Read the First Chapter of ‘The Thrumming Stone’

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CANTICLE ONE

 

Even by lax cultural standards of the 1990s, my sister and I were probably too old to be rocketing down the hill at Virginia Ave Park. Jenny was 16 and I had just turned 14, but an impromptu afternoon of sledding freshly fallen snow was one of the last bastions of pure, unadulterated joy in our increasingly complicated lives. We were in the 8th and 10th grade at Lestershire High, coming of age during the peak of MTV’s generational influence—thankfully, we were still a couple years away from voluntarily tethering our social lives to AOL and its Instant Messenger. And even though we were glued to MTV and reruns of 90210, our worldview was still largely shaped by our family, friends, teachers, and small town.

Our passage into adolescence had been a rocky one. Our mother, Helen, had only been gone for a couple years, but her eulogy and burial still felt recent. Jenny and I were young enough that her absence was omnipresent in our daily lives—an empty seat at recitals, a dearth of home-cooked meals, missed rides to and from sporting events. Yet, there were moments between the two of us, here and there, which recalled the blissful innocence and wide-eyed optimism that had defined our childhood. We could still enjoy the holidays and looked forward to seeing our extended family; there were birthday parties, presents we hoped to receive, sleepovers and dances that we planned for months in advance.

Our idyllic, storybook village had not yet been laid to waste by layoffs and plant closings. Main Street still felt like the center of town. Everyone I knew had been at the Christmas parade, only weeks prior. It seems alien now, but there were two roller skating rinks, at which I had recently attended birthday parties; and this was the same year that I had started high school.

I was a nostalgic kid. Always looking to recreate monumental moments from my past, even though I was still just that—a kid who’d only just found his postpubescent voice. I was taken aback when Jenny brought up sledding. We only lived a few streets away from the best sledding hill in the county, and it had been such a centerpiece of our childhood winters.

We’d dug out my dad’s old wood runner sleigh and a beat plastic sled that most people would have tossed after a season. A layer of fresh, powder snow had fallen that late-December morning, just right for speedy trips down the slick slope. The hill at Virginia Ave was already a canvas of intersecting lines and boot prints, but the park was largely empty when we got there. There were a few stragglers who were trying to erect a small snow ramp, but it kept flattening each time they hit it. We watched them while we made a few runs of our own, until they finally gave up and went home, and the park was ours.

“Maybe we should try down there,” said Jenny, pointing to a smaller slope at the northern end of the park, running alongside one of the softball fields.

I just shook my head and laughed. Jenny always had to take an innocent outing and find a way to make it a little more dangerous, or at least involve some sort of trespassing. I had gotten scraped up by too many ledges, dogs, and thorn bushes to follow her blindly into another misadventure.

“Why not?” asked Jenny.

“It just goes down to the crick.”

“C’mon, dude. I bet it’s steeper.”

“What if we hit the ice and fall in?”

Jenny snickered. “It’s frozen over and the water’s probably only ankle-deep, anyway.” She began toward the other hill, dragging our dad’s antique sled behind her, ignoring my warning. She didn’t even look back to see if I’d follow. “If you fall in, I’ll call Captain Kirk and you can be on Rescue 911.”

I can’t lie and say I didn’t hesitate, but ultimately, by age 14 I had largely grown tired of playing the wimpy younger brother—especially since I now towered over her. I picked up my crappy, red sled and jogged to catch up.

This second hill was mostly forested, but there was a broad path that led from the edge of the softball field to the bank of the frosted-over creek—it certainly looked like it would be a fun, fast ride.

“There’s no way that you won’t go onto the ice, Jenny.”

“There’s nothing to worry about,” she said. “I’m practically an Olympic-caliber sledder. I’ll just turn before I hit the ice.”

“Just be careful, okay?”

“Sure.”

She set the sleigh at the edge of the hill and took a seat. But instead of pushing off down the steep embankment, she hesitated and looked back at me like she had been struck with a brilliant idea.

“You get on the back,” she said. “More weight is better with these old sleds.”

“No. You do it first.”

“Don’t be a wuss, Joey.”

I sighed and got on the back of the sled. I knew she’d torment me for days if I didn’t comply. She was great at telling everyone we knew about how much of a little bitch I was. I took some comfort in the fact that if we crashed, I’d likely land on top of her.

Jenny grabbed the rope and placed her feet on the steering board. “Ready?”

“No.” I just assumed that with her at the helm things wouldn’t end well.

“3….2….1!”

We shot off from our position and down the unmarred path. As we glided down the hill, we carved out two deep tracks in the snow; it really is amazing how fast runner sleighs can go. The sled picked up speed as we made our quick descent, and Jenny screeched with glee. Despite my initial trepidation, I couldn’t help but crack a smile.

The slight bumps on the way gave us brief rushes of weightlessness, and a large stone or root sent us airborne. We only got a few inches off the ground, but tufts of snow shot up in our faces when we landed, and Jenny had to redirect us away from the trees that lined the left side of the path.

I knew that we were traveling too fast for her to steer us hard in any direction, and I think she recognized it soon after—though I now suspect that it had always been her intention to take us onto the ice. But she made no move to halt or alter our progress as we passed over the creek, the runners hissing beneath us as we traversed the ice. I suspect we even picked up speed over the twenty-or-so-yard-width of Little Choconut Creek, because we were propelled into the woods on the other side, narrowly avoiding a few gnarled maples and elms before slowing among a field of glacial erratics.

Jenny fell back against me and we rolled off the sled as it came to a halt. I yelped as I landed elbow to rock. “Get off!”

She sat up gingerly and shook some snow from her scarf. “Holy crap. That was—”

We were both startled by a loud groaning and then a series of pops from the ice behind us.

“See, I told you we wouldn’t break through the ice,” said Jenny, grinning. We got up and took a few steps back toward the creek to have a look at the source of the noise.

Our sled had evidently cut a section of the ice like a knife, because there was now a large gap which exposed the running water below.

C’mon! How are we supposed to get back across now?” I instantly regretted not having the guts to just tell her no.

“Relax. We’re still in Lestershire, bro. We’ll just head this way until we get to Airport Road,” said Jenny, pointing toward the rocky clearing where the sled had come to a stop.

“Yeah, I guess,” I said. “I think I can hear a truck nearby.”

We wandered the forest, trying to determine the direction of what sounded like an idling engine. We had never been in that part of the park before and, though I knew our house was still only a ten-minute walk, it suddenly felt like we were miles from civilization, shut off from the world. It was exhilarating—that adolescent call to adventure and exploration—we didn’t get out of Lestershire all that often.

“Some of these rocks are pretty cool,” I said. The landscape was unique, like something you’d find in the Catskills or Adirondacks, not smack in the middle of our little village. “I’ve never seen anything like this around here.”

“I think it’s this way,” said Jenny, ignoring my comment. She started up a steep incline.

“Wait, Jenny, check this out,” I said, approaching one of the larger stones in the field. It was between four and five feet tall but wasn’t as round as the others; it reminded me of one of the smaller monoliths I’d seen in books about Stonehenge and other megalithic sites—I’d been obsessed with Stonehenge since elementary school. When I got closer to the stone, I first assumed that it was covered in faded graffiti but was pleasantly surprised to find out that the lines were carved into the rock.

“What?” She came back down but took her time in doing so.

“It looks like pictures, but like it’s some sort of writing…”

“On the boulder?”

I looked at the squiggles and characters from different angles, tried to make some sense out of them. There were animals, people in conflict, indiscernible swirls that seemed to say something that I couldn’t quite grasp. “It’s like hieroglyphics, I guess.”

Jenny came up beside me and examined the markings. “Yeah, wow… They’re not hieroglyphics, though. They’re called petroglyphs.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“It just means someone made inscriptions on the stones. Probably Iroquois.”

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked.

“Mr. Verity,” said Jenny, referring to one of our school’s more eccentric teachers. He had been her history teacher and now he was mine.

We dusted off as much snow as we could around the rock to get a better look at the carvings.

 

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“So, you think this is really old?” I asked, tracing some of the intentional lines with my finger.

When she didn’t respond, I leaned over to see what was occupying her attention, and was spooked by her now-frozen, emotionless expression. “Jenny?”

But I didn’t have time to wait for a response, as I began to feel a vibration through my gloves, emanating from the monolith itself. A sudden wave of nausea swept over me and I felt a sickening fear of losing consciousness—the sort of stimulation where in the midst of the experience, you come to the conclusion that ‘this is what it’s like to die.’ My racing thoughts only subsided when my vision narrowed to the point where I blacked out. What I experienced then is still difficult to describe. Because, in essence, I merely collapsed next to a rock in a snowy forest. I knew it to be all the same symptoms of passing out. I’d fainted in junior high shop class, during a grisly discussion of bandsaw and drill accidents; I knew the feeling well. But this experience had one noticeable difference, in that, between my loss of consciousness and the cloudy recovery of my faculties, a window into some sort of special knowledge was briefly cracked open and then swiftly slammed shut.

I sat and stared at my black snow boots for some time after coming to, trying to recall the fleeting image. It was an identical loss to the times I’d awoken from a nightmare but had no recollection of the terror I’d just experienced. For some reason, I felt like my boot was the only tenuous connection I had to the vision. My boot. A soldier’s black boot. Soldiers walking through the desert during the Gulf War, in their hot, heavy gas masks.

 

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“Joey?” came my sister’s voice, shakily.

I looked up, immediately losing my train of thought. She was sitting too—with this pale, dazed expression that I’d only seen on bite victims in vampire movies.

“I don’t hear the humming anymore,” she said. Neither did I.

We both silently got up and headed up the incline, eventually finding our way through the woods and reaching the street that joined Airport Road and Virginia Ave. We didn’t speak of our encounter with the vibrating, thrumming stone on our walk home either. I could tell that she was drained, though I didn’t dare mention my vision, or ask her whether she had experienced anything uncanny at the monolith.

I think we both understood that the other had undergone some sort of trauma, and that the best course of action was to just leave it be.

 

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Corpse Cold: New American Folklore

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Corpse Cold: New American Folklore is a collection of 20 horror stories with 30+ illustrations inspired by folklore and urban legends.

Fans of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series will enjoy the gruesome art and creepy stories. But be warned — these stories and illustrations are for mature readers. Each story is accompanied by macabre illustrations from the mind of Chad Wehrle

“…there’s something wonderfully nostalgic and charming about Corpse Cold,” — Rebecca McNutt, top Goodreads reviewer

“I would recommend this book to any horror fans looking for a fun read, particularly those who love creepypasta and other similar internet memes.” –– The Shades of Orange YouTube channel

“Corpse Cold had a good variety of stories and was a fun read. If you like urban legends then you’ll probably like this collection.” — The Scary Reviews

Read “Switches,” a sample story from Corpse Cold.

Order your copy via Amazon!

Can’t get enough of the artwork? We also have sets of tarot-size trading cards featuring illustrations from Corpse Cold available!

 

At The Cemetery Gates: Volume 2

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Through these gates we shall see the souls which misery doomed…

A man finds himself camping in the middle of a serial killer’s burying grounds… Two brothers uncover a secret more heinous than they ever imagined when snooping around their neighbor’s house… A graduate student captures an urban legend on his school’s famed Suicide Bridge…

At the Cemetery Gates: Volume 2 is a book for hellhounds, nostalgic crypt keepers, and creepypasta aficionados. It features 16 new stories by Brhel & Sullivan, and is follow-up to our 2016 release, At The Cemetery Gates: Year One.

Here’s what some reviewers have had to say about Volume 2:

“This would make a wonderful seasonal Halloween read.” — Rachel (The Shades of Orange Booktuber)

“Great collection of short stories. Although I should not have read these before bed.” — Steph Loves

Order your copy today!

Order the paperback

Order the eBook

Read two stories from Volume 2 for FREE!

“The Devil’s Cabin”

“Mixtape: Halloween ’84”

‘It That Decays,’ appearing in CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE

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Jim Patrick tried to relax during his dental exam, but the severe pain made it hard for him to think of anything else. It had begun as a dull toothache, only a few days prior, and Jim had delayed making an appointment with his dentist, Dr. Godbere. But that morning, he was in such agony that he had pleaded with the office receptionist to be seen immediately.

“Well, Jim, overall your teeth look great, as always. There’s just a small cavity on one of your bottom third molars,” said Dr. Godbere. “Christ, it’s rare that I come across a full set of wisdom teeth that have as much room as yours. You’ve got great genes.”

Jim grabbed his cheek and sighed. “I’ve never had a cavity before. I didn’t know it would hurt this much.”

“The amount of pain you’re experiencing is out of the ordinary. But in the realm of teeth, gums, and nerves, nothing surprises me anymore,” said the dentist. “We’ll drill it and fill it.”

“Go ahead and drill, Doc. I’d never thought I’d be saying that to a dentist.” Jim smiled faintly as the dentist clapped him on the shoulder.

“I’ve known these teeth since the 90s. You’re in good hands.”

Godbere began preparing for the minor dental procedure. Jim tried to distract himself with a daytime talk show on the exam room’s TV, but he was already beginning to sweat. He was neurotic about his dental care, and was disappointed in himself for having to undergo a procedure that was fully preventable.

“Jim, I’m surprised you have a cavity. Has your diet changed since the last time you were in?”

Jim threw up his hands. “That’s the thing, Doc — I’ve been eating healthier! More fruits, smoothies, even drinking this special kombucha — my son said it did wonders for his gut flora.”

“Ah, I see. Fruits and juices are really acidic, eat at the enamel — not to mention the sugar,” said Godbere. “I’ve heard kombucha can really stain the teeth — and that it might be more hocus pocus than digestive aid. But we can talk about your diet later.”

Godbere tested his drill; the whirring of the motor made Jim cringe. The dentist then retrieved a long needle from his assistant and prepared to inject Jim with some novocaine. “You ready?”

Jim nodded, gripping the armrests on the dental chair.

“Then let’s get to work.”

 

Jim returned home later that morning, satisfied that he had dealt with his tooth troubles. It wasn’t until the early afternoon that the novocaine wore off, and he again felt the dull ache in his jaw. Dr. Godbere had told Jim it might take a day or two for the pain to completely fade, and had given him a prescription for Percocet.

By the time Jim was ready for bed that evening, his pain was on par with what he had experienced before visiting the dentist. Jim took the medicine, and still he barely slept that night. He called the dentist during his lunch break the following day, as he had been forced to down multiple painkillers just to get through the morning.

Dr. Godbere managed to get Jim in for a late-afternoon appointment. “Jim, you look good. I can’t believe you’re still in pain — it really was just a surface cavity, which I normally wouldn’t even bother filling. We’ll do some x-rays and figure this thing out.”

After the x-rays were taken, Godbere went over them with Jim in the exam room. “Here. Here’s the filling we just did,” said the dentist, as he pointed at the black-and-white film.

Jim followed along with the dentist, but he also noticed another blemish further down the tooth, and pointed it out. “Doc, what’s this dark blotch here?”

Godbere leaned over Jim to get a closer view of the film. “It’s not a cavity, and it’s probably not on the tooth itself. You sometimes see this sort of thing with wisdom teeth. They tend to pull up extra tissue, since they rarely have enough room to fully irrupt without disturbing the canals. Wisdom teeth are what we call ‘vestigial structures.’ They serve no purpose; they’re evolutionary holdovers from millions of years ago.” Godbere sat back and wrote out a prescription. “I’m prescribing you a rinse that’s meant to treat serious gingivitis. It should alleviate the gum pain itself — if this is a gum issue.”

Jim left the dentist’s office that evening feeling like he had received no real answers. He filled his new prescription, followed the rinse regimen, and popped a Percocet before retiring for the night.

 

To say Jim woke in pain each morning following his visit with Dr. Godbere would be an understatement. He was taking so many pills that he could barely function. He was a zombie at work and slept at all hours when he was at home. Jim was worried about getting hooked on opioids — he had heard the horror stories — and worse, his whole jaw ached when he wasn’t loaded up with Percocet. He called around until he could make an appointment with a new dentist and get a second opinion on his condition. He no longer trusted Godbere’s judgment.

“So, you say you’ve had a cavity filled and now your jaw hurts?” asked Dr. Robinson, as he examined Jim at his private practice.

“Just look at the x-ray I brought, Doc. I don’t think Dr. Godbere got all of the cavity or something.”

Dr. Robinson picked up the film and looked it over briefly before setting it down. “We can get the filling out and take a look, clean up anything that needs to be corrected.” The dentist was all too eager to replace the filling and collect an easy $800. He knew Godbere was an experienced dentist and considered the possibility that he was dealing with a hypochondriac.  

Robinson’s office was built above a remodeled garage adjacent to his home. Jim certainly preferred the clean, modern, and professional setting of Dr. Godbere’s office, but he was desperate. The dentist employed one receptionist/hygienist, an older woman named Mary, who had greeted Jim earlier while chainsmoking in the driveway.

Mary entered the room, turned on a monitor, and laid out the tools of the dental trade on a pan over Jim’s lap, before telling Robinson that she was headed out for another cigarette.

“Okay, Mr. Patrick, I’m going to give you a shot to numb the area; then we’ll get the filling out and see what’s going on with my new camera.” Robinson lifted the long, thin camera and flicked its light on and off before attaching it to the drill. He placed the drill in Jim’s mouth and turned it on. “I can move the monitor if you don’t want to watch.”

“Oh, it’s fine, Doc. Do what you have to do.”

The dentist nodded and went to work. He soon had the filling out and was prodding around in the depression. “Jim, I think I’m going to have to drill more. There’s still some discoloration. I can see how Dr. Godbere may have missed this if he didn’t have a camera to really get in there.”

“Yeah, I don’t think he went down far enough,” said Jim, after the dentist had removed his tools. “Drill, baby drill!”

Robinson chuckled. “Okay, okay. I’m going to place this O-guard in your mouth, just to be safe.”

Soon enough, the drill was back in Jim’s mouth, the two men viewing its progress on the monitor. Jim watched as the drill slipped through the small hole, suddenly, and Robinson unceremoniously yanked it back out of his mouth.

“Shit!” said Robinson. “There may be some serious basal decay. The drill went all the way through and into the gum — as if the bottom of the tooth was hollow.”

“Wha’ now?” mumbled Jim, throatily, the guard in his mouth obstructing his speech.

“Well, let’s take a look,” said Robinson as he put the drill with its attached camera back into the man’s mouth.

They could see some blood pooling around the tooth and gum as the camera approached the rear of Jim’s mouth. When the device was placed into the opening in the tooth, the dentist gasped. Jim couldn’t quite make out what Dr. Robinson was seeing on the monitor. From Jim’s point of view, it looked like a dark, hairy patch in his tooth.

“This is unbelievable. Let me increase the magnification.” When Robinson magnified the hairy patch, Jim could make out a sickening mass of tiny, black worms living within his tooth and jaw!

Both men revolted, and the camera and monitor lost the image. Jim tried to say something, but he could only wrench out a shrill series of gasps.

“Bone worms?!” exclaimed Robinson, now incredibly curious. He maneuvered the drill back into place so they could again examine the issue. “Relax a minute, Jim. Let’s take another look.”

But before Robinson could get the drill into the tooth itself, both men spotted the worms emerging from the hole, snake-haired. The wriggling abominations had made a home of Jim’s mandible and seemed to be erupting, their hideout exposed. Jim panicked and grabbed the dentist’s hand and drill, and the drill whirred to life.

“No, Jim, don’t!”

It was too late. Jim had already jammed the drill toward the bewormed wisdom tooth. First missing and scraping a jagged line across the dentin of another molar, then adjusting and finding the mark — all while watching on the monitor above. It happened so fast; Robinson was powerless to stop the frenzied man from drilling into the tooth, then through the gum tissue, and eventually into the jaw, each of which had been hollowed as the worms progressed toward the surface. There was the whirr of the machine and the hideous crackle of broken bone and severed tissue. The drill easily broke through the passage made by the parasitic creatures, and Jim only ceased drilling when he had punctured through the flesh of his jaw.

“Mary! Get the hell in here, now!” screamed Dr. Robinson, as he finally unplugged the drill and restrained Jim from further injury.

Jim writhed madly and kicked the pan of tools set on the table hovering across his lap. Mary ran in, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, and helped the dentist keep Jim in the chair. Blood was running from the drill emerging from Jim’s jaw, dripping down his neck, even spurting when he turned his head too far.

“What the hell is that?” asked Mary, as worms as thin as human hair began finding their way out of Jim’s jaw, slinking down the drill itself and falling onto his shirt and into his lap.

 

When Jim passed out, Dr. Robinson and his assistant quickly contacted an ambulance. The ER doctors were able to remove the drill, Jim’s injuries were treated, and he was given a regimen of medications to kill off the parasitic worms.

The write-up on Jim Patrick’s diagnosis and treatment became a well-known case-study. It took time and effort on the part of the medical researchers, but they were able to determine that the worms had originated from a natural kombucha which Jim had purchased online from the Philippines, only weeks prior to his first symptoms.  

Order your copy of CORPSE COLD!

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REVIEW: ‘Scary Stories’ documentary is a nostalgic treat for longtime fans

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The time was ripe for a documentary on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the popular children’s horror book series by Alvin Schwartz.

The Scary Stories books were published in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the original readers are now adults (many with their own children), 30- and 40-somethings who are likely nostalgic for the time they spent reading the likes of “Harold” and “One Sunday Morning,” under the covers, or with their friends at sleepovers. We definitely belong to that demographic, and as authors of books heavily inspired by the series, we were certainly excited to see it. And we’re glad we did; Scary Stories is a satisfying watch for fans of Alvin Schwartz the storyteller.

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This dude’s cover of “The Hearse Song” is sick.

The documentary opens with an interview with musician Harley Poe, who has recorded a folksy, eerie rendition of “The Hearse Song” (a song from the first book in the series) which has racked up 625,000 views on YouTube. Poe was inspired by the Scary Stories series as a kid, and it’s a treat to hear him talk about it with such passion. Filmmaker Cody Meirick conducted approximately 40 interviews over a three-year period, and throughout the documentary, we learn that Poe’s experience isn’t uncommon.

The most noteworthy subject has to be Peter Schwartz, Alvin Schwartz’s son. Since Alvin died in 1992, we get to discover Alvin through Peter’s eyes. We learn of his father’s passion for documenting folklore, and get to know him as a man. 

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Peter Schwartz, son of Alvin Schwartz.

When it comes to the stories themselves, Meirick does a nice job discussing the folk tales and urban legends that inspired them. R.L. Stine himself, author of the mega-successful Goosebumps book series, even makes an appearance, discussing his admiration for Schwartz, who, unlike him, spent time researching stories for his books. And we learn, from folklorists and professors, the academic and mythic inspirations behind some of the stories, how they touch upon universal fears. For example, “The Red Spot,” in which a growing bump on a young woman’s face turns out to be a sac full of baby spiders, is actually analogous to the creation story of the Greek goddess Athena.

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The original “Red Spot.”

It’s stories like “The Red Spot” that helped earn Scary Stories series the title of “most banned books of all time.” Meirick explores this aspect of the story well, featuring footage from actual protests in the 90s and interviews with those on both sides of the debate. He even convinced one of the biggest pro-ban advocates to sit down for a chat with Peter Schwartz.

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This lady sort of hates Scary Stories.

The interviews regarding Schwartz’s perspective are great, but the most glaring omission is Stephen Gammell. His impact on young artists is told well, but there is only a short quote from him, regarding his methodology. You can’t properly talk about the Scary Stories books without mentioning the man, as half the appeal of the books is its sinister art. We’re treated to some neat black-and-white animations in the style of his work, and his original art appears throughout, but not Gammell. Gammell rarely holds interviews, and we can’t fault Meirick for that, but it would have been nice to hear from an agent, lawyer, publishing professional, someone who could speak about the artist’s involvement with some authority. In addition, we would have liked to have heard from someone in the publishing field, perhaps someone from Harper & Row, who helped produce or promote the book at the time. There was a period in the early 90s when the books sold phenomenally well.

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Just one of several Gammell-inspired animations throughout.

Overall, we were pleased with Scary Stories and heartily recommend it to fans of the series. Despite Gammell’s absence, the documentary offers new information and is a great celebration for those of us who were there in the 80s and 90s and still love the series.

Find out more about the Scary Stories documentary at the official website

John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan are the co-authors of CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE, a fully illustrated book of short stories inspired by urban legends and folklore.

Every Creepy Illustration Featured in ‘Corpse Cold: New American Folklore’

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Chad Wehrle‘s macabre, black-and-white illustrations truly bring the stories in our anthology Corpse Cold: New American Folklore to life. Here’s a look at all of the major pieces found in Corpse Cold, including front matter and other incidental art, in the order they appear.

Cover

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Content section

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Story section

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“Switches”

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“Black Dog”

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“Czarny Lud”

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“Corpse Cold”

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“Amityville Beach”

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“A Morning Fog”

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“Friendship: Dead and Buried”

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“Autoplay ‘On'”

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“The Big ‘M'”

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“Dracula’s Bride”

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“Moss Lake Island”

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“It That Decays”

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“Two Visions, 1984”

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“Woman on the Campus Green”

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“The Blue Hole”

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“Jesup”

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“Model Citizens”

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“Last Train Home”

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“A Casket for My Mother”

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“Echo’s Reflection”

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Notes section

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10 Real-Life Locations That Inspired The Stories in ‘Corpse Cold: New American Folklore’

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We often base our tales in actual locations around our home state of New York. It’s fun to take everyday places, locations we’ve visited once, or often, and infuse them with our brand of lore.

Here are some of the illustrations from Corpse Cold: New American Folklore paired with their real-life inspirations!

“Amityville Beach”/Amityville Beach, Long Island

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This popular beach is located in the Long Island village of Amityville, the setting of the infamous Amityville Horror, which is mentioned in our story.

“Friendship: Dead and Buried”/The Last Ride burial simulator

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last ride

The character Kevin Morrissey in “Friendship: Dead and Buried” is treated to a “ride” on Six Feet Under, which “simulates” an actual burial. Six Feet Under was inspired by The Last Ride, a traveling amusement park attraction in the Northeast United States that offers a similarly visceral experience.

“The Big ‘M'”/Eagle Bay, N.Y.

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The supermarket featured in the story “The Big ‘M’ was inspired by a now-closed grocery in Eagle Bay, N.Y., in the Adirondacks. This is a picture of the market as it appeared in the 1980s.

“Dracula’s Bride”/Ukranian Catholic Church

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The chapel that the kids in “Dracula’s Bride” chase the elderly Mrs. Ellsic to is actually modeled after a Ukranian Catholic Church in Johnson City, N.Y. Corpse Cold co-author Joe Sullivan grew up in the same neighborhood, where the church still stands.

“Moss Lake Island”/Echo Island

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The small island featured in “Moss Lake Island” is inspired by Echo Island, situated on Big Moose Lake in N.Y. Big Moose Lake is only a short drive from Moss Lake.

“Two Visions, 1984″/Roscoe Diner

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The Roscoe Diner, where journalist Ross Davie picks up the hitchhiker in “Two Visions, 1984,” is a popular diner in Roscoe, N.Y., located on Route 17.

“Woman on the Campus Green”/Wadsworth Auditorium

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The entirety of “Woman on the Campus Green” takes place at SUNY Geneseo, where Joe Sullivan once attended college. A climactic scene in the story takes place in Wadsworth Auditorium, a performing arts venue on campus.

“The Blue Hole”/Peekamoose Blue Hole

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“The Blue Hole” is inspired by a real swimming hole in Grahamsville, N.Y., in the Catskills.

“Jesup”/Tioughnioga River

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This story was inspired by actual alligator sightings during the summer of 2017 on the Tioughnioga River, which runs through Whitney Point and Lisle, N.Y. It was no urban legend, as two alligators were eventually caught.

“Last Train Home”/Buffalo, N.Y.

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The train line featured in “Last Train Home” is based on the Buffalo Metro Rail system in Buffalo, N.Y.

Learn more about Corpse Cold: New American Folklore!

A Look Back at the 1999-2000 Reboot of ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’

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Most fans who remember the Are You Afraid of the Dark? Nickelodeon TV series think fondly of the early Nineties Midnight Society. Gary, Frank, Kiki, Betty Ann, and an ever-changing crew of friends sitting around a campfire telling memorable tales like “Old Man Corcoran,” “Watcher’s Woods,” “Laughing in the Dark,” and “Crimson Clown.” There are at least half-a-dozen stories from the original run of the series (1992-1996) that I would argue as ‘the best’ episode, while there is perhaps one story from the 1999-2000 run which I might consider in my personal top ten.

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Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The New Class

The series was revived with an original member of the Midnight Society, Tucker, taking his brother’s place as leader of a new group of kids. Andy, Megan, Vange, Quinn are, most often, pale imitations of the original Midnight Society (Frank, Kristen, Kiki, Betty Ann?), with Quinn perhaps being the only new archetype, although he seems to fill Betty Ann’s role of quiet peacekeeper nicely. Frank really felt like an over-the-top asshole, but it still made sense that he was friends with these people and really enjoyed telling stories; Sam was a tomboyish heartthrob for both Gary and young, male viewer alike. The New Midnight Society had little to offer regarding the stories of the storytellers themselves.

There are a number of good episodes from seasons 6 and 7, episodes that meet the standard set by the original run. There are even a few exceptional episodes that any serious fan of the original series should not miss out on. Unfortunately, many episodes attempted to draw interest by focusing on trends like Giga Pets, lazer tag, computer games, sports, and one even made an Olympic champion figure skater into a pregnant alien. It’s really about what the later seasons seem to be missing. Seasons 1-5 built their success on retelling timeless stories and re-purposing urban legends – the kinds of tales which would’ve appealed to both our parents and grandparents when they were kids.

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Cause virtual pets are scary AF.

The following are my recommendations for revival episodes of AYAOTD? that one should watch, if they enjoyed the original series and don’t want to sort through the chaff that is the majority of the 1999-2000 series. There are certainly episodes worth watching in addition to these six, but these are the stories I believe will feel most similar to the original run of the series.

Season 6

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Like Jumanji, but spooky.

“The Tale of the Forever Game” is a good restart to the series. Tucker tells the story about two friends, Mark and Peter, and Peter’s little sister, Monica, who get lost in the woods while biking. It has the feeling and tone of a story like “Whispering Walls,” while full of moral dilemma for Peter. The trio is hopelessly stuck, and the kids are being hunted down by a beast, while Peter plays a game reminiscent of Jumanji with a boy, Nathaniel, who occupies a tree.

 

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Hunting = bad apparently.

“The Tale of the Hunted” deals with the moral debate over hunting. It’s well-done for a kid’s show, and doesn’t really pick sides at the end. The female protagonist hunts with her father, and one morning she wakes up and discovers what it’s like to be the one who is hunted.

 

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This hip dude liked vampires way before “Twilight.”

“The Tale of Vampire Town” is wacky, a callback to the richness of character from a Season 1 tale. A boy, Adder, believes himself to be a great vampire hunter and convinces his parents to take him on vacation to a town with history and lore tied to vampires, specifically a series of catacombs which lie underneath the inn where the family is staying.

 

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Featuring a pre-Star Wars Hayden Christiansen.

“The Tale of Bigfoot Ridge” is the tale I teased as a ‘Top Ten’ AYAOTD? episode. It would fit nicely in seasons 1-4. A boy and his sister are trying to get over the disappearance of their friend, who went off the backside of a mountain while snowboarding. The brother and sister end up searching for her, and get lost themselves during a snowstorm. They find an abandoned cabin and attempt to survive the night, while the storm is the least of their worries. Many of the other episodes focus too heavily on the trendy sport, activity, or product of the time. This episode has snowboarding in it, but, thankfully, doesn’t try to tell a story about snowboarding.

Season 7

“The Tale of Highway 13” is the story of a repetitive haunting, where a truck races a haunted car, driven by two friends who rebuilt the car, to a one-lane bridge. The boys must continually race the truck until they either die trying to win, or solve the mystery and take a different action. This is a timeless tale, really well done.

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Don’t try this at home.

 

“The Tale of the Reanimator” is perhaps only the second time that zombies were done well by AYAOTD?, the first being “Water Demons.” It has some of the flavor of the Reanimator movies, but it feels more like the mad-scientist experiments of Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement.

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Like “The Reanimator,” minus the decapitations.

So, if you’re a fan of the original AYAOTD? series and have never seen an episode of the two revival seasons, I believe you’ll enjoy queuing up these six episodes and watching them back to back. Perhaps you’ll even delve deeper into seasons 6 and 7, and catch me up on a gem I overlooked.

Addendum:

I can’t imagine I’ll ever write an episode guide for the first five seasons of AYAOTD? since so much has been written and said about it already. So, I’ll just give my picks for best episodes – in no particular order: “Midnight Madness,” “Old Man Corcoran,” “Dead Man’s Float,” “Laughing in the Dark,” “Water Demons,” “Silent Servant,” “Crimson Clown,” “Dark Music,” “Super Specs,” and “Lonely Ghost.”

Joe Sullivan is the author of spook books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter.

Stranger Things 2: An Entertaining, Soft-Remake of the Original?

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The first portion of this review contains no major spoilers, while my comments on the individual episodes in the second half, will.

The first two episodes, or ‘chapters,’ of Stranger Things 2 unequivocally remind us that we identify ourselves by the media we choose to consume. When the characters are reintroduced, we’re nearly nostalgic for the first run of the series, which only aired a little over a year ago. The first series created an environment reminiscent of many of our childhood brushes with pop culture, adventure, the awkwardness of navigating puberty, etc. The second run nearly doubles down on recreating that environment from the get-go, and then as the series progresses the Duffer Brothers deftly ease off that particular pedal, and let us settle back into the day-to-day troubles of Hawkins without the distraction of a constant barrage of ancient product labels, toys, fashion, and music to take note of.

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Stranger Things 2 is nearly a remake of the first series. Our heroes reemerge to once again take on the government lab baddies and its out-of-control science experiment, although this time the threat looms even larger over Hawkins. One would assume that replaying the same plot points might mark this series as stale, from the third or so chapter on, but the characters do grow, and there are enough mini-arcs involving our favorite returning heroes to maintain interest. For me, the first run of Stranger Things often dragged, while the characters did keep me watching. Stranger Things 2 certainly kept up the pace of the story, and only hit a road bump with Eleven’s side-story in the big city.

Speaking of which, I do have to address the opening chase scene, with the cast of characters we’ll only come to again in Chapter 7. There seems to be no purpose for introducing these folks here. The van chase should probably begin the fifth chapter, where the lead, Kali, is hinted at in a flashback. For me, Kali and her gang is the one glaring misstep of Stranger Things 2. Her Eleven-like powers are introduced in the first few minutes of the series, and the viewer is left waiting for some sort of explanation, or purpose for her in the story arc, yet the distraction has little to no payoff.

Before I get to comments on individual chapters, I must say that Stranger Things 2 is well done, a superior product to the original, if you don’t detest, or fixate on, the fact that this second series is nearly a soft remake. I’d recommend Stranger Things 2 to anyone who broadly enjoys sci-fi or horror.

The following portion has spoilers and should serve as a brief episode guide, so here’s your warning if you haven’t seen the complete series.

Chapter 1: Madmax (Rating: 4/5)

Max is a redheaded girl who is always at the arcade, the boys are instantly enamored of her and stalk her. Her older brother, Billy, quickly becomes the new, even more narcissistic and nasty version of series 1 Steve, now that Steve is a sweetheart, older brother archetype to the boys.

Barb’s family has hired a private investigator and are selling their house to pay for it, although Nancy and Steve know she’s dead, but won’t say. It’s a real moral dilemma for Nancy, as it should be. We figure out quickly that most of the characters have kept quiet about what occurred at Hawkins National Lab.

Paul Reiser is Will’s psychiatrist, Dr. Owens. Dr. Owens is the a more sympathetic version of Dr. Brenner, although he still represents faceless, uncaring bureaucracy that manufactures horrible weapons and wants to treat special kids like guinea pigs.

Eleven is living with Hopper in a cabin deep in the woods.

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Chapter 2: Trick or Treat, Freak (4/5)

Eleven is still having visions, mainly to let the viewer in on the fallout from the previous season.

Hopper begins investigating poison pumpkins and vegetation. First major, “Come on, dude” moment. Hopper is only a year away from dealing with plant issues. The first thing he should think when he sees a field full of rotted vegetation is Inter-dimensional Plant Monster.

The boys go trick or treating with Max and have a great time until Will has a vision of a menacing behemoth in the sky. This is such a rich, nostalgic episode, although it doesn’t quite have enough trick or treating scenes as one might hope.

Chapter 3: The Pollywog (3/5)

Dusty finds creature in trash can outside his house. The creature transforms and Dusty is a dummy who will smack himself (again) when he sees Life (2017).

El wants to leave cabin and see Mike, but Hopper wants to keep her his secret. This was probably a missed opportunity to have an ultimate Halloween episode with Mike and El’s reunion. She already had the ghost sheet made, there’s no real reason why she can’t just interact with Mike and have him keep her secret.

Steve’s hair is out of control. It’s distracting by this point.

Hopper figures out the lab is the cause of the plant decaying poison…duh.

Joyce finally gets back to her paranormal investigating and uses camcorder footage from Halloween Night to see Will’s behemoth in the sky.

El goes to the middle school just to knock Max off her skateboard out of jealousy. It’s not a good look, or a good scene.

Will stands his ground against the behemoth, taking Bob’s advice to heart, after he’s thrust back into the Upside Down, and gets consumed by the monster.

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Chapter 4: Will the Wise (4/5)

They find will nearly catatonic in the parking lot of school. Will is now possessed by the entity from his visions and begins coloring a ton of pictures.

El returns home and has teen tantrum, destroys the cabin and Hopper leaves. She then finds a box with Hopper’s notes on Hawkin’s Lab under cabin and gets ideas.

Joyce and Hopper put Will’s picture together and decide they represent destroying vines.

Nancy records Dr. Owens admitting to Barb’s death. She and Steve want to burn the lab to ground, which is silly at the point, because they already knew Hawkins National Lab was most responsible for Barb’s death.

Dusty’s creature has escaped, and is found eating his cat. The creature now looks like the monster from the first season.

Hopper discovers the vast root system and tunnels under the poisoned fields.

Chapter 5: Dig Dug (4/5)

Hopper is investigating underground and gets blasted in face by sporing vine, and is trapped. Will has visions of Hopper in trouble.

Nancy and Jonathan meet up with conspiracy nut/the private investigator who was investigating Barb’s death and let him listen to Dr. Owens’ confession.

Bob walks in and solves Will’s drawings, deciphering them as a map of Hawkins, almost instantly.

El communicates with her Mom, finds out her Mom went into Hawkins Lab to try and rescue El aka Jane, and another girl, whom we can assume is the chick from first episode. El/Jane’s mom is caught, and Dr. Brenner fries her brain with some intense ECT.

Joyce and Bob manage to find, and free, Hopper. Hawkins Lab people also discover the underground tunnel system and they torch the labyrinths, which makes Will freaks out.

Chapter 6: The Spy (4/5)

Dusty and Steve discover that the creature has escaped from Dusty’s bomb shelter.

Will gets amnesia, and the episode begins feeling like It (2017) with the way everything leads back to one, evil wellspring which must be approached underground and conquered.

At this point the show begins feeling more like a horror movie than a sci-fi adventure. The kids battle monsters in a blockaded bus, while Hawkins Lab is overrun by the demadogs and the adults must fight their way out of the building.

Chapter 7: The Lost Sister (2/5)

Eleven finds Kali, her lost ‘sister’ from Hawkins lab, in Chicago. They share information and decide they’re going to track bad guys. Their first target states that Dr. Brenner is still alive, Kali seems to believe him. This bit of incredibly important information is quickly forgotten.

Cops bust Kali’s gang, while El has a vision of Mike in trouble, and parts ways with Kali and her gang. There was no reason that Eleven had to meet Kali or take part in any of Kali’s vendettas. It cheapened the overall story and was a distracting element from the first episode onward.

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Chapter 8: The Mind Flayer (4/5)

The adults are still trying to escape Hawkins Lab, which is overrun by monsters. Bob’s going to reprogram some computers on the fly and save everyone.

This is the episode where we go full horror movie, fun clichés spawning left and right. Bob dies, brutally to save Joyce and the others.

The group plan to kill the underground behemoth, in order to destroy the hivemind, it generates.

They need to get information out of Will, but he’s possessed by the behemoth. Will’s friends and family tell him loving stories and anecdotes, and he ultimately gives them no new information.

El returns in time to save everyone from demadogs at Joyce’s house. She took a bus home using the money which she and Kali’s gang stole, apparently.

Chapter 9: The Gate (5/5)

Comedy finally returns to the series in the beginning of this episode! Yes, levity gives perspective, and character, to heavy drama.

The group separates to burn the entity that has possessed Will, and to take on the behemoth underground.

“I shouldn’t have left.” – Eleven. Exactly, she shouldn’t have had a side story about meeting her mom and sister, as they ultimately told her nothing about herself or gave her meaningful direction to overcome her demons.

El and Hopper go into lab and run into Dr. Owens, who’s given a tourniquet and pistol by Hopper. No real reason for this run-in to occur here.

Entity/behemoth ultimately leaves Will when Steve and his gang of kids start fire in the underground hub. While El defeats the behemoth and pushes it back through the gate.

Epilogue: There’s justice for Barb and Hawkins Lab gets shut down for good. Which is really a no-brainer as the entire structure and everyone in it got destroyed.

Hopper gets Eleven/Jane’s birth certificate from Dr. Owens, and she is now his daughter. The kids have a winter dance and hook up with each other. Final moments show Hawkins Middle School in the Upside Down.

Joe Sullivan is the author of spook books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter.

“Happy Death Day” Spoiler-Free Review: Fun But Not a True Slasher

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By Joe Sullivan

There has never been an era of the PG-13 slasher, for good reason. Violence, the shock and awe of any classic R-rated slasher, sells itself best to the most impressionable of minds. Halloween and Friday the 13th were carried into the iconography of our culture by 12-year-olds who bore witness to the sort of movie the MPAA deemed unsuitable for their eyes. There is no proper ‘best of’ list for PG-13 slasher films. Happy Death Day is no exception. PG-13 slasher movies can’t properly function as slasher movies. Yet, Happy Death Day is certainly a fun, flavorful movie in other regards.

Tree (Theresa) keeps waking up in Carter’s dorm room, and she relives the same Monday, over and over, which always culminates in her death at the hands of a baby-masked killer. The filmmakers have fun with the premise, and I did enjoy the Clue-style whodunit mystery. Tree eliminates a suspect with each subsequent revival, and I found myself anticipating a satisfactory resolution – that one of the cast of characters we’ve encountered, again and again, would finally be unmasked as the killer. So, I was let down when a new, Mrs. Voorhees-level-of-unknown was thrown into the cast of suspects late in the movie.

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Happy Death Day revels in pop-culture snark, creates characters filmgoers wouldn’t mind see dying, and nearly gives Tree a proper character arc during her Sisyphean day. Carter, Tree’s sometimes assistant/sometimes love-interest, is easily the most likable character in the movie. When Carter is put into a risky situation, you genuinely want him to survive. However, the film will fail to convince many viewers regarding whether Tree should ultimately survive. She is too rotten of a person, and even on days she makes progress, she seems to undermine said personal improvements, with subsequent revivals.

The deaths in the movie were uninteresting, and this alone should alienate a large part of the genre fan base. Happy Death Day is by no means a slasher film, and certainly has no relationship to the day or month it came out. The movie has no ‘creepy’ factor, which seems to be what drives most genre movies released in October, or on Friday the 13ths.

Happy Death Day does have some suspenseful moments, and is a curiosity in its choice of story form. Ultimately, it feels like its audience might be the parents of thirteen-year-olds. Folks who grew up with Scream and such movies from the late-90s, and want to share something with an impressionable young mind in their household – without venturing into the world of the extremes we’ve come to expect from a genre slasher film like the upcoming Jigsaw.

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Who would I recommend this movie to? Fans of late-90s R-rated slashers. It’s more fun than the When a Stranger Calls remake – more like watching a Jawbreaker/Urban Legend crossover.