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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.”

Steven Wilkins

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.

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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.

Andrei Chikatilo and family

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.

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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.

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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.

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

Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, A Killer Comes Home

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Episode two of John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams was more true crime than supernatural. It was the horrific, dark tale of a serial killer who escapes from jail and comes back to his hometown for revenge. And boy, does he find it.

The story

This story begins with a man coming out to his front porch to find a mysterious package wrapped in newspaper. He opens it to find a rotting, maggot-ridden head that he certainly didn’t order.

The head was placed there by a killer named Allan Legere. In 1986, Legere brutally murdered a couple in their homes during a robbery. For this, he was sentenced to life in prison.

However, he escaped from prison in May of 1989. Enraged at his old hometown, he returns there and starts a brutal killing rampage. He wants revenge on the people who wronged him. At least, the people he believes wronged him. Rather than focusing on the police who arrested him, or the judge and jury who convicted him, he decides to go after the journalists who reported on the case.

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Of course, he also murders a whole bunch of old ladies for some reason. And a priest.

Annette Holland in Suburban Screams.

Legere is still alive, and still in prison. But as he’s escaped once, many people believe he might do so again. And if he does, he’ll almost surely try to pick up right where he left off.

This tale is told from the point of view of the journalists, Rick MacLean and David Cadogan. Both men have been deeply impacted by this incident. They are still shaken. And still very, very angry.

What worked

This episode was far better than the first, right from the maggot-headed start. The gore was intense. The story was horrifying. And it’s made even more horrifying, knowing that it is, for the most part, true.

The thing that made this episode stand out is that it feels so much like several beloved horror stories. I would suggest that this story inspired John Carpenter’s Halloween, except that that movie came out in 1978. The events in this episode took place from 1986 to 1989.

To realize that a person could cause so much pain, and take so many lives, is possibly the scariest thing most of us can imagine. And while this story is, sadly, not unique, it is certainly worse than most.

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What didn’t work

After watching this episode, I can only really think of one complaint. There is a scene with the first victims, two elderly ladies. The first woman is home alone when someone begins hammering on her front door. We are meant to believe that it is the killer, but it ends up being her sister with a lovely salad. But if the two sisters lived together, why was she knocking to be let in? I can only believe that this is meant as misdirection to the point of being a jump scare. And this feels cheap. Especially when the rest of the episode was more on the level.

Is it True?

While I do think parts of this episode were, let’s say dramatized, I do think this happened. There are just too many facts that would be far too easy to look up. To my dismay, the part that is easiest to look up is the horrific deaths of many innocent people.

This was a much better episode than the one that preceded it. The story is compelling and frightening. It is well told, both from the survivors being interviewed and the actors recreating the moments of horrific history. I’m hoping that the rest of the season is more like this episode, and less like the first.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Suburban Screams, Kelly

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Launched in October of 2023, Suburban Screams is the latest project by acclaimed horror master John Carpenter. It’s a true crime/unsolved mystery series covering events that have terrified people living in, you guessed it, the suburbs.

The story

Our first episode, titled Kelly, is the story of two roommates named Dan and Joey. The actual Dan and Joey tell the story from their own perspective, interspersed with dramatic reenactments. This did feel very much like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

One night when Dan and Joey have their girlfriends over, they decide to play with an Ouija board. Since they don’t have one, Dan makes one on a pizza box, complete with a planchette. This is, of course, when things go terribly wrong.

Still from Suburban Screams, Kelly.

Honestly, I have never heard anyone say, “I had a great time with that Ouija board, I’m really glad we did that.”

The couples make contact with a spirit named Kelly. This is very upsetting to Dan’s girlfriend May, as she had a cousin named Kelly who went missing and is presumed dead.

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Dan then finds himself haunted by Kelly. He throws up water, finds his kitchen chairs stacked on the table, and is followed around by a haunting song. Dan feels like he won’t find peace until he helps Kelly find peace.

What worked

There was a lot to enjoy in this first episode. Specifically, I loved the horror visuals. Dan’s vision was very creepy, as an example. And I loved the shots of the body floating down the river. These images were eerie and upsetting.

The storytelling from Dan and Joey was also well done. While I have my doubts about the validity of this story, these two men believe wholeheartedly in what they’re saying. I certainly believe that they experienced something disturbing. Either that or they are some fantastic actors.

What didn’t work

That being said, some things rubbed me the wrong way in this episode.

I’d like to start with the herbs Joey burned during the Ouija session. It looked like sage, or maybe sweetgrass.

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As some of you might know, I am a practicing witch. So I do feel the need to point out that if you want to open a door and invite spirits in, you probably don’t want to be burning sage or sweetgrass as those are going to negate any spiritual activity. This was for sure the action of someone who does not know what the hell they are doing. It just irritated me.

Also, maybe don’t throw open a door indiscriminately to the spirit world. Just saying.

I also didn’t love the acting by Ben Walton-Jones, who played Dan. While it wasn’t a terrible job, the character felt overacted. I don’t know how he had room for that pizza, since he was chewing the scenery most of the episode.

Honestly, this episode felt a little underproduced. When I saw John Carpenter’s name, I was expecting something with some real production value. Great acting, great effects, great music. None of those were in effect here. I’m not sure where their budget went, because it didn’t go to any of the things it should have.

Is it true?

So that brings us to the big question. Do I think this story is true?

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Well, it is verifiable that Kelly Lynn Fitzpatrick was a young woman who unfortunately was found dead in 1999 in Quebec. The rest of the story, so far as I can find, is up to speculation.

Do I believe someone could contact the dead on an Ouija board they made out of a pizza box? Yes, I do. Because Dan made it with his own hands it might have worked better than a store-bought board. But do I think he was haunted to this extent by the spirit of Kelly?

Well, I would say that I believe this about as much as I believe the story of the Amityville house. Something certainly happened here, but I am sure that the details shared in this episode of Suburban Screams are highly overblown.

In the end, while I did have fun watching this episode, this fun was tainted. I would have enjoyed it more if it was presented as a fictional story loosely based on real-life events. Because that is almost certainly what it was.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Fallout, The Beginning

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We’ve now reached the end of Fallout, season one. As I mentioned during the last review, I was heartily concerned that this show, like so many others, was going to drop the ball at the finale and ruin an entire season.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. This episode was everything it needed to be and more.

Let’s discuss.

The story

We begin our story with Maximus returning to the Brotherhood of Steel compound. He has a head, which he is claiming is the real head of Wilzig.

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I don’t know why he thought that was going to work.

Of course, it doesn’t. The elder cleric is about to kill Maximus until Dane says that they hurt their foot.

Because of this, the Brotherhood is sent out to get the head. Or rather, what’s inside of it. They head to the city run by Moldaver. This happens to be the same place Lucy and The Ghoul are headed.

Still from Amazon Prime's Fallout.

There, Lucy does manage to find her father. What she ends up finding is so much more than she wanted to find.

What worked

The first thing I have to discuss is how seamlessly the storylines of the series combined.

Each of our four main characters has been on their own journey. Lucy is trying to save her father. Maximus wants to become a knight. The Ghoul wants to find his family. Norm wants to know what’s going on in Vault 31.

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I sure wasn’t expecting all of these stories to come together in the way that they did. And to preserve the ending, I don’t dare say more. I will only say that yes, all four stories tie in perfectly with one another. By the end, two characters end up having the very same goal.

As I hinted before, I did not see the twist ending coming.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Yes, we might have guessed some things from the last episode. We of course guessed that Lucy’s dad was involved in some nefarious and probably sci-fi way. But the way this story twists at the end is nothing short of serpent-like. Which is why I cannot go into too much detail here. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to experience it blind.

Finally, I can give the Fallout season finale the most important praise I can ever give a finale. It did its number one job, getting us excited for season two. We have answers, but now we have new and more exciting questions. And even better, we have a desire to see vengeance done.

What didn’t work

Now that the season is done, though, I can bring up something that bothered me through all eight episodes.

I don’t buy Lucy and Maximus’s relationship.

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Maybe because it’s rushed. Maybe because the two actors don’t have a lot of chemistry. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure even now either character could tell you a single thing about the other. There is just no spark between the two. So their love story feels tacked on. I honestly feel like their love story could have been removed from the show entirely and it would have no negative impact.

I also didn’t buy Dane’s confession. This is a minor spoiler, but it comes up early in the episode. Dane confesses that they hurt their foot so that they wouldn’t have to go into the wastelands.

And at first, I kept expecting Maximus to thank them later. I honestly thought that they were just lying to save Maximus’s life. But no, as it turns out, they were not.

But it just doesn’t make sense. The motivations don’t jive. I honestly think it would have been better for the story if they had lied to save Maximus’s life.

At least then there’d be one other Brother of Steel who had some nobility.

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In the end, this first season of Fallout was everything I could ask for. So far as I can tell, it was everything fans of the Fallout franchise could ask for. There wasn’t a bad episode in the bunch. Honestly, the only real complaint I had was that the season was so short.

I’ll be counting down the days to season two, and I hope you’ll be joining me then. Because war, war never changes.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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