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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Thing (1982)

Well I covered The Thing from Another World for the horror dude blog so I figure I should also review John Carpenter’s version of the movie as well. Plus, it is one of my favorites and always gets a watch during October. I assume most of you have seen this but in case you haven’t I’ll make my case for why you should.

The movie is set at an isolated base in Antarctica where a U.S. research station is doing science stuff. One morning a sled dog comes running into camp with some crazy Norwegians trailing it in a helicopter. They seem intent on killing the canine and don’t mind who might be in the line of fire. But the guys at the U.S. camp don’t like being shot at and shoot back. Now they have a sled dog and a dead Norwegian. What to do? Well they decide to check out the Norwegian camp and see what is going on. Now here is where things get interesting.

In addition to more bodies they find evidence that a space craft and alien were found in the ice. They also soon realize that the alien got free and can imitate any life form it absorbs, including the sled dog. Now they paranoia sets in as they don’t know who is human and who isn’t. How can you fight something that could be standing right next to you without you knowing? Eventually they do find a way, but not until many of them are dead and the solution kind of sucks.

This is an excellent movie that again I would expect that you have already seen. I’m going to talk about a few of the things that I love about it, but really if you haven’t watched The Thing skip this review and go watch it. Now back to why this movie is awesome.

The setting of the base in the Antarctica was a wonderful decision in both the original novella as well as both movie adaptations. Though after having read the book and seen both movies I have to honestly say that director John Carpenter brings the sense of isolation to the screen better than either of the previously mentioned. There is a sense of dread and fear once the characters understand what they are facing and that any of them could be a threat. Camera angles, close-up’s, and horrific scares mixed in makes this happen. Plus, we are allowed to see things that the characters don’t which allows the audience to be frightened for them. A good example of this is when we see the shadow of the sled dog stroll into a room and visit one of the men. We don’t know who, but we do know someone is infected. That is good stuff.

Cinematographer Dean Cundy captures the glaring white of the day as well imposing dark illuminated with only flares in a manner that accentuates the creepiness. These visuals are very important to setting the tone for the movie. Another thing that I have to mention is the music by the legendary Ennio Morricone. This is one of the most recognizable scores from any horror film that has ever been made and much like Cundy’s work helps to build and maintain the tension and paranoia that is key to enjoying The Thing.

The cast is fantastic and helps push the story along with their performances. Kurt Russel, Keith David, Richard Dysart, and Ricard Masur are all excellent in their roles. But personally, my favorite has always been Wilford Brimley as Dr. Blair. He is the first to figure it out as well as the only logical solution to the problem. He doesn’t trust anyone and acts on his own and gets locked up for his efforts.

Don't mind the severed head going for a stroll...
Finally, I have to talk special effects. Rob Bottin is responsible for some of the most amazing transformations and creatures that I’ve ever seen on screen. No doubt his masterpiece has to be The Thing. The dog monster, the splitting chest, arms getting amputated, a head that sprouts appendages and tries to escape, and other disturbing alien looking creatures make for an amazing time. If you love practical effects work it just doesn’t get much better than this. While I consider Tom Savini to be the master of gore, Bottin is the master of bringing the weird and alien to screen. It doesn’t get any better than The Thing.

Great movie that all horror fans should have seen. If you aren’t a horror fan or just haven’t gotten around to The Thing you need to move it to the top of your list. John Carpenter is a genius and this is one of his best.

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Fog (1980)

Can’t have Halloween without some John Carpenter movies. Though instead of starting off with the obvious I threw in one of my favorite ghost stories ever filmed. The Fog follows the inhabitants of a small coastal town called Antonio Bay. They are celebrating their one hundredth anniversary with a statue to the town founders. Things take a supernatural turn when a mysterious fog rolls in the night before the big event. Inside that fog is something that is angry and killing anyone that crosses their path. This includes some fishermen out on their boat. But that isn’t all that happens.

In one of the creepiest scenes in the movie we get a montage of spooky happenings like all the pay phones ringing at once, lights turning on by themselves, bottles rattling for no reason, and a lot full of used cars suddenly honking their horns. Oh yeah and the windows in our hero’s truck suddenly blow out for no reason. Scares the heck out of him and the lovely lady hitchhiker he has picked up. The next night the fog rolls into and over Antonio Bay and more people are chased and killed by the figures who emerge from it. Much of this action is narrated by our local radio show host Stevie Wayne, who by the end is the only one with power and a good vantage point to let everyone know where the fog is and where it might be safe to hide.

This is another of those classic horror movies that I expect most people have already seen. But if you haven’t then please let me convince you to rectify that situation with all due haste. After starting off with a cool ghost story around the fire told by an old ship captain, played by John Houseman, we jump into the action. Things go sideways in the town with all the spooky stuff I mentioned above. This sort of sets the plate for the main course of vengeful ghosts. From here the plot shifts between us seeing the ghosts killing the townsfolk and the local reverend reading a journal that he discovered in the walls of the church. The bodies pile up as the characters discover why it is happening. Won’t spoil that for you but needless to say they have a reason to be angry!

Doesn’t matter how good your story is if you don’t have the cast to execute it. Our leads are Elizabeth and Nick, the previously mentioned passengers of the now windowless pickup truck. They are played by Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis with one of them being very good. Atkins plays his normal tough guy part and is great. But I’ve never thought that Curtis put much effort into her role. I get the feeling that she is just phoning it in here. Though in her defense maybe there just wasn’t much written for her character. I do think it was cool seeing her work with her mother Janet Leigh (Psycho) who plays a town bigwig. Adrienne Barbeau kills it as the radio host Stevie Wayne who has a huge role, but I don’t think appears with any of the other characters with the exception of her character’s son.

These Ghosts are mad and have swords!
The special effects are decent, but don’t expect a bloodbath. In the Carpenter spectrum, this is more Halloween with implied gore than it is The Thing. The ghosts look good cloaked in the fog, but their kills are mostly off-screen. This fits well because the Fog isn’t the kind of movie that is going to give you explicit gore or put the creatures in your face. Here it is way more effective to let the audience fill in those blanks.

This movie has aged well and keeps surprising me with the new little touches that I notice each time I watch it. Let me give you an example. After that burst of noise, punctuated by the car horns the Fog is silent. Pay attention to how little ambient noise is present in the background. Now when things are over and justice served pay attention to the characters walking out of the church. You hear a dog barking. Everything is back to normal. That is amazing filmmaking and why I highly recommend The Fog.

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer