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The electrifying series, Iskander, doesn’t let you breathe until the very end.

Iskander, named Maroni, Les Fantomes du Fleuve in France, is a four-part thriller miniseries that doesn’t embrace the natural horror bestowed upon it until the very end. You’ll feel like your in a hallucinogenic nightmare with claustrophobia climbing up your insides, but it’s not really scary. A nice mixture of disturbing madness and simple cop drama, Iskander plays out more like an extremely long film rather than a series.

You know how when you watch a show, it feels like a show? Well, not this show and it makes it very hard not to watch in one sitting.

It’s not new. The series aired in France in 2018 but I’m sure it was unknown to the States until Shudder bought the rights and began streaming it on December 19, 2019. It’s so obscure, I couldn’t even find a trailer on YouTube to upload, and it has very little online presence. This is unfortunate because Iskander is way too good to go unnoticed.

Disturbing cop drama

It starts with distraught cop Chloe (Stephane Caillard) who is transferred to Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, after an alleged disagreement with her commanding officer. Why she’s distraught we won’t learn until much later but it’s easy to figure out. On her first day, her VERY first day, Chloe and her new partner, Joseph Dialo (Adama Niane) are confronted with a gruesome ritualistic crime.

A couple is brutally slaughtered on their boat, strung up in the air beside a sloth emptied of blood, with their young son missing. From there on, it’s nothing but one twisty revelation after the other, as Chloe and Dialo struggle to find the missing boy before it’s too late.

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The best thing about Iskander, outside of the unbelievable story, is that it moves quickly. By the end of Episode 1, we have all the information we need. The plot doesn’t slow down once, not even to take a breather. It just crams everything out in the first 45 minutes and then by the third episode we’ve entered a creepy world of Voodoo and necromancy.

Imagine Fight Club taking place in a country where fear of Voodoo ruled the locals. Everyone seems to be involved, and they’re not quiet about it either. We learn in the very first episode what the series’ title “Iskander” means. A forest spirit who rules over nature. He is cruel but fair, like nature itself, and those who can’t let go of the past cling to him as their last hope.

Final Verdict

Iskander is all about change. Each character has suffered a loss and has a hard time letting go of what once was. After all, death really only hurts those we leave behind. However, life doesn’t stop just because you want it too, you can’t go back and resurrect a mistake or a tragic event. It’s not possible.

The end might not be what everyone wants but I loved it. It’s tragic but also very beautiful. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

All images taken from Google images.

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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, 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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Movies n TV

The Girl in the Trunk (2024): A Tense Danish Horror-Thriller Led by Katharina Sporrer

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If you grew up in the 90s you will know one thing–ol’ Jimbo used to have ‘trunk rides’ through the north woods with people in various states of drink screaming for more. This Girl in the Trunk movie is a different type of screaming in the film and in the audience.

The premise at first glance is simple–a terrifying snatch and grab kidnapping. The modern day twist with cell phones, cell reroutes, and trunk escape buttons all come into play with just enough realism to have you wonder if this could happen to you.

The strengths of this contained thriller fall squarely on the shoulders of Katharina Sporrer, who carries the film with such abandon that I’m pretty sure she’s in traction as I type this with an overstrained back. Make no mistake — this Danish horror-thriller works because of Katharina. The end. Not the writing. Not the direction from Jonas Kvist Jensen. Not the edits. It’s her film and she does marvels with walking the tightrope of victim and vengeance as the thriller girl.

What Worked

This movie is a weird catch. What works is one actor. That’s it. Really. Katharina does a lot with little and this is something that can stand out in movies grand and small, especially in an understated Danish horror movie.

I did enjoy the filming style and the thoughts of a low budget gripping thriller. It goes to show that with a talented person you can make a movie with very little set switches, without many effects, and without multiple casts members feeding off each other. All you need is a good basic story of abduction of girl in a trunk–some solid tense pacing–and one amazing actress like Katharina. The rest of the magic is just getting out of your movie’s way.

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I think this is what works the best: The movie doesn’t sabotage itself. It knows its limits. It knows its strength and it plays to that strength.

Make no mistake — this film works because of Katharina. The end. Not the writing. Not the direction. Not the edits. It’s her film and she does marvels with walking the tightrope of victim and vengeance. Jim Phoenix on The Girl in the trunk

What Didn’t Work

When I saw this screener pop into my box, I knew there was just something about the setup I wanted to see play out. This could have gone extremely bad–but because of Katharina’s presence it swerves out of the ditch and into cinema gold.

I am not sure if this movie works only because of her acting, but I know it doesn’t work without her. The other cast members seem out of place–clunky at times. Some of the writing is a level of bizarre ‘I call bullshit’ that I haven’t seen this side of film school.

With that said, there really isn’t much of anyone else in the film for most of this mysterious true crime style film. This seems to work to its advantage, as we focus on the painful consequences for the kidnapped girl in the desert heat, with no bystander to help as she suffers heat exhaustion, bites, mental and emotional abuse, and deep uncertainty all in a very tiny trunk.

Final Verdict of The Girl in the Trunk:

The Girl in the Trunk is a story we’ve heard before, and sometimes in better ways. However, this film is worth the stream. The runtime is tight, the pacing works well, and, as I stated before, Katharina is an amazing actress who pulls this entire thing off. Almost on her acting alone, I give this 4 out of 5 Cthulhu.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Dark Deviations: A Halloween Episode in May

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Smiling Friendsfirst Halloween episode aired in January 2022, so this May release isn’t completely out of character. The much anticipated second season of the bizarre Adult Swim show has, as of June 5,2024, delivered five intriguing stories about geometrically-distorted beings and blob-shaped humans. Episode four, “Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” is a truly terrifying sight to behold.

A Mission to Make the Boss Smile

Smiling Friends is a small company whose mission is to make anyone and everyone smile, per the customer’s request. Each episode consists of various missions the four main characters, Allan, Glep, Pim and Charlie, must accomplish. These tasks can range from saving the career of a homicidal frog to finding true love for a reclusive shrimp. Season two episode four’s dilemma is to save the Boss, a charismatic, unnaturally proportioned man and Smiling Friends’ CEO. We rarely get a glimpse into the Boss’ personal life, but now we are invited to his wedding, where he is marrying none other than Satan’s daughter, Brittney.

The Smiling Friends main cast at the Boss's wedding.
(Left to right) Allan, Glep, Pim, Charlie and a new friend at the Boss’ wedding.

Naturally, marrying Satan’s daughter comes with some major consequences, the biggest of which is losing all free will. Brittney has completely possessed the Boss and transformed the Smiling Friends business into Brittney’s Beautiful Demonic Flowers. It is up to the smiling friends must find a way to save their jobs and creepy, beloved employer.

The Scariest Smiling Friends Mission

“Erm, the Boss Gets Married” is one of the scariest episodes in the series. There are jump scares, Brittney’s hellish face is even worse when she smiles. The animation is enthralling, terrifying and hilarious. Creators Zach Hadel and Michael Cusack went out of the box for this Halloween special and were especially creative with the journey to the Boss’ exorcism. Britney’s screechy demise is abrupt, as most endings in Smiling Friends are. The show is wholly unhinged, and the final lines come from Pim shouting, “HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYBODY!!!!”

While the plot is similar to South Park‘s season three episode “Succubus,” this Smiling Friends episode still upholds its own uniqueness and is fun to watch. Stick around after the credits, and you will see a delightful scene: the Boss in the middle of a screaming match with his ex-father-in-law, Satan, over their personal property in hell.

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The Verdict

“Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” is a ridiculous May Halloween special that keeps the audience on their toes. It is one of the scarier episodes in the season. The creators have a knack for illustrating uncomfortable-looking characters and complicating the simplest of storylines. It would be exciting for Smiling Friends to do more than just one horror themed episode per season, especially with how good Hadel and Cusack are at creating terrifying creatures. However, since the seasons are short, these special holiday episodes are a fun once-a-year treat. The show is already weird and scary enough; it would be overkill if they did too many spooky specials.

(That said, if the Smiling Friends creators ever decided to make an entirely new horror animated series, I would be first in line to watch the entire thing.)

“Erm, the Boss Finds Love?” earns 4.5 out of 5 cthulhu. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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