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Posts tagged “Rob Bottin

Fright Fest: The Thing (1982)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Late Phases: in review

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Have you seen Late Phases? Finally! A new werewolf movie to keep my strange fascination were the lycanthrope myth sated, or for at least the time being. Hopefully maybe soon we’ll see some quality Mummy movies grace the silver screen…doubtful at that one. But we can always hope. Its no secret, I’ve got a special place in my heart for the classic Universal Monsters. I’m not at the age to have grown up watching the films. I found them in my adult years, and its probably better that I did. I don’t think most of the kids in my late phased (pun intended) Gen-X generation would have appreciated the classics…not as much as an adult would. Maybe I’m wrong, I’m sure there are a few out there that could, but overall, it is my opinion that the classics are appreciated more by a more mature audience. My appreciation stems from my studies in history thru film. Looking back at society thru the looking glass of cinema is a fascinating way of deciphering prevalent thoughts and themes and attitudes of the day in which the movie was made. The original Universal classics, as such, can be both an entertaining as hell movie and a look into the concerns of the past. Werewolf movies are one of my favorite forms of metaphor. Much how I gravitate toward Romero-esk zombie tales, likewise, I gravitate toward the tradition of werewolf created by Curt Siodmak. Curt wrote the original Universal tale, The Wolf Man (1941) and portrayed the bipedal beast as more of a Greek tragedy, where the monster is also the victim, having no control over his inner demon, per say. Late Phases seems to keep to this tradition whilst also moving the mythos a step farther.

Quick fire synopsis:

Ambrose McKinley; a fiercely independent, yet blind Vietnam War veteran and his seeing eye dog are moved into a retirement community at the edge of a forest. Willful and adamant that he can live on his own, he and his son Will are clearly not on the best of terms. He meets three neighbor women; Gloria, Anna and Victoria, who; while at first admiring Ambrose, are quickly put off by his rough attitude toward them. He meets his neighbor Delores, who shares the duplex with him. That night, during a full moon, something breaks into Delores’ kitchen and brutally slashes her to death. Ambrose hears the commotion and is also attacked by a massive werewolf. His dog comes to his defense as Ambrose struggles to find his gun, he manages to deter the creature, but his dog is mortally wounded. The next day, the police find him cradling his dog, and despite the destruction and his claims of the attack, it is shrugged off as a home invasion. With no one to believe his tale, Ambrose quickly works at preparing for the next full moon and soon discovers the threat is not from outside, but rather from inside this seemingly quiet retiree community.

The Meaning of it All…

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And there you go. Plenty of symbolism to keep even the most jaded film graduate student satisfied, while also giving us horror nerds another allegorical tale to place on the shelf of werewolf lore. Ambrose verses the werewolf is an obvious story about how old bones can find purpose and keeps to the Curt Siodmak tradition…with one step farther. The monster here, while struggling at first, in the end accepts his plight and goes about turning other would-be victims into beasts themselves. Religion and faith find their way into the story too, as the priest, Father Roger is summed and cast way and ultimately killed (oops, SPOILERS!). There is also a redemption story between Ambrose and his son, Will. The movie has plenty of heart and even some humor to balance the drama and terror. But is it entertaining?

Where’s the Popcorn…?

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Late Phases was very entertaining. There are certainly some bumps in the road. While the use of practical effects should be applauded, there were a few moments where the effects came across as silly. And I’m mostly talking about the werewolf costume. The transformation scenes are respectable, though does not overshadow Rick Baker’s fantastic work in An American Werewolf in London. I’d say, the transformation effects here were more close to Rob Bottin’s work in The Howling. Other then the effects, the pace was steady. There was an absence of exposition, which I found refreshing. Ambrose, played by Nick Damici, was fantastic. I love seeing crusty veteran movies, especially in horror flicks as it is something I tend to gravitate toward in my own writings. If you haven’t seen Late Phases yet, it’s still on Netflix. Make it a night. Pop some popcorn and enjoy a rather fury tale of a blind Vietnam veteran verses the monotony of retirement.

My Review: 3.5/5 


The Howling: a 34 year review

In all my posturing. In my proclamation for love of all things horror (or, mostly all things) there are certain films I have not had the honor of screening. I know, its striking. Almost unbelievable. Say it isn’t so. But it is. Terribly so. There are actually lots of horror films I have not yet seen. And there are some in which I have only seen bits and pieces. Such as: I have not seen any of the Phantasm films. Nor have I watched any of the Val Lewton pictures, including (but not limited to): Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, & The Curse of the Cat People and many many more. But we’re not here to discuss my horror deficiency. We’re here to discuss my first screening of Joe Dante’s 1981 werewolf flick, The Howling.

Wow. Well, for starters, not what I was expecting. Not sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn’t that! Maybe it was just the hipe. Horror nerds claiming The Howling to be one of the great werewolf pictures. If that’s the case, it only proves that there are actually very few good werewolf movies, which is sad, because the world is sorely lacking good werewolf pictures and unfortunately The Howling isn’t one of those. Okay. Okay. All kidding aside, its true, I didn’t like the movie. I’ll wait here while the shock wears off. Feeling better? Listen. I didn’t hate the movie, I just didn’t get the movie. Sure, there was some postmodernism there. Yup, got it. The whole sexuality and pop psychology regarding duality and personality and desire were very prevalent, especially at the beginning. But come on. If you’re going to send a message you gotta have a good story or at least one that makes sense. If you watch some of the old trailers for it, one of them states: “Somewhere in this urban jungle…” which gives one the impression the story will unfold in an urban setting, not some backwoods retreat known as The Colony. The movie starts out in the city, which gave me high hope, but once it moved to the country disappointment ensued.

Some of the highlights: good (decent special effects). While yes, good, not Rob Bottin’s best work. If you want a taste of what Mr. Bottin can do, watch Carpenter’s The Thing. Those practical effects where out of this world (no pun intended)!! The Howling…? Ugh, not bad. You may disagree with me there, but I think we can all agree at least that as far as werewolf transformations, American Werewolf in London takes the cake! And perhaps, that’s partly to blame for my quasi-dislike for The Howling. I was excepting something like American Werewolf in London. And not just in effects, but also in mythology. In The Howling the werewolf’s are shapeshifters and not subject, or I should say limited to, the appearance of a full moon. Sorry. Don’t like it. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to werewolf movies. The appeal of lycanism for me is the loss of control. Its a curse and the victim has no control over it, just how Curt Siodmak wrote it as a Greek tragedy when he penned the screenplay for The Wolfman in 1941. Man…if we could somehow take the lore and classicism (is that even a word?) from The Wolfman and add in solid practical effects and gory transformation scenes on par with American Werewolf in London…holy jeez, that would be a legendary film!!!

Or maybe I’ve got it backwards and Joe Dante’s postmodernist story was simply about the fact that we do have control over our impulses and second natures and ought to come out of the closest (so to speak). To show the world, just as Karen White (played by the oh so innocent Dee Wallace) does at the end of the film by transforming into a werewolf live on television and then systematically having herself shot in the brain bucket. Either way, the movie wasn’t very entertaining for me. I actually dozed off a couple of times. But then again, I’m also not a huge Joe Dante fan. His latest picture, The Hole, left me hating the characters. And Gremlins was a big to do, but to be honest, I’m not a huge Gremlins fan either (Da-Da-DAAAAA). Sorry.

So there you have it folks. My review of 1981’s The Howling. What’s your favorite werewolf movie? Let us know in the comments section below!