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Trigger warning: suicide, hanging and murder

PANDEMONIUM is a screener from our friends at Arrow Films (more info at the end of the review) and brought to us by writer/director (and mixed media artist), Quarxx.

Director Quarxx (All the Gods in the Sky) explores the peculiar, welcoming all those hungry for wonder, in Pandemonium, a unique cinematic blend of fantasy, drama, genre, and humour. The film takes the viewer on a chilling journey as three interconnected stories unravel in this macabre exploration of tales depicting fallen souls. From the intricacies of everyday drama to the realms of supernatural intrigue, each narrative weaves a haunting tapestry that blurs the lines between the mortal and the supernatural. – Arrow Video

Pandemonium cover art with a man's head cut in half to show three different scenes - the first by a snowy cliff front, the second a little girl and someone being hanged, and the third a Hellish door with a man walking in with a dark figure watching him. Blood drips from his head.

PANDEMONIUM stars Arben Bajraktaraj, Hugo Dillon, Ophélia Kolb, Carl Laforêt, and Manon Maindivide, and is rounded out with an impressive cast and crew. You can find it streaming here: https://www.amazon.com/Pandemonium/dp/B0CV7GW1QD and https://tv.apple.com/us/movie/umc.cmc.26kz22j93v0iwvm8uxnrmod6h.

But what is PANDEMONIUM and will it have that certain je ne sais quoi (my limited French, Je m’excuse)? Well, laissez-nous découvrir!

THE PLOT OF PANDEMONIUM:

On a snowy mountainside, Nathan (Dillon) awakes to a horrific crash. His car has been flipped upside-down but miraculously, he has survived. He’s met by Daniel (Bajraktaraj), a stranger who was also part of the crash.

As they begin to slowly piece together what has happened, two doors suddenly appear before them, leading to the ultimate answer to all their questions…

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two men at the scene of a car crash

THOUGHTS ON PANDEMONIUM (spoilers):

Let me get this out of the way first – the end is a mess. It feels thrown together and stitched up hastily. It doesn’t match the rest of the tone, nor does it lead to anything satisfying. Maybe that was the point, but with the rest of the pacing of the film, it was too lack-luster and sudden.

With that being said – holy smokes! PANDEMONIUM was right up my alley. As the poster suggests, the film has three parts. The first is on the snowy mountainside with Nathan and Daniel reasoning that they’ve died in the crash and are presented the door to Hell.

The second part is Nathan walking through the wastelands of the “waiting room” of Hell, being able to see people’s sins by touching their lifeless bodies. He sees the sins of a psychopathic little girl (the utterly amazing Maindivide) and a mother and daughter.

The last part is being ushered into the first level of Hell where he’s barely stepped a foot in and is killed by a demon, being reborn, but then eaten by the demon so he doesn’t become an antichrist…Yeah, it kinda lost the momentum and logic in that last part.

It felt like all three segments could have been their own films, to be honest, because they all had enough to them. The first being what is sin, why Nathan and Daniel are there and what it means to be there. The second being an anthology of sinners. And the third being what happens when a sinner is killed in Hell. The first two it manages to pull off well enough in a nihilistic look at the afterlife, humanity, and worldbuilding of Hell. The third part is literally a few minutes that really needed to be cut or expanded on.

Inside the ashy world of the waiting room of Hell, a desolate wasteland of bodies

Regardless, the writing is spot-on, being able to touch on philosophy, humanity, and humor. It’s hard to toe the line for humor, horror and in-depth discussions of the afterlife and death. Quarxx surprising writes it with ease and skill, being just tongue-in-cheek enough but never veering into something too dismal or edge lord territory. In a way, it’s not his story but the story of everyday people in extraordinary situations that feel close enough to being ordinary. We can see ourselves within these characters or can empathize with them while still being disgusted by their actions. Well done, Quarxx.

The acting is absolutely wonderful, ranging from dramatic to humorous, from deplorable to relatable. Everyone was stellar with their performance and in a very short amount of time given to their characters, each character stands out. Bajraktaraj and Dillon had great chemistry – being bitter, consolatory, and rivalry towards each other. Their relationship was fascinating to watch.

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Maindivide is one of the best child actresses I’ve ever seen in horror, being able to be utterly menacing and terrifying. Along with her imaginary friend, Tony the Monster, whom she makes toast for, we get caught into her world of fantasy and destruction. That scene of the foreboding oven had me saying, “No, they’re not going to…” But yeah, yeah, Quarxx went there and with Maindivide’s performance, it was utterly brutal.

Tony the monster and little girl eating breakfast
Just a normal day with you and your monster…

The cinematography, the sets, the prosthetics, the lighting, the music – stunning. Full applause. Everything fits so well into each other. Each piece is a work of art woven into a weird and wonderful film about death and what lies beyond it.

BRAINROLL JUICE (spoilers):

What makes one irredeemable? What makes one a sinner to be cast down into an afterlife of pain and agony? A bold act? A mistake? A mental illness? A situation? A technicality?

In PANDEMONIUM, all of the above. Nathan knows too quickly, while pleading his case, that he is not meant for Heaven. He murdered his wife in what he begs was a “mercy killing”. Daniel was almost let into heaven but then forced into Hell on a technicality after accidentally killing a child in the crash. Nina is a killer, sure, but also a psychopath born into her tendencies from a young age. The mother and daughter (sorry, I don’t remember their names and I couldn’t find them on IMdB, but they’re great, too) are there because the teen committed suicide after being bullied at school and the mother had dismissed the bullying as a “buck it up” situation.

It’s what we all ask ourselves, isn’t it? What lies in the beyond? What are the rules? Which god, if any, is real? Which sin, if any, is too big of a sin?

It hits home. During having this screener, someone who was very close to me passed away. And with her being Catholic, there were many rituals carried out that I had become part of – rosaries spoken, last rites performed, prayers spoken and funeral mass. It’s a part of my background and culture that I haven’t been part of for a long, long time. And throughout the process, it all lead back to afterlife, obviously. Where was she to go when her body ended its functions and purpose? That she of her personality, conscious, memory, life-force – her ‘soul’?

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PANDEMONIUM is the worst-case scenario in all its tongue-in-cheek nihilistic glory. But with it also comes a powerful message: humor persists in all times. Even at our darkest moments, in the purest of pain, there can be that small, microscopic atom of humor that lights the darkness with its soft laughter. Not fully, but enough.

And when things are funny, they’re also often less scary and much more manageable.

A great pic of Nina and Tony the Monster done by yours truly

BOTTOMLINE OF PANDEMONIUM:

If slow-burn artistic and funny French films about Hell are your jam, get some toast for Tony the Monster and enjoy. Even with the ending, it’s worth the watch. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR DISTRIBUTOR:

Pandemonium, the latest feature from filmmaker Quarxx (All the Gods in the Sky). The film made its world premiere at Neuchâtel and went on to screen at Fantasia, Frightfest, Fantasy FilmFest, Sitges, Grimmfest, Trieste and Screamfest and you can see it at home on ARROW with a host of brand new extras! Pandemonium will also be available on all major VOD platforms, include Apple TV and Prime Video.

From Arrow Films, a recognized world-leader in curation and creation, ARROW is a premium platform giving audiences an unparalleled viewing experience across multiple devices, so fans can explore the films and TV shows that the Arrow brand is famous for.

Specially curated by members of the ARROW team, ARROW is home to premium film and TV entertainment, exclusive new premieres, cutting edge cinema, international classics and cult favorites – such as the works of Lars Von Trier, Brian De Palma, Dario Argento, David Cronenberg and Park Chan-wook, and brand-new short films from both new and established filmmakers.

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For more information on PandemoniumARROW and its titles, please contact: justin@justincookpr.com or visit https://www.arrow-player.com.

Thank you, Arrow!

When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

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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Movies n TV

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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