If all goes well, this will be the first of a “Screen Slashers” column I will do once a month. In each one, I will pick a film that features a serial killer or mass murderer and describe the infamous, historical figures they may or may not have been based on. I’m doing this because I love psychopaths and want more excuses to talk about them. Researching which sickos inspired by favorite fictional sickos happens to be a hobby of mine, so why not also write about it? I thought about doing Michael Myers from Halloween since the holiday itself is just around the corner, but I already did a breakdown of Myers about a year ago when I wrote for Hidden Remote and I didn’t feel like doing it again. You can read it here if you want. That being said, I decided on Trick ‘r Treat instead.
Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology horror film released in 2007 that tells five different stories set on Halloween night. They are connected through the presence of Samhain, the literal embodiment of All Hallows Eve, watching over the night. The film deals with the “rules” of Halloween that must be followed, rules that are largely forgotten as respect for the holiday has been thrown out the window. One of the characters observed throughout the film is Steven Wilkins. He may honor the holiday but he’s got a much different problem, his backyard “stinks like a dead whore.”
Despite the presence of the demonically adorable Samhain, the true villains of Trick ‘r Treat are the people. Specifically Mr. Kreeg and Steven Wilkins. Kreeg is responsible for a school bus massacre that, from what I’ve gathered, is not based on real-life events. It was actually inspired by “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” special. So, Steven Wilkins it is. The school principal with a smelly backyard filled with bones.
Played by Dylan Baker, who also co-wrote the script with director Michael Dougherty, Wilkins is a charming local man who happens to be a serial killer. His targets of choice appear to be anyone of convenience, in this case, a few trick-or-treaters and a frightened young woman at a parade. There is a possibility that Wilkins is based on either John Wayne Gacy or Andrei Chikatilo, two sadistic serial killers that primarily targeted children while presenting themselves as “respectable” members of their communities.
Most people already know the name Gacy thanks to the many films and biographies about him. He worked as “Pogo the Clown” at children’s events and would often lure them over while still in costume, prompting him to be known as the “Killer Clown”. Meaning, don’t blame Stephen King for killing the clown industry, Pennywise didn’t come around until eight years after Gacy’s arrest. He was put to death on May 10, 1994, for torturing, raping, and murdering an estimated 33 boys. Burying their bodies in the crawl space of his house. Despite the high body count, hardly anyone suspected Gacy of anything, even though he was arrested and convicted of sexual assault in 1968, and then two more times in 1971. His final arrest was in 1978. To put it bluntly, it really shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise that he was a serial killing rapist. I can’t speak for the family, but how did they not know there were bodies in the house? According to his sister, the house always smelled a bit musty but apparently, no one thought enough to question it. “When [he and his second wife] moved in, there was always this kind of musty smell,” she [Karen Gacy] says. “In later years, he kept saying that there was water standing under the house and he was treating it with lime [and] that’s what the mold smell was.”
Though greatly diluted, Steven Wilkins of Trick ‘r Treat shares many similarities with Gacy including killing children, having a child of his own, and burying bodies on his property. In particular, the cheerful creepiness emitting from the character feels very Gacy.
Another killer that could have gone into Wilkins’s creation is Andrei Chikatilo, “The Rostov Ripper” or “Red Ripper” who sexually assaulted, murdered, and mutilated at least 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990 in Russia. Chikatilo’s crimes, although sexual in nature, were primarily motivated by rage. He was just a walking flesh suit filled with hate and resentment.
Chikatilo grew up during WWII and was forced to witness the horrors of war at a very young age. He lived through the Nazi occupation of Ukraine that forced his family into underground hideouts. His father was at war, leaving just him and his mother, sometimes completely homeless. It’s been theorized that Chikatilo’s mother had been raped by a German soldier sometime during the war as she suddenly got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. A rape that many believed Chikatilo had witnessed.
Naturally, Chikatilo grew up to have a great deal of emotional and psychological issues. To the point where murder and violence became therapeutic for him, a way to purge the rage. He didn’t seem to have a preference regarding gender, or even age, which is unusual among pedophiles, and often serial killers in general, suggesting he likely chose children because of his own stunted mentality, and for convenience. Anything alive would do.
This is exactly the case with Steven Wilkins who doesn’t pick and chose an exact target but simply killed anyone he might get ahold of.
Death by candy
Death by candy becomes one of Wilkins’s methods of murder, which fits right into the Halloween theme. As mentioned above, one of the running themes of Trick ‘r Treat is honoring the “rules” of Halloween, including checking for tampered candy. Anyone who has ever trick-or-treated knows this rule and remembers how annoying it was. We all remember our parents demanding we hand over our buckets and pillowcases of goodies that we spent all night collecting so that they could check it for open wrappers, because according to them and the news, there was always some wacko just waiting to put arsenic or razor blades into your Snickers.
This is actually one of my personal issues with the holiday, or with the misconceptions of it. The way so many people continue to associate it with violence, murder, and Devil crap.
Parents worry. It’s part of being a parent, but everyone seems to go a bit overboard about Halloween. It’s a Kentucky Fried Mouse situation, a story no one has experienced firsthand but they know a guy who knows a guy who knew someone that it happened to. Despite all the stories about poisoned candy, there’s only been one recorded case of it actually happening, and it wasn’t random at all.
In 1974, a man named Ronald Clark O’Bryan poisoned several Pixy Stixs with potassium cyanide that he distributed to five children, including his own son and daughter. After the other children went home, O’Bryan’s son Timothy asked to eat some of his candy before bed, unfortunately choosing the Pixy Stix. He died less than an hour later. It turns out that the O’Bryan family was drowning in debt and Ronald had murdered his son in order to collect the life insurance policy. He’d hoped to collect the policy on his daughter as well but after what happened to Timothy, all candy was confiscated by the unknowing mother.
This is primarily where the myth of tampered candy comes from and it was exactly what the pearl-clutching fake Christians crying Devil needed to “prove” their case about the evils of Halloween. A study published in “Threatened Children” by Joel Best in 1993 found no credible accusations of poisoned candy to happen before or after the O’Bryan case. To this day, Best continues looking for cases and has yet to find any.
Early versions of this myth occurred in the form of pranks. Older teens would supposedly insert harmless things in candy or hand out items other than treats to shock children. In Best’s book, he describes how in the early 1950s, some people would heat pennies on skillets then dump them in children’s hands. As for lethal objects such as razor blades being pushed through candy wrappers, roughly 100 cases have been reported since 1958 with over 95% of them turning out to be fake. The ones which turned out to be true were all harmless.
There’s an amazing book by David J. Skal called “Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween” that explores the candy myth in-depth.
This just in, this year’s candy fear is cannabis! Police are warning parents about candy masquerading as edibles in states where marijuana is legal.
Movies n TV
If You Don’t Woe Me by Now
This is the second to last episode of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And it’s kind of exactly what I expected it to be. But is that a bad thing? Let’s find out.
(Missed my last review? Click here to read it now.)
We begin at the funeral of the unfortunate Mayor Noble. While Wednesday seems to have been an invited guest, someone else in attendance isn’t.
Uncle Fester, played by Fred Armisen.
His visit couldn’t have come at a better time for Wednesday, as almost all of her friends aren’t talking to her. When Thing is brutally attacked, it’s even better luck that Uncle Fester is around.
This attack on Thing spurs Wednesday to speed up her search. With her uncle’s help, she breaks into the Nightshade library and finds that the monster attacking people is called a Hyde. A creature that can only be called upon by someone else.
This means that instead of one killer, we are looking for two. And Wednesday is pretty sure she knows who the killers are.
But of course, she’s still an idiot teenager, so she goes right ahead and confronts one of them, Dr. Kinbott, by herself. This has results that surprise no one.
After this, Wednesday learns her lesson and gets Sheriff Galpin involved to catch her suspected monster. Their relationship seems to be getting better after he caught her and Tyler in the Crackstone tomb watching Legally Blond and didn’t rebuke them. Maybe he’s softened on the idea of Wednesday dating his son.
Or maybe he wanted to use her to get around needing a search warrant for Xander’s art studio. Because why follow the law when you can risk the life of a teenager by sending her in to start grabbing up evidence in a flagrant disregard for the safety and rights of two kids?
Because that’s exactly what happened. Honestly, poor Xavier has gone through so much trying to be friends with Wednesday.
When you’re a fan of a certain genre, you’ll find yourself recognizing the beats of a story before they even happen. For instance, a murder mystery will often have a moment, right near the climax of the story, where it seems like the case is solved.
This was that episode. It appears like the case is solved, but it’s all a little too easy. And too early in the episode. Now, I don’t consider this a bad thing. It’s an expectation of the genre. Especially because this is a show for a young audience who might never have seen this before. And in this case, just because I saw it coming didn’t mean it wasn’t satisfying.
This one was satisfying because of the implications. The real monster is revealed now. And if you’ve figured out who it is, you understand how difficult a job Wednesday is going to have to prove it.
One thing I like about Wednesday is that there is no dishonesty in this child. If she thinks something, it comes right out. So of course she had no problem confronting her therapist as soon as she started putting the pieces together. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that she expects other people to behave like her. To be honest, at least some of the time. To attack from behind, and attack people other than herself to get her point across. Because, sadly, good people tend to judge others in the ways they would behave.
I loved the addition of Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester. And I wasn’t expecting him to do a good job, honestly. I’m quite used to Christopher Lloyd as Fester, so this was kind of shocking. But as always, he was great. He brought a sense of levity and joyous foolishness that this character should always have.
All in all, this was a great episode. My biggest criticism is that the twist ending isn’t as unpredictable as one might like. When you’ve been a selfish prick to everyone around you, and all of your friends are done with your shit, but one person is still fine with it, that person might just have some ulterior motives.
There’s just one episode left, and I’m excited to see how the story wraps up. I have high hopes for it. And I’m just thankful that the season has exceeded the rather dismal expectations I had for it at the beginning.
(3.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)