A very short review of “Halloween” (2018)

I just cannot be partial to slasher films.  It’s never been my preferred horror sub-genre to start with, and, at this point in my life, these movies have become so predictable and devoid of story that I often find them boring.  There are exceptions — some of the the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” films (1984- 2003) and “Child’s Play” (1988) were grotesquely creative and had terrific supernatural setups that were well executed.  But even the attraction of  John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” films (1978, 1981) is still mostly lost on me.

With all of that said, I’ll still say that my horror fan friends were right when they told me that 2018’s “Halloween” was a superior sequel.  It looks a lot better than the segments I’ve seen of of the campier followups in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

It’s far better filmed and directed, it’s occasionally scary and it benefits from a very good cast. (Jamie Lee Curtis is of course quite good as the film’s heroine and perennial “final girl.”  I’m also always happy to see Will Patton on screen, and I like Judy Greer a lot.)  The script occasionally shines unexpectedly, too — the screenwriters have a truly impressive talent for making minor characters vivid with funny throwaway dialogue.  (One of the three screenwriters is actor-writer-comedian Danny McBride, who I liked quite a bit in 2017’s “Alien: Covenant.”)

I’d be lying, however, if I told you that I wasn’t occasionally bored by this latest “Halloween” — simply because its basic, boilerplate plot and conclusion seem endlessly redundant with those of other slasher films.  There are few surprises toward the end — one “gotcha” moment was especially nice — but the overall story is just too tired.  I’d rate this film a 7 out of 10 for its merits, but I can’t actually get excited enough about it to recommend it.

 

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A short review of the “Cabin Fever” remake (2016)

I don’t understand why the 2016 remake of Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” (2002) is so hated by critics and audiences.  It has a 0% rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, and reviews of the movie are withering.  I personally thought it was a very well made horror film; I’d rate it at least an 8 out of 10.

Sure, I understand the criticisms.  This is definitely an unneeded remake.  And the new cast here feels bland compared to the doomed vacationers in Roth’s campier, weirder outing 14 years prior.  (Although this isn’t a shot-for-shot remake, it still proceeds mostly from his original script.)

But the new “Cabin Fever” is well filmed, and it’s damned horrifying.  Director Travis Z significantly ups the gore, violence and frightening imagery — it’s not for the squeamish.  It passes the litmus test for decent horror movies, because it scared me.

Maybe I’m just partial to Roth’s basic story concept — a terrifying new illness that jumps from person to person in an isolated location from which it’s difficult to escape, turning them against one another.  It’s precisely the same plot driver as the one for John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), which is among the greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time.  And I suppose Roth’s story could be taken as modern retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” with some of the director’s sadism and unique black humor injected into it via his screwball, eccentric characters.  Remake or not, this is still a creative change of pace from a genre consistently overcrowded with slashers and shrieking ghosts.

 

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10 classic movies that I will never fully understand the appeal of:

Because I can’t sleep, and you’ve been dying to know.  Here they are, in no particular order:

1) “Memento” (2000)
2) “Fight Club” (1999)
3) “American Psycho” (2000)
4) “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)
5) “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
6) “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)
7) “Natural Born Killers” (1994)
8) Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi” (alternately titled “Zombi 2,” 1979)
9) “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982)
10) “The Big Chill” (1983)

And … worst of all … I’m kinda on the fence about the first two “The Evil Dead” films (1981, 1987), Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) and John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” (1978).   I am hanging my head in shame here over those last two.  I know Kubrick’s film is considered a masterpiece.  I saw it twice when I was a college student (once in a psychology class!), soooo … maybe I just wasn’t mature enough to grasp it?  Mea culpa, people.

I left “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “Ben Hur” (1959) off the list, because I haven’t seen them in their entirety.  I was nonplussed enough to turn those off after 40 minutes or so, but I’m weird about never saying I dislike a movie unless I watch the whole thing.  You can add 1979’s “Phantasm” to this category too.

I know, I know … there’s nothing wrong with any of these films (except “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” of course, which is terrible).  There are just basic ingredients in them that I somehow fail to appreciate.

Now one of you needs to e-mail me a cure for insomnia.

 

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I introduced a pal last night to John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982).

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.

 

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Ugliest Christmas ornament ever?

I am inclined to think so.

This was a gag gift for a pal of mine — I got it for three bucks at my local five-and-dime.  Unless Picasso designed this ornament (and I don’t think he did), that misshapen, asymmetrical dog’s head is unintentional.  (Is anyone else reminded of Blair in the autopsy scene of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” saying, “That’s not dog?”  In fact … this could arguably be the coolest Christmas ornament ever …)  Anyway, I can’t tell if that stringy brown fur is supposed to symbolize the dog’s bed or just … dog hair?

Somewhere this holiday season, there is a craftsman who should keep his day job.

Do people in the South say “five-and-dime?”  It occurs to me now that I don’t think I’ve heard the expression since I left New York.

 

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“Nobody trusts anybody now, and we’re all very tired.”

I’m going to hide this tape when I’m finished. If none of us make it, at least there will be some kind of record. The storm’s been hitting us hard now for 48 hours. We still have nothing to go on.

One other thing: I think it rips through your clothes when it takes you over. Windows found some shredded and bloody long-johns in the trash but the name tag was missing. They could be anybody’s.

Nobody trusts anybody now, and we’re all very tired. There’s nothing more I can do, just wait.

This is R.J. MacReady, helicopter pilot, US outpost #31.

— From John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982)

 

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Lee Hardcastle’s “Thingu” (a parody of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”)

I’ve been meaning to run this on the blog since forever — artist Lee Hardcastle’s brief, brilliant 2012 send-up of John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, “The Thing.”  (It is also a claymation parody of the European children’s program, “Pingu.”  Please note, however, that the video below is NOT for children.)

Even if the animation method is crude, this is damned creative stuff — in addition to being blackly funny, according to your tastes in humor.  This went viral when it was released, and I believe it fully deserves its online fame.

Is it weird if I’d never heard of “Pingu” before this video?  I have friends who certainly recall it.  Maybe it was just a European thing.  Or maybe it’s an example of “The Mandela Effect.”  I am very much an 80’s kid, and I swear I cannot remember that “Oregon Trail” computer game either.