'John Carpenter's Suburban Screams' Review: Show Is Crime Over Horror
JOHN CARPENTER'S SUBURBAN SCREAMS -- "Bunnyman" Episode 104 -- (Photo by: Gabriel Kuchta/PEACOCK)

‘John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams’ Review: Show Is Crime Over Horror

From “Halloween” to “The Prince of Darkness,” after nearly five decades in the industry, legendary director John Carpenter has earned his title as a master of the horror genre. With his terrifying jump cuts and ominous musical scores, Carpenter has always had the ability to thread a sense of terror and foreboding throughout his films, making them viscerally frightening. Now, with his first-ever television project, “John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams,” the filmmaker is turning his lens on real-life evil. These are the stories of diabolical people and spirits that hide in plain sight before they burst forth, ready to terrorize and wreak havoc on the lives of the unsuspecting. Unfortunately, instead of the sinister narratives that fans have come to expect from Carpenter, this series is a cheap display of ghastly crimes.

Peacock’s six-episode anthology series opens with a narration by “The Thing” director. Carpenter warns, “In our suburbs, evil lurks behind closed doors. True stories so terrifying because the horror is real. You’ll never look at your neighbors the same way again.” From there, each chapter unpacks an incident or urban myth that has rocked an individual or group to its core. 

The premiere episode, “Kelly,” is set in the 1990s and revolves around a young man named Dan, living in Ontario, Canada, who begins having visions of a dead girl named Kelly after using an Ouija board. Dan’s fixation on Kelly and what happened to her drives him to the brink of his sanity. Set in the 1970s, Episode 4, titled “Bunny Man,” focuses on the town of Fairfax, Virginia. Though the community had always known the tale of a sinister being dressed in a deranged rabbit costume and wielding a hacket, things become all too real when residents report seeing him around town. Terrified, the community attempts to determine why the Bunny Man has a vendetta against them. 

Using the format found in infamous true crime shows like “The First 48” and “Snapped,” the episodes are shot documentary style and launch with an interview with a real person affected by the alarming incident or tale. From there, ”Suburban Screams” uses cheesy reenactments, archival footage, and photographs to lead the audience through first-hand accounts of what occurred. Each episode concludes with how everything panned out, whether a resolution was found or not. 

The main issue with “Suburban Screams” is that the type of events showcased are way too broad to feel like a cohesive project. “Cursed Neighborhood,” the subject of Episode 5, examines a haunted neighborhood with a history of genocide and homicidal spirits. An unsuspecting family moves in for a fresh start but is slowly and methodically driven apart by the evil brewing around them. Like “Bunny Man,” this examination of an urban legend is a good fit for the horror genre. However, the same can’t be said for other episodes. 

Other chapters of the unscripted series, including “A Killer Comes Home” and “Phone Stalker,” are grotesque and upsetting recounts of monstrous people doing horrific things — specifically to women. These incidents, which center on murder, vicious violence, stalking and sexual assault, align much more with true crime programming that already exists. Episode 2, “A Killer Comes Home,” is particularly upsetting, since the reenactments are so graphic and depict the elderly getting beaten to death and sexually assaulted. Viewers who might have expected more elements of the supernatural in “Suburban Screams” may be startled to learn that those narratives aren’t at the core of this show. 

Though episodes run approximately 45 minutes or less, the lengthy reenactments made them feel tediously long. “Suburban Screams” certainly could have benefited from a tighter edit, which may have perhaps shifted the show into the nerve-wracking tone and pace it is clearly striving to attain. As much as Carpenter has offered the cinema landscape and the horror genre, this anthology doesn’t measure up to his past contributions. Instead, “Suburban Screams” presents like a hodgepodge of crime shows thrust together to make one singular series. It is void of the scares and shocks that make horror so enticing to begin with. 

“John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams” premieres Oct. 13 on Peacock.