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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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Fright Fest: Burial Ground, The Nights of Terror (1981)

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Zombie fans come from every walk of life and every zombie fan has their own tastes when it comes to zombie movies. In fact, you could say that there are even sub-genres within the sub-genre of flesh eaters. Just this month alone during this year’s Fright Fest we have seen a wide variety of zombie flicks (saving the best for last, which will be tomorrows review). The only sub-genre within the sub-genre we did not allow into the mix were voodoo curses and “anger” viruses, like 28 Days Later which is not technically a “zombie” movie at all, just like The Crazies were not zombies, they’re “mad, insane, and otherwise still living.” Feeling very much like a bouncer at some classy (or not so classy actually) nightclub, we’ve allowed in a certain clientele. “Are you dead and are you eating the flesh of the living? Yes. Okay. You’re cool, come on in.” That’s right folks, we’ve got standards at this joint.

Be that as it may, even folks who consider themselves “fans” of flesh eating walking corpses are not necessarily all that well versed when it comes to the cabinet of zombie movies. Nowadays I’d say that’s a fair statement given the popularity of The Walking Dead and Z-Nation (not sure if that’s still popular, but I tossed it up anyway). There are some zombie fans who watch TWD and that’s about all she wrote. And there are others who delve into the Romero films, such as Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and I shall’t not name that dreadfully last one made. And some Romero fans haven’t even seen all the named and unnamed movies. And then there are the truly indoctrinated flesh eating fan, those who’ve peered into the depths of foreign film and came back to tell the tale. You think only the Americans have zombies in the bag, well…you are sadly mistaken. As Winston Zeddmore so aptly put it, “I have seen shit that’ll turn you white!”  Continue Reading


First Blood: Book in Review

“First came the man: a young wanderer in a fatigue coat and long hair. Then came the legend, as John Rambo sprang from the pages of FIRST BLOOD to take his place in the American cultural landscape. This remarkable novel pits a young Vietnam veteran against a small-town cop who doesn’t know whom he’s dealing with — or how far Rambo will take him into a life-and-death struggle through the woods, hills, and caves of rural Kentucky.

Millions saw the Rambo movies, but those who haven’t read the book that started it all are in for a surprise — a critically acclaimed story of character, action, and compassion.”

FIRST BLOOD: published in 1972 by David Morrell

I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea First Blood was a book before it was made into a movie. Not a single clue. But, I’m glad to finally have this error corrected and was even more glad to have gotten the chance to read this amazing book. Now, there were some definite drastic changes from film to print or print to film more like. And that’s okay. I never expect the movie to be just like the film. There have to be differences, so long as the essence remains intact. For example, I had read Stephen King’s IT before attempting to watch the made-for-TV movie starring Tim Curry. I made it maybe 30 mins into the film before turning it off. TV movie IT was too far removed from the source material to be enjoyable. Whereas, as another example, Hellraiser was based on The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, and it not only expands the story, it diverges from it regarding Cenobite leadership and other details. However, the difference between why IT as a movie failed and Hellraiser succeeded is that Hellraiser kept the essence of the original source material.

And for the most part, the essence of First Blood, be it Sylvester Stallone or just the imaginative projection from hearing how David Morrell describes John Rambo, is beautifully captured, more so I would say in the book because we are given the characters internal thoughts. The director and Stallone for his part did a great job conveying through action and struggle Rambo’s internal conflicts, but in the book, it becomes, even more, clearer. Did you know that when Rambo arrived in that pinewoods mountain town (called Hope in the movie), he had been kicked out, or “pushed,” as he calls it, at least a dozen times before? That is where the “pushed” thing comes from during the movie that doesn’t make much sense, but in the book it does.

No spoilers here, but the end is veeerrryyy different, and I’m not sure which one I like the most. I feel for Rambo in both scenarios, and I love that end scene monolog he has with his old unit commander in the movie. But in the book…dang…it’s just… I’ve said enough.

As far as veteran issues go, both film and book appealed to me and wrung the gauntlet of emotions. More so in the movie than the book, despite the benefit of reading Rambo’s internal thoughts. The movie seems to focus more on Rambo as a veteran, whereas in the book he’s more often referred to as “The Kid.” The book did, however, add a level of polarity to the conflict between the sheriff, a Korean War veteran, and Rambo, a Vietnam veteran, and how each of them refuses to surrender to the other, way more than what the movie offered. In the movie, the sheriff is more of a chump and doesn’t know what he’s walking into, and just seems to be a dick for no reason. In the book, he is more clearly defined. Especially with what happens during the first hunting party. DAMN is all I can say about that!

Overall, if you’re a fan of the movie, you may want to check out the book. I have few doubts you’ll be disappointed.

My rating: 4/5

David Morrell is the author of FIRST BLOOD, the award-winning novel in which Rambo was created. He holds a Ph. D. in American literature from Penn State and was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include the classic spy trilogy that begins with THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE, the basis for the only television mini-series to premier after a Super Bowl. The other books in the trilogy are THE FRATERNITY OF THE STONE and THE LEAGUE OF NIGHT AND FOG. An Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity nominee, Morrell is the recipient of three Bram Stoker awards and the prestigious Thriller Master award from the International Thriller Writers organization. His writing book, THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, discusses what he has learned in his four decades as an author. His latest novel is the highly praised Victorian mystery/thriller, MURDER AS A FINE ART.

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Creature Features in Review: The Thing (1982)

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

The Thing

by William D. Prystauk

Introduction

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

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This is not a Remake

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

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

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Who the Hell Are These Guys?

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

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

The Thing Itself

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

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

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

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

The Other

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

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

Communication’s Down

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

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

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

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

Getting Infected

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

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

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

The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Krampus (2015) w/ Kurt Thingvold

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Fright Fest: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

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Kicking off Fright Fest 2016, we’ve got a fresh review for you to chew on. Creeping from the grave we’re going to talk a bit about Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead. Now, it is important for us to distinguish who the director of the film is, versus who it had been and the writers involved with the project as well. Believe it or not, Return of Living Dead has a sort of complicated history. What started out as a sequel to Night of the Living Dead by legendary George A. Romero co-creator John Russo, when Russo and Romero parted ways after 1968 , according to the documentary provided in the newly released Shout! Factory Return of The Living Dead [Blu-Ray], Russo was able to retain the rights to use “Living Dead,” while Romero was free to work on his sequels to the original film.

However, when slotted director Tobe Hooper backed out to work on Lifeforce, producers brought on Dan “The Man” O’Bannon to not only polish the script but also to assume the directorial seat. O’Bannon agreed to the job under the condition he could radically alter the original Russo script. I’m not sure what Russo’s script was exactly, but given that he had written the story coming off of Night of the Living Dead, it was probably more serious in tone and akin to the work of George A. Romero. When O’Bannon took the reins, he did not want to produce something that resembled anything Romero had done or was working on. Understandable considering Romero’s zombie trilogy (Night, Dawn, Day) was all released before Return hit theaters in August 1985. He wanted something his own and completely unique. While Russo remained credited, I do not think much of his original story remained in the final product. Hense all the “Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead” bit. This film was very much his own, written and directed and a living legacy to the late great director.

Before we continue with this review. How about a synopsis?

When foreman Frank (James Karen) shows new employee Freddy (Thom Mathews) a secret military experiment in a supply warehouse, the two klutzes accidentally release a gas that reanimates corpses into flesh-eating zombies.  Frank and Freddy seek the help of their boss (Clu Gulager) and a mysterious mortician (Don Calfa) to dispose of the remains of a still twitching cadaver. When the smoke from the crematoria rolls over the nearby cemetery, the undead wake and mayhem ensues and a group of punk rocker friends hanging out in the graveyard for their buddy Freddy must fight to survive the growing shambling horde of undead fiends. 

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Admittedly, growing up, I was very much a Romero-purist. My first horror love was Night of the Living Dead which my older sister introduced me to during one of our customary Friday night movie binges. I think I recall hearing about Return of the Living Dead, but never really gave it much interest in watching. I did watch Return of the Living Dead III back in the 90s when I was working at Blockbuster and rented the sucker on VHS. I was not impressed with that one in the least and assumed at that point that all Returns were just as dumb. I’m not one to shy away admitting when I’m wrong. And I was certainly wrong about the original Return of the Living Dead (1985). For the life of me, I cannot remember when I first watchedReturn of the Living Dead…but it had to have been within the last few years. Regardless, I was wrong. You heard it here first, folks. I WAS WRONG.

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Despite the horror-comedy hijinks versus the very serious undertones of Romero’s work, Return of the Living Dead was a wonderfully fangtastic flick. While Romero may have the social commentary in the bag with his films, we cannot discredit the cultural significance of Return. The movie is bleak and ironic on a massive scale. The most obvious moment, of course, is the end (SPOILERS). Those characters fight and struggle and deal with so much bullshit and so much death to finally contact the Army for help and then get nuked only to see the same contaminated smoke rolling over new graves is laughably nihilistic.

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In the end, we’re left to ask, “What was the point?” Much as what any decent horror does, it doesn’t answer questions to how we should go about doing things or solving difficult problems. Good horror movies force us to face our deepest darkest questions about ourselves. And that it what Return of the Living Dead precisely did, though not in the serious way most people are used to, but in an over-the-top parody of itself. My favorite scene, though, in the entire movie was when Frank, realizes that he’s about to go, full zombie, decides to sneak past his friends and climb inside the crematoria, immolating himself. Rumor us, James Karen didn’t want to join the other zombies outside in the cold ass prop-rain and asked if he could “go out” this way instead. Whatever really happened as to the reason, the addition of that scene adds to the wonderful bleakness of the movie.

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Since the film’s original August 16, 1985, release, Return of the Living Dead has spread into a huuuuuge cult following. Most of the zombie-culture today gives thanks to this film over Romero’s work. Whenever you hear someone moan, “Braiiiinnnsss,” it’s thanks to this horror-comedy flick. There’s even a Simpson’s TreeHouse of Horror episode dedicated to Return of the Living Dead, the parody being when the zombies are hunting for brains, they pass over Homer Simpson. And domestically, the evidence is clear on which film audiences preferred. Releasing just a month or so ahead, Romero’s Day of the Dead grossed around $5.8 million, while Return of the Living Dead grossed around $14 million. And don’t get me started on the soundtrack. As far as movie soundtracks go, Return has one of the more memorable and fun lists of bands to jive to while trick-or-treaters are ringing your bell.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you need to. If not for the cultural significance, then for the fun, over-the-top zombie gags and punker hilariousness.

My Rating: 5/5

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Thomas S. Flowers has a passion to create character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

Revenge is a dish best served with BBQ!

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