Category Archives: Aliens

Alien: Covenant 2017

Look, if you are one of the seemingly endless amounts of people who didn´t like Prometheus then I can tell you now you are probably not going to Alien: Covenant either. This is because no matter what the title or poster suggests, this is very much the film set after Prometheus rather than the film set before Alien. The main reason given for people´s hatred of Prometheus is that the characters all do stupid things, and if that was your reason then,  like I said, Alien: Covenant is going to annoy you all over again because it is populated by more people doing more stupid things.

That whole stupid characters thing always bugged me. Partly because when you are are in times of great stress then you often DO do stupid things: for example I have frequently not ran out of the way of a falling spaceship, but my excuse was I was in a state of panic because a spaceship was falling on my head. What did you expect? I´m never going to be able to defend the guys who did the mapping of the Space Jockey´s ship and then couldn´t find their way out but to be honest I don´t care. I am a died in the wool, hard core horror fan and characters being idiots is my bread and butter. If they didn´t act like fools then Jason would never kill anyone. Brett in the orignal Alien was a bloody idiot for looking for Jones the cat but no one has a fanny fit about that do they? Alien: Covenant certainly has its fair share of dumbness (two people slip over on the same pool of blood for God´s sake) and there is a moment late in the film which seems more like a rip off from an Alien rip-off than something directed by Sir Ridley Scott but I´ll get to that in a bit.

Maybe the worst problem isn’t that they are stupid but that most of the characters aren´t characters at all, or at least aren´t developed in any way of note. No matter what you thought of Idris Elba and Charlize Theron´s characters in Prometheus at least you knew quite a lot about them. Here there are a number of characters who you can barely recognise as crew members before they´ve been eaten or dribbled on. I suspect that the 18 minutes of deleted scenes coming to the Blu Ray will sketch these people out a little better and you can at least work out who they are if you watch The Last Supper which was a five minute short released before the film which should really have been at the beginning of it.

However, these problems are by the by though. Yeah i know I have said before about the importance of character in order to care for the story but we do have some interesting individuals here and most importantly there is an awful lot of good. Like Prometheus what we are left with is, once again, an ambitious, haunting, beautiful but flawed horror science fiction movie that weighs more heavily on the horror this time than the sci fi of the last prequel.

This emphasis on horror is important. Apparently last time Ridley Scott felt that after all the sequels and verseses the concept of the Alien had run its course, so tried to do something different. Instead of the old dark house in space he went for a more cerebral action sci fi that mused on the origins of humanity and what it means to be a creator. Various last minute rewrites may have muddled those ideas somewhat but it didn’t stop the film from being an interesting discussion on birth, life and death. The look and feel was very much what the future and space could look like. Between the bright, beautiful people, their clothes, the ship and even, initially, the planet they land on , Scott was creating a science fiction universe where technology could be used to explore the origins of humanity and the posibilities of its existance going forward. Alien: Covenant is the flip-side to this. Everything is dirty and dark. The planet the crew land on might seem like it could be paradise but it becomes very quickly apparent that it is in fact hell.

Beyond the usual pods and eggs you’d expect to find on an Alien planet there is also Michael Fassbender’s crazy android David who clearly has far too much time by himself and, if he wasn’t already one circuit short of a ZX Spectrum before he certainly is now. Despite the welcome return of the H. R. Giger designed xenomorph the real monster here is David who has done some unspeakable things since the last film, some of which are only hinted at here (we are never fully sure what he did to Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw) and what he has in store for the crew of the Covenant isn’t any better. The home David has made for himself is truly hellish, from the literal with charred bodies reaching out from the ground towards the heavens like some kind of renaissance landscape to the weird little lab/bedroom he lives in.

David is the main fully realised character on display, along with perhaps his replacement Walter. David is confused that he thinks he is playing god, trying to create life like Doctor Frankenstein (he even quotes what he thinks is Byron when what it is is Shelly, the husband of the author of Frankenstein) but really he is just the monster. The opening of the film shows David discussing creation with his maker and the main themes of the movie are set up here, as well as following on from Prometheus. Alien: Covenant might have the sheen of a blockbuster but what it really is a meditation on life and who has the right to create it.

It really is a pity that the rest of the characters are so underdeveloped as we are left to either root for David or against him, rather than for the final girl. That’s not to say that Katherine Waterston doesn’t do her best because she does, but we don’t know much about her other than her husband dies very early on.  This at least is one area where the characters do come alive, even if it is a bit unclear as to who they all are at various points: the spaceship Covenant is carrying colonists to new worlds and the crew themselves are mostly couples. The upshot of this is when one member dies there is serious grief from at least one other crew member, it would have been nice to establish which person was with who at the start of the film though. For example it wasn’t til after the film was over that I realised there was a gay couple on the ship.

The one truly ridiculous part of Alien: Covenant has to be the sex in the shower scene that you probably saw in the trailers. If it happened near the beginning it might have been bad enough but it happens right before the oh-its-not-really-dead extra climax. I’m as big a fan of sex in the shower as the next man who saw An American Werewolf in London as a youth, but if 90% of my crew mates had just been killed on a weird alien planet there’s no way I would be in the mood for some wet and wild times orbiting said planet about ten minutes later. Add into that that the scene feels lifted from Galaxy of Terror, itself a rip-off of Alien in the first place and you have to wonder what anyone was thinking when they wrote, shot and edited that scene.

Oh I don’t care that much really. Alien: Covenant is still head and shoulders above the Alien Vs Predator movies and is way more engaging than Alien: Resurrection (not hard admittedly) so its alright in my books. I’m not saying it isn’t flawed, and I’m certainly not saying it isn’t deeply stupid at points, because it definitely is, but I still really enjoyed it all the same. It was brimming with interesting ideas and beautifully dark imagery. it won’t go down as a classic like Alien or Aliens but it will certainly exist on my shelves next to other expensive and messy follies that I still love like Event Horizon, The Keep or Lifeforce and that, my friends, is okay by me.

God I love Lifeforce. Must watch that again sometime. Hey its my birthday, maybe I’ll watch it tonight…

The Faculty 1998

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The nineties were not a good period for horror movies. The crazy asthetic of the 1980s had given way to sown thing a bit more sensible but also duller. There was no movement like the slasher or the Italian shocker. The masters of horror were either going off the boil or had given up working all together. What we were left with was a few big studio efforts and some hangovers from the big franchises of the eighties, none of which managed to reignite the box office or the horror fan’s imagination. It was during this time I stopped getting Fangoria magazine, something I’d been buying religiously since I was twelve when my father told me I was never to have such a foul rag in the house again.

It was only with the advent of Scream that suddenly the studios realised that there was still an audience for horror. Most of them started to make stupid meta slasher rip offs, however it was Scream’s makers, Dimension Films, who realised that it wasn’t the slasher genre itself that people wanted to see but subversions of classic horror tropes. So what we have here in The Faculty is as simple a pitch as you could hope for:

The Breakfast Club meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I can imagine the Weinstien’s wrote that check without even reading the first page of the script. They probably micro managed the post production to death later but that’s how they roll I guess.

We in Texas high school that could be anywhere in America. The teachers are rapidly taken over by an alien parasite, the pupils are next and only a disparite gang of youths can defeat them. That’s it. Plot done.

The Faculty wears is two main influences on it’s sleave. It has a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse as the main heroes. They come from different walks of life and do not get on at all initially. The main difference from John Hugh’s classic is that Josh Harnett as the drug dealing rebel of the gang doesn’t hold a candle to Judd Nelson on the cool stakes. This is mainly because his hair seems to be styled on Jim Carrey’s in Dumb and Dumber. On the other side the aliens take over their victims behind closed doors and afterwards walk about like semi robots giving sly looks to each other. bclassic body snatching behaviour. The aliens themselves are tentacle-like bugs harking back to Able Ferrera’s version of the seminal classic from just a few years before. The characters even discuss what the invaders do in the book and film (“they win” the recluse says ominously).

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The Faculty is in no way breaking new grounds then and the, at the time, innovative digital effects do not hold up well at all (the practical effects on the other hand still look tangible and life like). But the lack of originality doesn’t really matter, by putting the classic invasion story into a school if gives the whole event a fun playfulness that we can all relate to. Who hasn’t thought of teachers as the “other” when you’ve had to stagger through those awful teenage years and out the far side into adulthood. Robert Patrick, having fun with cold villainous stare like his T-1000, may play an archetypal bullying gym teacher but it’s a character we’ve all met in our lives so can root against. Besides he’s taken over by the aliens in the opening scene and his character doesn’t seem to become any more psychotic after assimilation then he was before.

What makes The Faculty a good film really is the cast. On the teachers’ side you’ve got Patrick but also Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen and a snuffling Salma Hayek as a permanently sick school nurse. Plus great character actors like Daniel Von Bargen and Bebe Neuwirth as the principal, all of them having a great time mucking about as aliens. And Jon Stewart as a Professor Edward Furlong, which is kind of weird.

Meanwhile the kids are lead by genre hero Elijah Wood, Hartnett and Fast and Furious‘ Jordana Brewster. Also Shawn Hatosy as the doubting jock who would rather get an earned D grade than a faked A just because he’s good at football. Hatosy has gone on to have a lifetime of performances of jocks or thugs with a hidden side to them and this is like his proto version of those characters.

The other star of the show is director Robert Rodriguez coming off From Dusk Til Dawn and still with a spring in his step. Maybe everything is a little safe here, there aren’t many big surprises in store and the direction is solid rather than edgy, but then this was probably his first decently budgeted film so maybe he felt he had to play it a bit safe.

It’s still very entertaining though and it’s a reminder that whilst the nineties did suffer from a drought of horror, there were still studios willing to pump a fair amount of cash into a fun monster movie. Those times seem to have long gone. Now it’s either under a million for something like Spring or over a hundred million for Godzilla, there’s no room for a Faculty now. So maybe the nineties weren’t so bad after all…

Apart from those young-cast-in-a-V on the posters… we all got sick of those real fast. Ugh…

 

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Harbinger Down 2015

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Let’s face facts here, the 2011 version of The Thing was a failure in a multitude of ways that I’ve already wittered on about but of course the biggest tragedy was that the practical effects were mostly hidden or not used at all. In response to this travesty the company behind those effects, Amalgamated Dynamics, launched a kickstarter campaign to right those wrongs and make an all practical monster movie as a proper spiritual follow up to John Carpenter’s classic. Unfortunately whilst The Thing of 2011 had a budget of 38 million dollars, Director Alec Gillis and co look like they raised a couple of bucks and the loan of a dry ice machine.

Judging by the Internet community’s response Harbinger Down has not received a warm welcome. Personally I don’t know what they were expecting. Within its own limited means I think the film does pretty well. Yes it is cheap as chips but perhaps people have forgotten that the origins of creature features is not from lavish studio productions where money is thrown at them but from the B movies of old where monsters looked rubbery and actors were wooden. That’s not an excuse for bad film making but it is a reason why cheesy monster movies like Harbinger Down can exist. If you want a great horror movie which has fantastic monsters but good acting but no money then you have to go down the route of something like Spring where you can concentrate on the fine details. However if you want to have a story involving crab ships, space crashes, giant monsters, a larger cast and huge explosions but with the same amount of money as Spring then Harbinger Down is what you will get. And thank god for that.

We begin with basically the beginning of The Thing as a spaceship crashes down to Earth, freezing the cosmonaut on board as he’s being harassed by something slimy. Skipping forward to the present day we meet the crew of the Harbinger, a crabbing boat doing its thing in the Arctic ocean. There is a good attempt to create distinctive individual characters on board the boat, almost certainly a reaction to 2011 The Thing‘s white men with beards syndrome (I say this as a white man with a beard). There’s a good mix of characters, an obvious final girl, an evil science professor and a slightly embarrassing comedy black dude, but more unusual characters are the Russian tough lady who tries to get in touch with her gentler side and a Andre The Giant sized chap called Big G played by a fellow called Winston James Francis. Obviously this humongous gentleman has mostly been cast as a thug type character in most of his previous roles and while he certainly does his fair share of looking menacing and punching people, he’s also a pretty rounded character and almost gets a girl… Well before he has to punch her in the face and blow her up for being a hideous alien monster.

The real star of the film though is Lance Hendrickson who adds class to anything he is in. It is often said that actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing would always bring their all to whatever load of old toss they were cast in and nowadays it does seem that there just aren’t that many character actors who will always be amazing and act with total integrity in whatever crazy nonsense they are in. However Hendrickson is such an actor, with that gravelly voice and world weary eyes he plays the salty old sea dog of a captain with gravitas but also warmth – he cares for and protects his crew and granddaughter (the final girl played by Camille Basimo) and despite the silliness that ensues he is always totally believable. What a guy.

Looking at his IMDb credits, Lance Hendrickson is a man who has 205 titles to his name with another 17 upcoming. Now I have now seen a great deal of these but I don’t doubt for a second that he’s good in all of them. It’s fantastic that he is held in such high regard that he is constantly in work (or will just say yes to anything maybe but why not, I’ve worked on Beverley Hills Chihuahua for god’s sake). However his biggest film is still Aliens and that was twenty nine years ago. Isn’t it about time Hendrickson starred in a Tarantino film and got the recognition he deserves? Maybe THAT is a kick starter campaign we need to get behind: Mr Tatantino, we will give you a million bucks if you put Hendrickson in your next film. Okay we only raised $359.27 will that do?”

Anyway, Harbinger Down is really all about the monsters and they are weird old bunch. There is no attempt to disguise their Thing origins – they’re all tentacles and giant funny mouths. Gillis’s dedication to his practical effects is admiral: there are speeded up monsters, miniature monsters, even stop mention monsters and at no point is there any sign of cg. However whilst cg creatures can suffer from over exposure, like for example in Mama where we are subjected to the cg ghost thing for so much screen time it becomes boring, here the practical effects are so hidden in the dark and with quick cutaways that it is often difficult to say what exactly you are looking at. Maybe that is the point of a Thing-type creature, it is made up of so many limbs and body parts it is meant to be too alien to read. However creatures in John Carpenter’s The Thing were, despite their weirdness, very easy to understand and comprehend. It is almost certainly a budgetary thing though, despite Amalgamated Dynamics being behind the film it isn’t like they could just throw all their resources at it, it would bankrupt the company if they did so. There is one pretty cool monster which has one of the characters heads as its lower jaw which is both goofy and horrific.

Whatever the case, the creatures on display here still have so much more charm and danger to them than anything in the 2011 film, and those are things that no amount of money can buy.

 

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The Thing 2011

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You know they’re making Bladerunner 2 right? Can you hear that sound? It’s a million cinephiles slapping their heads in frustration at the stupidity of it. If there is a glimmer of hope with making a sequel to that seminal sci-fi classic it’s that the director Denis Villeneuve (who’s filmography is rather great) said he’s only directing it because it is such a scary proposition. The very fact that it is a sequel to a classic is a daunting, terrifying proposition and that what has drawn him to it. With his talent there is a possibility that it might turn out okay, maybe. If we’re lucky.

A similar fear must have gone through Matthijs Van Heijningen’s head when he signed up to direct this prequel to John Carpenter’s undisputed classic. How could you top that? What could you bring which would be new and interesting? How could you use modern filmmaking techniques to improve on what was already perfect?

The answer to those three questions are:
You couldn’t. Very little. You couldn’t.

I saw this update on opening day in the West End and went with an open mind and tried to enjoy it on its own merits. And in a limited way that’s exactly what happened: I thought it was okay, nothing great but not the bastardisation of Carpenter’s original that it could have been and a perfectly serviceable bit of horror. When I watched it again for this review I thought I’d be able to do the same again, watch it objectively and judge it in and of itself. But I couldn’t do it. Maybe it’s the passage of time, or maybe it was just initial very low expectations but when I watched it this time I could feel the anger building up inside me. I’m actually not against a remake or prequel or whatever of The Thing, what I am against it a banal and lifeless bit of filmmaking, so I’m not going to say that the 2011 version of The Thing is okay or passable. I’m going to rip it a new one.

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I’ll give them a break though, at least they tried to get some things right. It was a really good idea to keep away from the 1982 version by making a prequel: can you imagine trying to recast Kurt Russell for one? Of course like all prequels it runs head long into the problem of the audience knowing where things are heading so a lot of the tension disappears, not that there’s much anyway but I’ll get back to that. Within this framework though there are lots of nice nods to Carpenter’s film with the slab of ice in the cellar and the axe in the door having their origins. And then the ending literally leads up to the very moment the 1982 film begins which is nice and neat. Also the serious tone with professionals working together under difficult circumstances is kept and it is obvious that the cast are taking the material seriously and not just hamming it up in any old b-movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a good alternative to the masculine leading man characteristics Russell brought to the role. Her sex is never mentioned even though she (and one other woman) is surrounded by men. Winstead plays it low key and intelligently and is quite believable as a scientist with her brain working overtime to find solutions to the problems at hand. I also love that we get to see inside the crashed spaceship which has some wacky vents and crawl spaces although I have no idea what that computery cube thing in the middle of it is meant to be. The stuff with the fillings is okay I suppose. Erm….. I think that’s your lot.

So the 1982 version is not just fondly remembered for its incredible effects work but they still hold up today as a benchmark of what can be done with latex, animatronics and a tank full of fake blood. It doesn’t take much research to see that when the prequel was conceived they tried to use as many practical effects as possible. You can see on the short making-of alone lots of animatronic creatures waddling about and being all Thingy. Even then though they wanted to combine the discipline of practical effects with computer advancements which is a jolly good idea. Why not get the best of both worlds? However, somewhere along the way something must have gone terribly wrong because it seems that the effects weigh far too much in cgi’s favour and not in a good way.

I should be clear here that I have worked for Image Engine who did the effects and they are a fine bunch and have done a good job here. It’s more that there seems to have been some conceptual problems that undermine the vfx. If you think about The Thing you think of weird limbs and alien body parts springing out from everywhere and that is all present and correct here. However there is also a shit load of blood and goo that is just missing here. When someone splits open or scuttles across the screen you can see lots of veins and innards but where is the blood? Without it all the monsters look like pale purple lollipops. I know The Thing is meant to be alien but these Things look too alien, like they were never human in the first place. The guy who splits open in the helicopter has all manner of bits and bobs popping all over the place but without the red stuff it just doesn’t look real. There is an attempt to make the monsters look wet and shiny but often it is too shiny like the spec has been pushed too far up and doesn’t match the lighting in the rest of the shot. Also, stretching skin is a really tricky thing to do on a computer, it frequently looks like a weird warping effect and not like skin at all. I  hope I haven’t offended anyone I know, if so I apologise, but I don’t think it’s your fault at all. Well, maybe this guy:

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Rob Bottin’s effects had a tactileness to them which obviously can’t be recreated with cgi but they also added a weight to the monsters which doesn’t come across here either. For example, when the alien bursts out of the ice block early on it practically flies out as if it was light as a feather. Of course the most annoying thing about all this is that there were much more practical effects made for the film than were actually used as you can see on the showreel Amalgamated Dynamics released a couple of years after this movie’s release. There’s some really lovely work going on there and it all seems to have been actually shot (apart from that alien pilot  chap who looks incredible) its just lost under a cg sheen.

If it was just the effects that were a problem then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad but John Carpenter’s The Thing was a movie where you might have come for the fx and gore but you stayed for the tension and paranoia. Carpenter was at his peak when he made the ’82 film. If you watch it now you cannot deny the mastery he has over cinema. Not just in the goo but how he handles a large group of purposefully thinly written characters and makes you care about them and fear them at the same time. He can shoot a bunch of men staring at each other in the dark and make it feel like the whole world is at stake. The film starts with a jolt as the Norwegian’s arrive shooting at the dog and after than things just get more and more tense. No one trusts anyone, even Russell who becomes the hero seems paranoid and separate early on, not wanting to deal with the nightmare head on. The blood testing scene is one of the most nail bitingly tense moments in cinema history. Even the nihilistic ending is riveting and that’s just two blokes sitting round a fire sharing a drink. There’s none of that here.

I believe that Heijningen had the best intentions in the world but a man who has never directed a feature film before and comes from a commercials background just is not up to the challenge of such out and out DRAMA. Not just with the experience of directing actors (although there are some very odd reactions by some to the events unfolding) but also the muse-en-scene just isn’t as tight as it needs to be, and might well have been under a more experienced director. There are numerous scenes of guys running down corridors with flame throwers and shouting at each other but there’s no life to them, the stakes aren’t there for us to give a shit. It doesn’t help that a lot of the actors look identical: there are way too many white men with light brown hair and beards. I didn’t have a clue who was who half the time. A couple of the actors disappear with no explanation and it’s telling that their deaths are on the deleted scenes. It seems no one cared enough for these guys (or the audience) to show what happened to them. There are big stretches of the film where everyone seems to be going through the motions of making a horror movie but without the focus on creating an atmosphere to scare anyone. Things just happen.

In Carpenter’s film there isn’t a moment which doesn’t add to the overall mood and uneasiness, it’s as tight as a drum. The Thing 2011 biggest crime isn’t that the effects aren’t as good or that it even tried to tread on Carpenter’s masterpiece, it’s that it is as loose as I was at university, and that was pretty damn loose I can tell you…

 

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The Thing From Another World 1951

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The first thing (er…) you have to remember when watching The Thing From Another World is that it really does seem like a film from another world itself. Much of the language of cinema has changed so much in the past sixty four years since it was released that if you go in to The Thing From Another World purely with modern eyes then you will struggle with it. This can be true with many old films to modern audiences but The Thing seems particularly old fashioned with its old fashioned characters and creaky dialogue. However, like many films from that era the trick is to put yourself into the historical context of when it was released and what kind of audience would have watched it and suddenly it’s charms will be revealed to you.

I’m sure I don’t need to say all that to a lot of people. Myself and my contemporaries were brought up with endless seasons on BBC2 of the old horror and sci fi classics from invaders from Mars to Quartermass and the Pit. When you’re a seven year old boy with a choice of three channels on a good day then these old classics were like a shot of excitement right to the eyeballs. Looking back at them now I don’t seem to remember them being so talky, it’s only the images of strange invaders and ancient monsters that stuck in my head, not the constant need to explain every single thing that’s happening on screen. However when The Thing From Another World came out in 1951 there was an awful lot to explain.

Back in 1951 everyone was settling down to a nice, long Cold War and I don’t need to explain how the scifi boom in that era reflected the fear of the Reds under the bed and terror at the idea of a nuclear holocaust. But it was also a time of huge scientific leaps forward, not just in labs and Nevada deserts but also in homes with TVs, hoovers and other wacky appliances everywhere you looked. Movie audiences, especially American ones, were fascinated by the possibilities that the future held for them. When The Thing From Another World came out there weren’t many films that had dealt with what science could teach us, only a couple the year before like The Flying Saucer and Destination Moon. So The Thing had a lot of explaining to do. And boy does it do that.

We get explanations of everything from what kind of research station would you have in the North Pole to how do plants grow. One soldier gets attacked by the Thing itself and then lies there telling everyone else about it, who all patiently listen before acting on it. There is one particular scientist, a Doctor Carrington, who is a massive know-it-all snob who is constantly telling people how much he knows about some old shite or another. When one guy, talking about what The Thing is probably made from and says the immortal line “an intellectual carrot… The mind boggles” Carrington replies “it shouldn’t,” and then goes on about how it’s obvious that plants are intelligent and blah blah blah. What a total wanker. It comes as no surprise that when people die it’s mostly his fault and he almost ruins the big plan to beat The Thing because he wants to make friends with it. Also he has a terrible collection of trousers and clothes in general: why would anyone wear a smoking jacket at the North Pole?

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Anyway despite the over stuffed dialogue the plot is legitimately great even though, again, sixty four years later it seems hackneyed. At the time how many other movies were finding aliens buried in the ice? There’s a great sense of atmosphere as the soldiers and scientists form the circle of where the crashed ship is under the ice and realise they are making a saucer shape. The monster itself does suffer from being a big bloke in a suit who stomps about like Frankenstein’s monster’s disco-obsessed cousin but he still has some good frights. There’s s fantastic moment when the main hero, square-jawed Kenneth Toby, opens a door and The Thing is right there wailing in his face. Everyone, from the cast to the audience seems to shit themselves, even The Thing seems a bit freaked out. There’s also some other creepy images, the ice block The Thing is entombed in slowly melting, the monster murdering the huskies as a storm whips around him and, most impressively, when they set fire to The Thing and it bursts out of the burning camp screaming into the night. That last scene has a real sense of danger as the whole set goes up in flames and the actors cower behind fire blankets as the monster flails about, itself a walking column of fire.

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This being a Howard Hawks production there’s a lot of banter amongst the men, but also some screwball comedy type chat between Toby and Margaret Sheridan who wears a pencil skirt and blouse like she’s working in Manhattan in the spring rather than the North Pole. They must have had a damned good heating system going on there.

Despite there being no denying that it is really dated I did really enjoy The Thing From Another World. It has a strong sense of time and place, a post-war America that is both confident in its ability to take on strange new enemies and environments, but one also in fear of a greater universe it doesn’t quite understand. There is a LOT of chat between the moments of horror but it doesn’t feel like padding so much as the interest isn’t always focused on The Thing as it is about the characters in the North Pole and explaining how science works. This is all fine and good, and was probably expected by the audience of 1951, but modern audiences have come to expect something more visual and maybe even visceral from their stories about things from other worlds. If someone remade this Thing I wonder if they would bear that in mind…

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Tales of Halloween 2015

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Here in the Queen’s country we don’t really don’t celebrate Halloween as much as our American cousins do. We think it’s all a bit crass and uncouth. Trick or treating is even worse as it seems like a desperate attempt to get money of strangers and we’d never been caught dead begging. Of course we’re completely missing the point. Dressing up as ghouls and goblins may well be crazy and weird but it’s as old a celebration as any in most societies, and more importantly it’s an excuse to dress up as SEXY ghouls and goblins. This isn’t a religious affair like Easter or even an overtly commercial one like Christmas has become. It’s about dressing up and having fun. That’s what I think we don’t always realise about Halloween in America, it’s about having a making yourself look crazy, mucking about in the macabre and having a laugh.

Saying all that I approached Tales of Halloween with a huge amount of trepidation. It’s directed by some of the best indie horror movie makers around at the moment, it’s also a horror anthology with each story directed by these guys and girls, sorry girl. Well one is better than nothing I suppose. The trouble with a number of these anthologies of late is that the different directors bring such wildly varying tones and styles than the stories feel more like a collection of shorts competing against each other rather than one film. The advantage something like Creepshow had was than George A. Romeo made one big film with the same asthetic, and the connecting story, though minor, helped bind all the others together. The only thing binding the Tales from Halloween seems to be the great Adrienne Barbaeu who reprises her role as Stevie Wayne the smokey voiced DJ from The Fog. This time we only here her and she’s not attacked by undead leaper pirates but it’s better than nothing.

However, as it turns out I had nothing to worry about. All the stories have a similar feel to them in that they embrace the fun element of Halloween and of the horror movie in general. Sure there are countless intestines pulled out, heads chopped off and eyes gouged out but it’s done with a light touch. The locations are mostly of the LA suburb variety so it feels like this is all one neighbourhood these stories are unfolding, with a number of characters wandering in and out of the different tales. Plus the main film showing on TV in each story is, of course, Night of the Living Dead (with a bit of Carnival of Souls thrown in for good measure). The stories all seem to have a similar look to them too so there are lots of extremely red rooms with very blue corners, harking back to the EC comics and Dario Argento at his best. Most of this seems to happen in camera rather than in a colourist’s suite in post production which leads me to believe there was some mood meeting where all the director’s agreed on certain things.

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Another thing they all agreed on (and which modern horror director worth their salt wouldn’t agree to this?) is to use as many practical effects as possible. This results in buckets of blood and some very old school looking monsters. There’s even a bit of stop motion in there which is more Morph than Harryhausen but is thoroughly charming nonetheless. These film makers really have embraced what horror movie fans enjoy and it could have been a self indulgent disaster with the amount of cameos and in jokes, however everything is so brisk and breezy that nothing is around long enough to outstay it’s wound-dripping welcome.

The stories themselves are mostly silly bits of fluff. There’s a killer pumpkin on the rampage, devil dwarves terrorising crooks, a ghost following lonely women home (which has probably the bast scare and made May jump out of her skin) and a urban legend come to life. We have aliens vs a Jason Vorhees type, murderous children and vengeful demons. Most of these stories don’t have much meat to them (although they do have a lot of MEAT to them) but all of them are at least entertaining and some of them legitimately great. As a sucker for crazy gore I particularly liked the Jason Voorhees type one which just went way over the top with the arterial spray and limb dismemberment. It also had the cute stop motion alien in it so was kind of the perfect film.

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The only one which really bucked this trend was Lucky McKee’s entry which was about being barren women and domestic abuse. But don’t let that put you off, it was still a barrel of laughs and was certainly the weirdest with Pollyanna Macintosh as an unhinged witch with multiple red arms beating her poor, suffering husband insensible. Maybe because it was saying a little bit more than most of the others (although I’m not entirely sure what) but that’s the one that has stuck with me the most.

So the Tales of Halloween that these directors have to tell us aren’t going to change the world, and probably won’t change our British minds about this festive season, but as a celebration of the day everyone stateside puts a pumpkin in their garden and send their children out to their doom, I mean for candy, it’s pretty bloody great. Even non-horror fans will enjoy this, although if you’re a non-horror fan, what the hell is the matter with you?

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