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Posts tagged “sci fi

Fright Fest: Invisible Invaders (1959)

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From another planet comes the Invisible Invaders!

How can you stop what you don’t see?

The dead will destroy all the living!

The living dead threaten all life on earth!

I know, Invisible Invaders? you say. Aliens, you must be joking. Certainly, Tommy, anything Romero-esque would be post 1968 and here you have a review for Fright Fest: Zombies with a film released back in 1959. What gives? Well, I’ll tell you. Yes, the rules still apply, though truth be told this one does kinda skirt the line a bit. The reason I wanted to include Invisible Invaders is due to the ambiance of the film and how obscure it has become in recent years despite its obviously forgotten importance to the history of zombie lore. As per the “rules” and as per the formula of Romero films, the zombies or ghouls or walking dead are not living persons controlled through magic or voodoo, though I do enjoy that variation, it doesn’t quite fit within the spectrum of Romeroism. The rule is simple enough, a person dies, they get up and attack the living, that living person dies and they get up and attack the living, etc. etc.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: Aliens (1986)

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Yes children, take a seat and I’ll begin the tale. Once upon a time, in the land called 1980s, there was a director who was known as the King of Killer Sequels. Now, whether these James Cameron directed killer sequels are actually better than the originals is hotly debated. The sequels we’re talking about include, Terminator 2 (on this one he topped his own original), Piranha 2: The Spawning (one up-ing Joe Dante’s original with flying killer fish), Rambo: First Blood part 2 (while not technically in the directors chair, he contributed to the screenplay), and…Aliens. Truth be told, when it comes to killer sequels, there is really only one film in which I adore more than the original, and that’s Empire Strikes Back. Not many sequels, in my mind, out shine the original. Some would disagree, I’m sure. T2 was a massive success, after all. And as our guest contributor will most likely discuss, Aliens became more iconic than the Ridley Scott original Alien. Even among dedicated horror fanatics. So, it begs the question, what really made Aliens so good?

ALIENS: THEY MOSTLY COME AT NIGHT…MOSTLY

By: Israel Finn

After a very long nap (57 years, to be exact) Lieutenant Ripley (portrayed by the inimitable Sigourney Weaver) and her faithful cat, Jonesy, are discovered by a deep space salvage crew. Upon awakening from hibernation, the corporation that owned the Nostromo, the space barge Ripley destroyed in the first film, informs her that they have lost contact with a colony of terraformers on LV426. They plan to send a company of marines to investigate and would like her to go along as a consultant. There’s just one problem: LV426 is the very planet where Ripley and crew first met, then were ravaged by, the xenomorphs. Ripley at first adamantly refuses to return to the planet, citing her nightmare encounter there. But it’s clear that the corporation is skeptical about her description of the aliens and why she destroyed the Nostromo and its valuable payload. At last she agrees to go, with the stipulation that they are going there to destroy the creatures, and not to study them.

NUKE IT FROM SPACE. IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE.

As they approach the planet, Ripley finds herself among of a company of marines that has little respect for her. It’s not because she’s a woman–the pilot and one of the grunts are also female, and command respect. It’s because they believe her to be inexperienced and of little value to the mission. When one of the crew wonders aloud why “Snow White” is accompanying them, the answer is, “She saw an alien once.”

When they land on the planet and enter the compound, the group discovers a little girl, nicknamed Newt, who Ripley takes under her wing. But the rest of the colony seem to be missing. That is, until the entire community is located in a single isolated section of the complex. The team investigates and finds the entire colony, or what’s left of them, cocooned by the xenomorphs. Aroused by their presence, one of the colonists awakens and begs to be killed before a “newborn” alien bursts through her chest. Things then begin to quickly fall apart when several of the marines are taken by the creatures.

The rest of the team decides to get the hell out of Dodge and obliterate the complex from above but, as fate would have it, their ride off the rock crashes when one of the “bugs” slaughters the pilot, leaving them trapped.

GAME OVER, MAN! GAME OVER!

We lost Bill Paxton on February 25th, 2017. I loved him in Tombstone, Apollo 13, A Simple Plan, and Frailty (which he directed). But I adored him in Aliens. He played the whiny, cowardly, comic relief, Private William Hudson, the thorn in everyone’s side once the shit earnestly hit the fan. And the movie would not have been the same without him.

Private Hudson has to be coerced and cajoled into every action, but he manages to hold it together while newly-in-charge Corporal Hicks, played by Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Tombstone, The Abyss) orders Bishop the android, played by Lance Henriksen (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Terminator, Alien 3) to leave the relative safety of the compound and remote connect the colonists’ ship.

Meantime, Carter Burke, a corporation lackey, portrayed by Paul Reiser (Bye Bye Love, Funny People, Mad About You), hatches a plot to trap Ripley (with Newt in tow) inside the med lab with a couple of the face-huggers. His plan is to have one of the little buggers “impregnate” someone so that he can get an alien past security back on earth. His motivation? What else: money and career advancement. But his scheme is thwarted by the intrepid marines.

By this time, all hell is breaking loose as the aliens infiltrate the team’s weak fortress. There are more deaths, a couple of daring rescues, and an epic final battle between Ripley and the queen mother of the xenomorphs.

TO SUM UP

This is an exceptional film by a legendary director, James Cameron (The Terminator, The Abyss, Titanic, Avatar), and some might even say it’s superior to the first. It casts a derisive eye at corporate greed, looks at love and loyalty, and reminds us that Mankind may not be at the head of the table after all, but may in fact be on the menu.

And it does all this while entertaining the hell out of us and scaring the pants off of us. Win win.

Israel Finn is a horror, dark fantasy, and speculative fiction writer, and a winner of the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition. He’s had a life-long love affair with books, and was weaned on authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells. Books were always strewn everywhere about the big white house in the Midwest where he grew up. He loves literary works (Dickens and Twain, for instance), but his main fascination lies in the fantastic and the macabre, probably because he was so heavily exposed to it early on. Later he discovered Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, Dan Simmons, Ramsey Campbell, and F. Paul Wilson, as well as several others, and the die was indelibly cast. He’s been a factory worker, a delivery driver, a singer/songwriter in several rock bands, and a sailor, among other things. But throughout he’s always maintained his love of storytelling. Right now you can find Israel in southern California.

Don’t forget to pickup Finn’s horrific collection Dreaming at the Top of my Lungs on Amazon for $2.99!!!

Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs: A Horror Collection by [Finn, Israel]

 


Creature Features in Review: Predator (1987)

We offer here some of the most obscure of monster flicks, creatures of horror of which many perhaps have never heard made mention before. AND sometimes here on this delightful series we have the privilege of examining movies that are considered to be pillars, benchmarks in the history of not just horror but also cinema. PREDATOR is without a doubt one of those landmark movies just about everyone can recognize. Perhaps not PREDATOR 2, but that’s a story for another day. This movie says everything that has to do with 1980s. Over the top action and violence, cheesy one-liners, very simple A to B plot lines, muscles, and…Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not to mention just about every other 80s famous action star, including Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura. While maybe not the greatest film we’ve reviewed here, maybe not the some sci-fi-ish, but I certainly the most iconic. I know people who don’t care much for horror or sci-fi, but they LOVE this movie. PREDATOR defined something about our generation of 1980s kids. Sure, it booted a wonderful R-rating, but there were PREDATOR toys marketed to us, how were we not supposed to watch this movie?

PREDATOR: They Were Skinned Alive – a lecture.

By: Rich Hawkins

Welcome to this lecture. I’m Professor Alan Schaefer. First off, I’d like to have a minute’s silence for Jim Hopper.

*parp*

*snigger*

Okay, that’s done. Right. Well, what can I say about the THIRD greatest film of all time? That’s right, the third. You heard. Stop laughing at the back and listen to what I have to say, you disrespectful fucks! What’s that, you have to go pee-pee? You’re nothing an expendable asset, but okay, just hurry up. I’ll wait. I have time to bleed.

Right, you’re back. At last. You’ve got some splashback on your trousers, but fair enough, I’ll start. Jeez, some people have been pushing too many pencils.

*clears throat, adjusts underwear*

I first watched PREDATOR as a wide-eyed ten year old, after my older brother bought a VHS copy and played it one night for the family to watch. I was terrified – the skinned bodies hanging in the chopper; the death of Hawkins; Billy’s shrill death-scream as he was killed off-screen; all of it. It was just so visceral. Before PREDATOR, I’d never encountered the notion of men being SKINNED ALIVE by an alien killing machine that kept the flayed skulls of its prey as trophies.

It was horrific.

But it was also fucking awesome – from the first scene of the Predator ship arriving at Earth, to Arnie/Dutch finally defeating the alien and getting to the chopper. The last minute or so of the film, with Arnie standing in the smoking ruins of the detonation site; a traumatized man numbed by his hollow victory and the loss of his men, while the rescue helicopter approaches and the theme of bittersweet trumpets and trombones fades into sad clarinet – before kicking back into Alan Silvestri’s main theme – gets me in the feels even now. Absolutely epic. This is not just any generic macho bullshit.

And over the years, I’ve only come to appreciate the film even more. Despite being released in 1987, it’s aged remarkably well, and the special effects hold up. The cast of badass characters and Goddamn sexual tyrannosauruses devour the script of one-liners and with aplomb. Billy, Blaine, Mac, Hawkins, Dillon, and Poncho – all heroic, but ultimately doomed, characters. Mercs and veterans of war unprepared to face a technologically-advanced and ruthless hunter of men. But they go down fighting, all of them, despite being outmatched. Even Dillon, the CIA man with a hidden agenda portrayed by the great Carl Weathers, manages to gain some redemption before getting an arm blown off and being impaled by the Predator.

They’re the best of the best, but over the course of the film – after they’ve destroyed the rebel base – they’re picked off one-by-one by the Predator, who is most definitely not fucking around. But then there’s the main man, Arnie, right in his prime and smoking cigars like a boss. He’s a match for the alien, but only just, and not without some luck. He gets the majority of the one-liners and the action – obviously, as he was arguably the biggest action star in the world at that time – and he makes the most of it. He’s never been better in an action film, in my opinion.

The tension of the film, once poor Jim Hopper and the other Green Berets are found in their crashed chopper, never lets up, but it’s punctuated by the comic one-liners and moments of camaraderie and bleak humour between the members of the squad. It’s a superbly paced film. Hell, it’s a slice of fried gold in a soup of Eighties’ macho-action and gore, and it planted a seed of love for sci-fi horror and monsters within me. It’s only beaten by John Carpenter’s THE THING and ALIENS in my personal list of films. It’s a classic, a holy relic of a film from a time when offence wasn’t so easily taken and action stars were absurdly macho.

So, that’s it.

Thank you, Arnie. Thank you, John McTiernan. And thank you to the squad who were ‘a rescue team, not assassins’. You were the best.

I hope this lecture has been informative. Any questions?

*uncomfortable silence*

Okay, then. No problem. You may go…but don’t forget to GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!!!

*even more of an uncomfortable silence*

Fair enough. Get out of here. You millennials wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with Old Painless in the Val Verde jungle in the Eighties.

Rich Hawkins hails from deep in the West Country, where a childhood of science fiction and horror films set him on the path to writing his own stories. He credits his love of horror and all things weird to his first viewing of John Carpenter’s THE THING. His debut novel THE LAST PLAGUE was nominated for a British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel in 2015. The sequel, THE LAST OUTPOST, was released in the autumn of 2015. The final novel in the trilogy, THE LAST SOLDIER, was released in March 2016.

You can pickup Rich’s unsettling new thriller novella for $2.99!

Black Star, Black Sun by [Hawkins, Rich]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Twilight Zone: You Drive (1964)

You know, I’m fairly certain I’ve been a member of Netflix since the beginning, or at the very least since 2008, BEFORE the big streaming push and the demise of the video store. It happened slowly, I think. The takeover of streaming from home. There wasn’t much available to start. At the time, I still had the 2 DVD rental membership. Maybe it was around 2010 when we, the wife and I, did away with the DVDs. Why? Well…we didn’t need them. In fact, streaming became so much more convenient and affordable that we ultimately dropped cable television. My wife enjoys newer shows, but the ones she likes she streams from apps or catches up on Hulu. And for viewers like me, well…I’m more of a movie kinda guy to be honest, but the shows I do watch the most are typically…how do say…off the air. I watch old shows that have long since been canceled. There are a few newer ones that sometimes makes me wish we still had cable, shows like AHS and maybe a few others. However, if I’m patient enough, those very shows will eventually find their way onto Netflix’s monster cache of streaming availability.

But while newer shows have the glamour, I still indulge in older programming. We’re talking X-Files, MASH, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Star Trek, and yes even The Gilmore Girls (don’t judge!). But my number one favorite oldie to watch is without a doubt Rod Serling epic sci fi thriller The Twilight Zone. If you’ve never seen an episode…jeez…think black and white science fiction, but not just about space and rocket-ships, but also weird tales, time travel, magic even, or death itself. They’re also all moral stories, more or less, warnings and questions of our humanity, not to mention the consequences we could face given certain destinations. The other night I screened for the first time one of these consequence driven episodes, from season 5 episode 14, titled “You Drive.” And let me say, this was one of the more creepier episodes of the show with the most simplistic plot-lines.

It goes like this:

“After involved with a hit-and-run killing a child, Mr. Oliver Pope is haunted by his car.”

Now I can see where King and Straub and everyone else got their ideas from. Perhaps not as deranged as Christine, but no doubt the genius of those darker works of haunted cars that would eventually come out in the 70s and 80s. In “You Drive” businessman Oliver Pope is on his way home. He’s driven this route for years. He knows every turn. Every bump in the road. As it happens on this particular day, its raining, and maybe Oliver has had a long day at work, stressed over a new client or something. He’s distracted and as fate would have it accidentally runs over a young boy delivering newspapers on his bicycle. Now at this point, what Pope has done is nothing more than an accident, tragic certainly, but an accident all the same. He didn’t intentionally run down the boy. However, as Mr. Pope jumps out to check on him (the boy doesn’t look good) and notices no one around, he makes a choice.

Stay and face the consequences of his actions…

Or run.

Consequences is what Mr. Oliver Pope is afraid of. Afraid of what people will think of him after they discover what he’d done. Not just running over and killing the boy (which we later discover died from his wounds), but running away, his cowardliness. This is perhaps the whimsical side of watching shows like The Twilight Zone, they show you an era in which people still gave a damn about character. And character is what Mr. Pope desperately clings to protect. He doesn’t want people to think less of him. Sure, we can get that, right? But what Oliver fails to understand is that it is our actions that define our characters, not what people perceive us to be.

Well, as par for The Twilight Zone, because of Mr. Pope’s horrible choice to runaway the natural order of things begins to bend. There’s something not right…with his car, the very one he killed the boy with. Pope wants to forget, to put the matter away, what’s done is done, etc etc. But the car will not let him forget. His car haunts him and everyone around him. It honks in the middle of the night. It stalls out when his wife attempts to drive it to the store. It appears back at home seemingly to have driven itself. Blaring its horn over and over. And when Mr. Pope refuses to drive it, the car follows him on his way to work. The car makes a show to run him down. It wont stop. It cant, not until…

Oliver Pope must decide.

Face the consequences of his actions.

Or be continuously haunted by his car.

“You Drive” is certainly a chilling allegorical story to be sure. Haunted by our mistakes, our poor choices in life, especially those that have or could have dramatic effects on the lives of others. And how the consequences of those mistakes cannot be forgotten, never completely. And there’s even a lesson about character here, if we care about such a thing anymore. Our character isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) defined by how people think of us, it is defined by our actions and our deeds, and it is by those deeds we will be judged.

My rating: 5/5

With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served 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 hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

My debut collection of horror shorts is now just $0.99!!!

 


Dark Designs: Tales of Mad Science

 

Science without limits. Madness without end.

All proceeds from the purchase of this ebook will be donated to Doctors Without Borders / Medicins Sans Frontieres.

This is a warning. What you are about to read violates the boundaries of imagination, in a world where science breeds and breathes without restraint. A world very much like our own.

Within these shadowy corridors you will discover characters seeking retribution, understanding, power, a second chance at life—human stories of undiscovered species, government secrets, the horrors of parenthood, adolescence and bullying, envisioned through a warped lens of megalomania, suffering, and blind hubris. Curious inventors dabble with portals to alternate worlds, overzealous scientists and precocious children toy with living beings, offer medical marvels, and pick away at the thin veil of reality.

You can run. You can look away. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Witness our Dark Designs.

David Cronenberg, infamous director and storyteller of body-horror movies such as The Fly (1986), Shivers (1975), and Videodrome (1983), once said, “Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.” This statement of Cronenberg’s is a rather optimistic one. And not altogether inaccurate, we are after all trying to find ways to live in harmony and in doing so we must solve problems that arise to get there. But that’s not really the genesis of the purpose of mad scientist stories. The notion of “mad science” is self-explanatory, that there is something strange or “mad” in the unknown realities that surround us. Even today, quantum theorists are often seen as “mad” scientists, practitioners of metaphysics more than actual provable science. And in some ways, there’s some truth in that metaphysics and quantum mechanics often overlap, which brings us to one of the most exhilarating and equally terrifying aspects about science, that is, it’s never ending, always searching, constantly discovering something new, something previously unknown, beyond us.  In part, our understanding of science; or more to point, our misunderstanding of science has become the inspiration over centuries for what has been deemed the quintessential “mad scientist.” Not for reasons given by Cronenberg above, that we are all in the same pursuit, but out of fear, fear bred from the unknown, and fear of what all these discovers, these advances, will bring us. And even more alarming, how far are we willing to go to achieve the impossible?

My first impression while surveying the history of “mad science” was that Victor Frankenstein, created by the imagination of a twenty-one-year-old Mary Shelley, was the first of the mad scientists to be conjured into the literary world. I was wrong. It was actually Dr. Faustus, written in 1604 by Christopher Marlowe, that should be credited as the first “mad scientist.” Dr. Faustus was perhaps more alchemical in nature than traditional science, but still the story serves as asking the proverbial question all mad scientist stories ask, “How far are we willing to go…?”  Some of the more popular “mad scientists” who defied boundaries and terrified audiences with their audacity against “nature” include, Dr. Moreau, an H.G. Wells story penned in 1896, and Danforth & Dyer in “At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft, published in 1931. These stories are typically told from the perspective of a layman looking into nightmarish worlds, boiled in a cauldron of obsession and forbidden knowledge. H.P. Lovecraft would go on to create a few more characters in this realm of unrestrained science with Dr. Herbert West, one of my personal favorites, and Charles Dexter Ward.

Growing up, the one “mad scientist” story that ignited my imagination and kept me glued to the edge of my seat was Steven Spielberg’s science-fiction epic Jurassic Park (1993). Even in my pubescent years, the memory still rings clear today, the duel realities of science, that in the wonder of watching a baby dino hatch or Dr. Grant’s first realization of what was going on as the Jeep drove through the part to the Visitor’s Center, first realizing that those massive tree trucks were moving and were not in fact trees, being held prisoner in a sort of child-like spell, and then suddenly seeing it all go wrong, demonstrated the dangers of unrestrained science, that even now the question of trust must be asked. Ian Malcolm, played by a black leather clad Jeff Goldblum, has one of the more illuminating statements in the film, a statement that has rung in the minds of audiences for over four-hundred years, when he says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Today, “mad scientist” stories have for the most part found themselves kicked to the kid’s corner, in such books as Meet the Creeps or Franny K. Stein. Sadly, there isn’t much being offered in way of adult entertainment. This was the prime motivation for raising the question to my Shadow Work Publishing cohorts of collaborating on a mad scientist anthology. While science continues to evolve and new discoveries are being made every day, the question posed in 1604 still remains relevant today, “How far are we willing to go” in the pursuit of said discover what consequences, if any, will we face? We landed on the title, Dark Designs, more or less on the alluring sinister quality, but not just that, also, as our quote says, “Science without limits. Madness without end,” there is a certain amount of ambiguity regarding science, that without limits perhaps we could possibly go “too far,” and in reaching such limits, madness is sure to follow. Here, as you turn the page, you’ll find yourself in a world without limits, where science breeds and breathes without restraint. You’ll walk these corridors with characters seeking retribution, understanding, revenge, and perhaps for some a second chance on life. These are human stories through the spyglass of mad science, of undiscovered insects, government secrets, horrors of parenthood, adolescence, and bullying, about curious inventors dabbling in portals to alternate worlds, of ambitious biologists and overzealous children tinkering with things they probably shouldn’t, and stories that stretch our understanding of the boundaries of life.

From Shadow Work Publishing, and the sixteen authors of which contributed to this charity anthology for Doctors Without Borders, thank you and bid you welcome our Dark Designs: Tales of Mad Science.

You can get YOUR copy of Dark Designs: Tales of Mad Science for $0.99!!!


John Carpenter Lives

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

5. The Fog (1980)

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

4. Escape From New York (1981)

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

3. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

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

2. Halloween (1978)

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

1. The Thing (1982)

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

0. They Live (1988)

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

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

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

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Interview w/ Leza Cantoral

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One of the wonderful things about writing dark fiction and horror is the many subgenres one can find themselves. So many avenues to explore. Pockets of strange ungodly things. Cosmic horrors and mutant creatures. Fantastic beasts of myth come alive. Haunted furniture and murderous toys. Not forgetting, of course, the most horrifying of all horror tropes and subgenres, the capacity of human indignity. Evil men and women bound to do insidious works. Where do writers come up with their ideas? Where do stories come from? These are two separate questions. Fundamentally, stories come from the same place they always have, that deepest part of ourselves that, though afraid, dares to look out into the unseen where shadows dance and blue razor teeth smile gleefully back at us. And though the core of every writer is the same, inspiration can come from an assortment of places and experiences. Today, we’ll be talking with Leza Cantoral, an up and coming writer that specializes in (but not limited to) the subgenre bizarro fiction. So, pull up a chair. Keep your tentacles to yourself. Take a seat. And give your attention to our guest.

Machine Mean: Let’s get some basic introductions out of the way, shall we? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What got you into writing? What type of genre or sub-genre do you write in?

Leza Cantoral: I grew up in Mexico and my family moved to the Chicago suburbs when I was 12. I felt very alienated and began writing poetry to cope with depression. I think I got The Diary of Anne Frank for my birthday that year. I thought about her and what a lovely person and writer she was and what a shame it was that I could not read anything by her but her diary. I think that inspired me to chronicle my life through daily journaling. I also wrote a lot of poetry and a few screenplays.

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I did not really think of story writing as an actual point of focus until college when I met Garrett Cook. He was the strangest person I had ever met. We became friends when we took a Postmodernism class together. He slipped a story he wrote under my dorm door called ‘The Ashen Bride’ about a Cinderella with a Vagina Dentate and the story blew my mind. I worried that he was some kinda sexual deviant, but mostly, I was impressed with his style. Reading his stories made me want to write my own surreal and grotesquely twisted fairy tales.

At the time, I was mostly getting stoned and writing endless streams of consciousness, inspired by people like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. I think the Beat and the Bizarro kinda came together for me eventually. You can see it in stories like “Dope,” which is part angry drunken rant, part dream, and part really uncomfortable description of someone getting probed by aliens. Someone told me it reminded them of Harlan Ellison.

MM: What’s your favorite book and why?

LC: Alice in Wonderland, because it really captures the female psyche. I see myself reflected in it every time.

MM: What is your favorite Lovecraft short story? Why?

LC: “The Music of Erich Zann” because it makes me sad and excited and has a fabulous eerie atmosphere. Also, I find the metaphor apt for the artist. You do often go mad creating and it is hard to know where to draw the line between art and madness. It is a possession.

MM: This is a hard one…but, what is your favorite horror movie? And why?

LC: That is really hard. I’m gonna go with Phenomena, by Dario Argento, starring Jennifer Connelly. This movie is pretty low key on the horror, for an Argento film, though there are some incredible, sensual kills, as well as some grotesque imagery at the end that will never wash out of your mind once you see it. I love it because of the atmosphere and the cool psychic insect powers and the chimp. It is a very sweet movie and it is also wonderfully haunting.

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MM: Leza, I have to admit, you are certainly one of the more interesting persons I’ve ever met through social media. You are very vocal and passionate about your art, which is very awesome and refreshing to see in up and coming authors. What kind of inspiration do you draw from? Do you have a mentor of sorts?

LC: I draw inspiration from many places. Mostly poetry and pop music. I love both Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey. I love them so much I am editing an anthology of stories inspired by them for CLASH Books.

I grew up in Mexico and learned French in high school. I think this affected how I write. Spanish and French have a certain rhythm, texture, and cadence. There is a softness, a rawness, and a voluptuousness to the Latin languages. The French Surrealist poets had a huge impact on me in college. I have been trying to write like them ever since.

I have had a few mentors. My first was Garrett Cook. I met him in college and I fell in love with his short stories. I learned by shadowing him and watching his process. I adopted some of his techniques such as handwriting first drafts. There is a magic to having the pen to paper. A computer will never have that raw immediacy for me.

I recently took a class by Juliet Escoria on LitReactor called “Taboo Topics.” It was an incredible experience and she was the perfect mentor. She gave us assignments that pushed our comfort zone boundaries and then gave incredible feedback to keep our writing simple and honest. Two of the pieces I wrote in her class made it into the collection.

My main mentor is Christoph Paul. He has been working with me for the past two years. He gives me honest feedback and is a master of story structure. The main thing that I have gotten from working with Christoph is his work ethic. He is one of those people that feels really guilty if he is not working on at least five things at the same time. I work harder because he raises the bar for what is normal. He is great at balancing praise with criticism. He never kisses my ass.

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MM: From the sounds of things, you seem to be keeping busy, with book signings and various traveling and publishing articles with Luna Luna Magazine, I think my head would spin taking on so many projects! Do you have a writing method that helps you keep everything grounded? A schedule of sorts? Do you have a special place you like to do your writing?

LC: I have an office and that helps keep things organized, though I tend to do most of my writing in bed while listening to pop music or watching movies and TV.

My schedule is: post stuff on the CLASH Media website in the morning, do other business and publishing-related things, promote, edit, etc. Then after dinner, I focus on writing.

When I work on short stories it kinda derails my schedule, though. I will get totally obsessed and manic and go a little insane for like a week or so, watching or listening to music and movies on repeat that is putting me in the zone. My technique for short story writing is pretty much a self-induced trance. Once I am done it takes me a day or two to come back to reality and I usually feel dead inside until I do.

MM: According to the all-knowing and all-powerful Amazon, your last publication was Baum Ass Stories: Twistered Tales of Oz, which was a collection of short stories and poems based in a sort of twisted version of Oz. Can you tell us a little bit about this book and what compelled you to dabble in this particular sub-genre? Is it a sub-genre you fell into or came by naturally?

LC: I was asked by Zeb Carter to write a story for it. I grew up reading and loving the Oz books. I had a dystopian Nazi Disney world that had been brewing for a while in my head and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start exploring it. My main character is a cross between Eva Braun and Princess Langwidere. She is really fucked up and insane. This story mostly arose out of my fascination with Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler’s relationship. It just seems very twisted and sadomasochistic. She was very much in love with him and it seems like he kinda took her for granted. In my own twisted way, I kinda gave Eva the ending I felt she deserved.

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MM: Okay…let’s talk about your new book that just released, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest. The cover looks stunning, BTW. Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of stories readers can expect from this collection? What genre or sub-genre would you label it as?

LC: The stories in this collection span many genres. Bizarro, surrealism, splatterpunk, speculative, strange fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, literary horror, body horror, experimental metafiction, slipstream, stream of consciousness. Some of the stories read like surreal prose poems, some are straight up horror stories, and some are twisted fairy tales, like Planet Mermaid (The Little Mermaid), Beast (Beauty and the Beast), Eva of Oz (Ozma of Oz).

I would say that the stories in this collection are all pretty dark. My characters all want things: validation, satisfaction, release, escape, love. The general tone is tragic. I use colorful language to deal with sad themes. The happy endings are bittersweet if they happen at all.

MM: In the description, it sounds like readers are in store for a unique experience. One reviewer said that Cartoons in the Suicide Forest is “mesmerizing, sexual and grotesque, often at the same time.”  They also gave the book a five-star rating. Did this reviewer hit the nail on the head more or less for what you were going for?

LC: I love directors like Dario Argento, Alejandro Jodorowski, and David Lynch. I try to create an eerie and dissociative experience for the reader; something that will take them outside of themselves.

When I write stories that are of a sexual nature it is because sex sometimes is the only way to describe a certain psychic state. I often explore the feeling of being violated against one’s will, or of being outside one’s body as other people are using it. This is metaphorical of loss of self. Holding on to my sense of self is actually something I struggle with. It might surprise people, or not. Writing is the only way that I can honestly express myself. Selfies are lies. You see my face but you don’t know what I am really thinking or feeling. If you want to know my heart, read my stories.

MM: The book cover looks freaking sweet. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Who designed it? Did you get any say in the creative process?

LC: The cover is by Matthew Revert, who is a genius. I gave him the titular story to draw inspiration from and I cried when I saw what he came up with. That cover truly captures the soul of this collection.

MM: Before we go, can you drop a little hint on future projects you may have cooking?

LC: My next project is a Fantasy adventure called “The Ice Cream Girl Gospels.” I have begun outlining the book and drawing a map of Ice Cream Land. The story will be sweet and strange. It is inspired by Candyland, drugs, and pop music videos. After that, I have a novel called “Tragedy Town.”  It’s a dark romantic comedy about the danger and beauty of falling in love. Think if Charlie Kaufman directed an episode of The Twilight Zone. I also have two poems appearing in the upcoming Civil Coping Mechanisms anthology A Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault and a slipstream story about Jackie Kennedy, called “Saint Jackie” that will be appearing in the Bizarro Pulp Press anthology More Bizarro Than Bizarro.

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You can get YOUR copy of Leza’s latest book Cartoons in the Suicide Forest for $3.99!!!

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Leza Cantoral was born in Mexico and moved to the Chicago suburbs when she was 12. She runs CLASH Books and is the editor of Print Projects for Luna Luna Magazine. She lives in New Hampshire with the love of her life and their two cats. ‘Cartoons in the Suicide Forest’ is her first short story collection. She is currently working on a YA Bizarro novella called ‘The Ice Cream Girl Gospels’ You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter @lezacantoral

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Fright Fest: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

 

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

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

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

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

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And so…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

 

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

 

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PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, The Sirens Call Ezine by Sirens Call Publications, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick Loveland’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in early 2017 by April Moon Books.  Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog [under construction]: https://patrickloveland.wordpress.com/

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Nature’s Fury Blogathon: The Black Scorpion (1957)

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Narrator: For centuries, the prayers of Mexico’s peasants have been their only shield against the devastating furies that have wrecked their homes and destroyed their lives. And so today, again they kneel, terrified and helpless, as a new volcano is created by the mysterious and rebellious forces of nature. The Earth has split a thousand times. Whole acres of rich farmlands have cracked and dropped from sight. And millions of tons of molten lava are roaring down the slopes, in a quake recorded on the seismograph of the University of Mexico as the most violent of modern times. To the benighted citizenry of this remote countryside, the most alarming aspect of the phenomenon is the fact that its unabated hourly growth is without precedence, having reached a towering height of nine thousand feet within a few days. And with each added foot, it spreads its evil onslaught into a wider circumference. But what is now most feared is that rescue work will be severely hampered by the hazardous inaccessibility of the terrain.

As we enter into The Black Scorpion, we’re greeted with the above narration, giving no clues to the future horror in which we will soon behold. The premise is basic, and strangely different from a majority of sci-fi movies during this very Cold era. A volcano erupts in a little hamlet near Mexico City and the local villagers and animals, mostly cattle, are vanishing. The corpses that have been found are inflected with a strange wound and a puzzling poison, biological, natural, and otherworldly, found within their bloodstream.

As the story progresses, American geologist Hank Scott, played by well-known sci-fi actor Richard Denning (who looks a hell-of-a-lot like Kenneth Tobey from The Thing from Another World), and his local partner Dr. Artur Ramos (Carlos Rivas), travel to the sight of the temperamental volcano to conduct research and investigate why the sleeping giant has decided to wake. Their investigations lead them into an odd series of findings that eventually reveal the true source of the disappearances of locals and cattle. On their initial venture, they stumble upon a small pueblo that has been completely decimated. They find only one survivor, an infant. The only other person the duo happen upon is the missing constable, eyes frozen in terror and an eerie puncture wound on the back of his neck.

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Team Hank then travel to San Lorenzo, which seems nearly overrun with panicked villagers who believe the disappearances and the destruction of their homes are the cause of a demon bull. Hank and Artur seem un-phased by the frenzy or by Major Cosio’s pleading for them to remain in San Lorenzo, not for the safety of the scientists, but so that if something were to happen to them, the Mexican army would not be forced to waste their time in a rescue mission instead of working where they are needed more, with the scared and frightened villagers. Hank simply laughs and continues on with his expedition, which to me seemed odd. They haven’t specified if he was there to investigate the vanishing people and cattle, only that they were there to survey and study the volcano.

Well, this wouldn’t be a quasi-American 1950s sci-fi movie without at least one damsel in distress. For this role were are given the lovely Sunset Boulevard showgirl, Playboy Playmate (1958) Mara Corday who plays cattle ranch owner Teresa Alvarez. No stranger to cult sci-fi movies, Mara has been in a few well known classics, including Tarantula, The Giant Claw, and a number of spaghetti westerns, such as, A Day of Fury and The Man from Bitter Ridge, to name a few. Teresa is thrown from her white horse and as one might expect, Hank comes to her rescue. The two seem to fall in love at first sight (barf) and are invited back to her ranch for…well, more than tea I imagine. Before venturing off, Dr. Artur discovers a strange volcanic rock and takes it back with them to the ranch.

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At this point, if you’re watching the film, you might be wondering, where are the giant bugs? And I would agree with you because this is what I was gripping about when I screened the movie late last night. Everything thus far has been “setup, setup, setup,” with little to no release. We’re given a little tease at the beginning, an eerie ringing off screen, but nothing satiable. Don’t worry. The movie is about to pick up the pace.

At the ranch, while Hank and Teresa nauseously flirt, Dr. Artur, after splitting open the rock, discovers what he originally thought to be a fossilized scorpion, is actually alive and scurrying about on the pool table. Here we can almost feel the mood of the film change, slightly. How can a scorpion survive being encapsulated in a rock inside a volcano? It doesn’t make sense. It breaks the laws of nature as we know it. Soon after, Teresa makes contact with her phone repair men who are suddenly attacked by the true villains of all these bizarre disappearances of people and cattle. Giant black scorpions strike and kill the repair men. Special effects guru Willis O’Brien, who created the stop-motion effects for the original King Kong, gave his talents to the creature of these creatures. And let me say, here and now, without his work, this movie would have absolutely flopped.

Why?

Well, for many reasons actually. The script was the oddest mod podge of traditional ‘50s sci-fi (think Atomic-age, mad science), western, horror, and a mix (rip off) of Them! and The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Most of the acting was great, but there were cringe worthy moments when you’re going, “Did they really just say that?” Case in point, when Hank and Artur are with a local laboratory scientist, Dr. Velazco, the very “mad” looking fellow asks his assistant for alcohol, distilled water, salt solution, and tequila before conducting his experiment on the poison he found in the blood system of one of the found victims of the scorpions. Hank asks, “Well, the alcohol, the distilled water, the salt solution – I can understand that, but what’s the tequila for?” And, right on cue, the good doctor says, “Well, in your country I believe they call it a coffee break” (enter drum roll here).

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The mood of the movie is hard to place. Something strange is going on in the story. People are being horrifyingly eaten alive by giant freaking scorpions. Whole towns are vanishing. Cattle are being devoured. And when you see the scorpions on screen, it is insanely terrifying. O’Brien really did a phenomenal job. Stop-motion has a certain qualia about it that get under my skin, especially when used with horror. But the cast seem nonchalant about it all. Hank and Artur venture into the subterranean realm of these beasts, discovering a variety of forgotten species, a very Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth type place, made up mostly of only insects, making it even creepier. But still, these scientists don’t seem all that scared. They’re cool. Too cool.

The ending was even more scandalous. After discovering that the all the creatures were not destroyed with the cave-in, they watch as the “granddaddy” scorpion straight up murders the smaller scorpions, making him king scorpion, as if he wasn’t already. The witty humans lure the uber-giant scorpion into an arena, away from civilians. While the Mexican army batters the beast with tanks and gunfire, Hank manages to finish it off by using an electric cable attached to a spear, of which he somehow was able to thrust into the scorpion’s throat, it’s only vulnerable spot. Finally, electrocuted, the monster is slain.

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As the scorpion lays there, smoldering, Hank begins to walk away. Artur and Velasco beacons him to stop so that they can conduct research on the creature. And, I shit you not, in more or less words, Hank takes the voluptuous Teresa across her hips and smiles, “I’ve got my own research to do,” or something like that, and the two rush away for what we assume to be…well…you know, while the remaining cast and crew grin in that stupid way people did back in the day when something funny was said.

Ugh!

Okay, my tone is probably giving away more of my feeling of the film then needs warranting. And yes, mentioning again the fantastic work of special effects master Willis O’Brien, and how the scorpions on screen really were disturbing, especially that scene with the phone repair men, truly horrifying. The rest of the movie though seemed short on talent. I’m not saying it was the fault of the actors, most were really good, despite laughing to myself as it seems a habit of Hollywood to cast Anglo-American in roles that ought to belong to someone else. Also, the use of the ringing effect with the scorpions was (lets no dance around it) a total rip off of Them! Not to mention the whole idea of a prehistoric species surviving and returning to present day is very reminiscent of The Gillman movies.

The upside to all these failings eventually lead the movie to being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in the early 1990s. So…there’s that. Overall, The Black Scorpion is mildly entertaining. Not the best of what the ‘50s had to offer in sci-fi; not the worst either.

My Rating: 3/5  

Tommy_Bride

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. His new series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging, 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.


UNIVERSAL MONSTERS in review: The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

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Welcome one and all to the wildest show on earth…okay, maybe not that wild, but speaking of wild, on today’s chopping block we’ll be taking a closer look at one of the more fascinating monsters in Universal’s classic monster roster, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). About a month back, during the X-Mas season, the Universal Monsters DVD box-set was set at a ridiculously low price on Amazon, so I did what any honorable horror junkie would do, I ordered the set as an earlier birthday present. Getting the box-set also gave me an idea. Why not review the movies? I’ve watched and reviewed some, but not all of the old classics. Why not? So, I did a little polling on my Facebook page. I wanted some advice and opinion on how I should go about reviewing all these classics. In all seriousness, 30 films is quite a lot to take on, plus, they’re all characters that’ve played important roles in developing future monster makers and writers and fans alike. It goes without further explanation how important these films are. In the polling, I asked basically two questions:

  1. Should I review in groups of monster or individually?
  2. Which monster should I start with?

And the pollers have spoken. Individual review and Creature from the Black Lagoon won the vote. 30 TOTAL movie reviews…thanks for that! In all humility, I cannot do this alone. So, I’ve called in an excellent cast of bloggers and authors alike, to take on an individual monster for review. Fair enough, right? You’ll see opinions globally, not just stagnate in one pond, but across all ponds and walks of life. You’ll be reading reviews from the twisted and fantastic minds of Duncan Ralston, Daniel Marc Chant, Jeffery X. Martin, Dawn Cano, and Kit Power to name a few. Its going to be a blast and I hope you all enjoy as we walk through the treasure trove of classic horror monsters.

Now that I’ve wandered off the path of actually reviewing The Creature from the Black Lagoon, how about we get back to it, shall we?

The Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed in 1954 with Jack Arnold at the helm, a rather well known movie and television director, of such 1950s sci-fi works as: The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tarantula, It Came from Outer Space, and the sequel to Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature. And speaking of “It Came from Outer Space,” there seems to be a few carry overs from that film into Black Lagoon, including a very charismatic Richard Carlson. Some of the screenwriters and stage hands were also carried over from “Outer Space,” along with other 1950s atomic age monster flicks I’m sure. And, with that said, we’re getting to what intrigues me the most with this Lagoon film. The movie is very much a film born within the atomic age, the 1950s was a golden era filled with mutated creatures and space alien invaders, however, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, aka The Gill-man, was not a “atomic” creation. The Gill-man was not alien either; rather, terrestrial. In the opening credits, this terrestrial affirmation is given in a very brief albeit accurate depiction of the earth and the process of evolution, thus from the get-go, we learn this is a creature that comes to us by natural selection and not through atomic tomfoolery or by any other supernatural means. As the last pillar of the classic Universal monsters, this makes the Gill-man a very unique addition to the roster, don’t you think? Frank, Drac, Mummy, Wolf-man, they’re all supernatural characters, whereas Creature is not. With Creature, we’re given a monster completely bred from the natural world, from our environment, as it is, without all the glitter and glamour of some kind of special effect or something imaginative. The only imagination used here is believing such a creature could exist, a gnarled branch of homo erectus or perhaps homo sapiens, or even further back in our illustrious family tree. And this aspect of the story gives us some insight or foreshadowing at what we’ll be watching, what themes will be tackled, and maybe what questions will be asked.

Here’s a quick fire synopsis:

Remnants of a mysterious animal have come to light in a remote South American jungle. A group of scientists intending to determine if the find is an anomaly or evidence of an undiscovered beast find themselves cut off in a remote section of the jungle, simply known as, The Black Lagoon. To accomplish their goal, the scientists (Antonio Moreno, Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, and Whit Bissell) must brave the most perilous pieces of land South America has to offer. But the terrain is nothing compared to the danger posed by an otherworldly being that endangers their work and their lives.

Or something like that. I think perhaps the “otherworldly” part included in this synopsis is a bit misleading.

As said before, this was my first screening of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I watched it once as any typical movie goer would, with an open mind and a bag full of popcorn. I enjoyed the movie, as I would probably many classics. There were moments that came into question, mostly the scientific approach these so-called university scientists were taking. Call me a layman, but ripping a bone out of the mud and taking it into the city for examination seems like we’re missing a few important steps. But then again, i’m more of a historian than I am a scientist. There were also some more laughable moments, namely the obvious sexism with the ONLY female cast member, Julie Adams (playing Kay Lawrence). There were only a few bits of that though, mostly between her and the perhaps not-so obvious antagonist, Richard Denning (playing Mark Williams) who is often quick to remind Kay that she is in fact a woman and should not put herself in danger and thus should stay on the boat, the boat here I’m assuming symbolizing “the home.” And when she does as she pleases and goes for a swim, she is again rebuked. Though sexism is non-excusable, we must be careful of egocentrism and ethnocentrism by not judging these older pictures by taking them out of the culture in their own place in time and putting them into our own. Moving on, there were also harrowing and frightful moments, especially for those poor local expedition helpers…and speaking of which, all the deaths in the movie were of the indigenous and one white cast member, Richard Denning. Everyone else survived, more-or-less, unscathed. The first kill scene was rather horrifying, though not much is actually seen. But this works well for the movie, given its place in history. Besides, sometimes less is more. Not very characteristic for a flick in the Atomic Age of Cinema, I must say. But its all for the better.

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What I found to be most impressive was the cinematography. The moment when Kay is out for a swim and the Creature sees her and though has no dialogue whatsoever, you can tell the beast is intrigued with her and becomes attracted to her. The part with Kay swimming and the Creature directly below her, following parallel upside down is mesmerizing. All of the under water scenes are impressive, now that we’re talking about it, for the day and age of production. The acting, I thought, was also on par with those scenes, though marred a bit in cultural sentimentality. The sea captain was humorous. The practical effects for the Creature were surprisingly fantastic. Having never seen this flick before, I was rather timid. I thought it’d be a stereotypical “King Kong” movie. And though there are certain “King Kong-isms,” the story is still all its own. The way David Reed (played by Richard Carlson) fought to keep a rational approach to their escalating nightmare was out of characteristic of these types of movies. Dr. Reed, despite his crazed counterpart, Dr. Williams, insistence of capturing the Creature, wanted nothing more than to obscure the Creature in its natural habitat and not leaving any more of a footprint then what they had already left within the monsters environment. This is where during my second screening, while listening to the film historian’s notes, something odd came to me. What exactly is this movie about? Looking at it from its place in history, this is the first Monster movie to take place post-WWII. Though not resembling a Atomic Age flick, it certainly grew out of those films. Well, as we have already deduced, this is not a supernatural nor a cosmic story. The science in the film is generic. So what? What could it be? I think The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a movie about naturalism, asking a very general albeit profound question regarding the hubris of mans ignorance and places within the terrestrial realm humanity does not fully understand.

 

The best part of movies like this is that they do not give away the answers to the questions they insinuate. Some things can be readily deduced. The Creature was not monstrous, but rather acted monstrously when provoked. The so-called elder in the scientific team was for the most part silenced by the more loud-mouthed Mark Williams, who wanted to capture the Creature, dead or alive, as some kind of sideshow attraction and fame. The only reason the others followed his lead, for a time, was because of his position in society, his wealth and standing in the unnamed university. The only level-headed member on the cast was David Reed, who wanted to leave the Creature alone and observe, if they could, but was, in the end, forced to destroy the very thing he wanted to protect. It was a very tragic ending, slow and painful to watch, but one that certainly left a lasting impression. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see this pillar of the Universal Monsters, please do. And if you’ve had the opportunity, but decided against it, please reconsider. Who knows, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

If you liked what you read here, why not give us a “like” on that button below. You can also keep up by subscribing the blog here. Universal Monsters in Review will be posted weekly, on Wednesdays. Next week, you’ll have the pleasure of reading Dan Marc Chant’s insights into The Mummy (1932).

My Review: 4/5