Get Out and The Belko Experiment

I visited New York City last weekend (shout out to the FORBIDDEN PLANET store that sold me SEVERIN’s’s excellent DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. DVD with the sublimely timely doc on the history of 42nd Street movie theaters!). You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Bramford Building from ROSEMARY’S BABY looming over a baffled Central Park covered in mid-March daffodil-slaughtering snow. As my friend and I ventured to cross a particularly hazardous unplowed curb, I caught from the corner of my eye a figure moving up somewhat suspiciously close. The one thing that’s difficult for me to adjust to in New York as opposed to Philly is that people are way more comfortable getting up in your personal space. New York is way too crowded to afford you the good three or four feet of buffer room I’m used to. My instinct was to dodge but my friend’s impulse, miraculously, was to grasp the wobbly stranger by the forearm, pull him out of the slush he was faltering in and land him safely on the sidewalk. Oh, the guy wasn’t trying to assail us, he was falling…and my friend helped him! Such strange and unusual alien customs in this city…

Did I mention that the falling guy was black? Would I have so quickly imagined him as a potential threat if he wasn’t? Well, it’s me we’re talking about here so, yes. Honestly, anybody who isn’t a mewing kitten with a pink bow on its head is eligible for suspicion in my book. Still, I felt a tinge of guilt that I had alarm bells going off in my head at the exact moment my friend saw an opportunity to assist someone in need. I blamed my moment of self-reflection on the brilliant GET OUT. Suddenly I really wanted my friend to see it too but it was sold out everywhere and had been every day since its release (according to an usher I eavesdropped on). I don’t know what to add to the conversation about GET OUT besides the admission above and the confession that I thought I understood the movie but then realized later that I missed a few dozen layers. I’m sure when I see it again I’ll find I’ve missed a few more. Like the seventies social horror films it was inspired by, it’s clearly going to be a gift that will keep on giving. Plus, how could I resist the rarity of my love of horror movies and my love of CATHERINE KEENER movies converging? Geez, unless you count 8MM (99′) as horror, you’d have to go all the way back to KEENER’s ill-fated horror convention date with KEVIN CORRIGAN in WALKING AND TALKING (‘96) for such a alignment (it’s sentences like that, that worry me).

Anyway, I loved it and I’m happy that a new generation gets its own lightening rod horror movie that’s genuinely fascinating to view and discuss. If you dig plunging into profound paranoia over being pummeled over the head with the usual pandering power fantasies GET OUT is pure gold. It’s kind of sad that it seems so unusual to watch a horror movie where the art is actually on the screen speaking for itself rather than biding time waiting to become a purchasable T-shirt or identity-signaling button. As much as GET OUT specifically speaks on racism (both conscious and unconscious) there’s something universal about its depiction of the threatening discomfort of being a minority in a larger group. Plus, putting race aside for just a wee-second here, I gotta say rich people in general are working my last nerve these days. Am I alone here? Without ruining the movie, I still have a burning Sterno can of outrage in my chest for the wealthy and blind (!) gallery owner with the gall to appropriate another person’s artistic vision. I’m also pretty sure that at one point ALLISON WILLIAMS did a super creepy smile thing that curdled me to my core and I have to salute that.

Back to New York, with GET OUT sold out three weeks into release, we had no choice but to see THE BELKO EXPERIMENT in a half-filled room on its opening day. Aw, poor BELKO (also a BLUMHOUSE joint) is actually pretty darn good too but in a different way. Like GET OUT, I can easily associate BELKO with the moment that my friend decided to help a stranger and I decide to fend for myself but unlike the slow mounting horror found in the previous film, the latter is surprisingly shocking and brutal. I know it doesn’t look it, but for a mainstream movie BELKO has quite the sadistic streak. I don’t know if it was because I was far from home and feeling kinda vulnerable but I found it remarkably nerve wracking up until its cartoonish final act. In truth, this film hits me where my nightmares live. It’s about being stuck with (and at the mercy of) other people and it’s also about dealing with soulless dog-eat-schmuck corporate ghouls. It’s almost as timely as GET OUT if only it was released about three more months from now. The audience I saw it with loved it and screamed and laughed in the right places and I know at least one jaw hit the sticky floor at one point because that poor jaw was mine.

The weather is about to change. Soon the Bramford Building is going to be looking down on daffodils again. It’s not too late to see either of these fine flicks in the theater if you haven’t already done so. Instant classic GET OUT is perfect for those who enjoy their frights fine tuned and those who prefer to be grabbed by the lapels and slapped around a bit should sign up for BELKO. Both of these thoughtful movies do a fine job of reminding us that horror films can say so much more than “boo!”…

On my last night in New York we watched a documentary on the making of ROSEMARY’S BABY and I laughed when FARROW told the tale of how POLANSKI instructed her to walk into oncoming traffic because “nobody will hit a pregnant woman.” The next day, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (78′) just happened to be on TV and I noted how the ending still gave me goose bumps. It was followed by CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND but only CHUCK BERRY was dead at that point, unlike two days later when CHUCK BARRIS would be dead too. At the bus station the Philadelphia bound were separated from the New Yorkers and the late 4 o’clock Philly bus people were separated from the early 5 o’clock Philly bus people. I instantly related to those who were riding on the same bus as me but we were all herded like cattle and we all dragged luggage like pods from outer space. My coat is so old that it has holes in its pockets. Getting on board the bus my paperback fell through my pocket and onto the wet street. The man in back of me picked it up and kindly handed it to me. People are so nice in New York.

Life (2017)

Hey, I’m absolutely allowed to enjoy a not-so-good movie if I feel like it, right? LIFE is all kinds of mundane, its monster is inconsistently threatening and the script overall is painfully mechanical to the point where somebody actually pulls out a corny copy of “Goodnight Moon”. I’m guessing LIFE’s largest selling point is its two high profile male leads (RYAN REYNOLDS, JAKE GYLLENHAAL) but only one of them successfully registers and he’s the one with way less screen time. It’s like the title/name LIFE wasn’t satisfied being attached to the blandest cereal in the world and the least exciting board game (Sorry, I’m a die hard CLUE fan) so it had to go attach itself to the most routine sci-fi horror picture too! And yet I don’t care because I love monsters in space so much that I’ll take it (even if this one sometimes resembles THE NEW SCHMOO). You are talking to a guy who owns and enjoys the catastrophic SUPERNOVA and feels the need to watch both LEVIATHAN and DEEP STAR SIX on a seasonal basis. Yes, there is something horribly wrong with me. Why, I even watched THE RIFT the other day on COMET TV! I can’t and won’t be stopped (I realize I named a lot of underwater monsters rather than space monsters there but same-diff. BTW- QUEEN LATIFAH being throttled by a swarm of disgruntled jellyfish in SPHERE (1998) counts too!)!

Here’s the thing, I absolutely loved LIFE’s super bonkers ending. I only wish I had a copy of the movie here now so that I could keep rewinding it over and over again. It’s so pessimistic and cruel and downright LOVECRAFTian and the way the music soars and repeats and twists the knife in such a mocking and unapologetic way is glorious (fantastic work JON EKSTRAND!). I mean, it’s not exactly on par with the hand-grab from CARRIE but it’s got a similar churning nightmare vibe and then there’s this soulless God’s eye aerial view that works as the final nasty nail in mankind’s coffin. Does it make up for the rest of the movie? For me…yes, I think so. I dug it so much that all was forgiven. In closing, I can’t recommend this movie unless you too happen to have a soft spot for somewhat clunky, embarrassingly earnest fledgling science fiction films (particularly those that swing from semi-boring to semi-incredible with exactly one nuclear blast of pitch perfect exquisite horror). Maybe just go look at your DVD collection and if you see FORBIDDEN WORLD, GALAXY OF TERROR and CREATURE starring back at you- then this flick should sufficiently stir your TANG too. Don’t be fooled by its big budget and big names-LIFE works best when you don’t take it too seriously.

Sunday Movie:: Train to Busan (2016) (Via Netflix Streaming)

We’re having some technical difficulties (gremlin outbreak) so today’s Sunday streaming recommendation will be short and sweet. If you have NETFLIX (and why would anybody not?), you must promise your old pal Unk that you will watch the South Korean end of the world zombie nightmare movie TRAIN TO BUSAN! Even if you think you’ve seen it all before in the zombie outbreak arena, I can assure you that TRAIN TO BUSAN will blow that notion out of your mind. It’s all kinds of thrilling and suspenseful for sure but it also packs a surprisingly gargantuan wallop in the emotional department as well. No, those were not tears streaming down my face at the end of the movie; I just had something in my eye! Even if you don’t usually seek out subtitled movies, please make an exception in this case. I guarantee shortly you’ll be way too wrapped up in the action to notice. If you need more enticement you can check out the trailer HERE but I’d jump on board knowing as little as possible if I were you. This is a keeper, folks! Make sure you don’t miss it!

Name That Trauma:: Alex M. on a Crying Baby and a Victorian Doll

Hi there,

Terrific site. I was wondering if you could help me with a half-remembered TV-based trauma from my childhood.

My brain’s telling me it was a scene from an American TV series, like Columbo, although it could have been a made for TV movie, and it would have been shown during the day on UK TV around the end of the 1970s (possibly beginning of the 1980s)

I remember a woman at home, alone, trying to track down the source of the sound of a baby crying. She kept looking around the house trying to trace where the noise was coming from and eventually narrowed it down to the cupboard under the stairs. She slowly opens the cupboard door and inside finds a Victorian doll, slumped motionless on a chair. Cut to the next scene and cue me running from the room, unable to tell my mum what I’d seen.

My brain’s probably filling in the blanks, but it may have involved a tape recorder/dictaphone next to the doll which was producing the crying sound (maybe to send the woman mad/chase her from the house.)

It wasn’t Spielberg‘s ‘Something Evil‘ (which also features a following-the-sound-of-a-crying-baby moment) as this wouldn’t have been shown during the day.

I’d be grateful for anyone’s help on laying this to rest and can only apologise that there isn’t much to go on.

Thanks in advance

UNK SEZ: Thanks, Alex! I have a vague suspicion that what you may be looking for is 1978’s NIGHT CRIES? It’s a made for TV movie that is all about a mother (SUSAN SAINT JAMES) whose baby died in childbirth and is haunted nightly by the sound an infant crying. It fits the time period and it also stars WILLIAM CONRAD (CANNON) which might explain the “Colombo” vibe. NIGHT CRIES is available on YouTube (first part below) so you can check it out to verify. On the other hand, I may very well be wrong so if anybody has any other guesses or suggestions feel free to share your ideas!

Sunday Movie:: Dead of Winter (1987) (Via Comet TV)

Here comes one last icy blast of winter! Let me tell ya, one of my most favorite memories of seeing a movie in the theater was when I first saw DEAD OF WINTER way back in the olden days. My first year of college I had no TV but I happened to be renting a room in a small town that had a movie theater that showed second run movies all week and had a magic show on the weekends (shout out to the incredible Cabot Street Theater in Beverly, Mass!). It was great because I went and saw basically everything they played regardless of genre and they changed their movies several times a week.

DEAD OF WINTER has some kind of moody goth-lite charisma that hits me exactly where I grimly live. I’ve been fascinated by cold and distant HITCHCOCK-worshiping, high-maintenance psychological thrillers since 1982 when I became the world’s first and only STILL OF THE NIGHT super-fan. Nothing butters my bread better than a dark and stormy night, a female lead who may or may not be losing her mind and a big old dark creepy house with plenty of visual details to repeatedly explore. If the lady in question is playing multiple roles as the great MARY STEENBURGEN does in this, that’s all the better. Sign me, my cat, my STAR WARS blanket and my whiskey up!

This is one of those special movies that I feel I have to have on both DVD and VHS; the DVD is for serious viewing and the VHS is for me to fall asleep to. Is that wrong? I can’t help it. I love it so. DEAD OF WINTER is all about what happens when you loose your identity trying to be all things to all people (a goldfish in a plastic bag- best symbolism ever!) and how you can never, ever trust people like RODDY McDOWALL. It’s directed by the brilliant ARTHUR PENN (BONNIE AND CLYDE) and am I the only person who thinks STEENBURGEN looks exactly like KATE BUSH? There’s a scene in DOW where she struggles to climb up a steep wooded hillside and every time I watch it I hear BUSH’s “Running up that Hill” in my head. This is one of those go-to comfort movies that I return to over and over again. If you have never had the pleasure before, check it out on COMET TV today at 2pm HERE!

VHSaturday:: Writer/Director Chris Moore on Prom Night (1980)

UNK SEZ: Hey! We have a special guest today! It’s CHRIS MOORE the writer and director of the super creepy BLESSED ARE THE CHILDREN! Check out this trailer and then read Chris’s ode to the VHS tape of PROM NIGHT below!

Picture it! (Sicily. Just kidding.) A young fella of about 7 sneaks out of his bed at 2 a.m. on a school night to watch a “naughty” movie on FOX called Prom Night. I’d already seen the first two Halloween movies (on USA Network, so they were edited for content) and loved Jamie Lee Curtis, so it made sense that, when I saw this listed in Sunday’s TV Guide, I’d have to find some way to watch it. I tiptoed into my Dad’s office where the tiny TV was and turned it on, making sure the volume was barely above a whisper, so as to not wake anyone up. There I stayed for the next 2 hours, transfixed by this lurid story of family secrets, murder, and disco.

Sure, I was super tired the next day at school, but it didn’t matter. I’d had a rite of passage. I’d disobeyed my parents and been rewarded for it by seeing a super cool movie. It was only natural that I’d want to relive this experience over and over again, so I set out that Friday to find Prom Night on VHS. Blockbuster didn’t even have it. In fact, I believe they only had Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. To this day, I’ll never understand why one would have to go from video store to video store just to see all the installments of a franchise. You’d think they’d all want to carry all the installments. Don’t even get me started on how impossible it was to find a copy of Friday the 13th Part 2 a couple of years later.

I checked our local mom & pop store, Video Library (which I still consider to be more important to my film education than film school) and SCORE – they had one. There it was – cut into a small white clamshell was Jamie Lee Curtis staring at us from the school hallway with a bloody axe tucked into her prom bouquet. It was quite an image, but having seen the film, I was a bit taken aback. After all, Jamie Lee’s character isn’t the killer and she’s not even really the lead. It was probably my first taste of how film companies can mislead audiences through weird marketing gimmicks. Still, it was freakin’ Prom Night and I couldn’t wait to watch it again. I was allowed to rent it on one stipulation – my Mom and Dad would have to watch it with me and, if there was anything objectionable, they’d turn it off. I was fine with that.

I got home and put it in and noticed how terrible the picture was. I mean, this movie was DARK. It looked like it was shot with a flashlight and that’s it. My parents seemed both amused and sort of bored by the film, but I was still eating it up. I don’t even remember my Mom staying for the whole thing, but I know my Dad did, because he was surprised by the killer reveal at the end.

It was a year or so later that my Mom and I were at a different video store called Home Video. It was located a little bit past where my Grammie lived and it was more of a schlep than Blockbuster or Video Library (which were, at most, 2 or 3 miles from home), but this was a new experience and a special treat for going to flag football practice at the YMCA (yes, I had to basically be bribed to go). As a growing film fan, I was excited to check out all the local video stores in the hopes that they’d have something the others didn’t.

Turns out, they did. They also had a copy of Prom Night (not to mention ALL of the sequels. Way to go, Home Video!), but this one was completely different. It was older, more beaten up, and bleached from years of sun tanning next to the large windows in the store. This version had two spooky eyes surrounded by darkness and a gloved hand gripping a large shard of glass with a screaming woman hanging upside down in its reflection. It was even more eye catching than the version Video Library had. This was from MCA Videocasette, Inc. and the Video Library version had been released by New Line Home Video. At that age, I marveled how one film could be released by so many companies (I clearly didn’t understand what licensing meant or know about the OTHER versions released by both Virgin Vision, Starkmaker, and Anchor Bay).

I proudly grabbed this box from the shelf along with copies of Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and took them to the front desk where the employee had to go to a back room and find the brown clamshell cases with the responding videos. It was certainly more complicated than either Blockbuster or Video Library, but I knew it would be worth it. After all, this release of Prom Night might be one with better picture, where you can see what’s going on during the last act of the film.

Imagine my disappointment when the employee came back and said that he couldn’t locate the tape for Prom Night. I was crushed, but was reassured that maybe they’d find it soon and to check back again. I did check back. A few times. They never found it, but I was desperate to. I went to a few other video stores and they didn’t even have the film at all (but, yes, most of them had ALL the sequels).

It wasn’t until I discovered the magic of eBay around ’02 or ’03 that I was able to locate a copy of this mysterious tape and give it a spin. Turns out, the picture was only barely better than the New Line and TV versions I’d seen. It would take Anchor Bay releasing a widescreen DVD (sourced from an Elite laserdisc) a few years later to finally get to see most of what was going on and it would take the geniuses at Synapse a few years ago to give us the definitive version of the film on Blu-Ray – colorful, as sharp as a film with much soft focus photography can get, and well-lit during the darker scenes. Turns out, there was actual thought put into the cinematography of this film. Who knew?

If I’m being honest, I’ve never understood why Prom Night has such a hold on me. The pacing is iffy, it’s never truly scary, the death scenes are nothing to write home about, and the entire film has a sort of run of the mill TV movie feel to it, but god damnit, I adore it. I think it’s just so darn cozy and the ending is unlike just about any other slasher movie I’ve seen. It packs an emotional punch and I love that. I’ve gotten to see it on the big screen in 35mm (with the original Avco Embassy logo, which has never been attached to any home video release) and I damn near sobbed. I have issues.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

When I was a little kid living in California during the seventies, I’ll never forgot one of our neighbors (who worked in the biz!) handed out small movie posters of KING KONG (1976) for Halloween! I was just the type of weird kid who would much rather have a miniature advertisement featuring a giant ape crushing a plane while straddling the World Trade Center than any known form of candy (keep in mind that SOUR PATCH KIDS had not been invented yet). This past Friday when I went to the very first showing (Thursday is for cheaters) of KONG: SKULL ISLAND, the disgruntled dude that took my ticket handed me just such a miniature poster featuring the brand spanking new KONG movie’s promotional artwork! Yes, I got sorta giddy and yes I rolled it carefully, tied it with a napkin from the concession stand (I’m a genius) and put it in a protective plastic grocery bag that I just happened to have in my back pocket from walking my niece’s dog, Nelson. So basically, I was sold on this movie before I sat down in a chair- just so you know.

I feel guilty that I haven’t been writing many reviews for current movies lately. It’s not that I don’t go see them it’s just that I’ve needed the escapism of film so much that I am loath to taint the therapeutic experience with critical thought. Scanning entertainment with a laser eye is not a luxury my mental health can afford right now. These days when I’m watching a movie and my brain tries to be smart and point out illogical discrepancies, I politely tell my brain to shut the hell up and remind it how little its annoying opinion has gotten us thus far. There are so few enjoyable places in the world and I refuse to hand over the haven of the multiplex. If I want a nonstop mudslide of inconsequential jabbering I’ve got the Internet for that. I’m not talking about leaving your brain at the door when you see a movie, I’m talking about taking your brain, wrapping a bonnet on its head, shoving it in a baby carriage and pushing it down a long hill in the opposite direction of the theater, preferably one of those steep San Francisco hills as seen in WHAT’S UP DOC?. Hopefully it will run into two guys transporting a large plate of glass.

Naturally, I had a fantastic time with KONG: SKULL ISLAND. I left the theater feeling ten years younger and with my posture improved. For a would-be blockbuster it’s rather muted and easy on the eyes; obviously borrowing visual tips from the more grounded cinema of decades ago. It clearly has an aspiration to ape (haha) APOCALYPSE NOW and hey, there’s nothing wrong with setting your sights high. The visual effects are seamless and I’m looking forward to never having to discuss CGI again. It’s as convincing as any dream and that’s good enough for me. The nostalgic tone is solidified by the extensive eclectic cast who I can easily envision being featured in tiny profiles squares at the bottom of a disaster movie poster. JOHN GOODMAN rules as usual, SAMUEL L. JACKSON menaces like a pro and JOHN C. REILLY steals every scene not nailed down. In addition, I found BRIE LARSON fetching and I think SHEA WHIGHAM is the coolest. Plus I love KONG. He’s more than a giant monster to me. He so perfectly represents all the beautiful wildlife that we’re all going to burn in hell for destroying…. Oops, I guess I didn’t leave the real world behind as much as I thought. It all boils down to this; If you’re in the mood to see a giant monkey punch a giant octopus in the face- this is your best bet!