by Steve Habrat
Over the past few years, the horror genre has slowly been clawing its way out of the grave and unleashing a small-but-scrappy string of winners that packed something the genre was seriously lacking—genuine scares. In between disposable Saw sequels, rancid torture porn, painful found footage rip-offs, and countless remakes that can only be labeled as unnecessary, horror fans were rewarded for their patience with above-average genre keepers like Insidious, The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Cabin in the Woods, You’re Next, and The Conjuring, which kept hopes high that there would soon be a film that managed to generate the true, pulse-pounding fear of such classics as Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist, and Night of the Living Dead. In the span of just three short months, horror fans have gotten their wish with back-to-back efforts from two fresh cinematic voices. I am referring to Australian director Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. Emerging from the shadows of the indie film community, Kent’s prickly demonic bedtime story has earned nearly unanimous praise from critics and has been promoted by a true master of terror, Exorcist director William Friedkin. And Mitchell’s teen nightmare has gained momentum over the past weeks through positive word-of-mouth for its shocking ability to create an almost overwhelming sense of paranoia and dread.
First, let us take a look at The Babadook, which tells the tale of Amelia (played by Essie Davis), a grieving widow who has her hands full with her disobedient young son, Sam (played by Noah Wiseman). One evening, Sam comes to Amelia with a mysterious pop-up book called ‘The Babadook,’ eager to hear the tale of a monster that knocks three times and then refuses to leave. Amelia reluctantly reads the eerie bedtime story to her erratic seed, but soon after shutting the book, a horrifying force begins tormenting the duo and manifesting as a ghastly entity hell-bent on driving Amelia and Sam out of their minds.
Buzzing with the spirit of such silent black-and-white classics as Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, this demonic thriller is a surprisingly thoughtful dissection of grief and the toll it can take on one’s psyche. Kent certainly doesn’t go to great lengths to mask the film’s shadowy depth, but it’s difficult to fault her for this because it forces you to get emotionally invested in the film. Those accustomed to horror films that simply make you jump by blasting the music or coaxing a character to leap out of the dark for a fake-out scare may find The Babadook’s slow-burn approach to be tedious, but I assure you that as Kent gains momentum, she delivers scares that cut like one of the Babadook’s jutting claws. This leads me to the monster, which the viewer only glimpses in brief flashes as it scampers in and out of the light, hiding its DIY tailoring and elevating ghoul’s lingering impact to the stuff of legend. When the lights are out, I guarantee you’ll shiver as you think back upon its spiderlike form and it’s raspy growls that ring out from all corners of Amelia’s home.
Performance wise, The Babadook features Oscar worthy turns from it’s small but very capable cast. Davis is a whirlwind of agony and grief as Amelia, the brokenhearted widow who clings to memories of her dead husband. Early on, it’s not hard to empathize with this exasperated mother, who is constantly trying to wrap her fragile mind around Sam’s horrible behavior. The young Wiseman excels at getting underneath the skin of both the audience and Amelia in ways that not many child actors can. At times, he can be even more uncompromising and terrifying than the film’s big, bad monster. Don’t be fooled by the initial character sketches that Kent slips the audience, as their personalities smoothly shift for a divisive finish that will leave some holding their breath and others rolling their eyes.
After you’ve gasped at Kent’s expressionistic night terror, compose yourself for Mitchell’s It Follows, which tells the story of teenage Jay (Maika Monroe), who finds herself smitten with a mysterious older boy. After a bizarre sexual encounter that leaves the beautiful blonde quivering half naked in the front yard of her suburban Detroit home, Jay realizes that this boy has passed on a mysterious force that will follow and attack until it is passed on to another partner. With the help of her colorful friends, Jay has to face down the force—which can manifest as anyone—before its too late.
Where The Babadook slithered out from horror’s lavish, black-and-white beginnings, It Follows draws its inspiration from the slasher films of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. You’d swear that the film is a long lost John Carpenter effort that sat overlooked on the shelf for nearly thirty years. As Mitchell’s camera hoovers around the decaying streets of Detroit, Michigan (another recent horror film that makes great use of the rundown Motor City is Only Lovers Left Alive), you’re left paralyzed from constant paranoia as the shape shifting monster can come lumbering towards our gang of protagonists at any given moment. When you’re not chewing down your fingernails and developing an ulcer from the expert tension wrung from each frame, you’ll be marveling at Mitchell’s retro visual and audio style, from the hazy, early ‘80s fashion that the gang sports, to the rusted cars (one kid rolls around in a Cutlass), classic public-access horror films the seem like they should be introduced by Vampira or Zacherle, and winking Halloween synths that compose the soundtrack. These broad strokes and well-placed touches manage to set It Follows apart from the mainstream horror bunch and mold it into a true work of fine art. Yet they also give the film a timeless feel, which compliments the film’s enduring subject matter (the fears that promiscuity can bring). There is no doubt in my mind that many exiting the theater will be furiously attempting to peel back the film’s onion-like layers.
As if you needed any more reasons to fall all over It Follows, Mitchell’s film is populated with a cast of kids who have some major chemistry. Each and every one injects a quirky spin that sets them apart from the countless other boring teens that shriek and sob as the monster closes in. Furthermore, none of them seem written in simply to up the body count and increase the film’s amount of splatter. Much like The Babadook, It Follows isn’t overly concerned with blood and guts. There are a few gross-out moments, and Mitchell doesn’t shy away from graphic nudity, but this sick puppy ends up being a beast at sending your anxiety through the roof. The only flaw I can find is the film’s wobbly climax, which finds our gang attempting to lure the force to one of the freakiest rec centers I’ve ever seen. Here it seems that Mitchell shifts into cheese territory, and in the process, he leaves bits and pieces of the action unexplained. Still, he redeems himself with a final shot that will leave many peering over their shoulders on the way home.
With both The Babadook and It Follows, horror sees two films that look back to the classics of past decades. Both Kent and Mitchell pay their respects, as they should since they have drawn their inspirations from the films that continues to haunt our dreams. Yet both directors pull off the impossible—they create unique offerings that are suspended in time. They are both fresh, exciting, buzz-worthy, and, most-importantly, sincere visions that will have us checking under the bed and peering out the blinds just before settling in for a night’s sleep. What makes these two masterpieces even more special is the way they will continue to win over generations of horror fans to come. I feel confident enough to say that I think these films will climb the ranks and sit proudly next to such classics that gave birth to them. So, to Kent and Mitchell, I say bravo. I will cherish these works for years to come. Grade: A
by Steve Habrat
Just four short months ago, Marvel Studios broke away from their kid-friendly formula with Captain America: The Winter Solider, which found the star-spangled man with a plan punching, kicking, and stabbing his way through a shadowy political thriller. It was refreshingly gritty and darker than anything the pulpy Marvel had released before, and it turned out to be the comic book studio’s best Avengers movie yet. As the summer movie season winds down, audiences are still searching for that one blockbuster that leaves you floating on cloud nine. There have a handful of pleasing efforts (Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) that passed the time nicely, but none have contained the zippiness of Marvel’s newest adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy. Fitted with a title that calls to mind serial space adventures of the 1950s, and playing out like an episode of The Jetsons crossed with the original Star Wars, director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a cosmic daydream of a superhero movie—one that continuously delights as it zooms from one dazzling planet to the next. Even more exciting is the fact that Marvel studios—who has clung largely to four well-known protagonists—has taken a risk on a band of lovable misfit thugs who have always shied away from Marvel’s mainstream line of comics.
Guardians of the Galaxy picks up in 1988, with a young Peter Quill having to say goodbye to his terminally ill mother. After suddenly passing, Peter bolts from the hospital into the foggy night, where he is spotted by a UFO and beamed up into space. In present day, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt) is a wanted man across the galaxy. He earns a living by working for a space pirate by the name of Yondu (played by Michael Rooker), who is always flirting with taking the reckless Peter’s life. After stealing a mysterious metallic sphere from an abandoned planet, Peter finds himself being hunted down by a green-skinned assassin called Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), a tough-talking furball named Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Rocket’s simple-minded muscle and personal houseplant, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). After being rounded up for causing a ruckus in the streets of Xandar, Peter, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot are all arrested by Nova Corps and shipped off to a massive prison called Kyln. Upon their arrival, the group meets Drax (played by Dave Bautista), a hulking madman who is eager to kill Gamora for her affiliation with Ronan (played by Lee Pace), a Kree alien who wishes to get his hands on the sphere for his own destructive pleasures. After discovering the money that can be made by selling the orb, the group bands together to break out of the maximum-security prison, but hot on their tail is Ronan and his extremely deadly assassin Nebula (played by Karen Gillian), both of which know that the sphere houses more terrifying power than the misfit group could ever imagine.
Given the absurdity of some of the characters that make up the core team in Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn gives the film a self-aware sense of humor that is downright infectious. Part of Marvel’s allure is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, and Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t dare break this tradition. In fact, it’s even more cartoonish than The Avengers, and the humor is even more in your face than anything you have seen in the past. Part of the credit must go to the script, which was penned by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, which crackles with sparkling one liners that are simultaneously bad ass and hilarious. Gunn has already proven himself to have a handle on comedy, as he expertly blended it with horror in his underrated 2006 horror flick Slither and his 2010 indie superhero outing Super, but it’s nice to see him introducing his talent to the mainstream. While there is certainly a strong emphasis on comedy, Gunn never forget to bring the razzle-dazzle sci-fi action. The standout is easily the bonkers prison break that finds our heroes improvising their way out of an industrial prison housing a whole bunch of extraterrestrial crazies with faces only their mother’s could love. And we can’t forget the battle on Knowhere, where a drunken Drax attempts to put the smack down on an alarmingly calm Ronan, and the rest of our heroes jump into an aerial battle without the luxury of weapons bolted to their spaceships.
While Guardians of the Galaxy certainly wins big with its balance of zinger jokes and fizzy action, the best part of the film is the five main characters that we glide through the stars with. Parks and Recreation funnyman Chris Pratt finally hits the big time with Peter Quill/Star-Lord, a bopping outlaw who dances his way to his prizes. He brings plenty of his man-child charm to the character, but what really surprises is his chops as an action star. He really holds his own in the rock-em-sock-em moments. The sexy Zoe Saldana is as fierce as ever as Gamora, a green-skinned assassin who would take out a whole room full of hulking extraterrestrials if one dares to look at her wrong. There is naturally a love story that begins to blossom between Quill and Gamora, and it unfolds with sweet patience and plenty of beating heart. Then we have Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer, an extremely literal beefcake on a quest to exact revenge on those who are responsible for his family’s death. The WWE wrestler shows off serious talent as a comedian and nabs some of the film’s best one liners, specifically one about Quill’s sarcastic remarks going right over his head. The ever-popular Bradley Cooper lends his nearly unrecognizable voice to the CGI Rocket Racoon, a genetically engineered rodent who can’t resist massive machine guns and hocking a loogie right in captor’s direction. Perhaps the core team’s best member is Vin Diesel’s Groot, a tree-like creature capable of only saying three words: “I am Groot.” Groot gets some of the funniest moments of the film, and when he’s called upon to protect the group, he does so hair-raising fury.
As far as the supporting roles go—and trust me, there are plenty of them—nearly every single performance manages to sparkle. Lee Pace bulges his eyes and booms threats to the good and the evil as Ronan, a ruthless adversary that wishes to inflict some serious pain on the galaxy. Beninco del Toro’s flamboyant Taneleer Tivan/The Collector seems to be being groomed for the villainous role in future installments of the series. Del Toro injects a bit of edgy unpredictability into The Collector, which leaves you wanting more from his character. The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker brings his tough guy act to Yondu, the leader of a band of space pirates called Ravagers. His bright blue skin and crooked teeth sure make him a visual marvel, but wait until he reveals a secret weapon that makes him a man you certainly don’t want to cross. Karen Gillian gets to bear her fangs as Nebula, Ronan’s loyal number to who slices and dices her way to her opponents. Djimon Hounsou gets wicked as fellow Ronan supporter Korath, Glenn Close dives into sci-fi as Nova Corps leader Nova Prime, and John C. Reilly largely keeps a straight face as Nova Corps soldier Rhomann Dey.
On the technical end of Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn and his crew think up frame after frame of sci-fi splendor that just looks fantastic. The make-up effects are ornate and unique, the CGI landscapes are clean and convincing, and the set work is vibrant and detailed. The final battle between Ronan’s forces and the Guardians hurls plenty of shimmering eye candy at the audience, and it captures a bit of the rollicking spirit of classic summer blockbusters we’ve all come to know and love. It’s retro feel and the sunny nostalgia for ‘80s summer blockbusters that ultimately makes Guardians of the Galaxy such a treat, and anyone who considers themselves a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark will be tickled…uh…green by the not-so-subtle tribute in the opening moments. In addition, the film doesn’t shy away from the dramatics, as there are several emotional surges that hush the howling and cheering audience. Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy shakes the summer movie season out of its weary slump and dares to show you something you didn’t know you wanted to see. It’s an endearing and exciting miracle that invites you to cut loose and get lost in a blur of imagination for two hours. For those out there who believe that they have seen every oddity that outer space has to offer, you simply won’t believe what James Gunn and Marvel have in store for you.
As the Drive-In Summer campaign rolls along, I thought it would be appropriate to share some vintage newspaper advertisements for the drive-in theater. Enjoy the retro artwork and make sure to visit a local drive-in theater near you this weekend. And remember, folks, if you don’t have a theater nearby, grab a few retro B-movies, pop some popcorn, and make it a drive-in night right at home. Now, on with the show!
Today, a little over three hundred drive-in movie theaters remain sprinkled throughout the United States. This means that many Americans are not lucky enough to have a drive-in movie theater close by their home. In the drive-in’s heyday, small production companies would release B-movies tailor-made for the drive-in audience. There was everything from angry extraterrestrials to hip-shaking teenage beach parties, all of which are now enjoyed for their campy special effects and corny performances. Today, many of these films are available on DVD, Blu-ray, or Netflix, and can be enjoyed from the comfort of your couch. If you’re someone without the luxury of a drive-in theater nearby, you can create your own drive-in movie night right at home. Just grab any one of these out-of-this-world flicks, pop some pop corn, cook up a few hot dogs on the grill, grab a date or the kids, throw open the living room windows, and enjoy some light-hearted entertainment from yesteryear. For those looking for some more adult-oriented entertainment, there are also a few horror flicks that made the drive-in rounds. Just make sure to put little Johnny or Susie to bed before showtime.
- The Blob (1958)
Director Irvin Yeaworth’s The Blob was released late in the summer of 1958, but this cosmic freak-out still thrilled fresh-faced moviegoers with its
shapeless monster that consumed everything in its path. Starring a young Steve McQueen, this teenage monster movie will delight adults and children alike with its catchy theme song, playful action, and exciting climax that finds the alien menace oozing out of an indoor movie theater. Maybe Yeaworth was letting audiences know that the blob wasn’t meant for indoor viewing?
- Jaws (1975)
Released in the summer of 1975, when drive-ins were embracing harder-edged entertainment, director Steven Spielberg petrified audiences with Jaws, the ultimate summer movie. (Sorry Star Wars) Ripe with quotable one-liners and perfect viewing while peepers belt out their summer songs into the night air, Jaws is an essential experience for the young and the old. This movie just screams drive-in! You can just picture a young couple gripping onto each other as Brody tells Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”
- Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)
Originally intended as a serious slice of sci-fi entertainment, director Edward Cahn’s cosmic comedy boasts some of the cutest extraterrestrials to ever scamper across the big screen. Released by American International Pictures (AIP) in a double bill with I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Invasion of the Saucer Men runs just over an hour, making it a light and brief ride for younger viewers with short attention spans. Don’t worry about things getting too spooky, as kids are sure to adore the pint-sized aliens with their oversized heads. It also features a beer-drinking bull intruding on a make-out session. You just have to love ‘50s science fiction!
- The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965)
Beach party movies quickly became a favorite among drive-in audiences, as they blared hip surf rock from tiny transistor speakers and featured beautiful bods doing the twist in the California sun. While many of these films focused on young lovers dashing around on sandy beaches, a few dared to venture into spookier territory. Directed by Jon Hall, The Beach Girls and the Monster tries its darndest to pass itself off as a legitimate monster movie, but it delivers more unintentional comedy and is a bit more concerned with partying than it is with telling a gripping story. A sure hit with older teens who are sure to get a kick out of the campy monster who preys on bikini clad babes.
- I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin (1970)
As the drive-in theater rusted away and audiences got seedier, the entertainment got harder and nastier. One of the most famous double bills from the drive-in’s darker days is I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin, which was released by drive-in kingpin Jerry Gross. Horror and exploitation fans are guaranteed to love I Drink Your Blood’s copious amounts of gore and bad taste as tainted meat pies turn satanic hippies into wild-eyed zombies, and there is plenty of hilarious charisma dripping off of I Eat Your Skin’s black-and-white jungle-voodoo mayhem. I Eat Your Skin isn’t nearly as disgusting as its title suggests, but one thing is for sure, make sure you put this double feature on after the kiddies hit the hay.
- Them! (1954)
Released in the summer of 1954, this giant bug movie was released by Warner Bros. and packs some respectable tension. Telling the tale of a group of military personnel and scientists racing to stop a colony of giant ants, Them! is a hypnotic chiller from the Atomic Age that is more suitable for teenage viewers who will be surprised to discover just how eerie giant ants can be. Made with more money than some drive-in fare, Them!’s ants hold up incredibly well and the performances—specifically from James Arness and Edmund Gwenn—are A-list quality. A masterpiece genre film that ranks as a must-see classic.
- Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
Just hearing the title Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is enough to sell anyone on this drive-in romp. Barely clocking in at an hour and designed for those more interested in making out, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a Frankenstein monster of a film. It’s part giant monster movie and part alien B-movie. It’s also brimming with hilarious special effects, massive papier mache hands, and some of wildest performances you might ever see in a B-movie. View it as a comedy, pair it up with The Beach Girls and the Monster, and you are sure to have a great time with it.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956)
In 1954, Japan’s Toho Films released the pitch-black Gojira, a bleak reflection on the horrors of the atomic bombs that ended WWII. Gojira was a massive hit, and America took notice of the enthusiasm this monster movie received. Picked up by an American distributor who added actor Raymond Burr to the chaos, Godzilla was projected under the stars for American teens more interested in city smashing than underlying meaning. While Gojira may be too dark for children, Godzilla: King of the Monsters will have younger viewers glued to the screen with its non-stop action.
- Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Absolutely nothing says “drive-in” like American International Pictures and Beach Blanket Bingo. One that is sure to please your mother, director William Asher’s toe-tapping Technicolor musical is brimming with surfing, skydiving, and summer romance. Colorful and accessible, Beach Blanket Bingo is a sunny little number that will offer a welcome escape from the long list of monster movies that dominated drive-in double bills. As if it needs any more drive-in credibility, the film can be glimpsed showing during the drive-in scene in 1981’s The Outsiders.
- Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Film fans may remember Roger Corman as the king of the B-movie, but nobody did schlock better than Edward D. Wood, Jr. Remembered more by cult movie fans than by mainstream filmgoers, Ed Wood is celebrated for making what many consider to be the worst film ever made—Plan 9 from Outer Space. Part gothic horror movie, part alien invasion thriller, Plan 9 from Outer Space is so bad, it’s hilariously awesome for those who love camp. Made on the cheap and chock full of goofs, Wood’s enthusiasm is contagious and his mistake are easily forgiven, even while one actor reads from a script hidden in his lap! Featuring a final performance from Bela Lugosi, who died shortly before production officially began, Plan 9 from Outer Space is one the whole family can laugh at.
What are some of your favorite drive-in movies? Sound off in the comments section!
by Steve Habrat
One of the most memorable aspects of the drive-in movie theater is the intermission bumpers that played before or between double features of I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and The Blob. These whimsical little numbers would happily remind moviegoers about all of the delectable treats that waited for them behind the concession counter, and it gave warm warnings about how much time remained before the show got underway. The creative team behind all those dancing hot dogs, marching popcorn bags, and strutting popsicles was Filmack Studios—or Filmack Trailer Company, as it was known at the time—a family-owned that opened its doors in 1919 and remains in operation today. In the 1950s, Filmack sent out a catalogue to drive-in theater owners and operators, reassuring them that they were chock full of ideas that would keep cars parked under the stars, prevent moviegoers from driving off with speakers still attached to their car windows, and have the concession stand lines nice and long. In addition to providing the intermission entertainment, Filmack has also been responsible for giving many individuals their start in the entertainment business, including the king of animation, Walt Disney.
Today, many drive-ins will continue to show these charming little animations between mega-blockbusters like Transformers and The Avengers—offering small little slices of gentle nostalgia to the adults that can remember seeing them with their date back in the good ol’ days, while allowing a younger generation to catch a glimpse of a simpler time. If you’re local drive-in isn’t showing them, you can revisit them on YouTube, where large, fifteen-minute blocks play for your entertainment. If you’re a fan of classic exploitation, you can also find some of these bumpers nestled between trailers for such grindhouse classics as The Devil Within Her and Machine Gun McCain on the cult trailer series 42nd Street Forever. So, in honor of this Drive-in Summer, enjoy a few of these beloved animations. I bet you’ll start craving a hot dog, a soda, and even get the itch to head to the drive-in!
What were your favorite intermission cartoons? And remember, make sure to get out with the family and go to a drive-in theater near you. Make sure to share the experience on Instagram under the hashtag #driveinsummer!
And don’t forget to visit The Droid You’re Looking For for swell vintage drive-in photos!
Anti-Film School, The Droid You’re Looking For, Furious Cinema, and The Grindhouse Cinema Database Present…Drive-In Summer
Going to the movies should be an event. Whether you’re seeing a small independent feature or a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, a trip to the movie theatre should be a larger-than-life adventure that transports you completely. Over the years, indoor chain movie theaters like Regal Cinemas and AMC have been the places to catch the latest Iron Man movie, but there is another spot that can be even more fun than elbowing your way through crowded rows of teenagers staring down at their iPhones. The drive-in movie theater is the ultimate cinematic adventure, and for years, it has been slipping from the American public’s memory. Audiences have seemed content to plunk down $13.00 a ticket for a 3D movie, and then forced to spend almost $40.oo more on throwaway concessions. Many family owned drive-ins offer more bang for your buck, provide a breezy family atmosphere, fill you with nostalgia, and practically scream summer right in your face.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve been taking a social media graduate course through Kennesaw State University. The class required us to create and execute a social media campaign. I choose to encourage readers to get out and support a local drive-in this summer, before the cold weather forces us all back into the crowded multiplexes. Over the next week, I will be partnering with John LaRue of The Droid You’re Looking For, Furious Cinema, and The Grindhouse Cinema Database to spread awareness about drive-in movie theaters, educate readers about their rich history, and attempt bring enthusiasm about these wonderful establishments. Feel free to seek any of us out on Facebook and Twitter, share stories about the drive-ins, share information about local drive-ins near you showing retro double features or throwing a nifty summer shindig. Also, share photos of your drive-in trip on Instagram, and make sure to label everything you post to social media with the hashtag #driveinsummer. With only 370 drive-in theaters remaining throughout the United States, lets get out there and show our support by catching a flick under the stars.
The Droid You’re Looking For has kicked things off by posting a map that allows you to find a drive-in theater near you. Make sure to visit and check it out. If you wish to get involved and do posts of your own on your blog, feel free. The more participation there is, the more business and awareness we can drive to these theaters. There is more to come! Enjoy the show!
-Theater Management (Steve)