20th Century Studios.
20th Century Studios.
Eric’s Epic Detrimental Deluge
Don’t put a trigger on a hose unless you want me to re-enact the scene in “Aliens” (1986) where Hudson ****ing goes berserk with his pulse rifle against xenomorphs attacking from every angle.
“YOU WANT SOME?! *GET* SOME!!!”
These commercials were ubiquitous in the 1970’s. If you were a small child, you could rattle off the trademark slogan without even understanding what it meant, and adults would find it extremely funny. (The ad actually isn’t terribly funny by itself. The 1980’s had a plenty of inspired commercials. but the few I can remember from the 70’s were generally lame.)
Anyway, fast-forward about 12 years to when I was a senior in high school … a buddy of mine actually handed me a can of V8 and dared me to pound it in one gulp. (For those not in the know, the product is a phenomenally awful beverage concocted from vegetable juices.) I took the dare. And I wound up projectile vomiting like a god damned fire hose — all over the rear bumper of that 1972 Plymouth Duster that I loved so much.
I suppose that I could try to blame my lifelong abhorrence for vegetables on that experience, but I hated greens even when I was a kid. (I was endlessly sneaking them to the dog at the dinner table; I wrote a story about it in the second grade that my parents nevertheless found amusing when I brought it home.)
The V8 vegetable drink is still around; the company is owned by Campbell’s. Somebody should find out where it’s canned, break into the place at night and just machine-gun all the cans in the same manner as Ripley shooting all the alien eggs at the climax of “Aliens” (1986). It would be a public service.
Dark Horse Comics.
So I’m introducing a dear friend tonight to “28 Days Later” (2002). It is possibly my favorite horror film of all time, maybe even narrowly beating out “Aliens” (1986), “Alien 3” (1992), John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), the Sutherland-tacular 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and George A. Romero’s first three “Dead” films (1968, 1978, 1985). (Whenever “Star Wars” fans refer to their “Holy Trilogy,” I muse inwardly that those last three are its equivalent for zombie horror fans.)
My friend thinks it’s funny that I refer to “28 Days Later” as “my sacred cow.” I’ll be crestfallen if she does not like it, and I told her as much. And that’s weird for me … I usually don’t feel let down when someone doesn’t enjoy the same books, movies or music that I do. Not everything is for everyone. Art would lose its mystique if it weren’t subjective. If all art appealed to all people, it would lose all its appeal altogether.
Part of me feels, unconsciously perhaps, that “28 Days Later” is the kind of film that “redeems” the horror genre (even though no genre needs such redemption — if art is well made or if it affects people, then it’s just fine).
Most comic book fans of my generation can tell you how people can occasionally roll their eyes at their favorite medium. (Comics have far greater mainstream acceptance today than when I started reading them in the 1990’s.) For horror fans, it’s sometimes worse. Horror is a genre that is easily pathologized — and sometimes with good reason, because a portion of what it produces is indeed cheap or exploitative. I wish I could accurately describe for you the looks I’ve gotten when acquaintances find out that I’m a horror fan. They aren’t charitable.
“28 Days Later” and movies like it are so good that they elevate horror to a level that demands respect from the uninitiated. It is an intrinsically excellent film — it just happens to have a sci-f-/horror plot setup and setting. It’s beautifully directed by Danny Boyle, it’s perfectly scored and it’s masterfully performed by its cast — most notably by Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson.
“Willard” (1971) and its sequel, “Ben” (1972), were another pair of 1970’s movies that got plenty of airtime on 1980’s television. I read both books when I was a kid too.
First I picked up Stephen Gilbert’s Ratman’s Notebooks at a yard sale, because that’s how you found cool horror books during summer vacations when you were too young to drive. (Sometimes adults had few compunctions about what they sold to minors too. I bought a vampire book in gradeschool that was full of nude photos, for some reason, and that led to what I’m sure was an interesting conversation between my parents and the neighbor-proprietor down the street.)
Anyway, I absolutely loved Ratman’s Notebooks (despite its lamentable absence of nude photos) and I finished it in a day or two. The novelization of the “Ben” film by Gilbert A. Ralston was somewhat less impressive, but I still enjoyed it.
If you’re a comics fan, like I am, then it might occur you that “Willard” and his army of trained rats seem to inspire a villain in Batman’s rogue’s gallery — Ratcatcher. Ratcatcher has been a minor league villain since he debuted in DC Comics in 1988, but he’s a pretty neat bad guy when placed in the hands of the right writer.
I feel certain that anyone will recognize Ernest Borgnine in the first trailer below– his face and voice are impossible to confuse with those of another man. If the disaffected, spooky, eponymous Willard looks familiar to you, that’s none other than a young Bruce Davison. He’s a good actor who’s been in a lot of films, but I think a plurality of my friends will know him as Senator Kelly from the first two “X-Men” movies (2000, 2003).
You’ll note the presence of flamethrowers in the trailer for “Ben.” Flamethrowers were a staple of 70’s and 80’s horror films; it was just part of the zeitgeist. They were handy for heroes fighting any nigh-unstoppable nonhuman baddie — think of “The Swarm” (1978), “The Thing” (1982), “C.H.U.D.” (1984), “Aliens” (1986), and “The Blob” (1988), for example. Hell, 1980’s “The Exterminator” featured a vigilante using a flamethrower to kill criminals. It was a weird time.
I swear this spider was as long as my thumb. I could have put my shoe or maybe a quarter next to it for scale, but I don’t want to stick any part of my body near this thing, and I don’t want to subsidize its hellish agenda. (I did kinda zoom out so that you can compare it to the size of the curb.)
What does it eat?! Birds?! Why does it appear to have racing stripes?!
To quote the immortal Ellen Ripley, I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
Update: someone is trying to persuade me that this is a “garden spider,” and that they are quite harmless. I’m not sure I buy that.
Until last night, I’d never actually seen 1988’s “Pumpkinhead” — even though I occasionally joked online about its inspired, iconic titular monster. I was predictably pleased by the movie’s creature effects, but even more disappointed than I thought I’d be by the film’s overall quality. I’d rate the film a 7 out of 10, based on my own enjoyment of it — but I’m a horror fan who loves monsters and who’s typically forgiving of 80’s cheese. If you haven’t seen “Pumpkinhead,” I suspect you’ll finds its flaws a little more egregious than I did.
The film’s strengths are its fantastic monster, designed by legendary visual effects master Stan Winston, and its interesting story concept. It’s easy to see why the sneering, towering golem here inspired a cult fanbase — complete with sequels, videogames and comic books. (Yes, horror movie pedants, I realize that Pumpkinhead is technically a demon-infused and magically mutilated corpse, and not a golem. Whatever.)
This is Winston’s first turn as a director, too … and it seems to me that his genius apparently didn’t quite extend to this larger role. “Pumpkinhead” feels cobbled together, even by 80’s-movie standards, with poor writing, acting and editing throughout. The presence of Lance Henriksen improves matters somewhat, as does an adolescent Brian Bremer in the role of “Bunt.”. (Bremer looks to be about 13 or 14 years old, but he easily outshines his adult co-stars. His surprisingly relaxed performance might be the equal of Henriksen’s. The latter is usually as good as we expect, but even he actually flubs a line here and there. He’s a long way from his brilliant turn as the “Bishop” android in the classic “Aliens” two years prior.)
All things considered, I’m not sure I would actually recommend “Pumpkinhead.”
And she was predictably impressed. Here are a few observations that came up for me, about the categorically rewatchable sci-fi/horror movie that keeps on giving. (Yeah, I know I sound overly preoccupied with this movie, and that’s weird, but I’m just really into movies. And John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is the same kind of classic for monster movie fans as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” is for people who like Christmas movies.) [THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS.]
1) It was fun watching “The Thing” with someone who was seeing it for the first time. Not only did I have to stifle a chuckle at her cry of “That poor dog!” during the opening credits, but I also watched while she guessed (incorrectly, as most of us did) at which characters had been assimilated by the shape-shifting monster as the story progressed. (I noticed something ironic last night that I couldn’t mention. When MacReady delivers his short “I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me” speech, all of the men he’s addressing are also still human … Unless I’m mistaken, Norris and Palmer are elsewhere.
Which brings me to what at first occurred to me as a … remotely possible plot hole in this otherwise perfect masterpiece. If The Thing truly wants to escape Antarctica and prey upon the rest of the world, it doesn’t need to assimilate (or “Thingify,” as I like to think) everyone in the camp. It only needs to overtake a single human. (This would be the silhouetted figure that the dog first approaches; my money’s on Norris.) Think about it … nobody stationed at Outpost 31 remains at the research station indefinitely. They’d cycle out at the end of a shift of … six months? Eight months? Longer? (And what about vacations and holidays?) Sooner or later, they’d fly home. And, having perfectly replicated a human’s anatomy, The Thing need only sustain itself until that departure by eating the same food the other humans were eating. Then, as soon as it arrived at any other, warmer location on earth, it could attack life in its abundance.
But this morning I realized that my analysis here is faulty. First, the humans were already getting wise to The Thing and its means of procreation — thanks to a pre-diabeetus Wilford Brimley wisely intoning, “That ain’t dog.” Maybe The Thing was smart enough to realize the humans could effectively quarantine it. Second, I am assuming in my criticism that “The Thing” is acting as a single entity. Yet it shouldn’t act that way at all; this is the entire point of MacReady’s “blood test.” While one incarnation of The Thing is safely munching on canned goods disguised as a human, a separate incarnation was sitting in storage, exposed — presumably only until the humans finally realized it needed to be destroyed somehow. That iteration of The Thing needed to attack and duplicate Redding if it wanted to save itself.
2) The Thing actually shouldn’t need to reach civilization in order to begin attacking all life on earth; it only needs to reach the Antarctic coast. If it enters the water and begins assimilating sea life (and why shouldn’t it be able to?), then it’s game over. I said last night that “a fish can travel wherever it wants,” which my friend found pretty funny, but it’s true. A Thingified fish (or its fish-Thing progeny) could arrive at any continental coastline.
3) If The Thing replicates a human perfectly on a cellular level, then … might it be reluctant to kill anyone else, because it would basically be a human? (Obviously, the film’s plot-driving antagonist has no such reluctance, but … still, think about it.) If it perfectly replicates a human brain, right down to its cellular structures and chemistry, then wouldn’t it have a conscience and experience empathy? My friend pointed out the reductionist nature of my question, though — it assumes that conscience and empathy can have only physical origins.
4) The movie’s characters (and most viewers) assume that The Thing is “a lifeform” or an organism. Is it, or is it simply “live” tissue? Somebody on the Internet Movie Database message board pointed out long ago that it’s “just cells,” and that’s … literally true; the film even shows this via crude 80’s-era computer graphic. Is it an “organism” if it is simply tissue that replicates? Or is it no more a “lifeform” than a cancer, or tissue grown in a lab?
5) I honestly opine that the film is perfect, or very nearly so. It is the paragon of sci-fi/horror movies. And I’d put it on par with other films that I hold virtually perfect, like “To Have and Have Not” (1944), “Alien” (1979), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Aliens” (1986), “The Accidental Tourist” (1988), “Alien 3” (1992) and “Vanilla Sky” (2001).
6) My friend reaaaally likes Kurt Russell’s hair in this film.
Okay, enough. I’m sorry about this. Hey, at least I’m not obsessing over comics tonight.
Dark Horse Comics.