true crime

Wicked Wednesday: True Crime (1995)

Many people think that the current wave of true crime obsession is something new. But there was the crime novel boom of the 80s and let’s face it, people loved this stuff in Victorian times.

We’re fascinated by the dark side of the human psyche. And certainly, in recent years (as well as the work of Ann Rule), we’ve also spent time getting to know the victims of these tragedies.

So it was plenty of fun to learn there was a movie about a true crime-obsessed teen in 1995. Surely with a girl as our heroine, we’ll get some of that insight into our victims? Oh no? It will just be a really weird romantic thriller? Well…

True Crime follows high school senior Mary. She loves mysteries and wants to be a police officer one day, just like her dad. She pesters the local police detective for leads and listens to the police scanner for fun.

Following the murder of one of her classmate’s sisters, Kathleen, Mary begins to look more closely at the series of murders, understanding that they are likely all done by the same person.

While trying to learn more about Kathleen, Mary ends up at the local swimming pool where she catches a man creeping on some of the younger girls. She follows him home, and eventually, he begins to follow her. After she attacks him at a supermarket, they both are dragged to the precinct where Mary learns the man is a young police cadet.

The cadet is introduced as Tony. We’re meant to think he’s trustworthy and just as eager to solve the case as Mary, but actor Kevin Dillon plays him in such an unconvincing way. Tony immediately becomes #1 on my suspect list! But he certainly isn’t on Mary’s as she begins to fall in love with him (ick).

The two try to solve the murders together. They chase after a guy working at a carnival. They look for a blue car. They continue to make huge leaps in logic.

Mary eventually breaks into Tony’s house. She finds bleach and other cleaning supplies. She knows that the killer cleaned his victims after their murders. He has the right kind of car as the killer. But surely he’s not the killer! Any sort of true crime fan would be able to accept Tony’s very weak defences!

And then we’re only two-thirds of the way into the movie! It keeps going! We know Tony is the killer, but the film pretends that there’s absolutely NO WAY he is. This is absolute disrespect to the audience’s intelligence. At least wrap it up quickly if we want to make it that obvious!

Unfortunately, True Crime seems to only get worse at that point. It’s really not a fun time for anyone.

I think I was maybe too optimistic for a movie made in 1995. By the end of the 90s minutes, I still know nothing about the victims (well, Katheleen liked to swim!) and even the motivation for the killings is just…vague? So there’s nothing satisfying about the story or the mystery.

We’ve come a long way in the world of crime storytelling. Not to say that there weren’t always good stories, but I don’t know – I’m trying anything and everything to explain away this film! It’s baffling!

Mary was played by the always-adorable Alicia Silverstone. She’s hardly convincing as a mousy loser, but I’ll suspend my disbelief on that one. She’s easily the best thing about this movie, as well as Bill Nunn’s detective character (he, unfortunately, also plays a very dumb character).

This movie wasn’t released theatrically, and I can see why. Give this one a miss and find yourself a good mystery to sink your teeth into.

Wicked Wednesday: Summer 2021 Horror reads

Since the start of all this pandemic business, I’ve been reading less than I have in previous year. I have no motivation and no boring, 1-hour commute on the train. But I still tried to squeeze in some horror novels over the summer. Now that September is drawing ever closer (!), I’ve made a brief wrap-up of the horror titles (and true crime) I’ve read in the last three months.

Pleased to say that all of these are good enough to recommend!

Adult fiction:

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Lynette Tarkington is a real-life final girl, a woman who survived a massacre over two decades ago. She and the other final girls make up a support group, relying on each other while trying to overcome their trauma. But when Lynette realises that a new killer is targeting the final girls, she must do everything she can to keep them all alive.

It’s no secret that Hendrix is one of my favourite authors of all time. He writes with a beautiful balance of humour and scares that I love – all with great poignancy. Alas, this might be one of the weaker titles from him. I think that for me, it’s because this is more of a thriller than true horror – no supernatural elements this time. It clips along at a great pace with great characters, but the plot was lacking in some respects. Namely in the relationship-building of the support group.

But that being said, there’s still great messaging about survival and trauma. Everything Hendrix writes is gold. Seek out interviews with him about the origins of this story idea if you’re in the mood for a cry.

Bonus points that the audiobook is narrated by final girl Adrienne King!

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Part fantasy. Part horror. This novella is a supernatural twist on American history during the height of the KKK’s reign. Maryse Boudreaux is a smuggler and fighter with a magical sword. With that sword, she can kill the “Ku Kluxes”, a type of demon. The demons are a creation of a hexed version of the film Birth of a Nation.

Clark fills a lot of action, folklore and mythos into the short page count. Easily a book you could consume in one night. One worth going into without knowing too much!

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

This was my first foray into Martin’s work. Incredible, really, considering just how prolific this man is. Fevre Dream is what happens when you mix Dracula with Mark Twain.

A steamboat captain and his unusual new business partner begin travelling down the Mississippi River in a steam boat in the year 1857. Unbeknownst to the captain, his new partner is on the look out for vampires.

This is a great, atmospheric version of the vampire story. It’s heavy and full of gothic air. Martin is terrific at building suspense, I was pleasantly surprised! Will certainly be looking at which horror novel (or short story) to read by him next.

Children’s

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

Daka Hermon’s novel is one of the best children’s books I’ve read in a long while. She manages to perfectly encapsulate children’s imaginations when they become a little dark and twisted.

When Justin’s friend Zee returns after going missing for a year, he knows something isn’t right. Zee isn’t himself. At Zee’s welcome home party, the children all play hide-and-seek. Only the game isn’t as innocent as they may think, especially when one of them breaks the rules.

This book reminded me of playing games with my multitude of cousins when I was younger. The games were always a bit morbid. It’s certainly a creepy story, though, about abductions and missing children. Thrilling, but within the comfort zone for Middle Grade readers.

One Day at HorrorLand by R.L. Stine

A classic in Stine’s repertoire. I decided this summer to revisit some classic children’s horror, and where better to start than with the master himself?

When a family accidentally wind up at the HorrorLand theme park, they decide to try out a few of the rides. But not everything is as it seems in the park.

This is some classic Goosebumps. There’s a twist…then another twist! Gleeful and quick to read. There are more in a spin-off series to read that I might get to…one day. There’s also an adaption for the original Goosebumps TV show that I’ll need to hunt down ASAP!

DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Rarely do I get to read “nice” things at work. But this graphic novel written and illustrated by Hamish Steele was an absolute treat.

When Barney gets a job at the Dead End theme park, he’s in for more supernatural hijinks than he expects! His dog gets possessed, he meets plenty of ghosts, and he faces literal demons.

This is a really fun LGBTQ+ graphic novel with rep that feels natural. I really want to visit Dead End one day. Even if there is a chance my soul will be sucked by a Dolly Parton knock off.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

A classic of children’s horror fiction. This collection of short stories, urban legends and poems has been haunting children since it was first published in 1981. My eldest sister had copies of all three collections, and my sisters and I would always look at the haunting illustrations like they were taboo.

These stories are meant for very young children, so don’t expect to be terrified by them as an adult. But Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are still perfection. I recommend reading these aloud at story time, as they were meant to be told.

Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry

This is a collection of short stories inspired by Alvin Schwartz’s books. While many of these stories were good at the time, I can’t say I recall any of them now. It was also difficult to tell what age group this was aiming for. Some were very dark, while others were silly enough for 9-year-olds. But there are so great names attached, and well worth seeking out if you love an old-school spook tale.

True crime:

Chase Darkness With Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

Deep down, many true crime fans think they have what it takes to solve an unsolved mystery. Billy Jensen has proved that you can.

Jensen takes readers through his career from a small-time reporter at the New York Times to piecing together evidence with Michelle McNamara to his innovative way of using social media to solve crimes. It’s a fascinating and quick read. And if you’re really interested, he also provides a guide on how to solve mysteries yourself on the internet.

Green River, Running Red: the Real Story of the Green River Killer – America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule

My first-ever book from the master of true crime herself, Ann Rule.

I have to admit, I didn’t really know much about the Green River Killer before going into this book. As far as serial killers go, he lacks “pizzazz”. And as Rule points out, it’s because he largely targeted sex workers – making his victims nearly invisible outside of those who loved them or were working to solve the case.

Rule gives a lot of the spotlight to Gary Ridgway’s 49 victims and beyond. She clearly is passionate about the case, but she does sometimes get a bit redundant in the way that she tells the stories of the victims. I did enjoy this one, even if it did feel dated already. And will gladly pick up more of the master’s work.

Wicked Wednesday: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

True crime fascinates people. We love it. It’s the reason why we’ve been obsessed with the likes of Ann Rule, Unsolved Mysteries and The Staircase for decades.

My recent not-so-lockdown lockdown obsession has been the My Favorite Murder podcast by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. The only way you haven’t heard about this podcast is if you’ve been living under a rock. For me, I’m so late to the game because I never really got into podcasts in general. Now I’ve got years of content to catch up on.

One of my favourite aspects of the show is the hometown murders where viewers send in their local stories. A story that caught my attention was a series of murders called the Moonlight Murders that took place in Texarkana in the 1940s.

And low-and-behold, I was absolutely chuffed to learn that the pseudo-documentary The Town That Dreaded Sundown was based on these murders. It was a movie I’d been putting off watching for ages, and it finally felt like the right time to watch.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown is done in the same style as director Charles B Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek. There’s narration throughout the story that leads views throughout the scenes of destruction.

In the year 1946, the sleepy town of Texarkana is hit by a series of brutal murders. The murderer is a man donning a pillowcase on his head (think Jason’s mask in Part II) who likes to target young couples at lovers’ lane.

The case quickly becomes too big for the small town’s police force and a Texas ranger is brought in to help solve the murder.

The murders are all pretty monotonous until we get to a wonderfully bizarre and out-of-place scene where the killer wields a trombone/knife device! It’s completely out of left-field. But I suppose, if you’re going to be historically inaccurate your motto really ought to be, “Go big or go home!”

The real murders were never solved, and there isn’t much resolution here either. It’s certainly an interesting adaption of a true-crime story. Like The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Town That Dreaded Sundown tries to strike a balance between horror and slapstick comedy.

In my opinion, it doesn’t work very well here. Thankfully Vern Stierman’s narration helps pull the story back into its drama. I think The Legend of Boggy Creek worked better simply because I find mythical animals sillier than real serial killers. Also, there’s no banging tune in this one! That being said, I really do love the faux-documentary style that Pierce used.

Apparently, the film was remade in 2014 with loads of my favourite names attached: Jason Blum,
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Ryan Murphy. The trombone is reported to have made an appearance. I’d certainly be willing to give it a try because, at this point, the true story of the Moonlight Murders seemed to have surpassed facts and into the realm of fantasy.