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.

https://www.amazon.com/Double-Trouble-8-Twin-Romances-ebook/dp/B01M09K74N/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
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?

Yuuuuck!

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.

1 BHUTAN!
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.
  
Hmm?
   
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.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Straight from the Toybox

https://www.amazon.com/Toybox-Edward-Kenyon/dp/1326341499/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481810191&sr=1-1&keywords=9781326341497

Listen to our fearless editor Dorothy Davies give an introduction to Toybox:

The toybox awaits... full of delights, a variety of toys which, in reality, are killing machines...

Indulge in a gory read as Thirteen Press authors each choose one individual toy with which to cause mayhem and sometimes murder.
 


You won't look at toys the same way again...

I feel quite lucky to have my short featured among the other blasts of creepiness in this anthology. And ten points if anyone can guess which toy I chose for my story...

I'll wait.

.
.
.

Okay. I give up. It's a rubber snake!

Check it out on Amazon

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Remembering the Forgotten (and Insane): A Bone Chillers Retrospective

Did you read Goosebumps as a child? There are three possible answers to that question.

ONE) No. I’m older than thirty-five.
TWO) No. My family was really religious.
THREE) Yes. Of course.

Aside from Harry Potter, no children’s book series has captured the public’s imagination like Goosebumps. And like Harry Potter, there were plenty of imitators along the way:
Spinetinglers (by M. T. Coffin).
Graveyard School (by Tom B. Stone).
Deadtime Stories (also a TV series).
Spooksville (also a TV series).
And, of course, Bone Chillers.

Bone Chillers was hands-down my favorite off-brand Goosebumps series. Their covers were trashy perfection…
 
(and weirdly 80s)
  
Their plots were goofy, cliffhanger-heavy nonsense…


And some of their premises were so freaking strange that they almost felt like spoofs of other children’s books.

 
I tell people that Goosebumps was my favorite childhood series (and it is), but I think Bone Chillers hewed closer to my own personal quirks. In this series, there was an evil lunchlady who force-feeds people bugs so that she can turn them into bugs (or something).


There was a girl who loves horses and finds out that she has some connection to the queen of gargoyles. (There's also an evil painting of a horse, just because.)


There was a zombie turkey, for crying out loud.


Listen, these books are not good. They don’t follow the same (deeply satisfying) format of Goosebumps, or offer the immersive world of Spooksville, or key in to the real sense of danger in Strange Matter. (All three of those series are probably better written than Bone Chillers, which often felt like the first drafts of a crazy person.)

But God, you have to give series creator Betsy Haynes points for weirdness. And even better, the series was adapted into a short-lived Saturday morning show on ABC, one of the most gloriously inappropriate children’s shows in history. (More on that in a later post.)

http://sciwiki.scifiontv.com/index.php?title=Bone_Chillers

It saddens me to think that the world has completely forgotten about Bone Chillers. Goosebumps has managed its own nostalgia-based Renaissance recently, but the same can’t be true for its less popular imitators. Some of the titles have been rereleased in ebook form, but they don't have the classic covers, and I doubt that new readers will stumble onto them without some sort of marketing push from the publishers. But you never know. Stranger things have come back from the dead.

(much better than the first one, honestly)
For now, all I’m left with are the fading memories of toilet monsters, magic pet shops, and doomed babysitters. Rest in Peace, Bone Chillers. I pray for your resurrection.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ready. Set. Love.

https://www.amazon.com/Live-Laugh-Love-Romantic-Comedies-ebook/dp/B01J2J5AJU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479023438&sr=8-1&keywords=evan+purcell
 
Love not only captures your heart but tickles your funny bone in these five fabulous romantic comedies. My story Waking Up to Love leads off the set, but there are four more novels that are just as funny and just as romantic. Check 'em out.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy, happy Turkey Day! Hunger pains will go away!

Well, ladies and gentlemen… Today is American Thanksgiving Day… or as I like to call it: “National Re-Watch Addams Family Values Day.” Now for most people, it’s a day of food, family, and football. (I’d add a fourth F-word, but most couples are back at some family member’s house, which usually means that the mood isn’t right.)
  
Anyway, as far as holidays go, this one is kind of all-over-the-place. I personally have very little emotional attachment to pilgrims, and turkey is probably my fifth favorite variety of poultry. Growing up in a non-religious household, there wasn’t a lot of praying going on at the dinner table (aside from the few mumbled times I whispered, “Please, please, don’t let anyone mention politics”). I have vague memories of everyone taking turns announcing what they’re thankful for, though I think everyone except for grandparents was being sarcastic. But yeah, I still did all the traditional stuff. Leftover sandwiches. Parade-watching. I’m sure I made a whole flock of paper turkeys with my handprints.
  
(Fun Fact: a group of turkeys is not called a flock. It’s called a rafter. Because bird enthusiasts have way too much time on their hands.)
 
All of this is a long of saying: Happy Thanksgiving, world. While this holiday isn’t a particularly important one, at least not for me, it does occupy a very special place in my heart.
   
Because of the stuffing.
  
Also, a group of bluejays is called a party. Why can’t we just eat them instead?

Monday, November 14, 2016

ZANZIBAR UPDATE

So this is me at the day job.
I feel so lucky to be working at
the British School of Zanzibar.
It is such a happy and creative place.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

MERLIN and the WAR of the DRAGONS: A True Story

I’ve never seen the British TV program Merlin. That type of fantasy just isn’t my thing. And even if it were, I would probably go with something a little more well-regarded. Game of Thrones, perhaps. That’s the show that everyone and his mother recommends to me. And I have to tell everyone and his mother that fantasy just isn’t my thing.
  
Anyway, Merlin is a TV show. And it’s also a mockbuster of the TV show. This Merlin, like the show’s main character, is a young and inexperienced wizard. This time, though, there’s no King Arthur. Not yet, anyway. Instead, we have a half-brother who has a dragon army. It’s pretty legit for a mockbuster, and much less of a time commitment than, say, a certain HBO show that has about forty lead characters.
   
I know it’s been a while since I’ve had a mockbuster come out, but this one should hit the spot. It’s about dragons!

 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Best Halloween Wishes... all the way from a pineapple under the sea!


Happy Halloween!


A quick note on my Halloween movie marathon:

This year, I invited a few friends over to bask in the neon orange glow of a communal Halloween fright fest. We gathered in my tiny living room in my tiny house on this tiny island, switched on my laptop computer, and started watching Hocus Pocus.

As someone who has lived in foreign countries for the last five years, someone who has no patience for things like “nostalgia” or “home sickness,” I definitely felt a twinge of both every time the Sanderson sisters were on screen. It was a wonderful way to start the marathon, and while I was definitely more involved in the emotional ups and downs of Max and his talking cat, I think my party guests were at least slightly amused by the whole thing. (Only one other person had actually seen this movie before. Charlatans.)

Our second film, Leprechaun 3 (the one in Las Vegas) was a much rowdier experience for all. Dirty limericks, sex-robots, and wild bursts of violence make this movie my hands-down favorite in the Leprechaun franchise, and I’m pleased to announce that my party guests seemed to like it, too. At least, that’s what they said.

The final movie in our trilogy was Teen Witch, which deflated the group’s enthusiasm just a tad. I mean, we all had fun (particularly during the musical numbers, or any scene with the little brother), but sleepiness was starting to seep into things, and we all had work or school in the morning.

That said, I don’t regret my choices in film. These three movies represent everything I want from a Halloween experience: violence, gore, hijinks, music, costumes, witchcraft, and a group of friends to share everything with.

Also sex-robots.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sea Life

This little guy washed up
on the shore next to my house.
It made me pretty sad.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Just keep spinning. Just keep spinning.

Click HERE for my latest review.

Hansel vs. Gretel: Grudge Match of the Stars


So The Asylum doesn't usually do sequels unless it's to one of their shark movies (the Sharknado franchise will outlive us all). No Snakes on a Train 2. No Age of the Hobbits 2. No freaking Avengers Grimm 2. But for some reason, they decided to sequelize Hansel and Gretel. No idea why. The first one had ET's mother as the human-eating witch. This one does not. Neither are masterpieces. Both are really fun.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Age of Tomorrow: the lumpiest little movie in town

So these mockbuster reviews are aging me horribly. The newest one: Age of Tomorrow. Check out the article now!
   
(Spoiler: This character is not in the movie.)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I Am Omega. You Are Omega. We All Are Omega.


I am Omega. I am an ultra-cheap ripoff of a Will Smith movie. I am full of grainy visuals and awkward silences. I have a dull thud of an ending. I was reviewed by Evan on Slickster.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Back in the Hobbit


Age of the Hobbits
Clash of the Empires
Lord of the Elves

Whatever the name, this film is... something. Check out my delightful mockbuster review.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Meat Pies and All That

         
Out of all the really famous fairy tales out there, Hansel and Gretel is perhaps the most morbid. Little Mermaid (at least in its original form) is probably the saddest (give or take a Little Match Girl). Sleeping Beauty has some of the creepiest undertones. Beauty and the Beast does, too. But all those stories (again, give or take a Match Girl) could be Disney-fied pretty easily. Take out some of the murder and self-mutilation and eye-gouging, and you have a perfectly nice, family friendly story about princesses being dainty.

Hansel and Gretel, on the other hand, has darkness woven into its very fibers. Try to sanitize it all you want, but the entire story is built around cannibalism, child abandonment, kidnapping, forced labor, and murder. Take out any of those elements and the story doesn't make any sense.
   
      
Not surprisingly, the good folks at Asylum have seen the potential for horror and made Hansel and Gretel, a modern-day horror film starring Dee Wallace from E.T. It's grisly and sick, just like the source material. Of course, this being an Asylum film, the movie is actually a rip-off of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, a minor hit that may (but most probably may not) get a sequel.

If you're a horror fan, check out my Slickster Magazine review of the film to see just how many body parts fly toward the camera. Spoiler alert: there's a lot.