Television

Recreate the Drive-In Experience at Home with These Two Digital Offerings

Into the Dark: Good Boy and The Vast of Night draw inspiration from the good ol’ days.

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There are supposedly about 330 drive-in movie theaters left in America, and some of them are seeing new life now because of the coronavirus. In case they're interested, we've got the perfect double-feature available: Hulu's ultimate-shaggy-dog-story Good Boy, and Amazon Prime Video's keep-watching-the-skies flashback, The Vast of Night.

But if that's not available to you, go ahead: Put them on back-to-back in your living room, throw in some popcorn and possibly a discarded garment or two, and relive those glorious days of 1957, but without the midnight curfew or the fear of encountering a renegade bra snap.

Both shows are linear descendants of 1950s B-movies or their close relative, television's Twilight Zone, hitting their marks quickly and creepily, then topping them off with a surprise ironical twists much too delicious to permit any post-prandial-probing by surviving IQ points.

The more shuddery of the two is Good Boy, the newest episode of Hulu's ongoing Into the Dark horror anthology, a kind of Old Yeller-in-reverse tale. Judy Greer (co-star of FX's bittersweet crumbling-marriage sitcom Married) plays Maggie, the 2020 version of Mary Tyler Moore, an aging and thoroughly deperkified  reporter-wannabe who fled Wisconsin for the glory of big-city journalism. Instead, she's childless, boyfriendless and nearly paycheckless—her paper just went all-digital. "No one's being laid off," her smarmy editor assures the staff. "You're become independent contractors!"

When a buddy suggests she might be a little less stressed out if she got an "emotional support dog" from the city pound, Maggie is skeptical. But it works! Maggie picks right up, partly because her new pet Reuben turns out to be "a total dick magnet," as a friend observes, attracting suitors galore—and partly because the sources of her stress start disappearing, or killing themselves, or turning into the "after" photos in ads for Purina Wolf Chow.

Good Boy is well-served by the unlikely but undeniable chemistry between Greer and Chico, who plays her loyal canine pal Reuben. But a good deal of credit must also go to Steve Guttenberg, whose stunningly authentic performance as a toadying little wretch of a managing editor sets the gold standard for all future newspaper movie and TV shows. If Good Boy were real life, practically every newspaper reporter in America would be a suspect in his extremely satisfying demise.

If Good Boy often plays like a Twilight Zone episode, The Vast of Night practically shares its DNA. The setting for the show is the mythical town of Cayuga, New Mexico, and it's no coincidence that "Cayuga" was the name of Rod Serling's production company. And The Vast of Night is presented as an episode of a 1950s TV show called Paradox Theater, introduced by a Serlingesque baritone that warns: "You are entering the realm between the clandestine and the forgotten… ."

The tumbleweed-blown desert streets of Cayuga (population: 402) make a perfect setting for the eerie goings-on in The Vast of Night, which is set in the early 1950s before anal probes by space aliens became America's national pastime. It's the sort of nothing and nobody town where the time some years back when a squirrel (or, some passionately insist, a chipmunk) chewed through some basement wires and blacked out the high school gym has turned legend.

Tonight that same gym is the site for big basketball game with Hobbs, a couple of towns over, and nearly everybody is there. About the only two exceptions are a couple of nerdy teenagers with nightshift jobs: Everett (Jake Horowitz, Manifest), a motormouth deejay at the tiny local radio station, and Fay (Sierra McCormick, Supernatural), an operator at the town telephone switchboard. Not quite sweethearts, they like to share science-fictiony stories (Radio-controlled cars! Permanent phone numbers assigned at birth!) So when twilight falls and Cayuga is suddenly wrapped in a matrix of weird electronic noises, flashing lights and rooftop noises that definitely are not Santa's reindeer, they're the only ones to realize what must be cause: UFOs! (Though Everett holds out some forlorn hope that it's merely a Soviet invasion: "This is exactly where they'd come in, too—the southern border!"

The increasingly strained phone conversations between Everett, trapped in his studio, and Fay, locked down at her switchboard, lend The Vast Of Night an impressively tense Sorry, Wrong Number atmosphere that belie the zero-dollar special effects for the low-budget production. If you're looking for a movie where people say things like "There's something in the sky!" and "I've seen good people go bad, and smart people go mad!", you're not likely to do better than The Vast of Night this summer. About the only people who walk away disappointed likely will be New Mexicans, disgruntled that their sunscorched little hellhole town had to be stunt-doubled for by some other pestilential dump in neighboring Texas, which steals everything. As the local saying goes, poor New Mexico, so far from God, so close to Texas.

 

NEXT: The Revolution is Eating its Own

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  1. There is a drive in theater near me that will be showing Monty Python and the Holy Grail in a couple of weeks.

    “If you’re looking for a movie where people say things like “There’s something in the sky!” and “I’ve seen good people go bad, and smart people go mad!”, ”

    No “I’m getting too old for this?” Pass.
    But seriously I might check it out

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  2. Mystery Science Theater 3000 on CometTV is better than any drive-in movie theater.

    1. IFC runs it on Sunday mornings also

        1. I’m uninsultable dude, GenX won. I just posted in case nobody knows what the fuck comettv is

          1. Get yourself an antenna. Why subscribe to cable when you can get free Wifi TV?

            1. the chick pays the bills?

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  3. there was a drive-in in Fullerton off the 57 we used togoto all the time in the late 80s… Knowlwood burgers and double-features loved it

  4. I found Vast of Night to be painfully dull, with a real struggle to get past the first 15-20 minutes. There where a couple of cool interactions, but mostly a snoozefest which wasn’t nearly the thriller that reviewers seem to be fascinated with.

  5. I watched The Vast of Night. It’s surprisingly good in most aspects, the two main leads are excellent. Especially Sierra McCormick who has to do a complicated 10 minute plus close up long take involving operating switch boards and spouting dialog where she’s having short phone conversations that you can’t hear the other end of while believably selling her growing discomfort and fear. It’s the sort of technical stuff that goes unnoticed by most people who watch films. That’s really the selling point of it. It shows the arrival of a first time directing talent that has a sense of style and can manage some really impressive, understated technical film making on a near non-existent budget. There’s a scene that involves another steady-cam tracking shot that runs over 5 minutes without a (noticeable) cut that runs the camera completely from one end of the town to the other showing where everyone is and what they’re doing, completely defying gravity and doing things like going through small windows and dancing around the middle of a basketball game. It’s the kind of thing that Hollywood pulls off with CG all the time, but to see it all in camera like that was really impressive. The slow burn pacing and editing are also excellent.

    If you like B sci-fi, it’s a decent film with above average dialog and likable leads. If you like to watch movies for the technical aspects, you shouldn’t miss it. If for no other reason than to see the first film from a director that I truly hope we’ll be seeing a lot more from in years to come.

    1. I really liked The Vast of Night; so I enthusiastically recommended it to my brother and sister-in-law. They both said it was completely terrible and they’re never watching another movie on my referral again.

      So… I thought it was worth it, but watch at your own risk of losing a couple hours of your life, I guess.

      1. I definitely wouldn’t just recommend it to anyone. Fans of X-files/Twilight Zone or people who are just interested in how films are made. It’s all tiny niches. I honestly can’t think of someone in my life I would recommend it to that wouldn’t just think I’m a dweeb. It’s a show of future potential more than anything, but most people won’t care or enjoy it.

      2. I enjoyed it too, but I could see people who aren’t me finding it boring. I’m no Twilight Zone junkie either, though I WOULD recommend it to a fan of TZ.

  6. The Vast of Night was very good. But I’m puzzled as to why Garvin would consider it a “Drive-in Experience”.

  7. Looks interesting to use!

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