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Fright Fest: DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

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Francine Parker: They’re still here. 
Stephen: They’re after us. They know we’re still in here. 
Peter: They’re after the place. They don’t know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here. 
Francine Parker: What the hell are they? 
Peter: They’re us, that’s all, when there’s no more room in hell. 
Stephen: What? 
Peter: Something my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Vodou. My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” 

Dawn of the Dead is among many things a very quotable movie. The scene above is probably everyone’s favorite, and for some there are more selective scenes to nibble on. Scientists arguing on what remains of the news broadcast. The SWAT incursion of the Philadelphia apartment building. The refueling scene, the dock scene, the shopping montage. The raiders and ensuing firefight. There are plenty. And if you were to ask me, I can’t really say if I personally have an all-time favorite scene, I mean let’s be honest here, there are so many to choose from. From the very beginning, Dawn of the Dead lures you in and keeps your attention rooted into the story. The pacing couldn’t be more perfect.  Continue Reading

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John Carpenter Lives

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Among the horror community, there are certain names that can go unnoticed. New directors and cult indies that simply do not get enough limelight. And there are others in which one ought to know regularly. If there was a quiz, you should know the names of Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock, James Whale, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi, and Tobe Hooper as the most easily recognizable of horror directors. Wes Craven gave us (among so much more) Freddy Krueger. Cronenberg gave us Videodrome (among his other visceral work). Romero created an entirely new monster subgenre, zombies. Hitchcock paved the way for most of everyone on this list, starting, I think, with Shadow of a Doubt (1943), but most people probably know him best for Psycho. James Whale, another original pavemaker, gave us Frankenstein. del Toro brought horror into the depths of imagination. Sam Raimi locked us away in the cabin in The Evil Dead. And Tobe Hooper chased us into the sunset with a chainsaw. All these names of known for certain achievements. And in all transparency, even while you’re reading this article, there are probably differing movies you remember or associate with each director best. One director, obviously unnamed in my little list here, if we dug deeper in the cesspool of horror fandom, we’d probably wallow in some pretty nasty disagreement on which of his movies he is best known for. Personally, as a fan of his work, our still yet unnamed director (can you guess?), I’d be amiss not to do a “favorites list” on this the day of his birth. To keep things not too lengthy, this will be limited to my top five favorites (which will NOT be easy) ending on THE movie I think he is best known by. So, hold on to your butts, from least to best, the following are my five favorite movies by none other than John Carpenter.

5. The Fog (1980)

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If we’re talking personal favorites, The Fog would certainly go to the top of the pile. But if we’re talking which of Carpenter’s movies he is best known for, well…I have my doubts, even within the horror community, of those who associate Carpenter with The Fog. For starters, The Fog isn’t as over-the-top as some of his later projects. It is simple. Banal. And contained. Yet, in that simplicity, there is a wonderfully fantastic film built on classic gothic themes. A weather-beaten old fisherman tells an ancient tale of betrayal and death to fascinated children as they huddle together by their campfire. An eerie fog envelops Antonio Bay, and from the mist emerge dripping demonic phantoms of a century old shipwreck…seeking revenge. 

4. Escape From New York (1981)

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Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. However, much like The Fog, I’m unconvinced how well known Escape from New York is a John Carpenter flick. I think most would be able to tell you Kurt Russell is in it, but other than that…? Regardless, Escape From New York is definitely on my top five list for Carpenter pictures. Here, Carpenter introduces us to some rather complex characters without having to spend too much time on them. Instead, Carpenter focuses on the action as he bravely takes us into the future,  a not so far fetched future where crime is out of control and New York City is converted into a maximum security prison. When the President’s plane crashes in old Gotham, the powers that be recruit tough as nails Snake Plissken, a one-eyed former war hero now turned outlaw, into bringing the President, and his cargo (nuke codes), out of this land of confusion.

3. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

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Without a doubt, not only do moviegoers in the horror community know and can easily associate Big Trouble in Little China with John Carpenter, but so can those who do not frequent horror movies, and that’s mostly because Big Trouble in Little China is not technically a horror movie. I think it could be labeled mostly as sci-fi fantasy and comedy action. And as ole Jack Burton says, this flick is one of the most quotable of all of Carpenter’s work. The film is an unexpected classic following a tough-talking, wisecracking truck driver named Jack Burton whose life on the road takes a sudden supernatural tailspin when his friend’s fiancee is kidnapped. Speeding to the rescue, Jack finds himself deep beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown, in a murky, creature-filled world ruled by Lo Pan, a 2000-year-old magician who mercilessly presides over an empire of spirits. Dodging demons and facing baffling terrors, Jack battles his way through Lo Pan’s dark domain in a full-throttle, action-riddled ride to rescue the girl.

2. Halloween (1978)

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His one movie that sparked a franchise, I’d be really shocked to discover anyone who didn’t know this flick was one of John Carpenter’s. And I swear to all that is holy, if I ever asked someone, “Hey, have you seen Halloween?” And they told me, “Oh, you mean that Rob Zombie movie?” I’d slap them silly. Halloween is a classic to be sure. The score alone is probably more recognizable than the directorial name. And a movie that typically makes it onto everyone’s Halloween holiday movie lineups, a movie that started on a cold Halloween night in 1963 when six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, during the night before being transferred for a court hearing, a now 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns home to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he searches for his sister. 

1. The Thing (1982)

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Was there really any surprise The Thing is my number one pick here? Yes, there could be some debate on whether The Thing is an easily associated film of Carpenter’s. And there are two sides to this coin. While I do admit, I have some serious doubts people outside of horror fandom would even recognize the movie title let alone the director, but within the horror fandom world, The Thing has become an inescapable cult classic of behemoth proportions. I do not think I’ve seen another movie that has gardened such a fanbase as The Thing. And for good reason, too. The Thing, besides The Fog, has one of the most simple sets imaginable, the kicker really being how isolated the characters are and how audiences can feel that itch of madness, being cooped up too long, stir crazy, etc. etc. The paranoia drips from the screen. And much like Escape from New York, we’re given rich complex characters without the need of some unnecessary backstory for any of them, even Kurt Russel’s characters MacReady is really only known by his actions. Nearly 35 years later, the practical effects in this movie are still considered high quality. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what will. The story is grounded and easy to follow. After the destruction of a Norwegian chopper that buzzes their base, the members of the US team fly to the Norwegian base hoping to find survivors, only to discover them all dead or missing. What they do find among the carnage are the remains of a strange creature burned and haphazardly buried in the ice. The Americans take their find back to their base and deduce that it is not human, not entirely, but an alien life form. Soon, it becomes apparent that the alien lifeform is not dead, and to make matters worse, it can take over and assimilate other life forms, including humans, spreading much like a virus does. Anyone at the base could be inhabited by the Thing, tensions soon escalate.

0. They Live (1988)

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I’d be amiss not to include at least one honorable mention. Originally, I really wanted to include Carpenter’s They Live, starring late great Roddy Piper, on this list of top films. Call me lazy, but I didn’t want to spend all morning writing about which of Carpenter’s movies are the best or most recognizable as being his, I’d be here all day if I did that. I gave myself a five movie limit and stuck with it. That said, I think They Live, at least within the horror community, is a really recognizable Carpenter flick, and probably one of his most (sadly) relevant films to date. The action is def. cheesy, and the concept is bizarre, but the message is a real punch to the gut, one that I’m sure many a film student as spent dissecting and discussing.

Did you like what you read here? Consider joining our mailing list and stay up to date on new releases, hot deals, and new articles here on the blog. The above list are my picks for Carpenter flicks, but I want to know what are some of yours? Comment below with your number one or give pick of John Carpenter’s most recognizable movie. Thanks for reading, and as always, do not forget to live, laugh, and scream!

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Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas w/ Jennifer Allis Provost

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The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Tim Burton musical that debuted back in 1993. The movie begins with Jack Skellington and the rest of Halloweentown performing their yearly masterpiece, This is Halloween (“This is Halloween! Everybody, make them scream!”)—but Jack has gotten bored with performing the same old shtick year after year. One thing that could definitely shake Jack out of the doldrums is Sally, a rag doll kept locked up by a mad scientist (that’s not creepy) who’s crushing on him, but he’s so self-absorbed he doesn’t notice her.

Jack and his ghost dog, Zero, go for a walk and end up in a remote part of the woods, where different trees correspond to different holidays. Jack goes to Christmastown and is amazed at the inherent magic of the holiday. So what does he do? He hatches a plot to take over Christmas. He recruits some creepy kids to kidnap Santa (Sandy Claws), enlists the townsfolk to whip up decorations…and proceeds to ruin Christmas as best he can. What else would you expect from an animated semi-demonic skeleton?

All in all, The Nightmare Before Christmas is ninety minutes of fun and very singable songs. It does get a bit hairy when the kids turn Santa over to the Boogeyman, but it’s all in good fun. Or gore. Either way, you’ll be singing about feet all rotten and covered in gook for weeks, and who doesn’t want that around the holidays?

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Jennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library). An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. When she’s not writing about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day) she’s working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Connect with her online at http://authorjenniferallisprovost.com


Fright Fest: Don’t Breathe (2016)

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When I went to watch Don’t Breathe, I went in blind. Do you see what I did there? That pun – fucking brilliant as it was…it wasn’t even intentional. That’s just the kind of genius I am and an early warning sign to the shite review you’re about to be hit with. Anyway – I went in not knowing much about the movie. In fact, all I knew were the following points:

  • It had a fit bird in it.
  • I knew these characters broke into a blind man’s house and he then set about fucking them up.

That was it. I knew nothing else.

If you plan on watching this film, I suggest you go in with that amount of knowledge too for you will find the film a lot more enjoyable. If you read too many reviews, little details will be given away which could take some of the enjoyment from the film. Not like this snippet of information I’m about to give you, though – this won’t ruin anything but…

The people breaking into the old man’s house are thieves. They’ve heard he has money and they see him as an easy target so, a decision made – rob the fucker. And here in lies the problem: How are you supposed to feel sorry for criminals? Yet that’s exactly what the filmmakers are asking of you, to feel sorry for these scumbags as they find themselves trapped in the blind man’s house and he is hunting them down, to kill them. So… I don’t feel sorry for the youths who’ve broken into his house and I don’t feel sorry for the blind man who is trying to kill them. Now I know they needed a reason to be in the house, I get that. But… How about this: They pass the house… He calls for help. They hear him and run into the house, the house goes into lockdown and he tries to kill them. Straight away I would feel sorry for the youths in the house. They had gone in there to try and help him and now their lives hang in the balance. And that’s without giving it much thought.

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Now I’m not saying Don’t Breathe isn’t a good film. It is a good film. Without going into details to spoil the film, I can say that it is very tense and there are some good twists along with some completely unnecessary ones. I don’t want to spoil the film for you so I can’t go into details but I’m sure you’ll see what I mean when you watch it. But some of the twists aren’t the only thing which damages the film. The ending is a let down too – in fact, it is such a let down that I watched the film two days ago and have already forgotten how it ended.

Straining my brain really hard, I just remembered and – yeah – it definitely is shit.

They could have ended the movie during one particular brutal twist scene. When you watch the movie – and it is worth a watch – you will sit up at one particular point and you will be on the edge of the seat. You might even mutter ‘WHAT THE FUCK’… Had they ended the film here, it would have been a much stronger movie and would leave people talking about it. It truly is a potentially nasty, nasty scene and yet, the film director (also wrote it) bottled it and made it go all Hollywood but then I should have expected something shit because this is the guy who right royally fucked up The Evil Dead remake. Seen it? Not a bad movie up until the end when The Evil Dead manifested itself as…. a girl. Fuck. Off. Let’s take a classic film which keeps the actual Evil hidden… And just try and make it gorier and turn the big bad beast into a pathetic little girl. No doubt the cunt watched The Ring or The Grudge and figured small girls are scary… Had he been sitting with me at the cinema, I would have tipped my popcorn on him. Let that be a lesson learned.

Jane Levy stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.

Anyway, like I said, Don’t Breathe is hard to review because I don’t want to ruin the twists or give you too much information to ruin the story. It’s a tricky one but – know this – it is a good film. If I was rating out of ten, I’d give it a 6.5 or even a 7 but I’m not rating out of ten, so forget I said that. So what is so good about it? Well, there are some incredibly tense scenes (power cut to the house making the youths just as blind as the blind man being a standout moment). The acting is serviceable even if the blind man did have Batman’s voice mixed with Batman’s nemesis of Bane. But – with all of that – you have really effective music and, more importantly, lack of music. Why the lack of music? Well, the blind man relies on sound to hear people so… When the youths are creeping around being quiet – the music cuts out and we have nothing but silence and the little sounds they make… We hear what the blind man hears. It is also the quietest I have ever known a movie theater to be. So – kudos for that. The only thing which annoys me is… This film had the potential to be perfect but – like so many other horror films of late – it let itself down in a couple of places, most notably the final hurdle.

Still, it could have been worse… It could have another shitty remake…

Until next time, kiddies,

Matt, The.

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Matt Shaw is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us The Invisible Woman (1940) earlier this year. Besides being bothered by me to write reviews for my site, Mr. Shaw is also 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. Shaw is best known for his extreme horror novels (The infamous Black Cover Range), he 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. Matt Shaw lives in Southampton (United Kingdom) with his wife Marie. 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 Womanhere.

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Fright Fest: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (2015- )

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PREVIOUSLY, ON ASH VS EVIL DEAD… So last season, I wrote a review of Ash vs. Evil Dead for The Ginger Nuts of Horror, (mostly) singing its praises. My few criticisms of the first season were the Scully character (do we need one of these in every show with a slight whiff of paranormal? let’s just do without them from now on, please) who eventually evened out and became interesting (right before she was killed),and the sometimes jarring tonal shifts. (You can read said review here)

 

Spoilers ahead, though (duh) it’s a review. We should all be used to this by now.

The ending of last season polarized fans. Some thought it didn’t make sense for Ash to hand his quest to rid the world of Deadites over to Ruby, though perhaps those viewers hadn’t been watching the same series I was. It’s always been an inner struggle for Ash between being a hero and being a hard-partying slacker—the whole season hinged on that. That, in the end, he gives up the Necronomicon to spend the rest of his days drinking and womanizing in Jacksonville fits perfectly with Ash’s M.O. prior to meeting fellow “ghostbeaters” Kelly and Pablo. That he does it under the guise of “saving” his new friends gives the decision a bit of emotional weight. We feel that even though he’s regressed, he’s at least grown in that he no longer sees himself as a lone wolf.

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AND NOW, THE CONCLUSION

(Although not really. We’re only 5 episodes deep.)

Season Two starts out with the pedal to the metal. No setup required. We already know Ash is partying hard in Jacksonville, and we could already guess Kelly and Pablo would be growing bored and restless, tagging along, likely waiting for Ash to come to his senses. What we probably didn’t guess is that Ash is a popular attraction. Everyone seems to love him. At first, I thought Jacksonville might be some sort of parallel dimension, but I suppose everyone is just drunk enough to find him and his chainsaw entertaining. When Ruby realizes she can’t fight the demon Baal on her own—she finds a picture of Ash in the Necronomicon—she then reneges on her part of the bargain, drawing Ash back to Elk Grove, where he grew up. (I suppose they changed his hometown from Dearborn, Michigan to Elk Grove for the same reason they changed S-Mart to Value Stop, due to a rights issue.) Everyone in Elk Grove knows him as “Ashy Slashy,” the crazy man who violently murdered his friends and sister in a cabin in the woods. It’s his biggest shame and plays into his hero/guilt complex brilliantly.

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The gang meets Ash’s dad, Brock Williams, who Ash told them was dead. (Ash’s dad told people Ash was dead, turnabout being fair play.) He’s played brilliantly by Lee Majors, a hard-drinking, hard-partying perv just like Ash. He doesn’t believe Ash’s story about the Necronomicon, and Ash is tired of trying. Or at least, he pretends he is. Their rivalry alone makes the first four episodes worth watching if nothing else. Though there is a lot to love in Season Two.

Firstly, it ups the ante with wild scenes of gore and brutal deaths. You’ve probably seen the NSFW clip that’s been making the rounds, and if not I won’t spoil it here. (You can watch the clip here if you’re really interested: http://bloody-disgusting.com/tv/3410013/nsfw-ash-vs-evil-dead-clip-everyones-talking. Or you can just watch the series, and you really should be watching it if you can.) It’s this kind of over-the-top stuff that makes the second season really shine. You can’t find anything else like it on TV, mostly because of a thing called Standards and Practices.

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Two, the jokes and interplay between characters are still on-point. There’s a scene where they’re discussing why Ruby is unable to find the Necronomicon and Ash “can’t fart without tripping over it”–it works so well because of the characters’ reactions, and Bruce Campbell’s gleefully stupid portrayal of Ash. I’ve watched it about a dozen times, and it makes me laugh. Every. Single. Time.

Third, Pablo and Kelly have their own storylines. Pablo, after having had his face torn off to adorn the cover of the Necronomicon, has now been seeing visions of possible futures. The book also calls to him, and he’s more susceptible to its allure. And Kelly is recruited by Ruby to find and kill her “spawn,” which she hopes will make it easier to send Baal back to Hell. Kelly is eager to prove herself, especially once Pablo reminds her of how much she doesn’t care that her life sucks.

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And lastly, Ash vs. Evil Dead burns through plotlines as quickly as Ash burns through beers. The second a new thread is introduced, the one leading up to it is burned (usually violently). Nothing grinds my gears more than a series that hinges on one minor plot point for an entire season, or half of one. It’s lazy writing and makes for damn boring TV.

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season Two keeps the twists coming fast and ferociously. So far, it’s better than the first season in almost every way, and I can’t wait for more.

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Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto and spent his teens in small-town Ontario. As a “grown up,” Duncan lives with his girlfriend and their dog in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that frighten, sicken, and delight him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE, the anthologies EASTER EGGS & BUNNY BOILERS, WHAT GOES AROUND, DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, FLASH FEAR, and the charity anthologies BURGER VAN and THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS Vol. 1, he is the author of the novel, SALVAGE, and the novellas EVERY PART OF THE ANIMAL and WOOM, an extreme horror Black Cover book from Matt Shaw Publications. You can read Duncan’s work on the altar of Amazon b(u)y following this link here.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on new reviews and articles but also a free anthology of dark fiction. And don’t worry, this is a spam free newsletter with well over 200 happy subscribers! 

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Fright Fest: Squirm (1976)

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Jeff Leiberman’s killer worm movie from the Seventies, Squirm, is more than your basic eco-horror film. It’s a taut Southern gothic tale, filled with sexual tension and bizarre symbolism, making it more than worth your time to watch. Squirm isn’t really a “nature gone mad” flick. It’s more like a “nature extremely irritated” movie. When a tremendous storm hits the isolated rural town of Fly Creek, GA, downed power lines send bazillions of volts of electricity into the ground. This shocking turn of events takes its toll on the underground population of bloodworms, a grosser-than-normal kind of tubular critter that has the ability to bite. Nobody is safe from the killer nightcrawlers, but the biting bait functions more as a symbol than a mindless mass of slimy flesh-eaters. Yeah, it’s disgusting, and there are a couple of scenes in this movie that will give you bad dreams. It’s legitimately scary, but underneath the millions of worms lies a story of repressed passions and unfulfilled promise.

 

Our heroine, Geri (Patricia Pearcy), has invited her friend Mick (Don Scardino) down from New York City to stay the weekend. Geri lives with her sister and her widowed mother. Since the power is off, the whole place is hotter and moister than usual. The entrance of Mick into this situation sets strange events in motion.

Mama hasn’t had a man since Big Daddy died and having Mick roam around the house shirtless activates her nethers in a way she hasn’t known for decades. The same things are happening to young Geri, who follows Mick around like that old cartoon character with red pigtails and a gingham dress, eyes bulging out and steam flying out of her ears, screaming “A MAY-UNNN!”

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Mick’s arrival also sets off the competitive nature in local man Roger (R. A. Dow), the simpleton son of a worm farmer who has his eye on Geri. To be fair, Geri does use her feminine wiles to get Roger to do things for her. Let me borrow your truck, Roger. Bait my fishing hook, Roger. He’s just a poor puppy dog, hoping to get his belly scratched. This does not happen.

There’s so much pining in this movie, it may as well have been filmed in the fjords.

And where do the worms come in? Besides being naturally phallic-shaped, embodying all the slippery sexual tension in the family, they also represent what’s been called the New South. This is a South that has gotten past the Civil War, embraced the Industrial Revolution and tries to fit in with the rest of the country without a chip on its shoulder. Mama represents the Old South, especially as far as etiquette goes. She hates Mick for disrupting her small matriarchy with the threat of Penis, his sexuality being another form of Northern aggression, and yet she can’t help but stare at him longingly. Her eyes travel him up and down in a delightful reverse of the male gaze. She can’t admit it, but Mama is ready to fraternize with the enemy.

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The worms, as the New South, attack from all sides. They rise up from the ground, like the ghosts of Confederate soldiers. They devour the citizens. They invade the homes. Eventually, they destroy Mama’s house with her in it. She has no choice but to succumb. It’s no coincidence that much like Atlanta after Sherman’s March, they’re going to have to rebuild.

The person who fights hardest against the invading worms is poor dumb Roger, who works on a worm farm! He’s been raising these things, and they turn against him in the most horrific of ways, like ungrateful children. Imagine being a die-hard Yellow Dog Democrat all your life, then finding out your kids voted for the godforsaken, quasi-Communist Green Party. Betrayal! Obi-Wan and Anakin level betrayal!

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They used to call stories like this “pot-boilers,” simmering with sex and heat and passions that must not be spoken aloud. This one also happens to have killer bloodworms that scream like sodomized baboons. Believe me, if you want the gross-out factor, it’s here. Just the shot of worms oozing their way out of a showerhead is enough to give me the heebie-jeebies from hell to breakfast.

But Squirm is a great example of horror being the genre where you can explore anything. You can’t explore the lingering effects of the aftermath of the Civil War and misplaced, toxic sexual desire and repression in a romantic comedy. How would the audience react to Christina Applegate getting the meat stripped off her bones by thousands of insane electrified bloodworms after her first awkward date with Paul Rudd?

Squirm is a B-movie treasure, loaded with winning performances and subtext out the O-ring. Not only is it a tremendous movie, it’s a great film deserving of greater appreciation.

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Jeffery X. Martin is no stranger to Machine Mean. After reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941) and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) and Revenge of the Creature (1955), Mr. X has brought us to a new level of terror with Squirm. When he isn’t being pestered by me to write movie reviews, he also writes books and is an avid podcaster. Mr. X has published several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elder’s Keep universe and Tarotsphere. He also has a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 1. His latest novel, Hunting Witches, is now available on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. You can find his work on Amazon. When Mr. X is not writing creep mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and blogs, including, but not limited to, Pop Shiftier and Kiss the Goat. You can read his previous review on Wolf Man here.

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Fright Fest: The Howling (1981)

 

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First things first, The Howling is my favorite werewolf movie. It’s creepy, it’s sometimes bizarre, it’s sexy, and it’s violent. From the tension-filled opening with Karen White and Eddie Quist to the burning –down-the-house attempt to destroy the fine people of The Colony, and the final change before a live televised audience, The Howling brings it. Released back in 1981, The Howling is based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner released in 1977 (the year I was born).

“We should never try to deny the best, the animal within us…”

While there are plenty of similarities between the novel and the film, the final screenplay turned in for the movie decided to take the film adaptation in its own direction. The book starts out with the main character getting raped in her apartment and features a similar “cabin in the woods” setting for her and her husband to go to recover and heal. The husband is also pursued and seduced by the local shopkeep/temptress. For the adaptation, screenwriter, John Sayles, a psychology major in college, decided to lean heavily on the psychological angle. In the book,  the town, Drago, just so happens to be a town filled with werewolves, whereas the screenplay has it all set up by the doctor (Dr. Waggner). Sayles did something I believe all good writers do when treading familiar ground—borrow what you like and make up the rest!  For werewolf folklore, he chose to go with silver bullets and fire to kill his beasts, as well as a bite to pass the curse along but threw out the full moon cycle of the werewolf. Instead, he chose to go shapeshifter with the creatures being able to shift at will, day or night.

“You can’t be afraid of dreams…Turn around, Karen…”

From the psychological standpoint, we get to see Dee Wallace deliver an excellent performance as Karen White. After being attacked by and catching a glimpse of Eddie in his werewolf form, she is sent to The Colony, a “place to recharge her batteries” and run by Dr. George Waggner. The Colony is a place where everyone is known to howl at the moon. It’s there that Karen and her husband, Bill, meet Marsha Quist and a number of others.  Karen battles her nightmares of Eddie, reliving the moments with her stalker in her dreams and during her sessions with Dr. Waggner at The Colony.

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Her husband, Bill, tries to wait for her to let him touch her again without reliving her attack. Marsha sees her opportunity and sets her sights on him. It doesn’t take long for her “animal magnetism” to lure Bill in. One bite and Bill is all hers. This leads to one hell of a sex scene in the woods between the two.  I mentioned the sexy thing in my introduction, right? Well, that is definitely brought on by Elisabeth Brooks in her role as Marsha, aka Marsha the Man-Eater. Her wild mane, perfect body, and relentless sex appeal speak to the beast in us all.

“Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives becomes a werewolf himself.”

The true highlights of the film are the spectacular transformations. Watching the werewolves come to life without the help of today’s special effects crutch (CGI) is a fantastic thing to behold.  After killing off Karen’s friend, Eddie comes face-to-face with the object of his desire and we bear witness to the change of all changes as Eddie goes from man to beast before the screen. Watching his eyes alone is amazing. Add that to the work and hours it must have taken to get the snout just right, that’s the good stuff. I can’t imagine how amazing this must have been to see for the first time in 1981.  Those of us who were spoiled by the effects of the ‘90’s and the 2000’s have earned a new appreciation for moments in the film like Eddie’s transformation.  I think of movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing, And John Landi’s American Werewolf in London (which was also released in 1981), and even Michael Jacksons’s “Thiller” video (also directed by Landis), or even Jeff Goldblum’s wicked evolution from man-to-fly in The Fly. It must have been a thousand times better for actors to stand in front of a tangible creation rather than whatever stand-ins they use today for the CGI monsters.

“You can’t tame what’s meant to be wild…”

The Howling, along with Silver Bullet, forged an unforgettable bond in my mind between me and the werewolf. For older folks, it was probably The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney, for younger kids maybe it’s something like Dog Soldiers (2002) or the Underworld films (hopefully not Twilight!). In the eighties, my older brother shared these films with me and it was for this reason I dedicated my werewolf novel, Blood, and Rain, to him.

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It should also be mentioned that director, Joe Dante, was at the helm of a number of great films that followed, namely, The ‘Burbs (1989) with Tom Hanks, and Gremlins (1984). While both The ‘Burbs and Gremlins contain plenty of humor to go along with the horror, The Howling, for the most part, maintained its dark edge. Although, if you look close enough, you can find spots of Dante’s appreciation for humor between the lines of the film, as well. Next time you watch it, keep your eyes on the televisions in any given scene.

To this day, The Howling remains my favorite werewolf film. The dark, sleazy, psychological aspects in the opening remind me of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1971). It maintains that psychological thriller tone (presented magnificently by screenwriter Sayles) throughout which makes the horror that much deeper. You combine the writing with the special effects, the visual beasts, great direction, and a superb cast of actors and you get the equivalent to a great novel—a full, well-rounded story and presentation.

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Final note: Gary Brandner’s novel, The Howling, is also terrific. In fact, film sequel, The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988), is a more faithful adaptation of the original novel. It is easily my second favorite of the movies that followed in the series.  For werewolf flicks that I also love, check out American Werewolf in London, Silver Bullet, Wolf (1994), The Wolfman (2010), and Wolfen (1981).  You can go ahead and add Teen Wolf (1985), as well.

Whatever your horror flavor, I hope you’ll make some time for one or more of these excellent films this Halloween season.

Aaarrrrroooooooo!

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Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter and all around fun loving guy from the haunted woods of New England. He has studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Hunter Shea, Brian Moreland and many others. He and his wife, Meghan, have three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness. He is the author of Blood and Rain, The Haunted Halls, Chasing Ghosts, Boom Town, Abram’s Bridge, Things We Fear, and the collections, Out if Range, Slush, and Where Nightmares Begin. You can get your paws on Glenn’s work on Amazon.

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Fright Fest: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

 

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[WARNING: EXTREME DIGRESSIONS, LATERAL ASSOCIATIONS, AND UNSOLICITED MUSINGS FOLLOW] To start, a confession—as much as I enjoy Italian horror (and horror in general), I’m not sure if I’d ever seen one of Mario Bava’s films in its entirety [preemptive update: since choosing this film for review and watching it through a couple times, I coincidentally had the pleasure of finally watching Blood and Black Lace at a good friend’s birthday movie party]. I’d seen a few of his son Lamberto’s, but looking over the Elder Bava’s filmography I couldn’t honestly say I could attach a title listed to a film I could clearly remember. My early days of watching Giallo and other types of Italian horror coincided with attending art/film school in San Francisco, so you’ll have to forgive my own uncertainty—as I wasn’t always completely sober while viewing a great deal of the offerings from “Le Video” and other VHS-lined halls of magical filmic goodness. I’m much clearer on the Argento, Soavi, and Fulci (my personal favorite) films I devoured at the time, but there were others that, for whatever reason, remain a vague blur.

So, why did I choose this film of all films? Second confession—if you know me this won’t come as too big a shock, but I’m borderline obsessive about the Alien film franchise. It is taking a considerable effort to not expand upon that statement with the finer distinctions I make between the different film entries, EU comics, novels, games, etc. and their varying levels of individual quality. You’re welcome (just trust me… you’re welcome). Simple version—I like Alien-related things that are good.
Okay, I’ll just cut to it—I chose Planet of the Vampires for review because Nicolas Winding Refn (Pusher, Bronson, Valhalla Rising, Drive) said this recently while introducing a new 4k print of Planet at Cannes as a “Cannes Classic”:

“Planet of the Vampires” is the film that Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon stole from to make ‘Alien.’ We found the elements, we have the evidence tonight. This is the origin!”

Could it be that a film I hold so close to my heart could have pilfered from another film openly, or at least been heavily influenced? I was torn by this… so this review will be a bit torn. I’m going to abandon the regular review what-I-liked/didn’t-like format I would do and try something different. I ended up watching the film twice, with two mindsets—first, looking for connections to Alien. Then, as its own film (which would’ve been impossible for me the first time, feverishly Alien-crazed as my feeble mind tends to be).

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And so…

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES AS POSSIBLE ALIEN INSPIRATION/SOURCE MATERIAL:

I’d heard in the past that Alien strongly resembled another film, It! The Terror From Beyond Space, but still haven’t watched that due to stumbling onto some images of the creature in the film—it… didn’t do much for me. That’s unfair, I know, but it’s hard when you’ve been spoiled (and scarred) by the diseased mind of a brilliant Swiss dark surrealist like Giger. Planet of the Vampires intrigued me for different reasons.

The Wikipedia article for Planet’s “Influence” page states that Ridley Scott (director of Alien) and Dan O’Bannon (main writer of Alien; co-written with Ronald Shusett, then revised heavily by Walter Hill and David Giler before being rolled back some), had stated they’d never seen Planet before making Alien. From what I know of Scott, that wouldn’t surprise me. After some snooping, though, I discovered some different things about O’Bannon’s history with it.

O’Bannon is quoted as saying he was ‘aware’ of Planet but didn’t feel like he’d ever watched all of it. He also says that he thought about Forbidden Planet (a classic I’m more familiar with) way more than It! while writing Alien. His approach seemed to be to make the ultimate scary-monster-on-a-ship movie, pulling from a lifetime of Sci-Fi film watching—something crystallized in this quote: “I didn’t steal from anybody—I stole from everybody!

So, where does this Planet/Alien comparison—that I’ve now stumbled onto many times while researching this review—come from?
Planet of the Vampires
starts with two ships (Argos and Galliot) in space near a planet. They discuss a signal they’ve been monitoring from an unknown origin somewhere down on the surface. A powerful force grabs their ships and exerts an incredible force on them, pulling them down into the planet’s atmosphere. They are set down in a strangely gentle fashion after such powerful artificial force. Upon touching down all but the captain of the Argos go mad, immediately attacking him and each other. He’s able to smack sense into most of them, and then he and a crew member chase the still-crazed doctor out onto the spooky planet surface. After he is released from whatever mysterious power had hold of him, the captain sends him back inside.

So far we have a mysterious planet (large moon in Alien, but close enough), a signal of unknown origin, and a rocky, dark planet surface. Okay, I see that. This is followed by a dangerous trip across the spooky, dark planet’s surface to investigate the fate of the Galliott. The Galliott’s crew are mostly dead, with a few missing.

There’s a decent chunk here with nothing comparable, then they find a third ship near the Argos while doing a survey, and a few of them go to investigate. So we also have space-suited ship crew investigating a planet’s surface, only to find a… “alien” ship. Not only that but the remains of said alien crew are skeletons of humanoids of great size—possibly up to three times that of an average human.

I see where this is going… These basic elements (and that they later take off, with malicious stowaways aboard) are similar between the two films, and from what I’ve come across the imagery of the skeletal alien crew is one of the strongest “gotcha!” things for those who feel Alien was directly influenced by Planet, due to the similarity to the former film’s “Space Jockey”/ “Pilot” scene.

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But Planet was not the only film about a crew touching down on a spooky planet, finding weird things, and leaving with something that wasn’t exactly pleasant in their ship. Other than It! The Terror From Beyond Space, the director of another Sci-Fi movie called Queen of Blood, Curtis Harrington, is quoted as saying he felt the makers of Alien most likely had been heavily inspired by his film—due to it also having that same rough barebones plot. I’m no expert, but I’m sure there are at least a few other Sci-Fi films from before Alien’s late 1970s writing and production that could be boiled down to the same basic structure.

Also, It! The Terror From Beyond Space is the closer film to the follow-through of Alien by default—Planet doesn’t have what you would call a “creature” per se. There is a zombie- or revenant-like reanimation and possession that takes place, followed by more insidious mimicry of human behavior. I’d go so far as to say Planet’s last act more closely resembles John Carpenter’s The Thing in its emphasis on paranoia and mimics trying to use their human hosts’ technology to their advantage—that is if The Thing was also missing its well-loved practical creature effects. Giger’s nightmarish creations were undoubtedly a huge part of Alien’s power and success as a film. There is nothing like that in Planet of the Vampires.

To sum up my thoughts, I feel like it’s a little unfair to say Alien stole from anyone Sci-Fi film—it appears to have been more of a loving potpourri of elements from many earlier Sci-Fi films with attempts of their own at claustrophobia and scares. The setup of Alien is not its greatest strength and is its least original aspect. Thankfully, it more than makes up for that in the realms of atmosphere, design, special effects, acting, genuine fear, and well-earned and -executed scares.

Valaquen at Strange Shapes, a favorite blog of mine as an Alien series fan, puts it best I feel with this line: “The story of the Nostromo could easily be that of the Demeter, the ship that Dracula stowed upon on his way to London.”

It’s not the bare-bones plot, but what they did with it that made Alien groundbreaking and frightening.

Whereas the legacy of Planet of the Vampires is cheapened by it being treated as a footnote in the history of Alien. I honestly wish I’d heard of it in a different context. Which leads me to…

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES AS A FILM ON ITS OWN TERMS:

As stated above, the film begins with two ships in space. Well, it starts with a title sequence with some pleasant spacy shots. Then, we see the two ships. Right off the bat, it’s clear we’re in for a B-movie affair of some kind, as the model work for the ships and space background is done well enough, but leaning toward cheap and a bit cheesy. This isn’t a strike against the film coming from me, for the record. A shot focused on a bright section of one ship model dissolves into a shot of space out through a circular ship bridge area, the camera tilting down to show more examples of what I’ve learned Bava was known for—getting the most out of low-budget production values. Large banks of glowing, pulsing readouts and other kinds of equipment are seemingly lit in such way as to make it less clear how much empty space the set actually has. This could also have been a stylistic choice, but I have a feeling I’m not entirely wrong either way.

Then we are treated to one of my favorite things about this film—the costuming. The crew spacesuits are dark, form-fitting, and sleek, with bright orange trim. One has to imagine that—and this is really the last Alien-ish part, I swear—whether or not Ridley Scott had ever seen Planet before making Alien, he’s seen it since, and wanted to either poke some fun at that or make a genuine homage.

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My only complaint is they only wear their snazzy bright yellow helmets in the scene I mentioned earlier where the captain and a crewman chase the doctor out onto the planet surface after they touch down. They make great paperweights for the rest of the film, sitting on flat surfaces all over the Argos and Galliot just looking cool and not helping the space adventurers breathe safely.

The sets are also really well done. The interiors are deliberately minimal and have glowing and blinking machines placed strategically. But where the sets really impress is the exterior planet shots. A thick ankle-deep fog blankets the planet surface, swirling around at every step that breaks it. Rocky outcroppings, spires, and crags on the planet surface look suitably natural and menacing. Lava patches are well-executed with superimposition and matting.  The ships’ implied sizes are reinforced by landing supports and airlock set constructions. The airlock hatch mechanics are smooth and believable. There’s a weight to their use that feels right as if they’re part of a large vessel and not a cheap suggestion of one.

Also, the use of the different sets and camera tricks gives the planet a good sense of size. They have to travel good distances between ships and don’t just jump around through editing.

Photographic effects bring the sets together and make the planet surface feel dangerous and foreboding, and this otherworldly feel is consistent. Optical printer post-production slo-mo is used to give the rising of a few dead Galliott crew members a strange and menacing feel.

The atmosphere, in general, is fantastic. The planet is mysterious and spooky, even before they find the remnants of the alien presence. The open interiors of the ships go from comforting chambers of safety to increasingly empty areas hiding possible terrors around every corner.

A lot of the heavy lifting for the atmosphere is the lighting. Having now seen Blood and Black Lace since deciding on Planet for this review, I can definitely express with confidence that Bava’s lighting is my favorite thing about his films (so far; I have much more to watch). Those two films have different cinematographers, but Bava seemed to have a strong enough sense of light and color that it was dictated at a directorial level. His bold, almost garish color choices are toned down some in Planet, going for darker, cooler colors than the bold reds and violets he plays off the darkness in Blood. There is some of that in Planet, though, when the reluctant planet explorers are traversing the surface and having to climb over and around lava flows.

He also uses a nice trick, backlighting the rocky set pieces from a distance, suggesting either light poking in through the thick atmosphere or unseen moons or other celestial bodies throwing light from afar. But the surface areas are dark, mostly lit up by lava or eerie, dim fill lighting. These two things contrast nicely.

The performances are pretty good too. According to Wikipedia (don’t hate), Barry Sullivan was the only actor speaking English, Norma Bengell (a Brazilian) spoke Portuguese, and the rest of the international cast spoke their own languages—not understanding each other as they performed.

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I knew that most of the voices were dubbed, but wouldn’t have guessed they were so disconnected. They all perform well together. There are some “scream queen” worthy moments and some pleasantly hammy, scenery-chewing moments (unintentionally amplified by the dubbing, I’d say).

There’s even a twist ending. I won’t spoil the specifics, but whether you end up unsure if it was tacked on or not (as I still am), it gives the whole thing a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits outro feel.

CONCLUSION

As I expressed above in detail, I doubt this film was a huge influence on Alien directly. On its own merits, I really enjoyed it. It’s a straight-faced sci-fi/horror piece with great use of budget and plenty entertainment value. Or as the original trailer dubs it…

 

I’ll give Planet of the Vampires…………….7/10.

 

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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, The Sirens Call Ezine by Sirens Call Publications, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick Loveland’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in early 2017 by April Moon Books.  Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog [under construction]: https://patrickloveland.wordpress.com/

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on articles  and new book releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Fright Fest: The Final Girls (2015)

 

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We find comfort in the predictability of 80’s slasher flicks. We know as the blonde runs into the house, she’ll head toward the inescapable attic or head to a basement filled with body parts and chainsaws. Before global conspiracies or villains looking to end the human race, Jason, Leatherface, Mike Meyers, and even Freddy had one goal in mind, kill the group of people trespassing on their turf. While these movies remain classics, we the viewers have grown up and now mock the victims, fueled by the knowledge that if it were us, we would make it out alive. Or would we?

Cue Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes and the opening sequence of Final Girls. The film stars Max (Taissa Farmiga) a young woman who lost her mom (Malin Akerman), the star of the cult classic Camp Bloodbath, in a tragic car accident. Now years later, Max still struggling the death, attends the anniversary screening of her mom’s slasher flick. When a fire breaks out in the theater, Max and entourage escape through the projection screen and find themselves trapped inside the movie.

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Your expectations of this unheard of the film are low, lower when you realize director Todd Strauss-Sculson is most well known for “A very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas.” I’ll admit, my knowledge of the movie was nil, and at the time hadn’t even heard of the concept of “the final girl.” I figured while being forced to watch this movie I could check my email, tag photos in Facebook, and aimlessly shop on Amazon. Opening Scene – nothing else but this movie mattered. I put my phone down for the entire movie and those Halloween themed PJ pants I so desperately needed to be remained in my cart.

The opening reveals the trailer for Camp Bloodbath being viewed on our protagonist’s phone while she waits for her mom to return from an audition. As they drive away, the majestic and experimental camera angles instantly tell you that this is going to be a movie filled with visual eye candy as complex and entertaining as the movie within a movie plotline. As the car is t-boned by a mac truck, we are left pondering the plot, the tone, and even the genre of the movie.

Is sarcastic horror satire a movie category? Cabin in the Woods taught us that horror with an underlying sense of humor blended with complex multilayered plots can create a success. I would say the creators made the movie for me. It held my #1 horror slot, but Final Girls with its dripping sarcasm, it will forever own a place in my heart.

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Through a series of events, Max and her friends (the fanboy, the secret crush, the best friend, and the mean girl) find themselves inside the movie itself. Caught within the opening scene, they are baffled, and every 92 minutes, the opening scene begins again. The fanboy decides they must partake in the plot if they’re going to make it out alive. Instead of having the “magical black man” reveal the key plot points, Duncan the fanboy (Thomas Middleditch) explains they will only make it out when the movie ends. This means Billy, the crazy killer needs to die at the hand of the Final Girl, a character in the movie.

When Duncan dies, they try to flee the movie, but find themselves constantly returning, “It’s the movie, the movie won’t let us leave.”

As they sit in a circle with the camp counselors the expressions say everything. The counselors sing Kumbaya in a loving fashion why Max and friends stare horrified. The movie’s Final Girl, Paula, appears. They think by staying with her, they have a chance of making it to the final scene and surviving the movie. As the plot begins to change from their meddling, Paula meets a tragic death, changing the ending of the movie.

While Max attempts to keep Nancy, the character played by her mother from having sex and getting herself killed, the ominous trademark sound “Chuh Chuh huh huh” alerts them Billy is nearby and death is imminent.

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At the mention of Billy’s name, Nancy begins to tell the legend of how little Billy Murphy died. Oozing fluid descends from the ceiling and Max and company find themselves in a flashback. “Why am I color blind, am I having a stroke?” “No, it’s a flashback.” They roll their eyes as the narrator of the legend talks and even the font denoting the year is stepped over in a big of outlandish ridiculousness.

As they emerge from the flashback, covered in blood, the counselors freak out. Those attempting to run die in an outlandish manner. It’s then Max reveals what is happening and that the characters in the movie aren’t real. The levels of meta run deep as the characters contemplate their existence. We watch the characters try to understand their role in the movie. The dumb slutty counselor has her clothes duct taped on with great lines like, “Why does he hate my boobies?”

The mean-girl, Vicki (Nina Dobrev) decides they need to formulate a plan and they elect the new Final Girl, Max. Using their knowledge of the movie, and drawing from every horror movie they’ve ever seen, they make a stand.

Their modern sensibilities are heightened as they talk to the male whore, eye roll at the slutty blonde, and fall in love with the token black man. The over-the-top characters of the slasher flick may be lost in or seen as goofy on their own, but Max and friends are us, and we mock the film in unison.

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They have more depth than one would expect. Characters explore their roles in the world, trying to grow in a plot where they’re reduced to nothing more than basic tropes. Max is forced to confront her mother and gain closure during a montage of characters arming and setting booby traps plays out. Even mean girl Vicki makes amends with the cast explaining why she pushed them away knowing she’ll eventually die. “I’m the mean girl in an 80’s horror movie and we’re past the midpoint, I’ve overstayed my welcome.”

The deaths are amazingly funny. We assume, knowing we’re in a horror movie we would make it out alive. Our smarts and our strength would keep us alive until the closing credits. Of course, most of us wouldn’t have luck unless it was bad luck. The irony is tragic and even the best-laid plans go wrong and in this case, it all goes horribly wrong.

The final scene leaves only Nancy and Max alive. Max tries to keep her mom alive, hoping she’ll come back with them when the movie ends. But without the powers of the final girl, the movie won’t end. In a sexy dance scene luring in Billy, Max’s mom sacrifices herself never quite understanding their bond. With that death, Max awakens with the power of the final girl. In their attempt to change the outcome of the movie, they have fallen victim to fixed rules of 80’s horror.

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Now we fight to the death.

The movie maintains levity throughout the entire thing. Even in moments of seriousness and character development (and there are many) you can’t help but sit back and laugh at the hilarity of the situation. The dialogue is top notch, mixing the classic bad 80’s horror scripts with the snappy comebacks from this day. It only gets funnier as each era of characters mocks the other group’s differences.

The movie is smart, and visually, it’s quite a sight to see. I would say it’s a classic 80’s horror flick re-envisioned through the eyes of an artistic director who wasn’t told no to any of his vision. Even as the after credit (to Camp Bloodbath) scene appears and they find themselves in the opening of the sequel, it leaves us hanging, wanting an actual sequel. Will we get it? Probably not, but we can hope that something this witty and sarcastic comes along and forces us to re-examine our passion of 80’s horror.

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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 FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on articles  and new book releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

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Fright Fest: The Thing (1982)

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HALLOWEEN is a great film, but THE THING has always been my favorite Carpenter film. It is one of the movies I first saw as a kid that turned me into such a big horror fan. It’s revolutionary special effects helped bring the horror/sci-fi genre into a new era and created a challenge for future filmmakers and art directors to surpass. It elevated the original, THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, ( Howard Hawks, 1951,) from a creature feature into something new and genuinely terrifying.

In preparing to write this review, I watched both THING films and the 2011 prequel. It is interesting to see the different approaches. The prequel is better than I thought it would be. It incorporates elements from the other two versions. I particularly loved the main character listening to Men At Work’s, “Who Can It Be Now?” I prefer Carpenter’s version, written by Bill Lancaster. The story is more fleshed out and it is stronger visually. Hawk’s film focused on the fear of what is beyond Earth. Carpenter’s film is about our fear of each other. It is a nightmare of an early 80’s world trapped in a stalemate of a Cold War and the threat of nuclear destruction.

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Special effects are not the only thing that makes this film stand out. Carpenter and cinematographer, Dean Cundey, create an atmosphere of isolation and paranoia from the start with opening scenes of an empty expanse of snow and mountains surrounding the small research base in Antartica. The crew is cut off. They lose their only means of transportation and have no communication with anyone outside the base. They turn on each other, not knowing who is human. Carpenter’s version is also reportedly closer to the original 1932 novella, “Who Goes There?, “ by John Wood Campbell, Jr.

In the film, helicopter pilot, MacReady (Kurt Russell,) and the rest of the crew are surprised when a Norwegian helicopter chases a dog into their camp. The pilot tries shooting the dog, accidently shooting one of the men, gets shot himself while the other passenger blows the copter up with a grenade. In an effort to understand what happened, the crew goes to the Norwegian camp only to find it destroyed. They discover that the crew had excavated a UFO in the ice and had found an alien body. They bring the mutated corpse back to their camp, unknowingly setting up their own destruction. They soon realize the alien can imitate anything it touches. It can be any one of them.

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THE THING is full of great scenes. The dog/thing mutation in the kennel was the work of Stan Winston, but he is uncredited because he didn’t want to take anything away from Special Effects Creator, Rob Bottin. The Thing creatures are extraordinary. A grotesque combination of alien insect-like tentacles and human body parts; each piece trying to break off and become it’s own creature. The scene I will always remember is when Copper (Richard Dysart,) is trying to save Norris. His hands break through Norris’s chest, which becomes a giant mouth with teeth, biting his arms off. Then Norris’s head breaks off and grows spider legs and antennae, skittering across the floor.

Again, it isn’t just the animatronic effects that make this a great film. It’s how the characters interact with each other, the uneasy camaraderie in the beginning that quickly deteriorates into mistrust and finger-pointing. No one knows who is the good guy. I like how the sense of entrapment is heightened by the storm and the constant howling of the wind, as well as the claustrophobic feel of the facility. The hallways are narrow, the rooms are small and cluttered; the characters spend the film almost on top of each other. Also, when the characters are bundled up outside, you can’t tell them apart.

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In the end, THE THING is more than horror or sci-fi. It becomes a mystery whodunnit as well. The film ends like a chess game with the remaining opponents waiting for each other out until one reveals himself or death takes them.

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Kim McDonald lives in Charleston and loves all things horror. especially foreign horror. She is a new reviewer here on Machine Mean, but she is not stranger to the art of movie reviews. Kim also does work for LOUD GREEN BIRD, tackling some of horror’s greatest treasures, giving readers a deeper retrostpective on films like “The Iron Rose,” “Baskin,” “The Conjuring 2,” “The Witch,” and many more. You can follow Kim @dixiefairy on Twitter and you can follow her blog, Fairy Musings, here.

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