Get Out

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2017

Blumhouse Productions/QC Entertainment/Universal Pictures

Directed and Written by Jordan Peele

Produced by Jason Blum/Edward H. Hamm, Jr./Sean McKittrick/Jordan Peele

Years and years ago I was having a discussion with a Caucasian friend of mine. Over copious amounts of alcoholic beverages we discussed movies and he suddenly popped up with a question that had been plaguing him for some time and he felt he could ask me instead of some other black people of his acquaintance as he felt I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. He said that when he went to see horror movies, the black people in the audience were laughing at the terrible things happening to the characters in the movie. Why were they laughing? It confused him because they were, after all, horror movies. Who laughs at horror movies?

My answer: “They’re laughing because white folks do things in horror movies that you’d never catch black people doing. We don’t fool around investigating the supernatural or the paranormal. We don’t think it’s fun or cool to party in graveyards. We don’t go down in the dark basement where we know damn well the killer is hiding. We don’t think it would be a groove to go spend the weekend in a haunted house or at some remote camp where a buncha murders were committed. We don’t go back for our buddy/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father if they trip and fall while running from the killer. We don’t go back for the dog or the cat. We don’t split up when we know there’s a mad killer on the loose so that he can pick us off one by one. Got the picture?”

Despite my flippant answer there have been a considerable number of outstanding horror movies with black protagonists. I’m thinking of “The Beast Must Die” “Ganja & Hess” “The People Under The Stairs” “Candyman” “Demon Knight” “Attack The Block” and “Night of The Living Dead” come to mind. GET OUT can be added to the list and may eventually be at the top. It’s a dynamic debut film from Jordan Peele who directs with the confidence and expertise of a much more seasoned director. Psychological horror and social satire are skillfully blended with a dash of comedy mixed in just enough to give us a chance to relax a bit before being plunged back into the nightmarish situation faced by Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya)

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Chris is invited by his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) to spend the weekend at her parents house. Chris is somewhat apprehensive because he’s black, she’s white and she has not told her parents she’s dating a black man. But she assures Chris that her parents are super cool and everything will be just fine.

Film Title: Get Out

And her parents Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) do indeed turn out to be pretty cool. Oh, sure Dean bends over so far backwards to show that he’s “down” and sympathetic with black people in such a way that it in itself is borderline racist while Missy is just a little too insistent that Chris allow her to hypnotize him to cure his smoking addiction.

Film Title: Get Out

Chris at first is relieved to see a couple of other black faces at the Armitage estate in the form of the maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) until he has a chance to talk to them. As he tells his best friend Rod (Lil Rey Howery) they do not act like any black people he’s ever known. Rod of of the opinion that Chris should never have gone up there in the first place. And as the weekend goes on, Chris starts to think his boy just may be onto something. He meets Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who doesn’t bother to hide his creepy hostility toward Chris. And the Armitages host a party where most of the guests seem to know way more about Chris than he’s comfortable with. And that’s all you need to know. It’s not that GET OUT is a movie full of unexpected twists and turns. In fact, the trailers you’ve seen have told more than they should but there’s plenty left in GET OUT to be surprised with. But that is due more to the gradual building of suspense as the weirdness increases. GET OUT isn’t a movie that depends on violence and gore to make it’s point. It actually gets pretty deep in it’s use of horror movie tropes to examine race and racism while telling an entertaining story at the same time. It doesn’t beat you over the head with social commentary on race relations but there’s enough there to give you something to think about and discuss after you leave the theater.

Daniel Kaluuya holds the center of the movie just fine as our likable protagonist who is an everyday guy thrown into a situation way over his head. His character has some psychological baggage that helpes to round out the character and explains some of the choices he makes later on in the movie. But the MVP award has to be shared by Betty Gabriel and Lil Rey Howery. Betty Gabriel’s Georgina is without a doubt the scariest character in the movie and she made me jump more than once.

Film Title: Get Out

Lil Rey Howery provides most of the movie’s comedy, ruthlessly stealing every scene he’s in. Chris calls Rod during the weekend to keep him up to date on the increasing weirdness and later on, Rod takes a more proactive role which leads to probably the funniest scene in the movie, one that he shares with Erika Alexander who plays a police detective.

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So should you see GET OUT? Absolutely. It’s a fascinating piece of work that has been compared to the best episodes of the classic “Twilight Zone” and “The Stepford Wives” and deservedly so. It’s that good. By all means, go see and enjoy.

Rated R

103 Minutes

Crazy As Hell

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2002

Humble Journey Films/Loose Screw Films

Directed by Eriq La Salle

Produced by Butch Robinson/Michael Huens

Written by Jeremy Leven based on his novel: “Satan, His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.”

See, the problem isn’t finding black characters in horror movies. There have been black characters in horror movies going all the way back to 1940’s “Son of Ingagi” which was the first horror movie featuring an all-black cast and written by that true pioneer of African-American film; Spencer Williams. And Mantan Moreland, best known for playing Charlie Chan’s chauffeur Birmingham Brown starred in a number of horror comedies that were more comedy than horror, but just go along with me for minute, okay?

And during the Blaxploitation Era we had the “Blacula” movies, “J.D.’s Revenge” “Abby” (which actually was yanked from theaters due to Warner Brothers filing a suit against the movie, claiming it was a blatant copy of “The Exorcist.”) “Ganja & Hess” “Sugar Hill” (which is actually just as much a superhero origin movie as it is a horror movie) and “Doctor Black, Mister Hyde” as well as many, many others.

As for the modern era there have been several superior horror movies featuring African-Americans such as “The People Under The Stairs” “Candyman” “Tales From The Hood” all worthy examples of the genre and well worth seeking out. So, no…black characters in horror movies aren’t hard to find. But for every one where the black character is the lead or the hero there’s a half dozen others where the black character is merely window dressing.  They’re usually the best friend of the hero/heroine as a sort of visual shorthand to let the audience know that our lead character is cool and hip because they have a black BFF. Or they are simply a sacrificial lamb that gets killed off halfway through the movie.

No, the problem is finding good horror movies with black characters and I’m pleased to have discovered one that has been around for a long time and that I’ve heard about but never had a chance to see until recently. CRAZY AS HELL turned out to be a real surprise for me and the longer I watched it, the more I liked the vibe I was getting from it. And while I don’t think it’s as good as “Angel Heart” or “Shutter Island” two movies it shares much in common with, CRAZY AS HELL is more than worth your time.

Superstar pop psychiatrist Ty Adams (Michael Beach) reports to his new job at Sedah State Mental Hospital. Adams is going to be put in charge of the facility for thirty days while a documentary crew records everything he does in his private time and in his therapy sessions with his patients. The head of the documentary crew, Parker (John C. McGinley) assures Adams of complete co-operation but it soon becomes apparent that Parker is deliberately filming encounters Adams has with the staff and patients that don’t exactly put him in a flattering or even professional light. And the faculty’s administrator, Dr. Delazo (Ronny Cox) doesn’t trust Adams or his methods as Adams believes in totally medication free treatment for his patients. Delazo also quiet accurately puts his finger on the fact that Adams is arrogantly overconfident with a rampaging ego that will not permit him to admit when he is wrong or admit defeat. None of these traits being exactly desirable in a man who is supposed to be putting his patients first.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Adams is given a new patient to treat. One who checked himself into the ha-hacienda voluntarily and insists on Adams being his doctor. The patient (Eriq La Salle) claims his name is Satan and his profession is The Father of Lies. Naturally Adams thinks he’s fulla felgercarb. But the more time he spends with Satan, the less certain he is about him. Satan knows things about Adams and the other patients that it isn’t possible for him to know. And is just a coincidence that at the same time Satan appears at the nuthouse, Adams begins to hallucinate about his wife and daughter? The same wife and daughter he refuses to talk about? Could it be that the wife and daughter are connected with “incident” in New York Dr. Delazo makes cryptic reference’s to?

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The fun of watching CRAZY AS HELL is mostly in us, along with Dr. Adams is trying to figure out if this crazy guy is actually Satan or a just a really perceptive and smart guy playing a game with Adams. And for every piece of evidence that Adams finds that says he’s actually The Devil, there’s another piece that says he isn’t. It’s a movie that maintains that suspense right up until the end and there are not a lot of movies of this type I can say it about. It truly did keep me guessing.

Eriq La Salle effortlessly steals the movie both as an actor and as a director. He plays Satan with a scary seductiveness that walks a fine line between being funny and frightening. He finds the exact right note to play this character and never makes a wrong step. His direction his sharp, tight and keeps the story movie along at an even clip and again, he walks a fine line in keeping our interest while not letting us get too far ahead of Adams. He’ll drop us just enough to make us think we know more than Adams and then by the time we get to the end credits we realize we didn’t know a thing more than what he wanted us to know.

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Ronny Cox supplies more than able backup here and Sinbad shows up as a hospital orderly who is constantly getting the high hat from Adams. And keep your eyes open for Tia Texada who plays Lupa, who works in the facility’s cafeteria. She has a small role but Moly Hoses, does she make the most of her short screen time. Trust me when I say that if you see the movie you’ll know exactly what I mean.

So should you see CRAZY AS HELL? Absolutely. It’s a terrific example of a type of horror filmmaking that doesn’t need buckets of blood, pornographic violence or fake out jump scares to do its job. CRAZY AS HELL is a type of horror that sneaks up on you and before you know it, it’s got you. Highly recommended.

Rated R

113 Minutes

And Soon The Darkness (1970)

1970

EMI Films

Directed by Robert Fuest

Produced by Albert Fennell and Brian Clements

Written by Brain Clements and Terry Nation

AND SOON THE DARKNESS is regarded as a minor cult classic of 70’s British horror movies and now, after finally seeing it for myself I can see why.  It’s a neat, effective little horror/suspense movie that gets the job done with a subtle, intelligent script and solid acting.  It’s my kind of horror movie as the situation is one that could plausibly happen and the characters behave as I can see actual people in such a situation would act and as such I can take the movie much more seriously than say, the brain dead 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS.  But that’s another review.  Let’s get back to this one.

Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice) are two young and very pretty English girls on holiday, biking through the French countryside.  They’re best friends but they have very different idea of how they want to spend their holiday.  Jane’s insistent they stay on schedule and she’s constantly consulting her stack of maps and checking their time against their itinerary.  Cathy wants to slowpoke it, take their time and enjoy the local color.

Part of that local color is Paul (Sandor Eles) a handsome young French man who catches Cathy’s eye in a café the two girls stop at briefly to get directions.  They go further on up the road and Paul passes them on his motorcycle, only to stop at a roadside cemetery.  In a blatant attempt to kill time and wait for Paul to catch up to them, Cathy insists that the girls stop to sunbathe at the side of the road.  This leads to a quarrel where Cathy tells Jane she’s fed up with being bossed around and that she’s going to have some fun.  Jane leaves Cathy and continues on by herself, stopping at another café a little ways up the road.  After a while, when she’s cooled off, she goes back for Cathy.

Except Cathy’s gone.  Jane finds her bicycle but except for that, there’s no sign of Cathy at all.  Jane frantically searches for her with no luck.  She runs into Paul, who claims to be a police detective and offers to help.  He certainly is more willing to do so than the local gendarme (John Nettleton) who treats Cathy’s disappearance with a laid-back casualness that frustrates Jane to no end. The locals are of no help because Jane doesn’t know any French and so can’t tell them what’s wrong.  And then it turns out that Paul has disturbingly graphic knowledge of a girl who a couple of years ago was raped and murdered near the same spot where Cathy disappeared…

If you have any knowledge of the careers of the writers and director of this movie then you know these guys aren’t amateurs.  Robert Fuest directed the two classic “Dr. Phibes” movies.  Brian Clements was a producer and main script writer of “The Avengers” as well as writing so many other classic British TV series and movies such as “Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter” which he also directed.  Terry Nation created The Daleks and if I have to tell you who they are then you’re in the wrong place.  He also created several notable British science fiction TV series including one of my favorites; “Blake’s 7”

Add to this the considerable acting talent of Pamela Franklin who starred in what I consider the second best haunted house movie ever made; “The Legend of Hell House” and was a standout in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” where she played the intellectually and sexually precocious Sandy. Pamela Franklin had a good career back in the 60’s and 70’s and if you see her name in the credits of a movie, watch it.  She’s a fine actress with terrifically expressive eyes who knows exactly what she’s doing in front of a camera and it’s a treat to watch her work.

The movie also is fun to watch because despite the title, 100% of AND SOON THE DARKNESS takes place during the daytime in broad daylight.  The events of the movie play out in the course of one day and just because it all takes place during the daylight hours doesn’t make it any less scary or suspenseful.  Increasing the suspense is Jane’s inability to communicate with anybody except the two people she suspects of having taken her friend.  It’s a smart move by the director to not subtitle when French is spoken and so as the audience we can share in Jane’s growing frustration and paranoia at her situation.

So should you see AND SOON THE DARKNESS?  I recommend so highly.  It doesn’t have graphic violence or gore but if you’re looking for a nifty little horror/suspense thriller that will keep you guessing right up until the end of the movie, this is for you.  It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix so enjoy.

PG

99 minutes

The Other

1972
20th Century Fox

Directed by Robert Mulligan
Produced By Tom Tryon and Robert Mulligan
Screenplay by Tom Tryon based on his novel

Kids have it pretty rough in horror movies. Really they do. Either they’re the victims, being terrorized and traumatized by brutal, sadistic adults and chased by big scary monsters or they’re the ones doing the terrorizing. And they get away with it most of the time because they’ve got those widdle cutie cheeks and sweet smiles. Who could imagine that behind those big wide innocent eyes such monstrous evil could exist? The child who is the main character of THE OTHER has it doubly rough because he’s both victim and monster.

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In the Depression era South the Perry farm should be a place of joy and cheer but instead its idyllic happiness is overshadowed by recent events. Alexandra Perry (Diana Muldaur) has secluded herself in her bedroom, totally incapacitated by grief over the recent accidental death of her husband. But everybody is looking forward to the birth of Torrie Rider’s (Jenny Sullivan) child including her younger brother Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) and his twin brother Holland (Martin Udvarnoky). The twin boys spend the long hot summer days playing in the barn, fishing and playing with their beloved Grandma Ada (Uta Hagen) who has taught Niles how to project his consciousness outside of his body and into other minds. Niles is curious as to why Grandma Ada won’t teach Holland how to play “the game”. It’s a question that Grandma Ada is significantly unwilling to answer since she changes the conversation every time the subject of Holland comes up.

It’s probably a good idea that Grandma Ada didn’t teach Holland “the game” as Holland appears to be a nasty little boy all on his own. There’s a hideous accident in the barn involving a pitchfork and Cousin Russell. The nearby neighbor lady has a heart attack under mysterious circumstances and Holland’s harmonica is found in her house in a place where it has no business being.  Niles carries around several objects in a Prince Albert tobacco can. One of them is the Perry family ring which was supposed to be buried with Mr. Perry. The other object tells plainly how Holland got the ring.  The realization of what Holland did drives Alexandra over the edge. But things get worse still when Torrie’s baby is kidnapped one night and the adults hysterically blame not only the kidnapping but all the other misfortunes plaguing the family on the handyman Mr. Angelini (Victor French) Grandma Ada and Niles are the only ones who seem to know the truth. Niles is unwilling to accept it and Grandma Ada realizes that despite her overwhelming love for Niles there’s only one way to deal with what Holland has become.

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THE OTHER is going to seem slow moving and plodding to most. And most are going to think they’ve figured out the secret between Niles and Holland early on but then there’s a twist at the end that may give you cause to rethink what you’ve seen yet again. And that’s what I like about THE OTHER. It’s easy to just assume this is another good twin/bad twin story but there’s considerable evidence for two or even three other explanations for what happens in this movie and it’s up to the viewer to make up their own mind as to what was real and what wasn’t. I suppose the best way to describe THE OTHER is “Southern gothic psychological horror” and if you’ve a movie-goer who has been brought up on CGI, shocks and gore every thirty seconds then this one will probably put you to sleep. The horror in THE OTHER happens mostly right in the bright, broad summer sunshine except for the totally frightening night when the baby is kidnapped. It’s a movie that takes it’s time telling its story. It won’t be rushed because it knows where it’s going and it knows where it has to take you in order to make the payoff work.

The major acting roles here are handled by Uta Hagen who is widely acclaimed as an acting teacher and is mostly known for stage work. She’s really good in her scenes with Chris Udvarnoky. He and his real life twin brother Martin do a wonderful job of conveying both innocent and menace, sometimes both in the same scene. Look for John Ritter is a small supporting role as Torrie’s husband.

So should you see THE OTHER? It’s not a movie that you’ll find on a lot of lists as recommended for viewing but I think it’s worth one viewing at least. If you’re in the mood for a horror film that’s zero on special effects but 100 on psychological barbed wire wrapping around your brain try it out. And if you need any added poking to give THE OTHER a try then how’s this: the director of this one also directed the classic “To Kill A Mockingbird” so if you liked that one (and is there anybody alive who doesn’t like “To Kill A Mockingbird”?) then by all means you oughta give this one a look.

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108 minutes
Rated PG