Even on first viewing, Get Out feels familiar, which is odd given the film’s unique premise. While social thrillers are relatively common in the genre, as director Jordan Peele acknowledged in a Playboy interview in 2014: “It is one of the very, very few horror movies that does jump off of racial fears. That to me is a world that hasn’t been explored. Specifically, the fears of being a black man today.”
As such, you’re unlikely to have seen another movie with a similar premise in the past few years (as Jessica Ferri has already observed, perhaps the most recent comparable film might be Rusty Cundieff’s 1995 horror anthology Tales From The Hood).
But if you’ve read any of Peele’s interviews about the movie, you’ll discover that the moments in the film giving you twinges of deja vu aren’t a coincidence. Of course, we already knew that Peele was a horror fan. In his Comedy Central sketch show Key & Peele, we’ve seen sketches paying homage to The Shining, The Exorcist and as Film School Rejects have observed, broader categories like “creepy children in horror movies” and “the Asian ghost subgenre.” But the movie doesn’t just draw from horror movies, but from classics in a whole range of genres.
Rosemary’s Baby; The Stepford Wives
In Screen Prism’s detailed video covering the symbolism of the movie, Get Out producer Sean McKittrick says “I would describe this movie as a classic film in the vein of The Stepford Wives or Rosemary’s Baby.” These are the two films that Peele most consistently cites in interviews as influences and as being entertainment that conveys “social messages.” On speaking to the Village Voice, he explained:
“…one of the things about Rosemary’s Baby that really strikes me — the same with The Stepford Wives, which [Ira] Levin also wrote, and which I wasn’t able to get on that list because of rights reasons — those movies are about gender in a similar way that Get Out is about race. They both signaled to me that it was possible to make an inclusive story that everybody can enjoy and get freaked out by.”
As Screen Prism has observed, you can see both films’ influence in a whole host of ways: from protagonist Chris Washington’s profession (photographer, mirroring that of The Stepford Wives’ Joanna Eberhart) to the most “pernicious villain” being someone romantically close to the protagonist (the two husbands in both films betray their wives, much as we discover Rose has betrayed Chris) to the trope of bodies being taken over for use by someone else.
Eddie Murphy’s Delirious
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that Get Out’s title is a tribute to The Amityville Horror (when Father Delaney attempts to bless a haunted house in which a boy murdered his entire family, as the house booms the words “Get out!” at him). Instead, Peele told Entertainment Tonight that he was tipping his hat to the segment in Murphy’s first feature stand up film in 1983 where Peele describes him discussing “about the difference between how a white family and a black family would react in a haunted house” and calls it “one of the best bits of all time.”
Murphy describes how he “was watching Poltergeist last month and I got a question —why don’t white people just leave the house when there’s a ghost in the house? Y’all stay in the house too fucking long, get the fuck out of the house.” Arguably the movie takes on Murphy’s challenge, crafting a horror movie where the protagonist of color does stay too long — and it’s still convincing — taking on the absurd, horrifying tone of the skit itself.
The way the set feels similarly out-of-the-way to the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s masterpiece is no accident. Peele cited the film as one of his visual touchstones in an interview with The Verge, describing how he was influenced by “the way that they used the location of the Overlook as kind of the monster, sort of idyllic and creepy.” In an interview with USA Today, he summarized its power as its “subtlety, an attention to almost a subconscious level of perception of something creepy going on,” which feels just as applicable to Get Out, which relies on slow building paranoia rather than lots of jump scares to unsettle its audience.
In the same The Verge interview, he cites this as another visual influence, “especially in the opening scene, pulling the horror out from suburbia.” The neighborhood in the opening scene certainly bears an uncanny resemblance to Halloween’s Haddonfield, Illinois, but it’s not just about the visuals — arguably the 1978 classic was one of the first suburban horror movies and this is a huge part of the film’s energy (we’re confronted with all the details of that setting: kids riding bikes past well-manicured lawns, Laurie’s babysitting job) and Peele takes this premise a few steps further, updating for the current racial climate.
He told USA Today that on watching it as a child “it hit for me on a horror level and on a fun, entertaining level as well.” This seems just as relevant to Get Out, whose premise is so out-there that it could just as easily have formed the basis for a Key & Peele comedy sketch and where even the most uncomfortable moments are laden with humor.
“Misery is a movie where the unlikely villain turns out to be the scariest,” Peele has stated. Dean and Missy Armitage seem a little off from the get-go — Dean insists on referring to Chris as “my man,” while Missy is notably cold. So it flips everything when we discover that the most chilling villain of all is Rose, who we’d previously considered his ally.
The Silence of the Lambs
Film School Rejects reported that Peele has cited the “Clarice/Hannibal face-offs” (where the cannibal gets in her head) as inspiration for the hypnosis scene, stating “I wanted Chris and the audience to know that this was a trap, that this was a setup, that there’s no way you can allow yourself to be hypnotized, and no self-respecting black man would in this situation, but even with that for Missy to be one step ahead of Chris and the audience.”
“The most beautiful revelation with Jaws was the audience’s imagination is far more powerful than what you show them,” Peele told USA Today. “It changes the way we think of how to tell the story of a monster.” It’s a similar deal with Get Out in which the real monster is something invisible but omnipresent: racism.
Night of the Living Dead
Peele told The New York Times that Chris has the same advantage Ben does in the 1968 independent movie: that of “racial perspective.” He argues “You could write an interesting essay about how the lead in Night of the Living Dead is a man living in fear every day, so this is a challenge he is more equipped to take on than the white women living in the house. Chris, in his racial paranoia, is onto something that he wouldn’t be if he was a white guy and there was a similar thing going on.”
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
This was one of the films Peele included in his BAMcinématek retrospective “The Art of the Social Thriller.” He told the Village Voice “At a certain point with Get Out, I realized that I was making a sort of thriller take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Like Get Out, the 1967 comedy-drama centers on an interracial couple and their tension with Joanna’s parents, who are self-proclaimed liberals with racist tendencies (though not quite as sinister as the Armitages — they get upset when they discover their daughter is planning to marry a black man, they don’t actually try to take over his body).
People Under The Stairs; Candyman
In the same article, he explains he included both films above on the programme, because “they also, in some ways are about racism: “Candyman more than People Under the Stairs, but People Under the Stairs represents, whether intentionally or not, a certain fear of what goes on behind closed doors in white homes. And it also approaches the notion of enslavement of the people they’ve got hidden under the stairs.
Then of course Candyman himself was the son of a former slave who was murdered for racially charged reasons, and we experience that movie through the eyes of a white woman in the scary projects of Cabrini-Green.”
In an interview with The Ringer he cited Wes Craven’s 1996 hit along with The Stepford Wives for its “lighter, ironic, comedic choices in the fabric of the script” and “[how] it addressed horror movies. It had this postmodern reference and so in that way it’s more realistic than a normal horror movie where there’s no knowledge of any horror tropes. I took a cue from that with the character Rod, so that we could have a character that expresses what the audience wishes somebody would say. And that wouldn’t be breaking the reality, it would actually be grounding it.” Lil Rel Howery, who plays the T.S.A officer agreed — in an interview with The New York Times, he called Rod’s voice “basically everyone in the theater who’s screaming at the screen.”
If you agree with the film’s incredibly high 99% Rotten Tomatoes critic rating at the time of writing, you might be obsessing over the long wait before we get another film from Peele, who has signed a first-look deal with Universal for his next movie. One way to bridge the gap? Start working your way through the movies and feature films above.
Be sure to check out the other movies including Get Out, featured in our 50 best movies releasing in 2017 list.
- Lead image: Blumhouse Productions / Monkeypaw Productions