The Mad Mind of Author Thomas S. Flowers

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Creature Features in Review: Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

Spiders.

There is no middle ground. You love them or you hate them. You either gently put them back outside when you find one in the bathroom, or you go Ripley on the bastards with a can of aerosol deodorant and a lighter.

Having had a terrible, life-changing spider experience myself, I come down pretty firmly on the Screw the Biosphere, Annihilate All Arachnids side of things. And yet, I am compelled to watch the 1977 movie, Kingdom of the Spiders, three or four times a year. Why would I put myself through that psychological torture?

Because this movie is freakin’ amazing, that’s why.

The story is basic bio-horror, where humans and their usage of pesticides are the real enemies. All that wanton spraying of DDT has killed off the smaller animals usually eaten by tarantulas. Out of necessity, and possibly anger, the tarantulas have banded together into a supergroup, much like Asia or The Traveling Wilburys. Working together, they can take down much larger prey. Cows! Biplane pilots! William Shatner!

That’s right. William Shatner. Before you start doing that Captain Kirk impression in your mind, understand that out of all the Shatners that Bill Shatner has ever shat, this is the least Shatner of all the Shatners. He gives a fine, almost realistic, performance in this movie. No chewing scenery, no unfortunate soliloquies. He knows he’s in a crappy B-movie, yet he sets his histrionics on stun.

Shatner plays a veterinarian with the awesome name of Rack Hansen. Can you imagine all the stuff you could get away with if your name were Rack Hansen?

“I’m sorry, Golden Corral server named Marla, but I won’t be paying for this meal, for I am… RrrrrrrACK HANSENNnnnnn.”

“I understand, Mr. Hansen. Please come back and bring condoms, for I want to make sweet ham fat love to you by the meat carving station.”

It all starts with a calf, dead for reasons Hansen can’t quite comprehend. He sends a sample of the calf’s blood to the lab and the lab sends back a woman. Not the standard way to respond to blood samples, but it works in this case. The woman, Diane Ashley (Tiffany Boling), is an arachnologist… arachnidiatrist… a spider doctor person. Turns out the calf was killed by an insane amount of spider venom. The guy who owned the calf (Woody Strode) says something to the effect of, “Oh, that explains the giant fucking spider hill behind my house with thousands of tarantulas crawling around it.”

The puny humans make an attempt to burn the spider hill, but those clever tarantulas have an escape tunnel. They regroup and begin an attack on the town itself.

It’s never explained how the pesticides give the tarantulas human emotions, like anger or the desire for crawling revenge, but soon, the little bastards are on the rampage, tearing through a small town in Arizona. It’s like a small, eight-legged version of The Warriors, as the humans try to make their way to Camp Verde, a resort where they can hide and be safe. It’s their Coney Island. Meanwhile, the Gramercy Riffs (the spiders) are hot on their tails, leaving cocooned victims in the streets behind them.

There are so many spiders in this movie, most of them actual live tarantulas, and if you love the creepy-crawly little things, be warned. I think some of them get smashed on camera. They used fake spiders, too, so there’s no way of really knowing. It’s certainly not at the Cannibal Holocaust level of animal violence, but there’s your trigger warning.

If you can get past that, you’re in for a real treat with this movie. The spiders show up in waves, like the little aliens from Space Invaders. There’s a lengthy sequence where the tarantulas attack the center of town, and it’s surprisingly brutal. Bloody dead kids wrapped in webs lying on the sidewalk like Pez dispensers for spiders. Panic in the streets. One elderly man goes shuffling in front of the camera with a real tarantula on his Sunday hat. He just wanted to make it to Golden Corral before Rack Hansen used all the ham fat! Now he’ll never use that AARP discount.

What’s the deeper meaning of it all? Tarantulas are creepy. That’s it! There ya go. This is a movie for loving, not analyzing. As far as the eco-terror genre goes, Kingdom of the Spiders is one of the most effective entries because it doesn’t beat you in the face with any Silent Spring manifesto. It is way more concerned with dropping live tarantulas onto actors getting paid scale and recording their terrified reactions. Cruel? Probably. Does it work? Hell, yeah.

The ending, which involves an egregious matte painting, is rightfully infamous, but even that works within the context of things. For a film with no CGI and William Shatner, there’s no other way the movie could end.

Ridiculously entertaining while remaining fairly grounded in reality, Kingdom of the Spiders is a must-see. While it has been made fun of by professional movie riffers, watch it straight before you indulge in that kind of wackiness. Like your spouse’s siblings, Kingdom of the Spiders deserves respect and the benefit of the doubt before you make fun of it behind its back.

Jeffery X. Martin is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elders Keep universe. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work, including his latest novel, Hunting Witches, on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. When Mr. X is not writing creepy mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and review sites, including but not limited to, Popshifter, Kiss the Goat, and the Cinema Beef Podcast. He is a frequent contributor to Machine Mean, reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and Squirm (1976).

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Everyone in Elders Keep knows you don’t wander into Parham’s Field at night. But when a body is discovered there in the heat of the summer, Sheriff Graham Strahan and historian Josie Nance must uncover the truth. Their meeting with a mysterious old man reveals a tragic and terrifying romance that stretches from the 1970’s to the present. It is a journey to the festering abscesses of the human heart, a dark love story told as only Jeffery X Martin can tell it.


Creature Features in Review: Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Wes Craven’s 1994 New Nightmare was a movie ahead of its times. In that I mean, the way the story was told, the significance of something we make-believe into being real (knowing it is actually fictional) and having it given back to us as this make-believe thing made real by our own imagination. That was kind of the genius of Craven’s New Nightmare. Freddy wasn’t real, but we pretended he was, as we do with all characters we watch on the big screen, small screen, or even in print, and yes even the horrorish ones. New Nightmare played on that, trapping the imaginative character Freddy in the make-believe world until the “movies” ended and thus releasing the bonds that kept imagination captive. Suddenly Freddy is real because WE made him real. Very clever, if you sit for a spell and think about it. Unfortunately, much like Jason Goes to Hell, audiences, and fans of the Nightmare on Elm Street series were expecting…well…what they have been accustomed to and not this metaphysical metaphor of fantasy meets reality through a sort of cognitive mythological construct. Not all movies fall prey to being ahead of their time. Take 2011’s Cabin in the Woods as a perfect example of the right kind of out of the box thinking movie coming out at the right moment in our social environment, which is to say at the very least uncertain.

Cabin in the Woods

By: Jeremy Flagg

I was raised on 80’s slasher films. Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween filled my nights, and as an adolescent, they may have altered my childhood. However, these classic horror films provided ample education. I learned at an early age, you never separate from your friends, you never skinny dip, you never get drunk, and by all means, never lose your virginity in a sketchy locale. While a multitude of movies have attempted to recreate these classic tactics of terror, few have ever lived up to the original.

In walk Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard with Cabin in the Woods.

Horror movies have a recipe. With an ample suspension of disbelief, a movie builds tension, redirects our fear, and then in a moment of complacency, it scares. This recipe is repeated with variation for a little over an hour and somehow, at the end, our “final girl” perseveres by eliminating the big bad. We are put again into suspense as the credits end and claws emerge, or a hand rises from the grave, or a mask is picked up. There is a formula we’ve grown comfortable with, when it is tampered with, we get uneasy. However, Cabin in the Woods examines this formula, uses it, stomps on it, laughs at it, uses it again, and at the end, we’re left blinking in an entertained disbelief.

It starts with scientists talking about child safety cabinets and how only they and Japan remain viable options. What? Isn’t Cabin in the Woods a movie about a group of people going on a mini vacation to a vacant cabin in the middle of the, well, woods? Cue title scene and then onto the movie we expect.  A fun flirty vibe, filled with sunshine, dreams and the need for relaxation. We have all the expected character tropes necessary to make a mediocre horror film; the jock, the overachiever, the stoner, the sexy girl and the kind of nice guy who we instantly forget is in the movie. Everything about this post screams “middle of the road.” Or does it?

True to form, we’re ten minutes into the film and the group of soon to be killed young adults have met the old man who gives foreboding advice. However, in every scene, we see a hint of something. A man following them reports to his superiors. The old man makes a phone call asking for approval. A flying eagle crashes into an unseen wall. A room in the cabin holds a one-way mirror. There is a horror movie laid on top of something, perhaps a conspiracy? We’re barely into the movie and we already know we’re being played with and it’s not being subtle. Are we seeing hints of a twist? It must be a twist because goodness knows every movie has to have an obnoxious twist at the end. That’s how horror is done.

As the screen zooms out, we realize the scientists are watching the five young adults. Wait, that’s not how horror goes? These goons are watching them, luring them into this horrific situation. Lowering inhibitions with chemicals and increasing their libido, we have no idea to what end, but we know they’re setting them up for disaster. It’s only made more comical as they take bets on how the group will die. We have no idea why this is happening, but we know that the scientists can only lead them to a dangerous situation. The group must begin the catalyst that will set them up for death.

Now let’s recap, cause from here on out something serious changes in this movie. We know it’s a horror movie. We know the scientists are setting the scene for this horror movie. We know death is coming, but we’re still not entirely sure why. As they are led to the basement where a variety of talismans and treasures are stored, we discover they will choose their fate. Zombie redneck tortured family. Meanwhile, a similar fate is befalling a group of Japanese school children, a scenario competing with our movie for victims.

The movie adds a new element, horror movie as a spectator sport. However, the darker, and even more genius aspect is that we, the viewer are part of the movie. Much like the scientists watching their hidden cameras, we are rooting for the body count to begin. As danger looms on the horizon, we are hoping for a massacre. We want those partaking in dangerous activities such as drinking, drugs, or sex to fall victim to the classic horror deaths. And when the sex kitten is about to pull off her blouse, we want her to die. Then she resists and plays coy and we, along with a room full of watching spectators groan. Then science jumps in, releasing a pheromone mist.

Wait, does this potentially explain why in every horror movie stupid stuff happens? Were deranged scientists aiding Jason and those campers were all just victims of a mastermind game player? Did chemicals being pumped into the bedrooms of teenagers bring on Freddy as a hallucination? I’m left pondering if everything I’ve been told is a lie. But wait, I’ll worry about that later, because redneck zombies are about to start killing people. Did I just cheer? Maybe.

!!! Spoilers Below !!!

As redneck pain-loving zombies achieve their first kill (a girl about to get her groove on) we’re introduced to a new piece of the puzzle. Somehow, the scientists are culling the blood of the victims in some sort of ceremonial effort. Our next clue comes from the drug-addled hippy that is so used to altering his mind, the chemicals created by the scientists do little to affect him. Cue more classic death scenes, often times paired with comedic lines from the viewers in the bunker of scientists. When the victims refuse to split up, scientists manipulate the scene forcing the classic tropes to align to their 80’s horror counterpart.

Cabin in the Wood teaches us that a healthy addiction to Weed can save us in a horror movie.

The movie gets, even more, meta as the remaining two survivors find themselves in an elevator going down into the bunker hidden beneath the cabin. Locked in cages, we see a variety of classic horror monsters. Werewolves, giant bat things, even a unicorn are kept in cages, waiting to be called upon to slay the innocent. As the fool, our high-as-a-kite unlikely hero and the virgin unleash havoc on the underground bunker, releasing hordes of b-rate horror atrocities, we find ourselves cheering on the death yet again. We’re not quite right in the head.

As the final showdown begins, we’re not given a Final Girl showdown of immense proportions. Sigourney Weaver says that if the heroes live, they will destroy the world. The heroes, the ones we’ve been rooting for, either die, or we all die. I’m not sure if I’m annoyed or I commend them as they decide to live, thereby destroying the world. But, you know, it happens.

The snappy dialogue mixed with this meta look at horror creates something entirely new to the genre. We find ourselves cheering on the heroes, only to condemn them, and wanting more mayhem. We learn quickly that we, the viewers of this disaster, are really quite twisted. Most of all, we’re really excited that we got to watch a unicorn slaughter a man. At the start of the review, you had no idea a unicorn would be whom we cheered on. Cause you know, it’s a horror movie.

Jeremy Flagg is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us Final Girls during our Freight Fest series, he also is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes. For more information about Jeremy, visit www.remyflagg.com.

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Creature Features in Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

I think we all have our list of movies that affected us in some way as a child. Both positive and I’m sure there are plenty of negative feelings towards movies out there too, either because they were horrible or horriful, depends on the person watching. Honestly, my bar is so low its hard to watch a movie, even a really cheesy one, and walk away hating it. There are plenty of other people more critical, and I’ll leave it to them to right the ship on movie reviews. There’s also a degree of separation we need to consider. The movies we 80s kids watched in either the late 80s or 90s that were totally awesome back in the day but watching them now almost feels embarrassing. 1997’s SPAWN is probably one of the best examples of that degree of separation. Back in the 90s, us fans of the demonic hero comic were more than ecstatic to watch the live-action version, but I challenge you to watch SPAWN (fan or no) now and not feel at least a smidge bit embarrassed that you at one point in your life thought this flick was the bee’s knees. However, there are some movies that surpass and shatter the nostalgic lens and are just great movies. Jurassic Park is one of those movies, for me at least. I have fond memories of seeing this movie as a 90s young teen. This was, in fact, the LAST movie I had gone to the theaters with my entire family (mom, dad, & sister) to see. So there’s that, a very nostalgic feeling, but Jurassic Park is also just a great movie all around, a classic Spielberg at the end of an era in which Spielberg actually made classics instead of rehashing old ones and ruining them. But, I’ll leave the review for this movie in more capable hands as our guest writer takes a swing at Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park

By: Kurt Thingvold

Dinosaurs have long captured the imagination of the world. Titans of the prehistoric era.  In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote: “The Lost World” as the story a group of explorers led by Prof. Challenger who encounter a prehistoric world. Seventy-Eight years later Michael Crichton wrote of a similar premise where a group of scientists are invited to a prehistoric park where Dinosaurs are brought back to life by genetic engineering in the hopes of garnering a profit.  The book was a huge success!  And it dealt with issues of animal rights, genetics, and the repercussions of not paying attention to detail, and having constraints when it came to new advances in science. While the book was seen as a huge success, studios were bidding for the rights to make a movie. Universal ended up winning the bid and picked Steven Spielberg to direct, and Michael Crichton to draft the screenplay, which would later be co-written with David Koep. The film was in pre-production for 24 months before filming in August of 1992 and filming ended in November of 1992. A grueling 98 days of filming,  from Hawaii to soundstages in Hollywood.  With special effects taking over a year to develop.  The movie launched in June of 1993. Critics praised the movie for its action sequences, music, and most importantly the special effects.  The plot of the movie followed, somewhat, closely to the book.  A few characters were mixed around, and some of the more important characters from the novel had their screen time reduced to a mere minute and a half.  Parts of the story did remain untouched, with the exception of an awesome raft chase scene with the T-rex.

The story for the movie goes something like this:

A worker is killed on Isla Nublar, an island that holds a secret resort attraction. Three scientists and a lawyer are sent to investigate the attraction, Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neil), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum), and Donald Genaro (The money hungry and corrupt lawyer played by Martin Ferraro). Shortly after arriving, they find that the park is inhabited by creatures from another era: dinosaurs.  A greedy computer programmer sabotages the park, and the dinosaurs start to run loose, now everyone must survive until rescue arrives.

What made the movie different from the book? What made this movie a cultural success? It wasn’t an exact carbon copy of the novel, but it could stand on its own. (Spielberg isn’t known for being true to the source material. Peter Benchley was kicked off the set of Jaws after he found out that the shark was going to explode, instead of dying from its wounds, and dragging Quint down to his watery grave). A few things, actually, could be counted toward the movie’s success: dinosaurs and children.  Dinosaurs have always had popularity with the youth.  The movie also addressed a certain form of science that was growing in popularity at the time: Genetics. The novel went into great detail about genetics and genetic manipulation.  The movie did address a few key points.  The lunch scene, where Hammond addressed the scientists after viewing the velociraptors being fed. And the incubator scene where Malcolm berates Dr. Wu with questions about natural breeding. Wu states: “The dinosaurs could not be bred in the wild due to them all being female.”

(The following quotes are spoken during the lunch scene and address the lack of discipline involving the cloning process to bring the ancient species back.)

“I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it.”

(Another addition to Malcolm’s lines during the scene.)

“Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.”

They resonate a serious tone about scientific power at the time, where, we tried to create what we could as fast as we could, without thinking of the danger of what we were doing; and it could be taken to another level without consulting with the public. It also portrays that uncontrolled science and technology could be a terrible thing. It also goes to show that just because you have obtained the knowledge and knew how to do it—doesn’t mean you should.  The main theme of this scene and the incubator scene are about control—which—the park lacked and that it is why it had its problems. Yet, the theme is downplayed in the movie compared to the book—Malcolm would and does rant about conservation, discipline, and taking what could happen into consideration.  While, novel Malcolm, is almost the complete opposite of movie Malcolm.

Spielberg, also, combined and changed characters from the novel.  In the film: Grant can’t stand to be around kids and the movie follows his coming to understand and love children (classic Spielberg, coming into fatherhood after reluctance). Genaro is another example of a character swap—in the novel, he is portrayed and somewhat timid and very cautious, and not so much caring about the money.  While, the film version, he is cowardly, greedy and not much into anything else. He was also mixed with another character from the novel: Ed Regis, a PR rep who takes the group on the tour of the park and causes the T-rex to escape its enclosure.  While in the film—Genaro runs from the vehicle setting off the infamous T-rex attack scene. And promptly, devoured on a toilet.  Genaro in the novel isn’t killed at all—In fact he comes around to be a hero—fighting off a velociraptor and calling a ship back and saving Costa Rica from a dinosaur invasion.  Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) is another character who survives the book and dies in the film.  In the book, Muldoon is a badass—he has his demons of being an alcoholic but makes up for it in his heroics. Also, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are an item. In the novel, she is a student and his assistant.  They also give a little backstory about her fiancé and how she plans to marry him after she graduates. Again, a lot of subtle differences between the book and the film.

So, what makes the book good, what makes it a good movie? The answer is simple: It’s different.  While the novel is mentally stimulating and fascinating to think about.  The movie creates an atmosphere—it shows you the wonder and awe of seeing what you’ve always wanted to lay your eyes upon, a dinosaur, and the movie treats the creatures as actual animals.  When the scientists first come to the park they are in awe. They become fascinated with their childhood dreams.  You see the creatures breathing, eating, and suffering from disease.

If anything, Jurassic Park is known for two things: The music and special effects. The special effects of the nineties were limited—computers had not been used too much for creatures, with the exception of the glass creature in Young Sherlock Holmes, and the main villain of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  Spielberg hadn’t a clue which method he would take for full body shots of the dinosaurs—he was leaning towards the use of Stop Motion animation, and once he saw the tests for the stop—motion, he was not impressed.  However, he was blown away from the CGI tests and decided he would go with computer images for most of the full-bodied animals.  For the close-up shots, the film would use animatronic heads and partial bodies. What really made this work is how the CGI and the animatronics were blended together to create the illusion of a real life creature.  It brought the illusion of amazement and belief that an ancient creature could be brought back from the dead.

Music is another aspect that brought life into Jurassic Park.  John Williams, the composer created a masterpiece with his score; a score that can transport you to an ancient world.  What makes the soundtrack work is that the music, in itself, promotes power and wonder.  One of the few soundtracks to a movie that isn’t a piece of music but an addition to the scene, the music acts as a special effect; giving the scene the power to captivate. When you listen closely to the soundtrack. Scenes from the movie will come rushing back into your head, a rare feat. Williams didn’t compose music for the movie, he created the breath of the movie.  Of course, what ties the whole movie together is the direction of, Steven Spielberg. There are rumors floating around that he didn’t want to make the movie and that if he didn’t make it Schindlers’ List would have never seen the light of day.

Regardless, he created a family film and one that everyone could enjoy.  He worked with some of the top experts to make sure that the movie could stand the test of time and it did. Spielberg chose actors who weren’t top billed, he wanted to create characters that people would remember.  He didn’t just shoot at a movie studio.  He wanted a location that looked prehistoric and a place people could visit. Jurassic Park may not be one his best films, but it is one that is enjoyable. Spielberg took the chance to show us that a movie can bring a family together and a little journey to the past could be a wondrous thing. Even after twenty-four years, with the release of Jurassic World, people still flock to the theater with their children to share in a magical memory and to be blown away by special effects and the simple pleasure of seeing a dinosaur on the big screen.  Jurassic Park will be a movie that our kids will share with their kids and so-on.  It captures a piece of us, a time when we were all so innocent and could be captivated by a little make believe and a little science.

Jurassic Park will always be a part of my heart and will always be what got me to start writing at a young age.  The film, the novel, it all represents a dream of someone wanting something bigger, someone wanting something they could feel and touch.  Life will always find a way, and so will Jurassic Park.

Kurt Thingvold is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us on several occasions, including his previous review on Godzilla (1954). Kurt was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, that helps calm his demons. He grew up in a tough household that encouraged reading and studying. He spends his time writing in multiple of genres. His published short story, Roulette, can be found on Amazon. When not writing he can be found playing games, reading, or attempting to slay the beast known as “Customer Service”, which, he fails at almost every day. As mentioned, Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his previous review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.

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Double Feature Review: Get Out/ The Belko Experiment

I don’t think I’ve seen so many new horrors as I have this year. AND IT’S ONLY MARCH!!! I’m not going to list off all of them, as at this time in the morning hours with only one cup of coffee to keep my brain functioning, cannot recall. Though some honorable mentions are due. XX, a 4 film horror anthology directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama, was a stellar performance, despite some notes falling flat. Another one that was actually listed as a 2016 movie, but I saw in January, so it counts on my list for this year, and that flick was Split…which split critics while still bringing in rather respectable ratings from audiences, not just because it released (late Dec?) in January (the month movies go to die), but also because it was a return of sorts for M. Night Shyamalan. This last movie brings up a point that I’d like to address. Maybe I haven’t really been paying close enough attention, but when did Blumhouse start producing good horror movies? And back to back, mind you. As per our double feature review here of Get Out and The Belko Experiment (more on those to follow), add in Split, and that’s two out of three money making horror movies for the apparently expanding horror flick producer. No complaints here. Blumhouse’s wheelhouse has added a sort of balance for me and my comic book movie obsession. So…lets get into this and take a look at two horror flicks, both of which I had the pleasure of screening on back to back weekends.

Let’s kick things off with The Belko Experiment.

Produced by, you guessed it, Blumhouse, directed by Greg McLean. From IMDb, “In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.” I think it’s important to note that the screenplay was written by Guardian of the Galaxy director James Gunn who was originally asked to direct this movie but decided to step back for personal reasons. This was the most recent horror flick I’d gone to theaters to see, mostly out of having some free time come up and why not, right. I had a good feeling the theater would be empty and it pretty much was. Not for lack of trying for the producers. I’d seen a share number of advertisements both on the radio and on TV. And judging by said previews, the plot wasn’t hard to decipher. This wasn’t one of those kinds of movies. Here, there was no twist ending, and if the ending was supposed to be one, well…sorry buddy, I believe Joss Whedon already pulled it off in Cabin in the Woods. Not to get spoilerly here, as this is still showing in theaters. But you’ll get it when you see it, a very Cabin in the Woods kinda vibe. And that’s also not to say that Th Belko Experiment was bad. I actually enjoyed it. I didn’t have to think too much. It was a dark humorous action thriller with plenty of gore to please most horror fans. There were a few aahhs and ohhs from the audience when someone’s face got split in two with an ax, or when someone who’d been doing all the right things in a horror movie suddenly without much warning gets killed.   

That can kinda sum up The Belko Experiment. A boiling pot of other movies and mixtures such as Office Space meets Battle Royal meeting Cabin in the Woods. People who came looking for a mystery to solve probably left feeling disappointed, as it seems many other movie critics and audiences had, given the poor showing on Rotten Tomatoes or how it was pretty much cast into the back of the theater on opening day. Hell, the theater I normally go had stopped showing it, forcing me to drive an extra five miles to the next theater. Bastards! For me, I knew before the movie started what it was going to be. I knew there’d be one or no survivors. I came for the nihilistic violence and nihilistic violence is what I got. The Belko Experiment wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. The story seemed to falter against the easy to predict concept of the film. Too much attention was given to certain officer works battling internally over the dilemma of their humanity. I think if producers and director had turned the volume up on the violence, making it a sort of hyper-violent nihilistic movie, it would have been a shade better.

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Now…how about we Get Out.

It’s been two weeks since I saw Get Out. And while the movie had been out for at least a week if not more before I journeyed to the theater, if there were any doubts as to its popularity, let me say…my theater was not empty. Not at all. I’m rather certain it was plum full. The same happened to me when I saw Split. Packed theater. And for a horror movie no less, whether you liked the movie or not, should make you a little optimistic about the future of the genre, if you’re a genre fan, that is. Get Out was directed and written by comedian Jordan Peele (from Key & Peele and Wanderlust fame). And this was Peeles first go at directing, or directing a horror flick at the least. I can say without question that I wish upon a star that he returns to the director’s chair for another romp. For those who do not know, Get Out is about “a young African-American man who visits his Caucasian girlfriend’s mysterious family estate.” And that’s pretty much all you need to know. The plot is rather simple, actually. But the twist…oh my, it is almost too good.

Don’t worry. No spoilers here. I’d wouldn’t do that to you. But let me say for those who were told or believe that Get Out is an anti-white movie, you are DEAD WRONG. They (or you) couldn’t be furthest from the truth. In fact, I’d say this movie pokes more fun at white liberals than staunch racists. Racism is there, you can’t avoid it, just as you cannot avoid it in everyday life. But the real gem of this movie is the natural way it highlights the awkwardness between African Americans and Caucasian Americans. The scenes dealing with this phenomena are quite brilliant. And there are layers are weirdness that can only be described as such. And there are scenes that make little sense and/or do not add to the quality of the movie, nor do they take anything away. They’re kinda just….well…there. I’m assuming Peele’s way of appealing to traditional horror flick fans.

Also, don’t be fooled by those espresso hipsters, those fascist wannabes who think they know everything. Get Out is a horror movie in every definition. Just as there are multiple ways of horrifying audiences, when Get Out pulled out its heart-stopping end, I was truly terrified. When I allow myself to be put in his shoes and those who came before him, well…it kinda reminded me of some terrifyingly strange classic sci-fi flicks from the late 50s and 60s, with perhaps a touch of H.P. Lovecraft. Not to show my hand or anything, I’m trying not to spoil as the movie is still showing in theaters. You really do need to see this for yourself. Trust me. I had the assumption of what was going on and when I found out I was wrong, I was very surprisingly pleased. And it’s one of those surprise endings that make you think back over the course of the movie, and when you do, you’ll nod your head and say, “Oh, that’s why…” etc. etc. Get Out is by far my favorite horror movie of the year, thus far.

My rating: 5 of 5

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, and his newest release, The Hobbsburg Horror. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon), 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 keep up with Thomas and all his strange events by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: Critters (1986)

Watch the skies! Keep your family close. A new terror is invading our world. They are…KRITES…no wait, sorry, CRITTERS…yeah, definitely that! If you’re a nerd, such as myself, then you are probably aware of such a movie called “Critters,” and the three other sequels that followed. Critters is not the first horror-comedy to grace this Creature Features series, but at the same time, it is something quite unique. When you think “monster movies” you kinda assume something like gigantic lizards that breath fire, or mutant genetically altered insects, or maybe even meteor shit that turns out to be some sort of alien slug that turns people into a mess of zombified conglomerated flesh. But when we get catch phrases like, “They bite,” and “When you got Critters, you need all the help you can get,” we sort of don’t know what to think. Is this movie serious? Or is it pure spoof comedy? Is it even horror? On one spectrum, you’ve got Roger Ebert giving this flick a thumbs up back in 1986 while on the other hand sporting a meager 43% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics have called Critters “Gremlins on acid,” (MovieHole) while others have said that “Critters [is] a franchise [that] has nothing on the Nightmare on Elm Street films, but it’s proven popular enough with Gen X-ers who forward ‘You know you’re a child of the ’80s if…’ emails to all their office mates” (Slate Magazine.) So what is it about Critters that appeals to some while turns away others?

Let’s take this one step at a time.

To get us started, here is a wonderful synopsis by our friends over at IMDb:

“A race of small, furry aliens make lunch out of the locals in a farming town.”

BRAVO!!!! Okay, well, my work here is done, folks. Furry aliens make lunch…oh, you can’t get any better than that people, that is pure gold. Well, as pure usual, they aren’t wrong. Here’s what I got while watching the movie for the…jeez…I don’t know, maybe twentieth time maybe? Somewhere around there. As our heroes over at IMDb pointed out, yes, furry aliens do make lunch, but as the New Line Cinema bold red screen appears, one Nightmare on Elm Street fans should recognize with a sense of glee, the screen opens on a giant space rock that so happens to also be a prison. We don’t really get to see much here, just a bunch of dialogue going on off screen. Supposedly, a violent criminal species known as Krites are being transported to the facility. Right away we’re told they “eat everything.” Just as my Magic 8-Ball predicted, the Krites escape the facility by stealing a space vessel and take off toward planet Earth. Here we get little (get it?) glimpses of the Krites, their claws and hear their language which has been thankfully translated for us via closed captioning.

The warden on this highly secured prison, who looks like the Caterpiller from Alice in Wonderland, hires “the bounty hunters” to track down these fiendish hungry villains and dispatch them. And it’s around here when the screen opens on a quaint small farm in a quiet small town. Nothing much to hate about this place. We’ve got our A typical American breed family. Pa and Ma and big sister and little mischevious bro Brown. A stark difference to the science fiction space opera going on in the beginning. Here we’ve got one of the most overused and iconic of horror and sci-fi backdrops, the American farming town. But given the opening, there’s already a feeling of helter skelter. What are we watching? Horror or sci-fi? Is this ET or “Gremlins on acid?” I have no idea, but I do know one thing, we’ve got  Dee Wallace, ET’s Henry Thomas’s mother in nearly the same dubious role as the harried Ma Brown of young Brad Brown (played by Scott Grimes who I believed was actually a younger Judd Nelson), our plucky kid hero who goes to battle against these Krites; Critter invaders.

Several scenes play out as we patiently wait for what we really came here to see. Aliens eating people and GORE. Spoiler: the latter you’re not going to get much of, sorry. My biggest concern watching this film was regarding young Brad. Now, yes, we all adore the stereotypical young boy who loves fireworks and plays with M-80s, whistlin’ bungholes, spleen splitters, whisker biscuits, honkey lighters, hoosker doos, hoosker don’ts, cherry bombs, nipsy daisers, scooter stick, and whistlin’ kitty chasers. But good God man, this kid is packing more than your typical firecracker. This thing is a bomb. His father reprimands him, also looking a bit weary about his son’s interest in explosives. Later, we see Brad sent to his room where he has a workbench of destruction and assembles what looks a lot like a stick of dynamite. Seriously, where are this kid’s parents?

Two highlights soon follow. Billy Zane and Bill Zane’s death. More on that to follow. Zane must have been just starting out acting when Critters came along. He looks quite young and only has a few lines. I did like that they made the big sister and girlfriend of Zane’s (played by Canada’s sweetheart Nadine Van der Velde) as the promiscuous one. She’d practically dragging young Zane up into the loft where she has prepared a sort of love nest, complete with 80s jams. Earlier, when Pa learns of his daughter’s new New York city boyfriend, he quickly asks his wife if they’ve had the talk on “how things are.” Jeez, I can only imagine what that talk as about consider sister Brown’s later behavior. But hey, who am I to judge the phenomenal romance of teenage love?

As far as horror movies go. I do not think this is such. This wasn’t horrifying. Even the going into the basement scary scene wasn’t really scary. It’s hard to be scared with Gremlin sized furballs cracking jokes in some strange intergalactic language. That’s not to say Critters wasn’t good. Critters is actually a fun movie to watch. The characters are not deep or complex, but their motivations are easy to understand and thus we do not have to invest a lot of brain power with them. Just as with the plot, though seemingly complex with the beforementioned space opera, it’s actually an oversimplification of several movies that came out in the space of 1986. Critters is without a doubt “Gremlins on acid,” it’s also got a touch of The Terminator with the machine-like bounty hunters and the garb they wear. And director Stephen Herek (director of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) is not shy poking fun at ET. There’s a great scene with one of the Krites talking with a stuffed ET doll, yelling “Who are you!” And then ripping the doll’s head off. Looking back at Herek’s resume, it’s easy to see that he is mostly a fan of light hearted-humored movies. He wants to have fun and that mood is clearly carried throughout the film.

One of my favorite scenes involves Dee Wallace versus one the Critters that attack the family while they are retreating back into their house from the porch. The family gets back inside, and out on the porch one Critter turns to the other and warns that they “have weapons.” His Critter buddy replies, “So what?” Dee Wallace sticks out the barrel of her shotgun through the door and blows the “so what” Critter into goo. his buddy turns to his dispatched friend and screams “Fuck!” in his own intergalactic language, shown to use again by that marvelous closed captioning. It’s little moments like this sprinkled throughout the movie that makes Critters fun and funny to watch.

Oh, I also forgot. This town, as the sheriff (played by the fantastic M. Emmet Walsh) was quick to say, is a circus, and just like any good or decent circus, it comes complete with its very own town drunk/alien conspiracy nut/minor-leaguye baseball washout by the name of Charlie (played by Don Keith Opper). Charlie is quick to predict the arrival of the aliens, either by the feelings in his fillings or by dumb luck, the latter more like, and fumbles his way throughout the entire movie, stepping up at the very end by lofting a molotov cocktail into the alien spacecraft, destroying it and the creatures inside, thus saving the day. What I liked more about the end was the utter “fuck you” given by the Krites as they attempt to flee, firing a laser on the American Dream, portrayed in this movie with the Brown’s farm house, blowing brick and wood and shingles to smithereens. It’s usually in moments like this when I begin to formulate any possible meanings or questions the movie and or director are trying to convey. Seeing the destruction of the “American Dream” begs the question of what’s most important to us, was the “Dream” a lie all along? Was keeping the family together the most important part and that even when you’ve done everything right you will not necessarily get to ride off into the sunset?

Well…as I was pondering these questions I had believed the movie was asking, the preverbal reset button was pushed and the house rebuilt itself via a device given to Brad as a “thank you” from the aliens. In seconds, the house is restored to its original glory. Watching this and then seeing the credits roll I was left somewhat dumb stuck. Did the director just punk me, as I image he punked countless over movie reviewers before me? Maybe.

Regardless, Critters is certainly a classic film, one that kids of the 80’s without a doubt share in email and threads on social media as one of those flicks that defined an era. The mood was lighthearted, and despite certain scenes with F-bombs being dropped, I’d say Critters is family friendly. Could they have upped the gore and blood and violence and made this sucker even more of a satire than what it turned out to be? I think I would have loved it even more! But the lack of blood and guts doesn’t deter me from enjoying some 1980s nostalgia.

My rating: 4/5

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmo, and his latest release, THE HOBBSBURG HORROR. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon) 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 Bachelor’s in History. He blogs here at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: Slither (2006)

 

Again I find myself mesmerized by the complexity of the creature features subgenre. And as a first, thus far in our little series, we find ourselves in the midst of a horror-comedy within the creature feature mythology. The gory ridiculous atmosphere of Slither (2006) is no doubt the responsibility of its creator, directed no less than by Guardian of the Galaxy symphonist James Gunn. Now, as most already probably know but I’ll mention it here again, Gunn has an interesting repertoire of cinematic exploits. He was the director who took on the remake to Dawn of the Dead (1978), keeping certain elements whilst still maintaining itself as a stand alone movie ALL THE WHILE pleasing not just audiences, but fans of George A. Romero’s beloved classic. But Gunn is not without question…he did have a hand in those live-action Scooby-Doo movies and the not so cult-classic Tales from the Crapper. This weekend, apparently The Belko Experiment, in which Gunn wrote the screenplay, will finally be released to theaters, having started playing trailers off and on as far back as November of 2016, has already come under fire from critics. So where does that leave Slither? Well…I think I’ll leave that explanation on the shoulders of our esteemed guest contributor, Jonny Numb.

Slither

By: Jonny Numb

 

Universal’s decision to let James Gunn direct Slither was an act of faith that spoke to the studio’s appreciation of how his Dawn of the Dead screenplay – coupled with Zack Snyder’s direction – led that film to box-office success.

The result – a 1950s-styled creature feature that combined practical FX with CGI – was a pastiche with a disparate cast (including cult favorites Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker, and rising star Elizabeth Banks) that had a mercilessly short theatrical run.

I get it because I wasn’t a fan of Slither when I first saw it on DVD. I can’t remember why it didn’t click for me – maybe because it leaned on “backwoods redneck” character types too much (and that specific type of humor); maybe because my taste in sci-fi is maddeningly specific; and maybe – just maybe – it was because I had yet to be exposed to the wonders of Captain Mal on Firefly.

In any event, I revisited the film last year (for the first time in a decade) and was surprised that my feelings toward it had improved. While problematic in places (mostly in the wobbly, tone-setting early going), Slither grows into a bizarre and sneakily subversive take on the sci-fi it’s paying loving homage to:

The Blob (either version). The Thing (Carpenter version). Invasion of the Body Snatchers (mostly the ‘50s version).

There are also subtle-to-obvious references to the works of David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski, as well as Gunn’s former tenure as a screenwriter for Troma (including a Lloyd Kaufman cameo); and keep an eye on the Main Street storefronts during the opening credits for more sly Easter Eggs.

Grant Grant (Rooker) is a macho sleazeball in cheesy glasses who’s married to trophy wife (and elementary-school teacher) Starla (Banks). Spurned by his wife’s refusal to fulfill her duty as willing sex object one night, Grant meets up with local bar girl Brenda (Brenda James). In a bit of cosmic irony, they find themselves in the woods, and Grant has feelings of remorse before he can consummate any carnal desires. More ironic still, this leads Grant to the discovery of a translucent egg-sac with a symbolically vaginal opening, one from which something shoots out, infecting him with an extraterrestrial parasite. After the transformed, meat-craving Grant impregnates Brenda, she becomes the “mother” to the alien invasion.

Once the parasites explode (literally), Slither really kicks into gear. Gleefully grotesque practical effects – and some CGI that hasn’t aged as well – ensue.

To make a hard right turn: does anyone really talk about Kylie (Tania Saulnier), and how she’s probably the smartest, most resourceful character in the movie?

Only on my most recent viewing did it occur to me that we see her not once (in the high-school classroom), but twice (in the crowd at the town’s “Deer Cheer” event) before being properly introduced around the family dinner table (where she makes reference to the “Japanese” design of her painted fingernails (tentacles much?). Her character is at the center of a great setpiece midway through, during which she’s taking a bath with her earbuds in, and winds up fending off a parasite with a curling iron. Even more so than the scene’s well-taken stylistic nods to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Shivers, notice how Gunn allows Kylie to react as rationally as the situation will allow, without turning it into an excuse for T&A or a gory money shot. When the tub parasite nearly shoots down her throat, Kylie briefly taps into the aliens’ shared consciousness – and the glimpses of havoc on an unnamed planet far, far away certainly foreshadows Gunn’s eventual segue into the world of high-budget comic-book blockbusters.

Rather ingeniously, the DVD cover for Slither – that of Kylie in the tub, being descended upon by thousands of squirming parasites – represents the film more accurately than most video-art concepts (which tend toward hyperbole). It’s unsubtle without really giving anything away, and Gunn subverts expectations for the scene itself by guiding it to a surprising conclusion. The sequence of events that follows the tub encounter is brilliantly rendered, and reminded me of Barbara’s full-moon escape from the farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead (yes, the 1990 remake).

There are other things, as well:

The comic relief of Mayor Jack MacReady (played by Brian De Palma regular Gregg Henry), who – in look and demeanor – bears an eerie resemblance to a certain boorish ex-reality-TV star. He’s paranoid, perpetually angry, casually misogynistic, and at one point asks if the town’s being “invaded by the Russkies.” Gunn’s smart handling ensures that we’re always laughing at this clown, and Henry is definitely in on the joke.

Meanwhile, Starla transitions from Grant’s doormat to a model of marriage to, eventually, a woman who wakes up to the fact that her husband’s internal ugliness has manifested on the outside in a way that’s rather poetic. Their final confrontation is a fine demonstration of Beauty no longer tolerating the Beast’s shit.

So maybe, finally, the film resembles Bride of the Monster (but in title only. Thank God).

One nagging question, though: even with the padlock on the basement door, how did the stench of all those dead pets not make its way through the vents in the Grant household?

Jonny Numb’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Jon Weidler, aka Jonny Numb, is no stranger here on Machine Mean. He has contributed for us Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955) AND Clean, Shaven for our Fright Fest month back in October. Mr. Weidler works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day but is a podcast superhero by night. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast under the moniker “Jonny Numb,” and is a regular contributor to the Crash Palace Productions and Loud Green Bird websites. His archived movie reviews can be found at numbviews.livejournal.com, and his social media handle is @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd). You can read his review of A&C Meet Mummyhere.

Tune into The Last Knock for the best of HORROR movie reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Creature Features in Review: The Blob (1988)

!! CONTAINS SPOILERS !! CONTAINS SPOILERS !! CONTAINS SPOILERS !!

 The Blob (1988) is my second-favorite 1980s remake of a classic monster horror film, The Thing by John Carpenter being the first—and if the ALIEN Trilogy (yeah, I said ‘Trilogy’) didn’t exist, JC’s The Thing would be my all-time favorite film. Now, I’m usually the first to say that JC’s The Thing is not strictly a ‘remake’, because of its alternate take on Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.—but in his great Creature Features in Review piece on JC’s The Thing, William D. Prystauk beat me to it. John Carpenter’s take was a more accurate, more paranoid version of that novella than Howard Hawks’—and Christian Nyby’s and Edward Lasker’s and others’—The Thing from Another World, while also bringing in elements of amorphous, madness-inducing creature moments that—when paired with the snow-blasted, isolated Antarctic setting—came to draw well-earned and fair comparisons to aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and creatures from his other works.

Okay, I’m not going the same route as my last Mean Machine guest review and framing my entire review of one film on elements of other works… but please bear with me a bit longer.

So, if John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? was the basis of John Carpenter’s The Thing for its setting, plot, paranoia, and dread—with a healthy dose of Lovecraftian vague, disturbing forms as well as cosmic fear and wonderment—I’m of the opinion that The Blob remake from 1988 and its 1958 predecessor take their starting premise at least loosely from Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.”

I know, I know… The inspiration is directly attributed to a genuinely weird, fishy sounding police report from Philadelphia in 1950 that was detailed in a local newspaper, so I have no way of knowing if Irvine H. Millgate had read Lovecraft as well—but that’s my trip and I’m running with it, you guys!

But while “The Colour Out of Space” is a subtle and measured build of a tale about a meteorite crashing to Earth at a farm and something in it tainting the soil and water for a good distance around as its semi-physical presence wears down the people and eventually takes them… The Blob is like a far less elegant and more (squishy) blunt instrument of terror. Lovecraft’s story is one of ‘other’-ness and truly alien elements infecting and rotting the mundane setting due to the mostly-unseen menace’s weird attributes. The Blob is about a big nasty growing glop puddle ‘eating’ everything. Both crashing down from space with no explanation—except in The Blob remake, but I’ll get back to that—but with different approaches and implied motivations or at least confused actions.

Then the remake ratchets up the clever uses of the amorphousness and menace of the creature and goes in hard on the creature effects. Both JC’s The Thing and The Blob (1988) elevate practical creature effects during what was already their heyday as a way to take their source material and really focus the horror and visceral thrills and stakes.

Leaving comparisons behind, though, I’d say what really stood out for me on this review re-watch—I’d seen it several times over the years, but never paid too much attention to the actual story or presentation, instead just taking in the creature effects—was how much the film relied on and seemed to celebrate the concepts of heavy foreshadowing and pay-off, as well as one shameless deus ex machina moment. Hold that thought…

SUMMARY:

A meteorite crashes just outside a mountain ski town in the offseason (or the film would have ended there, from its own logic), a strange substance glowing in the center of the cracked ball of hot metal. A hobo who saw the landing gets too close—the pink Blob substance gloms onto his hand. From there on out, it’s a succession of setups for the continuously growing, gloppy creature to rack up gruesome kills as the main characters try to survive and figure out how to stop it.

 REVIEW:

Reviewer self-sabotage or not, I’ll just say it outright—on the strength of the creature and makeup effects, and the kills alone, I love this movie. Always have. Some of the most incredibly graphic and messed up practical monster effects ever put on screen.

From the first death, we know this is going to be a dicey night for the characters. A high school football player and cheerleader—characters playfully introduced as a riff on the original film—accidentally run into the hobo with their car as he stumbles across the road clutching his own warped pink arm. They rush him to the hospital where he’s whisked away to a room in the ER. The football player goes to check on him… and the hobo’s body bulges strangely under a sheet. As the boy and a doctor approach, the body shifts, showing the hobo’s newly clouded-over white eyes. The doctor pulls the sheet off—the hobo’s body is mostly gone, having been dissolved and burned as if by powerful acid.

The second death follows this closely, and as the football player makes a phone call, the Blob drops onto him from the ceiling. When the cheerleader comes to find him, she takes a heavy SAN loss as she finds her beau almost entirely inside the quickly growing Blob’s mass—burning away at his flesh and pulling his skin and muscle from his face with its raw strength. This is one of the best practical creature/kill effects ever.

I won’t describe them all, but some other great ones are: a horny teenage friend and fellow football player of the cover kill kid who gets wrecked while trying to take advantage of a girl he got drunk at a make-out spot, a short order cook is pulled gruesomely into a kitchen drain, a movie theater projectionist is consumed on the projection booth ceiling, a sheriff’s deputy is snapped in half and pulled out through a barricade the remaining townspeople are trying to construct… Some quality carnage in this one.

I think my favorite kill involves a phone booth and a waitress who’s on the phone when the Blob starts pouring itself down over the whole booth. Other than being a nightmarish claustrophobic setup, before it crushes the booth into her from all around, she sees another recent victim floating in the thick, pink nastiness of the Blob’s formless body—and this last one leads me back to my intro remarks.

This review re-watch as I said really brought the story and its structure to the fore for me in a way it never has before. I’m not saying it’s an amazing story, but the way it’s all set up and executed felt way more deliberate than I’d ever given it credit for.

So, if you the reader will allow this reviewer the looser usage of a concept, I have to say this film is dominated by one interpretation of ‘Chekhov’s Rifle/Gun’ being repeatedly put into practice. That is in the form of constant foreshadowing—and this script is almost surgically precise and economical in its setups and payoffs. I bring this up because, in this most recent viewing, I couldn’t not see it. Knowing what would happen later from past viewings, I watched as every major scene was foreshadowed, sometimes down to the most unimportant seeming moments. My favorite example is what I’ll call Chekhov’s Zipper.

The cheerleader has a little brother—whose main purpose is to sneak into a late night horror movie showing (remember the projectionist?)—and almost get killed. When he’s introduced way back before the cheerleader and cover kill boy even leave so they can hit the hobo with the car, he’s supposed to be going out to his best friend’s house. As he’s getting ready to leave, he has trouble pulling his zipper up. What I have to imagine is at least 30-40 minutes of screen time—I checked; it’s 44 mins, 18 secs—later, the cheerleader, her little brother, and his best friend are escaping the movie theater and the exit doors slam closed on the back of the little brother’s jacket—and wouldn’t you know it? They can’t get the little brother’s jacket off to free him from almost certain death because… his zipper’s stuck. They get him out of his jacket and off for more survival shenanigans in the dark sewer system, but that was a planned, patient setup and follow-through, heavy-handed or not.

And that’s the second longest setup and payoff distance.

Tough kid (with bad hair) Brian (Kevin Dillon) is introduced in the early parts of the film smoking, drinking a beer, and lustfully gazing upon a ridiculously set up destroyed bridge with one side conveniently higher than the other… He discards his shameful chemical vices—especially for one so young, merciful heavens…—and he tries to jump the bridge gap on his motorcycle. He fails, of course, and his bike is damaged in the process of him eating shit.

That occurs 1 hour, 1 min, and 16 secs before he makes that same jump on his repaired motorcycle—while being chased by military helicopters and a pickup truck filled with biohazard suit wearing soldiers, no less.

Side Note: that unbelievable setup and jump will lead to something even sillier—after making the jump, Kevin Dillon hides by a huge storm drain opening as military vehicles search for him all around… and wouldn’t you know it? That tunnel is just large enough for a guy, a motorcycle, and the guy’s horrible, huge hair to fit in and comfortably ride down. And that’s just really serendipitous since the cheerleader and her brother are in dire need of rescuing down the same tunnel just a bit later… Yeah, there’s our shameless deus ex machina usage.

Another great setup and payoff takes us back to my favorite kill/death, the woman in the phone booth. This one was a layered setup and also made the already disturbing creature scene messed up emotionally. From early in the film, it’s established the town sheriff has a thing for the woman who runs the diner. They have a possible date setup for 11pm—before all that horrible monster stuff starts, ruining their evening—after she gets off work. When things get worse in town, the sheriff says he’s heading to the diner. That’s the second to last time we’ll see him. So, after the diner kitchen sink kill, all the people in it escape in different ways. The woman who works there runs out to the phone booth. As she’s on the phone, the Blob comes down to the booth and she starts losing it. On the phone, she hears the dispatcher say that the sheriff came down to the diner… and the victim floating up through the Blob over the phone booth—is wearing a badge. Boom. Cold-blooded business.

The projectionist in the theater sequence has a whistling yo-yo that later drops from the ceiling, causing the theater manager to look up and see him being consumed on the booth ceiling.

The whole resolution is set up in the establishing intro shots of the town, with signs for snow equipment and such all over. The Blob’s weakness is cold, as in the original, so those familiar with the first film probably chuckled at sight of those signs in the theater when it came out. Brian uses an artificial snow machine to save the day, so that might actually be the rightful longest setup, thinking about it now.

But going back a few steps, it might have seemed strange to those unfamiliar with this film—who for some reason are reading this quite spoiler-y review—that I hadn’t mentioned the military before the motorcycle jump. Wacky, right?

Sooooooo, like I’d mentioned early on, the menacing forces/creatures in “The Colour Out of Space” and The Blob (1958) both have unexplained origins. Not The Blob (1988), oh no!

This being a sci-fi/horror film from the 1980s, it’s revealed late in the second act that this Blob creature isn’t just some run of the mill space monster—it was the result of a germ warfare project from the Cold War that was launched into space because it was so dangerous. Good one, Cold War guys…

One last thought I’ll express about this film is that it differs from many other creature films in one major way—in ALIEN films, every stage of the creature is strange and frightening in its own right as what it is. In JC’s The Thing, the creature is most viscerally frightening as it goes between mimicked forms, becoming amorphous and disturbing as it changes. In The Blob, the pink glop is the creature. It grows and gets tentacles here and there in the remake, but the most gruesome and memorable shots in this film are victims inside the translucent muck of the creature’s form. Their bodies being burned and digested/absorbed—and the torture of that expressed on their disintegrating faces—are the truly haunting moments I always think of. Silly as the film can be, some of those images are genuinely classic and stick with me.

WHAT I LIKED:

  1. Creature effects and kills are glorious.
  2. Foreshadowing mini-meta-game is fun and rewarding.
  3. Setting up the beginning in a similar way to the original film, then completely going a different way with it.
  4. One of the best ‘But Wait…’ style horror ending scenes/shots ever.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

  1. This movie and its predecessor probably having no relation to “The Colour Out of Space,” even though I want them to… I mean c’mon—the whole setup is like TCOoS, only a shoggoth-like thing comes out instead of the vanishing/infesting color. If Millgate didn’t read Lovecraft’s work, he should’ve. He would’ve loved it.
  2. Foreshadowing is fun and rewarding to find and watch play out, but it’s obvious and overdone enough it could turn people off because of its making light of the artifice.
  3. While I’m a big fan of 1980s cynicism about military science experiments gone awry as a plot frame, I think it had already been overdone, even by the time this film came out. Doesn’t ruin it and adds a layer and some “hew-manns are teh real monsturrs…” moments, but that’s some well-worn territory, even then.
  4. The motorcycle jump scene I mentioned before is fucking ridiculous, especially as an even more obvious deus ex machina setup.
  5. Kevin Dillon’s hair.

 RATING:

This is a very enjoyable piece of 80s creature horror with an almost dizzying series of setups and payoffs, usually of the disturbing and visceral kill type.

I’ll give The Blob (1988)……………..7.5/10.

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, will be published in early-to-mid 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/

 

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Logan: The End of an Era

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If you’re one of the movie goers who contributed to Logan’s $85.3 million domestic opening over the weekend, then this review is for you. For everyone else, you may want to go see Logan before reading. The following article Logan: The End of an Era will contain spoilers. This will be your only warning. Clear? Good. Now that we have that bit of business out of the way, I wanna talk about the movie everyone else is talking about. That’s right if you haven’t guessed it, I was one of the nerds…sorry, geeks who ventured and braved the crowds to see Logan. I sat shoulder to shoulder with friends and strangers to witness the end of an era. Which era? The Wolverine, or at least Hugh Jackman’s portrayal as one of the more popular characters in the X-Men lexicon. And let’s face it, this may very well be the end of the character Logan as well, for the time being. At this stage, I don’t see anyone else picking up the reins and having much chance of success. But, that’s a conversation for another day. As I said, I wanna talk about Logan.

Here’s a quick synopsis from the always loveable IMDb:

“In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.”

Not a bad synopsis, as simple as the basic premise and catalyst of the film itself. Better than the typical three words they usually give movies. And they’re not wrong, as the movie opens, the year is 2029, and sleeping Logan is woken by a gang on the Texas-Mexico border attempting to steal his tires. Logan stumbles on the scene and gives a somewhat slurred warning for the would-be “bad guys” to do themselves a favor and take off.  On par with what most red shirts do, they ignore his warning and shoot him down. A typical setup for any superhero action movie. But there’s somewhat different here. Something amiss. Wolverine isn’t getting up as fast as he used to. He’s taking a lot more punches until he’s basically driven into an animal like state, lashing out wildly and somewhat lazy. EVenutally in what would have normally taken him seconds, he finally dispatches the would-be thieves, jumps back into his car (a limo BTW), and takes off. He stops at a nearby gas station and runs into the bathroom to clean himself up. It’s here we see more evidence that something is not right with our beloved hero. His body is riddled with poorly healed scars. Marks that would have in the past healed over in a blink of the eye, are now a visible roadmap who his harsh existence.

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So, I’m not going to do a play for play on this review. If you’ve seen it, then you already know what happens.

For the most part, Logan (as a movie) felt very familiar. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Wolverine as the reclusive hero or even the reluctant hero. In just about all the movies thus far in which Wolverine makes an appearance, he has been the grumpy cigar smoking asshole everyone loves, except for in Days of Future Past (my favorite X-Men movie) in which he took lead role as the dominant leader of the pack, and of course his cameo in X-Men Apocalypse, one of the few highlights of that movie where they finally got the Weapon-X story arch right. Tell me I’m wrong, but besides those two movies, has not Wolverine always been the “reluctant hero?” And that’s okay. It’s his MO. What it really means is that director James Mangold will have to work twice as hard not to bore the shit out of long time fans. Something he wasn’t quite able to do in his first foray with Wolverine in The Wolverine (2013), which to be fair was much better than the previous Wolverine movies, the duo bust that-shall-not-be-named (Last Stand and Origins), he still fumbled a bit with the ending. The majority of The Wolverine was pretty good, I thought. Bringing Logan out of his guilt and into his true purpose as a soldier/warrior.

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Carrying into Logan, Mangold brings the evolution of this “warrior’s tale” to its final conclusion, in a movie that works as both a western and as a dystopian without having to resort to a dismal apocalyptic future. No, the Sentinels are not to blame. Nor is Bolivar Trask. Or even Col. Striker…well, perhaps his legacy is to blame for some of it. No, the real bombshell is that it was Xavier’s degenerative brain disease that is to fault in the so-called “Westchester Event,” as he called it in an impromptu confession of sorts, to the deaths of the mutants, or at least the X-Men. Most of the backstory is left to interpretation and not filled in with lazy narration or exposition. This “revelation,” just before Xavier’s final moments, reveals that this is NOT just another reluctant hero movie, this isn’t a rinse and repeat from Mangold’s first go with Wolverine back in 2013. Logan was a hero, he was a warrior and a soldier, but after witnessing the deaths of his friends, an event that would send any hero Helter Skelter, he’s simply lost his purpose, his banner…now set on caring for himself, and also an ailing aged Professor, and of course Caliban is there too.  Can you image?He’s caring for the man who killed his friends, not malevolently of course, to no one’s fault but the disease. Still…what a burden, right? Enough to make anyone a selfish prick.

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So, the motivation makes sense, and though they make stem from the same vein as previous films, the differences make all the difference. Logan is a wounded, dying animal driven into a corner, and as such furiously defends himself and his very selective circle. But then a strange woman arrives and begs for that “hero,” the legend that this Wolverine, to return and help guide a young mutant, Laura (who happens to be his daughter), played wonderfully by Dafne Keen, to a place called Eden on the Canadian border. Eden is a place mentioned in a comic book, along with a set of GPS coordinates. But Eden doesn’t really exist, and it does exist. This part of the story was kinda brilliant, playing off audience expectations. Seeing an X-Men comic, kinda fourth wall; kinda not, showcasing a sentimental view of the X-Men and this place called Eden, which Logan constantly tells Laura doesn’t exist because it’s in a comic book, therefore fictional, and then, in the end, Eden does exist, but not in the way audiences may have expected. Eden was simply a rondevu point for the escaped children who were part of an initiative designed to re-create the Weapon-X program, the same program that gave Wolverine his adamantium skeleton and claws.

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From here the conclusion is drawn in the sand. Thanks to the children, and some hair trimmings, Logan becomes what he was always meant to be. Not a warrior for hire, but a hero. A very angry and very very violent hero, facing off against what he could have become had he remained in the original Weapon-X program, a rampaging, feral, mindless killing machine. This clone aspect was interesting and very symbolic, forced to square off against one’s past, a somewhat distorted mirror image. For a moment, I thought X-24 looked somewhat like Sabertooth from that dreadful Origins movie with the mutton chops. For a story arch this long, spanning seventeen years, the ending of Logan was exactly how it should have ended. Just like with the “what happened to all the mutants” question, the “why isn’t Logan healing” is also kind of fill in the blanks. The assumption I think is that Logan is suffering from some sort of long-term exposure to adamantium. his healing factor is all but burnt out now. Knowing this, we should have known going into this movie that Wolverine was not going to ride off into the sunset. This was his last mission, not to save the future, but to give the future a chance. While sad, the ending is fitting, as Laura and the other children bury Logan, marking his grave with a wooden X, and running off into an unknown destiny.
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I’m sure more will be said regarding all those metaphors and symbolisms we grazed over about family and parenthood or fatherhood, and all that. For now, let me close this review with one final summation. Why did “they” have to get Wolverine right on the FINAL movie??? Seriously. Finally, as audiences would no doubt want more, we’re given the last bill. The emotional setup was near-perfect, opening the curtains by giving us a brief look at Deadpool 2, everyone laughing and then closing the curtains with Logan’s death and an uncertain future for a new generation of mutants. And the no after credit scene added to the realization, this was it. Perhaps not the end of the X-Men, but certainly the end of an era.

My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars. 

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving, 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 BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: PHENOMENA (1985)

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The further we get into this new series, the more I realize just how versatile creature features really are. I’m not afraid to admit, though I love the sub-genre, I kinda always pigeon-holed them as simple monster movies. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. So far we’ve seen the echoes of Hiroshima through the lens of Godzilla. We’ve walked the mythological soil of Midian in The Night Breed and we’ve walked the eco-horror swamps in Frogs. We bunkered ourselves in Outpost 31 in The Thing. We witnessed the destruction of New York City in Cloverfield. We were chased by the Creeper in Jeepers Creepers. And we’ve witnessed the birth of a new species of humanoid insect in Mimic, not to mention the transformation of a lonely scientist into a fly in The Fly. In each and every one of these, we’ve discovered that they are not just simple monster flicks, there’s something else going on behind the scenes. And we’ve only just begun. This is March. The last review for Creature Features in Review doesn’t post until December. So, in the words of doomed Ray Arnold, “Hold on to your butts,” cause this show is just getting started.

PHENOMENA (1985)

Kim McDonald

 

The supernatural is a factor in many of Dario Argento’s films. SUSPIRIA, INFERNO, and MOTHER OF TEARS all deal with witchcraft and, in DEEP RED, a psychic senses a serial killer. In PHENOMENA, Jennifer Corvino, (Jennifer Connelly,) uses her unique ability to communicate with insects to solve the disappearances and murders of several young girls in a remote part of the Swiss Alps. Jennifer, the daughter of a famous actor, is sent to the Richard Wagner School for Girls and immediately begins having nightmares and episodes of sleepwalking in which she is able to psychically witness the murders.

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The film is confusing at times, and it gets hard to keep up with all of the jumping around, but it’s still a good story. It begins with a young tourist, (Fiore Argento,) who gets left behind by the bus in the countryside. She goes to a local house for help and is speared by the killer and decapitated by a pane of glass, a typical Argento death.

PHENOMENA borrows elements from SUSPIRIA. There is a voiceover as Jennifer arrives at the school, and she must explain a delayed flight made her late. The Headmistress, (Dalila Di Lazzaro,) seems to take an instant dislike to her, and all of the girls think she’s odd, except her roommate Sophie, (Frederica Mastroianni,) The area around the school is eerie. There is a constant high wind that supposedly has driven people mad. Jennifer is told it is known as “The Swiss Transylvania.”

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During her first sleepwalking episode, in which she sees everything glowing and finds herself in a hallway of doors, Jennifer wanders to the house of entomologist, Professor John McGregor, and his chimp Inga, who is fascinated by her gift. After the disappearance of Sophie, he encourages Jennifer to help him investigate the disappearances using a peculiar insect called The Great Sarcophagus, which is attracted to corpses. With its help, Jennifer finds the house of the tourist’s murder but is scared away before discovering the truth.

Jennifer’s behavior after Sophie’s death convinces the HeadMistress and other girls that she is bizarre. They gang up on her and she calls down a swarm of flies on the house. The Head Mistress convinced that Jennifer is an evil “Lady of the Flies,” tries to have her committed. Jennifer runs away to the Professor, only to find he has been murdered. She is taken in by a teacher Frau Brukner, (Daria Nicolodi,) claiming to have been sent by her father’s agent.

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Jennifer quickly realizes the Frau has it in for her and ends up finding her way into an underground tunnel where the Frau has been keeping her deformed and deranged son, Patau. In a scene reminiscent of POLTERGEIST, Jennifer falls into a pool of rotting corpses and has to claw her way out. She tries to escape by boat but is attacked by Patau and has to call upon her insect friends to save her. It is never entirely clear if Patau or his mother are the ones who have been killing the girls.

Sound is important in PHENOMENA, directed, co-produced and co-written by Argento. The sound of the wind and of the different insects are pronounced. He also uses shots from the insects’ multi-lense perspective. Along with music by The Goblins, Argento uses songs by Iron Maiden and MotorHead during the murder scenes. PHENOMENA is cited as one of Argento’s favorite films. Perhaps he felt like a misfit like Jennifer growing up. The story she tells Sophie about how her mother left is based on Argento’s life. Unfortunately, it is uneven and often confusing. The ending feels pulled out of nowhere. The audience is left not knowing who is the real killer.

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Kim McDonald is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us during our Fright Fest series back in October, The Thing (1982). And we here at Machine Mean hope to have her back on again soon! Kim lives in Charleston and loves all things horror, especially foreign horror. Kim also publishes reviews for LOUD GREEN BIRD, tackling some of horror’s greatest treasures, giving readers a deeper retrospective and often introspective on films like “The Iron Rose,” “Baskin,” “The Conjuring 2,” “The Witch,” and much more. As you can see, she is no stranger to the art of movie reviews. You can follow Kim @dixiefairy on Twitter and you can follow her blog, Fairy Musings, here.

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Creature Features in Review: The Thing (1982)

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Thirty-five years. On June 25th, we will be celebrating thirty-five years since the release of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The review you are about to read, written by the incredibly talented William D. Prystauk, aka Billy Crash, not only the second half of the infamously awesome The Last Knock podcast, but also a teacher, director, screenwriter, and loving husband and friend, has carefully crafted what I believe to be the definitive review of The Thing. I’m glad Bill decided to take on this “creature feature.” For those who know me will be quick to understand, The Thing is by far my most favorite movie.  Not just my favorite horror movie, but my favorite overall film in its entirety. From score to cast to dialogue and landscape to practical effects and most of all its unabashed fearlessness towards nihilism. Disney has spoiled generations of audiences by spoon feeding them a resolution to the conflict and the always dominant hero. But in The Thing, we are denied those expectations, wonderfully so. Not everything has to have a resolution. Not every story must end with the hero defeating the monster. Ambiguity exists in nature and thus should representation on screen, at least sometimes, right?

The Thing

by William D. Prystauk

Introduction

When I first saw The Thing on the big screen, I was overwhelmed by the oppressive nature of John Carpenter’s film as well as its mystery, music, cinematography, and remarkable special effects from Rob Bottin and company, as well as the gripping writing from Bad News Bears scribe, Bill Lancaster. Unfortunately, 1982 was a banner year for strong movies so The Thing didn’t make the final cut when it came to earnings, and Carpenter is supposedly still bitter about his film’s poor performance in theaters. Today, however, the film’s considered a masterpiece by many horror cinephiles, and rightfully so.

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This is not a Remake

Carpenter’s version is not a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World with James Arness playing the alien version of Frankenstein’s monster. In this case, the movie deviates from the original tale, “Who Goes There?” a short story spun by John W. Campbell Jr., and leaves fighting the creature to the military still deservedly basking in the glow of a post-World War II world right before the horrors of The Korean War. In the story, scientists resolve the alien issue, though Lancaster’s script calls for scientists and military veterans to try and figure a way out.

Carpenter stayed closer to Campbell’s tale with its shape-shifting monster and the paranoia it caused. The director chose to have a much smaller staff at National Science Institute Station 4 instead of a larger component of men, but he kept most of the major characters’ names. As for Campbell’s tale, it’s actually a bad read due to repetition (he must have referred to MacReady as being “bronze” a hundred times) and from a sad overuse of “to be” verbs. For his part, Carpenter and Lancaster made Campbell’s story shine like gold.

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Who the Hell Are These Guys?

For a science station, the men who work there don’t really fit the bill. Sure, Billings (Peter Maloney) is a meteorologist, Norris (Charles Hallahan) has a broader mind beyond his geology degree, Windows (Thomas Waites) serves as the radioman, lumberjack looking Clark (Richard Masur) handles the dogsled team, Nauls (TK Carter) feeds the crew, and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) does his best to keep everyone healthy. The man who keeps the team in line is Garry (Donald Moffat), who for some reason has a six-gun strapped to his side with a gun belt to match and serves no other purpose than a security guard. Childs (Keith David) is one hell of a mechanic, who can obviously juggle boilers, tractors, and helicopters with ease. The pilots of the choppers are Vietnam vets Palmer (David Clennon), a stoner who one wouldn’t trust to fly a remote control whirlybird, and MacReady (Kurt Russel). Both men suffer from PTSD in their own way, and while Palmer socializes and engages in marijuana, MacReady isolates himself and indulges in scotch. The final part of the troupe is Blair (Wilford Brimley) and his understudy assistant, Fuchs (Joel Polis). At one point, Doc Copper orders Blair “… to start an autopsy right away.” In Campbell’s story, Blair’s a biologist, which makes sense for the movie version, but why would he be a master of autopsy? Since the dogs have no veterinarian, he may also play that role and could have performed necropsies on animals in the past.

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When witnessing the game room scene, it’s clear the men are often “standoffish.” Nauls, who a second ago was resting in his cot and watching TV with Palmer, plays pool with Clark. Windows fumbles with the newspaper from the couch, while Norris, Bennings, and Garry play poker. There’s no banter, no noise, and clearly no fun. It’s as if all these guys did something heinous and were sent to Antarctica to cool down for the “first goddamn week of winter.” Yet, they not only have handguns and shotguns at the ready, and at least one German rifle from a Norwegian, but they also have three flame throwers and dynamite. Doesn’t sound like a science station. Could it serve as some Cold War outpost? If so, this expansive complex can certainly support more men, and one wonders if abandonment of the facility looms on the horizon thanks to budget cuts.

The Thing Itself

The boogeyman in The Thing differs from the average creature feature antagonist. Each monster has a weakness, or so it seems, and once the human hero figures that out, the monster will be destroyed. In this case, the alien can replicate someone’s cells, absorb their language and mannerisms, and apparently the knowledge they have stored in their brains. Worst of all, it can seemingly infect anyone at any time (more about that later).

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Our intrepid crew doesn’t know which part of space the creature came from, but thanks to Norris, we know it’s ship crashed down onto the continent about 100,000 years ago. Beyond the being’s extensive hibernation, the ship proves to be a massive one, unlike the smaller craft in the 1951 film. What we don’t know is if this was a ship built by the Thing and his or her people, or if the creature got onboard and overwhelmed the entire crew with its cellular replication. Later in the narrative, we learn that the creature tries to recreate his craft on a smaller scale with the same look as the original. Since the Thing can absorb knowledge, and since we don’t know its age or where it’s been, this may be the optimal ship design it had discovered from its journeys across the cosmos.

Oddly enough, the creature ends up away from the ship on higher ground. This can certainly happen because the topography changed due to plate tectonics and maybe volcanism, but what did the Norwegian team actually dig up? If the creature crashed in Antarctica and went into hibernation after a short walk, it certainly didn’t overtake a human at the time. Too bad the Norwegians hadn’t filmed what this Thing actually looked like. But they did videotape the outline of the ship, and they unearthed the craft thanks to thermite charges. In the movie, one may think they blew up a massive hole the size of Rhode Island, but that would have displaced tons upon tons of ice and rock – and would have certainly registered on Norris’ seismograph at the station (there has to be one). The point is that MacReady and company, for some reason, land on a ridge above the ship and rappel down.

And once the creature thawed, it went to work on absorbing the Norwegians and its dogs.

The Other

The greatest element to the short story and both films is the element of “The Other.” As we discover in many science fiction and horror movies, the other is a xenomorph (“a strange form” by definition or an “alien” or “monster”) that either must be assimilated or destroyed. What is fantastic about this tale is both creature and human are “The Other.” Humans don’t belong in Antarctica and neither does that Thing. Since the “human others” can’t determine what the monster is, it can’t be assimilated and must be killed. The “alien other” wants to assimilate the humans, yet destroys them in the process.

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To see something like this in cinema is rare, though one finds such a human-xenomorph “other” combination in Ridley Scott’s Alien. The human component doesn’t thrive naturally in space, and though the alien creature comes off as the bad monster, the humans did bring this entity upon themselves in a “curiosity killed the cat” theme, though Jonesy lives to hiss another day. Unlike The Thing where destroy versus assimilate comes into play, Alien is all about kill or be killed.

Communication’s Down

Windows couldn’t connect with McMurdo (where he refers to the outpost as number 31 just like MacReady, instead of 4). The men of the station are in conflict about who should lead and who shouldn’t be trusted. But there is absolutely no communication between human and Thing.

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This horror turns into a cat-and-mouse game between human and alien. Yet, if the creature just wants to survive and escape in a ship, why didn’t it simply ask for help? When MacReady addressed the members of the camp and realized they all weren’t infected because they would have jumped him, why didn’t he ask what the creature wanted? After all, it’s a stranger in a strange land, and “probably not in the best of moods” after portraying a xenomorphic popsicle for too many centuries.

Without any women on the station, one may think the crew was being macho or stubborn, but the reason runs deeper than an emotional state and posturing, though both of those elements certainly exist in the narrative. Like the alien, the humans are also predators, and that’s why communication between them never took shape. It’s a fight to the end, pure and simple. Think of it as any competition where one squares off against an opponent – to the death.

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Even so, a little communication could have gone a long way, but that would have made for a different kind of film, and one that wouldn’t be worthy of review for this category. By the way, ET phoned home in 1982 on June 11, and Carpenter’s film came out two weeks later as Spielberg’s friendly alien continued to captivate little kids and their parents nationwide.

Getting Infected

This has been a point of contention for many The Thing fans: Who got infected when, how, and even why? A meme showed Blair tapping a pencil against his lips after the autopsy. Hmm… However, the answer is far simpler: They were all at risk of infection the moment they unwrapped the creature with two faces, akin to the theater masks of comedy and drama, looking outward with one connected tongue. Doc Copper in all his medical expertise asked, “Is that a man in there?” when he and MacReady dug up the monster and brought it home to infect everyone else. Clearly, no quarantine protocol was in effect.

When they unwrapped the frozen creature, with the heat of the room, water evaporated from the body and Blair backed off from the stench. After all, the Thing began to defrost once inside the warmer helicopter. Now, as MacReady proved later with another item from the book, that each cell was a creature on its own, who knows what flew into the air and made its way through the mouths and nostrils and into the lungs of the crew. Yes, some became infected (though we really don’t know when), and others did not (though we really don’t know why), but airborne infection seems to be just as likely as bloodborne in this case.

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Due to each component of the Thing being its own individual entity, this creature may be its own entire civilization. In 2015, Robin Corey, a biochemist, wrote that there are 37.2 trillion cells in the human body, not including bacteria. This means that once the Thing takes over a human host, that can make for one hell of a population. Blair had calculated that we’d all be infected in 27,000 hours, which is a little over three years, but there’s an excellent chance that infection, or assimilation, would happen much faster.

The End

There are many more mysteries packed within Carpenter’s amazing horror, but that’s for another time. The important thing is to watch the film and become a prisoner like the others, trapped “a thousand miles from nowhere” without a radio, and a heavy storm that prevents anyone from escaping even on foot. This is what the horror genre is meant to be: isolated and frightening with a sense that there’s no way out.

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Carpenter tips his hand that there’s little hope for our characters right from the beginning. The opening shot after the credits is that of a sheer rock face. The camera lingers there as if to say it’s too foreboding and not scalable. We see the Norwegian helicopter flying over the rock as it heads towards its own doom, but it’s clear that our “science” crew won’t make it out of the station alive.

In the film, we’re left with a couple of characters waiting for what might possibly come next. We don’t know if one is infected or if either one of them is. We do know, however, that they’re both not infected because an alien greeting most definitely would have been different. And in the brownish light of a fiery night, the camera pulls back from the pair and we fade to black. In the television version, after the camera pulled back, we see a dog leaving the station, bookending the film in excellent fashion. Maybe it doesn’t really matter who was infected since all is lost.

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Thankfully, The Thing survived its poor and undeserved theatrical showing and keeps bringing the scares and incredible in-camera effects to new generations of horror fans. Whether you’ve seen the film once or a thousand times, keep your eyes peeled for the multitude of little mysteries that neither the characters nor the audience can answer (Who got to the blood anyway?). Revel in ambiguous horror that delivers on every level, including bottom end gloom from the renowned Ennio Morricone’s doom-ridden composition, and the excellent cinematography from one of the best, Dean Cundey. Carpenter created something for the ages, and for fans – human or otherwise.

WilliamP

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.

Keep up with Billy Crash’s many exploits by following his site!

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