Category: horror

Take two! Movie remakes we love — and hate: The Thing

Yes, the prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 movie “The Thing” is coming out this week. Carpenter’s movie itself was a remake of a 1951 film, Howard Hawks’ “The Thing From Another World.” And for my money, it’s the best remake out there, of any film, ever.

Carpenter’s classic follows a group of scientists at an isolated polar base who stumble across an alien frozen in the ice — and when they wake it up, it’s not exactly friendly. “Thing From Another World” is a fine film on its own merits, still thrilling and creepy half a century later. But 1950s special-effects couldn’t possibly do justice to the novella’s villain, a frighteningly unstoppable shape-changing monster. Carpenter, along with obsessive effects wizard Rob Bottin, had the tools and the imagination to get it right. Kurt Russell makes a perfect grizzled, distrusting hero for a story about not knowing who to trust. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is wonderfully icy and subtle. And unlike a lot of horror movies, “The Thing” never falls prey to making the characters behave stupidly just to get a cheap shock — it’s remarkably well-crafted, delivering big as a gut-level scarefest and a psychological thriller.

Part of a group-written roundup originally published Oct. 11, 2011 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Brain of Morbius”

“The Brain Of Morbius” (season 13, episodes 17-20. Originally aired Jan. 3-Jan. 24, 1976)

The first thing we see in “The Brain Of Morbius” is a monster. That’s not exactly unusual on Doctor Who. It’s a man-sized insect, crawling out of the wreckage of its crashed spaceship and obviously wounded or even dying, across a rocky, fog-shrouded landscape. (Longtime viewers will recognize it as a Mutt from the Jon Pertwee-era serial “The Mutants,” which is also a clue that this creature, grotesque as it looks, isn’t the villain of the piece.) The thing that tells us we’re getting into some darker territory than usual is that this monster is being stalked by another monster. A hulking, hook-handed ogre looms out of the shadows and brutally murders the poor creature with a wicked-looking blade. The scream is horrible.

So where have we landed this time? Well, the planet itself is Karn, a desolate place near the Doctor’s homeworld of Gallifrey, and thus tied to his personal history in a way rarely seen on the show up to this point. We’ve also landed, in terms of our trip back and forth through the ages of Doctor Who, right in the middle of the early Fourth Doctor era, the time of the remarkable three-year partnership of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes—what I like to think of as the “Sci-Fi Gothic” era, and for my money, the high point of Doctor Who. “The Brain Of Morbius,” credited to the pseudonym “Robin Bland” but written largely by Holmes (drastically revising Terrance Dicks’ original idea), is a gloriously lurid gem, and maybe the quintessential story of the Hinchcliffe era. And despite some plot holes, it’s also my single favorite Who story.

Originally published Aug. 21, 2011 on Read the complete article.

Lesson one: The aliens never, ever come in peace

‘Battle: Los Angeles’ is sure to round up some of our favorite alien-invasion cliches

Global warming and the occasional hurricane aside, the Earth is a pretty nice place to live. No wonder aliens are constantly trying to conquer it. The latest assault by hostile visitors from outer space comes in “Battle: Los Angeles,” debuting in theaters March 11.

If it seems a little familiar, well, it is — the basic template of alien-invasion stories has been in place for more than 100 years, ever since novelist H.G. Wells created the definitive model in 1898′s “War of the Worlds.” Here’s a look at the time-honored traditions — or, when done badly, the hoary cliches — you’ll find in nearly every alien-invasion movie.

Originally published Feb. 24, 2011 on Read the complete article.

Inventory: The Old Cult Canon: 16 cult films that paved the way for the new cult canon

5. Aguirre, The Wrath Of God (1972)

A line of Spanish conquistadors and their Indian porters wind their way down the mountainous slopes of Amazonian Peru, nearly swallowed up by the jungle like a puny stream of ants. This long, unhurried, and gorgeous tracking shot opens Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, the breakthrough movie for Werner Herzog, one of the leading lights of the New German Cinema movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Aguirre was also the first of five movies teaming Herzog with Polish-born actor Klaus Kinski. Herzog’s bleak view of human nature was enlivened by, and gave shape to, Kinski’s uncontrolled ferocity. Their relationship was stormy, to say the least; they loved each other like brothers, hated each other like enemies, and together made the best work of either man’s career.

Kinski stars in Aguirre as a mutinous, scheming soldier in Pizarro’s army. Sent into the rainforest to find the illusory golden city of El Dorado, he seizes the opportunity to rebel and claim South America for himself. Inspired in part by Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, it’s far from an action film—it’s moody and slow, with long stretches of inactivity. But it builds to a suspenseful, dreamlike state of dread—the cruel, seemingly infinite jungle makes a mockery of Aguirre‘s dreams of conquest, as his expedition descends into chaos before they see a single native to oppress.

Does it work at noon as well as it does at midnight? Sure. Existential dread doesn’t follow a clock.

Films that couldn’t exist without it: Apocalypse Now, Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Mission, The Blair Witch Project, Herzog’s blistering documentary My Best Fiend

13. Suspiria (1977)
The Italian film genre known as giallo enthusiastically embraces the most lurid, trashy side of the scary movie, thanks in part to the abiding influence of the particularly sex-and-violence-crazed Italian pulp fiction that was its immediate predecessor. Dario Argento crowned himself king of the giallo film with his 1977 masterpiece Suspiria, the first in a loose-knit trilogy based on three female spirits of darkness mentioned in Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions Of An English Opium Eater. Jessica Harper stars as an innocent young woman who discovers that her new ballet school is also the home of a murderous coven of witches, and works to uncover its secret while the body count rises and supernatural menaces loom ever larger. Suspiria‘s plot is often thin, and the acting is haphazard at best (all the dialogue was dubbed in postproduction), but logic has never been Argento’s goal. He thinks on a grander scale to create a nightmare world that feels like a monstrous version of a fairy tale. He achieves this through a bold, inventive mix of bright colors (using a palette based on Disney’s Snow White), whip-crack editing, and an aggressive, creepy score by Goblin, the rock band that also worked on George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead.

Does it work at noon as well as it does at midnight? Not really. Almost all horror is more effective in the dark, and this is no exception.

Films that couldn’t exist without it: Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street, the slasher-film craze of the 1980s

15. Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959)
Ed Wood’s sci-fi crapterpiece has often been called the worst movie ever made, which isn’t quite true. There are movies with worse scripts, flimsier set design, clunkier acting, and more boneheaded directorial choices—several from Wood himself—but Plan Nine From Outer Space is entertaining nonetheless, because the sheer volume of incompetence makes the film more loveable. Wood’s catalog of blunders and heroically misjudged attempts to overcome disastrous setbacks are seemingly innumerable, starting with the basic storyline, a nonsensical plot about aliens whose previous eight attempts to conquer Earth have failed, and who have decided to try reanimating the dead this time. The script is full of clumsy lines and howlers, such as the narrator’s solemn pronouncement “Future events such as these will affect you in the future.” The flying saucers are clearly on strings, and the cardboard gravestones in the cemetery set tend to wobble when the actors lurch past them. The tiny budget left room for only a single take of most shots, resulting in reams of flubbed lines, visible boom mics, and other mistakes. Most egregiously, Wood’s plan to have Plan Nine star his friend Bela Lugosi, the iconic star of Dracula who had since fallen into Z-grade obscurity, were scotched by the actor’s death. Instead, Wood used a few minutes of previously shot Lugosi footage and filled the rest out by recasting the role with his chiropractor, who was a foot taller than Lugosi and “disguised” his lack of resemblance by keeping his cape over his face at all times. It wasn’t meant as a comedy, but Plan Nine is best viewed as an unintentional one: Call it a secret success.

Does it work at noon as well as it does at midnight? This movie doesn’t work no matter what time it is. But this is really a midnight flick: Plan Nine is best enjoyed with a crowd of fans who will laugh when Tor Johnson trips over the gravestone.

Films that couldn’t exist without it: Without Plan Nine to cap his career, Wood’s legend might not have lasted long enough for Tim Burton to memorialize him with the biopic Ed Wood. The movie’s more lasting influence is probably subtler: Who knows how many budding filmmakers were emboldened by Plan Nine? After all, if Ed Wood could make movies, anyone can.

Originally published on Sept. 11, 2008 as part of a group-written Inventory feature; I wrote the sections on Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Suspiria. Read the complete article.

When monsters attack! The movies’ best beasts before “Cloverfield”

CloverfieldSomething very big and very angry stalks the streets of New York City in Cloverfield, being released in theaters this week. The brainchild of producer J.J. Abrams (of the TV hit Lost and the upcoming Star Trek remake), Cloverfield aims to revitalize the giant-monster genre with a Blair Witch Project-style filming approach; the big beast’s victims film their flight from New York’s destruction with handheld video cameras.

But Cloverfield, of course, has some pretty big shoes to fill if it wants to be King of the Monsters: Giant monsters have been a cinema staple since at least 1925, when audiences thrilled to dinosaurs battling to the death in The Lost World.

If you want to get caught up on the genre, it’s not hard—400-foot fire-breathing monsters leave a trail that’s easy to follow. Here’s a few of our favorites.

Originally published on Jan. 14, 2008. Read the complete article.

10 great Asian horror films

Just as the vitality and bold style of manga has swept through the formerly American-dominated field of comic books, Asian cinema has left a lasting stamp on the horror-film genre — especially the violent and distinctively spooky movies currently coming out of Japan, known by their fans as J-horror. Hollywood has made English-language remakes of some of the bigger J-horror hits, including “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” but why not check out the originals? After all, you only need to fear a few subtitles.

Originally published on Oct. 29, 2007. Read the complete article.

Review: Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions And Wonders

English expatriate Neil Gaiman has arguably received the most attention for fantasy novels like American Gods and Anansi Boys, whose success raised him from genre obscurity to a space on the bestseller lists near Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. But he’s had a knack for the short story ever since his work on the Sandman comic series—a format that rewards the ability to say everything that needs to be said in 24 pages of large illustrated panels and short word balloons.

Fragile Things, Gaiman’s third short-story collection, is probably best viewed as a collection of B-sides rather than any kind of unified artistic statement. The works here include short poems, a novella-length American Gods sequel, and stories compiled from far-flung anthologies, including one written to illustrate a photograph of a sock monkey. So it’s understandable that some pieces are more consequential than others. Still, even the trifles are engagingly written, such as “Strange Little Girls,” a set of brief character sketches written for his friend Tori Amos, as liner notes to her 2001 album of the same name. The similar “Fifteen Painted Cards From A Vampire Tarot” seems even more like a warm-up writing exercise published prematurely, especially since Gaiman admits there are seven more cards yet to be written about.

That isn’t to say that the 31 pieces here (32, counting one tucked away in Gaiman’s introduction) are all oddments. The Hugo-winning “A Study In Emerald” cleverly interweaves the worlds of Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft by re-imagining Sherlock Holmes’ debut mystery in a Victorian England ruled by Cthulhu and its brethren. Another Lovecraft-inspired gem plants a character inspired by P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster in a world of wittily overstuffed gothic horror, and follows his frustrated attempts to write “serious” fiction to a satisfyingly logical conclusion. And it might seem odd that one of the best stories here, “Goliath,” was written for-hire to help promote the first Matrix movie, but Gaiman has a facility for putting his own twist on other people’s invented worlds, especially when he’s given the freedom to explore on his own terms. Though Fragile Things‘ odds-and-ends nature inevitably makes it disjointed, it’s also a good showcase for the breadth of Gaiman’s darkly whimsical imagination, wry humor, and penchant for elegantly creepy horror.

Originally published on Oct. 19, 2006. Read the complete article.

Interview: Minnesota Association Of Rogue Taxidermists

With Halloween looming, it’s an appropriate time to think about what makes a monster. Few know the answer better than Sarina Brewer, Scott Bibus, and Robert Marbury, the three artists at the core of the Minnesota Association Of Rogue Taxidermists, a Twin Cities art collective specializing in gore-drenched, provocative, and defiantly postmodern takes on the hunting-lodge staple. The three share a mordant sense of humor and a strong desire to poke holes in the boundaries between life and death, monstrous and normal. Bibus has a day job making zombies for a company that sells props and equipment for haunted houses. His work, typified by a squirrel gnawing on a bloody human finger, is the most cheerfully gory of the trio’s. Brewer’s self-termed “carcass art” also has plenty of dark wit, and evokes a strong sense of the uncanny. And Marbury  creates fabric animals that are like rabid, nightmare versions of Muppets. The three gained national attention (including a rave in the New York Times) for their first group show last year. features galleries of their art as well as the popular Beast Blender. The A.V. Club sat down with Marbury and Bibus (Brewer’s roof collapsed, forcing her to cancel).

Originally published on Oct. 26, 2005. Read the complete article.

Review: H.P. Lovecraft, Tales

H.P. Lovecraft, TalesHorror writer H.P. Lovecraft died in poverty in 1937, mostly unknown and treated with derision by the reputable literary world, to the degree that it acknowledged him at all. But over time, he found increasing cult popularity—his works have been filmed at least 40 times—and a more grudging but genuine critical acceptance. The new Lovecraft anthology Lovecraft: Tales, part of the prestigious Library Of America series, is the clearest indication yet of his rising reputation, and a victory both for Lovecraft and for the often-disrespected genres he worked in. Edited by Ghost Story author Peter Straub, Tales collects 20 of Lovecraft’s best stories, including “The Call Of Cthulhu,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and “Herbert West—Re-Animator.”

Originally published on March 8, 2005. Read the complete article.

Nine to tingle your spine: Slasher flims that are a cut above the rest

Let’s face it, Halloween just isn’t complete without a scary movie. A crazed killer with a chainsaw is just the thing to round out this ghoulish holiday. Here’s a few of our favorite films from the slasher genre, that knife-wielding set of horror flicks that includes the infamous “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. Read along as we take a stab at the nine of the genre’s best moments.

Originally published on Oct. 27, 2004. Read the complete article.

WordPress Themes

Spam prevention powered by Akismet