Monday, April 27, 2015

Sharknado 2

I just watched this beauty last night weekend. I know it's odd that I'm reviewing the second one before the first, but I haven't seen the first one in months and I decided I better review this while it's fresh in my head. But be warned:

*There will be massive spoilers for both movies. I mean, it's Sharknado, so nobody really cares, but still, use caution. This movie relies heavily on references to the first movie, so I probably will too. So that's happening. By the way, please excuse the bad quality of the clips; I had to use Quicktime.

I should probably start off this review by saying I'm a little biased. I love movies from The Asylum, and have been watching them for years. If you don't know who they are, I'll give a little background. The Asylum film studio was created by a few Village Roadshow executives, and started off making low-budget horror movies. I haven't seen much of their early stuff, but that's OK because they changed their business model pretty quickly. They discovered that the quickest and easiest way to sell movies was to– and this is all 100% true– make really low-budget rip-offs of popular movies and then release them a couple days before the original movie is released. These shameless products have been dubbed "mockbusters," and... well, you can probably guess their quality. Some examples are the famous The Asylum studios originals Transmorphers, Snakes on a Train, and Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls. This shouldn't be allowed. However, Wikipedia does say that they've never lost money on a film, so I guess it works.

I've seen some of these mockbusters, but I prefer their more original movies. Sometimes, they'll quit throwing stones at larger companies long enough to make a movie uninspired by others, and they're almost always entertaining. I love all of the Dinoshark movies, the random other sci-fi titles they made (Asteroid vs. Earth, Attack of the Killer Lampreys, etc.), and, of course, Sharknado. That being said, I can't deny a certain poor quality fundamentally found in nearly every one of their movies. You'll always see cheesy and often bad writing, terrible special effects, and commonly, bad acting. A true fan must look past these traits or even embrace them, which is why they have so little fans. But enough of the boring backstory. Will Sharknado 2: The Second One escape The Asylum's horrible curse?

No, it won't. Of course not. Their unexpected success with Sharknado meant a much higher-budget movie than anything else they'd created, but it was still produced by The Asylum. The film begins as our old heroes, Fin (Ian Ziering) and April (Tara Reid), are riding a plane to New York. Of course it takes place in New York. There's this big The Twilight Zone homage during which Finn looks out onto the wing and sees a shark. It isn't long before he realizes that his old demon had returned, right before the sharknado begins to tear chunks off the plane. Also, I should mention that the April character wrote a book called "How to Survive a Sharknado," which is really meta-self-referential. So the sharks kill the pilots as well as celebrity guest Kelly Osbourne (one of many), and actually bite off April's hand, which was holding a gun. Remember the hand thing, that's important. Fin singlehandedly lands the plane, because he has mastery of every badass skill imaginable. So April goes to a hospital, and Fin is stuck having to get his sister's family to safety while singlehandedly, simultaneously destroying yet another batch of sharknadoes. To be honest, there's quite a bit of boredom throughout most of the movie; the action is short and predictable, and you can tell exactly who's going to die far before they do. But more about that later.

They make a "jump the shark" joke. Of course they do. Some writer should be fired for that, or at least tarred and feathered. You want to talk about jumping the shark, what about cutting a living woman out of a shark from the inside with a goddam chainsaw, how's that for over the top? Jesus Christ, the bar for comically insane action is so high in those movies, what could they possibly have done?

Shit. Well... huh. They did a pretty good job pushing the limits, I'll give them that. I don't know if you noticed, but Fin just jumped across sharks. That's not even the craziest thing that happens, too. Fin eventually decides to electrocute the tornados to dispel them (I don't know), and that's when the real craziness starts. But first...

Matt Lauer and Al Roker team up to deliver news on the sharknadoes in several semi-comedic scenes throughout the movie, as does Stephanie Abrams and Kelly and Michael. My problem is that much of the appeal of the first movie came from the fact that it took itself so seriously– it was just another fun Asylum B-movie, probably not expected to get much recognition at all. But since the movie became popular, Sharkado 2 has become a sort of mockery of itself, which would be fine, except it's definitely not a comedy movie. Those little segments where news reporters talk about the sharknado in a joking fashion or when characters suggest making a movie about the sharknado attacks take the watcher out of the movie. I think that, and the fact that the second movie is just less exciting, is what makes the first Sharknado better. Because what makes Asylum movies magical is when you accept the awfulness enough to become engaged in the film, and the Sharknado movies are shining examples. It's fun to watch if you just want to laugh at it, but if you allow yourself to care about the often 2-D characters played by occasionally bad actors, you will undoubtedly enjoy it. I watched this movie with a few friends– no way I'm watching Sharknado 2 alone– and the reason they didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I is because they preferred to point out Ian Ziering's flaws than follow the exploits of tortured celebrity badass Fin Shepard. Now don't get me wrong, I laugh at the outrageous moments just as much as the next guy, but in order to enjoy the rest, you have to take everything a little less seriously. But enough with the sentimental shit. On to the insanity.

Fin finally busts out the chainsaw, as is tradition, and shit hits the fan. Just to give a little preview... (warning– this is pretty gory.)

And then the citizens of New York team up to kill flying sharks. This scene until the end of the movie includes every great quality from the first installment, and is definitely the best part of the film. And when Fin finds April's hand with gun in a shark's mouth and uses it to shoot other fish out of the sky, I had to leave the room from shock and awe at the sheer stupidity, and I loved it. Sharknado 2 may not have been as good as the first, but it was still fun to watch and, fortunately, it suffered from many of Sharknado's original flaws. I don't know how this movie fares when looked at from a real critic's perspective, but looking at it through my Asylum-specs, I'd say it's delightful.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs #9

1. "The Boy Inside"
Jerry Elfman is constantly bullied for being ugly, which has earned him the nickname "Dogface." It's because he looks like an elephant. When his friend Ben asks why he doesn't stand up to the bullies, he says it's because he's afraid he'll get beat up. So Ben starts to pick a fight with them, but the bullies crack up when Ben's big argument is basically, "He can't help it if he's ugly!" The bullies then unleash some crushing burns, such as my personal favorite,

"Boy, when they were handing out ugly, you must've gone back for seconds!"

Now, I know what you're thinking: woah, chill out there, Dane Cook. It's the beginning of the story and you're already pulling all the stops? Well, you're right, but check this out: Jerry goes home and tells his mother about the bullying, who doesn't even deny the claims that he's ugly but rather insists that he's beautiful on the inside, much like the ugly duckling. This prompts Jerry's response: "Just what I need. Next I'm going to look like a bird!" So basically the writing sucks. Later, Jerry's sitting at his dining room table when he starts to feel tingling in his hands and wrists. It spreads up his arms and shoulders, and eventually he can't even feel them. His mother insists it's probably just the flu, but it spreads to his head and knocks him out, which I don't think the flu does.

When Jerry wakes up, he's in a hospital, and has a noncancerous tumor growing from his spine. His skin splits open and sheds, and underneath he's covered in a gross red liquid. Hey, I've seen Coccoon, I know what you're doing here, Allen R. Ury. And, crazy enough, Jerry wipes off the liquid to discover an attractive new boy. But when he gets up to walk out, his knees buckle and he feels another tumor. So, what, he's going to become even more handsome? Or will he pull an Amanda Bynes and do the opposite? Oh well, I can live with not knowing.

2. "The Girl in the Attic"
Lisa and her family are going to a cabin in the woods for a vacation. Lisa immediately has a bad feeling about it, and her family is extra mindful of her because she has heightened senses. She's like a lame superhero. The crew packs in the old-fashioned home, complete with VCR and fireplace, and sets up the room she'll share with her sister, Sara. But soon after, she hears a girl screaming for help. She searches the land nearby with her sister, but finds nothing. A few days pass, and nothing happens. And then, out of the blue, she hears another cry for help, but this time the crier throws in that she's in the attic. For someone who's supposedly dying, she's really helpful. It's like geocaching. But with people.

Lisa's dad checks the attic, but surprise surprise, nobody's in there. That night, Lisa is woken up when her father shakes her awake, telling her to get dressed because there's a fire. Lisa does so, but hears the girl after she leaves the house and decides to run back up to the attic. I can't really blame her for any of this, because it's a reasonable thing to do. That's no fun. The air fills with smoke behind her, stopping her father from finding her. I guess he's never heard of a fan before. But when she does go up to the attic, the trapdoor slams shut behind her and gets stuck. She calls for help, and realizes that she is saying the same things the crying girl said earlier. She heard herself in the future for no other reason than because whynot?, and when the floor gives in she knows she's going to die.

Well, this was a really clever and creative idea for a story. Only problem is, it's taken straight out of a Ray Bradbury short story collection called The Illustrated Man, from a story called "The Veldt." Great story by the way, one of my favorites. But that's classic Allen Ury for you, ripping off other stories. I must admit though, this is exciting. Let's try to identify the "inspirations" for all the stories, shall we?

3. "Rules is Rules"
That title would have been perfect back when I still used that "Did... Uh... Did You Even Go to School?" segment. I have to start doing those after-segment things again. Maybe when I stop reviewing short stories. But anyway, nameless 1st person protagonist and his friend Kevin Blayne are attending Camp Elkhart, a fun yet strict summer camp with tons of rules. The most hated rule is that you cannot swim after 5 pm, which is strange because the sun sets at nine there. The camp is run, of course, by an ex-police lieutenant named Vince Mancuso, and the boys' counselor is named "Mitch Logan." Wow. So one day Kevin convinces the protagonist to go out on the lake with him at four o'clock, and they swim across the lake. Then Kevin throws their paddle out into the lake so they can purposely disobey the rules and prove that the lake isn't dangerous after five. Even if there wasn't a lake monster, that's still a really stupid thing to do. Like, have fun sleeping in a tin boat, dumbass.

Oh, and then a tentacle rises up from the water and grabs the boat, emptying the children onto the lake. More tentacles come up and grab Kevin before a giant mouth with multiple rows of teeth comes up and eats him. OK, that actually is pretty terrifying. Jesus. Protagonist swims back somehow and tells the story to Lieutenant Vince, who then tells the Protagonist that rules are in place for a reason and that if anybody asks, it was a tragic boating accident. I guess I understand why he didn't close the camp since his life savings were put into it, but why not move it to another lake? It's gonna cost him, to be sure, but it will cost him cash as oppose to children's lives. But the protagonist decides on his slow walk to the cabin that he will spread the word about what happened there. He knocks on his cabin door, and Mitch Logan informs him that he's three minutes late. How is Mitch Logan not in prison? His name alone should be enough, not to mention the fact that he just kind of lets campers die. Then the protagonist begs to be let in while a giant, hairy monster gets closer, and Mitch reminds him that the rules are in place for a reason. Now that I think about it, the camp owner must have bought the land for next to nothing with all those monsters running around. Future landowners take note.

OK, so this one was pretty good. Of course Pirate of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea come to mind, but PotC was well after this was written and TTLUtS's squids don't have much resemblance, so I don't know. I mean, of course the whole theme/plot of "break the rules and discover horrible unexpected consequences" isn't a new one, but I can't remember any specific medias. I'm a failure. Well, on to the next.

4. "Sound Bites"
Jeanne loves listening to the new teen heartthrob, Hunter Smith. All she does is listen to music, but she does it so loudly that her father goes upstairs and yells at her. He then unplugs her speakers and takes away music privileges until she gets her grades up. OK, I know parents often take away toys, games and TV, but music? What parent stops his/her kid from listening to music? Jeanne is just heartbroken, because music has been her comfort and solace ever since her mom died of cancer. That's... wow. So much heavier than I expected, and it's made sadder that it's the only plausible thing in this story. So Jeanne goes to school and they pass around headphones like the music's heroin. So Jeanne decides to go to her friend's house and listen to Hunter Smith's newest album. When she goes to sleep that night, she is woken up at 2:00 am by the sound of music, which she soon recognizes as the album from earlier. She searches the house for the source, but it just gets louder and louder until eventually it's all she can hear and she's carried into "a place of madness." What happened?

I'm pretty sure this story was too stupid and nonsensical to rip off of anything.

5. "Night Terrors"
The story starts as Doug Snow (no relation to Jon Snow, because Jon Snow's not a whiny bitch) is awoken by his father's unconscious screams. He goes to his parents' room but is told to go back to sleep by his mother. The next morning, Doug learns that his father is suffering from night terrors. This continues for three nights until Doug decides that he has to do  something about it. He and his little sister whine to his dad about his awful nightmares that wake the kids up because I guess they've never heard of earplugs. The siblings learn that their father had problems like this before, and that it will pass with time. But that night, Doug wakes up to his father and mother screaming, but his mother is saying "No! Don't touch me," instead of his father's bloodcurdling screams. He walks in to see his mother with a bump on her face and found that his dad had hit her in his sleep. Wow. This just got way too real. Children's horror, meet domestic abuse. By the way, "Don't touch me." Don't touch me. Goes really well with the other themes of breaking rules, doesn't it? Wow.

Doug's father agrees to take medication, but Doug's mother starts screaming again and it sounds like glass is breaking in their room. Doug rushes over and sees his father with a golf club, going after his mom because the medication stopped him from waking up. Holy Jesus. Doug mans up and attracts his father's attention and then trips over his sister. Smooth move, Ferguson. Doug's dad misses with the golf club and his wife gets his attention again, and one more time, just in case you couldn't catch my feelings on the matter: wow. Doug, meanwhile, runs into his room, grabs a piggy bank and smashes his father over the head with it, knocking him out. The next morning, the family flushes the pills. And later on down the road, Doug hears his father scream and his mother slap him quiet, as is the new daily ritual. More abuse, cool cool.

6. "Faces"
As the story opens, a baseball flies through Samantha's window, shattering it. She looks out the window to see two embarrassed children, Tommy and Stewart, holding a baseball and glove. Classic Stewart. Later, a wood board is put over her broken window to keep out wind and rain. When she looks at the board, though, she sees the creases make a cat face. This is common, as she sees faces in lots of things, but she calls her dad nonetheless. He doesn't see it, of course, and though she feels threatened by it she does not attempt to eat it because she's a vegan. The next day, Samantha tells her friend Anne Besch, who is described as "gothic," about the incident. Anne suggests that it's a tree spirit, like the ones the druids communicated with. When Samantha asks whether the spirit is good or bad, Anne replies, "Now that's the final Jeopardy question, isn't it?" No, it's not, that makes no sense. I think Allen Ury's never seen Jeopardy.

When she gets home, Sam discovers that her room is in disarray. She tries to sleep later, but is surprised to hear moving at the foot of her bed. The plank is resting there, and when she starts to touch the face, it pops out and almost bites her. It then starts to work its way out of the wood. Huh, I thought coke was the worst drug kids take during school, but I guess they also take every drug at once. Terrified by her super-acid trip, Sam reasons that the best way to beat a wood-monster is with fire, so she gets lighter fluid and a lighter and lights that fool up. She grabs her parents and they escape while her house burns and the beast dies. Fast forward and Samantha is sitting in a mental institution. She had told the police about the monster, and they had locked her up. She felt safe, at least, until she sees a face in the ceiling. How did this suddenly become an awesome story?

7. "Scratcher"
Kent Newcomb is awoken by a scratching sound from nearby. He decides to investigate, and he walks downstairs to discover that the noise is coming from his garage. He turns on the light which spooks the clawed creature a little, but the scratching ultimately continues. The next morning, Kent checks out the garage and discovers what attracted the scavenger: his garage is overflowing with trash because the city's trash collectors went on strike. Also, it's reaching record heat and that combined with trash overflow makes for an awful stench. Now that I think about it, we'd all be screwed without trash collectors. Huh. Here's hoping they're happy over here in El City de los Angels, because I don't even know where trash goes after it gets in the one-armed truck.

That night, the scratching continues, and Kent wakes his dad when he yells at the unseen animal. They buy a wire-mesh cage trap but of course it's empty but activated the next day. Kent decides to sleep in his parents' minivan and stake out the garage, and he is reminded of a time where he camped out in the car as a child. Because what kid doesn't dream of sleeping in his mom's car. It's not directly said, but I assume Kent Newcomb entertains himself by picking box B. Oh, and then a monster made entirely of garbage jumps on the windshield. I don't know, kind of a trashy climax. I mean, my hopes for this story weren't high, but this is just rubbish. I know you're cringing, but I promise the puns won't stop until this absurd situation does. Kent actually honks and calls his dad, who walks in with a baseball bat just in time to get tackled by the trash monster. Wow, what garbage reflexes. In retaliation, Kent leaves the car and destroys the monster with a garden shovel. There's a valuable lesson in here somewhere. Kids, write to your local trash pickup-guy. Without them, we'd all be sleeping in our parents' cars.

8. "Shop Till You Drop"
This story's really bad.

It's about a girl named Casey who's a total shopaholic. She's shopping with her friend Joleen when she stumbles upon a red purse. She discovers that she's short ten dollars, but finds ten dollars in the purse. Then she goes and possessedly buys everything she can with money that magically appears in the purse. The big climax comes when Casey falls on the escalator and somehow gets the strap wrapped around her neck, which is bad because the other end of the strap is stuck in the escalator. I don't know how that works. Despite the fact that she's in the middle of a crowded mall, nobody moves to help her– classic humans, I guess– and Joleen ends up cutting the strap with her keys. The big twist at the end? Another girl ends up finding the same purse at the same place Casey found it. Cool so I guess it can respawn or what? Looks like another girl will have to suffer the same horrible curse of getting unlimited money.

So there's nothing special or good in this story. The only remarkable aspects are these sexy one-liners:

"Her azure blue eyes blazed like twin suns, and she hungrily licked her lips as if she were gazing at the world's greatest ice cream sundae."

"It's like shopping makes you high." I just include this because it's the only story I can remember that even halfway approaches the topic of kids doing drugs.

"'This place is great!' Casey gasped in awe.
'It's all junk,' Joleen said dismissively.
'I know,' Casey agreed, 'But it's great junk!'"

I think I've had more than enough reading about teenage girls buying things. Well, at least I can skip my weekly visit to Tumblr now.

Conclusion: I don't know what Allen Ury was smoking when he wrote this, but it's the most bizarrely bad collection by far. It's a strange mixture of terrible stories that make no sense, awful-to-decent stories that rip off of other things, and one diamond hidden in an absurd amount of rough (I'm referring, of course, to "Faces"). Well, see you this weekend, folks.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs #8

I guess they ran out of creative title names, huh?

Well, looks like my prayers were not only unanswered but completely unheard, as Don Wulfson does not write another Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs book ever. Instead, I get to read Craig Strickland. Well, let's dive in, shall we? Who among us isn't eager to find out why that yeti looks stoned?

1. "Spiderbites"
The story begins when Kativa wakes up and realizes that she has a large spider bite on her leg. She immediately starts yelling and waking up her parents and six-year-old sister, Natasha. They turn out to be the nicest family ever, as they spend the morning searching and cleaning Kativa's room. They find nothing, but realize that family love triumphs over all arachnids. Unfortunately, this is false, as Natasha reveals that she too got bit by a spider, during a family vacation, no less. Kativa interrupts her, though, because their conversation goes a little something like this:

"Hey Kativa, have you ever been bitten by a spider before?"
"No. Have you?"
"Yeah. In that hotel we stayed at, this spider came and–"
"Wait, Natasha, I see a serious problem with your story."
"It's not about me."

The following night, Kativa gets bitten yet again. When Natasha hears, she claims she can relate because she was also bitten multiple times, but Kativa decides not to care. These siblings remind me of Axl and Brick Heck. That night, she sleeps in the guest room, but gets bitten yet again. Jeez, this spider must have some kind of grudge. That being said, it has good taste in victims. Later that day, Kativa's mom takes her to see an entomologist, appropriately named "Professor Weber." I can already tell I'll love this Craig guy. The professor can't tell what spider it is, but helpfully scares Kativa by telling her that there's a myth where if you get bitten by a spider four times, you become one. I wonder if he has a PhD.

Kativa has a very one-sided conversation about her predicament with her sister, probably because she's busy blogging on Tumblr that she's always been a spider in a girl's body. She sleeps in her parents' room that night, but wakes up to see a very large spider with Natasha's head biting her neck. What a gross image. Natasha reasons that Kativa will finally have time to play with her now that they're both becoming spiders, and then proceeds to become exactly like a spider. While that does sound pretty scary, I feel like this problem could easily be solved with a really large shoe.

2. "Bloodmobile"
Joe and Vince are twins, out camping with their family. While playing frisbee with his brother, Joe stumbles upon a creepy, weird-smelling RV. Not much happens after that. Vince's family goes hiking and has a picnic, which was probably boring in the moment and is even less exciting to read about. I think they play more frisbee. Uh... I've been watching The Wire. That's been fun. Oh, and then Joe and Vince discover that the people in the RV are vampires. They actually tilt a mirror towards them and see that they have no reflection. However, their clothes are still visible, which is a nice touch because I always wondered how people's clothes became vampires too. The two of them decide to laze around and sleep, because vampires camping a few hundred feet away is not a pressing issue. They hear the door open but once again, they would rather play frisbee. The next day, the twins break into the vampire RV and find a couple coffins.

The two preteens rip off the curtains and incinerate the vampires. But on the way home after a deceptively easy victory, the twins notice that their parents have no reflection. I liked this story, but it could have used a little less frisbee.

3. "Bone Girl"
Robin is walking home from school when, yet again, a kid yells taunts at her. She is bullied in an extremely uncreative way, yet she somehow still feels inferior to her tormentors. They call her "Bone Girl," not because she's skinny or looks like Dr. Temperance Brennan, but because her dad collects tons of skeletons. Then, a bunch of kids run away from a nearby fence giggling, though I'm not sure what the joke of yelling "Why don't you get some flesh to cover those bones of yours," was. I don't know, maybe you had to be there. Anyway, Robin walks in to her bone-filled house (with animal, bird, and people skeletons), and makes herself a sandwich. Her dad, Dr. Tim Meza, walks in with the skeleton of a bobcat for no other reasons than, "Oh, spooky, skeletons!"

Robin tells her father about her bullying problem and he suggests that Robin educate her friends on skeletons. Yeah, I also find that the best way to stop a bully is by giving them more ammunition. Robin considers this, but finds that the next day, in a rare instance, preteens drew something other than penises in somebody else's notebook. They drew Robin as a skeleton, as if that would be her Halloween costume. Once again, you probably have to be there. Robin had nearly given up until her father tells her that he'll be at a convention on Halloween. She takes the chance to invite a bunch of bullies over and show them her father's collection of skeletons. They play games including "shake the skeleton's hand," and "pin the tail on the timber wolf." Yes, it's just as exciting to read about as you might imagine. Luckily, though, it leads to this little gem:

"'Wow!' Monica said a second later, 'Bones really do feel like cold wood!'"

Everybody has fun for some reason, but when they leave, the skeletons disappear. Then, angry at being moved and used as party decorations, they kill Robin and make her into a skeleton. I just have one small comment– well, more of a question, really– who thought this story was a good idea?

4. "Things from the Jungle"
Benjamin lives with his mom in what I assume is a large urban setting. Together, they own and operate a shop called "Things from the Jungle," which sells plants imported from Africa. But Ben always hears rustling and feels staring eyes from "the green shadows." I don't think that's how shadows work, Strickland. Anyway, one day, the store gets a new shipment of plants, so Ben and his mom show customers the newest vegetation. But after they close Mushnik's Flower Shop Things from the Jungle, they discover that one of their regulars never went home. Oh I wonder what could have done this unbeleafable act. The plants, it was the plants.

Benjamin shows around other customers the following day, including a family with three misbehaving children (redheads, of course). That night, he learns that they too disappeared. When he and his mom hear rustling in the leaves overhead, they call the police. Now I've seen The Wire, as I mentioned earlier, so I pretty much know everything about big city police and just crime in general. I seriously doubt they would take the time to check out a flower shop for African animals. I wouldn't. But they do, and they find nothing. So, of course, Benjamin believes that the best course of action is to visit the store the following night, where he sees an old homeless man sneak in and get snatched by a bunch of vines. Just to get across the point that this was an amazing occurrence, he italicizes the text. So, annoying. Benjamin escapes from the killer plant and returns to his home, where the plants that his mom planted start strangling him. I used the word "plant" far too many times in this story, so I'll say it's bad. Also it's bad.

5. "The Black Balloon"
This story is first person, and it never says the protagonist's name, so we'll call him Jimmy. Anyway, Jimmy wasn't invited to his neighbor Oscar's birthday, because Oscar is kind of a jerk and Jimmy calls him out on it. Jimmy decides to watch Oscar's birthday party and look bored, as if the joke's on Oscar. After a while, a hired magician shows up. He calls himself Zatlin and proceeds to pull off "amazing" tricks, such as separating rings and levitating a birthday cake, while being berated by Oscar. If I wanted to see an old man attempt magic, I would have made myself finish The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. And to finish the act, he pulls out inflated balloons from his robe and gives each kid one of his/her favorite color. Then, as he's leaving, he approaches Jimmy about why he's not at the party. Jimmy tells him, and Zatlin gives him a black balloon. If only he had gotten The Black Balloon, because even that would have been less painful than what happens next.

Jimmy discovers that the balloon serves as a voodoo balloon, as whatever he does to it affects Oscar's head. Every time Oscar insults a birthday guest, Jimmy does increasingly cruel things to the balloon. He goes from flicking it to misshaping it, transforming Oscar's head, to just hitting it. I mean, Oscar does kind of deserve it; he acts like a little shit to everybody. No guest is safe. He insults everyone, either because of their body weight, body shape, or face. How does this kid have friends to go to his party? But anyway, it ends, and Jimmy decides to give the balloon to Oscar's family. He ties it to the fence, where it gets pierced by a hook hanging from a tree and the story ends with Oscar and his mom screaming. Whoops.

6. "Sleep-Over at Annette's"
Annette's a pretty shy girl. So naturally, she gets picked on. Now, I know I said the last story was painful, but this one makes "The Black Balloon" seem like an angel's kiss. Three stuck up, high-as-cliffs popular girls are invited to Annette's house for a sleepover, so naturally they go to insult her. Her parents awkwardly greet them, and then leave. First, the girls insult Annette's pizza, then her games, then her personality, social life, physical appearance, etc. This story is sadism, and these girls are animal...s. And Annette just takes it; she just twists and turns like a skeleton key. They don't even talk in code, they just straight up abuse her. If only her mother was a vampire, then she could protect her. But no; it takes two hours of insults before Annette reveals that she only invited them over because her parents are hungry, because surprise, they're werewolves. Then they eat them.

P.S. If you caught the Margot and the Nuclear So and So's references, congrats, you're musically enlightened. If you didn't, however, please check them out; I've been listening to them for a while and I definitely think they deserve more recognition, because they're heavenly. So if you're a fan of calm, soulful music, or even if you're not, just listen to a song or two. "Broadripple is Burning" and "Skeleton Key" are my personal favorites, but they have quite a few good ones. I'm not even getting paid for this (not that anyone would sponsor a children's horror review blog. I mean, come on people), I just love the band. So check them out.

7. "Christmas at Mountain Hollow"
I don't even know. This family stays at this remote cabin for Christmas when this eight-foot-tall snow beast, which I'm guessing is the guy from the cover, attacks. They have the most human reactions, it's surreal. The parents get involved, so that's refreshing, and it's just so unexpectedly realistic and gripping I was caught off guard. Then they escape and stay in a hotel for Christmas instead. Eh, better than hanging with extended family.

Conclusion: These stories were mostly unremarkable, which is both good and bad. There's a common presence of karma and popular monsters, and I don't think any of these were extremely great or godawful. So, in conclusion, I can confidently say that this is one of the OK-est books in the series.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mega Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs

We have a new author this book. Let's see how Don Wulffson is compared to the infamous Q.L. Pearce.

1. "The Corpse of Mr. Porter"
It's Halloween, and yet somehow, our middle-school protagonist is bored. Danny is the one child alive that somehow doesn't like trick-or-treating, so he asks his dad what to do. He says that when he was a young-un, he used to play pranks on trick-or-treaters, such as jumping out and scaring them. For once, I sympathize with the protagonist because of his response: "lame." But it gives Danny an idea to scare his sister during her sleepover, so he calls up his friend Steve and proposes that the two of them dress up as the recently deceased Mr. Porter. They find an old-man mask (?), and go up to Danny's attic to find some old-fashioned clothes (?), a ratty wig (?), and a pair of small spectacles (?????). Downstairs, Danny's sister, Sheryl, and her friends are telling scary stories. All of a sudden, they hear knocking and loud noises, and they begin to get scared. They call Sheryl's parents and are told that they're on their way home from their party. Then somebody knocks on the door and, against all common sense and the concept of stranger danger, the girls open it. A hyper-realistic Mr. Porter stands there, before they close the door on him. Sheryl reveals that it's probably her brother, when Danny and Scott walk down the stairs in costume. Who is it now, Sheryl?

It's the dad. In a very clever and fun ending, it was the father that decided to trick his son to prove that he isn't "lame." He wanted to prove this by scaring children with an elaborate old man costume. Great job, bud. Good story, though.

 2. "Death Sight"
This is a bizarre story, and I'm not sure exactly how to summarize it. I guess I should start off by introducing the protagonist, Molly Lund, a shy girl with one brown and one blue eye. I'm trying to think of a reference to someone with heterochromia... I think one of the Ghostbusters has it. I don't know. Cool condition, though. But anyways, Molly is constantly ostracized because she's a little strange. The school bullies torment her constantly, trying to get her to tell them test answers because, though they don't know it, she can see the future. Now I really want different colored eyes. But despite constant abuse, including throwing a rock through Molly's window and threatening to hurt her and her parents, Molly saves the bullies from a runaway train which would have hit them. Well, she's a better person than I, I guess. But if she had the power to change the future, couldn't she have just stopped herself from being the bullies' bitch in the first place? Oh wait, sorry guys, I guess I'm questioning the plot of a time travel-based children's story again. Moving on.

3. "Fountain of Horror"
Miguel and his friends Colby and Bonnie go out every summer to find the Fountain of Youth in the Florida Everglades. Fun. Well, on their way, they run into a couple older bullies, the Laevich brothers, who steal their food and taunt them. I'm pretty sure Don Wulffson was bullied as a child, because so far two out of three stories have settings like a Stephen King coming of age book. After some exploration and history lessons, the party stumbles upon some chainmail armor, and eventually finds a stream running uphill. There, they find an upside down, floating fountain with pink water. Miguel wants to drink, but Bonnie insists that they bring the water to "the lab" first. Oh, that's funny, the story didn't mention that one of the kids was the Boy Genius.

Then things take a turn for the undead when the kids are surrounded by the rotting bodies of past explorers. They manage to escape, and are warned never to drink the water by a zombified Spanish conquistador. But on the way home, the Laevich twins stop them and steal their pink water-filled canteen, gulping the water down. The protagonists just walk away and wish the bullies a long life. See, these guys are more my speed. But in all seriousness, this was a pretty good story.

4. "Wax Coffins"
That's a really good name for a story. And I think that this is one of the few times where the story lives up to its name. It begins as Linda and her brother Ricky are walking through a forest in Arkansas when they get the feeling they're being watched. Ricky spots some strangely large bees right before they meet an odd, rude beekeeper. A very strange conversation occurs during which Linda tells the man all about her life while he ignores her, and then she asks him some facts about bees. He tells her that bees can only gather one tenth of a pound of honey in their lives, but that he thinks they can make more. Well, they say that you should do what you love, and I think this might be the only guy in the world that loves bees. The siblings are similarly confused, and return home, passing child graves with the number five on each one. They also hear the beekeeper yelling to a woman that "five is the limit," but I'm sure the two occurrences are completely unrelated, like Omar Little and shotguns.

Linda decides to go back for some reason, where she sees a woman in a cloak in the beekeeper's house who tells her to leave. She tries, but is stung into submission by giant, ugly bees, and then forced to drink a sweet liquid. She wakes up in a cave, where she scratches at a wax encasing and screams for help. The beekeeper arrives with the hooded girl, who takes off her cloak to reveal a hideous, mutant bee-person, the hive's last queen. It's actually pretty gross. The beekeeper reveals that Linda will have to be the bees' queen for the next five years, right before football-sized bees arrive to fix Linda's wax encasing. I've never been scared of bees, and this is still a pretty scary story to me.

5. "The Electric Girl"
Oh boy, I'm gonna have fun with this one. You see, this story is about a young boy named Mike who got a job at a law firm because his father works there. He works with his friend Teddy, who's also fourteen. It's unclear what these two fourteen-year-old boys do at this law firm, but if I had to guess I'd say they're a mix of secretary, janitor, and office jokester. One day, these two boys come into the office and "helped themselves to a cup of cocoa;" you know, age appropriate morning drinks; when they discover that the company hired a beautiful new secretary named Ann-Marie. Later in the workday, a lightbulb mysteriously crashes to the ground, leaving Mike and Teddy to clean it up. Later, the photocopier breaks and the light fixtures crash to the ground. I half expect Ted to start talking to a TV right now, but then I remember that this story takes place during the day in a crowded office.

After the whole office starts technologically malfunctioning, the new secretary starts bawling and runs away. Mike and Ted find her address and go to her house. Now, at this point you may be suspecting that she's an electric ghost or something, which is what I  thought might be the case. But no. Because when Mike finds that she lives in a mansion and climbs up to look through the second story window, he sees an old man strap an old woman to a bed and pump her full of electricity. Boogie woogie woogie. She turns young and beautiful again right before his very eyes, and the two adults catch him and Ted outside the house. They reveal that they're siblings and provide the flawless, beautiful explanation that "Applying the basic principles of electrical biosphysics laid down by such great pioneers as James Watts and Alessandro Volta, I have been able to bring my sister back to life." This story must have been written by Mary Shelley on crack. I mean, damn, if electricity reversed the aging process we would all sign up for the electric chair. Anyway, this story ends with the siblings threatening to destroy Mike's father's pacemaker if he talked.

6. "Castle of Veins"
This is a vampire story in which vampires can change to look like different people, so that's pretty cool. In the story, a boy with the unfortunate name of "Lorn" moves to the town of Blackwell, Oregon. He's a loner, until Paul befriends him and tells him the story of a vampire that disguises himself and lures people to an ancient castle, the "Castle of Veins," and eats them. The reason I like this story is that it seems so obvious Paul is the vampire (he insists on showing Lorn the castle, watches him strangely, etc.) that you end up thinking it's Lorn, and it actually is Lorn. Usually, Paul would be the vampire and it wouldn't get much more clever than that. Or maybe I'm giving this book too much credit. Anyway, Lorn lures Paul further in the castle by saying he wants to see the vampire, and then reveals that he used his classic new kid trick to get him, which doesn't make sense seeing as how there was this whole backstory about Lorn having to move a lot because his dad's a traveling salesman, but whatever. And with no Simon Belmont to save him, Paul is eaten.

7. "Brain Pictures"
One day, Jenna was reading a book about psychic powers when she read about an experiment in which somebody took a picture of their eye and saw what they were thinking. She and her brother, Jerry, decide to try it, and Jenna's eye produces pictures of Jerry and then her dead dog. Then, she produces a picture of a boy she's never seen before, who then appears at their front door. This entire book is a string of the siblings taking pictures and then seeing the pictures in real life. I just hope this came before Goosebumps: Say Cheese and Die!. Anyway, it's a pretty good story, all things considered. By the end of the book, the siblings take pictures of a three-fingered hand, a scary-looking man, Jerry lying on the floor in a pool of blood, and a picture they don't look at. Then, they get robbed in broad daylight, and one of the robbers steals Jerry's jacket. He falls down and starts bleeding, I guess, and then it turns out the picture from earlier shows Jenna dead and then she gets grabbed by a three-fingered hand. Hit the road, Jack, and don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more.

8. "Horror in Room 519"
Brian walks into his science classroom, expecting to meet the notoriously strict Mr. Zimmer, instead seeing a young, female substitute. He discovers that this is the new teacher, Ms. Gytry, and that Mr. Zimmer had died during Summer vacation. His friend ends this statement with, "Looks like we lucked out." Brian's in this little group of troublemakers, and because I don't want to keep track of them all, I'll just come up with a random name for the group. A name, any name, let's see... oh, how about the Hitler Youth. Anyway, Ms. Gytry is extremely nervous about being a teacher so the students decide to torment her as much as possible. The next day, the HY and a dozen other students glue all the lab equipment to the ceiling somehow and release all the animals. They break most everything and the school does nothing about it. If people had done that at my middle school, the faculty would have executed them. And to be honest, it wouldn't be the end of the world if Brian was executed too.

The next Monday, Ms. Gytry walks into the classroom to find a snake in her desk, and sees the class skeleton, which Mr. Zimmer donated, dressed up as a student and sitting in front of a desk. OK, that actually is pretty funny. But Ms. Gytry doesn't think so, and bursts into tears. The HY decides that they should step up their game to toughen up their teacher, but discover that somebody beat them to it and stole the class skeleton. That evening, Brian finds the skeleton in his closet and calls his friends to his house. He's got some skeletons in his closet and he don't know if no one knows it. They decide that Ms. Gytry didn't do it because "a teacher would get fired for a stunt like that." A teacher getting fired, that's probably the most fictitious element in this story. But it makes the kids apologize, and Ms. Gyntry tells them that Mr. Zimmer had donated his own skeleton to the classroom so he could be there always. So in terms of quality, this story's about as boring as Mr. Zimmer's sex life must have been. He was married to the job.

9. "Return from Nowhere"
This is a pretty boring story, so I'll go through it quickly: In the late 19th century, a man named Jeremy Tate disappeared off the face of the earth in the town of Doncella. Over a hundred years ago, Amber and her family are visiting the town when a man claiming to be Jeremy Tate walks into town, the same age as Jeremy when he disappeared. People ostracize him as a liar because, to be fair, that's insane. This story is like The Twilight Zone without the things that make The Twilight Zone great. Blah blah blah Amber disappears and reappears in 50 years and nobody believes her. She's lonely and sad for a few months before being approached by Jeremy. Sweet ending, but nothing happens for most of the story. One thing that does stand out greatly, though, is that Amber is a character I actually cared about. This is the first time I've felt positive feelings towards a protagonist from a Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs book. I've only ever felt negative or neutral towards them. I guess it truly is a President's Day miracle.

10. "The Dead Boy's Clothes"
This is a first person story narrated by Damon Hodges, who claims that the story is true in the beginning. Way to provide a change of pace, Wulffson. It all started when Damon and his brother Eddie went to shoot some hoops. Eddie was wearing the clothes he had gotten for his birthday at a thrift shop. During the game, Eddie got deep cuts in his hands and had to quit. However, to his surprise, they healed extremely quickly. All of a sudden, Eddie's arm started getting ripped open before his brother's very eyes. I know what must be causing this: basketball. Speaking of, they decided to return home and tell their parents, who didn't believe them. Some similar incidents occurred that day, and that night they were awoken by a shadowy boy. They asked him some questions, but the only thing he told them was his name, Griffin Bernau, before disappearing. Seems like kind of a waste of time. And to top it off, Eddie lost his jacket at the park. Worst week ever.

Damon called his friend, whose father's a journalist, about Griffin. He discovered that Griffin died on a rafting trip and was cut up and stuck in a drain in a dam. Oh God, that's a terrifying idea. So, Wulffson, for making me read about my fear of violently drowning and even worse, write in the past tense for two paragraphs, fuck you. But returning to the story, Griffin's parents decided to donate his clothes... to a thrift shop. Damon found his brother getting bruised and scratched while his lungs filled with water. He ripped the clothes off of him and saved his life. But they couldn't save him from an escaped murderer that was discussed at some earlier point in the story who I forgot to mention. He found Eddie's jacket. Whoops.

11. "Monster Bait"
Barbara is visiting her cousin Megan in Scotland. This is illustrated well, without the overwhelming stereotypes employed by such authors as M.D. Spenser and Q.L. Pearce. They're just kind of screwing around on the beach when they see a sick and dying Loch Ness Monster. That happened fast. They decide to get Megan's wheelchair-bound father, Kyle, to help them out. When they return, they find a bunch of people poking, climbing on, and taking pictures of it. They refuse to let Barbara and Co. help out, instead claiming the popularity and riches for themselves. Oh no, it's Under the Dome all over again. Well, it turns out the Loch Ness Monster was only bait, for more monsters, which eat everybody. I guess I'm happy with that, since it goes without saying that one should never poke something bigger than himself. I guess that means I should quit the blog, huh?

Conclusion: This was one of the best books so far. Many of the stories were clever and original, and I can't remember a single one I didn't like at least one thing about. Plus, I actually cared about the protagonist in one of them. I think this Don Wulffson guy and I could get along. I just hope he sticks around.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bioshock 2

*Warning: There May Be Spoilers. Not Heavy Ones, but if You Haven't Played the First Game, You Can Wait Until You Have if You Want*

Just look at that cover. Just look. I finished Bioshock 2 a while ago, and it's time I did a review. Obviously, this game takes place in Rapture, and you play as a Big Daddy. If you don't know what that is, read the first post or play the game, there would be way too much to explain. This game starts in 1958, 2 years before the start of the first game, before jumping to 1968. The protagonist is that guy on the cover, a badass Big Daddy called Project Delta. As the game begins, Project Delta is fighting off a couple of splicers to rescue his Little Sister when one of them pulls out a "Hypnotize Big Daddy" plasmid, which actually existed in the first game, so I thought that was cool. He throws it at you when a woman named Sofia Lamb walks in. She takes your little sister and commands you to take off your helmet and shoot yourself in the head. Alright, cool it, Jean Grey.

You wake up ten years later, eight years after the events of the first game, in a Vita Chamber (those respawn machines from the first game). Rapture is still in chaos, Jack is gone, and Andrew Ryan has been replaced by Sofia Lamb, who is ruling along with her Little Sister daughter, Eleanor Lamb (your Little Sister). Because you're so far from her, Project Delta is slowly dying. Big Daddies die if they get too far from their charge. God, this city is so messed up. It's awesome.

Anyway, this game is very similar to the first game, but they both improved some things and made some stupid decisions. One of the things I love about this game is that you use guns with your right hand and plasmids with your left. In the first game, if you wanted to use a plasmid, you had to wait for Jack to put his gun away and put his hand up and then you could zap some people. This game makes plasmids much more usable, so I ended up relying on them far more than in the first game, which is great. They also added a button for melee attacks using the butt of your gun so you don't have to switch to your wrench to hit someone nearby, but they also added a drill that you can switch to if you want more powerful melee attacks, so that's awesome. I was just happy that you got something better than a wrench. I mean, we're fighting monsters here. I'll regret the switch once I need a bolt tightened.

Anyway, you eventually meet up with Tenenbaum, who sets you up with a new business partner: Augustus Sinclair. He's basically the Atlas of Bioshock 2, guiding you around and giving you advice. He's reasonably selfish in the beginning, but he develops well as a character. This game is much like the first game in that you run from area to area, meeting important people in each place and learning how they fit into the Rapture puzzle in pursuit of an inevitable final showdown, so there's not much to say that I didn't say in the first Bioshock post. Luckily, they got rid of that stupid pipe puzzle, which appeared every time you hacked something in the first Bioshock. I didn't like that, I thought a time-consuming and repetitive minigame like that had no place in a Bioshock game. Hacking is a thousand times more fun now that all you have to do is press a button when the cursor is over a green or blue tile. You get different levels of rewards for different colors, it's awesome.

I didn't explain very well.

I love being a Big Daddy, I do, but the Little Sister process is pretty annoying now. You can once again choose to either rescue or harvest the small girls, but instead of rescuing them right away, you adopt them first. I try to save every Little Sister in the game, which you don't have to do, but I would feel guilty if I didn't. But every time you adopt a Little Sister, you have to sit her down and defend her so she can harvest Adam from corpses, a tedious and repetitive activity that you have to do every single time you adopt a Little Sister, up to two or three times per area. It's such difficult and brutal work, but I feel really bad if I don't save the Little Sisters because they're cute and I'm weak. It's actually far easier to just harvest and kill them at this point, but they're so creepy and evil that their little virtual smiles make it all worth it. I think I need to talk to a therapist about this game.

The characters are, while not as memorable and lively as the first game, still interesting and fun to interact with. Governor Grace Holloway, psychotic scientist Gilbert Alexander, preacher Simon Wales and his brother, Daniel, and little rat bitch Stanley Poole are all great additions to the Rapture family, even if they are a bit detached from the first game. But while I loathe Sofia Lamb, she never stirred the begrudging respect that Andrew Ryan did. The new enemies are pretty terrifying, with the new "Big Sisters" prowling the streets of Rapture. They generally appear when you've rescued or harvested all the little Sisters in one area, and are always proceeded by an ear-splitting shriek. That shriek... oh god. Once you hear that, you know it's all over. They're tall, fast, slender, can use plasmids, and have the signature Little Sister needle. Words can't do them justice; I'll have to put a picture.
Left: You, Project Delta. Right: Big Sister, Satan.

I don't know why they wanted to torture us with this.

Now, I'm going to get serious for a second. There's one other major complaint I have with this game: it was unnecessary. The other installments of the series fit together like clockwork. This game, partly because it was made by a different studio to cash in on the success of the first game, doesn't add much value to the Bioshock universe as a whole. Sure, it was fun to discover more of rapture, but when you realize what the series is all about, it just doesn't mean as much as the other games. The story is just too much like that of the first installment, but without as much depth. And while Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite dealt with themes like religion, race, class, censorship, and even what it meant to be the player, controlling the fate of a person whose thoughts and emotions you feel as if they were your own, Bioshock 2 sticks to also serious but less insightful themes of family and what it means to be human. Which is not to say that it shouldn't have; it's more that it shouldn't have been Bioshock. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are experiences that draw you in to the lives and environments of its inhabitants, making you doubt whether you're really in control at all, or whether you're just a pawn in a game played by powers even greater than yours. Bioshock 2 is just an adventure through a beautiful and horrible city to find your adopted daughter. No deeper feelings, no stunning twists, and though you feel for the characters, it can't manipulate your emotions like the other games can.

Conclusion: Bioshock 2 is a good game. In fact, it's a very good game. But it just can't compare with the other Bioshocks. It lacks the raw depth and storytelling power of its prequel and sequel. That being said, the controls and playability have been greatly improved, though it does get tedious sometimes. And Rapture and its inhabitants are still, and always will be, stunning.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Beast 2

Special edition time, guys!

Taken from Santa Monica City Court Records, case titled "Jonathan Golden vs. R.L. Stine," Jan. 19, 2015.

Judge: I'm calling the court to order! This case is for Jonathan Golden calling for the "death by roller coaster" of... wait, you realize that the death penalty isn't used in the state of California, right?

Jonathan: I do now, Your Honor.

Judge: You also realize that "death by roller coaster," most likely falls under "cruel and unusual punishment" and is thus a prohibited form of execution?

Jonathan: Have you ever read The Beast, by R.L. Stine, Your Honor?

Judge: No...

Jonathan: Have you ever read The Beast 2, also by R.L. Stine, Your Honor?

Judge: Once again, I can't say that I have–

Jonathan: Well, then I'll be the judge of just how cruel it is, Your Honor.

Judge: I hope you realize that this trial is something of a joke, son. Apparently, you held the district attorney at gunpoint and then, when he refused to allow this strange and altogether wasteful trial even under the threat of death, you broke down and started crying, insisting that you had proof on "an mpeg4." I'm not sure if you know what an mpg4 is, but apparently the D.A. was so moved by your pathetic tears that he accepted $300 in cash from you in order to make this trial happen.

Jonathan: Yes, Your Honor, that is how I remember it.

Judge: So why should R.L. Stine be prosecuted, then?

Jonathan: Well, Your Honor, a while ago I reviewed a book by R.L Stine. I recently read the sequel, and it was bad, Your Honor. The first book sucked, but this book decides to both barely acknowledge that its predecessor existed and completely duplicate the events, until it splits off into its own ridiculous time travel story.  Let me tell you this story, Your Honor–

This book starts with our two lovable past protagonists, James and Ashley, riding the Beast.  Again. I recommend reading the first post if you haven't. I don't know how in-depth I went with the first post, but the narration is filled with little joke-comments that James makes. They're very rarely funny. For instance, he spends three paragraphs talking about his new favorite candy, "Karamel Kreemies." It's so much worse than it looks. Anyway, it's been a year since the events of the first book, and the duo is back to Paramount's Kings Island for more thrill-riding action. James decides to go grab the aforementioned candy, and Ashley waits in the line to ride the coaster again. They manage to snag the front-row seats, and just like last book, Ashley goes missing.

James runs around the park looking for her, again. He stays after it closes and dodges guards. But it's all nothing compared to what comes next. Ready? James sees two guards coming, so he ducks behind a trashcan. One of the guards leaps toward the trashcan and says "Lookee what I found"... and he picks up a silver dollar. Getting run over by a roller coaster is too good for you, R.L. Stine. You found it necessary to repeat the same bad cliffhanger chapter ending in the sequel. There are no words to express my rage.

Luckily, James does get chased by guards, and runs into P.D. Walter, the ghost from before. They have a nice little chat before the guards come back and grab James. On the way to the main office, a ghostly skull manifests and scares them while James escapes. P.D. leads him back to The Beast, which he rides. Here's where things get bizarre. James wakes up in a little pod, which a mustached man pulls him out of. He is then forced to change into skin-tight silver clothing. OK, so far, so molestation. He then drags James past a fish with the face of a person (I don't know either) and shoves him into a cage, where he's forced to play the part of a child of the future along with many other kidnapped children, led by Captain Time, the man who brought them there. After a pretty painful show, James finds Ashley and they learn that Captain Time brought the two back in time with his time machine. OK, that makes absolutely no sense, but it's OK, because I would go insane if I dwelled on it too much.

Jonathan: So, what do you think, Judge? Can we send him to the big house?

Judge: You don't know how trials work, do you?

Jonathan: Seconded, Your Honor.

Judge: I'll admit, this sounds pretty terrible. Perhaps you're exaggerating a bit, though.

Jonathan: With all due respect, sir, I know my books. I worked at Paradise Press during another special edition post.

Judge: Alright, stop, this is getting too meta for my liking. Just go on with the story.

This book tends to make sudden leaps through time, filling in the reader on what happened during the hours we were not with the protagonists. Skip through Ashley showing James the ropes and them putting on new shows, because it's night time now. James wakes Ashley up, and the two of them sneak to the time machine. They mess with some dials and knobs, one of which rapidly ages them. Soon enough, they lose their driving abilities and begin drastically changing their views on racial equality. They change it back, and then are dragged out of the car by Captain Time. It turns out that they alerted him to their meddling by turning a wheel in the time machine, because "that wheel sets off the alarm." So basically, when you get down to the basics, the fundamentals, if you will, what I'm hearing is "fuck logic."

Captain Time completely forgives them, so I guess he's not such a bad guy after all. And then, the first sentence in literally the chapter right after that happens is "the next morning Ashley and I escaped." Cool, I'm glad to hear it, I guess the book's over. But it leaps forward to after they escaped and then sketches out how they climbed up a window they just noticed. That's just bad writing, honestly.

Judge: Order! I will not have senseless insults in my court.

Jonathan: Objection, Your Honor. I have proof, in the form of a jpeg6, that R.L. Stine can't write.

Judge: Just learn what you're talking about, please.

Jonathan: Here it is: 

•"'I know what I saw!'
'Then what did you see?'
'I don’t know! But I’ll be seeing it in my dreams!'" Pure poetry.

•"Captain Time might be a genius. But he was an evil genius, I decided."

Jonathan: I'm too lazy to look for more, Your Honor. But back to the story...

James and Ashley ride the ferris wheel to spot the Beast, which they do. Except it's actually an old farmhouse, they had just both mistaken the old farmhouse as a roller coaster. Obviously, guys, what else could have happened, are you convinced yet? So the pair wanders around the fair for a while before getting caught again. Then the book fast forwards three days, which really isn't OK. The cousins watch Captain Time at work at his time machine, and he summons a pterodactyl. I wish that I was joking, that I was pulling some sick prank, but no. A pterodactyl. The twins save Captain Time for some reason, and then decide to escape.

James "figures out" that their 1990's clothes are the key to returning, because it will make a "time warp." OK, I guess I'll buy that. They change into their old clothes and get to the time machine. It doesn't work, so James decides that the only way to return now is by chewing his Karamel Kreemies from earlier, because, I'm quoting here, it will create "a time warp." Of course, it's so simple, it will create a time warp guys, a goddam time warp, guys, don't you understand? This book is so bad, it's quite literally beyond comprehension. But it works, and they make it back in time to where they have just enough time to go on The Beast again, a hint at a sequel that, if there's a god, will never be. I guess the rest of the future kids are screwed.

R.L. Stine: Can I go yet? This seems like kind of a joke, and–

Judge: I sentence you to a lifetime of no more writing. That sucked.

Jonathan: Gnarly.

Insight into the Complex Minds of Characters:
I've done enough.

Beautiful Imagery:
"She slithered over the sill in her silvery suit."

Hip References:
90's clothes, Karamel Kreemies.

Sexual Harassment, Much? Yes:
"'Hey, girlie,' he called out. 'For a penny I’ll let you step on me.' Ashley stared down at him in disgust. 'I don’t have a penny,' she told him. The dwarf grinned. 'I’ll let you do it for free. Go ahead. It won’t hurt me. Step on my chest.'" Jesus.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending (here's to you, Troy):
Ch. 18/19: "There's The Beast! Now we can go home!" Just kidding it's a barn.

Conclusion: This book manages to far outshine its predecessor in terms of being awful. Nothing in this book makes sense, the storytelling is lazy and the only remotely entertaining character, P.D. Walter, is only in the book for, like, two chapters. It's such a stupid book.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

More Super Scary Stories for Sleep-overs

 1. "The Legend"
The story begins as Robyn and her friends decide to check out a store. I guess it's kind of an antique store. I don't know, this story's pretty stupid. Anyway, Robyn decides that she likes an obsidian pendant, and is told more about it by the clerk. It belonged to a Native American girl who was cursed by a shaman with eternal life with a pendant. And no, neither Robyn nor the clerk is the immortal girl, thank god. Actually, Robyn learns that the pendant in the store is a replica, and decides to steal the real one to become immortal herself. Oh, and also the cursed girl must return to the spot where she killed her lover every century. I don't know, I guess I didn't expect tweenage girls to do things this idiotically. Robyn goes to the spot and sees the girl, since the visitation date happens to be three weeks from the beginning of the story. She snatches the necklace off of her neck– which, might I say, is awfully rude– and frees the girl from her curse. She puts on the pendant and turns into a tree. She gets to live forever as a tree. 10/10 2spooky4me.

2. "The Colony"
Andrea and her siblings aren't smart, and thus decide to snorkel in an unpopular cove with a dangerous current, with absolutely no adult supervision. During this snorkel trip, they see an underwater castle. I'm completely serious. The castle door opens, so they do something intelligent for once and get out of there. But oh no, Andrea's older sister forgot her ring. So the group goes back out and is carried by the current down to the sunken castle. I don't think that's how currents work, but OK. When the group wakes up, they are in an air-filled room. They explore and find a pile of skulls, which prompts them to run into a room with dozens of hooded figures. This could be cool, the story hasn't been awful so far, I could definitely picture a great ending with a race of terrifying fish-monsters or mutants or something. But, that's not what happens. Are you ready for it? The twist? You might want to grab a drink or a noose for this. They're vampires. A race of underwater vampires. I couldn't make this up if I tried, people, this story was butchered beyond all redemption.

3. "Air Waves"
Oh, this story's pretty good. I mean, it's basically Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it's still a great story. It's about aliens that hypnotize people with a tv show. The protagonist, Aaron, is immune to this because he wears thick glasses. Well, no story's flawless. The reason I like this story is that it manages to entrap you in the feeling of hopelessness at just the right moments, yet it's gripping all the way through. I don't know, it's just fun.

4. "Dead Letter Office"
The only remotely notable aspect of this story is that it revolves around a character misreading the word "body" as "booty." The protagonists thought that there was "booty," which I guess means valuables even if you're not a pirate or modern rapper, in an abandoned house, when in actuality there was an undead "body." Well it's pretty obvious who the real villain is here: illiteracy.

5. "The Wrath of Pele"
David and his family were vacationing in Hawaii when David decides that he has to have a volcanic rock, despite insistent warnings from a tour guide that Pele, the fire goddess, will murder him. Instead of simply ordering one from Amazon, David illegally steals one from private grounds and returns to Los Angeles (woot woot). Guess what happens? Come on, guess? I'll give you a hint: He went out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The pun is brought to you by my Hanukkah gift.

6. "Faithful Friends"
Seth, Monica, and Gary love to play tricks on the old, lonely man next door, Eli. Recently they pulled up his garden and salted the earth. Then, they filled his lawnmower engine with sugar and broke it. Finally, a truly lovable bunch of pranksters, people that I can respect and relate to. If only these studs could always be the main characters and oh my god these are the protagonists? These are the worst human beings ever. Recently, Eli's only friend and dog, Stitch, died, "and now the elderly man was really alone... it was even easier for Seth, Monica, and Gary to torment Eli." Die, just die. That can be your Christmas gift to me, to hang yourself. And just in case you thought I was overreacting, that I was getting too passionate about a children's story, the kids decide to dig up the dog and make the old man think that it came back to life. This gives way to one of the most gut-wrenchingly painful scenes in the series as the kids whimper outside Eli's window, and then watch and laugh from the bushes as he staggers around, desperately looking for some sign of his only friend, back from the dead. It's awful, but luckily, in the first positive ending in the series, the good guy wins and Eli mauls the children to death in werewolf form.

7. "Bungalow 14"
Stephen, Liz and his family are on a road trip. Stuck in the middle of New Mexico, the group decides to go to a little motel to stay the night. They talk to a strange man at the front desk named Sam, who wears a rattlesnake skull around his neck and warns them to leave. They refuse, and a tall woman with yellow eyes comes in and asks that Sam set them up in one of the bungalows. Bungalow... 5! This let me down too. But then Stephen leaves his room to explore, and sees an old man sleeping in one of the bungalows. Bungalow... 13! Boo. Oh, but then Stephen sees Sam go in and drag the old man into a different bungalow, Bungalow 14. Bring us there, I have a feeling that's where all the action's happening. Then a bunch of other stuff happens, and blah blah blah the weird woman from earlier is a snake goddess that kills the kids' parents. Just murders them. She then murders the kids, as Sam welcomes another family into the motel. Q.L. Pearce just killed off an entire family of four in his book. Jesus, man, you aren't George R.R. Martin, censor yourself.

8. "The Gift"
Rebecca's aunt always goes on trips to cool places and sends her niece back souvenirs. This time, she sent Rebecca an ivory hair clip from Singapore. Rebecca loves it, and openly scoffs in the face of the elephant that died for it. This story would be lame and totally unremarkable if not for the fact that the antagonist to this scary tale is a goddam elephant. Actually, the horror factor is manifested in the form of an elephant. Sharks are scary. Snakes are scary. Poisonous spiders are scary. Elephants, large land-beasts that reside in Africa, are not scary. No child is ever up at night wondering if an elephant's going to sneak into their room while they sleep, because that would be asinine. Or maybe something out of Dr. Seuss. Hit and miss, Pearce.

9. "Adrift"
Andrew and Lucas are out in the desert on a camping trip in this fun-filled adventure. Andrew's brother tells him a story about a pirate crew who stole a bunch of loot. The crew murdered the captain, and then crashed the ship into the desert (???). The crew all died, and are doomed to look for their treasure forever. Andrew has the idea to travel to an abandoned mine and grab an empty crate, then half-bury the crate near the camp so his friends will open it, thinking it's the treasure. Yet somehow, despite the effort, Andrew thinks that he wouldn't be the butt of the joke. So he drags Lucas along with him, and they find the real chest. He grabs some pearls and then a ghost ship starts sailing through the air toward them, and they faint. They wake up on the ship, where they agree to help the pirates find the treasure, only to find out that they already lost the mine, and must continue searching with the ghosts forever. Now, pirate ghosts, I don't want to tell you how to do your job. I hate that, it's like playing a tough level of a video game and someone says "Oh, why don't you just do such and such?" and I'm like, "Yeah, I'm trying, it's really hard ." So take my suggestion with a grain of salt, because I haven't been searching for centuries and don't have your experience, but maybe, perhaps, it might be a little possible that maybe it would be easier to search if you, I don't know, maybe get out of your flying fucking ghost ship.

10. "The Final Draft"
In this story, Venessa and her sister Samantha are the children of a pair of screenwriters whose horror writing comes to life. This would be fine, and a pretty spooky premise, but somehow the parents shift from a story about a ghostly woman to a story about a meteor crushing their exact house. And while getting crushed by a meteor would suck, getting haunted by ghosts is a lot cooler. And would make a better movie.

11. "The Exchange"
Javier wants to be a sorcerer really bad. Unfortunately, he's not a good person, so I can already tell that this ending will not be in his favor. Here's a fun quote: "He didn't like being around old people. He thought they were too slow and always talked about things that happened a long time ago as if those things were actually still important." Take that, elderly. So based off of this story, what do you think happens to Javier when a sorcerer offers to teach him magic in exchange for "his time?" Why, the scariest thing of all: growing up.

Conclusion: Though this book does include a couple notably good tales, most are just too ridiculous and simple to be viewed in a positive light.