A new project with not just one of the best horror directors of all time but his first directorial credit in over a decade should be major news for genre fans, but “John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams” is a limp, dull mess. This Peacock show cuts every corner to meet an obviously minimal budget and lacks any sort of creative juice at all. It’s a shockingly bad program, one that has no cohesive vision as it tells largely dull “true” stories of violence behind the picket fences. From the minute it starts with what looks like the kind of stock photos of suburbia one finds in a Hallmark photo frame, one can tell something is very wrong here. It's worth mentioning that I watch an unusual amount of true crime shows, so I’ve seen more than my share of cheaply made programs about suburban violence, and yet this one still shocked me with its inferior production values. My only hope is that they paid Carpenter so much for his name, use of what looks like the “Halloween” font, and, believe it or not, a new score from Carpenter himself, that they only had the change in their couch for the rest of the production. At least a legend got paid.
The concept of “John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams” is fundamentally flawed in that these six “true tales of terror” have no real connection other than playing out like disturbing anecdotes you hear at the bar. The vague connective tissue is that each episode is a “true” story told by an interview subject. But they blend supernatural, serial killers, urban legends, domestic violence, and more into this odd stew of vaguely threatening tales. The first episode is an old-fashioned ghost story, the testimony of a man convinced that he was haunted by the specter of a missing girl. The second is the story of a reporter terrified by the escape of a serial killer about whom he had heavily reported. What do these two tales have in common? Nothing really. And this sense that no one bothered to connect the stories of “Suburban Screams” doesn’t go away.
The third episode is a “crazy guy next door” tale that feels the most Carpenter-y in its narrative in its “evil came home” structure, but it’s so poorly made with hideous acting in the recreations and shoddy editing throughout that one can tell it wasn’t directed by Carpenter before the credits roll—the only entertainment I got from this was trying to guess which episode would actually have the Carpenter directing credit at the end. The fourth episode is a ludicrous unpacking of a legend called “The Bunny Man” that essentially doesn’t play by the rules of the show in that it’s not one person’s “true story” as much as an entire community’s spooky stories about an ax-wielding man in a bunny suit (I did wonder if this inspired “Donnie Darko” in any way though).
The fifth episode, about a family moving into a community haunted by ghosts, I think, I don’t know, is incoherent in ways that you rarely see on TV. It seems to be about a family who moves to a new house, and there are weird sounds in the woods and violence nearby. The episode falls apart in ways that are hard to fathom. A guy hears voices in the woods and falls off a ladder before getting surly and alcoholic, leading to the dissolution of his marriage. The theory here is that a haunted patch of land destroyed a family. That’s about it.
Then there’s Carpenter’s episode, the final one, about a vicious stalker. He revealed not long ago that he directed his episode from his couch as it was shot in Prague. There’s even an official image on the press site of this happening. While I'm a big enough fan that I would probably consider financing a new feature from one of the best horror directors of all time, it turns out that even the greats might need to leave their house to get the job done. As we all know, staying in suburbia is terrifying.
Whole series was screened for review. "John Carpenter's Suburban Screams" premieres on October 12th on Peacock.