DT Moviehouse Review: The Cabin In The Woods

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, and a perfect fit for the Halloween season, I review Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods.

Directed by Drew Goddard

Screenplay by Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon

Tagline: You think you know the story.

cabin-in-the-woods-poster-hi-res

What It’s About:

33d5bfc8College students Dana (Kristen Connolly), Holden (Jesse Williams), Marty (Franz Kranz), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), and Curt (Chris Hemsworth) depart for a secluded weekend at a remote forest cabin and ‘accidentally’ summon up an undead clan of pain worshipping murderers who begin to stalk and kill them one at a time. But is all as it seems, or are they being manipulated for some mindbending, sinister purpose by office managers Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford)?

Why I Bought It:

After a premature run-in (in a dark room no less) with the head twisting scene in The Exorcist when I was six or seven years old, I actively avoided watching horror movies for about nine years, finally breaking the ‘fast’ with, ironically enough, Exorcist III.

CITW_-_floaty_girlI’m really lucky that Exorcist III was such a great flick, or I never would have backtracked and sought out all the scary movies I’d missed.

And I never would have ‘got’ The Cabin In The Woods.

I never actually realized what a horror hound I had become until I saw this.

This is probably one of the greatest horror movies ever made, period. It’s so enjoyable it almost seems like every single horror movie that has gone before was created specifically so this could come into being.

Make no mistake, to fully appreciate the greatness of this movie you have to have at least a passing familiarity with Hellraiser, The Shining, Dracula, An American Werewolf In London, The Mummy, HP Lovecraft, It, The Ring, Suspiria, Evil Dead, Halloween, Juh On, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Scream, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Troll, Poltergeist, Alien, and Friday The 13th.

5pR6aThis is really a movie that benefits in a huge way from going in entirely blind. What a hard movie to cut a trailer for! Being kind of jaded about the summer slasher movie genre, the very title The Cabin In The Woods was a turnoff for me. I’m not into the torture porn genre made popular by stuff like Hostel and Saw and assumed this was going to be more of the same. It looked like yet another vanilla cookie cutter teens in peril flick. There would be some topless scenes, some beer drinking and pot smoking, and in the end, the smartest guy (or more likely, girl) would go through hell at the hands or claws of some inbred hillbilly stereotype or a zombie or plague crazy gutmuncher and maybe get away in the end, maybe not.

Then a couple people whose opinion I trusted started sounding off that this was great, but wisely (and I thank them) refused to give details as to what was so great about it.

Just watch it, they said.

So after a long time of not thinking about it, I finally rented it.

Little did I know that Cabin In The Woods would contain just about every clichéd trope in my aforementioned laundry list….and yet still somehow manage to be entirely original. Thrillingly, awesomely original, and more, a hilarious, subversive in-joke directed solely at horror fans.

This is not to say that you have to be a horror junkie with an all-encompassing knowledge of everything the genre has to offer. It’s just that it offers so much more if you’re a nerd.

Surface-wise, the plot alone is entertaining and the tag line says it all. Going into it, you think you know what’s going to happen. The very title evokes a paint by numbers scenario. Early on though, you realize something weird is going on, when the movie opens not with the teens gearing up for their weekend, but a couple of middle-aged salarymen in suits preparing for some big to-do at their white, sterile workplace.

Of course, then we get the obligatory scenes where get to know who’s who and who’s with who, which is the jock, which the brain, which the burnout. Yet there’s still something just a little off. Our football hero has in-depth knowledge of socio-economic theory. Our stoner and his wild conspiracy theories make more and more sense as the movie progresses. The boy’s aren’t slavering pussy hounds – when one discovers a two-way mirror looking into the object of his desire’s room and she starts to undress, we don’t get the voyeuristic topless scene. He knocks on the wall and lets her know what’s going on (does she do the same for him later on?).

As we go deeper down the rabbit hole of Cabin In The Woods, our expectations start unraveling. A bird hits an invisible force field. The office guys are shown to be having some effect on the behavior of the kids. There are tantalizing hints toward some greater purpose being fulfilled. And when the kids start acting like we expect them to, it’s unexpected.

whedon4

W.T.F! Yeah, Cabin In The Woods is kinda like this.

By the time a character we thought was dead returns, we know this same drama is being enacted all over the world for some strange reason and I doubt anybody who hasn’t seen this movie or read about it beforehand can guess what the heck is happening. Yet it’s not all some fly-by-night-pull-it-out-of-your-ass-make-it-up-as-you-go-along thing. By the time Sigourney Weaver shows up to explain it all, it’s like the last piece of a puzzle is fitting into place and you think to yourself, “Ahhhh that’s perfect.”

It’s a real treat to be surprised by a movie, and it’s even better to be totally delighted by it as a genre fan.

cabinboardFor me, the movie really takes off when they go down into that cellar and find it packed to the gills with thinly disguised items from other movies. The puzzle ‘ball,’ referencing both Hellraiser and perhaps Phantasm. The diary with the incantations right out of Evil Dead. It’s all intercut with that wonderful whiteboard the office workers are all betting over, crammed with achingly great references to threats from across the horror spectrum. When that scene passes and you realize what’s about to happen, you love it, but a small part of you thinks in the back of your head, “Aw man, it would’ve been so great if they’d gone with the BLANK instead.”

And then, maybe twenty or thirty minutes later, they hit the Purge button and it’s Christmas morning, as every monster and beast, every ghost and murderer on that board floods your screen.

The_Monsters_The_Cabin_in_the_Woods-1024x426Cabin In The Woods that does the impossible. It’s a flick with a one off plot twist so great you can’t possibly expect it to be rewatchable once you know it’s coming. But you do watch it again. And you rewind and pause and slow mo it to death to see all those white board monsters tear their way through the complex. Geez there’s even a 50 foot woman in one of those cages.

One of the most supremely satisfying movies I’ve ever seen.

And, like the complexity of the plot itself, it’s smart. You can still delve a level deeper beyond the monsters and uncover a rich examination of the movie fan himself. There’s a great scene when Hemsworth and Hutchinson are being manipulated via hormone gasses, temperature, and lighting to have sex in the woods, and the team of manipulators are shown hanging on the scene from their viewing room, waiting for Hutchinson to show her breasts and groaning when she initially defers. How many guys have sat together watching a horror movie at home or in a theater and experienced the same audience reaction? It’s a funny scene, and yet the makers bring it back a step when Hadley and Sitterson dismiss the greater portion of the crew and put their full resources toward getting Hutchinson to disrobe, ostensibly for the viewing pleasure of the Old One (is the band of randy office drones a stand in for the moviegoing audience, which is funny, or is it the Old One, which suggests something more unseemly). Their expressions completely change. They’re almost sad to do it. But the Old One must be appeased. The tropes of the ritual must be adhered to.

When Marty says early on that the world needs to crumble, but everybody’s afraid to let it crumble, he speaks of the loss of privacy, the invasion of nebulous government watchers and dropping of sanctions on private life. This foreshadows the situation of the kids in the cabin, but doesn’t it also reflect on the fears of modern life in America?

What is the change Mary is calling for if we apply it to ourselves? Should the Old One rise up to completely tear down the system? Is popular entertainment an opiate used to keep that giant from waking up and breaking out? Maybe this is ham-handed political commentary to some, but then again how many of the general movie going audience came away with this message from something as innocuous seeming as a summer horror movie?

Cabin-In-The-WoodsIt also cleverly breaks the horror movie cliché down into a thematic, seemingly ancient codification. The athlete, the fool, the whore, the virgin. These are mystical concepts that really do occur throughout the history of human storytelling, and are most clearly represented in the cards of the Waite Tarot. The fool is often considered the stand-in for the questioner in a card divination. In Arthurian literature it’s the fool, often Sir Dagonet (as in Tennyson), Percivale (Perfect Fool) or in some cases (TH White) Merlin, who can look beyond the confines of his own story to comment on the greater meaning. The fool sees the strings, and can follow them to the storyteller. The fool attains the Grail, the greater, hidden knowledge, often to his detriment, as is the case with Marty here.

One wonders what cultural tropes the Old Ones in Japan need to see to keep them sleeping.

A thing I’ve said this in other reviews, but a good movie is entertaining. A great movie ‘moves’ the watcher, either moving their heart to experience some emotion, or moving the mind into a previously unconsidered mode of thought.

I would say The Cabin In The Wood is a great movie.

Best Dialogue/Line:

Marty’s weirdly funny and cryptic (and ultimately prophetic):

Cops will never pull over a man with a huge bong in his car. Why? They fear this man. They know he sees further than they and he will bind them with ancient logics.

Best Scene:

Without a doubt the best scene is the monster Purge I’ve already described above. This flick has a lot of funny moments amid all the horror. Mordecai on speakerphone comes to mind.

But if I had to pick a scene that never fails to make me laugh because it’s totally indicative of the multilevel enjoyment I get out of this movie, is when Hemsworth’s Curt tries to escape the area by jumping the gorge on his motorbike.

6487After their camper is blocked from escaping through the tunnel by an unexpected explosion which results in a cave-in, Curt devises a plan to jump the gorge and escape on his motorbike, vowing to return with the police, the national guard, the ghost of Steve McQueen the LA Raiders, and ten thousand Roman gladiators to get his friends out, and especially to avenge the horrifying death and post mortem beheading of his girlfriend.

He assures them he can easily make the jump, and cuts a heroic, Thor-like figure for a moment, revving his bike and nodding to them his assurance.

“You can’t hold back,” his friend Holden warns him. He has to achieve maximum velocity to make this leap to freedom.

“I never do,” Curt growls.

He cuts loose, leaps the bike into the air, and it looks like he’s going to make it, until he smashes head on into the invisible honeycomb field enclosing the area. His bike explodes in a fiery ball and we sees his lifeless body tumble down the long length of the shield wall, bouncing as it goes, giving us a glimpse as to how deep it really goes (perhaps it’s there to keep the Old One penned in?).

For the victims in the story, it’s a horrible, hope-smashing moment.

For the guys in the control center, it’s a sigh inducing close call, which if you think of the movie in the terms that they are actually the ones trying to preserve the world and all human life on it, is kind of a time bomb cut the blue wire hero moment for them.

And for me, I just burst out laughing. Is it a guilty laugh? Maybe upon multiple viewings, but the first time, no. I just found the failure of Curt’s heroics unintentionally hilarious, like a somebody calling their shot in a game and then fumbling utterly, or Jack Burton exuberantly shooting in his gun in the air before the big fight in Big Trouble In Little China and then getting knocked out by the falling plaster.

I wonder if this made the Old One chuckle in his bed too?

Next In The Queue: The Call Of Cthulhu

DT Moviehouse Reviews: Aliens

Continuing my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I slog my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money, here’s my take on James Cameron’s celebrated Alien sequel, Aliens.

(1986) Directed by James Cameron, Screenplay by James Cameron, Story by Walter Hill and David Giler.

Tagline: This time it’s war.

What it’s about:

57 years after the original Alien, navigator Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) life pod drifts into deep space and is picked up by a group of salvagers. She awakens from her overlong hypersleep (with Jones the cat) on Gateway Station in orbit above the earth, where company man Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) debriefs her on her predicament. She is stripped of her piloting license over her admitted detonation of the Nostromo and her testimony about the alien that killed her crew goes ignored. The planet where the Nostromo picked up the alien is now LV-426, a terraforming colony of over a hundred fifty souls who has never reported any encounter with any hostile organism. Then, almost as if Ripley’s awakening has roused the aliens, the Company loses contact with the colony. Burke approaches Ripley about going back to LV-426 with a contingent of Colonial Marines to act in an advisory capacity. Plagued by nightmares, she finally agrees, and sets out with a platoon of heavily armed but cocky troops to investigate. They find the colony partially destroyed and deserted but for a small girl, Newt (Carrie Hen), who survived the alien onslaught by hiding in ventilation ducts. And then the motion trackers start beeping….

Why I bought it:

Simply put, I know this movie from “Bio-readouts are all in the green” to “High-firmative.”  When I first discovered it on HBO around 1987 or 88 I must’ve watched my VHS recording of it in a constant loop for a couple weeks.

As I said in my Alien review, I had never seen the original prior to this, but this induced me to first read the Alan Dean Foster novelizations of both movies, and then see the original movie.

So which is better? Well, it wholly depends on who you are, what kind of story you’re in the mood for. My personal favorite (and it’s gonna sound like a copout) is whichever one I happen to be watching. Alien is mood and tension. It’s a cold, detached sci-fi horror movie. Aliens takes that tension and flicks it like a taut rubberband. It’s an amusement park ride. It’s a thrilling, kick ass action movie in the vein of Predator (which is why the crossover between the franchises always seemed so inevitable) and Rambo.

But at its core, it’s got more heart than Alien. In fact, Alien is like Ash, the synthetic humanoid in that movie. Cold, analytical, calculating and cruel. Aliens is Bishop (Lance Henricksen). Artificial sure, but with a strong humanistic streak that you’re not quite sure is genuine until the end.

It’s been said a million times by better critics than me, but the soul of Aliens is the relationship between Ripley and Newt. A surrogate mother and an orphaned daughter. Ripley is Soft Mother and the Alien Queen is Wire Mother and they’re at war over Newt. All the posturing of the Marines, the excellent violent action, is tertiary to this conflict.

Now when I was twelve years old, I didn’t see that. It was all about the Marines, so allow me to channel my younger self and gush a bit.

Oh Hicks…you look just like I feel.

Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn, who I’m pretty sure I had some kind of man crush on in my formative years – it was his Kyle Reese in Terminator that got me wearing a trenchcoat in high school, not any misanthropic ‘mafioso’ devotion to sheer outsider-ness), brilliantly loud mouthed Hudson (the inimitable Bill Paxton who my friends and I used to just laugh at whenever we saw him anywhere – now I can see what a great, affable actor the dude is – and a director! Have you seen Frailty???), kick ass Latina lesbian Vasquez (Jeanette GOLDSTEIN – yeah, in my youth I had no idea. But Joel Grey as Chiun fooled me for years – my Remo Williams copy had been recorded on SLP and was pretty blurry), hard bitten Sgt. Apone (Al Matthews), and their stick up his ass, over his head, but ultimately heroic leader Lt. Gorman (William Hope), to say nothing of Crowe, Frost, Wierzbowski, Drake, Dietrich, Spunkmeyer, and Ferro.

Yeah and that was without opening another window. Entirely from memory. How many movies are there where the minor characters (and I mean so minor they’re introduced and they die in the span of about a half hour) are memorable enough that you can name them all? Given a little time and space I could probably attribute each character to their lines (except for poor old T. Crowe, who I don’t think had any).

Private T. Crowe….the quiet one.

That’s a testament to the writing and the acting in Aliens.

You take to the Marines almost immediately. They’re cocky, self-assured, gung ho jackasses all, with Hudson reigning supreme. Hudson is the loudmouth complainer every job, every sports team has. The guy that if you work with him you’re either shaking your head at his antics or turning around and telling him to shut the hell up already. They don’t believe in the aliens (xenomorphs, as Lt. Gorman calls them) any more than the company does, and though they quickly discover evidence of their existence, in true post-Vietnam war movie fashion, as soon as they come face to face with the enemy, their technology amounts to a precise ratio of doodly/squat. In fact, they’re thrown into an utter panic, three quarters of them die outright (in a memorable scene, Lt. Gorman stares at his remote mission monitor in disbelief as a marine’s bio readouts flatline before his eyes.) like stormtroopers against Ewoks, like the US cavalry at Little Big Horn.

We ain’t in space. Scream all you want.

The aliens literally emerge from the hive walls in which the colonists are found cocooned and snatch them one by one. They even torch each other in their confusion. And you realize that although you’ve been waiting for this to happen the entire time, you’re suddenly saddened to see the unit get their asses kicked so thoroughly. Going back and seeing the first Alien, there’s a definite added thrill in knowing how tough to kill one xenomorph was on a single ship and then seeing a slew of them cut loose with an entire colonial outpost to hide in.

But then Ripley comes in, piloting God knows how many tons of armored APC through the wall and Hicks musters the broken survivors and they spin wheels the hell outta there, running down aliens and sending their acidic blood spraying everywhere in the process. Ripley comes into her own in this scene. In Alien, as I said, she came off a bit cold and unlikeable, but in Aliens, as soon as she comes in contact with Newt, the orphan girl, we see a side of her we didn’t see in Alien, and she’s a stronger and more interesting character.  There’s a great moment after their initial meeting where they’re watching the Marines’ camera feed of the hive interior and Ripley sees the people cocooned in the walls. She immediately tells Newt to leave the viewing area, like a parent who knows something inappropriate is coming (and it does).

The music in the forementioned ambush scene is my favorite in the whole movie. James Horner apparently felt Aliens was a rush job, but he really turned in some great work here. The music is alternately rousing and eerie.

I also have to talk up the technical aspects a little. Aliens is slicker looking than Alien, but it makes sense, and not just because we’re in the 80’s now. We’re fifty years more into the future, and we’re mainly aboard a military ship, which you have to assume is kept cleaner and more presice than a commercial towing rig. Go on the bridge of a cargo ship and compare it to the bridge of a Navy vessel and you’ll see what I mean. The Marines’ gear is functional and believable (the personalizations scrawled on their guns and armor and helmets are cool touches), with the mecha-suit loader and the rapid sound of the pulse rifles being a particularly imaginative standout. Futurized enough to plant us firmly in sci-fi territory, but readily idenitifable as to each thing’s purpose.

Most of the menacing subtleties of lighting in Alien are exchanged for more dramatic and mood enchancing reds and blues (LOTS of blue – I’d lay money on what Cameron’s favorite color is…and Michael Mann’s too).  But it all comes together nicely.

In rewatching it, I noticed this time around how many tricks Cameron used to great effect. I saw the same alien blow apart maybe three times, and you rarely see more than four aliens on screen at a time (and then only briefly), yet you really get the sense there are hundreds slavering in the shadows. Lots of reaction shots. I guess Cameron was working under a lot of constraints, monetary and professional (he had notoriously bad relations with the British crew), but he proves himself a massively talented and ingenious filmmaker, just as he did with the relatively low budget original Terminator.

They mostly come out at night…mostly.

The alien queen is a brilliant piece of puppetry, the real ‘money shot’ of the movie. The practical FX in this film are heads and shoulders above most CGI stuff you see nowadays. There’s just something about seeing a real person go head to head with something right there in front of them in the same light that can’t be topped. Hicks rolling backwards to ‘carry’ a leaping alien on a bed of automatic fire, or Vasquez pinning one of the things to the side of the shaft with her boot and firing point blank into its head, or (of course) Ripley in the loader ducking back as the queen’s jaws come snapping at her face.  All infinitely more visceral and engaging than watching what’s essentially a video game cut scene.

You get another fake out ending in the tradition of the first Alien, and it’s a doozy. All in all it’s a brilliant addition to the franchise, probably the one that really insured its future.

And don’t get me started on the stuff Aliens has inspired in look and story. Surely a whole generation of FPS video games owe their plots and feel to Aliens.

“I like to keep this handy…for close encounters.”

A word on the Director’s Cut. It’s a little overlong and makes the pacing hiccup a bit. There is some absolute gold in there in terms of character development. We learn Ripley had a daughter who died on earth two years before she is rescued from the lifepod, and this greatly informs her character, ehancing the relationship with Newt. At the same time, we see the colony (Hadley’s Hope) in full bloom of activity, learn a little bit more about Burke’s treachery, and best of all, see Newt pre-disaster, as her parents stumble upon the same derelict spacecraft and unwittingly unleash the xenomorphs. There’s a cool little time waster with the Marines setting up a bunch of robot sentry guns to discourage the aliens from overrunning them. Nothing much gained, but a neat sequence, and again very much on the cheap. We’re literally watching ammo counters click down and hearing the bullets and alien screeches. That’s it. But still a tense scene. There’s a short but sweet parting exchange between the acid-burned Hicks and Ripley before she goes off to rescue Newt and he succumbs to painkillers. Though it does seem just a tad out of place considering the situation and the breakneck progression of the sequence, it’s nice to hear them exchange first names, something we don’t canonically get in the rest of the movie. It’s also a proper goodbye to Hicks. Finally there are some slight dialogue additions here and there, and what I have to admit is a kind of embarrassing sequence with Hudson regailing Ripley on their armaments in the drop ship. One too many uses of the word ‘badass.’

Anyway, let’s hope Prometheus is even a third as good as Alien/Aliens.

Now you’ll notice Alien 3 is NOT next in my queue. You won’t find it or any of the other entries in the series in my collection. While I like David Fincher (Se7en is amazing, and Alien 3 really isn’t a bad movie, per say), Alien 3’s opening totally rips the heart out of Ripley’s storyline. By killing Ripley’s hardwon surrogate family offscreen, the producers pretty much destroyed any interest I had in seeing Ripley any more.  They very cheaply SNAFU’d her character progression, and actually tried to set her back on her own emotional timeline. It just doesn’t work, and worse, undercuts all the great drama of this movie. There’s also a major leap in logic involving an egg somehow making its way onto the Sulacco that I just can’t forgive. And I won’t even mention the abyssmal Alien: Resurrection. For me the series ends here and picks up again with Aliens vs. Predator.

For a better continuation of the series post Aliens, I’d heartily recommend Mark Verheiden’s ‘Aliens’ comic book, published in the very early days of Dark Horse, before Alien 3. In that comic, you get a grown up and deeply disturbed Newt, a scarred and angry Hicks, a great take on the space jockeys, and a simultaneous invasion of the aliens’ homeworld by a troop of synthetic marines led by Hicks AND contamination of the earth by the aliens (due to a really fascinating subplot involving religious zealots stealing the alien from a government facility and willfully impregnating themselves).  The first two volumes have some amazing writing, and it really takes the series in much more natural progression, though I think it would’ve benefited from the presence of Ripley earlier on – she doesn’t appear until much later, and by then Alien 3 had been announced and the continuity was already on its way to being abandoned. Newt’s and Hicks’ character names were actually changed in later reprints!

Best bit of dialogue:

There are great lines galore in this movie but my favorite is at the commissary table on the Sulaco just after Bishop does his knife trick with Hudson. Early in the meal Spunkmeyer throws down his food and exclaims ‘What’s this crap supposed to be?’

FROST: Cornbread, I think.

HICKS: It’s good for you boy, eat it.

While at the big boy’s table, Bishop sits down and observes a trickle of milky synthetic blood running from a nick in his thumb.  Ripley is instantly upset, remembering her violent encounter with Ash in the first movie. Bishop tries to placate her by assuring her it’s physically impossible for him to harm a human due to his programming. He passes her a tray of food and she angrily slaps it out of his hand with a huge clang, drawing the attention of the other Marines.

RIPLEY: Just stay away from me, Bishop! You got that?

The Marines return to their dinner.

FROST: Guess she don’t like the cornbread either.

Best scene:

The second alien attack in the colony’s Operations Center. The surviving Marines and Ripley, Newt and Burke had welded the corridor doors shut and are confident they have blocked off every possible way in.

There must be something we missed….Something not in the plans.

Hudson’s motion tracker start beeping off, multiple little flashing dots, and he counts down the meters as the tremendous body of creatures advances. They huddle up and lock and load their weapons, watching the door, the only possible entryway, waiting for the impact of the creatures. Six meters, and Ripley declares….’That can’t be – that’s inside the room!’  Still, the signal gets closer. Necks crane to the ceiling, and the sinking feeling is palpable. Hicks grabs a light and climbs up on a desk, poking his head through the vent, illuminating a shaft crammed with aliens, crawling silently forward on the walls, floor and ceiling.

“Come on you bastards! Come on you too! Oh you want some of this?”

The close action sequence that follows as the aliens crash through the ceiling sees the rapid deaths of Hudson (one of the most memorable and surprisingly game bow outs I’ve ever seen in an action movie – for all his bitching and moaning he goes out like a boss), Burke, Vasquez and Gorman.

Would I buy it again? Yes.

Next in the queue: The Apostle

DT Moviehouse Reviews: Alien

Continuing my infrequent blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I slog my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money, here’s my take on the movie that kicked off the Aliens franchise, Alien (coincidentally just in time for the release of this movie’s supposed prequel, the much-anticipated Prometheus).

(1979) Directed by Ridley Scott, Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, Story by Ronald Shusett

Tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream.

What it’s about:

Sometime in the far future the crew of the Nostromo, a deep space commercial towing vessel, awakens from their months long sleep to respond to a signal beacon on a nearby uncharted planet. Three of the crew members, Captain Dallas (Tom Skerrit), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and Kane (John Hurt) explore the source of the mechanical beacon, an alien spacecraft with a dead extra terrestrial pilot (the mysterious space jockey purported to be the basis of the new movie Prometheus) and a payload of eggs. A creature hatches from one of the eggs and attaches itself to Kane’s face, impregnating him with a savage predatory organism which gestates and then bursts from his chest, stalking the crew among the labrynthine corridors of the monolothic starship.

Why I bought it:

This is a seminal work of science fiction horror. I only saw stills and commercials of this movie as a kid in the seventies and it haunted me into young adulthood. How can a green glowing hen’s egg conjure such dread in a kid? Maybe it was the eerie music by Jerry Goldsmith in the commercials. I actually saw the sequel, James Cameron’s Aliens before I finally saw Alien, and for years I preferred it. I actually only saw Alien to enrich my ribald love of Aliens (and I read the Alan Dean Foster novelization before I even saw it). Now….well, I’m not sure. That’s a question to ask in answer in the next review, which is of that movie.

If there is such a thing as science fiction cinema verite, it’s Alien. The bizarre, unsavory subject matter is right out of an EC horror comic, but the movie works because it’s somehow entirely realistic and believable. The characters (played by an ensemble of extremely naturalistic and talented actors, all in their prime, all deserving a mention – Sigourney Weaver -in a star making debut- Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Koto, Veronica Cartwright and Ian Holm) mumble and engage in crosstalk, bitch about un-cinematic things like finder’s fees and payroll shares, and so look genuinely hysterical when one of their own suddenly keels over at dinner and expels a slithering toothy horror from his broken, bloody chest cavity (There’s an oft-repeated rumor that Veronica Cartwright had no idea the creature was gonna pop out – this isn’t entirely true. Obviously John Hurt is not actually laying on the table at the time of the burst, so you know there was a lot of FX set up – but the actors apparently weren’t warned about blood squibs going off and when Cartwright gets sprayed with fake blood, she apparently really did have a conniption).  This is the only sci-fi movie I can think of where I’m drawn into a secure lull. Except for a few interjections of Goldsmith’s superb score (I can’t think of a good way to describe it – somehow ‘non-orchestral’), it’s actually like The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez in that I don’t remember I’m watching a movie in the first half.

The FX and set design are made to compliment the performances, not perform themselves. Everything, though insanely complex (the coolant room in which Harry Dean Stanton’s character is killed looks like some kind of mechanical alien cathedral, or a room in Harlan Ellison’s ‘Martian Pyramid’), looks entirely lived in and functional, and no set piece ever really intrudes on the action.

Brilliant acting and set design (and music) aside, the central piece of Alien is the xenomorph itself, designed by H.R. Geiger. The thing is indescribable. Part carpenter ant, part beetle, part lizard, part sexualized human skeleton. And it changes in subtle ways every time we see it. It’s horrific reproductive cycle speaks directly to the innate male discomfort with the human reproductive process itself (or at least, to mine anyway), and then perverts it to the extreme, rendering an instantly unforgettable image in the mind.

The scenes where the crew alternately hunts and flees from the growing creature in the dark bowels of this immense ship are methodical and claustrophobic, slowly building the tension to deliver maximum fright when something does happen. Perfectly directed. This may be the last hurrah of seventies cinema.

Also of note is the performance by Sigourney Weaver as of one of moviedom’s most believable action heroines, Ellen Ripley. She’s not quite the ass kicker she is in Aliens here, but by the end of the movie she’s well on the road. She’s already a bit of a ball cracker, and it’s cool that the script has the daring to make her not entirely likable. Stanton and Kotto’s affable engineers don’t much care for her, and at first audience sympathy naturally sways against her. She’s the one who wants to play by the book and keep the infected Kane off the ship, despite it coming off as inhumane. Ian Holm’s Science Officer Ash instead lets him in, but it becomes obvious that he wasn’t motivated by his humanity…in a shocking later scene in which Ripley discovers he’s endangered them all on orders from the shadowy ‘company,’ we find he doesn’t have any to speak of.

As a matter of fact, it’s at that point that sympathies really start to swing toward Ripley as a character and as the heroine of the movie. Her percieved cold bitch facade drops tearfully in the face of Ash’s uncrupulous android. I love Holm’s detached creepiness. He comes across as out of touch with everybody else, possibly due to the nature of his job, or perhaps due to some social or scholarly standing (noticeably, he’s the only Brit aboard). There’s a great aside right after the alien kills Kane where Ash refers to it as ‘Kane’s son.’

Then at last there’s the famous fakeout ending, which supposedly duped a lot of overeager-to-beat-the-parking-lot-traffic movie watchers into missing the real climax. It’s possible Alien singlehandedly created a generation of moveigoers who sit through the end credits….just to be sure.

I’ve seen both the theatrical version and the director’s cut of this movie. Scott prefers the original. I guess I do too, but it’s interesting to see Ripley’s discovery of the cocooned Dallas, and I don’t know who Veronica Cartwright pissed off, but every single scene that gives her mainly shrill and panicky character depth wound up on the cutting room floor, so it’s worth watching to see Lambert shine.

Best bit of dialogue:

This is a tough one. As I said, the dialogue is so natural it’s hard to pick out any real Hollywood lines. I guess the closest is in the scene immediately after the decapitation of the company android Ash.  Parker wires up his paste and lubricant covered head on the table top, and the reanimate but harmless Ash answers a few questions about the nature of their mission and what he knows about the alien. He admits to deliberately seeking to impregnate the crew and deliver the specimen to the company, and even allows that he ‘admires it’s purity.’

He winds up the revelations with –

‘I can’t lie to you about your chances…but you have my sympathies.’

‘He’s a robot! Ash is a goddamn robot!’

And then a ghoulishly patronizing grin spreads across his face and Parker knocks loose his power source and torches the synthetic flesh off his artificial skull.

Best scene:

‘Nuff said.`

Would I buy it again? Yes

Next up in the queue: Aliens

DT Moviehouse

I’ve decided to institute a new (ir)regular feature here on Delirium Tremens.

I watch a lot of movies. A LOT.

But I don’t take home everything I’ve seen. For me to pay for a movie again past the initial theatrical viewing or rental, that movie has really got to speak to me on some level that will induce me to not only want to revisit it at my leisure, but to send a monetary message to the creators that I appreciated their work (altough in taking stock of what I have, there are a couple titles I was given as gifts that I haven’t even watched yet!).

That said, I own something over two hundred movies, give or take. So yeah, lots of appreciation there.

In part to give me something more to do on this blog than just plug my work, and in part to justify my owning all these dang DVD’s and Blu-Rays, I’m going to go through my collection alphabetically and start revisiting and reviewing them here.

I’m no film critic. At least, no more than anybody else. I went to film school yeah, but I promise I’ll keep the mise en scene and chiaroscuro comments to a minimum. I’ve got opinions, and I’ve got memories of the movies on this list, and I’ll share them. That’s it. Oh and there’ll probably be spoilers. So I’m telling you now ‘cause I don’t intend to write it over every single review. Most of these are a couple years old anyway, or will be by the time I get to ‘em.

Here’s the list, which I’ll update if I make new purchases. I also intend to replace the reviewed titles with hyperlinks to the reviews as I write them for ease of reference (if I can figure out how to do that). This should take me a while to get through. No promises as to regularity, but eventually, one day, I’ll get to the end. Maybe it’ll even be fun.

Anyway, here’s the list of my collection. Don’t expect to see too many scathing reviews here. Like I said, I don’t buy stuff I don’t like, and anyway I don’t have the time or energy to complain about things I don’t like. Better to celebrate things I do, right? Right.

As always, feel free to comment, if you’re so inclined.

  • 8 Mile
  • 300
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • The Agony And The Ecstacy
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • The Apostle
  • At The Circus
  • Atlantis: The Los Empire
  • Attack The Block
  • Back To The Future
  • Back To The Future II
  • Back To The Future III
  • Bad Company
  • Batman Begins
  • The Beast Must Die
  • Ben-Hur
  • Beneath The Planet Of The Apes
  • Better Off Dead
  • Big Trouble In Little China
  • The Black Swan
  • Blade
  • The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi
  • The Blood of Heroes
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • The Brides Of Dracula
  • Bronco Billy
  • Buffalo Soldiers
  • A Bullet For The General
  • Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
  • Cabin In The Woods
  • The Call of Cthulhu
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Captain Blood
  • The Car
  • Casino Royale
  • Chato’s Land
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The WardrobeThe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe
  • Cimarron
  • Clash Of The Titans
  • Cloverfield
  • Conan The Barbarian
  • Conquest of The Planet of The Apes
  • Constantine
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • Crank
  • Cross Of Iron
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Curse Of The Demon (aka Night Of The Demon)
  • Cyrano De Bergerac
  • Daimajin/Wrath of Daimajin
  • Dances With Wolves
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Daredevil
  • The Dark Crystal
  • A Day At The Races
  • Dead Man
  • The Deadpool
  • Destry Rides Again
  • Diamonds Are Forever
  • Die Another Day
  • Die Hard
  • Dillinger
  • Dirty Harry
  • Django Unchained
  • Dog Soldiers
  • Down With Love
  • Dr. No
  • Dragonslayer
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • The Enforcer
  • Enter The Dragon
  • Escape From New York
  • Escape From The Planet Of The Apes
  • E.T. The Extraterrestrial
  • Ever After
  • The Ewok Movies (Caravan of Courage/Battle For Endor)
  • Excalibur
  • The Far Country
  • Fiend Without A Face
  • The Fighting Kentuckian
  • First Blood
  • A Fistful of Dollars
  • Flag Of Iron
  • Flight Of The Phoenix
  • For A Few Dollars More
  • Frailty
  • From Russia With Love
  • Gamera 3: Revenge Of Iris
  • Gattaca
  • Glory
  • Godzilla vs. Biollante
  • Godzilla vs Hedorah
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II
  • Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah
  • Godzilla vs. Mothra:BattleFor Earth
  • Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla
  • Godzilla vs. Destroyah
  • Godzilla 2000
  • Godzilla Mothra and King Gihodrah: Giant Monster All Out Attack
  • Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla
  • Godzilla Tokyo SOS
  • GoldenEye
  • Goldfinger
  • The Good The Bad And The Ugly
  • The Goonies
  • Go West
  • The Great Santini
  • The Great Silence
  • The Green Hornet
  • Green Lantern
  • Gremlins
  • Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan The Lord Of The Apes
  • Gunga Din
  • Gymkata
  • Halloween III
  • Hamlet (Mel Gibson)
  • Happy Accidents
  • The Haunting
  • Heat
  • Hell Is For Heroes
  • The Hidden Fortress
  • The Hired Hand
  • Hombre
  • Hondo
  • Hot Fuzz
  • Hulk
  • I Declare War
  • Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull
  • Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
  • Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom
  • In Harm’s Way
  • Insomnia
  • Iron Man
  • Iron Man 2
  • Iron Man 3
  • It’s Always Fair Weather
  • I Was A Teenage Frankenstein
  • I Was A Teenage Werewolf
  • Jarhead
  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • John Carter of Mars
  • The Jungle Book (Sabu)
  • The Karate Kid
  • The Killing
  • King Arthur
  • King Kong vs. Godzilla
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  • Krull
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Kwaidan
  • LA Confidential
  • Ladyhawke
  • Lair Of The White Worm
  • The Last Detail
  • The Last Starfighter
  • The Last Man On Earth
  • The Last Temptation Of Christ
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • A League Of Their Own
  • Legend
  • Legend of The Drunken Master
  • Leon The Professional
  • Lethal Weapon
  • License To Kill
  • The Life And Times of Judge Roy Bean
  • Live And Let Die
  • The Living Daylights
  • Lone Wolf And Cub: Sword Of Vengeance
  • Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart At The River Styx
  • Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons
  • The Long Good Friday
  • The Long Riders
  • The Lord Of The Rings (Ralph Bakshi)
  • The Lost Weekend
  • Mad Max
  • Magnum Force
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • The Man From Earth
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  • The Man With The Golden Gun
  • The Mark Of Zorro
  • Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World
  • Mars Attacks
  • Miami Blues
  • The Missing
  • Monty Python And The Holy Grail
  • Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life
  • Mystery Men
  • The Naked Prey
  • Near Dark
  • Nevada Smith
  • A Night At The Opera
  • A Night In Casablanca
  • Night of The Hunter
  • Observe And Report
  • The Offence
  • Office Space
  • Once Upon A Time In The West
  • On The Waterfront
  • Open Range
  • The Others
  • Outland
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales
  • Patton
  • Peter Pan
  • Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl
  • Planet Of The Apes
  • Platoon
  • Popeye
  • Predator
  • The Princess Bride
  • Prometheus
  • The Proposition
  • The Punisher
  • The Quiet Man
  • Raging Bull
  • Rambo (IV)
  • Ravenous
  • Real Steel
  • Rear Window
  • The Rebirth of Mothra (1 and 2)
  • Red River
  • Reign of Fire
  • The Return of The 5 Deadly Venoms
  • Ride With The Devil
  • Rio Bravo
  • Rio Grande
  • Robin And The 7 Hoods
  • Robocop
  • The Rocketeer
  • Rocky II
  • Rocky III
  • Rocky IV
  • Room Service
  • Rope
  • Run Ronnie Run
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Scarface (Howard Hawks)
  • The Searchers
  • Se7en
  • The Seven Ups
  • Shaft’s Big Score
  • Shaolin Soccer
  • Shaun Of The Dead
  • She Wore A Yellow Ribbon
  • The Shootist
  • Signs
  • The Sixth Sense
  • Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Spartacus
  • Spider-Man
  • Spider-Man 2
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Stander
  • Stardust
  • Star Trek The Motion Picture
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  • Star Trek: Generations
  • Star Trek: First Contact
  • Star Trek: Insurrection
  • Star Trek: Nemesis
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Star Wars Episode VI: Return of The Jedi
  • State of Grace
  • The Sting
  • Strangers On A Train
  • Sudden Impact
  • Superman The Movie
  • Superman II
  • Sword Of Doom
  • The Ten Commandments
  • Thief
  • Thief Of Bagdad
  • The Third Man
  • The Thirteenth Warrior
  • Thunderball
  • The Time Machine
  • Touch Of Evil
  • Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
  • True Grit (original)
  • Unforgiven
  • The Untouchables
  • Wall-E
  • Warlock
  • The Warriors
  • The War Of The Worlds
  • Whale Rider
  • Where Eagles Dare
  • White Zombie
  • The Whole Wide World
  • The Wicker Man
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Winchester ’73
  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • The Wolfman
  • The Woman In Black
  • Wyatt Earp
  • X2: X-Men United
  • X3: The Last Stand
  • X-Men
  • X-Men: First Class
  • The Yakuza
  • You Only Live Twice
  • Young Guns
  • The Young Lions

Return Of My Halloween Movie Repertoire

Well the world’s in it’s sear and yellow leaf, the pumpkins are smiling, and tooth decay is on the rise! Must be Halloween, kiddies!

Some say print is dead, but this is the time when the dead walk. Shambling off the shelves come tentacular extraterrestrial monstrosities by HP Lovecraft. A little further from the north are slews of nameless unutterable nightmares courtesy of Stephen King. Maybe Clive Barker’s got his hooks in you, or Graham Masterton. Maybe you’re a Twilight fan (and if you are, my condolences at the untimely passing of your taste – haha). Can I recommend some Richard Matheson, or some old fashioned terror tales by Poe or my personal favorite, Ambrose Bierce?

Yours truly has a couple scary books out. I’m the only ‘Erdelac’ on Amazon right now, so go and take a look.

But enough with the shameless plugging.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to curl up with a book (or have a book curl up with you), every year I update my holiday movie viewing lists, and it’s time once again to resurrect the old Halloween Repertoire, new and improved.

So what am I watching this year? Well I always watch stuff from this list, and am slowly introducing my like-minded daughter to some of the tamer entries. So far we’ve watched Brides of Dracula (her choice), Night of The Demon, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Giving Troll and The Haunted a try tonight.

Also, every year my buddy Jeff Carter hosts an evening of horror themed blacksploitation movies. We kicked off the inaugural year with the classic Blacula, and have moved through it’s sequel, Scream Blacula Scream, Blackenstein, Sugar Hill, and The Thing With Two Heads.

Up this year its Bernie Casey in Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde —

and either JD’s Revenge or The Beast Must Die.

Claire Bloom and Julie Harris face the terror of The Haunting

My favorite ghost stories – The Haunting (original), The Others, The Sixth Sense, Kwaidan, Poltergeist 1 and 2, The Shining, Stir Of Echoes, The Changeling, The Crow, The Screaming Skull, The Orphanage, The Entity, Dark Night Of The Scarecrow, The Ring.

Devils/demons and diabolical witches can be found in – Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Exorcist III, The Sentinel, Angel Heart, Night Of The Demon, The Devil Rides Out, Hellraiser, Black Sabbath, The Craft, The Believers, Cast A Deadly Spell, The Omen 1 and 2, Suspiria, The Skeleton Key, Masque Of The Red Death, Pumpkinhead, Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch, The Evil Dead, Constantine, The Pit And The Pendulum, The Gate, Child’s Play.

Vampires get your blood racing?

'We keep odd hours.' Severn in Near Dark

Let me suggest – Near Dark, The Lost Boys, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Todd Browning’s Dracula, The Hunger, Blacula (yes Blacula – it’s awesome), Kolchak The Night Stalker, Vampire’s Kiss, The Brides Of Dracula.

 

If the homicidally deranged are your bag, you can’t top – The Original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Bad Seed, Audition (Odishon), Psycho (original), Misery, Halloween 1 and 2 (I also liked the remake of 1), Friday The 13th Part III, Silent Rage, Pin, Magic, Frailty, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, House Of Wax (original), Se7en, Peeping Tom, Silence Of The Lambs, Deep Red.

David Naughton and Griffin Dunne beware the moon.

Werewolves are a sadly under-represented pack of beasties. I like – Wolf, The Wolfman (both Lon Chaney Jr and the remake), Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, An American Werewolf In London, Ginger Snaps, The Curse Of The Werewolf, I Was A Teenage Werewolf, Silver Bullet, Dog Soldiers and for a switch, Wolfen.

If you like your yucks with yuks, these horror/comedies are a good bet – Shaun Of The Dead, Zombieland, Fright Night Parts 1 and 2, Student Bodies, Saturday The 14th, Dead Alive, Tremors, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Love At First Bite, Evil Dead 2, The Ghost And Mr. Chicken.

Bela Lugosi as zombie master Murder Legendre in White Zombie

Zombies anyone? I likes ’em slow, bitey, and numerous. – Dawn Of The Dead (original), Night Of The Living Dead, Land Of The Dead, Survival Of The Dead, Zombie, White Zombie, The Serpent And The Rainbow, Sugar Hill.

If you like your terror from beyond the stars – Village Of The Damned (original), Body Snatchers, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (70’s), Alien, Aliens, Phantasm, Predator, Event Horizon, The Thing, The Call Of Cthulhu, Horror Express, Lifeforce, Attack The Block.

It's as good as you've heard it is, bruv.

If, like Chunk, you hate nature, these will get your fur up – The Killer Shrews, Alligator, Pirahna, Night Of The Lepus, Arachnophobia, Kingdom of the Spiders.

Halloween For The Kids – It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, Monster House, The Halloween Tree, Monster Squad, Mad Monster Party, The Garfield Halloween Special, Disney’s Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Eloise’s Rawther Unusual Halloween, any of the recent Scooby Doo Movies.

Some gems that just don’t fit anywhere else – Creature From The Black Lagoon, Trick R Treat, Christine, Pan’s Labrynth, Creepshow, Nightbreed, Fiend Without A Face, The Fly (both the original and the remake), The Fly II, Carrie, The Other, Trilogy Of Terror, Monkey Shines, Todd Browning’s Freaks, The Descent, The Mummy (Original), The Manitou, 28 Weeks Later, Grimm Prairie Tales, Ravenous.

In the words of my biggest junior high crush, “Unpleasent Dreams!”

Published in: on October 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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