“The Legend of Lizzie Borden” from 1975, directed by Paul Wendkos, was a movie I had been dying to watch, both because I like to stomach anything Lizzie Borden-related and due to actress Elizabeth Montgomery. I’ve always been a fan of hers from growing up watching re-runs of “Bewitched” and she starred in the lead role as Lizzie Borden. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” came out when I was just one-year-old, so I wasn’t one of those crowded around the TV watching it on ABC Movie of the Week when it aired, but I had read just how much it would have been controversial at the time for how much violence it showed. Violence, by the way, that doesn’t hold a candle to what we watch now, or would back then as the ‘80s approached, in terms of slasher films. If I had a been a bit older, we would have never been allowed to watch it in my house anyway. Continue Reading
July 27, 2018 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: ax murderer, blog, Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, film, guest contributor, Horror, horror movies, Movies, poems, poetry, review, serial killers, slashers, writing | 2 Comments
[YEAH, I’M SPOILING THE BEST PART… ‘CAUSE WHAT ELSE IS THERE IN THIS ONE?]
Okay, being totally honest—I had only seen the very last scene from this film before watching the whole thing a few nights ago. I’d stumbled onto it in some list of shocking horror moments or something and wasn’t worried about it being spoiled, so I watched it. That scene stuck with me, and also made me (mistakenly!) assume this was a disturbing, dark film throughout. Hahahaha… No. Not at all. That’s not to say it’s bad… but I think the backwards way I experienced it actually says a lot about this film and its legend, if you can call it that. This is more like a Troma film for the most part with a few decent kills and one very effective, weird scene. Continue Reading
July 6, 2018 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1980s horror movies, blogging, film, guest contributor, Horror, Movies, Patrick Loveland, review, serial killers, slashers, transgender | 3 Comments
Psycho is a psychological suspense/horror film produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960. It is based on the Robert Bloch novel of the same name, published the year before; the novel, in turn, was based on the Ed Gein murders.
Ed Gein was a serial killer in Wisconsin in the 1950s. A ‘mama’s boy,’ Gein was devastated by the death of his mother in 1945, and felt all alone in the world; when she was alive, she was a domineering, prudish woman, teaching him that all women were sexually promiscuous instruments of the devil.
Soon after her death, Ed began making a “woman suit” so he could “be” his mother by crawling into a woman’s skin. For this purpose, he tanned the skins of women. He also admitted to robbing nine graves. Body parts were found all over his house as ghoulish works of art. These macabre crimes were the inspiration not only for Psycho, but also The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Buffalo Bill character in Silence of the Lambs, and numerous other horror movies. Continue Reading
June 15, 2018 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Alfred Hitchcock, classic thriller movies, film, guest contributor, horror movies, Mawr Gorshin, movie review, Movies, psycho, review, serial killers, slashers | Leave a comment
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)
[95 minutes. R. Director: Samuel Bayer]
Within the past two decades, horror remakes have gone from distinctive, auteur-driven works to mass-produced product. Horror remakes prior to the millennium were created with specific intent: Werner Herzog’s 1979 rendition of Nosferatu reconsidered F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film with improved technology; John Carpenter’s re-take of The Thing updated a 1950s alien-invasion flick into a transformative missive on assimilation and isolation; and David Cronenberg brought gravitas to his FX-heavy, 1986 version of The Fly.
Heck, even Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho was noteworthy for its big-studio gamble on a film that amounted to an elaborate “because I can” technical experiment. Continue Reading
June 8, 2018 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 2010, Crash Palace Productions, film review, guest contributor, Horror, horror movies, horror remakes, Jon Weidler, review, serial killers, slashers | 2 Comments
Rob Zombie knows movies, and he takes his knowledge of and passion for film and applies it to his own projects. Sometimes he is successful in his execution, sometimes he isn’t. It all boils down to personal preference. When it comes to The Devil’s Rejects, I believe he was successful.
This film came out in 2005 and is the follow-up to House of 1000 Corpses. It follows the Firefly family as they attempt to escape the law. The film is a mash up of different genres, including crime films and sexploitation, drawing heavily from slasher films with murder and gore to beat the band. Continue Reading
March 30, 2018 | Categories: Horror, Movies | Tags: guest contributor, Horror, movie reviews, Pembroke Sinclair, review, Rob Zombie, serial killers, slashers, The Devil's Rejects | Leave a comment
American Psycho is a satirical novel written by Bret Easton Ellis and published in 1991. It is an unreliable first person narrative, in the present tense, given by the main character, Patrick Bateman, who is a yuppieliving in 1980s New York City. It is an extremely controversial novel, given its depiction of increasingly brutal violence against women; this issue led many feminists to protest the novel.
A movie version was made in 2000, the screenplay written by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron (the latter also being the director), and starring Christian Bale in the lead role. The movie removed or mitigated the novel’s violence, and rearranged much of the material: apart from that, the film was reasonably faithful. Continue Reading
February 6, 2018 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1980s, 2000, cult film, film, guest contributor, Horror, Mawr Gorshin, movie reviews, review, serial killers, serial murderers, slasher, slasher films, slashers & serial killers in review | Leave a comment
[ SPOIL-O-RAMA, GUYS—DON’T CRY ABOUT IT—HAVE FUN WITH IT… ]
I’d been meaning to check these films out on my own for a while and had a set in my amazon wishlist waiting and ready when I saw this title in the list of choices of films to review. I called dibs and went immediately to amazon to grab this. So, just so I’m clear on what I’m working with, the set I now have is the Blue Underground set of all four Blind Dead films (and that Ghost Galleon that popped off its holder in transit better be watchable when I get to it…) and there is a decent amount of conflicting information (hence, the 1971/2 up top). This film is generally referred to as Tombs of the Blind Dead, but the disc in this set has two versions of the film—the first one I watched, La Noche Del Terror Ciego (The Night of the Blind Terror) is the original Spanish/Portuguese production title and cut; and The Blind Dead. Nowhere in the actual video material does it say the title I’ve always heard this film given, other than the box. Also, on the box it says it came out in 1971, but most other places say 1972. Continue Reading
October 16, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1972, blogging, Fright Fest, Fright Fest 2017, guest contributor, Horror, horror movie reviews, horror movies, movie review, Patrick Loveland, review, Tombs of the Blind Dead, undead, zombies, zompoc | 1 Comment
Okay, seriously…have you seen the new Kong? For starters though, i’ll admit it is kinda strange taking on a creature feature review outside of the Creature Features in Review series. However, as I had the gumption to finally watch the latest of Kong movies, Kong: Skull Island, I felt compelled to write down some of my thoughts regarding said movie. There are no spoilers here, per say. Kong holds not mystery that hasn’t already been shown in the many previews and trailers that came out prior to the movie’s release. So, I don’t feel bad talking about it. Continue Reading
September 18, 2017 | Categories: History, Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 2017, Brie Larson, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, film, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kong, Kong: Skull Island, monster movies, Movies, review, Reviews, Samuel L. Jackson, science fiction, science fiction fantasy, Toby Kebbell, Tom Hiddleston | Leave a comment
Arachnophobia is the most utterly terrifying film I have ever seen. I’ve seen, read, and written vomit-inducingly horrific things, but there’s only one thing that scares the absolute shit out of me— spiders. I was nine when this film premiered and, up until now, that’s the last time I watched it. Like the main character of the film, Dr. Ross Jennings, I am an arachnophobe (a person with an abnormal fear of spiders). Also like Dr. Jennings, my phobia was solidified by a traumatic early childhood experience (and many thereafter).
Flashback to the late 1980s: my brother Tommy and I were peering over the basement railings of our grandparent’s newly built house. We spied a black, circular, baseball-sized mass at the landing of the second flight of basement steps. Curious and eager to explore, we rushed down to the first landing to get a closer look. It appeared to be a giant rubber Halloween prop spider. Figuring our grandpa was playing a prank on us and eager to use the prop for our own nefarious devices, we rushed forward to grab it. Continue Reading
August 4, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1990, arachnophobia, Brian McNamara, classic horror, classic monster movies, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, Creature Features in Review, film, Frank Marshall, Guest author, guest contributor, Harley Jane Kozak, Henry Jones, Horror, James Handy, Jeff Daniels, John Goodman, Julian Sands, Kathy Kinney, Lydian Faust, Mark L. Taylor, monster movies, Peter Jason, review, Reviews, Stuart Pankin | 2 Comments
Guillermo del Toro is a fascinating film-maker. Though he has ‘only’ directed ten films (not including two early shorts), the tenth of which, The Shape of Water is due out in 2017, his is a name held in regard amongst genre fans. Again, though many of his films have horror themes and imagery, only a clutch could be said to be out and out horror, yet again, he seems to be firmly embedded within the pantheon of horror film-makers (this may also be due to his continuing championing of the horror genre through production, nurturing of other film-makers, and his appreciation for the work of Lovecraft). Finally, he seems to move with relative ease between big studio-backed blockbusters (the Hellboy films, Pacific Rim), and more artistic, almost art-house films (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone). Arguably, it is with his few non-English language films that he has had his greatest artistic success; though he doesn’t seem to suffer from studio meddling in his larger films, they do tend to play safe, being large crowd pleasers to one extent or another, though always with his distinctive blend of direction and production values. With his more independent features, he seems to allow himself to follow creative freedom.
In Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro could be said to have hit a career high. Its rather grim storyline follows young Ofelia who, with her heavily pregnant mother Carmen, heads into the woods of 1944 Spain to be with Carmen’s new husband, the rather severe Captain Vidal. Vidal is stationed at an old mill in the forest in order to hunt out a last group of republican rebels (the film being set a few years after the end of the Spanish Civil War). What follows are two strands of narrative; one concerning Ofelia as her increasingly vivid imagination conjures a world of fairies, forest spirits, and monsters which provide an escape of sorts from an unhappy life she feels lost in; and the other showing the ongoing efforts of Vidal as he copes with his task while also dealing with Carmen, whose pregnancy is anything but easy. The way in which del Toro weaves these two strands together is nothing short of magnificent, giving neither ascendancy over the other, and making connections and parallels between both at various points. It also works astonishingly well; fantasy and reality sit together naturally, smoothly, without jarring or feeling awkward, forced.
Being a second watch of this film – having seen it a number of years ago not long after it first came out – I was astonished at just how bleak this picture is. Though I recall many of the darker moments – the stark violence of Vidal beating a suspected rebel to near death with a bottle, the creeping horror of an inhuman, child-eating creature with eyes in its palms – I had forgotten that a broad strand of almost nihilism runs through the film. It’s not even hidden; the character of Carmen makes mention of how tough adult life is when trying to turn Ofelia away from her obsession with what most of the other adults see as very childish pursuits. Yet Ofelia is a child, simply one who happens to live in a time when rather than shield her from the worst of humanity, the elders – for the most part – wish to educate her, prepare her for life’s harsh realities. It’s a very interesting aspect, more so because it doesn’t feel oppressive or overly grim. Yes there is horror, yes, there is very little humour or lightness, yet the fantastical elements of the film manage to stave off what could have been a difficult and brutal watch. Instead, there is just enough of the illusion of levity to keep the dark tone from appearing too much. It’s an amazing trick, and one must conclude it’s entirely deliberate. From the eerie and magical score, to the creature designs – reminiscent of the Jim Henson workshop in their Dark Crystal days – we are hoodwinked into thinking this is a pure fantasy. But like the original fairy tales, it promises no real happy endings.
The acting is subtle and immersive, and though even Vidal – for example – is little more than an unredeemable villain, the actor still manages to suggest levels of complexity hiding below the surface. He is a deeply loyal man to his cause, to his officers, to his new family; all except Ofelia, whom he is dismissive of, distant even. This – and her increasing sense of her mother being taken from her – propels her to take refuge in her fantasy stories, in her imaginings. Or are they? There are hints and suggestions – as ephemeral as the myths we meet – that this aspect of the movie might not be as fictional as suggested by the adults. Ultimately, though, it’s one of those films which allow the viewer to interpret and draw their own conclusions. Perhaps it doesn’t even matter. It is a deeply nuanced work, as different from del Toro’s other films as it is distinctively his.
And as for those creature effects and designs; they are nothing short of wonderful. The detail here is amazing, showcasing a deep love of creativity and a passion rarely seen in film. Though a few moments of CGI look obviously fake, they are few and fleeting.
It is the practical effects which shine, the costumes, the set design, the sculpture. Beautifully rendered and shot, bringing the world to life.
The film deals with themes of change, of upheaval and progress. It posits an existence which is brief, uncertain, and generally filled with pain. Yet even in this, there is always hope and light, however small and fragile. There is also loss, pain, and confusion, and a sense of melancholy running through the narrative. It’s an absolutely wonderful and compelling work which feels exactly perfect; everything is present, nothing need be added or removed, and it plays out with perfect pacing and rhythm
To my mind, this is del Toro’s best – at least until I see The Shape of Water – and that, considering the excellent body of work he has so far amassed, is high praise. This is a film for anyone who considers themselves a serious fan of dark fantasy, who appreciates complexity and nuance and allegory in their movie-going experiences. It is a fantastic achievement, and a great example of the art.
Paul M. Feeney is a writer of horror and dark fiction, with leanings towards the pulpier side of things (described by him as ‘Twilight Zone-esque’). His short fiction has appeared in anthologies by the likes of Sirens Call Publications, April Moon Books, and Fossil Lake, amongst others, and has had two novellas published to date – The Last Bus through Crowded Quarantine Publications, and Kids through Dark Minds Press. He currently lives in the north east of England, where he writes a steady output of shorts stories and novellas, while trying to start his first novel. He has a number of short stories due out through 2017/18 in various publications, and intends to pen a number of works with a recurring character in the sub-genre of Occult Detective fiction. He also writes reviews for horror website, This is Horror, under the pseudonym of Paul Michaels.
July 27, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Creature Feature, Creature Features in Review, Doug Jones, film, Guest author, guest contributor, Guillermo del Toro, Ivana Baquero, monster movies, movie reviews, Movies, Pan's Labyrinth, Paul M. Feeney, review | Leave a comment
The most foreboding title among the horror and science fiction lexicon, besides perhaps IT or They (which is just a cheap knockoff of the more impressive film we’re about to discuss), is the 1954 masterpiece known as Them! Among the many different creature features, be it swamp critters or critters from space or super mutant hybrids, bugs freak me out the most. As defined by the omnipotent Wikipedia, “Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia) is a specific phobia characterized by an excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insect, and classified as a phobia by the DSM-5. More specific cases included apiphobia (fear of bees) and myrmecophobia (fear of ants).” Now, that being said…I think my “fear” can be measured by mass. The smaller the insect, the less I get “freaked out.” Hence, small little pests like flies and mosquitoes are simply put…pests, easily swatted or shooed away. But on the other spectrum, the bigger they get, the more I’m apted to run away screaming. If someone were to make a monster movie with the intention of provoking the mass amount of fear from yours truly, Them! would be the quintessential experience.
But it cannot be done in a silly way. If you want a serious reaction, the movie will need to have a serious undertone. Them! is a perfect example of this. As a fan of most dubbed “classics,” basically timeless pieces of cinematic history, be it 1930s or 40s or 50s or 60s or even those in the Silent Era, I took double pleasure in the fact that this now 63 year old movie can still capture that tension, that wonderful feeling of dread so fantastically. Them!, not too sound too fan-girlish, is utterly amazing. By modern standards, Them! easily tops what producers consider to be blockbusters in not just storytelling and characterization, but also special effects. It makes me curious what original audiences thought when they first sat in their parked fin-tailed red and chrome Chrysler’s at the local drive-in, WITHOUT having been desensitized by years of modern computer generated graphics.
Alas, those day’s are gone forever.
All we can do now is cherish the time we had.
For those who have not had the pleasure, here is a quick synopsis of Them!
“The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.”
Boom. You don’t really need anything more than that, do you? Needless to say, IMDb isn’t wrong. In a nut shell, those are the stakes. A mutated strain of ants are multiplying in the New Mexico desert and could very well threaten civilization. And not just any mutated ant species, but a mutation of the Cataglyphis genus, better known as Desert Ants. These sand dwellers are among the most aggressive of ant. The perfect bugs to supersize for a horror/science fiction movie, right?
One of the fun aspects of Them! is how the movie starts off and is treated more or less throughout the entirety as a “detective” story. The movie opens with a patrol car doing their normal patrol and pickup a little girl, no more than six years old, strolling through the desert alone dressed in a nightgown and cradling a broken doll. They try talking to her but she is catatonic, speechless, staring blankly out at the brown sand. That feeling of dread we talked about begins to weave slowly into the movie and as the policemen investigate a nearby trailer, finding it mostly destroyed, pulled apart from the outside (they deduce) the tension builds even further.
The next scene certainly adds to not only the mystery but also the horror when police sergeant Ben Peterson’s (played by the very awesome James Whitmore) partner “disappears” off screen investigating a strange sound. He get’s off a couple of shots and then screams, that kind of scream that sends chills down your spine. The sound the officer investigates permeates throughout the entire movie. A familiar nature melody for anyone living in suburbia or out in the country. The sound of cicada or crickets singing in trees or in tall grass. Come summer, that sound is still quite pleasant to me, despite this film’s attempt to ruin it. Though, there is a lingering feeling of “what’s really making that sound? Are they, Them! watching me?”
And I love how, despite the excellent movie art on the poster, knowing there will be giant ants in this movie, the story stalls the BIG reveal, forgive the pun, until the absolute right moment. And that moment, much how the newly brought on character, FBI agent, Robert Graham (played by man’s man James Arness), to its frustrating conclusion through the “comic relief” of sorts Professor Harold Medford (played by Santa himself Edmund Gwenn) and his “if a boy can do it a girl can do it too” daughter Dr. Patrica Medford (Joan Weldon). The Dr. Medord’s are not really that comedic, the old man is sort of how we might think brilliant old men are, a tad absent minded to every day tasks, but a genius in their preferred fields of study. And the female Dr. Medford, despite her strong grace of femininity, wasn’t overpowering or preachy. She was meek but smart and willing to go places most men wouldn’t dare go. In a decade before feminism really took off in America, it’s hard to place the purpose of her character. Regardless, I was and am very pleased with her performance, second to her father perhaps, how she was not the ditsy romance how most other movies place actresses. Harold may have been love struck, but everyone else called her Pat, a genderless name, and I prefer it that way.
The reveal was perfect, as I said. A sandstorm kicks up and everyone’s goggled and stumbling around for clues. Somehow Pat get’s separated from the group. That chilling buzzing, ringing, clicking cicada sound starts again, getting louder and louder, and everyone is looking around wondering what that noice is and where it’s coming from. Above Pat on a dune, emerges a large black head with giant orb eyes long furry antenna and large sharp looking mandibles. She screams, alerting the others who begin opening fire, destroying the ant’s antenna (to the suggestion of Dr. Medford). The ant is killed and while the others are staring at this impossible horror, Dr. Medford makes a statement, the inspiration and message of the entire movie, I think. He says, “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.'” He says something very similar towards the end of the movie, stating, “When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”
The Atomic Age…
Full of sparking large logos and flashy gadgets and a new generation of fast food and drive-in theaters and modern jazz and rock-in-roll, but this was also an era of uncertainty. Hiroshima and Nagasaki awakened something in humanity. Something more than just awe and dread. Something darker and more pious than religion. The Atomic Age was this new fear of the bomb. Uncertainty over world powers, the growth of the Cold War, and a horizon in modern science to which many did not understand. Not knowing is the greatest fear of all, at least according to H.P. Lovecraft. The Atomic Age also gave birth to this very feature we find ourselves enjoying (hopefully), the birth of unnatural monsters such as Godzilla and Them! Better known as Creature Features.
Them! acts as a cautionary tale. Be warned, what will await us on the other side of the door. Will science bring upon us destruction and darkness? Will man’s ignorance? Them! isn’t about the dangers of real giant bugs, its about consequences. That in everything we do or strive to bring about, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Newton had once said. Its a message every new generation hears, right? Cautionary warnings from the old folks rocking on the porch, talking about how things used to be.
The rest of Them! takes on that similar detective story we were introduced to in the beginning. They hunt down the hive and destroy the giant ants with poison, only to discover a few queens had escaped prior. Now the once localized investigation turns into a global event. Hush hush, of course, to avoid widespread panic, the team with the added benefit of the military and select government officials quickly work to destroy Them! But the movie doesn’t end like some monster movies with the creatures being destroyed…there is a feeling of uncertainty, astute given the era, and we are left wondering if perhaps there are more giant mutated ants out in the desert thanks to atomic weaponry. And as Dr. Wedford said, “nobody can predict.”
My rating: 5 out of 5
Who doesn’t love a good story? From great works such as, All Quiet on the Western Front and Salem’s Lot, Thomas S. Flowers has a passion to create similar character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore fests to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas has published several novels, including, Reinheit, The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, Beautiful Ugly and other Weirdness, Feast, and PLANET OF THE DEAD. In 2008, Thomas was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served 3 tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Military Police Officer. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at http://www.machinemean.org, where he contributes reviews on movies and books along with a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. Follow Thomas on his website www.ThomasSFlowers.com.
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June 2, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1954, Classics, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, Creature Features in Review, Edmund Gwenn, film, film review, giant bugs, giant insects, Gordon Douglas, Horror, horror movies, insects, James Arness, James Whitmore, Joan Weldon, Leonard Nimoy, monster movies, movie review, Movies, review, science fiction, Them!, thriller | 2 Comments
I think we all have our list of movies that affected us in some way as a child. Both positive and I’m sure there are plenty of negative feelings towards movies out there too, either because they were horrible or horriful, depends on the person watching. Honestly, my bar is so low its hard to watch a movie, even a really cheesy one, and walk away hating it. There are plenty of other people more critical, and I’ll leave it to them to right the ship on movie reviews. There’s also a degree of separation we need to consider. The movies we 80s kids watched in either the late 80s or 90s that were totally awesome back in the day but watching them now almost feels embarrassing. 1997’s SPAWN is probably one of the best examples of that degree of separation. Back in the 90s, us fans of the demonic hero comic were more than ecstatic to watch the live-action version, but I challenge you to watch SPAWN (fan or no) now and not feel at least a smidge bit embarrassed that you at one point in your life thought this flick was the bee’s knees. However, there are some movies that surpass and shatter the nostalgic lens and are just great movies. Jurassic Park is one of those movies, for me at least. I have fond memories of seeing this movie as a 90s young teen. This was, in fact, the LAST movie I had gone to the theaters with my entire family (mom, dad, & sister) to see. So there’s that, a very nostalgic feeling, but Jurassic Park is also just a great movie all around, a classic Spielberg at the end of an era in which Spielberg actually made classics instead of rehashing old ones and ruining them. But, I’ll leave the review for this movie in more capable hands as our guest writer takes a swing at Jurassic Park.
By: Kurt Thingvold
Dinosaurs have long captured the imagination of the world. Titans of the prehistoric era. In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote: “The Lost World” as the story a group of explorers led by Prof. Challenger who encounter a prehistoric world. Seventy-Eight years later Michael Crichton wrote of a similar premise where a group of scientists are invited to a prehistoric park where Dinosaurs are brought back to life by genetic engineering in the hopes of garnering a profit. The book was a huge success! And it dealt with issues of animal rights, genetics, and the repercussions of not paying attention to detail, and having constraints when it came to new advances in science. While the book was seen as a huge success, studios were bidding for the rights to make a movie. Universal ended up winning the bid and picked Steven Spielberg to direct, and Michael Crichton to draft the screenplay, which would later be co-written with David Koep. The film was in pre-production for 24 months before filming in August of 1992 and filming ended in November of 1992. A grueling 98 days of filming, from Hawaii to soundstages in Hollywood. With special effects taking over a year to develop. The movie launched in June of 1993. Critics praised the movie for its action sequences, music, and most importantly the special effects. The plot of the movie followed, somewhat, closely to the book. A few characters were mixed around, and some of the more important characters from the novel had their screen time reduced to a mere minute and a half. Parts of the story did remain untouched, with the exception of an awesome raft chase scene with the T-rex.
The story for the movie goes something like this:
A worker is killed on Isla Nublar, an island that holds a secret resort attraction. Three scientists and a lawyer are sent to investigate the attraction, Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neil), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum), and Donald Genaro (The money hungry and corrupt lawyer played by Martin Ferraro). Shortly after arriving, they find that the park is inhabited by creatures from another era: dinosaurs. A greedy computer programmer sabotages the park, and the dinosaurs start to run loose, now everyone must survive until rescue arrives.
What made the movie different from the book? What made this movie a cultural success? It wasn’t an exact carbon copy of the novel, but it could stand on its own. (Spielberg isn’t known for being true to the source material. Peter Benchley was kicked off the set of Jaws after he found out that the shark was going to explode, instead of dying from its wounds, and dragging Quint down to his watery grave). A few things, actually, could be counted toward the movie’s success: dinosaurs and children. Dinosaurs have always had popularity with the youth. The movie also addressed a certain form of science that was growing in popularity at the time: Genetics. The novel went into great detail about genetics and genetic manipulation. The movie did address a few key points. The lunch scene, where Hammond addressed the scientists after viewing the velociraptors being fed. And the incubator scene where Malcolm berates Dr. Wu with questions about natural breeding. Wu states: “The dinosaurs could not be bred in the wild due to them all being female.”
(The following quotes are spoken during the lunch scene and address the lack of discipline involving the cloning process to bring the ancient species back.)
“I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it.”
(Another addition to Malcolm’s lines during the scene.)
“Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.”
They resonate a serious tone about scientific power at the time, where, we tried to create what we could as fast as we could, without thinking of the danger of what we were doing; and it could be taken to another level without consulting with the public. It also portrays that uncontrolled science and technology could be a terrible thing. It also goes to show that just because you have obtained the knowledge and knew how to do it—doesn’t mean you should. The main theme of this scene and the incubator scene are about control—which—the park lacked and that it is why it had its problems. Yet, the theme is downplayed in the movie compared to the book—Malcolm would and does rant about conservation, discipline, and taking what could happen into consideration. While, novel Malcolm, is almost the complete opposite of movie Malcolm.
Spielberg, also, combined and changed characters from the novel. In the film: Grant can’t stand to be around kids and the movie follows his coming to understand and love children (classic Spielberg, coming into fatherhood after reluctance). Genaro is another example of a character swap—in the novel, he is portrayed and somewhat timid and very cautious, and not so much caring about the money. While, the film version, he is cowardly, greedy and not much into anything else. He was also mixed with another character from the novel: Ed Regis, a PR rep who takes the group on the tour of the park and causes the T-rex to escape its enclosure. While in the film—Genaro runs from the vehicle setting off the infamous T-rex attack scene. And promptly, devoured on a toilet. Genaro in the novel isn’t killed at all—In fact he comes around to be a hero—fighting off a velociraptor and calling a ship back and saving Costa Rica from a dinosaur invasion. Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) is another character who survives the book and dies in the film. In the book, Muldoon is a badass—he has his demons of being an alcoholic but makes up for it in his heroics. Also, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are an item. In the novel, she is a student and his assistant. They also give a little backstory about her fiancé and how she plans to marry him after she graduates. Again, a lot of subtle differences between the book and the film.
So, what makes the book good, what makes it a good movie? The answer is simple: It’s different. While the novel is mentally stimulating and fascinating to think about. The movie creates an atmosphere—it shows you the wonder and awe of seeing what you’ve always wanted to lay your eyes upon, a dinosaur, and the movie treats the creatures as actual animals. When the scientists first come to the park they are in awe. They become fascinated with their childhood dreams. You see the creatures breathing, eating, and suffering from disease.
If anything, Jurassic Park is known for two things: The music and special effects. The special effects of the nineties were limited—computers had not been used too much for creatures, with the exception of the glass creature in Young Sherlock Holmes, and the main villain of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Spielberg hadn’t a clue which method he would take for full body shots of the dinosaurs—he was leaning towards the use of Stop Motion animation, and once he saw the tests for the stop—motion, he was not impressed. However, he was blown away from the CGI tests and decided he would go with computer images for most of the full-bodied animals. For the close-up shots, the film would use animatronic heads and partial bodies. What really made this work is how the CGI and the animatronics were blended together to create the illusion of a real life creature. It brought the illusion of amazement and belief that an ancient creature could be brought back from the dead.
Music is another aspect that brought life into Jurassic Park. John Williams, the composer created a masterpiece with his score; a score that can transport you to an ancient world. What makes the soundtrack work is that the music, in itself, promotes power and wonder. One of the few soundtracks to a movie that isn’t a piece of music but an addition to the scene, the music acts as a special effect; giving the scene the power to captivate. When you listen closely to the soundtrack. Scenes from the movie will come rushing back into your head, a rare feat. Williams didn’t compose music for the movie, he created the breath of the movie. Of course, what ties the whole movie together is the direction of, Steven Spielberg. There are rumors floating around that he didn’t want to make the movie and that if he didn’t make it Schindlers’ List would have never seen the light of day.
Regardless, he created a family film and one that everyone could enjoy. He worked with some of the top experts to make sure that the movie could stand the test of time and it did. Spielberg chose actors who weren’t top billed, he wanted to create characters that people would remember. He didn’t just shoot at a movie studio. He wanted a location that looked prehistoric and a place people could visit. Jurassic Park may not be one his best films, but it is one that is enjoyable. Spielberg took the chance to show us that a movie can bring a family together and a little journey to the past could be a wondrous thing. Even after twenty-four years, with the release of Jurassic World, people still flock to the theater with their children to share in a magical memory and to be blown away by special effects and the simple pleasure of seeing a dinosaur on the big screen. Jurassic Park will be a movie that our kids will share with their kids and so-on. It captures a piece of us, a time when we were all so innocent and could be captivated by a little make believe and a little science.
Jurassic Park will always be a part of my heart and will always be what got me to start writing at a young age. The film, the novel, it all represents a dream of someone wanting something bigger, someone wanting something they could feel and touch. Life will always find a way, and so will Jurassic Park.
Kurt Thingvold is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us on several occasions, including his previous review on Godzilla (1954). Kurt was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, that helps calm his demons. He grew up in a tough household that encouraged reading and studying. He spends his time writing in multiple of genres. His published short story, Roulette, can be found on Amazon. When not writing he can be found playing games, reading, or attempting to slay the beast known as “Customer Service”, which, he fails at almost every day. As mentioned, Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his previous review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.
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April 6, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1993, Ariana Richards, B. D. Wong, Classics, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, Fantasy, film, film review, Guest author, Jeff Goldblum, Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park, Kurt Thingvold, Laura Dern, mad science, Michael Crichton, monster movies, movie review, Movies, review, Reviews, Richard Attenborough, Sam Neill, Samuel L. Jackson, science fiction, science fiction movies, Steven Spielberg, Wayne Knight | 3 Comments
I don’t think I’ve seen so many new horrors as I have this year. AND IT’S ONLY MARCH!!! I’m not going to list off all of them, as at this time in the morning hours with only one cup of coffee to keep my brain functioning, cannot recall. Though some honorable mentions are due. XX, a 4 film horror anthology directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama, was a stellar performance, despite some notes falling flat. Another one that was actually listed as a 2016 movie, but I saw in January, so it counts on my list for this year, and that flick was Split…which split critics while still bringing in rather respectable ratings from audiences, not just because it released (late Dec?) in January (the month movies go to die), but also because it was a return of sorts for M. Night Shyamalan. This last movie brings up a point that I’d like to address. Maybe I haven’t really been paying close enough attention, but when did Blumhouse start producing good horror movies? And back to back, mind you. As per our double feature review here of Get Out and The Belko Experiment (more on those to follow), add in Split, and that’s two out of three money making horror movies for the apparently expanding horror flick producer. No complaints here. Blumhouse’s wheelhouse has added a sort of balance for me and my comic book movie obsession. So…lets get into this and take a look at two horror flicks, both of which I had the pleasure of screening on back to back weekends.
Let’s kick things off with The Belko Experiment.
Produced by, you guessed it, Blumhouse, directed by Greg McLean. From IMDb, “In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.” I think it’s important to note that the screenplay was written by Guardian of the Galaxy director James Gunn who was originally asked to direct this movie but decided to step back for personal reasons. This was the most recent horror flick I’d gone to theaters to see, mostly out of having some free time come up and why not, right. I had a good feeling the theater would be empty and it pretty much was. Not for lack of trying for the producers. I’d seen a share number of advertisements both on the radio and on TV. And judging by said previews, the plot wasn’t hard to decipher. This wasn’t one of those kinds of movies. Here, there was no twist ending, and if the ending was supposed to be one, well…sorry buddy, I believe Joss Whedon already pulled it off in Cabin in the Woods. Not to get spoilerly here, as this is still showing in theaters. But you’ll get it when you see it, a very Cabin in the Woods kinda vibe. And that’s also not to say that Th Belko Experiment was bad. I actually enjoyed it. I didn’t have to think too much. It was a dark humorous action thriller with plenty of gore to please most horror fans. There were a few aahhs and ohhs from the audience when someone’s face got split in two with an ax, or when someone who’d been doing all the right things in a horror movie suddenly without much warning gets killed.
That can kinda sum up The Belko Experiment. A boiling pot of other movies and mixtures such as Office Space meets Battle Royal meeting Cabin in the Woods. People who came looking for a mystery to solve probably left feeling disappointed, as it seems many other movie critics and audiences had, given the poor showing on Rotten Tomatoes or how it was pretty much cast into the back of the theater on opening day. Hell, the theater I normally go had stopped showing it, forcing me to drive an extra five miles to the next theater. Bastards! For me, I knew before the movie started what it was going to be. I knew there’d be one or no survivors. I came for the nihilistic violence and nihilistic violence is what I got. The Belko Experiment wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. The story seemed to falter against the easy to predict concept of the film. Too much attention was given to certain officer works battling internally over the dilemma of their humanity. I think if producers and director had turned the volume up on the violence, making it a sort of hyper-violent nihilistic movie, it would have been a shade better.
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Now…how about we Get Out.
It’s been two weeks since I saw Get Out. And while the movie had been out for at least a week if not more before I journeyed to the theater, if there were any doubts as to its popularity, let me say…my theater was not empty. Not at all. I’m rather certain it was plum full. The same happened to me when I saw Split. Packed theater. And for a horror movie no less, whether you liked the movie or not, should make you a little optimistic about the future of the genre, if you’re a genre fan, that is. Get Out was directed and written by comedian Jordan Peele (from Key & Peele and Wanderlust fame). And this was Peeles first go at directing, or directing a horror flick at the least. I can say without question that I wish upon a star that he returns to the director’s chair for another romp. For those who do not know, Get Out is about “a young African-American man who visits his Caucasian girlfriend’s mysterious family estate.” And that’s pretty much all you need to know. The plot is rather simple, actually. But the twist…oh my, it is almost too good.
Don’t worry. No spoilers here. I’d wouldn’t do that to you. But let me say for those who were told or believe that Get Out is an anti-white movie, you are DEAD WRONG. They (or you) couldn’t be furthest from the truth. In fact, I’d say this movie pokes more fun at white liberals than staunch racists. Racism is there, you can’t avoid it, just as you cannot avoid it in everyday life. But the real gem of this movie is the natural way it highlights the awkwardness between African Americans and Caucasian Americans. The scenes dealing with this phenomena are quite brilliant. And there are layers are weirdness that can only be described as such. And there are scenes that make little sense and/or do not add to the quality of the movie, nor do they take anything away. They’re kinda just….well…there. I’m assuming Peele’s way of appealing to traditional horror flick fans.
Also, don’t be fooled by those espresso hipsters, those fascist wannabes who think they know everything. Get Out is a horror movie in every definition. Just as there are multiple ways of horrifying audiences, when Get Out pulled out its heart-stopping end, I was truly terrified. When I allow myself to be put in his shoes and those who came before him, well…it kinda reminded me of some terrifyingly strange classic sci-fi flicks from the late 50s and 60s, with perhaps a touch of H.P. Lovecraft. Not to show my hand or anything, I’m trying not to spoil as the movie is still showing in theaters. You really do need to see this for yourself. Trust me. I had the assumption of what was going on and when I found out I was wrong, I was very surprisingly pleased. And it’s one of those surprise endings that make you think back over the course of the movie, and when you do, you’ll nod your head and say, “Oh, that’s why…” etc. etc. Get Out is by far my favorite horror movie of the year, thus far.
My rating: 5 of 5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, and his newest release, The Hobbsburg Horror. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (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 Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange events by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
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March 30, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Abraham Benrubi, Adria Arjona, Allison Williams, black comedy, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Catherine Keener, Comedy, Daniel Kaluuya, dark, dark humor, David Dastmalchian, double feature, fiction, film, Get Out, Greg McLean, Horror, horror movies, John C. McGinley, John Gallagher Jr., Jordan Peele, Michael Rooker, movie review, movie reviews, Movies, new release, nihilistic, racism, review, Reviews, Sean Gunn, The Belko Experiment, theaters, thriller, Tony Goldwyn | 2 Comments
“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.
Thomas’s latest collection of horror and dark fiction!!!
THE HOBBSBURG HORROR, 9 tales sure to keep you up at night…
March 27, 2017 | Categories: Book Review | Tags: 1972, Action, aftermath of war, book film adaptation, book reviews, books, David Morrell, death, debut novel, destruction, drama, fiction, film, First Blood, Green Beret, homeless veteran, hunter, hunting, John Rambo, killer, nihilism, nihilistic, novel, PSTD, Rambo, review, struggle, survival, thriller, trained, Vietnam Veteran, Vietnam War, War | Leave a comment
Again I find myself mesmerized by the complexity of the creature features subgenre. And as a first, thus far in our little series, we find ourselves in the midst of a horror-comedy within the creature feature mythology. The gory ridiculous atmosphere of Slither (2006) is no doubt the responsibility of its creator, directed no less than by Guardian of the Galaxy symphonist James Gunn. Now, as most already probably know but I’ll mention it here again, Gunn has an interesting repertoire of cinematic exploits. He was the director who took on the remake to Dawn of the Dead (1978), keeping certain elements whilst still maintaining itself as a stand alone movie ALL THE WHILE pleasing not just audiences, but fans of George A. Romero’s beloved classic. But Gunn is not without question…he did have a hand in those live-action Scooby-Doo movies and the not so cult-classic Tales from the Crapper. This weekend, apparently The Belko Experiment, in which Gunn wrote the screenplay, will finally be released to theaters, having started playing trailers off and on as far back as November of 2016, has already come under fire from critics. So where does that leave Slither? Well…I think I’ll leave that explanation on the shoulders of our esteemed guest contributor, Jonny Numb.
By: Jonny Numb
Universal’s decision to let James Gunn direct Slither was an act of faith that spoke to the studio’s appreciation of how his Dawn of the Dead screenplay – coupled with Zack Snyder’s direction – led that film to box-office success.
The result – a 1950s-styled creature feature that combined practical FX with CGI – was a pastiche with a disparate cast (including cult favorites Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker, and rising star Elizabeth Banks) that had a mercilessly short theatrical run.
I get it because I wasn’t a fan of Slither when I first saw it on DVD. I can’t remember why it didn’t click for me – maybe because it leaned on “backwoods redneck” character types too much (and that specific type of humor); maybe because my taste in sci-fi is maddeningly specific; and maybe – just maybe – it was because I had yet to be exposed to the wonders of Captain Mal on Firefly.
In any event, I revisited the film last year (for the first time in a decade) and was surprised that my feelings toward it had improved. While problematic in places (mostly in the wobbly, tone-setting early going), Slither grows into a bizarre and sneakily subversive take on the sci-fi it’s paying loving homage to:
The Blob (either version). The Thing (Carpenter version). Invasion of the Body Snatchers (mostly the ‘50s version).
There are also subtle-to-obvious references to the works of David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski, as well as Gunn’s former tenure as a screenwriter for Troma (including a Lloyd Kaufman cameo); and keep an eye on the Main Street storefronts during the opening credits for more sly Easter Eggs.
Grant Grant (Rooker) is a macho sleazeball in cheesy glasses who’s married to trophy wife (and elementary-school teacher) Starla (Banks). Spurned by his wife’s refusal to fulfill her duty as willing sex object one night, Grant meets up with local bar girl Brenda (Brenda James). In a bit of cosmic irony, they find themselves in the woods, and Grant has feelings of remorse before he can consummate any carnal desires. More ironic still, this leads Grant to the discovery of a translucent egg-sac with a symbolically vaginal opening, one from which something shoots out, infecting him with an extraterrestrial parasite. After the transformed, meat-craving Grant impregnates Brenda, she becomes the “mother” to the alien invasion.
Once the parasites explode (literally), Slither really kicks into gear. Gleefully grotesque practical effects – and some CGI that hasn’t aged as well – ensue.
To make a hard right turn: does anyone really talk about Kylie (Tania Saulnier), and how she’s probably the smartest, most resourceful character in the movie?
Only on my most recent viewing did it occur to me that we see her not once (in the high-school classroom), but twice (in the crowd at the town’s “Deer Cheer” event) before being properly introduced around the family dinner table (where she makes reference to the “Japanese” design of her painted fingernails (tentacles much?). Her character is at the center of a great setpiece midway through, during which she’s taking a bath with her earbuds in, and winds up fending off a parasite with a curling iron. Even more so than the scene’s well-taken stylistic nods to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Shivers, notice how Gunn allows Kylie to react as rationally as the situation will allow, without turning it into an excuse for T&A or a gory money shot. When the tub parasite nearly shoots down her throat, Kylie briefly taps into the aliens’ shared consciousness – and the glimpses of havoc on an unnamed planet far, far away certainly foreshadows Gunn’s eventual segue into the world of high-budget comic-book blockbusters.
Rather ingeniously, the DVD cover for Slither – that of Kylie in the tub, being descended upon by thousands of squirming parasites – represents the film more accurately than most video-art concepts (which tend toward hyperbole). It’s unsubtle without really giving anything away, and Gunn subverts expectations for the scene itself by guiding it to a surprising conclusion. The sequence of events that follows the tub encounter is brilliantly rendered, and reminded me of Barbara’s full-moon escape from the farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead (yes, the 1990 remake).
There are other things, as well:
The comic relief of Mayor Jack MacReady (played by Brian De Palma regular Gregg Henry), who – in look and demeanor – bears an eerie resemblance to a certain boorish ex-reality-TV star. He’s paranoid, perpetually angry, casually misogynistic, and at one point asks if the town’s being “invaded by the Russkies.” Gunn’s smart handling ensures that we’re always laughing at this clown, and Henry is definitely in on the joke.
Meanwhile, Starla transitions from Grant’s doormat to a model of marriage to, eventually, a woman who wakes up to the fact that her husband’s internal ugliness has manifested on the outside in a way that’s rather poetic. Their final confrontation is a fine demonstration of Beauty no longer tolerating the Beast’s shit.
So maybe, finally, the film resembles Bride of the Monster (but in title only. Thank God).
One nagging question, though: even with the padlock on the basement door, how did the stench of all those dead pets not make its way through the vents in the Grant household?
Jonny Numb’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Jon Weidler, aka Jonny Numb, is no stranger here on Machine Mean. He has contributed for us Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955) AND Clean, Shaven for our Fright Fest month back in October. Mr. Weidler works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day but is a podcast superhero by night. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast under the moniker “Jonny Numb,” and is a regular contributor to the Crash Palace Productions and Loud Green Bird websites. His archived movie reviews can be found at numbviews.livejournal.com, and his social media handle is @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd). You can read his review of A&C Meet Mummyhere.
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March 16, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Comedy, contributor, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, Elizabeth Banks, Gore, gory, Gregg Henry, Guest writer, Horror, horror comedy, horror movie, horror movies, horror reviews, James Gunn, Jon Weidler, Jonny Numb, Lloyd Kaufman, Lorena Gale, Michael Rooker, moist, monster flicks, monsters, movie reviews, Movies, nasty, Nathan Fillion, practical effects, review, Rob Zombie, special effects, Tania Saulnier, wet | Leave a comment
During the 1990s it felt as if horror movies had descended into the visceral and psychological methods of storytelling, such as In the Mouth of Madness, or Jacob’s Ladder, or Candy Man, or even Freddy Krueger exploring the realm of mythology in New Nightmare. Some monster flicks kept to their proverbial roots. The payout, of course, is what typically happens with most creature features, when the directors, producers, screenwriters turn on the cheese factor and make the movie a satire, such as Arachnophobia or Gremlins 2 or The Faculty. Seldom do we find anything that’s actually haunting. Anything that makes us sit on the edge of our seats. Anything that forces us to watch even though we want to look away. The horror pickins are slim. There is one director, however, who, up until this point in his career at least, did not bow to cheese in order to make a monster movie. Of course, I’m talking about 1997’s cult hit creature feature, MIMIC, directed by none other than Guillermo del Toro. Before del Toro was pitting giant robots versus behemoth sea monsters, his work was subtle and carefully crafted, honing in on character building and turning on the suspense until the deluge spilled over into a wonderfully cataclysmic conclusion. Thus was the work of Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, and also what we get with Mimic.
Before we begin, here is a classic IMDB synopsis:
“Three years ago, entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler genetically created an insect to kill cockroaches carrying a virulent disease. Now, the insects are out to destroy their only predator, mankind.”
Bravo IMDb, bravo. Yet again another astute generalization of one of my favorite creature features. You’re not wrong, IMDb, it just feels a tad oversimplified. For starters, if you’ve seen Mimic, but haven’t seen the Director’s Cut, stop now and go rent/buy/whatever you need to do to see this edition. Let me tell you, I was happy with the original version, but I LOVE this Director’s Cut. And sure, it really only adds about nine minutes or more of footage, but those added moments really help make the story shine all the better. I especially love the added bits at the beginning, the extended opening sequence that shows us this ravaging disease called Strickler’s, that is decimating a huge percentage of New York City children, and then we get Dr. Susan Tyler, played fantastically by Mira Sorvino . She genetically creates a new species of insect called the Judas breed. They target the city’s cockroach population, releasing an enzyme which causes the roaches metabolism to speed up and starve themselves to death. The Judas breed was created to be all-female with a short life expectancy. The last opening clip (from the Director’s Cut) shows Dr. Tyler releasing the Judas breed into the sewers. She kneels and watches as her “children” begin their work as she is stylistically swarmed by roaches. And a moment later we see a river of dead cockroaches and an announcement from the CDC that they have eliminated the “Strickler’s” disease.
Fade to black.
Now we find ourselves three years after the release of the Judas breed. Just three years. What can happen in such a short span of time? Well, if there is any indication from the name of the insect, Judas, well…historically things have never really worked out with things named Judas. Not to mention any species introduced into the wild trusting that a genetic “all-female” plug will hold, I mean, haven’t these people seen Jurrasic Park? To quote Ian Malcolm, “Life will find a way.” And life certainly did find a way, as our scientists are soon to find out. After the fuzzy “all-is-well-with-the-world” moment, the movie opens again on a man being chased onto a roof at night in the rain. Here we get our first glimpse at what has become the Judas breed. Strange clicking sounds and an odd shadowy face and the outline of what looks like a man in a black trench coat. The movement of this mysterious “man” and the design are incredibly creepy, and no wonder, as legendary The Thing and The Howling practical effects master/guru Rob Bottin had a hand in the development of the creature.
Let me stop here for a moment. I have a confession. Bugs freak me out. I think this is a well-known fact if you’ve read any part in my Subdue Series books you should know. I’m not sure why. I don’t recall being traumatized as a child, not with insects at least. The My Buddy doll my folks got me for Christmas is another subject entirely (thanks, Sis!). I think people have their own thresholds for fear. Some hate clowns. Others hate anything to do with eyeballs. Some teeth. For me, big nasty arthropods are what tickles my medulla oblongata (technically the amygdala, but medulla oblongata sounds cooler). Too many legs. Nightmare mouths. Multiple glass eyes. Ugh!!! And as the movie, Mimic, was so kind to point out in Dr. Tyler’s lab of horrors, certain species of insects can do some rather impressive stuff, such as certain warrior ants that even when injured will continue to attack. Wasps that turn prey into zombies. Spiders that lay eggs inside a host to be consumed as a snack when the babies hatch. It’s not evil in the sense of good or morality. There is no morality when it comes to insects. To quote another Jeff Goldblum line, “Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise.” And here perhaps is what trips my fear sensor the most, the absence of compassion, compromise, especially in something as large as what the Judas breed becomes.
Soon after the death of the man on the roof and some cut scenes of Dr. Tyler and her husband, Dr. Mann, and their on-screen hopes of becoming parents, solidifying again the overarching theme of Mimic, fertility, some well-meaning “hood-rat” children out to make a quick buck bring Dr. Tyler an “interesting” find they discovered below ground near one of New York’s many metro tracks. Dr. Tyler soon realizes just what this large bug really is. Though “just a baby,” as she says, the creature is as large as the palm of her hand. But Tyler isn’t alone in her lab. There’s a shape at the window, a mysterious “man” in a dark trenchcoat. Okay, pause. I have to once again give a nod to both Rob Bottin and the original author of the creature in this flick, Donald Allen Wollheim who came up with the short story, titled, “Mimic,” a first-person narrative about a dude who notices a strange “man” in a trenchcoat standing on the streets in his town but never says anything to anyone. Following the sound of screams, the narrator discovers the “man” dead in his apartment, but upon closer examination, he unveils that the mysterious “man” isn’t a man at all, but a large bug imitating a man. This, for me, adds to the creep factor here. Not only are we dealing with larger than normal insects, but we’re dealing with an insect that has evolved to “mimic” us.
Stories begin to collide at this point. All leading back deep underground onto some abandoned metro tracks that would inspire curious urban spelunkers to explore. Dr. Tyler, Dr. Mann, officer Leonard (played wonderfully by Charles S. Dutton) and Manny (a father searching for his lost autistic son who “followed” the Judas breed into their underground metro hive). All these motivations would seem to make the movie feel too complicated, but in actuality, they add to the movie’s believability. That they happen upon each other, sure, could be a stretch, but otherwise getting a glimpse at their personalities and motivations actually benefits how audiences feel towards them. I wanted them to survive. There were no “villains” here. Even Dr. Mann’s doomed assistant, Josh (played by Josh Brolin), though kind of cocky and moronic, you don’t hate the guy and you felt something when he was killed off, fairly horribly I might add. All this was accomplished without a bunch of unnecessary backstory. At this stage in del Toro’s career, he had made a name for himself for interweaving likable heartfelt characters into his story, not through exposition, but dialogue and interaction.
Mimic is not without some cheese.
This is, after all, a creature feature.
Whoever came up with the genius plan to get the old boxcar trolley operational is…a moron. Seriously. But, not altogether unrealistic. People come up with horrible ideas all the time. Consider the Shake Weight exercise dumbells. Yup. Someone thought that was a good idea too. No, though the trolley idea was moronic, it was not out of the realm of what someone in that situation would probably do. The real cheese for me was what the “King” Judas bug was doing at the end. But, let me explain the entry of this “new” character. Nearing the climax, we discover that part of the genetic code used to create the Judas breed came from a species of insect that has one male as the only fertile member of the colony. Of course, they had created the species as “all-female,” thus supposedly limiting the lifespan of the Judas breed exponentially. However, as fans of Jurrasic Park should know, “life finds a way,” and thus the species adapted. Part of the enzyme that gave Judas the ability to eliminate the cockroach infestation by accelerating the roaches reproduction rate, essentially burning them out, in turn, gave them the ability to mass reproduce at an alarming rate. Consider how in just three years the Judas went from cockroach size to human size, developing the necessary biology in order to grow. Reproduction, fertility and natural childbirth seem to be a motif in Mimic.
Back to the cheese.
A big creep factor in this movie was the fact that these insects were not acting in any personal way. Insects do not have politics, remember. They simply…are. They do as their genetic makeup implies for them to do. They attack when provoked. They feed and breed for survival alone. There is no pleasure, “no compassion, no compromise (I’m telling you, Jeff Goldblum should have been cast in this movie as Dr. Mann).” That said, in the end, the “King” Judas bug didn’t seem to be following the movies preestablished rules of insect politics. The “King” acted mightily pissed off. Before being mowed down by a subway car, that sucker “looked” like he wanted blood. Half-burnt, limping after Dr. Taylor. But, that’s just a small blip on an otherwise decent and definitely creepy creature feature flick. My only other “WTF” is the last line in the movie when Dr. Taylor and her bo Dr. Mann reunite, both are happy the other survived the subway fire that wiped out the Judas colony. Dr. Mann whispers in his wife’s ear, “We can have a baby,” or something to that extent. As the last line, this kinda has me in a loop. After everything they survived, the ordeal, that’s what he tells her? This, of course, brings the circle around regarding the theme of natural childbirth and fertility. But what did it answer? Or better yet, what question did it raise? Unnatural fertility will breed monsters? Seriously? Maybe I’m missing something.
Regardless, Mimic was an excellent escape from the visceral and psychological methods of storytelling that seemed to dominate the 1990s. And Mimic was definitely one of del Toro’s best pictures if you ask me. This flick could have very feel come off as a cheap B-movie, it had the trappings for such a disaster, but it didn’t. Mimic came out as a genuinely creepy monster movie. If you haven’t seen this one, you need to, but be sure to watch the Director’s Cut. It’s only really nine minutes of added footage, but those added moments make the movie all the better.
My rating: 4 out of 5
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, 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.
You can get Reinheit for $2.99 on Amazon!
February 16, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: CDC, Charles S. Dutton, childbirth, cockroach, Creature Feature, Creature Features in Review, dark, F. Murray Abraham, fertility, film, Giancarlo Giannini, Guillermo del Toro, Horror, horror movie, horror movies, horror review, horror reviews, insect politics, insects, Josh Brolin, Mira Sorvino, monster movies, Movie, movie flicks, movie review, natural childbirth, Norman Reedus, review, Reviews | Leave a comment
Women have broken more boundaries and defied not only gender clichés, but also more social and cultural obstacles than men as well. Hollywood, or the world for that matter, is still very much a man’s world. Actresses still struggle to get paid the same amount as a male counterpart. Horror is not with its own stereotypical pitfalls, but in fairness, horror has also come a long way. Slasher movies are known for typecasting women as weak characters. Sure, but looking at it from another angle, perhaps you might notice that as said slasher movie victim is running around bumping into dead things and screaming at the top of her lungs, she survives while typically every single if not 99% of the male character population parishes in some grotesque way. At the very least, maybe those stereotyped movies are saying that when the shit hits the fan, women are survivors. To say the only contribution women have made for horror is to play its victim is a gross generalization. In movies where women are intended to be the victim, they survive. And then there’s the other side of the road. The villains. The most creepiest characters and monsters of horror, in my humble opinion, have been women. Consider Kathy Bates in Misery and you tell me if her portrayal as Annie Wilkes didn’t creep you out! Putting aside our egocentric macho bullshit lets admit it, women have done more for horror, and are continuing to do more for horror, than men. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite horrible women!
Eihi Shiina as Asami Yamazaki in Audition (1999)
I’m not ashamed to say, Asami scares the shit out of me. And for good reason. Leave it to the Japanese to come up with something so twisted. The story follows a widower named Aoyama who, aided by a film producer friend, hosts an “audition” of which they aim to work as a dating service. Aoyama sets his sights on the quiet and withdrawn Asami, but when they venture to his house, Aoyama soon discovers Asami is not so reserved as she appears to be. The torture in this movie is…insane. Its almost doubled by the this otherwise seemingly sweet woman, who even during the torture is nearly whispering pleasantly as she inserts nails into Aoyama. Here’s a clip on YouTube, but its not for the faint of heart.
Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Both Conjuring movies that have thus released have been true pleasures watching on the Big Screen. And while you cannot have Lorraine Warren without her partner and husband, Ed (Patrick Wilson), I feel it is Lorraine who really shines, in both movies. In part 2, the Warren’s are called out to Enfield, England to help Peggy Hodgson, a single mother of four who tells the Warren’s that something evil is in her home. When one of her daughters begins to show signs of demonic possession, the Warren’s work quickly to try and help the besieged young girl. The Lorraine and Ed relationship almost reminds me of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, where Ed is the headstrong, well-meaning “car sells-man,” and Lorraine is the collected talent. Not to mention that Vera is a real treat watching on screen.
Jane Levy as Rocky in Don’t Breathe (2016)
Another slam-dunk that came out last year, Don’t Breathe was a surprise; not surprise hit with new audiences and horror fanboys alike. Stephen Lang may have stole the show with his creepy vulnerability, but it was Levy playing the part of thief/single mom Rocky that really sold me on the story. But Don’t Breath wasn’t you typically casting, technically Rocky was the bad guy, of sorts, breaking in to a blind man’s house in the hopes of making it rich so she can take her kid and escape the wastelands of inner city Detroit. And Rocky takes some hits in this one, as well as dishes out her own vengeance. Seeing how this is her second appearance on “My Favorite Women in Horror” list, last years being Mia from Evil Dead, I’m very curious what this young lady has planned for 2017.
Karen Gillan as Kaylie in Oculus (2013)
Karen Gillan in anything is both entertaining and amazing. Her time with The Doctor aside Matt Smith as the 11th incarnation of The Doctor, to her reprised role as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy. Oculus was a solid lead for her, released shortly following the end of her stint on Doctor Who. In this movie, Gillan plays Kaylie, a strong headed woman who attempts to exonerate her recently released brother in order to prove that he did not murder their parents, but that a cursed mirror did. The movie is a total head trip and Gillan plays wonderfully as a strong resourceful leader whilst still somewhat vulnerable. A drop in the bucket among paranormal movies coming out, Oculus is potent enough for its flavors to let it stand out. Gillan certainly added to the movies benefit.
Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin in The Witch (2015)
Another rising star, right there beside Jane Levy, Anya Taylor-Joy has been in horror hit after horror hit, starting with The Witch, followed by Morgan, and finally this years mind bender, Split. The Witch is a unique movie that divided horror fans into two groups of “love it,” and “hate it.” From what I can tell, most are in the “love it” group, and for good reason. What caught my attention was the use of 17-century records as means to developing a script that sounded very much like a movie set in the mid-1600s. The Witch was also not what I was expecting. I thought maybe the story was going to be about this town and witches were involved in some manner. But instead, the movie focused on a zealot uber religious family that is exiled from a colony for being too religious, which is funny in its own right. And whilst the family struggles to survive living on their own in the wilderness, tragedy befalls them when the youngest newborn member of the family is thought to be taken by wolves. the mother blames Thomasin, the oldest daughter who was watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) suspect Thomasin of witchcraft, testing the clan’s faith, loyalty, and love to one another. As said above, the movie wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be. Yet, it was still really provocative, with plenty of tension and wonderment, especially when you realize there really are witches out there. The ending was one of the more satisfying endings to a movie I’ve seen in years.
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, 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.
You can get Reinheit for $2.99 on Amazon!
February 14, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Anya Taylor-Joy, Eihi Shiina, female, film, horrible women, Horror, horror movie lists, Jane Levy, Karen Gillan, killer women, lists, monster women, movie lists, movie reviews, review, Reviews, serial killers, strong female leads, strong females, Vera Farmiga, women, women in horror, Women in horror month, women killer | 2 Comments
Note: The below is written based on the assumption that you’ve seen Cloverfield. If you haven’t yet, go and see Cloverfield. Or be both spoiled and confused. Your choice.
I tried to resist the obvious pun. I really did. But I can’t do it. So, with apologies…
Cloverfield is a very odd beast.
But it is.
I mean, on the one hand, it isn’t, at all. Giant monsters have destroyed Manhattan Island since forever, after all. Like London, New York is one of those rare cities whose ‘centre of the universe’ mentality is actually somewhat borne out by reality (Tokyo is the other one that immediately jumps to mind, and oh, look…). So, I mean, of course, the aliens and monsters are going to start there. Why wouldn’t they? It’s where, as they say, the action is.
In that regard, Cloverfield is part of a long established tradition – none more trad, arguably, in the giant creature feature genre.
Similarly, found footage? It’s rare as a horror fan you’ll go through a month without someone complaining either on your Facebook feed or in a blog post about the ubiquity of the found footage movie and it’s disastrous impact on the genre – such complaints are almost a sub-genre themselves, at this point. Ever since the not-universally-popular-but-at-least-successful-and-then-somewhat-original Blair Witch Project rattled our tents and planted in our ears 17 years ago (yes, you’re old, get over it), seems like every indie wannabe superstar has been chasing that found footage Bigfoot, trying to recreate the magic. In musical terms, it reminds me of the rap/metal explosion that followed Rage Against The Machine – people trying to combine the same mechanical elements (hip-hop singer with a metal band) without the slightest clue as to what made Rage so damn special in the first place. Gifting the world Limp Bizkit and a million behind them that were even worse. Thanks, recording industry.
But hang on, though, because we may just have stumbled over the point, there, while getting on our self-righteous nu-metal-bashing hobbyhorse (yeah, you were up here with me, don’t deny it). Because prior to Rage, there had been both Hip Hop and Metal (obviously), and both movements were, by ‘91, well established enough to have had mainstream successes, even while remaining musical subcultures as a whole. But aside from one-off songs like Aerosmith/Run D.M.C’s Walk This Way, nobody had thought to combine the elements – and certainly not in a fully functioning band unit, where neither style held obvious supremacy.
So, to finally get on topic, found footage movies weren’t unusual. Neither were giant creature features.
But a found footage giant creature feature?
And we might as well get this out of the way; one of the principle reasons it’s new is because it’s also an insane idea. If you’re making a giant creature feature in 2008 and wreaking Manhattan in the process, you’re doing it largely with CGI. However, if you’re making a found footage movie, especially with an in-fiction non-professional camera operator (as you are in Cloverfield) then you’re talking strictly handheld.
And to be fair, for your indie horror filmmaker, that’s an enormous plus, for the obvious reason that it’s dirt cheap. Slap cheap digital cameras into the hands of your actors, and then let loose the mayhem, and hilarity and awards ensue, right? And all the auto-focus fails, and blurry shots of the maybe-thing-maybe-person stalking or whatever, that all just adds to the atmosphere, right?
Except, now, with Cloverfield, your shaky-cam is filming a skyscraper exploding, or your shutter speed is blurring the head of the Statue Of Liberty as it bounces down the street, or the autofocus is failing to decide which piece of the 200-foot monster to focus on.
And, of course, none of those things actually exist, outside of some computer whizzes laptop.
.That is what, frankly, blows my mind about Cloverfield, and why I wanted to write about it.
Because I do sometimes find myself wondering (outside of the total movie geek circles I am proud to inhabit) how many people really understand just what a staggering achievement this movie represents. I wonder if the average movie goer, benumbed as they must be by massive digital spectacles, fully appreciates how complex, how difficult, and how special Cloverfield is, in terms of what it achieves. How tough it is to integrate digital effects with handheld footage in such a way that the unreal appears so naturalistic that the only reason you know the creature isn’t really there is because it would be impossible to build.
It is, in the parlance of our times, fucking awe inspiring.
Of course, director Matt Reaves pulls every trick in the book to make it work. In 1975, a malfunctioning robot shark inadvertently forced Spielberg to the genius realisation that having the monster mostly be off camera made it WAY scarier, and while Reaves in a found footage format doesn’t have the luxury of cutting to the monster’s POV, accompanied by a John Williams score, we do see far more of the creature’s handiwork than we do the creature itself, in the scarred streets and skyline of the city. There’s also a return of the good old ground tremors from Jurassic Park, and a ton of similar tricks employed throughout to both build tension and, by happy coincidence, save money (another brilliant example is when the creature passes by the store our protagonists are cowering in – before it passes, the air outside becomes so full of brick dust and ash from a collapsing building that the monster itself is only heard and felt, not seen).
It’s smart, savvy filmmaking, selling us on the scale and power of this thing without providing even a glimpse. Similar brilliance announces itself elsewhere in the storytelling. One of the central strengths of found footage is also its central weakness – you’re stuck with one perspective, one window on the world. This is compounded in Cloverfield by also ostensibly being unedited footage, the only cuts being when the camera operator turns the device off for some reason (during which segments we’re treated to bleed-through from the previous recording that is being overwritten – a cute device for delivering back story, albeit not one I’m convinced makes sense in a digital age – sure, a videotape would work this way, but digital files?).
Horror fans and writers will immediately grok to the appeal and strength of such an approach, but it can cause problems, not least when trying to transmit a sense of scale, or hints at a wider world response to events. There’s a superb moment where Rob, desperate to restore his mobile phone charge, runs into an electronics store that’s in the process of being looted. Our camera man follows him in, huffing and puffing (one of the funniest lines in the movie is his exclamation early on that ‘I don’t really do this running stuff!’) only to be pulled up short by the TV coverage. Via his camera pointing at the TV, we get a glimpse of how the news coverage is panning out, at least until he’s pulled away by his friends and off into the next part of the story.
Similar brilliant flourishes abound, from the camera perspective on the Brooklyn bridge as a tentacle (actually tail, we later learn) smashes into it, knocking the cameraman off his feet, to flickering or emergency lighting creating a dramatic, nightmarish strobe effect, to a brilliant sequence in the subway in which first the camera torch is employed, and later the night vision, in what is for my money one of the best jump scares of the last ten years – without cheating with some dramatic score or jump cut.
And then there’s the creature.
The beast itself is on camera rarely – I’d bet less than five minutes of the total running time feature any glimpse of it, and most of that is exactly glimpses – a tale, an arm, and a stunning in motion underneath shot as our heroes plunge into the subway and the army engages in a fierce firefight. Even seen on the news footage or from the evacuation chopper, it’s partially obscured by buildings, or smoke, or just the trembling of the camera man. But in the closing minutes of the film, we’re finally treated to a full, uninterrupted view, and it’s just glorious – huge, organic, monstrous both in size and features, raining grotesque parasites – it really is brilliantly realized, the stuff of nightmares.
So, yeah, there’s a lot to recommend Cloverfield, and I think it’s a brilliant movie – or at least, near brilliant. There are some elements that don’t quite hang together, for me. There’s the technical stuff – I’ve already mentioned in passing how the ‘bleed-through’ of the old video footage only really makes sense in the analog age and given that mobile phone networks were disconnected across New York throughout 9/11, Rob’s suspiciously functioning mobile is, well, suspicious.
And as we’ve brought it up.. So, there’s the 9/11 thing.
Because prior to 2001, there were a lot of movies that indulged in disaster porn and specifically blowing up New York. And let’s be honest – it felt like good clean fun at the time. I vividly remember being utterly thrilled at the destruction of the Empire State Building and The White House in Independence Day when it came out – not even slightly in a ‘fuck America’ way, to be crystal clear, but in a totally generic ‘wow, big badda-BOOM!’ way.
And I similarly vividly remember watching ID4 for the first time post-9/11. And it felt different. A lot less fun. Kind of a bummer, actually.
But, you know, historical artifact, innit? Like any seismic historical and cultural moment, there’s just a pre and post-9/11 divide in art, and you can’t judge one by the standard of the other.
Except then, there’s Cloverfield.
And it kind of explicitly plays with the imagery and atmosphere of that day. When the attacks first start, and all people can see is explosions, one of the voices at the party says ‘Is it another attack?’. The police evacuating people in the street, clearly well drilled in massive disaster response. The moment I talked about earlier, with the group hiding out in the store as the smoke and dust rolls past – that could almost be footage from the day.
Now, I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist, to be clear. This isn’t about what people should or shouldn’t be allowed to say or write or film. At the end of the day, the same rights that protect your right (hypothetically speaking) to be a racist fuckhole are the rights that protect me calling you out on your racist fuckhollery and telling others about it. That’s how it works, and, IMO, the only way it CAN work. Social change powers political change, not the other way around. So be the change you want to see in the world and all that.
So I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t make a piece of popcorn entertainment in 2008 that evokes the imagery of 9/11. Of course, you can. Equally, though, as Dr. Malcolm might say, it might be worth thinking about whether or not you should.
Not just because 9/11 was an event of global trauma, the repercussions of which are still shaping lives and getting people killed – though it is. But because… well, look – you can make a movie like World Trade Centre, which is a pretty straight telling of the events of the day. That’s one thing. But to take imagery and iconography from the day and chuck them into your, let’s face it, popcorn monster movie… well, it is, at least, a little uncomfortable, and at worst smacks of being tasteless, even exploitative.
Again, to be clear, I’m not saying the movie shouldn’t have been made, or anything like that. And I can even sympathize with the filmmakers in some ways – with the found footage vibe, it’s all about verisimilitude, after all. And damn, now we’ve got real footage of what a demolished Manhattan skyline looks like at street level – how could you not use that information? At the same time, as much as I like Cloverfield (and I do, a great deal) this aspect of the film always leaves me feeling a little queasy.
And you know what, that’s okay. It’s okay – healthy, even – to have ambiguous or conflicted reactions to art. It’s okay to like or even love a movie (or album, or book) even as it’s flawed make you sad, or angry, or uneasy. To climb back on the free speech soapbox one more time, that’s almost the point. Conversation, discussion, argument – that’s how we improve our understanding, refine our opinions, and yes, sometimes, learn something new that changes how we see the world or a facet of it.
Cloverfield is a very good movie, that for me edges on greatness (and in a technical sense, it is unambiguously great, I think). Far from flawless (aside from the above, the plot that drives the characters is as hack and obvious as it’s possible to be, and the actors, while solid, don’t quite manage to elevate that into something more), but the things it does well it does SO damn well that, especially first time through, it’s a total thrill ride of a movie, a classic popcorn rollercoaster.
And yeah, it’s a brilliant giant creature feature. Maybe even the best post-2000 one, what with the intelligent and expertly realized use of the found footage format and a brand new monster that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
And if parts of it make me uncomfortable… well, how bad is that, in the final analysis?
After all, beats the shit out of being boring.
Kit Power is no stranger to Machine Mean. He was reviewed for us both The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the forever classic Monster Mash Pinball Game. And participated during Fright Fest with a review on Parents. Mr. Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as the frontman (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as,GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. You can read Kit’s review of Bride here.
You can get Breaking Point, Kit Power’s newest release, for $2.99 on Amazon!
BREAKING POINT – THE LIFELINE TRILOGY
A Cyclist is knocked unconscious on his way home and wakes up in a nightmare…
A devoted husband begins to suspect all is not well with his marriage…
A desperate family man, running out of time and options, turns to an old schoolmate from the wrong side of the tracks – looking for work – any work…
A young man’s world is thrown into chaos as his father is abducted…
Four tales of people pushed to BREAKING POINT.
For ‘The Loving Husband’ – “Gripping, compelling and utterly nerve-wracking.” – DLS Reviews.
For ‘Lifeline’ – “More savage than Rottweiler on meths with its nads caught in barbed wire.” – zombiekebab, Amazon reviewer.
“One of the best novellas I’ve had the pleasure to read.” – Duncan Ralston – Author of Salvage.
“a sliver of sheer brutality and nastiness that is unbridled.” John Boden, author of DOMINOES.
“Power gets splatterpunk in a way that few do.” – Bracken MacLeod, author of Stranded and Mountain.
February 9, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 2008, Ben Feldman, Cloverfield, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, creepy, dark, doomsday, end of the world, fiction, film, Guest author, Horror, horror review, imagination, imaginative, Jessica Lucas, Kit Power, Lizzy Caplan, Matt Reeves, monsters, Movie, movie reviews, New York, New York City, Odette Annable, post 9/11, realism, realistic, review, stalking, steady cam, Theo Rossi | Leave a comment
Greetings folks! Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. As we begin this new year it is my great pleasure to announce the start of a brand new “In Review” series. Creature Features…beloved by many, loathed by some, irrefutable masterpieces that tell a tale of where the world is during each era of release. From the nuclear wastelands of Hiroshima in Godzilla and the radiated test sights in Them! to the hideous shadows in swamps and space fiends coming to terrorize quiet small town America in Critters and Swamp Thing to the worlds of mad science and mythology to humanoids and mutations, Creature Feature films have been at every turn in pop culture. Spanning decades, here at Machine Mean, thanks to our mob of talented and twisted guest writers, will bring to you beginning this Thursday and running until December, on every Thursday a Creature Feature in Review. Set your clocks and mark your calendars.
The fun begins this Thursday on Jan 5, 2017.
Follow the series on Twitter at #MonsterThursday
January 3, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990's, 2000's, 2010's, Aliens, amwriting, atomic, Atomic Age, atoms, blog, creature features, creatures, critic, culture, fiction, film, films, from space, Godzilla, History, horror movies, invasion, mad science, monsters, movie history, movie reviews, Movies, mutations, non-fiction, pop culture, popculture, review, Reviews, science fiction, science fiction movies, si fi movies, space, writing | Leave a comment
My name is Samantha Brown, and I am 31 years old. I work in an office in the city. My older sister, Beth, went missing 3 weeks ago – disappeared without a trace. I’ve seen you once, but you didn’t see me. Or, at least, I don’t think you saw me. I saw you leaving my sister’s flat early one Saturday morning when I was pulling up in my car. Me and Beth had planned to go shopping that day, and she had forgotten about our arrangement. She was hungover and grouchy and refused to tell me anything about the mysterious man that I had just seen leave her flat. We never did go shopping, we argued and I left. I didn’t call her, and she didn’t call me. One week later, she disappeared. Ever since then, I have been obsessed with the man I saw leave her flat; call it women’s intuition, call it what you will, but I have a bad feeling about you. You were too good-looking, and my sister was cagey about who you were. That wasn’t like her. So three weeks later, I see you in a bar. I approach you, and there we have the beginning of our story….
“Two Minds” is told through the viewpoint of the two characters living the story. The woman – convinced the man she is talking to is responsible for her sister’s disappearance – and the man… Who is he? Did he have anything to do with the sudden disappearance of Samantha’s sister or is he nothing more than an innocent bystander?
Only one thing is for sure… After this night, neither of them will be the same again.
What readers are saying about Two Minds:
“I’ve been a fan of Matt’s for a very long time. When I stumbled across Sam’s work not very long after, the two people who introduced me to Matt said I’d enjoy Sam’s writing as well – (thank you Suzanne and Cathy!) – and they were right. IMO, Sam West’s stories have been getting increasingly better this year, and this collaboration came at the perfect time for both of them. I wish the ending were a little… ‘beefier’ (for lack of a better term, or perfect tongue in cheek?). But – I love how it was written. It’s a great style, and I bet we’ll see more authors experimenting with it. Authors… your introduction(s) made me laugh out loud at work. Thank you for helping convince my boss I’m a lunatic for sitting down to read ’50 SHADES OF F***ED UP’ on my break and giggling.” -Shadow Girl
“I enjoyed this book it had a lot of masochistic in it. I really thought it couldn’t get any better.” -Amazon Reviewer
“I’m no stranger to Matt Shaw and I’ve read a few things from Sam West so I was expecting something really good out of them. I was not disappointed. This book was pretty good, and Sam and Matt worked well together, each writing from a different character’s perspective. For me, the book is really in two parts. In the beginning, we have a cat and mouse aspect, but we’re not really sure who is which. Samantha wants to know what happened to her sister and is going after the man that might have done something to her. Is she the dangerous one? What will she do if she finds out he did what she thinks he did? Then, we have Jack. Did he do something to Samantha’s sister? Is he the dangerous one? It’s almost very Hitchcock-like in its concept. Then, there’s the second part. This is the extreme horror part, rather than the psychological horror in part one. I don’t really want to reveal how you arrive at the extreme horror aspect, but I assure you… It’s there. Great concept. Great execution. Great collaboration.” -Shaun Hupp
You can get YOUR copy of Two Minds (An Extreme Horror Novel) for the mere price of $2.99!!!
Matt Shaw is no stranger to Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us The Invisible Woman (1940) and Don’t Breathe (2016). Mr. Shaw is the published author of over 100 titles – all readily available on AMAZON. He is one of the United Kingdom’s leading – and most prolific – horror authors, regularly breaking the top ten in the chart for Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Authors. With work sometimes compared to Stephen King, Richard Laymon, and Edward Lee, Shaw is best known for his extreme horror novels (The infamous Black Cover Range), Shaw has also dabbled in other genres with much success; including romance, thrillers, erotica, and dramas. Despite primarily being a horror author, Shaw is a huge fan of Roald Dahl – even having a tattoo of the man on his arm; something he looks to whenever he needs a kick up the bum or inspiration to continue working! As well as pushing to release a book a month, Shaw’s work is currently being translated for the Korean market and he is currently working hard to produce his own feature length film. And speaking of films… Several film options have been sold with features in the very early stages of development. Watch this space. Matt Shaw lives in Southampton (United Kingdom) with his wife Marie, his bastard cat Nellie and three rats – Roland, Splinter, and Spike. He used to live with Joey the Chinchilla and Larry the Bearded Dragon but they died. At least he hoped they did because he buried them. You can follow Mr. Shaw and delve into his work by following his site at www.mattshawpublications.co.uk AND on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mattshawpublications.co.uk. You can read his review of the infamous Invisible Woman here.
Sam West is a horror writer living in the UK. His stuff is hardcore, so be warned. He believes that horror should be sick and sexy and he is more than happy to offend a few people on his writing journey. He hopes there are other like minded souls out there that enjoy a good dose of depravity and perversion. Because that’s what rocks his world. That, and his wife and young daughter who do brilliantly to put up with his diseased mind. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 28, 2016 | Categories: Book Review, Horror, Reviews | Tags: 2016, blood, book boost, book release, Book Review, book reviews, books, cat and mouse, collaboration, dark fiction, extreme, extreme horror, fiction, Gore, Guest author, guts, Horror, horror books, intense, lunatic, Matt Shaw, mental illness, must reads, Mystery, novel, offensive, psychological horror, reads, review, Reviews, Sam West, shocking, thriller, Two Minds, UK, warning | Leave a comment
The world has fallen to ash.
Governments have collapsed, police and armies no longer exist and the people of the world have been left behind to fend for themselves in the midst of escalating violence and nuclear fallout.
One community of survivors find each other, come together and try to rebuild, to start over. Confronting the threats from without and within, they do everything necessary to find the only thing left, the most scarce resource of all.
What readers are saying about Behind Our Walls:
“I read Chad A. Clark’s short story collection, Borrowed Time, a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. So, when I learned that he was expanding one of those stories into a novel, I was excited to get to read it. You don’t need to have read the short story first, and the story is included at the end of the novel, since the novel is a sort of prequel to that story, laying out the what happened before ‘Tomorrow’s Memory.’ Behind Our Walls is a unique take on post-apocalyptic fiction. There are no zombies, no dictatorships, no aliens. The threats are not external and easy to unite against. The world has simply fallen apart and we are watching it reform around Sophie, our young protagonist. Many of the themes popular in post-apocalyptic fiction are present here–extreme situations bringing out the worst and best in people, trust as a limited commodity, resource management for survival. But I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel before that focused on “what happens now” so fully. Backstories and causes of the downfall of the world take a serious backseat to grappling with how society will reform in the new reality. The novel begins with Sophie on the run in the company of her parents, her sister Corrine, her sister’s fiance Adam, and a man named Rowen. Without getting too spoilery, I think it safe to tell you that they meet other travelers and that people are lost, new alliances are made, and betrayals happen. I was engaged by the story and cared about the characters throughout. There good tension and suspense regarding what decisions different characters might make and what struggles they would face. I recommend the book for those who enjoy post-apocalyptic or survival stories but are looking for something a little different in that genre.” – Samantha Dunaway Bryant
“An excellent debut novel by Chad A. Clark for fans of postapocalyptic fiction. The characters and their actions are believable and each is well-defined. Behind Our Walls is a quick read and does what most excellent stories do — leaves you wanting more. Looking forward to future works from Mr. Clark.” -Amazon Reviewer
“I would say that the story has a young adult feel to it, but be warned there are some dark moments, albeit not so explicitly described as to make this 18+ (in my view). As a self-published work the formatting sometimes reveals the odd typo, but nothing too numerous or jarring to shake the reader out of the story. I would recommend this book to those who love post-apocalyptic scenarios but are looking for rich character interaction as opposed to violent gore or horror elements. It was an engaging read and I think we’re going to be seeing some more first class output from Chad Clark in the future.” -Amazon Reviewer
“The interesting thing about post-apocalyptic fiction is that it becomes a sort of character study. You’d think we’d want to know more about “how” the world ends, a virus, flesh-eating zombies, alien invasion the likes of War of the Worlds, something. But sometimes, the best apocalyptic stories are stories about us. Stories about what we do when faced with uncertainty. When the warm fuzzy blanket of banality falls to a cold stone floor, what will you do? This is my first foray into the mind of Chad A. Clark, and it won’t be my last. The work here was very daring. While most writers focus on the Hollywood action of ‘how-it-all-happened,’ Clark focuses on ‘what to do we do now?’ Now that the wall has fallen, do we rebuild another? I find it interesting that while most would indeed write a book with a modern definition of ‘apocalypse,’ being the end of the world, humanity, etc. etc., instead, Clark gives us a story that defines the original Greek definition of ‘apocalypse,’ which means a disclosure of knowledge, an unveiling, a revelation. And he presents his revelation in a tradition mode of storytelling, delivering both suspense and drama, around the family unit.” -Thomas S. Flowers (me)
You can get your copy of Behind Our Walls for the low-low price of $0.99!!!
Chad Clark is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945) and House of 1000 Corpses. Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.
December 16, 2016 | Categories: Book Review, Horror, Reviews | Tags: apocalypse, apocalyptic fiction, Behind Our Walls, Book Review, books, Chad Clark, characterization, characters, dark, dark fiction, downfall, end of the world, end times, fiction, horror stories, humanity, indie, indie author, indie fiction, novels, Parents, review, science fiction stories, Small Press, survival, walls | Leave a comment
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.
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.
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 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.
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 to not only receive updates on new reviews and books but also a free eBook anthology of dark fiction.
October 31, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: 2016, author, blind, Daniel Zovatto, dark, Don't Breathe, Dylan Minnette, Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez, film, Fright Fest, fright fest 2016, Guest, Gulf War, Halloween, Halloween Movie Marathon, help, heroine, Horror, horror reviews, Jane Levy, justice, Matt Shaw, movie reviews, review, Reviews, robbery, Stephen Lang, The Evil Dead, thriller, veteran, women in horror | Leave a comment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
October 26, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: 1981, Christopher Stone, dark, Dee Wallace, Dennis Dugan, Fantasy, film, Fright Fest, fright fest 2016, Glenn Rolfe, gritty, Guest author, Halloween, Halloween Movie Marathon, Horror, horror reviews, Joe Dante, John Carradine, Kevin McCarthy, movie reviews, Patrick Macnee, review, Reviews, Robert Picardo, Slim Pickens, The Howling, urban horror, werewolf, werewolves | 2 Comments
Lucio Fulci was a giant of Italian horror cinema. Actually, scrap that. I couldn’t vouch for the accuracy of that statement as I wasn’t old enough to be aware of Lucio Fulci in his heyday; but since I discovered my love of lurid horror, director Lucio Fulci has certainly seemed like a giant to me. The man appears on the infamous Video Nasties list three times, and even though some of his other titles didn’t make it on that infamous list of banned movies in the 1980s, they certainly should. It’s true that Zombie Flesh Eaters probably made most of an impact on cinema with its grimy interpretation of the walking dead. A move away from the comically blue versions found in Dawn of the Dead; the decomposing look actually came about due to budget restrictions. A few wipes of clay across the monster’s faces and a new image was born!
However, it was The Beyond that stands head and shoulders above the rest as the best film he created. It is actually considered the second part of loosely based ‘ gates of hell’ trilogy which compromises of City Of The Living Dead, The Beyond and House By The Cemetery. The plot centers around a hotel. Originally owned by the artist who was murdered (in glorious detail at the start) by locals fearing he was practicing black magic. Years later a young woman inherits the hotel and decides to renovate and re-open it. However, the hotel stands over one of the seven doors of death. This is not going to end well…
What follows is a dream-like narrative that just manages to keeps the story together, giving the movie a sense of strange unease. However, the other benefit this offers is that it allows the director to lurch from set piece to set piece. And this is why I love this film so much, there is no filler. Like the 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts (which you really need to go back and view again), the film is a riot of scenes that leave you gasping for air with excitement, but no room to catch your breath before the next sequence continues the onslaught of its run time.
Released in 1981, not all the special effects are great and you’ll need to cut it some slack for the obviously fake spiders that lurk in the background behind the real tarantula’s that slowly make their way towards the fallen man as he lies sprawled out on the floor.
But hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
In order to describe how amazing this film is I’m going to go through a scene summary. Be warned, there will be spoilers. So if you don’t want to know what happens before your first viewing then don’t read any further, but actually, I don’t think knowing any of the plots will spoil the experience.
This film is ghoulishly brilliant entertainment and can easily be enjoyed with countless repeat viewings. (I know, I’ve tested it).
So join me, my fiendish friend. Let me take you by the tentacle and lead you through the scenes of Lucio Fulci’s splatter film masterpiece.
Ready let’s go:
It starts in 1927 (and in sepia to suggest olden times) A group of men storms the hotel. They accuse a painter of being a warlock, viscously attack him and nail him to the wall before melting his face with acid.
Cut to titles sequence, with a cool backdrop of fire and an awesome soundtrack.
Next, up to a builder, working on the renovations, sees a mysterious face causing him to fall from some scaffolding. Cue much blood and screaming.
Continuing with the building work, a plumber comes to fix the flooded basement. He discovers a secret room. Suddenly a monstrous claw shoots from mud and claws his face, slowly pulling his eye from its socket.
A strange, blind woman appears and gives a warning for the new owner to leave the hotel.
Acid falls on a woman’s face as her daughter watches. The daughter tries to escape the acid as it pools across the floor. She opens a door to reveal approaching zombies who reach for her.
The blind woman touches the warlock’s painting causing her hands to bleed.
The hotel owner sees the corpse of the warlock nailed to a bathroom wall. Blood pours from the brickwork.
A man falls from a library ladder. Tarantulas slowly surround his prone body, crawl all over him and messily devour his flesh, biting out his tongue and stabbing their fangs into his eyes.
A hotel hand unblocks the bath in the haunted Room 36. The draining water reveals a zombie that slowly rises and grabs her face. It pushes the back of her skull into a nail on the wall. The nail is forced out through her eye socket, pushing out her eyeball.
Zombies surround the blind woman in her house. Her dog attacks them before turning on her. He rips her throat out and tears her ear from her skull.
A woman gets attacked by a zombie in the basement.
The hotel shakes and water turn to blood, making a couple flee.
The couple is surrounded by zombies in a hospital. Brandishing a gun, the man shoots many in the head, but the undead is too numerous.
A window shatters causing the glass to fly through the air, hitting another man in the face and killing him as it slices into his skin.
Zombies corner the couple, now with a child.
The child violently turns on the couple but is halted when the man viscously shoots her in the face. (makes me cheer every single time)
Fleeing from the zombies, the couple finds themselves back in the basement. Heading towards a light they find themselves in the landscape from the warlock’s painting. Looking around, the basement and hotel have disappeared. They are trapped in hell!
They run into the void with the last shot showing us they have both been blinded.
So as you can see there is no messing around with this film. No awkward sex scenes to fill time, or reams of stilted dialogue to advance a convoluted plot. It is simplicity, brilliantly executed, and guaranteed to provide you all the thrills and kills you could want from this high-water mark in over the top, glorious Italian horror.
What more could you want a fun-filled Halloween night?
Make a date with The Beyond.
J.R. Park is an author of horror fiction and co-founder of the publishing imprint the Sinister Horror Company. He has currently written four books: Terror Byte, Punch, Upon Waking and The Exchange, as well as appearing in a number of short story anthologies. Arthouse, pulp, and exploitation alike inform his inspirations, as well as misheard conversations, partially remembered childhood terrors and cheese before sleep. He currently resides in Bristol, UK. Find out more at JRPark.co.uk and SinisterHorrorCompany.com
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October 6, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: 1981, bleak, Classics, dark, end of days, fiction, Fright Fest, fright fest 2016, Guest author, Halloween, Halloween Movie Marathon, Horror, Justin Park, Lucio Fulci, movie reviews, Movies, review, The Beyond, zombies | 3 Comments