Saturday, October 28, 2017

Playland! Come out and play!

You and your best friend go to an abandoned amusement park. Your relationship is strained, and this is a last-ditch effort to bond over a place that holds a lot of good memories for both of you. And then a clown statue comes alive and attacks.

That's the set-up for "Playland," my new horror short about growing up, growing apart, and getting murdered. It's funny. It's poignant. And it's really, really scary.
"Playland" is the first story in a brand new anthology from Ink Stains. I'm really proud of this one, but it's not the only reason to check out the antho. There are many more stories that are equally frightening and eerie and tense.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Vampire Comedy

"Accidental Slayage" is a horror comedy about a normal guy who accidentally kills the ancient lord of the vampires. It's a bit Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a bit Mr. Magoo.

It's also FREE!

"Accidental Slayage" is one of the short stories to be featured in the latest Sirens Call Magazine. This one is all about honoring the classic movie monsters (though most of the other stories take the monsters much more seriously than mine does).

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Happy Death Day!

Ready for some FREE flash fiction? Check out my new story "Hello, Death! It's a Pleasure!" It's short, morbid, and has a neat twist ending.

Art by Amanda Bergloff
This is my first collaboration with Fairy Tale Magazine, and they've been awesome! Check them out if you're ever in the mood for some revisionist fairy tales with modern sensibilities.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Silent Film Lovers

I have a new article up on Points In Case (everyone's third favorite comedy site). It's title: "How Silent Films Taught Me to Be a Better Lover." I think that's all I'm going to say. Otherwise, I'll ruin the punchline.

Check it out here.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Silver Screen Flirtation

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be a regular contributor to Silent Film Archives, which is an awesome database for silent films from all over the world. From German expressionist horror to British melodramas to good ol’ American Westerns, the website is a treasure trove. It’s full of information, links, advice, and all sorts of good stuff from classic Hollywood and beyond.
As a member of a generation that, for the most part, refuses to watch older movies, I really hope my work with SFA will help expose a younger crowd to silent films. Honestly, there are plenty of barriers to entry for a lot of millennials, so I really hope I can make things as easy as possible. As often as I can, I’ll be posting recommendations and advice for newbies, people who might want to check out older films but don’t know where to start.

So check out what we've got so far. This'll only expand and become more exciting in the next few months.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sunday, September 3, 2017

IT's Beginning to Look a Lot Like IT-mas

Sorry about the title. I’m in a weird mood, apparently.
Anyway, I’m posting this in honor of the new Stephen King adaptation that just floated into theaters. (And seriously, marketing people: Stop trying to make “float” happen.)
Not everyone is going to make it out to the cinema to watch a clown yank children through storm drains. That’s okay. Child murder isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re not interested in this year’s IT, why not check out a previous movie called IT. This one is from 1927, and I can tell you right now, it has a lot less child murder in it.
IT is an early rom-com starring Clara Bow, an actress forever remembered as “the IT Girl.” Bow (and IT) is about as adorable as possible. Bow is like Zooey Deschanel from a hundred years ago, and this movie (which was almost lost forever until a print was discovered in the 60s), is Bow at her best.
Over at Silent Movie Archives, I’ve compiled a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) list of all the differences between Killer-Clown ITand Shopgirl-in-Love IT.
  Check IT out.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Reunion Etiquette

Here's another wildly tacky article I wrote for Points in Case. It's about that awkward moment when you see an old friend and have literally nothing to say. The older I get, the more this happens to me, and it's never fun.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Grandmas Break Easily: Another Traumatizing Life Lesson

(A wonderful public domain photo of a "grandmother")

Over at Points in Case, I’ve been submitting increasingly tacky articles that may or may not (but most likely may) offend you. I did one on the after-effects of getting robbed, and how it can totally make you racist. I did another one on coping with the death of an acquaintance, which... well. I'll let that one speak for itself.

And now, I have a new article, and it’s all about when old people have jarring physical accidents right in front of their emotionally scarred grandchildren. Everyone’s experienced it, and it’s never not horrifying. Like I said, these articles are quite tacky.

Points in Case, a website that allows me to get away with pretty much anything. I shudder to think what my next article will be.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Born: A Tale of Terror

Gather round, people. I have something to say.
Let’s all go back, back, back to thirty-one years ago today…
On a hot summer night, much like this one, a pregnant woman found herself in an old, abandoned sanitarium named Whittier Presbyterian Hospital. The place was deserted, except for the haunted screams of the damned. Or, like, sick people.
This woman checked into a room way up on the thirteenth floor. It smelled of used bandages and its stash of moist towelettes was terrifyingly low. There was an energy in the air, an electricity that this woman couldn’t deny. The doctors made her as comfortable as possible. They said that everything was going to be okay.
Little did she know that her life was about to change forever. You see, after a few hours of some gross stuff that I’d rather not get into, the woman had a newborn baby. A son. And against all odds, that son would grow up to one day become a beloved blogger with ginger hair and a penchant for embarrassing himself in foreign lands. That child was named Evan Purcell.
The End?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Welcome to Facebook

For those of you who don't know, I've finally set up a Facebook author page! Tell your friends!

This photo is my pre-cropped author photo. Nice, eh? That's me sitting at the edge of my school in Bhutan. The big building in the background is called a zhong, which is basically the Bhutanese version of a castle. I've been inside there once (it's mostly government offices), and the place made me feel like a real Igor.

Anyway, I wanted to share this photo and say... come on over to Facebook. I'm sure I'll be as up-to-date there as I am here. (In short: not very.) We'll see.

Happy summer!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Hello, everybody! I wanted to give a quick travel update to let everyone know that I'm safe, sound(ish), and connected to wifi. Right now, I'm on summer vacation, so I'll be trekking through Bhutan and Nepal for a bit.

I've been in Bhutan for almost six months now, which has truly flown by. I've made a lot of new friends there, but I haven't taken nearly enough pictures. Here's one...

And here's one...

And here's one...

As you can see, I have the near pathological need to open my mouth and make these awful bug-eyed fish-faces every time I see a camera. It's a sickness, really.

I'll try to take more photos in the next six months, and I'll try even harder to close my stupid mouth when the camera is on. Seriously. I mean it this time. I'm in a 12 step program and everything.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

BABE: PIG IN THE CITY: A Talking Pig Masterpiece

With Mad Max: Fury Road, seventy-something director George Miller has enjoyed a well-deserved career revival. His newest movie, several decades in the making, is the work of a visionary, a wild blur of visuals and ideas that mixes high art with grindhouse trash. Unless I’m drastically misremembering Driving Miss Daisy, I’m pretty sure Fury Road is the only best picture Oscar nominee with robot arms, post-apocalyptic nightmare-scapes, and guitars that spew fire.
Because of the critical and commercial success of Fury Road, a lot of people have revisited Miller’s original Mad Max trilogy. And even if you have a low tolerance for Tina Turner’s weird lip-acting, you have to admit that those movies have aged surprisingly well. The effects are good, the acting is strange, and the plots move along with fury.
It’s a shame, then, that Miller’s non-Max films haven’t had the same surge in popularity. Barring Lorenzo’s Oil (which is what it is), the rest of his directorial output is feverish and awesome. The Happy Feet movies use dancing penguins to surprisingly subversive ends. The Witches of Eastwick is a cute diorama of a small town with Jack Nicholson bouncing off of every surface. Even his segment in the Twilight Zone movie is delightfully batty. (“There’s something on the wing of the plaaaane!”)
That leaves one more movie in Miller’s ouevre, and I’d like to argue that it is his masterpiece. It’s a talking pig movie with senile clowns, balloon pants, and opera-singing rats. It will also make grown men sob like babies. I’m of course talking about Babe: Pig in the City.
No offense to the original Babe, the Oscar-nominated smash hit that Miller wrote, but Pig in the City is a superior film in every way. Like Fury Road, it offers a consistently thrilling experience, with some of the most striking visuals in cinema. A notorious flop (though Siskel and Ebert both loved it), Pig in the City has grown a small cult of fans, but not nearly as many as it deserves. Here are the five reasons why Babe: Pig in the City is such a masterpiece:
Five. The animal work is amazing.

One of the centerpieces of the film is a chase between the titular pig and two city dogs. The three animals hop over canals and through alleys. They knock over giant piles of rubbish. When the chase starts, the dogs are chained to each other. Through the scene, the dogs get disconnected. One goes free and the other gets hooked to a manual lawn mover. The whole scene is like a Rube Goldberg machine, but with real animals. Every time I watch it, I have no idea how any of this was filmed. By the end of the chase, when one dog is dangling over a bridge and the pig pushes a boat through the water to save him, I’m a sobbing mess of a person: bowled over by the emotions and amazed by the logistics.
The whole movie is like that. Every scene is crammed with animals—dozens of animals, hundreds of animals—and everything works like clockwork. It never stops being emotional, but there’s an underlying layer of awe to everything. If you don’t ask yourself “How did they do that?” at least once during this film, then you’re not paying attention.

Four. There are millions of little nuggets.

Speaking of paying attention, this movie begs for close examination. Rewatch this movie, and you’ll pick up on more and more of the little stuff. I’ll give you one example. There’s a woman who illegally runs a hotel for animals. She clearly loves animals, even though she’s putting herself and her business in jeopardy. She’s also—judging by her stuffed-up voice and red nose—very allergic to them. Now, in a lesser children’s film, she would sneeze comically. Characters would talk about it. In a lesser movie, her allergies would be more obvious. In Pig in the City, you might not even notice she has them. It’s a wonderful bit of character development, and a potent metaphor for her potentially damaging relationship with these pets, and yet it’s never really commented on.
That’s just one example of the thought and care put into this movie. Every time I see it (which is often), I notice some other little thing. Like the wild chases and action scenes, even the quiet moments are designed like clockwork.

Three. The story is a fairy tale.

Like an great fairy tale, Pig in the City has this potent, universal appeal. The story isn’t just about one pig going to one city and experiencing one adventure: it’s about anybody who faces danger and comes out the other side a better, more developed person.
Let’s take a look at the city itself. Twice in the film, Babe looks out of his hotel window at the big, bad city outside. Do you know what he sees? He sees the Hollywood Sign. And the Sydney Opera House. And the Golden Gate Bridge. And at least a dozen other famous landmarks all sandwiched together in a beautiful, ugly hodgepodge. This is not just any city. This is every city. This is the whole idea of a city, and all the dangers and pleasures and complications that that entails. Like the city itself, or the “farm” itself, everything is universal, which makes for a satisfying, emotional experience.

Two. The hero is a gentle idiot.

I can’t overstate the appeal of Babe, the titular hero. He’s a simple pig who has no defining characteristic aside from his “kind and steady heart.” Because he’s so simple, he doesn’t understand why people have to be mean, or why dogs and cats can’t get along. By virtue of being a normal, nice animal, he makes everyone else reevaluate their issues.
Babe is a lot like Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump went from adventure to adventure, making the world a better place just because he was too dumb to accept any of the problems around him. It’s a character type that you don’t see a lot, but it’s one that viewers will instantly sympathize with.

One. There’s a real sense of danger.

The best part about Pig in the City is that there’s a real sense of danger throughout the whole movie. It starts with “the farmer” nearly dying in an accident that Babe causes. It ends with the almost-death of a baby chimpanzee. And throughout the movie there’s a senile clown who dies (of a broken heart, presumably), a dog who nearly drowns, and a handicapped puppy who (temporarily) ascends to Dog Heaven where he can finally walk again. Clearly, this has some dark moments.
And honestly, all great children’s movies do. Bambi’s mother dies. The Huntsman tries to steal Snow White’s heart. Dumbo’s mother sings to him through prison bars. All the classics of children’s cinema have real darkness and real dangers. I believe that children can handle much darker themes than we give them credit for. More than that, I believe that children need to see these darker themes in their entertainment, so that they will be better prepared for life. The overly sanitized, DreamWorks version of children’s entertainment doesn’t allow for real danger and death, and that’s such a shame.

Pig in the City’s true strength is that it’s unafraid to get dark. Then, when our simple hero is able to overcome the obstacles, it’s a powerful experience.

Anyone who loved Fury Road will probably also love Pig in the City. On paper, they seem like polar opposites, but they share a lot of the same strengths: a real sense of danger, constantly changing visual poetry, a hero of few words who gets into increasingly dire situations, a jaw-dropping precision to its action scenes, and a simple story stripped of any extra fat. The biggest difference is that Fury Road was embraced by the world, and Pig in the City was promptly forgotten. Maybe if the pig played a fire-spewing guitar, things would’ve been different.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hush, Hush, Sweet Spelling

Do you remember Hush, the Gwyneth Paltrow drama about a murderous mother-in-law? What about Hush, the Croatian family drama? Or Hush, the British rip-off of Duel? Or Hush!, the Japanese gay dramedy? Or Hush, the Lifetime movie where someone steals Tori Spelling’s embryos?
All I’m saying is that there’s been a ton of movies called “Hush,” and the only notable one is probably the silent episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am happy to announce, though, that the new thriller Hush not only makes you forget about Tori Spelling’s purloined embryos, it more-than-earns its place as one of the most thrilling movies of last year.
I'm already white-knuckling it, and this is just the trailer.

Hush is literally a two-hander, following a deaf woman who communicates through sign language as she’s terrorized by a masked man in the middle of the woods. Like the similarly thrilling Don’t Breathe (which follows a killing machine who happens to be blind), this movie uses the main character’s disability in clever ways. She can’t hear the intruder, or people calling for help, or the loud alarm that distracts the bad guy. Her inability to hear is both a blessing and curse in different parts of the film, and it’s interesting to see the filmmakers play with this.
Ever seen this movie? It's great.
And Hush seems like a nice
wenty-first century update.
Katie Siegal plays Maddie, the deaf woman, in a role she co-wrote with her husband, the film’s director, Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil). She wrote herself one hell of a part, communicating entirely via facial expressions (and sign language early on in the film). It’s wonderful to see a main character this badass, especially a woman, especially a deaf woman. (It should be noted that the actress isn’t deaf, but I wouldn’t dare suggest that the film dropped the ball on its casting. She’s just too good.)
The bad guy is played by wholesome-looking Broadway star John Gallagher Jr., who has come a long way since playing a German schoolboy in Spring Awakening. He’s slight and wiry, but can still look and act intimidating. He’s more terrifying before the unmasking, though, but that’s mainly because blank white masks are such major sources of nightmare fuel.
Watch out for William Shatner.
My biggest praise for the film is how well it uses its cabin-in-the-woods location. Early on, the film sets up every room, and then as the drama unfolds, the characters dash from location to location in a clear, understandable way. So many modern movies have a really muddled sense of place. With Hush, there was never any moment when I was confused about where people were. I understood the layout of the house, which only emphasized the tension.
Honestly, Hush doesn’t reinvent the mousetrap. It’s a very basic thriller with one well-drawn character, another character with zero backstory (obviously intentional), and a game of cat and mouse. It’s very simple. And I think that’s why I liked it so much. Hush hit me on a primal level, which is much more than I can say about Tori Spelling and her damn embryo drama.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

FLYING BODY PARTS: My Experience with Chinese Theaters

Living in China is an eye-opening experience. It’s frustrating and crazy, but it’s also a really, really fun time. The people are friendly and welcoming, the food is amazing, and—as long as you don’t name-drop Taiwan, Tibet, or Tiananmen Square—everything is safe. I lived there for three years, and one of my favorite experiences was going to the local theaters.
Now, thanks to globalization (and the fact that China is the most money-obsessed communist country around), giant multiplexes have sprung up all over the country. If you want to see the latest Iron Man sequel, you can check out some 3D glasses and enjoy the whole IMAX experience with hundreds of other screaming movie fans. It’s a lot like American theaters, except people don’t laugh at the same jokes.
IMAX is awesome, of course, but there’s something extra special about the mom-and-pop theaters that spring up in rural areas. You see, because of lax bootlegging laws, small towns in China will probably have at least one independent cinema. Here’s how they work:
1)      There are no set times, so you can just go in whenever you want.
2)      At the snack bar, you can get flavored popcorn (mostly strawberry-flavored, never with butter), sodas, and teas.
3)      There’s a big book of bootleg DVDs at the front counter. Usually, the movies are at least three months old. You pick something that looks interesting.
4)      The clerk ushers you into a small side room where a computer projects the movie on the wall. Sometimes the chairs are plastic. Sometimes, they are equipped with “5D technology,” which means they shake.
5)      You leave the theater and promise to come back again.
It might sound low-rent, but watching movies in an independent Chinese theater is a blast. Take, for example, my experience watching My Bloody Valentine 3D. Now, this movie is a gory, fast-paced 3D extravaganza. Body parts fly at the screen at regular intervals. And aside from a nonsensical climax, the whole thing is wildly entertaining.
In three glorious dimensions!
Now, picture yourself in a cheesy plastic chair with a metal bar across the front. Whenever someone gets murdered, the chair shakes like a crazy person. Sometimes air will blast at your feet. You’re sitting next to an elderly Chinese man who apparently had no idea what movie he was about to watch. He’s busy laughing at all the gory stuff. The two seats in front of you are reserved for your coworkers, a Ukrainian couple that keeps making out. Loudly.
And when the movie finally ends, you have no idea what just happened. It felt like that creepy boat ride scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Oh, and you ate popcorn that tasted like strawberries.
I'm still woozy from that scene.
That’s pretty much the Chinese movie experience in a nutshell. While I went to lots of English-language movies when I lived there, my favorites were always the crazy horror movies. Final Destination 5, for example. Shark Night 3D. Those were the best movies to watch because the seats moved, the popcorn flowed, and there was always one elderly person who wandered into the theater without any idea what was going on.
Unfortunately, these movie houses are dying out. The government has cracked down and the Chinese audiences are opting for the big IMAX experience over the crappy projector-on-the-wall one. Nowadays, everything is so expensive and homogenized and… well, legal. The bootleg movie houses weren’t paying for their films, so no money was going back to the filmmakers. At least now, the right people are getting compensated for their hard work. Still, though, I’ll be sad when all these mini-theaters close down.
I’ll always remember the times I spent in a dark room, surrounded by laughing strangers, watching blurry jawbones fly at my head as my chair spun in circles.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

My Experience with Turkish Horror

Have you ever seen a Turkish film? Well, considering that Baskin is only the eighth Turkish film officially released in America, signs point to no. Before writing this review, I asked my friends if they’d ever seen anything Turkish. All of them said no, except for the three glorious weirdos who purposely sat through Turkish Star Wars on grainy VHS. That should tell you something about the state of Turkish cinema, or at least America’s awareness of Turkish cinema.

My friends sure know how to pick 'em.
When I sat down to watch Baskin (don’t ask me what the title means), I had no preconceived notions at all. I knew the film was shocking—it had been recommended on one of my all-time favorite podcasts—and I knew it was Turkish, but that’s about it. Unlike other countries, Turkey didn’t have any preset style or viewpoint that I could prepare myself for. (When it comes to horror films, for example, I knew that Italian ones are colorful and Japanese ones are intense and Scandinavian ones are off-kilter.) Having that knowledge beforehand is helpful, which is why my experience watching this fever dream of a film was so intense.
At no point in this film could I brace myself for what was about to happen next. Half the time, I didn’t even know what genre I was watching, or which character I should be paying the most attention to. In a very real way, it felt like I was walking away from a car accident. Everything was blurry and off, and I had to focus all my mental energy trying to decipher my surroundings.
If I had read a little bit about the film, or if I had more of an insight into Turkish culture, prehaps things would’ve been less jarring. But jeeze, was I jarred.
Please don’t assume I didn’t like this film. I did. I loved it. It was one of the most memorable viewing experiences of my life. But it absolutely is not for mainstream audiences… or squeamish people… or overly analytical people… or animal lovers. It’s a tough pill to swallow, and I think you know if you’re the kind of person interested in swallowing this brand of pill.
Because so much of my enjoyment of the film comes from my slack-jawed shock, I don’t want to give away too much of the story. I will say, though, that it often operates on dream logic, that there are some very memorable special effects, and that conversations from early in the film get some definite (wince-inducing) pay-offs at the end. It stars a group of cops wandering into a place they shouldn’t, and the most effective moments are the inexplicable ones.
Don't watch this trailer.
Other than that… you’re on your own. If you want to watch this film, don’t read anything about it beforehand. And if you don’t watch this film, please look up its Wikipedia page to see exactly what craziness you are (wisely) avoiding. Either way, be careful.
And if this is representative of what Turkish filmmakers have to offer, I sincerely hope that more of them will release their films in America. That way, I won’t be the only person in my friend group with recurring nightmares about raw meat.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

New Comedy Articles (What?)

POINTS IN CASE is a humor website that specializes in everything except fake news. It's pretty great. Check out my first few articles now. Both are pretty tacky.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nostalgic 90s: Shadow Zone

Goosebumps cast a long shadow. For the bulk of the 1990s, R.L. Stine's middle grade horror series was ubiquitous, raking in millions via books, backpacks, pogs, and all sorts of ancillary materials. (Remember Curly, the skeleton with the purple hair? He never appeared in any Goosebumps book proper, but he was the bony face of the brand for much of the 90s.)

Of course, with great success comes a flood of rip-offs. We've already talked about my love of Bone Chillers. The same can be said for Spooksville, Deadtime Stories, Graveyard School, Strange Matter, and Spinetinglers. All of them carved out their tiny niche-within-a-niche. And they've all more-or-less been forgotten within the last two decades.
Because I've got nothing better to do on this long winter night, I thought I'd pay tribute to one of the many series that time forgot. In this case, it's the 13-issue Shadow Zone. Like Graveyard School and Spinetinglers, this series was written by a rotating band of for-hire writers. (Their collective pen name: J.R. Black, which is slightly less tongue-in-cheek than Tom B. Stone or M. T. Coffin.) Because of this, the house style was a little loose. Everything from chapter length to (over)use of cliffhangers changed from book to book.

So without further introduction, here's the full list of books:
The Ghost of Chicken Liver Hill
Guess Who's Dating a Werewolf?
The Witches Next Door
The Undead Express
Good Night, Mummy
One Slimy Summer
Bite of the Living Dead
Alien Under My Bed
Scream Around the Campfire
My Teacher Ate My Homework
Skeleton in My Closet
Attack of the Mutant Bugs

The two novels that stand out are The Undead Express and My Teacher Ate My Homework, both of which were adapted into TV movies for Showtime. (The latter stars Shelley Duvall as the kooky teacher. She's great, even if the movie isn't.)
This series was always an also-ran for me. I only read five of them (from what I remember), and none of them really sunk into my memory banks the way that certain issues of other books series did. (Deadtime Stories had the truly terrifying Invasion of the Appleheads, for example.) Instead, Shadow Zone gave us fun, inconsistent mini-thrillers that seemed to cater more toward female readers.

There was nothing overly strange or trashy about these, especially compared to the gloriously wacko Bone Chillers. Instead, the Shadow Zone series represents the blandest possible mid-point for mid-90s horror. If you're interested, though, check out both of the TV movies. They're endearing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Living in Bhutan

For those who want to learn a little more about where I live now, check out the WIKITRAVEL page. It's really basic, which means it doesn't do justice to the awesomeness of Bumthang Valley, Bhutan. But it is a nice little primer in case you're curious. (Right now, the internet is a bit too slow for photo uploads, so this'll have to do.

And in the meantime, did you know that WIKITRAVEL had a listing for here, and here, and here? Random!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Seeing double? Yes you are.
Check me out! I've been anthologized. Compendiated. Box-set-ified. My romance novel Waking Up to Love is now part of this twin-themed box set from Crimson Romance. It feels quite exciting to be in the same company as these other awesome writers. Check out all eight of our stories. It looks like there's something for everyone. (Unless you hate love. In which case, I don't think I can help you.)

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Blast of 90s Weirdness: The Bone Chillers Series

For some reason (My unnecessary enthusiasm? Irony?), a lot of people have been checking out my fan post about the Bone Chillers series of horror books from the 90s. And that is awesome. Either there are more closeted Bone-heads (I just made that up) than I ever expected, or more people are eager to discover disposable bits of retro weirdness and they just happened to stumble upon my blog.  Either way… great! I’d love to spark a new national conversation about something that’s near and dear to my heart.

So I thought I would offer a quick run-down of the series, with helpful links to Betsy Haynes’ Amazon page. (All of the titles can be purchased as used paperbacks, but I wanted to spotlight the ebooks. Miss Haynes deserves to earn some money for all the hours of enjoyment that she gave me and other little weirdos like me.)

Anyway, here are the first ten books in the series. But be warned, some of these may be inappropriate for younger readers (or fans of good literature).

Out of the whole series, this is the only one that feels like one of those Are You Afraid of the Dark-style morality tales. It might be imitating the Goosebumps standard a little too closely. Still, the big climax is fun and Hayne’s simple-yet-overdramatic prose is there from the beginning.
The cover is better than the actual book, but it’s cute in a low-stakes, we’re-turning-into-animals kind of way.
Perhaps the best book in the series, and an inspiration for the best episode in the TV series. People eat bugs. They turn into bugs. It instills a natural fear of lunch ladies, which is probably for the best.
There are so few Thanksgiving-related books out there. And while the sequel outshines this one in every way, it’s still a fun story that doesn’t squander the awesome title.
Strange Brew
I know I read this one as a kid, but I honestly have no recollection of it. The title and blurb tell me that it’s about witchcraft, but it must not have been that memorable. If you’re interested in witchcraft-related young adult books from the 90s, check out the similar Shadow Zone series instead. Those books are pretty underappreciated, too.
Teacher Creature
Another classic that inspired a truly great episode of the TV show. It’s a tale as old as time (kid finds out his teacher is a monster and no one believes him). Pretty Hitchcockian. And the TV episode is an acting showcase for Laraine Newman from SNL, who somehow falls in love with a coworker who’s very clearly a toad-monster.
Frankenturkey II
(Note the Godfather-style pluralization. This book is too classy for anything other than Roman numerals.) Again, not much to say here, except that it’s a sequel to Frankenturkey, and it’s a lot better than the original. And it also highlights Haynes’ tendency to have her main characters hatch really stupid plans.
Welcome to Alien Inn
Family checks into a motel that’s run by aliens. Alien Inn is a tad slow getting started, and the parents are frustratingly oblivious, but overall the story is a lot of fun. Tons of good cliffhangers.
Attack of the Killer Ants
I did not read this one… Which is a shame, because killer bugs are awesome.
Slime Time
This is another favorite of mine. A kid creates this mucus that starts to spread everywhere. It’s a Blob-type situation, but the whole thing is played for laughs. For those who enjoyed the wackier Goosebumps books (How I Learned to Fly, You Can’t Scare Me!), this one is a low-rent equivalent of that.
All-in-all, the first ten books in this series are pretty consistently great. Well, not great. But they’re fun. And they have more of a variety than Goosebumps, which really doubled down on its formula as that series progressed. If you have an Amazon Prime account, you can read a lot of this stuff for free. And believe me, it’s worth every penny.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Survival in the Sewers

Survival in the Sewers is my latest young adult book. Like the classic Choose Your Own Adventure series, this action story has a cliffhanger at every turn, and YOU decide what happens next. Will you survive?


There’s a stink in your new house—a horrible, horrible stink—and you have to figure out where it’s coming from. Even though your mom tells you no, you sneak outside and discover the entrance to the sewers! You really, really, really don’t want to go down there…

But then you hear a voice! “Help me!” someone says. Who is it? Why is she alone in the sewers? Why is she screaming for help?

You decide to go down there to check it out. Perhaps you’ll be a hero! At the very least, you’ll find out what’s causing that horrible smell.

You sneak into the sewers, but there are so many tunnels down there. So many choices. Where do you go? What will you find? Will you search for cursed treasure with a pirate and his albino parrot? Will you hunt down the world’s biggest alligator? Will you race through the muddy streets of an ancient city full of giant rats?

YOU make the choices. But be careful: not all choices lead toward a happy ending. And that giant alligator is looking awfully hungry…

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Welcome to 2017

2016 was an objectively bad year. I try not to dwell on the negative, mostly because I like to live in blissful and purposeful ignorance when it comes to global warming, celebrity deaths, hate crimes, and all the other signs of the apocalypse that we were subjected to this year. Long story short, I’m going to stay away from America for a bit and hope against hope that things will settle down before I return.

In the meantime, I am cautiously optimistic about 2017. I mean, life has to go on, right? Well, that’s what I’ll keep telling myself during the imminent nuclear winter. But barring the complete destruction of the human race, there are a few things to look forward to about next year. So let’s get at ’em. Here are the ten things I’m most excited about for 2017.

10 Simpsons Treehouse of Horror 28
Out of all the holiday traditions, this one is probably my favorite. Every year, I look forward to the Simpsons Halloween special. Most years, I walk away happy. (Barring that one episode that had Fran Drescher as a golem, there’s always at least one good segment in the bunch.) I doubt that that the writers will outdo themselves this year, but it's always fun to see them try.

9 Gorillaz: the new album
After so many years, the sort-of fictional, sort-of animated band will finally release new music. I’ve been jamming out to “Clint Eastwood” for so long now, that I’m quite excited for the new tunes. I’m perhaps even more excited to see what trippy, beautiful music videos we’ll get. I just hope the characters don’t get updated too much.

8 Friday the 13th: Part 13
At long freaking last, we get the next chapter in the Jason Voorhees saga. I mean, Jesus, the twelfth one came out years ago. You’d think that a horror movie franchise with the word “thirteen” in the name would get off its hockey-playing butt and grace us with the thirteenth installment before Mr. Voorhees enters retirement age. I have no idea if this movie will be good or not (signs point to not), but it better not get cancelled again. I’m going through machete withdrawals.

7 Heathers: The TV Show
Look, I’m less excited and more anxious about the Heathers reboot. I mean, Heathers is such a classic (my third favorite movie), and it’s going to be hard to recapture that nihilistic, quippy, off-putting, weirdly endearing magic on a weekly basis. What’s more, the new show’s premise (read the description here) seems like it really misses the point of the original. Still, if it works, it’ll be my favorite television show of the year. Hands down. It just has a pretty high bar to clear. In the meantime, I'll just slurp my slushie and rewatch the original.

6 Scooby Doo: Wild West!
Every year, Hanna Barbera (actually Warner Brothers) releases at least one direct-to-DVD Scooby Doo movie. Last year was kind of a bust (a crossover with WWE that was somehow even less charming than the previous crossover), but this year is about demon cowboys, so I’m in. If there’s a new Scooby Doo movie every year from now until eternity, I’ll be happy. Just no more professional wrestling ones, kay?

5 Evan’s Mystery Book
This year will mark the release of my next book, and it’ll be a little different from the other stuff I’ve written. I’ll be sure to keep you posted…

4 My Thirty-First Birthday
I already know that the thirties is going to be MY decade. I’ve had a pretty good run of it so far (you can’t complain while living in Zanzibar), but I have a feeling that 31 is going to be The Year of the Evan. At least, that’s what I tell myself every time I spot another gray beard hair.

3 Alien: Covenant
The new Alien/Prometheus sequel should be the kick-ass, cerebral movie event of the year. If not, I’m sure it’ll at least have some good visuals.

2 DuckTales
DuckTales is my fourth favorite TV program of all time. It shaped my sense of adventure, my pop culture proclivities, and my general worldview more than any other piece of entertainment. It was an extremely well-made, consistently fun program that sort of disappeared from the cultural conversation within the last fifteen years.

Thankfully, it’s finally coming back. Disney XD will debut new episodes sometime this year, and I can’t tell you how excited I am. It’s not CG (thank God), but it is slightly updated, which I’m fine with. As long as the sense of adventure remains the same, I will gladly take another swim in the money bin.

For those who don’t know, I will be moving to Bhutan at the end of this month. Also for those who don’t know, Bhutan is a tiny  Buddhist monarchy nestled in the Himalayas. It’s the only carbon negative country in the world. It’s also reportedly the happiest country in the world. There are no traffic lights. The quality of life is pretty high. And their leader doesn’t make fun of the handicapped or claim that global warming is a Chinese conspiracy, so at least there’s that. Anyway, this will be an exciting adventure for me. I’ll be there from January till December, which seems like enough time to (hopefully) see a Yeti! Fingers crossed.

And there you have it. My countdown of the ten most exciting things about 2017. Bring it on. And as John Oliver so eloquently described the previous calendar year: F*&% you, 2016!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

PET: The Murder/Torture/Romance/Shocker of the Year

Pet is a movie where a creepy stalker man kidnaps a girl and keeps her in a cage.
If I had read that sentence earlier, I probably wouldn’t have watched this movie. This kind of torture-heavy, woman-in-danger stuff isn’t my horror subgenre of choice. I prefer scary movies that are funny (Return of the Living Dead), meta (Scream 4), and over-the-top (Leprechaun 3). Movies with super-realistic gore and Hostel-levels of torture just really don’t appeal to me.
So if you’re like me—if you were immediately turned off by that first sentence—then forget it. Go into Pet without any knowledge of what to expect. Trust me. It will surprise you with its weird plot twists and reversals. To say that the movie veers off into uncharted terrain is an understatement. Pet starts as one movie, blows your mind at the half-way point, and then spends the last twenty minutes freaking you out. At different times, this movie is a stalker drama, a jet black comedy, a slasher, and a profoundly twisted love story. To say anything more would ruin the fun.
Such a Frankensteinian lump of genres could easily go off the rails, and it’s only thanks to our two leads that the movie is as cohesive as it is. Dominic Monaghan is the sad sack stalker, and he’s the saddest, sackiest stalker in cinema. Depending on your genre interests, you might know Monaghan as Charlie from Lost, or perhaps as your third favorite hobbit from the Lord of the Rings movies. He’s tiny and unassuming and his facial expressions bounce between creepy and sad with regularity.
Ksenia Solo stars as the girl in the cage, and she is an actress to look out for. She’s mostly known for TV stuff that I’ve never seen (Lost Girl, Orphan Black), but hopefully she’ll try a few more horror films in the future. She’s got the scream queen chops, for sure.
Aside from the acting, the make-up effects are top-notch, the music is wall-to-wall tense, and director Carles Torrens (this is his first full-length English movie) somehow manages to film this tiny cage from all the most interesting angles. If I had one complaint, it would be that the first third of the movie doesn’t quite play fair. Once the mid-movie twist happens, a few earlier moments seem like cheats. The broad strokes make sense, but a few acting choices felt off. Perhaps a rewatch would make me change my mind, but I don’t think I have the stomach to watch this movie again. At least not for the next few days.
Despite all its twists, Pet is at its core a two-person drama. It may splatter you with blood, but there’s a surprising amount of empathy beating under the surface. If you are at all a horror fan, you should give this one a watch. It’s captivating.