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When Jordan Peele, writer and director of Get Out and Us, comes out with a new horror project, it is certain that movie enthusiasts of all kinds will flock to the theater. With a $44 million opening weekend, Nope is currently number one in the box office. Its elements of cosmic horror, neo-Western themes and monstrous aliens make this UFO thriller strange, absurd and terrifying.

WARNING: CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

Bad Miracles in Nope

Nope begins with a dark screen and the audio of a man and woman talking, their jokes supported by a laughing audience. We are listening to a sitcom recording. Suddenly a balloon pops, and everyone nervously laughs before their joy is drowned out with haunting screams and a howling. The camera takes us to the stage: a chimp named Gordy is sitting quietly on the floor of a TV studio stage. He is wearing dark pants, a yellow long sleeve shirt and a birthday hat. His breath is heavy, his body leaning heavily against a couch. A woman lays on the floor behind him, and he is covered in her blood.

There is a lot to take in with this opening scene, as the trailer for Nope did a good job making the plot as obscure as possible. It also sets the tone for the rest of the movie, where violence, suffering and death are inevitable. (Bearing in mind that the chimp is CGI and it’s screams are stock sound,) this is one of the most terrifying scenes in Nope and it is just the beginning.

History in the Making

Enter animal trainers Otis Haywood Senior (Keith David) and his children Otis “OJ” Haywood Junior (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald “Em” Haywood (Keke Palmer). After Otis Sr. has a tragic accident, OJ takes over his father’s ranch and business, Haywood Hollywood Horses, the latter of which Em occasionally helps out with. When the siblings travel back to the ranch after a long day of work in Hollywood, they notice strange things happening with the horses. It doesn’t take long for them to conclude that extraterrestrial forces might be to blame.

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A critical theme in Nope is America’s centuries-long practice of excluding Black history and accomplishments. Em tells a small film crew that the “very first assembly of photographs to create a motion picture was a Black man on a horse” and that man was her great, great, great grandfather. His name is not mentioned, because the name of the jockey on the horse in the clip is unknown.

As with all works of fiction, Peele slightly alters these bits of history in Nope. What is most important is how he hones in on the true fact that Black people have had their accomplishments erased and uncredited throughout American history, whether it is in art, science or the history of horse riding. The importance of this becomes evident later in the movie when OJ and Em work hard to capture a UFO on film. The “Oprah shot” can not only preserve the Haywood legacy, but possibly change the the state of the world as we know it.

The Story

Overall, Nope is a simple tale of two siblings working to capture a UFO on film. But beneath the surface, there is a smorgasbord of layers that work and other components that do not. One of my favorite scenes is when the UFO abducts Ricky Park and his family and audience. We see a small gruesome glimpse of what happens to the abductees, and it is chilling.

Every actor, from the extras to the main cast, put on an incredible performance in Nope. Kaluuya and Palmer especially steal the show, with Steven Yeun (playing theme park owner and child actor Ricky “Jupe” Park) and Brandon Perea (playing tech salesman Angel Torres) providing excellent and comedic support. Their acting and the IMAX filming bring the story to life, even in moments when the story falters.

At the end of Nope, when the UFO takes on a different form, the CGI and filming is exquisite. It is also near this scene where the story becomes a bit lackluster. The movie ends with Em finally getting the “Oprah shot.” This scene mirrors previous figurative and literal shots in the film; Palmer carries these last few . But while Nope’s actors and cinematography are profound during these moments, the overall conclusion is ultimately unsatisfying.

And yet, Peele does well in making sure the stories he writes do not dependent on its ending. The strong world building, gorgeous film score and impressive wide shots make Nope engaging from beginning to end, even if the final scenes are not as exciting as they could have been.

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Horror Meets IMAX

Nope‘s cinematography is beautiful. Peele’s used large format IMAX cameras, whose high resolution capabilities allowed for an immersive, transformative viewing experience. This, coupled with the expansive and color-contrasting desert landscape, added a unique neo-Western aura to the film. When the camera captures the spaceship creeping out of a cloud in the sky, or when blood pours on the Haywood home, it feels as if we are right there with the Haywood siblings, escaping the hungry monster in the sky.

The Verdict

As with most of Peele’s works, Nope is riddled with an array of interpretations and hidden meanings. The UFO blockbuster is a large pivot from his previous works, thus illustrating just how wide of a range the writer and director has when working with horror. Nope is a strange and enthralling UFO summer movie worth watching. And whether or not this specific niche of film is your cup of tea, there is no denying that Peele continues to make history in the beloved, under-appreciated genre that is horror. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, Cursed Neighborhood

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Episode five of John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams was one of the best kind of horror stories. It is a dark, eerie tale of a mean house that is determined to destroy anyone who dares reside within it.

The story

Our story begins in 1682. A group of colonists are attempting to take over land that is very much not theirs. When the colonists are killed, they vow to curse the land.

Fast forward to modern times, and the land in question is a little suburban neighborhood. Carlette Norwood moves in with her husband, mother, and daughters. The house seems like a dream come true. Until, of course, their beautiful dream home becomes a nightmare. The curse of the colonists wrapped itself around the neck of each family member, turning them into people that they didn’t recognize. People who don’t exactly like each other.

What worked

While I wouldn’t say that the acting in this episode is flawless, it was several steps above what we’ve seen so far. Every actor seemed to understand their role and reacted in realistic ways. I was especially impressed by the young woman playing Angelique. She had the good sense to not overplay the role, giving each scene exactly the right amount of energy.

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Of course, there was one actress who way overplayed every scene. But rather than being terrible, it was terrific. And that was Chloe Zeitounian, who played the neighbor Stacy. Stacy the neighbor was creepy as shit. After an unnamed neighbor dies by suicide, Stacy shows up at Carlette’s house with a bottle of champagne, sipping coffee with a big old smile. Well, okay it probably wasn’t coffee.

Stacy was a fantastic character, and I hope there was a crazy neighbor just like her. I bet her house was haunted as hell, but she just decided that her ghost was like a stray dog that everyone else thinks is dangerous. She probably put a bejeweled collar on the colonist ghost and renamed him Kori spelled with an I on purpose.

Finally, I want to talk about the theme of ancestral curse and ancestral protections that this episode discussed.

Charles County was cursed by the colonists who took the land that rightfully belonged to the indigenous tribes. They took what their ancestors had given them, and left a curse in their wake.

At the end of the episode, Carlette talks about being protected by her ancestors. Ancestors that survived horrible things most of us can’t imagine. I am sure that their strength blessed Carlette, and helped her to save Angelique.

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What didn’t work

While this episode was certainly better than most of the season, it wasn’t perfect. The thing that most stood out to me as being frankly unneeded was the inclusion of maggots attacking Brian.

Paul A Maynard in Suburban Screams.

In multiple scenes, during which Carlette is narrating, Brian has maggots coming out of open wounds. Never once does Carlette mention a maggot issue.

It feels like there is a clear reason why the creators did this. This story doesn’t have a lot of blood, gore, or jump scares. And a core goal of horror content is to cause a reaction.

Stephen King has a great quote about this goal. “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”

The inclusion of maggots in this story admits that someone involved didn’t think the story was terrorizing or horrifying enough. But it was. The story was freaky all on its own without the inclusion of our wriggling friends.

Is it true?

This might be an unpopular opinion, but aside from the completely unnecessary maggots infesting Brian, I think this episode is the most honest and accurate one so far.

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The thing about hauntings is that they’re seldom what we see in the movies. Haunted houses don’t have glass vases flying off shelves and wallpaper peeling to reveal 666 painted in blood over arcane symbols. Haunted houses dig into the minds of those who live there, causing bad luck and bad vibes. And that’s exactly what happened here. There are no massive explosions. No spirits throwing people downstairs or demonic dogs chasing children from the attic. This house dug into the hearts and minds of a loving family, ripping them apart.

So yes, I do think this episode is likely true.

The further we get into Suburban Screams, the more I enjoy it. This episode was eerie, upsetting, and riveting. I hope that Carlette and her daughters are healing from this horrific journey. And I’m thankful to them for sharing their story. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Happy Father’s Day Herman Munster!

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Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel
Herman Munster would be so proud, collage by Jennifer Weigel

Today for Father’s Day I want to celebrate one the best dads in horror ever: Herman Munster! Herman Munster of television celebrity is a perfect example of a good father in a genre awash in epically horrible parents. He is fun to be around, cares deeply about family, and has a huge heart. He is essentially the naive and loving Frankenstein’s monster despite his horrific appearance, and is aptly employed at a funeral home.

Herman is lovable, hardworking, and always ready with the physical humor dad jokes, even if he is too naive to catch on to his role in the punchlines all the time. He is devoted to his wife Lily Dracula and son Eddie and will do whatever he can to protect them. His generosity extends beyond just his own, with the family taking in his niece Marilyn (who is painfully normal by comparison to the Munsters), and father-in-law Grandpa.

Portrayed by Fred Gwynne, Herman Munster is kind of the epitome of the good father in horror. Sure, he’s a brute, and can be a little dim sometimes, but he’s really just a big teddy bear at heart, and always ready for a good laugh. And apparently Herman Munster was even nominated by his son Eddie for Father of the Year in Season 2, Episode 25, so it all comes around full circle. If the show highlight doesn’t load, you can find it here.

And to celebrate more great Hollywood celebrities, here’s a poem for Ed Wood and an homage to Theda Bara

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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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