Archive for the ‘science fiction’ Category

the-blob-film-1988There is one film in my vault of horrors that I watch every Halloween, regardless of what my yearly theme may be. It’s a film I associate with the holiday, (despite having nothing to do with it) starting way back to when I was fresh out of diapers, and stumbled across it for the first time on cable. Now I’m sure many purists out there will scream blaspheme when they discover it’s a remake, but it’s one of the best, and a prime example of how they should be done. Taking what worked from the original, and building upon it while omitting the kitschy bits that kept it from achieving greatness.

The film in question is a mortifying one, responsible for my outright abhorrence of a certain Cosby marketed gelatinous treat that makes me gag just thinking about it. The crusty film that spreads across its surface if left to fester in the fridge for too long. The way it jiggles upon a spoon as it creeps toward your mouth, and how it slurps, and slithers down your throat like an edible slug. I’m of course talking about Jell-O, and its amorphous acidic older brother, The Blob.blob-4

Released in 1988, The Blob is director Chuck Russell, (known for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors) and writer Frank Darabont’s, (of Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, and spawning the now beloved Walking Dead series) loving remake of the Steve McQueen led 1958 classic.

The film follows the citizens of Arborville, California as they’re attacked by an organism that devours, and dissolves anything unfortunate enough to cross its path, while growing to astronomical proportions in the process.

blobThe major divergence from the original was making the creature a biological weapon, rather than an extraterrestrial organism, which provides a terrifying political subtext that’s much more effective than the outer space craze so rampant in films from the fifties, and sixties.

The gruesome special effects, provided by the legendary Tony Gardner, (Army of Darkness, Michael Jackson’s Thriller) are extraordinary for the time the film was released, and hold up exceptionally when compared to what we see today.
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The Blob, is hands down one of the top three best remakes of all time, the other two being Carpenter’s Thing, and Cronenberg’s The Fly. It’s gory, it’s scary, and it’s a hell of a good way to kill an hour and change.

A fun fact to end on, Tony Gardner has been investigated two times by authorities. The first, by the FBI, then again by the Arizona State Police, and Missing Persons Bureau for his work on .

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The eighties in a single picture.

I’ve touched briefly upon director’s in my previous posts, greats like Romero, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Hitchcock, Jackson, as well as a few lesser known names like Henenlotter, Solet, and Craig.

Today I’d like to introduce you to another relatively unknown name, a man responsible for two of my all time favourite horror films, and a handful of episodes from the groundbreaking HBO anthology series, Tales From the Crypt. The one, and only, Fred Dekker.

Fred Dekker was born in 1959, in San Francisco, California. A comic book fanatic, cinephile, and horror nerd from an early age, Dekker applied at USC, and UCLA for film studies, and was subsequently rejected by both. He attended UCLA,  majoring in English instead, and it was there where he met frequent collaborators Shane Black, Ed Solomon, and Chris Matheson.

His big break in the movie industry came after writing the Steve Miner directed, Sean S. Cunningham produced horror-comedy House, and from there he went on the write, and direct the two cult classics I’d like to talk about today, Night of the Creeps, and Monster Squad.

     Night of the Creeps.

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Released in 1986, Fred Dekker’s directorial debut is a loving homage of B-movies that mixes the best bits of zombie, slasher, alien invasion, and creature feature films into a unique, and thoroughly enjoyable picture.

The film follows a couple of loveable university dorks, who unwittingly release a horde of alien slugs after stealing a cadaver in an attempt to join a fraternity. Aided by a haunted detective, the three must fend off an army of zombie-like creatures infected by the slugs before their quaint little own is overrun.

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Night of the Creeps is one of those rare films that makes you smile from start to finish no matter how many times you’ve watched it. The chemistry amongst the cast is wonderful, with a standout performance from the legendary Tom Atkins as Detective Ray Cameron, who chews up every scene he’s given, and the creature effects hold up surprisingly well, thanks in part to Dekker’s reliance on prosthetics, and practical effects.

Although I’ve never seen him admit it out loud, or in an interview, Slither, by James Gunn can be seen as a spiritual successor of sorts to Night of the Creeps, and if you haven’t seen it either, I recommend you watch it immediately, and note the similarities between the two.

Monster Squad

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To put it plainly, Monster Squad is essentially the Goonies meet the Universal Monsters.

The story is every child whom grew up loving horror’s fantasy come true, and follows the Monster Squad, group of preteen friends who idolize monsters, and get more than they bargain for when Dracula aided by the Wolfman, Mummy, and Gill-man show up in their picturesque town searching for an amulet capable of helping him take over the world.

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Monster Squad is an important film to me. Back when I was fresh out of diapers my grandmother taped it off cable, and I’d watch it for hours while visiting the old farm house where I was born, eventually playing the damned thing into oblivion. It wasn’t until 2007 that I’d get a chance to watch it again after the release of the 20th anniversary DVD, and little has changed since those early days of my youth. Like all of Fred Dekker’s work there’s an inherent playfulness at work, almost as though conceived through the imagination of a child.

Unfortunately Dekker hasn’t written or directed anything like his first two films in quite some time, thanks in part to their lukewarm critical reception, and box office returns, but if the 2010’s have taught me anything it’s that nostalgia is a goldmine, and there’s always the possibility that the long talked about sequel to Monster Squad might be just around the corner, provided his work with Shane Black on the new Predator film is successful.

So I ask of you this Mr. Dekker,

thrill-me

 

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Over the last few weeks I’ve focused on horror mainly in film, television, and literature, but today I thought I’d shake things up a bit, and take a look at a medium I’ve always found to be a fertile ground for the genre, video games. There’s something effective about placing people in control of characters surrounded by danger, and terror, and developers have been trying to capture that magic for nearly forty years.

I could talk to death about mainstream titles like Resident Evil, Doom, and Silent Hill, and their impact on horror gaming, but everyone knows them. Instead I’d like to take a gander at a few obscure titles.

Monster party.

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Monster Party is one of the most  brilliantly nutty 8-bit gems on the NES. The game follows Billy, who after being confronted by a sentient gargoyle requesting his help sets off on a quest with his trusty baseball bat to save its world. Along the way Billy battles punk-rock zombies, singing plants, cow hurdling minotaurs, and…floating breaded tempura shrimp, and onion rings? I get the feeling drugs were consumed during development, (Billy transforms into a gargoyle after picking up a pill for Christ sakes!) because the whole game is a gleefully dark, and bat-shit experience. Monster Party is about as scary as you’d expect an 8-bit title to be, (not very) but credit however must be given to the atmospheric soundtrack, and imaginative first stage of the game, which effectively sets an eerie tone right from the get go. Also, the cover art was the stuff of nightmares, guaranteed to mortify any child unlucky enough to stumble upon it while shuffling through the game rack of his local video store during the eighties.

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Just look at this shit. LOOK AT IT!

                                                           Zombies Ate My Neighbours

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Lucasarts made a name for themselves in the late eighties, and early nineties developing point and click adventure games like Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and Day of the Tentacle for the PC, but during the 16-bit era they ventured into the action-adventure realm with a little horror gem called Zombies Ate My Neighbours.

ZAMN as it will be called for the duration of this post, because the title has too many damn letters for me to keep typing, is a top-down, co-op, run-and-gun game that tasks players with rescuing their neighbours in a variety of horror inspired settings while trying to survive an onslaught of horror-movie monsters like werewolves, mutants, giant babies, squid men, blobs, aliens, and of course the titular zombies. To progress through each level players are required to rescue at least one neighbour, and if all of them die, it’s game over. To do so, players have a number of inventive weapons at their disposal, such as dishes, UZI water guns, weed-whackers, Soda-pop grenades, and many more.

ZAMN is a noteworthy title, because of the heavy censorship it received upon release. Nintendo, having a strict policy against excessive violence in their games ordered all depictions of blood, and gore to be replaced with purple ooze, a similar fate that befell the original Mortal Kombat when ported to the SNES. Many European nations censored even more of ZAMN, changing its name to simply, Zombies, and replacing the chainsaw wielding enemies with lumberjacks sporting axes.

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                                                                 The Souls series

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I know I said I was going to avoid mainstream titles for this post, but I couldn’t help myself for the last entry on the list. No series captures what makes a horror game effective so much so as FromSoftware’s Souls titles, Demon’s, Dark, and the most recent, Bloodborne. Each entry contains a dark, and atmospheric world with little reason given as to why you’re there, adaptable monstrosities lurking around every corner, limited resources at your disposal with which to slay them or survive their relentless attacks, and death actually matters, serving as a method of increasing the game’s difficulty.

You are never so close to sheer terror as you are while playing a Souls game, and that’s why it rounds out this list.

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That’s all for today skiddlets. Please feel free to comment, and share some of your favourite horror titles.

I’m always up for a new scare!

 

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I have a new name for you today, and a relatively obscure one at that. Frank Henenlotter. Say it with me now. Henenlotter, Henenlotter. Henenlotter. It’s a doozy right? Practically rolls off the tongue.

Frank Henenlotter is an American screenwriter, and director, responsible for a handful of campy, exploitation films from the eighties, the most popular of which being, Basket Case, Frankenhooker, and Brain Damage.

Shortly after releasing the third instalment of the Basket Case series Henenlotter took a sixteen year hiatus from filmmaking, (citing frustration with studio interference as the reason for his absence) only to return in 2008 with what is probably his most obscenely ridiculous film yet, Bad Biology.

Bad Biology is your typical boy meets girl love story that follows Jennifer, a woman with a hyperactive sex drive, and bizarre reproductive system that either kills her mates, or births monster children, and Batz, a man with a sentient, drug addicted monster penis that he cannot control. Through chance of fate these single, white genetic anomalies meet, and bond almost instantly. The only thing keeping them from enjoying a romantic happily ever after is Batz’s increasingly erratic tallywhacker, and it’s sudden hunger for murder.

I wish the synopsis written above was an exaggeration, but it’s not. Bad Biology is one messed up piece of cinema. Free from the constraints of the typical Hollywood horror movie, Henenlotter was able to let his perverse imagination soar, and created a film that’s equal parts a homage to, and an evolution of his earlier work. The special effects are delightfully low-budget, low-brow, and cringe-worthy, and there’s enough gore to please any splatterhouse junkie.

If you haven’t seen Bad Biology, and chances are pretty high that you haven’t, you should definitely check it out, if for nothing more than to witness the sheer madness on display throughout its 90 minute duration.

I can’t really say anymore than I already have. This is literally a case of, you need to see it to believe it.

disturbing

Freaks all week.

Most kids of my generation, (late eighties/ early nineties) couldn’t wait for Friday nights to come around. It was the start of the weekend, two days school free, one of which was reserved for sitting in front of the idiot box munching Cap’n Crunch, while absorbing Saturday morning cartoons, and the other bumming around with our friends playing Goldeneye, street hockey, and trading comic books. It was also when ABC aired their TGIF lineup, with shows like Boy Meets World, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Step by Step, and Teen Angel, you know the hip, family friendly shit they thought we actually enjoyed.

I was not most kids. Friday night for me meant heading to my grandmother’s house to watch the X-Files, a series that terrified, and fascinated me, and still stands as one of my favourites of all time.

Created by fellow canucklehead Chris Carter, X-Files was the perfect blend of science fiction, camp and horror, and a revolutionary show that launched the careers of many popular names in the industry.

One such name, David Nutter went on to find success directing pilots, and episodes for other popular shows such as Millenium, (another Chris Carter series) Band of Brothers, Supernatural, Arrow, Shameless, The Flash, and probably the most well known, the infamous season three episode of Game of Thrones, The Rains of Castamere.

In 1997, Nutter directed his first Hollywood film, (before then his work in film had been limited to direct-to-video features such as Trancers) the Scott Rosenberg penned, Disturbing Behavior.

The film is essentially the Stepford Wives for the Kevin Williamson generation, and follows high-school senior Steve Clark, who, after moving to the picturesque coastal town of Cradle Bay, discovers the town’s clique, the Blue Ribbons, are mind-controlled teens who’ve taken part in program led by school psychologist Dr. Caldecott, and berserker rage every time they get turned on.

Disturbing Behavior has all the nasty cliches of the late nineties horror film: troubled teens played by a cast of A-list twenty-something’s, (in this case Nick Stahl, James Marsden, and Katie Holmes) consisting of the bad-girl, the intellectual-stoner, and the reluctant hero, an alt-rock soundtrack, and more edginess than Sonic the hedgehog dual-wielding dual-bladed lightsabers.

What makes this movie interesting isn’t the fact that it’s a moving billboard of all that was hilariously wrong with the nineties, but rather it’s troubled history. After submitting a version of the film that Nutter likened to a feature-length Monster-of-the-week episode of the X-Files, MGM basically shredded it like an eight-ball of blow at a Charlie Sheen house-party, reducing it to the 83 minute monstrosity released in theatres that was so bad, Nutter wanted to have his name removed from the credits.

I’ve seen the fan-made cut of the film circulating the interwebs, (which is supposedly closer to Nutter’s original vision) and it’s much better. It’s still more nineties than an Image comic book illustrated by Rob Liefeld, with dialogue written by Will Smith, but most of the issues ascertaining to the plot, and lack of character development are ironed out.

Despite all its flaws there are a few aspects of the film that are enjoyable, namely the eerie, and atmospheric music composed by another legendary X-Files alumni Mark Snow, which is way better than the movie deserves, and a brilliantly hammy performance by the always enjoyable, William Sadler.

As it stands, Disturbing Behavior is a curio that falls into the, so bad it’s good, category of films. It’s a shame we’ll never see Nutter’s director’s cut of the film, because somewhere, hidden beneath all the nostalgic nineties refuse, and Hollywood tampering is what could have been an interesting film.

event-horizon

Ridley Scott’s Alien redefined the sci-fi/ horror movie in 1979, with its tense atmosphere, and reliance on isolation and paranoia to evoke a sense of terror in the viewer, themes that were later explored in John Carpenter’s The Thing, a film I feel expanded on the groundwork laid by Alien.

Until then science-fiction had been a relatively one-note genre: aliens invade earth, humans band together to stop them, roll credits, a trope popularized by the Drive-in classics of the fifties, and sixties in titles such as War of the Worlds, When Worlds Collide, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Invaders from Mars. Sure, there were a few exceptions, notably, Invasion of the Body Snatchers that veered more into the realm of horror than science fiction, but most were generally tame affairs.

Unfortunately Alien’s sequels ditched the these darker themes in favour of action, after James Cameron’s Aliens was an overwhelming success, and for years we saw a draught of truly scary sci-fi/ horror films.

Enter 1997’s Event Horizon, a return to form of sorts to the genre, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, (known for his adaptations of Mortal Kombat, and Resident Evil) and starring Sam Neill, and Laurence Fishburne.

The film follows members of the rescue vessel Lewis and Clark, tasked with answering a distress call from the starship, Event Horizon that disappeared during its maiden voyage to Proxima Centauri. The Event Horizon, was designed to test an experimental gravity drive capable of generating artificial black holes to reduce time travel across astronomical distances. Once onboard the ship, the crew of Lewis and Clark find evidence of a massacre, and soon discover that the gravity drive worked, and has opened a portal to a hellish dimension.

Event Horizon has a bit of a bizarre development history. After the success of Mortal Kombat, Anderson was offered the job by Paramount, but it required him to make the film before a set release date, a deadline that would severely reduce the length of the post-production period. Anderson, who wanted to make an R-rated film, agreed, and ended up editing the film in six-weeks, rather than the typical ten-week period.

During a test screening of Anderson’s rushed, rough-cut of the film, members of the audience apparently fainted due to the extreme amount of gore, which then caused Paramount to demand a shorter cut of the film with most of it taken out.

The final product released to scathing reviews, and tanked at the box office regaining only 47 of its 60 million dollar budget, with many critics siting the lack of a cohesive plot as the film’s biggest issue. Anderson, has since gone on the record saying that, although the original cut was justifiably long Paramount forced him to make one that ended up being too short, and could have benefited from restoring around ten minutes of the missing footage. These deleted scenes, although graphic, offered more backstory to fill in the plot holes left in the final cut, many of which can be found on the two-disc special edition DVD of the film.

Event Horizon is an enjoyable film regardless of the shortcomings inflicted by studio meddling. It’s a homage to the films that inspired it, namely the aforementioned Alien, and The Thing, but it also borrows heavily from H.P. Lovecraft as well. The practical effects are wonderfully grotesque, and credit needs to be given to Anderson for using real-life amputees during the scenes where the crew is being mutilated to help intensify the realism.

Hopefully one day we’ll get to see Anderson’s original vision for Event Horizon. He stated in a 2012 interview that he’d tracked down a VHS tape containing the rough cut of the film, and would love to release a director’s cut provided Paramount shows interest.

Severed fingers crossed, skiddies.