ENTERTAINMENT 2021

Spooky Summer: Reviews of Fear Street, Ahs Stories and Wellington Paranormal

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There’s a battle brewing, and it’s being fought by streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television. If you’re too weak to resist, UnBinged is here to help, telling you what to hate, what to love and what to love to hate. 

Halloween has come a little early this year, thanks to a swarm of scary selections on various streaming services. From ‘90s throwbacks to creature feature comedies, genre fans have a lot to choose from as the summer begins to fade and the season of the witch approaches.

Thanks to visionaries such as Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, and the good folks at A24, modern cinema is in the midst of a renaissance as high-end horror films blend thought-provoking thrills with over-the-top chills. Fear Street is Netflix’s attempt to capitalize on this trend in terror. But whatever message it hopes to deliver is drowned out in a sea of dead teenager blood. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Based on the books by pre-teen gateway horror writer R.L. Stine, director Leigh Janiak is going for a slice ‘em and dice ‘em slasher with a social statement. Featuring masked maniacs, wicked witches, and a retro soundtrack, the scary saga pulls from the films of yesteryear to create a twisted tale that can easily feed the blood-thirst of horror hounds.

The three-part series follows a gang of teens from the wrong side of town called Shadyside. Poor, despised by their neighbors in Sunnyvale (the “good” side), and plagued by a witch who wipes out their student body every dozen years or so, life isn’t easy for this gang of heroes.

The story shifts from a night in 1994 (part one), to a camp massacre flashback in 1978 (part two), to an origin story in 1666 (part three). Though all the episodes are entertaining, the camp chapter is the standout, exuding Friday the 13th/Sleepaway Camp/The Burning vibes and giving viewers a great Final Girl (Stranger Things’ Sadie Fink) to rally behind.

Among the dismembered cheerleaders and machete-wielding lunatics, there is a message about class struggle and queer acceptance, as some kids here spend their lives disregarded, bullied and occasionally ritually murdered. But any points made about prejudice are quickly lost in the over-the-top bloodshed. Filmmaking 101: it’s difficult to make a point about intolerance when a teenager is shoved head first into a bread slicer.  

Fear Street is not the kind of refined horror that creates conversation among connoisseurs. It might have something to say about discrimination and class struggle, but it’s overshadowed by the crimson carnage that pours from the screen. But film snobs be damned it’s still a gore-filled good time.

From the franchise that brought us chainsaw-wielding Nazis and vampiric pop stars, we get a weekly series that takes The Twilight Zone’s eerie episodic structure and turns it up to eleven. Filled with colorful characters and enough graphic violence to make Tobe Hooper blush, American Horror Story has given fans a decade of gruesome visuals and batshit ideas.

Now AHS creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck bring us American Horror Stories, a frightful anthology that does away with pointless plot lines, character development, and story arcs to get to the nitty gritty of the series: dread and gore. Set in the same universe as AHS, the show offers the occasional throwback to the original series thanks to familiar settings and a trusted repertoire of actors along with the stylized slayings we’ve all come to expect.

American Horror Stories is about mayhem and monsters and the blood of the innocent. It’s about everything and anything Ryan Murphy can do with the color red, in fact. In Murphy’s world, mutilated penises and latex-adorned serial killers are a dime a dozen, even if coherent stories are not.

If you’re a fan of the series and the deranged universe it inhabits, well, good news! All of those elements remain intact, sans the meandering narratives that seemed to stretch into eternity, and made a lot of us give up on past seasons. American Horror Stories is a gruesome, gross-out trip that will leave viewers with an uneasy feeling of terror – a perfect addition to the AHS universe.

Creepy crawlies and spooky spirits beware. Wellington Paranormal is here to protect the innocent. Well, they’ll try to, anyway. Part X-Files, part Reno 911 and set within the same universe of What We Do In The Shadows (both the movie and the FX series), Wellington Paranormal follows the day-to-day routine of the officers who do their best to keep their denizens safe from the creatures of the night.

The New Zealand mockumentary horror series debuted on TVNZ 2 back in 2018. Now picked up by The CW and made available to stream the next day on HBO Max, the spin-off gets its American debut, offering audiences a delightfully dark new corner of the WWDITS world.

First introduced in What We Do In The Shadows as the hapless officers who are easily charmed by the fanged roommates, Officers Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O’Leary (Karen O’Leary), have been given a bit more to handle as they are indoctrinated into the Wellington Paranormal Unit by their chief, Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu).

For fans of What We Do In The Shadows and horror comedies in general, the show is a great addition to the genre. It carefully walks the line between absurd and slightly alarming, earning its laughs through the ludicrous nature of both the monsters and the police officers who treat every ghoul and ghost like a public nuisance. The three leads sell the comedy as a trio of coppers who are unphased by the paranormal elements of the job as they issue noise citations to rowdy disco-loving partygoers who died in the ‘70s.

Like What We Do In The ShadowsWellington Paranormal is a fun romp guided by clever writing. Though not quite at the level of genius as the movie or the show, Welling Paranormal is a welcome addition that expands an already exceptional universe. And like the vamps of Shadows,  you’ll want to invite this into your house again and again.     ❖

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