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Very early in, it’s perceivably clear that Spiral is a story that a large portion of the audience will not appreciate. It might even elude them for there are moments where the terror comes off as uneventful or too tepid to go full third base unless you properly understand what it is that the central character is experiencing. Not that these viewers won’t be able to enjoy the film, only that they might look at the horror unfolding in Spiral and think nothing of it.

This difference in interpretation can be seen in the limited reviews for this film. Early discussions about Spiral from when it was released on Shudder in September, showed almost no middle ground between final verdicts. Certain groups of people which included women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQA+ community thought it was downright terrifying while others felt underwhelmed by what was presented.

Spiral confirms two things for me. One, ALL horror movie husbands are useless and two, nothing good ever happens in the suburbs. A perfectly tidy neighborhood filled with polished passive-aggressive white people that smell like snobs. Often unintnetional snobs but snobs nonetheless. That’s the first problem the characters make in Spiral. They move to the freaking suburbs.

Same-sex couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) move to a nice small city in the suburbs with Aaron’s daughter from a previous marriage, Kayla, your typical angsty teen. There is no big reason behind this move other than getting out of the noisy city. It’s quiet and supposedly, safe, but it doesn’t take long before weird things start happening because anyone who has ever seen a movie knows that in the suburbs, you’re neighbors are always up to no good.

On their first day there, Malik starts having problems with some of the neighbors as they appear rude in unduly polite ways. Then one day he comes home to find the slur “F****ts” written on their wall, and just like that, their peaceful, and shockingly spacious home becomes the setting for Malik’s worst nightmares. Things only get stranger when he finds several copies of a book with a spiral logo in the neighboring houses and when someone gives him a post-it note secretly numbered with dates. They’ve become targets in something sinister. Unfortunately, he’s the only one aware of these events. Aaron has no idea and refuses to take any of it seriously.

Spiral starts with a brief flashback of a hate crime in which a teenaged Malik and his boyfriend (not Aaron) are attacked by a group of homophobes. The memory appears repeatedly throughout the film and is the heart of Malik’s growing paranoia. He’s living in fear, waiting for the next attack, unraveling at the seams much to the confusion of the completely at ease Aaron. He doesn’t understand why his husband is so upset, or so afraid. The two analyze their surroundings in very different ways as Aaron is a seemingly well-off, middle-aged white man that has likely never experienced more than a few hateful words regarding his sexual orientation while Malik is a black man who has already suffered hate-induced violence.

Aaron doesn’t have a lot to do in the film. He’s absent for a large portion of it, and when he is present, it’s only to ask Malik why he can’t just get over his anxieties and go make friends with the neighbors. If only anxiety and PSTD were that easy to cure buddy.

At one point, he even makes the comment, “You know what people do in the suburbs?” he asks “they leave their doors unlocked.” Which is honestly one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. This film is not set in the 50s when the suburbs were at peak power. Spiral is set in 1995, a time when people should have been most definitely locking their doors! Anyone who trusts their community enough to sleep with the door unlocked is someone who has likely lived a sheltered existence, which I’m sure is exactly what the film is trying to say about Aaron. Being, not only a black man but also a gay man, Malik feels the pressure of conforming to “acceptable” society that Aaron is blind to.

Spiral isn’t all social commentary though. There is something going on in town. What may or may not be a cult is living next door and they’ve got their eyes set on Malik, or do they? For the first half, Spiral attempts its hand at being a psychological thriller that wants you to question Malik’s sanity. The biggest problem with that is the film immediately gives away the answer. As Malik is slowly losing his marbles, there are multiple shots of people in hoods watching the house from the outside.

As good as Spiral is, if it had kept the question of insanity more prominent I feel that it would have resulted in a more impactful finale. It gives away part of the mystery a bit too soon. Knowing early on that Malik is right and that the neighbors are up to something, changes the viewing experience. It slowly turns from a study of fear, trauma, paranoia, and prejudices into a guessing game about the neighbors. All those themes remain strong though, coming back big in the end.

Final Verdict

Spiral is Get Out meets IT, with an end that pulls a Sinister. (Sorry, I just love name dropping movies). It is brutally honest when it holds up that mirror to the audience, a rigid atmosphere that keeps you tense and a slow buildup of poking at cultural prejudices like poking at a water balloon. Soon everything’s gonna pop. There are two monsters in this film, the actual villains and the fear they exploit. Those who’ve targeted Malik and his family have no personal issues with either of them, but they need to use human nature to their advantage, and fear is a part of human nature. Where there is prejudice, they can thrive.

Spiral is streaming now on Shudder.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

All photos are property of Hadron Films and Digital Interference Productions

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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The Last Drive-In Valentine’s Day Special Live Watch Party February 10th!

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The sweet putrid stench of love lingers through the air which can only mean one thing…Valentine’s Day and its annoying little winged cherub, Cupid, is fast approaching. Soon, partners will be spoiling one another with extravagant bouquets of roses, heartfelt Hallmark cards, obnoxiously large teddy bears, glistening diamond jewelry, and heart-shaped candies or boxes filled with assorted mediocre chocolates. You know? Normal things couples do. I tend to prefer my chocolate boxes filled with bleeding hearts, à la ‘My Bloody Valentine’ but, beggars can’t be choosers, right? All jokes aside, Valentine’s Day is special for many couples, however, there are also many others who find themselves celebrating this day without a significant other. Luckily, Shudder, along with drive-in king Joe Bob Briggs and co-host Darcy the Mail Girl (Diana Prince) will graciously be keeping us lonely mutants’, and yes, all you horror fanatic couples’ company on Friday, February 10th as they return with The Last Drive-In Valentine’s Day Special, premiering live at 9pm EST.

Love Spells Abound…

Back in 2021, Joe Bob and Darcy invited us to a gruesomely passionate night of spell-binding love witches and animatronic dinosaurs infused with teenage human brains during The Last Drive-In: Joe Bob Put a Spell on You. Many, including myself, were introduced to the tantalizing 70’s inspired retro throwback ‘The Love Witch’ and the graphically goofy cult classic ‘Tammy and the T-Rex’, providing the perfect viewing pleasure to mend any broken heart. While the two films for this year’s morbid love-induced special have yet to be announced, we here at HauntedMTL are eagerly awaiting the return of the ghoulish duo. As is tradition, we will be proudly hosting a watch party on Twitter during the live broadcasting of The Last Drive-In Valentine’s Day Special. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and tag us  @hauntedMTL as well as @shudder@therealjoebob, and @kinky_horror to partake in this night of unholy love.

Drawn image of Joe Bob Briggs pouring  a drop of pink liquid into a clear glass potion bottled filled with a glowing red substance. To his left lies a book a magic spells with a golden pentagram necklace resting on top. Also on the books rests a human skull with heart shaped pupils for eyes hiding behind a pair of clear glasses. In bold white letters a text reads "Join us on February 10th as we live tweet The Last Drive-In Valentine's Day Special".
Follow @hauntedMTL for live tweets and replies!

What started off as a one-time special premiering on Shudder July 13, 2018, ‘The Last Drive- In’ was originally meant to be Brigg’s swan song; one last special before hanging up the bolo tie in retirement. However, due to so many mutants, excuse me…viewers tuning in and breaking the Shudder servers, it was only natural to announce an official full season of ‘The Last Drive-In‘, which would make its explosive debut March 19, 2019. Since then, Darcy and Briggs have spawned many exclusive holiday specials, have graciously donated to many charities within the community, and have accumulated 4 seasons of ‘The Last Drive-In’, with a fifth currently in production premiering on Shudder’s 2023 schedule sometime this year, let’s hope sooner rather than later.

Picture of Joe Bob Briggs, Darcy the Mail Girl, John Patrick Brennan and Yuki Nakamura standing together dressed in medieval costumes. A cardboard cutout of Tom Atkins stands between Darcy and Yuki. Darcy is seen drapped in a beautfiul elegant princess dress, satin white with gold trim. Yuki is seen holding a small wreath of purple, white, and yellow flowers that match his loud medieval king costume. Resting atop both their heads are golden crowns. Joe Bob Briggs is seen standing to the left of Darcy, as he smiles whilst wearing a half-put together jester costumer. Lastly, we see Brennan with two wooden recorders in his hand as he mimics playing them both dress clad in a bright yellow dress.
An unexpected ceremony during The Last Drive-In: Joe Bob Put a Spell on You (2021) special.

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Movies n TV

Horror Noire, a Film Review

Horror Noire is a horror collection that includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.”

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Horror Noire is a horror collection brought by the combined efforts of AMC+ and Shudder. The collection includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.” Horror Noire boasts Black directors and screenwriters, providing six unique stories.

As this collection explores six stories, I will skip the usual synopsis to assess the genres and ideas explored, albeit limited as needed. Expect to find supernatural horror, creature features, and psychological thrillers. Many short films deal with these genres while exploring Black issues, but this isn’t universal for the collection.

The directors and writers include Zandashé Brown, Robin Givens, Rob Greenlea, Kimani Ray Smith, Steven Barnes, Ezra Clayton Daniels, Tananarive Due, Shernold Edwards, Victor LaValle, and Al Letson.

Woman and man wearing a vote for candidate shirt, scared of something off screne
Image from “Sundown” Directed by Kimani Ray Smith

What I Like

Each story remains unique, holding different strengths and weaknesses that highlight drastically different perspectives. Collections like VHS hold a similar premise to create their collection, but Horror Noire gives more creative freedom to its talent to be independent.

My personal favorite short film is Zandashé Brown’s “Bride Before You.” This period piece unravels a fable set in the Reconstruction Era. The entry feels Fabulistic in approach, which happens to be my preferred niche.

However, the best example of horror goes to Robin Givens’ “Daddy,” providing an existential horror tied directly to the characters involved.

Woman listening to a preacher amidst a crowd
Image from “Fugue State” directed by Rob Greenlea

What I Dislike

As mentioned, all have a particular style and idea. The downside of this approach always remains to keep the viewer interested long enough to find their favorite. If you find several underwhelming choices, this becomes a chore. But I imagine that is rare as the variety makes the options refreshing.

Personally, “Brand of Evil” had an interesting premise, but the execution fell short. On paper, it might have sounded like my favorite, which makes the lackluster execution a bigger letdown.

Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Horror Noire gives power and control to Black creators, providing a formula for a unique collection against others in the space. While the various subjects and approaches mean you aren’t likely to love them all, there should be a short film for everyone.
3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Dahmer, Silenced

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Episode six of Netflix’s Dahmer was not, honestly about our title character. Instead, it was about one of his victims, a man named Tony. We’ve actually seen Tony a few times during this series. We just didn’t know it was him.

Rodney Burford in Dahmer

And, well, he wasn’t exactly alive the first time we saw him.

Tony was born into a supportive, loving family. This is good because soon after he was born a viral infection took his hearing. He is black, deaf, and gay in the early 90’s.

Tony has a dream of becoming a model. And he certainly has the looks for it. He is beautiful, body and soul. He has lots of opportunities for romance, but it’s not what he’s looking for. He wants a real relationship. 

Eventually Tony moves to Madison, trying to pursue his dream. He gets a job and starts getting modeling work.

Then, he meets Jeff Dahmer at a bar. 

At first, we can almost believe that it’s going to be alright. Jeff seems happy. He’s taking care of himself. He’s not drinking as much. He even has his dad and stepmom over for dinner. It seems like his life is getting on track. Even better, he’s treating Tony right.

Then, of course, things go bad. 

One thing that has always bothered me as a true crime fan is that we know so much about the killers, but not as much about the victims. Not so much if we don’t know who the killer is, of course. But the names that are part of our pop culture are those of the killers. Dahmer, Manson, Jones, Bundy, Holms. The names we don’t know are Roberta Parks, Beth LaBiancas, Leno LaBiancas, and Tony Hughes. And clearly, we should know them.

If Tony Hughes was half the shining, positive person that the show Dahmer made him out to be, I’m so sad that he isn’t with us anymore. We need so many more people like him. And many of Dahmer’s victims were likely just like him. After all, he was attracted to them for a reason.

This was a significant episode, and I understand why it’s the highest-rated episode of the series. I finished it with a heavy heart, saddened by the loss of a man who should still be with us today. 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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