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After last week’s relative stumble, can Lovecraft Country pick up the pieces and slow its pace? Is the show still burning the candle with a flamethrower, or has it shifted to something a little more moody?

Leti is about to make a point to the neighborhood.

The story so far…

“Holy Ghost” opens with a dire warning that in 1955, three people will disappear from the recently-purchased house of Leticia Lewis, and with that Lovecraft Country turns into a haunted house story for the duration of an episode. Throughout the episode title cards updating the timeline over the course of days suggest something awful approaches.

Leti, as with the other Ardham survivors, has a lot to work through. We open the episode with her in church, but while those around her take in the joy and comfort of God she can only shed tears. That changes, however, when she reveals to her sister Ruby that she purchased a run-down old house in a white neighborhood and plans to turn it into a boarding house. Leti throws herself into different things to come to terms with what bothers her, her boarding house, trying to reconnect to her sister, her photography, celebration, sex with Atticus, and rage against white agitators in the neighborhood, but none of it helps.

It takes a truly selfless action, motivated by ghostly encounters, to find a form of salvation that has escaped her since the flight from Ardham. At her lowest point, separated from her sister (again), her tenants, and still dealing with the guilt of surviving when George died, she turns her attention to the evil in the house, in the form of a cultist doctor’s ghost, and hopes to put the spirits of the 8 murdered black people to rest. She finds that salvation, by the end of the episode and finds a renewed home.

Let’s extended focus leaves a little less room for the rest of the cast in the aftermath of Montrose’s rescue, but we get snippets of life after the death of George. Hippolyta takes out her frustrations on Atticus, whose well meaning attempts to help her and Dee just rub her the wrong way. She event turns to destruction, tearing the pages from George’s favorite book, Dracula. Her discovery of an astronomical model within a locked room of Leti’s house, however, might mean something. After all, Hippoltya had an interest in the stars and we see the model is curiously absent later, when two of the white neighbors break into the house to inflict harm.

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Atticus is feeling lost and with fewer answers than he had hoped. He intends to head back to Florida, but is convinced to stay long enough to help ensure that Leti’s house remains safe from the white neighbors. He tries to connect with Montrose who would rather drink, and their discussion is cut short by a violent outburst on the part of Montrose over the topic of keeping the truth of George’s murder secret. He eventually aids Leti in the process of exorcising the house through a Voudou ritual at one point becoming a vessel for the sinister spirit within. Tic’s final moments of the episode have him confront Christina Braithwhite, who arranged the entire scheme of putting the house in the possession of Leti. Atticus nearly killer her, but her formidable powers prevent that, and she lectures him on the dangers of killing white women and offers him a task, to track down missing pages from The Book of Names.

One of the better haunting sequences in the episode.

How it worked out…

Lovecraft Country is a show of tremendous potential, but I am becoming concerned that it may not live up to it. I’ve given up, at this point, on the idea of being scared of otherworldly creatures and concepts in the show. The horror of the specter of racism is enough in that regard. Yet, for a ghost story there should be some material that is unnerving, correct? Nothing about “Holy Ghost” struck me as remotely scary outside of the inhumanity of man. Though, maybe that is the point.

Ghost stories are a particularly favorite genre of horror for me. I adore ghost stories but came out of “Holy Ghost” rather passive about the hour run-time. This might be best blamed on the pacing of the show which, continuing the precedent of episode two, feels like sprinting through a story rather than letting it play out. The show has the challenge of juggling the ongoing stories of the characters while establishing the anthologized storylines that the characters weave in and out of. In that regard, you would think it would make sense to give those elements room to develop, but that does not seem to be the approach for Lovecraft Country.

That being said, the ghost story present in the episode isn’t bad at all, and it plays pretty well with the show’s exploration of racism and the abuse of black bodies (quite literally). It’s just that there is no tension in the episode actually connected to the ghost story at all, and what would normally make for a full movie or a couple of episodes end sup getting handled int he span of about 40 or so minutes. We see the signs of a haunting, the major encounter, the research, and the exorcism – all in one episode. It feels a little much, especially when the show also tries to tackle the trauma and grief of George’s death as well. With the limited time the show can spend with different characters and plotlines the developments are admirable, but also a little perfunctory, less full explorations and more like checkmarks on an outline.

Lovecraft Country is burning through multiple episodes of storytelling to diminishing results. Despite a strong foundation, mood and tension have given way to a breathlessly paced ghost story where little seems to haunt.

I give the third episode, “Holy Ghost,” four Cthulhus. I gave this one a little bit of a ghostly-bump simply because the bones are solid. I don’t know what possessed me.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Montrose clashes with Atticus over the truth about George’s death.

Miskatonic Musings

As always, there is a wealth of references to uncover in an episode of Lovecraft Country.

  • Jurnee Smollett leads the charge this week with an episode that gives her a great range of emotion and is worthy of notice in any list of great actresses.
  • One of the boys playing with the Quija board may be referencing the real-life Emmett Till, which is another example of the profound horror Lovecraft Country evokes best.
  • We see Dracula and The Count of Monte Christo again. I’m definitely curious about Montrose’s record collection.
  • So what was with the ghosts? Well, the previous owner of the house, Hiram Epstein, was engaged with his own experiments to reach the Garden of Eden, but he used kidnapped black people from Chicago to do so. The ghosts as they are seen throughout the episode bear the scars of those experiments which seem to have something to do with time travel. So now you know why the basketball player had a baby’s head.
    • These experiments definitely echo the experiments on black people, such as the harvesting of the cells of Henrietta Lacks or the horrific Tuskegee Study.
  • The poem in the opening sequence at the church? It came from a 2017 Nike ad featuring Leiomy Maldonando.
  • While Lovecraft didn’t write about ghosts often in his stories, but there are some significant ones, such as “The Mound,” a novella he ghostwrote. The further irony is that the story was published posthumously.
  • Lovecraft also wrote a great deal on supernatural horror, such in his essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” which shares some thoughts on ghosts.
  • The show continues to use a great mix of contemporary and anacrhonistic music. Let’s close out this review with my favorite song from the episode, “Good Rockin’ Daddy” by Etta James:

What did you think of the third episode of Lovecraft Country? Let us know in the comments.

And yes, I did update the title graphic for the reviews, thanks for noticing.

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, 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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Movies n TV

The Girl in the Trunk (2024): A Tense Danish Horror-Thriller Led by Katharina Sporrer

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If you grew up in the 90s you will know one thing–ol’ Jimbo used to have ‘trunk rides’ through the north woods with people in various states of drink screaming for more. This Girl in the Trunk movie is a different type of screaming in the film and in the audience.

The premise at first glance is simple–a terrifying snatch and grab kidnapping. The modern day twist with cell phones, cell reroutes, and trunk escape buttons all come into play with just enough realism to have you wonder if this could happen to you.

The strengths of this contained thriller fall squarely on the shoulders of Katharina Sporrer, who carries the film with such abandon that I’m pretty sure she’s in traction as I type this with an overstrained back. Make no mistake — this Danish horror-thriller works because of Katharina. The end. Not the writing. Not the direction from Jonas Kvist Jensen. Not the edits. It’s her film and she does marvels with walking the tightrope of victim and vengeance as the thriller girl.

What Worked

This movie is a weird catch. What works is one actor. That’s it. Really. Katharina does a lot with little and this is something that can stand out in movies grand and small, especially in an understated Danish horror movie.

I did enjoy the filming style and the thoughts of a low budget gripping thriller. It goes to show that with a talented person you can make a movie with very little set switches, without many effects, and without multiple casts members feeding off each other. All you need is a good basic story of abduction of girl in a trunk–some solid tense pacing–and one amazing actress like Katharina. The rest of the magic is just getting out of your movie’s way.

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I think this is what works the best: The movie doesn’t sabotage itself. It knows its limits. It knows its strength and it plays to that strength.

Make no mistake — this film works because of Katharina. The end. Not the writing. Not the direction. Not the edits. It’s her film and she does marvels with walking the tightrope of victim and vengeance. Jim Phoenix on The Girl in the trunk

What Didn’t Work

When I saw this screener pop into my box, I knew there was just something about the setup I wanted to see play out. This could have gone extremely bad–but because of Katharina’s presence it swerves out of the ditch and into cinema gold.

I am not sure if this movie works only because of her acting, but I know it doesn’t work without her. The other cast members seem out of place–clunky at times. Some of the writing is a level of bizarre ‘I call bullshit’ that I haven’t seen this side of film school.

With that said, there really isn’t much of anyone else in the film for most of this mysterious true crime style film. This seems to work to its advantage, as we focus on the painful consequences for the kidnapped girl in the desert heat, with no bystander to help as she suffers heat exhaustion, bites, mental and emotional abuse, and deep uncertainty all in a very tiny trunk.

Final Verdict of The Girl in the Trunk:

The Girl in the Trunk is a story we’ve heard before, and sometimes in better ways. However, this film is worth the stream. The runtime is tight, the pacing works well, and, as I stated before, Katharina is an amazing actress who pulls this entire thing off. Almost on her acting alone, I give this 4 out of 5 Cthulhu.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Dark Deviations: A Halloween Episode in May

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Smiling Friendsfirst Halloween episode aired in January 2022, so this May release isn’t completely out of character. The much anticipated second season of the bizarre Adult Swim show has, as of June 5,2024, delivered five intriguing stories about geometrically-distorted beings and blob-shaped humans. Episode four, “Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” is a truly terrifying sight to behold.

A Mission to Make the Boss Smile

Smiling Friends is a small company whose mission is to make anyone and everyone smile, per the customer’s request. Each episode consists of various missions the four main characters, Allan, Glep, Pim and Charlie, must accomplish. These tasks can range from saving the career of a homicidal frog to finding true love for a reclusive shrimp. Season two episode four’s dilemma is to save the Boss, a charismatic, unnaturally proportioned man and Smiling Friends’ CEO. We rarely get a glimpse into the Boss’ personal life, but now we are invited to his wedding, where he is marrying none other than Satan’s daughter, Brittney.

The Smiling Friends main cast at the Boss's wedding.
(Left to right) Allan, Glep, Pim, Charlie and a new friend at the Boss’ wedding.

Naturally, marrying Satan’s daughter comes with some major consequences, the biggest of which is losing all free will. Brittney has completely possessed the Boss and transformed the Smiling Friends business into Brittney’s Beautiful Demonic Flowers. It is up to the smiling friends must find a way to save their jobs and creepy, beloved employer.

The Scariest Smiling Friends Mission

“Erm, the Boss Gets Married” is one of the scariest episodes in the series. There are jump scares, Brittney’s hellish face is even worse when she smiles. The animation is enthralling, terrifying and hilarious. Creators Zach Hadel and Michael Cusack went out of the box for this Halloween special and were especially creative with the journey to the Boss’ exorcism. Britney’s screechy demise is abrupt, as most endings in Smiling Friends are. The show is wholly unhinged, and the final lines come from Pim shouting, “HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYBODY!!!!”

While the plot is similar to South Park‘s season three episode “Succubus,” this Smiling Friends episode still upholds its own uniqueness and is fun to watch. Stick around after the credits, and you will see a delightful scene: the Boss in the middle of a screaming match with his ex-father-in-law, Satan, over their personal property in hell.

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The Verdict

“Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” is a ridiculous May Halloween special that keeps the audience on their toes. It is one of the scarier episodes in the season. The creators have a knack for illustrating uncomfortable-looking characters and complicating the simplest of storylines. It would be exciting for Smiling Friends to do more than just one horror themed episode per season, especially with how good Hadel and Cusack are at creating terrifying creatures. However, since the seasons are short, these special holiday episodes are a fun once-a-year treat. The show is already weird and scary enough; it would be overkill if they did too many spooky specials.

(That said, if the Smiling Friends creators ever decided to make an entirely new horror animated series, I would be first in line to watch the entire thing.)

“Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” earns 4.5 out of 5 cthulhu. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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