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Episode five of Netflix’s Dahmer was one that you really need to pay attention to. It jumps all around over the timeline, filling in holes in the story and showing points of view that we’ve thus far missed. In short, it was maybe my favorite episode so far.

This episode focuses mostly on how other people around Dahmer were reacting to his erratic and concerning behavior. His grandmother was of course a major focus since he was living with her at the time. Dahmer was bringing men home, drugging them, and cutting them up in the basement of her house. Some of these men got away. One, a man named Ron, went to the police after waking up in a hospital. The police, not surprisingly, did nothing more than question Dahmer in his home.

Dyllon Burnside, Evan Peters and Michael Learned in Dahmer.

Another potential victim that escaped was a thirteen-year-old boy. This led to Dahmer being arrested and going to jail for a year. This caused Lionel Dahmer to take a long look at the way he’d been handling his son’s behavior so far. As he says, the red flags were all there. And yes, he is correct.

I want to talk for a moment about the stylistic choices and overall great acting in this episode. Really, in the whole mini-series. Because I don’t know that another actor could have played Dahmer as effectively as Evan Peters. We’ve seen his range in American Horror Story, of course. But the delivery and execution of this character are, in my opinion, the pinnacle of his career so far. The flat, unemotional delivery of most of his scenes, interspersed by moments of truly horrifying anger is something to be admired. To be able to play someone with that level of mental illness and not flinch, not cringe away from it is amazing.

Richard Jenkins in Dahmer.

I also really admire the decision to have little musical accompaniment. It helps the integrity of the story. It reminds us that we are watching a dramatization of real-life horrors.

Pairing Dahmer with the latest season of American Horror Story is unavoidable. We see clear similarities between Dahmer and the Mai Tai killer. We certainly see comparisons between the police action, or lack thereof, in both. I’d almost consider them companion pieces, honestly. Both show the sickening truth of a culture that saw terrible things happening to a marginalized community and said, “Meh.” 

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This episode of Dahmer had a clear message to convey. There were many, many times when Jeff should have been caught during his killing spree. His grandmother knew something was up, and yet only intervened a few times. His father, as clearly stated in this episode, saw signs of Jeff’s madness. Though I’m not sure what Lionel Dahmer might have done by that point. The damage was already done.

The most obvious group of people who should have done something about Jeff were the police and the criminal justice system. I think we all know why that didn’t happen. And if we didn’t know, this episode made it clear to us.

If we didn’t know, recent events have also made it clear to us.

This was a well-written, well-executed and brilliantly acted episode. After watching it I’m left furious that such a sick man was able to continue his killing spree for so long, without being caught and put away. Which is, of course, the point. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, Go Eat Worms

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We’ve reached episode four of the 2023 show Goosebumps. This one is titled Go Eat Worms, based on the book released in July of 1994. And so far, it’s the story that has been furthest removed from the source material. However, I think it’s the story that got the biggest glow-up.

Cover for Goosebumps Go Eat Worms.

The story

This episode is the first that doesn’t jump back to Halloween night. And it largely focuses on Lucas having a really bad day.

He wants to perform a jump on his dirt bike. He gets everything set up, then chickens out at the last moment.

Unfortunately, that means he gets home just in time to catch Nora and Colin kissing in the car.

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Technically there’s nothing wrong with this. Nora’s husband is dead and Colin’s going through a separation. But there’s no reason to expect Lucas to feel this way. And he does not. He goes to school and decides the best thing to do is tell Margot.

That honestly makes sense. At least, more sense than anything else he does.

Seeing how upset Margot is at this realization, he wants to make her laugh. Being a child who should never see Jackass, he decides to eat a worm in front of her. Margot’s face says it all at that moment, as she realizes there’s a strong possibility this boy is going to be her stepbrother and he is eating worms.

Of course, those aren’t any worms. They came from the Biddle house. And they do the bidding of Harold Biddle.

What worked

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It’s pretty clear at this point that the only adult willing to listen to the kids is Nora. The only other one who might have listened was Margot’s mother, who appears to have vanished entirely.

And while this is horrible for the kids, it’s kind of what we should expect in a show for kids.

Content for children and young adults should have heroes who are children and young adults. That was one of the great things about the Goosebumps books, and most of the great stories meant for kids. Coraline, Stranger Things, Ms. Perrigrins School for Gifted Youngsters, Series of Unfortunate Events. These stories all have a young protagonist who has to face the monster without their parents and win. It reminds me of a wonderful quote by Neil Gaiman.

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

I also loved the action scenes in this episode. I didn’t know I wanted to see a giant worm monster chase someone on a dirt bike through the woods, but I’ve seen it now. And that was pretty great.

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Finally, this episode tackled some really difficult topics. Not the least of which was how suicide impacts the family left behind.

That’s a pretty heavy thing to talk about, and it was approached well. This is one of the things that horror does well. It allows us to discuss the things we’re afraid to discuss. To face our real fears. Not the fears of haunted masks, killer worms, or prophetic cameras. It lets us talk about divorce and death and mental health crises in a way that feels more approachable because it’s side by side with the monsters.

What didn’t work

Unfortunately, this was not a perfect episode. And a lot of my issues are about Luke.

Will Price in Goosebumps.

Now, this is not the fault of the actor, Will Price. But he does not look young enough for this role. Some people in their early twenties can look like teens still on TV. The rest of the ‘kids’ are adults. Miles McKenna, who plays James, is 28. But Price looks significantly too old. And it’s distracting.

I also hated the jumping from scene to scene when Luke took Margot to his house. They didn’t do anything there that couldn’t have been done at school. There was just no need for a scene cut. Scene cuts should be kept to a minimum if possible because it’s distracting and runs the risk of taking a viewer out of the story.

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All in all, though, this was a really good episode. It was touching, exciting, and still managed to be funny. So far, this has been a really solid season of horror television. And we have more than half a season yet to go.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Goosebumps, Cuckoo Clock of Doom

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Named for the 28th installment of the original book series, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom has the least in common so far with its source material.

Thankfully, the story isn’t negatively impacted by this. I can honestly say so far that these episodes just keep getting better.

The story

After the last episode’s explosive ending, I’m sure we were all more than a little worried about James. I for one was worried we were going to have an example of the Bury Your Gays trope on a kid’s show.

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Cover of R.L. Stine Cuckoo Clock of Doom

Thankfully, that’s not the case.

We go back in time again to Halloween night, and this time we see what James was up to.

Mostly he was up to trying to flirt with his crush. Everything seems to be going well until James lies about being interested in football.

He tries to leave the house, but instead finds himself back at the basement door when Isaiah is trapped and the cuckoo clock is going off. James then shows a remarkable amount of genre savvy and tries his best to escape the house. Each time he does, we see another version of him walking away.

Eventually, he devises a plan to break the clock at just the right moment, but not before he gets some intel on his crush’s favorite team so he can score a date.

Back in the real world free of the time loop though, James finds that he has far more worries. Every time he tried to escape the house, a duplicate version of him was created. And all of those duplicates are waiting for him.

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Back at the Biddle house, though, there’s a surprise waiting. One of the James duplicates has brought Harold Biddle a box. A ventriloquist dummy-sized box.

An empty box.

What worked

The effects of this show so far have been wonderful. When the other characters hit a James duplicate, it doesn’t just die. It explodes in a Nickelodeon-style wave of slime. This is just fun, and I’m kind of sad there doesn’t appear to be more of the duplicates around.

I mean, I wouldn’t rule it out.

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Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

Did I mention that these duplicates appeared to smell like watermelon Jolly Ranchers when they exploded? That was a visceral detail that was both alarming and terrific. They could have smelled bad. They could have smelled like rotting plants or people. But no, they smell like candy.

Of course, the characters continue to steal the show. Margot and Isaiah could be said to be the main characters, but everyone comes into this with main character energy. They are all funny, all capable, all smart. And they all seem to care about each other.

I loved that James and Isaiah talked about how they were feeling. I think it’s important that we’re modeling that for young men. They talked about what was bothering them, and they made up.

Finally, though, we have to talk about Justin Long again. His acting in this just keeps stealing the show. He dances like a cartoon and jumps from joyful to violently furious at a moment’s notice. The character doesn’t know how to act, and watching him fail to act right in front of people never fails to make me laugh.

What didn’t work

I honestly can’t say that anything didn’t work in this episode. But there is something about the show that I, at least, don’t like.

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There’s no real blood or gore. There’s more blood when I eat an actual jolly rancher because I always cut my tongue on them.

Now, this show is pretty clearly not for kids and young adults so there’s probably not a lot of need for too much gore and violence. But if the bloody stuff is more your style, like me, the lack of it might disappoint you.

Fans of the Goosebumps books will know that everyone ended with a twist. And the show so far has been no different. And the ending of this episode has been the best so far. The tension of Margot’s mom’s impassioned reaction, blended with the revelation that Slappy is somewhere in town is just too much. I can’t believe we’re only three episodes in and I am this invested. I hope you are too.

Viewer beware, I suspect things are going to get a lot worse for our characters before they get better.

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4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask

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Episode two of Goosebumps was honestly more fun than the first. It was dark, funny, infuriating and wonderful. Best of all, it has a killer twist ending.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.

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Cover of R.L. Stine's The Haunted Mask.

We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.

Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.

Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.

The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.

Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.

When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.

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What worked

I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.

Ana Yi Puig in Goosebumps.

I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.

Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.

On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.

But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.

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We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.

And the same can be said for Isabella.

Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.

Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.

What didn’t work

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If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.

Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.

Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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