Film Review: They Live (1988)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s They Live (complete title)
Release Date: November 4th, 1988
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter (as Frank Armitage)
Based on: Eight O’Clock In the Morning by Ray Nelson
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower, Raymond St. Jacques, Peter Jason, Sy Richardson, Susan Blanchard, Norman Alden, Jason Robards III, John Carpenter (voice – uncredited), Al Leong (uncredited)

Alive Films, Larry Franco Productions, Universal Pictures, Carolco Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.” – Nada

I remember wanting to see this in the theater so damn badly but no one would take me because I was nine years-old and my family was being really lame about it. To make up for that, I rented the hell out of this when my local video store got their copies in. In fact, I eventually dubbed a copy because that was the benefit of having two VCRs in the ’80s and ’90s. I think I still have it buried in one of my many boxes of old VHS tapes that I haven’t been able to play for fifteen years.

Anyway, They Live is a spectacular film.

While it’s not John Carpenter’s best, it’s pretty high up on the list and it is my favorite film to star wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Considering that this also has Keith David in it, there’s almost too much testosterone and gravitas that I don’t know how the celluloid didn’t melt from the masculine heat.

The story is pretty simple: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper shows up in town, tries to earn some honest money and work towards the American dream but soon finds out that the world is completely fucked because it’s been taken over by aliens hiding in plain sight. How does he discover this truth? With special sunglasses. Seriously, what the fuck is there not to like about this picture?

Also, this has, hands down, the greatest one-on-one brawl in the entire history of Western cinema. A fight so epic and so perfect that its choreography was stolen for the infamous “Cripple Fight” episode of South Park.

The film also features Meg Foster and her eyes that can melt steel, Buck Flower playing not just a hobo, Carpenter regular Peter Jason, as well as blaxploitation veteran Raymond St. Jacques, the cool Sy Richardson and an uncredited bit part for the greatest motion picture henchman of all-time, Al Leong.

As is usually the case with most Carpenter films, this one benefits greatly from his score. It’s brooding, sets the perfect tone and just has the right kind of vibe to enchant your mind and pull you into this cool and crazy film.

I also like the physical atmosphere in general and how Carpenter used daytime and nighttime as a sort of narrative tool, drawing allusions to the seen world and the unseen world in this story. I also liked how the special sunglasses displayed reality in black and white while the visible world was in full color. I’m not sure if that was decided upon in the initial draft of this story or if it was a convenience in pulling off certain effects that still worked and added another layer of duality.

They Live is just solid, all around. It’s one of those movies I can watch anytime and it’s just cool as hell.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other John Carpenter films of the ’80s.

Vids I Dig 212: Midnight’s Edge: ‘Halloween’: The Troubled History Behind the Franchise

From the Midnight’s Edge YouTube description: While Halloween wasn’t the first slasher film, it was the first smash hit slasher and along with ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s’ Leatherface, ushered in a whole era of masked and deformed boogie men at the cinema and video store throughout the 80’s and 90’s. But beyond the 1978 masterpiece, the franchise quickly became a mess. With its creator trying to change its purpose to an anthology series and quickly giving up, to a series that was rebooted and rebooted time and again with an increasingly large list of colorful characters involved in production. Including the 2018 movie, the franchise has been restarted no less than five times. In this video, we will examine the history of Halloween, the many behind the scenes fights, and what future the most recent franchise rebirth will bring.

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: Black Moon Rising (1986)

Also known as: Black Rider (Japan), Black Moon (Germany, Finland), Luna Negra (Spain)
Release Date: January 10th, 1986
Directed by: Harley Cokliss
Written by: John Carpenter, William Gray, Desmond Nakano
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Richard Jaeckel, Bubba Smith, Dan Shor, Keenan Wynn, Lee Ving, William Sanderson, Nick Cassavetes, Don Keith Opper

Sequoia Productions, New World Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Even the body is unique. it’s made out of Kelvar – the same material they use in bulletproof vests.” – Earl Windom

I vividly remember watching this movie on New Year’s Eve 1990 with my cousin Billy, as we were waiting for midnight and the ball to fall and ring in a new decade.

Why’s that important? It’s not. Other than to say that I remembered watching this, liking it but then never knowing what the movie was and thus, I wasn’t able to see it again until now. Frankly, I had forgotten about it but then I randomly came across the trailer on YouTube while researching something else and it immediately sparked that memory.

And I was pretty stoked because a thirty year mystery had been solved.

However, I’m not sure how I didn’t remember more of the film, as it has a pretty decent cast full of a lot of talent I would’ve known, even as a kid in 1990. Hell, it’s got Bubba Smith in it and I’ve seen the first six Police Academy movies about a hundred times each. Not to mention Lee Ving, who I wouldn’t have recognized as the lead singer of Fear but I would’ve recognized from Clue and Streets of Fire.

The real kicker though, is that this has Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton and Robert Vaughn in it and somehow that slipped down the memory hole.

What I didn’t know until seeing it now, is that it was written by John f’n Carpenter in a time when the dude was most certainly on his A-game.

All that being said, the movie is just kind of okay. It’s not as great as I perceived it as a kid but nothing ever really is. But it’s still an enjoyable action crime film that’s all about a high tech supercar and different people’s attempts at stealing it.

For Linda Hamilton it felt like a fitting role between the first two Terminator movies, as she’s sort of a mix between damsel in distress (most of Terminator) and kind of a badass (Terminator 2). And this was certainly a better role for her in 1986 than her biggest film of that year, the abysmal King Kong Lives.

This also has a scene in it where a car jumps through the window of one skyscraper, flies through the air and then lands safely in another skyscraper. So for those of you that thought that stunt was invented for those Fast & Furious movies, this film did it first, three decades earlier.

Anyway, this was a good, solid way to spend 100 minutes. That is, if you love to watch ’80s action, suspend your disbelief and like a lot of ham and lead in your diet.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other action movies from New World Pictures and Cannon Films.

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.

Documentary Review: Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008)

Release Date: July 24th, 2008 (Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival)
Directed by: Frank H. Woodward
Cast: Ramsey Campbell, John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, Neil Gaiman, Stuart Gordon, S. T. Joshi, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Andrew Migliore, Robert M. Price, Peter Straub

Wyrd, 24 Frames, BintFilm, 90 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t know if there was a good documentary on H.P. Lovecraft but I felt like I wanted to watch one, so I found this. Luckily enough for all those who are interested, it is streaming for free on YouTube. Granted, that could change at any moment.

What’s great about this is that it is a pretty legit and well produced documentary. It features several notable people between Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, Peter Straub and others.

This goes through all the motions like you’d expect it to, as it discusses Lovecraft’s childhood, the things that shaped him and then it delves deep into his work and what it meant to people, primarily those being interviewed.

Overall, this is pretty standard, even though it definitely doesn’t feel like some hastily thrown together extra for a random horror box set. It’s a documentary created to stand on its own and it does quite well.

All of the interviewees did a good job providing stories, context and discussing how Lovecraft has influenced their creations.

It’s definitely worth checking out for fans of Lovecraft’s work, the stories he’s inspired or even just his film adaptations like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon and more.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: H.P. Lovecraft film adaptations, as well as other documentaries about great literary figures.

Documentary Review: Bloodsucking Cinema (2007)

Release Date: October 26th, 2007
Directed by: Barry Gray
Written by: Barry Gray
Music by: Don MacDonald
Cast: Uwe Boll, John Carpenter, David S. Goyer, Corey Haim, John Landis, Kristanna Loken, Leonard Maltin, Cheech Marin, Greg Nicotero, Joel Schumacher, Stephen Sommers, Stuart Townsend, Stan Winston, Len Wiseman, Marv Wolfman

Insight Film Studios, Vamp Productions, 56 Minutes

Review:

This has been in my Starz queue for a long ass time, so I figured I’d give it a watch to clear out some of the stuff that’s been there for too long.

Overall, this was a pretty boring documentary with a lot of talking head interviews edited together pretty sloppily.

There didn’t seem to be a clear direction or objective about this short documentary other than having a bunch of actors and directors talking about vampire films they’ve been apart of.

Frankly, this felt random as hell and features a slew of films that no one cared about when they came out and certainly don’t care about now. While they talk about some solid films like Lost Boys, From Dusk Till Dawn and Vampires, they also spend a lot of time talking about shit movies like Van Helsing, BloodRayne and Queen of the Damned.

I wouldn’t call this informative or entertaining. It’s a pointless, shitty production that only barely scratches the surface on the history of vampire cinema and would rather showcase Uwe Boll and Stephen Sommers rambling about their atrocious movies.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: sniffing hobo farts.