Sunday, October 8, 2017
Halloween 2017: October 7
Get Out (2017)
I'm a strong believer that horror, as a genre, has always existed to exercise cultural fears and anxieties. Too often, audiences and filmmakers alike have forgotten this. I've never seen a whole episode of “Key & Peele,” though the segments I have seen have been really funny. Jordon Peele, who is apparently a big horror fan, certainly hasn't forgotten that horror and social commentary go hand-in-hand. He made a boldly political genre film with “Get Out.” The film would connect with audiences, becoming a huge hit earlier in the year. I probably should've seen the movie before now but it's not uncommon for me to fall behind new releases. As one of the most talked about horror films of the year, October seems to be the right month to finally watch this.
Chris Washington, a black man, has been dating Rose Armitage, a white woman, for four months. The relationship has gotten serious enough that Rose's parents have invited the couple to visit their home for a few days. Rose's parents try to make Chris feel welcomed. However, he begins to suspect something is wrong. The maid and groundskeeper are both black. Moreover, both of them act extremely strangely. At a party the next, Chris meets another black man who also acts very odd. Soon, he begins to suspect there is a local conspiracy targeting African-Americans. What he discovers is even more horrifying than he could have guessed.
“Get Out” isn't just a potent political allegory. It's also a really effective horror movie. The score mixes Swahili chanting with discordant, shrieking strings to create an unnerving mood early on. The black workers on the Armitage property act in very strange ways. Their uncanny appearance and behavior is also unsettling. This leads up to more intense moments, such as when Chris stumbles upon one of the workers running around the yard at night. Or another black man momentarily lapsing out of his hypnotized state. All of this is preparation for “Get Out's” descent into full-blown surreal horror. The appearance of the Sunken Place – which became something of an internet meme earlier in the year – is a startling and original visual. Smartly, Peele also contrasts his horrific scenes with comedic ones. The scenes revolving around Chris' friend, Rod, are frequently hilarious.
If horror is a vehicle for political commentary, it's also a genre built upon catharsis. The actual details of the strange things going on in the Armitage house are not especially novel. It's the kind of story we've seen play out in other horror pictures. Honestly, considering how original “Get Out's” brand of horror had been up to that point, the reveal is a little disappointing. What it sets up, though, makes it worth it. The film almost shifts into an action film at the end. Antlers – in another move that aligns Chris with deer – are put to good use. The repressed get righteous revenge on their tormentors. It plays out gory and incredibly satisfying fashion. Peele originally envisioned “Get Out” with a much darker ending. That ending, perhaps, would've made more sense. However, the more up-beat ending was the right decision. “Get Out” ends on a note of triumph, not defeat. Given the story's obvious sociological element, it's well earned.
The Body Snatcher (1945)
Perhaps because “Curse of the Cat People” under-performed, the next horror film Val Lewton produced for RKO would feature an established genre star. By 1945, Boris Karloff had officially retired from Universal Studios' monster movies, following his appearance in “House of Frankenstein.” Karloff was increasingly disenfranchised with the horror genre. However, Lewton's more nuanced scripts would renew Karloff's enthusiasm. The partnership proved so fruitful that Karloff would appear in two more films for Lewton and RKO. For added value, “The Body Snatcher” would also throw in another genre icon – Bela Lugosi – and be based on a short story from legendary author Robert Louis Stevenson. Naturally, the film is regarded as a classic now.
The year is 1831. The science of anatomy and surgery is still in its infancy. Dr. Wolfe McFarlane is a surgeon operating out of Edinburgh. He quickly takes a medical student, Donald Fettes, under his wing. Fettes, soon, discovers that his mentor's methods are not as clean as he anticipated. Dr. MacFarlane has, for years, been working with a John Gray. A coachman by day, Gray is a grave robber by night, providing the doctor with fresh corpses. While attempting to perform experimental spinal surgeon on a paraplegic little girl, Dr. MacFarlane's demand for fresh bodies become greater. To accommodate him, Gray commits murder. Soon, the resurrection man is blackmailing the doctor.
The film is also home to one of Boris Karloff's most frightening performances. Karloff usually brought a sense of warmth to even his nastiest characters. In “The Body Snatchers,” he does away with that completely. His character beats a dog to death with a shovel in an early scene, for one example. Jon Gray is a psychopath, only interested in furthering his own interest and willing to do absolutely anything to accomplish that. Despite being a total sociopath, Karloff still brings an odd charm to the character. Gray is charismatic, befitting a master manipulator. At the same time, Karloff brings a desperate edge to the part. Gray isn't a great planner and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. It's a fantastic villain. Karloff gets a few scenes with Bela Lugosi who, sadly, isn't given much more to do.
“The Body Snatcher” isn't without its flaws. A subplot involving MacFarlane's wife, who he married in secret, doesn't go much of anywhere. It's final scene is a bit mawkish. Russell Wade is okay as Fettes but his performance comes off as bland, compared to those around him. Still, this is a fine horror picture. An excellent Karloff performance, some memorable visuals and a ghoulish story more than makes up for any flaws. It's not hard to see why Karloff would team with the same producer again, beginning the next phase of his career. [7/10]
In Sickness and in Health
Another filmmaker who made the leap from “Masters of Horror” to “Fear Itself” was John Landis. Instead of trying to fit the Showtime show's sex and violence onto network TV, Landis instead crafted a slightly goofy homage to “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Samantha and Carlos are getting married. Before the ceremony, Samantha receives a note informing her that she's about to marry a serial killer. This transform what's supposed to be the happiest day of her life into a nightmare. As she attempts to get to the truth, she uncovers some other secrets about Carlos. Once again, not everything is as it seems.
“In Sickness and in Health” is pretty goofy, right down to a twist ending that barely makes any sense. Landis includes more than a few scenes of comic relief. Samantha's bridesmaids are ridiculous characters, leaping to contrived conclusions quickly. Carlos' best man is even sillier, a habit which gets him yelled at several times. Yet these comedic moments pair well with some mildly creepy scenes. The church where most of the episode is set is usually empty, decorated with creepy, hollow-eyed statues. There's more than one scene of Samantha walking through the empty church, an excellent sound design making every footstep, creak, or mysterious noise sound huge.
Episode three of “Wolf Creek,” “Salt Lake,” involves Eve Thorogood and Mick Taylor drawing closer to each other. The girl continues her journey across the outback. She encounters several faces from her recent past. Such as the pervert from the gas station and Johnny, the biker. Along the way, she also visits a roadside cafe and helps out an escaped prisoner. Meanwhile, two different men pursue her. First, police detective Sullivan attempts to track her down. Mick Taylor, meanwhile, draws closer to claiming his prey.
In “Salt Lake,” an actual cat-and-mouse game seems to be forming. Eve and Mick are on each other's trails. She finds his camp site from the night before, discovering the impaled rabbit head he left behind. He stops by same roadside cafe she was in earlier. The two very nearly encounter each other several times throughout “Salt Lake.” The episode concludes by brilliantly teasing a direct confrontation between the two. Lucy Fry's performance is growing more intense as well. A scene that could've been comedic, of Eve cutting her hair in rage, actually comes off as effective do to her acting ability.
Jarratt and Fry's performances are keeping me hooked but “Wolf Creek's” bad habit of spinning its wheels is beginning to seriously frustrate me. Hopefully, the show picks up some steam next episode. [6/10]