Die Hard (Roderick Thorp)

Roderick Thorp | January 26, 1989 | 232 pages
Roderick Thorp | January 26, 1989 | 232 pages

It’s often been argued whether or not Die Hard is truly a Christmas movie. It’s been debated and bandied about almost as much as “is a hot dog a sandwich?” If you wanna know my personal opinion, yes to the former and no to the latter. Die Hard is one of the most badass and coolest movies to ever come around. For me, it’s right up there with The Terminator, Predator, Aliens and Back to the Future in terms of epic movies from the 1980s. So when I found out that Die Hard originated as a novel under the title of Nothing Lasts Forever, I had to get my hands on a copy pronto. Of course, you gotta go with the classic movie tie-in edition. I knew it would be next to impossible for the novel to be as awesome as the movie, so the question for me going into reading it was moreso along the lines of “is it in any way, shape or form a decent companion to the movie?” With that in mind, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane…

Yeah, he wasn't John McClane originally...
Yeah, he wasn’t John McClane originally…

YIPPEE KI-YAY

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Die Hard roared into theaters on July 15, 1988. The film followed the exploits of John McClane, a one man wrecking crew, as he fights to save his separated wife and countless hostages from the vile clutches of some East German terrorists. Taking place over the course of one wild night (Christmas Eve) and one highly memorable set piece (the fictional Nakatomi Plaza), Die Hard was an action movie for the ages. It launched Bruce Willis into superstardom and had one critic call it “a perfect action movie in every detail, the kind of movie that makes your summer memorable.”

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Die Hard was filmed at Fox Plaza in Los Angeles and completed in 1987. Fox Plaza is 35 stories tall (493 feet) and served as the film’s memorable backdrop. Made on a budget of 28 million, Die Hard went on to gross that number five times over for a whopping 128.1 million. It’s crazy to think that the film is close to celebrating its 35th anniversary.

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The film worked on so many levels. One of the biggest reasons was the pinpoint portrayal of villainous mastermind, Hans Gruber (one of the best movie villains of all time, up there with the likes of Darth Vader and Michael Myers). Played by Alan Rickman, Gruber’s accent and wicked ways were masterfully memorable.

Good shit
Good shit

GET TOGETHER, HAVE A FEW LAUGHS

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The first thing readers will discover, sadly, is that there is no John McClane in this book. Well, there is, but NOT John McClane, if that makes sense. McClane actually goes by Joseph Leland in this book. Not quite the badass name but I digress.

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Another difference is Leland and the flight attendant develop a relationship whereas in the movie he remains committed to reconciling with his partner.

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I love this description of Los Angeles. It simultaneously captures L.A.’s grime and beauty. “Dirty yellow soup lying heavily in the valleys” is an exceptional line. “At night he felt something eerie in the way the palm trees were silhouetted against the baleful yellow sky” really brings to mind L.A. at night time. It’s too bad then Thorp didn’t have more of these gems as his writing in this book, at times, is a tad clunky.

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Stop it, he’s dead. My God. What a scathing diatribe. You can’t help but feel bad for Joe. It’s realistic too, as it’s often been said how being involved in law enforcement is often times difficult on relationships. Sometimes it’s just too hard for the other partner…

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Another big difference between the film and the book is the age. McClane is in his 30s whereas Leland is significantly older. That might explain why Frank Sinatr, in his ’70s at that point, originally received the role. And for a book written in 1979, surprisingly there are a few parts that have aged like fine wine. Leland’s perspective on technology and consumerism, for example, is harrowing and quite accurate even when viewed from today’s landscape, well over 40 years later. What that says about society I will leave that up to you to ponder…

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I’m glad the part about walking around barefoot was faithfully translated to the big screen. Hollywood definitely didn’t alter that one. It’s such a small moment, but it’s one in which I instantly associate Die Hard with.

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The 9:11 part made me feel some kind of way :(

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Whether you call him Leland or McClane, he’s still a badass mutha.

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Leland tearing this guy a new ass hole is my favorite part of the book. You can just feel the intensity and machismo dripping off the pages.

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Just like McClane, Leland does have a bit of a sense of humor. Of course, Bruce Willis took it to the next level. It was good to read the interplay between Leland and Sergeant Powell (AKA Carl Winslow from Family Matters).

Everyone's favorite cop from the '80s and '90s
Everyone’s favorite cop from the ’80s and ’90s

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As stated earlier, some of Thorp’s writing is a bit clunky. Take for example the passage above. I know this was written in 1979 but that’s just poor writing in ANY era. My reaction to reading the flight attendant’s comments matched exactly that of the reporter at the end there. “Uh, thank you?”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It *IS* a Christmas movie, damnit!
It *IS* a Christmas movie, damnit!

I came into reading Die Hard with tempered expectations. Rather than being a movie novelization, I knew it was written nearly a decade before Die Hard launched in theaters. Therefore, I knew I would have to adjust to McClane, er, Leland, not being as brilliant as Bruce Willis. Turns out the same should be said for Hans Gruber. He plays a much smaller role in the novel. In the movie however, Alan Rickman really elevated the Gruber character to legendary villain status. Die Hard is definitely a shining example of the movie being a thousand times better than the novel it was based upon. That’s not to say that it was a bad read. It was just OK. I liked it enough for the good parts. And there are some extremely violent descriptions about how Leland takes out the terrorists (some of whom are female by the way). But some parts were way too dull and/or written poorly. At certain points, part of me just wanted to throw the movie on and throw the book out. But I persisted to the end. It was a very uneven reading experience. Some good parts mixed in with some bad ones. Now I hesitate to read the two sequels, but I digress. A belated merry Christmas and happy new year! Let’s hope 2022 will be good to us all.

2HalfStars

Frankenturkey (Betsy Haynes)

Betsy Haynes | November 1, 1994 | 134 pages
Betsy Haynes | November 1, 1994 | 134 pages

Ah, the mid ’90s. Goosebumps was king — just ask any kid on the playground back then. Pretty soon you had clones appearing left and right. Whether it was J.R. Black’s Shadow Zone or Tom B. Stone’s Graveyard School series, everyone wanted a piece of the pie. Although I enjoyed those series, I always had a thing for Betsy Haynes’ Bone Chillers. I found them to be well written and fun. The first one I ever read was #4 in the series: Frankenturkey. Now, with a cheesy name like that, akin to something you might find on a trashy horror VHS box back in the ’80s, how can you not instantly be intrigued? Seeing as how I am writing this just after midnight on Thanksgiving morning, there’s no better time than now to revisit this relic.

I love all the cheesy captions and blurbs
I love all the cheesy captions and blurbs

Kyle and Annie Duggan are uprooted from Florida as their family relocates to Massachusetts. Kyle had it made in Florida. He resented the move but what could he do? As was often times the case with these middle grade horror books, it begins with the main character relocating to a new town. And that’s when trouble stirs…

WHO’S THE COPYCATBIRD NOW?

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Even without the internet (readily available) back in 1994, we all knew that Bone Chillers was yet another in a long line of Goosebumps knockoffs. Now that doesn’t automatically mean it’s not any good — Bone Chillers was actually quite a fun series — but there’s no denying where the inspiration came from. However, as that old saying goes, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” R.L. Stine might have drawn some inspiration from Frankenturkey when Chicken Chicken was published in March of 1997. But whereas Frankenturkey is one of the highlights of the Bone Chillers series, Chicken Chicken is, quite frankly, chicken shit. Easily one of the bottom 10 Goosebumps stories. Go figure. But I digress.

GOBBLE GOBBLE

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Not only did the Duggans move to a new house, but it’s a farmhouse. Already we’ve established a good setting with lots of creepy potential. By the way, I’ve always been a big fan of the font that this series used.

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Back in the ’90s, many parents in middle grade fiction were written to be a bit dopey, especially for middle grade horror. And Mr. and Mrs. Duggan are the epitome of such. Not only do they want their kids to raise a turkey (fattening it up before killing and eating it for Thanksgiving dinner), but they want the turkey to be the star in their school play, which Mrs. Duggan directs. And they genuinely believe all this to be good ideas. Oh dear…

"C'mon tough guy! HOOOO!"
“C’mon tough guy!  HOOOO!”

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Annie was a cute little sister. Her line of “You mean he’s from Florida?” after Kyle says “Maybe he’s like us” gave me a good grin. Spoken just like a kid! I also like how Kyle made a connection with the turkey he wanted to purchase. It shows the reader that he’s compassionate and empathetic.

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The line to end this particular chapter actually gave me a bit of the willies. “The little turkey was pressed against the chicken wire, and he was staring longingly back at Kyle.” Not bad, Ms. Betsy Haynes. Not bad at all. You know at some point the turkey is going to go bonkers. It’s just a matter of when and how…

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Jeez, Mr. Duggan. Lay off the theatrics a bit, will ya? But it does make for some good visual scenes!

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We didn’t read middle grade horror back in the mid ’90s for their expertly crafted prose, but DAMN if every once in a while there wasn’t a solid gem produced here and there. The above paragraph is one example of such. I can picture it super vividly and there’s something satisfying about the way it was worded.

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The last line there is so impactful! You can’t help but like Kyle and feel for him as he’s caught in quite the pickle.

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What a perfectly dramatic way to conclude this chapter and introduce the terror that is… FRANKENTURKEY! So we come to find out, the kids grow so attached to their turkey that they decided to fashion a crude bogus replacement, using a frozen whole turkey purchased from their local grocery store, some coat wires and Kyle’s Halloween mask from last month. Lightning strikes the abomination and the rest is history. What befalls the poor Duggans next you’ll just have to read to find out!

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Apparently, it was so popular that it received a sequel the following year. And of the 23 Bone Chillers books, Frankenturkey was the only entry to receive a sequel. We’ll have to examine part II next Thanksgiving, won’t we?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Bone Chillers has a special place in my heart. It was just so incredibly ’90s. The embossed cover, the alternating color schemes used from month to month, and that sinister entity tearing up the page of each cover to reveal the monster of the month — all gloriously embossed in classic ’90s fashion. I haven’t read as many of the 23 entries as I’d like, but so far Frankenturkey definitely ranks right up there as one of my BC favorites. The book has held up pretty well. Sure it’s cheesy as all hell and there are tropes a-plenty, but this is comfort food 101. Reading it brings me back to a simpler time when life was all about hanging out with your best bud playing video games and reading the latest monthly monster mashup. Those were some damn good times. And this is one fun relic I will definitely be passing on to my future kid!

4Stars

Halloween Kills (Tim Waggoner)

Tim Waggoner | October 26, 2021 | 312 pages
Tim Waggoner | October 26, 2021 | 312 pages

After being delayed a year due to COVID-19, Halloween Kills finally dropped on October 15, 2021 (a month ago today). I was so hyped and ready for it. I happened to have the week off work too, so Friday morning at 12 midnight I plopped on the couch and turned on the Peacock to stream the movie. What started out as a massive smile slowly turned into a feeling of meh as I saw obnoxious plot holes and tropes one after another. I don’t think it’s a bad sequel, but it was disappointing. For all the cool scenes they had, the rest of the movie was muddled by terrible character choices and unrealistic behavior. I even forgot about the movie novelization. But when I finally remembered it a couple weeks ago, I bought a copy and ended up finishing it in 2 days. It was an immensely satisfying experience, something I wish I could say about the film.

There I was, Friday midnight grand opening...
There I was, Friday midnight grand opening…

I loved the first 30 or so minutes of the movie. The flashback scenes were amazing! They replicated the look and feel of the 1978 original so well in those scenes. Even the replica mask was spot on! Everything was clicking but it soon went downhill pretty fast. While Halloween 2018 was far from perfect, I like the tone and style they set in that one. Halloween Kills was a mess of a movie. The novelization is based off the script, but author Tim Waggoner filled in some blanks with his own research and imagination. Those added details made a big difference for me in terms of enjoying the product. On a final note, I wish I could have gone to the midnight showing at my local theater. But COVID and my wife is currently pregnant. She also had work the next day so there was zero chance of that happening. Thus, I settled for the couch. It kind of blows my mind when I think about major movies like this and Godzilla vs. Kong streaming from the comfort of your living room. I do miss the communal theater experience, but I don’t miss the annoying teenagers! It’s a tradeoff, I suppose. I was just happy to be able to watch the movie! I only wish that it were better :P

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There were 3 copies at my Barnes and Noble. I wanted the best condition copy, but they all looked like that. It took me a second to realize that this cosmetic imperfection was purposefully done, most likely to evoke a sense of nostalgia from reading horror paperbacks in the ’80s and early ’90s. Those novels had a tendency to get roughed up a bit. An interesting choice by Titan Books, indeed.

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Similar to the original Halloween II (1981, not Rob Zombie’s crappy 2009 movie by the same title), Halloween Kills immediately picks up where the previous movie ended. Of course, Michael escapes the burning fire and is now stalking the dark alleys and windswept streets of…

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Remember Allyson’s asshole boyfriend Cameron from the 2018 movie? It opens with him wandering through the town. I like that his character had a slight bit of a redemption arc in the sequel. Not much, but enough to make you kind of like him a bit, whereas in the previous movie he was just a total dick.

Penance There's your gawd damn penance, sir
Penance? There’s your gawd damn penance, sir

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In the 2018 movie, Officer Frank Hawkins was pretty much killed. They retconned this so that he could play a role in this sequel and the following movie yet to come, Halloween Ends. They even fleshed out Hawkins’ character, giving him a pivotal role on that fateful night where Michael Myers terrorized Haddonfield 40 years ago.

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Oh God, I almost fell over when I first saw this 1978 flashback. They captured the look perfectly! Never before have we seen a flawless replica of the 1978 mask. This scene gave me goosebumps, and totally put me in the Halloween mood!

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Tim Waggoner is a pretty talented writer, as you can see here. Instead of phoning it in and relying on the brand name (which practically sells itself), Waggoner flexed some writing chops. The way he wrote Michael sent some chills up and down my spine. He made Michael creepy again. Just read the caption below!

"And his face was an eerie, spectral white..." ss
And his face was an eerie, spectral white…
A disembodied head floating serenely through the night air…

Absolutely haunting!

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See, stuff like this you just can’t get from a movie. It’s this narration that fills in the gaps… or the cracks, if you will. Waggoner takes you inside the minds and souls of these hapless Haddonfield denizens. I really like the way he described the crooked and twisted tree branches here. Very effective at stirring that autumnal feeling!

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Love the callback here of Lonnie running like hell just like when he did after hearing Dr. Loomis shoo him away from the Myers place. And you gotta love the robotic shark-like mentality with which Waggoner depicts Michael Myers. He is an apex pred[SNIP!  STFU Tommy Doyle -Ed]

This scene in the movie gave me the chills
This scene in the movie gave me the chills

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Everything about that small scene was perfect. It captured Haddonfield on Halloween night to a tee. I loved the way the actor said “The Boogeyman.” And how he quickly turned around and ran away as one of the Halloween themes kicked in. I remember feeling the flesh rise a little and thinking, “AW HELL YEAH, THIS FEELS LIKE HALLOWEEN ALL RIGHT!” That feeling did not last very long…

"DID MICHAEL KILL AGAIN?!"
“DID MICHAEL KILL AGAIN?!?!”

At first I thought this was CGI Loomis. Come to find out one of their very own crew members, Tom Jones Jr., bears a slight resemblance to the late Donald Pleasance. Makeup was added to complete the transformation. Talk about a stroke of luck! The voice needed a little work but as far as body doubles go, it was a major coup.

ITS MORPHIN TIME!
“IT’S MORPHIN TIME!”
His reaction from above
Donald would have been proud

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Of course we find out in the movie that Hawkins accidentally shot his own partner in the throat while aiming for Michael. So they totally retconned the original ending where Loomis shot Michael 6 7 times before he fell off the balcony. This was the first moment to make me raise an eyebrow…

It did give us this totally badass shot, though
It did give us this totally badass shot, though
Nice description by Waggoner
Nice description by Waggoner
We then meet our legacy characters in the bar
We then meet our legacy characters in the bar

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Smoking Lady = Nurse Marion Chambers, played by Nancy Stephens.
Champagne Man = Lonnie Elam, played by Robert Longstreet.

And of course, the two kids Laurie Strode babysat way back 40 years ago during the original 1978 Boogeyman attacks, Lindsey Wallace (played by Kyle Richards) and Tommy Doyle (played by Anthony Michael Hall).

Yes, the "nerd" from Breakfast Club!
Yes, the “nerd” from Breakfast Club!
Not the original kid actor all grown up
Not so nerdy anymore

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I really enjoyed how the novelization breathes more light on the characters. Even the minor characters, like the doctor and nurse couple, are given a smidge more acknowledgment and background detail.

Love this little scene
Love this little scene
The novelization knocked it out of the park
The novelization knocked it out of the park
It also nailed this scene down to a tee
It also nailed this scene down to a tee

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Tommy takes a moment to center himself
Tommy takes a moment to center himself

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"Forty years ago..." [Get ready to hear this a lot -Ed]
“Forty years ago…” [Get ready to hear this a lot -Ed]
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I know many fans didn’t like this scene because the movie yet again dumps even more exposition at our feet that we already know and have heard during the first 10 minutes of the movie. But I actually liked it a lot. And although I’m not a fan of how Tommy Doyle was portrayed in this film (I really wish Paul Rudd could have reprised the Tommy role since he played Tommy in 1995’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers), I did relish the way in which he described the babysitter murders from that fateful Halloween night 40 years ago. My favorite line being “They had sightings of a ghostly figure creeping through the town.” Ooh!

Along the way, Waggoner threw in some easter eggs!
Along the way Waggoner threw in some easter eggs!
Thorn was featured in Halloween IV, V and VI
Thorn was featured in Halloween IV, V and VI
Meet Big John and Little John
Meet Big John and Little John

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A gay couple who moved into the Myers home, Big John and Little John are about to have the Halloween of a lifetime…

Another lovely nod to fans of the franchise!
Another lovely nod to fans of the franchise!
And the classic reply by Loomis from Halloween II
And the classic reply by Loomis from Halloween II
Another fan service moment
Another fan service moment
Those iconic masks from Halloween III
Those iconic masks from Halloween III
Nothing screams Halloween more than those masks
Nothing screams Halloween more than those masks
And yes, those things were killer!
And yes, those things were killer!
Halloween III is spooky and underrated
Halloween III is spooky and underrated
Michael proves whose mask is best, though
Michael proves whose mask is best, though
And thats where that damn line originates from
And that’s where that damn line originates from

If you took a shot for every time you hear “EVIL DIES TONIGHT!” while watching Halloween Kills, the movie title will prove apt. They really overdid it with that one.

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In the movie if you don’t blink you may catch a bench advertising Big John and Little John as realtors. It’s kind of neat how the real Michael Myers house is currently a real estate office and that the couple who lives in the Myers house are realtors themselves. Good one there, guys.

The Myers house today
The Myers house today
Obligatory "That's me!" shot
Obligatory “That’s me!” shot
Its the shot I used for my cameos in gaming books
It’s the pic I use for my gaming book cameos :)

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Like I said earlier, I dig how this book digs deeper into the character whether major or minor. The movie never once hints that Lonnie Elam wrote a book about the Boogeyman and his experiences surrounding Haddonfield’s most notorious mad man. Here we also see that Laurie has dreams of becoming a teacher, which she actually was in Halloween: H20. I love when these connections are made. Fan service? Maybe so, but all the merrier.

Iconic reunion
Iconic reunion
My recreation in high school art class circa 1998 Hey, I always wanted Michael to have orange hair :P
My recreation in high school art class circa 1998
I always wanted Michael to have orange hair :P
Sheriff Barker gets a moment to pontificate
Sheriff Barker gets a moment to pontificate

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Great internal monologue!
Great internal monologue!
The Boogeymans coming for ya...
The Boogeyman’s coming for ya…

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Even though Halloween Kills was a bit disappointing to me, I was excited to read the novelization to see where they might have filled in the gaps. I’m happy to say that Tim Waggoner did a tremendous job. It’s funny how much I enjoyed the novel (I blew through it over the course of 2 days and it had a one more chapter sort of feel to it) in comparison to how disappointing I found the film to be. Maybe it was those little background details that helped me to connect better with the characters and the story. Oh and the ending in the book is the original ending that they should have shown in theaters. I get why the director chose to go in a different direction, but the book ends in a fist pump sort of way that makes you say “Alright, bring on the next one now, please!” Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait about 11 more months until then. Hopefully they’ll get it right in the final film of the trilogy. Regardless of what happens, I look forward to both the movie and the novelization. Counting on Halloween Ends to feature less tropes and less dumb character choices. One can only hope. In the meantime, check out this book if you get a chance. I think it does Halloween fans proud.

4Stars

Halloween 2018 (John Passarella)

John Passarella | October 23, 2018 | 376 pages
John Passarella | October 23, 2018 | 371 pages

It’s now November but it’s never too late (or early) to talk about my favorite horror movie franchise of all time, Halloween. Back in 2019, I had the honor of interviewing John Passarella, the author who wrote the official movie novelization for Halloween (2018). And with Halloween Kills debuting earlier last month, I figure now would be a good time to examine the movie novelizations for both films, starting with the 2018 version.

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Halloween 2018 was a landmark film for horror fans. Not only did it mark the return of the Boogeyman (and not that crap Rob Zombie version we saw in 2009’s Halloween II), but it also brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to the franchise, reprising her role as beloved final girl, Laurie Strode. I was so ready for this film. I even attended the 40th anniversary convention in October of 2018 in South Pasadena, where the original 1978 movie was filmed. I also hold extra special nostalgia because the movie was my second date with the woman I eventually married. And as it was the case 30 years ago in 1988 for Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers, the grand occasion called for a novelization. John Passarella was bestowed with the honor.

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By the way, some of you may recall that I originally posted my interview with John Passarella at the end of my Halloween Books review. However, that article was so long that I’ve been meaning to break it up. Just like WrestleMania being split up over 2 nights. It also allows me to shamelessly segue into my Halloween Kills novelization review, but I digress. Let’s jump right into it. Enjoy the Q&A!

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When were you first exposed to Halloween (1978), and what were your thoughts?

JP: I don’t recall the first time I watched it, but it wasn’t in the theater. My guess is that I first saw it at home, probably a video rental. My mother was a big fan of horror movies at the time, while I was more of a science fiction/fantasy fan. She always had horror movies on the TV while I spent most of my free time reading. When I first saw it, I thought it was stark and effective, with a understated supernatural quality to it, while other “slasher” movies that followed seemed more interested in violence/gore for its own sake. Even then it felt unique.

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Top 5 favorite Halloween films?

JP: I am so bad at picking favorite things, let alone ranking them. The original stands alone at the top. I enjoyed H20 when it first came out. For the Halloween (2018) novelization, since I was pressed for time (less than 2 months to write it) and was told that the movie would ignore all the sequels, I didn’t take any time to re-watch any of those films. My wife watches the original movie every Halloween season, so I watched that again this year, but I definitely need to reacquaint myself with all the sequels.

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How did you get involved in the process of penning Halloween? Did you have to make some sort of pitch or did Titan Books reach out to you?

JP: Titan Books approached me. Probably the best early email I’ve ever received! I had done several original Supernatural tie-in novels for them, plus an original Grimm novelization. And I had worked with several editors there. The editor for the Halloween novelization thought it would be a perfect fit for me.

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How long did it take for you to write the book? When did you first start drafting it? How many copies have been sold as of November 2019?

JP: I’d have to check my first contact emails, but I think it was either late March or early April of 2018. After I agreed to write the novelization and the studio approved me, I had to wait for the script to get started. I think that came in the first week of April. The novel was due by the end of May, so it was a compressed time frame. I received access to the daily film photo archive after I had already started writing the first draft. I had to backtrack and rewrite some scenes after I saw the photos of those sets/scenes. They reshot the ending and added some other scenes, mostly flashbacks and some of those still didn’t make it into the final film, but I was fortunate in that I hadn’t gotten to the ending before it was changed. I only had to write the ending once. As far as sales, I have no idea how well it did overall. It has gone into a second edition. For these work-for-hire projects, writers don’t get royalties, so we don’t get royalty statements which would show sales to-date.

NewHallo

How did you feel watching the movie for the first time? Was it surreal to see your (novelization) words (more or less) being played out in front of your eyes in a capacity-filled theater?

JP: Surreal is a good word for it. I did not see the film until the premiere. At the time, I had three versions of the story bouncing around in my head. The script and revision, my novelization, and then what actually made it into the final film. There were things that were in the script, but didn’t make it into the film. Other things, mostly additional dialogue made it into the film, but wasn’t in the script at all. I made a point of including all the script dialogue, while adding a bunch of my own. Whole scenes were cut from the final film. Other scenes were really truncated. A few played out differently than they had in the script. They added a lot more humor via dialogue. And the editing of the movie had a thriller feel to it, rather than a horror/suspense film.

NewHallo2

There were obviously some cuts made from the movie (script) as compared to your book. Was there any part or scene omitted from your writing where you wish made it on the big screen? For me, the book definitely made me care more about Dana and Aaron. They were fleshed out a lot more (naturally) in your book than they were in the film. Understandable, but unfortunate nevertheless.

JP: I think the filmmakers made a choice to make the film mostly Laurie’s story, so a lot of the character development and scenes involving other characters were trimmed. Reading the script, I had this idea that Allyson was the star, so to speak, and it would be a passing of the torch from Laurie to her granddaughter. But the film leans more on Laurie vs Michael, so a lot of Allyson stuff, early on and at/after the dance, got cut to keep a reasonable running time. And, yes, Dana and Aaron had more “screen” time on the page, more scenes, more character development. That’s one thing that helps give the novelization some life and purpose outside the film. Fans can delve a bit deeper into the story and the characters.

Classic Budd...
Classic Budd…

In the restroom scene, Dana reads a message scrawled on the side that recites Budd’s infamous “amazing grace come sit on my face” line from Halloween II (1981). Was that in the original movie script or did you add that in? I couldn’t help but smile when I read that, and was a little saddened realizing it didn’t show up in the movie.

JP: I can’t take credit for that line. It was in the final script.

HalloErnie9

It’s been a year since your novel came out. How do you feel about the book overall? Is there anything you wish you could have written differently?

JP: I don’t know if I would have written it differently if I had seen the movie (a rough cut maybe) before I finished, but maybe. What I enjoy the most in books is suspense, so I naturally tried to create as much suspense as possible. The original film relies heavily on suspense and I took that as my model (since I knew I wouldn’t see the finished movie until its release). A couple scenes (conversations) changed a good bit from script to screen and I would have liked the book version to be closer to the finished film versions but that was out of my control. I didn’t have time to stray too far from the script’s plot, to explore any side roads or backstory, so I may always wonder about that. And in a couple places, I probably described a set in too much detail. Usually the “sets” are only in my head. This was the first time I had actual photos to describe to the reader!

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Have you been signed on to write the movie novelization for Halloween Kills and/or Halloween Ends?

JP: I’d certainly be interested in writing those novelizations, but I haven’t heard anything about them yet. The second film has finished filming but won’t be out for an entire year. The first film came out several months after filming wrapped and everything on the novelization side moved quickly so that it could come out the same time as the movie. Right now, we still have a long window, so I’m not surprised I haven’t heard anything yet. If Titan Books is planning a novelization for the second movie, I may not know until a few months into the new year.

"You cant kill the Boogeyman"
“You cant kill the Boogeyman…”

What do you think it is about Halloween and Michael Myers that has endured with so many fans 40+ years later and counting?

JP: The primal nature of the fear that Michael Myers represents, an unstoppable, merciless, and unknowable evil, represented by the unchanging, unflinching mask. He seems to be so much more than what we see on the surface. Loomis decides after years of examining him that he is simply evil, possibly evil incarnate.

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Advice for aspiring authors?

JP: Finish what you write. Once you finish, you have something you can use to get representation, to sell to a magazine or book publisher. And if it doesn’t sell or work for you, finish the next thing, and the next. I started writing at the age of 11, but didn’t publish my first novel until I was 37! I like to think it wouldn’t take so long if I started writing today. When I started, I relied on Writers Digest and Writer magazines, a dictionary and a set of encyclopedias (and my local library) for research, and a manual typewriter (I taught myself to type before they offered a course in school) with actual carbon copies as my only backups. These days, you have webzines, online writers groups, self-publishing tools, social media for marketing and networking, etc.

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Have you, by chance, read any of the other Halloween movie novelizations by Dennis Etchison or Nicholas Grabowsky?

JP: No, though I’d like to hunt down a copy of the original movie novelization. It seems they are hard to come by these days.

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What’s next for John Passarella?

JP: Thanks for your interest in my writing and the Halloween novelization. I’m working on a fourth novel in my Wendy Ward (Wither) series right now, but it’s not under contract, which means I don’t have deadline pressure pushing me to the finish line. I don’t suffer from writer’s block, per se, but procrastination is a real hurdle. I work much better and faster when there is a looming deadline!

Thanks again John for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk about all things Halloween! Click on the link there to buy the book on Amazon if you want. As of this writing, the paperback edition is currently 33% off and selling for $5.98.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Although it can be a bit wordy and long-winded at times, I think John Passarella did a very admirable job with this novelization. Characters are better fleshed out than how they were presented in the movie, such as the podcasters Dana and Aaron. You naturally get a little more background information here because a 371 page text can convey more details than what can be portrayed in a 100 minute horror movie. If you’re a big fan of the 2018 Halloween movie, and you’re looking to dig a little more in-depth, then I would definitely recommend this book. Next up, Halloween Kills by Tim Waggoner. Until next time, avoid dark corners and watch out for the Boogeyman

3HalfStars

Fragments of Horror (Junji Ito)

Junji Ito | June 16, 2015 | 224 pages
Junji Ito | June 16, 2015 | 224 pages

Recently, I wrote my first graphic novel review on RVGFanatic. It was for the rather bizarre and unsettling Summer Spirit. And now, on Halloween night, I proudly present to you, dear reader, RVGFanatic’s first manga review. As many of you know by now, in 2019 I rediscovered my love for reading. I never got into manga, however, until quite recently. And being that it is Halloween, I can’t think of a better manga artist to feature than Junji Ito. He’s sort of like the Stephen King of the manga universe. Late last night I read through Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror in one sitting. I’ve heard a lot about Ito and my first experience with Ito did not disappoint. A collection of short horror stories, all told through the manga medium, it left me feeling a little unsettled and I felt an undeniable urge to peek over my shoulder. If you have never read any of Junji Ito’s work before, it is my hope that after this review you might rectify that!

Warning: Disturbing imagery ahead...
Warning: Graphic and disturbing images ahead…
Here's my jack-p-lantern for Halloween 2021!
Here’s my jack-o-lantern for Halloween 2021!
Yes, I tried to copy the 1978 Halloween pumpkin!
Yes, I tried to copy the 1978 Halloween pumpkin!

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Ito opens up Fragments of Horror with Futon. From the title and first page, I knew I was in for one hell of a ride. And even though Futon is by far his weakest story of the lot (mainly because it is the shortest tale and feels undercooked), it still made for an intriguing and creepy read while it lasted.

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Futon had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it was definitely underdeveloped as it’s only 8 pages long short. Had Ito given it more time to marinate, it could easily have been a 5 star tale. Thankfully, Ito does not repeat this mistake as the rest of the stories in this book receive at least 30 pages of attention.

Ito's Afterword confirms what readers felt
Ito’s Afterword admits as much
Now let's get to the good stuff!
Now let’s get to the good stuff!

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Young Megumi and her dad, recently divorced, live in a house that was selected to be a registered national tangible cultural property. It’s a massive house containing 11 rooms. One day a mysterious woman arrives at their door and she’s smitten by the structure.

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Did I say smitten?? More like obsessed. I got the heebie-jeebies when she said “they’re very sexy.” Who talks like that about a house?! Mad weirdness be going on…

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It’s often been stated that Ito is a brilliant panel composer. He has a way of making the reader cling to a page’s last panel before the dramatic reveal on the following page. This here being a perfect example. As the reader, you instinctively know what the mysterious woman’s request will be. You also know that her request, which will be foolishly accepted, will lead only to ruination and ultimate misery.

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I knew it! This is classic horror 101. We feel helpless as our characters spiral into madness. I won’t spoil what happens next (or for any of these stories) but suffice it to say, this book isn’t titled Fragments of Happiness

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Ito recycles his characters from Futon for this ghastly tale of abomination. Tomio, that lying cheating son of a bitch, and his girlfriend Madoka are going through a rough patch in their relationship. Tomio cheats on Madoka by sleeping with a woman who is rather peculiar, to say the very least…

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There is one scene here in particular (don’t worry I won’t spoil the reveal) that is SUPER disturbing. It left me wanting to gag and puke. Ito is one sick bastard, I’ll tell you that!

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By far the “gentlest” story of the collection, Gentle Goodbye (fittingly titled) is a somber tale of family ties and how people grieve through loss and hardship.

Competently constructed but not my favorite story
Competently constructed but not my favorite story
Now THIS... this is what I'm talking about!
Now THIS… this is what I’m talking about!

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Dissection-Chan is, simply put, the stuff nightmares are made of. I love that it feels so much like an unsettling urban legend you might have heard sitting around a bonfire while shooting the shit with your friends back in the day. During a routine practice session, a group of medical students make the horrifying discovery that one of their cadavers isn’t quite dead just yet…

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The sheer demented ludicrousness of Dissection-Chan is deeply unnerving. It would be crazy enough if she had an obsession to dissect others, but to be obsessed with the dissection of her own body? Yikes! Couple that with the way Junji Ito drew her haunting face and you can’t help but feel a little perturbed.

Even her "HO HO!' sends chills down my spine
Even her “HO HO HO!” sends chills down my spine
Fast like a cockroach...
Fast like a cockroach scurrying away with the light on…
C-R-E-E-P-Y...
Gives me the willies!
Yup, just like something from Creepypasta
Like something from Creepypasta
Reminds me of the Slit-Mouthed Woman
Reminds me of the Slit-Mouthed Woman
AKA Kuchisake-onna
AKA Kuchisake-onna
How ominous...
How ominous…
I felt a little sick to my stomach reading this
I felt a little sick to my stomach reading this
It's the same med student we followed earlier
Why do I get the sinking feeling that this is bad news
OH SHIT
OH SHIT
UH OH
UH OH
That's not creepy at all
That’s not creepy at all
Better watch yo back, son
Better watch yo back, son

Dissection-Chan was by far my favorite story of this book. It’s fascinatingly eerie and gave me major urban legend vibes. I loved it! You gotta read it to find out what happens next. Easily one of the spookiest stories I’ve read in some time!

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Fragments of Horror peaked at Dissection-Chan as far as I’m concerned. But Blackbird is definitely a strong follow-up that is very disconcerting in its own right. In fact, it’s my second favorite!

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One day a young man’s hiking in the woods when he runs across a fallen and injured man named Shiro Morguchi. Poor Shiro was out hiking alone when he fell and hurt himself so badly that he couldn’t move from his spot. He survived by rationing the food in his backpack for a month (!) before being discovered.

The good Samaritan decides to keep watch
The good Samaritan decides to keep watch
Ah, just another quiet night
Ah, just another quiet night
WHAT IN THE -- !
WHAT IN THE — !

Junji Ito flexes his sinister brilliance with this twisted tale. Really creepy stuff that will stay with you long after finishing the book.

Not one of my favorites; this one was just alright
Not one of my favorites; this one was just alright

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Magami Nanakuse is something of a prolific writer of trashy pulp fiction. Kaoru Koketsu is a quirky woman who enjoys her alone time and writing. She is such a big fan that she jumps at the chance to meet her hero, Magami. Well, you know what they say: Never meet your heroes.

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This one is definitely dark and weird. It’s more methodical than things that go bump in the night. Not bad, but not on the same tier as the previous two stories.

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Fragments of Horror concludes with Whispering Woman. This was a strong entry to close things out. Just from the artwork and title page alone, you know this is going to get pretty fucked up fast.

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Sometimes my wife accuses me of analysis paralysis, especially when we play competitive 2-player board games such as Splendor and Azul, but this young lady takes it to the extreme! So much so that Paul F’N Heyman would be proud.

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The caretakers constantly quit after a short while because they cannot handle Mayumi’s maddening indecisiveness. Until one day a mysterious woman named Mitsu takes the job and surpasses all expectations. On one hand, Mayumi’s dad is very grateful and appreciative.

Addressing the pink elephant in the room
You damn right there is
Gotta pay attention to the red flags, people!
Gotta pay attention to the red flags, people!
No we dont, sir...
No we don’t, sir…
Read the book yourself to find out what happens!
Read the book yourself to find out what happens!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Two months ago I had no idea who Junji Ito was. Now that I’ve been exposed to the world of manga, and having read one of Ito’s works, I am freaking HOOKED. This guy is amazing. The artwork, the panel layouts and the stories are all so haunting and have this urban legend quality to them. It’s perfect to read during Halloween season or during the autumn and winter months of the year. I can’t wait to read some of his other books such as Shiver and Smashed.

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I’m not ashamed to admit that while I read Fragments of Horror late at night with nothing but a flashlight, I was genuinely creeped out. Some of the imagery is so disturbing that I know they will remain with me for the long haul. The way Ito builds up tension in his stories is masterfully crafted. Like a skilled composer, Ito weaves his way through to the very psyche of our minds and souls. He holds our emotions in the dead center of his palm, and you can’t help but enjoy every second of it!

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While Fragments of Horror isn’t a perfect 5 star read due to a few weaker entries such as Futon, most of the stories are effective in taking you on this wild and satisfying ride. If you like tales of the macabre and don’t mind reading and seeing some truly fucked up stuff, then this is the book for you. Hell, it’s worth buying for Dissection-Chan alone!

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Typically, this time of the year on these colder and longer nights I love few things more than firing up horror movies galore and reading paperbacks from hell. I’ll have to add a new tradition to the mix: reading Junji Ito! His dark imagination and insidious creativity knows no bounds. Yup, when it comes to chills and thrills, Mr. Ito has got us covered! In blood and severed body parts, most likely.

4Stars

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (Stephen King)

Stephen King | April 25, 2017 | 320 pages
Stephen King | April 25, 2017 | 320 pages

I love October. Leaves falling. Longer nights. The crisp October air. Halloween season. Baseball playoffs! So imagine my excitement when I found out that Stephen King wrote a horror book related to baseball. I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen King’s It and 11/22/63. So I had high hopes for The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Did King hit a home run, strike out or land somewhere in-between?

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THE BOY WHO LOVED RAY FOSSE

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Earlier this week, the sad news came out that Ray Fosse died after silently battling cancer for 16 years. Ray Fosse was the color commentator for my favorite team, the Oakland A’s, for 35 years from 1986-2021. I became a fan of the A’s in the mid ’90s when I was about 10. Ray also played for the Athletics during his 12 year MLB career. The news hit me hard, as I grew up listening to Ray Fosse. His personality and stories always made me laugh or taught me something about baseball (or even life in some cases). I invited him into my home 6 days each week from April to September. I will always think of Ray Fosse when I think of the A’s. Thanks for the memories, Ray. You’ll be missed!

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The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is about a nine-year-old girl named Trisha McFarland. She is a huge Red Sox fan. More specifically, she is in love with relief pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon. She goes on a hike on the Appalachian Trail with her older brother and recently divorced mother. The horror begins when she gets separated from her mom and brother. It may seem a little far-fetched at first… after all, how the hell do you lose your nine-year-old daughter on a hike? But the sad truth is these things do happen from time to time, and is certainly more realistic than killer clowns and vampires (as seen in two of Stephen King’s most popular novels — IT and Salem’s Lot).

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As I said, I’m an A’s guy through and through. Never cared for the Red Sox, especially in 2003 when they ousted my Athletics in the ALDS in dramatic (and painful) fashion. In fact, my A’s have carved out some traumatic playoff blunders over the past 20 years. At any rate, the Red Sox are currently battling the Houston Astros right now in the ALCS, and I find it fitting to review this book. It was nostalgic to come across some old familiar baseball names such as Mo Vaughn and Nomar Garciaparra. That was definitely a great team.

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Nothing says the ’90s like Surge soda. Oh yeah, this book will remind you of how ’90s things are.

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Castle Rock! A little easter egg for King fans as the man has written about the fictional Maine town of Castle Rock in over 12 of his books. Hell, it’s even got its own TV series on HULU.

One of many books featuring Castle Rock
One of many books featuring Castle Rock

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So we have a nine-year-old girl lost in the woods, with not much else but some Twinkies, Surge and her Walkman radio. This is where the Red Sox/Tom Gordon baseball elements come into play.

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I got a chuckle out of this V.C. Andrews shout out. V.C. Andrews was infamous for her teenage/young adult horror novels. Walk into any used bookstore (like Half Price Books) and browse their horror section. I guarantee you that V.C. Andrews will litter the front end of that section. Followed by Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Anne Rice and John Saul.

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I liked the father-daughter relationship and how they bonded over baseball. More specifically, how their love for the Red Sox/Tom Gordon gave them an extra avenue to connect. I’m an old baseball romantic — fuse baseball into any medium (books, movies, games) and I’m usually there.

Better save her, Flash
Better save her, Flash

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“Handsome yet evil Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter.” Great line, ha! You can feel Trisha’s love for baseball bleeding off the pages. Her hopes for survival seem to hinge on Tom Gordon’s shoulders as much as anything else. If Tom Gordon could seal the save, SHE too would be saved. Hope. It’s such a vital thing to have, even when it comes from the strangest source. Blind hope in this case, sure. But hey, a nine-year-old girl’s got to hang on to something, right?

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I guess Stephen King didn’t like Tino Martinez much, because he went out of his way to call Tino awful, awful. I like how Darryl Strawberry was simply referred to as the Straw Man.

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Throughout the book, Trisha is “hunted” by some ominous being. Is it an evil person or something supernatural? I won’t spoil it but it is revealed in the end.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

TomGordonBlurb

I was really hoping to like this book. It started out promising. I enjoyed the various baseball bits littered throughout. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more. Most of the book is about a nine-year-old girl navigating the Appalachian Trail by herself. A lot of goddamn trees and brooks. It got a little boring after a while, and then I felt like reading this became somewhat of a chore. I also felt that Trisha didn’t act like a nine-year-old girl. She felt more like early teens? Maybe King should have made her 12 or 13. It took me out of the story a little bit. Honestly, it was a dry read. I was quite disappointed. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon has its fair share of supporters and fans, but it simply didn’t work for me. I came pretty close to not finishing it at several points, but I powered through to see the reveal of the “sinister entity” at the end of the book. The premise of this story had me sold, but the execution left a lot to be desired. A booming smash double off the Green Monster? More like what looks to be a home run only to sail past Pesky’s Pole. Oh well. You can’t win ‘em all. As baseball fans know, there’s always next season.

2Stars

Remembering Bruce Coville

Gooseb4

Readers who grew up in the early-mid ’90s loving monsters and all things macabre often cite R.L. Stine as one of their favorite childhood authors. But even before Mr. Stine cranked out Goosebumps month after month, there was good ol’ Bruce Coville. If that name evokes nostalgic memories of cozy reads from ages ago, you’re not alone. I feel he’s been kind of forgotten over the course of time, so today, on the eve of October, I’d like to cast the spotlight on the author largely responsible for introducing me (and many others) back in the early ’90s to the fascinating world of sci-fi. His all-around strange stories were often times bewitching and mystifying. Without further ado, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of his most memorable work.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Almost up there with Lee and Springsteen! Almost :P

MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN SERIES

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Before Covid-19, there was “Coville-89″ (sorry). Bruce Coville had some other work published prior, but I feel it was really My Teacher Is An Alien, published in the summer of 1989, that put Bruce on the map. At the time I was only six, so I was too young to read it. But I remember my brother, two years my senior, reading it in the fall of ’89. Even though the book was clearly beyond my reading level at the time, the cover haunted me for years. Coville wrote 3 sequels, and you couldn’t help but spot them everywhere throughout the early ’90s. They were an absolute hit series with kids before Stine released his first Goosebumps book, Welcome to Dead House, in the summer of ’92.

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I ran across these bad boys at a second hand bookstore in 2019 and was greeted by a tidal wave of nostalgia. It was like stepping into a time machine and remembering that warm feeling of entering a classroom only to find the latest Scholastic book order buys waiting for you, sitting pretty on your desk. In some ways, it was like a mini Christmas morning.

For kids of the late '80s, this was an iconic series
For kids of the late ’80s, this was an iconic series

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Let’s talk about the art! They had a very distinct sci-fi flair that never left me. If I close my eyes, I can still see them as though they were right in front of my face.

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Looks like a dinner date with the Grinch and SpongeBob SquarePants! There was always a fantastical element to the illustrations found in Coville’s books that did well to transport you to a different planet.

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They were also a bit creepy! Stuff like this stays with you for a lifetime…

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Credit John Pierard for these imaginative and provocative illustrations! Later works would be illustrated by Coville’s wife, Katherine, although Pierard would pop back in here and there. Both did an amazing job accentuating Bruce’s madcap stories.

ALIEN ADVENTURES

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If it wasn’t already readily apparent that Bruce was obsessed with aliens, the fall of 1993 provided further confirmation with the release of Aliens Ate My Homework. This was a brand new series with new characters. You gotta love the artwork on those covers. Super ’90s! With, dare I say it, a hint of Lisa Frank but for boys.

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That age-old excuse “My dog ate my homework” was a huge line in the early ’90s, even though it originated many decades prior. So it was brilliant that Mr. Coville would adopt and modify it to Aliens Ate My Homework. It was an easy and instant gateway to another quadrilogy of zany sci-fi shenanigans.

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The artwork really added a lot of life to the books and made them even more fun to read.

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I remember some of the illustrations were pretty creepy and gave me the heebie-jeebies!

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The most disturbing thing about this picture is probably the adult diaper that the alien is wearing. There was definitely some legit “nightmare fuel” in some of the artwork.

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When the pictures weren’t mentally deranged, they took on a delightful and whimsical feel. Very adventurous, indeed.

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Looking back on it, the art in Coville’s books was truly amazing. The kind of stuff that any 10 year old kid would eat up.

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You can almost hear the crickets chirping the night away. You can almost feel that warm gentle summer breeze lightly brushing the back of your neck.

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Bruce Coville’s books always did a great job of capturing that magical mix of blending whimsical adventures with just the right amount of creepiness and heart.

THE MAGIC SHOP SERIES

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My Teacher Is An Alien wasn’t the only Bruce Coville book to hit stores back in the summer of 1989. The Monster’s Ring kicked off yet another quadrilogy for Mr. Coville. They weren’t as well known as his two aforementioned series, but they were still a blast.

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I love the depiction of the old shopkeeper. Decrepit and slightly hunched over, he’s smaller than even the kid. He’s definitely seen a thing or two. Who knows what skeletons are hiding in his closet…

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Michael J. Fox and 1985 called — they want Teen Wolf back! :P

CAMP HAUNTED HILLS

Monster of the Year is a standalone, though
Monster of the Year is a standalone, though

The first in the Camp Haunted Hills trilogy, How I Survived My Summer Vacation, was published in the summer of 1988 (a full year before even My Teacher Is An Alien). This was followed by Some of My Best Friends Are Monsters in 1989 and The Dinosaur That Followed Me Home in 1990. Monster of the Year is a standalone, but I had to throw it in there as it’s classic Coville. You could always count on him to conjure up stories of monsters and the macabre.

MONSTERS, ALIENS, GHOSTS — OH MY!

CovilleScary

Beginning in September of 1993, Bruce Coville released the first anthology in a longstanding spooky series that would span 12 volumes. The first was called Bruce Coville’s Book of Monsters: Tales To Give You The Creeps. Coville curated various selections from different authors, ranging from veteran horror writers such as Joe R. Lansdale and Al Sarrantonio to beloved authors Jane Yolen and Jack Prelutsky. Of course, Coville made sure to include 3 of his own stories in this collection of 13 chilling tales. It was a no-brainer day 1 buy for me, and I must have read my well worn copy 50 times over. I haven’t read it in damn close to 30 years, so I’m not sure how well it holds up, but I certainly endeavor to find out one day soon.

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It covered everything: monsters, aliens, ghosts, nightmares, magic and spine tinglers. The 12th and final volume, Bruce Coville’s Book of Magic II: More Tales To Cast A Spell On You, was published in the summer of 1997. I fell out of reading by then, and I have only ever read the first books in the Monsters and Aliens edition. So I have a lot of catching up to do! I’m looking forward to it.

So many books, so little time...
So many books, so little time…

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I love how the sequel’s cover sees a role reversal. Callbacks and clever changes like such always score high in my book, no pun intended.

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I quickly snatched up Bruce Coville’s Book of Aliens: Tales To Warp Your Mind when it came out in February of 1994. The cover art is just so badass. The color scheme, the huge bulky alien creatures, and the look of fear etched on the boy’s face as he knows danger is lurking right behind him… it hits all the feels! The sequel’s cover art — not so much.

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Really digging that wavy font on the GHOSTS portion of the title. Also enjoy the feature story of each volume being highlighted in a nice sleek yellow box. They definitely nailed down the aesthetics.

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Spine Tinglers, eh? I see we’re starting to run out of ideas but no matter. I’m still a sucker and will always be down for a mutant spider story!

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I’m not sure what the difference is between Nightmares and Spine Tinglers, but the more the merrier! That skeleton there does 1980s Zebra horror paperbacks and Ruby Jean Jensen proud.

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As if we haven’t jumped the shark already, here comes the Magic editions. These are probably more fantasy-based rather than horror-based, but I had to buy them anyway. Like I said, I’m a sucker.

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PAINT ME A PICTURE

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Like most Coville books, these anthologies had some really neat artwork. Since I read the first volume numerous times as a child, a lot of the images are burned in my mind. Just very spooky, eerie and imaginative illustrations that captivates as well as creep out…

This one left me unsettled as a kid
This one left me unsettled as a kid
Their zombie like nature gave me the willies
Their zombie like nature gave me the willies
Like straight out of a dark disturbing nightmare
Like straight out of a dark disturbing nightmare
"I'll show you the REAL Squid Games..."
“I’ll show you the REAL Squid Games…”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Although R.L. Stine stole much of his thunder, Bruce Coville was always one of my favorite writers when I was growing up in the early-mid ’90s. His writing was a bit more sophisticated than Stine’s. They’re quite different actually, if memory serves me right. Coville cranked out a number of memorable series and books. I haven’t read any of his works in close to 30 years, so I’m not entirely sure how well they hold up today. But his stuff will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s so wonderfully nostalgic and a reminder of a simpler time in my life. My favorite of his is the Book of anthology series. I’ve only read 2 of the 12, so there’s no telling how good (or bad) the other 10 are. But that’s all part of the fun when you get a chance to watch, play, listen to, or in this case read stuff you missed out on back in the day.

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Bruce Coville is thankfully still alive as of this writing. In the unlikely chance that Bruce sees this… I just want to say thanks for all the fun and spooky memories. I hope you come out with one last final Book of volume. It would be entry #13. A fitting number, indeed. But I already know what you would say. “Actually, I did write a volume #13 but alas… the aliens ate it.” Touché, Bruce. Touché.

Any anthology with Ray Bradbury is a winner! :)
Any anthology with Ray Bradbury is a winner! :)

Top 20 Most Wanted Arcade SNES Ports

Credit BlueMario1016 for this artwork
Credit BlueMario1016 for this artwork

This past November the Super Famicom (SNES as it’s known over in Japan) turned 30 years old. But on the North American side, it was on this day 30 years ago (August 23, 1991) that the Super Nintendo made its debut. Naturally, you’re going to see a lot of tribute pieces and articles praising the system’s amazing library of games, as well as plenty of retrospectives sure to bring a virtual nostalgic tear to your eye. Heck, you might even see some Top 30 or Top 100 lists floating around in celebration of the big 3-0. But I’m going to do something a little different. As great as the SNES has been these past 30 years, I can think of more than a few games that never made it to the SNES that would have made the console even stronger had they been. Specifically, I’m talking about 20 arcade ports the SNES should have received but, for one reason or another, never did.

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Arcade gaming in the ’90s was a magical thing to experience as a young kid. There was something intoxicating about being in the thick of an arcade hall, with the flickering lights and glowing screens all vying for your quarters, iconic gaming sound effects galore blasting your ears, the alluring aroma of a cheese pizza wafting through the air. It was a social playground and THE place to be on Friday nights and weekends. All you needed were a few friends and a few quarters and you had a one way ticket to gaming nirvana.

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But it was impossible for all my favorite arcade games of my youth to make the home leap. For many, it was like two ships passing in the night. Never meant to be, never saw the light of day. However you want to put it, these ill-fated arcade greats never made their way home to a Super Nintendo. But first, let’s examine the thrill of arcade to home ports back in the early-mid ’90s…

THE MAGIC OF 16-BIT ARCADE PORTS

Super Street Fighter II was an amazing port
Super Street Fighter II was an amazing port

One of the best aspects about growing up as a gamer during the early-mid ’90s was hyping yourself up about all the arcade ports that companies would develop for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Playing the arcade game, loving it, dreaming about a Genesis or SNES port, then reading a few pages (sometimes less) about said port in EGM or GameFan Magazine (or both), and letting your imagination run wild as you studied the small grainy screenshots 20 times over. Rinse and repeat. It was a tried and true formula of that era! You knew both systems lacked the horsepower to replicate an arcade-perfect translation, but you were ecstatic if the home port captured the essence and spirit of its arcade counterpart. And sometimes, there was just enough magic out there in the moonlight for that to ring true.

Nic, most of us are right there with ya...
Nic, most of us are right there with ya!

The gaming world changed when Capcom unleashed Street Fighter II on the SNES in the summer of 1992. Capcom blew everyone’s minds by how well the home port looked, sounded and played. Sure it wasn’t arcade perfect, but it was more than good enough. It was, for its time, phenomenal. It truly felt like a piece of the arcade game was right there in your very own living room.

You didnt need quarters at home ;)
No quarters at home needed ;)

As a kid I remember telling my best friend Nelson, “Man, a quarter per play? If we play the home port of so and so at least 240 times, we’ll match the value of what my mom paid, and eventually get more than her money’s worth!” Because SNES games cost around $60 and 240 multiplied by 25 cents is $60. Ah, the innocence of youth…

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Arcade ports on the SNES, especially those of arcade fighting games during that Golden Age of 2D fighters, became all the rage in the early-mid ’90s. Gamers couldn’t get enough and wanted more and more. If you played a game in the arcade circa 1992 or ’93, chances were that a 16-bit home port was inevitable the following year.

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But that wasn’t always the case. There were many awesome arcade games that never saw a Super Nintendo conversion, for one reason or another. Here are my top 20 arcade games that sadly never saw the light of day on the Super Nintendo.

HONORABLE MENTION: TIME KILLERS

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What would a list be without an honorable mention? I’ll keep it to just one this time, however. Time Killers, admittedly, wasn’t a good game even in its original arcade form. I’m not citing it for its quality of play. This is based upon pure curiosity and nostalgia.

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Released in November of 1992, Time Killers is a weapons-based fighting game with buckets of blood for days. Players can aim specific body parts and cut them off. It didn’t play very well but it was like a 9 year old boy’s perverse dream come to life.

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Almost every fighting game back then had your prototypical Ryu clone, but Rancid was in a class of his own. A punk rocker type wielding a chainsaw. Yeah, he was my guy whenever I plopped a quarter into this vile game.

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A Sega Genesis port was planned but scrapped. Then in 1996, for some inexplicable reason when the Genesis was on life support, Time Killers finally came out. It received overwhelmingly negative reviews (EGM gave it scores of 5, 3, 3 and 3). As bad as the Genesis home port was, part of me still wanted to see a Super Nintendo conversion.

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James Severin from Michigan City did as well!

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According to this response, it appears as though there MIGHT have been plans for a Super Nintendo release but alas, it was never meant to be.

I suppose the world shall never know
The world shall never know… [Thank God -Ed.]

#20: THREE WONDERS

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Released in May of 1991, Three Wonders features, not shockingly, 3 games in 1. The winner of the lot is easily Midnight Wanderers. It’s so good that it could have been a standalone game.

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Midnight Wanderers is one of Capcom’s best lesser known games for my money! There was a Sega Saturn version of Three Wonders released, but only in Japan. Still, I would totally have loved this on the SNES!

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The same protagonists return for a shooting game in the vein of Gradius. Chariot is fine but nothing special.

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The third and final game in the package is a puzzle game by the name of Don’t Pull. It’s definitely NOT Don’t Play as it is perfectly playable and entertaining, but much like Chariot it’s nothing particularly memorable. Three Wonders didn’t make this list for the last two games. Consider those two as the appetizers and the main course being Midnight Wanderers (which has got to be one of the most underrated badass video game titles of all time).

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Speaking of never seeing the light of day, Nightmare Busters was clearly inspired by Midnight Wanderers. Sadly, its planned SNES release was canned and even sadder, it’s an incredibly disappointing game. Although never officially released, there are ways to experience this game. You can if you want out of wild curiosity, but I was crushed by the broken mechanics of this game.

#19: SHOGUN WARRIORS

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One of the earliest arcade games I can recall playing, Shogun Warriors is a massively nostalgic game for me. It features 8 generic characters who don’t even have proper names! They simply go by Geisha, Samurai, Ninja, Sumo and so on. I love the game’s exotic Japanese atmosphere. I was obsessed with Kappa, the green turtle-like creature who could stretch his limbs like Dhalsim and hurtle himself into a rolling attack like Blanka.

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Developed by Kaneko and released in April of 1992, Shogun Warriors was one of the earlier Street Fighter II clones to hit the market. And it plays exactly like how you would expect a fighting game from early 1992 to play. 8 characters, all with 2-3 special moves each, bonus rounds and 4 bosses to battle. There’s a certain charm to how simple this game was. It certainly was inferior to Street Fighter II but I always appreciated the underdogs and had a good time whenever Shogun Warriors and I linked up.

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I remember hoping that I would be able to play this game on my SNES either by Christmas of ’92 or spring of ’93 by the latest. Sadly, as is the case for every game on this list, that wasn’t meant to be. And unlike some of the other games on this list, there’s absolutely no question the SNES could have handled a very spot-on port of this arcade game.

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Instead, Kaneko gave us Power Moves on the SNES in early 1993. It was bleh. Should have given us Shogun Warriors! But I digress…

#18: MARTIAL CHAMPION

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For years Capcom and Konami battled it out for supremacy. Both companies were wildly beloved, produced seemingly an equal amount of fan favorites and were often cited as the top two developers in the industry. Konami dipped its fingers in the fight game with the release of Martial Champion in early 1993.

That US artwork... wow. Lets move on
That US artwork… wow. Let’s move on

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The year was 1993. Every week it seemed as though a new fighting game came out. It was the very height of the 2D fighting game boom. Martial Champion was one of my guilty pleasure favorites that year. I say guilty pleasure because deep down I knew it wasn’t the best. It was decent, but nothing special. I really dug how huge the fighters were, though. And the bright vibrant visuals were always catchy whenever I walked by the arcade cab. I just think it would have made for a fun SNES home conversion. But Konami clearly had other plans.

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I was all about Titi — I know that sounded funny but how can you NOT love a Chinese hopping vampire?! Honestly, I wanted a home port just so I can play as him.

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Never seen a hopping vampire movie before? You’re missing out! I highly recommend Mr. Vampire (1985). It’s essentially the one that started it all, and has never been outclassed. To me it’s the Halloween (1978) of hopping vampire films.

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A home port of Martial Champion was released, but only for the PC Engine. It looked drastically different from the arcade game. I like to believe a Super Nintendo port would have been more faithful.

Hmmm, why does this feel like déjà vu?
Hmmm, why does this feel like déjà vu?
Ah ha!
Ah ha!

Instead of working on a port of Martial Champion, Konami gave SNES fans Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. That game rocked, but I still wish we got Martial Champion as well. But if I had to pick one, Konami made the right call for sure.

Made the loss of Martial Champion more palatable
Made the loss of Martial Champion more palatable

#17: WORLD HEROES 2 JET

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For a long time, if you’d asked me for my all-time favorite gaming franchise, my answer would have been World Heroes. Both SNES ports of World Heroes and World Heroes 2 were top-notch. So when World Heroes 2 Jet hit the arcade scene in April of 1994, I figured I would be playing it on SNES at some point in ’95. Nope!

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Yes, I’d argue it was the sleeper hit of 1994. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, as seen above. But despite the positive reviews and desire for a Super Nintendo translation, it never materialized. Possibly it was because it would have been released a little too late in the system’s life span — the 32-bit “next gen” consoles were fast on the move by 1995. The other reason could be perhaps sales of World Heroes 2 on the SNES indicated diminishing returns.

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It’s a shame it never came out because Jet introduced faster gameplay (hence the name), 2 new playable characters (Jack and Ryofu) and brand new special moves for certain fighters. Janne for example now has a stunning phoenix attack. Jack, by the way, was based off the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper.

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For fans of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Ryofu was based off legendary warlord, Lu Bu.

Fuumas new explosive attack fits his personality
Fuuma’s new explosive attack fits his personality
Brokens electric attack now can extend
Brocken’s electric attack can now extend
Who doesnt want to play as Hulk Hogan?
Who doesn’t want to play as Hulk Hogan?

World Heroes will forever hold a special place in my gaming heart. Oh, and oddly enough, there WAS a port of World Heroes 2 Jet… on the Game Boy of all systems!

Its actually pretty damn impressive
It’s actually pretty damn impressive

The fighters have adopted a cute chibi look. Surprisingly, all 16 characters remain intact. For a Game Boy port, it plays amazingly well. It makes me only wonder even more how great a Super Nintendo port would have been. But hey… technically… you can hook this game up to a Super Game Boy and play World Heroes 2 Jet on a Super Nintendo. Fact: I have done that before and it is quite a damn good fighting game. I just wish it received the full 16-bit SNES treatment!

#16: TOP HUNTER

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A delightful 2 player romp, Top Hunter is unique among its peers for a few reasons. The first being that you can execute special moves with Street Fighter II-esque commands. There are also super special moves because it was 1994 and why not? Another cool feature is the ability to switch between the foreground and background. These aspects added some depth to what would have otherwise been another side-scrolling co-op action platformer. Oh, and some of those bosses are crazy!

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The SNES has its fair share of fun co-op games; Top Hunter would have fit in beautifully. The graphics are quite detailed so there definitely would have been a dip there. But I like to think the SNES could have handled some version of this game in a satisfying manner.

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It did come out in the summer of 1994 though, and that period seems to be a cut-off point for the SNES. By virtue of the fact that by the time a port of a mid ’94 arcade game is ready for release on the SNES, it’d be spring or even summer of 1995. By then the 32-bit monsters were already gnawing at the door. Perhaps developers and publishers alike knew it did not make sense from a cost-effective perspective.

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Whatever the reason may be, I think we can all agree Top Hunter would have been a welcome addition to the Super Nintendo’s amazing library!

#15: BUCKY O’HARE

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As a kid growing up during the peak of Saturday morning cartoons, I was lucky to witness many fantastic shows. From Transformers to ThunderCats, I gobbled them all up like a sugary bowl of frosted cereal. There were many lesser known and underrated cartoons that flew under the radar, however. In late 1991, I was introduced to Bucky O’Hare. Based off a comic series in the mid ’80s, I fell in love with the quirky characters and space-based battles. Not surprisingly, like many cartoons during that time, someone snatched the right to make a video game out of it.

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Even better, that company was Konami. In such reliable hands, Bucky O’Hare was a terrific 4 player shoot ‘em up that would have been great on the SNES, even as a 2 player game. But, we all know how that turned out…

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Curiously, Konami did release a Bucky O’Hare game on the 8-bit NES in early 1992. It’s often cited as one of the system’s best “hidden gems.” While I’m happy Konami gave us that stellar game, I’m also a bit saddened that they never made a Super Nintendo version of any kind. Bummer indeed!

#14: WILD WEST C.O.W.-BOYS OF MOO MESA

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They say the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Add to that Konami making badass games out of cartoon IPs during the early ’90s. The cartoon series made its debut in September of 1992; the arcade game came out only 2 months later. I remember watching the cartoon. It was one of those shows I always wanted to like more than what I actually did. The arcade game, on the other hand, did not disappoint whatsoever.

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With up to 4 player simultaneous mayhem, Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa was a rollicking good time. It plays similarly to Konami’s other run and gun, Sunset Riders. Some people even see this as sort of a spiritual successor. Alls I know is it’s yet another stellar Konami game from the early 1990s. What else is new?

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The fact that Sunset Riders (September ’91) received a SNES port (October ’93) and a DAMN GOOD one at that… makes this omission a harder pill to swallow. But it makes sense when you factor in that the show went off the air in late ’93, and a port would have been released no earlier than ’94. Unless it’s a super popular IP, such things can have a short shelf life with only a small window to capitalize.

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“This town ain’t big enough for both of us,” the old saying goes. That rang true as only Sunset Riders saw a SNES home port. Forced to pick one, I can’t argue with Konami. I just wish there was room for both.

#13: BASEBALL STARS II

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One of the most beloved baseball games of all time, Baseball Stars II is loads of fun. Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball is my favorite baseball game of all time, but Baseball Stars II gives Griffey a run for its money.

We loved the 8-bit NES version as kids
My brother and I loved the 8-bit NES version

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We could only imagine how awesome a 16-bit port would have been. Sadly, that was a swing and miss… [I see what you did there -Ed.]

#12: CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS

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In the early ’90s Capcom could seemingly do no wrong. That continued with Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, a wild beat ‘em up that, much like the name suggests, affords you the opportunity to drive fancy Cadillacs and beat up agitated dinosaurs. It was simple and so, SO ’90s. It was perfect.

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Capcom converted many of their early ’90s beat ‘em ups to the SNES. Games such as Final Fight, Knights of the Round, The King of Dragons and Captain Commando all received ports that ranged from pretty good to very good. Major bummer that this wasn’t one of them!

#11: CYBER-LIP

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There are few things I enjoy more than some classic run and gun action. Contra was always one of my favorite NES games. And Contra III: The Alien Wars was perhaps even better! Cyber-Lip is definitely no Contra, but man would I have loved to play this in the comfort of my living room back in the early ’90s.

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Released in November of 1990, this is the oldest game on my list. The Super Famicom just made its debut over in Japan during that time. Imagine Cyber-Lip as an early launch title to go along with the Super Nintendo in North America circa September 1991! The units it would have sold… what a missed opportunity.

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Featuring some of the most memorable and craziest looking bosses I’ve ever seen, Cyber-Lip left a definite impression on me. More than 30 years later, some of those unforgettable visuals are still vividly seared in my mind. Seriously, whoever created that boss design above is one sick and twisted individual. There are better examples of this type of game out there, but to me few are as nostalgic!

#10: SPINMASTER

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Ever since playing NES games such as Rygar and Yo-Noid, I’ve always been a fan of games where your main weapon is either a yo-yo or a boomerang-like weapon. Data East’s Spinmaster satisfied that itch and more!

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I couldn’t help but stop and gawk at this game anytime I came across it in the arcades back in late 1993. The graphics were so rich and colorful. It looked like a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. There’s something about the aesthetics of Spinmaster that really speak to me. And it just looks like the kind of game that would have fit perfectly on the SNES! Toned down of course, as was always the case with arcade conversions, but still capturing the essence of the arcade original.

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Data East was a solid company back in the ’90s. They weren’t on that magical Capcom or Konami tier, but you could almost always count on them to deliver something worth your precious quarters.

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While Spinmaster may not top many people’s minds when talking about favorite arcade games from the ’90s, it’s one of those games that I always had to plop a quarter (or two) into whenever I spotted it in the wild. Be it some random pizza joint or even a laundromat, it was always fun to play especially with a friend fighting the good fight right beside you.

#9: NIGHT SLASHERS

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Speaking of the devil Data East, in early 1993 they combined two of my most favorite things: horror and beat ‘em ups. And it was, as you can surmise, glorious. Who didn’t want to dispose of rotting zombies and various monsters of all sorts? It was bloody, brutal and simply splendid.

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Unfortunately, like all games on this list, Night Slashers and the SNES were like two ships passing in the night. This was before Nintendo loosened up on their family friendly image circa mid-1994, allowing SNES games to take on more of a violent nature if need be. What a shame too, as this would have been a hell of a fun game to play at home with a friend.

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Thankfully, the selection of excellent beat ‘em ups already on the system softens the blow of missing out on this port. Games such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, Return of Double Dragon and Final Fight 3 are all great examples of the genre. Still, none of those games stand up to Night Slashers in the way of offering gruesome and visceral satisfaction. A shame we never saw a SNES port, indeed.

#8: VENDETTA

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One of my favorite arcade games in 1991, Vendetta by Konami is often times the game I have in mind whenever I think about beat ‘em ups. To me there’s just something quintessential about Vendetta that warms my beat ‘em up loving heart. For one, I love being able to play as either the clone of Mr. T or Hulk Hogan. Right off the top, you simply can’t beat that.

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Another huge win for Vendetta were all the cool weapons littered throughout that you can use to even the odds. Knives, guns, spiked baseball bats, wooden crates, garbage cans, whips, beer bottles, chains, barrels, hell even bags of flour! As a kid it blew my mind the insane number of weapons available at your disposal. Vendetta was all about having a good time.

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Up to 3 friends can join you for the mayhem and destruction. A Super Nintendo port would surely have been reduced to just 2 players, but it still would have been a blast. I loved all the locales too, with my favorite being a goddamn grocery store of all places. That’s the kind of ingenuity I want in my beat ‘em ups!

#7: SUPER PUZZLE FIGHTER II TURBO

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Arriving in arcades in May of 1996, the SNES was already nearing life support in North America at that time. So one might think a conversion of Puzzle Fighter to be highly unlikely. I would agree had it NOT been for Capcom releasing an amazingly competent port of Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the SNES in late ’96. I could easily envision Capcom doing the old 1-2 punch combo releasing BOTH titles that holiday season as one last hurrah, but perhaps they decided instead to put all their SNES eggs into one basket. Puzzle Fighter pits Street Fighter and Darkstalkers characters against one another, all in the name of gem smashing supremacy.

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Each of the 8 characters have their own gem patterns, which added to the game’s strategy and replay value. Chibi renditions of the fighters stand center stage and perform their special moves on one another when players execute big combos. It all added to the fun and charm of Puzzle Fighter. It’s one of those simple games that is easy to pick up but hard to put down.

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And not being a particularly demanding game in terms of graphics and specs, I’m sure Capcom could have easily converted this for a quick buck for those still clinging to their SNES that holiday season of 1996 (surprisingly more people than you think because some were not ready, for one reason or another, to move on to the 32-bit systems just yet). I sure wish that were the case, because Puzzle Fighter would have given Tetris Attack a good run for its money as best puzzle game on the SNES!

#6: SAMURAI SHODOWN II

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Samurai Shodown (known as Samurai Spirits in the Land of the Rising Sun) made waves when it landed on the arcade scene back in the glorious summer of 1993. Similar to Shogun Warriors (featured earlier on this list at #19), Samurai Shodown is set in feudal Japan with a focus on weapon-based combat. It caught many an eye with its unique aesthetics and atmosphere. The sound effects of swords clanging and slicing flesh were haunting! Even the smallest details, such as the whipping wind sound effect of Haohmaru’s tornado projectile, is seared in my memory bank nearly 30 (!) years on. A scaling effect had the camera zoom in when combatants were in proximity of each other, and would pull back to show the scope of the battlefield when the fighters were farther apart. Either view was awe-inspiring and further helped to separate Samurai Shodown from the rest of the fighting game pack.

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With a fantastic foundation already in place, the sequel blew the door off the hinges with 4 new fighters, more special moves (including super special attacks with the RAGE meter), advanced techniques such as ducking and rolling, and easter eggs just to name a few. Samurai Shodown II was the pinnacle of fighting game nirvana in late 1994. That was around the same time the SNES received a decent (but not spectacular) port of the first Samurai Shodown. Gone was the scaling and humongous fighters. The fighters were sadly reduced to a pint size, and some censorship issues marred the SNES port. Still playable, but definitely missing some of the key aspects that made the arcade original so fun and special.

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But as we saw with the SNES ports of Fatal Fury 2 and King of the Monsters 2, there are some examples of mediocre (or even awful) first ports in a series that received a far superior sequel port. I am of the mindset that Samurai Shodown II would have been one of the best fighting games on the SNES. Alas, the world shall never know.

#5: ELEVATOR ACTION RETURNS

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Most of us who grew up gaming in the late ’80s are likely to remember Elevator Action on the 8-bit NES (although it began its life in the arcades in 1983). An interesting game in theory, I never quite liked it as much as I was hoping to. More than 10 years later (1994), Elevator Action Returns rectified all of the previous game’s shortcomings. The game I always pictured in my mind wanting the NES version to be finally came to fruition, and it was nothing short of amazing.

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Taking on a grittier atmosphere, as one of 3 agents you navigate the various stages shifting elevators, blasting bad guys and blowing shit up. The game tickles the imagination in a way that most games can only dream of doing. Among the many things I love about this game are all the little touches, such as graffiti sprawled on the walls. My favorite being CRUSH THE OLD ORDER!! It really transports you to a far-flung dystopian world that’s corrupt beyond repair, dripping with evil and decay at every nook and cranny.

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Few things are as satisfying as blowing up a box of explosives in a hallway and seeing a bad guy come out of the door right on cue, thereby setting himself aflame. Even better? Seeing his friends follow suit one after another, lighting each other up like a trail of birthday candles! Elevator Action Returns has a subtle sense of dark humor that adds to the overall enjoyment and really elevates it (sorry) above the rest. Who knew crushing enemies underneath an elevator could be so much damn fun?!

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Best of all, you can save the world with a friend in tow. Each of the agents have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as a special attack, to increase replay value. The game is short and sweet, and one I often revisit. Sega Saturn owners were lucky enough to receive a flawless port. It’s one of my top 10 Saturn favorites — I replayed it so much in the early-mid 2000’s and still play it once in a while to this very day.

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Still, I would have loved to play Elevator Action Returns on the SNES back in the ’90s with my gaming pals. There aren’t enough quality 2 player run ‘n gun experiences on the SNES, and EAR would have been a much welcome addition.

#4: WWF WRESTLEFEST

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I grew up watching the WWF religiously with my uncle, brother and best friend. I loved the larger than life characters and the zany circus world of professional wrestling. In the summer of 1991, we were graced with the presence of WWF WrestleFest at our local arcade. The huge sprites, the insanely colorful visuals and the ability to play as the heroes of my childhood (such as Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior) made WrestleFest a damn near religious experience.

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WrestleFest quickly took on sort of a mythical status within my gaming crew in the early ’90s. As ardent wrestling geeks, we poured countless quarters into the machine as we punched, kicked, scratched and clawed our way to the top. It’s one of those special games that’s definitely in my Mount Rushmore of “Oh man, how I wish this came out on the SNES!”

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It has some of the greatest aesthetics I’ve ever seen in any game, ever. The wrestlers were big and beefy just like they were in real life. The blue mats with the classic old school WWF logo really popped, and the short yellow energy bars (with red indicating the damage  inflicted) made it visually very satisfying to look at. It’s exactly how I picture a WWF arcade game to look like (don’t get me started on the crappy aesthetics of WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game…)

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Sadly our hopes and dreams were crushed when a home translation never materialized. Instead, SNES owners were “treated” to the very forgettable WWF Super WrestleMania. Some small form of redemption appeared in 1993 with WWF Royal Rumble and WWF Raw the following year, but neither could hold the jock strap of WrestleFest.

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A Super Nintendo port would come with much (graphical) sacrifice, but I bet it would have been a competent effort easily worth one of our birthday or Christmas bullets. Alas, CARD SUBJECT TO CHANGE

#3: THE SIMPSONS ARCADE GAME

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In 1991, both The Simpsons and Konami were on fire. Neither could seemingly do any wrong. So when the two mega brands joined forces, you knew the end results would be nothing short of phenomenal. And that’s exactly what eager arcade goers got with (un)arguably one of the most memorable arcade games of all time.

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Playing as one of either Homer, Marge, Bart or Lisa, The Simpsons Arcade Game perfectly captured the zaniness and wacky appeal of the popular cartoon show. Few things could rival corralling 3 buddies and bashing your way through Springfield.

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I can’t tell you how many quarters my friends and I wasted lovingly spent on this game. It was just one of those games that whenever you saw the arcade cab, you JUST had to play it. There’s an instant pick up and play factor to it that reminds you of why you love video games so much. At their core, video games should be fun distractions that help to take your mind off the real world and transport you to a magical land where clogged six lane highways and bills don’t exist. Few did that better than The Simpsons Arcade Game.

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Obviously, a SNES port would require some scaling back. No 4 player mode. Less animations. Lower quality of sound and visuals. All perfectly acceptable. My buddies and I were ready for the “inevitable” home port. Therefore, a small part of us collectively died when it sadly never did.

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As much as never being able to play this on our SNES crushed us, there was another Konami brawler based off another highly popular IP that cut us even deeper…

#2: X-MEN

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In 1991 my friends and I were absolutely obsessed with Marvel’s 1991 trading cards. We bought packs like crazy at a local card shop by the name of Triple Play. Each pack, costing only $1, contained 12 cards. It was awesome because $1 was easy enough to wrangle from your parents on any given day. Then you’d head to Triple Play, buy a pack or 2, check out your new goodies and negotiate to trade away your doubles for that elusive card still missing in your ever growing collection. This, mind you, was all conducted while waiting excitedly for the Street Fighter II line off in the corner to die down. It was a foolproof recipe for a perfect lazy Sunday.

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In early 1992 Konami dropped yet another gem, this time featuring the incomparable X-Men. To say that my friends and I were over the moon would be the understatement of the year. Up to 6 players can team up and take out Magneto and his vile lackeys. My ride or die character? Colossus. Always Colossus!

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Confession time: There was a time in 1992 when I was being an outright prick. My friend and I used to cruise the arcade hall, and whenever we saw a little kid playing X-Men, I would walk right up to his control panel and spam the special attack button. This unleashes a powerful attack BUT at the expense of a little health. So I would basically drain the poor guy’s health bar to zilch and then he’d die in quick fashion. I remember doing this maybe 2 or 3 times, and laughing with my friend as we ran off. I don’t know why I did that — I’m certainly not proud of it and usually was a goody two shoes by all accounts. I guess it was a phase I went through and I just had to get it out of my system. To this day I can still see Colossus spamming his special attack. Poor kid. If you’re reading this, I apologize for being an asshole. I know it’s an apology 30 years too late, but yeah.

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So I’ll take ownership and full responsibility. My terrible actions led to some bad karma, which then nixed any chance of a Super Nintendo port. At least Capcom gave us X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse in late 1994. It’s nowhere the same as the X-Men arcade game in terms of quality, but it was at least pretty solid in its own right. Hey, sometimes you gotta take what you can get, right?

#1: DARKSTALKERS

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The year was 1994. I was in the 5th grade and at the height of my childhood prime. Fighting games were still on top and my love for monsters and all things macabre were at an all-time high. So it was a match made in heaven (er, hell?) when Capcom released Darkstalkers in the summer of 1994. Featuring 10 monstrous characters, ranging from clones of Dracula to Frankenstein to a werewolf and more, it was a true monster mash of epic proportions.

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To simply label Darkstalkers as “Street Fighter II but with monsters” would be doing it a gross disservice. It has its own distinct feel that made it so fun and unique to play. The visuals and aesthetics were all top-notch as we came to expect from Capcom in the ’90s. Hell, I can still hear the memorable music and sound effects loud and clear in my head to this very day.

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Like many of the other games on this list, a SNES port would have been scaled down by a great degree. Fewer frames of animation, less vibrant colors and other sacrifices would have been necessary to fit it all on one tiny 16-bit cartridge. But I believe it could have been done successfully. The monsters would be smaller and the speech samples would have less impact but man would I have loved to play this on my SNES in 1995!

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Some of the more gruesome parts, like Bishamon slicing his opponent in two, would need to be cut (sorry, no bad pun intended). But especially knowing what Capcom managed to pull out of the SNES with their stellar port of Street Fighter Alpha 2, Darkstalkers would have been a cinch for the Big C.

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Capcom didn’t do much wrong in the ’90s or on the Super Nintendo, but never releasing a Darkstalkers port tops my very short list of things they misfired on. But given all the great SNES titles they bestowed upon us, this glaring omission is a forgivable sin. Still, a competent Darkstalkers port would probably have been one of the top 5 fighting games on the SNES.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Thankfully, many of the games on this list has been made playable on the Nintendo Switch. And there are few, if any, imperfections. Still, there’s no accounting for how priceless it would have been if all these games came out on the SNES when we were kids in the ’90s. Because even though all Super Nintendo ports of arcade games had some degree of flaws and warts, a good number of them managed to capture the feel and essence of what made their arcade counterpart so much damn fun to play. And it was that special feeling of bringing them home from the rental store (or Toys R Us) for the first time and being blown away that you were playing a variation of the arcade game you loved so much in the comfort of your very own living room. There was something pure and magical about that. It’s a time capsule to what is a very nostalgic period of our lives for many of us reading this. So long as the home port represented the arcade game moderately well, we were as ecstatic as vampires crashing a bloodmobile. So here’s to 30 years of the Super Nintendo kicking ass and taking names. What a damn fun journey it has been. But as great as it was, it would have been even better had these 20 games come out. Yet for all the great home ports we missed out on, let’s remember how lucky we have been over the past 30 years. To this day, the SNES for my money still boasts one of the best gaming libraries ever assembled. Happy 30 years, SNES!

We shall never forget those halcyon days...
We shall never forget those halcyon days…

Summer Spirit (Elizabeth Holleville)

Elizabeth Holleville | July 7, 2020 | 262 pages
Elizabeth Holleville | July 7, 2020 | 262 pages

Being that it’s Friday the 13th as well as the fact that summer is quickly winding down (I resume teaching on Monday for the first time in-person since that fateful Friday the 13th of March 2020 when COVID-19 shut everything down), I can’t think of a better time than right now to review Summer Spirit. This book will always have a special place in my heart for 3 reasons. 1). My wife bought this for me as one of my birthday gifts in late July. 2). It marked the first graphic novel I’ve read, which was something I wanted to do since I got back into reading in early 2019. 3). Fittingly so, it marks the first graphic novel review on RVGFanatic. So without further ado, let’s dim the lights, bust out the Ouija board and take a closer look at this quirky and creepy coming-of-age graphic novel…

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Summer? Check. Spooky supernatural shit? Check. Coming-of-age tropes? Check. Yep, the moment I saw this book in the store for the first time I knew I had to get it. The pastel colors and unique art style really drew me in. It’s not like many of the other “me too” graphic novels you typically see lining up the shelves at your local book store. There is a distinct and fun flavor to this one!

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Louise is looking forward to spending another lazy summer at her grandma’s house with her cousins. Reading endless stacks of comic books, chilling at the beach, feeling the sand and water between her toes. Yup, this was going to be another awesome summer. Little did she know that she would get way more than she bargained for!

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Some interesting subplots involving the grandma are hinted at, although never fully explored. Admittedly a bit of a missed opportunity. My imagination filled in the gaps, but I wished that the author had flesh out grandma a little bit more.

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There are quite a bit of boxes where there’s no text at all. Elizabeth Holleville did a great job at creating an unsettling and uneasy atmosphere. You could just feel that something off was lingering in the air… perhaps wafting around the corner just beyond the scope of your vision…

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A sense of mystery and creepiness pervades throughout the story. You’re just waiting for that shoe to drop!

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There’s definitely something disturbing about all those closeup shots that focus on some rather iffy artifacts. It’s like I know something just ain’t quite right…

Even Louise can sense that there's something in the air...
Even Louise can sense that there’s something in the air…
Hey, that's grandma... but who the hell is that?!
Hey, that’s grandma… but who the hell is that?!
Poor Lisa?? Wait a second here -- what the hell happened to her?!
Poor Lisa?? Wait a second here — what the hell happened?!
If looks could kill, right?
I don’t like the way Lisa stares into my soul…

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Slumber parties and summer go together like ghost stories and a campfire. This stuff will take you right back to your adolescent years. It personally brings back a lot of fond memories as my friends and I spent countless summer nights regaling one another with tales of the macabre.

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Oh damn, say no more. The Koreans know their horror shit for sure!

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A how-to guide to seeing ghosts, eh? Go on… I’m listening…

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That’s very true… and quite unsettling when you think about it. Even more so when there’s a creepy ass figure right behind ya!

Legit nightmare fuel. I've got the heebie-jeebies
Legit nightmare fuel. I’ve got the heebie-jeebies
Why do I feel like this can only end badly?
Why do I feel like this can only end badly?

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This is the kind of thing that you’ll never forget. It’s like one of those urban legends one of your friends shared back in the ’90s that sounds plausible enough to the point where you don’t want to test it out… in fears that it just might come true.

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What did she see? I can’t spoil that for ya… you’ll have to read it to find out. One of my favorite things about Summer Spirit is how surprisingly spooky it all is. I almost wish they went even further and made this a graphic novel with an adult audience in mind.

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I absolutely adore the artwork in this graphic novel. It’s very striking. Louise and her cousins are heading out to town for a nice little girls’ night out.

DON'T EVEN THINK OF TURNING AROUND!
DON’T EVEN THINK OF TRYING IT!
Gawd damn it girl. Listen, PLEASE
Gawd damn it girl. Listen, PLEASE. Don’t turn around!
GAHH! The Korean friend wasn't messing around
GAHHH!  The Korean friend wasn’t messing around
You and me both, girl
You and me both, girl
But can she be trusted... ?
But can she be trusted… ?
More acid trip visuals abound
More acid trip visuals abound

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Ah, how I love the summer time. Those peaceful idyllic summer nights are simply unbeatable. Crickets chirpings, stars out in full force, the calm serenity of a summer evening. No school, no homework and just all the time in the world to play video games and watch horror movies galore with your best pal. But I digress…

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Fair warning by the way… Summer Spirit shockingly has a few risqué scenes. Definitely not for kids! The picture above is one of the tamer ones, actually. The more explicit scenes totally caught me off guard as I thought this would be a coming-of-age “bubbly” story with supernatural happenings. It’s actually quite dark and dour. I mean, it’s not hardcore horror by any means, but it’s not suitable for kids under 13, either.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I read Summer Spirit in one sitting. It took me around an hour to zip through the book’s 262 pages. There are a lot of pages with very little text or none at all, so it makes for an extremely fast read. Sometimes I wished the author had fleshed out some details a bit more. Other times I loved the minimalism. The artwork catches the eye and I love the pastel-y look. The story moves in some interesting directions. A few moments where it does feel a bit disjointed knock it down a peg or two. But overall, I quite enjoyed it. It was a fun summer read with more than a hint of uneasiness permeating throughout.

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Best of all, Summer Spirit does what a good book should: it tickled my imagination and transported me to a fantastical world different from my own. I’ll read many more graphic novels to come, but I’ll never forget this one for all its weirdness and a foreboding sense of impending dread. It’s got its share of flaws but I could easily see myself revisiting this book several times down the road during those glorious summer seasons. A lot more unfolds after Lisa and Louise meet. Find out for yourself! As for me, I’ll enjoy the last bittersweet remnants of summer while I still can. Farewell once again, summer. Until we meet again…

3HalfStars

Night of the Crabs (Guy N. Smith)

Guy N. Smith | July 2, 1976 | 144 pages
Guy N. Smith | July 2, 1976 | 144 pages

45 years ago, during that very hot summer of 1976, Night of the Crabs was published and Guy N. Smith’s life would never be the same. Although he had a few horror novels published prior, it was Night of the Crabs that truly put Mr. Smith on the map. As one can surmise from the title, classic literature this ain’t. Oh no, it’s pulpier than hand squeezed orange juice and cheesier than grated Parmesan. And therein lies the beauty for those who are not opposed — or, better yet, inclined — to reading some B-Movie level pulp horror fiction.

Just mindless turn your brain off fun
Damn, 45 years!

In a 2017 reprint, Guy N. Smith reflected on that scorching summer of ’76.

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Sadly, Guy N. Smith passed away on December 24, 2020. He was 81. I’m sure he’s looking down, smoking his pipe and grinning at the fact that his little book is now celebrating 45 years!

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Guy’s hilarious dedication. Jean’s his wife and clearly, she “has to put up with it all.” Whatever that entails!

RIDING THE WAVE

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Peter Benchley’s Jaws was published on February 1, 1974. The movie was released on June 20, 1975. Both the book and film were huge successes. The Rats was published in November of 1974 and was a massive hit for James Herbert. These books no doubt inspired Guy N. Smith to write about giant mutated murderous crustaceans. Heck, the front cover of Night of the Crabs proudly declares, “In the tradition of THE RATS.” Just in case anyone thought otherwise.

Spotted at a Rite Aid on July 14, 2021. The impact and legacy of JAWS lives on to this day!
Spotted at a Rite Aid magazine stand on 7/14/21.
The impact and legacy of JAWS lives on to this day!

IT ALL BEGAN WITH AN INNOCENT SWIM

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As so often was the formula for many horror books, the first page introduces 2 characters whose eventual and unfortunate demise becomes the start of a nasty chain reaction. The 2 unlucky victims here are Ian Wright and Julie Coles, a pair of hormonal teenage lovers. On a side note, I can’t help but love the British lexicon — “holiday-maker” gets me every single time. Good ol’ Guy.

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Buddy, you wish it was just a cramp! The crabs are craving some soft tender human flesh…

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Compared to some of Guy’s later works, Night of the Crabs is fairly tame by comparison. Although, Ian Wright might say otherwise — if he could, that is.

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We soon meet marine biologist Cliff Davenport, Ian’s uncle. Ian and Julie work for Uncle Cliffy, who becomes increasingly concerned when they fail to show up for work. He begins to fear something more than just “sexual procrastinations.” Perhaps they were involved in some sort of road accident. Before his mind can race to another scenario even worse, there’s a rapping at his door. A pair of officers. Oh bloody hell…

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This part is such a heartbreaker. The stark contrast between the relief of the officers and Cliff’s real emotions behind closed doors is so jarring. The air of finality that closes this chapter is crushing. And thus begins our protagonist’s journey at uncovering the truth…

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It isn’t long before Cliff meets Pat Benson. Not surprisingly, the two become more than acquaintances with a shared mission. They discover the giant crabs and know that no one will believe them without any proof. It’s time to concoct a plan to secure said proof. I love that this was written in 1976 and not 2021. Had it been the latter, acquiring proof would have been as simple as whipping out your phone. Imagine, mutated killer crabs on TikTok! But back then, with far less technology, things were a lot harder! There’s a palpable sense of struggle and danger that exists because it was written in the age of long ago.

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Guy’s writing… it’s not Hemingway but I do find there’s a certain charm to it. His sex-related scenes are perhaps a bit clumsy, admittedly. But he redeems himself with paragraphs like the last one above. I’ve read a lot of crappy to below average horror writers — Guy N. Smith is easily better than the dreck that tried to capitalize on the horror boom of the ’80s.

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King Crab, being even bigger than the other crabs (who are said to be the size of cows), is the leader of the cast. Smith portrays King Crab in particular as being a crafty, sentient creature. As if a pissed off giant crab in command of an endless army isn’t bad news enough, now you add brains to the equation and things quickly become catastrophic. And as you can see from the picture above, King Crab is absolutely vicious. Yikes!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Will Cliff Davenport and Pat be able to save the day? What fate will befall King Crab and his minions? Read the book to find out! Guy N. Smith went on to write EIGHT sequels, with the last being The Charnel Caves released in 2019. It’s his most popular series and this first entry is arguably his most (in)famous book. I had a good time with it and zipped through it in just a few days. It’s nothing spectacular, just decent mindless fun. If you’ve never read Guy N. Smith before, know that he’s very direct and to the point. He wrote in a day and age when horror books were not yet stuffed with background detail nor did they have to be 300+ pages. Guy gets you in and out. It makes for a super fast read that you don’t have to commit a lot of time to, or clear out your calendar for. Night of the Crabs is far from his best work but being the book that really launched his career and put him on the map, it’s a must read for any Guy N. Smith enthusiast. Night of the Crabs is the equivalent of a popcorn B-Movie. Or, in the literary world, a “beach read.” How fitting. Now, only eight more Crabs books to read…

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

3Stars