Child’s Play: Are You My Best Friend?

A murderous doll with the ability to control smart devices runs amok in this fresh reboot.

Written by Tyler Burton Smith and directed by Lars Klevberg, Child’s Play (2019) is a remake of the 1988 horror film of the same name. In this version, Chucky is a sabotaged smart-toy who learns violence is cool by watching human behavior. As such, the supernatural elements of the original have been removed. What remains is a contemporary morality play about the dangers of smart technology and our addiction to electronic devices.

Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) is a single mother living in a distressed urban neighborhood with her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Andy’s loneliness leads Karen to give him a Buddi doll (voiced by Mark Hamill) for his birthday. Though visibly dysfunctional, the doll (which calls itself Chucky because it has to, I guess?) imprints on Andy and quickly becomes overprotective.

Andy soon meets two other kids in the apartment building, Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos) and Pugg (Ty Consiglio), and the trio play pranks on Karen’s jerkish boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis). Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry) suspects something is amiss. Can Shane and friends rein in Chucky’s violent tendencies before it’s too late?

Child’s Play is the latest horror-franchise reboot, and it was only a matter of time. In the horror pantheon, I would put Child’s Play on a second or third tier behind obvious powerhouses like Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Friday the 13th. Its premise of a killer doll is just a little too campy, and the original films do play up the humorous element. Still, Child’s Play has a reliable fan base.

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The ‘Burbs Turns 30

This quintessential Suburban Gothic tale lampooned middle class fears in the 1980s, but remains refreshingly relevant.

Yesterday, my favorite comedy horror film from the 1980s, The ‘Burbs, turned 30. It premiered in theaters on February 17, 1989 and grossed $11 million in its opening weekend, ultimately raking in over $36 million. Though panned by clueless critics who couldn’t see past its campy premise, The ‘Burbs has since become something of a cult classic.

This film had a profound effect on me as a kid. While on the surface a lighthearted satire of ’80s horror, The ‘Burbs delved deep into the American psyche. It stars Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, and Rick Ducommun as three friends who suspect an eccentric and reclusive family is up to no good in their neighborhood. Carrie Fisher and Corey Feldman also play prominent roles.

The ‘Burbs was written by Dana Olsen and directed by Joe Dante. Olsen, who is usually known for sillier comedies like George of the Jungle (1997) and Inspector Gadget (1999), was inspired to write the script after hearing about gruesome crimes in his own hometown. Joe Dante directed Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2 (1990), and the TV series Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992), Witches of East End (2013-2014), and Salem (2015-2016). Eerie, Indiana was also about the strange and unusual underbelly of a quaint, unassuming town.

Welcome to Mayfield Place

Ray and Carol Peterson (Hanks and Fisher) live in a picturesque home on Mayfield Place, a cul-de-sac in suburban Hinkley Hills with their son, Dave (Cory Danziger) and their dog, Vince. The Petersons live next door to a dilapidated house owned by a reclusive family named the Klopeks. Dr. Werner Klopek (Henry Gibson), his son, Hans (Courtney Gains), and his brother, Reuben (Brother Theodore), quietly moved into the old Victorian home, which used to be owned by Mr. and Mrs. Knapp.

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Five Things You Didn’t Notice in The ‘Burbs

From obscure film references to subliminal messages, this ’80s dark comedy has it all.

The ‘Burbs, my favorite comedy horror film from the 1980s, turns 30 today. It premiered in theaters on February 17, 1989 and grossed $11 million in its opening weekend, though it was panned by critics who couldn’t see past its campy premise. While on the surface a lighthearted satire of ’80s horror, The ‘Burbs delved deep into the American psyche.

This film had a profound effect on me as a kid, and every time I watch it I discover something new. Have you spotted these subtle hints and references?

Breakfast at the Peterson’s

Ray and Carol Peterson (Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher) live in a quaint home on Mayfield Place in suburban Hinkley Hills with their son, Dave (Cory Danziger) and their dog, Vince. The Petersons live next door to a dilapidated house owned by a reclusive family named the Klopeks. When Ray looks out the kitchen window to comment on the Klopek’s barren yard, you can see a box of Gremlins Cereal sitting on the counter. Joe Dante, director of The ‘Burbs, also directed Gremlins (1984).

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Casts a Dark Spell

A strong-willed teenage girl, half witch and half mortal, must choose between the world of magic and the ordinary in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – ), the latest adaptation of the Archie Comics series Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Written and developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the series embraces a much darker tone than previous incarnations. Its incredible style, intense visual effects and action, and talented cast keep its social justice subtext from becoming too annoying.

As Halloween and her sixteenth birthday approaches, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is torn between loyalty to her high school friends, Rosalind “Roz” Walker (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie Putnam (Lachlan Watson), and her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), and loyalty to her family and the Church of Night. Sabrina’s aunts, Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto), raised her after her parent’s died in a plane crash, and desperately want her to continue the family tradition, undergo the Dark Baptism, and sign her name in the Devil’s book.

Sabrina’s misgivings grow as she battles her patriarchal high school principal, Mr. Hawthorne, and a trio of witches called the Weird Sisters, who believe a half-breed like Sabrina shouldn’t be allowed to attend the Academy of the Unseen Arts. Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle), High Priest of the Church of Night and Dean of the Academy of the Unseen Arts, assures Sabrina their religion is about free will, but it seems the Dark Lord has other plans.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, which seems like a fitting choice. It’s almost always raining and dreary. The cinematography is great, with a chilling play of light and color, especially in interior scenes. My only gripe is that it’s often filmed with a very shallow depth of field, making it look like someone smeared grease around the lens.

Of course, no show is complete these days without some kind of “woke” politics. Sabrina and her friends form a group cleverly titled WICCA (get it?): Women’s Intersectional Culture and Creative Association, after she casts a spell on Principal Hawthorne, terrorizing him with spiders and making him absent from work so the assistant principal can approve the club. They do this to protect a transgender friend from jock bullies.

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Great Tales of Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

The Old Ones awake! H. P. Lovecraft: Great Tales of Horror (2012) is a collection of stories by H.P. Lovecraft published by Fall River Press, with an introduction by Stefan Dziemianowicz. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was born in Providence, Rhode Island and although obscure in his own time, he had an enormous influence on American horror films, music, art, games, and literature. This anthology represents a collection of tales spanning Lovecraft’s literary career.

The hardcover edition is 600 pages and contains twenty assorted tales, which represents a small portion of his dozens of published stories. Most of these fall into what has become known as the “Cthulhu Mythos”. Lovecraft’s mythos concerns pre-historic beings from space that once ruled earth and have fallen into a deep slumber. They inspired ancient gods and cults of worship that continue in secret to the present day. Together, they represent his most popular and well-known tales.

Some writers use their craft to explore different genres and settings, while others focus on a specific subject matter and never stray far from their wheelhouse. H.P. Lovecraft is the latter, but the richness with which he fleshed out his literary world is what appeals to people. His unique mythology, anchored in a particular place and time, holds his readers’ interest from story to story. We are eager to gobble up new details.

Still, slogging through this many stories threatens to become tedious and repetitive. The mystery loses its impact when you can easily guess the solution. This is Lovecraft’s greatest shortcoming. At worst, you’re left with tedious and rambling exposition that meanders its way toward a foreseen conclusion. But Lovecraft’s stories are more than that.

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Summer of 84: A Suburb Can be a Dangerous Place

A gang of bicycle-riding teen boys try to track down a neighborhood serial killer in this suburban Gothic send up to 1980s horror.

Written by Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith and directed by a trio known for their 1980s-style films, casual viewers will undoubtedly accuse Summer of 84 (2018) of ripping off the Netflix series Stranger Things, but it is far more subtle in its nostalgia and grounded in reality. There are no supernatural elements here, only the real-life horror inflicted by unassuming suburban dwellers like John Wayne Gacy and William Bonin.

The year is 1984, and a serial killer stalks the fictional county of Cape May, Oregon. Fifteen-year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere), an avid follower of conspiracy theories and reader of the Weekly World News, becomes convinced his neighbor, police officer Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer), is the “Cape May Slayer” after seeing a photo on the back of a milk carton of a missing boy he previously noticed inside Mackey’s house.

He enlists the help of his skeptical friends, Dale “Woody” Woodworth (Caleb Emery), Curtis Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew), and Tommy “Eats” Eaton (Judah Lewis) to spy on Mackey. They follow him on his nightly jog to a storage unit, where they find several suspicious items, including the missing boy’s bloodstained shirt. Davey presents their evidence to his parents (played by Jason Gray-Stanford and Shauna Johannesen), but his plan backfires when they become angry and force him to apologize to Mackey.

Davey’s friend and former babysitter, Nikki Kaszuba (Tiera Skovbye), also tries to convince Davey to abandon his pursuit, but after several strange interactions with Mackey, Davey convinces his friends to give him one last chance to prove Mackey is the killer. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is sickeningly real and terrifying. Summer of 84 pulls no punches when it comes to delivering an emotionally impactful climax.

Summer of 84‘s undercurrent of child abductions and neighborhood pedophiles is uncomfortably familiar to anyone who grew up during the 1980s. The only thing missing is a creepy white van and rumors of Satanic cults. High profile cases of missing kids in the late 1970s and early ’80s led to the “Stranger Danger” panic, and the use of milk cartons to spread photos of missing children. Before the Internet, a photo on a milk carton was the most assured way of reaching every home in America.

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Tragedy Girls: A Fresh, Trendy Take on the Horror Genre

Two teen girls set social media on fire by kidnapping and unleashing a pet serial killer. Will they—or their friendship—survive this newfound notoriety?

Written and directed by Tyler MacIntyre with contributions by Chris Lee Hill, Tragedy Girls (2017) is a fresh, contemporary take on the genre. MacIntyre and Hill also collaborated on several other projects, including the horror-comedy Patchwork (2015), and the film undoubtedly benefited from their rapport.

Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) are high school cheerleaders who run an unpopular true crime blog. They hatch a plan to kidnap local serial killer Lowell (Kevin Durand) and convince him to work together. He refuses, so Sadie and McKayla opt for plan B: commit sensational murders and blame them on Lowell, all while increasing their readership with exclusive inside information on the crimes.

The plan goes awry when Lowell convinces McKayla that Sadie wants to take all the fame and notoriety for herself. He eventually escapes and tracks Sadie to her friend Jordan’s house. Jordan (Jack Quaid) is son of Sheriff Welch (Timothy V. Murphy). He has a crush on Sadie but suspects McKayla is really the serial killer. Lowell stabs Jordan, but Sadie wakes Sheriff Welch and he chases Lowell off.

The girls’ rift deepens as Sadie and Jordan fall in love and McKayla continues her life of crime with Lowell. I won’t spoil the ending, but Tragedy Girls concludes with a fiery prom night that will make anyone sensitive to the topic of school violence cringe. The film’s ending reinforces the notion that attractive, popular girls are perceived as incapable of being vicious killers.

Tragedy Girls tries to upend the traditional horror movie trope of male killers attacking female victims. Here, the killers are teen girls and their victims are predominantly men. Coupled with the relationship between two best friends, it’s stylistically similar to films like Jennifer’s Body (2009) and Ginger Snaps (2000), but without the supernatural elements. However, it shares with Ingrid Goes West (2017) the theme of social media triggering insanity.

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