The Sleepover (Michael Regina)

Michael Regina | November 9, 2021 | 224 pages
Michael Regina | November 9, 2021 | 224 pages

Browsing my local Barnes and Noble one random day this past November, I spotted a new graphic novel on the shelf that immediately caught my eye. From the simple title to the creepy art cover, I knew it was right up my alley. I got back into reading books in 2019, and only in the past year or so have become enthralled with the graphic novel medium. Man, if only these bad boys were around back in 1993 when I was 10 years old! Sure we had comic books but nothing like the high quality today’s graphic novels pack, in terms of color and page quality. But I digress. Speaking of 1993, that’s the year The Sleepover takes place, and Michael Regina was not shy about early-mid ’90s references. But unlike some other entities, he didn’t go overboard so it wasn’t super in your face, which I appreciate because some of these throwback nostalgic stories can be too much when it comes to that sort of fan service.

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The story focuses on Matt Russo and his younger sister, Judy. For years their nanny, Ruby, has taken good care of them while their mom toils away at work. One day Ruby dies. The mom scrambles to find a new nanny. Miss Swan is sus to say the very least. Matt is stricken with emotional grief as he laments the loss of his nanny, whom he shared a close bond with. His friends come over for a sleepover in an effort to cheer him up and fuel his mind with horror movies and video games galore, while fueling his stomach with pizza and soda. Sounds like an epic sleepover from the ’90s eh? I know I sure had my share of those!

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But of course, what good is a story if there’s no conflict? The boys’ plan to have the perfect sleepover is soon thwarted when they come face to face with a local urban legend that is beyond anything they have ever encountered before…

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I really like the art. It’s clean, simple and pleasant to look at. The Sleepover opens up with Matt and his 3 friends watching The X-Files. The first episode aired on September 10, 1993, which is perfect since this story takes place in the fall of ’93. I remember reading this first page at Barnes and Noble and thinking, “Oh yeah, this is an instant buy.” Thank God for their 20% off teacher discount! ;)

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Matt and Judy’s nanny, Ruby, is introduced early on, and throughout the story we get occasional flashbacks to see through Matt’s eyes why Ruby means so much to him and his family. It’s a wild and crazy stormy night, making it perfect for a ghost story to be told…

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One of Matt’s friends regales the group with a local urban legend of a horrible witch that lives in the woods nearby. Judy, being a lot younger, seeks Ruby’s reassurance. You can tell that Matt’s got the heebie-jeebies!

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You keep saying that, four eyes. You keep saying that.

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Every group in the ’90s had a kid like this. The one always sprouting off about ghouls and ghosts, trying to convince everyone else that something sinister is afoot…

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Hell, maybe YOU were that kid. Hmm, maybe I was in mine…

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I love the full page chapter breaks! There is something so simple yet alluring about a classic nice little house set clearly somewhere in the suburbs. Probably because that’s where I grew up and had all of my childhood memories. Whether it was my house or one of my friends’ giant two story homes, they were always the backdrop of a fun Saturday night staying up late watching scary movies and playing SNES games until the cows came home.

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Sadly, Ruby the nanny passes away. The Russos attend her funeral, but life marches on. As soon as they get back home, the mom has to go back to work and she needs to find a new nanny pronto. No rest for the weary, eh?

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The help wanted ad dubiously finds it way into the woods. No harm no foul though, right? Sure.

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Ah, it plays out like a classic scene from a thriller or horror movie. The bad guy (or gal) is introduced with an ominous back of the head shot. To make matters worse, the parent has already met them and is none the wiser! Looks like the poor kids will have to fend for themselves…

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Whoa, major creep vibes! Ms. Russo approved of this nutjob?! Talk about not winning the Mother of the Year award.

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Cheese and rice, man. Miss Swan is so unsettling.

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I love how all those parents approved of their kid to have a sleepover with a random new nanny that they haven’t met yet. But I suppose they trust Ms. Russo’s judgment. Ha! Little do they know.

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Scary movies and a sleepover. As timeless a combination as any other imaginable 1-2 combo.

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The ’90s stylized S in “Best Sleepover” popped me. Hard. My wife teases me that I used to write my name Steve with that S back in the ’90s. Hey, we really thought it was cool back then! Major props to Regina for that subtle nostalgic callback.

My wife is puking right about now, ha!
My wife is puking right about now, ha!

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What else made for an epic sleepover back in the ’90s? Why, chugging, of course.

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Ah, the prank call. When you were 10, and with your friends, these unethical acts were undoubtedly a crowd pleaser. I can still hear the stifled laughter to this day.

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Whether it was Halloween, Friday the 13th, Child’s Play or even Leprechaun, horror movies were a staple of my childhood sleepovers. I like how Regina threw in Vampire Hunter D. I’ll never forget the first anime my old best friend Nelson and I ever watched: Devil Hunter. The unexpected (and excessive) nudity, to my 10 year old eyes back then, was wild.

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But the definite MVP of my childhood sleepovers: video games. Just being in a room with 3 (or 10) friends all cheering and yelling, playing late into the early mornings… those were some badass times. Love the nods to Mortal Kombat here.

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Last (and possibly least), the random talks we had about girls and crushes. These were always fun 10 minute breaks but I always wanted to get back to my slasher movies and 16-bit video games!

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Miss Swan’s evil eyes jump off the page with a very otherworldly glow…

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Have I mentioned how much I love the simple effectiveness of these full page chapter breaks?

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We come to find out more about the witch’s backstory in a flashback and some exposition.

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Love this scene! Plays like how it would in a horror movie. Very cinematic.

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Miss Swan’s true form is creepy and demonic. She would be a badass horror movie villain.

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Gotta appreciate the Super Soaker shoutout! If you grew up in the early-mid ’90s, you know all about that Super Soaker life!

MORE SHOUT OUTS

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So I won’t reveal more of the story — you’ll have to read the rest to find out what happens. But I can’t resist sharing this callback. Gamers from the ’90s will know those infamous four words: “RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!”

That glorious glow beckons like none other
That glorious glow beckons like none other

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I remember seeing Altered Beast for the first time circa 1989 at my friend’s house. Tommy and Denny were those two brothers who always got the coolest and latest games first in your gaming group. I was blown away by the graphics and sound.

What a sight to behold in 1989
What a sight to behold in 1989!

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“POWER UP!” Two of the most iconic words in gaming history.

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You damn right
You damn right

Michael Regina did an excellent job capturing what being a 10 year old boy in 1993 was like. Absolutely nailed it.

REGINA REFLECTS

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In a YouTube video he posted, Michael Regina shares some background info on his graphic novel, The Sleepover. It’s an interesting watch for anyone intrigued by the book.

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Regina based a lot of his graphic novel off his very own childhood. They grew up with a nanny also named Ruby who took care of him growing up. Ruby was a huge part of the family.

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The Sleepover is dedicated to Ruby. Pretty cool how much of his own childhood experiences were incorporated in the book.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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The Sleepover has garnered some high praise, and deservedly so!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Nightmare fuel
Nightmare fuel

Looking for a spooky middle grade graphic novel? Look no further. The premise is simple and straight forward. A group of 10 year old boys face off with a witch demon in an American suburb. They’ll need to rely on their wits, and each other, to survive the night(mare). Michael Regina knocked it out of the park with this one! While a little basic (don’t expect any crazy twists or plot development), it’s just a fun ride from beginning to end, with some genuinely creepy moments sprinkled here and there. If The Sleepover came out when I was 10, I probably would have read it 50 times. I could easily see this being adapted into a NetFlix movie one day. It’s got that sweet early-mid ’90s vibe going for it, as well as being rather Stranger Things-esque. Hard to go wrong with this sucker. I’ll never look at a raven the same way ever again.

4HalfStars

Basewood (Alec Longstreth)

Alec Longstreth | March 18. 2014 | 216 pages
Alec Longstreth | March 18. 2014 | 216 pages

When I got back into reading in 2019, I didn’t care at all about graphic novels or comic books. It just wasn’t a medium that interested me. The few graphic novels I did pick up here and there were all in full color, such as Jeff Smith’s Bone series. I had zero interest in black and white comics. Since then, however, I have developed a deep appreciation for black and white comics. There’s something about them that can be very stark and striking, in a way that full color would actually detract from. I recently discovered Basewood, a giant comic book that measures in at a whopping 9×12. I got a free copy last week and devoured it in one sitting!

There's Jeff Smith, creator of the popular Bone series
There’s Jeff Smith, creator of the popular Bone series

ALL YOUR BASEWOOD ARE BELONG TO US

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I love the full 9×12 pages devoted to each chapter. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous. One of those imaginative worlds you can’t help but dive into and want to stay for a spell or two.

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The story revolves around Ben, a man who finds himself mysteriously in the land of Basewood. He has no clue how he got there, and he seems to be the only one inhabiting the land. Having lost memory due to a severe head injury, Ben sets out to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.

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It isn’t long before he finds a furry friend. The late evening and heavy downpour creates a very atmospheric opening.

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Alec Longstreth’s drawings are simple but detailed and beautiful. It’s a shame he didn’t publish more comics.

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This panel gives the reader an idea of just how big Basewood really is, and how daunting it would be to navigate one’s way out. Good luck with that, Ben!

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Although Ben can’t remember how he ended up in this isolated place, he hasn’t forgotten his boy scout skills. Unfortunately for him, the fire attracts the local wild life…

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It’s a terrible, ravenous wolf dragon!

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I love Alec’s decision to add in a little fantasy element. This fantastical antagonist adds a lot of tension and extra depth to the story. Not only is the journey over the cliffs long and arduous, but the wolf dragon is a constant major threat lurking in the background.

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We’re soon introduced to the lovable Argus, a hermit who lives deep in the woods with his trusty mutt. He’s a wise old man who knows the land like the back of his hand. He also gives our protagonist someone to converse with to move the story along.

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I just love how grizzled and haggard Alec made Argus out to be. If you look closely, his right hand seems to be skeletal. A neat little touch to show that Argus has been through some real shit…

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As it turns out, Argus has seen some shit all right as he has history with the terrible beast. He also possesses a heart of gold, gladly offering shelter and companionship to Ben.

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Another amazing full page chapter shot. Love it!

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Basewood is the kind of comic book that begs to be marveled at. At times I found myself staring at the panels in awe for an extra moment or two. The amount of tiny details that Alec put into it is mind-blowing! I love Argus’ badass treehouse :D

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It’s no luxurious 5 star hotel but beggars can’t be choosers. Actually, Argus didn’t do too bad for himself.

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Cue the classic flashback expositional scene. One can almost feel the cozy heat of the fire rising out of the panel and seeping into your bones.

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Basewood features a few flashback scenes to add depth to each character. This is Argus’ backstory and origin story, if you will.

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There is almost a nostalgic quality to Alec’s art. Very cool and pleasing.

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You get a strong sense of the small, tight-knit community that Argus and his wife grew up in. A place where no one bothers to lock their doors and lends a helping hand to one and all.

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Argus and Violet soon have a baby boy, and all is well.

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But naturally, in most stories peace never lasts for long…

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You can feel Violet’s terror bleeding off the page. How utterly frightening and hopeless she must have felt :(

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Basewood is shockingly more gruesome and disturbing than I ever thought it could or would be. But that only serves to intensify the story as well as build up empathy for our main characters.

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I love how not all the pages are uniform in terms of how the panels are arranged. Some of them feature wild back to back shots, like this striking one here. It really amplifies the intensity of the moment and is an absolute marvel to gawk at!

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I’m not going to reveal further details of Basewood. I would hate to spoil the rest of the story for anyone, as it’s one of those books that you really should go in blind and enjoy. When I first saw this book, I was hoping it would be something of a hidden gem. I didn’t realize how truly brilliant it would turn out to be!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I relished every single second I spent in the world of Basewood. The art is phenomenal, I love the variety of the panels and the story is so good. It’s a simple story filled with tropes. But you care so much for the characters and the artwork is so stunning that you overlook this. Not every story needs to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a really well told story, even if the framework of it is something you might have seen or read a hundred times before. Basewood is an immersive world full of heart, love, courage, sacrifice, danger and friendship. There isn’t a whole lot of text and the 216 pages can probably be read in around an hour or so, but the time will be well spent. If you have any interest in comic books at all, or if these picture intrigued you in the least, I cannot recommend Basewood highly enough. The ending does feel a little rushed but again, I’m willing to look past that. The journey is so damn fascinating and a wild roller coaster ride, even if Alec didn’t completely stick the landing. At the end of the day, it’s all about how a book makes me feel. And Basewood left an indelible mark on me. It’s one I’m excited to reread over and over in the years to come.

5Stars

It Came From The Book Store

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Since getting back into reading 3 years ago (2019 feels like AGES ago), I’ve been to my fair share of book stores in the surrounding 150 miles or so of my home. I’ve unearthed some amazing gems, ran into nostalgic childhood favorites and discovered some bizarre oddities and fascinating obscurities. Rather than wait to read the whole book and then do a review, I’ve been long meaning to share my random finds in a series of shorter articles entitled IT CAME FROM THE BOOK STORE. I always loved that cheesy old line “It came from so and so,” so I can’t think of a better title for this new series than that! I have thousands of titles to select from, but for my first entry into this brand new series I have to highlight the amazing find I made this past October of 2021. Come with me as I take you back to that fateful day…

PAPERBACKS FROM HELL

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In October of 2018, I began dating the woman that would eventually become my wife. We lived 2 hours apart. We alternated weekends driving to each other’s place. Her town had way better book stores than where I live, and that’s how I got back into reading. Fast forward 3 years. October 2021. I visited the Half Price Books in that town and could not believe my eyes when I made my way to their horror section. It was jammed to the gills, packed to the rafters with paperbacks from Hell galore! Someone had apparently unloaded their ENTIRE horror book collection, as upon further examination most of the books had the same old book store stamps from a bygone era. Whoever sold these books to Half Price must have had them stored in the attic or something for the past 30+ years!

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Here’s The Midnight Hour by Donald Bacon. Didn’t buy this one because the plot didn’t appeal to me, nor did the many negative reviews. BUT… that gawd damn glorious cover, with the die cut and everything… it’s an all-time classic in terms of horror paperback covers!

Flip it and you see this lovely little scene!
Flip it and you see this lovely little scene!

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Richard Laymon is one of my favorite horror writers to have ever lived. Always a blast to run across one of his cooler covers that does not belong to the lame generic Leisure lineup. Here’s Funland, one of his many kooky and crazy horror stories set in a dilapidated rundown amusement park in some podunk beach town.

Somewhere Cyndi Lauper approves
Somewhere Cyndi Lauper approves

Fun fact: Funland was my first 500+ page read of my life. The first of many. Thanks for the memories, Uncle Dicky, and rest in power my man!

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J.N. Williamson was another prolific horror writer of the 1980s. I have yet to read any of his work, and word is they’re quite trashy and typically of a lower quality, but it’s hard to talk about “Paperbacks From Hell” without at least giving him a blurb. Just look at those covers. You won’t see anything like that in today’s new horror books. The covers of these old nasties always felt like you were looking at something you shouldn’t be looking at. Very akin to gawking at horror VHS boxes back in the ’80s and early ’90s!

Simple. Effective. Sold!
Simple. Effective. Sold!

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And much like cool horror movie boxes, a lot of the times the actual content failed massively to live up to the cover’s awesomeness. Still, there’s no denying that there’s a certain charm behind it all that is now nearly non-existent in today’s world. You might even say… such old relics are Dead to the World

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Speaking of horror writers from the ’80s, another big one was William W. Johnstone. I haven’t read one of his books yet but I hear this guy is batshit crazy! His books are very lewd and offensive. And I found a good bunch of them, including his infamous DEVIL series, that fateful day at Half Price.

One of the creepiest covers ever assembled!
One of the creepiest covers ever assembled!
The placement... *chef's kiss*
The text placement… *chef’s kiss*
I gotta read this in 2022
I have to read this in 2022
The attention to the cracked makeup, whoa!
The attention to the cracked makeup, whoa!
Love those old Zebra spines!
Love those old Zebra spines!

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One of the cool things about Half Price is that most of their used books are marked half off. Some aren’t, but these books were still a steal at these prices because the old horror paperbacks can command a pretty penny on the open market. Another nice thing is that Half Price shows the date books were processed into the store’s inventory. I was lucky to visit this location not long after they JUST put these vintage babies on the shelf. The more popular items fly off the shelf fast, so a lot of it comes down to being at the right place at the right time! And on that fateful day, I definitely was.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My epic haul!
A trashy killer deer story? I’m SO there

I’m super ecstatic to kick off this brand new IT CAME FROM THE BOOK STORE series with this amazing haul. Some days I go book shopping and come away empty handed. Other days I find a few goodies. But legendary finds like this only come around once in a blue moon! I walked away with so many infamous and beloved horror paperbacks from the ’80s. I’m sure there’s a fair share of stinkers in here, but I got most of them for $3 or so, and it’s hard to beat that! And what a joy to finally write something under 1,000 words and took me less than an hour to produce! You know, I think I’m going to like this series a whole lot. I hope you will, too. Until next time, take good care!

Ancient relics from a bygone era...
Ancient relics from a bygone era…

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.

FrankenT11

FrankenT12

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!

FrankenT13

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

FrankenT14

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

HKillsBook3

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.

HKillsBook2

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…

HKillsBook4

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

HKillsBook5

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.

HKIlls

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!

HKillsBook6

HKillsBook7

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!

HKillsBook8

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!

HKillsBook9

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

HKillsBook10

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

HKillsBook11

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

HKillsBook13

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

HKillsBook14

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

HKillsBook20

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.

HKillsBook25

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 :)

HKillsBook26

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

HKillsBook27

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

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Myers2021

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.

Hall2018BookBack

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.

BooksEx27

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!

IconicHall27

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.

H20Shot9

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.

MichaelStal

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.

OhDamnKnife

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!

H2018Car

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.

MaskFadeIn

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.

TwitterBooks

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.

HalloErnie

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

HallowPassarella

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!

Frags4

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.

Frags5

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!

Frags7

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.

Frags8

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…

Frags9

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.

Frags10

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

Frags12

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…

Frags13

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!

Frags14

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!

Frags18

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…

Frags17

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!

Frags31

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!

Frags32

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

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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

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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!

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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! :)