Two great cult movies

Pub date August 7, 2007
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (John Newland, US, 1973). As Grindhouse viewers or true grindhouse aficionados know, starting a title with Don’t was once a popular way to strike fear in sleazoids. The fact that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was made for TV would suggest it’s tame — that is, if the Don’t era didn’t coincide with the glory, rather than gory, days of frightening TV movies. In fact, this little number is at least as great as Dan Curtis’s 1975 Trilogy of Terror, with which it shares some knee-high shocks while being much less campy. Don’t Open the Fireplace might be a more accurate if less catchy title, especially since the dark — not to mention a soundtrack that layers sinister, gnomish voices into a chorus — is definitely something to be afraid of here. As lead character Sally, Kim Darby realizes this only after her incessant urge to remodel a mansion has taken on Pandora’s box connotations. In every dream home lies a heartache, and in every possessed old mansion lurks the doom of a nuclear family (as in Curtis’s 1976 Burnt Offerings) — or in this case, a frigid, childless couple. This movie is at least as creepy as any manifestation of Takeshi Shimizu’s Ju-on (Grudge) series, which updates its conceit. For an extra kick, imagine a remake with Martha Stewart in the lead role! (Johnny Ray Huston)

Fri/10, 11:30 p.m., Roxie Film Center. See Rep Clock

Welcome Home Brother Charles (Jamaa Fanaka, US, 1975). I once thought Jamaa Fanaka’s most outrageous movie was 1987’s Penitentiary 3. What could be wilder than Leon Isaac Kennedy’s character Too Sweet and übercutie Steve Antin as a sax-playing John Coltrane disciple in a prison overseen by Tony Geary, his receding mullet frazzled by peroxide, with drag queens and a crack-smoking, back-breaking sex dwarf named the Midnight Thud at his beck and call? Well, Penitentiary 3‘s psycho-racial-sexual parade marked only the baroque era of a one-of-a-kind directorial career that began with efforts such as this flick, a.k.a. Soul Vengeance, which has attained notoriety because it features a certain part of the male anatomy gone extra large and homicidal. There’s something crazily brilliant about the way Fanaka literally takes racist stereotypes to their illogical and logical ends. Though his material has been pure pulp, his career deserves to be viewed close to, if not alongside, those of UCLA peers such as Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry, and Haile Gerima, none of whom has courted or been understood by white Hollywood. Look past the trouser snake, and you’ll see a moodily lit credit sequence with a score not dissimilar to Mick Jagger’s for Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother and a politicized, funny, angry, and loving use of the color red. Admittedly, most people won’t be seeking out this movie for a performance by an actress in a supporting role, but it must be said that Reatha Grey is a natural. (Huston)

Fri/10, 7 p.m., Roxie; Sat/11, 2:30 p.m., Roxie