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Thank you to The Horror Collective for this screener. More about them is at the end of the review, so stay tuned!

SILENCE OF THE PREY is a new horror movie from directors Karyna Kudzina and Michael Vaynberg, with Kudzina also sharing a writing credit with Saro Varjabedian and also starring in the movie (although credited as Karina Bezell)…and produced by Kudzina, as well (also credited as Karina Bezell). So, there is a lot of Kudzina in SILENCE OF THE PREY. And also a lot of rifle butts to the noggin. People in this film have no peripheral vision.

Anyway, Kudzina can’t be everyone and do everything, so it also stars Monte Bezell (nabbing himself a producer credit), Chris LaPanta and Michael Doyle.

So, what is Kudzina’s passion-project about and why is it dubbed a “Social Justice-Themed Horror”? Well, let’s take a look!

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THE PLOT OF SILENCE OF THE PREY

Nina (Kudzina) is a mother with a young daughter, escaping Belarus after suffering persecution for her views. Looking for a better life in the US, she’s having a hard time because she and her daughter are undocumented refugees. However, an opportunity presents itself when an elderly man (Chris LaPanta) needs help around his home.

However, as soon as she’s moved in, there’s something sinister about the place. Strange noises in the woods. She starts seeing things, including a ghostly specter of a Deerman.

Alastor from Hazbin Hotel
No, not that one.

But when another migrant (Bezell) shows up at the isolated house, can Nina figure out the mystery before it’s too late for all of them? Or will she, too, be silenced?

THOUGHTS ON SILENCE OF THE PREY (Spoilers ahead)

Okay, I have thoughts. I really wanted to like this movie because it has actually a lot to say, which I’ll brush on more in my Brainroll section.

However, the pacing, atmosphere, acting, lighting and script are rough.

The pacing meanders point to point. There is meant to be tension when there just really isn’t. For example, Nina and Andres (Bezell), decide to drink Luther’s wine at the prodding of Andres (which also, my dude, don’t flirt with Nina and ask her to leave with you when you’ve known each other a day). Later when Luther finds out, he’s rightfully pissy about it. However, the tone is slanted to the audience like he’s being weird and controlling, which…he told her to ask him next time. That’s it. I would have done the same thing if I were Luther.

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The atmosphere could have been utilized way more efficiently to show a woman in a foreign country and in the middle of nowhere. The woods could have played a bigger factor, especially if she used to be a city girl from Minsk or something. The atmosphere was bland as most of the day shots looked very cute cottage-core cabin and the night shots were too bright to be menacing.

And speaking of lighting (and filters), SILENCE OF THE PREY looked so washed out. I get that’s the new horror vibe, being flat and muted colors, but whoo boy, does it make it uninteresting to look at. There’s nothing that really catches your eye. Nothing to draw you in as a viewer.

Nina and Luther, there's a hunting deer head in the background and a rosary but it's just really muted colors
‘Do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior, Cottage Core Pinterest?’

This leads to the acting, which is stilted. I needed Luther to be at a 10, but instead he was at a nervous 6. I never found him believable as someone intimidating. He was too soft-spoken and gentle. Don’t get me wrong, I love old badass, creepy dudes – Stephen Lang is making bank on it. But LaPanta never reaches those levels of insanity or villainy. And opposite him is a sleepy-eyed Nina that just wanders from scene to scene.

(Not pictured: the dye-free lavender bath bomb and Rae Dunn mug of tea)

However, the real issue was the writing, which was comedic at times. If you told me this was a parody, I’d still find the tone weird, but it would be believable.

For example, when Nina chops down the door to what we imagine is an injured or dying Andres, and she actually yells down, “Ready or not, here I come!” Completely breaking the tone of the dramatic scene.

Or that Luther keeps calling Nina “delicious” and her daughter “Bambi” affectionately, which is hilarious. Like, we get it. You’re a cannibal. I’m surprised the bath scene wasn’t a marinade.

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Or how about when Luther has a cult dinner party, and all the white people are being…racist? Ignorant? Belarus is confused for the Ukraine and Nina doesn’t even try to correct them (which if she’s so outspoken in Belarus to predicate the need to flee the country, why can’t she get that energy to talk about her home country?). They are supposed to be acting like assholes and I get that but also in a way, I don’t. She and they are European descent (ahem, white, unlike Andres), and their comments never instilled any danger, so I felt it just weakened the tension.

The scene would have been more impactful if she witnessed how awful they were to Andres instead and her having to choose her daughter and her wellbeing over his. But the scene never really pushed the boundary, which it needed to. It was more laughable than sinister or vile.

A guy telling Nina it's weird that she's "Ukrainian" drawn really really well by yours truly
My contractional Paint drawing for the article

SMALL ASIDE

Before we move on to Brainroll, one thing that drove me crazy. The songs sounded like they were bought so they never really quite matched the scene, but there was one in particular they kept using. And I was like, ‘I’ve heard this before. I know I have. Is this from Kevin MacLeod?

Nope. Big friggin’ nope. It finally dawned on me at the credits. It’s absolutely the main theme of 28 Days Later by John Murphy. Anyway, it was jarring and I didn’t like it.

Nina's got a gun
‘I could shoot, or I could leave a bad AirBNB review. Decisions, Decisions.’

BRAINROLL JUICE:

Look, I get it. You might be thinking, ‘Why are you dumping so hard on this indie film?’ I’m not trying to, in fact, I was rooting for it. I wanted this to be compelling. Because I understood that it has a lot to say.

The first thing that grabbed my attention is that this “inspired by a true story” (no information was given about that). And at the end of the film, there’s a quote by Julia Ainsley from NBC News that’s in regard to missing migrants, which the full article can be found here: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/dhs-lost-track-177000-migrants-us-rcna104464.

Now, after reading the article, I don’t think it means exactly what Kudzima was alluding to. I believe, in context with the film, she was taking the article out of context. In the 2023 article, Ainsley was reporting on 177,000 of migrants who, once they entered the US and were awaiting immigration hearings, ghosted the US government.

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“[D]uring a 17-month period 177,000 address records for new arrivals were either blank or contained nonexistent or nonresidential locations.

More than 1 million migrants were released inside the U.S. pending their immigration hearings from March 2021 to August 2022, according to a new report from the DHS Office of Inspector General. Of those migrants’ records, more than 54,000 were blank, while the rest were either invalid or not legitimate residential locations. Julia Ainsley,
DHS has lost track of 177,000 migrants inside the U.S.

This is not the same as alluding to migrant women being missing due to nefarious reasons. The article has absolutely no information about that and in fact, is more about how migrants often give outdated or false information to ICE so that they can come into the country and stay off the radar of ICE…which is not a good look for Kudzima.

So, I’m going to lend a hand for a minute because this is a very real issue that migrant women face. Being a migrant afab/woman in the US makes them extremely vulnerable to violence, exploitation, trafficking, and fewer opportunities to connect to resources than their afab/male counterparts. They face incarceration or deportation if they speak up against the abuse against them and have limited support structures and resources. Many times they work longer hours, are underpaid, and are often in care-related jobs, sacrificing their own care. And not all migrant women are treated the same. Age, color, religion, ethnicity, and marital status all have a role.

In a much clearer focus on missing migrants, the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has been going strong for 10 years, recently compiled a report regarding the deaths and disappearances of migrants – A Decade of Documenting Migrant Death.

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From their website, they state: “The more than 63,000 deaths and disappearances recorded during migration over the past decade are likely only a fraction of the actual number of lives lost worldwide. The report highlights the need for improved data collection efforts to accurately assess the scale of the issue and address the broader challenges of unsafe migration. There are more than 37,000 dead for whom no information on sex or age is available, indicating that the true number of deaths of women and children is likely far higher,” and ” migrant deaths are on the rise, with 2023 marking the highest annual death toll on record when over 8,500 deaths were recorded”.

I highly suggest checking out my resources for more information:

BOTTOMLINE FOR SILENCE OF THE PREY

It’s a worthy cause and be sure to check out https://www.iom.int/, but in the scope of movies, SILENCE OF THE PREY misses its mark. 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

AND NOW A WORD FROM THIS DISTRIBUTOR:

The Horror Collective released this week the social justice-themed horror, SILENCE OF THE PREY. Inspired by a true story, Silence of the Prey follows an undocumented immigrant mother who takes a caretaker job for an elderly man, only to discover a horrifying truth. The film marks the directorial debut of Karyna Kudzina, who co-directed with Michael Vaynberg.

Entertainment Squad’s genre label, The Horror Collective, released the film on all major video-on-demand and digital platforms in the United States, the UK/Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

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The Horror Collective is the genre label of Entertainment Squad, a finance and distribution company founded by veteran producer Shaked Berenson (TURBO KID, TALES OF HALLOWEEN). The labels’ latest productions include the killer-pants cult classic SLAXX (Shudder Original) and the critically acclaimed LGBTQ+ horror-comedy SUMMONING SYLVIA.

You can find out more on their website here: https://thehorrorcollective.com/film/silence-of-the-prey

When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

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Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, Cursed Neighborhood

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Episode five of John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams was one of the best kind of horror stories. It is a dark, eerie tale of a mean house that is determined to destroy anyone who dares reside within it.

The story

Our story begins in 1682. A group of colonists are attempting to take over land that is very much not theirs. When the colonists are killed, they vow to curse the land.

Fast forward to modern times, and the land in question is a little suburban neighborhood. Carlette Norwood moves in with her husband, mother, and daughters. The house seems like a dream come true. Until, of course, their beautiful dream home becomes a nightmare. The curse of the colonists wrapped itself around the neck of each family member, turning them into people that they didn’t recognize. People who don’t exactly like each other.

What worked

While I wouldn’t say that the acting in this episode is flawless, it was several steps above what we’ve seen so far. Every actor seemed to understand their role and reacted in realistic ways. I was especially impressed by the young woman playing Angelique. She had the good sense to not overplay the role, giving each scene exactly the right amount of energy.

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Of course, there was one actress who way overplayed every scene. But rather than being terrible, it was terrific. And that was Chloe Zeitounian, who played the neighbor Stacy. Stacy the neighbor was creepy as shit. After an unnamed neighbor dies by suicide, Stacy shows up at Carlette’s house with a bottle of champagne, sipping coffee with a big old smile. Well, okay it probably wasn’t coffee.

Stacy was a fantastic character, and I hope there was a crazy neighbor just like her. I bet her house was haunted as hell, but she just decided that her ghost was like a stray dog that everyone else thinks is dangerous. She probably put a bejeweled collar on the colonist ghost and renamed him Kori spelled with an I on purpose.

Finally, I want to talk about the theme of ancestral curse and ancestral protections that this episode discussed.

Charles County was cursed by the colonists who took the land that rightfully belonged to the indigenous tribes. They took what their ancestors had given them, and left a curse in their wake.

At the end of the episode, Carlette talks about being protected by her ancestors. Ancestors that survived horrible things most of us can’t imagine. I am sure that their strength blessed Carlette, and helped her to save Angelique.

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What didn’t work

While this episode was certainly better than most of the season, it wasn’t perfect. The thing that most stood out to me as being frankly unneeded was the inclusion of maggots attacking Brian.

Paul A Maynard in Suburban Screams.

In multiple scenes, during which Carlette is narrating, Brian has maggots coming out of open wounds. Never once does Carlette mention a maggot issue.

It feels like there is a clear reason why the creators did this. This story doesn’t have a lot of blood, gore, or jump scares. And a core goal of horror content is to cause a reaction.

Stephen King has a great quote about this goal. “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”

The inclusion of maggots in this story admits that someone involved didn’t think the story was terrorizing or horrifying enough. But it was. The story was freaky all on its own without the inclusion of our wriggling friends.

Is it true?

This might be an unpopular opinion, but aside from the completely unnecessary maggots infesting Brian, I think this episode is the most honest and accurate one so far.

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The thing about hauntings is that they’re seldom what we see in the movies. Haunted houses don’t have glass vases flying off shelves and wallpaper peeling to reveal 666 painted in blood over arcane symbols. Haunted houses dig into the minds of those who live there, causing bad luck and bad vibes. And that’s exactly what happened here. There are no massive explosions. No spirits throwing people downstairs or demonic dogs chasing children from the attic. This house dug into the hearts and minds of a loving family, ripping them apart.

So yes, I do think this episode is likely true.

The further we get into Suburban Screams, the more I enjoy it. This episode was eerie, upsetting, and riveting. I hope that Carlette and her daughters are healing from this horrific journey. And I’m thankful to them for sharing their story. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Happy Father’s Day Herman Munster!

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Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel
Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel

Today for Father’s Day I want to celebrate one the best dads in horror ever: Herman Munster! Herman Munster of television celebrity is a perfect example of a good father in a genre awash in epically horrible parents. He is fun to be around, cares deeply about family, and has a huge heart. He is essentially the naive and loving Frankenstein’s monster despite his horrific appearance, and is aptly employed at a funeral home.

Herman is lovable, hardworking, and always ready with the physical humor dad jokes, even if he is too naive to catch on to his role in the punchlines all the time. He is devoted to his wife Lily Dracula and son Eddie and will do whatever he can to protect them. His generosity extends beyond just his own, with the family taking in his niece Marilyn (who is painfully normal by comparison to the Munsters), and father-in-law Grandpa.

Portrayed by Fred Gwynne, Herman Munster is kind of the epitome of the good father in horror. Sure, he’s a brute, and can be a little dim sometimes, but he’s really just a big teddy bear at heart, and always ready for a good laugh. And apparently Herman Munster was even nominated by his son Eddie for Father of the Year in Season 2, Episode 25, so it all comes around full circle. If the show highlight doesn’t load, you can find it here.

And to celebrate more great Hollywood celebrities, here’s a poem for Ed Wood and an homage to Theda Bara

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Suburban Screams, The Bunny Man

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Someone is stalking the children of Fairfax, Virginia. He comes bearing an axe. He comes from the forest. He comes in the night.

He comes dressed as a bunny.

The story

In the 1970s, the sleepy town of Fairfax Virginia was menaced by a man dressed as a rabbit. He stalked kids and teens with an axe while they were playing in the woods, or ‘parking’. Children were cautioned to not play outside after dark. Parents were terrified. The whole community was rocked by the horrific killer who, well, didn’t kill anybody. And who might have been a whole bunch of people inspired by a truly sad tale?

Still from Suburban Screams The Bunny Man.

The story begins a hundred years earlier. A man whose name is lost to time is accused of stealing a cow. For this crime, he’s sentenced to death because things were a lot tougher back then. The man escaped but swore vengeance on the town. A few days later several children were found hanging from a bridge underpass, butchered and hung as though they were slaughtered rabbits.

What worked

The biggest thing to love about this episode, the one thing that sets it apart from the rest of the season, was the presence of Historian Cindy Burke. Finally, we have an actual professional talking about one of these stories. Yes, there are still first-hand accounts. But that is how these sorts of stories work best. We have the emotional retelling of evocative survivors. But we also have a professional who is emotionally separated from the situation backing up these stories with historical knowledge.

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This wouldn’t have mattered as much in any other setting. But Suburban Screams has been clear from the start that it wants to be seen as a documentary. This is supposed to be real. And if you’re going to claim that your ghost story is real, bring receipts. As many as you can.

If we’d seen more historians, detectives, and police reports through this series, it probably wouldn’t have the bad rating it does on IMDB.

What didn’t work

Well, it might still have had a bad rating. Because the acting in this episode was, for lack of a stronger word, terrible.

I don’t know if it was the directing, the casting, or just a weak talent budget. But not a single person except for the man playing the Bunny Man could act in any of these dramatic reenactment scenes.

The worst offender was probably the child playing Ed’s childhood friend. This character was way overacted. It’s as though the child had seen a parody of how little boys behave, and was told to act like that. As this was a little boy, he was likely a bit embarrassed.

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And I know, I’m trash-talking a child actor. I’m trash-talking all of the children actors in this episode. But children can act. There are lots of examples of kids doing great acting jobs. Stranger Things is an obvious example. Violent Night is another. The kid can act. These kids couldn’t act.

Is it true?

Unlike most of the other episodes in this series, The Bunny Man is a story I’ve heard before. It is a legitimate urban legend that blossomed from a few firsthand accounts of madmen doing scary things dressed as rabbits in Fairfax County, West Virginia. These events probably inspired others to do stupid things like dress up like a rabbit and run around with an ax. Much like the people who decided to dress up like clowns and scare the hell out of people across the country in 2016.

So, yes, the Bunny Man is very much real. He’s real in the hearts and minds of pranksters and West Virginia frat boys. And he is based on some very real, very upsetting, actual events.

I honestly wish the whole season of Suburban Screams had been exactly like this. Filled with facts, first-hand accounts, and proof of scary events. This was everything I wanted in a supernatural/true crime story. So if you’re giving the rest of the season a pass, I would suggest watching this episode.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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