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Melon Head Mayhem Oozes Film Grain And Cheap Practical Effects

Image courtesy of Shortwave Publishing with illustration by Marc Vuletich

As a Goosebumps adult, I’ve come to find it difficult to find modern books that fill me with the giddiness I felt on the Scholastic Book Fair days. Walking into elementary school and seeing those large metallic boxes littered with Scholastic stickers gave me butterflies. Seeing those let me know one of two things, I was either going home with a magic set or a handful of new Goosebump books. It’s probably fair to say a lot of genre fans my age got their start in the genre with Goosebumps. Good news folks, I finally found something to fill that nostalgic void I’ve been finding myself missing for far too long, and it’s the Killer VHS Series.

Founded in 2022 by Alan Lastufka, Shortwave Publishing is an independent small press from the good ole Pacific Northwest. It has recently been announced that Shortwave is taking on a new project with its Killer VHS Series. Their website describes this new series as “[A] series of books where movie monsters come to life and old VHS tapes summon long-buried evils. You’ll probably survive, as long as you remember to be kind and rewind.” Now if that doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what would. So all of this brings us to now, the beginning of this series, and the unraveling of the Melon Head Mayhem.

Melon Head Mayhem is the first installment of the Killer VHS Series and the latest book from author Alex Ebenstein. Alex’s first book Curse Corvus released to praise from Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson Award winners and finalists, which is no small feat. When the opportunity arose to read Ebenstein’s newest work, I jumped on the chance immediately. The idea of the Killer VHS Series was enough to grab my curiosity, and after seeing the cover reveal it was enough to get my attention.

Before digging into Melon Head Mayhem it’s important to talk about the cover art. When it came to browsing the aisles of Blockbuster I always found myself intrigued less by what the movie was, or the title, and more interested in the cover art. It seems like there was a time in the mid 2010’s when cover art for books tried to be too minimalistic, and in turn, made them feel bland. Thankfully over the last few years, there has been a resurgence in impressively curated cover art. Designed by Shortwave’s Alan Lastufka, and illustrated by Marc Vuletich, the cover art for Melon Head Mayhem invokes the feeling of a low budget 80’s straight to video film; it invokes a feeling of nostalgia. A three-fingered Melon Head looms with glowing red eyes over Felt Mansion, as four Melon Heads crawl through the grass towards it. From the cover and title, there is no question of what the reader is going to be in for.

What about the contents of the book? They say never judge a book by its cover but with Melon Head Mayhem you can judge away. Melon Head Mayhem is just as fun and entertaining as the cover suggests. From reading the first in the Killer VHS Series, I have a feeling that this collection is going to be hailed as the modern day Goosebumps for adults. Ebenstein weaves a hectically bloody tale oozing with film grain and cheap practical effects. This story might take place in modern times, but remove the laptops and cellphones and it could easily take place in the 80s. Reading this book made me feel like I was sitting on my porch in October, with a slow wind blowing fallen leaves around, while the smell of a campfire permeates the air.

Melon Head Mayhem follows Carson, who is reeling over the recent loss of his grandmother. Carson is back in town to clean his grandmother’s house while debating what to do with the property. His cousin, Sophia, is also in town for the funeral, giving the two relatives an opportunity to catch up and reminisce about old times. After finding a VHS tape labeled Revenge of the Melon Heads, Carson asks Sophia to bring over a VHS player so they can watch it. Unfortunately for the cousins, what they find on the tape might just unleash an evil that will stop at nothing to kill the two.

Right off the bat, Ebenstein makes it clear what their intentions are with this story. It’s not overwritten, but at no point does it feel plain. The pacing and prose make the story incredibly palatable, while never giving the reader a feeling like their eyes are glazing over. By the final period on page 154, I felt satisfied with the ride Ebenstein takes us on. Though I would not have complained one bit if there were about 20 more pages of reckless Melon Head mayhem. (No title drop intended.) In a story like this, it’s easy to have the main characters be empty vessels or just conduits in which to propel the horror; like an overwhelming majority of straight to video ’80s films. Where Ebenstein goes in the right direction with these characters is he finds a way to create compelling and flawed characters who use the events of this story to contemplate on their lives and grow as individuals. There is just enough character development to keep you interested in the fates of Carson and Sophia, but not an overpowering amount that would take away from the fast-paced horror.

The mythos of the Melon Heads is set up perfectly, where the reader learns their strengths and weaknesses along with Carson and Sophia. Ebenstein does something I don’t think I’ve seen done before by describing the Melon Heads as rubbery in texture. This small detail simultaneously does two things, it pokes fun at the low-budget films it’s referencing and it also lends a level of credence to said films. Obviously, creatures like Melon Heads, or something like Rawhead Rex, don’t exist, but what if they did really look like cheap rubber suits? Something like this is just one of the many minor details Ebenstein entwines in the story that gives it that extra oomph.

Melon Head Mayhem is the perfect start to the Killer VHS Series. It sets the tone for the types of stories Alan Lastufka plans to tell throughout it, but it’s also just a really fun and entertaining book. What I appreciate most about this book is how it put another great author on my list of authors to keep track of. Preorders for Melon Head Mayhem are live over at Shortwave Publishing and are expected to ship on July 11, 2023. And if you preorder it you’ll get a couple of awesome goodies. The book will ship in a cardboard “video rental” box, and you’ll even receive a “Shortwave Video” membership card! For $13.99, Melon Head Mayhem is well worth the price.

Cover art for Melon Head Mayhem shows a Melon Head towering over a mansion with four Melon Heads crawling towards it.
Image courtesy of Shortwave Publishing with illustration by Marc Vuletich


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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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