Sony Pictures Classics.
Sony Pictures Classics.
Here’s a weird, wonderful, possibly offensive clip from the classic days of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is from the show’s fifth season; it originally aired in 1993. The movie that Mike and the bots are riffing is 1959’s “Santa Claus.” [I am linking below to MsHandsanitizer’s channel on Youtube.]
Second printing variant. Marvel Comics.
I discovered something incredibly cool this afternoon — it turns out that the good people over at Dark Horse Comics quoted me in their 2019 promotion of Matt Wagner’s superb Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey. The eight-issue limited series marked the return of the iconic Grendel Prime, who I last followed as a zealous young fan in the pages Grendel Tales (1993-1997), Batman/Grendel II (1996) and Grendel: Past Prime (2000).
Dark Horse quoted a review I wrote of Wagner’s Grendel: Omnibus Volume 1 (2012), which was a compilation of the writer-artist’s brilliant early work on the title.
I’m thrilled. Wagner’s a genius — and while Grendel’s dark, violent content is not for everyone, it’s always been a seminal title for the medium of comics. I remember greedily snapping up back issues when I was a college student in 1992 — I never thought the day would arrive when a review of mine would be referenced to attract new fans.
Below are the trailers for all four major film iterations of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Though these movies enjoy varying degrees of fame, they all remain close to my heart. There is just something about Jack Finney’s original paranoia-inducing story idea that’s timeless and frightening. (Finney’s 1955 novel served as the basis for the first film, directed by Don Siegel, a year later.) And I always thought that the identity-stealing, alien body snatchers were an elegant monster concept too, because they can be rendered effectively on film with little or no special effects.
The first trailer is for the original 1956 classic, which still holds up surprisingly well. (If you haven’t seen it, then you might discover that it’s got more urgency and less camp than you’d expect from a typical 1950’s alien invasion flick.) The second trailer is for the genuinely frightening 1978 remake, which is, quite simply, one of the top science-fiction/horror films of all time.
I was introduced to both of these movies by my “movie uncle,” Uncle John. I remember thinking the original was far better than I’d expected for an “old black-and-white.” (I’d had a an adolescent’s predictable skepticism about old movies.) And the dour 1978 masterpiece got under my skin and stayed there forever.
The 1993 installment, simply titled “Body Snatchers,” is probably the least well known — I’ve never heard it mentioned outside of horror fan circles. I myself had never heard of it until I stumbled across it in a video store more than a decade following its release. It had a very limited theatrical release, and it sometimes feels like the most generic of the “Body Snatchers” movies — like maybe a made-for-television movie or an especially good entry for the first revival of “The Twilight Zone” (1985-1989).
I love it. You could tell it was a labor of love for its screenwriters and its director, Abel Ferrara … it was obvious that they truly “got” Finney’s concept, and that they set out to deliver just what genre fans wanted. This “Body Snatchers” was freaky, fast-paced and unsettling, and I still feel it deserves a broader following.
The fourth trailer is for the most maligned and recent adaptation of Finney’s novel, 2007’s “The Invasion.” (My god, was this really made 13 years ago? Tempus fugit.) People really dislike this movie, despite a cast led by Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. It was generally panned by both critics and audiences, and I sorta understand why. It’s got its share of flaws — most notably a hasty happy ending that feels tacked on by the studio. I don’t quite love it, but I really like it quite a lot — it’s stylish and ambitious and has a lot of creepy moments. And if you think Nicole Kidman is easy on the eyes, as I do, you’ll see that she looks like a million bucks here.
If you really enjoy these films and are hungry for more, there are two other alien invasion movies that seem to channel the same muse as Finney’s. The first is 1994’s “The Puppet Masters” by Stuart Orme. (It should not be confused with its soundalike contemporary, the “Puppet Master” (singular) horror franchise, which depicts demonic dolls.) “The Puppet Masters” is campy, but still very cool, and it adapts the eponymous 1951 novel by Robert A. Heinlein.
The second recommendation I’d offer is 1998’s “The Faculty.” It’s an even campier horror-comedy aimed more at mainstream audiences, but it’s still a lot if fun.
Dark Horse Comics.
Blumhouse’s “Truth or Dare” (2018) isn’t high art, but it isn’t quite as bad as everyone makes it out to be. I’d rate it a 6 out of 10 for being a passably good fright flick.
It’s a gimmick horror film, but the gimmick kinda works –a powerful demon possesses an oral game of “truth or dare” — then follows its players home from vacation with lethal consequences. It’s actually not quite as stupid as it sounds; I had fun with the premise, which sounds like the basis for a decent “The X-Files” (1993-2018) episode. An exposition-prone minor character explains to our protagonists late in the game that demons need not infect only people and objects, but also “ideas” like games or competitions. The notion of an idea or a philosophy being demonically possessed has a hint of creative brilliance, and I’d love to see it fully developed in an intelligent, well written horror film.
Alas, this isn’t it. And instead of lovable heroes like Mulder and Scully, we get a predictable, throwaway group of unlikable teens on spring break. The movie’s most interesting character is the one it sets up as the stereotypical jerk, Ronnie, adroitly played by Sam Lerner. The film would have been much better if it had fleshed him out as a three-dimensional character, and had the story revolve around him as a surprise anti-hero.
“Truth of Dare” also borrows maybe a bit too much from “It Follows” (2014) and “The Ring” films (2002-2017). Finally, it confuses the viewer with some head-scratching plot turns near its end.
Oh, well. The movie still doesn’t deserve the hate it gets. I figure it’s at least a fun time waster before bed on a weeknight.
I’m all for a good vampire story. But this isn’t a particularly good vampire story.
Or, at least not yet, it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong — the premiere of “The Passage” wasn’t the worst hour of television I’ve ever seen. I’d rate it a 5 out of 10 for being somewhat average. It has two good leads in Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Saniyya Sidney. Gosselaar is no Laurence Olivier, but he’s good enough, and he looks and fits the part. He seems like an excellent physical actor in the premiere’s brief action sequences, which weren’t altogether bad. Sidney is downright terrific — and she’s an adorable kid too.
The show also has a great plot setup going for it, which I won’t spoil here. It’s based on a trilogy of dystopian horror novels by Justin Cronin, which actually sound like some quite interesting books. There are even a couple of sly references to well known horror films like “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) and “28 Days Later” (2002).
Regrettably, however, “The Passage” suffers a lot from rushed and clumsy storytelling. The script is a poor one, with a lot of awkward exposition and forced emotion. (It shares a weakness with this year’s vastly superior “Bird Box,” in that it tries to fit too much of its source material into too little screen time.) It falls well short of being scary, too, which is probably what will alienate modern horror fans, unless it improves. (This is a primetime network TV show, and isn’t any more frightening than the average episode of “Star Trek.”)
Weird world — Gosselar is none other than the Zack from “Saved By the Bell” (1989-1993). And am I the only one that thinks he is the spitting image of Chris Pratt in a lot of shots. I almost thought it was Pratt from the ads.