Saturday, 29 October 2011

Night Visions Maximum Halloween 3011 Halftime Report

When it's Halloween, I can't think of a better way to fill your quota of treats and tricks than watching five days' worth of horror and cult films at the Night Visions festival. This year, the festival has grown enournmously large, and with me having 20 tickets to films, I have a lot of films to blog about. So hopefully I'm ready with this weekday report before I'll be taken up by the main night's Plan 9. It's going to be a longer movie binge that I've ever attempted before, so if I don't make it, take these words as a warning.

Opening Film:
The Thing (USA, 2011)
Director: Matthijs van Hejiningen

For all the bad words spurred at it by horror fans, this prequel/remake of John Carpenter's 1982 re-imagining of a 50's B-film/classic survival horror film isn't that bad. It's just ultimately futile, as there isn't any need to upgrade anything. Everything in the original film, from Ennio Morricone's score to Rob Bottin's amazing special effects to Carpenter's confident direction still work. But the end result is still one of the better re-imaginings of horror films of late. The makers of the remake respect Carpenter's vision so much that rather than going out their way to replicate every character and scene, they rather choose to do their own narrative. I wish more remakers would be as considerate.

Taking place before the events of Carpenter's film, The New Thing takes place in 1982 at a Norwegian outpost in the Antarctica. They discover an ancient spaceship on ice, and call a handful of American researchers to study it, including grad student Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The creature they discover turns up to be very much alive, and capable of both killing off the entire crew, as well as inhabiting their bodies, creating perfect replicas.

Director Matthijs van Hejiningen, Jr. uses considerable time to build up tension and characters before they start to fight for their lives. Again, it really isn't that necessary as everyone who's seen the original knows how this will end for them, but it is nevertheless a nice gesture. There are too many characters to keep track of, but some that do grow a little close, so when they die, one isn't totally indifferent. Kate herself is a nice strong female character, if one doesn't actually expect that to mean her to be a multidimensional character as well. Winstead still does her best in the role.

As for the creature itself, it is now made primarily with (of course) CGI effects. And they aren't as scary, either, but still rather impressive-looking at least. Also his behavior isn't very logical, but that may be because he's just been thawed. The sense of paranoia is back, but of course this works the best in scenes that are almost carbon-copies of Carpenter's scenes.

I wouldn't go as far as to recommend this, but it does have several scenes that work and it really makes me want to see The Thing again. So as an appetizer or a companion piece, this gets a pass.

★★ 1/2

Revenge – A Love Story (Fuk sau che chi sei, Hong Kong 2010)
Director: Ching-Po Wong

While I saw The Thing beforehand, the real opening film of the festival for me was this return of the violent Hongkong CAT III-rated thrillers. The complicated plot of the film begins as pregnant women are murdered by a serial killer, and the police force close in on their main suspect. We then jump back to see the killer Kit (Juno Mak) start out as a mistreated grocery salesman. He falls madly in love with his client Wing (Sola Aoi), but the evil of the world as well as the corruption of the police force ruins their planned life together. Kit is actually performing an elaborate revenge scheme to get back at the police.

Indeed, while the film moves so fast that all of its plot-twists are hard to keep track of, it certainly succeeds in blurring the line between its heroes and villains. The police in this are some of the most rotten apples on the force I've witnessed on the big screen. But for all its name as a love story, it is a very masculine picture, where women are treated as MacGuffins. In fact, the lead lady Wing can't even talk, yet represents an otherworldly goodness. The central revenge plot would be more fascinating if she were fleshed out a little as a character. The film is also extremely violent, but also quite inventive in all its gore. There are a few really memorable kills, some of which Christopher Nolan probably wishes he would've come up with for The Dark Knight.


The Finlandia gala film: 
Merkitty (Finland, 1984)
Director: Ismo Sajakorpi

Finland has tended to be an unbelievably repressive country in regard of genre films. Previously I thought that all of out country's horror films could be counted with the fingers of one hand, but as some real gems have been found from the past, I'm now confident to say you'd need your other hand's fingers as well. Back in the early 1980's, when Western Europe's toughest cencorship still reigned in Finland, and there was no horror culture in the country to speak of, one man has an idea. He would do a six-part series for television, each of which would be an independent horror story, in the vein of Tales From The Crypt or The Twilight Zone. The man was Ismo Sajakorpi, but he was only allowed to shoot the first part of his Yöjuttu series before the TV channel pulled the plug on the project. That episode is the 50-minute Merkitty (which means Marked).

Ex-prostiture Irma Auer (Satu Silvo) attempts to escape her past and is engaged to marriage. She and her new fiancée are both interested in the occult, taking part of spiritist sessions. One night, Irma's pimp appears and wants her back on the force. He wrecks Irma's new life so beyond repair that the young woman commits suicide. But to the amazemant of her doctor (Eero Melasniemi) and her mortician (Matti Pellonpää), Irma soon walks out of the cooler, alive again. The lady soon escapes to Porvoo to live with her relative. But her life is haunted by the Grim Reaper and some twisted otherworldly visions he brings with him.

This being a TV production from the 80's, there's bound to be some campy acting and scenes in the film. That being said, I felt guilty for chuckling and for the audience for not appreciating the power of this piece. Sajakorpi knows how to create a creepy athmosphere and has the visual knack to pull off some truly horrifying visions. It's a real pity that he couldn't finish his proposed series, or never attempted to direct a real feature-length film. The film's plot moves brisk and has perhaps a few too many characters. Some famous finnish actors have tiny cameos and Silvo turned out to be a major star after that. But the central story is the tragedy of a woman between life and death and that is dealt with the necessary gravita. All props to Silvo, who is great as a scream-queen, and manages to run pretty fast in high heels at the pebbly pavements of Porvoo.


Another Earth (USA, 2011)
Director: Mike Cahill

Ponderous sci-fi films belong among the more outrageous horrors at Night Visions festival, but I'm still glad that this year their time slot has been earlier. Still, the dreamlike quality and the slow approach of this new indie lulled me to sleep for a while. So forgive me if I've missed something of big importance.

Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a soon-to-be MIT student, reckless and loving life. One night, while driving in her car she hears a radio broadcast that a planet much like Earth has been found and is coming nearer and nearer to us. The distracted Rhoda crashes the car to the Family Sedan of the composer John Burroughs (William Mapother). John loses his wife and daughter in the accident, while Rhoda gets a prison sentence. Years after, she hasn't still gotten rid of the guilt. Nervous and anxious, she isn't qualified for anything other than cleaning a school. An expedition is to be made on Earth II, and Rhoda decides to apply, wanting to leave her dead-end life. She also decides to apologize to John, but can't do it at his door, instead lying about being from a cleaning service. The pair start to develop a friendship, and perhaps something more, but Rhoda still carries the guilt in her heart.

As you would guess, the sci-fi elements are in a pretty small role in this film. And they work in an allegory fashion, the film being about forgiveness and about getting another chance. Brit Marling is wonderfully low-key in her role, and it's hard not to feel sympathy for a troubled twenty-something that wrecked her life just because of one accident. Yet the film moves slow and doesn't really have that many surprises at its sleeve, story-wise or cinematically. Still, it is directed with confidence and one should always welcome another ponderous sci-fi film to the world with open arms. Cahill may yet amount to something big.


Loputon Gehennan liekki (Finland, 2011)
Director: Sami Kettunen

Black Metal is truly one of the most controversial genres of music, because many artists have strong connections to neo nazism, satanic rituals and, especially in Norway, arsony. Being a very metal country, Finland of couse also has a very "healthy" scene of bands, many of them popular around BM circles around the world. For the world premiere of the documentary film dealing with the subject, the whole movie theatre Maxim was packed to the rafters with anxious fans, shouting out to the director and eagerly wanting to see the film. Based on a trailer, Sami Kettunen's documentary seemed to be both a giant warehouse filled with one-liners, and a fascinating look at a subculture, where many of the members border on insane criminals.

But to this punk rocker's view of the 50-minute documentary, it only delivers on one of the aspects. Kettunen has truly found an impressive arsenal of metalheads to interview, and they do share some pretty interesting stories with him openly. But as an introduction to the subculture, the film is seriously lacking. For one thing, the film has very little actual music. The budget has been minimal, so to avoid paying for the rights, most of the screentime is given to the interviews. Kettunen also has problems with pacing, halting the film for excruciatingly long to shoot a boring satanic ritual where some weirdos only chant gibberish from Necronomicon. He also fails to question any of the questionable choices of black metallists, be it from their Extreme Rightist ideology, misogynism or hatred for all institutions in the society. There isn't much pondering of what makes young men turn into the dark side.

It does deliver some good laughs from the outrageous black metallist comments, but in the end one is left wanting more out of the subject. Maybe Kettunen is too engulfed into the subculture himself, and someone a little outside the circles would treat the idea with more criticism and approach it from a more interesting angle.


Trick or Treat (USA, 1986)
Director: Charles Martin Smith

It seems silly now, but hard rock was really music for the outcasts back in the early-to-mid 80's. Moralists who had nothing better to do were preaching against the devil music on TV, and in school you might be bullied for just being a headbanger. During my childhood, the tougher you were on the playground, the heavier music you listened to, and moralists had already found video games to pick on. But Trick or Treat is a fun time travel to the days where nerdy metal heads were wishing they could kick the asses of everyone who wronged them.

So is also Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price), an outcast who gets picked on for being weird at school (!) and who worships the Alice Cooper-like shock rocker Sammi Curr (Tony Fields). Near Halloween, it is reported that Curr has died in a hotel fire. The grieving Weinbauer gets Curr's last LP's Demo from a local DJ, and finds that it contains backward messages. Curr communicates with Weinbauer through the record, and allows for him to get revenge on his bullies. But then Curr gets thirsty for blood and demands for Weinbauer to kill.

The film has the right attitude, and boasts with cameos from Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne (as a right-wing televangelist!). So, it's a little disappointing that the film is a little basful in its violence. A lot of people get electrocuted to death, but instead of smoking skeletons, they only vanish into air by smoke. An odd rape monster appears in one scene but is never seen again. The film does have a pair of boobies or two, and the hilariously awful hair metal soundtrack is provided by the band Fastway. The film has funny enough high school hijinks, and some inventive physical comedy. It also rips good fun at the scare caused by heavy metal and its influence on kids. However, it does run out of steam near the end, and the final showdown is a bit underwhelming. Still, this is one to recommend if you have heavy opinions about rock 'n roll. Just be sure to see it with like-minded friends.

The film's title is stupid and doesn't fit the film at all, but even more hilariously un-descriptive is the film's finnish title Henki vaarassa (Life in danger).

★★★ 1/2

Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, Italy 1975)
Director: Dario Argento

The band Goblin, known for the soundtracks of numerous classic Italian horror films (most of them directed by Dario Argento), played a rare gig at Helsinki about a month ago. Since that unforgettable night, all of the attendees have been anxious to see their favorite giallos again and again. Luckily Night Visions recognized this urge and screened my very favorite giallo, Profondo Rosso to the big screen of Maxim. Goblin provided a video greeting to be screened in front of the film. Suffice to say, I was thrilled.

And time hasn't eaten away any of the appeal of Argento's greatest masterpiece. The film copy was from the superior and shorter American cut of the film that leaves much of the film's jarring humour, but still doesn't make the film overly serious. The film's plot has an American pianist and my haircut-sharing lookalike Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnessing a brutal murder of a clairvoyant in Rome. He gets entangled in a mystery, that goes back to one murder at Christmastime 20 years before. The sadistic killer always plays a creepy children's song before attacking. With Daly trying to crack the case are an Italian journalist and generally tough chick Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), Carlo, a drunkard (Gabriele Lavia) and the Roman Inspector Calcabrini (Eros Pagni).

Argento perfecteted his cinematic style with this film. His camera swoops, follows and focuses on close-ups. The film has been a real pioneer in horror cinema, which were never the same after this. For example, Halloween gets the credit for using the killer's point-of-view, but this was used to some extent already in here. Argento pays close attention to faucets, dolls, mirrors, children's drawings etc., giving them an almost mythological totem power. The kill scenes are made with faster cuts, but they still hold immense power with their icky violence and the extensive use of blood. The drowning in boiling water is one of the most horrifying kills ever to me as a horror film aficianado. The film's plot isn't really that important, and it has a number of holes and flaws, but who cares about that when everything else is so perfected? The hallucinatory colors of this film on a big screen are among the most perfect cinematic experiences I've had this year.


The Whisperer in Darkness (USA, 2011)
Director: Sean Branney

Sean Branney and Andrew Leman are massive H.P. Lovecraft fans, having made the cool silent fan film The Call of Cthulhu (2005) before. Now, they have co-written, while Branney has directed and Leman has produced, another Lovecraft tale, The Whisperer in Darkness to make their first feature-length film. As the original story has been written in 1931, Branney has decided to make the film as if it were from the 30's as well.

Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer) is a folklorist, interested in finding the facts behind the legends. When he hears about sightings of strange creatures in Vermont, he would like to arrange an expedition. But he is still having trouble getting other scientists to believe there might be otherworldly aliens lurking in the woods. He starts to exchange letters with the local Vermont man, Henry Akeley (Barry Lynch), who insists that the sightings and the monsters are real. But someone doesn't want Akeley to reveal all his information, and he and his son soon get into trouble. Wilmarth decides to travel to Vermont to solve the case once and for all.

I am not a big Lovecraft fan, altough I admit that some of his scenarios and ideas are pretty creepy. A straight adaptation into cinema would rarely work, as Branney, present at the screening imself admitted. The orginal Whisperer story would have been about two guys reading their mail if adapted straight from the pages. Yet the ending they tacked on doesn't feel as sophisticated and ever-growing horrors as Lovecraft imagined. It feels like the climax of a bad Will Smith movie. Otherwise, the story is slow and long-wided, padding up the twenty-page story as much as possible. It is easy to get bored. In Call of Cthulhu, the film was saved by the cute stop-motion Cthulhu, which makes it sad that the monsters here are crappy CGI creatures who couldn't scare Scooby-Doo. There are some really good scenes, such as the discussions with brains in a jar, but mostly the film was just dire.


1990: Bronx Warriors (Italy, 1982)
Director: Enzo G. Castellari

The legendary Italian exploitation director Enzo G. Castellari was this year's biggest guest of honor, so naturally the festival had to show one of his post-apocalyptic biker films. Taking it's cue from The Warriors, Escape From New York and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Castellari managed to blend his subjects into a film that was also highly original and massively popular. The film was in fact the sixth most popular film in the US on the year it was made.

A beautiful young girl, Ann (Stefania Girolami Goodwin) escapes from Manhattan into the Bronx, which has by 1990 been restricted from other New York and is a violent playground for various biker gangs. Ann is chased by the gang The Zombies by Trash (Mark Gregory), the leader of a gang called The Riders. It is revealed that she is the daughter of a powerful industrialist and due to become the CEO of the company, a fate which Ann seeks to avoid. But the Manhattan fat cats won't let her escape so easily. They send out the ruthless Hammer (Vic Morrow) after her. Hammer is an expert of war, knowing how to play the weak spots of various bikers and how to get the gangs and gang members to fight each other. Hammer is also a big sadist, taking maniacal pleasure on bloodshed.

Impressively, Castellari has actually filmed the outdoor shots in real Bronx, and the underground shots in real catacombs in Italy. Thus the film already seems like a lot more plausible than some of his other postapocalyptic films which have been shot on a gravel mount. The acting ranges from ludicrouslu wooden-faced (Gregory), to über-coolness (Fred Williams), to the kind of manic just-having-fun craziness, the kind that Raul Julia sported on Street Fighter (Vic Morrow). Like any good exploitation film, the film is violent, inventive, more than a little childish, and more fun than a barrell of monkeys. Castellari claimed after the screening that he meant the film to be serious, but he is the sort of tongue-in-cheek type that I wouldn't be sure of that. As of now, it is pure campy, trashy fun.


So here's the first set, hopefully I'll be back for more soon. If I don't make it tonight carry on rocking!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Horrible 00's, Part Deux

More Best Horror Films of the 2000s – The Cursed Number 15 in our ongoing series that just won't stay dead!

 I'm not often dissatisfied with my list type blog posts, but I did have the feeling that last years Best Horror Films of the 2000s was somewhat lacking. Never to back away from a challenge, I did realize there were a lot of other very fine horror films made in the last decade that deserved to be mentioned.

Tonight, Night Visions Maximum Halloween 3011 kicks off at Helsinki. So, to celebrate that and the upcoming Halloween, let me present to you the further top 10 of recent horror flicks:

[REC] (Spain, 2007)
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

Found footage horror flicks would've just be forgotten gimmicks in period pieces such as The Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust if it weren't for this highly innovative film. A spanish news crew happens to be with the fire departement as they are called in on a block of flats. Some rage-infusing disease is spreading among the inhabitants. Soon the entire area is quarantined, leaving the crew stuck inside the building with blood-thirsty monsters. For a modern zombie film, there isn't any tongue-in-cheek humour, just fighting for survival. This sort of film works best in the cinema, because it allows you to feel dropped in the middle of the critcal situation yourself and start to feel the panic. It's a real roller-coaster ride, fast and unrelentless with scares coming in thick.

To be fair, I saw the film's American remake Quarantine first and I kind of like it more, because it allows us to spend a little more time with the characters before everything goes to hell and doesn't have as clear reason for all of the things to happen. If you haven't seen either one, pick that, but if you've seen [REC] alreaady, don't bother. It recreates most of the film in a shot-by-shot fashion.

American Psycho (USA, 2000)
Director: Mary Harron

Bret Easton Ellis' masterpiece novel of the same name must've been one of the most difficult books ever to turn into a film. The novel's first 150 pages follow the sleazy rich yuppie businessman Patrick Bateman as he goes through business lunches in high-end restaurants with his obscenely rich "friends" who he secretly loathes. Bateman notices all the luxury product brands around him and gets insanely jealous if someone's wearing something more expensive than he is. After excruciatingly long scenes of upper-class assholism, it is revealed that Bateman is also a blood-thirsty psychpath, bent on torturing and killing (especially women) in a most violent way possible.

The film, of course, makes this revealation much sooner. It does feel like a quick run-through of the novel's events, but it does manage to reveal the obscenity of having it all. Christian Bale made his first truly iconic performance as Bateman, a guy who can go from charming to petty to a douchebag to a dangerous lunatic in seconds. The violence is also toned down from the novel, but director Harron allows much of it happen off-screen, making the viewer's imagination make the worst out of the scenes. Bateman's paranoia of getting caught is increased, but really the world around him isn't interested in his blood work, and sees no difference in his victims. The possibility of it all happening inside his head is also open. Like the novel, the film offers no exit when the credits start to roll.

Antichrist (Denmark/Germany/Poland/France/Sweden/Italy, 2009)
Director: Lars von Trier

Leave it to Lars von Trier to transcend genre lines. Horror is what this film mostly resembles, even though it really doesn't belong to any genre. It's just pure Trier. I don't necessarily think this is his very best film (altough a number of reasonable people would also argue so), but at least it is his most raw, most powerful and most shocking work. It is a manifesto of his own depression and the feelings of inadequacy, guilt and gloom, and the dismissal of trying to alnalyze them rationally and cold. See, you get a lot more out of this than your generic slasher flick.

A couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe) have suffered the death of their firstborn child. They were having steamy hot sex while he jumped out the window. Later on, the couple retreats on a distant cabin to find redemption in their devastating feelings. But when the civilized way to look at the thing runs against the sher forces of nature itself, things are bound to get messy.

Trier's symbolism is a little on the nose here, a little inpenetrable there. Like in many of his work, it's impossible to decide whether he's pulling the collective leg of his entire audience. Yet the odd little film is like none other and its devastating athmosphere more horrifying than in any other film of last decade. The film also needs a little time to grow on the viewer. At first viewing I was disappointed in it, but it has grown on me. Mostly because its haunting imagery will never leave the viewer alone.

Eden Lake (United Kingdom, 2008)
Director: James Watkins

Seemingly normal people, not possessed by any kind of demons or rabies etc. are often the most frightening antagonists in horror films. In this film we have teenage hooligans who have been so spoiled that they grow ever more blood-thirsty when they don't get what they want. A young couple (Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly) take off to a romantic weekend in the British countryside but run into these sorts of little beasts. Refusing to allow the obnoxious, loud ruffians to spoil their weekend, they resort to threats, which the teens respond ever more harshly. The teens start to dare each other to step over lines, which leads to real brutalities, while the adults respond the same way. Soon both sides have blood on their hands.

The film's subject is handled with some weightm, as the problem isn't solely with the youth, but in their parents' empty lifestyles and disinterest in their doings as well. In this world, the nice die first. The community doesn't care much for the weak and the wounded, but a dog's death brings great sorrow. The movie's violence is really sadistic, but it can also be really pressuring, not just disgusting. The film is also the first annual Night Visions Audience Award Winner.

House of the Devil (USA, 2009)
Director: Ti West

In the 80's, there was a wide-spred scare that Satanic cults thirsting on innocent blood may hide in any neighbourhood without a trace to the outside. Ti West's film works great as a tribute to both that era's panic-driven news items and the good old-fashioned horror films. College student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) opts to become a babysitter to an odd family living in the middle of nowhere. She and her sassy friend Greta Gerwig (Megan) are no fools and the girls take off to the house together to avoid any psychopath shenanigans. Yet as it turns out, there is foul play going on and the girls are soon separated and scared.

Unlike many other nostalgic horror directors, West hasn't chosen the campiest and silliest aspects of the 70's and 80's to replicate. The setting, the music and clothing do bring back those times, but not in an in-you-face or over-the-top style. Instead, the film is a welcome return of the kind of horror films that play on having a disturbing mood to them and are constantly one-upping the feeling of paranoia shared by the main characters as well as the audience. The film is created with seemingly small resources, as you don't really need more than a small scratch or a moving shadow to scare the audience if it's played right. So good is the first part of the film that the ending is a clear let-down of panicky running around. It's not that bad per se, as the most obvious clichés are avoided, yet still feels too conventional for a movie that started this good. But as a whole, it is a really spine-tingling work that doesn't explain everything in it through and through.

Open Water (USA, 2003)
Director: Chris Kentis

This minimalistic horror film really divided the audiences. I happened to love it. A scuba-diving couple (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) are left in the middle of the ocean, when their boat has sailed off. So they just have to float around the ocean, figuring out what there is to do about their situation. And then the sharks come around. When they only need to survive the ordeal, they start to realize how little the daily woes in their rat race life actually matter.

I really like the kind of horror films where the situation is plausible, but you couldn't figure out how you would save yourself in the same situation. This whole scenario scares the living shit out of me, and knowing it's based on actual events makes it all the more horrible. There isn't a single special effect used on this film and its shows in unrelenting realism. Of course, this sort of film is pulled off by the actors and their characters and I must say that I could hope for a little more convincing performances from the main pair. But as a bickering married couple in a jam, blaming each other, they are believable enough. One cares about what's going to happen to them. The stylish ending doesn't spell it out for us viewers, altough there really was no escape at any point anyway.

The Others (USA(Spain/France/Italy 2001)
Director: Alejandro Amenábar

Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) lives with her two children, who are sensitive to light, in a large mantion. The Second World War is about to end and Grace is waiting for her husband to return home from the front. He has strict rules for her children, in fear that they hurt themselves by coming in contact with the sunlight. But it seems the house is also inhabitetd by malicious others, who attempt to break those rules, apparently to drive the family out.

The Others is easy to dismiss on these sorts of lists because the sort of filmmaking it represents was farmed to death in the early 2000s and seems like it has run  its course by now. But nevertheless it is a powerful piece of cinema that left an impression me on the only time I've seen it. It is spooky and its mysteriousness tingles the imagination.

Shadow of the Vampire (USA/UK/Luxembourg 2000)
Director: E. Elias Merhige

Horror films are often about other horror films. But rarely do they go as far into that field as here. This is seemingly a drama about the time F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) shot his classic silent horror film Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des grauens (1922). Murnau is a true perfectionist, wanting to create the ultimate horror film. That's why he has hired Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) in the lead role. Schreck is, after all, an actual vampire. The death and disappearance of multiple crew members doesn't worry Murnau at all, as long as he gets everything he wants on film. But what to do when Schreck sets his eyes on the lead actress when there is still a lot of film to be shot?

The film's plot is, of course, utter baloney, as Schreck was already an acclaimed stage actor when he was cast in Murnau's film in the real life. But that hardly matters. What matters is that it's plausible. Schreck's vampire is one of the most terrifying in the history of cinema, because it has been shot so it moves unnaturally. It doesn't matter that his make up looks ridiculous by today's standards. The film does a good job depicting the spiralling madness concerning ambitious cinema auteurs. Malkovich and Dafoe make a good lead pair, almost as much at each other's throats as Kinski and Herzog. The film is actually pretty light on actual horrors, but as a mind game, it is quite swell.

Slither (Canada/USA 2006)
Director: James Gunn

If horror films of the 70's and 80's are hard to emulate on the modern day, even harder are the B-movies of the 1950's. But even that wouldn't be difficult enough for director-screenwriter James Gunn. No, he emulates the kind of outrageous B-movie parodies they had in the 80's (as well as work from such horror maestros as Romero or Carpenter in the 70's and 80's). So the end result's a sort of double-parody. No wonder it tanked at the box office. But that was just the fault of the movie-going public, because Gunn's film is actually both extremely creepy and pretty darn funny.

A meteor hits the outskirts of a small American town. It contains parasitic worms that can take over people or turn them into gruesome monsters. Cool B-list actors such as Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks try to salvage the town from the alien rampage and possible taking over the world. As one can witness from the film's awesome poster, there is a strong sexual sense in the penile aliens, and the R this movie got was well justified. But it works as well to parody the sex-hungriness and boozehoundiness of the American midlands. Of course, this doesn't reach the lofty qualities of Cronenberg's Shivers, which has been a major influence, but it is one of the best horror comedies of the last decade that too few people have actually seen.

Wolf Creek (Australia, 2005)

Director: Greg McLean

Horror genre also likes to play with stupid gimmicks time and time again. It's no wonder the Australian Greg McLean's stripped first feature film was hailed exceptionally good by horror experts around the globe. Seemingly, it's a really back-to-basics horror film. Three young backpackers go on a trip to a middle of nowhere. Their car has trouble. A friendly-seeming stranger offers them help and towes their car to his far-away ranch. You can see how it plays out. But, at the risk of SPOILING the film for those who haven't seen it, the real strength of the film is in the end. McLean refuses to play out to the genre's convictions any more. So whenever we think that a strong, pure heroine is emerging that will survive the whole ordeal, our hopes are shattered. The serial killer Mick Taylor (the wonderful John Jarratt) is so relentless, ruthless and merciless that he will use any chance to off them. People don't do moronic horror movie mistakes in this, they only come unprepared to what Taylor has in his bag. There isn't going to be a purifying catharsis in the end of this film and that's why it feels all the more harrowing.

McLean shoots everything in a matter-of fact way. He doesn't build a threatening athmosphere but rather gives out some magnificent postcard views of the Australian Outback. It doesn't seethe with evil, but all it needs is one apple rotten to the core that can hide very easily in the middle of nowhere.

Bubbling Under: The Devil's Rejects, Dog Soldiers, Hierro, The Human Centipede, Session 9

To Be Seen: Hard Candy, Hatchet, May, A Tale of Two Sisters, Them

Have a Happy Halloween and if you're coming to Night Visions, I'll see you there!

Friday, 21 October 2011

A Tale of Three Tintins

For all of us who have grown up with the Tintin comic books, it's an exciting time. Steven Spielberg has been attempting to adapt the classic Belgian comic book series into a movie since the 80's, and finally his vision is ready. The new Tintin film utilizes modern motion-capture technology to create somewhat realistic animation where the facial expressions and bodily movements of actual actors are used. But this is not by far the first time Tintin has been on the big screen. Indeed, there has been two French live-action films of the adventures of Tintin. I take a look at the new blockbuster and its two predecessors.

The original cast of Hergé's comic book.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn 3D (USA, 2011)
Director: Steven Spielberg

There really was no need to worry that Tintin's world would be sanitized for American audiences. Spielberg's Tintin is a funny, exciting and tremendously entertaining adventure movie. For all the fear of the uncanny valley on the character's faces, the caricaturic features are actually quite vivid and the viewer gets used to them after a while. No one complains that Pixar's characters look creepy, and altough they may have realistic skin an details, the characters here are clearly cartoonish in a way that doesn't emulate real people too intensily. The world feels like the one Hergé drew. Indeed the movie starts off with Hergé's CGI alter ego drawing a portrait of our young hero at a scrap meet.

Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a young reporter who happens to buy a beautiful model ship (of a vessel called The Unicorn) from a scrap meet. As his purchase arouses all sorts of hubbub from shady people, the curious newspaperman starts to investigate further, believing that there's a good story behind the mystery. When he gets shanghai'd to a ship run by smugglers', he meets the ship's captive Captain, Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis). Haddock's a pure-hearted old drunk, who has lost all control over the shady business going on at his ship. He also has information on a great treasure, told as a legend in his family for generations. He just needs to get sober enough to remember it.

The adventure takes the pair to the Atlantic, Sahara, Morocco and finally back home. Like any good buddy picture, the characters don't get along at first, but learn to like and respect each other by the end. True to the comics, Tintin himself doesn't really have any strong characteristics. So it stands to reason that the film's minor characters steal the film again and again. Captain Haddock's alcoholism may not be suitable for the younger children, but it provides some of the film's most hilarious jokes. Almost as funny are Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as bumbling Interpol detectives Thompson and Thomson. Familiar faces from the comics pop up now and then, but don't overcrowd the film. The focus is still on the main characters.

Tintin lives in an unmentioned European city that could be Brussels, London or any other one that has a sea port, really. The film is based on two comic books, The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws, that came out in the 1940's. Thus the world also seems to be stuck during the olden times, judging by the car models, carter ships, aeroplanes and such. However, the strength of Tintin is that it works in any possible part of the world, any possible time and by any possible reader. It's an adventure for all ages.

The film deals a lot with reflections, mirages and daydreams. Many times something important is spotted through a reflection in a glass. It is after all, fitting, seeing as Spielberg is covering his actors with non-existent features, attempting to recreate visuals from a comic book. The film is a real dream within a dream within a dream. So it's funny that none of Hergé's patented surrealistic dream sequences show up. The same quality can, however be seen in the Catch Me If You Can-esque animated opening sequence that gives out nods to nearly every one of the Tintin books. These easter eggs are confidently spread in the film as well.

Even the film's 3D isn't just a distraction, as Spielberg has truly gone off his way to make use for the technology. Action scenes are shot with a long single shot, where the camera goes around to wild angles. There's a strong sense of being in on the action and forgetting you even are wearing a pair of painful glasses. The film takes a while to pick off steam at first, but after that the action varies from pirate battles to crane fights. The most outstanding scene is the motorcycle chase near the end, which would give Indiana Jones a run for his money.

The film's story is faithful to the comic book, and thus ends promising more. I hope there will be, because I was willing to follow Tintin and Haddock on new adventures straight away! I'd say it's among the best, the most innovative comic-book films with Sin City and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The film is excellent escapism from the dreary day-to-day life. It actually managed to do something very few films do, and made me happy, smiling for the rest of the day. Good Show!


Tintin and the Golden Fleece (Tintin et le mystére de la Toison d'Or, France/Belgium 1961)
Director: Jean-Jacques Vierne

If you're wondering why I didn't use a chronological order to discuss these movies, the reason is simple. Americans aren't too familiar with Tintin, and thus Spielberg's film works well as an introduction to the character and his world. The two films produced in the 60's already assume that the viewer is familiar with the characters and thus doesn't attempt to introduce them one bit. You're whisked into their world straight away.

French fits into these character's mouths a lot better than English. So I'm about to use the French names of the characters and places as well. Captain Haddock is spending his life peacefully at the Moulinsart Castle. When his old friend passes away and leaves a ship for him in his will, he reclutantly agrees to accompany Tintin and Professor Tournesol (Calculus) to Istanbul, Turkey. It is revealed that Haddock's new ship, The Golden Fleece is a worthless piece of old junk, yet it brings about buyout bids from shady businessmen. The sentimental Haddock refuses to sell because of his loyalty to his old friend, but it soon brings Tintin and himself in mortal peril.

This film is clearly aimed at children, which explains the colorful imagery and the easygoing athmosphere. The central mystery is a lot more stupid and simple than it was on the comic book The Secret Of The Unicorn, which it more or less replicates. But the look and the sound of the characters is maintained pretty accuratelly. Georges Wilson in particular is a perfect Haddock, grumpy and hot-headed by surface, but sentimental, loyal and good-hearted by nature. It helps that he can swear as well, too. Jean-Pierre Talbot is an OK Tintin, but seems a bit creepily old. He seems more like a scout-master than a boy scout. The film's jokes are no match for Hergé, but as we'll soon see, they could be a lot worse. There's money in the budget for gadgets, gizmos and animnal extras. Even Tintin's dog Milou (Snowy) seems to be well-trained and for once, he actually has something to do in the film. The film's pace is leisurely, but it works well as entertainment for a sunday afternoon. 


Tintin and the Blue Oranges (Tintin et les oranges bleues, France/Spain 1964)
Director: Philippe Condroyer

Once the swingin' 60's got really rolling, we got some far-out stories for even our children's entertainment. Pity the premise is clearly the best thing about the next (and so far, last) live action Tintin movie. Professor Tournesol's colleague Professor Zalamea sends him a package which contains weird, blue oranges. Before the Professor has a chance to study them (or Haddock has the chance to eat them), a burglar steals them. Tournesol, Haddock, Tintin and Milou decide to go to Valencia, Spain to meet the Professor in person. But little do they know that he's been kidnapped, and the same fate awaits also Tournesol (really, when isn't he kidnapped?). Tintin must get to the bottom of the mystery.

I do love how oranges bleues sounds in French. Luckily it's repeated all the time.
While the previous Tintin at least attempted to do a film for all ages, The Blue Oranges is merely for children, and is almost unbearable for an adult. More than Tintin or Haddock, the film's heroes are a group of violent Spanish children, brandishing bludgeoning weapons. They start out by beating Haddock and in the end save Tintin with violence. Way to teach the kids not to beat each other up, Tintin. Talbot (as Tintin again) has grown even more creepily old, while Haddock has been replaced with Jean Bouise, who brandishes an unconvincing fake beard and acts like a total idiot or a douchebag the whole time. This isn't my beloved Captain!

The film has little action (altough the few scenes are kind of okay). Moreover, it has plenty of attempts to comedy, which are, simply put, dreadful. Captain Haddock's dancing and even the bumbling antics of Dupond and Dupont (Thompson and Thomson) only manage to raise shame in the viewer. Unbelievably the comic book genius René Goscinny himself was one of the film's four writers. None of the magnificent wit from Asterix, Iznogoud or Lucky Luke is apparent on the screen. The film moves at a glacier pace and doesn't really go anywhere. The bad guy is just the kind of racial stereotype the real Hergé attempted to avoid (but didn't always succeed). To top it off, the film has a horrible, repetitive Spanish soundtrack. This is the Hercules in New York of Tintin movies!


Sunday, 16 October 2011

Les extraterrestres extraordinaire, or: the best aliens

After watching Cowboys & Aliens, I was disappointed in the film's aliens. How can an alien race that manages to do interstellar travel, resort to drooling, growling and chasing little kids around naked on Earth? I realize that the realities of extraterrestial civilizations and their behaviour is a really nerdy thing to be concerned about. But movies tend to have aliens that all look alike, act alike and still look an awful lot like us humans. If there is intelligent life in space, I'm sure that it doesn't look anything like humans. I mean, evolution is based on life forms developing over the living conditions. As the living conditions in an outer space planet can't be exactly the same as in Earth, the extraterrestial life forms must have all sorts of evolutionary developments that differ from ours. And also, aliens sure won't act either like us humans do, or like wild animals do. If a race has been so developed as to be able to travel the stars, there must be huge culturical differences to ours.

Nevertheless, in movies there has been a considerable amount of cool aliens, and thus I present to you my ten favorite races. No Star Wars or -Trek creatures here. They are not showcased enough in their movies, or are just as boring as the whole (Trek) series that has them. I favour creatures from horror films, science fiction tales and other creature features where they are the undoubted stars.

10) Ro-Men from Robot Monster

Let's kick this list off with some old-school B-movie monsters. This cult movie is famous because its creature work is notoriously crappy. The film's alien race, Ro-Men, look like space gorillas with a diver's helmet with a TV antenna coming out of it. But let's stop and think that previous sentence a while.

Isn't that actually awesome?! Hell, I've seen B-movie monsters that look like the director's cousin put on a rug. In that context, and for that budget, Ro-Men are actually pretty cool. In the film itself, they have wiped all humans from the face of the earth. All humans? No, a small family still has picnics by a cave and resists the might of the Ro-Men army. One R-Man is sent to wipe them out, but in the course of the film, he learns about love and comes into conflict with his superior officer's orders. Ro-Man's also easily distracted by soap bubbles. Also, there's some stock footage lizard-dinosaurs, and the film's plot turns out to just be an annoying little kid's dream. Or does it?

If one Ro-Man can bring all of humanity to its knees, that guarantees a place on this list. It's a fun movie to watch snippets from (not the whole thing, though), so it's recommendable to be playing on the background of a Halloween-themed party.

9) Killer Klowns From Outer Space

Speaking about totally preposterous alien races, the one that really takes the cake (to the face) are these creepy little bastards. They seem to have modeled their civilization according to our earth circuses, so they fly to the planet in a big circus tent, look like clowns, have balloon dogs as bloodhounds, kill people with popcorn and venomous pies, and of course are murderous bastards who want to wipe out all human life from Earth.

This is, of course a total parody of the kind of alien films they used to have in the 50's. But in fact, murderous space clowns are no more ridiculous than most of the creatures they tried to pass off as space aliens back then. Every sane person on earth would also tell you that clowns are scary in their own right, let alone these twisted little creatures with pointy teeth and bags full of tricks to capture unsuspecting humans.

So perhaps the circus motive is just an adaptible alien race's way to get people's attention? This would explain why the klowns look so strange. Their plan involves wrapping people up in cotton candy inside their circus tent. It's not exactly clear why, perhaps the clowns will eat them if they fall asleep. At least the gigantic klown king seems pretty hungry, and what else should such a monstrosity eat but human cotton candy? For the teenagers arriving to the rescue, the circus tent/spaceship of the klowns is full of deadly surprises, too. It would ruin a lot of fun of the film to reveal them all, but suffice to say, the klowns are more than a lottle deranged and really take their circus-theme seriously. But they manage to be banished and we never have to endure such horrors again. Or do we? No, the film never got a sequel.

8) Mars Attacks! Aliens

While Klowns might be mischevous, they also need their plan to eat. In Tim Burton's most underrated film, the Martians who stop by are essentially Gremlins, in that they cause mayhem, destruction and murder just for laughs. The big-brained, bulging-eyed bastards start the film off by setting a herd of cattle on fire. Their pranks get even more elaborate and murderous from there on.

Humans, particularly government officials, are pretty clueless in the film. Even though the quacking aliens send them threatening video letters, they believe the aliens are coming on a mission of peace. The overtly political correct world blames a single hippie's released dove as a message of war. In reality, it's just a ruse for the aliens to go around making our world their playground and to kill off a bunch of celebrities. Or in Pierce Brosnan's and Sarah Jessica Parker's case, do some weird medical experiments on them. Burton has assembled an impressive cast of stars, who mostly become victims of the martians' practical jokes. This sketchy disaster film has taken it's best ideas from a ground-breaking bubblegum card series, as silly as that sounds. But it works. The Martians wreck up every city on the planet, be it Las Vegas, Washington D.C., Paris or some midwestern town. For sheer effectiveness and having fun doing so, the martians would earn a higher spot on the list. But in the end, they are pretty easily disposed of. But hell, they at least wore their space suits all the time, and didn't die from any sort of viral disease.

7) Bad Taste Aliens

In Mars Attacks!, the Martians attempted to infiltrate the human society by dressing up as Lisa Marie with giant hair. In Peter Jackson's debut feature film, they have an even more cunning disguise: they look a lot like a bunch of twentysomething newzealandaise kids, who could be friends of Peter Jackson. But when they show their real form, the aliens are actually grotesquely bulging, bloaded lard-asses, who have trouble running. But they do work for an interstellar hamburger company, after all.

Yes, the plot of the aliens in this splatter flick is that they have come up with a delicious new treat to sell their customers: human burgers! They land on a small town in New Zealand and start chopping the inhabitants up. They chop them in such small pieces that the meat from the entire village fits in a few bloody cardboard boxes. Luckily the government knows just who to call and the aliens have to deal with The Boys, a crack commando unit of extremely violent mercenaries, who don't like aliens on their beautiful island.

But the aliens are tough: even if you run them down on your Beatle-truck and cut them in half, they will still throw pine cones at you. They for a sort of cultish movement that follows their boss blindly. Most of the aliens are third-grade workers, just doing the killing to pay off the bills. But at least the job has the benefits of free puke-tasting evenings. For weaponry, they favour hammers, mallets and other bashing weapons over rayguns, and rightly so, because they are terrible shots with Earth weapons.
Their space ship, which resembles a flying country house, is also pretty memorable. But they can't hold a candle to Derek, 'cause Dereks don't run.

6) They Live Aliens

For the award for the aliens that have managed to infiltrate the human society the best, look no further. Why, they could be sitting right behind you, now. In John Carpenter's bitter letter to the yuppie era, aliens have taken over our world already, we just don't know it. They control the banks and the economy and the governments and the police forces, while normal working-class people can't find a job or a home to call their own. The aliens also control the climate change, turning up the planet's temperature to suit their species better. When they've used up all of our resources, they move on to the next planet. And who knows how long have they been here already.

The hard-lucked Nada (Rowdy Roddy Piper) happens to find a box of sunglasses in an evicted house. He soon realizes that these sunglasses allow their bearer to see the world as it is: just a ruse to lure people into consuming in order to make the rich aliens even richer. He soon joins the underground resistance. Lucky for him, the aliens have some problems, and one is that they are pretty poorly organized. When Nada starts mass-murdering them, even their own police force only sends one squad car at him at a time. Even though the aliens have wrist-communicators (that look like Rolexes), they rarely report any sightings of Nada to the authorities. Nada doesn't even change his clothes and he can still walk the streets pretty freely. As a counterweight the aliens have the advantage of having lured some greedy, greedy humans to their side, too. They also control the media, and use it to keep the brainwashing going on. Seeing as the divide between classes has only grown steeper since the 80's, one can guess that Nada ultimately failed in his attempt to bring the extraterrestials down. Maybe you can do better?

5) War of the Worlds Martians

Martian from the 1953 version.

The original extraterrestial world-conquering plan, against which all other plans are measured, comes from the classic novel of H.G. Wells. It's been filmed many times, the most notable versions coming from Byron Haskin in 1953, and Steven Spielberg in 2005. Even Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's 1996 blockbuster Independence Day uses the same story as a template (and has really sick aliens to go with the needlessly giant explosions and inspirational speeches). The basic plan of the invasion remains the same.

A meteor shower hits the Earth, and actually contains malicious aliens. They take out the world's electricity (if the film is set on modern times) and bring out their tripodded kill-machines. When they start to zap a lot of people to death, no amount of human military weapons can even scratch them. Cities are in panic and most of the civilizations lie in ruins. The aliens start to grind captured people to farm some sort of vegetation from their home planet. In the end, they fail with their plan, not because people were the superior people, but because the Earth has so many small virae that the aliens can't handle the athmosphere. Thus, they would've won, if they would've done more tests on climate, or would've used more protection.

Maybe this is E.T.'s big brother, out for revenge on the society, but easy on fractured nuclear families.
What makes these aliens stand above many others that try out similar things, is that these are creatures developed to thinking, not fighting. Indeed, the actual aliens are small, squishy and vunerable, just like humans are. We are both designed a large brain size in mind. But the aliens usually use an exoskeleton, such as a tripod, that makes them nearly invincible. WoW is a great story (even if the Spielberg one over-emphasizes the importance of a family's unity), and works as a lesson in warfare as well. Let's hope no alien satellite can pick up a version from the internet.

4) Prawns from District 9

Easily the most fascinating alien race of recent years, District 9's insect-like aliens become quite symphatetic by the end of the film. More so, that the humans in the film, in fact. So, it's a bit like Starship Troopers, then. After all, both films feature satiric commentary on the ills of an overtly right-winged, racist society. It's easy to feel sorry for even the most inhumane creatures, if they are treated as badly as the prawns are.

The prawns are all lower middle-class. Without a queen or upper-class to guide them, they've drifted through space and stumbled to Johannesburg, South Africa. Of course, a group of people that are used to being abused is going to be easily abused where-ever they go. So, us earthlings allow the drones to stay, but within the confined quarters that comprise the titular District 9. As the aliens there have no jobs, no homes and no way to mingle with the rest of civilization, a shanty-town rises there. Criminals see it as a way to make money. Pencil-pushing bureaucrats, such as Wikus Van De Merwe see it as a nuisance that should be cleaned off with brutal measures. Of course, once he gets a taste of his own medicine, his attitude starts to change.

The actual prawn civilization is only hinted at in the film. The prawns do have a highly developed culture, where each worker is valuable. It does resemble more of the insect kingdoms on our Earth than our human civilizations. Interestingly a human can also turn into a prawn by an infection. This may be due to the species' different mating habits, but it still creepily reminds me of The Thing. It might be a good idea to keep the aliens quarantined and not be allowed to mibgle with people, after all. Much can also be read into the fact that prawns have brought hyper-destructive weapons along with them, but lost them to human scientists. The goal for the prawns is to get back home, and they attempt to accomplish this by getting their society back on Earth. This might mean trouble for us humans if they ever will return.

3) John Carpenter's The Thing

The most inhumane and horrifying alien comes from the best horror remake of all time. The original, overrated 1951 Thing From Another World saw a Frankenstein-like monster (who was actually a hyper-evolved carrot) chase scientist around an Antarctic Outpost. Nothing about the design or behaviour of the creature was very original, save from his vegetal evolution. Thank Space Pope for John Carpenter, then, who went back to John W. Campbell's original novel, Who Goes There? to get inspiration for his creature, rather than the original film version. So, Cold War paranoia in the same vein as Invasion of the Body-Snatchers has been partly replaced by... something else entirely.

The best idea about the Thing is that while the creature is a shape-changer, it has no real form. It is more akin to a parasite, that can take over its host organism and make it act according to its whim. For the movie, the creature can also grow fangs, tentacles, feet and other creepy appendixes. It is also very, very hard to kill. Any tiny part of the creature can take on a life of its own, and work on its instincts to survive and to spread the disease. The Thing can spread from person to person in a matter of seconds, so there's a deep fear that it gets to the outside world.

Thus, the Thing is really more of an apocalyptic threat than a multi-dimensional representation of an alien race. It does come to the planet on a space ship, but for all we know, it could've been built by another alien race that Things have wiped out and are looking for new ground to spread. Of course, for a film made in the heat of the 80's, Thing also contains plenty of AIDS allegories in decomposing bodies and lacking the immunity to resist a new kind of virus. But the real strength of the film is it's delirious paranoia that piles up as the film progresses. Really, the Thing can be anyone, even your best friend. And thus he can murder you when you least expect it. Keep watching your friends.

Like most of Legolamb's Musicals, this features the entire plot of the film, so it contains spoilers, but is brilliant.

2) Predators

There are three official Predator movies. In each of them, we learn something new from our vagina-faced rasta friends. Yet still, wisely, the aura of mystery still shrouds them. It's good, because if they were to be too thoroughly explained, I would lose interest. As they are, Predators live, die and behave according to their own species' code of conduct. In John McTiernan's 1987 film Predator, we learn all the basics. Predators are an alien race that hunts for sport, and have been hearing good things about man being the most dangerous game. Predator proves his own dangerousness by taking out a team of elite commandos in an Earth jungle, but loses to the almighty power of Arnold Schwarzenegger at his pride.

However, it is not until Stephen Hopkin's 1990 sequel Predator 2, that we learn a whole lot more of the species. Most Predators have a honor code (not the one in the first, obviously, because he rather blew himself up than would lose a fight to Arnold). This means they won't kill people who aren't carrying arms, aren't of age or aren't bastards. Luckily, this still means that LA is crawling with prey from drug-dealers to gangstas to Gary Busey. Predators also like to take trophies from their victims, such as skulls, bits of spine, or skin. When Danny Glover manages to best a Predator in a fair fight, he is allowed to live, and handed a pistol from the 18th century as a trophy. Apparently the species also lives long and does regular trips to our planet. Hey, it's not like people are an endangered species.

Finally, in Nimród Antal's 2010 film Predators, we learn that Predators come in different tribes that like to hunt their own ways. They also seem to have competitions on who is the better hunter on a jungle planet. For the race, they kidnap a group of dangerous people from Earth. While it's cool to see a samurai vs. Predator show-off, one can't wonder why they only want to hunt humans. I mean, a xenomorph skull was seen in the last movie... on second thought, don't answer that.

The Predator is an iconic character, a little campy, but also a little threatening. It's no wonder Stan Winston's original creature work has stayed so relevant to the modern day. Also every film has brought something new to the table for the character, which is something not a lot of such franchises have the right to say. Then again, for a 14-year-old series, theree films isn't really that lot.

I couldn't resist. I'll just use another video on the next Arnold Project.

1) Xenomorphs, The Alien Saga

Really, could #1 be anything else? The xenomorphs are a thoroughly though-out bunch of nightmare creatures, that actually function in their own twisted logic. There are some forms of insects that lay eggs inside their enemies (such as tarantulas). The larvae then eat the host animal alive. This natural phenmenon turned on people. Alongside that and the horrifying, Freudian appearance of the fully grown xenos make the films work on a subconscious level. We all fear of being sexually assaulted, penetrated by something alien, and not being able to control what outside forces do to our bodies.

The Swiss artist H.R. Giger has done a massive body of work of nightmarish visions where bilogical and mechanical beings are connected. Yet nothing he has ever made has quite captured the imaginations and horrified people so intensily as the Alien. Most of the trick of how they work is that they are fast, silent, and move around in the shadows. Nothing is more frightening than the unseen.

Except maybe facehuggers. Those creepy bastards.
The biology of the aliens is always fascinating, and have created memorable visuals. From the ominous egg in the original film's poster to the terrible spider-like facehuggers, to the chest-bursting larvae are examples of biology at its worst. But things get even more ominous as the chestburster grows into a full-sized penis-headed nightmare overnight. The great thing about aliens is that you can get scared from either seeing just one part of it, and not knowing what exactly it is, as well as seeing a billion of them crawling up the walls readying to eat the faces off some colonial marines. And killing or wounding them is also tricky as they have goddamned acid as blood. The series would be good enough with this sort of creatures, but the first two also manage to create a library of believable, three-dimensional characters who you wouldn't want to get eaten by aliens. Except Burke the yuppie, of course.

Not as scary, but a great end opponent for our heroine.

With video games, bad video game adaptations like Aliens vs. Predator, comic books and god knows what, there should already be the time to retire Aliens altogether. Their appearance is already known, and they just can't shake audiences like they used to. Ridle Scott seems to realize this, because his would-be Alien prequel Prometheus seems to have ended up as something else altogether. When the inevitable Alien remake comes around, I hope that the makers have enough artistic vision to take their horrifying appearance to the next level and would hire another artist to work on them. As of now, we don't need another nghtmare. But still, the time may be soon. They mostly come out nights, mostly.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Arnold Project, pt. III: The Indestructible Machine

Good old Arnold is already filming his comeback films. Yet it remains unknown whether the audiences will take the 64-year-old former Governor back with open arms. The State of California is on the verge of bankruptcy after him, and his affairs and subsequent divorce probably won't earn him any favors with Joe Movieticket either. What Arnold should do, is return to play villains. Every actor knows that it's a lot more fun, and everyone loves a good unexpected villain. Well, better than anyone unliked trying to portray himself heroic anyway. Here's hoping Arnold will be on antagonist duties in The Expendables 2. But as far as his former villain roles go, there was one awful, and one so exceptionally good, that it wrote his entire career for him.

Image from Groucho Reviews.

This post is about the latter. Now, let's take a look at Arnold's three Terminator movies from three different decades.

The Terminator (1984)
Director: James Cameron

The struggling writer-director James Cameron (of Piranha II: The Spawning fame) had a nightmare one night presumably from reading too many Harlan Ellison short stories. He would do a completely original film about a killer robot from the future that could easily disguise himself among other humans. The unrelenting machine would be sent here only to kill and it wouldn't rest until it had reached and liquidated its target. And it would be played by an everyman actor, such as Lance Henriksen or O.J. Simpson.

The main idea was, of course scrapped when on-the-rise star of Conan the Barbarian saw his chance in the role. Instead, the Terminator became physically intimidating, as a machine of perfect build and the elbow-grease to really pursue its target to the end of the world. Probably everyone reading this already knows the main idea. In the future, World is under the rule of the Machines... well, not entirely. There is a small group of guerrilla fighters that continues to resist against the legions of killer machines. With the help of a time machine, the machines send a robot to kill the leader of the Resistance before he is even born. But alongside the Terminator, also the guerrilla fighters manage to send one of them, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), back in time to the 80's. They both race to find Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a timid waitress, who is set to give birth to the future leader of the resistance. Reese's entire life has been a fight for survival, but in his protection, also Sarah's life goes through a turmoil.

Arnold actually has quite little screen-time, but his little-speaking machine certainly steals every scene he's in. It's no wonder even throwaway lines such as "I'll Be Back" became so popular. Arnold's deadpan delivery make them seem even more meaningful than they are. Because of the relatively small budget, this is really more of a thriller than an action film. But still there is plenty of violence, as the Terminator kills his way through an entire police station. Cameron directs with notable confidence (probably because this time around he didn't have Italian trash movie producers nullifying everything he did), and keeps the film's pace brisk. The audience has barely more time to catch their breath than the main characters.

Cameron creates a self-titled "Tech Noir" athmosphere. The film is dark, lit by red and blue neon lights. There's smoke and water everywhere. At the end, when Terminator is forced to shed off his human skin, the film suffers, as the cheap stop motion effects take over where Arnold left off. Worse, the skeletal robot's charisma isn't anywhere near Arnold's!


Cleaning man: Hey, buddy. You got a dead cat in there, or what?
The Terminator: Fuck you, asshole.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Director: James Cameron

Cameron, that modern David Lean, decided to raise the biggest budget the world has ever seen for his follow-up to the film that made him famous. He also waited for seven years to finalize his vision and for the technology to catch up with what he had in mind. Say what you say about him, but at least his films have always been part of developing and trying out new film techniques. But this time the reason they were used was also good – Cameron wanted to make an unforgettable sequel that would dwarf its predecessor with massive action scenes. He also had a good story about fighting for a better future. And he did manage to do one of the best big-budget sequels ever made.

While John Connor (Edward Furlong) has grown into a pre-teen, his mother Sarah is closed into a mental institution for his crazy stories about killer robots and the upcoming judgement day. Another of T-800, model 101's is sent back in time, alongside another robot, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). But this time the Arnold-model has been rebooted as a protection droid, that's supposed to save John Connor's life. T-1000, however, is sent to crush, kill and destroy, and as it has been made from liquid metals, he can also modify his body and survive injuries better.

But enough about the plot, you've probably seen the film, or at least watched the video above (in case you haven't seen T2, the video has massive SPOILERS). This time Arnold is a little sidelined, while the real star is Linda Hamilton's kick-ass freedom fighter. While being totally capable to fight and plan to fight, she also has motherly instincts, making her one of the most well-rounded female action heroes in Hollywood films. Robert Patrick is also great as he can carry a threatening aura with his near-silent performance. Unlike Arnold, the T-1000 can easily walk around unnoticed and pose as a human. And of course can also alter his looks. The real question is how the hell could he come through the time machine when one of its core functions is that only organic material (such as a Terminator coverded in real skin) can pass through it.

Image from Gizmofusion.

The fact is that The Terminator was concieved during some dark times in the 80's, when it truly looked like the war-mongering of Ronald Reagan might lead the world into a nuclear holocaust. When the air had cleared in the early 90's, the resulting film was also softer in its subtext (don't kill, just maim) and has a hopeful message for peace at the end. Unfortunatelly, while the film's effects have stood the test of time fine, the film is filled with embarrasingly old slang and sayings that make it a lot more cringe-worthy than the hairs and shoulder-toppings in Terminator '84 could ever manage. The film's heart which is T-800 becoming a surrogate father to John, is actually pretty cringe-worthy, thumbs-up and all.

But the real meat, is of course the action and it is phenomenal. From the chase scene through L.A.'s dried water canals to the final showdown at a steel mill, the scenes are big, expensive, innovative, and have been written deeply into every moviegoers collective subconscious. There have been parodies and attempts to better the scenes for years, but very few have managed to top this in any way.


T-800: No problemo.

T2-3D: Battle Across Time (1996)
Directors: James Cameron, John Bruno, Stan Winston

Now, to be a completist I'll have to mention this amusement park ride, that got an impressive budget and Arnold, Edward Furlong, Linda Hamilton and Robert Patrick to reprise their roles. James Cameron probably jumped for joy for his first chance to get to work with 3D. He co-directed this short film with his trusted Special Effects supervisors Stan Winston and John Bruno. The "experience" fuses together live action actors, normal film sequences and 3D segments. I haven't seen it whole, but then again I'd have to go to the Universal Theme Park in Hollywood to do so. What I gather from the plot from these YouTube videos, it doesn't properly intertwist with the movies, but then again a proper story would be too much to ask from a simple amusement park video intended to showcase different special effects. Sometimes even the mightiest of big-budget directors need a chance to show off.

T-800: I said I'd be back.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Director: Jonathan Mostow

For years, Hollywood big shots begged James Cameron to do a third Terminator. The action auteur himself saw the story as complete and had his mind set on some bigger projects already. But judgement day is inevitable. How else would Kyle Reese have been able to father John Connor in the first place? Arnold promised to be back for an obscene amount of money. The movie itself was also obscenely expensive, but still couldn't really do any big action scene better than T2 before it. For die-hard fans of the first two films, the third one is a travesty. For us regular action movie watchers, it is a passable sci fi-action, that would benefit a great deal if it was just a Terminator rip off, not a part of the same story cycle. For one thing, the aged Arnold wouldn't have to fake to still be the same age as he was in 1984.

The film itself checks the same boxes that T2 did. Two robots arrive from the future, the other a T-800 and the other a new kind of Terminator set to kill John Connor (Nick Stahl), now in his 20's. Also the machine is popping off other future resistance leaders. So T-800 must protect Connor at all costs.

Because the international athmosphere had turned threatening again due to 9/11, all the hope for tomorrow that T2 gave has been washed away. Thus, as the name implies, the film takes place at the time the computer system Skynet (thought to have been destroyed in the previous one) becomes self-aware and destroys most of humanity with strategic nuclear weapons.  This newfound gloom and the inevitability of destruction doesn't really fit the story like it used to. There's also a blossoming romance, which feels equally forced and tacked-on. All of these things are just used as things that could be done to make another movie for the cash-spurring franchise. Director Jonathan Mostow doesn't have a lot of imagination or visions what to do with his newfound toys.

Another embarrasing thing is that the endearing 90's slang from the previous film was brought back. So this time, it is even more outdated and cringe-worthy. But really, altough it is a soulless Hollywood money-maker, there's plenty on offer here that would warrant a friday night viewing with friends. Kristianna Loken's T-X seems to be a downgrade from T-1000 with her phallic gun hands, but nevertheless she gives the aged Arnold a couple of good scraps. But the real corkers are the enormous truckfighting chase scene and the shootout at the cemetary. So, while they don't match T2's innovativeness, they are still quite good fun. And while Nick Stahl is a bit too whiny, he's still a billion times more relatable protagonist than the dipshit teenaged Furlong.

★★ 1/2

T-800: No, I am not shitting you. 


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