Don’t Fear the Reaper is Stephen Graham Jones’ gruesome sequel to his award-winning horror novel My Heart is a Chainsaw. Jennifer “Jade” Daniels, horror movie aficionado and honest-to-God final girl, is back in town after four years in lockdown. She couldn’t wait to get out before the grisly events of four years ago, and never wanted to return after those events, but here she is. Then the bodies start piling up. Again. It’s a sequel, but is Jennifer still the final girl?
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Saga Press for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of Don’t Fear The Reaper contains some spoilers!]
An unhappy homecoming
My Heart is a Chainsaw takes place four years before Don’t Fear the Reaper. It culminates in the two separate mass murders that happen on opposite sides of Indian Lake in Proofrock, Idaho.
Jennifer “Jade” Daniels was obsessed with horror movies and saw all the signs of the coming massacres. She tried to stop them but despite her best efforts, she can’t save everyone. Many people die. But she proves herself a true final girl, slaying the culprit and living to fight another day.
Unlike in a movie though, law enforcement wanted someone to blame for everything that happened. Jennifer spent the last four years in Boise trying to prove her innocence. She’s finally acquitted and returns to Proofrock to plan her next move. She’s less than happy to be home again but she doesn’t have much choice so home it is.
Proofrock is unsure about how it feels about Jennifer as well. Some old friends are overjoyed to see her again. Others still blame her for the events of four years ago and are not glad she’s back. Some residents of Proofrock (particularly the teenage ones) even revere her as a larger-than-life hero.
A perfect storm brews in Don’t Fear the Reaper
At the same time that Jennifer returns home, a serial killer is coming closer. Dark Mill South is accused of killing over 30 people and he’s finally in custody. But he claims to have killed many more and offers to lead law enforcement to the bodies.
Despite Dark Mill South’s history of escaping, it was decided to allow him to do just that. Authorities thought they had accounted for every possibility but they forgot about one, the weather.
As Jennifer arrives home and Dark Mill South is speeding towards Proofrock, a blizzard is bearing down on them all. It promises to be one of the worst that’s been seen in a long time.
Of course, it comes at the perfect time. The storm leads to an avalanche that sweeps away Dark Mill South’s convoy. However, as a true slasher figure, South doesn’t go down that easy. As the blizzard takes down the electricity, phone, and cell towers, completely shutting off Proofrock from the rest of the world, Dark Mill South makes his way to town. He immediately starts piling up bodies.
Not again, not a sequel, she’s not that girl
Jennifer can’t believe that this is happening again. She’s spent four years trying to leave the old Jade behind. The last thing she wants to go through is another slasher film coming to life.
Jennifer tries to convince herself that it’s not happening again. But the body count says otherwise. However something is different this time. Last time, no one believed her. She couldn’t get anyone to help her and a lot of people died. This time her friends believe her. In fact, some of them have studied horror movies so they can spot the clues themselves.
All Jennifer has to do is figure out which movie this is, which will let her know who the killer is, and how to stop them. But does she still have what it takes to be a final girl? Or is it time to pass the torch?
Stephen Graham Jones writes a love letter to horror movies
Jones is obviously a horror movie groupie. His book reads like a love letter to the whole horror genre, but with a special eye to the slasher subgenre. A great deal of the novel is characters throwing out the titles and dates of movies, with occasional lines of dialogue or character names, as a shorthand for discussing what’s happening in the book.
While this is fun to see how much the characters know about the horror genre, it’s a little confusing if you don’t know how those random titles and characters tie in. I thought I was a horror movie lover but I was lost most of the time during these exchanges and just moved past those parts.
The problem with this being a love letter to horror movies is that Jones tries to honor all the movies in one book and it’s just too much. There ends up being three plot lines that are all woven together and they really muddy the waters. Two of the plots work well together and create a strong story. The third one is only tangentially related and just bogs down the main storyline.
I feel like it would have been a better tale if he had dropped that plot and just had the two that were most pertinent to the main story. The third one is just distracting. It could have been a whole different book honestly and that would have done the story (both that plot and the larger one of Don’t Fear the Reaper) more justice.
Don’t Fear the Reaper features a lot of gore
In true slasher fashion, this book has a high body count and lots of gore. The bodies start dropping in the first few pages and they keep coming at a good pace until the “third-act body dump” when they really start dropping like flies.
The deaths are all pretty gruesome as well. This book is not for those with weak stomachs, that’s for sure. Most of the descriptions are very detailed. It was all very gratuitous, but as an ode to the slasher genre, that was the point.
Anyone who likes their horror with an extra side of blood and guts will love Don’t Fear the Reaper. If you’re into the slasher genre don’t skip this book. But if you like your horror a little more subtle then you’ll probably want to keep skipping past this one.
I do recommend reading My Heart is a Chainsaw first if you’re going to read Don’t Fear the Reaper though because the characters frequently refer back to those events. But for those of you who can’t get enough of slashers, enjoy!
My Rating: 7/10