Book Reviews: The Institute & Baby Teeth


Hello HAHC Blog readers!  I’m back with a couple more book recommendations that I’m 99.95% sure you’ll love!  First up is The Institute by Stephen King.  This is a book I added to my Goodreads list awhile ago, and I finally got around to reading it.  The book jacket for The Institute says it’s “as psychically terrifying as Firestarter…with the spectacular kid power of It.”  I never read Firestarter but enjoyed the movie, and I was underwhelmed by It.  I never found it to be as scary as the world claimed.  But I can see the comparisons with The Institute.  This book is about a bunch of kids with telekinetic and/or telepathic powers who are kidnapped and basically imprisoned by a bunch of absolutely horrible adults who experiment on them for some super-secret purpose.  The Institute (like Firestarter) is more sci-fi than horror, but the way the adults treat the kids is pretty horrific.  This was a fun read that actually opens with a drifter character who lands in a small town before turning to the story of the kids and the “institute.”  I was a bit surprised by this opening since the book jacket description did not mention anything about this drifter, so it was very interesting to see how this story unfolded and how everything tied together.  The Institute is a little over 500 pages, so it’s no small feat.  But I didn’t really come across any slow parts. The kid characters were interesting and well-written with unique and non-annoying personalities, and the adults in the institute made for some great villains.  All in all, a great turnout for King!


My next recommendation is one I am truly excited about and it’s Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage.  This was another book that had been on my Goodreads list for awhile, but I never got around to buying it.  But thankfully, Craig gave me the book as a Halloween present and I’m glad he did because I probably would’ve continued to procrastinate.  This debut thriller from Stage was AMAZING and I absolutely loved it! The blurb on the cover of my paperback copy from Entertainment Weekly says, “We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Gone Girl meets The Omen.”  I mean, how could this description not spark your interest?  Baby Teeth is the tale of Hanna, a seven-year-old who doesn’t speak, and her mother Suzette.  Hanna is the apple of her father’s eye – he adores her and she adores him. But Hanna hates her mother.  And she doesn’t hesitate to make this perfectly clear over and over, all the while hiding her sinister side from her father.  The story plays out by going back and forth between the third-person narratives of Hanna and Suzette, and it was truly creepy to see how Hanna’s mind worked.  I never really had that maternal side that every woman supposedly has, and Baby Teeth definitely didn’t help with that.  But it did help me to discover a new voice in horror fiction!  Her next book, scheduled for release in June 2020, is called Wonderland.  From the publisher’s website, “If Shirley Jackson wrote The Shining, it might look like this novel.”  I’m in!

Happy Reading!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’

Book Review: The Five



Jack the Ripper.  A name immediately recognizable that calls to mind the dark, dirty, and dangerous streets of London in the late 1800s.  When I think of Jack the Ripper, I think of one of the most notorious serial killers – a well-dressed man with a top hat roaming the streets of Whitechapel killing prostitutes.  A quick Google search will turn up all kinds of Jack the Ripper goodies – coffee mugs, shirts and hoodies, jewelry, artwork, even baby onesies and bibs. Seriously. There’s even a Marvel villain named Jack the Ripper, a parasitic creature who first took over a man in 1888 and caused him to murder five prostitutes.  Jack the Ripper – the killer of prostitutes. Or was he? The book I’m recommending is called The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold.  As you can tell from the title, this book is not about Jack the Ripper and his brutal murders.  Actually, very little of Jack the Ripper is discussed. Rather, Rubenhold deep dives into the lives of the canonical five women killed by Jack the Ripper – Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine “Kate” Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.  It was eye-opening for me because I admit that the mystery of Jack the Ripper’s identity and the details of his murders have been of greater interest to me than the lives of his victims. But I now I have a whole new outlook on the Ripper murders because now I think less about Jack and more about The Five.

Rubenhold does a great job of putting together the lives of The Five from their childhoods to their deaths.  At times she has to speculate as to their actions or the actions of others, which is expected given that numerous records and details have been destroyed, distorted, or lost over the years and this was well-before the age when people documented their every move for the world to see.  However, it is clear that a great deal of research went into The Five, and Rubenhold provides numerous resources in support of her claims.  I was surprised to know that Mary Jane Kelly was the only one of the five who regularly engaged in prostitution.  Elizabeth Stride briefly turned to prostitution but only after severe mistreatment by the Swedish police left her unable to find work.  The reason for her mistreatment – getting pregnant out of wedlock. The other ladies were not prostitutes. I also learned that Annie Chapman at one time lived on a grand estate as part of her husband’s employment, and that Kate Eddowes was an extremely smart child who attended a good school before her parents died and she was shipped to unknown relatives who put her in factory work.

My biggest takeaway from The Five was that these women were from working-class beginnings and good families.  But in the 1800s in London, the working class knew little to nothing about contraception.  What little money was made had to take care of numerous children and as these children got older they were expected to immediately find work to support their ever-growing families.  It becomes easier and easier to see how the five could end up in the deary setting of Whitechapel, not because they turned to a life of prostitution, but because their lives were full of so many hardships and setbacks.  One of their biggest hardships was being born a woman in 1800s London. The Five shows that a system was definitely not in place to help the working-class, and particularly working-class women, succeed.

Rubenhold also does a great job of being respectful to the canonical five.  She does not go into any details of their murders, and she does not include any photos of their bodies.  These details are well-known, and as Rubenhold’s title states she is letting the reader in on the untold lives of these women.  Also, at the end of the book, Rubenhold includes a list of all the belongings found on the bodies of the Ripper’s victims.  This really brings home that these ladies were not just mere details in the mystery of Jack the Ripper. These ladies were daughters, mothers, and workers whose lives, unfortunately, led them to Whitechapel.  Before reading The Five, I would think of these women and how they died.  But now that I know them a little better, I will think of how they lived.

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’


Horror Comics: Farmhand

By: Kia McClain


Story and Art by: Rob Guillory

Colors by: Taylor Wells

Letterer: Kody Chamberlain

Publisher: Image Comics

So, here’s a fun story.  Craig and I live together in a nice house in one of those neighborhoods where people are really, really into their yards – which is fine with me because it makes the neighborhood look great.  Well, awhile back we had this really interesting-looking plant growing in our front yard. It grew tall and strong, and we thought it looked amazing – like a plant from another world! We looked on it with awe and pride.  Until our next door neighbor came up to Craig and said, “You know that’s a weed, right?” Nope. We did not. Well, I’m happy to report that the weed is gone, but I still don’t have a green thumb. And I’m okay with that. Gardening and growing things from the earth never really appealed to me (which doesn’t bode well for my apocalypse survival skills), and thanks to Farmhand that probably won’t change anytime soon.


For the podcast listeners, I’ve recommended Farmhand before.  It’s written and drawn by Rob Guillory, whose artwork you might be familiar with from Chew.  Well, Guillory doesn’t disappoint with his own comic creation.  Farmhand tells the tale of Ezekial Jenkins who returns to his hometown with his wife and two kids only to discover that his father has discovered a seed, called the Jedidiah Seed, that allows for the harvesting of some very interesting crops – body parts to be exact.  If you need a new nose, new boobs, or a kidney transplant, well this seed can just grow it for you. And there will definitely and absolutely be no horrible side effects whatsoever. Right? Farmhand starts off as a fun story of a man returning to his childhood home and finding that…things are different.  But then it evolves into just straight body horror with some great artwork from Guillory showing, unsurprisingly, just how horrific and disgusting body parts grown in dirt can be.  And an added bonus with Guillory’s art is that his drawings have little Easter eggs, so it pays to take a minute to stop and enjoy the scenery. But more than the artwork, Guillory has also created a very interesting cast of characters that really brings Farmhand to life.  We have the drama of the Jenkins family, but we also have spies, a psycho politician who has some not-so-good ulterior motives for the Jedidiah Seed or the Jenkins family, and a host of body part recipients that are less than enthusiastic about their results.


Finally, an extra, extra bonus is that if you keep up with the single-issue comics, you’ll notice on the back of each one a calendar schedule letting you know when the next issue will be released.  Guillory mentioned (I believe in the first issue) how aggravating it is for him as a reader when comics are not released on a consistent schedule, and I couldn’t agree more. A good example of this for me is Bitch Planet, a comic that started out strong in my opinion but that I quickly lost interest in because of the extremely inconsistent release dates.  So Guillory’s calendar is a breath of fresh air!


Happy Reading!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’

Horror Comics: Ice Cream Man


By: Kia McClain


Story by: W. Maxwell Prince

Art by: Martín Morazzo

Colors by: Chris O’Halloran

Publisher: Image Comics

Rocky Road.  Cherry Garcia.  Mint Chocolate Chip.  Moose Tracks. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.  Delicious right? Well, I wouldn’t know because I’ve never had any of these.  My ice cream of choice will forever be Cookies & Cream (preferably the Mayfield brand).  But whatever your personal favorite is, ice cream is a wonderful treat! Or is it? Let me introduce you to one of my new favorite comics – Ice Cream Man.

Ice Cream Man, written by W. Maxwell Prince with art by Martín Morazzo, immediately made me think of The Twilight Zone.  From the Image Comics website, Ice Cream Man is a “genre-defying comic book series featuring disparate ‘one-shot’ tales of sorrow, wonder, and redemption.”  Except unlike The Twilight Zone, the stories in Ice Cream Man are connected  by a sinister being, the friendly neighborhood ice cream man who doles out sweet, sugary treats with heaping sides of mischief and misery.  The stories also seem to be focused in one place, the town of St. Generous, and there’s some recurring characters, including a detective who’s investigating some of the strange happenings.  So while the stories in Ice Cream Man are described as one-shots, there’s definitely a sense that there’s an overall story here.  And without spoiling too much, this sense is further pushed by the ice cream man’s own personal boogeyman – a man named Caleb who reminds me of the Saint of Killers character from the Preacher comic.


Also, I must mention the colorist for Ice Cream ManChris O’Halloran.  Usually what attracts me to a comic is the coloring before the pencils and inks, and I love the colors in Ice Cream Man.  Fittingly for the title, they’re nice and bright but also in a way muted – basically they look like ice cream.  The colors aren’t glaring, and I didn’t notice any super rich or saturated tones. Rather, the colors are varying and soft.  One of my favorite stories in Ice Cream Man, “Strange Neapolitan,” makes great use of coloring.  The story begins with a man who buys Neapolitan ice cream and then proceeds to show three different paths his life choices take him.  There’s no dialogue. Instead, the three story lines are told through three vertical strips spanning several pages and each colored to represent chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla – the three flavors of Neapolitan ice cream – with each flavor representing a different path!  It’s very cleverly done and was definitely a standout for me! So if you like a little bit of creepiness with your ice cream, you can’t go wrong with Ice Cream Man.

Happy Reading!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’



A Tale of Two Sabrinas

A Tale of Two Sabrinas: Kia takes a look at Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the new Sabrina the Teenage Witch comics.

Hello readers and welcome back!  I’ve been doing these blog posts for awhile.  I’ve written about and recommended (or not recommended) several books, and it’s all been fun, games, and good times!  But now it’s time to stop being polite and start getting real. This is a story of heartbreak, abandonment, and feeling like you’re just not good enough.  It’s that age-old story – girl meets boy, boy woos girl, girl falls in love, boy meets prettier and more exciting girl, boy dumps first girl. It happens all the time.  Some girls bounce back. Others fall to pieces. Well, this is my story of how I bounced back. This is the story of how I loved and lost Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.


A few years back, I discovered that Sabrina, the teenage witch we all know and love, was getting a makeover.  Her story was going to be much darker than the earlier comics and 90’s TV show, and that was evident right off the bat with the new title of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  It was to be written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with art by Robert Hack.  Admittedly, when I first saw the artwork, I wasn’t sure that I liked it. However, once I started reading the comic and saw just how dark it was, I realized that the artwork was a perfect fit.  I loved this comic! I loved that it was so unlike the TV show I had watched as a kid; that Sabrina’s aunts weren’t just spinsters that happened to know a few spells; that Sabrina’s high school experience and social life were more Buffy the Vampire Slayer (especially the later seasons) and less Sweet Valley High.  Sidenote: I’m not shading Sweet Valley High.  I read Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley Twins, and Sweet Valley University, and yep I watched the TV show.  But I prefer my supernatural entertainment to fall a bit on the darker side.  So after reading the first trade of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I was very excited to see how the story would continue.  I waited and waited and waited patiently, and then I waited and waited and waited not so patiently.  Until I saw that there were new single issues that had come out but then had prematurely stopped. And then I learned that Netflix was doing a Chilling Adventures of Sabrina show.  “Okay, that could be cool” I thought.  I wasn’t threatened – the comic and the show could both exist at the same time and the comic would obviously be the source material for the show.  But no – that’s not what happened. Instead, the comic was basically abandoned. I saw social media messages from readers asking when the next comic issue would come out only to be completely ignored.  And then during a run to my local comics shop, I learned that a new Sabrina comic was coming out.  And there it was. I, along with other fellow readers, had been dumped for a much more attractive love interest – a television audience.

Now don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed the first season of the Netflix show and, I’m looking forward to checking out the second season (I’m a little late, I know).  But I definitely watch the show with a bit of bitterness in my heart because I don’t understand why the show and the comic can’t both exist in the same universe. I don’t think it’s been officially stated that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is done, but I would imagine that it is, especially since a new Sabrina comic has already hit the shelves.  So let’s talk about that.


The new comic is under the Archie Forever banner and is simply called Sabrina the Teenage Witch – back to the basics.  It’s written by Kelly Thompson, who brought us the very entertaining Jem and the Holograms comic, with artwork by husband-and-wife team Veronica Fish and Andy Fish.  I’m not familiar with Andy’s work, but I like the work Veronica did for the relaunched Archie comic.  When I heard who would be writing and drawing the new Sabrina comic I was looking forward to it, but I also knew that it would probably be a much more light-hearted take.  And after reading the first issue I see that I was right. The artwork is much brighter. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is very dark – a lot of blacks and oranges.  It just screams Halloween. The new Sabrina is very bright and colorful, which is a style I actually really like, but it lets me know that this comic is going in a different direction.  Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is rated “Teen+” for violence and mature content.  The new Sabrina is just rated “Teen.”  Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was done under the Archie Horror imprint, while the new Sabrina is not.  That being said, I enjoyed Sabrina #1 and look forward to checking out where the series goes.  I even added it to my subscription box at my local comics shop.  It’s a fun read with great artwork, and the potential is definitely there for it to go to some dark (or at least shadowy) places.  But Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will always be the comic that got away, and I would’ve loved to see where the story went.  Maybe I’ll get some answers on the Netflix show, but us comic readers know that there’s a whole lot you can get away with in a comic that just won’t fly on a television show.  But, despite my bitterness, I’ll still watch the Netflix show because it’s really good. And I’ll still read the new Sabrina comic because it’s really good.  But I’ll miss reading Chilling Adventures of Sabrina because it was really great.  Until next time!

Kia is a co-host of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 


Book Reviews: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein & The Butchering Art


Hello blog readers!  And (I hope) book readers!  I’m back with a couple more recommendations to quench your horror thirst.  The first is The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White, the author of Slayer (which I recommended in my last entry).  The second is The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris.  You know the saying “truth is stranger than fiction?”  Well, The Butchering Art shows that truth is not only stranger than fiction but far more disgusting than you could imagine.  So let’s get to it!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White is a retelling of Frankenstein.  Before I started reading, I thought that the story would take place in modern times but was pleasantly surprised to see that it seems to be set in the same time period as Frankenstein.  This time, the story is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza (the love interest of Victor Frankenstein in the original novel and Henry Frankenstein in the 1931 film adaptation).  In The Dark Descent, Elizabeth is “adopted” as a child to live with the Frankensteins and basically keep a young, troubled Victor in check.  Through her perspective and flashbacks, we get to see not only how Victor becomes the monster creator we all know and love but how Elizabeth’s relationship with Victor colors how she sees herself.  The Dark Descent is a very enjoyable book from a storytelling standpoint.  White does a great job at painting the world in which our characters live and giving the reader some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.  I also really enjoyed the character of Elizabeth- she’s multi-layered and complex. I was initially unsure of how I felt about Elizabeth but, just like real life (at least some of the time), I grew to like her the more I spent time with her.  But aside from the storytelling, my main takeaway from this book is the idea that we’re all “creations” of something or someone – we’re all influenced by things and other people – and vice versa. The hard part is figuring out who you are apart from those influences and defining yourself the way you want.  At least, that’s what I got from this book. Maybe you’ll read it and take away something different. Or maybe you’ll just enjoy it! That’s fine too.

My second recommendation, The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris, contains a lot of anecdotes that could be considered torture porn.  Except they’re all true and took place during an unfortunate period of history before anesthesia and surgical sanitation.  This book might make you rethink your answer if you’re ever asked what other time period you would like to live in. I definitely wouldn’t say The Butchering Art is an enjoyable read, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be.  There’s nothing enjoyable about the conditions under which people had to endure surgeries pre-1900s.  Can you imagine undergoing removal of a tumor from your jawbone – a twenty-four-minute procedure that involved slicing off pieces of the tumor and jawbone – without anesthetic?  Or having a surgeon operate on you using the same blood and pus-covered instruments as he used during a previous operation and without washing his hands or changing the sheets soaked with another person’s blood?  It’s completely disgusting and unbelievable and yet exactly how things were done for a very long time. As a result of the unsanitary conditions, infections after surgery were widespread and common, and it was a widely held belief that people were actually safer being treated at home than in the hospital.  But thanks to Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, the idea of sterile surgery eventually became the way of the world. Fitzharris’s The Butchering Art is vivid, detailed, and well-researched and at times hard to read thanks to the stomach-churning anecdotes.  Next time I go to a doctor’s office or hospital and look around at the (hopefully) clean and sterile environment, I’ll definitely be thinking of Lister.  I usually like to recommend fun reads within the horror genre, but those authors have to get their inspiration from somewhere. There’s a great deal of inspiration in The Butchering Art.

Happy Reading!

Kia is a co-host of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

Book Reviews: Vicious & Slayer


Hello again!  It’s been awhile since my last blog entry, and my plan was to pick up again with my Back to Fear Street series.  However, I was starting to get a bit burned out, and I had some not so enjoyable experiences revisiting the series and checking out the new books.  So, I decided that I would go back to reading whatever I want. I’m off to a pretty good start – I’ve read seven books so far this year which is pretty good for me, and there’s a couple I’d like to recommend.

The first is Vicious by V.E. Schwab.  This book came out in 2013, so I was tardy to the party but better late than never.  Vicious is the story of two college roommates who discover a way to develop super powers.  But then something goes horribly wrong, as things tend to do when super powers are involved, and the two friends become enemies.  Think Professor X vs. Magneto. I loved Vicious and gave it 5/5 stars on Goodreads.  If you enjoy reading comics, I think you’ll find this book to be right up your alley.  But even if you don’t, it will still be a great read! Schwab does a fantastic job at world-building without being overly complicated, and her characters are complex and well-developed.  A sequel to Vicious entitled Vengeful was released in 2018.  I haven’t read it yet but definitely planning to.  I also read that the rights to a film adaptation were purchased, so maybe we’ll be seeing this story on the big screen.  But if not, it’s definitely worth a read!

My second recommendation is Buffy-related, which if you listen to our podcast will come as no surprise. Slayer by Kiersten White is a 2019 release about…a slayer.  But not the one we all know and love. There’s a new slayer in town, and her name is Nina.  There’s just one tiny complication – she’s also part of the Watchers, an organization that works to protect the slayers.  Before Nina even gets a chance to adjust to her new calling, a host of demons and monsters show up, and her powers as a slayer and her duties to the Watchers are put to the test.  I LOVED this book and gave it 5/5 stars on Goodreads. I think a newcomer to the world of Buffy would enjoy Slayer because it’s just a lot of fun if you’re into supernatural fiction.  However, as an OG fan of Buffy, this book was truly rewarding. Talk about Easter eggs!  If you loved the movie, TV show, AND the comics, you’ll definitely get a lot out of Slayer.  There’s so many references that aren’t necessarily key to the plot but that just add so much to the story because this book very much so takes place within the Buffyverse.  But in addition to the references, we also get some visits from some much beloved characters who do factor into the plot. I won’t reveal any surprises because if you’re as big a Buffy fan as me, the payoff is worth the wait.  I read on Goodreads that this will be a duology, but I would love for it to go on and on. It’s obvious from both the story (and from the acknowledgements at the back of the book), that the author is an OG Buffy fan herself. She wrote Slayer with a lot of respect to the original material and gave us a host of new complex characters and adventures to enjoy.  I highly recommend this book if you’re a fan of supernatural fiction, and it’s a must-read if you’re a fan of Buffy!

Hopefully I’ll have more recommendations soon!  There’s a lot to read out there, and a lot of it’s on my many bookshelves.  So on to my next adventure!

Kia is a co-host of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 


Short Film Review: “Stalk”



Written by Brantley J. Brown

Directed by Michael Coulombe

Starring Kara Schaaf and Tyler Gallant

Do you ever find yourself traipsing along a deserted street in the bleak, inky night?  Are you ever frozen at an impasse, your concreted kicks leaving your legs soft and wobbly, the fine hairs on the back of your neck dancing in frantic unison informing you of the distinct possibility that something nefarious lurks in the immediate vicinity?  Now Sophies Choicing it, you can waltz ahead blissfully ignorant to the approaching danger or turn painfully slow blooming the tension until your eyes lock with the unnameable horror towering behind you. This is the fate that awaits our protagonist in the horror short, from YouTube channel Horror House Media, Stalk.

The plot of Stalk is admittedly a simple one:  a woman, known by the name Vanessa, is trekking to an undisclosed location when a less than desirable masked assailant begins stalking (hence the title!) her.  Now, I know it’s a touch frowned upon to go perusing book covers and then to judge said books based on their aforementioned covers, but one gander at this scenario and it’s pretty crystal that unpleasant intentions are the goals for tonight’s proceedings.  Can Vanessa make it through the night unscathed or at the very least with only minor superficial wounds? Well, that all depends on whether or not Vanessa has the cunning ability to evade her admirer to safety.

Indie short flicks, usually of the no budget variety, tend to be hit or miss.  I’d set Stalk somewhere in between with it leaning a bit more towards the former.  I can’t say that Stalk hooked me by the throat not allowing me to come up for air until the credits, but it had enough going for it that it wasn’t a chore to sit through.  A strong start helps pique your fancy with a title card that has you staring through the villains mask at broken up letters not quite revealing the word stalk.  This “engrossing you in the stalkers perspective” is further driven with the opening shot that gets a bit Halloween-esque as we walk down a dimly lit street from the killer or would be killer’s point of view.  I was admittedly disappointed when the story switches to a more cinematic style. From that opening shot I thought we might have a Hardcore Henry on our hands but in a slasher film world.

Alas, the slasher flick from a first killer perspective that I had prophesied did not come to fruition.  A much more traditional take was…well…taken. We follow Vanessa as she puts foot to pavement unbeknownst to her that danger lurks behind her.  Honestly, it becomes a bit paint by numbers at this point. The story doesn’t exactly lull but it’s all the same-o same-o that we’ve seen before.  Protagonist walks along as the antagonist follows. Protagonist senses potential danger, turns to find protagonist is being paranoid as the street behind the protagonist is empty of any encroaching evil.  Rinse and then if need be repeat… that is until the ending. I don’t know if it was deliberate but this easing of the audience to let their guard down allows for a surprise ending that I didn’t see coming.

Stalk won’t necessarily blow your mind, it is a solid effort.  The acting is better than most indie efforts and the crew display that they have a firm grasp on putting together a story.  The cinematography looks good and I found myself impressed with the editing. Smooth transitions followed by tight execution shows a talent to be had here.  If Stalk is any indication, give Horror House Media some time to hone their craft and I think we’ll be seeing some quality work coming from under this banner.

So the question remains:  Would I recommend Stalk?  Well, do you have five minutes to kill?  With a strong beginning and end plus a quick run time that makes it easy to breeze through I’d say it’s worth taking a peek.

Adam Troutt is an obsessive horror cinephile. He aspires to one day be a filmmaker, but in the meantime he devours more horror films than is healthy for human consumption. Find him on Twitter: @PsychoCinephile



Back to Fear Street – Ski Weekend (Fear Street, #10)


Back to Fear Street – Ski Weekend (Fear Street, #10)

Happy November!  I hope your Halloween was sufficiently frightening and enjoyable!  But now it’s time for winter, snow, Christmas, and everyone’s favorite pastime – skiing!  That’s right – let’s go on a Ski Weekend, or at least let’s discuss the tenth book in the original Fear Street series.  My last two write-ups were on R.L. Stine’s new series, Return to Fear Street.  If you read those, you know I was less than enthusiastic about them so I was looking forward to returning to the original series, and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint.  Ski Weekend was nothing special, and the twists were not very twisty, but it was a solid read so I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads.  The story follows a group of friends – Ariel, Doug, and Shannon and a stranger they befriend at the ski lodge named Red – who get stranded in a snowstorm while driving back to Shadyside from a ski trip.  They get stranded when Doug’s car breaks down after he attempts to drive like a maniac through a blinding snowstorm. Doug then seals their fate when, after surviving a near-collision, he says, “All right!  We’re gonna be okay from now on!” I know he was trying to be positive, but that was just too much temptation for fate. The group seek shelter at the home of Lou and Eva Hitchcock who end up being more than just good Samaritans.  Basic but promising premise. I don’t think that Stine was making the reader question the intentions of Lou and Eva – to me it seemed obvious that they were up to no good. Eva’s very evasive, and Lou is extremely creepy and inappropriate with the teenage girls.  There are also some interesting clues that not only point to Lou and Eva being of questionable repute but also suggest that the house might not even be theirs! For example, when Ariel asks Eva for a cup of tea, Eva has trouble finding the tea in the kitchen. When Lou puts on a coat before going outside, Ariel notices that the sleeves are too short.  Ariel also notices that Lou’s jacket has ski lift tickets attached to the zipper, but Lou mentions that he hasn’t been skiing in years. So it becomes very clear that all is not as it seems.

To me, it was also clear that Red, the stranger the group befriends at the ski lodge, was also up to no good.  Stine didn’t make this as obvious, but I think there were some signs. One, he’s a stranger. I’m immediately suspicious of those in literature and the world.  Two, he’s the one that spots Lou and Eva’s house when the group gets stranded driving back. Third, the first night they’re in the house Red goes outside because he can’t sleep, and the next day the group finds that the car has fallen into a ravine.  Fourth, it’s Red who finally reveals Lou and Eva’s plan to the group after he claims that he overhead them. Coincidence? Definitely not! I’m sure there were more clues that I’m not remembering, but these were enough to put me on alert. Honestly, knowing how these Fear Street books tend to go, the fact that Red’s a stranger was enough.

What Red reveals to the group is that Lou is planning to rob them and leave them at the lodge with no means of escape and that he’s forcing Eva to go along with his plan.  However, while trying to escape the group discover a body in the barn. It soon comes out that Red and Eva are actually siblings; that Red, Eva, and Lou killed Eva’s brother Jake (the real owner of the house) because he stole their inheritance; and that they were going to pin the murder on the teens  The plan obviously gets foiled and our group saves the day. End of story. So yeah – nothing special and no big twists that I didn’t see coming but a good read.

It wasn’t flawless, so I do have some complaints. This story has absolutely nothing to do with Fear Street.  It doesn’t even take place in Shadyside. The only mention is when Ariel says, “Being home on Fear Street will be a pleasure after this!”  By now I know that Fear Street isn’t as central to these stories as I had once thought they were, so the fact that Ski Weekend takes place in another town is fine.  But nobody would actually say what Ariel said.  Like, as a kid I would never say “Man, can’t wait to get back home on Mary Lou Lane!”  You’d just say, “I can’t wait to get home!” So I think Stine could’ve snuck in a Fear Street mention in a less silly way.

Another complaint is that there was no good description of the layout Lou and Eva’s (or actually Jake’s) house.  This might just be one of my things, but I need layouts explained well-enough so that I can actually picture in my mind where characters are going.  I’ve even gone as far as to draw out layouts based on their descriptions so that I can have it in my mind when reading. So I just couldn’t follow some of the characters’ movements and where they were in the house because the layout wasn’t well-explained.  This sounds silly as I’m typing it, but this is me. I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.

I also didn’t understand some of the characters’ actions during the big face off at the end.  While the teens are being held at gunpoint by Lou, Ariel hits him with a snowball which causes him to drop his gun.  Red and Doug both go for the gun and when Doug gets his hand on the gun…he throws it across the yard. Why would he do this?  Nobody else had a gun so this would’ve given our group a one-up. Instead, Ariel, Doug, and Shannon run to the barn where there’s a Jeep.  But…they realize that they don’t have the keys. Ariel realizes they’re trapped and thinks to herself, “I was stunned by how stupid we had been.”  Ariel and I are definitely on the same page. Ariel then uses a snowmobile from the barn to lure Red and Lou away and she tells Doug and Shannon to run for help.  Her plan works, and Red and Lou start chasing her on foot while Doug and Shannon find help. At first, I didn’t understand why Red and Lou would attempt to run down a snowmobile instead of going after the two who were on foot.  On re-reading, I noticed that it says that Doug and Shannon snuck out of the barn, so I’m guessing Red and Lou didn’t see them. But shouldn’t the fact that they know that there are three teens and only one person on a snowmobile make them suspicious that this is a plan to distract them?  Maybe not. I’ve never been in a life-or-death situation like this, so I’m sure clear thinking might go out the window. So maybe I’ll give Red and Lou a pass.

While not really a complaint, I wonder how this whole plan to set our group up was to be put in motion.  I’m guessing Red was supposed to find a group of unsuspecting people at the lodge and catch a ride back home with them.  But Doug’s car breaking down seems to have been the result of Doug driving like a moron in the snowstorm, so it seems awfully convenient that the breakdown occurs right in front of Lou and Eva’s house.  Had Doug not been driving like an idiot, they could’ve potentially made it back safely. Maybe Jake had already been killed, and when the car broke down in that particular spot Red decided they could frame the kids.  However, he tells the group, “You might say I recruited you guys. At the ski lodge.” So, it sounds like this was the plan all along. Which again makes it a little too convenient that Doug’s car broke down where it did.

Finally, I think this is the first book in the Fear Street series without any recurring characters.  It’s possible that Ariel is related to a secondary character from Haunted based on their last names.  Ariel’s last name is Munroe, and there’s a character in Haunted named Krissie Munroe.  Krissie didn’t get mentioned in my Haunted post by name, but if you remember I discussed how Stine didn’t portray poor people very well in that book.  One of my examples was a girl trashing another girl’s clothes to which our main character responds, “She’s just poor, that’s all.”  Well, the girl doing the trash-talking is Krissie. If she’s Ariel’s sister, I’m guessing a couple apples fell off the family tree and blew away in completely different directions.  But this is just speculation. Maybe future books will clear up this mystery once and for all.

Well fellow Fear Street travelers, I’ve come to a close.  And I think to a bit of a hiatus in my journey back to Fear Street.  I’ll be taking a bit of a detour, specifically to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as I attempt to re-read the Harry Potter series before the new year.  So until then, I hope you enjoy this holiday season in whichever way works for you. Rather, that’s spending time with family, battling the crowds to do some shopping, traveling, staying warm and curling up with some good books (my personal choice), or all of the above, I wish you a great holiday season and hope that the end of 2018 closes out better than it started!  Rest well – our Fear Street journey resumes in the New Year!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

Back to Fear Street Special – Return to Fear Street: The Wrong Girl

Back to Fear Street Special – Return to Fear Street: The Wrong Girl

We’re back with another special edition and a review of the latest book in R.L. Stine’s new series.  From the back of the book, The Wrong Girl is about a girl named Poppy who swears to get revenge after a guy named Jack plays a cruel prank on her in front of her friends.  But then her classmates start turning up dead. As the back of the book says, “Is Poppy being framed? Or did the kids of Shadyside High mess with the wrong girl?”  I was going to do my best to not spoil this book in case some of you readers wanted to check it out for yourselves. But that was before I read the book. And I have since taken an oath to spoil the hell out of this book so that no one else will have to wade through it and suffer as I did.  Where to begin?

The book bounces around between different characters’ perspectives but is mainly written from Poppy’s point of view.  Poppy and her group of friends – Ivy, Jeremy, Manny, and Jack – decide to start playing pranks on people and filming it for social media.  The group of friends also included Keith, Poppy’s boyfriend, but she breaks things off with him and starts dating bad boy Jack instead because Keith is too boring and not interested in pulling pranks on people.  The group decides to call their group the Shadyside Shade because, as Poppy says, they’re “throwing shade on everyone.” I might not be completely up on the slang of the youth, but my understanding of “throwing shade” is throwing insults, not playing pranks.  So I guess this is what happens when a 74-year-old writes books about teenagers. The group’s prank club stars off innocently – they unleash a bunch of dogs into a pet store. Then Poppy decides that they should play a prank on her arch nemesis, Rose. Poppy and Rose have apparently been in competition with each other since the fourth grade, and Rose has just beaten out Poppy to get the lead role in the school play.  Poppy first thinks that they should put a laxative in her water because Rose always drinks water right before she goes out on stage. But Jack tells her she’ll get arrested for assault. Poppy then decides that they should keep people from making it to the play by staging a car accident in the intersection and blocking people from the school. As ridiculous as this sounds, everyone’s totally fine with it because they figure they can just tell the police, “Punked you!” and say that they were just doing a high school prank.  Yeah, because that’s how the police work. Also, does anyone actually say “punked” anymore?

These kids go through with the prank, and to really sell it Poppy puts a smoke machine in the back of Ivy’s car.  Why she wouldn’t think people would clearly see smoke coming from the backseat is beyond me, but she’s clearly an idiot as evidenced by her coming up with this plan in the first place.  Somehow all of the cars catch on fire, but apparently the kids suffer no real consequences aside from making their parents a bit upset. Afterwards, Poppy and Rose get into a physical fight at a restaurant after Poppy smashes a hamburger bun in Rose’s face.  Why? Mainly because Poppy’s upset that her sister has started hanging out with Rose. Other than Poppy and Rose being a little competitive and bitchy towards each other, the book doesn’t really establish any big beef between them that would lead to a physical fight in the middle of a restaurant.  Plus, Poppy, Rose, and Heather all seem to have some anger management issues which served no purpose except to make them all possible suspects when the shit hits the fan.

After the car prank, Jack decides that the group should pretend to rob a store, with the owner in on the prank, and film it to share on social media.  However, they go and “case the joint” which made me think that the store owner actually wasn’t in on the prank. A weird aside – before they pull off the prank, Jack gives everyone a ski mask, and Jeremy asks about the material of the ski mask because he’s allergic to wool (and a bunch of other things).  Jack tells him not to worry because the ski mask is fake. I didn’t understand this. Maybe he meant it was fake as in a synthetic material, but that still doesn’t make sense to me. A ski mask is still a ski mask. It’s not like someone being robbed would be all, “Hey, wait a minute. This is a prank! That’s not a real ski mask!”  But I digress. The group goes through with the robbery, but as they’re entering the store Jack slips a gun in Poppy’s hand, and she ends up shooting and apparently killing the store owner when she sees him going for his gun. After the incident, Poppy feels extremely guilty and decides to turn herself in to the police, specifically Manny’s brother Benny.  Benny and Poppy go to the store… and the store owner is there! Alive and totally fine! Turns out he was in on the prank all along, as was the rest of the Shadyside Shade. And it was actually Jack and Rose’s idea because they’ve actually been dating this whole time behind Poppy’s back. You know who else was in on it – Office Benny! That’s right – a police officer was totally fine with a group of kids filming a fake robbery in which one of the kids thinks she kills someone.  I guess that makes sense – these are the same police that had no problems with the same kids staging a fake car accident in which multiple cars exploded. Also, let’s not just skip past the fact that the couple behind this prank are Jack and Rose. The star-crossed Titanic lovers are reunited, and they’re bigger and badder than ever!

So now to the core of the story – the big revenge!  Which doesn’t start until page 240 of a 328-page book.  And remember all of those classmates that start turning up dead?  Yeah, it was just two people. Ivy gets acid put in her shampoo but lives; Jeremy has his room filled with hornets who sting him to death ( remember he’s allergic to everything – a My Girl moment); and Rose gets strangled just before taking the stage for her lead role in the rescheduled school play.  But that’s the extent of the revenge. It’s almost as if Stine remembered “oh yeah, that’s what this book is supposed to be about.”  Another thing – I’m pretty sure that Fear Street isn’t even mentioned until page 262, and even then it’s just a throwaway mention about Keith, Poppy’s ex-boyfriend, thinking about death a lot ever since moving to Fear Street.  Maybe this was another “oh yeah” moment for Stine – I mean this new series is called Return to Fear Street after all.

Let’s skip to the big finale.  The remaining kids, Officer Benny, and another police officer are all together in a room shortly after Rose’s body is discovered.  Poppy (in all of her brilliance) and her sister Heather decide they know the perfect way to get the real killer to confess – Poppy confesses to the acid attack and murders, but then Heather steps in and says that she’s the real killer, and she stabs Poppy in the chest with a knife.  And then Keith confesses that he did everything because he wasn’t good enough for Poppy and because nobody wanted to get to know him. Can’t imagine why? When it comes out that the stabbing was staged, Poppy explains, “We figured if we confessed, the real culprit wouldn’t be able to just stand by.”  I’ve watched a lot of Investigation Discovery shows in my lifetime (there’s actually one on in the background as I’m writing this), and this has to be the dumbest plan to get someone to confess that I’ve ever heard of. First off, there’s two armed police officers in the room, so Heather basically risked her life by pretending to stab someone right in front of them.  Second, what if Keith had been all, “Hey, I’ll just let one of them take the fall. This worked about better than I could’ve imagined!” All the evidence pointed at either Heather or Poppy anyway – a bottle of jewelry cleaner containing acid is missing from their home; Jeremy was killed by hornets and Poppy and Heather’s mother just happens to be an entomologist who’s doing a study on hornets; and Rose gets strangled with a scarf and it’s mentioned a few times in the book how wearing scarves is Poppy’s “thing.”  So, Poppy and Heather’s idea to get the real culprit to confess was pretty stupid. But hey, in the world of Fear Street it worked perfectly. By the way, the whole stabbing-and-confession thing happens in the last seven pages. A whole lot of ridiculous buildup for an even more ridiculous conclusion.

In case you can’t tell, I really didn’t like The Wrong Girl.  And I actually left some things out of this post for the sake of time, space, and my sanity.  I gave this book a 1/4 rating on Goodreads. I would’ve given a lower rating if I could, but you can’t give a half-star rating and giving no rating at all is equivalent to not voting – your voice won’t be heard.  And I wanted my voice to be heard loud and clear! The next installment in the Return to Fear Street Series is called Drop Dead Gorgeous, and it’s set to be released in February 2019.  Here’s a look at the cover:

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 10.10.20 PM

They say the third time’s the charm, so maybe we’ll have better results with the next installment.  Thankfully, I don’t have to find out until next year. So next month I’ll be going Back to Fear Street to review Ski Weekend, the tenth entry in the original Fear Street series.  These last two books of the new series have left a bitter taste in my mouth, but I’m looking forward to going back to the original series.  I’ve had better luck with those and they’re less than 200 pages so any suffering is swift!

Before I go, I’d like to end on a good note and recommend some fun reads that are perfect for the Halloween season – The Ruins by Scott Smith; The Amulet by Michael McDowell; My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix; The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon; NOS4A2 by Joe Hill; Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror, an anthology with multiple contributors; Midnight Movie by Tobe Hooper; and Let the Right One In and Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist.  And some suggestions for you comic readers – Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young; Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook; Outcast by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta; Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack; and American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque.  I could recommend many more books and comics, but these are the ones that came to mind.  I can guarantee you’ll enjoy any of these more than The Wrong Girl!

Have a happy (and spooky) Halloween, and I’ll see you in November!