Howard Silk works for the United Nations. In a single day, everything he knows about where he works, and the world, is turned upside down.
One of the strangest films of the '70s, and of Larry Cohen's, GOD TOLD ME TO strikes at belief, faith, & Christianity.
At the Summerland facility, David Haller receives help from Ptonomy Wallace & Melanie Bird, trying to unlock his memories & in turn his amazing powers.
The Mind’s Eye. 2016. Directed & Written by Joe Begos.
Starring Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden, Noah Segan, Matt Mercer, Michael A. LoCicero, Jeremy Gardner, Patrick M. Walsh, Brian Morvant, Josh Ethier, Susan T. Travers, & Chuck Doherty. Channel 83 Films/Site B.
Not Rated. 87 minutes.
Not sure how everybody else felt about it, but I loved the debut feature Almost Human from Joe Begos – it was on one of my favourite lists after being released in Canada finally. He proved to have a knack and a love for old school filmmaking, as well as the science fiction and horror pictures of a few decades ago. In that first film, Begos channelled a Fire in the Sky vibe into his own brand of retro horror with a fresh, exciting story. The Mind’s Eye bears its obvious Cronenbergian influence particularly right on its sleeve. Yet there’s so much more to it.
I knew just from the trailer that Begos was hugely influenced by Scanners. Not that he copies Cronenberg. Not at all. There’s a more personal, emotional plot that serves as foundation for The Mind’s Eye, as opposed to Scanners. Begos is focusing less on a metaphorical psychokinesis, much more on the action and horror elements. The pacing does most of that job, keeping us edgy the entire time. Again, after his fantastic debut, Begos proves that you can go over-the-top and still keep things satisfying. His science fiction-horror cocktail is better than the mere label of a throwback film, or any of the buzzword headlines you may read. It’s not perfect. However, it is everything the awful Scanners sequels could have been. Perhaps when Begos first saw it, this story began to brew in his mind, bit by bit. Until years later he’d fleshed out this entirely new tale of psychokinetic power and those who seek to control it. With Graham Skipper (also the star of Begos’ previous effort) and the ever wonderful Lauren Ashley Carter as the two main characters with psychokinetic powers, on the run from a doctor gone mad, the story sells itself through interesting performances and a load of practical, bloody goodness.
In his previous movie, Begos didn’t really have much action outside of some gunshots and frantic behaviour – not a bad thing. Mostly, it was straight up horror and sci-fi crossed together. Here we get to see him go for a different type of atmosphere. On one hand, Almost Human was great; it required different storytelling, a slow build of terror after the initial scene involving some alien craziness. On the other hand, The Mind’s Eye plunges into an action-oriented plot. As I mentioned, the pacing keeps everything pretty wild. We move along fast, as the main plot kicks in real quick. Essentially this is a road movie crossed with the sci-fi and horror elements in heaps. Or rather you could see it as a chase movie: a series of confrontational events stretching out over this insanely tense cat-and-mouse game between Zack and Rachel (Graham Skipper & Lauren Ashley Carter) and the doctor who tried to use them as guinea pigs, Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos). Of course there are sections of the story where we slow down, get a bit of character development. The awesome motherfucker that is Larry Fessenden plays Zack’s father, Mike Connors, so there are more than just the main characters to find interest in. These brief reprieves in the chaotic pace of the action are just long enough to make us feel settled. Before Begos rattles us down the drain again and into the rabbit hole. A great place to be with a filmmaker who so admires the age of practical effects, as opposed to one totally dominated by CGI and jump scares.
THE EXPLODED HEAD! THE FUCKING EXPLODED HEAD!
Can we talk about it?
I mean, that sequence came not at all as a surprise. And behold, a savage, perfectly executed practical effect. Better still, I love the moment before that when Rachel is holding the guy up in the air – with her mind – and then POP! Just properly accomplished all around. You combine wild practical effects, good doses of bloody mess, a truly enjoyable score from Steve Moore (The Guest, Cub), you’ve got yourself a stew, baby!
I have to say that while I loved Skipper in the other Begos film, he wasn’t always as strong as he could have been, or needed to be either. Still, I loved his performance because you can see the genuine effort in some actors. In the role of Zack you can literally see the maturity of his acting coming into being. That’s not a bullshit line to throw out there; it’s a genuine observation. For instance, the scene where he and Rachel sit together and he tells her about his mother, his performance reaches the perfect pitch. He is so believably real it makes the character grow all the more quickly, in the best sort of way. If you weren’t rooted in his story emotionally yet, this scene should cement that.
Oh, and Carter? She’s phenomenal, as usual. Most recently, her turn as a damaged woman on the verge of a breakdown in Mickey Keating’s Darling blew me away. But back to Jug Face, The Woman, even her one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, she is fairly consistent in her quality as an actor. Each character carries their own vulnerability yet are vastly different. As Rachel Meadows, she is another damaged character and this time with more than enough power to take whatever revenge she deems necessary. I like that Carter keeps what seems to be her inherent sweetness while simultaneously being capable of being a strong, determined woman – Rachel’s only in distress as much as Zack, so in a sense they both enable one another in certain ways. This also lets them each be a fully developed character, rather than simply a half of one whole. Carter’s charisma as a bit of a bad ass gets to come out here, which is lots of fun to watch.
A 4-star action romp across science fiction-horror territory. Begos may not have won everyone over with his first feature – he had me sold – but I just can’t believe that The Mind’s Eye won’t impress. It is exciting and fun above all else. The story isn’t overly innovative. Instead, Begos makes it feel fresh, intriguing. Because he takes the Scanners influence, all that love of the ’80s and early ’90s filmmaking, then moulds it into a tightly knit ball of tension and weirdness, in great ways. I’m not sold on the whole cast, although Skipper and Carter are so excellent. What I dig most is how the heart of the film beats loud and proud. Begos never pulls any punches, giving us exactly what we expect in such a way that isn’t boring or expected in the slightest. If you can’t have fun as a horror (or sci-fi or both) fan, then I’m not sure what to tell you. It never needed to be perfect. Part of the appeal of the ’80s and the early ’90s felt like things didn’t have to be totally polished, pristine like porcelain. Personally, I dig my movies with a bit of girt, in every sense. I’d like to think Begos understands that. At least that’s how he makes it feel. The Mind’s Eye gives its all with a ton of adrenaline and blood-soaked spirit.
Alien. 1979. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon; story by O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett.
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Bolaji Badejo, & Helen Horton. Brandywine Productions/Twentieth Century-Fox Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
I’m not even a huge science fiction fan. Of course I love any good movie, no matter the genre. But even as a nerd, someone who grew up loving Star Trek: The Next Generation and plenty of other science fiction, it isn’t my first choice. Yet you can’t keep a great film down. No matter if it’s your preferred genre or not. Now, when you start to mix genres together, that’s my favourite. So at a crossroads between horror and sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s Alien converges on my tastes to make for an altogether frightening experience. The undeniable legacy of the film is plastered over many genre films that have come out since. Likely that’ll be the case for a long, long time. Scott’s genius as a director is matched in the writing of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, collaborating here on the story with Ronald Shusett. Working on the isolation of space, in ’79 still a relatively new frontier with untold terrors lurking in its dark and uncharted territories, Alien coils you into madness through its horrifying scenario playing out on a previously quiet ship called the Nostromo amongst a bunch of shipmates trying to get home to Earth.
The atmosphere here is tantamount to actually being out there in the depths of outer space, stuck on a ship somewhere where nobody can hear you scream. Scott makes you feel the despair, the fear, the isolation and its effects. Each set piece is better than the last, every corner and hallway exudes the sense of a real environment. The writing of O’Bannon is one thing. The imagination of Scott is entirely another beast, one that isn’t finished working as of this writing. But the clever effectiveness of one of his most satisfying works never fails to hook me. Watching it right now, nearly 3 AM here in Newfoundland, I’m watching Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett walk through the corridors alone, calling out for Jones the cat. And when he finds that facehugger skin, the chills still run up my spine.
First and foremost, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is obviously the star of the show. What I dig, though, is how O’Bannon sets the entire crew up as characters. Once we get to the excitement and all the wonderful thrills(/chills), Ripley is our woman. She carries us through the action, the horror, as our tour guide almost. Regardless of her status as protagonist, O’Bannon gives us the time to get to know the others around her, so as not to stick us totally in one perspective. It’s a testament to good writing when a screenplay is able to setup a cast of characters behind the one real main character, to make them interesting, to have us spend time with them and let each one build instead of ending up as simply expendable victims for the alien to kill. Mostly, O’Bannon writes the characters so that they’re natural. In any genre, any writer will have a better chance at making their script more powerful if the characters feel like they’re organic. With a crew like those on the Nostromo, the chemistry has to be tight, like the sort of chat and relationships you’d generally see from any group that spend so much time together. Add to that a bunch of good actors who give it their all and you’ve got one enjoyable feast of emotions that run the gamut from strength to paranoia to bald fear and everything in between.
That first reveal of the Xenomorph is forever etched in my mind. Having the cat there makes it unique. Those shots of Jones hissing, then the eyes watching poor Brett get nibbled up, they’re really something spectacular. Not sure why it’s so interesting. Perhaps to see a cat, a fine predator in its own right, witness such an apex predator at work is the reason this scene works to such a degree. Either way, when the Xenomorph, so quiet, drops down behind Brett, there’s a HOLY SHIT moment, and you immediately understand how threatening this creature is truly. Forget the size, the look, the nasty jaws and acid blood, just the sheer physical prowess of the Xenomorph to curl down from above, slow, silent: that is horrifying. Later, the scene with Dallas (Skerritt) and the Xenomorph is the stuff of which nightmares are made. Then things only get more frightening, the tension mounts until you feel your spine sucking up against the inside of your stomach. There’s a lot of downright exciting moments, too, but it’s the frights that keep me enthralled with Scott’s work in this movie every damn time.
My favourite sequence? When Ash (Holm) goes haywire. The first time I’d seen the film I never once expected it to happen. Now, I’m still impressed. The eerie way Holm plays the scene, the unsettling close-ups shot tight on Ash’s face as he starts leaking a bit of liquid, starting to go crazy. Then when Parker (Kotto) discovers the secret Ash is hiding, the nastiness of the simple effects make it all the more wild.
The sets are elaborate and Scott is able to take us away to another place. You become completely absorbed in the future world. Right down to how they’re shot and the way we initially follow a tracking shot through portions of the Nostromo before coming upon the crew in their stasis. A fine opener to the film, but a visual aesthetic Scott keeps up throughout the film’s entirety. The coldness of the camera, the silence, I find it works well with the advanced looking technology of the ship itself. At certain times you’re sure to be reminded of Stanley Kubrick. Others, you’re most definitely in a Scott landscape. What I like most are the exteriors, as opposed to the clean looking interiors. Outside we get this idea that yet it’s the future, but it is a dirty, rough and tumble one.
There’s no denying Alien is a whopping 5 stars. A fantastic ride into the heart of science fiction-horror. Scott blew everybody away, and still does with this piece of work. When people try to tell you horror or sci-fi can’t be art, you show them this film. Tell them they’re wrong. The imaginative direction on Scott’s part, the writing of O’Bannon. The strong central performance of Sigourney Weaver as the beloved Ripley, the beyond excellent support of a cast with the likes of John Hurt and Ian Holm. There is much to love. I can never get enough. I personally love the first three films of the series, and Prometheus.
But this one started it all. The dangerous aliens of the outer reaches have never been so vicious, so adverse to humanity as they are in this Scott masterpiece. Feast on it. Learn from it. This film won’t ever get old, except in the way that it gets better with age in all its horrific, science fiction goodness.
Foxtel’s The Kettering Incident
Episode 3: “The Search”
Directed by Steve Krawitz
Written by Cate Shortland
* For a review of Episode 2, “The Lights” – click here
* For a review of Episode 4, “The Mill” – click here
Out among the forest surrounding Kettering, moths float about, and at home Dr. Anna Macy (Elizabeth Debicki) feels as if she can literally see the air around her. She continues to record everything in her notebook. She’s in the bed of Fergus Mcfadden (Henry Nixon). Meanwhile, Fergus has found the cellphone of missing Chloe (Sianoa Smit-McPhee). He brings it to Max and Barbara Holloway (Damien Garvey/Sacha Horler), the parents, and her brother Adam (Brad Kannegiesser) is there to hear the news, too. They have somewhere to begin now. Although they hvae no idea where the road is headed.
Anna has to contend with Dt. Brian Dutch (Matthew Le Nevez) asking all sorts of questions re: Chloe. We know his intentions. However, even without knowing everything Anna has a sixth sense about guys like him.
On the cell, Fergus listens to the voicemail from Chloe, the terrifying message. He questions Eliza Grayson (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) about whether it’s a joke. She is a good pretender. A faker, really. She doesn’t realise that tihs time, Chloe isn’t faking. What we’re seeing is the hysteria in Kettering: “I guess I just wanted to be a part of it,” says Eliza. All a sham.
Bad boy Dutch is over to see Dane Sullivan (Dylan Young) about the rest of his drugs. Now the young guy is on the hook for $10K, and the dirty cop’s not exactly the forgiving kind. He has jobs to do that need a hand. Just great.
Anna heads back to her father Roy’s (Anthony Phelan) place. She finds a map marked with spots in the Kettering forest. Out there people are searching for Chloe. A base camp is setup, all sorts of operations. When Anna winds up there nobody is exactly welcoming. Not after all that’s happened. Although she manages to muscle her way into Deb Russell’s (Alison Whyte) vehicle for a ride up to where the search parties are moving. On the way they hit a small kangaroo. Deb watches on as Anna puts the creature out of its misery with a rock to the head. Chilling, though only because Deb sees this as creepy herself. We know Anna’s probably the least capable of murder in ole Kettering.
Nobody at the search is pleased to have Anna there, not even Papa Roy. Doesn’t help she has blood all over her hands, literally. She gets the cold welcome from Craig Grayson (Ben Oxenbould) and others, as well as the semi-longing star of activist Jens Jorgensson (Damon Gameau). Nevertheless, everyone heads into the woods, protective gear on, police with their dogs alongside.
Between the trees Anna sees something red. She starts hearing noises, seeing lights in the woods. She gets stuck in the mud, calling out for “Gillian” but it’s only Adam there to comfort her surprisingly.
Dutch is at the Holloway place. Of all people to be leading that side of the investigation. Not only is he dirty, he and Barbara have an affair going on. He gathers up a piece of clothing, talks about combing through Chloe’s social media accounts. Then once he gets a moment to himself in her room he finds the package for which he’s looking so frantically. All the while Eliza has her eye on Barb and Dutch.
Husband Max is just numb. And perhaps there’s a bigger worry behind all that. We know there is a lot more to Max. Likely something sinister down the pipes.
When Adam takes Anna back to the search site, Roy shoos his daughter away. Typical. There’s only more suspicion and paranoia for Ms. Macy. Even her own father doesn’t know what to think of her innocence, or guilt. The whole town is leaning her way mostly. In some way. For Roy’s part he seems to have something to hide, too. He was a cop, sure. There are further skeletons, though.
Anna secretly discovers Deb’s cancer, seeing the chemo implant on her chest. She also suggests Anna’s attitude “sucks” and that changing it may help her fit in. But further than that Anna finds out more about the Dr. Fiona McKenzie (Kris McQuade) with whom she was trying to speak at the hospital recently. Turns out she works as a tour guide at a prison nearby.
Over at the mill, Roy lets Max know the search is over for the day. He also talks about the Sullivan place. There’s more to that land than just the UFO sightings. Something else happened out there.
Dutch goes through Chloe’s computer. He finds videos on the presence of alien life, et cetera. Also there are pictures of him, all over Kettering. She kept a nice visual log of his comings and goings. At least for a little while. Smart girl. Now, the detective heads things off with his access to her things. Sketchy, dude.
Finally, Anna goes to see Dr. McKenzie and finds out lots more. “Things started happening,” she tells Anna. “Strange cancers” and all sorts of other things. One of those cases includes Deb. All of Kettering both threatened Dr. McKenzie, plus labelled her crazy. She knew Chloe had nosebleeds. She knows more than she even lets on to Anna, only warning she ought to leave. Now. Afterwards, Anna winds up talking with Fergus across the bar, as Dutch keeps his eagle eye trained on them. She tries getting to Gillian’s files, to dive deeper into the investigation herself. Sadly, Fergus can’t understand the greater significance of what’s been happening in their quaint town all these years.
Renae Baxter (Suzi Dougherty) continues believing her daughter Gillian is out there. Her man Travis (Kevin MacIsaac) is not at all interested in entertaining those thoughts, to the detriment of their relationship. When she calls him “simple minded” and a “leech” this is more than his fragile masculinity can take. He beats her. A real piece of shit. We see a better side to Dutch, as he responds to a call that brings him to Renae’s place. His mother was a battered woman. Well, Renae is tragically typical, not wanting anyone to know. Especially not the police. Travis doesn’t respond too kind to Dutch, as he knows about the detective and his drug dealing. But Dutch isn’t a pushover. He threatens the guy, fatally, if there are any more domestic abuse calls.
To the Holloways goes Anna. She brings a bottle of wine, looking to know if Chloe had any strange marks on her skin anywhere. Barb doesn’t remember anything specific, eventually wanting her out. Although Max is a little more reasonable, it’s probably best for them all. Upstairs, Eliza is dressed in Chloe’s pyjamas, and there’s an odd moment between her and Max. An almost eerie look from him, though that could just be my eye.
Then Anna makes a big mistake. She has sex with Dutch. Or at least begins the lead into it before getting a nosebleed. In the couch, Anna finds a necklace; you know which one. This gets her quite suspicious. Immediately that puts Dutch in aggressive mode, defensive. The questions from Anna start to shed light on his shady behaviour. Glad she didn’t fall into bed with this guy.
Dutch: “Why did you come back?”
Anna: “It‘s my home”
Dutch: “You don‘t have a home”
The reoccurring “Crimson and Clover” interest comes from Anna and Gillian having loved the song, recording their own version on a tape she carries with her. Roy isn’t pleased with his daughter’s attitude or behaviour. He doesn’t like that Anna went to talk to Dr. McKenzie. You just know there is something more to it all, that Roy knows more than he leads on. He tries to push his daughter away from home, but she is not leaving. We discover more about how Renae and Roy had an affair, which is a sore spot for him. He drives Anna out his house after she brings it up.
Next day the search continues on. Roy finds Anna gone, elsewhere. Anywhere. Barb and Max spend their days apart staring out separate windows; her at home, him busy over at the mill trying to keep his mind occupied. In a pile of logs, the body of Chloe is found. Right under the nose of her father. So god damn sad.
One truly intense episode. A great chapter in this mini-series. Love this show! Great drama, lots of mystery. I dig when a show can draw things out properly, and the writers are doing a fantastic job. Next episode is titled “The Mill” and it looks extremely intense.
John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay by Bill Lancaster, from a story by John W. Campbell Jr.
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, and Donald Moffat. Universal Pictures/Turman-Foster Company. Rated R. 109 minutes.
It’s hard to choose a favourite filmmaker. For me, and for many, there are tons of great directors out there. Especially when you consider the different genres. I often have a hard time saying I like one director – who happens to stick with a certain genre – over another, simply because I feel particular directors are best within certain genres. Still there are a handful of them I’d place at the top of my personal list.
One such filmmaker is John Carpenter.
Not only does Carpenter direct, he is a master of his craft. Something I’ve always admired about his style is that he likes to do his own scores, which is a big part of his overall aesthetic (funny enough – this movie isn’t scored by him: it’s the prolific Ennio Morricone, so fucking awesome regardless!). He pretty much has what I’d call an auteur style. Nobody does horror-thriller as good as him.
The Thing brings all of the best aspects of Carpenter together, alongside the solid performances of the likes of Kurt Russell and Keith David, as well as Morricone’s wonderfully suspenseful and effective score. This is not just one of the best horror movies from the 1980s, it’s one of the best horror movies. Ever. What starts out like a tense thriller evolves into a horrifically existential science fiction film, all based on John W. Campbell Jr’s short story “Who Goes There?” (also the basis of this 1951 film). I can never get enough of the dreadful, isolated horror Carpenter brings out in this movie. There’s a reason people always talk about this one. And a damn good reason Carpenter is a master of horror.
At an American base in the Antarctic, a chopper chases a dog across the snowy mountains equipped with a man holding a high-powered rifle. When the American crew – including R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), Childs (Keith David) +more – come out they discover two crazed Norwegians. One tries to throw a grenade but blows up their chopper. The other, aiming for the dog, shoots George Bennings (Peter Maloney), so one of the crew shoot him dead.
At first it seems as if the men simply went insane up in the wilderness. However, after the dog transforms into a hideously deformed creature, MacReady and the crew start to deal with a situation beyond their control. Some sort of virus seems to be spreading, but no one is able to tell who it’s infecting – moving from person to person, The Thing inhabits anyone’s skin it wishes.
Will any of them survive? And if they do, is it really them?
Carpenter really sets up his atmosphere well, in every film. Almost none better than The Thing, as he starts out first with a long cinematic stare into space. From there we move to the Antarctic wilderness, vast landscapes of nearly nothing except for the white snow stretching on for miles and miles. It’s an appropriate way to give us that immediate sense of isolation. Once the exterior isolation is setup, Carpenter moves inside to where all the human elements of the story come into play. Then, furthermore, we start to get their sense of isolation – from the moment you see Mac drinking, playing around on the computer and then dumping a couple shots of J.B. into it, there’s an obvious idea of how sick this guy is with his lodgings up north. It only gets better from there, but I’ve always thought the film’s opening sequence really made the isolation sink it quickly, yet easily.
Not only the isolated feeling, either. With the Norwegians chasing the dog, the chopper exploding after a fumbled grenade toss, adrenaline is flowing hard. The tension is instantaneous and you’re already champing at the bit for what’s coming next. The music, the cinematography, the actors – all pistons are pumping. Carpenter is good for this usually. Again, though, I’m inclined to say one of his best instances is here in The Thing. Carpenter’s sense of atmosphere and tone is so important to what makes him great, as well as unique in the horror genre.
While most Carpenter movies have stellar effects, The Thing boasts such an innovative and terrifying creature. It’s truly epic (a word that is overused improperly; I used it in seriousness). Honestly, after the dog becomes that hulking, massive monster, the first time I witnessed it I was awestruck for a minute or two. I still am, really. Such good effects, plus it’s unexpected. Even as I watch it again now, for the who-knows-how-many-times, there is an aspect to that scene I always find reels me in. Plus, afterwards there’s the scene with Dr. Blair (Brimley) dissecting The Thing; even the look on Brimley’s face, his disgust, it makes you almost smell the nasty reek of this alien creature’s insides. Downright incredible, these special effects. From start to finish this movie has such carefully crafted practical effects, you can’t help but admire the work put in.
The entire film isn’t built on effects, nor is it solely leaning on horrific elements to make its mark. Only other stuff Bill Lancaster wrote was Bad News Bears-related. With The Thing, adapted from Campbell’s short story “Who Goes There?” (great read by the way – check it out), Lancaster did some solid work. The screenplay is tight, it’s mysterious and has a ton of suspense, which the master Carpenter draws out perfectly with his style. There are genuinely creepy aspects I find unsettling. Such as when the crew starts watching the grainy videos, then they make their way out to the crater where the ship is sunk down, I find that entire portion so impressive! Morricone’s score is beyond perfectly fitting, it has that classic horror movie feel to it and at the same time there’s stuff you could call very archetypal Morricone (a.k.a dig it). So I’m actually amazed Lancaster did so well with this script, considering he’s never done anything else science fiction or horror. Hats off. Put into the hands of Carpenter this story soars to a new level of terror.
There a few performances in The Thing which help it greatly. Kurt Russell, obviously, is one of the reasons this movie kicks ass. They could’ve put a lot of actors in this role and it would’ve been all right. But with Russell there’s that little extra charisma, he’s tough and yet there isn’t some kind of superhero-ness about him. He gets afraid like anyone else in the same situation. Russell and Carpenter work well together, this may be the pinnacle; I dig Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China, but there’s something so perfect about this movie I can’t help single it out as their best collaboration. Then on top of Russell’s skill, Keith David does a nice job – he also did They Live 6 years later with Carpenter, wish he’d been in more of his films. And as much as Brimley gets shit for the “diabeetus” kick, he is spot on here; that scene when he flips and everyone tries to bear down on him, I always thought it was a great moment and shows how well Brimley can play a good character when he wants. Plus his fit lends to some more of the isolated, desolate feeling happening from there on in. All around excellent cast.
The Thing is a 5 star film. Without any shadow of a doubt. There’s so much happening. Above anything else, there’s a supremely existential terror flowing throughout almost every scene. Once The Thing takes hold, nobody knows who is who, who to trust, and it moves from one person to the next, some times even to animals. So there’s this incredibly dreadful horror at play. Then you throw in John Carpenter’s tense style, Ennio Morricone and his suspense-filled score, a well written screenplay with good actors to play it all out. What a mix!
If you’ve never seen this, my god, get out and watch it soon. Not only that, read the original short story by Campbell, as well as see the 1951 adaptation The Thing from Another World, which was a huge influence on Carpenter overall but especially for this film (obviously). I can never forget this movie, and it’s one I’ll put in any time I need a real creep.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch. 1982. Directed & Written by Tommy Lee Wallace.
Starring Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Michael Currie, Ralph Strait, Jadeen Barbor, Brad Schacter, Garn Stephens, Nancy Kyes, Jonathan Terry, Al Berry, Wendy Wessberg, Essex Smith, Maidie Norman, John MacBride, and Loyd Catlett.
Dino De Laurentiis Company/Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
The Halloween franchise is one of my favourites in horror. Not a big fan of the last couple. But seriously, from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece Halloween right up to Halloween V, I’m right in there with the biggest of fans. Each of them aren’t equally as amazing. They’ve each got their merits, though. I’ll say this: the first two are slasher horror masterpieces.
In the middle of all the regular Michael Myers pictures, there stands Halloween III: Season of the Witch. What ought to have been marketed as a spin-off from the franchise rather than actually being the permanent third installment has been banished to the world of cult classic verging on generally maligned. There are several camps of people who talk about this Halloween film – some say it’s terrible and has no merit, others (like me) think it’s real good and should’ve done better had the producers marketed it correctly, and then crazier people than I who say it’s the best of the series (sorry that honour belongs to the very first; no matter how much I enjoy some of the others).
What I know for sure is this is a good horror movie. It doesn’t deserve to be torn up, it also doesn’t need to be over praised. If you go into it knowing this is NOT a Michael Myers slasher, then there’s a chance you’ll come at it correctly and find the horror and quasi-science fiction elements enjoyable. Watch a trailer, any trailer for this film and you can understand it’s different from the others. But it isn’t bad different, it’s simply not a typical Halloween entry. Much as I love Michael, this movie has a creep factor wholly of its own and I firmly believe – without any hype – the only reason this movie isn’t more widely loved is solely due to how its been marketed. Take the Halloween title off this, keep Season of the Witch and maybe make a few more tenuous ties to Myers (like showing the original film on a television), you’ve got yourself a solid 1980s horror classic.
Small shop owner Harry Grimbridge ((Al Berry) is attacked by unknown men in the night. He flees and eventually ends up in the hospital. There, he’s later killed by one of these same men. Although, Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is witness to the man’s last words, and shows up just after his murder. Following the killer outside, he sees the man pour gas all over himself and strike a match, blowing his car sky high. This sets him off on a quest to figure out what happened – alongside him is Harry’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin).
What they end up uncovering is a vast and horrific plot by businessman Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy); one involving Halloween, threatening every boy and girl looking to put on a mask so they can head out for candy.
The whole opening 20-minute sequence is extremely creepy and a whole lot of fun: from when Harry Grimbridge is attacked by the suit & glove wearing assailants to the moment Dr. Challis watches one of them light himself on fire and the car explodes. Can’t think of a better way this movie could’ve started out. The writing here from director-writer Tommy Lee Wallace is solid and makes the film’s energy pump hard immediately.
Bartender: “What’s the matter – don’t you have any Halloween spirit?”
Dr. Challis: “No”
An obvious viewing of this film holds themes involving big versus small business, consumerism, corporations feeding off the figurative soul of children via Halloween, and more. I’m not the first to try and draw any of that out, nor will I be the last.
I love the character of Harry Grimbridge to start. Right off the bat you’ve got this small business owner, running a hold-out shop against the big supermalls and chain stores, still getting much of his business from kids just out of school – and he’s being hunted down by the robot-like, suit & glove wearing henchmen, the identical looking murderers; they are legion. A little later there’s a homeless man Dr. Challis comes across. He gets his head pulled off by two of them because he’s out rallying against the man. The homeless man happens to tell Challis about how Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) won’t employ the good ole local boys, but rather imports his workers from elsewhere. Can this get any clearer really? It’s not quite on the nose, definitely in the vicinity. No matter, I think it works great because there’s metaphor yet it’s blatant and still that’s perfect. Makes for a bit of unsettling horror.
The effects aren’t all spot on, though, they are certainly effective. I love when one of the clone-like henchmen pulls Grimbridge’s skull apart by the eye sockets and nose. Incredibly vicious, both during and afterwards! When a woman dies at the motel, I thought the initial parts of the makeup effects looked great, but the the longer Wallace lingers on her the worse it looks. Still, there are other worthwhile effects. Particularly once the science fiction type elements find their way into the screenplay, the practical makeup effects are ghastly at times; in the appropriate sense. The orange juice-looking liquid used at one point is sickly and makes for an uneasy feeling in the guts. Great, great stuff.
A subtle scene involves a drill – we never get to see the brutish stuff, we’re left by Wallace to imagine it instead. Which I often find even more tough. Nice choice by him on this one. Could’ve easily been a gory kill and here it’s something that will probably make you cringe in different way.
Favourite effects scene has to be when the first young boy has his head destroyed by the pumpkin mask. The way the mask looks to start, breaking down and decaying like it’s burning up inside and out, then all the insects, the snake slithering through the boy’s dead mouth… it’s raw and disturbing. Some intense shots here, especially considering the whole family of three dies in the made-up living room set. It’s a shocker of a scene, super effective.
Taken on its own, as a sort of standalone spin-off, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. There are plenty of chilling moments, different in subject matter yet similar in tone to the rest of the franchise. As well as the fact you’ll see several wild kills, a few of those even further contain fun practical effects. It isn’t as great as Halloween or Halloween II, but it is damn good stuff. A little different spin on the franchise, and why not? The whole series wears out past the fifth entry, even earlier for some other viewers, so what’s the harm in one movie taking another path? I see no reason why this should be a widely panned film. It’s not perfect, but there is great horror and a dose of science fiction even. Check this one out if you’ve avoided it until now. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised; or horrified, possibly.
Event Horizon. 1997. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Screenplay by Philip Eisner.
Starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, and Sean Pertwee. Golar Productions/Impact Pictures/Paramount Pictures.
Rated R. 96 minutes.
There are some excellent horror films which take place in space. For instance, I’d consider Alien as science fiction, but definitely with a great deal of horror involved. More recently there’s Pandorum, which I enjoy a ton and there are nice horror moments in that one, as well. In the found footage sub-genre, Apollo 18 has lots of creepy sci-fi/horror-ish stuff to offer. Even classics like Mario Bava’s fantastic Planet of the Vampires come into the sci-fi realm crossing with horror.
Of course there’s also terrible stuff like Leprechaun 4: In Space, Jason X, the live-action version of Doom, John Carpenter’s rare misfire Ghosts of Mars, and even worse horror movies crossed with space
misdaventures such as the dreadful Inseminoid.
In my opinion, Event Horizon falls in with the former category of science fiction horror. Specifically the stuff taking place in space. Not only is the sci-fi angle of the film incredibly interesting and a lot of fun (I have no idea if any science within is accurate and could care less; it’s a movie), there’s a ton of horror – and I mean a TON! If you can’t get into this film, even a little, then that’s sad because I always look forward to putting this one on if I need to get creeped out… in space.
In 2047, a rescue vessel is sent to a find the Event Horizon spaceship which disappeared seven years ago. Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), along with his crew, and designer of the lost ship Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill) are along for the ride. Adjusting to deep space travel, Weir settles in amongst a group who don’t particularly want him there, nor do they want to be there themselves; this rescue mission took them off a scheduled break from time in space. Things get worse once they locate the Event Horizon.
Aboard the lost-now found ship, one of the crew members gets sucked into a portal created by the experimental gravity drive at the heart of the vessel, which comes alive suddenly and on its own. After he comes back, and a shockwave rocks the rescue ship, everyone is forced to board the Event Horizon.
What follows is a descent into madness and the depths of Hell itself far from the safety of Earth, in the dark and lonely confines of space’s outer reaches.
Something I noticed in this film was the great prosthetic work. From the first time we see some noticeable prosthetics, as a dead body with significant injury and decay floats into the view of Kathleen Quinlan’s character Peters, I knew the makeup work all around – from the blood and gore stuff to dead bodies and other such elements – would be well executed.
Lots of interesting stuff happening from Duncan Jarman, whose resume includes some of my favourites such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Beach, The Hours, The Last Samurai, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Valhalla Rising, Biutiful, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1/2; if that’s not enough he’s done work on two upcoming films I’m aching to see, In the Heart of the Sea and The Revenant. And he’s but one of the makeup department; plenty others worked their asses off, too.
The special makeup effects are solid. Some genuinely upsetting visceral stuff. Again, poor Peters (Quinlan) gets a big first dose, as she sees her son in a vision while in the Event Horizon’s medical lab – his legs are basically rotting, the flesh beginning to slop off his bones, bloody in patches. Not too long afterwards, Captain Miller (Fishburne) sees his own vision of a man on fire; incredible work on this brief moment.
As Justin (Jack Noseworthy) runs into his predicament with “the dark inside [him]”, the effects kick in with some nice blood and gore. There’s also an awesome shot of Justin’s veins bulging out massively through the skin on his arms, which I found – though brief – very cool.
Another impressive aspect of Event Horizon is the set design. There’s a constant flow of amazing set pieces making up the spaceship, which helps to add a haunted house style setup to the film. Because essentially that’s what this is – a haunted house horror movie located in space, on a ship in a deep region. The whole of angle of Christian Hell comes into play, as D.J. (Jason Isaacs) decodes the message from the Event Horizon before it went completely dark for seven years. Set design can help a film or kill it; here, it truly elevates the whole aesthetic. Inside the Event Horizon especially, I cannot get enough of its entire design. Very sinister and creepy with this vast sense of isolation in this large corridors and rooms. The gravity drive itself is sort of Hell-ish looking, like something you’d imagine Pinhead might have sitting on his desk at home, at the office. Lots of this type of thing happening, which makes the set design something great and a major element to why I find the creepiness so effective in a lot of scenes.
I’m not overly impressed with the dialogue in the screenplay, nor am I thrilled by any of the performances that much. Both Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill are favourites of mine – the former in just about everything, particularly his latest turn in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal as Jack Crawford; same goes for the latter, Neill is awesome in everything from his portrayal of Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park to his wonderful role in John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. That being said, even these two aren’t incredible here, no more than you’d expect from anyone else honestly. They’ve definitely put in much better work elsewhere, but they’re not bad here either. Simply, it isn’t the acting which brings me to Event Horizon.
Ultimately, it’s the makeup effects/special effects, the prosthetics work, and so on, which impresses me. Not to mention I do enjoy the screenplay, just not so much the characterization or the performances which came out of it. But I love the story and the plot themselves as a whole. I think one of my only big criticisms here is that I could’ve maybe used another 15 minutes to tack on some bits and pieces to certain characters, such as Captain Miller (Fishburne) and Weir (Neill). They had a bit of time, not near enough. Particularly Weir, as he comes to be even more important to the Event Horizon ship than we’re initially led to believe. If we had another 15 minutes, there could’ve been a bit of extra time dedicated to Weir and helped to flesh things out a little more. My beef is that things feel a bit rushed, like the lead-up to Weir’s involvement with the Event Horizon’s evil side sort of came as an afterthought – I feel like Philip Eisner, the screenwriter, was going with the ship itself doing all the awful stuff then later put Weir in as being the villain eventually. It could’ve worked better, that’s all I’m saying. The way it is in the final product feels slightly contrived; easily fixed by giving the subplot a bit more time to stretch its legs.
All in all, I’m willing to say, for me, this is a 4 out of 5 star film. I honestly don’t like anything else from Paul W.S. Anderson, except the guilty pleasure I get from his version of Mortal Kombat. So I’m glad to say that I honestly love this movie. There are definitely flaws – I think the writing for Cooper (Richard T. Jones) was absolutely pitiful, which is unfortunate because I think Jones has a ton of charisma and he’s like a slightly younger version of Denzel Washington; underused and under appreciated as an almost “token black guy” role that could have easily been written better.
Aside from that, the makeup effects are out of this world (sorry for that lame unintended space pun), the story and plot are creepy, and there are two good actors (though not at the very top of their games; still good) to give this science fiction horror romp a nice edge. I suggest if you’ve not seen it, do so soon! Great way to quench your thirst for a genuinely well done horror which happens to take place in space. Enjoy, and if you have any sensible, civil comments please feel free to drop them below and we’ll have a chat about this bit of underrated ’90s sci-fi/horror.
Area 51. 2015. Directed by Oren Peli. Screenplay by Christopher Denham & Oren Peli.
Starring Reid Warner, Darrin Bragg, Ben Rovner, Jelena Nik, Roy Abramsohn, Frank Novak, and Glenn Campbell. Aramid Entertainment Fund/Blumhouse Productions/IM Global/Incentive Filmed Entertainment/Room 101.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
Right back to the supposed McPherson Tape, later given a bigger budget and made as Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, there have been plenty of found footage films dealing with alien encounters. We’ve also got Jason Eisner’s segment from V/H/S 2, the 2014 film Alien Abduction, then there’s Apollo 18 with a bit of pseudo-revisionist history. There are more, but I won’t ramble on into the night about every last one.
Area 51 is not necessarily the same as the others. Right from the beginning, not many films involve the actual infiltration, or attempted infiltration, of Area 51. There are some, but not a great many. Plenty of mentions, though, in film and television about Roswell, New Mexico, Area 51, and areas around Nevada. In some respects, Oren Peli’s latest film is much different than anything else. At other times there’s nothing different at all. Mixed bag mostly.
Peli is someone I’ve enjoyed far more as a producer than director. His two films as director, Area 51 and Paranormal Activity, aren’t that much different than one another except for the fact they’re completely different settings. Mostly I like that he produced the three Insidious movies, The Lords of Salem, as well as both Chernobyl Diaries and The Bay of which I’m a fan despite what others might think of them. With this film – originally completed around 2009 or so and unreleased until 2015 – Peli doesn’t do much else other than try to show new ways of incorporating found footage, techniques which aren’t necessarily fresh or innovative but above all else just fun to look at.
Three friends – Reid (Reid Warner), Darren (Darrin Bragg), and Ben (Ben Rovner) – head to a huge a party. There, Darren and Ben lose track of Reid briefly. They see him staring into the sky. Later, they find him again in the road – quiet, but fine.
Three months later, Reid has planned a trip for them: to Vegas. Or, more so Area 51.
Once on their journey, they meet with Jelena (Jelena Nik) whose father worked in the base for a time before getting fired for prodding into things too far; he later committed suicide. The four head out to try and make it onto the legendary base.
However, once they arrive and start to move further and further inside, they come to understand perhaps it’s better off the American Government keeps their findings under wraps.
An aspect of Area 51 I really did enjoy was the plot of how they managed to snag the old guy’s ID and the bottle of his cologne in case they required any fingerprints. That was pretty slick! While I think once inside there’s a lot of lapse of judgement on the part of the writing, in turn affecting the characters, much of what I liked about the movie was its build-up and the first half where it’s almost more like a thriller than anything. We’ve seen plenty of this type of stuff in other movies, I dig that Peli injects the found footage into something with which we’re familiar.
Another extremely fun part were the effects. I think, despite of how mediocre I found its scares, Peli’s Paranormal Activity at the least introduced the movie industry to new aspects found footage could carry: such as special effects. In this film, Peli takes that on to different levels. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Once Darren, Jelena, and Reid enter the Area 51 facility, there are a host of interesting effects the movie introduces. The alien technology this trio comes across is impressive. I totally loved the small, smooth craft Reid gets into; from the outside it’s almost a big oval, an egg-like structure, inside Reid is soundproofed yet the whole ship is transparent. Honestly, regardless whether you like the movie overall or not, I can’t see how you wouldn’t enjoy these moments. Seeing special effects with the found footage done well, such as they are in this case, is a treat for me because it isn’t often we get to see that in other movies.
There’s a genuine creepshow of a sequence after Jelena and Reid end up in a tunnel system underneath the Area 51 facility itself. In these few scenes, Peli brings us back to straight horror filmmaking. Not in a bad sense. There’s the obligatory slow shots of the camera, light shining, moving through the darkness, but a sense of real tension is happening. I’d honestly expected, after Darren has a quick run-in with the facility security, the finale of the film was going to be an extremely big, loud chase sequence, and the effects would come fast, barely noticeable, and the film would go out on a bang. Instead, the screenplay slows things down in pace for awhile. We get these very quiet bits before the REAL chase gets on. Then we switch back to see how Darren is doing, there we get the big chase, the loud sound design, alarms, and so on. Not a bad thing, however, I thought Peli might’ve done well to keep with the subtlety through to the end and create a more effective scare for the audience. Sadly, what was built up loses its steam with a big shift between Darren/Jelena and Reid. Peli should’ve left Darren and his situation unknown, it’d be more unsettling that way instead of spelling ever last thing out visually for us. Keeping with Jelena and Reid could have created an insanely tight tension that would not let up until the finish. It still has suspense and it keeps you on edge, no doubt there, but I don’t think it reached what it could have been with more focus.
That being said, I found the final ten minutes – in regards to scenes involving Jelena and Reid – pretty damn spectacular at times. SPOILERS AHEAD! When the two of them appear to abducted there’s an amazing scene/series of shots, as they’re sort of lifted up inside this white space, no gravity, and the camera gets sucked out of a tube only to fall down to the ground. BONUS – if you watch until after the credits, which you should as respect to all the various artists who work on a film (not to be a dick but I have many friends in the industry + I’m an aspiring screenwriter so it’s always nice to spend an extra couple minutes watching them), there is a POST-CREDITS SCENE. Pretty nice little add-on.
Only for the fact that this scene may negate the found footage aspect. An old man – the same one poking around the group’s vehicle earlier in the film – finds the camera Reid dropped in his abduction, or whatever you’d like to officially call it. So my only beef is: how did the footage get “found” then? It seemed to me like this old guy was a part of the conspiracy, in some way. Perhaps I’m wrong and he was another intrigued mind, maybe the reality is he came across the tape while trying to find his own evidence of some sort. Then it’s VERY clear how the footage made it out. So I can’t knock Peli for this last bit, as I’m not sure how exactly it was intended to play off. I’d like to believe the old man was another person prodding around for tangible proof of Area 51 and its contents, just as Reid and his friends; the knocking on their door in that one scene would then be seen as him probably warning them, attempting to steer them off a course of danger.
I don’t think Area 51 is anything special, but it’s also not as terrible as some seem to be making it out to be, as if there aren’t worse instances of both aliens/Area 51 and found footage out there (which there most certainly are).
Overall, it’s about a 2 out of 5 star film. The build-up is marred by too much jumping back and forth in the finale. Oren Peli instead tries to lean hard on the exposition, spelling out the fate of each and every character perfectly without leaving any sort of room for imagination. This isn’t always bad – you don’t have to NOT answer questions to be a good film. But Peli is too heavy handed, and any of the mystery he’d cultivated throughout the first three quarters of Area 51 disappears over the closing fifteen minutes. There are a few great scenes, honestly, from scares to interesting uses of the found footage sub-genre. The acting isn’t awful, but it’s by no means anything to write home about. Especially in the finale of the film, all the emotions and intensity of those scenes could’ve come off WAY BETTER if the actors pulled their weight, or in turn if the actors were replaced with better actors.
I’m not even that big on Paranormal Activity, other than the fact it was slightly innovative for found footage, but I’d absolutely recommend seeing that one over this directorial effort from Peli. See this if you’re looking to burn off an hour and a half. Plus, you might enjoy a few of the special effects the way I did. Who knows; stranger things have happened.
The Cell. 2000. Directed by Tarsem Singh. Screenplay by Mark Protosevich.
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Colton James, Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Gerry Becker, Musetta Vander, Patrick Bauchau, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jake Weber, Dean Norris, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Peter Sarsgaard, Catherine Sutherland, and Vince Vaughn. New Line Cinema.
Rated R. 107 minutes.
Tarsem Singh doesn’t always hit the nail on the head – apparently his latest Self/less is a bit derivative and uninspired if I’m to believe some of the criticism – either way, I feel he has an incredibly distinct vision when it comes to the way he makes films. I remember seeing this the year it came out and ever since I’ve been highly enamoured with Singh’s visual style. His work is all slick looking; not in the big budget Hollywood sense, but in a way that’s often highly reminiscent of painted art.
The way in which Singh visualizes the script for The Cell plays perfectly into the story. If Singh had gone a different route, or another director entirely did this film, the emotions and the sensory experience, all the wonder of the script would not come across as perfectly as it does. Aided by the incredibly moving and disturbing performance from Vincent D’Onofrio, as well as probably the most solid work Jennifer Lopez has ever done in my opinion, The Cell has an air of science fiction, but most importantly becomes a dramatic and tense story about a terrifying serial killer, and a brief look at the minds of the people who catch them.
Using a new technology allowing her to literally enter the mind of a patient, psychotherapist Catharine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) first explores the brain of a young boy in a coma named Edward (Colton James). Though not many believe in her methods aside from Dr. Miriam Kent (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and Henry West (Dylan Baker) who work alongside her at the hospital, Catherine pursues this innovative technology in order to help actually fix the mental illnesses some people suffer under.
When a serial killer named Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) goes into a coma from a sort of epileptic episode and still has a woman in an unknown location, slowly drowning, Catherine is called in to enter his mind and try to figure out where the latest victim is being held.
Once inside the dangerous mind of Stargher, it becomes more dangerous in real life for Catherine. Her own mind becomes susceptible to the influence of the dark world Stargher inhabits within his dream world. In the end, it’s up to FBI Agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) to enter Stargher’s world so he might try and save Catherine; moreover, hopefully the last drowning victim Julia Hickson (Tara Subkoff).
“Want some milk?”
A huge part of why I love Singh’s work has to do with his films and their overall aesthetic. As is with a lot of very visual movies, editing is always an important aspect.
The edit here at the ‘milk moment’ is perfect starting with Catherine about to feed her cat. Next shot cuts to a dead woman’s open-eyed face emerging out of a pool of milky white liquid; this is in fact, what we later learn to be, bleach. Very creepy and effective.
Right afterwards, more of Singh’s visual identity as an auteur director comes through, as Catherine falls asleep after smoking a joint, and as the camera slowly pans to the sheets on her bed they merge with the sandy dunes of the desert which she’d seen earlier in Edward’s mind. Excellent shot, again with some wonderful editing.
These moments, they are only the start to the visual feast which Singh serves us.
It’s the plot of Carl Stargher which truly horrifies me in The Cell. The writing for his character is pretty great, I must say. I’m not a fan of much else Mark Protosevich has written personally (one of the only Marvel films I do like coincidentally was written by him – Thor). However, his script for this movie impressed me. I like how there’s a sci-fi element to it with the technology Catherine Deane uses. At the same time, Stargher provides a disturbing and intriguing look at a real life type killer.
What’s interesting, though, is how we get the look at Stargher in reality then we’re quickly swept off into his mind – a dream world. This is the most disturbing when it comes to The Cell‘s killer – even after we’ve seen him suspend himself from rings hooked into the skin all down his back and legs then masturbate over a dead woman. The dream world Stargher inhabits is something out of horror and fantasy; perhaps you could almost classify this film as part dark fantasy, as well as a thriller. Not only is the imagery of the world inside Stargher’s head itself scary, but when we see Carl as the king of this world he is an awful, mortifying creature that you couldn’t even come up with in your worst of nightmares.
Vincent D’Onofrio is a wonderful actor and here he gives a truly wild performance. Those moments inside his head, when Catherine (Lopez) is looking for him and following the younger Carl (Jake Thomas), are so perfect and effective. D’Onofrio keeps the essence of the real life killer in Stargher and also imbues the character with an essence of monstrosity; even in his insane makeup and speaking strangely, D’Onofrio makes this literal monster still feel real. I think a lot of people jump to Full Metal Jacket – and rightfully so – when they say it’s his best work, but honestly, for me this is his crowning achievement as an actor. Plenty of actors have played serial killers over the course of their career; it’s Vincent D’Onofrio who does something completely different and changes the role from a familiar character into an altogether new beast.
It’s strange how cinematographer Paul Laufer does such an amazing job here, and yet everything else he’s done is a couple TV movies and music video stuff for Rihanna and Katy Perry. I mean, what? So strange because this movie is viciously dark and horrifying, yet nothing else he’s done as a cinematographer has been anything like that. Although, Laufer did work as an assist camera on 1988’s Lady in White and also as an addition photographer in the second unit for cult classic Miracle Mile.
Regardless of his previous experience, or anything after, the camerawork he does on The Cell is just downright gorgeous. There are definitely moments people will chalk up as MTV style music video moments, but it’s not the fast editing style or anything similar to the fast pace of Tony Scott films (ironically one of the editors who worked on this also edited Scott’s final movie Unstoppable. Laufer uses these highly stylized techniques in order to make it visually evident how strange and dreamy a world we’re inhabiting while in the mind of Carl Stargher. The way the scenes look match perfectly the atmosphere and tone the script goes for, which is why I say this movie has such an incredible, undeniable aesthetic. It brings together so much talent on all ends, from the performances of the actors to all the technical angles involved in the film.
That brings me to the score, which is – to my surprise – from Howard Shore. Lately I’ve written reviews for other films including the masterful compositions of Shore, now I come across this one; a movie I know well, apparently just not well enough. I think when it comes to music that has a lot of horns involved, Shore is one of the greatest in the movie industry. He does such impressive work with the foreboding sounds trumpets, tubas, trombones (and so on) can produce, which I recently discussed in both The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en; each having their own unique and dark qualities. Furthermore, in The Cell there is plenty of equally amazing string work and percussion. I find especially his score rocks me in those first scenes after Catherine has entered the mind of Stargher: as she walks down the trophy cased room of victims and the bodybuilder grabs Catherine, presenting her for Stargher’s dream world alter ego, the score just ramps the tension up until we’re hit with a ton of bricks. That moment could’ve easily played well almost on its own. However, Shore adds the extra oompf a proper film score ought to. There are plenty instances of his music and its effectiveness throughout, which each bring more of that tension and it drives the thriller elements of the plot.
This is yet another film that strays into horror, dipping its toes at the appropriate times, yet does not fully become a horror movie. And as a horror fan, I find that great when genres can cross together and mix as one. I like when a thriller can incorporate horror while not fully becoming a scary film; if it’s done right.
The Cell absolutely uses horror, some times it is quite raw and ugly, but it’s mainly a thriller with dramatic and sci-fi elements. We get a lot here, a nice bang for your buck, because there’s something for everybody. Even while it can be terrifying at times, it’s so rooted in reality – even with the innovative technology used in the plot – that the drama of the story draws an audience in, the performances stay buoyed around human situations, and we’re able to feel all the appropriate emotions without getting lost in too many aspects of horror.
With all that being said, the horror is still my favourite part. It’s a scary story and at the same time exciting, as well as dramatic. But the disturbing elements concerning Carl Stargher make things all the more interesting for me. Examining his mind/head LITERALLY is something that hadn’t been explored really at the time of The Cell‘s release. They took a cool and familiar idea from science fiction and then crafted a highly intense serial killer drama-thriller out of it.
All in all, Tarsem Singh does spectacular work with The Cell. It isn’t perfect, however, I’d argue that it’s close to being so. Maybe there are little things Singh could have tweaked, who knows. Some people say they’ve got a problem with both Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn. Me, I think they’re both pretty decent here, certainly Vaughn who rarely gets to show off his serious side; his character felt very real and I thought his backstory came out just enough, briefly, in order to give us a sense of how intensely he feels about his job. Lopez does a good job and I don’t think you can fault her for anything here, she’s not a particularly awesome actress overall but here her character goes over well.
I’m giving this movie a 4.5 star rating. There’s a disturbing script which keeps you incredibly involved with its drama and psychological horror, while it also contains overt elements of horror – a serial killer with a nasty penchant for drowning women and turning them into bleached dolls – and a dose of science fiction. Add to that Singh and his visual flair, which I’m always pleased to watch (this and Immortals both blew my mind; The Fall is pretty neat, too). Then there’s the costume and set design and makeup effects which each cement this is an excellent bit of technical work. Together all the elements of the film work so well in unison, they create a lingering aesthetic that I’m never fully able to get out of my mind.
I’ll never forget this movie because it is so beautiful looking and simultaneously so unsettling, plus Vincent D’Onofrio brings out one of the most nuanced and terrifying visions of a fictional serial killer I’ve ever witnessed.
Haven’t seen it? Don’t let J-Lo turn you away. She is as good as she needs to be for this film. Come for the bits of horror, the interesting premise, and a script/plot that’s bound to stick to you a little after you’ve finished watching.
Enjoy. Or be disturbed. Not sure which I’m supposed to say to normal people.
Closer to God. 2014. Directed and Written by Billy Senese. Starring Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, and Isaac Disney. LC Pictures. Unrated. 81 minutes. Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller.
Usually I keep my ear out and head up for any new horror films that sound different, or for whatever reason pique my interest. Closer to God went on the checklist of my IMDB account a long while back, before there was ever a trailer, any pictures online. It was just a poster. Not the one I’ve put on here, but a simple red background with a black outlined tree extending its roots out underneath down towards the movie’s title.
I was surprised when I finally got to see Closer to God because, though it’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, the film was really interesting. Billy Senese, both writer and director, crafts a decent tale of horror, which acts as a film metaphor for the fears people get over human cloning, genetic manipulation, and the ethical/moral implications and ramifications of these practices. While it very literally tackles the subject, the ideas work well with the horror element of the film. This turns out to be more horror than science fiction, even if it wishes to be more the latter.
Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs) has completed the first successful cloning of a human being. He creates a baby girl – Elizabeth. She is a full-on experiment; made for research and genetic modifications. Not to mention little Elizabeth is made with the genetics of Dr. Reed/an unnamed individual. Naturally everyone is outraged. People hate what the doctor is doing, but they’ve got no idea what else is going on inside the house.
While the storm of angry people push on, morally outraged by the new cloned baby, another child is causing trouble – Ethan.
The housekeepers at Dr. Reed’s home, Mary and Richard (Shelean Newman and Richard Alford), are trying to take care of this boy, troubled little Ethan, who seems to be proving too much. Things only get more difficult, and it turns out Ethan is growing, he’s hurting, and he might just want to get the hell out of the good doctor’s family home.
Something I’m a little tired of is all these indie films, horror or science fiction, which try to be the next Frankenstein. I love Mary Shelley – I’ve read the book, loved it, and I even enjoy the Kenneth Branagh starred-directed version. What I’m sick of is the fact that either critics try to claim a movie is drawing from Shelley, or the film itself relies too heavily on those comparisons within the script. I mean, there’s even a point where we see someone hold up a sign that says – you guessed it – FRANKENSTEIN! And someone literally calls Dr. Reed – Dr. Frankenstein.
Plus, Dr. Reed’s first name is Victor. Y’know, it just feels like a thick layer of cheese over top of what could be a good enough film on its own.
It’s a tired, tired comparison. And I get it, the obviousness of it sits right in front of us. I’ve discussed the ethics of human cloning enough via university courses in Philosophy and English Literature to last me a full lifetime.
My biggest issue is that, by relying on the comparison between its own material and Shelley’s Frankenstein, Senese creates an environment where there’s too much reliance on the comparison itself. Frequently the Frankenstein connection comes out, as I mentioned before, and it’s so often that the whole concept becomes annoying. Senese easily created an atmosphere of dread and tension without invoking Shelley, over and over.
When Closer to God really works, though, it works.
A scene truly got to me a little ways in; when Mary (Shelean Newman) goes up to bring Ethan some food. We get a glimpse of him in the corner – you can only barely make out his face, but it is one of pure evil, or emptiness, a void lacking any humanity. He doesn’t make a sound, Mary is clearly unnerved. She leaves, but just as she does and the camera moves back with her Ethan comes running out to the table, smashing things, and screaming in this utterly soul crushing voice that cuts through your skin and your bones. I like to think I’ve seen a lot of horror – in general I’m up to almost 4,100 films in total – but this moment genuinely frightened the shit out into my pants. I was wide-eyed and actually had to text my girlfriend, who is out on a Saturday night unlike her cinephile boyfriend, to tell her how scary the damn scene came off. A great, great bit of subtle horror.
There’s another creepy, brief scene I like, but it’s not nearly as terrifying. There’s an almost horror-beauty to it: Dr. Reed heads out to the gate in front of his house and watches as protesters lob burning plastic baby dolls over and into the yard, just about right at his feet. The way Childs simply stands there, watching these flaming plastic heaps come at him – it’s eerily appealing.
As most of the reviews so far have pointed out, the perhaps greatest part of the entire film is the central performance by Jeremy Childs as Doctor Victor Reed. He is an unconventional looking guy to be the lead of a movie – not that I care because I love movies that feel like their characters are real people. There are just so many perfect moments where Childs pulls off the doctor so well. A great exchange happens after SPOILER AHEAD Mary is killed by Ethan – Victor and his wife Claire (Shannon Hoppe) have a short yet rough argument, and Childs does great work with the dialogue between them. He is believable, and that’s what sells the character of Dr. Reed; no matter how cheerily named after Shelley’s titular doctor he may be.
I think if the lead in Closer to God had to have been someone weaker there are tons of scenes that wouldn’t have been able to carry the emotion they did. The chemistry between Childs and Hoppe as the troubled married couple is good stuff. Too many independent films suffer from having wooden acting, along with bad dialogue. These two really sell the fact they are a married couple, it feels like a bad relationship of course, especially considering the circumstances of the film, but it’s real, it doesn’t come out forced and you don’t see two actors acting as husband and wife. The movie is immersive, and certainly the fact Senese wrote a decent script helped that along.
In the end, I think what detracts most from this movie being great is the fact it doesn’t pay out on all the ideas of morality and ethics surrounding the original premise. We get excellently developed tension, a slow and steady pace for most of the film, and then it devolves from what could’ve been, at times, fairly profound horror/science fiction.
Instead of doing more with the science fiction angle, Closer to God drops off into complete horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either, I am a horror hound. But I can’t help feeling at least slightly cheated, in a sense. There’s a promise of grand concepts here. The finale of the film becomes a typical sort of thing – I don’t want to fully ruin the ending or anything. Mainly, I love how creepy the Ethan character was, I just don’t think Billy Senese went anywhere innovative or fresh with what he was doing. Essentially all those Frankenstein comparisons never truly go anywhere, all paths leading to a slasher film-like conclusion.
I think Closer to God, for all its creepiness and tension and the incredibly believable performance by Jeremy Childs, is still only a 3 out of 5 star film for me. There was so much promise in the whole project, but I feel as if Billy Senese squandered a lot of what he’d built up. Again, the comparisons to Mary Shelley’s famous gothic horror novel is an angle I’m frankly done with unless it gets taken somewhere useful.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some beyond creepy scenes in this film. So much of the material involving the failed experiment of Dr. Victor Reed’s that is his “son” Ethan could have really went into incredible territory. Unfortunately, that territory never gets explored. What Senese does with the material is creep us out awhile and then go for the jugular with a far too heavy handed approach at the finish.
Check this out if you’d like to see some interesting horror/science fiction, but know this: it is mostly generic horror you will find. Even with the supremely creepy bits sprinkled throughout, Closer to God is closer to nothing special. See it for, if anything, Jeremy Childs, and a handful of eerie scenes.