Halloween Scene: Alien (1979)

alien poster The Alien franchise is pretty revered both amongst my circle and many of the people I know and respect. And yet, I have very little experience with the series. It’s not that I had anything against it, I just didn’t get around to it. I remember watching Aliens on VHS  in high school and thought I’d seen Alien, but while watching the Blu-ray version and writing this post, I now remember that I meant to get the first film, wound up with the second and just went with it. I’m sure I’d seen bits and pieces of Alien here and there, but much of it seemed new to me. And yet, when I saw the Alien Anthology Bluray box set go on sale for something like $22 last year, I asked my wife to pick it up for me for the holidays. It seemed like the kind of series I’d be into if I just sat down and watched it.

Even as a novice, I was familiar with the basic story of Ridley Scott’s Alien which finds the crew of a tow ship investigating a potentially alien transmission on a planetoid that just so happens to contain huge ruins and a particularly nasty brand of alien that makes its way onto their ship. While onboard, the menace makes short work of the crew — which consists of characters played by  Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt,Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto — before they go on the offensive and try to save their lives and at least part of the ship. It’s a taught, scary film that gives you enough time to get to know the characters and then doesn’t let up as it races towards the final.

I don’t think there’s any arguing that Alien is a classic film, expertly put together and acted. While reading about the movie, I discovered that one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Walter Hill, had a hand in it. He not only produced, but also rewrote Dan O’Bannon’s script. We’ll probably never know exactly how much which people got through to the final film, but it shows Hill’s versatility and radness.

But there is one problem with Alien and it has nothing to do with the movie itself. By being such a successful film with a fairly simple plot (alien hunts down people in strange place) it’s been talked about, homaged, parodied and flat-out copied for decades. Even if you haven’t seen the chestburster scene, but are otherwise well versed in horror or film history, you’ve probably seen the scene on a countdown show of some kind. Heck, you probably also know going in that the cast’s reaction was real because they didn’t know exactly what was going to happen.

A few years back I watched the Shout Factory double feature of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: The Terror Within / Dead Space. I don’t remember much about either movie aside from the fact that, even without being familiar with the source material, one or both of them were rip-offs of Alien. Sometimes, that can work out well, like in the case of Jason X, but usually it just feels old, tired and unoriginal.

So, what’s the solution to this problem? See Alien as soon as you can. It’s just one of those movies that’s so iconic and so influential that it’s best to get it in your system as early as possible so you’re comparing all of the copycats to the original instead of an idea of the original you’ve formed from being part of the pop culture landscape. I’m to far gone in that regard, but I figure a few more solid viewings in glorious Blu-ray will help to retroactively fix the problem.

Halloween Scene: Christine (1983) & The Legacy (1978)

Man, Christine was a disappointment. I knew it was based on a Stephen King book, so that’s usually a hit or miss type thing, but then I saw that John Carpenter directed it. Holy cats! This has GOT to be great, right? Nope. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen a few killer car movies and they’re all pretty much the same, or it’s because Carpenter doesn’t come anywhere near the intense emotional heights that movies like Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing do. Sure, Carpenter has his movies that aren’t that great, but I figured, that, since was from that same time period, we’d be good to go. Nope.

The story revolves around a nerdy kid who feels himself drawn to this beat up old car called Christine. He buys it and it immediately starts conflict with his parents who don’t want him to have that eyesore outside. So he stores it at a junkyard where he scavenges parts to fix it. Soon enough he’s done and becoming more and more of a 50s era greaser tough. After that the car starts taking revenge on some of his (and her) enemies.

I think my biggest problem with the kill scenes is that they seemed easily avoidable. At one point, the car squeezes it’s way into a loading dock where a victim is just standing there. The car has to force itself in and ends up squishing the kid, but here’s the thing. There was PLENTY of time for that dude to jump up the car and run across it. There’s another scene where a guy’s sitting in the car and it pushes the seat up into the steering wheel and crushes the guy (after locking the doors). This just seemed lame and boring and obvious all around, but they did it anyway.

There were some good things though. I liked the performances. At first you’re agreeing with the nerdy kid. His parents are pretty hard on him even though he seems to never cause trouble. I also liked the subtle transformation from nerdy dude to greaser tough even if it seemed a little too on the nose. There are also some pretty cool special effects. The car can reform itself because…well, we’re not really sure why, but it does and it looked really cool. Meanwhile, there’s another scene where the car, which is on fire drives over a guy and he catches on fire. That looked pretty cool, but by that point I wasn’t really into it anymore and it was just a cool spike in an overly dull movie. Totally bummer.

Thankfully, I had better luck with The Legacy, which I added to the top of my Netflix Queue after reading that Sam Elliott was in it over on Horror Movie A Day. Even though I had read the review the week before, by the time I got the movie, I remembered nothing about it, except that the star of Frogs and Road House would be in it.

Thankfully, the movie delivers out what it promises: Elliott’s awesomeness. He’s the boyfriend/husband of Katherine Ross who was the main character in the original Stepford Wives. Somebody in England sends her some money and asks her to come out to a big old mansion there, so they do. There are a few other people there, all of whom seem to be kind of assholes in one way or another. One of those characters is rock star Roger Daltry playing himself kind of in the form of a character called Clive Jackson. I got a chuckle out of the fact that this was my second movie featuring a rock star in it in a week (Gene Simmons was in Runaway).

From there people start dying and things get weird. It turns out that the dude who owns the house gave everyone a ring that can’t come off. He looks kind of like a demon. At first Ross is freaking out and Elliott doesn’t really believe her, but then really strange mystical type things start happening, like when they try to drive out of town and find themselves on a giant loop, ending up where they started.

Let’s call this SPOILER territory. It turns out that the old guy has the power of Satan. In order to pass it along to his descendant (which is Ross), so all he has to do is kill off the other ones and the power will pass on to her. Then, she needs to do the same thing and on and on and on. I liked that the movie ended on kind of a creepy weird note with Ross stating that she can now do whatever she wants. She didn’t flip the script and say she was going to be a good guy, but also didn’t straight up say she’d become a big Satan-powered crazy herself.

I just want to mention a few other things. First off, The Legacy was directed by Richard Marquand who also directed Return Of The Jedi! If you had asked me who actually directed Jedi, I don’t think I could’ve actually told you. Now I’ll at least know that it was the guy who did The Legacy. Also, it’s based on a book which I’m kind of interested in checking out, which gives it something in common with Christine. Finally, both The Legacy and Christine have crazy Polish posters, which you can check out here: