Film Review: The Thing (1982)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s The Thing (complete title)
Release Date: June 25th, 1982
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Lancaster
Based on: Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joe Polis, Thomas G. Waites, Adrienne Barbeau (voice, uncredited), John Carpenter (cameo, uncredited)

Turman-Foster Company, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes, 127 Minutes (extended VHS cut)

Review:

“We’re gonna draw a little bit of everybody’s blood… ’cause we’re gonna find out who’s The Thing. Watchin’ Norris in there gave me the idea that… maybe every part of him was a whole, every little piece was an individual animal with a built-in desire to protect its own life. Ya see, when a man bleeds, it’s just tissue, but blood from one of you Things won’t obey when it’s attacked. It’ll try and survive… crawl away from a hot needle, say.” – MacReady

Horror has been my thing since I was a young kid. I think a lot of that has to do with growing up in the ’80s, a great decade for horror movies because of the directors, the VHS market and the variance in horror styles from body horror, slashers and the supernatural. But I think, most importantly, credit has to be given to the style of the special effects, which were still practical and real, as CGI hadn’t taken over and turned everything into a digital world that doesn’t allow you to be as immersed in the horror on screen.

That being said, I didn’t actually see The Thing until I was a teenager in the mid-’90s when I worked at a video store. I was a John Carpenter fan but I didn’t know much about this film till later. I was inspired to watch it based off of some photos of the production and its monster in an old issue of Fangoria that I was flipping through. It looked like nothing I had seen before and I had to borrow it from the store and take it home for the night. That night ended up being a week.

What resulted from that was me becoming a die hard fan of this film and frankly, for me, it is the greatest horror movie ever made for several reasons, all of which I’ll get into.

To start, I’ve never been scared of horror. I actually find more terror in things that can harm me in a real world scenario. For instance, the Night Slasher and his cult-like gang from Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra was scarier to me than Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which I see as a masterpiece, never scared me even though it was freaky as hell and fucked up. Well, the naked old lady with rotting skin kind of screwed me up for awhile but that’s also because I was maybe a few years older than Danny in the movie when I first saw it.

Anyway, The Thing terrified me, even as a teen. Sure, it doesn’t feel like something that is realistically plausible but it tapped into something primal, as it is about something you never fully understand that can come at you in incalculable ways without you realizing it until you’re ensnared by it. There is just something absolutely dreadful about that and John Carpenter with great help from the stupendous special effects team and the actors was able to crack through my pretty tough exterior and scare the shit out of me. And as a first time watcher of this film, it caught me by surprise and I immediately fell in love with the picture because it made me feel things that I typically don’t from movies.

This brings me to the special effects themselves, as well as the creature. This monster is one of the best, if not the best, ever created for the screen. The imagination that went into the execution of its various, altering physical forms still blows my mind all these years later. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times over and I’m still left breathless in a lot of the key monster scenes. I have also watched special effects films my entire life, especially those from this era, my favorite for this sort of thing, and I don’t know how some of the shots were achieved.

Adding to the horror of the bizarre creature is the horror of human paranoia. As the movie progresses, every character becomes an island unto themselves unable to trust the other men whom they’ve been holed up with at a science research facility in Antarctica for months. What was once a brotherly bond between these men becomes a fight for individual survival against those you considered your friends and colleagues. This is just as much a psychological horror film as it is a physical one. Maybe even more so.

Also, the setting of the film multiplies the dread, as it feels unfamiliar and isolated, which it is. But it immediately sets up a situation where you know that no one can come to help and for better or worse, these men have to figure out this problem on their own with limited resources, limited knowledge and while constantly having to look over their shoulders because anyone or anything could violently kill them at the drop of a hat.

There are so many layers to the horror in this picture that it feels overwhelming, which makes it damn effective. But it also makes for a film that is incredibly intense, especially in the final act, which starts with an insane attack by the creature and culminates in several men tied to chairs as their blood is tested in an effort to figure out who’s been replaced by this “thing”. And all of that comes to a head in a big showdown but even then, we’re left unsure as to what’s what.

The Thing ends brilliantly, as it doesn’t really give you any answers and the two that survive are left in a situation where one of them could still be the creature but it doesn’t even really matter because their time is limited regardless of what happens next.

It’s a perfect ending to a perfect movie though.

When other people talk about this film, they always go on about the monster and how visually fucked up the movie is. But I don’t think enough credit goes to the cast.

The Thing is stacked with talent from Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley and a half dozen other very capable actors. All of the key players have good chemistry and watching their camaraderie dissolve over the course of the movie is troubling and convincing.

Ennio Morricone’s score is also prefect here and what’s really strange about it is that it sounds like a Carpenter score, which is fitting. But it also makes me wonder why Carpenter used Morricone when he usually scores his own movies. While I absolutely love the atmospheric sounds of the score, it’s not typical of Morricone’s style and it just makes me wonder if Carpenter just wanted to collaborate with him because he’s a fucking legend.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is, in my opinion, one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Horror doesn’t get any respect from the weirdos in Hollywood but I’d put this against most Academy Award winning films because the vast majority of them can’t get into your head like The Thing, despite what genre any of them are.

Those weirdos can keep The Shape of Water because I’d watch The Thing a hundred more times before ever going back for seconds on that pro-bestiality fish fuck movie.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse TrilogyPrince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness, as well as other body horror movies of the era like The Fly and David Cronenberg’s early films.

Film Review: Back to School (1986)

Release Date: June 13th, 1986
Directed by: Alan Metter
Written by: Steven Kampmann, Will Porter, Peter Torokvei, Harold Ramis, Rodney Dangerfield, Greg Fields, Dennis Snee
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, Keith Gordon, Adrienne Barbeau, Robert Downey Jr., Sam Kinison, Ned Beatty, Paxton Whitehead, Terry Farrell, M. Emmet Walsh, William Zabka, Robert Picardo, Jason Hervey, Edie McClurg, Kurt Vonnegut (cameo), Oingo Boingo (cameo)

Paper Clip Productions, Orion Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.” – Thornton Melon

I guess I completely forgot how many stars were in this film because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it. I obviously remembered Rodney Dangerfield but I also recalled Keith Gordon, Robert Downey Jr., William Zabka and Sam Kinison because of that one iconic scene.

But throw in Burt Young, M. Emmet Walsh, Adrienne Barbeau, Sally Kellerman, Ned Beatty, Edie McClurg, Jason Hervey, Robert Picardo, Terry Farrell and Oingo friggin’ Boingo and you’ve got an all-star ensemble! Plus, Harold Ramis was one of the writers. Granted, this had seven writers, so one of them other than Dangerfield probably had to be a big name.

While this is a pretty dated comedy, as are most comedies of the ’80s, it’s still entertaining and in 2019 it’s refreshing, as comedy is dead due to political correct nutsos who spend every waking moment searching high and low for shit to be offended about.

Point being, you couldn’t make this movie today because every joke is (insert label here)-shaming and insensitive.

You see, we didn’t care too much about political correctness in the ’80s. Hell, we didn’t even care about it until like five years ago. And this film goes to show how talented all these people were as they weren’t bogged down by Hollywood wokeness and crybaby pussies on Twitter.

Now this isn’t a superb motion picture by any stretch of the imagination but it is really solid escapism that is amusing and charming in a way that film’s aren’t anymore. And honestly, I think that’s a big reason as to why so many people are nostalgic for ’80s and ’90s shit now. Even the slightly above mediocre stuff is cherished more than it was when it was current.

The plot of Back to School follows a sextagenerian as he goes to college, surprising his twenty-something son, the school professors and his friends. In short time, he takes over, turns the campus into one big party and even saves the day for the college diving team in a ridiculous but satisfactory way that may be goofy but works in a comedy from this era.

Back to School isn’t perfect and it isn’t even close to being the best comedy of its day. However, it’s a lot of fun if you just want to mindlessly escape into something for an hour and a half while having a laugh.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Rodney Dangerfield comedies, as well as college comedies like PCU, Old School, Animal House, Van Wilder, etc.

Film Review: Escape From New York (1981)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (complete title), Escape From New York City (script title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1981 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, Nancy Stephens, Buck Flower, Ox Baker, John Diehl, Carmen Filpi, Jamie Lee Curtis (voice)

Embassy Pictures, International Film Investors, Goldcrest Films International, 99 Minutes, 106 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.” – Bob Hauk

When I was a really young kid, walking up and down the aisles of mom and pop video stores throughout Florida, I always used to come across the box art for Escape From New York and stare in awe. It’s one of the coolest and most iconic posters of all-time. Luckily for those who have seen the movie, it actually lives up to the incredible art that adorned the walls of movie theaters and video cassette boxes.

In fact, I’d call this the second most quintessential Kurt Russell movie just behind Big Trouble In Little China. The reason that other film gets the slight edge is because it shows the fun, comedic side of Russell more so than his gruffer more badass performance as Snake Plissken in this movie. Still, this is Kurt Russell at his absolute best and it’s not a surprise to me that he views this film as his favorite.

What’s great about this movie though, is that it doesn’t need to be carried by Russell. You’ve got a pretty solid ensemble cast of great character actors, all of whom bring their A-game and make this a much better picture than it would have been otherwise.

John Carpenter tapped the well of talent that he’s familiar with in Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Frank Doubleday, Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis (doing a voice cameo) but he also brought in legends like Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Issac Hayes. There are even bit parts for guys who are in a ton of flicks, most notably John Diehl, whose death I still haven’t gotten over in Miami Vice, and Carmen Filpi, who always played the old crazy guy in everything.

The film is about a post-apocalyptic New York City that is walled off from the rest of America and is now run by ruthless gangs. Snake is sent in to rescue the President, who is being held hostage by the baddest of all the gangs. If he fails, he will be killed by an implant that was injected into him. Honestly, that’s a little plot detail that was probably stolen for the Suicide Squad comics and movie. But then again, the whole concept of a walled off metropolis run by gangs was also stolen for the superb Batman story No Man’s Land.

That being said, this film created a lot of urban post-apocalyptic tropes that other films, television shows, books and comics would heavily borrow from.

John Carpenter really made magic with this film though. It was one of those perfect storm scenarios where everything seemed to go right, at least if you’re looking at the final product.

The film looks great, sounds great and has such a thick, brooding atmosphere that there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, people have tried to emulate and recreate what this movie was but no one else has come close to it. Not even Carpenter, who gave us the sequel Escape From L.A., fifteen years later.

It’s hard to peg what makes this film so great but if I had to, I’d say that it’s everything. From the cast, the visual style, the story and the musical score, which was done by Carpenter, himself, and Alan Howarth, every thing just works and comes together like a perfect casserole.

Escape From New York is moody and cool. It’s a great example of Carpenter using all of his strengths and sort of misdirecting away from his weaknesses. While this isn’t his best film, it’s in his top two or three and definitely takes the cake out of his action flicks.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as other ’80s and ’90s John Carpenter movies.

Film Review: Swamp Thing (1982)

Release Date: February 19th, 1982
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Based on: Swamp Thing by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, Dick Durock, David Hess

Swampfilms, Embassy Pictures, 91 Minutes (theatrical cut), 93 Minutes (DVD), 89 Minutes (alternate DVD cut)

Review:

“A man who loves, gives hostages to fortune.” – Dr. Anton Arcane

Other than A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Serpent and the Rainbow, I’m not a big fan of Wes Craven and actually think he’s one of the most overrated horror directors of all-time for a guy considered to be a legend.

Sure, that statement probably pisses off some fans of ’80s and ’90s horror but would you rather I lie?

Swamp Thing is another example of why I don’t like Craven.

It’s boring, dopey and looks like shit. And frankly, Swamp Thing is such a rich and cool character that this should have been a really easy movie to make even with a scant budget.

Hell, you’ve got Ray Wise, Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jourdan and Dick Durock, who would at least become a great Swamp Thing once the television show debuted in 1990.

I mean, this motion picture had the benefit of fascinating and marvelous source material, as well as a more than capable cast. But it just kind of sucks and the few things that should be somewhat endearing just don’t hit their mark in a way that lets them rise above the muck. Hell, I’m a sucker for nostalgia, even stuff I didn’t necessarily like from my childhood but revisiting this Craven flick was something I kind of put off and dreaded. But I had a friend that wanted to revisit it, so I got lured in.

And with that being said, many consider the sequel to be worse but I’m actually kind of looking forward to rewatching that one because from memory, there was more that I liked in that one.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel and the original Swamp Thing television show.

Film Review: Demolition Man (1993)

Release Date: October 7th, 1993 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Marco Brambilla
Written by: Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, Peter M. Lenkov
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthrone, Benjamin Bratt, Denis Leary, Bill Cobbs, Glenn Shadix, David Patrick Kelly, Jack Black, Jesse Ventura, Rob Schneider (uncredited), Adrienne Barbeau (voice)

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 115 Minutes

Review:

“We’re police officers! We’re not trained to handle this kind of violence!” – Erwin

I remember liking Demolition Man a lot but I haven’t watched it since its theater run in 1993. Really though, I never had much urge to revisit it, even though, on paper, it should certainly be my cup of tea and because it stars Stallone and Snipes.

It’s just not a very good movie. Where it works it works well but 75 percent of it is pretty weak and dull.

I do love the action but there isn’t enough of it. There is just too much filler and too many gags in this. It’s really a comedy with some action even though it’s not technically labeled a comedy.

The premise sees a cop and a criminal from the future of 1996 (keep in mind this came out in 1993, not far from 1996) get cryogenically frozen only to wake up in the 2030s. The film then uses almost every breath to poke fun at stupid mutton head Stallone because he’s from a time of testosterone Neanderthals and a total fish out of water in a bullshit utopia where people wipe their asses with sea shells and have sex without physical contact. Some of the bits are funny but the film just beats this shtick over your head at every possible turn. It’s amusing for the first fifteen minutes but then it’s like, “Okaaay! I fucking get it! Move on!”

The best thing about this picture is that it pits Stallone against Snipes. Stallone was already a megastar and in 1993, Snipes was just on the cusp. And frankly, this really helped to give Snipes some serious credibility just because he got to face off with the great Stallone.

Additionally, Sandra Bullock was virtually unknown when she was in this and it is probably the role that opened doors for her. A year later, she was in Speed and then a year after that she starred in The Net.

This movie really didn’t need to be 115 minutes. It should have been more like 95 with twenty minutes of the filler and redundant humor left on the cutting room floor. It would have then had a better balance between the action and the story. It also could have whittled down on the number of characters.

Also, for an R rated film, other than a glimpse of nice boobies, this felt like it was PG-13. This would have been a much better film if someone like Paul Verhoeven directed it, as he could have brought that original Robocop or Total Recall tone to it. This felt like it wanted to be similar to the tone of those movies but it was more like The Running Man but with extra layers of cheese.

Still, this is an entertaining movie. It just isn’t great, isn’t a classic and hasn’t aged very well.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Stallone’s version of Judge Dredd. Also The Running Man and Robocop 3, which is a terrible movie but also deals with a faux utopian future with poor people living under the streets.

Film Review: The Fog (1980)

Release Date: February 1st, 1980
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, Buck Flower

Debra Hill Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don’t wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog.” – Stevie Wayne

I was never a huge fan of The Fog but for some reason, I like this film a lot more now. I did enjoy it when I was younger but it wasn’t something I felt the need to revisit as often as the typical slasher films of the day. This has slasher elements to it but it certainly is not a clone of HalloweenFriday the 13th or anything else similar.

This is a quintessential John Carpenter flick. It also stars just about all of his top dogs except Kurt Russell and Donald Pleasence. You do have Adrienne Barbeau, in what is my favorite role of hers, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins and Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis. The cast also boasts Hal Holbrook, who starred with Barbeau two years later in Creepshow. We also get to see Janet Leigh, Curtis’ real mother who is most remembered for Psycho.

The threat in this film is a mysterious fog that rolls into a small coastal California town. The fog carries some swashbuckling zombies that want their gold back. The nautical zombies don’t actually swashbuckle, instead they use their blades like a slasher would.

Barbeau plays a single mother who owns a lighthouse where she broadcasts over the radio. From atop the town, she can see the fog rolling in and tries to give the town a play-by-play on what is happening but ultimately, the ghosts come to haunt her as well.

I like this film a lot and I think it is underrated, even if it did get a crappy remake in 2005.

Unfortunately, the swashbuckling ghost zombies aren’t the most unsettling thing about the picture. Something about the Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis hookup was just bothersome to me. I like both actors but when this was made Curtis was 21 while Atkins was 44. As a 38 year-old man, I can’t even talk to a 25 year-old girl and find anything in common with her, just sayin’.

The Fog is a solid movie. It also has one of the best scores that John Carpenter has ever produced. It uses its fog and lighting effects perfectly and the monsters are damn cool.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Creepshow (1982)

Release Date: May 16th, 1982 (Cannes)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: various stories by Stephen King
Music by: John Harrison
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Tom Atkins, Tom Savini, Stephen King

Laurel Entertainment, Warner Bros., 120 Minutes

Review:

“I drove out there with the remains of three human beings… well, two human beings and Wilma.” – Henry

Creepshow was one of the first modern horror films I experienced as a kid. However, I was a kid in the 80s, so this was modern then. Now it is thirty-five years old. Revisiting it now though, is still a real friggin’ treat.

I love this movie. I admit that a lot of my warm and fuzzy feelings for it can be due to the fact that I’m a total sucker for nostalgia but it is a damn good picture for its time. I’m not even a huge anthology horror fan but when these films are good, I absolutely love them.

Creepshow is one of the best horror anthology films of all-time. Each story works and George A. Romero created a true piece of cinematic magnificence outside of his Dead series. Plus, having the help of Stephen King’s pen made this a bit more unique than other films like it.

There isn’t a dull story out of the five that we get within this film. Six stories if you count the intro and ending.

The weakest story is probably the one that stars King himself, as a man that becomes possessed and overcome by some sort of alien plant life. Even that one is entertaining because King plays the role so hilariously. It is also the shortest chapter.

The best story of the bunch is The Crate, which really could have been its own film and worked really well. It is also the longest chapter and feels like a throwback to an H.P. Lovecraft tale. In this story, we see a janitor discover a strange crate under a staircase at a college. It is from an expedition, decades earlier. Inside the crate is a hungry beast that pretty much want to devour everyone. But it is the monster itself that is the star of the movie, in my eyes.

The film has a good all-star cast with two highlights. The rivalry between Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen is well orchestrated and they play off of each other like the pros they are. The other is the relationship between the quiet and sweet Hal Holbrook and his annoying as hell wife played by Adrienne Barbeau. It is such a comedic mismatch but it works too a t.

The visual comic book style highlights within the film, give it an otherworldly life that really wraps the movie in that old school pulp feel.

Creepshow is so enjoyable and the funny bits are still funny. Yes, it has a real sense of terror but it is a load of fun.
Rating: 8/10