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Slashers & Serial Killers in Reivew: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

[95 minutes. R. Director: Samuel Bayer]

Within the past two decades, horror remakes have gone from distinctive, auteur-driven works to mass-produced product. Horror remakes prior to the millennium were created with specific intent: Werner Herzog’s 1979 rendition of Nosferatu reconsidered F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film with improved technology; John Carpenter’s re-take of The Thing updated a 1950s alien-invasion flick into a transformative missive on assimilation and isolation; and David Cronenberg brought gravitas to his FX-heavy, 1986 version of The Fly.

Heck, even Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho was noteworthy for its big-studio gamble on a film that amounted to an elaborate “because I can” technical experiment.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: Them! (1954)

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

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

Alas, those day’s are gone forever.

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

Sad.

Well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atomic Age…

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

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

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

My rating: 5 out of 5

Who doesn’t love a good story? From great works such as, All Quiet on the Western Front and Salem’s Lot, Thomas S. Flowers has a passion to create similar character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore fests to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas has published several novels, including, Reinheit, The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, Beautiful Ugly and other Weirdness, Feast, and PLANET OF THE DEAD. In 2008, Thomas was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served 3 tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Military Police Officer. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at http://www.machinemean.org, where he contributes reviews on movies and books along with a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. Follow Thomas on his website www.ThomasSFlowers.com.

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Beautiful Ugly: And Other Weirdness by [Flowers, Thomas S.]


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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Do not adjust your transmission: The Last Knock

thelastknock

According to the website, “Join Billy Crash and Jonny Numb as they discuss their take on horror films. Intelligent thoughts on the making of movies, dissemination of plot twists, and provoking debate on the good, the bad, and the truly horrific.” And according to listeners such as myself, few podcasts go in-depth as The Last Knock does while not descending into the drone of becoming tedious.  And not only that, but the show runs just about every week, new episodes releasing typically during the weekend. They do themes and sometimes straight up movie reviews, from Silent Era flicks and German Expressionism to the latest, such as It Follows and Neon Demon. Basically, if you’re a fan of horror and horror movies, you need to check out The Last Knock. 

One-half of The Last Knock:

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William D. Prystuak, who is no stranger to Machine Mean. Will has reviewed for us Dracula’s Daughter (1936) during our Universal Monsters in Review series. Professor Prystuak is also an award-winning screenwriter, film producer, and teacher in higher education, as well as a published poet, and essayist. His crime thriller, BLOODLETTING, has been adapted from his script of the same name, and he is currently working on a horror series. William also co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK podcast as Billy Crash with his good buddy, Jonny Numb, and currently, has thousands of listeners in 120 countries. You can find more about horror and William on his Crash Palace Productions site. As an Assistant Professor of English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, William teaches business writing and public relations. You can find more about William at any of these fantastic sites: Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Fu9PHS Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1GhclaJ Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23365977-bloodletting BLOODLETTING Book Trailer One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVNji_G-tSI BLOODLETTING Book Trailer Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glK9DiVIHT8 IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5464477/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/william-d-prystauk/10/9a1/a55 Horror Podcast: THE LAST KNOCK on iTunes Twitter: @crashpalace. You can read Professor Prystuak’s review of Drac’s Daughter here.

Second-half of The Last Knock:

jonW

Jon Weidler, who also is no stranger to Machine Mean. He has reviewed 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 Mummy here.