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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.

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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.

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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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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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