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A cyclops monster and several other yokai on the cover of Along With Ghosts.
Along With Ghosts cover image for Shudder

Finally, we arrive at the final film in Tetsuro Yoshida’s Yokai Monsters trilogy, Along With Ghosts. The first two films were wildly different in tone, so what can we expect from this one? The third film hews closely to the first’s themes of humans disregarding traditions in favor of their own selfish desires. Despite this, Along With Ghosts is a step up from 100 Monsters in just about every way.

Three is a Tragic Number

The movie wastes no time getting to the desecration as yakuza boss Higuruma (Yoshito Yamaji) and his henchmen appear at a shrine in the wilderness. They plan to ambush a courier who holds documents that reveal Higuruma’s crimes. An old man praying can sense their ill intent and warns them that no blood should be spilled on the site, lest they be haunted by the spirits who live there.

Dozens of yokai behind the screens of a Japanese house.
“Hi, we’re calling about your car’s extended warranty.”

The couriers appear at the shrine and they are immediately set upon by the yakuza. In the scuffle, the couriers are slain and the old man is mortally wounded but manages to escape. Higuruma acquires the incriminating documents but loses them in a sudden gust and they fall into the possession of a young child, Miyo (Masami Burukido), who disappears into the forest. Higuruma will do anything to protect himself, so he orders his men to give chase and murder both the old man and the young girl.

Terrified, Miyo drops the document and runs home to find her grandfather, the old man praying at the shrine, laying wounded on the floor. He pleads to her to head to Yui, where her father supposedly lives. Higuruma’s men show up and Miyo flees, beginning a long tiring chase along the Japanese countryside to evade them and find her father.

Along the way, she finds help from farmboy Shinta (Pepe Hozumi) and a swordsman named Hyakutaro (Kojiro Hongo), whose history intertwines with the yakuza in unexpected ways. Even without the presence of the yokai in the background, the plot has many interesting turns to keep you engaged with the characters.

Hyakutaro guards Miyo from the yakuza. Caption: You think I'm going to watch two grown men beat up a little girl?
Hyakutaro is the rogue with a mysterious past ad a heart of gold.

Less Is More

Much of Along With Ghosts takes what was established in 100 Monsters and builds on it. The story itself has more characters and more development. Sets and scenery are far more varied as Miyo and her pursuers give chase across the Japanese countryside. The sweeping landscapes and establishing shots give the movie an almost Western feel as the characters traverse the landscape. Dusty roads with few travelers, small villages after sundown, dark wooded swamps, and overgrown haunted fields all contribute to the unique visual tapestry that is nearly a signature of this trilogy.

The only thing that the film pulls back on is the presence of the yokai themselves. While they are undeniably part of the story, they feature much less in the film than even in 100 Monsters. Even Kasa-Obake, the umbrella monster who was featured pretty prominently in the first two films fails to make an appearance.

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Despite that, the yokai are far darker and more threatening in this installment. No silly Kappa antics against a demon or bouncing umbrella monsters tickling faces. These yokai are angry and vengeful, arguably more in keeping with their standard lore. There is a heightened threat to not only the yokai but also the human villains in this film as well. From the very beginning, it is clear that Higuruma and his men will do whatever is necessary to save their own skin – even if it includes killing a child.

Japanese rice fields in the countryside.
The landscape shots are a gorgeous addition.

More Than The Sum

Along With Ghosts is easily the most proficient film out of the trilogy, though you may find yourself wishing for more scares after the end. While there are a few good scares, it doesn’t have the same creep factor the other two films do. It makes up for this by having a more oppressive and tense mood through it.

So at the end of the day, which is the best movie in the trilogy? Well, it depends on what you are looking for. If you want a spooky ghost story, 100 Monsters will be your pick. Fun creature feature? Spook Warfare is the way to go. Engaging dramatic action? Go Along With Ghosts.

Any movie is a solid pick, no matter which way you cut it. You don’t need to watch all three in a row to get a solid movie watching experience. Still, I recommend watching all three, because your next favorite Japanese ghost movie might just be in here. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Along With Ghosts is currently streaming on Shudder

A Yakuza swordsman points his sword at one of the couriers.
This dude has a sword and is chewing on a straw, so you know he’s badass.

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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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