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Creature Features in Review: Arachnophobia (1990)

Image result for arachnophobia 1990 poster

Arachnophobia is the most utterly terrifying film I have ever seen. I’ve seen, read, and written vomit-inducingly horrific things, but there’s only one thing that scares the absolute shit out of me— spiders. I was nine when this film premiered and, up until now, that’s the last time I watched it. Like the main character of the film, Dr. Ross Jennings, I am an arachnophobe (a person with an abnormal fear of spiders). Also like Dr. Jennings, my phobia was solidified by a traumatic early childhood experience (and many thereafter).

Flashback to the late 1980s: my brother Tommy and I were peering over the basement railings of our grandparent’s newly built house. We spied a black, circular, baseball-sized mass at the landing of the second flight of basement steps. Curious and eager to explore, we rushed down to the first landing to get a closer look. It appeared to be a giant rubber Halloween prop spider. Figuring our grandpa was playing a prank on us and eager to use the prop for our own nefarious devices, we rushed forward to grab it.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features In Review : Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan's 1Guillermo del Toro is a fascinating film-maker. Though he has ‘only’ directed ten films (not including two early shorts), the tenth of which, The Shape of Water is due out in 2017, his is a name held in regard amongst genre fans. Again, though many of his films have horror themes and imagery, only a clutch could be said to be out and out horror, yet again, he seems to be firmly embedded within the pantheon of horror film-makers (this may also be due to his continuing championing of the horror genre through production, nurturing of other film-makers, and his appreciation for the work of Lovecraft). Finally, he seems to move with relative ease between big studio-backed blockbusters (the Hellboy films, Pacific Rim), and more artistic, almost art-house films (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone). Arguably, it is with his few non-English language films that he has had his greatest artistic success; though he doesn’t seem to suffer from studio meddling in his larger films, they do tend to play safe, being large crowd pleasers to one extent or another, though always with his distinctive blend of direction and production values. With his more independent features, he seems to allow himself to follow creative freedom.

In Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro could be said to have hit a career high. Its rather grim storyline follows young Ofelia who, with her heavily pregnant mother Carmen, heads into the woods of 1944 Spain to be with Carmen’s new husband, the rather severe Captain Vidal. Vidal is stationed at an old mill in the forest in order to hunt out a last group of republican rebels (the film being set a few years after the end of the Spanish Civil War). What follows are two strands of narrative; one concerning Ofelia as her increasingly vivid imagination conjures a world of fairies, forest spirits, and monsters which provide an escape of sorts from an unhappy life she feels lost in; and the other showing the ongoing efforts of Vidal as he copes with his task while also dealing with Carmen, whose pregnancy is anything but easy. The way in which del Toro weaves these two strands together is nothing short of magnificent, giving neither ascendancy over the other, and making connections and parallels between both at various points. It also works astonishingly well; fantasy and reality sit together naturally, smoothly, without jarring or feeling awkward, forced.

Pan's 4

Being a second watch of this film – having seen it a number of years ago not long after it first came out – I was astonished at just how bleak this picture is. Though I recall many of the darker moments – the stark violence of Vidal beating a suspected rebel to near death with a bottle, the creeping horror of an inhuman, child-eating creature with eyes in its palms – I had forgotten that a broad strand of almost nihilism runs through the film. It’s not even hidden; the character of Carmen makes mention of how tough adult life is when trying to turn Ofelia away from her obsession with what most of the other adults see as very childish pursuits. Yet Ofelia is a child, simply one who happens to live in a time when rather than shield her from the worst of humanity, the elders – for the most part – wish to educate her, prepare her for life’s harsh realities. It’s a very interesting aspect, more so because it doesn’t feel oppressive or overly grim. Yes there is horror, yes, there is very little humour or lightness, yet the fantastical elements of the film manage to stave off what could have been a difficult and brutal watch. Instead, there is just enough of the illusion of levity to keep the dark tone from appearing too much. It’s an amazing trick, and one must conclude it’s entirely deliberate. From the eerie and magical score, to the creature designs – reminiscent of the Jim Henson workshop in their Dark Crystal days – we are hoodwinked into thinking this is a pure fantasy. But like the original fairy tales, it promises no real happy endings.

The acting is subtle and immersive, and though even Vidal – for example – is little more than an unredeemable villain, the actor still manages to suggest levels of complexity hiding below the surface. He is a deeply loyal man to his cause, to his officers, to his new family; Pan's 5all except Ofelia, whom he is dismissive of, distant even. This – and her increasing sense of her mother being taken from her – propels her to take refuge in her fantasy stories, in her imaginings. Or are they? There are hints and suggestions – as ephemeral as the myths we meet – that this aspect of the movie might not be as fictional as suggested by the adults. Ultimately, though, it’s one of those films which allow the viewer to interpret and draw their own conclusions. Perhaps it doesn’t even matter. It is a deeply nuanced work, as different from del Toro’s other films as it is distinctively his.

And as for those creature effects and designs; they are nothing short of wonderful. The detail here is amazing, showcasing a deep love of creativity and a passion rarely seen in film. Though a few moments of CGI look obviously fake, they are few and fleeting.

It is the practical effects which shine, the costumes, the set design, the sculpture. Beautifully rendered and shot, bringing the world to life.

The film deals with themes of change, of upheaval and progress. It posits an existence which is brief, uncertain, and generally filled with pain. Yet even in this, there is always Pan's 3hope and light, however small and fragile. There is also loss, pain, and confusion, and a sense of melancholy running through the narrative. It’s an absolutely wonderful and compelling work which feels exactly perfect; everything is present, nothing need be added or removed, and it plays out with perfect pacing and rhythm

To my mind, this is del Toro’s best – at least until I see The Shape of Water – and that, considering the excellent body of work he has so far amassed, is high praise. This is a film for anyone who considers themselves a serious fan of dark fantasy, who appreciates complexity and nuance and allegory in their movie-going experiences. It is a fantastic achievement, and a great example of the art.

Feeney

Paul M. Feeney is a writer of horror and dark fiction, with leanings towards the pulpier side of things (described by him as ‘Twilight Zone-esque’). His short fiction has appeared in anthologies by the likes of Sirens Call Publications, April Moon Books, and Fossil Lake, amongst others, and has had two novellas published to date – The Last Bus through Crowded Quarantine Publications, and Kids through Dark Minds Press. He currently lives in the north east of England, where he writes a steady output of shorts stories and novellas, while trying to start his first novel. He has a number of short stories due out through 2017/18 in various publications, and intends to pen a number of works with a recurring character in the sub-genre of Occult Detective fiction. He also writes reviews for horror website, This is Horror, under the pseudonym of Paul Michaels.


Creature Features in Review: Piranha (1978)

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

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


Creature Features in Review: Aliens (1986)

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

ALIENS: THEY MOSTLY COME AT NIGHT…MOSTLY

By: Israel Finn

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

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

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

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

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

GAME OVER, MAN! GAME OVER!

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

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

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

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

TO SUM UP

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

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

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

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

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

 


Creature Features in Review: DeepStar Six (1989)

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

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

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

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

Okay, with that out of the way…

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

REVIEW:

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

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

But the first half works.

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

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

But no—he’s a loner Dottie… a rebel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other than that…?

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

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

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

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

This last part is worse than that.

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

 

WHAT I LIKED:

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

-Miguel Ferrer, but I always do.

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

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

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

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

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

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

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

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

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

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

RATING:

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

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

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


Creature Features in Review: Predator (1987)

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

PREDATOR: They Were Skinned Alive – a lecture.

By: Rich Hawkins

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

*parp*

*snigger*

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

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

*clears throat, adjusts underwear*

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

It was horrific.

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

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

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

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

So, that’s it.

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

I hope this lecture has been informative. Any questions?

*uncomfortable silence*

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

*even more of an uncomfortable silence*

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

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

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

Black Star, Black Sun by [Hawkins, Rich]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Creature Features in Review: Jaws (1975)

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

Jaws (1975)

By: Chad A. Clark

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

Daaaaa-dum.

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

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

And yes. Sharks are fish, not mammals.

Don’t lie, you were thinking it.

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

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

It’s a monster. Of the worst kind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Spielberg.

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

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Creature Features in Review: Alien (1979)

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

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

by William D. Prystauk

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

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

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

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

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

A Stellar Cast, an Out of this World Director

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

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

Galactic Feminism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

Space Relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intercosmic Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

Ripley: Obviously it means killing it.

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

The Universal Other

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

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

Macrocosmos of Mysteries

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

“Better break out the weapons”

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

First Contact

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

Ancient Computers

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

The Signal

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

“Why don’t you just freeze him?!”

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

Locked Up

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

How old are you now?

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

Space Rape

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celestial Conclusion

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

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

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

You DO NOT want to miss a single episode of his award-winning podcast, The Last Knock!

 


Creature Features in Review: King Kong (1933)

I am going to assume you’ve seen this film so spoilers will abound. If you haven’t, for the love of God, go. Go now.

Well, now. Here we are again.

Last time, it was Bride of Frankenstein (check out THAT review here). Sure, Thomas, I’ll cover Bride’, thinking quick watch through of Frankenstein and the sequel, then 1500 words, bish bash bosh, job done. Then that sinking feeling, as I realized how ludicrously good Bride was, how much I’d have to say, would want to say, just how big the world of existing essays, books and criticism must already be.

You might have thought I’d have learned something from that.

Yeah.

Apparently not.

So, King Kong. In my defense, I had seen it before, and more in my defense, it had been well over a decade. So, my memory was simply that it was bloody brilliant, absurdly good for a movie made in 1933, a cracking, action packed monster movie with some bonus pathos and what have you.

And, you know, that wasn’t wrong, per se. Watching it again for this, I was forcibly struck by how sophisticated so much of the effects work was. The combination of stop frame and huge model work, for example, is incredibly impressive, as are the moments where the stop frame interacts with filmed actors at certain points (even if with modern eyes it’s painfully clear when the actor becomes a stop frame version of themselves, there’s still a certain not-quite-sure-how-they-did-that thrill to the transitions). Kong himself is glorious, especially in mid shot, fighting a T-Rex or giant snake. The giant model face isn’t quite as expressive or mobile as the stop frame equivalent, but it’s for the most part intelligently used for short close ups and is especially brilliant when he has some poor islander or explorer being used as a chew toy.

Similarly, Skull Island is as spectacular as I remembered. Bathed in the ethereal, slightly hazy black and white glow (my DVD copy of the movie was clearly a straight lift from the film stock, preserving even the cue marks signaling the need to swap reels), the island really does feel like a visitation to The Past. The giant wall, the extensive, gorgeous hand painted backgrounds, the cunning use of rear projection to show dinosaurs and explorers on camera together and the mighty, thunderous score, all combine to brilliant effect, creating a viewing experience that is utterly captivating. King Kong is a class act all the way.

Similarly, the acting is superb throughout, with special props going to the indefatigable Fay Wray, who has the absolutely thankless task of screaming in peril from basically the 30-minute mark to the close, with little pause for breath, but who nonetheless brings incredible depth, humanity, and interiority to her character. Her acting in her first big scene, when filmmaker Denham makes his pitch, is especially brilliant, her desperation and hunger warring with common sense and fear, her vulnerability genuinely heartbreaking. It packs an extra wallop when you consider that the Great Depression was both a current and ongoing event at the time the film was made, with many young actresses no doubt facing real world choices every bit as stark as Ann Darrow’s dilemma.

That’s a layer of sophistication the movie exhibits that had completely passed me by on prior viewings, actually. I’m so used to movie depictions of The Great Depression (The Sting being the example that immediately springs to mind, a movie I love unconditionally) that the contemporaneous nature of the film passed me by. And yet King Kong is, in part, a pretty pointed social commentary on the economics of that time – how people sought to escape from the crushing misery of the day to day by visiting movie theaters and getting blissed out on Hollywood. When you think about the essential amorality of filmmaker Carl Denham in King Kong, and the ultimate fate of the theatregoers eager to see the ‘8th wonder of the world’… well, let’s just say there was a to-me entirely unexpected level of anxiety and self-criticism from Hollywood that was both pointed and kind of thrilling. I mean, I was expecting – eagerly anticipating, even – the fifty-foot gorilla going ape. A movie displaying insecurity about the role of mass entertainment in the midsts of financial upheaval and social misery? That was a welcome and crunchy surprise.

There were other surprises that were less welcome. And here, I am going to wimp out by simply observing the painfully obvious; namely, that a movie that was made in the 1930’s and that depicts an island of ‘natives’ with brown skin contains racial politics that could charitably be described as ‘problematic’. I am both acknowledging and skipping that not because I don’t think it matters, or doesn’t deserve discussion, but because minds far superior to mine have already engaged with the subject with far more knowledge and insight than I could hope to bring, and you should go to Pop Matters and READ their article, and then read Angry Bitch Blog on the subject, and then Inverse’s take,  and don’t forget this bit of commentary. All I will say here is obvious; it’s there, and it’s ugly. And if you feel a discussion of Kong that doesn’t engage with the racial politics of the movie is woefully incomplete, you’re right, and I’m sorry, but I also know when a subject is too big for me, both in terms of concepts and word counts.

I think it’s worth taking just a quick look at the Kong-as-boy thing, though.

And let’s just start by observing that Kong clearly is male. It’s not just the name – though there is that – but his performative chest-beating displays are lifted directly from the behavior of the male silverbacks he’s modeled on. And let us further observe that this fifty-foot ape is, therefore, genetically speaking, a very close relative indeed.

Again, in full awareness that I’m dislocating my hip in order to sidestep the huuuuuuuge racial implications and encoding of the giant ape falling for a white woman, having previously eaten all the brown women he was offered (because, fucking yuck, let’s not), what we have here, therefore, is a love story. A violent, inarticulate, hugely powerful male is drawn to kidnap, then preserve and protect a small, vulnerable beautiful female from a hostile world.

Now, the movie itself draws an explicit parallel here between this situation and the story of Beauty and the Beast – indeed, it makes what looks suspiciously like a post-modern joke to that effect on the boat, with Denham fully saying out loud, apparently to himself ‘Say! I’m developing a theme here!’. But the film that I found myself going back to was Bride Of Frankenstein.

Because Kong, like The Monster, is, well, a monster. Powerful. Inarticulate. Angry. Violence-prone. Strong, yet vulnerable. Lonely.

Innocent.

That’s the real kicker, for me – the factor that gives both such amazing cinematic power and resonance. The innocence. Kong is innocent. Not good, you understand: he kidnaps women, seems to enjoy a spot of mortal combat rather too much, and certainly chews people to death, even if he doesn’t eat them. Like the other Monster, his anger is swift to rise and terrible to behold.

At the same time, he’s still innocent. In Kong’s case, he’s unarguably a product of his environment. In an ecosystem as hostile and violent as Skull Island, only the most ruthless and strong can possibly survive. Kong’s aggression and violence may be terrifying, but they are also understandable necessary survival mechanisms. He may have that considerable ape intelligence, but he’s still, as we’d understand it, a ‘dumb animal’.

Like the monster, we are invited to both fear Kong, but also pity him – perhaps even love him. It’s fundamentally Not His Fault, after all – he’s taken from a place where he belongs to a world he cannot hope to understand. Again, sidestepping the imagery of the chains (not enough yuck in the world, there), we’ve got the same notion seen in ‘Bride..’ of ‘civilisation’ colliding with a more primal force.

And this is where, I think, things get fundamentally fucked up. Because Kong is a monster. He kills indiscriminately, his obsession with Ann Darrow is the worst kind of stalker/woman as object behavior, and he appears to enjoy destruction and violence for its own sake. These are monstrous behaviors. Add in the whole fifty feet tall thing, and, well…

None of us would remotely dig having Kong in our town, and if he was coming down the street, the vast majority of us wouldn’t want the RSPCA (or ASPCA for my transatlantic friends). No, we’d want the army and a fucking bazooka.

But he’s not on our street. He’s on the screen. And there, knowing what we know about his history, safe in the knowledge that we’re not going to become Kong popcorn, we can feel for him. We can empathize with his pain. We can rationalize his obsession, forgive his violence. He’s a dumb animal. He doesn’t know any better. He’s been hurt and he’s lashing out. It’s the only behavior he understands.

And when the planes finally take him down, some of us may even weep.

I usually do.

And, you know, that’s okay, because he is an animal. If we take the fiction seriously, it’s not surprising to feel that way. But it is, also, undeniably unsettling. Kong’s behavior, his effect, is terrible, terrifying, horrendous. Yet he is innocent. As with that other monster, it’s the tension between those two facts that elicits such strong emotions, such powerful pathos.

Still, I can’t help feel like there’s a parable here, albeit not the one intended by the filmmakers. Because looked at as a list of traits, Kong is pretty much textbook toxic masculinity (yes, I know he’s an ape). And you can feel the racist barely-subtext tugging again if you note that the message seems to be that these traits are innate, a product of environment, and that ‘civilisation’ is ultimately to blame for transforming the environment to such an extent that these natural instincts no longer have relevance, have become destructive.

And, you know, fuck that, basically.

I think by far the more interesting read is to note that, yes, Kong has these horrible traits, but we as an audience can see them and still empathize with him, still feel sadness at his treatment and his passing. In the same way as we do for the Universal Monster, and interestingly, in a way that far fewer of us can for the real life, human monsters that share these traits.

Because, of course, Kong is innocent.

That’s the aspect of the movie that still gnaws away at my mind, the dichotomy that elevates this from merely brilliant period popcorn to something… ah, hell, we’ve come this far. Let us just call it art, shall we?

Kit Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as, GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.

Pick up YOUR copy of GodBomb! for $3.99 on Amazon!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Friday the 13th: The Game

“He’s back! The man behind the mask, and he’s out of control” ~ Alice Cooper

When it comes to slasher movies there are few killers who have anything in comparison with Jason Voorhees.  He has amassed a kill count of over two hundred people. While other slashers have their kill count in the double digits; Jason has triple. When Friday the 13th launched in June of 1980—it became a huge success! Despite what the studio had to say about slasher movies, in a way, it helped propel the slasher genre. The franchise has eleven movies and one re-make.

The 80’s were a time of home entertainment—more so, the pre-cursor of today.  Where the only time we really have to leave our house is to work. Video Game consoles were taking off—allowing family and children to chuck the board games aside or into the back of the closet.  The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was wildly popular with young children and teens.

By the time the Nintendo launched, Friday the 13th was on its fifth film.  It would be four years later when Friday the 13th part: VIII was released that a video game would coincide with the release of the film.

Developed by LJN in 1989, it was one of the first survival horror games released in America.  The story of the game: You play as a group of counselors, and you must save the children of camp Crystal Lake.  The game is notorious for jump scares and not player friendly.  Overall, it failed to stay true to the F13 franchise.

In October of 2015, Gun media and Illfonic launched a Kickstarter for a new F13 game.  Based on their original idea of a multiplayer game where you play as the slasher and 8 people played counselors, the slasher would chase the counselors down and do what he does best. Kill.  Once Sean S. Cunningham saw the tech demo for the prototype, and he offered the F13 license.

Editors note: Before Cunningham offered up the f13 license, the Kickstarter project was known as “Summer Camp.”

The game itself is a collaboration of sorts: It re-unites Tom Savini to the franchise (Jason’s original designer), Harry Manfredini (series composer), and it re-unites the most important thing to the series, the only actor who has ever played Jason more than once: Kane Hodder, who will be performing the motion capture for Jason.

Being a Friday the 13th fan, it was my obligation to donate to the campaign.  I donated at the $55.00 tier and earned the right to play in the beta, which was released in December of 2016. The excitement to play was tearing at me.  The drive home from work was the longest drive in the history of the world, it felt miserably slow.

Once the computer finally booted up and I was introduced to a nostalgic opening.  It feels like you have just popped in your favorite VHS tape, the tracking finally diminishes and you are introduced to the name of the developer: Illfonic and Gun Media.

You are greeted by various shots of Jason and the infamous “Ki Ki Ma Ma” is heard. The title scene in itself is something nice.  It allows you to feel the ambiance, and you’re treated to Manfredini’s music, an ode to the classic F13 sound.

Every match begins the same, you pick the counselor you want to play and Jason is selected randomly.  Every character has a different set of skills that will help them survive the match, and the counselors get a certain number of perks.  Jason has pre-selected perks for each version you play (There are five in all. Part 2, 3,6,7,8 and Jason Goes to Hell, plus a backer original designed by Savini himself).  One of the most interesting things about playing as Jason is that you will be able to level him up and select different kills.  One of my favorites is the kill from part VIII where Jason knocks Julius’s head clean off his shoulders.  You are also able to select new kills that were created for the game.

Now, one would expect that playing as Jason is the best part of the game, not true.  The counselors are what make the game fun, sure, walking around and killing dozens of teens is a good time, however, the thrill of staying alive is where the fun is.

As the counselors, you have four objectives—either, call the police and they will meet you at a select point in the map,  fix a car and drive off the map, kill Jason, ( not available in the beta), or die.

As a counselor, you are able to find various items to help fight off Jason or stun him long enough for you to make a hasty retreat. You have the option of hiding from him in cabins, closets, and tents (playing as Jason, finding the hiding counselors will reward you with extra XP that you can use to buy more kills).  Sounds simple, right? Not, so much.  Jason has different abilities. One ability, allows you to transport Jason to any part of the map, another ability, will allow Jason to chase the counselors or appear in front of them.  The main ability players will use is “Sense”  as it allows Jason to see where the campers have staked out—making it slightly easier to hunt them.

The game is fun, at least, the beta.   It gives the feeling of fear and confusion and plays true to the F13 format.   The ambiance of the game is something that really plays into effect.  The ground is often dark and shadows play tricks on the eye.  When Jason comes close to a party or a single camper, a music Que plays to let you know he is near. While it seems cheesy, it gives the player a chance to run and hide.  The game feels like a movie.  Something, I never expected—being a longtime fan of video games and a regular player. I’m not a fan of multiplayer games, at all, with F13, I felt I was in the movie.  I would get adrenaline rushes if Jason was near and I was wounded. My fight or flight instinct would kick in and most the time I would lose or there would be a chance, I would get away, only to have Jason take his revenge, and shove a machete down my throat.  Despite, some bugs (it’s a beta, they will happen) it was an experience I will never forget and cannot wait for the full release.

Friday the 13th: The game is a rare feat, it stays true to the license. A prime of example that in the right hands a movie license can stay true to its origins. And make an experience worthwhile; other companies can learn from this particular developer. If care and passion go into a license a game can break free of the bonds and ideologies; that all movie-based games are cheap and never a worthwhile experience.

Friday the 13th breaks that mold, not only for horror games but multiplayer games, as well.

Kurt Thingvold, no stranger to Machine Mean, was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, which 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 his short story, Roulette, which can be found on Amazon for $0.99!!! 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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