First Blood: Book in Review
“First came the man: a young wanderer in a fatigue coat and long hair. Then came the legend, as John Rambo sprang from the pages of FIRST BLOOD to take his place in the American cultural landscape. This remarkable novel pits a young Vietnam veteran against a small-town cop who doesn’t know whom he’s dealing with — or how far Rambo will take him into a life-and-death struggle through the woods, hills, and caves of rural Kentucky.
Millions saw the Rambo movies, but those who haven’t read the book that started it all are in for a surprise — a critically acclaimed story of character, action, and compassion.”
FIRST BLOOD: published in 1972 by David Morrell
I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea First Blood was a book before it was made into a movie. Not a single clue. But, I’m glad to finally have this error corrected and was even more glad to have gotten the chance to read this amazing book. Now, there were some definite drastic changes from film to print or print to film more like. And that’s okay. I never expect the movie to be just like the film. There have to be differences, so long as the essence remains intact. For example, I had read Stephen King’s IT before attempting to watch the made-for-TV movie starring Tim Curry. I made it maybe 30 mins into the film before turning it off. TV movie IT was too far removed from the source material to be enjoyable. Whereas, as another example, Hellraiser was based on The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, and it not only expands the story, it diverges from it regarding Cenobite leadership and other details. However, the difference between why IT as a movie failed and Hellraiser succeeded is that Hellraiser kept the essence of the original source material.
And for the most part, the essence of First Blood, be it Sylvester Stallone or just the imaginative projection from hearing how David Morrell describes John Rambo, is beautifully captured, more so I would say in the book because we are given the characters internal thoughts. The director and Stallone for his part did a great job conveying through action and struggle Rambo’s internal conflicts, but in the book, it becomes, even more, clearer. Did you know that when Rambo arrived in that pinewoods mountain town (called Hope in the movie), he had been kicked out, or “pushed,” as he calls it, at least a dozen times before? That is where the “pushed” thing comes from during the movie that doesn’t make much sense, but in the book it does.
No spoilers here, but the end is veeerrryyy different, and I’m not sure which one I like the most. I feel for Rambo in both scenarios, and I love that end scene monolog he has with his old unit commander in the movie. But in the book…dang…it’s just… I’ve said enough.
As far as veteran issues go, both film and book appealed to me and wrung the gauntlet of emotions. More so in the movie than the book, despite the benefit of reading Rambo’s internal thoughts. The movie seems to focus more on Rambo as a veteran, whereas in the book he’s more often referred to as “The Kid.” The book did, however, add a level of polarity to the conflict between the sheriff, a Korean War veteran, and Rambo, a Vietnam veteran, and how each of them refuses to surrender to the other, way more than what the movie offered. In the movie, the sheriff is more of a chump and doesn’t know what he’s walking into, and just seems to be a dick for no reason. In the book, he is more clearly defined. Especially with what happens during the first hunting party. DAMN is all I can say about that!
Overall, if you’re a fan of the movie, you may want to check out the book. I have few doubts you’ll be disappointed.
My rating: 4/5
Deathdream (1974): in review
There is something very intimate going on in Deathdream. Something very personal is being shown to us. Perhaps this feeling has to do with the film’s low quality, the early 70s B-movie vibe, and dang near grainy steady-cam picture, or maybe the intimacy in question has to do with the atmosphere, the utterly believable world we’re entering as the movie starts, as it is likewise chilling and raw, in which a part of you doesn’t want to exist, but it does. Just ask your parents or grandparents, or maybe you know something yourself of this era of fear. Mostly, the credit of the realism is thanks in part to the incredible cast of actors and actresses, all unknowns, taking on the role of characters that are mirror images of people walking the streets in small town America, a place that very well could exist, because it probably does, somewhere out there. And this is the vibe, the feeling we get as the reel begins to hum. This movie is real. This is real life. And when the supernatural takes hold, turning our blood to ice, we’re caught off guard. These things that transpire cannot happen. The dead stay dead, those are the rules. But for Andy Brooks, the protagonist (or is he the antagonist?) in this story, those rules no longer apply. Andy has come home. And I think this is the root of the intimacy. Andy, by all accounts of the rules of reality, should not have come home, because sometimes, given differing situations, we cannot come home. The life we lived or the life we’ve known can no longer exist because the other self, the past self no longer exists.
Okay…before we get anymore metaphysical, lets talk about the movie in question.
Here’s a synopsis in case you missed out on watching:
“A young man killed in Vietnam inexplicably returns home as a zombie.”
Jeez, you gotta love those IMDb descriptions!
In a nut shell, yes. This is the movie. But, for clarification, I don’t think Andy is a zombie. He’s something…else.
Lets take a look.
As the movie opens, we’re shown a quick clip of Andy’s supposed death in Vietnam and then movie pans to the second most important scene, into the kitchen of the Brooks family. Mother. Father. Sister. Everyone is merry, or as much as they can be with a loved one deployed to Vietnam. They make small talk. They laugh. Everything will be okay, this scene tells us, so long as they remain strong, for Andy’s sake. And then someone knocks on the door. Who is it? They don’t know. It’s awfully late for a neighbor to stop by. The mood drops temperature. Two uniformed soldiers are standing at the door. It’s a telegram, the worst kind, the one no one at home wants to receive. “I’m sorry to inform you,” the Class-A dressed solider announces, “but your son is dead. Killed in action.” Shock. Cold pricking goosebumps. “My son? Dead?” Its laughable, how could their son, brother, Andy be dead? These things don’t happen to them, they happen to other people, people on the news, people far away from the safety of the dinner table. No, not Andy. Not their Andy.
The grief here at the dinner table is very raw and heartfelt. The mother weeping. The sister in shock. The father…doesn’t want to accept the news. I’m not sure how you are taking this scene, for me, this moment in the movie is very real. After serving almost 7 years in the Army, and having deployed three times to Iraq, watching the Brooks family is how I might imagine my own family reacting to the news of my death. I believe this is what the director and screenwriter wanted. Hence the name, Deathdream. Yes. It’s a horror movie. A 70s horror movie at that. But it is more. It’s real. And director Bob Clark wanted you believe as much. He wanted you to become one of the Brooks family.
Now, what happens next is where things get a little odd. There’s a knock at the door. The family, just getting to bed after hearing the terrible news, tread the stairs thinking, “What now?” The father answers. There’s a buildup of suspense, as if something really horrifying is going to be at the door. It’s Andy. “It’s Andy!” they all shout. Everyone is overcome with joy. There must have been a mistake. “Can you believe, they actually told me my son was dead?” the father says. Everyone is happy, and rightly so, but there’s something…wrong with Andy. Something he’s not saying. He’s pale and stoic. He doesn’t want to be around crowds, not even friends or family. Again, they recall the evening’s event, nearly hysterical, “They sent a telegram telling us you were dead.” And Andy answers with, “I was.” And here we get a glimpse of the horror to come, the Brooks family doesn’t know how to react. Andy is different…
As stated before, the above is the second most important scene in the movie. The strange homecoming. As the film progresses, we’re given other little snippets of post-war life. Andy, though we’re not too sure (we weren’t privy to his life before the war), but we’re given the impression had been at some point a very happy go-lucky sort of chap. All the neighborhood is abuzz with the news of Andy’s return, even the local kids want to stop by and say hello. But Andy isn’t the Andy they remember. He doesn’t want to play. He doesn’t want to interact. And everyone is taken aback. They don’t know what to make of this new Andy, in fact, they don’t even want to see Andy as being different. The father gets mad, retires to the local bar, and gets drunk. The mother, keeps vigil, maybe Andy will get better, she promises herself. The sister hides amongst her friends. And the neighborhood kids? Well, they all run away screaming.
I won’t get into all the detail, you really ought to watch this film for yourself, but speaking personally, this scene, among others, also resonates with me. Am I the same Thomas Flowers that existed before the war? Not at all. I’m different, and through the years have come to learn how my experiences have changed me, and I’m still learning, every day. Andy doesn’t have that luxury. Andy isn’t your typical veteran. He’s a ghost. A memory of a shadow, made of stolen blood that somehow keeps him whole, walking amongst the living. His character isn’t going to learn anything or develop or change. There is only one progression for Andy, the ultimate progression you might say. And so, you might be asking, “What’s the point of the story?” Well, being careful not to take the movie out of context, this is a 1972 (74 maybe?) story. Being drafted into the Vietnam War is a huge fear in the minds of most American families, especially for those with sons, brothers, uncles, and husbands already deployed in combat. But, there is also an ambiguous question clawing its way out the grave. What is it, you ask? What is the question?
Let’s talk about another important scene, though certainly not the most important one. When Andy’s father seeks outside help to discover what is amiss with his son, Andy ends up following Dr. Allman, the gentleman who had been working with Andy’s father, trying to solve the proverbial mystery of what was “wrong with him.” Andy confronts the good Doc in his office, stating, before draining him of his blood, “I died for you, Doc. Why shouldn’t you return the favor…? You owe me…” And then, in a scene mimicking the escalation of drug abuse common among combat veterans, Andy “shoots up” the drained blood with a hypodermic needle. This scene, for obvious reasons, is full of dark ambiguous questions. But it’s not the most ambiguous scene. This scene simply lays on another series of questions.
Here we are. Finally. The most important scene. Before we move on, I need to mention the ending. I know, spoilers and all, but I need to talk about what happened. Throughout the movie, Andy is slowly decaying. He’s becoming what he already is, dead. After a few murders, the truck driver and Doc Allman, and I think perhaps one more (I can’t quite remember), the cops are now on to him. Delirious, Andy’s mother agrees to take Andy away, but during the chase, Andy directs her to the town cemetery. Cemetery? Why there? The sirens are wailing. Tires screeching. Guns drawn. Will there be a final showdown, man verses monster? No. We are denied such luxuries of simplicity. In the final moments of screen time, Andy, nearly dissolved of energy and flesh, crawls to a grave he had prepared for himself sometime previously. He lowers himself, clawing the dark rich earth, covering his body. His mother watches, in tears, protesting, “Why? Why?” And Andy, unable to speak, gestures to his impromptu tombstone. “Andy Brooks, born 1952. Died 1972.” Slowly she realizes that her son is in fact dead, and helps cover his body. The cops arrive on scene shortly before the final act, pistols in hand, ready to slay the creature. But the creature is already dead. They’ve been robbed this battle of archaic man, of Stone Age man, but their faces are not disappointed, their faces are full of question. And this is why the final scene is the most important scene in the movie. Why? Because it deals with a mother and her son. It deals with our children, the future generations and the things we’ll ask them to do. No. Deathdream doesn’t answer any of these questions. The answers to all these ambiguous questions are up to the viewer. As witnesses, we will have to answer for ourselves.
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.
“This is an intense book, and it definitely doesn’t pull any punches. This is Flowers’s first foray into extreme horror but I have to say that his lack of experience does not show in the least bit. He manages to bring an expert balance of extreme, and restraint. The challenging moments happen at the precise moments in the story where I thought they were called for. And there was no point where I felt he was being gratuitous. What gross and disturbing scenes were there felt like they were serving a purpose” -Confessions of a Reviewer.
Evolution of the Horror Remake: A Short Narrative
Something strange started happening during the dawn of the new millennium. Beginning as early as 2003, once revered horror movie classics were being revamped for a supposed new audience, a audience geared toward a sicking predisposition for hyper violence and “better” special effects. Now that we’re well into a new decade, its interesting looking back and speculating why certain trends even started in the first place. The biggest and most fascinating parallel between those “classics” and their children are the things happening in the world when said films were being made. For me, the two biggest world events impacting film worth mentioning (especially considering our horror subject matter!) are the Vietnam War and the Iraq/Afghanistan War.
The Two Wars:
Doing our best to avoid a politico argument, lets look more at the similarities between the two decades (1965-1975, 2001-?). Besides the obvious similarities in the type of war (strategic and tactics, guerrilla urban warfare, and the precarious balance in winning hearts and minds while simultaneously engaging the enemy), the Vietnam War and Iraq War could also be compared to the amount of combat footage that made its way into the mainstream. In the living rooms of millions of Americans, while folks sat down for their nightly news, they were bombarded with images of seemingly “random” acts of violence. Allow me to clarify. These acts of violence feel random because folks in the U.S. and folks over in the desert or jungle getting blown up are disconnected. The people back home in their living rooms have no way of knowing whats really going on “over there” except from what the media provides. This new norm impacted how we engage movies, especially the shock value in horror movies.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
The best thing that could ever come from the mess over in Asia-Minor was how it effected horror films and turned them into positive avenues of expressing discontent. Some have dubbed this epoch in the history of horror as Savage Cinema. Films, such as: Deliverance (1972),The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and later The Hills Have Eyes (1977) disconnected horror away from fantasy. The horrors of the world were no longer shown in the castles of Transylvania or some tomb in Cairo, but in our own backyards, down the road, behind the curtain. The monsters were no longer beasts or creatures of myth, but our own neighbors, our relatives, or that seemingly ordinary fellow walking down the street. Horror, in essence, became set in reality.
Now, flash forward to the post modern take on Savage Cinema during the 2000’s. Comparatively, in every way possible, each and every remake falls short of the original. The effects and filmography were often better, but what they left behind was the message, the meaning behind the chainsaw and the desperate family living among the rocks in the Californian desert. The heart was replaced for even stronger images of violence. In a way, I suppose this could say something of the time period. Did we no longer care for actual storytelling? Were we simply looking for our “new” norm among the flooding destruction brought on during our nightly news broadcasts? Perhaps, but can we really forgive those remakes, such as: The Fog (2005), The Wicker Man (2006), Halloween II (2009), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2003) and so many more that needless tore asunder classic storytelling for pointless mayhem? The only real forgivable remake during this epoch was Dawn of the Dead (2004), though not entirely. The forgivable aspect of the new Dawn of the Dead was how producers didn’t trash on the old characters, but instead introduced new ones for a new evolution of the film. And, in a way, maintained the similar, though less obvious, take on consumerism.
A New Decade:
Though we are just entering the 2010’s, there seems to be a change in how movie makers are approaching remakes. The trend of completely redoing the classics have, in a way, transformed into a continuation in the story itself, in a undefined kind of way. Basically, the new remakes are not really remakes anymore; they are and they aren’t. Make sense? Consider the recent revamp of Evil Dead. The story wasn’t so much a new story of the original, but a continuation without having to give a huge boring and needless back story. The simply yet obvious easter eggs were enough to reconcile the old with the new. The way Evil Dead was re-imagined could possibly (and hopefully) be a reacquiring trend in how future remakes will be done. News of the upcoming revamp of Poltergeist seems to confirm this “new” direction as we’re given not a retelling of the same story with flashier gimmicks, but a continuation of the story with a new set of characters facing a similar threat without having to spend an hour explaining the original. The most interesting take on this new Poltergeist (which, by the way, the 1982 classic is a personal favorite of mine) is how producers are approaching home ownership. In the original story it was about the 1980’s boom in home development, and with this new revamp, its about the boom in refurbishing old homes. Keeping it the same; not keeping it the same, simultaneously.
Hopefully this trend will continue, especially when pertaining to old classics. While I personally would rather see new stories being told, if Hollywood insists on remaking the classics, let the story evolve instead of just mindlessly rehashing what has already been said.
The Hills Have Eyes: 36 Year Review
Most folks remember Wes Craven for his contribution to the slasher genre during the 80’s (Nightmare on Elm Street) and his more subversive take during the 90’s (Scream). But the father of Freddy did much more for horror than glove claws. During the 70’s, following the Vietnam War and its mass exposure to hyper-violence, savage cinema, through avenues in grindhouse productions, became in its own right, a way in dealing with this era of heightened confusion, uncertainty, and death. Consider Blood Feast (1963), Cannibal Holocaust (1979), and Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) as just a few examples of the best savage cinema had to offer. Their stories are typically simple depictions of everyday life pitted against terrible random violence. Friends on a road trip, adventures in documentary, families pulling up and moving cross-country juxtaposed with psychopathic food caterers, vicious desert dwellers, and hungry homesteaders.
During the era of savage cinema, Wes Craven gave us horror nerds the two best films in his career, Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). With Last House, creepy Craven handed audiences, as John Carpenter said during an interview with Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue, “a strong cup of coffee,” brewed with a heightened since toward violence against the innocent and, basically, probing what people are willing to do in revenge and showing us, even though we’d rather not know, that even when we act just as violently, there is no satisfaction, there is no justice in those kinds of actions.
Back out in the Hills, Craven introduces us to a world a little less violent, but much more compelling. The Hills Have Eyes is an atmospheric horror flick depicting the “average” American family traveling cross-country in their mobile home. Ignoring the warnings of the old gas station owner, the family becomes stranded off the main road. Then, out of desperation, they are forced to split up, leaving themselves vulnerable to vicious attacks. The hill people begin their assault by taking away the very things they feel make this family serene and perfect, leaving the Carter’s to defend for themselves, becoming, eventually, just as violent as the hill people.
With the Hills, Craven was able to weave familiar mythologies (travelers being attacked by outside forces) into the modern nightmare. The Hills Have Eyes is an amazing picture worth seeing over and over. After viewing the movie myself, last night in celebration of the films 36th year anniversary, I went to bed pondering how far people are really willing to go in defending, not only what is their’s, but also, their loved ones. If a horror movie can still make you question society, 36 years after the fact, it is easily one of the scariest and meaningful horror films of all time. For long time horror fans, the “scary” moments are not normally what makes us jump in our seats, the cheap thrills. “Scary” for a horror fan are the moments we’re left thinking, “who made the movie?” Moments that really make us question reality. Maybe not right away, but later, on the drive home or when we go to sleep. Those are the best moments for horror. And for Wes Craven and The Hills Have Eyes, if you watch it, you might likewise experience those very uncertainties of society.
I give The Hills Have Eyes 4 out of 5! A timeless classic and must watch for any connoisseur of macabre.