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Hello uglies, let’s talk about Dragula S4 E2, 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 E2: What Went Down

“It’s *my* fault for letting you control me.”Astrud Aurelia, The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula – S4 E2

The second episode of this season brings us the Nosferatu Beach Party! Despite a perhaps overlong and overindulgent opening (it is the Boulet Brothers, after all), the episode presented a fun challenge, a dramatic shakeup, and an astoundingly dramatic fall from grace. All in all, just another episode of Dragula, really.

The big shakeup this week was the return of a former Dragula competitor, Dahli, who won the Halloween Resurrection Special. We also see some alliances form and some drama revolving around Sigourney Beaver. La Zavaleta, also seems to have had a slight reality check since the first episode, but how long will that last?

Fright Feat

The fright feat this week was a feeding frenzy fit for a vampire, or at least a vampire with a self-hating streak. The contestants were challenged to consume garlic and drink pig’s blood. It was every bit as horrible as you’d expect. Queens absolutely gagging everywhere.

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La Zavaleta took the fright feat for the night and got to pick the pairings for the main challenge. La Zavaleta partnered with Saint, then paired Merrie and Koco, Sigourney and Astrud, Dahli and Hoso, and Betty and Jade. Conflicts began to pop up, as they inevitably do.

Dragula S4 E2 Bitter Bettie and Jade Jolie dancing in their vampire beach party looks
Rather than subject you to the horror of drag queens chugging blood and chomping garlic, here are Bettie and Jade living their best lives.

Main Challenge

The main challenge was to create a vampiric look for a beach day. The workroom proved pretty rocky as well with Merrie Cherry stirring up a lot of drama. Merrie is cementing herself early on as the problem child of the season. The real shock, however, was how quickly things seemed to have gone off the rails for Sigourney and last week’s winner, Astrud.

When it came to the looks, guest judges Vanessa Hudgens and GG Magree joined the particularly Nahzgulish Boulet Brothers to weigh in.

  • Saint wore a leather one piece with cowl and batwing floaties.
  • Merrie Cherry ran with a angler fish look complete with lighted headdress and a mermaid tail.
  • La Zavaleta ran retro Hollywood vampire chic in a red one piece and face prothetics.
  • Sigourney Beaver went with a striped and angled two piece with parasol and red beehive hairdo with sunglasses.
  • Koco Caine busted out with a one piece, a sheer red cover up, and knee-high leather boots with cute bat wings on the ears.
  • Bitter Betty went sixties glam with a black and white wig, bat shaped sunglasses, a red houndstooth one piece and a sheer black cover up.
  • Jade Jolie made an impression with blond hair, full face prosthetics, a black and white angled striped one piece, and completed the ensemble with a leather jacket with arm fringe and knee-high boots.
  • Hoso Terra Toma arrived wrapped in baby blue with curly hair, sharp teeth, and later revealed a red and gem-studded lifeguard swimsuit.
  • Dahli arrived as the pervert Nosferatu scoping out the action, hiding a tan single peice swimsuit with ruffled collars under a trenchoat. Sick, sick, sick.
  • Astrud Aurelia wore a short, frilly top, open of course, and briefs with thin suspenders, coifed with curly hair and a small, ribboned hat.

As a whole, the performances were mixed. Conflicts in the workroom resulted in tepid performances from Merrie, Koco, Sigourney, and Astrud. The only pair that really looked like they were having fun on stage was Dahli and Hoso. The campy song and beach activities in the lip-sync were naturally a lot of fun, even if some of the competitors weren’t exactly vibing at the beach.

As for the results, I found myself mostly in agreement. The criteria were “look,” “performance,” and “teamwork.” While the participants were paired for the challenge, they were judged as individuals.

Jade, Merrie, and Sigourney were safe. The judges had some words for Merrie, however. Merrie seemed to be too much in her own head, which led to her lackluster performance this week. It didn’t help that her look didn’t really match the theme, either. it was a big stretch, but the Boulet Brothers seemed to like it. Overall, I feel the judges were a little kinder to her than they needed to be.

The bottom looks included Astrud, Koco, and Bettie. The main critique with Astrud was that her outfit felt a bit dull, and the performance seemed forced, as though she was working against her partner. It didn’t help that Astrud really should have taken the critique in stride, but that was not the case, the rest of the episode featured an agitated, interrupting Astrud, much to the embarrassment of her drag mother, Dahli.

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The top looks included La Zavaleta, Dahli, Hoso, and Saint. La Zavaleta’s look was pointed out to be a bit lackluster, but the performance saved her. Dahli’s look was absolutely perfect and paired with a fantastic, campy performance. Dahli was my personal choice for the winner. However, Saint’s sexy leather and wings look took the win for the evening, which was well-deserved.

The final decision, however, was about who to eliminate: Astrud or Bettie? Astrud quickly made a case for herself backstage with a legendary temper tantrum.

Dragua S4 E2 - Saint in her leather bat look
Saint killed it this week with her leather bat wings floaties.

Elimination Challenge

The elimination challenge for Astrud and Bettie involved submerging their arms in tanks full of leeches. The was blood, naturally, and somehow Bettie managed to get a leech right between her breasts, again, naturally. Leeches, while initially gross, do not really hurt as they have anesthetic properties. That’s partially why they were used medicinally for centuries. So this was a more mild elimination than last week’s.

Still, it made for a fun, gross elimination. However, only one could survive, and Bitter Bettie lived to drag another day while Astrud Aurelia died with a caved-in skull on the beach.

Gradula S4 E2 Astrud in her swimsuit which is about all there is.
Astrud became Dragula‘s main character two weeks in a row for wildly varying reasons.

The Results

Dragula S4 E2  Saint in her Vampire swimsuit. Saint took the top look this week.

Winner: Saint (shown)

Top Looks: La Zavaleta, Dahli, Hoso Terra Toma

Safe Squad: TJade Jolie, Merrie Cherry, Sigourney Beaver

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Bottom Looks: Astrud Aurelia (RIP), Koco Caine, Bitter Bettie

Episode Score

This week was a stronger episode than the premiere for a couple of reasons. The window dressing surrounding the competition was filed back, which really helps the flow of the show. The theme also proved to be quite fun and overall created a general sense of aesthetic through the whole of the competitors, making it easier and more reasonable to figure out who gets eliminated. I also am there with the judges this week, Astrud needed to go, particularly given their terrible behavior after the floor show.

As a whole, this episode worked out quite well. The addition of Dahli in the mix should really stir things up, as with Merrie Cherry surviving another round. Who knows what trouble will be stirred up later? 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

We hope you enjoyed our coverage of The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula – S4 E2. 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?

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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

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Episode two of Goosebumps was honestly more fun than the first. It was dark, funny, infuriating and wonderful. Best of all, it has a killer twist ending.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.

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Cover of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask.

We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.

Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.

Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.

The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.

Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.

When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.

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What worked

I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.

Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.

Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.

On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.

But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.

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We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.

And the same can be said for Isabella.

Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.

Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.

What didn’t work

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If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.

Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.

Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.

So, how was the first episode?

The story

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We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.

We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.

The teens end up not being thrilled either.

Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.

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All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.

What worked

For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.

It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.

That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.

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More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.

This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.

What didn’t work

All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”

Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.

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It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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