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Hello uglies, let’s talk about Dragula S4 E1, shall we? Welcome to “Well Red,” Haunted MTL’s weekly review and recap of Shudder’s horror drag competition, The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula. We’re going to catch you up on who slayed, who stayed, and who passed away. We’ll also give the overall episode a critique.

Dragula – S4 E1: What Went Down

“I’m Merrie Cherry and I’m scared as fuck.”Merrie Cherry, The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula – S4 E1

The episode began with a pretty long opening that set up not only an ancient ritual but a modern possessed mask story. It was a bit long, but the production values were great. The problem is that it takes away time to get to know the contestants. While I applaud the effort I mostly felt left in the cold with the opening.

Thankfully, we get a really fun introduction to this season’s competitors. They are shepherded into a haunted house and we get to know our competitors a bit. We also get some initial tension which will likely simmer throughout the season. Specifically, we get a pair of potential troublemakers in La Zavaleta and Merrie Cherry. La Zavaleta is particularly boisterous and that certainly carries through the episode. Merrie Cherry felt a little needy, taking offense at not getting a certain level of attention. Grim signs for what is ahead.

We also get introduced to HoSo Terra Tom and Astrud Aurelia who seem to have some mutual respect – and maybe a little more. We’ll need to see. We also have a lady duo alliance with Sigourney Beaver and Bitter Bettie. We’ll see how long that lasts.


Fright Challenge

The fright challenge this week was an extreme haunted house that subjected our contestants to a number of fun scare gags including a backward blind drop, a gag with a speeding car, a tumbling room, and plenty of masked meanies. It was a lot of fun to see the two groups make their way through, but the most significant moment involved Astrud Aurelia.

In the workroom, La Zavaleta snarked at Astrud Aurelia about collapsing in the haunt. Astrud revealed she had a traumatic encounter with a car once, and that the car gag in the haunt took her surprise. We also get some other shade, a great deal thrown at Formelda Hyde for being a masked queen. Masked queens have notoriously low life expectancies on Dragula.

Dragula - S4 E1 La Zavaleta as The Blind-Man
La Zavaleta’s “Blind Man” left a lot to be desired. Does that look like sagging skin to you?

Main Challenge

The main challenge was to remake the look of a classic horror character, and we certainly get quite the spread.

  • Astrud Aurelia – Xenomorph from Alien
  • Koco Caine – Morticia Addams from The Addams Family
  • Sigourney Beaver – The Bride of Frankenstein from… The Bride of Frankenstein
  • HoSo Terra Tom – Other Mother from Coraline
  • Merrie Cherry – Stay Puft Marshmallow Man – Ghostbusters
  • Saint – Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Jade Jolie – Sarah Sanderson from Hocus Pocus
  • La Zavaleta – The Blind-Man from Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Bitter Bettie – Elvira
  • Formedla Hyde – Billy from SAW

There was some shade being thrown around the workroom, but not as much as earlier. Still, some personalities, alliances, and conflicts are forming. Things will certainly get more intense as the season progresses. One sign that our contestants may be in trouble – most were still applying makeup while the final looks warning sounded. Yikes.

The floor show was every bit as stylish as expected and the assemblage of looks, on the whole, was great, with some very, very noticeable misfires. In particular, La Zavaleta and Formelda Hyde made for the bottom two, and while Formelda Hyde could have pushed her look and shape further, La Zavaleta’s look was completely off, in my opinion. Rather than drooping skin associated with her character, La Zavalta’s “Blind-Man” came off as lumpy, flakey, and her motions didn’t really put emphasis on the hands which had the eyes – kind of the point of “the Blind-Man.”

The winning look was Astrud Aurelia’s punk-looking “Xenomorph” and it definitely deserved the win. The gesture was just right, the materials had the gothic-tech look of H. R. Giger’s art, and the tail on the costume was fantastic, creating a striking profile. A close second for me was HoSo Terra Tom’s “Other Mother” hitting all the points of the character and building on the look. I think HoSo is my early choice for the performer to take the grand prize this season. While she didn’t win this go, she was one of the top looks.

Also of note was Astrud’s rather loud pop upon winning and Sigourney’s very clear side-eye that followed.

Dragula - S4 E1's top look, Astrud Aurelia's Xenomorph
Astrud Aurelia serving up the big Berlin Fetish Club energy with her Xenomorph.

Elimination Challenge

The elimination challenge is an old one, but always fun. Israel got to seal La Zavaleta and Formelda into coffins, cover them in dirt, and pipe in some mealworms, crickets, and a little water. It’s not the most horrific elimination challenge we’ve seen, but it’s always a fun one. Between the two, La Zavaleta handled the whole thing a little better than Formelda which is probably why Formedelda was killed by our venerable hosts, Dracmorda and Swanthula. Unless maybe the club-kid boots are that big of a sin?

This week’s bottom look should not have been the bottom. Formelda Hyde was robbed.

The Results

Dragula - S4 E1 Winner Screencap Astrud Aurelia as Xenomorph

Winner: Astrud Aurelia (shown)

Top Looks: Astrud Aurelia, Koco Caine, Sigourney Beaver, and HoSo Terra Tom

Safe Squad: Merrie Cherry, Saint, Jade Jolie

Bottom Looks: La Zavaleta, Bitter Bettie, Formelda Hyde

Episode Score

The contestants this season have some serious chops and the production this season looks like it will be very impressive. Dragula should be a fun ride this season. However, the episode ran a little too long with an overstuffed opening. I found myself getting a little annoyed with the window dressing and wishing we spent more time with the ghouls.

Also, as much as I love drama, eliminating Formelda Hyde was the wrong move – La Zavaleta’s blind-man was the weaker of their bottom two looks and Formelda’s only real flaw was their scale wasn’t large enough. Now, instead, La Zavaleta is going to stick around and cause drama, which is fun, but feels a bit forced given that her look just didn’t serve.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

We hope you enjoyed our coverage of The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula – S4 E1. Let us know what you thought of the competition and who you think will take the prize. We’d also love to hear your assessment of the looks. Which gagged and which were groaners?

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask



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.

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.


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.


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


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)


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



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


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.


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.


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.


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



“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.


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. 


[USR 4.2]

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