Get Out (2017)

written and directed by jordan peele
blumhouse productions/qc entertainment

So, this movie is of course “about” racism – both overt and latent – and comprises an intriguing spin on the cannibalism of African American culture for pasteurized Anglo pastimes, along with a pointed recasting of some disgraceful historical practices. This is achieved without too often bashing the viewer over the head, and as a whole is a fine accomplishment. In these confrontational times of backlash against any and every real or imagined discriminatory slight, though, in an era when long-subjugated portions of the straight white male hegemony are claiming or reclaiming agency, how did it escape critical attention that the evillest characters in this film are the women? The two main female roles are imbued with a certain overwhelming rapacity and an equally manipulative bent, and hints of the same also affect more minor characters, portraying the fairer sex in a rather ugly light. This neither undermines the effectiveness of the film nor detracts from its observations and reflections, but seemingly highlights the fact that, well-intentioned or not, there are more than enough biases to be shared equally.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded like something I’d enjoy, and with all the hubbub surrounding Us, I figured I’d better see it already.

should you watch this movie?

I guess it depends on your sensibilities. I myself thought it was excellent.

highlight and low point

Some foreshadowing is actually pretty funny, and is probably meant to parallel the audience-participation aspect of seeing horror flicks in the theater. The picture does contain some (pardon the multiple-entendre) black humor, but that doesn’t in any way suppress the creeping dread that develops throughout. The, uh, experiment at the root of the story is highly reminiscent of Blood Relations; other referents will no doubt occur to viewers at other times.

rating from outer space: A

The Road Builder aka The Night Digger (1971)

directed by alastair reid
yongestreet productions/tacitus productions

Based on a novel with the unwieldy and unpromising title of “Nest in a Fallen Tree,” with a screenplay by Roald Dahl and starring his wife, this tale of suspense is very British, a study of drawing-room manners for the most part. Oh, but there’s a twist! Here we have a festering sense of resentment within the familial relationship that anchors the picture, a kinship upset and altered by the arrival of a young stranger. Now, some of what then occurs is basic dark British fodder; murders are perpetrated, suspicions are raised, and the village folk get to enjoy more of their favorite pastime (gossip, of course). Later, though, a murkier and more disturbing subplot develops, emotions are exploded, and the setting abruptly shifts entirely. An ambiguous ending completes the affair, which manages to entertain despite its lack of sensationalism.

why did i watch this movie?

I needed to balance out the recent spate of ’90s flicks – and I’ve lately covered a bunch of modern productions as well – so I sought a picture from the seventies, and this was the one I found.

should you watch this movie?

This is the sort of film that TV stations used to show on lazy weekend afternoons, as very little of it is at all lurid. It’s good, if understated, and definitely of a different era.

highlight and low point

The action takes off when a mysterious young man named “Billy” enters the tale, and I think we can all agree that’s a momentous circumstance. Actually, though, some displays of splendid acting, mainly concerning liminal expressions of emotion, are what impress most. Oddly, it appears this was an edited version of the movie, but I’m not sure any other rendition is readily available.

rating from outer space: B

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

directed by jeff burr
republic pictures/steve white entertainment

So, one of the actors in this picture was driving me nuts with his strained, nigh-unintelligible gibbering and his painfully restricted movements, and I just HAD to find out who he was … and it turned out to be Crispin Glover’s father, who purportedly is also an acting teacher. So I definitely learned something from this hokey, by-the-book bit of B-grade nonsense. Just about every cliché in the book is hauled out here – estranged daughter returns to small town! Her dad’s the mayor! She hooks up with the hot local guy! There’s trouble! And an ancient curse! Or something! – with the only novel touches being a few of the ways the, uh, demonic scarecrow kills or maims his victims. It’s entertaining, really, but man, is it ever generic. Which ceased to surprise me once I discovered that the director also was behind the camera for the equally uninspired Leatherface.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded like a hell of an improvement over the previous strawman-themed picture I viewed. I thrilled to the prospect.

should you watch this movie?

It really isn’t the type of work one should watch on purpose, unless it involves nostalgia for the heartland fetish of decades long past. (Today’s politicized heartland fetish is different.)

highlight and low point

The evil possessed scarecrow is a kind of highlight, I guess, and the flashback scenes are endearingly slapdash. The ridiculous caricature of the extended family would have to be seen to be believed, and the backlot politics implicit in the details differentiating the women’s roles seemingly would’ve been intrigung. Overall, however, this one feels as though the script was churned out in little more time than it takes to watch the finished product.

rating from outer space: C−

Jack Be Nimble (1993)

written & directed by garth maxwell
essential productions limited/new zealand film commission

Wow, what a strange movie this is. Though one never expects an original take when dipping into genre offerings, this New Zealand picture is playing entirely on its own field. And what a field it is … the polar opposite of a “feel-good” film, this neverending litany of miseries only lets up at the very end, with a seemingly tacked-on segment that feels suspiciously like an afterthought, but which instead may not have been meant as a representation of reality. Sometimes it’s rewarding when you finish a viewing wondering what in the hell you just watched, and this feature manages to provoke that same sense of confusion and intrigue throughout its duration. I mean, I had no idea where this one was heading – and given its overall bleakness and the uncomfortably horrific final scenes, I’m fairly glad about that.

why did i watch this movie?

This is another product of the 1990s, and I was lured in by the odd name and convinced by its description as a unique, psychological offering.

should you watch this movie?

Powerful in several different ways, it’s quite an experience if you’re looking for a less typical horror picture, fraught with emotional turmoil. It is not an easy watch.

highlight and low point

Though obviously one must suspend one’s disbelief for certain elements of a picture steeped in the paranormal, the conflict in this flick relies on its grounding in related phenomena without an apparent link or any explanation whatsoever. It’s just sort of dropped in there: oh, by the way, this can happen, too. Since most of the variant otherworldly or mystical manifestations are given at least some backstory, that slight is troubling. Alexis Arquette and Sarah Smuts-Kennedy play long-separated orphaned siblings very believably.

rating from outer space: a−

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

directed by larry cohen
larco Productions/420 demons

As this picture began to unspool, I didn’t know if I’d be able to stand it, because once we reach the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, the production quality (acting, costumes, props, makeup) takes a severe nosedive – and it was iffy from the get-go. I persevered, however, and was amply rewarded by general weirdness. (I also greatly enjoyed the credit “Based on characters created by Stephen King,” as the only way in which that is true is if one considers the town of “Salem’s Lot” itself to be a character.) Okay, look, in terms of actual credibility, this flick is nowheresville; it plays more like a made-for-TV movie than the 1978 Tobe Hooper-directed Salem’s Lot CBS “miniseries” and is chock-full of several stripes of bad acting that run the gamut from half-baked to hammy. Throw in a Nazi hunter to save the day, and you’ve got everything you always wanted in a fear, and less! This is where sequencing can be important: after watching Scarecrows, this flick wound up being highly enjoyable.

why did i watch this movie?

As acknowledged, I am a bit of an S. King obsessive, so I’ve wanted to investigate this one for quite a while, especially after having viewed Cohen’s Special Effects.

should you watch this movie?

It depends on how SERIOUSLY you take “Salem’s Lot” to be a “gripping masterwork of horror,” or whatever people consider King’s (or Hooper’s) Dracula redux to be, because this is a tongue-in-cheek treatment of the (purported) source material.

highlight and low point

The last time I watched a vampire flick I learned how to revive a bloodsucker; this time I found out a mortal can impregnate one and that its ashy remains may spontaneously combust. This is the terrifying leader of the hemovores:

rating from outer space: D

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

directed by james whale
universal

These old horror pictures really appreciated comic relief, particularly from strident women portraying minor characters, and they also relished lampooning petit bourgeois authority, such as this film’s burgomaster. Plus, they really enjoyed overacting to the point of buffoonery, although that can be forgiven due the transition from stage to screen. Now, with all that musing done and out of the way, it is time to allow that this production, though a bit slight, is quite accomplished. “Karloff” – that’s all he’s credited as – does wonders with his role, even under heavy prosthetics, and the script does an excellent job of playing on any variety of emotions in underscoring the plight of “the monster.” The “monster’s mate” doesn’t appear until just five minutes remain in the picture, of course, which is another thing these great old-time movie stars had going for them: pacing and suspense. Realism may be another matter entirely, but given the subject at hand, any such observation is probably misguided.

why did i watch this movie?

Johnny Ramone awarded “Bride” first place in his rankings, which overall are pretty fair. (I personally don’t think The Wolf Man and Freaks hold up well enough, but who the hell am I.)


should you watch this movie?

When the mood is right for a picture from this era, such as during Samhain, it would be quite suitable.


highlight and low point

The sequence during which the MONSTER busts out of the dungeon in which he’s been confined, evades the hunt, and tumbles into the crypts from which Pretorius and his henchmen are commandeering corpse parts is pretty memorable. Once again, the studio-lot sets are awe-inspiring, at least the interiors. (The outdoor scenes, not so much.) I could have done without the “humorous” touches and their focus on the lowbrow.

rating from outer space: a−

Dwight Frye as Karl

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

directed by george a. romero
image ten

This being one of the more influential and critically assessed horror flicks of all time, I’m not going to waste a whole lot of words here, though I do find it highly amusing that I’d never seen this picture. (I’ve seen Day of the Dead, the completely irrelevant Return of the Living Dead, and such variants as Zombi3, but never the foundation film.) Having previously watched Romero’s Season of the Witch (“aka Hungry Wives”) and The Crazies, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with his work, but I wasn’t prepared for the early going of this picture to emulate a silent movie, nor the workaday nature of the living dead themselves. The social commentary can be a bit heavy-handed, but that’s kind of a Romero calling card, at least in his auteur guise. A few quibbles: One, the film lacks for a certain logical consistency in how the zombies – er, I mean “ghouls” – act; two, and this just occurred to me during the latter portions of this film, why in the hell do zombies have to eat? They’re dead!

why did i watch this movie?

Night of the Living Dead is no. four in Johnny Ramone’s top 10.

should you watch this movie?

So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.

highlight and low point

The very nature of the low-budget presentation aids it immeasurably, lending it an almost documentary feel at times, and the general lack of histrionics on behalf of the risen dead also helps, their implacable multitudes generating an overwhelming sense of dread as the scope of the danger becomes more clear. Romero’s unadorned direction of his actors at times gives the proceedings a distinctly stagy quality, and his statements tend toward the transparent.

rating from outer space: a-