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
August 4, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1990, arachnophobia, Brian McNamara, classic horror, classic monster movies, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, Creature Features in Review, film, Frank Marshall, Guest author, guest contributor, Harley Jane Kozak, Henry Jones, Horror, James Handy, Jeff Daniels, John Goodman, Julian Sands, Kathy Kinney, Lydian Faust, Mark L. Taylor, monster movies, Peter Jason, review, Reviews, Stuart Pankin | 2 Comments
Guillermo 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.
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; all 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 hope 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.
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.
July 27, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Creature Feature, Creature Features in Review, Doug Jones, film, Guest author, guest contributor, Guillermo del Toro, Ivana Baquero, monster movies, movie reviews, Movies, Pan's Labyrinth, Paul M. Feeney, review | Leave a comment
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
July 13, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1978, Barbara Steele, Bradford Dillman, classic monster movies, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, Dick Miller, eco-horror, film reviews, Gore, Grindhouse, Guest author, guest contributor, guts, Heather Menzies, Horror, horror movie reviews, Joe Dante, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Bray, monster movies, movie reviews, naturalism, Piranha, Reviews, thrillers | 2 Comments
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!!!
June 22, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1986, Aliens, Bill Paxton, blockbuster movies, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, Creature Features in Review, film, Guest author, guest contributor, Horror, horror movies, Israel Finn, James Cameron, Jenette Goldstein, Lance Henriksen, Mark Rolston, Michael Biehn, monster movies, movie reviews, Paul Reiser, Reviews, sci fi, sci fi horror, Sigourney Weaver | 7 Comments
[ 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…
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.
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
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!!
June 15, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1989, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, Creature Features in Review, cult film, DeepStar Six, Elya Baskin, film, Greg Evigan, Guest author, Horror, horror movie reviews, horror movies, Miguel Ferrer, monster movies, movie reviews, Nancy Everhard, Nia Peeples, ocean monsters, Patrick Loveland, Reviews, Sean S. Cunningham, Taurean Blacque, terror, thriller, underwater | 5 Comments
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.
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?
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!
June 7, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1980's, 1987, Action, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Duke, Carl Weathers, Classics, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, Creature Features in Review, Guest author, Horror, horror movie reviews, Horror reivews, Jesse Ventura, John McTiernan, Kevin Peter Hall, monster movies, movie reviews, Predator, Reviews, Rich Hawkins, sci fi, science fiction, Shane Black, Sonny Landham | 2 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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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May 18, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1975, Chad A. Clark, Chad Clark, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, creature features, Creature Features in Review, film, film reviews, Guest author, Horror, horror reviews, Jaws, Lorraine Gary, monster, monster movies, movie reviews, Movies, Murray Hamilton, Peter Benchley, Reviews, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, Steven Spielberg | 6 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
May 11, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1979, Alien, atmospheric, blockbuster, Bolaji Badejo, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, Dan O'Bannon, dark, film, Guest, Guest author, Harry Dean Stanton, Helen Horton, Horror, horror reviews, Ian Holm, John Hurt, monster movies, monsters, movie reivews, Reviews, Ridley Scott, science fiction, Sigourney Weaver, social commentary, social satire, The Last Knock, Tom Skerritt, top ten movies, Veronica Cartwright, William D. Prystauk, Yaphet Kotto | 8 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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May 4, 2017 | Categories: History, Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1933, black and white, Bruce Cabot, classic monster movies, Classics, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, Ernest B. Schoedsack, Fay Wray, film, Frank Reicher, Gonzo, greatest movies, Guest author, Horror, horror reviews, King Kong, Kit Power, Merian C. Cooper, monster movies, monsters, movie reviews, Reviews, Robert Armstrong, social commentary, Top Ten | 4 Comments
“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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April 21, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Reviews, Video Games | Tags: 1980's, Alice Cooper, beta, beta games, camp councilors, console, Friday the 13th, Guest author, Horror, horror games, horror reviews, Jason Goes to Hell, Jason Voorhees, Kane Hodder, kills, Kurt Thingvold, mayhem, Murder, Reviews, survival, survival horror, survivor horror, Tom Savini, VHS, video game reviews, video games, violence, Xbox One | 3 Comments
There is no middle ground. You love them or you hate them. You either gently put them back outside when you find one in the bathroom, or you go Ripley on the bastards with a can of aerosol deodorant and a lighter.
Having had a terrible, life-changing spider experience myself, I come down pretty firmly on the Screw the Biosphere, Annihilate All Arachnids side of things. And yet, I am compelled to watch the 1977 movie, Kingdom of the Spiders, three or four times a year. Why would I put myself through that psychological torture?
Because this movie is freakin’ amazing, that’s why.
The story is basic bio-horror, where humans and their usage of pesticides are the real enemies. All that wanton spraying of DDT has killed off the smaller animals usually eaten by tarantulas. Out of necessity, and possibly anger, the tarantulas have banded together into a supergroup, much like Asia or The Traveling Wilburys. Working together, they can take down much larger prey. Cows! Biplane pilots! William Shatner!
That’s right. William Shatner. Before you start doing that Captain Kirk impression in your mind, understand that out of all the Shatners that Bill Shatner has ever shat, this is the least Shatner of all the Shatners. He gives a fine, almost realistic, performance in this movie. No chewing scenery, no unfortunate soliloquies. He knows he’s in a crappy B-movie, yet he sets his histrionics on stun.
Shatner plays a veterinarian with the awesome name of Rack Hansen. Can you imagine all the stuff you could get away with if your name were Rack Hansen?
“I’m sorry, Golden Corral server named Marla, but I won’t be paying for this meal, for I am… RrrrrrrACK HANSENNnnnnn.”
“I understand, Mr. Hansen. Please come back and bring condoms, for I want to make sweet ham fat love to you by the meat carving station.”
It all starts with a calf, dead for reasons Hansen can’t quite comprehend. He sends a sample of the calf’s blood to the lab and the lab sends back a woman. Not the standard way to respond to blood samples, but it works in this case. The woman, Diane Ashley (Tiffany Boling), is an arachnologist… arachnidiatrist… a spider doctor person. Turns out the calf was killed by an insane amount of spider venom. The guy who owned the calf (Woody Strode) says something to the effect of, “Oh, that explains the giant fucking spider hill behind my house with thousands of tarantulas crawling around it.”
The puny humans make an attempt to burn the spider hill, but those clever tarantulas have an escape tunnel. They regroup and begin an attack on the town itself.
It’s never explained how the pesticides give the tarantulas human emotions, like anger or the desire for crawling revenge, but soon, the little bastards are on the rampage, tearing through a small town in Arizona. It’s like a small, eight-legged version of The Warriors, as the humans try to make their way to Camp Verde, a resort where they can hide and be safe. It’s their Coney Island. Meanwhile, the Gramercy Riffs (the spiders) are hot on their tails, leaving cocooned victims in the streets behind them.
There are so many spiders in this movie, most of them actual live tarantulas, and if you love the creepy-crawly little things, be warned. I think some of them get smashed on camera. They used fake spiders, too, so there’s no way of really knowing. It’s certainly not at the Cannibal Holocaust level of animal violence, but there’s your trigger warning.
If you can get past that, you’re in for a real treat with this movie. The spiders show up in waves, like the little aliens from Space Invaders. There’s a lengthy sequence where the tarantulas attack the center of town, and it’s surprisingly brutal. Bloody dead kids wrapped in webs lying on the sidewalk like Pez dispensers for spiders. Panic in the streets. One elderly man goes shuffling in front of the camera with a real tarantula on his Sunday hat. He just wanted to make it to Golden Corral before Rack Hansen used all the ham fat! Now he’ll never use that AARP discount.
What’s the deeper meaning of it all? Tarantulas are creepy. That’s it! There ya go. This is a movie for loving, not analyzing. As far as the eco-terror genre goes, Kingdom of the Spiders is one of the most effective entries because it doesn’t beat you in the face with any Silent Spring manifesto. It is way more concerned with dropping live tarantulas onto actors getting paid scale and recording their terrified reactions. Cruel? Probably. Does it work? Hell, yeah.
The ending, which involves an egregious matte painting, is rightfully infamous, but even that works within the context of things. For a film with no CGI and William Shatner, there’s no other way the movie could end.
Ridiculously entertaining while remaining fairly grounded in reality, Kingdom of the Spiders is a must-see. While it has been made fun of by professional movie riffers, watch it straight before you indulge in that kind of wackiness. Like your spouse’s siblings, Kingdom of the Spiders deserves respect and the benefit of the doubt before you make fun of it behind its back.
Jeffery X. Martin is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elders Keep universe. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work, including his latest novel, Hunting Witches, on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. When Mr. X is not writing creepy mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and review sites, including but not limited to, Popshifter, Kiss the Goat, and the Cinema Beef Podcast. He is a frequent contributor to Machine Mean, reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and Squirm (1976).
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LOVE NEVER DIES.
Everyone in Elders Keep knows you don’t wander into Parham’s Field at night. But when a body is discovered there in the heat of the summer, Sheriff Graham Strahan and historian Josie Nance must uncover the truth. Their meeting with a mysterious old man reveals a tragic and terrifying romance that stretches from the 1970’s to the present. It is a journey to the festering abscesses of the human heart, a dark love story told as only Jeffery X Martin can tell it.
April 20, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1977, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, film, Guest author, Horror, horror movie reviews, Jeffery X Martin, John Cardos, Kingdom of the Spiders, Lieux Dressler, monster movies, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Tiffany Bolling, William Shatner, Woody Strode | 2 Comments
Wes Craven’s 1994 New Nightmare was a movie ahead of its times. In that I mean, the way the story was told, the significance of something we make-believe into being real (knowing it is actually fictional) and having it given back to us as this make-believe thing made real by our own imagination. That was kind of the genius of Craven’s New Nightmare. Freddy wasn’t real, but we pretended he was, as we do with all characters we watch on the big screen, small screen, or even in print, and yes even the horrorish ones. New Nightmare played on that, trapping the imaginative character Freddy in the make-believe world until the “movies” ended and thus releasing the bonds that kept imagination captive. Suddenly Freddy is real because WE made him real. Very clever, if you sit for a spell and think about it. Unfortunately, much like Jason Goes to Hell, audiences, and fans of the Nightmare on Elm Street series were expecting…well…what they have been accustomed to and not this metaphysical metaphor of fantasy meets reality through a sort of cognitive mythological construct. Not all movies fall prey to being ahead of their time. Take 2011’s Cabin in the Woods as a perfect example of the right kind of out of the box thinking movie coming out at the right moment in our social environment, which is to say at the very least uncertain.
Cabin in the Woods
By: Jeremy Flagg
I was raised on 80’s slasher films. Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween filled my nights, and as an adolescent, they may have altered my childhood. However, these classic horror films provided ample education. I learned at an early age, you never separate from your friends, you never skinny dip, you never get drunk, and by all means, never lose your virginity in a sketchy locale. While a multitude of movies have attempted to recreate these classic tactics of terror, few have ever lived up to the original.
In walk Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard with Cabin in the Woods.
Horror movies have a recipe. With an ample suspension of disbelief, a movie builds tension, redirects our fear, and then in a moment of complacency, it scares. This recipe is repeated with variation for a little over an hour and somehow, at the end, our “final girl” perseveres by eliminating the big bad. We are put again into suspense as the credits end and claws emerge, or a hand rises from the grave, or a mask is picked up. There is a formula we’ve grown comfortable with, when it is tampered with, we get uneasy. However, Cabin in the Woods examines this formula, uses it, stomps on it, laughs at it, uses it again, and at the end, we’re left blinking in an entertained disbelief.
It starts with scientists talking about child safety cabinets and how only they and Japan remain viable options. What? Isn’t Cabin in the Woods a movie about a group of people going on a mini vacation to a vacant cabin in the middle of the, well, woods? Cue title scene and then onto the movie we expect. A fun flirty vibe, filled with sunshine, dreams and the need for relaxation. We have all the expected character tropes necessary to make a mediocre horror film; the jock, the overachiever, the stoner, the sexy girl and the kind of nice guy who we instantly forget is in the movie. Everything about this post screams “middle of the road.” Or does it?
True to form, we’re ten minutes into the film and the group of soon to be killed young adults have met the old man who gives foreboding advice. However, in every scene, we see a hint of something. A man following them reports to his superiors. The old man makes a phone call asking for approval. A flying eagle crashes into an unseen wall. A room in the cabin holds a one-way mirror. There is a horror movie laid on top of something, perhaps a conspiracy? We’re barely into the movie and we already know we’re being played with and it’s not being subtle. Are we seeing hints of a twist? It must be a twist because goodness knows every movie has to have an obnoxious twist at the end. That’s how horror is done.
As the screen zooms out, we realize the scientists are watching the five young adults. Wait, that’s not how horror goes? These goons are watching them, luring them into this horrific situation. Lowering inhibitions with chemicals and increasing their libido, we have no idea to what end, but we know they’re setting them up for disaster. It’s only made more comical as they take bets on how the group will die. We have no idea why this is happening, but we know that the scientists can only lead them to a dangerous situation. The group must begin the catalyst that will set them up for death.
Now let’s recap, cause from here on out something serious changes in this movie. We know it’s a horror movie. We know the scientists are setting the scene for this horror movie. We know death is coming, but we’re still not entirely sure why. As they are led to the basement where a variety of talismans and treasures are stored, we discover they will choose their fate. Zombie redneck tortured family. Meanwhile, a similar fate is befalling a group of Japanese school children, a scenario competing with our movie for victims.
The movie adds a new element, horror movie as a spectator sport. However, the darker, and even more genius aspect is that we, the viewer are part of the movie. Much like the scientists watching their hidden cameras, we are rooting for the body count to begin. As danger looms on the horizon, we are hoping for a massacre. We want those partaking in dangerous activities such as drinking, drugs, or sex to fall victim to the classic horror deaths. And when the sex kitten is about to pull off her blouse, we want her to die. Then she resists and plays coy and we, along with a room full of watching spectators groan. Then science jumps in, releasing a pheromone mist.
Wait, does this potentially explain why in every horror movie stupid stuff happens? Were deranged scientists aiding Jason and those campers were all just victims of a mastermind game player? Did chemicals being pumped into the bedrooms of teenagers bring on Freddy as a hallucination? I’m left pondering if everything I’ve been told is a lie. But wait, I’ll worry about that later, because redneck zombies are about to start killing people. Did I just cheer? Maybe.
!!! Spoilers Below !!!
As redneck pain-loving zombies achieve their first kill (a girl about to get her groove on) we’re introduced to a new piece of the puzzle. Somehow, the scientists are culling the blood of the victims in some sort of ceremonial effort. Our next clue comes from the drug-addled hippy that is so used to altering his mind, the chemicals created by the scientists do little to affect him. Cue more classic death scenes, often times paired with comedic lines from the viewers in the bunker of scientists. When the victims refuse to split up, scientists manipulate the scene forcing the classic tropes to align to their 80’s horror counterpart.
Cabin in the Wood teaches us that a healthy addiction to Weed can save us in a horror movie.
The movie gets, even more, meta as the remaining two survivors find themselves in an elevator going down into the bunker hidden beneath the cabin. Locked in cages, we see a variety of classic horror monsters. Werewolves, giant bat things, even a unicorn are kept in cages, waiting to be called upon to slay the innocent. As the fool, our high-as-a-kite unlikely hero and the virgin unleash havoc on the underground bunker, releasing hordes of b-rate horror atrocities, we find ourselves cheering on the death yet again. We’re not quite right in the head.
As the final showdown begins, we’re not given a Final Girl showdown of immense proportions. Sigourney Weaver says that if the heroes live, they will destroy the world. The heroes, the ones we’ve been rooting for, either die, or we all die. I’m not sure if I’m annoyed or I commend them as they decide to live, thereby destroying the world. But, you know, it happens.
The snappy dialogue mixed with this meta look at horror creates something entirely new to the genre. We find ourselves cheering on the heroes, only to condemn them, and wanting more mayhem. We learn quickly that we, the viewers of this disaster, are really quite twisted. Most of all, we’re really excited that we got to watch a unicorn slaughter a man. At the start of the review, you had no idea a unicorn would be whom we cheered on. Cause you know, it’s a horror movie.
Jeremy Flagg is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us Final Girls during our Freight Fest series, he also is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes. For more information about Jeremy, visit www.remyflagg.com.
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April 13, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Anna Hutchison, black comedy, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, dark humor, Drew Goddard, experimental metafiction, film, Fran Kranz, Guest author, Horror, Jeremy Flagg, Jesse Williams, Joss Whedon, Kristen Connolly, meta, Metaphysical, monster, monster movies, movie review, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Richard Jenkins, Satire, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Lenk | 12 Comments
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.
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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April 6, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1993, Ariana Richards, B. D. Wong, Classics, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, Fantasy, film, film review, Guest author, Jeff Goldblum, Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park, Kurt Thingvold, Laura Dern, mad science, Michael Crichton, monster movies, movie review, Movies, review, Reviews, Richard Attenborough, Sam Neill, Samuel L. Jackson, science fiction, science fiction movies, Steven Spielberg, Wayne Knight | 3 Comments
The further we get into this new series, the more I realize just how versatile creature features really are. I’m not afraid to admit, though I love the sub-genre, I kinda always pigeon-holed them as simple monster movies. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. So far we’ve seen the echoes of Hiroshima through the lens of Godzilla. We’ve walked the mythological soil of Midian in The Night Breed and we’ve walked the eco-horror swamps in Frogs. We bunkered ourselves in Outpost 31 in The Thing. We witnessed the destruction of New York City in Cloverfield. We were chased by the Creeper in Jeepers Creepers. And we’ve witnessed the birth of a new species of humanoid insect in Mimic, not to mention the transformation of a lonely scientist into a fly in The Fly. In each and every one of these, we’ve discovered that they are not just simple monster flicks, there’s something else going on behind the scenes. And we’ve only just begun. This is March. The last review for Creature Features in Review doesn’t post until December. So, in the words of doomed Ray Arnold, “Hold on to your butts,” cause this show is just getting started.
The supernatural is a factor in many of Dario Argento’s films. SUSPIRIA, INFERNO, and MOTHER OF TEARS all deal with witchcraft and, in DEEP RED, a psychic senses a serial killer. In PHENOMENA, Jennifer Corvino, (Jennifer Connelly,) uses her unique ability to communicate with insects to solve the disappearances and murders of several young girls in a remote part of the Swiss Alps. Jennifer, the daughter of a famous actor, is sent to the Richard Wagner School for Girls and immediately begins having nightmares and episodes of sleepwalking in which she is able to psychically witness the murders.
The film is confusing at times, and it gets hard to keep up with all of the jumping around, but it’s still a good story. It begins with a young tourist, (Fiore Argento,) who gets left behind by the bus in the countryside. She goes to a local house for help and is speared by the killer and decapitated by a pane of glass, a typical Argento death.
PHENOMENA borrows elements from SUSPIRIA. There is a voiceover as Jennifer arrives at the school, and she must explain a delayed flight made her late. The Headmistress, (Dalila Di Lazzaro,) seems to take an instant dislike to her, and all of the girls think she’s odd, except her roommate Sophie, (Frederica Mastroianni,) The area around the school is eerie. There is a constant high wind that supposedly has driven people mad. Jennifer is told it is known as “The Swiss Transylvania.”
During her first sleepwalking episode, in which she sees everything glowing and finds herself in a hallway of doors, Jennifer wanders to the house of entomologist, Professor John McGregor, and his chimp Inga, who is fascinated by her gift. After the disappearance of Sophie, he encourages Jennifer to help him investigate the disappearances using a peculiar insect called The Great Sarcophagus, which is attracted to corpses. With its help, Jennifer finds the house of the tourist’s murder but is scared away before discovering the truth.
Jennifer’s behavior after Sophie’s death convinces the HeadMistress and other girls that she is bizarre. They gang up on her and she calls down a swarm of flies on the house. The Head Mistress convinced that Jennifer is an evil “Lady of the Flies,” tries to have her committed. Jennifer runs away to the Professor, only to find he has been murdered. She is taken in by a teacher Frau Brukner, (Daria Nicolodi,) claiming to have been sent by her father’s agent.
Jennifer quickly realizes the Frau has it in for her and ends up finding her way into an underground tunnel where the Frau has been keeping her deformed and deranged son, Patau. In a scene reminiscent of POLTERGEIST, Jennifer falls into a pool of rotting corpses and has to claw her way out. She tries to escape by boat but is attacked by Patau and has to call upon her insect friends to save her. It is never entirely clear if Patau or his mother are the ones who have been killing the girls.
Sound is important in PHENOMENA, directed, co-produced and co-written by Argento. The sound of the wind and of the different insects are pronounced. He also uses shots from the insects’ multi-lense perspective. Along with music by The Goblins, Argento uses songs by Iron Maiden and MotorHead during the murder scenes. PHENOMENA is cited as one of Argento’s favorite films. Perhaps he felt like a misfit like Jennifer growing up. The story she tells Sophie about how her mother left is based on Argento’s life. Unfortunately, it is uneven and often confusing. The ending feels pulled out of nowhere. The audience is left not knowing who is the real killer.
Kim McDonald is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us during our Fright Fest series back in October, The Thing (1982). And we here at Machine Mean hope to have her back on again soon! Kim lives in Charleston and loves all things horror, especially foreign horror. Kim also publishes reviews for LOUD GREEN BIRD, tackling some of horror’s greatest treasures, giving readers a deeper retrospective and often introspective on films like “The Iron Rose,” “Baskin,” “The Conjuring 2,” “The Witch,” and much more. As you can see, she is no stranger to the art of movie reviews. You can follow Kim @dixiefairy on Twitter and you can follow her blog, Fairy Musings, here.
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March 2, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: American, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Daria Nicolodi, Dario Argento, dark, Davide Marotta, Donald Pleasence, film, Gore, Guest author, Horror, horror reviews, insects, Italian, Jennifer Connelly, Kim McDonald, monster flicks, movie reviews, Movies, Patrick Bauchau, psychic, Reviews, scientist, Swiss | Leave a comment
Thirty-five years. On June 25th, we will be celebrating thirty-five years since the release of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The review you are about to read, written by the incredibly talented William D. Prystauk, aka Billy Crash, not only the second half of the infamously awesome The Last Knock podcast, but also a teacher, director, screenwriter, and loving husband and friend, has carefully crafted what I believe to be the definitive review of The Thing. I’m glad Bill decided to take on this “creature feature.” For those who know me will be quick to understand, The Thing is by far my most favorite movie. Not just my favorite horror movie, but my favorite overall film in its entirety. From score to cast to dialogue and landscape to practical effects and most of all its unabashed fearlessness towards nihilism. Disney has spoiled generations of audiences by spoon feeding them a resolution to the conflict and the always dominant hero. But in The Thing, we are denied those expectations, wonderfully so. Not everything has to have a resolution. Not every story must end with the hero defeating the monster. Ambiguity exists in nature and thus should representation on screen, at least sometimes, right?
by William D. Prystauk
When I first saw The Thing on the big screen, I was overwhelmed by the oppressive nature of John Carpenter’s film as well as its mystery, music, cinematography, and remarkable special effects from Rob Bottin and company, as well as the gripping writing from Bad News Bears scribe, Bill Lancaster. Unfortunately, 1982 was a banner year for strong movies so The Thing didn’t make the final cut when it came to earnings, and Carpenter is supposedly still bitter about his film’s poor performance in theaters. Today, however, the film’s considered a masterpiece by many horror cinephiles, and rightfully so.
This is not a Remake
Carpenter’s version is not a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World with James Arness playing the alien version of Frankenstein’s monster. In this case, the movie deviates from the original tale, “Who Goes There?” a short story spun by John W. Campbell Jr., and leaves fighting the creature to the military still deservedly basking in the glow of a post-World War II world right before the horrors of The Korean War. In the story, scientists resolve the alien issue, though Lancaster’s script calls for scientists and military veterans to try and figure a way out.
Carpenter stayed closer to Campbell’s tale with its shape-shifting monster and the paranoia it caused. The director chose to have a much smaller staff at National Science Institute Station 4 instead of a larger component of men, but he kept most of the major characters’ names. As for Campbell’s tale, it’s actually a bad read due to repetition (he must have referred to MacReady as being “bronze” a hundred times) and from a sad overuse of “to be” verbs. For his part, Carpenter and Lancaster made Campbell’s story shine like gold.
Who the Hell Are These Guys?
For a science station, the men who work there don’t really fit the bill. Sure, Billings (Peter Maloney) is a meteorologist, Norris (Charles Hallahan) has a broader mind beyond his geology degree, Windows (Thomas Waites) serves as the radioman, lumberjack looking Clark (Richard Masur) handles the dogsled team, Nauls (TK Carter) feeds the crew, and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) does his best to keep everyone healthy. The man who keeps the team in line is Garry (Donald Moffat), who for some reason has a six-gun strapped to his side with a gun belt to match and serves no other purpose than a security guard. Childs (Keith David) is one hell of a mechanic, who can obviously juggle boilers, tractors, and helicopters with ease. The pilots of the choppers are Vietnam vets Palmer (David Clennon), a stoner who one wouldn’t trust to fly a remote control whirlybird, and MacReady (Kurt Russel). Both men suffer from PTSD in their own way, and while Palmer socializes and engages in marijuana, MacReady isolates himself and indulges in scotch. The final part of the troupe is Blair (Wilford Brimley) and his understudy assistant, Fuchs (Joel Polis). At one point, Doc Copper orders Blair “… to start an autopsy right away.” In Campbell’s story, Blair’s a biologist, which makes sense for the movie version, but why would he be a master of autopsy? Since the dogs have no veterinarian, he may also play that role and could have performed necropsies on animals in the past.
When witnessing the game room scene, it’s clear the men are often “standoffish.” Nauls, who a second ago was resting in his cot and watching TV with Palmer, plays pool with Clark. Windows fumbles with the newspaper from the couch, while Norris, Bennings, and Garry play poker. There’s no banter, no noise, and clearly no fun. It’s as if all these guys did something heinous and were sent to Antarctica to cool down for the “first goddamn week of winter.” Yet, they not only have handguns and shotguns at the ready, and at least one German rifle from a Norwegian, but they also have three flame throwers and dynamite. Doesn’t sound like a science station. Could it serve as some Cold War outpost? If so, this expansive complex can certainly support more men, and one wonders if abandonment of the facility looms on the horizon thanks to budget cuts.
The Thing Itself
The boogeyman in The Thing differs from the average creature feature antagonist. Each monster has a weakness, or so it seems, and once the human hero figures that out, the monster will be destroyed. In this case, the alien can replicate someone’s cells, absorb their language and mannerisms, and apparently the knowledge they have stored in their brains. Worst of all, it can seemingly infect anyone at any time (more about that later).
Our intrepid crew doesn’t know which part of space the creature came from, but thanks to Norris, we know it’s ship crashed down onto the continent about 100,000 years ago. Beyond the being’s extensive hibernation, the ship proves to be a massive one, unlike the smaller craft in the 1951 film. What we don’t know is if this was a ship built by the Thing and his or her people, or if the creature got onboard and overwhelmed the entire crew with its cellular replication. Later in the narrative, we learn that the creature tries to recreate his craft on a smaller scale with the same look as the original. Since the Thing can absorb knowledge, and since we don’t know its age or where it’s been, this may be the optimal ship design it had discovered from its journeys across the cosmos.
Oddly enough, the creature ends up away from the ship on higher ground. This can certainly happen because the topography changed due to plate tectonics and maybe volcanism, but what did the Norwegian team actually dig up? If the creature crashed in Antarctica and went into hibernation after a short walk, it certainly didn’t overtake a human at the time. Too bad the Norwegians hadn’t filmed what this Thing actually looked like. But they did videotape the outline of the ship, and they unearthed the craft thanks to thermite charges. In the movie, one may think they blew up a massive hole the size of Rhode Island, but that would have displaced tons upon tons of ice and rock – and would have certainly registered on Norris’ seismograph at the station (there has to be one). The point is that MacReady and company, for some reason, land on a ridge above the ship and rappel down.
And once the creature thawed, it went to work on absorbing the Norwegians and its dogs.
The greatest element to the short story and both films is the element of “The Other.” As we discover in many science fiction and horror movies, the other is a xenomorph (“a strange form” by definition or an “alien” or “monster”) that either must be assimilated or destroyed. What is fantastic about this tale is both creature and human are “The Other.” Humans don’t belong in Antarctica and neither does that Thing. Since the “human others” can’t determine what the monster is, it can’t be assimilated and must be killed. The “alien other” wants to assimilate the humans, yet destroys them in the process.
To see something like this in cinema is rare, though one finds such a human-xenomorph “other” combination in Ridley Scott’s Alien. The human component doesn’t thrive naturally in space, and though the alien creature comes off as the bad monster, the humans did bring this entity upon themselves in a “curiosity killed the cat” theme, though Jonesy lives to hiss another day. Unlike The Thing where destroy versus assimilate comes into play, Alien is all about kill or be killed.
Windows couldn’t connect with McMurdo (where he refers to the outpost as number 31 just like MacReady, instead of 4). The men of the station are in conflict about who should lead and who shouldn’t be trusted. But there is absolutely no communication between human and Thing.
This horror turns into a cat-and-mouse game between human and alien. Yet, if the creature just wants to survive and escape in a ship, why didn’t it simply ask for help? When MacReady addressed the members of the camp and realized they all weren’t infected because they would have jumped him, why didn’t he ask what the creature wanted? After all, it’s a stranger in a strange land, and “probably not in the best of moods” after portraying a xenomorphic popsicle for too many centuries.
Without any women on the station, one may think the crew was being macho or stubborn, but the reason runs deeper than an emotional state and posturing, though both of those elements certainly exist in the narrative. Like the alien, the humans are also predators, and that’s why communication between them never took shape. It’s a fight to the end, pure and simple. Think of it as any competition where one squares off against an opponent – to the death.
Even so, a little communication could have gone a long way, but that would have made for a different kind of film, and one that wouldn’t be worthy of review for this category. By the way, ET phoned home in 1982 on June 11, and Carpenter’s film came out two weeks later as Spielberg’s friendly alien continued to captivate little kids and their parents nationwide.
This has been a point of contention for many The Thing fans: Who got infected when, how, and even why? A meme showed Blair tapping a pencil against his lips after the autopsy. Hmm… However, the answer is far simpler: They were all at risk of infection the moment they unwrapped the creature with two faces, akin to the theater masks of comedy and drama, looking outward with one connected tongue. Doc Copper in all his medical expertise asked, “Is that a man in there?” when he and MacReady dug up the monster and brought it home to infect everyone else. Clearly, no quarantine protocol was in effect.
When they unwrapped the frozen creature, with the heat of the room, water evaporated from the body and Blair backed off from the stench. After all, the Thing began to defrost once inside the warmer helicopter. Now, as MacReady proved later with another item from the book, that each cell was a creature on its own, who knows what flew into the air and made its way through the mouths and nostrils and into the lungs of the crew. Yes, some became infected (though we really don’t know when), and others did not (though we really don’t know why), but airborne infection seems to be just as likely as bloodborne in this case.
Due to each component of the Thing being its own individual entity, this creature may be its own entire civilization. In 2015, Robin Corey, a biochemist, wrote that there are 37.2 trillion cells in the human body, not including bacteria. This means that once the Thing takes over a human host, that can make for one hell of a population. Blair had calculated that we’d all be infected in 27,000 hours, which is a little over three years, but there’s an excellent chance that infection, or assimilation, would happen much faster.
There are many more mysteries packed within Carpenter’s amazing horror, but that’s for another time. The important thing is to watch the film and become a prisoner like the others, trapped “a thousand miles from nowhere” without a radio, and a heavy storm that prevents anyone from escaping even on foot. This is what the horror genre is meant to be: isolated and frightening with a sense that there’s no way out.
Carpenter tips his hand that there’s little hope for our characters right from the beginning. The opening shot after the credits is that of a sheer rock face. The camera lingers there as if to say it’s too foreboding and not scalable. We see the Norwegian helicopter flying over the rock as it heads towards its own doom, but it’s clear that our “science” crew won’t make it out of the station alive.
In the film, we’re left with a couple of characters waiting for what might possibly come next. We don’t know if one is infected or if either one of them is. We do know, however, that they’re both not infected because an alien greeting most definitely would have been different. And in the brownish light of a fiery night, the camera pulls back from the pair and we fade to black. In the television version, after the camera pulled back, we see a dog leaving the station, bookending the film in excellent fashion. Maybe it doesn’t really matter who was infected since all is lost.
Thankfully, The Thing survived its poor and undeserved theatrical showing and keeps bringing the scares and incredible in-camera effects to new generations of horror fans. Whether you’ve seen the film once or a thousand times, keep your eyes peeled for the multitude of little mysteries that neither the characters nor the audience can answer (Who got to the blood anyway?). Revel in ambiguous horror that delivers on every level, including bottom end gloom from the renowned Ennio Morricone’s doom-ridden composition, and the excellent cinematography from one of the best, Dean Cundey. Carpenter created something for the ages, and for fans – human or otherwise.
William D. Prystauk (aka Billy Crash) cohosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes and at http://crashpalaceproductions.com. He’s in pre-production of a dramatic science fiction feature film he’ll shoot in Seattle with his company, Crash Palace Productions. When he’s not listening to punk rock and leaving no sushi behind, he indulges in the food group better known as chocolate. Follow him on Twitter as @crashpalace, and look for him under his real name at LinkedIn, IMDb, Amazon, Behance, and at http://williamdprystauk.com.
Keep up with Billy Crash’s many exploits by following his site!
February 23, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1951, 1982, atmospheric, Bill Lancaster, Charles Hallahan, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, dark, dark fiction, David Clennon, Donald Moffat, film, Guest author, Horror, horror movies, horror reviews, Joel Polis, John Carpenter, Keith David, Kurt Russell, monster movies, monsters, movie review, movie reviews, nihilism, nihilistic, paranoia, Peter Maloney, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, T. K. Carter, The Last Knock, The Thing, The Thing From Another World, Thomas G. Waites, thriller, Wilford Brimley, William D. Prystauk | 4 Comments
Note: The below is written based on the assumption that you’ve seen Cloverfield. If you haven’t yet, go and see Cloverfield. Or be both spoiled and confused. Your choice.
I tried to resist the obvious pun. I really did. But I can’t do it. So, with apologies…
Cloverfield is a very odd beast.
But it is.
I mean, on the one hand, it isn’t, at all. Giant monsters have destroyed Manhattan Island since forever, after all. Like London, New York is one of those rare cities whose ‘centre of the universe’ mentality is actually somewhat borne out by reality (Tokyo is the other one that immediately jumps to mind, and oh, look…). So, I mean, of course, the aliens and monsters are going to start there. Why wouldn’t they? It’s where, as they say, the action is.
In that regard, Cloverfield is part of a long established tradition – none more trad, arguably, in the giant creature feature genre.
Similarly, found footage? It’s rare as a horror fan you’ll go through a month without someone complaining either on your Facebook feed or in a blog post about the ubiquity of the found footage movie and it’s disastrous impact on the genre – such complaints are almost a sub-genre themselves, at this point. Ever since the not-universally-popular-but-at-least-successful-and-then-somewhat-original Blair Witch Project rattled our tents and planted in our ears 17 years ago (yes, you’re old, get over it), seems like every indie wannabe superstar has been chasing that found footage Bigfoot, trying to recreate the magic. In musical terms, it reminds me of the rap/metal explosion that followed Rage Against The Machine – people trying to combine the same mechanical elements (hip-hop singer with a metal band) without the slightest clue as to what made Rage so damn special in the first place. Gifting the world Limp Bizkit and a million behind them that were even worse. Thanks, recording industry.
But hang on, though, because we may just have stumbled over the point, there, while getting on our self-righteous nu-metal-bashing hobbyhorse (yeah, you were up here with me, don’t deny it). Because prior to Rage, there had been both Hip Hop and Metal (obviously), and both movements were, by ‘91, well established enough to have had mainstream successes, even while remaining musical subcultures as a whole. But aside from one-off songs like Aerosmith/Run D.M.C’s Walk This Way, nobody had thought to combine the elements – and certainly not in a fully functioning band unit, where neither style held obvious supremacy.
So, to finally get on topic, found footage movies weren’t unusual. Neither were giant creature features.
But a found footage giant creature feature?
And we might as well get this out of the way; one of the principle reasons it’s new is because it’s also an insane idea. If you’re making a giant creature feature in 2008 and wreaking Manhattan in the process, you’re doing it largely with CGI. However, if you’re making a found footage movie, especially with an in-fiction non-professional camera operator (as you are in Cloverfield) then you’re talking strictly handheld.
And to be fair, for your indie horror filmmaker, that’s an enormous plus, for the obvious reason that it’s dirt cheap. Slap cheap digital cameras into the hands of your actors, and then let loose the mayhem, and hilarity and awards ensue, right? And all the auto-focus fails, and blurry shots of the maybe-thing-maybe-person stalking or whatever, that all just adds to the atmosphere, right?
Except, now, with Cloverfield, your shaky-cam is filming a skyscraper exploding, or your shutter speed is blurring the head of the Statue Of Liberty as it bounces down the street, or the autofocus is failing to decide which piece of the 200-foot monster to focus on.
And, of course, none of those things actually exist, outside of some computer whizzes laptop.
.That is what, frankly, blows my mind about Cloverfield, and why I wanted to write about it.
Because I do sometimes find myself wondering (outside of the total movie geek circles I am proud to inhabit) how many people really understand just what a staggering achievement this movie represents. I wonder if the average movie goer, benumbed as they must be by massive digital spectacles, fully appreciates how complex, how difficult, and how special Cloverfield is, in terms of what it achieves. How tough it is to integrate digital effects with handheld footage in such a way that the unreal appears so naturalistic that the only reason you know the creature isn’t really there is because it would be impossible to build.
It is, in the parlance of our times, fucking awe inspiring.
Of course, director Matt Reaves pulls every trick in the book to make it work. In 1975, a malfunctioning robot shark inadvertently forced Spielberg to the genius realisation that having the monster mostly be off camera made it WAY scarier, and while Reaves in a found footage format doesn’t have the luxury of cutting to the monster’s POV, accompanied by a John Williams score, we do see far more of the creature’s handiwork than we do the creature itself, in the scarred streets and skyline of the city. There’s also a return of the good old ground tremors from Jurassic Park, and a ton of similar tricks employed throughout to both build tension and, by happy coincidence, save money (another brilliant example is when the creature passes by the store our protagonists are cowering in – before it passes, the air outside becomes so full of brick dust and ash from a collapsing building that the monster itself is only heard and felt, not seen).
It’s smart, savvy filmmaking, selling us on the scale and power of this thing without providing even a glimpse. Similar brilliance announces itself elsewhere in the storytelling. One of the central strengths of found footage is also its central weakness – you’re stuck with one perspective, one window on the world. This is compounded in Cloverfield by also ostensibly being unedited footage, the only cuts being when the camera operator turns the device off for some reason (during which segments we’re treated to bleed-through from the previous recording that is being overwritten – a cute device for delivering back story, albeit not one I’m convinced makes sense in a digital age – sure, a videotape would work this way, but digital files?).
Horror fans and writers will immediately grok to the appeal and strength of such an approach, but it can cause problems, not least when trying to transmit a sense of scale, or hints at a wider world response to events. There’s a superb moment where Rob, desperate to restore his mobile phone charge, runs into an electronics store that’s in the process of being looted. Our camera man follows him in, huffing and puffing (one of the funniest lines in the movie is his exclamation early on that ‘I don’t really do this running stuff!’) only to be pulled up short by the TV coverage. Via his camera pointing at the TV, we get a glimpse of how the news coverage is panning out, at least until he’s pulled away by his friends and off into the next part of the story.
Similar brilliant flourishes abound, from the camera perspective on the Brooklyn bridge as a tentacle (actually tail, we later learn) smashes into it, knocking the cameraman off his feet, to flickering or emergency lighting creating a dramatic, nightmarish strobe effect, to a brilliant sequence in the subway in which first the camera torch is employed, and later the night vision, in what is for my money one of the best jump scares of the last ten years – without cheating with some dramatic score or jump cut.
And then there’s the creature.
The beast itself is on camera rarely – I’d bet less than five minutes of the total running time feature any glimpse of it, and most of that is exactly glimpses – a tale, an arm, and a stunning in motion underneath shot as our heroes plunge into the subway and the army engages in a fierce firefight. Even seen on the news footage or from the evacuation chopper, it’s partially obscured by buildings, or smoke, or just the trembling of the camera man. But in the closing minutes of the film, we’re finally treated to a full, uninterrupted view, and it’s just glorious – huge, organic, monstrous both in size and features, raining grotesque parasites – it really is brilliantly realized, the stuff of nightmares.
So, yeah, there’s a lot to recommend Cloverfield, and I think it’s a brilliant movie – or at least, near brilliant. There are some elements that don’t quite hang together, for me. There’s the technical stuff – I’ve already mentioned in passing how the ‘bleed-through’ of the old video footage only really makes sense in the analog age and given that mobile phone networks were disconnected across New York throughout 9/11, Rob’s suspiciously functioning mobile is, well, suspicious.
And as we’ve brought it up.. So, there’s the 9/11 thing.
Because prior to 2001, there were a lot of movies that indulged in disaster porn and specifically blowing up New York. And let’s be honest – it felt like good clean fun at the time. I vividly remember being utterly thrilled at the destruction of the Empire State Building and The White House in Independence Day when it came out – not even slightly in a ‘fuck America’ way, to be crystal clear, but in a totally generic ‘wow, big badda-BOOM!’ way.
And I similarly vividly remember watching ID4 for the first time post-9/11. And it felt different. A lot less fun. Kind of a bummer, actually.
But, you know, historical artifact, innit? Like any seismic historical and cultural moment, there’s just a pre and post-9/11 divide in art, and you can’t judge one by the standard of the other.
Except then, there’s Cloverfield.
And it kind of explicitly plays with the imagery and atmosphere of that day. When the attacks first start, and all people can see is explosions, one of the voices at the party says ‘Is it another attack?’. The police evacuating people in the street, clearly well drilled in massive disaster response. The moment I talked about earlier, with the group hiding out in the store as the smoke and dust rolls past – that could almost be footage from the day.
Now, I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist, to be clear. This isn’t about what people should or shouldn’t be allowed to say or write or film. At the end of the day, the same rights that protect your right (hypothetically speaking) to be a racist fuckhole are the rights that protect me calling you out on your racist fuckhollery and telling others about it. That’s how it works, and, IMO, the only way it CAN work. Social change powers political change, not the other way around. So be the change you want to see in the world and all that.
So I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t make a piece of popcorn entertainment in 2008 that evokes the imagery of 9/11. Of course, you can. Equally, though, as Dr. Malcolm might say, it might be worth thinking about whether or not you should.
Not just because 9/11 was an event of global trauma, the repercussions of which are still shaping lives and getting people killed – though it is. But because… well, look – you can make a movie like World Trade Centre, which is a pretty straight telling of the events of the day. That’s one thing. But to take imagery and iconography from the day and chuck them into your, let’s face it, popcorn monster movie… well, it is, at least, a little uncomfortable, and at worst smacks of being tasteless, even exploitative.
Again, to be clear, I’m not saying the movie shouldn’t have been made, or anything like that. And I can even sympathize with the filmmakers in some ways – with the found footage vibe, it’s all about verisimilitude, after all. And damn, now we’ve got real footage of what a demolished Manhattan skyline looks like at street level – how could you not use that information? At the same time, as much as I like Cloverfield (and I do, a great deal) this aspect of the film always leaves me feeling a little queasy.
And you know what, that’s okay. It’s okay – healthy, even – to have ambiguous or conflicted reactions to art. It’s okay to like or even love a movie (or album, or book) even as it’s flawed make you sad, or angry, or uneasy. To climb back on the free speech soapbox one more time, that’s almost the point. Conversation, discussion, argument – that’s how we improve our understanding, refine our opinions, and yes, sometimes, learn something new that changes how we see the world or a facet of it.
Cloverfield is a very good movie, that for me edges on greatness (and in a technical sense, it is unambiguously great, I think). Far from flawless (aside from the above, the plot that drives the characters is as hack and obvious as it’s possible to be, and the actors, while solid, don’t quite manage to elevate that into something more), but the things it does well it does SO damn well that, especially first time through, it’s a total thrill ride of a movie, a classic popcorn rollercoaster.
And yeah, it’s a brilliant giant creature feature. Maybe even the best post-2000 one, what with the intelligent and expertly realized use of the found footage format and a brand new monster that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
And if parts of it make me uncomfortable… well, how bad is that, in the final analysis?
After all, beats the shit out of being boring.
Kit Power is no stranger to Machine Mean. He was reviewed for us both The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the forever classic Monster Mash Pinball Game. And participated during Fright Fest with a review on Parents. Mr. 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 the frontman (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. You can read Kit’s review of Bride here.
You can get Breaking Point, Kit Power’s newest release, for $2.99 on Amazon!
BREAKING POINT – THE LIFELINE TRILOGY
A Cyclist is knocked unconscious on his way home and wakes up in a nightmare…
A devoted husband begins to suspect all is not well with his marriage…
A desperate family man, running out of time and options, turns to an old schoolmate from the wrong side of the tracks – looking for work – any work…
A young man’s world is thrown into chaos as his father is abducted…
Four tales of people pushed to BREAKING POINT.
For ‘The Loving Husband’ – “Gripping, compelling and utterly nerve-wracking.” – DLS Reviews.
For ‘Lifeline’ – “More savage than Rottweiler on meths with its nads caught in barbed wire.” – zombiekebab, Amazon reviewer.
“One of the best novellas I’ve had the pleasure to read.” – Duncan Ralston – Author of Salvage.
“a sliver of sheer brutality and nastiness that is unbridled.” John Boden, author of DOMINOES.
“Power gets splatterpunk in a way that few do.” – Bracken MacLeod, author of Stranded and Mountain.
February 9, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 2008, Ben Feldman, Cloverfield, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, creepy, dark, doomsday, end of the world, fiction, film, Guest author, Horror, horror review, imagination, imaginative, Jessica Lucas, Kit Power, Lizzy Caplan, Matt Reeves, monsters, Movie, movie reviews, New York, New York City, Odette Annable, post 9/11, realism, realistic, review, stalking, steady cam, Theo Rossi | Leave a comment
In an era known for lurid movie posters, the marketing plan for 1972’s eco-horror film, Frogs, stood out from the rest. Posters presented man-eating reptiles, showing a picture of a human hand hanging from a giant frog’s mouth. Pulpy text promised “slithering, slimy horror,” hellbent on devouring everything in its way, cutting a furious swath of reptilian destruction. Nature’s revenge against pollution, a cold-blooded stand against the wanton use of pesticides, the animals finally taking their rightful place upon the earth. Glory, glory, hallelujah!
As is often the case, promises are made to be broken. This is not to say that Frogs is a terrible movie. It isn’t. The replay value of this movie is practically immeasurable. But audiences looking for blood and gore, sinews being snapped by angry teeth, are going to be disappointed. What those who watch this film are presented with is more like people dying in the presence of assorted reptiles and amphibians.
The reason for this so-called reptile rebellion is plainly laid out. It is the Fourth of July, and the family of Jason Crockett (the venerable Ray Milland) has gathered at the family plantation for the holiday. Photojournalist Pickett Smith (a mustache-free Sam Elliott) is injected into the situation when his canoe is toppled by Jason’s jackass son, Clint (the late Adam Roarke), who is hot-dogging in his speedboat. Smith is brought back to the house for dry clothes and is invited to spend the weekend.
Smith is investigating the disappearance of wildlife in the area, and quickly deduces the cause as the ridiculous amount of pesticides Crockett uses to keep his property bug-free. This is a place delightfully ignorant of the many uses of citronella. However, it does play into the headlines of the early Seventies, where chemicals like DDT and Agent Orange caused terrible damage to the environment worldwide. It was a time of mutations and increased birth defects. It was obvious we were destroying the planet, and filmmakers latched onto that, creating worst case scenarios, science fiction mixed with social commentary and, if one was lucky, a little bit of T&A.
Frogs does offer a boisterous, scene-chewing performance by Milland. Bound by both a wheelchair and the strongly held convictions of the Old South, he barks orders to his family like a drill sergeant, demanding punctuality and subservience with every breath. This rigid structure is shown to us through the eyes of Elliott’s character, the stranger in town, rolling in like John the Baptist from the desert, extolling the virtues of ecology and bucking against the confines of the patriarchy. He is the voice of reason in this film, his message falling on deaf ears.
But it is the promise of animal attacks that lures us to this movie, and apart from a crocodile attack, actual critter-on-human violence is non-existent. We get a woman who wanders into a swamp, gets some leeches on her and falls down in front of a rattlesnake. The snake bites her and kills her, but is this really strange behavior? Snakes are going to behave like snakes. A man dies in a greenhouse when lizards knock over jars containing toxic chemicals, which combine to make breathable poison. However, even in these examples, none of the animal behavior seems particularly malevolent. It all seems accidental, casualties by causality, without any malice aforethought.
That’s partially what makes Frogs so entertaining. There are frogs in the movie, even some abnormally large toads, but they simply do what frogs and toads do. They hop. They croak. They look slimy and weird. This makes Frogs less a movie about nature taking revenge on humanity and more of our fear of nature. It’s about how we’ve become comfortable in our homes, our cities, our conclaves. The sight of animals in what we conceive of as our natural habitat feels like an invasion. It knocks us off balance. We see a spider in the shower and that son of a bitch must die. A bee flies into our car while we’re driving, and lose control, veering back and forth until we can safely pull over and let the accursed beast out. We are imposed upon, the unclean thing daring to enter our sanctuaries and touch us.
That’s some heavy exposition for a drive-in programmer, but the movies that endure, even B-movies like Frogs, always have layers of thought and meaning beneath the exploitative surface. Certainly, Frogs can be enjoyed on that top level, where it’s all snakes and toads and wouldn’t it be gross to have tarantulas on your face. But there’s more here, and this little movie is a solid reminder of how far removed we are from the world around us, the world under and around the edifices we have constructed. There be no shelter here, and there is no safety.
Frogs is available on glorious Blu-Ray from Scream Factory as a double feature with Food of the Gods, creating a dandy eco-horror double feature. Seek it out.
Jeffery X. Martin is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elders Keep universe. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work, including his latest novel, Hunting Witches, on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. When Mr. X is not writing creepy mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and review sites, including but not limited to, Popshifter, Kiss the Goat, and the Cinema Beef Podcast. He is a frequent contributor to Machine Mean, reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and Squirm (1976).
You can pick up Hunting Witches on Amazon for $4.99!!
January 26, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1972, Adam Roarke, B-horror, bioterror, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, eco-horror, film, Frogs, George McCowan, Guest author, Horror, Hunting Witches, Jeffery X Martin, Joan Van Ark, movie review, Movies, nature, Ray Milland, Reviews, Sam Elliott, terror | Leave a comment
Maybe I’m a bumbling fool to have forgotten to post this most excellent addition to Creature Features in Review…or perhaps a certain kind of mad genius. For those State-side and for those abroad, our neighbors to the north and our neighbors to the south, from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and it’s not all that terrific), the world awaits the inauguration of our (America’s) 45th President. Controversy. Disunity. Anger. Resentment. Strife. Uncertainly. It all feels at the moment to seep from the fabric of our country. That hidden fear of the unknown, the same fear H. P. Lovecraft spoke of in his many works, has captured, or should I say strangling, our attentions. This same mood thrives in the electrical grid of most Creature Features, especially Jeepers Creepers. There may be some criticisms and creepiness surrounding the infamous director Victor Salva, but separating the art from the artist, Jeepers Creepers (for me) is a perfect example of a modern American gothic tale. You can literally watch this movie in black and white and still enjoy it, probably more so. The moral compass of puritanism and rational versus irrational is present throughout the entire film. And it’s one of Justin Long’s best performances. Here to help us navigate these precarious times and this very precarious movie is our esteemed guest writer, Chad Clark.
By: Chad Clark
When Jeepers Creepers came out in 2001, the cinematic horror landscape seemed to be in an interesting place, and not all of it was necessarily good. My memories of this time period were of mainly reboots and PG-13 horror films. Other than Final Destination, there seemed to no longer be such a thing as horror franchises anymore and even in the case of FD, there had only been one installment. So it was within this environment that I was generally suspicious of Jeepers Creepers. The way it was marketed and the vibe I got from it was that this was just another glossy, hollow interpretation of what made horror movies great. I remember seeing ads for this while it was in the theaters but I wasn’t sold and gave it a pass.
Spoiler alert: that was a mistake.
I finally took the plunge with Jeepers Creepers, via the newly created online rental company at the time, Netflix. There wasn’t any streaming, only waiting for the physical DVD’s to arrive in the bright red celebratory envelopes. I was skeptical but to be honest, the first half hour or so of the film is one of the best openings I have ever seen. It starts out so innocently with a brother and sister leaving for the long drive home from school. Before they can get there, the movie takes a turn for the dark side and they quickly find themselves the target of a powerful creature that they don’t fully understand.
The monster in Jeepers Creepers is fantastic and it seemed like they took a lesson from Jaws in that we don’t see it in its full glory until late in the film. What is great though is that even seeing quick flashes of it early on, it’s still scary as hell. I love the image the brother and sister arguing and then the brother (Justin Long) sees this thing dumping what looks like human bodies down a huge pipe in the yard of an old church. By all appearances, it’s just a tall guy wearing an overcoat and a large, wide-brimmed hat, but the design of that costume is incredibly creepy and evocative.
The pacing of the movie is very well done as the monster proceeds to chase the two of them across a rural landscape. Along the way, they get some bits and pieces of information that may give them some insight into the thing and how powerful it is. But mostly, I think we just gradually figure out how screwed they really are. I can tell you this, before seeing this movie, I would have never guessed that the song, Jeepers Creepers would ever feel foreboding. That said, they managed to accomplish that very thing, to the point that I can’t help but think of the film whenever I hear that song.
The movie also has some pretty good acting, something that is occasionally glossed over in the horror franchise as being less important. The cast of actors was pretty much unknown at the time but I thought they all managed to fit in together pretty well. This was especially true with the main players, in that they managed to create two characters that I genuinely cared about and rooted for. It’s a cliché, but I felt like I was on the edge of my seat for these two all throughout the movie, all the way up to the ending, which was brutal and brilliant. I don’t want to give anything away but the movie ends with a slow zoom out to a point and a perspective that left me with my jaw hanging open. It really was that good.
I’m not normally a viewer who pays a lot of attention to things like costume and makeup but I thought they did a phenomenal job making the monster authentic and scary. In a world that was increasingly becoming about CGI, this was a monster that felt physically present and the makeup department did a great job bringing a feeling of grittiness and gore to the monster.
In short, if you are looking for a great example of the modern monster movie, I would definitely start with this one. Jeepers Creepers is a fun film that gives you all the visceral escapism that great horror movies should provide. I can’t recommend it enough.
There is an elephant in the room here, namely that of Victor Salva. He was the director of Jeepers Creepers. Salva was convicted early on in his career for child molestation. I am not going to go into the specifics of his crime. If you are already aware of it, I don’t want to take column inches rehashing common ground. And if you happen to be unaware of what he did, Google can get you there in less than a minute.
The reason why I bring it up is because it has been commonly argued that Salva’s movies should be boycotted. And I want to make sure one thing is clear before I go on to state my position on this. I think that what Salva did was despicable. In no way would I ever want to imply support for or endorse that kind of behavior. I want to make sure that is absolutely clear before I move on. I also believe that he should have received a harsher punishment. The sentence passed down by the court was laughable and that doesn’t even take into consideration that he didn’t serve the full sentence that he was given. I think that a reasonable case could be made for not allowing him to work in movies, mostly due to the fact that he used his power and position as a film director in order to do the things he did.
All that said, he was convicted in a court of law and he served the sentence that was passed down to him by our judicial system. I don’t think that this was right. I don’t think it was justice. And I absolutely support the victim and everything he does to try and make himself healthy again.
Still, I cannot bring myself to support the notion of a boycott, and my reasoning is as follows.
If there was a way to financially hurt Salva and only him, I think that would be one matter. But the fact is that when you were talking about a big budget Hollywood film, we aren’t talking about just Victor Salva anymore. There are literally hundreds of people employed in the process of developing and releasing a feature-length film. Obviously, there are the actors but also all the individual departments that are responsible for the physical look of the film as well as the process of filming. You have the people who spend countless hours with the actors in their studios applying makeup and costumes. There are the people who take the time to set up and dress the sets, keeping things in motion as production moves along. There are the musicians who develop a score for the film, one of the most important parts and record all of that music. Even the caterers who provide food and the marketing firms who promote the movies. There are a lot of people here.
I have always thought that directors got a little too much credit for what ends up on the screen. They function as an organizing force with a global perspective, but there are a lot of different people who work hard at the ground level to make that finished product. The director is responsible for the totality of the thing but it is rarely their hands actually on the product, crafting it. So if I felt like a boycott would be destructive to Salva and only Salva, I might be more inclined to go along. But because of the countless other people who worked their butts off in order to create this film, I can’t support it.
Jeepers Creepers is a brilliant film, and my compliments go to all the cast and crew that dedicated themselves to the creation of it.
Chad 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. 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. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.
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January 20, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: American Gothic, Chad Clark, Creature Feature, Creature Features in Review, dark, dark fiction, fiction, film, film reviews, Gina Philips, gothic, Guest author, Horror, horror movies, horror reviews, Jeepers Creepers, Jonathan Breck, Justin Long, monster, monster movies, monsters, movie reviews, Movies, Patricia Belcher, Reviews, Victor Salva | 3 Comments
WARNING: contains mature content and violence not suitable for all readers.
When police fail to find the man responsible for raping a six-year-old girl, her father leaves home on a harrowing undercover journey into Miami’s sex offender colony under the Julia Tuttle Causeway to hunt down the “Rabbit Man,” and put him in the ground. Vengeance is a monster that lives within our own hearts.
What readers are saying about Where the Monsters Live:
“Efficient, powerful prose in a short story that delivers about as much emotion and punch as a book ten times its length. It’s a challenging character and his actions really need to be evaluated and thought over by the reader, which I think all good art should do. I have been a fan of Ralston’s work for some time now, and this one did not disappoint. Check it out if you are looking for a good, fast read.” -Chad Clark, author of Down the Beaten Path and Behind Our Walls
“Who knows what lies in the hearts of men? Duncan Ralston certainly does in this dark fast paced horrific read. Read it in one sitting.” -Amazon Reviewer
“While the subject matter, sexual abuse, may indeed be too traumatic for some audiences, this story tackles the difficult subject deftly. The protagonist, a man driven to hunt down a monster, must struggle not to become a monster himself. A quick and thoroughly engaging read.” -Lydian Faust
“I’ve been reading Ralston since Salvage. I feel that this is one of the best stories, he has told, so far.” -Kurt Thingvold.
You can get YOUR copy of Where the Monsters Live for $0.99!!!
Duncan Ralston is no stranger to Machine Mean. He has previously reviewed for us The Invisible Man (1933) and Ash Vs. Evil Dead. Mr. Ralston is not just a wonderful human being, but also the author of gruesome tales like Salvage: A Ghost Story, and the horror collection, Gristle & Bone. He’s been published in a various of anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, The Animal, Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers, and VS: US Versus UK. His latest book will sure to knock your socks off, Woom. You can follow and chat with him at www.facebook.com/duncanralstonfiction and www.duncanralston.com. You can read his review on Invisible Man here.
December 29, 2016 | Categories: Book Review, Horror, Reviews | Tags: 2016, book boost, Book Review, books, dark, dark fiction, Duncan Ralston, fiction, gritty, Guest author, homeless, Horror, horror reviews, lit, literature, molestation, monsters, Murder, must reads, Mystery, novel review, novels, pedophiles, rape, revenge, Reviews | Leave a comment
My name is Samantha Brown, and I am 31 years old. I work in an office in the city. My older sister, Beth, went missing 3 weeks ago – disappeared without a trace. I’ve seen you once, but you didn’t see me. Or, at least, I don’t think you saw me. I saw you leaving my sister’s flat early one Saturday morning when I was pulling up in my car. Me and Beth had planned to go shopping that day, and she had forgotten about our arrangement. She was hungover and grouchy and refused to tell me anything about the mysterious man that I had just seen leave her flat. We never did go shopping, we argued and I left. I didn’t call her, and she didn’t call me. One week later, she disappeared. Ever since then, I have been obsessed with the man I saw leave her flat; call it women’s intuition, call it what you will, but I have a bad feeling about you. You were too good-looking, and my sister was cagey about who you were. That wasn’t like her. So three weeks later, I see you in a bar. I approach you, and there we have the beginning of our story….
“Two Minds” is told through the viewpoint of the two characters living the story. The woman – convinced the man she is talking to is responsible for her sister’s disappearance – and the man… Who is he? Did he have anything to do with the sudden disappearance of Samantha’s sister or is he nothing more than an innocent bystander?
Only one thing is for sure… After this night, neither of them will be the same again.
What readers are saying about Two Minds:
“I’ve been a fan of Matt’s for a very long time. When I stumbled across Sam’s work not very long after, the two people who introduced me to Matt said I’d enjoy Sam’s writing as well – (thank you Suzanne and Cathy!) – and they were right. IMO, Sam West’s stories have been getting increasingly better this year, and this collaboration came at the perfect time for both of them. I wish the ending were a little… ‘beefier’ (for lack of a better term, or perfect tongue in cheek?). But – I love how it was written. It’s a great style, and I bet we’ll see more authors experimenting with it. Authors… your introduction(s) made me laugh out loud at work. Thank you for helping convince my boss I’m a lunatic for sitting down to read ’50 SHADES OF F***ED UP’ on my break and giggling.” -Shadow Girl
“I enjoyed this book it had a lot of masochistic in it. I really thought it couldn’t get any better.” -Amazon Reviewer
“I’m no stranger to Matt Shaw and I’ve read a few things from Sam West so I was expecting something really good out of them. I was not disappointed. This book was pretty good, and Sam and Matt worked well together, each writing from a different character’s perspective. For me, the book is really in two parts. In the beginning, we have a cat and mouse aspect, but we’re not really sure who is which. Samantha wants to know what happened to her sister and is going after the man that might have done something to her. Is she the dangerous one? What will she do if she finds out he did what she thinks he did? Then, we have Jack. Did he do something to Samantha’s sister? Is he the dangerous one? It’s almost very Hitchcock-like in its concept. Then, there’s the second part. This is the extreme horror part, rather than the psychological horror in part one. I don’t really want to reveal how you arrive at the extreme horror aspect, but I assure you… It’s there. Great concept. Great execution. Great collaboration.” -Shaun Hupp
You can get YOUR copy of Two Minds (An Extreme Horror Novel) for the mere price of $2.99!!!
Matt Shaw is no stranger to Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us The Invisible Woman (1940) and Don’t Breathe (2016). Mr. Shaw is the published author of over 100 titles – all readily available on AMAZON. He is one of the United Kingdom’s leading – and most prolific – horror authors, regularly breaking the top ten in the chart for Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Authors. With work sometimes compared to Stephen King, Richard Laymon, and Edward Lee, Shaw is best known for his extreme horror novels (The infamous Black Cover Range), Shaw has also dabbled in other genres with much success; including romance, thrillers, erotica, and dramas. Despite primarily being a horror author, Shaw is a huge fan of Roald Dahl – even having a tattoo of the man on his arm; something he looks to whenever he needs a kick up the bum or inspiration to continue working! As well as pushing to release a book a month, Shaw’s work is currently being translated for the Korean market and he is currently working hard to produce his own feature length film. And speaking of films… Several film options have been sold with features in the very early stages of development. Watch this space. Matt Shaw lives in Southampton (United Kingdom) with his wife Marie, his bastard cat Nellie and three rats – Roland, Splinter, and Spike. He used to live with Joey the Chinchilla and Larry the Bearded Dragon but they died. At least he hoped they did because he buried them. You can follow Mr. Shaw and delve into his work by following his site at www.mattshawpublications.co.uk AND on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mattshawpublications.co.uk. You can read his review of the infamous Invisible Woman here.
Sam West is a horror writer living in the UK. His stuff is hardcore, so be warned. He believes that horror should be sick and sexy and he is more than happy to offend a few people on his writing journey. He hopes there are other like minded souls out there that enjoy a good dose of depravity and perversion. Because that’s what rocks his world. That, and his wife and young daughter who do brilliantly to put up with his diseased mind. You can contact him at email@example.com.
December 28, 2016 | Categories: Book Review, Horror, Reviews | Tags: 2016, blood, book boost, book release, Book Review, book reviews, books, cat and mouse, collaboration, dark fiction, extreme, extreme horror, fiction, Gore, Guest author, guts, Horror, horror books, intense, lunatic, Matt Shaw, mental illness, must reads, Mystery, novel, offensive, psychological horror, reads, review, Reviews, Sam West, shocking, thriller, Two Minds, UK, warning | Leave a comment
Their lands plagued by invaders, the Inca resort to an ancient ritual. By harvesting star dust from people, they hope to accumulate enough to raise the sun god, Inti, and reclaim their lands. Yet when the collection is interrupted, it sets in motion events which will rattle human history. Six stories. Six different time periods. One outcome.
We are all made of stars.
When an ancient Inca ritual is interrupted, it sets in motion a series of events that will echo through five hundred years of human history. Many seek to use the arcane knowledge for their own ends, from a survivor of a shipwreck, through to a suicide cult.
Yet…the most unlikeliest of them all will succeed.
What readers are saying about Hexagram:
“A rip-roaring boy’s own adventure yarn. This novel contains multitudes, and the sheer scale and breadth of the story is exhilarating. A glorious unhinged thrill ride.” – Kit Power, author of GodBomb!
“Hexagram is a visceral journey through the dark nooks and crannies of human history. Lovecraftian terror merges with blood sacrifice, suicide cults and body horror as Bradshaw weaves an intricate plot into an epic tale of apocalyptic dread.” – Rich Hawkins, author of The Last Plague trilogy
“In an interweaving of horror, science fiction, metaphysics, and mystery, readers travel a path convoluted and purposeful, from the era of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, through the cleaning-up post-conquest (loading the gold and delivering it to Spain), pausing at the American Civil War, the Whitechapel murders of 1888, and continuing to the present, where the path and its purpose collide and all is revealed. Lest a potential reader might think that this novel is only science fiction, or perhaps New Age, I assure that horror resides as well on every single page, and the gore content is high and mighty.” -The Haunted Reading Room
“…a novel following various groups of people as they all try and achieve one goal across many centuries. A scary concept that could have delivered more for me on the horror front but makes up for that with the blood and literal guts. Either way, it’s Duncan P Bradshaw. You need to read it.” -Confessions of a Reviewer
“…an ambitious novel that jumps around a lot and because of this it could become Bradshaw’s Vegemite novel, meaning you either like it or you don’t. I did like it, a lot. The pacing is very good and I felt the short stories intertwined well, whilst being long enough without outstaying their welcome. The witty dialogue was enjoyable and there were some great scenes of gore. I read it in two sessions so it’s a thumbs up from me. Extra points to Bradshaw for mentioning the cricket, too!” -Adrian Shotbolt
You can get YOUR copy of Hexagram for the low-low price of $2.99!!!
Living in a hollowed out pumpkin, Duncan P. Bradshaw finds October the most troublesome of months, as people become intent on sticking flaming candles into the midst of his happy abode. In fact, the only good thing to come about from it is the copious amount of candy that he steals from passers-by. When they have all sodded right off, he retires to the tip of the stalk, which affords him excellent views of the neighbourhood. As the rest of the street slumbers, he writes down the weird and wonderful thoughts that have built up during the day, like the plaque. Find out what he writes down, by checking out his website http://duncanpbradshaw.co.uk/ or follow him on Facebook, where he does all manner of things https://www.facebook.com/duncanpbradshaw/
And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the image below to receive updates on sales and new releases, and also the latest horror news.
December 23, 2016 | Categories: Book Review, Horror, Reviews | Tags: Action, adventure, American History, apocalyptic fiction, book reviews, books, Civil War, Duncan Bradshaw, English History, fiction, gold, Gore, Guest author, Hexagram, historical fiction, History, Horror, Inca Empire, indie, indie author, indie authors, indie fiction, invaders, metaphysics, Mystery, novels, Reviews, ritual, science fiction, Small Press, Spain, Spanish, Spanish history, star dust, stars, thriller | Leave a comment
Twenty-six-year-old painter Conthan Cowan takes art to a shocking frontier…
His debut exhibit features the transformation of his high school friend, Sarah, as she went from a shy, soft-spoken girl to a Child of Nostradamus—an individual gifted with extraordinary abilities. Living in a society where the Children of Nostradamus are captured by the government, Conthan’s exhibit draws attention from officials and protesters alike.
A government psychic may be dead, but that doesn’t stop her from manipulating the future…
The deceased White House aide is only remembered for her failed assassination attempt on the president decades before Conthan was born. Foreseeing her own death, she scribed letters to bring together specific Children of Nostradamus on a mission that will change the world.
On the night of the gallery exhibition, Conthan receives one of those letters…
Whispers from the past direct him to visit Sarah, the subject of his paintings, who like many Children of Nostradamus, is being detained in a government research facility. It’s there he finds himself aligned with a rogue group of Children on a mission to prevent a dark future.
As a dark future unfolds, there’s only one hope to stop the destruction of the world…
The Children of Nostradamus.
What readers are saying about Nighthawks:
“This book was released my second day on my new job… I was busted reading it during orientation by the HR manager. I explained how addictive the book was and explained the plot so far and got a judgemental look that sent fear down my spine like only someone in HR can execute. She told me she would read this book and decide my future in the company based on how honest I was about the ‘good-ness’ of the book. I was fairly confident of my job security because I do have excellent taste. [Later] it was confirmed- I have kept my job and she also thoroughly enjoyed this book!” -Amazon Reviewer
“Finally, a tightly woven and highly intelligent dystopian story that breaks conventions in the genre. The characters are well thought out and the plot keeps you thinking throughout all the action and backstory. I’m really looking forward to how this series of books plays out. If you are fans of series like Divergent and Hunger Games, this one will surely elevate you to the next level.” -Edmond Jacobs
“All I can find myself saying after reading this is ‘wow.’ From the very beginning, the book hit the ground running and took me with it. I found myself encapsulated by the gripping plot and intriguing cast of characters with each member being fully developed. I truly got a glimpse into each of their backgrounds and was able to see who they truly were (or who I believed them to be). The world in which the novel is set is grim, to say the least, exactly what you would expect from the perfect dystopian novel. But the plot doesn’t stop there. Unlike many other dystopian novels that I’ve read in recent history, this one manages to weave in supernatural powers for the characters without it feeling like a cliche. The powers are so unique and truly add another dimension of personality to the people that have them. The only other thing I could have possibly asked for to put the icing on the already perfect cake that was this novel was some good action scenes. And let me tell you, I was left begging for more. Every fight and battle is PACKED with action, almost so much that you feel like you yourself have been punched in the face, but in the best way possible. This book is by no means a light read with its 372 pages but trust me when I say with that the pace of this book and how completely entranced I was by the plot, you’ll finish it in no time at all.” -Matt King
“In times like these, we need some heroes. In a dark and broken world, sometimes Fate is the only thing you can count on. Yes, often it seems that superheroes have been done to death, but as the old adage goes, no story is original, and NIGHTHAWKS by Jeremy Flagg is as fresh as they come. I’d love to see this on the silver screen.” -Amazon Reviewer
“Nighthawks is a fast paced high octane superhero story. Flagg takes his love of comic books and translates them from over the top comic book heroes to characters with depth in the first book of his Children of Nostradamus series. Overall the book is a quick read, great characters, and a good sense of what it would be like if you woke up one day with superpowers. I’m looking forward to the sequels in this series.” -Brenda J. Roberts
You can get YOUR copy of Nighthawks (Children of Nostradamus) for the mere price of $3.99!!!
Jeremy Flagg is a high school graphic design and marketing teacher, at a large suburban high school in Massachusetts. Working as a high school educator and observing the outlandish world of adolescence was the inspiration for his first young adult novel, “Suburban Zombie High.” His inspiration for writing stems from being a youth who struggled with reading in school. While he found school assigned novels incredibly difficult to digest, he devoured comics and later fantasy novels. Their influences can be seen in all of his work. Jeremy took the long route to becoming a writer. For a brief time, he majored in Creative Writing but exchanged one passion for another as he switched to Art and Design. His passion for reading about superheroes, fantastical worlds, and panic-stricken situations would become the foundation of his writing career. Jeremy participated in his first NaNoWriMo in 2006. Now he is the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison to theMassachusetts Metrowest Region. Jeremy also belongs to a weekly writing group called the Metrowest Writers. You can check out Mr. Flagg’s impressive work on Amazon.
And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the image below to receive updates on new articles and book releases, but also the latest and greatest up and coming authors in the horror genre.
December 21, 2016 | Categories: Book Review, Horror, Reviews | Tags: 2016 reads, Action, adventure, amwriting, book boost, book reviews, books, dystopian, Fantasy, fast paced, fiction, fun, fun reads, Guest author, Horror, intelligent, Jeremy Flagg, Limitless Publishing, NaNoWriMo, Nighthawks, novel, powers, Reviews, science fiction, series, superhero, Supernatural, writing | Leave a comment
Nothing makes Christmas better than a warm cup of cocoa or the warmth of your loved one sitting next to you, as you snuggle close to watch your favorite Christmas shows. Except, when the cable goes out and nothing seems to be on, you find yourself heading down to the nearest Redbox—you can’t break tradition ( my wife loves tradition, god help me, if I break our holiday ritual). You see that all the movies are sold out—the only one remaining is “Krampus”. You select it and move back to the house, and you and the misses continue the night. I can’t stand the holidays. My father passed away five days after Christmas and to this day: December is my month of hell, so, when it comes down to it: I fake it for my wife’s sake. Now, Holiday movies are a different kind of beast for me. I love them—they make you feel good and warm, (I can’t explain it and neither can my therapist) and you see people be happy and together—which, is always a good thing. Now, I love horror movies and holiday movies, More so, I was excited to get the opportunity to write this review. So, let’s make sure our stockings are hung tight on the fireplace with care, add a little bailey’s to our cocoa, and let’s look at “Krampus.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with European traditions, Krampus works for Santa Claus, abducts naughty children and stuffs them into a sack, and whips them with a switch, repeatedly. Now, that you know that I feel a little safer continuing with the review.
Krampus is a holiday horror film directed by Michael Dougherty, who also directed, “Trick’r’Treat”, another great holiday movie, and will be directing the upcoming “Godzilla” Sequel. Which, if you’ve seen “Trick’r’Treat”, you can imagine what type of movie “Krampus” will be. A bit of humor, and a bit of terror.
The story takes place on Dec.22. A suburbanite family is preparing for their annual Christmas get together. Tom and Sarah and their two children: Max and Beth. Sarah’s sister Linda and her husband, and their three children. Along with their German-speaking grandmother, Omni. The family has a bit of a falling out, and max rips up his letter to Santa—which summons the Krampus, who appears when people have lost their Christmas spirit have lost their Christmas spirit (unlike, the Germanic folklore of Krampus beating naughty children with sticks). The power is cut and all hell breaks loose, family member begins to disappear and toys start attacking the family. Omni reveals that the family is being tormented by the Krampus, and tells of a time when she had lost her Christmas spirit and her hometown was dragged to hell. Max finds Krampus loading his sleigh with his family members and begs and pleads with the demon to return his family, and that he will appreciate Christmas and never lose sight of it again. Contemplating the plea—Krampus opens up a portal to hell, and max apologizes, considering his apology, drops the child into the pit.
Max screams and wakes up, back into his bed—on Christmas Eve, with everything back to normal. The camera pans out and you see the house in a snow globe, as Krampus watches the house to make sure, the Christmas spirit is never broken again.
The movie wasn’t bad, and it wasn’t good. It was well worth the Redbox price. One thing I will praise this film for are the special effects. Weta workshop nailed the look and feel of what I think are demonic toys. Krampus looked amazing as well. While I can’t praise a movie for special effects alone (learned my lesson after the Beowulf movie). Also, the dysfunctional family plays out well. It feels like Gremlins—I like that.
One thing that I feel is: The story is too generic, the twist ending, the grandma who knows what’s going on and the overall trope of the family. It felt like any other holiday movie when it could have been something, so, different and magical. Yet, it stayed too much into the Holiday trope of killer presents, and everything working out again and starting something anew. It had a lot of hits and misses with me.
Overall, I had fun with the movie, and my wife…well…she thought it was “Okay”, and that’s the best response I can manage to get out of her. I would have loved to have added this movie to my holiday library, I just feel, now is not the time.
Kurt Thingvold 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. Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.
And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our monthly mailing list by clicking on the box below. Our spam-free newsletter is packed with new release information and book sales. Just our way of saying thanks!
December 20, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 2015, Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas horror, Comedy, dark fiction, Demonic, demonic toys, devils, fiction, film, folklore, German folklore, gingerbread, Guest author, hell, holiday horror, Holidays, horns, Horror, horror comedy, Krampus, Kurt Thingvold, movie review, Movies, nihilism, nihilistic, Reviews, Santa Claus, scary movies, shadows, snow, teddy bears, terror, toys | 4 Comments
22 tales of despair and dread. Zombies, Godless beasts, Eldritch horrors, serial killers and more lurk between its pages in wait to lure you into dreams, into nightmares, Into Fear! Featuring a Foreword by Tim Dedopolus, author and co-owner of Ghostwoods Books. 22 stories – Dreadmill, Gamarada Rock, Be Nimble, A Class of their Own, The Heartstone, Ball of Thread, Isophase Light, Le Ciel De Chocolat, Yo-Ho-Oh-No!, Daryl Duncan, Head Librarian, In the Bleak Midwinter, Continuity and Permanence, Good Morning, Mr. Murray, Bait Box, Conductive Salts, Zabobon, Titanomachy, The Beast of Bowline Moor, Shunned Stew House Special, The Ring of Karnak and The Royal. Afterword by critically acclaimed author Thomas S. Flowers.
What readers are saying about Into Fear:
“This is an excellent collection of stories- an eclectic mix of dark humor, gothic/classic horror, folklore, fantasy, and sci-fi tinged tales. One of my favorite tales is “Daryl Duncan,” about a man without a memory who awakes to find a copy of “Metamorphosis” and blood dripping from the ceiling. Fans of grim humor will find much to love in Into Fear.” -Amazon Reviewer
“This is quite an eclectic mix of stories and genres. I think the tagline for the book of ‘tales of dread and despair’ is spot on, rather than calling this an out and out horror story book. Don’t get me wrong, it is horrific in many parts, but the overriding feeling in the book is exactly what it says on the tin; dread and despair.” Nev Murray, Confessions of a Reviewer (read Nev’s full review here.)
“Some of the best short stories I’ve read in years, and definitely one of the top ten single-author collections I’ve read ever. Chant has put together something special here – a mix of stories from dark fantasy to pastiche, atmospheric dread to full-on horror, and literary mashups. Do yourself a favor and grab this book!” -Duncan Ralston
You can get YOUR copy of Into Fear for $2.99
Daniel Marc Chant is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us both The Mummy (1932) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), as well as Eli Roth’s strange horror flick Clown (2014). Mr. Chant is the published author of several terrifying tales, including Maldicion, Burning House, and his venture into feline horror, Mr. Robespierre. Daniel is also one of the founders of The Sinister Horror Company, the publishing team that brought us such frights as, The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 1 & Vol 2, and God Bomb!. You can follow Daniel on his blog, here. And you can read his review on Mummy here.
December 20, 2016 | Categories: Book Review, Horror, Reviews | Tags: book boost, Book Review, books, Collection, collections, Daniel Marc Chant, dark fiction, dread, fear, fiction, Guest author, Horror, horror books, indie, indie authors, indie fiction, indie horror, Into Fear, must reads, novels, prose, short stories, Sinister Horror Company, strange, strange fiction | Leave a comment