Disturbing, gritty, and at times gross, it’s a new take on the serial killer. Based on the novel by Todd Rigney, who also penned the screenplay, and directed by Scott Schirmer on a budget of just $8,000, Found is a film that takes the story of a serial killer and shows it from a different perspective. A child’s perspective to be exact. Marty is a shy kid that keeps to himself, his life seems pretty normal until he discovers a severed head in his brother’s room. That’s right, a severed head just sitting in a bowling bag in his brother’s room. The shocking part is, he’s not too concerned about it. The opening line, words that grip you from the start in their cold, dead hands, says it all; “my brother keeps a human head in his closet.” Tells you everything you need to know. There are two brothers, one keeps heads in his closet and the other is…kind of okay with it.
It’s not just one head though. His brother Steve has actually killed many people. He just switches the head out every few days. Usually, it’s black women and he often rips their hair out. Wearing his mother’s best kitchen gloves (she washes the dishes with those things man!), Marty studies these heads with morbid curiosity as if they’re just yet another shocking treasure a kid might find in his older brother’s bedroom. No different than porn, pot, or wannabe Satanic paraphernalia purchased from Hot Topic.
Marty may be willing to keep brother’s murderous secrets, but he’s not entirely accepting of it, or I guess I should say, comfortable with it. That changes, however, once he realizes the power it gives him. A power he struggles with. He starts looking at everything differently. A victim of relentless bullying, Marty lives like a mouse in a world of wolves. The brothers have a strange relationship that seems distant at times and codependent at others. As their relationship strengthens, the darker Marty becomes, and the more resilient he becomes toward his tormentors, viewing violence as the ultimate weapon against his own personal institutes of oppression.
It’s more than just a story about a kid who finds out his brother is a serial killer though. As I said before, it shows the mind of a serial killer from a different perspective, removing us completely from their viewpoint. There comes a point in the film where Steve reveals why he kills but the reason that he gives is clearly a lie. It may be what he tells himself, an explanation he’s made his personalized excuse, but in reality, Steve doesn’t have an answer, even he seems mystified when questioned. He’s aroused at the notion of inflicting pain but is either unaware of this or incapable of grasping the concept as fact.
Found shows the total lack of self-awareness that resides in the psychopath. Even they don’t always know why they do what they do, they just do it.
I’m going to be frank here and say that I believe the film to be slightly incestuous. The taboo theme appears twice, one in a more obvious context but it lingers very faintly throughout the film. It can be interpreted in any way one wishes but I feel that Steve’s borderline infatuation with his brother, especially near the end, crosses a certain line. However, it’s impossible to know what’s really going on in Steve’s head because everything is seen from Marty’s perspective. It’s both a strength and weakness of the film. Steve remains a huge question mark in the end. He seems to be a living contradiction when it comes to emotion; an angry teen who draws pleasure from pain but falls apart at the mere sight of his brother’s tears.
Found is layers on top of layers and like Rachel Green’s abominable English Trifle, there’s a meaty surprise inside. There is both a cultural and a psychological frame of mind presented with a large chunk dedicated to toxic masculinity. It is surprisingly well-rounded. Don’t look at the cover and write it off as another exploitive horror movie, it’s more psychological than anything else.
At its core, Found is a disturbing coming of age film that doubles as a study of the psychopath. It details the struggles of a boy coming into manhood, and the dangers of seeing his psychotic older brother, a stand-in for hypermasculinity, as someone to revere. My only real issue with the film has nothing to do with the plot but just the camera work that makes it feel like a home movie. Near the end, the quality adds to the realism portrayed in the story but it takes a while to get used to. (3.5 / 5)
Headless isn’t really a spin-off of Found. It’s actually a movie within a movie that was popular enough to become its own feature. Headless appears as part of the plot in Found as a film Steve steals from the video store that serves as his inspirational “how-to” murder guide. A part of the fake feature is played in Found in a sequence that is definitely one of the more disturbing, and over the top, moments of the film. It goes past gooey, torture porn, and just dives headfirst into House of a 1000 Corpses territory.
The DVD and blu ray of Found features the full uncut version of Headless that appeared in the film, running at about 24 minutes. Fans, however, wanted more and in 2015, a full-length feature film based on the short was released and produced through a Kickstarter campaign. It’s a little hard to find now. It can be watched on YouTube and you can buy the DVD on Scott Schirmer’s website but aside from that, I don’t think it can be found anywhere else.
It isn’t the exact movie that Steve and Marty watched but it features the same character of the Masked Skeletal, once again played by Shane Beasley, doing what he does best. Going around decapitating young women. Headless is definitely for a select audience. The Terrifier crowd might get a real kick out of it. I personally disliked it because it was a nonstop gorefest that didn’t have much of a story aside from copying and pasting Ed Kemper’s biography into the screenplay.
There isn’t much of a plot. I actually found it quite boring, but that’s my own personal opinion, I’m sure there are many who would disagree. It tries to find a common ground between slasher and arthouse, revolving around the unnamed killer I refer to as the Masked Skeletal as he carries out his many grisly murders. Through flashbacks, we learn of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother and sister, who made him sleep in a dog cage that he continues to sleep in even as an adult. The abuse resulted in a hatred of women and a damaged psychosis that causes him to hallucinate a young boy with a skeleton head. The child, a possible representation for his stolen youth, directs him in his day to day life, including his many kills.
Headless is not something the average person would enjoy, not because it’s bloody but because it has almost no dialogue or character development and doesn’t follow the typical cinematic format. Imagine if Richard Rameriz or Kemper had a video camera. That’s what this is.
My favorite thing about Headless is the fake trailer that appears before the movie starts for a film called Wolf Baby, something that looks way more interesting than this. (1.5 / 5)
Photos are property of Forbidden Films.
Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask
Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 / 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.
Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die
Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.
With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.
So, how was the first episode?
We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.
We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.
The teens end up not being thrilled either.
Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.
While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.
All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.
For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.
It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.
That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.
More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.
This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.
What didn’t work
All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”
Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.
It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.
But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.
(4 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey
The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.
In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.
The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.
Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.
The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.
One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.
Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!
I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology.