Because Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted in the Spring of 1997, there was no Halloween episode in the first season. However, Simon and Schuster’s series of tie-in novels fixed that oversight by including an original story that expands on Buffy Summers’ first year at Sunnydale High. Here the Chosen One is still getting used to her new home as well as her duties as the current Slayer. Come October and Buffy meets the most formidable foe in her calling so far. If she’s not careful, though, this powerful enemy will be back next year and every Halloween after that.
Halloween became a biannual event in Buffy beginning in Season Two, and it was in the first of these three Halloween episodes that the show established supernatural creatures prefer a low profile on October 31st. Yet Halloween Rain contradicts that notion when Buffy crosses paths with a vampire at the Bronze; he tells the Slayer “demons run free” on Halloween, and “[vampires] rest while [demons] hunt.” In Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder’s defense, this book was likely written before the series bible was updated. There’s also the fact that even the TV show didn’t always follow its own rules.
Halloween Rain doesn’t require much knowledge of the TV series; the authors provide just enough exposition to keep the uninitiated in the know. The story also takes place during Season One, so newcomers don’t have to digest a lot of backstory just yet, other than some history about a past Slayer. And even that info is unique to this book. As for when exactly Halloween Rain takes place during Season One, it seems to occur sometime after “The Pack” (episode 6) — Willow mentions the late Principal Flutie, who was eaten by hyena people — and before “Prophecy Girl” (episode 12). These books aren’t quite canon, so there’s no real need to overthink their placement.
The days leading up to All Hallows’ Eve are uneventful. Buffy finds herself bored as she patrols for vampires, and her desperation for some action leads to an embarrassing run-in with one of Cordelia Chase’s nastier cohorts, Aphrodesia. In light of the slow slayage, Buffy manages to convince her Watcher, Rupert Giles, to give her Halloween Night off. This of course comes after besties Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg drop some local lore about Sunnydale. If it rains on Halloween, and a scarecrow absorbs said rain, it will supposedly come to life. Paying the colorful tale no mind, Buffy and her pals go off to party at the Bronze that evening while Giles ruminates on this vaguely familiar legend.
An appearance at The Bronze leads to Buffy dusting a couple of vampires in the basement before she meets Glenn O’Leary, who is essentially the Ralph Neeley in these parts. He’s a social outcast who no one takes seriously or wants to be around. Except Buffy, of course. When the old man yells about the undead coming back to life at Sunnydale Cemetery, Buffy investigates while Xander and Willow fetch Giles from the school. Who, by the way, has learned the legend of Halloween rain is really based on Samhain, the king of Halloween.
Something the Buffy books arguably did better than the TV show was chronicle the lives of past Slayers. There was a real interest in understanding how these random teenage girls became Chosen Ones, what good they accomplished in their short lifetimes, and also how they ultimately perished. Giles’ curiosity about the scarecrow myth leads him to Erin Randall, the Irish Slayer who fought and defeated Samhain centuries ago. Erin’s most important battle is indeed restricted to a brief entry in one of Giles’ many Watchers’ journals, but it’s still something to tide fans over until the books fully explore the annals of Slayerdom.
Buffy deals with the growing zombie situation at the cemetery before she becomes trapped in the neighboring field; a mystical barrier keeps her there along with the man of the hour, Samhain. Inhabiting a random scarecrow’s body, the relentless pumpkin king proves to be a worthy foe who, unfortunately, never saw his way off the page. This ambitious and malevolent manifestation of a Gaelic festival is purely the work of misinformation and fiction, but the concept of a menacing, heart-eating scarecrow will please those Buffy fans who love straightforward monster episodes. The antagonist here easily outclasses prior Season One baddies like the teacher-turned-mantis and a cheerleading-crazed witch.
To help pad the story and create some additional excitement as Buffy gets a full-body workout at the cemetery, Xander and Willow fend off the two vampires who followed them to the school. It’s only after the two Scoobies team up with Giles do they outsmart their one-off adversaries, then make their way to help the Slayer. This book is set in the early days of the series where everyone is still trying to find their footing as a member of the group. Giles shows signs of becoming too attached to Buffy, whereas Willow and Xander are still trying to understand their place in Buffy’s neverending war against evil. They all clearly want to help her, though they lack her preternatural talents. The story reiterates what’s been said and seen so far in the show, but again, these books are designed to be read by both novices and existing fans.
Buffy started off with a low budget, so initially there wasn’t a chance to have big and sprawling battles on screen. These books, on the other hand, aren’t limited by poor special effects and time restraints. The Slayer can fight her otherworldly opponents as she would have in the show, had there been adequate resources from the very beginning. Buffy’s struggle against Samhain is lengthy, largely because she is plainly scared of the pumpkin king. She gets the job done in the end, but getting there is no easy feat. Samhain requires a lot of magic, outmaneuvering and elbow grease to ensure he stays away permanently rather than returning again next Halloween.
Samhain makes the official Buffy Halloween threats — manifested costumes, a haunted frat house, and teen vampires — look downright puny in comparison. Surely there’s more to this Gaelic god than this book lets on, so it’s a pity the walking scarecrow wasn’t introduced in the TV series. The two authors have the show’s mood, characterizations and punchy dialogue down cold, though at times they overdo it on the last front. Halloween Rain is at best an entertaining addition to the supernatural mythos; at worst it’s Buffy set on autopilot. Either way, fans can’t go wrong here if they want to get in touch with the show’s other properties after watching the actual show.
There was a time when the young-adult section of bookstores was overflowing with horror and suspense. These books were easily identified by their flashy fonts and garish cover art. This notable subgenre of YA fiction thrived in the ’80s, peaked in the ’90s, and then finally came to an end in the early ’00s. YA horror of this kind is indeed a thing of the past, but the stories live on at Buried in a Book. This recurring column reflects on the nostalgic novels still haunting readers decades later.