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People seem to have Lovecraft on the mind lately, for more than one reason. Horror is receiving a new wave of appreciation and creators have gotten an itch for Lovecraftian themes and adaptations, releasing films like The Beach House, Color out of Space, Underwater and the HBO series Lovecraft Country all at once. Well, now it’s time for the remakes, and the first one up is a reimagining of the Stuart Gordon 1995 classic, Castle Freak.

Loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft stories “The Outsider” and “Rats in the Walls,” 1995’s Castle Freak starred the great scream king and queen Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton as an estranged married couple with a blind daughter (Jessica Dollarhide) who inherits a castle they don’t know also comes with a freakish monster (Johnathan Fuller). In 2020, a collaboration between Full Moon Features and Fangoria resulted in a remake with makeup artist Tate Steinsiek taking over as director. Starring Clair Catherine and Jake Horowitz, the film takes only a fraction of Gorgon and Dennis Paoli’s original plot and puts its own spin on it and I actually like it a lot.

It’s not good but it’s not bad either. I love the original so I didn’t think I would like this new version but it surprised me. Not to say that it isn’t inferior to the original because it is, very much so, but it stands on its own which I appreciate. Plus, it has a nice little surprise at the end done Marvel style, meaning it’s a post-credits scene. Think little vials of green reagent.

For the most part, the new Castle Freak starts out like the old but everything has a new flavor. The location has been moved from Italy to Albania and the Duchess (Kika Magalhães) does not die from a heart attack but is instead murdered.

Apart from the “freak” living in the castle, Rebecca “Becca” Reilly is the only original character to return. This time played by Clair Catherine, the only similarities Becca shares with her predecessor are her name and the fact that she’s blinded in a car crash. This time around, Becca is blinded not by her father but by her boyfriend, John (Horowitz). After the accident, the two travel to see the castle Becca has just inherited where it’s revealed that Becca was given up for adoption by her troubled mother, the Dutchess. It’s the mystery surrounding this that becomes the driving force of the film.

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Same as the original, Becca senses that someone else is living in the castle but no one believes her. The closer she gets to the “freak,” the more she experiences violent visions of her dead mother being torture by a cult that may or may not be responsible for the mysterious resident.

It’s at this point where Castle Freak loses its mind.

Becca and John’s friends from America eventually join them in Albania to help sell the castle, and with them arrives the other major character of the film, The Professor (Chris Galust). He’s not really a professor though, his friends just call him that. This character could’ve been something incredible but the movie doesn’t know how to use him properly. He’s really only there for exposition and to enforce the Lovecraftianess of it all. While exploring, John and Becca find an ancient book written in Latin that’s filled with horrific images of various monsters, which The Professor is conveniently able to translate. Now comes the Easter egg hunt. The book is revealed to be the Necronomicon (an ancient text compiled by Abdul Alhazred in Lovecraft lore) which is basically a catalog of Lovecraft’s other works.

It’s a run-through of his most famous creatures including Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth. It’s all fun but it’s also the moment where the film goes completely coo-coo bananas.

At this point, any resemblance Castle Freak has to the original is long gone. It’s gone on vacation in Hawaii and is never coming back. Everything, from the ending, to the nature of the “freak” itself, has been changed. The focus switches around going from Becca to John to the “freak” and finally to The Professor who slowly becomes a less constipated, half-hipster menial version of Herbert West.

(Stop if you don’t want the mid-credits scene spoiled)

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Speaking of Herbert West…the manic twink of a scientist has a cameo! He is the great surprise at the end and the ultimate hint at a possible expanded Lovecraft universe.

In the film’s final moments, The Professor’s name is revealed to be Henry Armitage, the head librarian at Miskatonic University who appears in the Lovecraft story, “The Dunwich Horror.” Back in America armed with the Necronomicon, Armitage walks into his mentor’s office to find a man with his back facing the camera sitting beside a tiny vial of green formula. Armitage greets him like a Bond villain on steroids: “West.”

It’s the best part of the movie and in all honestly, is probably the only reason I liked it as much as I did. This whole thing is silly, it drags on at times, and the whole middle is wasted on explanations but it was entertaining and weird. Makes it a win in my book.

Shared universe??

It’s hard to tell what’s going on because this film didn’t get a lot of press or a big marketing plan, but there is a chance that Castle Freak is meant to be the intro to a series of Lovecraftian films produced by Full Moon.

The creator of many cult films and “B” features, the Full Moon production company is currently working on an ambitious project titled Miskatonic U: The Resonator, a film based in Lovecraft mythology that will take place at Miskatonic University located in Arkham, Massachusetts. The university is found in many of Lovecraft’s work and is apart of the hospital where Herbert West was accepted as a student in Re-Animator. Charles Band, director of Full Moon Features, described Miskatonic U as the first installment of eighteen “shows” that will tell different stories set within a Lovecraftian universe. With this description in mind, it’s hard not to think that Castle Freak isn’t supposed to be apart of that. If not an actual installment, a type of prequel to the series. Guess we’ll have to wait for Miskatonic U to come out. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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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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