The Lottery (1969)
Review by Adam Groves
This 20 minute 1969 short, courtesy of the Encyclopedia Britannica Short Story Showcase series, is simply the best existing adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s classic story “The Lottery.” Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a nasty little tale about a barbaric ritual that occurs in a small American town much like Bennington Vermont, where Jackson was living at the time. The story was first published in the New Yorker back in 1948, and inspired a fair amount of outrage. Since then, however, “The Lottery” has been acclaimed as a classic. Now widely taught in schools, it has become one of the most iconic horror stories of the Twentieth Century, if not of all time. This film adaptation by writer-producer-director Larry Yust, filmed on location in Fellows California, is said to be one of the bestselling “educational” films ever. It was packaged with a 10-minute supplemental video featuring USC professor Dr. James Durbin discussing the themes of the story, interspaced with extensive clips from the film.
Writer/producer/director Larry Yust brings much of the same off-kilter energy to this short that he did to the 1974 feature, Homebodies. Yust's film, unlike the other adaptations (especially the awful 1996 TV movie), really captures the contrast between small town mundanity and primitive blood ritual that distinguished Shirley Jackson’s story. The atmosphere is unfailingly naturalistic, helped by the documentary-esque handheld camerawork. Yust eschews slickness with his asynchronous editing and abuse of the zoom lens, but what he imparts is a sense of ugly reality, which is the key to the film’s success.