Two authors. Two Minds. Twice the madness.

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Creature Features in Review: The Mist (2007)

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When I first heard of the film “The Mist” I knew nothing about it other than – a mist descends on a town and, hidden within the murkiness, there are… Things. Nasty things that kill people. I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head. Just what the film industry needed, another knock-off film. I mean, we’ve seen this back in the eighties with John Carpenter’s “The Fog”. Not entirely sure we needed another film with a similar concept. But, then, I heard more about the film. Directed by Frank Darabont, he who made “The Green Mile”, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Walking Dead”. I’m a fan. Then I saw it was based on the work of Stephen King. Now, I’m not a fan of King because – for me – I find the books a bit too wordy to read (I have a short attention… oh look, a penny). That being said, I do like the ideas he has.  Then, of course, there was the cast list: Thomas Jane (in my eyes an under-rated actor) and several folk from “The Walking Dead” (Carol, Dale, Andrea… Was Frank doing a test run with the actors before hiring them for The WD?). What the hell, there was enough there for me to give it a go and – you know what – I’m glad I did.

“The Mist” is not an original story (as mentioned). Now I don’t know what came first between King’s short and the novel of “The Fog” and I do not really care. It’s a story that has been told time and time again in various ways but this… This worked well because of the minimal locations and the chemistry between the varied characters even though said characters are also the type of people you see in these films.  You have the small minded locals, you have the God-Worshipping woman who tries turn everyone else into believers (“We are being punished for our sins”), you have the father trying to save his kid, the military folk with something to hide… Seriously – no originality but they work – which is just as well as we don’t really see any of the features until about an hour into the film. The rest is them talking, panicking, planning. blah blah.

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When the creatures do come, you can’t help but get pulled out of the film a little – and the story it is trying to tell. The reason being because – whilst they don’t look bad – they don’t look great. Or rather, they don’t look great in colour. You see, there are two’s versions of this film. You have the aforementioned colour version with it’s rubbish CGI and then you have the same film but done in black and white. Frank’s original vision of the film, to have it in black and white. Personally, this is the definitive version of the film. It’s moody and atmospheric and even reminds me of those old sci-fi serials I used to watch when growing up. But, more than that – and more importantly, because it’s black and white the effects of the creatures don’t look so obviously fake. In colour, the CGI looks cheap and nasty – in particular, there’s one scene that features a dire looking tentacle. In black and white, it blends well into the scene and doesn’t look like a seven year old has drawn it with a BIC biro.

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Other creatures include flying things, big arse legs of monsters unseen and – of course – spiders. After all, what horror film (about creatures at least) would be complete without some big arse, mutated eight-legged little bastard fucks?! Before we get to the spiders though, a quick mention to the flying creatures. There are a couple of “breeds” on display here – one is large and almost dinosaur looking and the other (better) type is around the size of an arm and more gnat-like in their appearance. And, like a gnat, these things bite and when they do… Well, just watch the film. Anyway, I hinted towards some arachnids…

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The spiders in this being particularly nasty for those with a fear of spiders. I personally don’t fear them. I’m THE Matt Shaw. I don’t fear anything. I do, however, go out of my way to kill them if they’re in my house. Because they’re cunts. What’s good about these particular spiders is that – whilst they’re obviously big – they don’t look too different to what we already fear. The only difference is that they spit acid webs and put their eggs inside of you (yes, there is a scene in which the spiders come from a person). In colour, this doesn’t look too shabby to be fair but – again – in black and white, it’s seamless.

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So to sum up the film isn’t original, the characters are paint-by-numbers and the plot straight from something out of the sixties but – yeah – it works. Even in colour, the first time I saw it, I came away loving it but that was mainly to do with the ending. And this is where I shut up, other than to say – the ending, for a true horror lover, is nigh on perfect. It’s a great big fuck you to the Hollywood system that usually dictates films should end a certain way to please the majority of the audience (in their eyes). Whilst the ending doesn’t really make a blind bit of difference as to whether it is colour or black and white (it’s great as an over all) the whole film as a complete package just works better without colour.

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If you haven’t seen this film, you need to give it a go. Do suspend your disbelief, do switch off and just enjoy it. For me personally, this film went straight into my top twenty when I watched it. When I saw the black and white version: It went into my top 10.

Matt Shaw

MATT SHAW is the published author of over 120 stories. Although known as being a horror author, he also enjoys spending time in other genres too – something he had always planned to do in order to have at least one book, in a wide collection, which would appeal to people from all walks of life. Shaw was first published in 2004 with his horror novel Happy Ever After – the first of his books to reach the number one slot on Amazon and the first of his books to use his trademark style of narrating the stories through the first person perspective. An extremely prolific writer, Matt Shaw is continually writing as well as keeping up to date with his readers via his (some might say) crazy Facebook page.

Be sure to check out Chaturbate’s Castrations: A Tale of Sex and Horror. Available on Amazon Kindle. 

Chaturbate's Castrations: A Tale of Sex and Horror by [Shaw, Matt]

$2.99


Creature Features in Review: Piranha (1978)

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I remember back in the late eighties, a school friend of mine let me borrow a pirate VHS tape he had.  He wanted to borrow my copy of Robocop and so was offering his tape in exchange.  I loved horror as a kid (no shocker there) and back in the days before people really paid attention to the certification in shops etc., I used to frequent my local newsagent to rent videos (for a whopping 50p a go!) which going by the often gory and bloody cover art I was far too young to be watching. Nonetheless, I rented video nasties without issue and so at that point I had seen a lot of films already, but the two on this tape were new to me, even if initially I thought it was a single film.

Piranha slugs? Never heard of it,’ I said, looking at the handwritten scrawl on the label.

‘No, it’s two films. One is called Piranha, the other is called Slugs.’

Bonus! Two for one! Curious to watch these two new horrors, I handed over my copy of Robocop and took the piranha Slugs tape home to watch. Weirdly, Slugs based on the novel by Shaun Hutson was also one of my favourite films of the 80’s. Who would have thought that around 20 years later the very same Shaun Hutson would be consulting on a script I’d written based on a book I had also written for a feature length movie I was making! Weird how things work out.

Anyway, this isn’t about Slugs, this article is about the first film on that tape, Piranha.

I remember watching that tape I borrowed a couple of times and then never watched the movie again. I’m pretty sure I liked it, although if you were to have asked me the plot until I sat down to watch it today I wouldn’t have been able to give more than a basic premise. So here we are in 2017 about to watch the 1978 classic again for the first time since I borrowed that scruffy pirate VHS. How will it shape up? Let’s see. I’ll be checking off the classic horror tropes as we go!

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We open with a young couple walking through a foggy wooded area at night. They come to a sign which warns them not to trespass but SHOCK HORROR they ignore said sign and climb under the conveniently broken wire fence with the man (who is wearing a HUGE backpack) claiming it was all fine and nothing bad would happen.

STUPID TEENAGER? CHECK!

We all know things never end well for people who say such things. Minutes later they arrive at an enclosed pool of sorts. This being an 80’s horror film, everyone loves to swim and because of the need for nakedness in such films, the pair strip off and we see out first bit of naked flesh

BOOBIES! CHECK!

The girl pushes the guy into the water (lucky for him he’d removed his huge backpack) technically murdering him but we’ll get to that later. The girl dives in after him and the boy complains that she’d bitten him under water. The girl, of course, denies this but doesn’t have time to say much else as the man starts to convulse and shake in his best attempt to emulate the opening scene from Jaws as the water turns red. The girl kind of floats there for a while, just watching unharmed until the unseen fish apparently remember to eat her too. We cut to a shot of the moon as we hear her scream. We see our opening titles then go into the film proper.

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We open on ANOTHER homage to Jaws as a woman who is really far too old for such things is playing a video game of the movie. Said woman is leaving the city to go look after a summer camp and although slightly ditzy, is clearly going to be a key player. She gets on a plane and we cut away to a lake and a young bearded man buying booze from an old bearded man.  I suspect one or both of these will meet a grisly end. I also realise I remember next to nothing about this film! We shall see what happens!

POTENTIAL FISH FODDER? CHECK!

We cut away from the manly beard fest to the ditzy woman again, who after playing Jaws and getting on a plane is now driving a jeep across rough terrain. The jeep breaks down, smoke pouring from the engine. We cut away AGAIN to a shot of a fish in a frying pan. It’s young bearded man! Before he can eat, there is a knock at the door and its ditzy woman! Maybe the bearded man isn’t fodder but a love interest? Hmmm, possibly!

POTENTIAL LOVE INTEREST? CHECK!

Ditzy isn’t there by accident, she’s looking for our bearded friend, verifying that his name is Paul and telling him that she, in turn, is Maggie and that she works for a skip tracing company. Bearded Paul asks her what that is, and I’m glad because I don’t have a clue either! It turns out a skip tracer is someone who finds missing people. Bearded Paul (still holding his fish in the frying pan) asks if his ex wife sent her. Maggie says no, and she’s looking instead for the stupid kids from the pre credits sequence. The ignorant Paul is standoffish with her and after a bit of back and forth about where the teens might have gone, Paul (who is still trying to eat his bloody fish) mentions something about a nearby army facility where the kids might have gone swimming. Ignoring all rules of being polite, and despite it being clear that Paul is eating, Maggie demands he take her up there. The cheek! I definitely think this is a love interest situation. Despite being standoffish, I would bet anything Paul turns out to be a good guy and hero. I still reckon old bearded guy from earlier is going to get it though.

I ACT LIKE A DICK BUT YOU WILL LEARN IM A NICE GUY CHARACTER? CHECK!

Apparently knowing he won’t get to eat in peace anyway, he agrees and we join them in Maggie’s jeep (now repaired again without explanation) as they jostle down the bumpiest road I have ever seen. If they tried to film this today health and safety would have a heart attack!

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They arrive at the facility and encounter a locked fence with a warning sign. That doesn’t matter to Maggie. Who the fuck reads signs anyway in this film? Especially warning ones. She decides to cause criminal damage and smashes the padlock off the gate with an axe, thus allowing them into what is clearly a restricted area.

I KNOW THERE IS A WARNING SIGN BUT WILL IGNORE IT ANYWAY? CHECK!

Paul follows her in as she commits trespass, taking a big swig from his canteen which I suspect is filled with something other than water. A little way down a dirt road they find what looks to be an abandoned facility of sorts. Paul follows, looking suitably bored and also rocking the world’s largest belt buckle. Really, you should see it! Even though the place is clearly empty and they had to break open a gate to get in, Maggie calls out to the teenagers I the hope they will answer. They continue to look around and come to a pool which looks suspiciously like the one from the pre credits section. Maggie finds a locket by the side of the water which belonged to one of the missing teens (no clothes though? Maybe the fish jumped out and ate those too?) Confused, Paul sits on the edge of the pool and dangles his fingers into the water. We cut to an underwater shot looking up and hear what sounds like a dozen fish gargling mouthwash. It seems Paul Is about to be bitten when…he pulls his hand out of the water just in time! Phew!

CLOSE CALL WHERE ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS ALMOST GETS EATEN BUT DOSENT? CHECK!

Maggie wonders if the bodies might be at the bottom and so commits further trespass by breaking into one of the buildings in search of a way to ‘pull the plug’ on the pool. I don’t see this ending well….. They find themselves in a research facility of sorts. Maggie finds a cup of half drunk coffee that is still warm. My guess is the person who was drinking it has gone to find out who broke the lock off their gate and let themselves in….. Undeterred, they continue their illegal break in and move into another room, this one housing a full Frankenstein-like laboratory complete with a weird animatronic creature which looks like a miniature T-rex with a sharks fin as it skulks about on the table. Paul drinks some more, probably wondering why his agent got him this role.  The lab is full of jars containing all manner of unidentifiable creatures. Mutations it seems! One particular creature in a tank of water looks a hell of a lot like that big worm thing that ate the Millennium Falcon in the Empire Strikes Back. Paul finally decides they should leave but Maggie sees something and hurries across the room. It’s the massive backpack and the clothes of the missing teenagers! Ahh so that wasn’t a plot hole and the fish didn’t eat them. Fair play! Maggie says she thinks they should drain the pond, to which Paul says (bear in mind this is after breaking and entering, criminal damage and trespass) that they probably shouldn’t do that without getting someone’s permission!

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Maggie clearly doesn’t give a shit about the rules though and drains the pool anyway, just as the person who had left the cup of coffee returns, demanding, rightly, to know what the hell they think they are doing. The attendant (who works there and has every right to be there) tries to stop the intruders who have broken in and have no right to be there from draining the pool, but Paul and Maggie fight him off and stop him. They can add assault to the list of potential charges when Maggie beats the shit out of him from behind with Paul’s huge metal flask, knocking the guy out.

Leaving the unconscious attendant where he fell, they go to the now drained pool and find lots of bones at the bottom. The lab attendant, still groggy and likely concussed, in the meantime steals their jeep and tries to escape, rolling and destroying it, almost killing himself in the process. Maggie and Paul rescue him and he wakes up later patched up and in bed back at Paul’s house after they have rescued him. He begins to rant and rave screaming to be let out.

CRAZY GUY WITH A DIRE WARNING? CHECK!

He tells them they have made a mistake and ‘they will breed like flies and will kill us all’ they leave him in bed, wild eyes and mumbling to himself. Maggie quizzes Paul about his drinking habits and asks if it had anything to do with the death of his wife. They talk for a while. I can see where this is going! My love interest theory is coming true I think!

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Next morning they decide they need to get the injured lab assistant some help, but with the jeep out of action, they decide to take a raft down the river to get some assistance.

We cut next to a lakeside camp. A young girl is afraid to swim. Like a scene out of Friday the 13th before Jason arrives, the camp counsellor convinces the young girl that it is perfectly safe to swim. Another councillor, this one a dick with no people skills, belittles the kid and tells her she’s stupid to be afraid and that she should show guts and swim or they will lose the competition later that day. The nice councillor ushers the young girl back to the group. I think we’ve just set up nasty councillor becoming fish food!

From here we go back to old bearded drunk and I know for sure he’s about to croak! He’s drunk and sitting on the edge of his mini dock with his dog fishing, with his FEET IN THE WATER. This won’t end well… As suspected, old drunk’s feet get savaged. We hear him scream as the water turns red in a frenzy. Before we see anything else, though, we cut away AGAIN. This time to the raft with is carrying Paul, Maggie and the injured guy downstream at the slowest possible pace considering the poor guy could need urgent medical attention. Paul tries to question the guy about the facility but he won’t talk. He sees Maggie trailing her fingers in the water and snaps at her to not put her hands in there. She asks why and he tells her the water is filled with carnivorous piranha. Maggie asks how they got there, conveniently forgetting SHE LET THEM OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE until the lab guy reminds her. Before further argument can be made, the raft rolls past old drunk’s dock. He is missing and only his dog remains, barking at them. Curious and because there is apparently no rush to get the lab assistant the help he needs, they move the raft closer to investigate. They tie onto the dock and follow a blood trail back towards old drunks house where they find him dead with his feet reduced to the bone. Despite the urgency of the problem and the injured man waiting on the raft, Paul goes to look for a shovel to bury the old drunk as he wouldn’t want to be buried in town… Shouldn’t they be telling the police???

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We cut away again to a canoe. A man is reaching into the water trying to untangle a fishing line as his son sits at the back of the boat. Something bites him but instead of jerking his arm out of the water and any normal person would, he leaves it there to ensure the fish can eat/kill him with ease. The boat tips over and the boy climbs onto the overturned hull. We cut away again to the raft which is once again moving s-l-o-w-l-y down the river.  We learn that the lab assistant guy is actually a scientist who was tasked by the Army to develop a strain of carnivorous fish which could survive in cold and either fresh or salt water to be used as a weapon to flood the rivers in Vietnam, however, the war ended before they could be used. Paul realises there is a summer camp down the river and finally begins to speed up the raft!

We cut to said camp where kids are playing in the water. Back on the raft, Maggie and Paul blame the scientist for everything, forgetting that SHE pulled the plug. Further arguments are stopped when they encounter the canoe from earlier with the boy still on top of it. The scientist jumps in the water to help and starts to get eaten in the process, not before he can save the child though and redeem himself. The child is pulled onto the raft and Paul pulls the scientist out of the water, taking off his not one but TWO jackets and covering the scientist. He asks in vain how to stop the piranha, but the scientist dies before he can answer. Sadly, his arm is trailing in the water and the piranha attack the raft to try and get to the body. Paul Maggie and the boy barely make it to land before the raft is eaten. Paul tells Maggie to stay with the boy whilst he runs to the dam to stop them opening it and releasing the killer fish into the wild. Paul makes it just in time before they can be released. Next thing we know, the army have arrived to save the day! They say that because Paul and Maggie are the only ones who know about the killer fish, they ask them to join the team to stop them. Paul points out a river fork which goes around the dam and potentially gives the piranha a way into the open world. Rather than listen to this valid and good point, the army laughs it off and says it’s fine as the fish are not intelligent enough to know there is another way, even though the fish were being deliberately bred to be intelligent. Hmmmmm…..

STUPID DECISION BY THE ARMY? CHECK!

Paul and Maggie decide they have to take action themselves to stop the Piranha, and after Maggie causes a distraction, by flashing her lady parts at a random soldier and the two make their escape into the night. Paul makes a phone call, which is picked up by nasty camp counselor from earlier who was asleep in what looks like a bedroom ripped straight from a children’s TV programme or musical. Paul tries to warn him but he just says Paul is a drunk. Paul then asks to speak to his daughter (he kept that quiet!) and is also told no, which I think is probably not legal, then nasty councilor hangs up the phone and goes back to sleep. Taking their stolen army truck (how many laws are these two going to break??) they race to the camp at speed, only for the police to follow and pull them over and arrest them, taking them off to the station. (At last) the police call the army who tell the officer to keep them there. Both are locked in a cell and told they would be there until the morning. Paul begs to be let loose to help his daughter but to no avail.

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At the camp, two female councillors are sitting alone. At night. On the dock. Talking about swimming together. Before they can dive in, nasty councillor interrupts them and reminds them swimming at night is prohibited. They send him off to the other side of the lake, certain they heard someone over there swimming.

Back at the prison, Maggie adds to her huge list of illegal activities by enticing the sole remaining guard into her cell to fix a faulty sink (which she deliberately broke off) then knocking him unconscious as they make their escape. So that’s also assaulting a police officer and jailbreaking to add to the list! They race towards the camp, hoping to make it in time as the Aquarena party kicks into action. Lots of people are in the water and having fun. Uh oh.

At the children’s camp, a swimming contest is about to take place!  Paul and Maggie are now on the way to the scene, now in a stolen police car!

At the camp, all the children are in the water ready for the swimming contest apart from the one kid from earlier who was afraid of the water. Nasty councillor finds her and tells her to get in the water, no excuses. This guy is definitely a dick.  He is distracted and the girl manages to get away and hide. Back in the water, the nasty councillor is waist deep, running the relay races between groups of kids in rafts. Paul and Maggie are speeding and almost cause a head-on collision. Meantime we see shots of the piranha making for the children. They attack and start eating the kids! That would never fly today so good one for the 80’s!

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The piranha are now fucking everyone up, even nasty councillor gets a piranha to the face when one jumps out of the water and bites his cheek .only the scared girl is safe in her hiding place. She sees everyone is being attacked and tries to push a canoe into the water but she is too small to move it. Instead, she finds a rubber dinghy and gets in it, paddling out to help her friends. The kid reaches the two stranded councillors in a rubber ring (the ones who had been nice to her). One escapes onto the raft, the other gets taken by the piranhas. Our two fugitives from the law arrive just as most people are getting out of the water.

It turns out the young kid who was afraid of the water is the one which is Paul’s daughter. I must have missed that as I wasn’t sure which one. Maggie calls the aquamarina party to warn them but they laugh it off, so she and Paul jump into their stolen police car to go there in person. We cut to lots of shots of people having fun in and around the water. Shit is about to go down! Yep, I was right. Two divers are first to go. I reckon this guy water skiing is next….. The guy water skiing sees a bloody body floating on the surface which has been eaten by the fish. He tries to warn the two girls in charge of the speedboat to take him in but they think he’s joking. There is a huge on water crash between two boats and lots of fire. Nice. Meantime, the piranhas have reached the party and are starting to eat the guests! Much mass panic and overacting follows as people try to escape their fishy killers! Paul and Maggie arrive amid the death and chaos. As they haven’t broken a law for a full five minutes, they decide to steal a speedboat. Maggie wants to know where they are going. Paul has some vague plan about poisoning the fish if they can be drawn to where they are. However, the control unit to release the pollutant into the river is submerged under water (what a surprise). Paul ties a line to himself and the boat tells Maggie that after 100 seconds if he’s not back to accelerate the boat as he can’t hold his breath any longer. With that, he dives into the water.

BRAVE ACTION HERO SACRIFICE? CHECK!

Paul swims into the submerged control room and tries to turn the valve to release the poison into the water. The valve is stuck though, and he keeps trying to turn it as the piranha arrive and start to eat him. He manages to free the valve, spilling poison waste into the water! Yay!  Just then, when it looks certain Paul will die, Maggie reached her 100 count and accelerates, pulling Paul to safety and speeding away. She stops a little further away and pulls in the rope, but it is severed and bloody. She screams as a bloody hand belonging to Paul launches out of the water.

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We cut back to the party where they injured are bring helped and the dead are being taken away. A reporter asks one of the scientists who was with the army if there is any danger of the few remaining piranhas escaping to the ocean. The scientist says no, it’s impossible as even if they did they couldn’t survive in salt water, which we know is false as we learned earlier that they could!

SEQUEL BAIT! CHECK

The movie ends with a shot of a sun-drenched beach as we hear the sound of gargling piranha somewhere in the distance. And that was Piranha! As with a lot of low budget films of the period it hadn’t aged particularly well and some of the acting was a bit suspect. All in all, though it was a fun nostalgic trip which was nice to revisit it again! in fact, I’m going to watch the sequel now as I don’t remember that one either!

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Michael Bray is a bestselling author / screenwriter. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert & Brian Lumley, along with TV shows like Tales from the Crypt & The Twilight Zone, his work touches on the psychological side of horror, teasing the reader’s nerves and willing them to keep turning the pages. Several of his titles are currently being translated into multiple languages and he recently sold movie rights to his novel, MEAT with production planned to take place in 2017.  A screenplay written by Bray / Shaw based on their co written novel MONSTER  was picked up for distribution by Mandala Films, with both Bray and Shaw set to produce / direct the movie, taking his career into new territory as he looks to write more for both the literary world and the screen.

Keep in touch with Michael Bray by following his website!

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Creature Features in Review: The Stuff (1985)

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Tonight’s showing has to be one of the strangest selections within the sub-genre Creature Features. And it because it technically is very much a creature feature, its makes the very in your face metaphor all the more brilliant. Of course, I’m talking about The Stuff. Filmed with a 50’s sci fi B-movie in mind and with voice-overs worse than a Kung movie, we’re guided through a fairly simply story structure with a much complex core. Its a creature flick that begs the question, if we are consumers of the creature are we not in fact monsters ourselves? The Stuff, for all purposes, has lasted the test of time and remains one of the best 1980’s anti-consumerist flick. If you haven’t seen the movie, check out a trailer on YouTube and give it a chance. I’m not promising you’ll like it, The Stuff will require some patience, but if you’re a fan of horrible 80’s horror, or horrible horror in general, you might just enjoy yourself.

Are you eating it…or is it eating you? During the summer of 1985, director Larry Cohen introduced America to the discovery of a mysterious, yet delicious, white gooey treat. Found by a group of miners bubbling up from the earth, the Stuff quickly sweeps across the nation. Soon after, conglomerates pick up the Stuff and break record sales. Former FBI agent Mo Rutherford remarks, with some disbelief, that folks are willing to stand in line at two in the morning, just to buy some Stuff.  Another protagonist, a young boy  named Jason, refuses to eat the Stuff as he watches his family become addicted, turning into mindless drones– craving nothing to eat but the Stuff. In one of the oddest scenes (yes, there are a few) Jason is forced to watch his family slowly slip away from rationality and into…something else entirely. When an attempt to fool his folks into thinking he’s eaten some of the Stuff fails, Jason scarcely escapes, his father yelling out in the middle of the street, chasing after him, “It’s good for us, Jason…it kills the bad things inside us.”

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What…you’ve never heard of this movie, The Stuff? I’m not shocked; unless you’re a connoisseur (see what I did there?) of obscure horror, The Stuff is by far one of the most obscure-ee horror movies I’ve ever seen. This very low-budget does take on, as other classic horror flicks such as Dawn of the Dead (78), American consumerism and consumption during the 1980’s. Some of the other films during this era, and some of my personal favorites of glorified 80’s consumerism, include Evil Dead 2, Friday the 13th part 8, and Videodrome.

Film critic Brian Dillard had this to say regarding The Stuff:

“…another 1980’s horror flick… mixed wit and gore with anti-consumerist ideology. On the surface, The Stuff is just an exploitation flick — a jumble of The Blob [and] Invasion of the Body Snatchers… full of amateurish special effects and hammy performances.”

If that’s what’s on the surface of the movie, cheesy effects and a hammy attempt at saying something, is there anything beneath? I’d point out all the random commercials that pop up during the movie which I think are brilliant parodies to everyday life. It almost calls out the audience (we) and asks if we can tell the difference. Are we that conformed to commercials that even fake ones seem real to us? This aspect really reminds of the appeal in Invasion of the Body Snatches, more especially the 1978 version as it focused more on the characters and their doppelgangers. Its about paranoia, almost, and The Stuff really brings that paranoia into focus. Can we trust anyone to be objective regarding a product that they are bought into? Can we trust a representative or legislator to be unbiased toward a private sector entity when (s)he get’s campaign donations from private corporations? Not to get political, but…have we become like Jason, being told to “eat it” because its good for us?

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As the movie comes to an end, following the efforts of a few good men and women, and a boy, the public becomes aware of the vile intentions of the conglomerates pushing the fluffy white alien goo. People “wake up” and see how The Stuff is actually a living thing. Yet, as the credits roll, we (the audience) are left with the feeling that the profligate has been set back up as the company executives comment that “the Stuff seeps out from many places in the ground.” We are given a true nihilistic ending as anyone can get, that there will always be more Stuff.

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If you’re screening The Stuff for the first time, it will time some getting used to the low quality in which the film was shot, unless you are already a member of the 80s splatter zombie corp and uber-obscure VHS demon flick rentals from Italy club. If that’s the case, then the low budget shouldn’t throw you off. The story is there if you’re willing to follow it. Low budget doesn’t necessarily mean low quality. Just look at Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead as an example of how low budget films can become The Stuff of legend (oh man, I kill myself). 

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Thomas S. Flowers creates character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

Revenge is a dish best served with BBQ!


Creature Features in Review: Aliens (1986)

Image result for aliens 1986 tall poster

Yes children, take a seat and I’ll begin the tale. Once upon a time, in the land called 1980s, there was a director who was known as the King of Killer Sequels. Now, whether these James Cameron directed killer sequels are actually better than the originals is hotly debated. The sequels we’re talking about include, Terminator 2 (on this one he topped his own original), Piranha 2: The Spawning (one up-ing Joe Dante’s original with flying killer fish), Rambo: First Blood part 2 (while not technically in the directors chair, he contributed to the screenplay), and…Aliens. Truth be told, when it comes to killer sequels, there is really only one film in which I adore more than the original, and that’s Empire Strikes Back. Not many sequels, in my mind, out shine the original. Some would disagree, I’m sure. T2 was a massive success, after all. And as our guest contributor will most likely discuss, Aliens became more iconic than the Ridley Scott original Alien. Even among dedicated horror fanatics. So, it begs the question, what really made Aliens so good?

ALIENS: THEY MOSTLY COME AT NIGHT…MOSTLY

By: Israel Finn

After a very long nap (57 years, to be exact) Lieutenant Ripley (portrayed by the inimitable Sigourney Weaver) and her faithful cat, Jonesy, are discovered by a deep space salvage crew. Upon awakening from hibernation, the corporation that owned the Nostromo, the space barge Ripley destroyed in the first film, informs her that they have lost contact with a colony of terraformers on LV426. They plan to send a company of marines to investigate and would like her to go along as a consultant. There’s just one problem: LV426 is the very planet where Ripley and crew first met, then were ravaged by, the xenomorphs. Ripley at first adamantly refuses to return to the planet, citing her nightmare encounter there. But it’s clear that the corporation is skeptical about her description of the aliens and why she destroyed the Nostromo and its valuable payload. At last she agrees to go, with the stipulation that they are going there to destroy the creatures, and not to study them.

NUKE IT FROM SPACE. IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE.

As they approach the planet, Ripley finds herself among of a company of marines that has little respect for her. It’s not because she’s a woman–the pilot and one of the grunts are also female, and command respect. It’s because they believe her to be inexperienced and of little value to the mission. When one of the crew wonders aloud why “Snow White” is accompanying them, the answer is, “She saw an alien once.”

When they land on the planet and enter the compound, the group discovers a little girl, nicknamed Newt, who Ripley takes under her wing. But the rest of the colony seem to be missing. That is, until the entire community is located in a single isolated section of the complex. The team investigates and finds the entire colony, or what’s left of them, cocooned by the xenomorphs. Aroused by their presence, one of the colonists awakens and begs to be killed before a “newborn” alien bursts through her chest. Things then begin to quickly fall apart when several of the marines are taken by the creatures.

The rest of the team decides to get the hell out of Dodge and obliterate the complex from above but, as fate would have it, their ride off the rock crashes when one of the “bugs” slaughters the pilot, leaving them trapped.

GAME OVER, MAN! GAME OVER!

We lost Bill Paxton on February 25th, 2017. I loved him in Tombstone, Apollo 13, A Simple Plan, and Frailty (which he directed). But I adored him in Aliens. He played the whiny, cowardly, comic relief, Private William Hudson, the thorn in everyone’s side once the shit earnestly hit the fan. And the movie would not have been the same without him.

Private Hudson has to be coerced and cajoled into every action, but he manages to hold it together while newly-in-charge Corporal Hicks, played by Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Tombstone, The Abyss) orders Bishop the android, played by Lance Henriksen (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Terminator, Alien 3) to leave the relative safety of the compound and remote connect the colonists’ ship.

Meantime, Carter Burke, a corporation lackey, portrayed by Paul Reiser (Bye Bye Love, Funny People, Mad About You), hatches a plot to trap Ripley (with Newt in tow) inside the med lab with a couple of the face-huggers. His plan is to have one of the little buggers “impregnate” someone so that he can get an alien past security back on earth. His motivation? What else: money and career advancement. But his scheme is thwarted by the intrepid marines.

By this time, all hell is breaking loose as the aliens infiltrate the team’s weak fortress. There are more deaths, a couple of daring rescues, and an epic final battle between Ripley and the queen mother of the xenomorphs.

TO SUM UP

This is an exceptional film by a legendary director, James Cameron (The Terminator, The Abyss, Titanic, Avatar), and some might even say it’s superior to the first. It casts a derisive eye at corporate greed, looks at love and loyalty, and reminds us that Mankind may not be at the head of the table after all, but may in fact be on the menu.

And it does all this while entertaining the hell out of us and scaring the pants off of us. Win win.

Israel Finn is a horror, dark fantasy, and speculative fiction writer, and a winner of the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition. He’s had a life-long love affair with books, and was weaned on authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells. Books were always strewn everywhere about the big white house in the Midwest where he grew up. He loves literary works (Dickens and Twain, for instance), but his main fascination lies in the fantastic and the macabre, probably because he was so heavily exposed to it early on. Later he discovered Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, Dan Simmons, Ramsey Campbell, and F. Paul Wilson, as well as several others, and the die was indelibly cast. He’s been a factory worker, a delivery driver, a singer/songwriter in several rock bands, and a sailor, among other things. But throughout he’s always maintained his love of storytelling. Right now you can find Israel in southern California.

Don’t forget to pickup Finn’s horrific collection Dreaming at the Top of my Lungs on Amazon for $2.99!!!

Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs: A Horror Collection by [Finn, Israel]

 


Creature Features in Review: DeepStar Six (1989)

[ SPOILERS ABOUND; also, PETTY, UNNEEDED LATERAL REFERENCES yaaay! ]

So back in the day, after his success fusing science fiction and horror with The Terminator (1984) and ALIENS (1986), James Cameron was shopping a treatment (not sure if it was one of his legendary ‘scriptments’) of his around Hollywood for a new original film called The Abyss. With these other two films under his belt—and possibly even his (false) start with Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)—apparently several studios assumed he’d be using his vaguely revealed deep-sea setting to craft a horror film of some kind (or possibly knew it wouldn’t be, but made horror films anyway; but the assumption of horror was how it was told to me by an insider back in the dayday). While it was thrilling and suspenseful and had some spooky-ish setup moments, it was more of a survival action film driven ultimately by a well-guarded pure sci-fi premise.

Which brings me to why I am once again starting a review by talking about a film I am not reviewing—I chose to review DeepStar Six because I grew up watching it a lot and I wanted to revisit it, and it was one of the films produced at least in some small way in anticipation of competing with a Cameron epic deep-sea horror film (that doesn’t and never was going to exist). And when I first heard this story, I only knew about Leviathan (1989) and DeepStar Six

There were three others made I only stumbled across when I first started researching for this review: The Evil Below (1989), Lords of the Deep (1989), and The Rift/Endless Descent (1990)—which was itself a low budget production also funded by Dino De Laurentiis, who had bankrolled the thematically similar Leviathan as well a bit earlier.

Okay, with that out of the way…

SUMMARY:

DeepStar Six is about a team of US Navy and civilian deep-sea workers setting up a prototype (?) nuclear launch platform on the ocean floor. They’re almost finished (and it’s established that this tour of duty has been longer than originally planned (im-por-taaaant).

While surveying the site they intend to erect the nuke platform on, they detect a cavern under it. The leader of the project on the civilian end decides it should just be… collapsed… or… something? So, they send a couple guys out to do that. That goes poorly.

Then, they…….. Okay, naw. I have to skip to just reviewing because—review spoiler—this one is not really worth a lot of analysis. I can’t fight my urge to talk trash within the summary, so that’s a bad sign.

REVIEW:

Okay, I’ll be honest—I’d watched this movie in double digits when I was younger (my older brother chastising me about that fact every time he witnessed it) and even I remembered it not being great, but I was genuinely surprised on this viewing how well it holds up… for just about the first half.

We’ll return to that magical second half, believe me.

But the first half works.

The characters are introduced naturally enough and all seem to have their place in the station teams and such. Our focus characters are a submarine pilot, McBride—Greg Evigan (mostly of My Two Dads fame to me personally, other than this movie)…

…and another crew member, Joyce (whose role isn’t super clear. Her job puts her in close proximity to this sub pilot, which leads to their joint introduction being intimate and post-coital.  It’s established that sub pilot has never been married because he couldn’t find a woman who would put up with his demanding schedule and all that. She practically beams with desire to assure him that wouldn’t be a problem for her—seeing as how they’ve been getting close on the regular and they do the same kind of work, I’d assume.

But no—he’s a loner Dottie… a rebel.

Other than that, we’ll go fast and loose. The jerky head of the project mentioned earlier, Van Gelder (Marius Weyers), decides to collapse the chamber under the chosen nuke erection site, ignoring Scarpelli’s (Nia Peeples) expert opinion—and hope—that they could find sea life that had been cut off from the rest of the ocean and evolved on its own in parallel. So, long story short… two other minor characters (pleasantly and charmingly played by Thom Bray and Ronn Carroll) blow the cavern, then guide a remote down into it and lose it. They detach their sub from the cat style threaded base and go down into the cavern.

Well, Scarpelli was right!—and we really, really know that because of her lengthy explanation, that is all but crosscut with this scene and also happens to be completely accurate somehow.

The two most fun characters in the film are immediately murdered by… something mysterious…

Said mystery creature then attacks a forward station staffed by Joyce and the probably-Russian Burciaga (Elya Baskin), crippling that station and causing McBride and the tragically underused but great Taurean Blacque as station commander Capt. Laidlaw—although, now that I think about it, his character gets to do something noble and dramatic in the last decent scene in the film so it works out better for him all around—to take a sub out to see why the forward station isn’t responding.

They hook the sub to the damaged, tilting-on-precipice-of-the-deepdeep forward station—‘cause golly, McBride is just the best—and use a manual bypass lever to go inside the station. They find Joyce and a just-dead Burciaga. While leaving, the manual lever inexplicably slips its notches and slams down onto Laidlaw’s midsection, breaking his back. They try to save him, but Laidlaw sees they’re all going to die if he doesn’t do something—so he presses a manual flood of the station, drowning himself and forcing the others to swim for it.

-[ rough mid-point; end of relative goodness ]-

Now that I’ve ruined the decent build-up parts… I’m going to go into a hard nutshell on this one.

After that mid-point, this film is, frankly, a mediocre one-plot time trials race to the bottom of fake-as-hell looking ocean floor. And that’s a snide reference to how some of the deep sea miniature effects are pretty cool… then this one recurring ‘set’ ruins those by being so murky as to look like a VHS transfer to 35mm for some sort of deliberate ‘realism’. Blargh, I say… Blargh and such.

After realizing there is something quite deadly lurking about and killing whatever is moving and/or lit up, they decide to secure the site and leave for the surface.

My favorite actor and character in this film is Miguel Ferrer/Snyder, and that’s for good reason. If you watch this film for no other reason, it should be Snyder’s jerky selfishness and telegraphed need to leave the DeepStar Six station ASAP becoming a bumbling, death-causing, drug-induced psychosis-fueled exodus—and resulting death-splosion of human jam.

Buuut before all that scene-chewing goodbadness, the biggest bullshit thing they make this character do is completely misunderstand the commands their super-secret nuclear erection control computer is presenting him. Van Gelder tells Snyder to ‘secure’ the nukes or something to that effect. While going through the procedure—and highly stressed from being undah dah sea too long, as well as the mystery creature attacks, and completely alone, I might add—he misinterprets the questions and options and basically tells the computer that Russians are trying to take the nukes… So it detonates them.

That goes poorly for good ol’ DeepStar Six station, and after that, Snyder had basically doomed them all (except for the ones who sort-of-secretly like touching each other, and as we find out, literally destined to be together…)

Other than that…?

There’s a pretty gnarly guy-in-diving-suit-gets-bitten-in-half scene—not many of those around. Then Nia Peeples gets eaten in the least convincing death in the movie (which is saying something).

The on-site doctor, Norris (Cindy Pickett)—who also seemed to be the only semi-sympathetic character to the perpetually-losing-it Snyder—goes down in a blaze of… Well, she uses a defibrillator to electrocute the monster—wait, no. She electrocutes a huge amount of water to electrocute the enormous arthropod thing.

There’s also some bullshit late in the move about Joyce hearing God voices or some shit and feeling super-sure everything’s just gonna be peachy. I am not kidding.

Then the true-er-ish climax of the film is of course a desperate battle against the not-actually-dead monster at the ocean surface—that is so badly presented I just…  I just can’t, you guys. It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Okay, have you ever seen Game of Death? That one shot where it’s obviously a promo shot of Bruce Lee himself used as a bad matte over a shot of the body double guy?

This last part is worse than that.

It also reminds me of another film—but in that film, the fake background was intentional and part of the point.

 

WHAT I LIKED:

-The Creature. It’s actually pretty well done and seems to be a decently researched representation of a Eurypterid or other big arthropod from the WayWay Back. I almost added a point back in for the overall quality of the monster… but the script failed it badly enough I just can’t.

-Miguel Ferrer, but I always do.

-The two guys who bite it first are fun to watch.

-Some of the miniatures and underwater pieces are well done.

-Greg Evigan does a pretty good job, if I’m being honest.

-Nia Peeples ‘Scarpelli’ is adorably earnest in a pretty wasted role.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

-The second half is mediocre at best and sometimes painful to watch—for all the wrong reasons.

-I decided not to even go into all the subtle and not-so-subtle limp parallels and visual/scene nods to ALIENS because I already talk about those movies too much and they’re just transparent and weak.

-The last fight scene with the monster is unforgivably cheesy and bad

-Said last scene is immediately followed by (what at least feels like) a ten second shot of the Joyce actress standing and looking at where she’s sure her lover just sacrificed himself to save her… and her diamond-hard nipples are framed prominently in the shot. I actually laughed at how long and obvious the shot was—not the emotion I think they wanted me to feel in that scene.

-Oh and then they rip off fucking JAWS by having McBride burst to the surface behind her, splashing around amidst the debris of the exploded sub… thing… I’m done with this trash movie. Ugh

RATING:

I’ll give DeepStar Six­­­­­­­­­­­­­­………5.0/10 (added a full point because I loved Miguel Ferrer; RIP, good sir)

PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, was released June 2017 by April Moon Books. Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog: https://patrickloveland.com/ 

You can ORDER A TEAR IN THE VEIL FOR on Amazon for $14.99!!


Creature Features in Review: Predator (1987)

We offer here some of the most obscure of monster flicks, creatures of horror of which many perhaps have never heard made mention before. AND sometimes here on this delightful series we have the privilege of examining movies that are considered to be pillars, benchmarks in the history of not just horror but also cinema. PREDATOR is without a doubt one of those landmark movies just about everyone can recognize. Perhaps not PREDATOR 2, but that’s a story for another day. This movie says everything that has to do with 1980s. Over the top action and violence, cheesy one-liners, very simple A to B plot lines, muscles, and…Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not to mention just about every other 80s famous action star, including Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura. While maybe not the greatest film we’ve reviewed here, maybe not the some sci-fi-ish, but I certainly the most iconic. I know people who don’t care much for horror or sci-fi, but they LOVE this movie. PREDATOR defined something about our generation of 1980s kids. Sure, it booted a wonderful R-rating, but there were PREDATOR toys marketed to us, how were we not supposed to watch this movie?

PREDATOR: They Were Skinned Alive – a lecture.

By: Rich Hawkins

Welcome to this lecture. I’m Professor Alan Schaefer. First off, I’d like to have a minute’s silence for Jim Hopper.

*parp*

*snigger*

Okay, that’s done. Right. Well, what can I say about the THIRD greatest film of all time? That’s right, the third. You heard. Stop laughing at the back and listen to what I have to say, you disrespectful fucks! What’s that, you have to go pee-pee? You’re nothing an expendable asset, but okay, just hurry up. I’ll wait. I have time to bleed.

Right, you’re back. At last. You’ve got some splashback on your trousers, but fair enough, I’ll start. Jeez, some people have been pushing too many pencils.

*clears throat, adjusts underwear*

I first watched PREDATOR as a wide-eyed ten year old, after my older brother bought a VHS copy and played it one night for the family to watch. I was terrified – the skinned bodies hanging in the chopper; the death of Hawkins; Billy’s shrill death-scream as he was killed off-screen; all of it. It was just so visceral. Before PREDATOR, I’d never encountered the notion of men being SKINNED ALIVE by an alien killing machine that kept the flayed skulls of its prey as trophies.

It was horrific.

But it was also fucking awesome – from the first scene of the Predator ship arriving at Earth, to Arnie/Dutch finally defeating the alien and getting to the chopper. The last minute or so of the film, with Arnie standing in the smoking ruins of the detonation site; a traumatized man numbed by his hollow victory and the loss of his men, while the rescue helicopter approaches and the theme of bittersweet trumpets and trombones fades into sad clarinet – before kicking back into Alan Silvestri’s main theme – gets me in the feels even now. Absolutely epic. This is not just any generic macho bullshit.

And over the years, I’ve only come to appreciate the film even more. Despite being released in 1987, it’s aged remarkably well, and the special effects hold up. The cast of badass characters and Goddamn sexual tyrannosauruses devour the script of one-liners and with aplomb. Billy, Blaine, Mac, Hawkins, Dillon, and Poncho – all heroic, but ultimately doomed, characters. Mercs and veterans of war unprepared to face a technologically-advanced and ruthless hunter of men. But they go down fighting, all of them, despite being outmatched. Even Dillon, the CIA man with a hidden agenda portrayed by the great Carl Weathers, manages to gain some redemption before getting an arm blown off and being impaled by the Predator.

They’re the best of the best, but over the course of the film – after they’ve destroyed the rebel base – they’re picked off one-by-one by the Predator, who is most definitely not fucking around. But then there’s the main man, Arnie, right in his prime and smoking cigars like a boss. He’s a match for the alien, but only just, and not without some luck. He gets the majority of the one-liners and the action – obviously, as he was arguably the biggest action star in the world at that time – and he makes the most of it. He’s never been better in an action film, in my opinion.

The tension of the film, once poor Jim Hopper and the other Green Berets are found in their crashed chopper, never lets up, but it’s punctuated by the comic one-liners and moments of camaraderie and bleak humour between the members of the squad. It’s a superbly paced film. Hell, it’s a slice of fried gold in a soup of Eighties’ macho-action and gore, and it planted a seed of love for sci-fi horror and monsters within me. It’s only beaten by John Carpenter’s THE THING and ALIENS in my personal list of films. It’s a classic, a holy relic of a film from a time when offence wasn’t so easily taken and action stars were absurdly macho.

So, that’s it.

Thank you, Arnie. Thank you, John McTiernan. And thank you to the squad who were ‘a rescue team, not assassins’. You were the best.

I hope this lecture has been informative. Any questions?

*uncomfortable silence*

Okay, then. No problem. You may go…but don’t forget to GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!!!

*even more of an uncomfortable silence*

Fair enough. Get out of here. You millennials wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with Old Painless in the Val Verde jungle in the Eighties.

Rich Hawkins hails from deep in the West Country, where a childhood of science fiction and horror films set him on the path to writing his own stories. He credits his love of horror and all things weird to his first viewing of John Carpenter’s THE THING. His debut novel THE LAST PLAGUE was nominated for a British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel in 2015. The sequel, THE LAST OUTPOST, was released in the autumn of 2015. The final novel in the trilogy, THE LAST SOLDIER, was released in March 2016.

You can pickup Rich’s unsettling new thriller novella for $2.99!

Black Star, Black Sun by [Hawkins, Rich]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Creature Features in Review: Them! (1954)

Image result for them! 1954 tall poster

The most foreboding title among the horror and science fiction lexicon, besides perhaps IT or They (which is just a cheap knockoff of the more impressive film we’re about to discuss), is the 1954 masterpiece known as Them! Among the many different creature features, be it swamp critters or critters from space or super mutant hybrids, bugs freak me out the most. As defined by the omnipotent Wikipedia, “Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia) is a specific phobia characterized by an excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insect, and classified as a phobia by the DSM-5. More specific cases included apiphobia (fear of bees) and myrmecophobia (fear of ants).” Now, that being said…I think my “fear” can be measured by mass. The smaller the insect, the less I get “freaked out.” Hence, small little pests like flies and mosquitoes are simply put…pests, easily swatted or shooed away. But on the other spectrum, the bigger they get, the more I’m apted to run away screaming. If someone were to make a monster movie with the intention of provoking the mass amount of fear from yours truly, Them! would be the quintessential experience.

But it cannot be done in a silly way. If you want a serious reaction, the movie will need to have a serious undertone. Them! is a perfect example of this. As a fan of most dubbed “classics,” basically timeless pieces of cinematic history, be it 1930s or 40s or 50s or 60s or even those in the Silent Era, I took double pleasure in the fact that this now 63 year old movie can still capture that tension, that wonderful feeling of dread so fantastically. Them!, not too sound too fan-girlish, is utterly amazing. By modern standards, Them! easily tops what producers consider to be blockbusters in not just storytelling and characterization, but also special effects. It makes me curious what original audiences thought when they first sat in their parked fin-tailed red and chrome Chrysler’s at the local drive-in, WITHOUT having been desensitized by years of modern computer generated graphics.

Alas, those day’s are gone forever.

All we can do now is cherish the time we had.

Sad.

Well…

For those who have not had the pleasure, here is a quick synopsis of Them!

“The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.”

Boom. You don’t really need anything more than that, do you? Needless to say, IMDb isn’t wrong. In a nut shell, those are the stakes. A mutated strain of ants are multiplying in the New Mexico desert and could very well threaten civilization. And not just any mutated ant species, but a mutation of the Cataglyphis genus, better known as Desert Ants. These sand dwellers are among the most aggressive of ant. The perfect bugs to supersize for a horror/science fiction movie, right?

Image result for them! 1954

One of the fun aspects of Them! is how the movie starts off and is treated more or less throughout the entirety as a “detective” story. The movie opens with a patrol car doing their normal patrol and pickup a little girl, no more than six years old, strolling through the desert alone dressed in a nightgown and cradling a broken doll. They try talking to her but she is catatonic, speechless, staring blankly out at the brown sand. That feeling of dread we talked about begins to weave slowly into the movie and as the policemen investigate a nearby trailer, finding it mostly destroyed, pulled apart from the outside (they deduce) the tension builds even further.

The next scene certainly adds to not only the mystery but also the horror when police sergeant Ben Peterson’s (played by the very awesome James Whitmore) partner “disappears” off screen investigating a strange sound. He get’s off a couple of shots and then screams, that kind of scream that sends chills down your spine. The sound the officer investigates permeates throughout the entire movie. A familiar nature melody for anyone living in suburbia or out in the country. The sound of cicada or crickets singing in trees or in tall grass. Come summer, that sound is still quite pleasant to me, despite this film’s attempt to ruin it. Though, there is a lingering feeling of “what’s really making that sound? Are they, Them! watching me?”

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And I love how, despite the excellent movie art on the  poster, knowing there will be giant ants in this movie, the story stalls the BIG reveal, forgive the pun, until the absolute right moment. And that moment, much how the newly brought on character, FBI agent, Robert Graham (played by man’s man James Arness), to its frustrating conclusion through the “comic relief” of sorts Professor Harold Medford (played by Santa himself Edmund Gwenn) and his “if a boy can do it a girl can do it too” daughter Dr. Patrica Medford (Joan Weldon). The Dr. Medord’s are not really that comedic, the old man is sort of how we might think brilliant old men are, a tad absent minded to every day tasks, but a genius in their preferred fields of study. And the female Dr. Medford, despite her strong grace of femininity, wasn’t overpowering or preachy. She was meek but smart and willing to go places most men wouldn’t dare go. In a decade before feminism really took off in America, it’s hard to place the purpose of her character. Regardless, I was and am very pleased with her performance, second to her father perhaps, how she was not the ditsy romance how most other movies place actresses. Harold may have been love struck, but everyone else called her Pat, a genderless name, and I prefer it that way.

Image result for them! 1954

The reveal was perfect, as I said. A sandstorm kicks up and everyone’s goggled and stumbling around for clues. Somehow Pat get’s separated from the group. That chilling buzzing, ringing, clicking cicada sound starts again, getting louder and louder, and everyone is looking around wondering what that noice is and where it’s coming from. Above Pat on a dune, emerges a large black head with giant orb eyes long furry antenna and large sharp looking mandibles. She screams, alerting the others who begin opening fire, destroying the ant’s antenna (to the suggestion of Dr. Medford). The ant is killed and while the others are staring at this impossible horror, Dr. Medford makes a statement, the inspiration and message of the entire movie, I think. He says, “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.'” He says something very similar towards the end of the movie, stating, “When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”

The Atomic Age…

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Full of sparking large logos and flashy gadgets and a new generation of fast food and drive-in theaters and modern jazz and rock-in-roll, but this was also an era of uncertainty. Hiroshima and Nagasaki awakened something in humanity. Something more than just awe and dread. Something darker and more pious than religion. The Atomic Age was this new fear of the bomb. Uncertainty over world powers, the growth of the Cold War, and a horizon in modern science to which many did not understand. Not knowing is the greatest fear of all, at least according to H.P. Lovecraft. The Atomic Age also gave birth to this very feature we find ourselves enjoying (hopefully), the birth of unnatural monsters such as Godzilla and Them! Better known as Creature Features.

Them! acts as a cautionary tale. Be warned, what will await us on the other side of the door. Will science bring upon us destruction and darkness? Will man’s ignorance? Them! isn’t about the dangers of real giant bugs, its about consequences. That in everything we do or strive to bring about, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Newton had once said. Its a message every new generation hears, right? Cautionary warnings from the old folks rocking on the porch, talking about how things used to be.

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The rest of Them! takes on that similar detective story we were introduced to in the beginning. They hunt down the hive and destroy the giant ants with poison, only to discover a few  queens had escaped prior. Now the once localized investigation turns into a global event. Hush hush, of course, to avoid widespread panic, the team with the added benefit of the military and select government officials quickly work to destroy Them! But the movie doesn’t end like some monster movies with the creatures being destroyed…there is a feeling of uncertainty, astute given the era, and we are left wondering if perhaps there are more giant mutated ants out in the desert thanks to atomic weaponry. And as Dr. Wedford said, “nobody can predict.”

My rating: 5 out of 5

With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

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Awe, the 90s. Nothing quite hints that you are venturing into the realm of 1990s cinema like introspection, mad science (or fear of science), and Val Kilmer. 90s movies are also grouped into that category of not so cult classics with few actually becoming cult classics, sometimes rightfully so, others…not. Actually, truth be told, there are quite a few 90s flicks most consider to be bombs I, for some off reason, rather enjoy. The Ghost and the Darkness is a great example of a wonderful film that has fallen into obscurity. Lions, Douglas, and The Val Kilmer!!! What more do you need? Some 90s horror flicks are more serious than others, such as The Relic. And others are more comedic, like Tremors. And there are some 90s films too great, too fantastically wrapped in speculation that it ascends all others. I am of course referring to the 1996 debacle that is The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Before we continue, shall we recall this delectable movie?

After being rescued and brought to an island, a man discovers that its inhabitants are experimental animals being turned into strange-looking humans, all of it the work of a visionary doctor.

Have I mentioned how much I love those IMDb synopsis?

Well, they are not entirely wrong. It just feels…horribly vague compared to the drama that surrounds and infuses The Island of Dr. Moreau. What drama you ask? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, lets break this sucker down, shall we? So yes, there is a rescue out at sea when one Edward Douglas (played by the always charming Brit David Thewlis) is on a life-raft set a drift. And our survivor is not alone, there are others with him, and as the movie narrates for us, the survivors are fighting each other over the quickly diminishing supplies. Thus, this very short and easily missed scene establishes for us perhaps what the question is that we’ll be wrestling over, human nature and violence in the ugly face of survival, or so one would think…

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Anyhow. Our survivor is soon rescued and brought to a private island where he can radio for another boat brave enough to venture to this very isolated and secretive island. And just who was his dashing rescuer? Who is the hero who pulled him out of the sea? Val mother f-king Kilmer, playing the role of one Dr. Montgomery, who is questionably a doctor; more a veterinarian. We need to perhaps discuss a little more on Mr. Kilmer. I know there are not too many fans left around seeing how he’s been reduced to playing in horribly produced b-movies nowadays, but this was a shy over twenty years ago (feeling old?). He was in his prime. Some may question if he’d ever had a prime, but I say boo boo to those naysayers. Kilmer was a fantastic actor, from high flying jerk in Top Gun to sociopathic killer turned armed robber in Heat. He’s done drama and comedy and everything in between. Not to mention his stint of the cape crusader in Batman: Forever. Perhaps not the most beloved Batman film, but certainly not the worst. His role as Montgomery felt strangely in tune to the insanity hanging over not only the island but the production as well. Playing both mystic hippy and savior to psychotic and oddly stoic. For me, his Montgomery is one of the better parts of the movie.

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The movie begins to kinda take off at a sprint around the time when our survivor is locked in his room by Montgomery. And one would think there ought to be some feeling of mystery or dread here, give me some lightening and rain, but sadly no. At best, Douglas acts as some spoiled brat, ungrateful for his rescue, and “breaks out” as a teenager escaping being grounded to his room. In fact, let us surmise something important here and now. When I first screened this movie back in the 90s, I was all about seeing Douglas, the survivor and moral judge of the film, as the hero. I was young and understood the world very little. In my mind, he was the good guy because he was simply the protagonist. The soon to be discovered “beasts” were the villains only because they were…well…beasts. Horrible, I know, but hey…I was naive. Watching the movie today, I found myself shouting victor for…everyone else. Even the quack scientist/wanna be god, with a small g, Dr. Moreau (played by an aging and supposedly uncaring let’s collect our paycheck Marlon Brando).

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Not to get ahead of myself. The film does get a little catwampus from here. Douglas goes for a stroll after escaping his room and happens upon some strange sounds. He investigates cause…I guess that’s what you do when you hear strange noises. He soon discovers the source of those macabre screams. It seems one of the locals on the island is giving birth. But this is no normal birth and those physicians, aside from Montgomery, are no normal people. To Douglas they seem like upright horrors with fur and large teeth. Even the soon delivered baby has some rather haunting eyes and a screech that is no utterance of any human baby. To be perfectly honest, this scene is just about perfect and does ring of terror. They baby…whatever it was, mere-goat, looked grotesque and chilling, as if screaming, “Why have you made me?”

Why indeed.

Douglas, terrified, runs off into the woods. He runs into Aissa (played by bug eyed beauty Fairuza Balk) who promises him, what sounds like, a way off the island as long as he promises to take her with him. But that’s not what she does and even if she could, the only ship there is invested with rat-people, very small very CGI rat-people. Anyways, this is where things get kinda of confusing. Aissa leads Douglas to Sayer of the Law, some kind of blind man-goat preacher (played by the always badass Ron Perlman), but why? You’d think maybe the Sayer was some sort of resistance leader against their “creator.” But he isn’t. Sayer preaches the Master’s gospel of non-malevolence. Why did Aissa bring him there if she wanted to escape? Did she even want to escape? I’m so confused…

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And that’s about the summation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Confusion laid on top of more confusion. Especially when Douglas is “captured” and has a long talk with Dr. Moreau about what the good doctor has done and without much build up that Douglas was even religious starts in on this whole blasphemy stick. Crimes against God, with a big G, and so on. I understand the argument, this was the 90s after all and cloning was in the news a lot, something about a cute little goat being cloned and the religious right was on the warpath. But if you’re going to make that argument, you have to lay in some ground work first. Let the audience know Douglas is zealous.

Or not.

Which they didn’t.

And folks like me got really confused over Douglas’s moral standing.

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The confusion perhaps could have something to do with the direction of the movie verses producer expectations. In fact, there’s an entire documentary called Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. Yup. A over an hour long documentary was made on the strange and confusing tale of turning H.G. Wells literary masterpiece of the same title into a movie. Scandal be damned, it’s actually really good. And informative. Needless to say, changing directors and actors mid-stream can create…confusion. I’m actually surprised an actor as iconic as Brando stuck around, unless of course he needed the paycheck.

However…

If given the chance and ignoring some of the confusion its not that bad of a movie. My perspective has certainly changed since my original screening back in 1996. As well it should. Given the twenty some years, my perspective had damn better change some. On Dr. Moreau’s strange island of human-beasts, I first saw them as villains, as monsters, because they looked like monsters. Now I know better. Now I know its not what’s on the outside that make’s us beasts, its what’s on the inside. In our struggle to survive on life boats or how we present ourselves to the world it is our actions that define us. Good or bad. If a movie can teach us that, well…then that’s a pretty damn good movie in my opinion. And besides, its got the Kilmer in it, how could you NOT like it?

My rating: 3.5 out of 5. 

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With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: Jaws (1975)

What is your greatest fear? Everyone is afraid of something, everyone. Some people are skittish about insects, usually particular ones like roaches or spiders. I for one get bugged out, forgive the pun, over roaches. I don’t know why there’s just something about those six-legged bugs that freak me the hell out. Maybe it’s because they are so intrusive. Maybe it’s something on an instinctual level, something to do with the fact that roaches have been on the earth far longer than humans have. They’ve survived greater tests, while we humans, on the other hand, have fundamentally just begun our evolutionary journey. To be perfectly honest, roaches are not my greatest fear. I’m not really afraid of roaches. I get freaked out by them, sure. But to say they conjure from me that primitive nonsensical non-rational feeling of terror, they do not. Do you know what does? The ocean. More particular, sharks. Have been since I was young. And I blame two things for my unconditional dread of the deep blue, the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week program…and Jaws. Why? Why not! Have you seen a shark? They are the apex predators in the water. And me, personally, I’m rather fond of land. Irrational or not, sharks are bloody huge with jagged rows of sharp teeth, the quintessential image of horror. And I’ll leave it to our guest author to tell you why Jaws is probably one of the most terrifying of all Creature Features.

Jaws (1975)

By: Chad A. Clark

In the history of cinematic scoring, there has been a ton of legendary work. The landscape is about as rich and varied as the movies themselves. However, one theme stands out above all the rest as one of the most evocative, one that, whenever you hear it, you’re going to have a reaction. And the composer, John Williams, managed to accomplish it with two notes. Daaaaa-dum.

Daaaaa-dum.

Seriously, chances are you already know what I’m referring to, just by reading it. It’s a movie theme that will stay with us until the end of time. And if you are roughly of my generation and disposition, it is a movie that has forever scarred you whenever you dare to swim in open water.

The irony about Jaws is that many people likely don’t even consider it to be a horror movie. Maybe because, instead of serial killers or vampires or zombie clown nazis, it’s about a fish.

And yes. Sharks are fish, not mammals.

Don’t lie, you were thinking it.

Anyway, while Jaws might not be a film that people would classify as horror, there has been no other film that has had such a long-lasting effect on my psyche. I wasn’t lying or being sarcastic at the outset. I have never been comfortable swimming in anything other than a pool. Even in fresh water ponds and lakes, I’m usually convinced that a twenty-five-foot shark is poised to drag me to a watery grave.

The shark in Jaws is no different than any other horror movie monster, it just happens to be based on a real world animal. But real sharks don’t act like that. Real sharks don’t have those kinds of proportions. Or at least, they’re very rare. The shots in the film of Richard Dreyfuss’ character underwater in the shark cage? They did that by putting a tiny person in a miniaturized cage to make the sharks look bigger than they really are. The shark in Jaws is a caricature.

It’s a monster. Of the worst kind.

Jaw’s (I’m just going to start using that as if it’s the shark’s name) is unrelenting. Jaw’s don’t give a damn who you are, what your hopes and dreams are. Jaw’s looks at you and he sees a warm-blooded, walking and talking snack. He sees you when you’re blissfully unaware, paddling away until those teeth clamp down and that’s all she wrote. Jaw’s comes along as a massive metaphor for our own mortality and takes anyone in its path and turns them into digestive material.

You can’t control him. You can’t fight him. You can’t beat him.

Well, unless you’re Roy Scheider. Then you can beat him. I guess.

I think part of what makes Jaws brilliant as a creature is how little we see of him in the film. Other than some images of his face and head, some teeth gnashing and blood and gurgling, we don’t really see him until the very end of the film. Otherwise, he is mostly an ominous presence in the water, something that can show up at any time.

One of my favorite moments in the film is so terrifying and graphic but at the same time is so straight forward, you almost miss it. It’s the shot of the boy being attacked while on his inflatable raft. It happens far off from shore and all you see, through the crowd of other swimmers is something come up out of the water. He’s knocked off the raft and as he rolls, there is this fountain of blood up into the air. It happens in a few seconds and almost goes unnoticed. There is this moment of shocked silence before the whole beach becomes bedlam as everyone scrambles for shore. That moment in the film has stayed with me for so long. Just seeing a casual, relaxing environment turned instantly into a killing field is classic and brilliantly done. The speed and viciousness of the kill is still chilling to watch for me, even after so many years.

I have been scared plenty of times by movies. The slasher movies of the eighties scared the crap out of me and there have been plenty of supernatural based films that have had me up at night. But for the most part, the effect of those films is temporary and fades with time. I have never lost the inherent, fundamental fear that was planted into my root programming by seeing Jaws. It is a movie that forever changed me, as well as my ability to ever comfortably swim again.

Thanks, Spielberg.

Chad A. Clark is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945) and House of 1000 Corpses and Jeepers Creepers. Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.

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Creature Features in Review: Alien (1979)

By now we must have realized, this subgenre, this oddly obscure realm we call “creature features,” that blends science fiction and horror together, is fantastically intelligent as it is perspicacious, understanding the needs of the times, the questions that demand to be (not necessarily answered) dragged out into the light. Questions of ecology, science, naturalism, humanism, and even biology, questions of our own innate taxonomy. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Which ultimately brings us to the chef d’œuvre question of all humanistic endeavor, what else is out there? Today’s movie up for review on Creature Features in Review is one of those rare gems that combined thrilling storytelling and special effects and atmosphere to have the most impact in raising those eerily human questions. While the sequel, Aliens, may have been the bigger blockbuster, some of the thrills had been lost, the question had already been answered. In Aliens, we knew what was out there. In Alien, storyteller Dan O’Bannon, and director Ridley Scott, not only forced us to question our place in the cosmos but also in the cosmos of our own flesh.

Alien: You’ll Get Whatever’s Coming to You…

by William D. Prystauk

In 1979, after much print-based-hype, especially if one was a fan of science fiction and read “Starlog” on a regular basis, Ridley Scott’s ALIEN hit screens that summer. It wasn’t hard for sci-fi and horror geeks to get worked up because many publications ran some of H. R. Giger’s conceptual art, which rocked many readers. Other conceptual drawings, from the look of the Nostromo, to space suits, and even land vehicles, kept those readers intrigued about what was to come.

The late, great Dan O’Bannon penned the script from a story he developed with Ron Shusett. Written with a budget in mind, he never expected the screenplay to get A-list support from 20th Century Fox – but they were hungry. After the unexpected blockbuster success of 1977’s STAR WARS, they wanted something else in a galaxy far, far away. And as the story goes, when O’Bannon said ALIEN was “JAWS in space,” that sealed the deal (O’Callaghan).

Originally entitled STAR BEAST (thank the stars they changed it), the story features the crew of the Nostromo (Italian for “shipmate”), a barge in space hauling megatons of ore across the cosmos, who are in hibernation as they await orders from “Mother,” their onboard computer, to wake them up once they get closer to Earth. Mother picks up a supposed distress signal, and the crew’s awakened prematurely to check it out. Landing on a cold dwarf planet, three members of the seven-person team head out to find the vessel to see if they can save any souls. Instead, they return with an infected crew member, and in short order, their souls need saving.

Although Dan O’Bannon said, “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” the film stands as an original (Macek). Many have made comparisons to PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and even THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, but ALIEN brought audiences many new elements they had never seen before in a science fiction horror.

Here’s why ALIEN (including material from the 1979 theatrical release and 2003’s director’s cut) is one of the greatest films of all time…

A Stellar Cast, an Out of this World Director

It’s hard to find films in any genre where every cast member is a standout. Other than David Mamet’s remarkable GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, ALIEN ranks at the top: Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, and Sigourney Weaver. (Helen Horton gave us the firm and foreboding, yet oddly seductive voice of Mother, and Bolaji Badejo, in his only film role, became Giger’s alien entity). Cartwright, Holm, Skerritt, and Stanton had been building their reputations on the small and silver screen since the fifties, Hurt and Kotto since the sixties, and after a couple of lesser roles, ALIEN proved to be Weaver’s breakout role as Lieutenant Ripley.

This acting foundation alone said much about the script’s value as well as 20th Century Fox’s commitment to the production. Some may say they were taking a chance with Scott, who only had his feature directorial debut two years before with THE DUELLISTS, but the film had received critical acclaim in short order – and all this after Scott had taken an eight-year hiatus from directing television episodes.

Galactic Feminism

If STAR WARS were one of the first science fantasy films to feature a woman who didn’t scream, hide behind a manly-man, or faint thanks to Carrie Fisher’s strong-willed and determined Princess Leia, ALIEN’s Lieutenant Ripley took the liberation to a whole new level.

Third officer Ripley and Cartwright’s Lambert are the only female team members, and they are simply a part of the crew. Lambert’s the co-pilot/navigator, and Ripley’s a communication’s officer, and the third in charge after Captain Dallas (Skerritt) and Kane (Hurt). The women are on equal terrain and respected, other than an innuendo from Parker (Kotto) because he may have been in space without a partner for too damn long.

Although Lambert may come undone in the film, this is because of her character and the traumas she’s experienced, not because she’s a woman. After all, even Parker’s waylaid by the death of his friend Brett (Stanton), and his strong exterior waivers on a couple of occasions regardless of his anger and determination.

Ripley, on the other hand, has several facets to her character: She’s logical and pragmatic, and respects command, even with her role in the officer food chain. When that rank is challenged by Ash, the science officer, she visits him in his lab for a private meeting to lay down the law. Though that turns out to be a wash, Ripley stands her ground and left nothing to the imagination. Later, when the issue of quarantine comes up again, Ripley’s passive-aggressive comment is her version of an “I told you so.” To make certain Parker and Brett are working on ship repairs, she once again walks into that crew member’s domain to make certain she’s heard and understood. When Lambert slaps Ripley for wanting to keep her, Dallas, and Kane in quarantine for 24-hours, Ripley goes to war, and Parker and Brett must break up the pair.

Even with all the hell from an attacked crew member to the whereabouts of the face-hugger, when Ripley’s freaked out, she pulls herself together in short order. When she finally takes command, instead of trying to define her role with a new idea to destroy the alien, her logic and pragmatism shine through. Since Dallas’ plan is a viable one, Ripley goes with it. However, as a leader, she’s comfortable enough to ask if there are any other suggestions. If anyone thinks this represents a lack of confidence on her part, Ripley’s quick and loud in drowning out an overly frustrated Parker, and she has no problem telling Ash that he hasn’t been doing a damn thing to help. (If she hadn’t asked Ash earlier for suggestions about capturing or killing the alien, he may not have done anything at all.)

Ultimately, Ripley has to be her own savior and to do so, she must overcome her fear of an unyielding enemy while under the strictest of deadlines, and even with that pressure and need for self-preservation she has enough humanity to try and save the Nostromo mascot, Jonesy the cat.

Atmosphere

Nothing works like isolation in a horror film. ALIEN features a small crew packed into the heart of a smaller ship, which is equivalent to a tug boat. And if that tugboat starts to capsize, there’s a small escape ship – a life raft – that can only fit three.

Even worse, the Nostromo is akin to being lost at sea. Due to the early wake up from Mother, they’re 70 million miles from the Milky Way and would have to go back to the old “freezerinos” for another ten-month sleep. There are no other ships in their part of the void. They are as alone as a group of people can get. And to add an exclamation point to the Nostromo crew’s predicament, ALIEN’s tagline says it all: “In space no one can hear you scream.”

Right from the beginning, from Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Derek Vanlint’s cinematography, as well as Ian Whittaker’s set decoration, it’s clear the Nostromo is an all work and no play environment. Seating’s cramped at the front of the ship. And everything’s cold and dark. There may be light and white in the dining and sleeping quarters, but the remainder of the ship is either cavernous, though still encroaching, and the passageways are reminiscent of catacombs. Due to the small crew and the workload, the Nostromo is far from ship-shape. The equivalent of equipment based debris seems to appear at every turn, the lighting’s questionable in spots, and the nether regions of the vessel are cold and dank.

The only time we truly have any sense of peace and hope is at the very beginning and at the very end. Before ALIEN’s story gets underway, the hibernation area is all white with a center cylinder with each crew member extending from that “stem” to form the petals of a flower that blooms once they awaken. They each wear white undergarments, and they arise as if newborns from the bassinet of a hospital’s maternity ward. And they are born anew on a journey they never saw coming.

At the end, Ripley hibernates with Jonesy. A white glow emanates from her protective pod, another womb to nurture her, and we have the sense that she will awake as a new, stronger, and virtually fearless person. To add an exclamation to Ripley’s rebirth: Upon the annihilation of the Nostromo at her own hand, she bears witness to her own “Big Bang” and recreates herself. She becomes her own mother and gives birth to her new self as both creator, destroyer, and preserver, much like the Hindu goddess, Kali Ma. Once transformed, she not only overrides her fear in strong fashion but quickly forms a solid plan to vanquish her foe.

Space Relations

The status quo continues in ALIEN. Providing a dim look of the future, the white and blue collar mix of the crew remains stuck in the doldrums of working for “the company.” Regardless of the manual Ripley tries to cling onto, Captain Dallas is quick to point out that one does what the company tells one to do. This also means the object of fairness doesn’t hold up either. Both Parker and Brett signed on, but with their contracts, especially when it comes to “the bonus situation,” the pair won’t receive full shares.

Better still to make certain the Nostromo crew checks out that distress beacon, the fine print in their contract has a “full forfeiture of shares” clause if they decide to skip the alarm and head back home. (Mother, acting like Big Brother, would undoubtedly show through report tracking that the crew never left the vessel to check for survivors.)

We understand that as the crew is screwed by their employer, most of us have similar stories where the company that gives us a check every two weeks undermined us in some way, shape, or form. And when it comes to a cafeteria, and according to Parker, the only good thing on the ship is the coffee.

Parker wants to get home and party, but as team leader, Dallas has had it. At different times, he tells both Lambert and Parker to “knock it off” because as middle management, he’s just done. As he sits in the escape ship and tries to relax to classical music, we can imagine him trying to determine how the hell he’s going to write a report about this mess. But he has nothing to fear because a mole is amongst the crew who will help fulfill a different set of obligations for the company.

By not giving “the company” a name, it can be any entity we may work for on our little blue ball. Plus, with Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, we see the trouble of putting sponsors’ names on video phones and space ships, because Pan Am and The Bell System are long gone – though Hilton could build a space station in the next century.

Due to these items, and the wearing of many hats – those mining vehicles aren’t going to move themselves – the crews’ dissatisfaction may mirror our own.

Intercosmic Dialogue

Before ALIEN, most science fiction films were built on the backs of conservative, military-like communication full of boring conversation or scientific mumbo-jumbo or stiff reporting full of salutes. Right from the beginning, we can relate to the crew as “regular people” due to the dialogue and their exchanges. They curse, they rub each other the wrong way like children – “That’s not our system,” says Ripley, and Lambert almost sings her response as if a kid who doesn’t want to be bested, “I know that” – and Parker wants to get back home, with bonus in hand, and “party.”

However, the film goes one step further to make the dialogue and exchanges ring true. When the dead facehugger falls to the lab floor, Ash asks if it came from the overhead. Traumatized by the experience in his own way, Dallas peers down at their deceased guest and says in an annoyed fashion, “It was up there somewhere.”

When four crew members remain, a stressed out and now in command Ripley lays down the plan, which is a continuation of the old one. Parker’s also stressed and angered, and says, “Let’s hear it” as Ripley tries to speak, causing her to raise her voice and yell at Parker. Anxiety and frustration take their toll:

Ripley (to Parker): …We’ll move in pairs. We’ll go step by step and cut off every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered, and then we’ll blow it the fuck out into space. Is that acceptable to you?

Parker: If it means killing it then it’s acceptable to me.

Ripley: Obviously it means killing it.

Having characters joke, speak over each other, and go from being ticked off to being accepting, serves as one of the best reflections of genuine dialogue and speaking patterns. This realness allows the audience to better connect with the characters due to this relatable and grounded communication. The crew may reside in the future, may live on a space vessel, but the audience knows exactly where they’re coming from.

The Universal Other

Like John Carpenter’s THE THING, ALIEN not only introduces “the Other,” the alien that must be assimilated or destroyed, but the Nostromo crew is “the Other” as well. Humans are not natural to space and the dwarf planet they land on is as alien to them as it is to the alien. Neither belong. But what Ash calls, “the perfect organism,” the creature’s as fearless as a honey badger and there’s no negotiation or assimilation. It’s kill or be killed. At no point does Parker try to sit down with the monster in a weak attempt to get the alien to help with the bonus situation.

No other monster from another planet in all the early science fiction fair has a life cycle like this one: From a leathery egg comes a spider-like facehugger that unleashes another egg through the mouth and down the throat of a host. Serving its purpose, and after the internal egg is protected and ready to hatch, the facehugger dies. Soon after, the young creature bursts from its host, killing the animal it leaves behind in the process and takes off on its own. In short order, the little monster that bleeds acid becomes a bipedal giant ready to kill, consume, and get the cycle up and running again. This means the Nostromo crew is left to fight an extraterrestrial endoparasitoid, which is an alien parasite that lives inside another creature and kills it. Wow.

Macrocosmos of Mysteries

ALIEN certainly has its mysteries. This doesn’t mean O’Bannon’s writing had flaws or that Scott overlooked things, but what follows are points to consider.

“Better break out the weapons”

Before heading outside to check on the distress beacon, Dallas uses that line before the away party suits up. Inside the Space Jockey’s vessel, Kane holds up a gun-like weapon right before the facehugger greets him with a kiss. The company supplied weapons are never mentioned again, and only primitive ones make from scratch are used. Why? Maybe the weapons were garbage, or more logically since the alien bleeds acid, which could burn through the hull, forcing it into the airlock with a flame thrower to send it into outer space is probably the best solution.

First Contact

If the company sent up a robot to protect the alien and bring it back to Earth, how did it know about the creature in the first place? Maybe another expedition came along, and unlike Kane, those miners in space suits decided not to break that layer of mist and get up close to those eggs. Then again, maybe they did. Maybe they lost a crew member (or two or three), but won in the end and made it home to give a full report. That report became the catalyst to send out another crew in that general area to unwittingly bring the creature home.

Ancient Computers

Often forgiven by fans and critics since the movie was made in pre-personal computer 1979, Mother, her special “Eyes Only” room, and the computer graphics raise questions. In 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, regardless of space flight, HAL 2000, and major technological advances, the astronauts still had to use clipboards as they sail towards Jupiter. When it comes to predicting what the hell we might have or create in a future world can prove daunting (follow the haircuts and clothing styles, as well as social interactions to help date films even more). Maybe the best reason one can use is that the Nostromo is an absolute worker bee of a ship, which means it doesn’t have state of the art anything. However, maybe as an homage to Kubrick, Scott created Mother and her room in HAL-esque style. Too bad the crew couldn’t speak to Mother, and she never even sang them a song.

The Signal

Why would Dallas and company venture out into the unknown when Mother hadn’t deciphered the beacon? If they had waited another hour or two, they would have had a better clue about what was awaiting them. The answer may be Dallas’ grumpiness, which on some level mimicked Parker’s, as well as that old favorite feeling that can bring fortune or failure: curiosity. And maybe due to their ho-hum mining drudgery, no one puts the breaks on the “rescue mission.”

“Why don’t you just freeze him?!”

Curiosity also reigns supreme when Kane and facehugger come on board. Parker says the “freeze him” line on several occasions, but Dallas and Ash take no heed or pay him no mind. The nature of discovery has taken them over.

Locked Up

How did Jonesy end up in that closed locker? Since this is the first time we see the Nostromo mascot, and Brett, Parker, and Ripley certainly didn’t expect to find him there, one of the others must have put him in there, which would have been cruel. Or, he could have been accidentally locked in when someone was working or getting some supplies by the locker.

How old are you now?

Interstellar space travel will either leave aging astronauts to die aboard ship with the next generation to take over the journey, or some sort of hibernation will exist. After returning from the dwarf planet, a ten-month journey remains for the crew. We don’t know how long they’ve been out there or how long their mining assignment has taken, but that had better be some pretty expensive or rare ore to send a crew so far out into the cosmos. Does this mean their families are in hibernation as well? If not, their spouses, partners, and children, if they have any, of course, are going to age every time they head out to gather some ore. Check out “The Long Morrow” from “The Twilight Zone” to see what will happen if you don’t get it right.

Space Rape

This thematic dynamic may not be the reason ALIEN is at the top of the science fiction horror list, but it’s quite notable. In an interview, O’Bannon made this frightening comment:

“One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number’” (Dietle).

And O’Bannon does just that. Not only does the facehugger do the above, but the adult alien sports a phallic like head and behind its silvery, dripping teeth exists a phallic juggernaut of a secondary mouth that juts out in erect fashion to tear apart flesh and bone as it penetrates the heads of both Brett and Parker. Its phallic-esque tale rips into Lambert.

When searching for the facehugger, Ash and Dallas do so with long-lighted prods. As Ripley looks about, Ash tells her not to do so without “one of these,” and holds up his prod. Ripley doesn’t grasp one.

But the crew fights phallus with phallus from the cattle prods to give the creature “incentive,” to the pointed motion detector, to the flame throwers, and to the gun and its respective grappling hook. (Both Ripley and Lambert wield the phallic detectors – Ripley does this with ease, but Lambert has issues.)

Feminine imagery exists as well. Dallas, Kane, and Lambert enter the Space Jockey’s ship through a hole. And the Jockey has a hole in its chest, as Kane will soon have. Dallas enters the duct system with his flamethrower, and the round hatches shut him off as he enters the hollow shafts within the ship. Finally, when Ripley squares off against the creature, she uses that phallic grappling hook to propel her foe through the open hatch of her escape craft, and when the creature tries to enter through one of the open engine exhausts, Ripley turns on the afterburners and blows him away once and for all.

Celestial Conclusion

The story, acting, direction, music, dialogue, set and setting, make ALIEN a film to be reckoned with. Due to the realism of the characters, their emotions and reactions, Scott’s film transcends genre labels. In this sense, O’Bannon, Shusett, and company created a remarkable tale to capture the imagination – and fear – of any audience.

Sources
Dietle, David. “Alien: A Film Franchise Based Entirely on Rape.” Cracked. Cracked, 02 Jan 2011. Web. 06 May 2017.
Macek, J. C., III. “Deconstructing the Star Beast: How the ‘Alien’ Saga Went
Wrong.” PopMatters. PopMatters.com, 04 May 2015. Web. 06 May 2017.
O’Callaghan, Paul. “Ridley Scott: Five Essential Films.” BFI. British Film Institute, 28 Nov 2014. Web. 06 May 2017.

William D. Prystauk (aka Billy Crash) cohosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes and at http://crashpalaceproductions.com. He’s in pre-production of a dramatic science fiction feature film he’ll shoot in Seattle with his company, Crash Palace Productions. When he’s not listening to punk rock and leaving no sushi behind, he indulges in the food group better known as chocolate. Follow him on Twitter as @crashpalace, and look for him under his real name at LinkedIn, IMDb, Amazon, Behance, and at http://williamdprystauk.com.

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