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Spook Warfare, released in 1968, is the second film in the ‘Yokai Monsters’ trilogy written by Tetsuro Yoshida. Previously we looked at 100 Monsters, the first in this thematic trilogy. Though it was released in the same year as 100 Monsters, the two are very different films. Pacing, storytelling, tone, and even special effects have dramatically increased.

A Kappa is surrounded by many yokai spirits.
Spook Warfare cover image for Shudder

The previous film focuses nearly exclusively on humans and their disregard for the spiritual. Spook Warfare, on the other hand, puts the spotlight directly on creepy monsters from the get-go. It’s a lot more accessible than the previous movie and would have probably been a better way to start off the trilogy.

A fierce Babylonian demon(Chikara Hashimoto) is freed when grave robbers attempt to steal his magical staff. He buries them in a rockslide and immediately heads to Japan, as any ancient evil would. Upon arrival, he appears to Isobe, the local magistrate(Takashi Kanda, who played Tajimaya in 100 Monsters) kills him, and possesses his body by drinking his blood. Isobe returns and immediately begins destroying all of the holy altars and shrines, demanding his servants do the same.

Beefin’ Over Turf

The ruckus pulls the attention of a Kappa(Gen Kuroki) that lives in the palace pond. A self-proclaimed protector of the palace, Kappa is able to see through the demon’s disguise and attacks right away. However, the demon overpowers him easily and Kappa flees to a ruin where other yokai live to beg for help.

The magistrate is so popular and well-liked, even among the spirits, so they don’t believe Kappa and refuse to help. Back at the palace, Isobe’s daughter Chie(Akane Kawasaki) and the samurai Shinpachiro(Yoshihiko Aoyama) discover one of the palace workers drained of blood. Knowing they’re dealing with a monster, Shinpachiro contacts a Buddhist priest for aid in helping them dispatch the demon. They set a trap, but it ends up failing and the priest is killed.

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The possessed Isobe demands his guards bring all nearby people to the palace so he can feed on them. As the guards are rounding up the villagers, two children escape and stumble into the ruin where Kappa is begging for help. A ungakiyo (usually a mirror, but appearing in this movie as a large bear who can project images of what is happening on his giant stomach by holding his breath – wild, right?) appears, informing the yokai the demon is named Daimon, an ancient spirit from Babylon. This confirms everything Kappa has told them and they decide to help the humans dispatch Daimon. Not just because he killed Isobe, but because it is their duty, as proud Japanese spirits, to expunge any foreign threats on their land.

Children ask the local yokai for help in a ruined house. Text: But our neighbors who were taken away to work as servants all came back ded.
The children ask the local yokai for help

Oh! What A Lovely Yokai War

As mentioned before, the tone for this movie is quite a bit lighter than the previous one – despite there being an actual, you know, WAR in it. There’s quite a bit of comedy and Kabuki-style acting in quite a few of the scenes. Straight away Daimon is a credible threat to the heroes in the movie. And despite some of the yokai’s shenanigans (particularly the over-confident Kappa), their individual personalities shine through.

Considering this film was made in the late 60s, the special effects, costumes, and monster puppets look pretty good! The lighting and blocking do a lot to cover the seams, helping the movie feel a lot more atmospheric. The humans play second fiddle to the yokai throughout but are still very well written and placed in this story.

Daimon, the Babylonian spirit, reveals himself to Isobe.
It’s Daimon’s world, we’re just living in it

Overall this is a much more accessible movie than the initial film in the trilogy. Like 100 Monsters, you’ll get more out of it if you are familiar with yokai history, but it’s not a prerequisite. Spook Warfare fits comfortably with the likes of movies that were hits in the late 70’s-early 80’s American cinema. People into movies like Gremlins, The Goonies or Little Monsters will feel very at home here. If you are love creature features, Japanese cinema or fun films, Spook Warfare should be on your ‘Must Watch’ list. Yoshida-san, you are two for two on the trilogy so far. Can you stick the landing? We’ll find out when we review Along With Ghosts. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Spook Warfare is currently streaming on Shudder

Rokurokubi, the long-necked yokai looks out from the shadows.
Ah, Rokurokubi, my beloved

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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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