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H. P. Lovecraft has had a bit of a resurgence lately. Not that the influence of his work has ever really been dormant in popular culture, but between recent explorations and debates on his work and his legacy of, let’s call it what it is, hate, the author has been again thrown into the spotlight. The latest chapter in this legacy comes from HBO in the form of Lovecraft Country.

HBO’s Lovecraft Country is adapted from the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. The show is produced by Misha Green, J. J. Abrams, and Jordan Peele. The show airs Sunday nights on HBO and is available on HBO Max.

As for the show itself, let’s get weird with it, shall we? The reviews will be recaps will be filled with spoilers, but you can look at the review section without getting spoiled.

Jackie Robinson takes a swing at Cthulhu as Atticus Freeman and Dejah Thoris (Jamie Chung) watch on.

The story so far…

“Sundown” opens with a dream sequence filled with a number of pulp references as Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors, The Last Black Man in San Francisco) is riding the bus home. When the bus breaks down we see that we are in 1950s America, one of the last gasps of the Jim Crow era. Welcome to Lovecraft Country.

Atticus, returned from the Korean War is coming home to Chicago to find his father who has gone missing in “Lovecraft country.” Atticus recruits his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance, American Crime Story) and childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett, Birds of Prey) for a road trip to the town of Ardham; a name that is spun off from a familiar location in the works of H. P. Lovecraft, a figure who existed in the setting of the show and may not be writing fiction after all.

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The road trip, under the guise of a research trip for a safe travel guide for black folks, published by George, immediately hits some snags. The show shows life across the midwest for the black community, juxtaposing their experiences with white Americana. The trio attempts to dine at an establishment, but make a shocking discovery and find themselves chased out of town by gun-toting racists. They are saved by a mysterious blonde-haired woman in a Rolls-Royce who stops the truck full of racists with what seems to be some power, flipping the truck and allowing Atticus and company to escape.

After some time learning what little there is to know about Ardham, Leti has a blow up with her brother who hosts the trio. They drive off the next morning, searching for the road to Arkham. Instead that find a racist sheriff and end up in the slowest, most tension-filled car chase to a county line ever.

Unfortunately, trapped by a roadblock of racist police, the trio are held at gunpoint in the woods and things go from bad to worse when mysterious multi-eyed creatures tear through four of the officers. The sheriff, de-armed by one of the beasts, transforms into one of the creatures inside a cabin where Atticus, George and an unfortunate deputy are hiding. The creatures, weak to light, are eventually fended off by Leti who brings the trio’s car to the cabin, flooding the space with light.

The next morning, Atticus and his band find the road into Ardham and arrive at a mansion. Atticus moves to knock on the door but it opens before he sets his hand on it. They meet a blond-haired man who seems to have been expecting their arrival.

Why was is the White House painted white?

How it worked out…

The show is a stylish period piece that features some great performances, generally strong visuals, and some moments of genuine tension. It’s a fun ride through and through and enough of one that I want to experience the next episodes. As a pilot, “Sundown” largely does its job by setting up the core leads, a long term conflict, and just a hint at the weirdness to come. It also presents the kind of alien horror people expect when they think Lovecraft, but I am not sure if it does it all that well.

My biggest issue with the show is that it has two monsters and really only makes one scary, though it is hard not to make that monster scary. The show is at its absolute best when it deals with the looming threat of living while black in 1950s America. The pilot is absolutely at its best and most horrifying here. The moments of terror inflicted on black Americans is far more intense and affecting than a five-minute CGI-fueled attack of the Shoggoths. The presence of white paint and a loose tile chills far more effectively than a special-effects reel.

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Despite my misgivings with the action-approach, it is still a lot of fun. Lovecraft would have hated it, for obvious reasons, but perhaps less obviously, it turns his ideas into the very sort of two-fisted pulp adventures he routinely criticized in his letters. But that’s fine, honestly. Is the idea of a wolf-like Shoggoth any sillier than the gelatinous mass of a thousand eyes as described in his own work? It’s a suitable introduction to the themes and aesthetics. A sort of big-budget sketch of the weirdness he pioneered. It gets people interested and diversifies the weird genre and hopefully continues to bring new voices into the fold when it comes to Lovecraftian themes.

But ultimately some fans and purists are going to be let down about the Abramsification of what should be an utterly hopeless and relentless experience. I would not say that I am let down, but I do want to one day see a high budget adaptation of the world of Shoggoths and Yith without the need for guns-a-blazin’.

But you know what? I’ll take the action-adventure spin on the themes and enjoy them just fine.

Lovecraft Country, “Sundown,” rates in at four Cthulhus. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A long night in the woodland hunting-grounds of the Shoggoths leaves the trio exhausted.

Miskatonic Musings

In each review, I have a section where I include some miscellaneous thoughts that don’t fit in the structure of the review but I feel are worth mentioning.

I just really liked the name, okay?

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  • The road trip monologue you heard comes from James Baldwin’s 1965 debate against William Buckley, Jr. This show will be heavily tied to the Jim Crow era. George’s guide book, for example, is clearly based on The Green Book. Also, look up Sundown towns if you are unfamiliar with the concept and prepare to feel sick to your stomach.
  • A fair number of Lovecraft references in the premiere, as to be expected. The Outsider and Others makes an appearance. We also see what seems to be Cthulhu in Atticus’ dream. We of course have the Shoggoths. Vampires, another creature Lovecraft dabbled in, also get referenced, but George’s reference is specific to Dracula. Oh, and a refence to Herbert West as well.
  • A lot of other great references as well to other pulp literature. Take, for example, the Martian princess in the dream sequence, who seems to be played by Jamie Chung. We also have tripods from War of the Worlds, and what seems to be a Roman Centurian in the battlefield. I’d be hesitant to include The Count of Monte Cristo as pulp work, but the presense of Alexandre Dumas is definitely a welcome literary element. Can’t forget Jackie Robinson, either.
  • Who was Atticus speaking to on the phone all the way in Korea?
  • I feel I should also explain my “qualifications” when it comes to my criticism of how the show tackles Lovecraft. I earned my M.A. writing about H. P. Lovecraft and writing an interactive fiction story that revolves around decolonizing Lovecraftian themes. I am currently in production of a mobile game version of that interactive fiction piece. You spend a couple years studying the guy (horribly racist warts and all) and his writing you end up sort of insufferable, like me.
  • My review is already on the long-side, so things I want to address will be saved for later reviews. I’ll just throw out that Courtney B. Vance is a great actor and elevates the performances around him.

Please join us next week for another recap and review of HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Please let us know your thoughts on the show or this review in the comments.

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, Kelly

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Launched in October of 2023, Suburban Screams is the latest project by acclaimed horror master John Carpenter. It’s a true crime/unsolved mystery series covering events that have terrified people living in, you guessed it, the suburbs.

The story

Our first episode, titled Kelly, is the story of two roommates named Dan and Joey. The actual Dan and Joey tell the story from their own perspective, interspersed with dramatic reenactments. This did feel very much like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

One night when Dan and Joey have their girlfriends over, they decide to play with an Ouija board. Since they don’t have one, Dan makes one on a pizza box, complete with a planchette. This is, of course, when things go terribly wrong.

Still from Suburban Screams, Kelly.

Honestly, I have never heard anyone say, “I had a great time with that Ouija board, I’m really glad we did that.”

The couples make contact with a spirit named Kelly. This is very upsetting to Dan’s girlfriend May, as she had a cousin named Kelly who went missing and is presumed dead.

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Dan then finds himself haunted by Kelly. He throws up water, finds his kitchen chairs stacked on the table, and is followed around by a haunting song. Dan feels like he won’t find peace until he helps Kelly find peace.

What worked

There was a lot to enjoy in this first episode. Specifically, I loved the horror visuals. Dan’s vision was very creepy, as an example. And I loved the shots of the body floating down the river. These images were eerie and upsetting.

The storytelling from Dan and Joey was also well done. While I have my doubts about the validity of this story, these two men believe wholeheartedly in what they’re saying. I certainly believe that they experienced something disturbing. Either that or they are some fantastic actors.

What didn’t work

That being said, some things rubbed me the wrong way in this episode.

I’d like to start with the herbs Joey burned during the Ouija session. It looked like sage, or maybe sweetgrass.

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As some of you might know, I am a practicing witch. So I do feel the need to point out that if you want to open a door and invite spirits in, you probably don’t want to be burning sage or sweetgrass as those are going to negate any spiritual activity. This was for sure the action of someone who does not know what the hell they are doing. It just irritated me.

Also, maybe don’t throw open a door indiscriminately to the spirit world. Just saying.

I also didn’t love the acting by Ben Walton-Jones, who played Dan. While it wasn’t a terrible job, the character felt overacted. I don’t know how he had room for that pizza, since he was chewing the scenery most of the episode.

Honestly, this episode felt a little underproduced. When I saw John Carpenter’s name, I was expecting something with some real production value. Great acting, great effects, great music. None of those were in effect here. I’m not sure where their budget went, because it didn’t go to any of the things it should have.

Is it true?

So that brings us to the big question. Do I think this story is true?

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Well, it is verifiable that Kelly Lynn Fitzpatrick was a young woman who unfortunately was found dead in 1999 in Quebec. The rest of the story, so far as I can find, is up to speculation.

Do I believe someone could contact the dead on an Ouija board they made out of a pizza box? Yes, I do. Because Dan made it with his own hands it might have worked better than a store-bought board. But do I think he was haunted to this extent by the spirit of Kelly?

Well, I would say that I believe this about as much as I believe the story of the Amityville house. Something certainly happened here, but I am sure that the details shared in this episode of Suburban Screams are highly overblown.

In the end, while I did have fun watching this episode, this fun was tainted. I would have enjoyed it more if it was presented as a fictional story loosely based on real-life events. Because that is almost certainly what it was.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Fallout, The Beginning

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We’ve now reached the end of Fallout, season one. As I mentioned during the last review, I was heartily concerned that this show, like so many others, was going to drop the ball at the finale and ruin an entire season.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. This episode was everything it needed to be and more.

Let’s discuss.

The story

We begin our story with Maximus returning to the Brotherhood of Steel compound. He has a head, which he is claiming is the real head of Wilzig.

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I don’t know why he thought that was going to work.

Of course, it doesn’t. The elder cleric is about to kill Maximus until Dane says that they hurt their foot.

Because of this, the Brotherhood is sent out to get the head. Or rather, what’s inside of it. They head to the city run by Moldaver. This happens to be the same place Lucy and The Ghoul are headed.

Still from Amazon Prime's Fallout.

There, Lucy does manage to find her father. What she ends up finding is so much more than she wanted to find.

What worked

The first thing I have to discuss is how seamlessly the storylines of the series combined.

Each of our four main characters has been on their own journey. Lucy is trying to save her father. Maximus wants to become a knight. The Ghoul wants to find his family. Norm wants to know what’s going on in Vault 31.

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I sure wasn’t expecting all of these stories to come together in the way that they did. And to preserve the ending, I don’t dare say more. I will only say that yes, all four stories tie in perfectly with one another. By the end, two characters end up having the very same goal.

As I hinted before, I did not see the twist ending coming.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Yes, we might have guessed some things from the last episode. We of course guessed that Lucy’s dad was involved in some nefarious and probably sci-fi way. But the way this story twists at the end is nothing short of serpent-like. Which is why I cannot go into too much detail here. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to experience it blind.

Finally, I can give the Fallout season finale the most important praise I can ever give a finale. It did its number one job, getting us excited for season two. We have answers, but now we have new and more exciting questions. And even better, we have a desire to see vengeance done.

What didn’t work

Now that the season is done, though, I can bring up something that bothered me through all eight episodes.

I don’t buy Lucy and Maximus’s relationship.

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Maybe because it’s rushed. Maybe because the two actors don’t have a lot of chemistry. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure even now either character could tell you a single thing about the other. There is just no spark between the two. So their love story feels tacked on. I honestly feel like their love story could have been removed from the show entirely and it would have no negative impact.

I also didn’t buy Dane’s confession. This is a minor spoiler, but it comes up early in the episode. Dane confesses that they hurt their foot so that they wouldn’t have to go into the wastelands.

And at first, I kept expecting Maximus to thank them later. I honestly thought that they were just lying to save Maximus’s life. But no, as it turns out, they were not.

But it just doesn’t make sense. The motivations don’t jive. I honestly think it would have been better for the story if they had lied to save Maximus’s life.

At least then there’d be one other Brother of Steel who had some nobility.

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In the end, this first season of Fallout was everything I could ask for. So far as I can tell, it was everything fans of the Fallout franchise could ask for. There wasn’t a bad episode in the bunch. Honestly, the only real complaint I had was that the season was so short.

I’ll be counting down the days to season two, and I hope you’ll be joining me then. Because war, war never changes.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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Movies n TV

Fallout, The Radio

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Episode seven of Amazon’s Fallout is the penultimate episode. This is often when a series goes off the rails and starts to mess things up. After being burned so often recently, I was apprehensive when this episode began.

Thankfully, this was a fear that did not come to pass. And so far, Fallout’s finale is doing just fine.

Lana the dog in Fallout.

The story

A lot happened in this episode, so we’re just going to skim over some of the more important storylines. We’ll start with Lucy and Maximus, in Vault 4. Lucy has discovered what she believes is a secret collection of monsters. But of course, it turns out that it’s simply people that the vault dwellers discovered and are trying to help heal. But her meddling around was enough for them to kick her out of the vault. With two weeks’ worth of food and water, of course.

But Maximus assumes they’re going to do something much worse. And so he steals their power coil to fight through the perfectly innocent people and save Lucy.

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Meanwhile, we dive further into The Ghoul’s past, when he was still Western star Cooper.

After attending a Communist meeting, he’s approached by Lee Moldaver. She suggests that Vault Tech is hiding something, something terrible. And she tells Cooper that his wife Barbara knows more about this than she’s letting on. Moldaver gets Cooper to bug Barbara’s Pip Boy, and listen in on an important meeting.

Poor Cooper hears far more than he wants to.

War, war never changes.

What worked

I would like to first point out that this was one of the funniest episodes so far. I mean, it got incredibly tragic and sad by the end. But it also had some great laugh-out-loud moments. This should be a surprise to no one, with such an array of comedians guest starring. Chris Parnell was in the last episode as well but is now joined by the incredibly funny Fred Armisen as DJ Carl. This is of course not his first foray into the funny and spooky world, as he also played Uncle Fester in Wednesday.

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Most of what makes this episode funny is the character’s understated and deadpan responses to wild situations. When Maximus returns the energy coil and is greeted by a simple thank you. When Thaddeus gets an arrow through his neck, and slowly realizes that hey, he might be a ghoul. These were hilarious because they could have been truly dark moments. But because this world is so dark, and the characters have already been through so much, they’re simply done. They take all of this in stride because of course that’s what’s happening. It’s par for the course for them.

Aaron Moten and Ella Purnell in Fallout.

On the other hand, we’ve finally seen the full extent of The Ghoul/Cooper’s past. And it’s so much worse than we could have imagined. I assumed that he’d lost his beloved wife and daughter in the atomic blasts two hundred years ago, somehow not dying with them and instead turning into a literal and figurative monster. The truth is so much worse. I’ll do my best not to spoil the ending. But I will say this. There is nothing more painful than mourning someone and hating them at the same time. And it’s easy to see how Cooper turned into The Ghoul. That sort of pain could drive anyone mad.

This balance between comedy and tragedy is one of the reasons why this episode worked so well. It’s one of the reasons why the series is working so well. It manages to combine the core tenets of theater in a way that never compromises the strengths of either. The eventual downfall of Thaddeus is a great example of this because it’s both tragic and funny. We’ve seen what happens to ghouls, and it’s a horrible end. But as he’s hardly been a sympathetic character, we can all get a good laugh at his predicament as well.

The sheer amount of good old-fashioned gore doesn’t hurt either, of course.

What didn’t work

All that being said, there was one thing that bothered me about this episode. And it was the reveal of Vault 4’s big secret.

Honestly, I was expecting the Vault 4 storyline to go way darker. I wanted it to go way darker. While I’ve never played these games myself, I know enough about the story to say that these vaults are not the bastions of safety and morality that they have so far been portrayed as. And while that has certainly been alluded to, we haven’t seen it.

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We haven’t seen the depravity in these vaults. And it’s there. But maybe we just haven’t gotten to it yet.

In the end, The Radio did exactly what it needed to do. It set us up to have most of our questions answered in the season finale. And I can’t wait to see how it all ends.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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