'Old People' – German Elderly Kill in Droves in New Netflix Horror Movie [Horrors Elsewhere] – Bloody Disgusting

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Horror has a tendency to depict older folks as weak and vulnerable; they’re easy prey for a fast monster or a wanton murderer. On the genre’s flipside are those occasional movies where seniors are far less susceptible. Their advanced age gives them the illusion of kindness and fragility, but deep down they harbor resentment and rage. They seek to hurt everyone, specifically those unlike them, or those who remind them of their lost youth and opportunities. Netflix’s Old People belongs to the second category, though one certain factor sets the German movie apart from other elder horrors. This isn’t an isolated incident; there’s an entire legion of gray-haired killers on the loose.
From wicked adoptions to antisocial teens to demon spawn, the horror genre has always viewed youth as a potential threat. Yet the latest horror movie from Urban Explorer director Andy Fetscher shows children on the receiving end of terror. In Old People, Germany is rocked by a series of murders all committed by the elderly. A mysterious event sets off the octogenarian crowd, causing them to enact violence wherever they go. And for one unlucky family celebrating a recent marriage, these sinister seniors are heading their way.
The movie begins with a needless foreword explaining how an avenging spirit once inhabited older people and drove them into a “blind rage.” The story lightly touches on this again when two teenagers come upon an outdoor monument symbolizing their ancestors and the importance of family togetherness. Whether or not there’s actually a supernatural force at play here is unclear, but for the crowds preferring answers over vagueness, Netflix’s Old People promptly provides a direct explanation for what’s to come.

Following the opening scene, a cut-and-dry sample of the geriatric grisliness in store, the story shifts to the central event and characters. Ella (Melika Foroutan) has returned to her countryside hometown to see her sister Sanna (Maxine Kazis) get married. What is meant to be a joyous occasion with her children, Laura and Noah (Bianca Nawrath, Otto Emil Koch), turns into a sorrowful reunion between daughter and father. When Ella goes to pick up her father Aike (Paul Fassnacht) at the retirement home, the sad state of the place and the residents leaves Ella shaken and remorseful. 
Aike isn’t the only thing from her past that Ella has to confront on her trip home; she runs into her ex-husband Lukas (Stephan Luca) at the wedding. They’re surprisingly cordial with one another despite the fact that Ella left Lukas to have a life and career in the city. Shared glances and lingering moments, however, suggest their romance isn’t entirely over just yet. Lukas’ current girlfriend Kim (Anna Unterberger), who happens to work at the retirement home, isn’t oblivious, and her growing jealousy leads to some surprising developments once the danger commences.
Old People smartly skips the wedding ceremony at the village church and gets straight to the horror. The remaining residents at Saalheim Retirement Home form a murderous mutiny and dispose of Kim’s coworkers in gruesome fashion. Their leader, simply credited as The Old Man (Gerhard Bos), then directs everyone to Sanna’s wedding. Gaiety is replaced with dread as the movie’s namesakes gather outside homes like the walking dead, biding their time and unnerving their prey. Although it’s odd for Ella and her kin to immediately assume their elders are out to hurt them, the story removes any of the usual doubts by leaning hard into the antagonists’ menacing presence. Their true intentions become unquestionable even before the dead bodies show up.
old people
The yellow and warm glow of earlier scenes is temporarily replaced by doleful grays. A local electricity blackout augments the creepy atmosphere as well as urges the strategic use of flashlights to reveal hidden threats in the dark. The grimly howling wind and malevolent music both fill in any silences. The gloomy environment wears thin after a while, but as the surviving characters get closer to finding an escape, the light and colors slowly start to return on screen. Old People has an impressive look to it, even if that look is admittedly routine nowadays.
Andy Fetscher essentially remade Night of the Living Dead, but with decrepit and sadistic humans standing in for the zombies. And while the movie can and will be taken at face value — possibly possessed oldsters carry out their revenge against their familial neglectors — there is another metaphor looking right at the camera. One that can be applied to any society where unfair rules are decided by and benefit only the older generation. These dinosaurs disregard the young or different, and they actively harm their future and safety. Those who go along with their plan are eventually swept up in the damage as well. Even without the additional interpretation, Netflix’s Old People is already a woefully bleak movie.
The more obvious message here is delivered without any kind of subtlety, and for some viewers, that kind of metaphorical awkwardness is hard to overlook, much less endure for nearly 100 minutes. For others, golden-agers wreaking havoc is more than enough reason to watch. Aged antagonists have yet to really catch on in contemporary horror, but in light of today’s generational wars, the possibility of seeing more movies like Old People in the near future seems high.
Old People is now streaming on Netflix.
Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.
netflix old people movie
Paul Lê is a Texas-based freelance film journalist, critic, and columnist who specializes in horror, tokusatsu, and international cinema.
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The producers of 2003’s Willard chose to nix “remake” from the film’s marketing vocabulary, but 2003’s Willard adaptation is irrefutably a remake of 1971’s furry social outcast chiller. At the forefront of 2000s remake trends, Glen Morgan‘s Willard features altered themes and a deeper thirst for suspense, going the “darker and grittier” route displayed by subsequent studio remakes (including Morgan’s 2006 Black Christmas slasher). Stephen Gilbert’s novel Ratman’s Notebooks inspires both pictures, although neither dare touch the subplot about “Ratman Robberies” — the narrator steals money from shopkeepers and neighbors before the whole workplace murder climax. Where’s my movie about a criminal aided by rat accomplices? Rat King in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will do, I guess.
It’s daffy to think that 2003’s Willard was hidden as a remake when you watch them back-to-back, but the general moviegoer wouldn’t know any different. That’s not a jab — teenage Donato didn’t realize My Bloody Valentine 3D or House of Wax were remakes. Director ​​Daniel Mann and writer Gilbert Ralston sought psychological animal horrors in the early ’70s, decades prior. Nor is Willard common knowledge amongst weekend movie lovers. Morgan follows every simple rule for remaking cult horror favorites, with New Line Cinema trying to stifle the pungent aroma of Mann’s prior adaptation. Like placing Limburger next to an open window.
The Approach
‘Willard’ (1971)
Willard shaves away the technicolor playfulness of Mann’s almost television-staged version since 2000s remakes were so keen on grim reinventions. Morgan introduces rodent rivalries, makes Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) less sympathetic, and exaggerates grungy visual dimness. Ralston’s script doesn’t barrel into mercenary mammals doing their master’s bidding, initially playing on more everyday suburbia normalities — a pain point for critics like Leonard Maltin. “[A] touching story of a boy and his rats captured public’s fancy at the box office, but [the] film’s lack of style prevents it from being anything more than a second-rate thriller.”
Morgan doesn’t dare waste time on Willard’s amassing of a rat army or Crispin Glover’s portrayal of a delirious animal whisperer. Willard’s verbally abusive mother is already sick at the film’s onset and requests their basement rat problem be handled violently. Willard meets the white-haired Socrates after freeing him from a sticky trap, then beefy boy Big Ben later on. Socrates is his leader, and Ben his muscle — it’s not long before Willard has his rats running miniature military obstacle courses and training their attack commands. Willard is done being pushed around by Martin-Stiles Manufacturing CEO Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey), relying on his rats for companionship and backup when they accidentally (or purposely) kill his mother.
To flood 2003’s Willard with dread, Morgan opts for less development and more macabre events. Ernest Borgnine plays a cantankerous and womanizing bastard as Mann’s Mr. Martin, but at least shows a tad more care towards Willard before axing the son of the company’s former owner — R. Lee Ermey does from the start what his drill sergeant, ass chewin’ gruffness does best (looking like J. Jonah Jameson). Bruce Davison portrays Willard Stiles as an off-center loner doing his best with fractures of a deranged recluse who befriends rats, while Glover becomes the whimpery voiced, softly erratic psychopath next door he was always destined to play — yet scripting fails the latter infinitely more. In transforming Willard into a horror-only tale with legions of rats pouring out of elevators as Willard poses, smirking like a nightmarish villain, Morgan cares more about forcing genre beats that are underserved despite Glover’s tremendous dialogue with squeaking costars.
Does It Work?
‘Willard’ (2003)
On paper, 2003’s Willard veers into the more beastly, teeth-gnashing direction that horror fans want to see. Willard’s pitter-patter posse doesn’t crash a fancy buffet party — they gnaw Mr. Martin’s spankin’ new Mercedes-Benz’s thick rubber wheels. Ben’s quicker to organize anarchy in Willard’s massive home, chewing through wooden boards to create passageways and placing dislodged silver cane toppers in Willard’s bed like a mafia threat. Willard’s relationship with the rats quickly becomes standoffish, whooshing past full adoration (except Socrates), unlike Davison’s Willard, who seems more schoolboy about his clawed new friends for much longer. Glover’s rat infestation becomes an uncontrollable problem that crashes through chandeliers, breaks through fortified aluminum barriers, and gnaws on his deceased mother’s foot with disrespect.
Glover is dream casting for Willard Stiles, the goodie mamma’s boy left to spiral after her passing allows Mr. Martin to force a financial takeover of the Stiles homestead. Davison is batty yet homely and approachable — Glover inspires unrest and simmers with exquisite death stares. It’s the role Glover was born to play, meant with no disrespect. If there’s any reason to pick 2003’s Willard over 1971’s originator, it’s to watch Crispin Glover become a murderous Pied Piper as he bargains with rats, almost snots into his dead mother’s coffin, and parlays his sanity for a chance never to feel alone again.
Morgan pushes harder where Mann straddles the line between drama and terror. Coworker Cathryn (Laura Elena Harring) still gifts Willard a cuddly kitty when his mother dies — a ridiculous present on any whim — which becomes a tasty snack after Ben oversees a multi-room chase. Willard also puts up more of a fight against Ben’s final stand, as seas of rats cover flooring to the point where it’s just fur moving in all directions. Even Ben gets a gore shot when he gnaws his foot/hand off Saw style to escape a snap-trap, leading not to an eaten Willard, but an asylum-crazy Willard muttering lines like “quiet as a mouse.” It’s hardly a duplicate experience of Mann’s deeper character study, although the significant plot milestones mirror note for note.
The Result
‘Willard’ (2003)
There’s a hybrid of Mann’s and Morgan’s Willard that yields the best results because 2003’s lacks depth beyond the adrenalized untamable horrors. Morgan upgrades rat action by introducing Ben as a chonkin’ bruiser double the size of his counterparts, setting this boss feel to Willard’s eventual nemesis — although Mann’s Ben the Rat won a PATSY Award as the best animal performer in a feature film for 1971 with those devilish, squinty eyes. Nonetheless, there’s more darkness to Willard 2.0’s rat usage and more elaborately staged dangers. Special effects are a massive upgrade from Mann’s team (rightfully) using blatant dummies whenever harm could befall a pocket-sized costar. Drowning in hungry rats is a fear I never knew I could have until Willard.
That said, there’s a lack of impact on Willard’s story this time as storytelling speeds through his sympathetic phase. Glover is not the issue — Glover is often the solution. The same goes for a sleazy Ermey, whose corporate earnings-first cruelty and penchant for dial-up internet pornography are hilarious notes that fall bluntly in the grand scheme. There’s no contextual reason for Cathryn to quit her job on Willard’s behalf and appear at his doorstep, whereas Sondra Locke makes you believe Joan’s possible romantic connection. Morgan becomes lost in the bolstered horror accents, subtracting developmental angles that make Mann’s somewhat more interesting from a narrative standpoint.
Not lost are the tongue-in-cheek moments, necessary laughs in an already absurd grim fantasy. “Business is a rat race, and I will not be devoured by all of those other rats,” Ermey’s boss shouts, dripping with foreshadowy doom. I rather enjoy how Mann’s film shows Martin eating slices of cheese or drops more subtle lines about “crawling” back home, but there’s no jokiness lost as Morgan slams viewers over the head with rat-inspired dialogue. Willard requires a nasty sense of humor to enjoy no matter the year, which Morgan honors. Even as 2003’s Willard pushes into more bonkers realms that recall the climactic escape sprint in Arachnophobia, except instead of spiders scurrying from every opening, it’s whiskery rat ranks spilling through doorways. It’s a rat avalanche, complete with Glover’s mercy pleas to a beady-eyed foe.
The Lesson
‘Willard’ (2003)
The 2000s became famous for blackening and souring classic horror films à la Platinum Dunes’ formula — Willard falls right in line. ​​Daniel Mann’s 1971 adaptation feels almost nonchalant about the whole rat pack plot, while Glen Morgan cranks the horror dial regarding seething aggression (the same method he’d use for Black Christmas). Violence isn’t always the answer despite “torture porn” dictating an entire phase of mid-to-later 2000s horror popularity, as it becomes easier to ignore structural foundations outside ferocious set pieces. In its second cinematic interpretation, Willard falls for that trap more than once, albeit exceptionally cast and overflowing with Willard’s tailed housemates.
So what did we learn?
I’m shocked to admit I think ’71’s Willard trumps ’03’s despite Crispin Glover as Willard Stiles. For as typecast as Glover is, Bruce Davison earns his keep as a soft boy with a wicked side waiting to explode outward. I was tickled to see Davison respected in Morgan’s update, photographed and painted as Willard’s father in likeness only (no shoehorned requel connection). There are elements to praise about both, but there’s more missing from Morgan’s screenplay than there is excitement from Mann’s biting melodrama. A rare defense, especially for a 2000s horror remake apologist.
In Revenge of the Remakes, columnist Matt Donato takes us on a journey through the world of horror remakes. We all complain about Hollywood’s lack of originality whenever studios announce new remakes, reboots, and reimaginings, but the reality? Far more positive examples of refurbished classics and updated legacies exist than you’re willing to remember (or admit). The good, the bad, the unnecessary – Matt’s recounting them all.
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