Greetings Joss junkies! This is the first of (hopefully) many reviews on one of the most overlooked aspects within the wonderful world of Whedon— the Buffy novels!
And what better book to begin this brouhaha AND celebrate the October season than… “Halloween Rain!”
|"Let's start at the--" ... you get the idea.|
“Halloween Rain,” released in 1997, is the first official Buffy novel, discounting an earlier written adaptation of the series’ pilot. The book, co-written by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder, marks the first of several stellar collaborations between the authors— both have contributed numerous novels to the Slayer universe, and together wrote two of my favorite Buffy companion works that I frequently cite when writing my video scripts, “The Watcher’s Guide, Vol. 1” and the “Sunnydale High Yearbook.”
The plot takes place on the eve of the titular holiday. After a major lull in slayage, Buffy hopes for a low-key evening and makes plans to attend the Bronze’s annual masquerade party with her friends. Sensing her restlessness, Willow and Xander tell her of a Sunnydale legend that says if a scarecrow is soaked with Halloween rain, it will come to life and slaughter anyone in sight. As the night progresses, the town’s vampires gather, the dead begin to rise and Buffy begins to think that her Halloween might not be as uneventful as she had hoped. And then the rain begins to fall…
“Halloween Rain” is meant to take place during Season One of the show, specifically between the episodes “The Pack” and “Angel.” However, since Buffy moves to Sunnydale during the spring, the events in the novel are impossible. Additionally, they contradict the long-running Buffyverse gag that Halloween is an “off-night” for vampires and demons, a joke that was established in the aptly-named Season Two episode. Interestingly, Golden has said that although “Halloween Rain” was written before this episode, the book was published less than a week after it aired.
|The Scoobies stand in shock of this ill-fated timing!|
Despite being definitively non-canon, it’s fun seeing Golden and Holder work within the Season One framework to craft their narrative. Their knowledge of the Buffyverse is apparent, and it’s the little touches— using the one-off character of Aphrodisia, citing Buffy’s love of Neiman Marcus, bringing back Principal Flutie for a macabre cameo, etc.— that make this story feel like an authentic tie-in to the TV series.
|Hooray, now you're more than a punchline!|
The authors also make several ambitious additions to the preexisting material. Their most notable contributions are Erin Randall, a past Slayer whose exploits are recorded in the annals of the Watcher’s Guide, and Mr. O’Leary, a former Sunnydale High teacher driven insane by the town’s supernatural goings-on. Both of these additions show keen creative inspiration and serve as believable extensions to the Buffy mythos.
In fact, Golden and Holder even unknowingly pre-empted the show with some of their ideas they introduce (vampires crossing the threshold of public buildings, Willow dying her hair red, etc.) and its fun finding these nostalgic elements.
However, Golden and Holder’s greatest strength is their ability to perfectly capture the witty dialogue and personality of the characters— Giles’ stiff upper lip, Xander’s dry humor and Willow’s shy enthusiasm are all on display here, and you can actually hear the Scoobies’ voices as they banter:
“I’m off duty tonight,” Buffy declared. “It’s been way dead in the undead department, boss. I figure it can’t hurt to pretend Halloween’s just tricks and treats.”
“First of all, Buffy, I am not your boss,” Giles huffed. “Your mentor, perhaps… but not your boss… Secondly, I’m afraid what you propose is impossible.”
“She didn’t propose,” Willow said. “I didn’t hear her proposing.”
“Definitely no proposing,” Xander agreed. “More of an announcement. Attention K-Mart shoppers, no slaying tonight. That kind of thing.”
Besides these pitch-perfect characterizations, the best part of the book without a doubt is its villain— the lord of night, the specter of souls, the pumpkin king himself, Sanhaim!
Sanhaim is a member of the ancient ones, the race of demons that originally inhabited earth. It’s explained that he is the spirit of Halloween, and due to a waning belief in superstition, his power has substantially weakened. He’s only able to enter our reality once a year on Halloween night through a vessel built in his image… namely, a scarecrow with a carved pumpkin for a head.
|All hail the Dark Lord!|
The authors have created a sophisticated, spine-chilling antagonist with Sanhaim— not only is he technically immortal, he also has the power to control jack-o’-lanterns, raise zombie hordes and, as the god of fear, can prey on people’s worst nightmares.
Hell, just the DESCRIPTION of this guy terrifying:
“A nightmare jack-o’-lantern, the pumpkin head leered at her, hideous and savage. Its mouth— lined with horrible fangs—was pulled into a broad smile so wide it disappeared around the sides of the blistered gourd. It belched sickly green fire from its mouth and carved nostrils, flames shot from its eyes and glowed beneath the orange, uneven skin, casting shadows over its face...”
Recipe for Samheim:
2 cups of Scarecrow from “Arkham Asylum”
1 pint of Jack Pumpkinhead from “Return to Oz”
1 dash of flair from The Headless Horseman
If “Halloween Rain” had been adapted into an actual episode, Samhaim would’ve hands down been one of the scariest villains in the entire show.
The only criticism I can make about the book is the ending. Although the climax, which features a final confrontation with Samheim, is thrilling and intense, the wrap-up is a bit abrupt— there was no time to enjoy the aftermath and it could’ve used a bit more closure. This rushed conclusion may be due to the book’s short length (162 pages), but it still seems like a missed opportunity to tie everything back to the Halloween party, or, even better, put the character of Erin Randall to rest.
“Halloween Rain” is an engaging, scary romp— with its suspenseful plot and creepy atmosphere, Golden and Holder have lovingly crafted a fantastic story that serves as a worthy addition to the Whedonverse. More importantly, they set the bar high for all future Buffy novels.
Rating: 4/5 stakes