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!!!
June 22, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1986, Aliens, Bill Paxton, blockbuster movies, Creature Feature, creature feature flicks, Creature Features in Review, film, Guest author, guest contributor, Horror, horror movies, Israel Finn, James Cameron, Jenette Goldstein, Lance Henriksen, Mark Rolston, Michael Biehn, monster movies, movie reviews, Paul Reiser, Reviews, sci fi, sci fi horror, Sigourney Weaver | 7 Comments
By now we must have realized, this subgenre, this oddly obscure realm we call “creature features,” that blends science fiction and horror together, is fantastically intelligent as it is perspicacious, understanding the needs of the times, the questions that demand to be (not necessarily answered) dragged out into the light. Questions of ecology, science, naturalism, humanism, and even biology, questions of our own innate taxonomy. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Which ultimately brings us to the chef d’œuvre question of all humanistic endeavor, what else is out there? Today’s movie up for review on Creature Features in Review is one of those rare gems that combined thrilling storytelling and special effects and atmosphere to have the most impact in raising those eerily human questions. While the sequel, Aliens, may have been the bigger blockbuster, some of the thrills had been lost, the question had already been answered. In Aliens, we knew what was out there. In Alien, storyteller Dan O’Bannon, and director Ridley Scott, not only forced us to question our place in the cosmos but also in the cosmos of our own flesh.
Alien: You’ll Get Whatever’s Coming to You…
by William D. Prystauk
In 1979, after much print-based-hype, especially if one was a fan of science fiction and read “Starlog” on a regular basis, Ridley Scott’s ALIEN hit screens that summer. It wasn’t hard for sci-fi and horror geeks to get worked up because many publications ran some of H. R. Giger’s conceptual art, which rocked many readers. Other conceptual drawings, from the look of the Nostromo, to space suits, and even land vehicles, kept those readers intrigued about what was to come.
The late, great Dan O’Bannon penned the script from a story he developed with Ron Shusett. Written with a budget in mind, he never expected the screenplay to get A-list support from 20th Century Fox – but they were hungry. After the unexpected blockbuster success of 1977’s STAR WARS, they wanted something else in a galaxy far, far away. And as the story goes, when O’Bannon said ALIEN was “JAWS in space,” that sealed the deal (O’Callaghan).
Originally entitled STAR BEAST (thank the stars they changed it), the story features the crew of the Nostromo (Italian for “shipmate”), a barge in space hauling megatons of ore across the cosmos, who are in hibernation as they await orders from “Mother,” their onboard computer, to wake them up once they get closer to Earth. Mother picks up a supposed distress signal, and the crew’s awakened prematurely to check it out. Landing on a cold dwarf planet, three members of the seven-person team head out to find the vessel to see if they can save any souls. Instead, they return with an infected crew member, and in short order, their souls need saving.
Although Dan O’Bannon said, “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” the film stands as an original (Macek). Many have made comparisons to PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and even THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, but ALIEN brought audiences many new elements they had never seen before in a science fiction horror.
Here’s why ALIEN (including material from the 1979 theatrical release and 2003’s director’s cut) is one of the greatest films of all time…
A Stellar Cast, an Out of this World Director
It’s hard to find films in any genre where every cast member is a standout. Other than David Mamet’s remarkable GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, ALIEN ranks at the top: Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, and Sigourney Weaver. (Helen Horton gave us the firm and foreboding, yet oddly seductive voice of Mother, and Bolaji Badejo, in his only film role, became Giger’s alien entity). Cartwright, Holm, Skerritt, and Stanton had been building their reputations on the small and silver screen since the fifties, Hurt and Kotto since the sixties, and after a couple of lesser roles, ALIEN proved to be Weaver’s breakout role as Lieutenant Ripley.
This acting foundation alone said much about the script’s value as well as 20th Century Fox’s commitment to the production. Some may say they were taking a chance with Scott, who only had his feature directorial debut two years before with THE DUELLISTS, but the film had received critical acclaim in short order – and all this after Scott had taken an eight-year hiatus from directing television episodes.
If STAR WARS were one of the first science fantasy films to feature a woman who didn’t scream, hide behind a manly-man, or faint thanks to Carrie Fisher’s strong-willed and determined Princess Leia, ALIEN’s Lieutenant Ripley took the liberation to a whole new level.
Third officer Ripley and Cartwright’s Lambert are the only female team members, and they are simply a part of the crew. Lambert’s the co-pilot/navigator, and Ripley’s a communication’s officer, and the third in charge after Captain Dallas (Skerritt) and Kane (Hurt). The women are on equal terrain and respected, other than an innuendo from Parker (Kotto) because he may have been in space without a partner for too damn long.
Although Lambert may come undone in the film, this is because of her character and the traumas she’s experienced, not because she’s a woman. After all, even Parker’s waylaid by the death of his friend Brett (Stanton), and his strong exterior waivers on a couple of occasions regardless of his anger and determination.
Ripley, on the other hand, has several facets to her character: She’s logical and pragmatic, and respects command, even with her role in the officer food chain. When that rank is challenged by Ash, the science officer, she visits him in his lab for a private meeting to lay down the law. Though that turns out to be a wash, Ripley stands her ground and left nothing to the imagination. Later, when the issue of quarantine comes up again, Ripley’s passive-aggressive comment is her version of an “I told you so.” To make certain Parker and Brett are working on ship repairs, she once again walks into that crew member’s domain to make certain she’s heard and understood. When Lambert slaps Ripley for wanting to keep her, Dallas, and Kane in quarantine for 24-hours, Ripley goes to war, and Parker and Brett must break up the pair.
Even with all the hell from an attacked crew member to the whereabouts of the face-hugger, when Ripley’s freaked out, she pulls herself together in short order. When she finally takes command, instead of trying to define her role with a new idea to destroy the alien, her logic and pragmatism shine through. Since Dallas’ plan is a viable one, Ripley goes with it. However, as a leader, she’s comfortable enough to ask if there are any other suggestions. If anyone thinks this represents a lack of confidence on her part, Ripley’s quick and loud in drowning out an overly frustrated Parker, and she has no problem telling Ash that he hasn’t been doing a damn thing to help. (If she hadn’t asked Ash earlier for suggestions about capturing or killing the alien, he may not have done anything at all.)
Ultimately, Ripley has to be her own savior and to do so, she must overcome her fear of an unyielding enemy while under the strictest of deadlines, and even with that pressure and need for self-preservation she has enough humanity to try and save the Nostromo mascot, Jonesy the cat.
Nothing works like isolation in a horror film. ALIEN features a small crew packed into the heart of a smaller ship, which is equivalent to a tug boat. And if that tugboat starts to capsize, there’s a small escape ship – a life raft – that can only fit three.
Even worse, the Nostromo is akin to being lost at sea. Due to the early wake up from Mother, they’re 70 million miles from the Milky Way and would have to go back to the old “freezerinos” for another ten-month sleep. There are no other ships in their part of the void. They are as alone as a group of people can get. And to add an exclamation point to the Nostromo crew’s predicament, ALIEN’s tagline says it all: “In space no one can hear you scream.”
Right from the beginning, from Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Derek Vanlint’s cinematography, as well as Ian Whittaker’s set decoration, it’s clear the Nostromo is an all work and no play environment. Seating’s cramped at the front of the ship. And everything’s cold and dark. There may be light and white in the dining and sleeping quarters, but the remainder of the ship is either cavernous, though still encroaching, and the passageways are reminiscent of catacombs. Due to the small crew and the workload, the Nostromo is far from ship-shape. The equivalent of equipment based debris seems to appear at every turn, the lighting’s questionable in spots, and the nether regions of the vessel are cold and dank.
The only time we truly have any sense of peace and hope is at the very beginning and at the very end. Before ALIEN’s story gets underway, the hibernation area is all white with a center cylinder with each crew member extending from that “stem” to form the petals of a flower that blooms once they awaken. They each wear white undergarments, and they arise as if newborns from the bassinet of a hospital’s maternity ward. And they are born anew on a journey they never saw coming.
At the end, Ripley hibernates with Jonesy. A white glow emanates from her protective pod, another womb to nurture her, and we have the sense that she will awake as a new, stronger, and virtually fearless person. To add an exclamation to Ripley’s rebirth: Upon the annihilation of the Nostromo at her own hand, she bears witness to her own “Big Bang” and recreates herself. She becomes her own mother and gives birth to her new self as both creator, destroyer, and preserver, much like the Hindu goddess, Kali Ma. Once transformed, she not only overrides her fear in strong fashion but quickly forms a solid plan to vanquish her foe.
The status quo continues in ALIEN. Providing a dim look of the future, the white and blue collar mix of the crew remains stuck in the doldrums of working for “the company.” Regardless of the manual Ripley tries to cling onto, Captain Dallas is quick to point out that one does what the company tells one to do. This also means the object of fairness doesn’t hold up either. Both Parker and Brett signed on, but with their contracts, especially when it comes to “the bonus situation,” the pair won’t receive full shares.
Better still to make certain the Nostromo crew checks out that distress beacon, the fine print in their contract has a “full forfeiture of shares” clause if they decide to skip the alarm and head back home. (Mother, acting like Big Brother, would undoubtedly show through report tracking that the crew never left the vessel to check for survivors.)
We understand that as the crew is screwed by their employer, most of us have similar stories where the company that gives us a check every two weeks undermined us in some way, shape, or form. And when it comes to a cafeteria, and according to Parker, the only good thing on the ship is the coffee.
Parker wants to get home and party, but as team leader, Dallas has had it. At different times, he tells both Lambert and Parker to “knock it off” because as middle management, he’s just done. As he sits in the escape ship and tries to relax to classical music, we can imagine him trying to determine how the hell he’s going to write a report about this mess. But he has nothing to fear because a mole is amongst the crew who will help fulfill a different set of obligations for the company.
By not giving “the company” a name, it can be any entity we may work for on our little blue ball. Plus, with Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, we see the trouble of putting sponsors’ names on video phones and space ships, because Pan Am and The Bell System are long gone – though Hilton could build a space station in the next century.
Due to these items, and the wearing of many hats – those mining vehicles aren’t going to move themselves – the crews’ dissatisfaction may mirror our own.
Before ALIEN, most science fiction films were built on the backs of conservative, military-like communication full of boring conversation or scientific mumbo-jumbo or stiff reporting full of salutes. Right from the beginning, we can relate to the crew as “regular people” due to the dialogue and their exchanges. They curse, they rub each other the wrong way like children – “That’s not our system,” says Ripley, and Lambert almost sings her response as if a kid who doesn’t want to be bested, “I know that” – and Parker wants to get back home, with bonus in hand, and “party.”
However, the film goes one step further to make the dialogue and exchanges ring true. When the dead facehugger falls to the lab floor, Ash asks if it came from the overhead. Traumatized by the experience in his own way, Dallas peers down at their deceased guest and says in an annoyed fashion, “It was up there somewhere.”
When four crew members remain, a stressed out and now in command Ripley lays down the plan, which is a continuation of the old one. Parker’s also stressed and angered, and says, “Let’s hear it” as Ripley tries to speak, causing her to raise her voice and yell at Parker. Anxiety and frustration take their toll:
Ripley (to Parker): …We’ll move in pairs. We’ll go step by step and cut off every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered, and then we’ll blow it the fuck out into space. Is that acceptable to you?
Parker: If it means killing it then it’s acceptable to me.
Ripley: Obviously it means killing it.
Having characters joke, speak over each other, and go from being ticked off to being accepting, serves as one of the best reflections of genuine dialogue and speaking patterns. This realness allows the audience to better connect with the characters due to this relatable and grounded communication. The crew may reside in the future, may live on a space vessel, but the audience knows exactly where they’re coming from.
The Universal Other
Like John Carpenter’s THE THING, ALIEN not only introduces “the Other,” the alien that must be assimilated or destroyed, but the Nostromo crew is “the Other” as well. Humans are not natural to space and the dwarf planet they land on is as alien to them as it is to the alien. Neither belong. But what Ash calls, “the perfect organism,” the creature’s as fearless as a honey badger and there’s no negotiation or assimilation. It’s kill or be killed. At no point does Parker try to sit down with the monster in a weak attempt to get the alien to help with the bonus situation.
No other monster from another planet in all the early science fiction fair has a life cycle like this one: From a leathery egg comes a spider-like facehugger that unleashes another egg through the mouth and down the throat of a host. Serving its purpose, and after the internal egg is protected and ready to hatch, the facehugger dies. Soon after, the young creature bursts from its host, killing the animal it leaves behind in the process and takes off on its own. In short order, the little monster that bleeds acid becomes a bipedal giant ready to kill, consume, and get the cycle up and running again. This means the Nostromo crew is left to fight an extraterrestrial endoparasitoid, which is an alien parasite that lives inside another creature and kills it. Wow.
Macrocosmos of Mysteries
ALIEN certainly has its mysteries. This doesn’t mean O’Bannon’s writing had flaws or that Scott overlooked things, but what follows are points to consider.
“Better break out the weapons”
Before heading outside to check on the distress beacon, Dallas uses that line before the away party suits up. Inside the Space Jockey’s vessel, Kane holds up a gun-like weapon right before the facehugger greets him with a kiss. The company supplied weapons are never mentioned again, and only primitive ones make from scratch are used. Why? Maybe the weapons were garbage, or more logically since the alien bleeds acid, which could burn through the hull, forcing it into the airlock with a flame thrower to send it into outer space is probably the best solution.
If the company sent up a robot to protect the alien and bring it back to Earth, how did it know about the creature in the first place? Maybe another expedition came along, and unlike Kane, those miners in space suits decided not to break that layer of mist and get up close to those eggs. Then again, maybe they did. Maybe they lost a crew member (or two or three), but won in the end and made it home to give a full report. That report became the catalyst to send out another crew in that general area to unwittingly bring the creature home.
Often forgiven by fans and critics since the movie was made in pre-personal computer 1979, Mother, her special “Eyes Only” room, and the computer graphics raise questions. In 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, regardless of space flight, HAL 2000, and major technological advances, the astronauts still had to use clipboards as they sail towards Jupiter. When it comes to predicting what the hell we might have or create in a future world can prove daunting (follow the haircuts and clothing styles, as well as social interactions to help date films even more). Maybe the best reason one can use is that the Nostromo is an absolute worker bee of a ship, which means it doesn’t have state of the art anything. However, maybe as an homage to Kubrick, Scott created Mother and her room in HAL-esque style. Too bad the crew couldn’t speak to Mother, and she never even sang them a song.
Why would Dallas and company venture out into the unknown when Mother hadn’t deciphered the beacon? If they had waited another hour or two, they would have had a better clue about what was awaiting them. The answer may be Dallas’ grumpiness, which on some level mimicked Parker’s, as well as that old favorite feeling that can bring fortune or failure: curiosity. And maybe due to their ho-hum mining drudgery, no one puts the breaks on the “rescue mission.”
“Why don’t you just freeze him?!”
Curiosity also reigns supreme when Kane and facehugger come on board. Parker says the “freeze him” line on several occasions, but Dallas and Ash take no heed or pay him no mind. The nature of discovery has taken them over.
How did Jonesy end up in that closed locker? Since this is the first time we see the Nostromo mascot, and Brett, Parker, and Ripley certainly didn’t expect to find him there, one of the others must have put him in there, which would have been cruel. Or, he could have been accidentally locked in when someone was working or getting some supplies by the locker.
How old are you now?
Interstellar space travel will either leave aging astronauts to die aboard ship with the next generation to take over the journey, or some sort of hibernation will exist. After returning from the dwarf planet, a ten-month journey remains for the crew. We don’t know how long they’ve been out there or how long their mining assignment has taken, but that had better be some pretty expensive or rare ore to send a crew so far out into the cosmos. Does this mean their families are in hibernation as well? If not, their spouses, partners, and children, if they have any, of course, are going to age every time they head out to gather some ore. Check out “The Long Morrow” from “The Twilight Zone” to see what will happen if you don’t get it right.
This thematic dynamic may not be the reason ALIEN is at the top of the science fiction horror list, but it’s quite notable. In an interview, O’Bannon made this frightening comment:
“One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number’” (Dietle).
And O’Bannon does just that. Not only does the facehugger do the above, but the adult alien sports a phallic like head and behind its silvery, dripping teeth exists a phallic juggernaut of a secondary mouth that juts out in erect fashion to tear apart flesh and bone as it penetrates the heads of both Brett and Parker. Its phallic-esque tale rips into Lambert.
When searching for the facehugger, Ash and Dallas do so with long-lighted prods. As Ripley looks about, Ash tells her not to do so without “one of these,” and holds up his prod. Ripley doesn’t grasp one.
But the crew fights phallus with phallus from the cattle prods to give the creature “incentive,” to the pointed motion detector, to the flame throwers, and to the gun and its respective grappling hook. (Both Ripley and Lambert wield the phallic detectors – Ripley does this with ease, but Lambert has issues.)
Feminine imagery exists as well. Dallas, Kane, and Lambert enter the Space Jockey’s ship through a hole. And the Jockey has a hole in its chest, as Kane will soon have. Dallas enters the duct system with his flamethrower, and the round hatches shut him off as he enters the hollow shafts within the ship. Finally, when Ripley squares off against the creature, she uses that phallic grappling hook to propel her foe through the open hatch of her escape craft, and when the creature tries to enter through one of the open engine exhausts, Ripley turns on the afterburners and blows him away once and for all.
The story, acting, direction, music, dialogue, set and setting, make ALIEN a film to be reckoned with. Due to the realism of the characters, their emotions and reactions, Scott’s film transcends genre labels. In this sense, O’Bannon, Shusett, and company created a remarkable tale to capture the imagination – and fear – of any audience.
Dietle, David. “Alien: A Film Franchise Based Entirely on Rape.” Cracked. Cracked, 02 Jan 2011. Web. 06 May 2017.
Macek, J. C., III. “Deconstructing the Star Beast: How the ‘Alien’ Saga Went
Wrong.” PopMatters. PopMatters.com, 04 May 2015. Web. 06 May 2017.
O’Callaghan, Paul. “Ridley Scott: Five Essential Films.” BFI. British Film Institute, 28 Nov 2014. Web. 06 May 2017.
William D. Prystauk (aka Billy Crash) cohosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes and at http://crashpalaceproductions.com. He’s in pre-production of a dramatic science fiction feature film he’ll shoot in Seattle with his company, Crash Palace Productions. When he’s not listening to punk rock and leaving no sushi behind, he indulges in the food group better known as chocolate. Follow him on Twitter as @crashpalace, and look for him under his real name at LinkedIn, IMDb, Amazon, Behance, and at http://williamdprystauk.com.
You DO NOT want to miss a single episode of his award-winning podcast, The Last Knock!
May 11, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: 1979, Alien, atmospheric, blockbuster, Bolaji Badejo, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, Dan O'Bannon, dark, film, Guest, Guest author, Harry Dean Stanton, Helen Horton, Horror, horror reviews, Ian Holm, John Hurt, monster movies, monsters, movie reivews, Reviews, Ridley Scott, science fiction, Sigourney Weaver, social commentary, social satire, The Last Knock, Tom Skerritt, top ten movies, Veronica Cartwright, William D. Prystauk, Yaphet Kotto | 8 Comments
Wes Craven’s 1994 New Nightmare was a movie ahead of its times. In that I mean, the way the story was told, the significance of something we make-believe into being real (knowing it is actually fictional) and having it given back to us as this make-believe thing made real by our own imagination. That was kind of the genius of Craven’s New Nightmare. Freddy wasn’t real, but we pretended he was, as we do with all characters we watch on the big screen, small screen, or even in print, and yes even the horrorish ones. New Nightmare played on that, trapping the imaginative character Freddy in the make-believe world until the “movies” ended and thus releasing the bonds that kept imagination captive. Suddenly Freddy is real because WE made him real. Very clever, if you sit for a spell and think about it. Unfortunately, much like Jason Goes to Hell, audiences, and fans of the Nightmare on Elm Street series were expecting…well…what they have been accustomed to and not this metaphysical metaphor of fantasy meets reality through a sort of cognitive mythological construct. Not all movies fall prey to being ahead of their time. Take 2011’s Cabin in the Woods as a perfect example of the right kind of out of the box thinking movie coming out at the right moment in our social environment, which is to say at the very least uncertain.
Cabin in the Woods
By: Jeremy Flagg
I was raised on 80’s slasher films. Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween filled my nights, and as an adolescent, they may have altered my childhood. However, these classic horror films provided ample education. I learned at an early age, you never separate from your friends, you never skinny dip, you never get drunk, and by all means, never lose your virginity in a sketchy locale. While a multitude of movies have attempted to recreate these classic tactics of terror, few have ever lived up to the original.
In walk Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard with Cabin in the Woods.
Horror movies have a recipe. With an ample suspension of disbelief, a movie builds tension, redirects our fear, and then in a moment of complacency, it scares. This recipe is repeated with variation for a little over an hour and somehow, at the end, our “final girl” perseveres by eliminating the big bad. We are put again into suspense as the credits end and claws emerge, or a hand rises from the grave, or a mask is picked up. There is a formula we’ve grown comfortable with, when it is tampered with, we get uneasy. However, Cabin in the Woods examines this formula, uses it, stomps on it, laughs at it, uses it again, and at the end, we’re left blinking in an entertained disbelief.
It starts with scientists talking about child safety cabinets and how only they and Japan remain viable options. What? Isn’t Cabin in the Woods a movie about a group of people going on a mini vacation to a vacant cabin in the middle of the, well, woods? Cue title scene and then onto the movie we expect. A fun flirty vibe, filled with sunshine, dreams and the need for relaxation. We have all the expected character tropes necessary to make a mediocre horror film; the jock, the overachiever, the stoner, the sexy girl and the kind of nice guy who we instantly forget is in the movie. Everything about this post screams “middle of the road.” Or does it?
True to form, we’re ten minutes into the film and the group of soon to be killed young adults have met the old man who gives foreboding advice. However, in every scene, we see a hint of something. A man following them reports to his superiors. The old man makes a phone call asking for approval. A flying eagle crashes into an unseen wall. A room in the cabin holds a one-way mirror. There is a horror movie laid on top of something, perhaps a conspiracy? We’re barely into the movie and we already know we’re being played with and it’s not being subtle. Are we seeing hints of a twist? It must be a twist because goodness knows every movie has to have an obnoxious twist at the end. That’s how horror is done.
As the screen zooms out, we realize the scientists are watching the five young adults. Wait, that’s not how horror goes? These goons are watching them, luring them into this horrific situation. Lowering inhibitions with chemicals and increasing their libido, we have no idea to what end, but we know they’re setting them up for disaster. It’s only made more comical as they take bets on how the group will die. We have no idea why this is happening, but we know that the scientists can only lead them to a dangerous situation. The group must begin the catalyst that will set them up for death.
Now let’s recap, cause from here on out something serious changes in this movie. We know it’s a horror movie. We know the scientists are setting the scene for this horror movie. We know death is coming, but we’re still not entirely sure why. As they are led to the basement where a variety of talismans and treasures are stored, we discover they will choose their fate. Zombie redneck tortured family. Meanwhile, a similar fate is befalling a group of Japanese school children, a scenario competing with our movie for victims.
The movie adds a new element, horror movie as a spectator sport. However, the darker, and even more genius aspect is that we, the viewer are part of the movie. Much like the scientists watching their hidden cameras, we are rooting for the body count to begin. As danger looms on the horizon, we are hoping for a massacre. We want those partaking in dangerous activities such as drinking, drugs, or sex to fall victim to the classic horror deaths. And when the sex kitten is about to pull off her blouse, we want her to die. Then she resists and plays coy and we, along with a room full of watching spectators groan. Then science jumps in, releasing a pheromone mist.
Wait, does this potentially explain why in every horror movie stupid stuff happens? Were deranged scientists aiding Jason and those campers were all just victims of a mastermind game player? Did chemicals being pumped into the bedrooms of teenagers bring on Freddy as a hallucination? I’m left pondering if everything I’ve been told is a lie. But wait, I’ll worry about that later, because redneck zombies are about to start killing people. Did I just cheer? Maybe.
!!! Spoilers Below !!!
As redneck pain-loving zombies achieve their first kill (a girl about to get her groove on) we’re introduced to a new piece of the puzzle. Somehow, the scientists are culling the blood of the victims in some sort of ceremonial effort. Our next clue comes from the drug-addled hippy that is so used to altering his mind, the chemicals created by the scientists do little to affect him. Cue more classic death scenes, often times paired with comedic lines from the viewers in the bunker of scientists. When the victims refuse to split up, scientists manipulate the scene forcing the classic tropes to align to their 80’s horror counterpart.
Cabin in the Wood teaches us that a healthy addiction to Weed can save us in a horror movie.
The movie gets, even more, meta as the remaining two survivors find themselves in an elevator going down into the bunker hidden beneath the cabin. Locked in cages, we see a variety of classic horror monsters. Werewolves, giant bat things, even a unicorn are kept in cages, waiting to be called upon to slay the innocent. As the fool, our high-as-a-kite unlikely hero and the virgin unleash havoc on the underground bunker, releasing hordes of b-rate horror atrocities, we find ourselves cheering on the death yet again. We’re not quite right in the head.
As the final showdown begins, we’re not given a Final Girl showdown of immense proportions. Sigourney Weaver says that if the heroes live, they will destroy the world. The heroes, the ones we’ve been rooting for, either die, or we all die. I’m not sure if I’m annoyed or I commend them as they decide to live, thereby destroying the world. But, you know, it happens.
The snappy dialogue mixed with this meta look at horror creates something entirely new to the genre. We find ourselves cheering on the heroes, only to condemn them, and wanting more mayhem. We learn quickly that we, the viewers of this disaster, are really quite twisted. Most of all, we’re really excited that we got to watch a unicorn slaughter a man. At the start of the review, you had no idea a unicorn would be whom we cheered on. Cause you know, it’s a horror movie.
Jeremy Flagg is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us Final Girls during our Freight Fest series, he also is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes. For more information about Jeremy, visit www.remyflagg.com.
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April 13, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Anna Hutchison, black comedy, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, dark humor, Drew Goddard, experimental metafiction, film, Fran Kranz, Guest author, Horror, Jeremy Flagg, Jesse Williams, Joss Whedon, Kristen Connolly, meta, Metaphysical, monster, monster movies, movie review, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Richard Jenkins, Satire, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Lenk | 12 Comments
Imagine yourself, sitting in an empty theater, the lights dim to the point where your neighbors face is nothing but a shadow, the curtains draw back. You are now staring into space, white lines, slowly start to appear and a few minutes they reveal a title: ALIEN, the one word that can describe what you are about to see in perfect detail, a film, so foreign, you begin to feel uncomfortable, maybe even leave the theater. Is the mood set? Good.
This is what audiences may have felt experiencing the film in theaters on May, 25th 1979. Now let us fast-forward to a chilly day on September 11th, 2016. Where a thirty-one year old is experiencing the terror, not for the first time, and not for the last. On this night he will share with you his experiences, his thoughts. Be prepared, in space, no one can hear you scream.
Not too much can be said about the movie—the prime example of sci-fi and horror? What made this movie so great? Well—let’s take a quick look at the movie.
The movie takes place aboard USCCS Nostromo, which, had just completed a pickup of ore and traveling back to Earth. The crew awakens by Mother (The onboard AI), due to the ship receiving a distress signal, the crew is then sent to investigate. Upon arriving on the moon LV-426, they discover an Alien ship, once inside the ship they discover eggs, a creature attacks one of the crew members and they are taken back to the ship. During a short period Kane, the crewmember who was attacked and awakens to full health, the crew sits to enjoy a nice dinner, suddenly—a creature bursts from Kane’s chest and runs away. Now, the crew has a real problem, the creature grows and starts killing the crew one by one, until it. Ripley steps in. She sets the ship to self-destruct. Once making her way to the escape shuttle, she battles the creature for the last time. Spearing it through the chest and opening an airlock and sucking the creature into space.
As far as plots go, the movie remains kind of basic in a way—the movie, however, is more than what the plot sets.
One thing that sets this movie apart from the previous genre of Sci-Fi/Horror is the atmosphere. It plays on two things that humans fear most: The Beyond, and Isolation. Most of the movie plays out on the Nostromo, and it traps the characters in a place where there is no escape—if they do escape—it results in a slow suffocation. When you have characters trapped in a box in brings out one thing: survival instinct, in one scene when Capt. Dallas (Skerrit) brings Kane back to the Nostromo, there is a verbal altercation between himself and Ripley (Weaver), she is concerned about the survival of the crew and Dallas is concerned about the safety of one, while, it is a tense scene—it helps show the characters, and the beginning of their paranoia. Soon after Kane is brought back onboard (Guess, Dallas won this one). The try and take off the creature—it’s acidic blood melts through several decks of the Nostromo. Prompting the crew to chase the blood trail, and once the creature explodes from Kane’s chest. Their first thought is to kill the creature. Their survival is on the line.
While survival is one of the key elements to the movie—one element is detrimental the story—Isolation. Being alone is one thing, being alone, and out of your element is another. A majority of the deaths and fighting happens in space. Which, means—you have no escape—which puts the characters at a better chance to fight the creature.
We’ve talked about space, survival—we need to address the most important character: The Alien (Xenomorph, for the die-hard fans). What makes the creature scary? Is it bursting out of a chest? The second mouth? While, those answers do make it terrifying, it’s much, much, more.
H.R.Giger designed the creature. When you think of the creature, who better to design it? Giger’s work focuses on two things: 1. Sexual Organs 2. Machinery. The alien itself contains both these elements and gives it an edge of fear—reproduction through rape. And the way it acts, like a killing machine, whose sole purpose is to breed and kill more. Now, I know I mentioned rape. It’s a horrible, horrible thing and an action that should never be committed on another human being. Again, this one thing that makes this creature truly horrifying. The Alien may, in fact, be an allegory rape itself, by the way, it forces itself upon the characters to eat and breed.
We’ve discussed the creature, who, I feel is the star of the movie. In its own right, Alien to all other movie creatures.
One thing, I find, to be the most important aspect of the movie other than the characters, the alien, is the music. Music has a weird little trick up its sleeve—it will be able to place you—into the story itself. The music was composed by the genius Jerry Goldsmith. He did what very few composers are able to do (Williams, Silvestri, and Zimmer, are a few that can), Goldsmith created atmosphere, one that causes the viewer to be uncomfortable with the noise they hear, and the scenes their eyes are forced to witness. Not all the sounds make a coherent track, they noises of different pitches unknown to the human ear, similar to the ambient noise in space. The music is one of the defining aspects of film music, that mimics the tone of the movie, unknown and trapped.
Overall the movie is one not to be missed. It has stood the test of time as one of the creepiest and thought provoking movies of the seventies—would this be how our first interaction would go? Food for another—Alien takes serious tones and makes them into a coherent story. While, the movie has several sequels, none, will ever place next to the original. The pure horror of facing the deadliest creature in the universe, and having nowhere to run—remember, In Space No One Can Hear You Scream.
Born and raised in Northern Illinois, Kurt Thing vold spends a majority of his time writing, video games, and finding fun ways to pester the ever-loving sanity out his wife. His first short Roulette was released on October 2nd you can purchase here. He is currently working on a short story collection, along with his first full-length novel “To: Mark” Which will be released by fall of 2017 and his short story collection will be released mid-2016. He currently helms a blog http://kurtthingvold.blogspot.com where he updates, when he has something to say.
October 10, 2016 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: 1979, Alien, Bolaji Badejo, Fright Fest, fright fest 2016, Guest author, H.R.Giger, Halloween, Halloween Movie Marathon, Harry Dean Stanton, Horror, horror movies, horror reviews, Ian Holm, Jerry Goldsmith, John Hurt, Kurt Thingvold, movie reviews, Reviews, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto | 11 Comments