“The Beastmaster” (1982) was THE movie that captured the imaginations of grade-school boys in the 1980’s. There were summer afternoons when this was the single biggest topic of conversation.
I almost wrote here that the movie was an obvious knockoff of the far-better-remembered “Conan the Barbarian;” that is how I’ve always remembered it. But the Internet informs me that they hit theaters only months apart. Wikipedia also informs me that “The Beastmaster” was actually a commercial failure, and that its two sequels and its television adaptation (all in the 1990’s) were aimed at a subsequent cult following spawned by the original movie’s appearance on 80’s TV. (I’m pretty sure that’s how my friends and I saw it.) What the hell was wrong with 1982 audiences, anyway? Was it something in the water? “Blade Runner” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” were also flops that year — and those were some the best science fiction movies of all time. Talk about pearls before swine.
Anyway, please understand — “Conan the Barbarian” was inarguably the better film. No matter how much it polarized critics and audiences, that dour, violent, R-rated movie was intended as a serious adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s literary source material.
“The Beastmaster,” on the other hand, was campier stuff that was firmly aimed at kids. (I was surprised to learn that it had its own literary source material, but its B-movie wackiness only followed those books very loosely.) It had a PG rating and was jam-packed with garishly grotesque monsters that would thrill a fourth grade boy — the animalistic berzkers were what really got under my skin; my friends were more unnerved by the … bat-people. (There is a simple but quite effective 80’s-era practical effect that show how these baddies digest a victim alive. You kinda have to see the movie to know what I mean.) Hell, even the witches were a little creepy, and witches were not high on our list of things that were scary. I honestly think the film’s success owes a lot to its successful incorporation of horror movie elements designed to impress the younger set.
“The Beastmaster” starred Marc Singer, who went on to star in another 80’s phenomenon, television’s “V” series. (I might have loved “V” even more than “The Beastmaster.”) The movie also starred Tanya Roberts, who was another quite popular topic among gradeschool boys in the 80’s. John Amos starred in a supporting role, and he did a really good job of it. A lot of my older friends will remember him as the grouchy Dad in the “Good Times” (1974-1979); 80’s kids might point him out as the owner of “McDowell’s” in 1988’s “Coming to America.”
I really am curious to find out how well “The Beastmaster” has held up over time. I was surprised to discover that there is a great copy of it here on Youtube. (Thanks, VHS Drive-In.) You can bet that I’m watching it this weekend.
If you see an abundance of “The Thing” or “Blade Runner” posts today, it’s because both films opened in theaters 38 years ago today.
We … need a holiday or something. But “Thing/Blade Day” sounds too much like “Sling Blade Day.”
Anyway, both films resonate just fine in 2020 America. “The Thing” is predicated on paranoia about those around you. “Blade Runner” is technically about cruelty to illegal immigrants — and how “human” we all are depending on our reaction to that.
Hey … let’s not even get started on (the overrated) fan favorite “Tron,” also released in 1982. If you want to talk about a movie about a guy trapped in a virtual world and its parallels to the social media age, then I’m gonna need some more coffee.
I had genuine, serious, grownup responsibilities to meet yesterday.
And I was up sleepless at 2:21 AM the prior evening pondering what would happen if a group of Terminators fought John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”
I am 47 years old, people.
And I’ve got two more for you:
What would happen if The Blob fought The Thing? I suppose it all boils down to which has the fastest, most successful cellular-level method of attack. What about the baddie from Dean Koontz’ “Phantoms?”
And what would happen if the vampires from “30 Days of Night” fought the infected from “28 Days Later?” Sort of a … “30 Days of Night Later” kinda scenario?
There needs to be a name for this disorder I have. There needs to be hope for a treatment.
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 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.
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.
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.