Joe Bob's America

Please, It’s a Horror Film

January 25, 2018

Multiple Pages
Please, It’s a Horror Film

CHICAGO—For the first couple months after Get Out was released, I was beating the drums for it, telling anyone who would listen that it was brilliant dark-comedy horror with a Rosemary’s Baby vibe combined with a Roger Corman-type social-commentary subtext. The film has a third-act problem, but I would tell people, “You won’t care because the rest of it is so damn brilliant.”

Pseudo-intellectuals on the internet can ruin anything.

First it was “a new kind of horror film.” Well, not really. The involuntary-brain-surgery sequences are so hackneyed as to make you long for the artistry of Bloodsucking Freaks.

Then it was “the most significant horror film of the last fifty years.” What? Huh? Who?

Then it was “the first horror film to feature a black protagonist.” EXCUSE ME, but, uh, Night of the Living Dead? Not to mention Blackenstein, Blacula, The Beast Must Die, the remake of House on Haunted Hill, Halle Berry in The Call, Wesley Snipes in Blade, Laurence Fishburne in Event Horizon, Grace Jones in Vamp, the little boy in Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, Jada Pinkett in Demon Knight, Danny Glover in Predator 2, Tony Todd in everything including the Tom Savini remake of Night of the Living Dead, Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later—and I’m sure I’m leaving some out. Who invents this stuff?

Next, Get Out was “the film that sums up the paranoid racism of the Trump era.” Are we watching the same movie? The killers are East Coast liberals, in case you didn’t notice.

The next stage was, “Certain to be nominated for multiple Academy Awards and propel Jordan Peele into the ranks of major Hollywood directors.”

This particular claim was tested the first time when the film was nominated by the Golden Globes in the “musical or comedy” category. Outrage coursed through Twitter at the humiliation of being lumped with I, Tonya, The Greatest Showman, The Disaster Artist, and Lady Bird, all of which are movies about mere white people and, besides, Get Out is not just a comedy.

“Pseudo-intellectuals on the internet can ruin anything.”

The fact is, there is no horror category at the Golden Globes. Awards shows don’t like horror. They were trying to fit it in somewhere and that’s the only place it halfway belonged. But I didn’t expect Jordan Peele to go all ex cathedra on us. He actually issued a formal news release reacting to the category:

The reason for the visceral response to this movie’s being called a comedy is that we are still living in a time in which African-American cries for justice aren’t being taken seriously. It’s important to acknowledge that though there are funny moments, the systemic racism that the movie is about is very real. More than anything, it shows me that film can be a force for change. At the end of the day, call ‘Get Out’ horror, comedy, drama, action or documentary, I don’t care. Whatever you call it, just know it’s our truth.

Oooooooooooookay, Jordan. We called it a comedy because we think deadly conspiracies against black people are really, really funny.

Bad sign: directors who issue statements about the intentions of their films, instead of letting the film speak for itself.

First of all, the Golden Globes are bestowed by the Foreign Press Association. Therefore, by definition, those 93 voting critics don’t care about African-Americans except in a purely intellectual way. They’re interested in good movies, not American politics.

Second: Documentary? Really?

Third: “our truth.” Okay. I was apparently wrong when I told people how effective it was at depicting universal fears. Apparently it was only black fears.

There’s this thing that happens to some horror directors after their first successful film. They go into “I’m not just a horror director” mode. The same defensiveness can happen with other genres, too—“I’m not just a comedy director,” “I’m not just an action director”—but there’s a special paranoia about horror, as though these guys are about to suffer the fate of Rondo Hatton, the character actor with a bizarrely shaped head who could never be considered for anything except creep-out roles.

I guess that’s what’s happening with Jordan Peele, who—thank God and praise the Twitterverse—received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director earlier this week and, since the Academy doesn’t recognize genres, a Best Picture nomination as well. It’s all a damn shame, though, because I was hoping he would make more horror films.

The reason that seems increasingly unlikely is that Peele has also received a coronation far more lasting than a mere Oscar nomination. The New York Times Sunday Magazine called Get Out “the movie of the year,” praised its “alarming presentation of white racism,” and described the “sunken place”—the helpless state the protagonist drops into when he’s drugged by the evil white mother of his conniving girlfriend—as “a strange, complicated, disturbing metaphor for the long history of white control over the black body.”

Wesley Morris, the Times writer, goes even further by saying that, when the black hero of the movie is drugged and imprisoned by the smiling suburban whites, it represents “institutional disenfranchisement and racial self-estrangement—an explanation for the behavior of black people who seem to be under white control, based on either their sustained proximity to whiteness or statements construable as anti-black, or probably both.”

Yes, probably both.

Lest you mistake the tone of this piece, Morris goes on to condemn “the notorious horror convention of black characters being the first to die” (funny, I’ve seen hundreds of slashers and I always thought it was the wisecracking fat white kid who died first) and notes that, in the entertainment world, “America loves a loud, crazy, funny black person as much as it needs to see him passed over for work, harshly sentenced and shot to death.”

Okay. Points noted. Get Out is not as much fun as we thought. It’s apparently about African-American anger.

Unfortunately, the awful truth for the intellectuals who have adopted a horror film is that Get Out is not only not the best movie of the year, it’s not even the best horror movie of the year.

That distinction would belong to It, the superb adaptation of the Stephen King novel by Argentinean director Andrés Muschietti, who had the following factors working against him:

He wasn’t anyone’s first choice. Not the studio, not the producers, not the fans, not the guys down at the pool hall.

He had an all-juvenile cast. Working with child actors and their parents is one of the most daunting labors of the film director, and only a few times in history has someone done it with 100 percent of the principal roles. The fact that he got seven great performances this way indicates he’s a master of his craft.

The novel is 1,138 pages. Admittedly they’re shooting it in two parts, but that’s still 600 pages of material masterfully condensed into a two-hour, 15-minute package that never drags.

The special effects involving a fantasy-horror creature who is part real, part imagined were done without any Industrial Light & Magic clichés, never mind Tom Savini clichés.

Muschietti ended up making a film about the universal fears of adolescents, including black adolescents (the Mike character), that unflinchingly depicts a wide range of ways children are abused by adults, delving into issues that many filmmakers would be afraid to address while at the same time affirming the power of the human spirit, all without resorting to sentimentality.

He didn’t make any official statements about his film. Maybe that’s why he was passed over in the Oscar nominations. He forgot to talk about “our truth.”

But come to think of it, there was yet a third film in 2017 that has horror elements and defies genre. That would be Guillermo del Toro’s monster movie The Shape of Water. When del Toro won the Best Director award at the Golden Globes, he didn’t speak in metaphorical terms at all.

“Since childhood I’ve been faithful to monsters,” he said. “I have been saved and absolved by them. Because monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection.”

He made a monster movie and fessed up to it. But then again, what would he know about systemic racism in the Trump era? He’s a Mexican.

Listen to me, people. It’s a horror film. Shut up, you’re ruining it for everybody.

Joe Bob will be presenting his politically incorrect multimedia show “How the Rednecks Saved in Hollywood” Jan. 26, 2018, at the Texas Theatre in Dallas. Tickets available here.

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