REVIEW: “The Autumnal” by Daniel Kraus, Chris Shehan, and Jason Wordie

An idyllic town hiding an unsettling and disturbing underbelly is one of my favorite horror tropes. There’s just something inherently scary about places that seem too perfect. And it’s a trope that Daniel Kraus uses to perfection in The Autumnal. Featuring a tense and emotional script from Kraus, some hauntingly abstract artwork from illustrator Chris Shehan, and gorgeous colors from Jason Wordie, The Autumnal delivers a rumination on generational trauma that’s as emotionally satisfying as it is scary. It’s a traditional creepy town story wrapped around an emotionally raw story about a mother and her daughter just trying to survive. And it’s a delightfully haunting read. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(Note: I received an ARC of this graphic novel from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. Additionally, mild spoilers follow.)

The Autumnal
Written by Daniel Kraus
Illustrated by Chris Shehan
Colors by Jason Wordie
Following the death of her estranged mother, Kat Somerville and her daughter Sybil flee a difficult life in Chicago for the quaint—and possibly deadly—town of Comfort Notch, New Hampshire. From NY Times best-selling author, Daniel Kraus (The Shape of Water, Trollhunters, The Living Dead), and rising star Chris Shehan, comes a haunting vision of America’s prettiest autumn.

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REVIEW: “SurrealEstate”

SURREALESTATE — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Tim Rozon as Luke Roman — (Photo by: Derm Carberry/Blue Ice Pictures/SYFY)

Haunted houses are frequently the subjects of horror films, shows, and books. A family moves into a house with a shady, often violent past. Almost immediately, some unseen force begins terrorizing the family. And on and on it goes until the ghost/demon/spirit is expelled from the house. Or until the family finally decides to high tail it out of there. But what happens to the house afterward? Who takes care of selling these haunted, potentially violent places? That’s precisely the question SurrealEstate answers. If you needed to sell a haunted house,  you’d call a realtor that specializes in the paranormal. In this case, Luke Roman (Tim Rozon). And, naturally, that realtor would be surrounded by an eclectic team of ghost hunting agents – Susan Ireland (Sarah Levy), Father Phil (Adam Korson), August (Maurice Dean Wint), and Zooey (Savannah Basley). SurrealEstate is basically what would happen if Mulder, Scully, and the Winchester brothers all worked at the same real estate firm. It’s a clever take on the familiar paranormal procedural drama. Featuring a cast of unique – though occasionally underdeveloped – characters and creative “ghost of the week” stories, SurrealEstate is well worth a watch. Though, for a show about ghosts, it’s never quite as scary as you’d like it to be. (4 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review is based on the first eight episodes of SurrealEstate. It will be as spoiler free as possible.

SurrealEstate
Created by George Olson
SurrealEstate” follows real estate agent Luke Roman (Tim Rozon) and an elite team of specialists that handle the cases no one else can: haunted and possessed houses that literally scare would-be buyers away. Researching, investigating and “fixing” the things that go bump in the night, the team works to create closure – and closings – even as they struggle with demons of their own.

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REVIEW: “The Final Girl Support Group” by Grady Hendrix

If you’ve ever seen a slasher film, then you’re familiar with the Final Girl. She’s the girl who makes it through the end of the movie, vanquishing the Killer and surviving the bloodbath. But what happens to a Final Girl after the credits roll and the story’s over? How does she cope with all of that trauma and survivor’s guilt? Is she ever able to move on and escape the shadow of the Monster that hunted her? Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group explores all of these questions, acting as both a love letter to slasher films and a deconstruction of the genre and many of its tropes. It’s a fast-paced, thrilling read that you won’t want to put down. Hendrix delivers a novel that’s every bit as action-packed and horrific as the best horror films. But he also deftly explores the trauma of multiple Final Girls – all of whom are inspired by some of the most popular horror franchises. If you’re a fan of horror movies, The Final Girl Support Group is a must-read. (4.5 out of 5 wands)

(NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher. All thoughts are my own.)

The FInal Girl Support Group
Written by Grady Hendrix
Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For decades she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized—someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece. But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and that no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife…they will never, ever give up.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “Seed of Chucky”

Look, Seed of Chucky isn’t my least favorite Chucky movie. (That honor is still held by Child’s Play 3.) But it is an absolute mess of a film. Half of it works as a sort of horror/comedy satire of early 2000s Hollywood. But the other half feels like a mixture of misguided ideas and extremely questionable jokes that straddle the line between good and bad taste. For the first time in the franchise, the dolls—Chucky (Brad Dourif), Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly), and their child, Glen/Glenda (Billy Boyd)—are my least favorite characters. And that’s a bad sign for a franchise about killer dolls. (2.5 out of 5 wands.)

Seed of Chucky
Written and Directed by Don Mancini
Gentle Glen (Billy Boyd) is a ventriloquist’s dummy, the offspring of evil doll Chucky (Brad Dourif) and his doll bride (Jennifer Tilly), both of whom are now deceased. When the orphaned Glen hears that a film is being made about his parents, he goes to Hollywood and resurrects them in an attempt to get to know them better. He is horrified when Chucky and his lover embark on a new killing spree, and Chucky is equally horrified that his son has no taste for evil.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “Bride of Chucky”

I get why horror fans don’t like Bride of Chucky. It’s more of a melodramatic comedy with horror elements than a true, traditional horror film. I can see how that might be divisive. However, I loved this movie. Yes, it’s over the top. And yes, the plot makes no sense. But man, is it fun. Everything about Bride of Frankenstein is deeply enjoyable—from the self-referential humor, to the almost soap opera-esque plot, to the over-the-top kills. This movie just oozes creativity, and it’s exactly the breath of fresh air the Chucky franchise needed.

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REVIEW: “Killadelphia vol. 2 – Burn Baby Burn”

The first arc of Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s Killadelphia ranked among my favorite comics of 2020. It was a breathtaking, gorgeous, layered story that blended absurd-yet-scary horror with gritty, grounded character drama. So, naturally, I was pretty excited to see where the comic would go from there. That first volume ended in a way that opened numerous narrative doors for future stories. And that’s a pretty exciting place for a second arc to find itself. Now, to be fair, Barnes and Alexander certainly take advantage of those numerous avenues—but it comes at the cost of narrative coherence. While the first volume of Killadelphia was something new and exciting, the second volume feels like more of the same—with all of the pros and cons that come with that. The world is explored with more depth, but the narrative is often unfocused, with an ending that’s less of an ending and more of a beginning for another story. There’s too much going on and not enough time to explore it with. (3 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review will remain as spoiler free as possible.

Killadelphia vol.2 – “Burn Baby Burn”
Written by Rodney Barnes
Illustrated by Jason Shawn Alexander
Adams’ battle to reshape the United States in his own twisted vision might have been thwarted for now, giving Jimmy Sangster a moment of respite, but the war for a new America rages on! Now, as Abigail steps out of the shadows, she unleashes a new violent terror upon the city some have renamed Killadelphia. But this time, it’s about creating as widespread a web of fear imaginable as she rips the beating heart from the city itself.

Can Jimmy stop her or will history repeat and force him to meet the same fate as his father?

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REVIEW: “The Crossroads at Midnight” by Abby Howard

Something about the late summer/early autumn months makes me crave spooky stories. There’s nothing better than curling up and reading a scary story or watching a scary movie on an early autumn afternoon. It’s a nostalgic feeling for me and I am constantly on the lookout for new and unique spooky stories to read. So, naturally, I adored Abby Howard’s The Crossroads at Midnight, a graphic novel collecting five short stories. Feeling both classic and contemporary, it’s the perfect fix for horror-lovers looking for something new to sink their teeth into. Plus, the artwork is gorgeous. (5 out of 5 wands.) 

(NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own.) 

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard
An old woman living alone on the edge of a bog gets an unexpected — and unsettling — visitor, throwing her quiet life into a long-buried mystery. An isolated backwoods family stumbles into good fortune for a time with a monstrous discovery in the lake behind their house, but that time is running short. And a misfit little girl, struggling to make friends, meets an understanding soul one day at the beach: but why will he only play with her alone at night? All these lonely souls — and more — have reached out into the darkness, not knowing what they might find.

Around the dark edges of reality lurk unknown beings with unknowable intentions — ordinary objects can become cursed possessions, entities who seem like friends can become monstrous, and those who seem monstrous can become the truest companions. In this collection of evocative, unnerving slice-of-life horror, five stories explore what happens when one is desperate enough to seek solace in the unnatural, and what might be waiting for us at the Crossroads at Midnight.

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REVIEW: “The Last Halloween: Children” by Abby Howard

Halloween is right around the corner, which means now is the perfect time to find some new and interesting spooky tales. Some of my favorite spooky stories are those aimed at younger audiences. I love a good horror movie or novel, but so often those stories aimed at adults go into such extreme corners of horror that they just aren’t fun. This isn’t the case with horror stories aimed at younger audiences. These stories rely on creating scary atmospheres and balance their spooks with clever ideas and a sense of fun. This is exactly what the first book of Abby Howard’s webcomic, The Last Halloween, does. The Last Halloween is in the same vein as many classic spooky stories. It balances interesting and unique characters, scares, and a sense of adventure, spinning an atmospheric tale that is as addicting as it is fun. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, there may be mild spoilers ahead.)

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard
It’s a lonely Halloween night for ten-year-old Mona. While everyone else is out having a ghoulishly good time, she’s stuck inside without so much as a scary movie to watch. Just when she figures this evening can’t get much worse, a giant monster appears in her living room, proving her very, very wrong. Running for her life, Mona quickly sees that she’s not alone; trick-or-treating’s been canceled due to monster invasion! A barrier keeping billions of monsters at bay has broken and the horrific hordes have descended upon humanity, wreaking bloody havoc everywhere they stomp, slither, or squish. She may not be equipped for it, but it’s up to Mona to save the world with a team of fellow weirdos by her side. Perhaps they will succeed. Or perhaps this will be . . . The Last Halloween.

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REVIEW: “They Threw Us Away” by Daniel Kraus

I have lots of fond memories of reading middle-grade horror books as a kid. There’s just something so fun about those stories. These authors get to play around with scary ideas but can’t go too far with them. It’s like sitting around a campfire and hearing a scary story – it’s not necessarily scary, but it’s kind of creepy and it stays with you for a while after you’ve read it. The best children’s horror books are like that – Coraline, Goosebumps, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, etc. It’s with this context that I approached They Threw Us Away. I am a fan of Daniel Kraus’s work; he’s written some of my favorite books over the last few years and I was very excited to see what he’d do with a story aimed at a younger audience. In some ways, he did exactly what I expected him to do, delivering a story that mixes scarier elements with more adventure-filled ones. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the book and I think it’s gonna be a big hit with its target audience. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be minor spoilers for They Threw Us Away. You have been warned. Additionally, I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.)

They Threw Us Away (written by Daniel Kraus, illustrated by Rovina Cai)
Buddy wakes up in the middle of a garbage dump, filled with a certain awareness: he’s a teddy bear; he spent time at a Store waiting for his future to begin; and he is meant for the loving arms of a child. Now he knows one more thing: Something has gone terribly wrong.

Soon he finds other discarded teddies―Horace, Sugar, Sunny, and Reginald. Though they aren’t sure how their luck soured, they all agree that they need to get back to the Store if they’re ever to fulfill their destinies. So, they embark on a perilous trek across the dump and into the outer world. With ravenous rats, screeching gulls, and a menacing world in front of them, the teddies will need to overcome insurmountable challenges to find their way home.

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REVIEW: “The Living Dead” by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus

the living deadZombies are one of my favorite horror story “monsters.” There’s something so haunting about a threat that is basically humanity but slightly… off. Zombies don’t have a motive; there’s no reason why they do the things they do. They simply operate off a basic needs-based system. They’re the very definition of id: they need to feed and they need to feed now. There’s something scary about a foe that looks exactly like us but cannot be reasoned with or stopped. But, all that aside, the most interesting thing about zombies is the way the stories that feature them force us to take a good look at ourselves. A common theme in most zombie stories is how the plague turns humanity into the real monsters. It’s one of my favorite tropes of the genre and something I love to see various storytellers sink their teeth into. Nobody was better at this than George A. Romero. His films pioneered the modern zombie genre by focusing their lenses on the intimate human stories rather than the epic, action-packed survival stories we might see today. Romero seemed most interested in how individual people react to zombies rather than what, specifically, caused them or how they might be defeated. It’s what made his films interesting and it’s what makes his novel, The Living Dead (completed by Daniel Kraus after Romero’s passing), interesting. The novel is more epic in scale than any of Romero’s films but feels no less intimate than the best of his work. It’s a brilliant achievement in the career of a man who had many brilliant achievements and it’s quite possibly one of the best zombie novels I’ve ever read. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(Mild spoilers for the novel follow!)

The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus
Set in the present day, The Living Dead is an entirely new tale, the story of the zombie plague as George A. Romero wanted to tell it. It begins with one body. A pair of medical examiners find themselves battling a dead man who won’t stay dead. It spreads quickly. In a Midwestern trailer park, a Black teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come.

Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead. We think we know how this story ends. We. Are. Wrong.

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