The grounds of reality are undoubtedly some of the most complex and applicable playgrounds to host filmmakers of all genres. Those of the horror basis dare to touch on the most effective of human emotions driven by both fear and confrontation. Horror bound by realistic scenarios and circumstances force viewers to take an extra step beyond the line of imaginary monsters and ghosts by place themselves in a state of terrifying verisimilitude.
Residential towns and neighborhoods have been given the horror treatment many times over, but a common profile seems to be taking shape: The new killers on the block are… not who we think they are.
“Horror bound by realistic scenarios and circumstances force viewers to take an extra step beyond the line of imaginary monsters and ghosts by place themselves in a state of terrifying verisimilitude.”
Scraping the sharp nerves of authentic horrors and mixing in a trendy fascination with true crime, 2018’s Bloodline, The Clovehitch Killer, and Summer Of 84 collectively sport a niche category of serial killers. Whether they are the protagonist or antagonist, the homicidal subjects of these films appear to be trusted male figures that uphold a high standard in the suburban communities they occupy and protect all the while hiding some deadly recreational activities.
All films are powerful, emotional, chilling, and painfully real. Unveiling these monsters hiding in plain sight, a variety of styles, characterizations, styles, and motivations bear witness to a certain breed of predator: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
When it comes to being the heads of the household, loving fathers, and admirable authority figures, the central homicidal characters of Duncan Skiles’ The Clovehitch Killer, François Simard and Anouk and Yoann-Karl Whissell’s Summer Of 84, and Henry Jacobson’s Bloodline are easily profiled. However, the secrets that they keep separate them from the groups of average gentleman and places them into a more wicked category. Don Burnside, aka “The Clovehitch Killer“, is a loving, nurturing, stern patriarch. His commitment to his family and community knows no bounds, but neither does his urge to bind, torture, and kill. He is an old-school, disciplined, simple man, not the kind of person you’d expect to be into heavy BDSM or capable of strangling a woman to death. The character of Burnside fits the quintessential profile of so many serial killers that have captivated the nation over decades both in looks and actions.
Similarly, Wayne Mackey, aka “The Cape May Slayer” in Summer Of 84, lives a lie within his home in order to keep his fatal psychosis a secret. Though he is not a father like Burnside and Evan in Bloodline, Mackey holds a respectable reputation as a local police officer driving home his wholesome image as a friend to parents and neighborhood kids alike. Behind closed doors, he is slowly kidnapping and killing the young boys he watches over. Evan, a new first-time dad is also a character that children look up to, but it’s not them that he is after. The mild-tempered social worker punishes those who hurt his students. Calm and calculated to the bone, Evan may be the one redeemable character between the three, but he boasts a pretty high body count nonetheless.
“These killers do not stalk your dreams, punish those that invade their camp, or haunt from a different realm.”
The writing of Evan, Mackey, and Dan is extremely commendable as their characters are incredibly believable, real, and somewhat relatable. What really brings these men to life is the incredible performances by Sean William Scott (American Pie), Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story), and Rich Sommer (Madmen). Usually the funny, sarcastic guy, Seann William Scott takes his demeanor from one hundred to a complacent forty in his role as Evan. His depiction of the collected revenge killer is off-the-charts and completely unexpected, making Bloodline even more enjoyable.
Dylan McDermott, a classically handsome, blue-eyed heartthrob drops the good looks in exchange for a dad-style ensemble complete with glasses and aging facial hair for The Clovehitch Killer. McDermott not only changes his entire physique for his role as Don Burnside, but his tone and specific character performance runs similarly to Scott. Rich Sommer is a sweet, boyish-looking man that maintains his trusting look for his role as Wayne Mackey in Summer Of 84. It’s his natural look and hidden heinous behavior that confuses our brains and eyes the most. Sommer does an excellent job of going from adorable to abominable in the switch of a scene. The lead performances are stellar, unique, and captivating, all of which add an extra level of genuine dread.
When you think of monsters and where you can find them, you might conjure up places that are dark, grim, and hidden. You’d think that they would take up residence far from the Monopoly boards of suburbia, but that is not always the case. The horror genre, especially with Bloodline, The Clovehitch Killer, and Summer Of 84, is bringing terror back to the average spot of domestic bliss. These killers do not stalk your dreams, punish those that invade their camp, or haunt from a different realm. These murderers occupy a more picturesque space and an odd one, at that, for characters of their dangerous caliber.
The genre takes pride in showing her words least expected, which includes small towns and communities like those in Oregon of Summer Of 84 and Kentucky in The Clovehitch Killer. Don, Evan, and Mackey are all cold-blooded killers living in quaint little neighborhoods where one could assume it’s safe enough for people to keep their doors unlocked. Suburban territories are meant to serve as protected, conventional spots where families can thrive, but when it comes to these men and fulfilling their nefarious needs, they are ideal places for hunting. While the sweet surroundings make for a truly appealing contrast, it’s the reasons why these three predators choose residential environments as their hunting grounds that are beyond horrifying.
“These men eerily hide in plain sight, both in cinema and in reality. They enjoy staying connected to the ones that they target as well as targeting those who connect to them.”
While all of these narratives drop a murderous monster in the middle of Small Town, USA, their reasons for killing realistically vary. Don Burnside needed a community to parade in his fatherly disguise while he stalked women, Mackey needed a town to privately pray on unattended children, and Evan needed an environment where he could fill his blood lust effectively with “good” intention. Ironically, the criteria that suburbia meets makes for a great place to hide some of the most calculated and frightening people.
These men eerily hide in plain sight, both in cinema and in reality. They enjoy staying connected to the ones that they target as well as targeting those who connect to them. No matter the guise or reason, Don, Evan, and Mackey all terrorize their local communities with a bloody, ominous presence. Don left a legacy with Clovehitch, while Evan and Mackey sensationalized headlines, but all made an ugly, everlasting mark on the people around them.
Understanding the motive behind these character’s actions can be both considerably reprehensible and commendable. Tragic events like a string of local murders and the discovery of monsters living next door understandably poses the simple question of why? in the minds of observers while repelling their conscious thoughts to ignorance. Mackey, Evan, and Burnside all have reasons as to why they do the things they do, but the root cause of their murderous urges stem from somewhere dark deep down inside.
Living in a world where he must suppress his sexual preferences and fetishes, Don Burnside exerts control and submission from his victims. His kills grow from the roots of deviancy and depravity, especially those that do not fit in his conservative surroundings. While The Clovehitch Killer does not delve into Burnside’s history or past disturbances, his character epitomizes a general sample of serial killers that still make the news to this day. Bloodline and Summer Of 84 dig a little deeper into the cause of Mackey and Evan’s psychosis purposes.
“Representative of the authentic evils that lurk behind the doors that surround our own homes, these films are harsh look at the feigned friendly smiles of men that potentially live near you or with you.”
Childhood trauma serves as the seeds for their afflictions, whether it justifies their behaviors or not. Their volatile upbringings not only make murderers, but reflect within their acts continuing a vicious cycle of premeditated terror. With Evan’s murderous vengeance against those that have wronged children and his loved ones and Mackey’s abuse and slayings of local boys, the two offer a range of empathy, or lack thereof. The variations in motives between the films mirror the real tragedies our society is challenged with and serve as portraits of, unfortunately, true horror.
Bloodline, Summer Of 84, and The Clovehitch Killer have many components that weave in and around one another, but all end with an unpredictable third act that will catch anyone off-guard, much like the horrendous acts of all real serial killers. Though 2018 has subtly moved these new killers into the suburban limelight of the genre, these monsters have always taken up residence right where it’s least expected. Representative of the authentic evils that lurk behind the doors that surround our own homes, these films are harsh look at the feigned friendly smiles of men that potentially live near you or with you.
Are you a fan of Summer Of 84? Bloodline? The Clovehitch Killer? What do you think about these new killers on the block? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!