Halloween Scene: The Fly (1986) & The Came From Within (aka Shivers) (1975)

I know, I know. Yesterday I said I was going to watch The Fly remake and its sequel today, but after having so much fun with David Cronenberg’s wild take on the original 50s classic, I decided to switch the theme from flies to Cronenberg and watched Shivers (or They Came From Within, but I like the one-word title and not just because it’s shorter).

Much as I was charmed by the original Fly, I liked the remake a lot more as a horror movie and as a story in general. I like that, this time around, the scientist (Jeff Goldblum) isn’t married to the girl (Geena Davis) who is a reporter for a science magazine instead of a doting wife. I also like that the story is more linear than the original because it doesn’t cut the legs out from under the drama (we know he’s dead in the first few minutes, we just don’t know who or what he is at that point). Plus, how can you go wrong with the scenes of Goldbulm’s parts falling off. I’ve watched a lot of horror movies this month, but I think this might be the only one to give me the willies (regular readers with better memories might be able to correct me on that one as my memory sucks).

I think that this might have been my first full, unrated viewing of the movie. Like I said yesterday, I knew the basic plot, but that was from seeing the movie on TV. I don’t remember giving it a rent when I was a budding horror fan back in the day, but it could have happened (remember that bad memory I mentioned?). I’m on board with people who think this is a great horror movie even if, as a comic book and horror fan, I’ve been significantly smashed in the face with the whole “scientist getting obsessed with his project and not caring about anything else” storyline. The effects, the script (I didn’t realize “Be afraid, be very afraid” came from this movie) and the casting are all spot on. Goldbulm first looks like a geeky scientist and then a fly creature, Davis looks like a kinda nerdy science journo (though not a very good one as it takes only a matter of days for her to sleep with her subject, what would Gay Talese say?). The awful clothing and hair can be a little distracting at times, but overall I really, really liked this flick. A question to Fly fans, is Fly II worth a watch? I’ve never seen it.

Shivers is kind of a combination of Dawn of the Dead and Towering Inferno with some Alien effects thrown in. The interesting part? The movie was made before Dawn (1978), was made before Alien and only really share a similar kind of setting with Inferno (which only came out the year before). The idea is that these people live in a huge building with all the amenities (medical facilities, stores, all that kind of stuff, so basically a really tall mall you can live in without have to fly in via helicopter). As it happens, a scientist who lived in the building was developing a parasite that would break man down to his basic urges. He supposedly killed them all, but that’s not the case and these weird worm things spread throughout the building making crazy sex zombies who just want to bone you and pass on the blood and sex lust to you.

Like The Fly, this movie has some spectacular effects. The scene reminiscent of Alien comes when a guy has one of the parasites in his stomach expanding inside, much like the chest buster. I can’t remember if Shivers influenced Alien or if the effects just happened at the same time. Cronenberg’s vision obviously grew in the ten or so years between these two movies, but you can see where he was coming from here.

Even though Cronenberg was known for being a really out-there director, it’s surprising how many still-taboo elements he dealt with this in the movie. You’ve got sexually transmitted disease, sexual assault, murder, pedophilia, the place of lust in society and what can happen if man gives over to his animalistic tendencies. It’s not exactly clear where the director comes down on these subjects, which is cool because it gives the viewer room to make their own decisions. Even though it’s brave, the movie could have done with some editing. Much like Scanners, this movie takes a lot of time not to get going but to get from middle to end. Luckily, by the time he did The Fly, it seems like Cronenberg learned a little bit about brevity.

I can’t remember if I first saw this movie as a rental from my beloved Family Video back in the day, but I do know that I purchased it my Freshman year of college from a going-out-of-business mom and pop video store in my college town. I went a few times and bought Dawn of the Dead (in a Day of the Dead box), Mom, Hot Potato and this one on VHS. I’ve watched it a bunch of times and even converted it to DVD thanks to my combo, recordable VHS/DVD unit. It’s actually pretty fun watching the movie with all the weird hiccups of a tape, but on DVD. There’s something great about that look that really works for older, smaller budget movies. I didn’t realize it, but the tape has an extra feature at the end with Cronenberg talking about the movie. I didn’t watch it this time around, though I might in the next few days. I think I’m going to watch a few un-reviewed favorites tomorrow starting with Dawn of the Dead. We’ll see where I wind up from there.

Halloween Scene: Piranha (1978)

While watching the excellent new version of Piranha from Shout Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series, I was pretty excited. I had never seen the movie before, though it started feeling familiar at a certain point which is when I remembered seeing what I thought was the original on TV a few years back and it turned out to be a 90s TV version. Luckily I quit watching that one so my viewing of the original turned out to be a 97% original experience.

Here’s what the movie’s about. A couple 20 somethings go hiking and find what looks like a water treatment place and go swimming. They die. A reporter comes out to find out what happened to them and comes across a local recluse and the pair of them discover that the government had been experimenting on weaponizing piranhas to take out enemies in the Vietnam jungles years ago. They’re trying to warn everyone, especially as the mutant piranhas head to both the recluse’s daughter’s summer camp and a lake where tons of teenagers hang out and have drunken fun (it’s like two horror movies in one!).

Going in, I was worried that the flick would wind up just being a lame Jaws rip-off (to be fair, I think that of any movie about monsters in the water), but they reference Jaws so hilariously in the beginning with the use of a video game that I had already given the movie a pass it didn’t need because, as far as I’m concerned, the difference in plot and execution separated this film enough from the classic, which probably isn’t too surprising when you realize this was one of Joe Dante’s earliest films (Gremlins is awesome). Sure it’s got a vacation spot ruled by a guy in a goody suit (played by the awesome Dick Miller (Walter from Corman’s amazing Bucket of Blood and Murray Futterman from Gremlins) in danger of being put on hold thanks to rabid sea creatures, but there’s so much else going on before it gets to that part that it doesn’t matter (at least to me).

The effects, which let’s be honest is the reason a lot of people will check a movie like this out, are pretty great too. There’s a weird scene with a land-walking fish creature in the lab that doesn’t really play much of a roll in the film but looks pretty good (he’s composed using stop motion) and the kills look pretty good (though it’s hard to do the ol’ “water and blood bubbling up from the water” trick wrong). The crappy inserts of fish painted on a background zooming around only seem to add character to the movie even though they look pretty lame.

My favorite scene in the movie is when the dude is skiing behind the boat with a girl driving and another one spotting (watching the skier to see if he falls or wants to go faster, slower or stop). Now, I grew up on a lake and learned how to ski at a pretty young age and I’ve done my fair of both slaloming and spotting and I can tell you that the scariest part of the movie was how inattentive the spotter was and how ridiculously fast the driver was going. That guy was getting yanked around like crazy and then the spotter chick tells the driver to go faster when the skier makes wild hand gestures. For the record, as I learned it, the universal symbols while skiing are thumbs up for faster, thumbs down for slower and flat hand across the neck for cut it (like a pirate threatening to cut your head off). We also devised a signal where you tap the top of your head and then your back for “head back.” Had this guy gone over the signals before going out and not been randomly pointing in the air (or not gone with a pair of women who clearly have no value for his life) maybe they wouldn’t have cut the engine in the middle of lake only to offer a tantalizing treat to the piranhas. Thus ends the skier safety portion of the blog post.

I haven’t gone through all the extra features on the DVD yet, though thanks to my new found love of the flick, I’m sure I will, so the rewatch value here’s pretty good. Plus, if nothing else, this movie feels like a really good primer for Piranha 3D which I’m super duper excited about (I keep telling myself I will absolutely positively go see this 3D flick in the theater after missing My Bloody Valentine). So, do yourself a favor and check out this new presentation of the movie out, I think you’ll dig it.