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REVIEW: Who’s Watching ‘The Watcher’?

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As someone from the New Jersey suburbs, who recently moved back to the suburbs after living in NYC for ten years, I was thoroughly obsessed with the story of The Watcher. I feel more like I’m in a horror movie since moving back than I ever did in NYC. In NYC, everywhere is so busy and loud that the suburbs feel creepily quiet and dark. So, to say I was excited about the Netflix series would be an understatement. I even have an ex who lives near the actual house—657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey, and I live about 45 minutes from the house.

I’ve read The Cut piece on the whole ordeal numerous times. It’s one of my favorite horror stories. I’ve gotten stoned and fallen down many a rabbit hole on theories about the true identity of The Watcher, thinking I can solve it. The wildest thing about the whole story is that there really is no obvious conclusion—it could be anyone who sent those ominous, threatening letters to the Broaddus family. Any new information on the story, which there rarely is, leads nowhere.

The story itself is terrifying to the folks it happened to, yet to outside perspectives it might feel a little dull. The Broaddus family bought their dream home for 1.3 million dollars in 2014, a six bedroom home with more than one fireplace. But Maria and Derek Broaddus, along with their three kids, never even fully moved into the home. One night, when Derek was at the house painting, he went out to check the mail and found a letter addressed to “The New Owner,” and it was like something out of a horror movie. The first letter was threatening right out the gate, reading:

657 Boulevard has been the subject of my family for decades now and as it approaches its 110th birthday, I have been put in charge of watching and waiting for its second coming. My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. Do you know the history of the house? Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard? Why are you here? I will find out… Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested? Better for me. Was your old house too small for the growing family? Or was it greed to bring me your children…Who am I? There are hundreds and hundreds of cars that drive by 657 Boulevard each day. Maybe I am in one. Look at all the windows you can see from 657 Boulevard. Maybe I am in one. Look out any of the many windows in 657 Boulevard at all the people who stroll by each day. Maybe I am one.

 It was signed “The Watcher” and immediately, understandably, it terrified Derek. That first letter alone would have been enough to make me lose my shit if I never figured out who wrote it—But also, I can’t afford a 1.3-million-dollar mansion, so what do I know.

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The letter, the writing, and the whole giving themselves a spooky name, truly feels like something fictional. As a kid, I always thought every robber, murderer, and crime boss gave themselves a fantastical name because I read too many comics and watched too many horror movies. So, this thing that felt like a real-life horror movie appealed to me, even as someone who does not get into true crime. Other than the letters and a list of possible suspects that included nearly every person in town (ranging from “angry realtor” to every person living on the street), there isn’t much evidence which only makes it feel more horror movie like—The Watcher feels like they could be Ghostface or Michael Myers (although the latter not quite being that verbose). The only substantial evidence in the case was when they identified the saliva on the envelope as belonging to a woman (I am not a forensic analyst, so I have no clue how that even works).

So, when Ryan Murphy got his hands on the story, I was both happy and worried. I am not Mr. Murphy’s biggest fan (but if I ever get hired to write on one of his projects, I will deny deny deny) and have only fully gotten through three seasons of American Horror Story. But the story of The Watcher was one that felt like it would incredibly work well as a Netflix limited series.

The Saturday after the show was released, I was very hungover and decided to binge the entire thing. I was as excited as someone with a paralyzing hangover could be. The show works well sometimes and other times does not. I think the biggest problem going into the series was that I felt like I could recite it by heart. So when the first episode presented every neighbor as a whacky cartoon villain and added more to that first letter, I was annoyed. But I persevered like the brave soldier I am (I am not). I loved and hated how often we saw a figure run by in the background.

The show became very Ryan Murphy with the addition of the “the neighbors might all be in a blood cult” storyline that went nowhere and the John Graff (played by Joe Mantello) of it all. Graff was a character who I’d thought was wholly made up as he felt like a character ripped right out of American Horror Story: Asylum. John Graff was first introduced in the series as a mysterious man who visits the home and has a creepy chat with the fictional main character of Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale). We later learn he is a former resident who murdered his entire family in the home and then vanished. I rolled my eyes at the big reveal that he was this murderer—until I googled it and found out the character was also based on a true story. John Graff was based on a real-life murderer named John List who lived in Westfield, murdered his family, and then vanished. The Ryan Murphy of it all was that he did not live at 657 Boulevard and his murders happened in 1971—he also never visited the home, as he was caught 18 years after the murders he committed.

The thing about The Watchers as a series is, aside from spooky letters, nothing else really happened to the family. Which is for sure spooky enough for real life, but for a show? It leaves you feeling a little empty. The show gave us episode after episode of Cannavale’s Dean and Naomi Watts’s Nora accusing nearly everyone on the entire stacked cast of being The Watcher but the only thing we end up knowing for sure of these fictionalized characters was that it wasn’t Watts’s Nora or Jennifer Coolidge’s eccentric realtor character Karen Calhoun.

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A lot of folks in town, both in the series and in real life, felt it might’ve been a hoax done by the father. And, in both real life and in the series, we do know the father wrote at least one letter that was sent to the neighborhood. He owned up to it in his interview with The Cut. But they never sold their story anywhere and took a loss on the house—the series only happened when the extensive Reeves Wiedeman piece for The Cut was bought in a 7 figure deal from Netflix.

So, while the show doesn’t really give any new insight into the case and, spoiler, ends the way the real-life case ended—with the family selling the house at a loss, never finding out the identity of The Watcher, it still makes for a fun, albeit a little frustrating watch. Even to a horror fan who knows the story like he knows all the lines to the first Scream movie.

Maybe one day while staying up late, after smoking ridiculous amounts of weed, I’ll crack the case myself!

Ian Carlos Crawford grew up in southern New Jersey and has an MFA in non-fiction writing. His favorite things are Buffy, Scream, X-Men, and pugs. His writing has appeared on sites like BuzzFeed, NewNowNext, Junkee, and other random corners of the internet. He currently hosts a queer Buffy and Marvel focused pop culture podcast called Slayerfest 98 and co-hosts a horror podcast called My Bloody Judy.

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Christmas Horror Parody ‘The Mean One’ Successfully Converts Christmas Classic ‘The Grinch’ into a Scary Story

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If Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch was too tame a Christmas-hating monster for your tastes, never fear; The Mean One is here.

How ‘The Mean One’ Wins as a Christmas Horror Movie

This comedy-horror slasher, directed by Steven LaMorte, tells the story of Cindy You-Know-Who (Krystle Martin) returning to her hometown of Newville – where her mother had been viciously murdered in front of her twenty years prior. The sheriff did not take the young girl’s claims that a monster had killed her mother seriously, so the murder remained unsolved. Cindy’s return to town shows a Newville that is wholly undecorated for Christmas, and as a string of murders begins to occur, Cindy knows her mother’s killer has returned.

With the appearance of the Mean One himself and a good balance of campiness and horror, all spread out amongst an intriguing storyline; The Mean One is a fun Christmas horror movie that subverts a beloved childhood classic and makes it its own.

The Horror-Parody Version of The Grinch

One thing the film did exceedingly well was its presentation of The Mean One. The makeup effects were stellar in creating a monster who is at the crossroads of a terrifying cryptid and a holiday icon. From his dirty Santa coat to his black snarl, he checked all the boxes for how a Christmas-hating monster should look.

Of course, to talk about the monster is also to talk about the man behind the mask, David Howard Thornton. After establishing himself as a horror icon in his role of Art the Clown in the Terrifier films, it was fun to see him transcend another role as a horror villain. With another horror flick under his belt, David Howard Thornton is one to keep an eye on. So far, every character he has been behind has been creepy and entertaining, perfectly matching the film’s tone.

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The Approach to Campy Horror

A horror film with rhyming couplets interspersed throughout could never be completely serious, and The Mean One succeeds because it doesn’t try to be. However, the film is not without its creepy moments that would be well-placed in any modern-day horror movie. Like any good scary movie, there are dramatic reveals, emotional turmoil, and suspense building.

It also injects a sense of fear into the holiday itself as it makes the idea of celebrating Christmas a dangerous thing. It’s a delicate balance to create something that is not very serious but simultaneously creepy, and the film does just that.

The Mean One Tells a Story That You Already Know in a Different Way

When making a horror film based on a traditional Christmas story, the added challenge is changing it enough to fit into the horror genre but not so much that it becomes unrecognizable. The Mean One was clearly up to the challenge as it was able to interweave a story that mimicked the traditional Dr. Seuss style of storytelling, with plotlines of a typical scary movie, while still paying homage to the source material. The integration into horror was so smooth that it felt like it should’ve been a scary story all along.

The idea of presenting the recognizable holiday monster as a cryptid is a genius move and calls to question why the Whos down in Whoville never inquired about the existence of the creature who descended from Mount Crumpit to steal their Christmas away in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

It was not only the Mean One that saw some subversion of Christmas lore. A white-haired bearded man with a red cap who seems to watch over the beginning events of the film (and is aptly named “Doc” Zeus) integrated a little bit of a real-life Santa into the storyline.

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Make no mistake; this film is not a high-budget, major Hollywood production. The blood spray effects are campy to the nth degree, and the movie is not without its flaws. But what it does well, it does very well. The Mean One’s appearance is gritty, fun, and familiar; the storyline is immediately immersive – altogether, it is an entertaining watch.

It delivers everything the premise promises: a presentation of a fun Christmas flick that we all know, but this time for horror fans.

See The Mean One for yourself in theaters on December 9th!

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RUN RUN RUDOLPH, KILLER ROBOT SANTA’S IN TOWN: ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ Review

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Seasons screamings, everyone!

I have another wonderful treat for you all, hot out the Shudder ovens. If you’re like me, that means your holiday evenings as a horror fan might be feeling a little bit empty in terms of festivity, and Christmas Bloody Christmas is here to make that right. I’m cheery about the film from the jump. Que raro!

Christmas Bloody Christmas follows what happens when an attempt to turn surplus military technology (a.k.a. killer robots) into friendly department store Santa animatronics backfires; our jolly old Saint Nick ends up painting the town redder than a candy cane’s stripes, terrorizing coworkers Tori (Riley Dandy) and Robbie (Sam Delich) amid their budding romance. Is the premise kind of dumb? Yes, but if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know dumb fun horror is my wheelhouse just as much as the highbrow stuff is. And just because something is silly doesn’t mean it can’t be well made.

Writer and director Joe Begos is getting my second shoutout of the year for his work. I thought the foul-mouthed dialogue of this movie sounded familiar, and that’s because he headed another Channel 83 venture I recommended for October, the 2019 vampires-on-drugs film Bliss. There are many similarities between the two directorially, though this is much more oriented for fun than the psychological nightmare Bliss was. Where Bliss was a dark game of Vampire: The Masquerade, Christmas Bloody Christmas is your classic slasher during the holiday season.

We’ve also left the Panos Kosmatos-esque territory of Bliss’s cinematography, which might be due to the influence of cinematographer Brian Sowell who previously made the film Beyond the Gates, another fun little low-budget horror flick I remember enjoying. Neon wasteland cinematography that is replete with a color palette tuned for blacklight posters and Christmas lights in every single shot, and every scene outside being caked in fake snow and decorations help the aesthetic this movie is going for feel fully realized.

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Composer Steve Moore who worked on both Mayhem and The Guest, two of my favorite action horror films, provides an impeccable score for this film of heavy synth rock with homage to some of the band’s name dropped in the film by our leads. And Josh Russell, who did makeup work for The Night House and a little horror remake you may have heard of called Hellraiser (2022), rounds out that group. The crew on this one is practically a perfect assortment of horror movie production irregulars.

Delich and Dandy have pretty good on-screen chemistry as dirtbag crustpunks who need several mouthfuls of soap scrubbed onto those tongues. Dandy in particular is a veteran of fun, romantic holiday movies, and it’s nice to see she can extend her range beyond being a forgettable Hallmark protagonist whose outfit stepped out of a JCPenney catalog. She makes for an enjoyable final girl for this.

The duo talk like their dialogue is on loan from the Hellbillies of a Rob Zombie film, but they’re believable as coworkers in a long-term “will-they-wont-they” relationship. Their exchanges are genuinely funny at points, even if they stay a bit longer than welcome. These don’t veer into trying to impress you with the character’s pretentiousness about music; they’re just two friends drunk and high on Christmas eve, talking about their flailing romantic lives and which of their bands has the best Christmas song.

Beyond characters, the meat of the film is Silent Night Deadly Night by way of The Terminator in its premise. And in its execution, it feels like a lower-grade SNDN film for how cartoonishly violent and mean the kills can get, and I mean that in the best way. A single axe swing chops a guy in half like it’s a board of wood at a kid’s karate class, several people get thrown around like ragdolls through objects, and there are plenty of fake heads and bodies getting demolished for the gore hounds in the audience. Even the robot gets severely jacked up with sparks flying and explosions.  The special effects are hammy, and I love it more for that.

But as much as I like it, this one isn’t flawless. I feel like our dear Santa could have had a stronger design, maybe with a solid mask, and played with more robotic physicality beyond what we get in the third act. The camera work can sometimes be distracting in its attempts to convey high tension, ending up feeling fidgety instead.

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And to be quite honest, I’m very torn on the films ending. While it’s very entertaining and we get to see the full depth of the crazy animatronic Santa we’ve been waiting for all film which I love, it also drags in a way that is funny for some and might be a bit grating for others. Ultimately some editing flaws are exacerbated by the film being an exceptionally tight 86 minutes (we’re talking stocking stuffed to the brim tight), so it could serve well to have a director’s cut.

BOTTOMLINE: Christmas Bloody Christmas is an over-the-top, grindhouse-y spectacular that gives you exactly what’s in the title. It isn’t your standard holiday horror fare where there’s usually more about the film to laugh at than laugh with, but it definitely isn’t humorless. It’s a solid little film that looks like it could make a reliable staple in the rotation of dumb fun holiday horror for many Christmases to come. You know, assuming you don’t get killed by a robotic Santa Claus before then.

Watch Christmas Bloody Christmas starting 12/9 on Shudder!

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