raised into his 20s as an infant. The Wadsworths raise Baby as an infant and use him to pay for the home with state funds. Ann Gentry takes a particular interest in the case, but her obsession also begins to take a problematic turn.

The Baby is a pretty wild film and a great example of the “arrested development” theme of the show. Much like the preceding film, viewers are presented with a twist in The Baby, but this one feels more earned. With that being said, the set-up could have been a bit stronger. For a time, viewers may forget that Ann was even married. The story is quite good, making a strange custody struggle into an epic interpersonal conflict between two strong women, and the hapless male has been rendered into little more than an infant.

Like the previous feature, this is another film driven by performances. Ruth Roman’s Mrs. Wadsworth owns the movie, but Anjanette Comer is suitably game to keep up with her, and they play their roles with earnest and unhinged conviction. The film is propelled by the power struggle of the two women, and the push and pull between them are exhilarating. It is not even a battle of good vs. evil, as Comer’s Ann Gentry reveals a specific unhinged menace that makes viewers wonder if they can trust anyone.

Of course, maybe the film’s strangest and most affecting performance is that of David Mooney as Baby. Any actor can play what reads like an infant. Mooney inhabits the role in such a shocking and unsettling way that it can be profoundly disturbing. The vocalizations Mooney manages are haunting. An adult acting like a baby is easy to tell because generally, adults do not ambulate the right way, nor do they portray the sensory overload of an infant well enough. Mooney does, though. It’s intense.

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The pacing of the film is excellent. Not a moment feels wasted. However, the cinematography is adequate but not overly impressive. The Baby is very much an actor’s film. Director Ted Post, a veteran of television, very much comes from the background of directing an actor’s medium instead of spectacle, and the film’s cinematography by Michael D. Marguiles is in line with Post’s perspective. However, the film does look good, and the transfer played on Shudder was fantastic.

Joe Bob-servations on The Baby

Joe Bob’s host segments here primarily focused on elements of the production and the apparent themes of the film. With such a strange movie, themes are a little harder to parse, so I found that Joe Bob leaned more heavily on production details. Specifically, Joe Bob paid much attention to director Ted Post and his collaboration with writer Abe Polsky. I got the impression that Post saw himself as a vessel by which to deliver Polsky’s writing, not so much wanting to interject himself or his thoughts into the feature.

The other production angle that was particularly interesting was the antagonistic relationship on set between veteran Ruth Roman and the younger Anjanette Comer. There was a lot of discussion of Ruth Roman as an actress, and Darcy even cosplayed Mrs. Wadsworth. That conveys how much of a role Roman had in the perception of the film. Of course, much was made about the performance of David Mooney and how he pretty much quit acting after playing Baby. If you’ve peaked, why climb higher, right?

Speaking of peaking, is Baby the peak of the concept of arrested development? It sure seems so.

Final Thoughts on The Baby

The Baby is a weird one. While it isn’t as extreme as Blood Sucking Freaks, it’s a very unsettling film. The internal logic is maddening, reflecting a far less enlightened perspective on abuse and development than we might see today. The film is also equally cruel and kinky, creating a wildly uneven tone that swings between camp and horror. However, it all seems to work. The core drama of two women fighting over an infantilized male creates rich opportunities for dramatic performance. If you can get through the initial revulsion that more fetishistic elements of the movie might bring on, you will witness a compelling duel.

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Joe Bob gave The Baby 4 out of 4 Stars. I am pretty close to that myself. I give The Baby 4 out of 5 Cthulhus. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Best Line: “Maybe you think too much. When it comes to Baby, I do all the thinking.” – Mrs. Wadsworth

The Last Drive-In S4E7 still from The Baby (1973) for arrested development night
Thanks, I hate it.

Haunted MTL Drive-In Totals

We have the official Drive-In Totals from Shudder for this evening of arrested development.

As for our totals at Haunted MTL, we have…

  • 3 Bad Mommies
  • 6 “Thee-ate-ers”
  • Surprise Bill Paxton
  • Bloody Bossom
  • Boss Bitches
  • Multiple Red Flags
  • Gratuitous Nephew Touching
  • Gratuitous Key Party Vibes
  • Gratuitous Homoerotic Lockerroom Shenanigans
  • Scene Chewing
  • Problematic Word Dropping
  • Dead Baby Jokes
  • Ugly Baby Joke
  • Bunny and Snake Joke
  • Steven King Name Drop Fu
  • Clipboard Fu
  • Double Ending Fu
  • Twist Fu
  • Custody Battle Fu
  • Chart Fu
  • Billy Rolls
  • Darcy Cosplay – Mrs. Wadsworth
The Last Drive-In S4E7 Darcy in cosplay for arrested development night
Darcy looked radiant as ever, this time cosplaying Mrs. Wadsworth.

Episode Score for the Last Drive-In: S4E7 – Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker and The Baby

Season 4, Episode 7 was a solid night for the show, where most nights are pretty much solid anyway. This week’s double-feature selection may not win over every mutant, but the bonkers nature of the films and their pairing work pretty well and are worth the experience. While I think that The Baby, arguably the more unsettling film was also the better film, that is not to say that Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is terrible either. The central idea of them representing arrested development worked out pretty well, though I feel these films might have been better suited for a Mother’s Day marathon.

Regardless, a fun time at the Drive-In with the mutant fam, as we have come to expect. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What did you think about the movies? Which do you feel was better? Did “arrested development” night work for you? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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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 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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