Archive for the Man vs. Nature Category

In The Spooklight: TARANTULA! (1955)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2013, Atomic Accidents, Classic Films, Giant Spiders, In the Spooklight, Insect Horror, Mad Doctors!, Man vs. Nature, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on July 17, 2013 by knifefighter

NOTE: This is a reprint of a column which originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2012.  If you enjoy this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at, and as a print edition at  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks! —Michael

By Michael Arruda

tarantula_movie_poster_artDon’t you just love furry little critters like— tarantulas?  No?  Find them a bit scary and repulsive, do you?  Well, then you’ll just cringe at the colossal star of Universal’s TARANTULA (1955), a spider so big it can step on a house! 

TARANTULA is one of the best giant monster movies from the 1950s.  It’s certainly the finest one produced by Universal Studios.

Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) is called to the coroner’s office in the small town of Desert Rock, Arizona, by his friend Sheriff Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva) to investigate the death of a man found in the desert.  The victim resembles a man they know, Eric Jacobs, but his facial features are swollen and contorted.  Hastings believes Jacobs’ symptoms resemble the disease acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland, but this doesn’t make sense to Hastings since the disease takes years to develop and Jacobs wasn’t showing any symptoms just days before.

When Jacobs’ employer, the eminent Professor Gerald Deemer, (Leo G. Carroll), arrives, he insists that Jacobs was indeed suffering from acromegaly, and he refuses to allow an autopsy on the body.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Hastings, who finds the diagnosis wrong, and Deemer’s behavior baffling.

Yep, Deemer is the town’s resident mad scientist, and he lives just outside Desert Rock in a huge mansion, complete with a laboratory full of oversized animals in cages, including a tarantula the size of a dog.  When yet another malformed insane human attacks Professor Deemer, the laboratory is set on fire and destroyed, but not before the tarantula escapes from the house.  This hideous human also injects an unconscious Deemer with some unknown drug, before collapsing and dying himself.

Later, when a new assistant arrives in town to work for Professor Deemer, the beautiful Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday), Matt Hastings accompanies her to Deemer’s place, where he learns all about the professor’s research.  Professor Deemer is attempting to stamp out world hunger by using atomic energy to create a “super” food nutrient, which he has injected into various animals, and as a result they have grown in size.  Hmm.  Supersized fried chicken!  Yummy!

Deemer tells Steve and Matt that his lab was destroyed in an accidental fire, and he believes all his caged animals were killed.  He doesn’t realize that his tarantula is free in the desert growing bigger by the minute.  When next seen, the spider is gigantic, the size of a house, and it’s hungry, eating everything in its path, including horses, farms animals, and people.

Eventually, the giant tarantula sets its hairy sights on Desert Rock, and suddenly the town has to scramble to defend itself against the humongous marauding arachnid.

TARANTULA is one of my favorite giant monster movies.  First off, the screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley presents a story that is more creative than most.  There’s more going on in TARANTULA than just the basic “giant bug on the loose” storyline.  There’s all the mystery surrounding Professor Deemer’s research, and the strange misshapen men lumbering in and around his property, which adds some genuine intrigue to the story.  Screenwriter Berkeley also penned the screenplay for two other Universal monster classics, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957).

Director Jack Arnold, who directed several genre movies, including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), is at the top of his game with TARANTULA.  He creates some memorable scenes.  One of my favorites occurs at night at a farm, when suddenly a group of horses begins to grow very nervous.  In the distance we see a darkened hill, and very slowly, onto that hill from the other side, creeps the massive tarantula.  It’s one hair-raising scene!

Another effective scene has Steve walking back and forth in her bedroom, not noticing the enormous tarantula through her window as it makes its way towards the house.  She doesn’t notice until the beast is on top of the house, literally!

And the tarantula looks terrific, as it’s menacing and scary.  I’m sure the special effects team was helped by the black and white photography, because with shades of light and dark, the tarantula fits into its scenes naturally and realistically.  The special effects team did a phenomenal job in this one.

The make-up on the acromegaly victims was done by Bud Westmore, and it reminds me a lot of the work he did on ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953) and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958), as his monstrous creations in both these movies resemble the folks in the desert in TARANTULA.

There’s also an effective music score by Herman Stein.

The cast is decent enough.  Though I’m not a huge fan of John Agar, his performance in TARANTULA is one of his best. He makes his Dr. Matt Hastings a very likeable fellow, and rarely has he seemed more natural in front of the camera.  I just want to know what he keeps inside his briefcase.  It must be valuable, because young dashing Dr. Hastings doesn’t go anywhere without it, even grabbing it before he runs out the door!

Playing Sheriff Andrews is character actor Nestor Paiva, who appeared in a ton of movies and TV shows over the years.  I’ll always remember him as Lucas, the captain of the Rita in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955).

Leo G. Carroll, another veteran of movies and television, is also very good as Professor Deemer.  Carroll appeared in many Alfred Hitchcock movies, including NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) and SPELLBOUND (1945), and he played Alexander Waverly on the 1960s secret agent show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968).

And for added fun, Clint Eastwood appears unbilled in one of his first roles as an air force pilot leading the attack on the tarantula, arriving just in time to save the folks of Desert Rock from the deadly arachnid.

Do you feel lucky, tarantula?”


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda



Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Animals Attack, Art Movies, Based on a bestselling book, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, CGI, Fantasy, International Cast, Man vs. Nature, Visually Stunning Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on January 11, 2013 by knifefighter

LIFE OF PI (2012)
Movie Review by William D. Carl


Ang Lee’s film version of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, Life of Pi, is nothing short of miraculous.  The director who introduced most Americans to the beauty and grace of martial arts films in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) and took on gay cowboys in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005) has achieved a nearly impossible task in filming Martel’s masterpiece.  The novel is a gorgeous rumination on storytelling, truth, God, and our place within God’s universe,  hidden within the guise of an adventure novel.  Lee has managed to film this adventure story without losing any of the beauty or depth of Martel’s musings.  It’s a tricky move, and it could be Ang Lee’s best film.

A young writer visits a middle-aged Indian man, Pi (Irrfan Khan of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, 2005 and  THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN, 2012), after hearing he has a story that will make him ‘believe in God.’  Pi fixes him dinner, walks with him, and relates his tale…the story of how he came to Canada and how he became the man he is today.

Piscine (pronounced pissing) Patel (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma) changed his name at an early age to Pi, for obvious reasons.  Growing up in India within his father’s zoo, he communes with the animals while learning about God.  Throughout his youth, he becomes a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim, never understanding how the various religions contradict each other; he only sees the ways they work in conjunction.  Through this process, his idea of God becomes very real and very different from most people’s concept of a higher being.  He falls in love with a young dancer at the same time his father decides to move the family to Canada.  They will transport the animals from the zoo on a steamer ship and sell them to start a new life.

Pi and "Richard Parker" circle one another in LIFE OF PI.

Pi and “Richard Parker” circle one another in LIFE OF PI.

During the crossing, a horrific storm destroys the ship, killing everyone and leaving Pi alone on a 26 foot lifeboat with a crippled zebra, an orangutan, and a 400 pound Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker (the same name as a cannibalized character in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Case of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, “who survived a shipwreck only to be eaten by the men on a raft).  Richard Parker makes short work of the other animals and turns his hungry eyes upon our hero, Pi.  Most of the film involves the grudging respect each of these characters form for each other, with a brief detour on a deadly carnivorous island in the shape of the Lying Vishnu, the Destroyer.  Pi  raves against God, accepts the world as it is, becomes disappointed, marvels at the world’s wonders (including a stunning scene where a whale breaches above his boat after chasing bioluminescent plankton), and eventually survives the ordeal (obviously, since he is relating it to the writer.)

The ship sinks.

The ship sinks.

But here’s where everything gets truly interesting.  How much of Pi’s story is true and how much is created in his brain?  Does the truth make it a better story, or is the story good on its own terms?  These are questions not easily answered, and the ending is challenging, especially to modern viewers who like everything spelled out for them in twenty foot letters.  But it retains the amorphous truth of the novel beautifully, and we are left to form our own opinions about truth and the beauty of a story.

Speaking of beauty, LIFE OF PI is the most beautiful film I have seen since THE LAST EMPEROR (1987).   Every single frame sparkles as if encrusted with jewels.  The colors are so vibrant, they create a 3D effect, and the depth of vision in the 3D version is astonishing.  This isn’t used for shock effect, but for a clear depth of vision that really puts you into a life boat on that sea that seems to stretch out forever.  The cinematography by Claudio Miranda (CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, 2008 and TRON: LEGACY, 2010) is never short of dazzling.  In India, the world appears as though a memory, an impossibly beautiful world.  The carnivorous island is a relief after so much ocean, but the danger is always there beneath the surface.  In the scenes where Pi  speaks with the writer, the photography is flat, normal, dull, reinforcing the theme of storytelling as an art, as an act of beauty and creation.

A whale dives overhead.

A whale dives overhead.

As for the much-discussed special effects, they are certainly special in every way.  At no point does the viewer wonder if Richard Parker or the other animals are CGI.  They are as real as Pi himself.  Every hair, every nostril flare, every drop of water is so real as to be hyper-realistic.  It’s an amazing feat, and I believe it will win the Oscar for special effects.  Rarely do special effects blend so realistically into the rest of the film as to become unnoticeable.

Another beautiful image from LIFE OF PI.

Another beautiful image from LIFE OF PI.

LIFE OF PI can be a heady brew for some with all of its references to various religions, deities, works of literature etc.  It is also a grand adventure in the old fashioned Robert Louis Stevenson vein, suspenseful and often terrifying.  How Ang Lee intertwines these two facets of the story make for one of the most brilliant and astonishing films of the year.  It’s a nearly perfect jewel of a movie.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

This Year’s Christmas Turkey Review: BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Animals Attack, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a True Story, CGI, Cult Movies, Disaster Films, Horror, Indie Horror, Just Plain Bad, Man vs. Nature, Message Movies, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on December 25, 2012 by knifefighter

A Special Christmas Day Movie Review

Review By L.L. Soares


Ever since PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), started showing up on critics’ “Worst Movies of all Time” lists, people have been on the lookout for comparable bad cinema, and it’s not hard to find.  But movies that are truly bad and yet very entertaining aren’t always so forthcoming. In recent years, we’ve seen some great examples of “So Bad It’s Good” cinema with films like TROLL 2 (1990) and Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003).

For the past year or two, I’ve been hearing a lot about BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010) and how it deserves a place in the bad movie pantheon. I’ve been reluctant to check it out for some reason (what could be better than THE ROOM?), but figured that the time had come to finally subject myself to this one. And, it actually does a good job living up to its hype. It’s certainly bad, and yet it’s also quite enjoyably bad.

Directed by James Nguyen (who also wrote the screenplay), BIRDEMIC is what he calls a “romantic thriller,” in that the movie really starts out like a romantic film, but, as it progresses, the “thriller” elements make themselves known. In this case, the thriller elements amount to a low-budget “homage” to Alfred Hitchock’s classic, THE BIRDS, but with only birds of prey (eagles, hawks, falcons) involved.

The film begins by introducing us to Rod (Alan Bagh), a telemarketer who is waiting for that big day when someone buys the company he works for a fortune, and he can cash in his stock options and retire young.  The thing is, Rod has a little trouble expressing his emotions, because he talks in the same monotone whether he is talking about stock options or declaring his love for someone (do you think it could be the fault of Bagh’s awful acting?). This guy just doesn’t show enthusiasm or passion very well.

So, his job is going well (and guess what company gets bought up by a rich parent company soon afterwards?), but Rod is lonely. One day, while eating breakfast in his usual diner, he notices that a girl at another table, Natalie (Whitney Moore), looks familiar and goes to meet her outside after she leaves. He gives her the line, “Don’t I know you from someplace?” and immediately your eyes will start rolling in your head, except she says, “Hey, yeah, you do look familiar.” Turns out they went to high school together, where she was pretty and popular, and he was probably invisible (she has no clue they were in the same English class back then).

Natalie is now a fashion model, and at first it looks like Rod is irritating her, but she soon gives him her number and suddenly shows interest. He says he’ll call her.

When his dream of early retirement becomes a reality, Natalie is the first person Rod calls (while he seems to be friendly with a guy at his job, I guess he doesn’t have a lot of friends). They go out to dinner and find themselves falling for each other. This is the romance part of the film.

About 30 minutes in, however, something goes wrong. After a chaste few dates, they decide to finally go to a motel together (although she leaves her underwear on and he’s fully dressed in their “love scene”). When they wake up the next day (still in their clothes!), there are birds screeching outside their window, trying to get in.

What the hell is going on? It seems that some of the world’s birds have suddenly turned deadly. The reason that most of the characters in this movie give for this scary turn of events is global warming. In fact, before the birds show up, Rod and Natalie double-date with another couple and go to the movies. What do they see? The Al Gore documentary AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006). Not very heavy-handed, is it?

Rod and Natalie wait until the birds go away before they leave the motel room. They find another couple downstairs who have survived as well and, armed only with clothes hangers, somehow make it to a SUV alive and drive away.  The birds hover above, constantly screeching. We never see them actually bite anyone, but after they hover around you long enough, you’ll end up on the ground, bleeding. Probably with your eyes poked out. Scary stuff!

With a seemingly unlimited supply of ammunition, the survivors drive around, shooting at the birds, hitting a lot of them (they spurt blood and drop to the ground, kind of like in a video game). Eventually they save two kids whose parents have been killed by the birds, and they just drive around, trying to figure out what to do next, and where to go. But nowhere seems safe.

Along the way, they try to save people in trouble. One particularly hilarious scene involves a double-decker bus where the birds have trapped some passengers who are screaming for help. Our heroes stop and Rod starts shooting at the birds (they just start shooting in the direction of the bus, but somehow don’t break any of the windows or hurt any of the people inside), while some of the others go inside to grab the people in there and pull them out. Turns out they were better off inside the bus. Once outside, the people who have been “saved” get splashed with some kind of liquid by the birds (bird poop?) and start to scream and disintegrate as if they’ve been doused with acid. So much for saving the day!

Sometimes you just shouldn't get out of the bus. Just asking these unlucky souls from BIRDEMIC.

Sometimes you just shouldn’t get out of the bus. Just ask these unlucky souls from BIRDEMIC.

We’re also never sure how many people are left in the world. Most of the time, Rod and Natalie and their “friends” drive around empty highways with no signs of other people. We think they’re the last people left on Earth. Then they’ll be parked somewhere, and we’ll see tons of cars driving by in the distance (oops!). So is this the end of the world or not??

Another funny scene involves them getting to a gas station where a guy who can barely speak English tells them that because of the gas shortage it will cost them a hundred dollars a gallon! Instead of just shooting the guy, they pay him, but drive away in the middle of pumping the gas when some birds show up. Soon afterwards, a guy in a cowboy hat (Joe Teixeira) pretends to have car trouble. When they pull over to help him, he holds them up, pointing a gun and demanding their gas. Rod goes in the back to get an extra gas container. The guy takes it and is immediately killed by a low-flying bird that slits his throat with its beak. He drops the container of gas and—instead of grabbing it and putting it back in the car—Rod just leaves it there and runs back to the driver’s seat and drives away. Maybe five minutes later, they run out of gas! Duh!

They stop at a few places, and this gives them a chance to hear some words of wisdom, as cheesy characters pop out of nowhere to pontificate about the consequences of global warming. These include a doctor wearing a surgical mask named Dr. Jones (Rick Camp), who goes on to explain what’s going on (that global warming crap again). Later, they come across a character called “the Treehugger” (Stephen Gustavson), some weird hippie guy who lives in a treehouse up in some redwoods and who speaks for the trees (what is he, the Lorax?).

If they hover around you and screech for ten minutes, you are probably doomed.

If they hover around you and screech for ten minutes, you are probably doomed.

The acting is just short of abysmal. Whitney Moore as Natalie is easily the most talented one here. But male lead Alan Bagh as Rod is just laughably bad in every scene he’s in. Even funnier is an interview on the disk (one of the extras) where director James Nguyen speaks glowingly to a (really bad) interviewer on cable access television about how good BIRDEMIC is. You just know that after it became a cult classic for being so bad, he probably went the Tommy Wiseau route, declaring that he made the movie so bad on purpose. That it was meant to be a comedy. But here, in this interview, Nguyen is pretty serious and talks as if BIRDEMIC is a really important message movie.

Oh yeah, and there is an appearance by a big-name actor in this one. It’s Tippi Hedren in some footage from an earlier James Nguyen movie, JULIE AND JACK (2003), that is used again here in a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment. How’s that for star power? The thing is, I watched the movie twice, and I still can’t tell you where the scene is.

With bad acting, lame-ass gunfire (it’s obvious the guns are fake and little CGI blasts show up around the nozzles when they’re fired, along with sound effects), really pathetic CGI birds (the screeching alone will drive you mad) and a script that gives you more belly laughs than life lessons, BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR  is a completely inept, but thoroughly entertaining, journey in the land of truly awful cinema.

And if you’re good in 2013, Santa might just bring you a special treat called BIRDEMIC 2: THE RESURRECTION, which is rumored to be coming out next year.

What are you waiting for? Go check this one out. As William Carl would say in his “Bill’s Bizarre Bijou” column, “You won’t believe your eyes!” Especially if they’re pecked out by CGI birds.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

Coming to an abandoned theater near you in 2013.

Coming to an abandoned theater near you in 2013.

Cinema Knife Fight: THE GREY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Animals Attack, Cinema Knife Fights, Disaster Films, Man vs. Nature with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A vast snowy wasteland. L.L. SOARES is warming his hands by a crackling fire, while a wolf turns on a spit. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks disgusted)

MA: Do we really have to eat a wolf? It smells awful!

LS: Are you kidding? I’ve got a bottle of STUBB’S Real Texas barbecue sauce right here. It makes any meat taste great.

MA: How’s it on skunk?  Anyway, what are you doing with a bottle of barbecue sauce in the middle of Alaska? Are we doing commercials now?

LS: Hell, I bring it everywhere! Makes meat taste better. You’re lucky I’m not eating YOU after that big plane crash.

MA: And that’s supposed to make me feel better?  Just make sure you fill your gut with plenty of wolf meat so you satisfy that voracious appetite of yours.

LS: I dunno.  This cold air is making me plenty hungry.

MA:  That’s what I’m afraid of.  We’ll just find you a nice supply of berries, nuts, and pine cones.

LS:  I’m not eating that crap!

MA:  Put some of that magical barbecue sauce on it, and it’ll taste just fine.  You said it makes everything taste great.

LS:  No, I said it makes any meat taste great!

MA: Anyway, how about we get off the subject of food, and you take a break from cooking and start our review of the new Liam Neeson movie, THE GREY?

LS: Okay.

THE GREY is a movie about a team of guys in Alaska who are working for an oil drilling corporation. Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a guy who was hired to shoot wolves if they get too close to the workers. He and a bunch of other guys take a plane to Anchorage for some R&R and it crashes.

MA: Yeah, that crash scene is pretty intense.  I loved the way it was shot, entirely from the inside of the plane, so you’re feeling like you’re right there with the passengers, and we’re spared any potential fake-looking CGI planes crashing into the ice.  It’s a riveting sequence that takes full advantage of people’s fear of plane crashes.

LS: Yes, it is rather intense, isn’t it? I thought the crash was very well done.

Anyway, after the crash, Ottway wakes up in the middle of nowhere, covered in snow. He goes over the next hill and sees the plane in pieces and only a few guys alive after the crash.

There are bodies everywhere, and Ottway, being an expert in the local animals, takes charge and instructs everyone in what to do to stay alive. Some of the people question his authority, until the wolves start hovering around.

The movie becomes a quest for survival, as Ottway and the rest of the survivors struggle to stay alive. Knowing that the chances of a search party finding them are slim, they decide to keep moving. This entails not only keeping an eye out for vicious wolves, but also struggling to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures, and trying to maneuver through knee-high snow (with blizzards on the way). It’s rough going, and even though these guys survived the plane crash, there is no guarantee they are going to live to see civilization again, especially with those wolves constantly on the edges of the darkness, waiting to pick them off, one by one.

I really like Liam Neeson, and he’s been on an action movie roll lately, with starring roles in films like this one, and TAKEN (2008) and UNKNOWN (2011). Neeson is starting to become a one-man industry all by himself, regularly turning out interesting action movies. Sort of like another entertaining actor, Nicolas Cage.

MA:  I tend to enjoy Neeson a bit more than Cage, but I think you’re dead-on about Neeson becoming a one-man industry.  People I talk to always cite Neeson as one of their favorite actors, and I know the theater I was in last night was packed.  I’m guessing they were Liam Neeson fans.  It’s not like this movie had a lot of hype or an amazing trailer.  If anything, the trailer was rather boring.

LS:  Yeah, I didn’t think much of the trailer for THE GREY and I was bummed out that we had to see this one. I went into that theater with zero expectations.

MA:  Me, too.  I was ready to call THE GREY, “The Blah.”

LS:  I just expected another by-the-numbers action movie. But I was completely wrong. THE GREY was something completely different. And it captured my imagination.

MA:  Ditto.  I really didn’t think I was going to like this movie, but I ended up liking it a lot.  And again, I have to agree with you about it capturing the imagination.  That’s what made this movie work so well.  It really was a step above your standard action movie, thanks largely in part to a well-written script by Joe Carnahan, who also directed, and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, based on a short story by Jeffers called “Ghost Walkers.”

LS: Carnahan is a pretty interesting director. He gave us some quirky action/crime flicks in the past, like NARC (2002) and SMOKIN’ ACES (2006). He also directed the recent movie version of THE A-TEAM (2010)— which also featured Neesom in the ensemble cast. Carnahan does a terrific job with THE GREY.

(FROSTY THE SNOWMAN approaches the guys)

FROSTY: Hey guys, I’m really c-c-cold out here. Mind if I come sit by your fire?

LS: Sure thing, Frosty, take a load off.

MA: Is that really a smart idea?

FROSTY: What do you mean? Are you trying to say you don’t want me to join you guys?

MA: No, no, not at all. It’s just that you’re made of snow and….

FROSTY (sits down next to fire): Ahhhhh! This is the life.

(FROSTY promptly falls asleep.)

MA: You know he’s not going to last the night.

LS: Are you kidding. He won’t last the hour! I just added a lot more kindling to the fire. Frosty isn’t the brightest bulb in the tulip patch.

(MA and LS laugh)

MA: Ultimately, THE GREY is about death and how we face it.  As you would imagine, in a movie about a small group of plane crash survivors stranded in the brutally frozen Alaska wilderness, hunted by a pack of wolves that are upset because these survivors have landed too close to their den, there’s a lot of death scenes in this movie, and so there is ample opportunity to address how people deal with death.

It gets into faith in God vs. faith in the here and now, and a recurring theme is not being afraid of death.  It’s about meeting death on your own terms, because you know what?  It’s inevitable.

LS: It also washes over you like a warm wave, if Neeson’s character is to be believed. He tells a character this early on who is about to die.

MA: Yes, early on in the film, there’s a scene where one of the survivors is bleeding out, and Neeson’s Ottway tells him straight out, you’re going to die. Ottway then guides him, in the gentlest yet confident way, to his death, asking him who he loves and telling him to let that person take him to where he’s going.  It’s a poignant scene, and sets the stage, thematically, for the rest of the movie.

LS:  It is a poignant scene. And not what you’re expecting when you sit down to watch an action movie. I have to admit, that I really started to care about these characters, especially Ottway, as the movie continued.

Another thing about Neeson is, the movie opens with his character trudging through the snow at night, and a voiceover where he’s talking to us. Normally, I hate that kind of thing, but when Neeson does it, it’s strangely reassuring. Like “this is a Liam Neeson movie, and you’re in good hands now.”

Along with Neeson, there are some great performances by Frank Grillo (some people may remember him from TV shows like PRISON BREAK and he was the father on the short-lived, but pretty good, supernatural series THE GATES)—in THE GREY he plays a hard-ass ex-con named Diaz who is Ottway’s nemesis for a lot of the movie, and he steals several of the scenes—and Dallas Roberts (from shows like THE GOOD WIFE and the AMC series RUBICON) as Hendrick. The supporting cast is actually quite good here, but it’s clear from the start that Neeson is the main attraction.

MA:  I liked those two guys a lot, too.  I also enjoyed Dermot Mulroney as Talget.  The scene where Talget, a man who is afraid of heights, has to cross a high cliff on a wire to reach the tall trees for safety, is another exercise in intensity, well-executed by both the actor and the director.

LS: That is a great scene. This movie is full of them. Scenes that could have been generic action sequences, but because of character idiosyncrasies or fears, they’ve been turned into something more personal.

MA: Joe Anderson is also memorable as Flannery, a guy who seems to have a negative comment about everything and quickly gets on his fellow survivor’s nerves.  Anderson was even more memorable as Deputy Russell in THE CRAZIES (2010).

I liked that for the most part, these actors were unrecognizable.  It added to the believability of this tale.

LS: Yeah, I really could not identify who they were until the end credits rolled. Aside from Neeson, nobody looks very familiar here.

MA: And speaking of believability, I agree with you that Neeson is the main attraction, mostly because he is so believable.  After the crash, Neeson’s Ottway immediately takes charge, and like the audience, several of the survivors initially question why Ottway is qualified to lead them. Ottway professes his knowledge of wolves and survival, and Neeson makes us believe every word and action that comes from this guy.

LS: Yeah, at first some of the other guys are like, “Who the hell are you to tell us what to do?” But it’s gradually clear that he’s the only one who really knows what he’s doing, and Neeson does seem like a natural born leader.

MA: There’s a great scene where Diaz challenges Ottway, and Ottway decks him and knocks him on his ass, and he gets in his face and tells him straight out that he is not going to put up with his crap.  It’s a commanding moment, and Neeson pulls it off without a shred of doubt.

LS:   Yeah, not only is Ottway the smartest guy in the group, he can also kick ass when he needs to.

My one complaint about THE GREY is that the movie does move a little slow in spots. A few scenes seem to last a bit longer than they should. But, as it progressed and developed its own odd rhythm, it really won me over.

MA:  Yep, there were some slow parts.

LS: Even the way it’s paced isn’t like a normal action movie.

I found the odyssey of these guys in their struggle for survival to be really compelling. I also found some of the more personal moments involving Neeson’s character to be especially moving, since they deal with the character’s loss of his wife, something that Neeson experienced himself not too long ago in real life (his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, died in 2009 after a skiing accident). The scenes where Neeson thinks back about his wife really have a strong kick to them. You believe that he is a man in pain. In fact, at the beginning of the movie, before the plane crash stuff even happens, Ottway contemplates suicide. And yet, when they’re struggling to stay alive in the aftermath of the crash, Ottway is also the one guy who most desperately clings to staying alive.

As the movie progressed, it drew me more and more into the story of these characters. And by the end, I really grew to like this movie a lot.

MA:  Same here.  Like you, I really enjoyed  Ottway’s personal story, and I thought Neeson handled this terrifically.  Although I liked Neeson in UNKNOWN a lot, I thought his performance here was better, deeper, and richer.  He makes so many movies we tend to forget just how good an actor this guy can be.

As much as I liked the entire package of THE GREY, I found myself liking Neeson the most. But the whole film is great.  Director Joe Carnahan creates several memorable scenes in this movie.  The aforementioned crash scene is about as riveting a crash scene I’ve watched in a long time.

I loved the sequence where they have to cross over the cliff to the pine trees on a makeshift line. The scene where Hendrick falls into the river is another nail-biter.  And then, pretty much any scene where the wolves were involved.

LS:  The scenes with the wolves are well done, and suspenseful. You never know when they are going to strike. They almost take on a supernatural aspect as the film progresses, as if they’re everywhere.

And that scene with Hendrick in the icy river – man! That might just be the most intense scene in the whole movie.

MA:  I liked the look of the wolves in this one.  They looked much better than the CGI werewolves we’ve seen in the movies the past few years.  Sure, one of the reasons they look so good is the scenes they’re in are so damn scary, but another reason is we hardly ever see them clearly.  We see them at night, or in the snow, or in a mist, and this isn’t a cop-out, but an effective use of special effects to really make the wolves a credible threat in this movie.

LS: Yeah, you won’t soon forget those glowing eyes in the darkness. And you’re right. The wolves in this one are scarier and more threatening than anything in the TWILIGHT Saga, or the latest UNDERWORLD flick we just saw. This is the way scary wolves should be done!

MA: The wolf scenes are genuinely unnerving.  I really believed the men’s lives were in danger from these animals, and I found myself looking behind these guys, expecting a wolf to come out at any moment.  The wolf scenes in this film were that good.

(Behind MA & LS, run a pack of WOLVES followed by a SHEEP.)

SHEEP:  Wait up guys!  Are we there yet?

WOLF:  It’s right around the corner.

SHEEP:  I’m starving. What’s on the menu?

WOLF:  You— I mean, you’ll see.  (to LS):  Hey mister, can we borrow your barbecue sauce?

LS:  Are you kidding me?  Have you seen what I’m roasting?

WOLF:  Gulp!  Forget I asked.

(WOLVES flee, followed by the SHEEP)

SHEEP:  Wait up guys!  Hey, was that man back there roasting a wolf?  That sounds good!  (Looks at camera and smiles, revealing rows of mega-sharp silver teeth.)  What?  You think all sheep are herbivores?  Think again!  (Exits)

MA: That was freaky.

LS:  Well, it’s time for us to give our ratings. By the end of this film, it had won me over completely. I give THE GREY ~ three and a half knives.

MA:  I liked this one a lot too, and enjoyed it from beginning to end.  That being said, I wasn’t overly crazy about the ending.  It was a little bleak.

LS: There you go again with your “I can’t stand bleak endings” attitude.  What a wuss.  Here.  Put these on.  (Puts a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on MA’s head.)  Go smile and wave at little kids.

MA:  I didn’t hate the ending.  I just wasn’t crazy about it.  I’d go on, but I don’t want to give anything away.

LS:  That’s good, because I don’t’ want to talk about the ending too much either, but I will say that what happens stays true to the movie up to that point. This isn’t an easy movie where everything magically falls into place. There’s a certain honesty to it—another thing that sets it apart from your typical action movie. And the ending harkens back to a poem Ottway’s father had written when he was a kid and that he knew by heart.

A lot of the movie was like this—little powerful moments spread out throughout the journey—just a really good script.

MA:  And the title of the movie, THE GREY, aptly describes the tone and themes of this film.  THE GREY is rather gloomy, albeit exciting.

But all in all, like you, I liked THE GREY a lot, and I’m giving it three knives.  I almost gave this one three and a half knives, but the dreariness factor prevented me from doing so.

LS:  I still say you’re a wuss, Mickey.  Anyway, we done?  I’m hungry.

MA:  Yeah, we’re done.  How’s that wolf coming along?  Well-done enough for you?

LS:  Dammit!  I got so carried away with the review I forgot to check on the wolf.  It’s burnt!  Oh well, lucky thing I got my STUBB’S.

MA (steps in a puddle): Where did this come from? I almost slipped in that mud.

LS: That is our good friend Frosty!

MA (laughs): Here, have a pine cone appetizer (tosses him a pine cone)

Well, folks, that’s it for now.  We’ll see you next week with a review of another new movie.

LS:  I wonder if you can smoke this thing?  (Lights pine cone and takes a puff.)

Not bad!


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE GREY ~ THREE knives!

LL Soares gives THE GREY~THREE AND A HALF knives.