Your Netflix Instant Weekend: MERANTAU, THE SNAKE PIT, and more

Brian Kelley

by: Brian Kelley
February 3rd, 2011

I still feel bad for being so short with you all last week. Hopefully you got a kick out of our Sundance coverage, though, and all is forgiven. Speaking of Sundance, I returned to a Texas that is approximatively 1,000 degrees colder than it was in the mountains of Utah. I don't know what sort of pixie curse is at work here but whoever made her mad, please man-up and have the Earth heater turned back on. If you watch the top picks this week in order, though, you should manage to keep at least your eyeballs and earholes warm. The rest is up to you.

This week, we'll look at an Indonesian martial arts film full of all sorts of asskickery, a chilling (oops, my bad) look into a 1940s mental asylum, and an Irwin Allen disaster epic.


A 'merantau' is an Indonesian rite of passage - young men travel to the city alone to make their own way and learn new skills which they will eventually bring back to their villages in order to enrich the community. MERANTAU, the first Indonesian martial arts film in quite some time, sees Yuda, a young man skilled in the art of silat, travel to Jakarta where he quickly runs afoul of the seedy underworld. Taking a young danger and her sister under his week, he becomes caught up in ever escalating violence.

The film starts a bit slow but successfully endears the audience to the characters, a feat rarely even attempted in modern martial arts films. Nearly the entire second half, though, is non-stop action and stunts. The star of the film, Iko Uwais, has a command of his silat skills that makes his screen presence almost as electric as the first time you saw Tony Jaa kick some ass. MERANTAU certainly is one of the most action packed martial arts films in recent memory and has an emotionally engaging narrative to boot.


Virginia Cunningham (Olivia de Havilland) finds herself institutionalized with no memory of what led her to be committed. The conditions in her medium-security ward already bad enough, an attempt by her husband to have her released from the asylum only serves to loosen her already tenuous grasp on reality. She is committed to a more secure ward and from there to the "snake pit". The film is based on Mary Jane Ward's book which was a fictionalized account of her time spent in Rockland State Hospital after a nervous breakdown.

THE SNAKE PIT can be quite shocking in its depictions of patient treatment (even today), and exposes some of the socioeconomic excuses used to justify the horrific conditions in which people were forced to receive their "treatments". Anchored by a stunning performance by de Havilland that keeps the film from feeling totally hopeless, THE SNAKE PIT beat films like TITICUT FOLLIES by some 20 years in exposing disturbing practices in mental asylums in America. It is truly powerful and important filmmaking.


Producer Irwin Allen was the man to turn to for disaster in the '70s. His star-packed films featuring catastrophes covered all sorts of subjects- there was THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall and Shelley Winters), FLOOD! (with Robert Culp, Barbara Hershey and Cameron Mitchell) and THE SWARM (with Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, and THE SNAKE PIT's Olivia de Havilland) amongst many others. One of his most popular films, THE TOWERING INFERNO, is a film that truly stands the test of time, a mix of heroic drama and spectacular stunts and special effects that hold up well.

A party celebrating the completion of The Glass Tower, the world's tallest building, is interrupted when faulty wiring starts a fire on the 81st floor. Trapped near the top of the 135-story structure are the party-goers including the buildings architect (Paul Newman) who is all kinds of pissed off when he realizes the number of cost cutting measures employed in the construction of his masterpiece. On the outside, the fire department's Chief O'Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) must stage rescue attempts and fight a fire that's far too high up for his men on the ground. The building, the fire, the explosions and the politics involved in constructing an unsafe building all feel real. Pithy it is not (it is nearly three hours long) but exciting it is from beginning to end. Other stars include: William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, and Robert Wagner!

The Wildcard - A DEMON IN MY VIEW

The great Anthony Perkins stars in A DEMON IN MY VIEW, one of his final screen appearances. Based on my love of his performances alone (as in the stellar PSYCHO II), I'm interested in this film. From what I can discern, Anthony Perkins plays Arthur Johnson, a strange man who lives alone. A man named Anthony Johnson moves in to the apartment below him (a bit confusing for us and the mailman in the movie it seems), his window overlooking the shed where Arthur keeps his love mannequin. Oh, and Perkins' character is apparently the notorious Kenbourne Killer. My guess is that it has fallen into obscurity for a reason, but that's no excuse to not give it a shot. Fellow Perkins lovers will agree that any chance to see him on screen is worthy.

If you're looking for more...

Two of Universal's absolute classics have arrived- queue both THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE WOLF MAN! For some wartime adventure and drama add TORA! TORA! TORA! and TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH to your list. John Cleese's irreverent and delightful A FISH CALLED WANDA is now available at the click of a button. A pair of Baz Luhrman gems, ROMEO + JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE!, have been added. If MERANTAU left you wanting more martial arts spectacle in your weekend you can go for ENTER THE DRAGON which is always a safe bet, a true masterpiece. Keeping it in the East, DEVIL'S DYNAMITE, a Chinese horror from z-grade shlockmeister Godfrey Ho, promises vampire-ninjas. I haven't seen this particular film but Ho usually over-promises and under-delivers with riotous laughter being the result. The original BEDAZZLED (1967) is slightly dated, but I'll take Raquel Welch over Elizabeth Hurley any day. Abel Ferrara adapts a William Gibson short story, NEW ROSE HOTEL, and populates the seedy world with Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe and Asia Argento. Lewis Milestone's 1952 version of LES MISERABLES is absolutely one of the best. Creepy Macaulay Culkin is THE GOOD SON. David DeCoteau delivers some '80s horror cheese in DREAMANIAC. The bitingly atmospheric UK film AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970) is one of the best daylight horrors, relying on mood rather than effects. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is essential cinema. For the kids HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and its sequel are available. The gritty BRUBAKER is a prison drama with Robert Redfrod and Yaphet Kotto. The coming-of-age true life story of THE RUNAWAYS has made its way onto the streaming service. Finally, if all else fails you, meet XANADU- the notorious musical-fantasy stinkbomb.

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