15 Scary Fun Facts About Bunnicula

istock (background) / amazon (cover)
istock (background) / amazon (cover)

Since it was first published in April 1979, the beloved children's classic Bunnicula—about a vampire bunny who sucks veggies dry, turning them white, and the cat and dog who try to expose him—has sold more than 8 million copies, won a number of awards, and spawned a couple of cartoons. Here are a few things you might not have known about the book.

1. James Howe was a struggling actor when he came up with the idea for Bunnicula.

“I was doing what a lot of actors do and staying up too late and watching movies on TV,” Howe told Book Page in 2011. “It was watching all those bad vampire movies in the '70s that led to the idea of Bunnicula.” Howe told Scholastic that many of the movies were more silly than scary. “I don't remember the moment when the character Bunnicula came into my head,” he said. “I suspect it came from asking the question, what's the silliest, least likely vampire I can imagine?”

2. His mother-in-law suggested writing a book about Bunnicula.

After he came up with the character he called “Count Bunnicula,” Howe made “a little greeting card … of a vampire rabbit,” he told Teaching Books—but he never thought about writing a book featuring the character.

“I was not writing then—even though I always loved to write, I wasn’t thinking of it as my work,” he told NPR. “It was actually [my wife] Debbie’s mother who said, ‘That would make a great character for a children’s book. Why don’t you two try that?”

So one night after dinner, just for fun, the Howes started writing the book that would become Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery. “One of us would hold the pad of paper and essentially be secretary,” Howe said. “We wrote that book completely out loud—we told the story; one of us would begin a sentence, and the other one might jump in and finish the sentence.”

3. The opening sentence of Bunnicula never changed.

“The final, published story is essentially there in the first draft, just as we told it,” Howe told Teaching Books. “In fact, it only took maybe three or four drafts, and mostly that was fixing and polishing.” From the time the Howes sat down to write until the time Bunnicula was published, the very first sentence, spoken by Harold the dog—“I shall never forget the first time I laid these now tired old eyes on our visitor”—never changed.

4. Debbie died before Bunnicula was published.

Several months into writing Bunnicula, Debbie was diagnosed with cancer. At first, Howe said, they put the book aside. “We had other things to deal with,” he told Teaching Books. “But, after a few months, we needed to laugh. We needed something to put our minds to that wasn't so serious and difficult, and we went back to writing Bunnicula. Writing that book really made us laugh; it served the greater purpose of easing the pain and lifting our spirits.”

Sadly, Debbie wouldn’t live to see the book in print. She passed away in June 1978 at 31; Bunnicula was published the next year.

5. The most challenging Bunnicula illustration for artist Alan Daniel was the first one.

When illustrator Alan Daniel—who has created art for books like Fireside Al’s Treasury of Christmas Stories, Get Out of Bed!, and The Best Figure Skater in the Whole Wide World—received the Bunnicula manuscript from his agent in 1978, “I laughed all the way through it,” he told Mental Floss in an email, “and could hardly wait to get to work.” When he got down to drawing, “I would be so deeply into what I was doing that my children would come into my studio and see the expression of the character I was drawing reflected in my face.”

He received no art direction. “All the information on the characters is implicit in the text, which I read carefully several times,” he said. So when choosing which scenes to illustrate, Daniel looked for dynamic situations. “I want to show all the characters and make sure the pictures are well placed throughout—not bunched up,” he said. “The story is told from the animals’ point of view so the illustrations are also from that POV. The family is part of the animals’ world so they need to be there, but they only appear twice.”

The most challenging illustration to create, he said, was the first major one: “It is a dark and stormy night so the lighting is tricky. Bunnicula is just a pair of eyes within a dark bundle. A lot had to be established in that illustration. I wanted to present a world that was real so the fantastical elements of the text could play against it.”

Daniel used three different pencils to create the illustrations. An HB graphite pencil got the most use. A 2H pencil “let me get a grayer look for things I wanted to recede,” Daniel said, while “2B gave me real darks. Everything was built up with fine lines except the chair for which I used the texture of the illustration board. Having a full-color cover was a challenge because I wanted to keep the look of the inside pictures. I used muted watercolor over pencil.”

He said that even decades years after the initial publication, “[people] come and tell me stories about their discovery of the book.”

6. Acceptance was an accidental theme of the first Bunnicula book.

“Writers are drawn to themes that we write about, but we don't necessarily know what they are,” Howe told Teaching Tolerance magazine in 2006. Howe didn’t know what his theme was until a fourth grade student wrote to him after Bunnicula was published. “In the book, a strange rabbit is suspected of being a vegetarian vampire after he comes into the home of, in my view, a typical suburban family,” he said. “This girl wrote, ‘I learned from this book to be accepting of someone who's different. Harold just accepted Bunnicula. He said, He's different. So what? Chester was suspicious of him and wanted to destroy him.’ There it was. There was my theme.”

Howe also related this story to Scholastic, saying that acceptance has “become a theme in much of my work and it's interesting that it might have unintentionally been a theme in my first book.”

7. The first Bunnicula sequel was inspired by Agatha Christie ...

When it came time to write a sequel to Bunnicula, Howe had a bit of trouble. He told Scholastic that, with his initial sequel idea: “I felt I was rewriting Bunnicula itself, so I knew I needed to make a big change somehow. I asked myself where else could animals go to have an adventure if they didn't stay at home? One of the first thoughts I had was a boarding kennel. As soon as I thought of a boarding kennel, I thought of the mysteries of Agatha Christie, where often a group of strangers come together in a holiday setting, one of the guests is murdered and the other guests become suspects. That gave me my basic plot structure for Howliday Inn.” It was published in 1982.

The initial idea he’d been trying to write would become the second sequel, The Celery Stalks at Midnight (1983), which was inspired by a friend who wondered if the vegetables Bunnicula drained also became vampires. There were four other Bunnicula sequels: Nighty Nightmare (1987), Return to Howliday Inn (1992), Bunnicula Strikes Again! (1999), and Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow (2006).

8. … But there's some Sherlock Holmes in the Bunnicula books, too.

“As much as I was influenced by vampire movies in writing them, I was also influenced by watching a lot of Sherlock Holmes movies,” Howe told Teaching Books. “It took me a while to realize this, but Chester is Sherlock Holmes and Harold is Watson, and they are kind of bumbling detectives who try to figure things out.”

9. Bunnicula was adapted into two musicals ...

Jon Klein adapted the book into a musical for Seattle Children’s Theater in 1996; music was composed by Chris Jeffries. Since its debut, Bunnicula the Musical has been performed around the country. Another musical called Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Musical Mystery featured a book by Tony nominee Charles Busch, with music by Sam Davis and lyrics by Mark Waldrop. It played off-Broadway in 2013.

10. … And an animated Bunnicula special.

Bunnicula: The Vampire Rabbit debuted in 1982 as part of ABC’s Weekend Specials. The 23-minute film was directed by Charles A. Nichols, who had previously served as animation director on series like Scooby Doo, Where Are You! and Josie and the Pussycats; he would go on to direct episodes of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

11. There were other Bunnicula books, too.

Bunnicula spawned two spin-off series: Tales from the House of Bunnicula, whose books were narrated by dachshund puppy Howie (he made his debut in Howliday Inn), and six oversized picture books called Harold & Chester. There was an activity book, written by Howe and illustrated by Alan Daniel, which contained stickers, puzzles, riddles, and word games; it was published in 1993. Bunnicula's Frightfully Fabulous Factoids: A Book to Entertain Your Brain! was published in 1999, and in 2005, Bunnicula and Friends—simplified versions of the books for early readers—debuted.

12. Howe's favorite Bunnicula character was Harold.

When Scholastic asked Howe who his favorite character was, he chose Bunnicula's canine narrator. “I would have to say Harold because I'm closest to him since I write as him,” he said. “But in the series I also really enjoy writing Howie.”

13. The Monroe family never found out about Bunnicula.

“They remain in the dark the whole time,” Howe told NPR. “They just think their pets act very strangely at times, as we all do.”

14. Bill Hader was a big Bunnicula fan.

“The first series I was obsessed with was James Howe’s Bunnicula,” Hader told The New York Times. “I read all of those.”

15. There's another cartoon based on the Bunnicula book.

Bunnicula, which debuted on the Cartoon Network and Boomerang in 2016, does away with the Monroes and Howie completely. Instead, the show follows a girl named Mina and her two pets, Chester (Sean Astin) and Harold (Brian Kimmet), who discover Bunnicula (Chris Kattan) after they move to an apartment in New Orleans, left to Mina’s dad by a mysterious aunt.

It’s different from the books, but Howe was apparently OK with the changes. “The only thing he really wanted was for us was to be true to the characters,” producer Jessica Borutski told TV Insider. “Bunnicula’s very different, but he wanted us to stay true to Chester and Harold and honor their personality types. That’s what we did.”

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

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9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

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10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

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Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

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15 Creepy Facts About Carrie

Sissy Spacek stars in Carrie (1976).
Sissy Spacek stars in Carrie (1976).
Scream Factory

Brian De Palma has never met a genre he can’t tackle. Throughout his 50-plus-year career in Hollywood, he has famously dabbled in action films (Mission: Impossible, Snake Eyes), crime dramas (Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables), psychological thrillers (Raising Cain, Body Double), film noirs (Black Dahlia, Femme Fatale), and expletive-filled gangster movies (Scarface). But to this day, Carrie—his 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel—remains one of his most impressive achievements. And not just because it still manages to scare the bejesus out of audiences, even if they know what’s coming next. Here are 15 things you might not have known about the Oscar-nominated horror film.

1. Carrie was Stephen King's first big-screen adaptation.

Scott Eisen, Getty Images for Warner Bros.

Carrie marked a number of firsts for the soon-to-be bestselling author: In addition to being his first published novel, it was also the first of his stories to be made into a film. In the more than 40 years since the book’s release, King’s work has formed the basis for more than 100 movies, television movies, series, and episodes.

2. Stephen King was paid $2500 for the film rights to Carrie.

While speaking at a book event in Fort Myers, Florida, in 2010, King recalled that he was paid just $2500 for the movie rights to Carrie—which may seem like a pittance, but he has no regrets. “I was fortunate to have that happen to my first book,” King said.

3. Stephen King thought Brian De Palma handled Carrie in a "more artistic" way than he had.

Five years after the film’s release, King praised De Palma’s adaptation, noting that:

"De Palma's approach to the material was lighter and more deft than my own—and a good deal more artistic ... The book seems clear enough and truthful enough in terms of the characters and their actions, but it lacks the style of De Palma's film. The book attempts to look at the ant farm of high school society dead on; De Palma's examination of this 'High School Confidential' world is more oblique ... and more cutting.”

More than a quarter-century later, in a 2007 interview with Nightline, King seemed slightly less enthusiastic when he said that, "Carrie is a good movie. It hasn't aged as well as some of the other ones. But it's still pretty good."

4. Stephen King's name was misspelled in the Carrie trailer.

King was such a newcomer at the time of Carrie's release his first name was actually misspelled in the movie's trailer (it was written as Steven, not Stephen).

5. The stars of Carrie could have been the stars of Star Wars.

Brian De Palma ended up casting for Carrie at the same time his good friend George Lucas was doing the same for a little sci-fi film he was making called Star Wars. So the two made the rather unorthodox decision to hold joint auditions, which ended up becoming a bit confusing. De Palma liked Amy Irving for the lead in Carrie, but she was also considered for Princess Leia in Star Wars. William Katt also auditioned for Star Wars, alongside Kurt Russell.

6. Carrie stars Amy Irving and William Katt had dated in real life.

Before being cast as Sue Snell and Tommy Ross, Bates High School’s golden couple, Irving and Katt had actually dated. “It was like a year before we tested for Carrie," Irving explained. "We were only together for a short time and then we became friends. Suddenly, we were tested for this film together. We tested with a scene that wasn't in the film, one of our big scenes that was cut out. It was in the back seat of a car and it was very physical. We were lucky because we'd been through that; we were very comfortable with each other, it was easy. We didn't end up having much together in the final print."

There was another personal connection within the film for Irving: her character’s mother in the film was played by her actual mom, Priscilla Pointer.

7. Brian De Palma didn't see Sissy Spacek as Carrie.

Though De Palma was a fan of Spacek’s work, he was convinced that he had already found his Carrie in another actress. His decision to let Spacek audition at all was mostly out of courtesy to her husband, Jack Fisk, the film’s art director. "He told me that if I wanted to, I could try out for the part of Carrie White,” Spacek recounted to Rolling Stone. "There was another girl that he was set on and unless he was really surprised, she was the one. I hung up and decided to go for it."

Spacek showed up at her audition in an old dress she hadn’t worn since grade school and with her hair slicked back with Vaseline. When she was done, she waited in the parking lot while her husband reviewed her audition with the rest of the production team. After Fisk came out to tell her that the part was hers, “We sped off before anybody could change his mind,” Spacek said.

8. Carrie was John Travolta's first movie.

Scream Factory

Travolta’s star was on the rise because of his role in Welcome Back, Kotter, but Carrie marked his big-screen debut.

9. Piper Laurie thought Carrie was a satire.

Piper Laurie, who earned an Oscar nomination for her role as Carrie’s fanatical mother, was all but retired when she agreed to play Margaret White (her last feature had been The Hustler in 1961). But her interpretation of the script was quite different than De Palma’s intention—which she didn’t realize until filming began.

"Once De Palma revealed that he didn’t want a satirical approach and said, ‘You’re going to get a laugh if you do that,’ I realized that he didn’t want laughs, at least not in our conscious performing,” Laurie told HollywoodChicago.com in 2011. "I just fully embraced the reality of what I was playing. I must say that I enjoyed having the childlike freedom to play act and be the evil witch. It was very freeing and fun to do."

Nancy Allen, who played mean girl Chris Hargensen, also believed that she and Travolta were there as a sort of comic relief; it wasn’t until she saw the final cut that she realized they were actually the villains.

10. Sissy Spacek kept in character as Carrie by keeping to herself.

In order to fully embrace the alienation her character faces, Spacek spent most of the production isolated from the rest of the cast. In a 2013 interview with Vulture, co-star P.J. Soles recalled how on "the first or second day, Sissy came over to a group of us, maybe at lunch, I don’t remember, and said, ‘I love you guys, we’re going to have a great shoot, I’m very excited to be working on this. But I just want to let you guys know, I’m going to alienate myself from you. I want to feel that alienation. But I really like you and afterwards we’ll party and we’ll have a great time. But don’t take it personally. I just want to let you know I’m doing it on purpose because I want to get into the part.’ We all really respected her for that, and that made us even more eager and able to be as mean as we could to her, because we knew it was going to help her."

11. Spissy Spacek was a high school homecoming queen.

Scream Factory

Okay, so maybe “Prom Queen” holds more clout. But somewhere in Spacek’s teenage possessions is the glitzy headgear she sported when she was crowned homecoming queen at Quitman High School in Texas.

12. Sissy Spacek was adamant that her own hand appear in the final scene of Carrie.

Though De Palma wanted to get a stunt person for the final scene, where Sue Snell visits Carrie’s grave, Spacek insisted that it needed to be her hand that was shown, which required her to be buried in the ground. “I laughed about that,” Spacek told NPR. "I do all my own foot and hand work, and always have."

13. Sissy Spacek loved to witness moviegoers' reactions to Carrie's ending.

“When I was in New York, and Carrie came out, I would go to theaters just for the last five minutes of the film to watch everyone jump out of their chairs,” Spacek recalled. “People are all relaxed. The music is really beautiful and relaxing, and all of a sudden that comes up, and people just go crazy.”

14. Carrie contains nods to Psycho.

Though De Palma had hoped to convince Bernard Herrmann to score the film, the legendary composer—who was best known for his collaborations with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock—passed away in 1975, before Carrie went into production. But his influence is still felt throughout the film.

"When we originally put temporary music tracks on the film, we used a lot of Herrmann's music,” De Palma told Cinefantastique. "In the end, we used a very famous Italian piece of music for the processional walk to the grave—Albinoni I think it was … The flexing sound is very Psycho. I put in a temporary track and for all the flexes I put in a Psycho violin. We couldn't find the right sound, but anyway, it worked. Bernard came up with it, and Bernard, I'm glad we used it again!"

Carrie’s school, Bates High School, is yet another nod to Hitchock’s 1960 classic.

15. Stephen King would have loved to see Lindsay Lohan play Carrie.

When word first spread in 2011 that a remake of Carrie was in the works, King was surprised: “Why, when the original was so good? I mean, not Casablanca, or anything, but a really good horror-suspense film, much better than the book.” But when it came to recasting the lead and choosing a new director, King had some ideas—specifically, “Lindsay Lohan as Carrie White… hmmm. It would certainly be fun to cast. I guess I could get behind it if they turned the project over to one of the Davids: Lynch or Cronenberg."