Suburbia, often painted as the epitome of safety and tranquility, gets a dark makeover in John Carpenter’s latest cinematic venture, Suburban Screams (and his first in a while, save scoring the Halloween legacy sequels). This six-episode unscripted anthology promises to unearth the dark secrets of seemingly safe neighborhoods, but does it truly deliver the chills?
The mini-series dives deep into the horrors of suburbia, blending documentary techniques with cinematic reenactments. Real-life tales of terror, as told by those who lived through them, form the backbone of this anthology. From the ghostly aftermath of a Ouija party gone wrong in ‘Kelly’ to the relentless stalking in ‘Phone Stalker‘, the variety of stories is commendable. There’s a mix of urban legends, supernatural tales, and very real crimes that keep the viewer on their toes.
The strongest episode of the bunch is undoubtedly ‘The Bunny Man’. Set in Fairfax, Virginia, it recounts the legend of a man in a rudimentary bunny costume who, according to legend, committed heinous crimes over 100 years ago, killing three small children. This legend becomes all too real in the 1970s when a series of residents, including a couple, a security guard, and three kids, report terrifying encounters to the police. The episode has the most detail, evidence, and first-hand accounts, effectively blending the line between myth and reality,
While the premise of the Suburban Screams is enticing, it might strike a chord of familiarity for those who’ve binged the countless shows on Investigation Discovery or spent a lazy afternoon with A&E. The dramatizations, for the most part, are what you’d expect from such a series: predictable, even slightly bland.
Yet, there are some genuine jumpscares, especially in the ‘Kelly’ and ‘The Bunny Man’ episodes. It’s not often a docu-series can make you jump out of your seat, so kudos to the team for that. However, the tension built by these scares is often diffused by the interspersed interviews and stock footage. While this multimedia approach aims to provide a comprehensive view of each tale, it sometimes detracts from the horror element.
John Carpenter’s involvement, as an executive producer, theme music composer, and director of the ‘Phone Stalker’ episode, was a major selling point. But, unfortunately, his touch doesn’t elevate the series as one might hope. ‘Phone Stalker’, in particular, felt repetitive. The narrative revolves around a woman being harassed via her cellphone, and while her ordeal is undoubtedly harrowing, isn’t necessarily the most climactic tale. The reenactments flounder because of it. Watching the protagonist repeatedly react to her phone and secure her home becomes monotonous. The episode ends abruptly, leaving one wishing there was more substance or closure. But I guess that’s the thing with true stories, they don’t always tie up into nice little bows.
One can’t help but wonder if Suburban Screams would have been more effective if it had taken a different approach. Using these real-life tales as a foundation for fully fictionalized, accounts, much like the countless horror films prefaced with ‘Based on a True Story’, might have been a more original route. And a more consistently scary viewing experience.
In terms of direction, aside from Carpenter, the series also boasts the talents of Jordan Roberts, Michelle Latimer, and Jan Pavlacky. Their collective efforts, combined with the firsthand accounts of the victims, make for an engaging watch, even if it doesn’t always hit the mark.
In conclusion, Suburban Screams is a mixed bag. It offers a fresh take on the horrors of suburbia, blending real-life tales with cinematic dramatizations. While it doesn’t always succeed in maintaining tension, there are moments of genuine horror that will satisfy fans of the genre. If you’re looking for a fun, occasionally scary trip through the dark side of suburbia, give it a watch. Just don’t expect to be sleeping with the lights off afterward.
Premieres Wednesday, October 18 at 10 p.m. ET on Showcase and STACKTV in Canada and Friday, October 13th, on Peacock.
[Review] John Carpenter’s SUBURBAN SCREAMS Offers a Glimpse into the Dark Side of the ‘Burbs
Suburban Screams is a mixed bag. It offers a fresh take on the horrors of suburbia, blending real-life tales with cinematic dramatizations. While it doesn't always succeed in maintaining tension, there are moments of genuine horror that will satisfy fans of the genre. If you're looking for a fun, occasionally scary trip through the dark side of suburbia, give it a watch. Just don't expect to be sleeping with the lights off afterward.
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