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This week we return to serialization in Lovecraft Country after the brief sojourn into haunted house territory. Unfortunately though, narrative shortcuts and sloppy attention to detail doom this Goonies-lite exploration episode.

Read on, if “ye” dare.

Christina tangles with a representative of a local Lodge

The story so far…

Our A-plot this episode, “A History of Violence,” focuses on Atticus, Leti, and Montrose on a trip to Boston to seek out the missing pages of the Book of Names. Atticus is convinced he can re-purpose the magic in those pages to project everyone in his life. Leti expresses intense frustration at Atticus’s compartmentalizing of information after Christina Braithwhite pays her a visit. Lastly, Montrose, drunk and reeling, studies the book of information from the cult given to him by a dying George and then proceeds to burn the book, hoping to protect Atticus and the others.

Atticus, Leti, and Montrose travel to Boston in the woody, joined by Hippolyta, Diana, and Tree. Later that night, Tic’s Trio returns to the museum, let in by a guard who also seems to be a contact of Montrose’s, and they uncover the hidden series of chambers and tunnels seemingly constructed by Titus Braithwhite. The Trio encounters a number of challenges and traps and also somehow find themselves just under Leti’s recently acquired haunted house in Chicago until uncovering a ship of corpses and an undead Arawak guardian, Yahima, who happens to be an intersex “two-spirit.” They discover that they were being compelled to translate the pages by Titus, and their people were killed to force the issue. Tic’s Trio manages to retrieve the missing pages, escape the flooded tunnels, and find refuge in Leti’s home with Yahima in two.

Then Montrose slashes the throat of Yahima is a dazzlingly self-destructive choice.

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The rest of the episode revolves around the other women of the show. Hippolyta has clearly taken the orrery from Leti’s house, the same orrery that Christina Braithwhite seems to be seeking in the episode. The orrery also seems to model a distant solar system. Hippolyta and Diana share a cute moment in a star-dome, where Hippolyta reveals she had discovered and named a comet, but the credit was given to a white girl. Later the pair are returning home to Chicago, confused at how Tic’s Trio got there without them. Hippolyta notices that Diana is drawing on George’s atlas, noticed the route to Devon County, where Ardham is found, is marked, and decides to head that way for answers.

Christina, trying to meet her own magical goals attempts to strong-arm Leti but is kept at bay by the magical energies of Leti’s house. Christina drops that Atticus attempted to kill her, as asks Leti for the orrery in the house. Christina spends time in the neighborhood, waiting on the orrery or some other purpose, and is targeted by the same cops who went after Leti last episode. It becomes clear that these cops are tied to another one of the many (maybe even 35?!) magical lodges. This time, however, Christina vanishes and is instead saved by her servant, William. Could Christina and William be one-in-the-same? That might complicate the next bit.

Meanwhile, Ruby, Leti’s half-sister, makes the unfortunate discovery the department store position she craved was filled by another woman. Ruby goes to Sammy’s bar to let off her blues in some fantastic singing that doesn’t seem to inspire many reactions. She then gets introduced to William who seems to promise her the world before seducing her.

Magic has its price, however. Let’s hope the price is not too steep for Ruby.

The ring seems to be the key, here, but I am sure the blood helped.

How it worked out…

It takes about 15 or so hours to travel from Chicago by Boston, according to Google maps. I only mention this because, within the span of two hours, Tic, Leti, and Montrose somehow manage to use an underground passage from a museum in Boston and arrive at the secret tunnel beneath Leti’s new house. Spatial anomalies are fine and welcome in creating unsettling weirdness in Lovecraftian works, but the key is that it needs to be established first. There is no indication that the laws of time and space are warping around Tic and company in the tunnel, all that there is is the rising tide. So unless there was some sort of time and space shenanigans that were established prior to their arrival at Leti’s elevator then the episode absolutely went off the rails, very badly.

It might seem a bit cynical and unfair of me to latch onto a continuity error such as this, but it is a perfect example of some of the narrative leaps that “A History of Violence” took. So many puzzling choices just to set up circumstances in non-organic ways. Why does Montrose burn the book? Because it makes it easier to set him up to tag along. Why is everyone pissed off at an obviously traumatized Atticus for trying to protect their lives? What happened to Tree? Does the hidden trigger in the museum ever get activated when someone is cleaning the alligator statue?

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Even worse, the strength of the show, the themes of the existential horror faced by people of color, was largely absent. We get references to colonialism, Hippolyta being unable to take credit for the cosmic object she saw, and a made-up story about a knot. We do get something with Rose, but it’s all a set-up for next week’s episode.

Instead, we end up with a lukewarm riff on Journey to the Center of the Earth only even more nonsensical than that pulp adventure. Solid performances across the cast can’t even really save it, either. We’re now just mostly hitting the same notes on the characters with a slight thawing of the relationship between Atticus and Montrose.

Lovecraft Country‘s adventurous return to serialization moves the story forward, technically, but seems to be mostly moving pieces around to get the players where they need to be for something more significant to come. Sloppy attention to detail, however, sinks what could have been a fun romp. There is little terror, Lovecraftian or otherwise, to be had, however.

I give the fourth episode, “A History of Violence” two and a half Cthulhus. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

This sequence was pretty fun.

Miskatonic Musings

What do we have of note in this edition of the Miskatonic Musings?

  • Of course, the Freemans were never enslaved. It’s in the name… Free Man.
  • We also see a little bit more of the kid who we assume will be history’s very own Emmett Till.
  • Speaking of tragedy, Montrose references Tulsa as he burns the cult’s book.
  • Yahima Maraokoti is said to be from Guyana and is a two-spirit. There is a history of “two-spirit” intersex individuals in Native American culture and a fascinating example of differing perspectives on sex and gender in indigenous culture.
  • So, Montrose is gay. His friend from the bar, Sammy, in episode one, was caught receiving oral sex. Tree seems to hint at this in the episode.
    • With that said, Montrose killing Yahima feels gross and unnecessary, but it may also make a perverse sense to him; he may be grappling with his own queerness and Yahima represents an uncomfortable blurring of boundaries for him.
  • Literary references in this episode specifically revolve around Journey to the Center of the Earth. The episode borrows heavily from that sort of pulp adventure storytelling. Not entirely successfully, mind you.
  • There is also a rather laconic retelling of the events of “Genesis.”
  • My music pick for this episode? Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.”

What did you think about “A History of Violence?” Let us know in the comments!

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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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