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If you haven’t seen Vernon Zimmerman’s film Fade to Black, I recommend you watch it immediately. It is a criminally underrated gem that can only be appreciated by a certain portion of the movie-loving population. Released in 1980, Fade to Black is a film made for horror cinephiles ripped down the middle between dark character study and oddball slasher. It is one of my all-time favorite horror films to come out of the 1980s and a lot of that has to do with the film’s lead character, Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), a unique kind of serial killer.

There are two ways to look at a character like Eric. You either sympathize with him or you think he’s a weasel. He’s an awkward loner obsessed with movies. They are his only source of comfort, and the characters his only friends. He’s so frightened of the world and uncomfortable in his own skin that he begins to impersonate these characters in his everyday life, merging them with his own personality. These new personas enable him to take revenge on his bullies.

His attachment to film is framed like an addiction. The late-night movie sessions he obsessively engages in are very suggestive of drug use. Sitting in a little ball in a ratty t-shirt in the dark as he stares at the projecting images with a dazed expression, the drug has consumed his life. He’s only alive when he’s pretending to be someone else.

Eric’s behavior can easily be written off as the behavior of someone struggling with a mental illness, someone who’s just “crazy,” but if you’re able to understand what’s going on inside his head, then his odd behavior seems reasonable, even rationale. Fade to Black is not the only film to show a movie-inspired killer but most take a satirical approach while Fade to Black takes a slightly more clinical approach. Eric Binford may be a product of fiction but the cinephilic killer is very real.

Peter Moore

In 1995, the owner of a chain of movie theaters named Peter Moore was accused of killing four men in North Wales. Also referred to as The Man in Black, Moore targeted members of the LGBTQ community, stabbing, and mutilating their bodies for “fun.” At the time of his arrest, it was widely believed that he had been obsessed with the Friday the 13th franchise and even blamed the murders on a fictitious male lover named Jason.

Peter Moore

Moore wasn’t like most prolific serial killers. He had a good life growing up with a mother who doted on him. He had no prior violent behavior that anyone could see and his murder spree seemingly came out of nowhere but his actions during his own trial were that of a narcissistic psychopath in complete control. Not of a delusional movie fan. I’m not 100% sure where the Friday the 13th excuse came from but it was likely something the press made up or an excuse Moore tried to use at the last minute.

According to Alex Carlile, the lead prosecutor at Moore’s trial, Moore was a monster of a human who lived to be the center of attention. A master manipulator who was incredibly vane, he enjoyed being on trial.

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Daniel Sterling

Does anyone remember the man from 2015 who bit his friend after marathoning The Walking Dead? This is very much like that, only worse. In November of 1994, a man named Daniel Sterling reportedly stabbed his girlfriend Lisa Stellwagen and drank her blood because he just loved Interview with the Vampire too much. The morning after seeing the film together, Stellwagen woke up to find Sterling staring at her in bed. When she asked what was wrong, he responded with these words straight from the Edward Cullen handbook: “I’m going to kill you and drink your blood.” And he attempted to do just that, stabbing her a total of seven times in both the back and chest. Thankfully, she survived the attack and was able to stop him.

“I was influenced by the movie. I enjoyed the movie,” Sterling said. “But I cannot sit here and blame the movie.” He also said that he believed in vampires but didn’t want to be one, which is an odd thing to say after you had just gotten finished acting like a vampire.

More about the case came to light a few years later where it was revealed that Sterling originally tried to blame the attack on a black man. His actions were later believed to have been a crime of passion brought on by a jealous rage when he discovered that Stellwagon had gone out with another man shortly before the attack. During Sterling’s trial, psychiatric experts testified that he’d suffered from psychological issues his entire life after his mother committed suicide when he was 10. He was believed to have had Type 1 Bipolar Disorder and at the time of the attack, had been suffering from a manic episode.

Daniel Gonzalez

In a murder spree that lasted for two days, Daniel Gonzalez claimed to have been inspired by the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and to a lesser extent Friday the 13th, when he went on a drug-fueled rampage that left four people dead and two injured. He wrote about his experiences in letters that described how much he enjoyed the murders and how similar he thought he was to dream demon, Freddy Krueger.

On September 15, 2004, Gonzalez started randomly stabbing people he encountered on the street, murdering them in events that he described as “orgasmic.” Upon his arrest, Gonzalez was given six life sentences without the possibility of parole only to die by suicide just three years later on August 9, 2007.

Like Sterling, Gonzalez’s early life contained its fair share of red flags. He’d been born into a good family and given a proper education but suffered from serious behavioral problems. When he around 18 years old, he was admitted to Oak Tree Clinic, a mental health hospital where he received treatment for about a year. His claims of being influenced by Freddy Krueger were believed to have started there, which I’m going to assume originated from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, which takes place in a psychiatric hospital. It’s possible he found comfort in the film, taking on a Freddy persona to better cope with his new surroundings.

The Copycat Criminal

It’s all about the copycats. What these men did has nothing to do with their minds somehow being corrupted by the graphic depravity of horror films. Similar to the actions displayed by Eric Binford in Fade to Black, the films were the medium used to purge whatever turmoil already lived inside of them, while simultaneously serving as their model for adaptability.

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Before mass civilization assembled everyone together into large piles, people lived in tribes or small groups where mimicking actions and behavior was a survival technique. Also called “mirroring,” it’s a technique that allows humans to adapt to their surroundings and better relate to their peers. However, as society has evolved and we have become excessively exposed while remaining in total isolation, television and social media have somewhat warped this. We now relate more to fictional characters than to real people.

Copycat crimes seem like a subunit of the “mirroring” effect. Used to take on a new persona other than your own, it’s often used to justify violent behavior. This is also a part of “mob mentality” in which people absorb the anger of those around them. It is a part of a depersonalization process used in culture change, war, and, even group activities. Just like how warriors paint their faces for battle or gang members dress in matching clothes, copycat criminals mimic someone of inspiration to reduce their inhibitions. Even if on a subconscious level.

Another explanation for this behavior centers on the idea that copycats thrive on the attention publicity gained by the original crime, and the subsequent attention that their related acts will receive. They learn that committing a similar action will give them the same attention. Easy fame.

Personally, I see some copycat criminals as adopting new personas of others, either real or fictional, because they have no sense of self. We all know people like this. They seem to have no opinion or personalized tastes. Everything they do, say, or think can be traced back to another person. When they grow out of this persona, they take on a new one until they become a confusing mixture of them all, losing who they originally were in the process, very much like poor Eric in Zimmerman’s Fade to Black.

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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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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