If you’re keeping track, and I’m not sure why you would be at this point, I’m still muddling through Stephen King’s The Stand. And yet, I stray away from time to time to check out other books like Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value, which I stumbled across while looking for various horror films in my library’s database. With a subtitle like How A Few Eccentric Outsiders Gabe Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, And Invented Modern Horror, how could I not bite, especially around Halloween! Continue reading Halloween Scene: Shock Value By Jason Zinoman
It’s probably not the best idea jumping into a new project like The Chronological Carpenter especially considering that I have trouble getting a full movie in each week and it’s been nearly three years and I’ve only gotten through a handful of Spielberg’s films while trying to do something very similar. And yet, here we are.
I just can’t stay away from John Carpenter’s films. Halloween is one of my all-time favorites — not just horror, but in all of film — and the guy has just made some of the most interesting, fun and imaginative movies out there. Plus, I’m at a place where I’ve seen about half of his filmography at least once, so it seems like a good time to go back to the beginning and scope everything out in order. It also helps that I’ve reviewed surprisingly few of these movies here on the blog like Escape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China. Heck, I’ve owned Starman for six years or so and never watched it (there’s a fun little story there, but all in due time).
With that in mind I went back to where it all began for Carpenter and that’s Dark Star. The script and first draft of the film were penned by USC film students Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon (Alien). They filmed the script with O’Bannon starring in the picture and started showing it around at festivals. Eventually a producer got involved, 10 more minutes were shot and theater-goers got the longer version seen on DVD these days. The plot of the film finds a quartet of astronauts hanging out on a ship called Dark Star. Their mission is to destroy unstable planets. While doing all that they wind up going through a series of calamitous events that includes a run-in with a beach ball-shaped alien, a trip down an elevator shaft and trouble with a missile.
The movie’s incredibly slow at times — the elevator scene itself was a bit excruciating — but the ideas behind the film and the ingenuity put into actually getting it made are admirable. This is basically a student film and a comedy, but the model work still looks pretty great and I give them a lot of credit for coming up with creative ways to make aliens and elevators look, not real, but filmworthy.
The main problem with the film, aside from the fact that it looks like a student film from the early 70s, is the tone. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but doesn’t come off as one much of the time. It’s hard to tell if the joke is “people take goofy things and make them monsters, isn’t that funny?” or “we’re working with what we’ve got, isn’t that hilarious?” There are certainly some on-point moments of satire, especially with the destruction-obsessed astronaut, but overall it felt a little off balance. All of which makes Carpenter’s next two films, Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween all the more impressive when you think about it. Those are some huge steps to make in just four years. All in all, it’s also a little boring.
Considering I’m focusing on Carpenter here, t’s kind of funny that Dark Star actually shows off a lot more of Dan O’Bannon’s sensibilities than Carpenter’s in this film. The whole alien plot was basically lifted whole-hog for Alien. However, you can definitely feel some of Carpenter’s biting social commentary, especially in that opening scene about not sending radiation shielding. This would come to the forefront in They Live 14 years later (and maybe sooner, I guess I’ll find out). Anyway, while Dark Star is obviously an important film in Carpenter’s journey to become one of the greatest directors around, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to watch if you’re looking to convince someone how great he is. In other words, this one’s for the more hardcore fans.
From here I get to jump into the wonders of Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween before deciding on whether I should check out his two TV movies from that time, Elvis (his first movie with Kurt Russell) and Someone’s Watching Me (his first with Adrienne Barbeau). After that I’m looking forward to checking out The Fog, but only if I can get my hands on the recent Scream Factory release. Anyone want to let me borrow it?
Crossover movies can be tricky beasts. By definition you’re serving at least two masters from two different fan bases. When combining two properties like Aliens and Predators — ones that had already faced off in the worlds of comics, video games and pretty much everything aside from movies — there’s a lot to live up to. When we first saw AVP back in 2004, we were admittedly disappointed. Frankly, we would have been happy if the movie was simply our two favorite aliens smashing each other to bits at every chance without so many pesky humans getting in the way.
Well, we revisited the movie recently and it’s a wonder what lowered expectations combined with a better working knowledge of a story can do for enjoyment of a film. Going blind into any franchise flick or remake, you’ve got a certain set of expectations and the new film either meets them or doesn’t. If they’re not met, then you leave disappointed at best, which can sour you. That’s how we were with AVP. But, never let it be said that the Explosions Are Rad crew doesn’t go back and re-evaluate.
AVP finds a group of scientists, archaeologists, industrialists, diggers and mercenaries traveling to Antarctica to investigate a strange heat signature that’s more than it seems. Lead by Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) — who plays the inspiration for his character in the Alien flicks — the trip soon proves to be more than meets the eye as the crew discovers an ancient underground temple that just so happens to house an Alien queen. As we learn, millennia ago, the Predators came to Earth, built these temples to test their skills against the murderous xenomorphs and returned to test their warriors. The crew stumbles upon this deathtrap and must do their best to survive as the Aliens and Predators try to kill them and each other.
The problem with this movie mainly comes in the first 20-30 minutes, which could and should be significantly trimmed down. Sure, it makes sense that they want you to care about these characters, but at the same time it also feels like they’re trying too hard to get you to care about the bait they throw in the water during Shark Week. Hit those plot points a little quicker and get to the action. The biggest and most pointless part of the film that could have been excised completely is this extended interaction where Antarctic guide Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) goes back and forth about leading the team as they’re untrained and the mission timeframe is too tight. Of course, she winds up staying on because she doesn’t think her replacement is good enough so this conflict that feels tacked on winds up doing absolutely nothing but show the audience that Alexa is a good, moral person, something that comes across pretty naturally.
But, aside from a bit of a length problem, the rest of the movie’s actually a pretty fun ride. The crew gets split up inside the temple as the various hunters go about their business, thanks to some Cube-like shifts in the building’s structure. It’s a pretty well thought out movie, directed and co-written by Paul W.S. Anderson along with screen story credits going to Alien writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. They probably didn’t need to go to all of the trouble to set the flick on Earth, but what they did seemed to fit well with the existing worlds set up in the previous film.
Of course, the real test of a crossover movie’s success or failure lies in how cool the scenes look when the two different groups finally come together on screen. This film neither lacks those kinds of scenes in the latter half, nor do they disappoint. You not only get to see three different Predators doing their things, but also a pretty impressive cast of Aliens including a Queen running ripshot through this place leading up to the ultimate battle.
While expectations might have been incredibly high for Aliens Vs. Predator the first time around, we think it’s worth checking out further down the line with a better understanding of what’s actually happening in the film as opposed to what we want to.