Archive for the Scares! 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 www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks! —Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
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?”

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

DARK SKIES (2013)

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Enigmatic Films, Medical Experiments!, Paranormal, Scares!, UFOs with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DARK SKIES (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: The back yard of a small, unassuming house in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. MICHAEL ARRUDA is standing in front of a grill, with an apron that says “Kiss the Chef!” He is flipping burgers, while L.L. SOARES is drinking a beer and talking to some of the guys. We realize they are the only two humans at the cookout, as the rest of the guests are tall, gray alien beings. Oh yeah, and it’s the middle of winter, and there’s snow on the ground.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA (his teeth chattering): This cookout idea really seems to be a success.

L.L. SOARES: I hardly notice the snow at all.

MA: And there’s another big storm coming.

LS: When is winter going to be over already?

ALIEN 1: Hi guys, we’re having a lot of fun. Can I have another hot dog?

MA: Sure! (puts a hot dog in a bun and hands the paper plate to the alien). Here you go.

LS: So I guess we should get started on the review?

MA: I need to get more burgers to cook, and throw on another winter coat. Can you start this one?

LS: Sure.

(MA goes back into the house. LS looks around at all the creepy aliens, who have suddenly turned in his direction)

LS: The movie this week is DARK SKIES.

ALIEN 1: I was wondering if that was any good.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, my kids really want to see that one. How was it?

ALIEN 1: Yeah, tell us more.

LS: Well, this one is brought to us by some of the same producers who gave us the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and INSIDIOUS (2010), so right off the bat, you can kind of tell what you’re in for. Yet another movie where people in suburbia are tormented by unseen forces. Except this time, instead of the house being haunted by ghosts or demons, the creatures involved are…aliens from outer space!

(ALIENS hoot and holler, pumping their fists in the air)

MA (returns from house and puts more burgers on the grill.): And that’s one of the bigger drawbacks of this one, that we’ve seen this all before The style of filmmaking, quiet scenes in a dark house in the middle of the night, where the audience is just waiting for something unexpected or creepy to happen, is already getting old and repetitive.

LS: The family this time around consists of dad Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton, who was previously in the TV series THIRD WATCH and was in Clint Eastwood’s film, J. EDGAR, 2011), an architect who has been out of work for a while, and the pressure is starting to build. He’s gone on a few job interviews, but hasn’t had any luck so far, and the bills keep coming in (but he hides them from his wife). His wife, Lacy (Keri Russell, who most people will remember from the TV series FELICITY, from 1998 to 2002, which pretty much made her a star, and she’s currently on the new and interesting Cold War drama THE AMERICANS on the FX Channel, where’s she’s been really good), is a real estate agent. She tries to remain cheery and supportive throughout this crisis. They have two kids, Jesse (Dakota Goyo), who is 13, feels completely misunderstood, and is discovering girls, and Sam (Kadan Rockett), who is half his brother’s age, and very sensitive to everything going on around him.

MA: Dakota Goyo is the same kid that was in REAL STEEL (2011), the silly robot movie starring Hugh Jackman, which played like ROCKY meets the TRANSFORMERS.

LS: I thought he looked familiar! But I seriously didn’t remember him from REAL STEEL while I was watching DARK SKIES, which might be a good thing, because I thought Goyo played it wincingly, overly cute in that one. Nice to see him turn in a more low-key, believable performance here. Maybe the kid is actually growing as an actor.

Anyway, when things start getting weird, it’s Lacy who finds the signs. First, when she wakes up in the middle of the night to find the kitchen a mess, food strewn all over the floor.

(MA looks down at the ground to see discarded burgers, hot dogs, paper plates, and napkins all over the place.)

MA:  It’s easy to see how that happened.   I guess these gray aliens never heard of garbage cans.

Dark-Skies

LS: A few nights later, she wakes up, goes downstairs, and finds the kitchen in some kind of “ritualistic” state, with all of the appliances and other objects stacked in huge, intricate columns, forming geometric shadows on the ceiling. It appears that someone is breaking into their house late at night to do these things.

They try several different ways to solve what’s happening. First, they call the police, but the cop (Josh Stamberg) who arrives seems dead set on the idea that the kids must be behind it, acting out any “issues” they might have with their parents. He suggests they reactivate their burglar alarm (which they let lapse, due to the bills), and they do, but it just adds to the confusion, going off at all hours of the night, with no clear reason. Daniel eventually installs some video cameras throughout the house. And that’s when the movie really gets into PARANORMAL ACTVITY mode. Every day he checks the film, and he starts noticing that certain times at night, around 3:00AM to be exact, the cameras start to malfunction for a few minutes. He’s finally able to get some kind of handle on what’s going on, and it looks like someone might be getting into the house (although the images are blurry and hard to decipher).

MA: I had to laugh during these scenes because he camps out in front of the computer monitor to watch the footage.  Why? He falls asleep anyway and plays back the footage in the morning Why not just go to bed? Why does he have to sit in front of the computer? It’s not like he’s standing guard.

LS: You’re right! It’s just an excuse for him to sit there, in front of a bank of video screens, all night. What’s the point, when he falls asleep anyway?

But there are other manifestations as well. Members of the family are found in weird trances. They have blackouts where they don’t know what happened for large chunks of time. The kids have weird bruises on their bodies (which other people assume the parents are responsible for). Birds fly into the windows of their house, killing themselves for no apparent reason. Lacy does some research online and they find a supposed expert on the subject, Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons who was so great as Schillinger on the HBO series OZ, and has since appeared in tons of things, most notably as J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies). Pollard tells them he knows exactly what they’re going through, because it happened to him as well….

For some inexplicable reason, aliens have randomly chosen them, and they are making their lives a living hell. The Barrett family decides to take matters into their own hands and fight back.

ALIEN 1: Tell us that the aliens win!

ALIEN 2: Yeah, I bet we kick those humans’ butts!

(ALIENS shout and pump their fists again)

LS: While DARK SKIES did seem to follow a similar pattern to the multiple “ghost/demon in the house” kinds of movies we’ve been seeing lately, it was still pretty engrossing, and the pacing for this one is pretty good.

MA (laughing): I often wonder if we see the same movies some times. While I generally enjoyed this movie, I didn’t enjoy the pacing. I thought it dragged towards the end, when it should have been building up steam towards an exciting conclusion I thought the ending was blah.

LS: I didn’t think the ending was that bad. DARK SKIES grabs you pretty early on and you’re in suspense throughout, wondering what is going to happen next.

MA: I was interested throughout, but I didn’t find it all that suspenseful. I rarely felt on the edge of my seat.

LS: Director Scott Stewart, who also wrote the screenplay, was also responsible for the movies LEGION (2009), which I thought had an interesting idea, but which kind of fell apart as it went along; and PRIEST (2011), which seemed like just another UNDERWORLD rehash, and which I didn’t like at all; two films I really didn’t enjoy all that much. Stewart acquits himself nicely in DARK SKIES. I thought this one was a big improvement.

MA: I’ll agree with you there. I liked DARK SKIES better than LEGION and PRIEST.

LS: The family is fleshed out nicely. Because of the tensions within the family, mostly due to unemployment, I was able to sympathize with them right away, and grow to care about what happens to them.

MA: I’ll agree with you here, too. I thought the family was fleshed out nicely too, and I definitely bought into their tensions over money and over the dad being out of work. I loved the brief scene where his job interview goes sour. You can just see the pain in his face.

LS: I think most people these days can relate.

MA: The set up to this story works, because as you said, you find yourself caring for these people.

LS: I’ve always been a fan of Keri Russell (she was also great in a little indie movie called WAITRESS, 2007), and it was great to see her in a movie again (while it feels like she dropped off the map for a while after FELICITY was canceled, IMBD.com shows that she’s been working pretty steadily since, mostly in smaller roles, but it’s nice to have her back as a lead.

MA: Yep, Russell is very good here.

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LS: The kids are believable as well, and while Kadan Rockett as Sam was bit too “cutesy” for my tastes, with his lisp and big eyes, I thought Dakota Goyo was really good as teenager Jesse. In this kind of the movies, the casting of the kids is very important, and for the most part, it works here.

The script progression is believable. The family takes an understandable amount of time to come to grips with what they are dealing with (something most people would have a hard time believing for a while, before finally breaking down). There’s some good suspense. I also liked the score by Joseph Bishara, who was recently interviewed in Barry Dejasu’s SCORING HORROR column.

MA:  Yes, there were some scary bits in the soundtrack, a low undercurrent of menacing notes in just the right places.

LS:  And the acting by everyone involved, including those who play friends and neighbors, is pretty good.

MA: I dunno. That’s one problem I had with the story. I thought the dad took forever to buy into what was going on. There’s one key scene where he and his wife are arguing about it, and she’s telling him what she believes, and he tells her he refuses to go there, because the idea that aliens are involved is crazy, and I was just waiting for her to ask him the obvious question: if not aliens, what? What’s your take on all this? And of course, she doesn’t ask.

I also found the scenes with the police officer frustrating. He tells them it’s their kids, and again, I was waiting for some obvious questions, like after the scene where all their photographs disappear, and the officer again blames their kids. The frames are all still in perfect order, none of them askew, none of them looking as if they’ve even been touched- what kid is that particular when removing pictures? Wouldn’t you expect some of them to be moved this way or that, or knocked over? I just expected the parents to push a little harder with their concerns. I mean, there’s some pretty freakish stuff going on, and they let a police officer tell them it’s just their kids. I didn’t buy it.

LS: There are some good creepy moments here. And we really feel what this family is up against. Even when they get a guard dog and some guns, determined to defend their home, we know it’s not going to be an easy fight.

I give DARK SKIES, three knives. What did you think of it, Michael?

(ALIENS cheer)

ALIEN 1: Well, you could have given it a better score, but glad you didn’t trash it.

ALIEN 2: I was a creative consultant on this one!

MA: I liked it slightly less than you. In terms of characterization and set up, it worked for me. I was definitely on board with these folks.

But that’s about it. I didn’t find this one that creepy or suspenseful at all. I think part of it is what I said at the beginning of the column, that this style of filmmaking is already becoming repetitive. It didn’t do anything with the material I hadn’t seen before. To me, it played like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY “lite.”

That’s not to say I didn’t find a lot of what was going on interesting, because I did. There’s a lot going on in this story, and most of it I liked. The strange goings on at night, the birds flying into the house, the weird behaviors and marks on the family’s bodies, all of it caught my attention and held my interest. It just didn’t blow me away, mostly because it never really jumped to the next level, where I was on the edge of my seat or truly scared.

And I thought the ending was kind of dumb, the whole bit where they’re going to defend their family against the aliens, so they buy a gun, a dog, and board up their home. Who does that?

LS: How about people who are being hounded by aliens!

But really, the neighbors must think they’re bonkers!

MA:  I thought they were bonkers at this point!

LS:  Which makes me wonder about something. These people are not living in the middle of nowhere. They live in a densely populated neighborhood. Yet no one else sees these aliens attacking their house? You’d think someone would be curious about what’s going on over there, or someone would at least have insomnia and look at their house late at night. All these crazy things are happening to them, inside and outside their house, and NO ONE ELSE NOTICES?

MA: Especially after that bird scene.  I mean, it’s like a scene out of THE BIRDS (1963), and there are bird carcasses all over the place, and yet, we never see any neighbors come over and ask what’s going on or even offer words of concern or support!  What a tough neighborhood!

LS: Yeah, the neighbors only seem interested when the hazmat crew comes to collect the carcasses. They don’t even seem to be aware towards the end when aliens force their way into the house and shotguns start firing.

It’s kind of laughable, if you think about it too much. Somehow, despite this, I still enjoyed the movie.

MA: It just didn’t ring true to me.  And getting back to my point about the ending, this family has already seen what the aliens can do, and they think a gun is going to make a difference? A dog? I half expected a dark ending where their efforts would backfire and they would inadvertently hurt each other, but DARK SKIES, in spite of its title, isn’t that dark.

And could J.K. Simmons’s alien expert Edwin Pollard have been any more relaxed? He nearly put me to sleep! It’s one of the most important scenes in the movie, when they finally seek out the help of an expert, and Pollard speaks to them in such a soothing laid back voice I felt my eyelids drooping.

LS: I thought he played a guy who was just tired of fighting all the time. Someone who was weary and defeated and felt like there wasn’t a lot he could do anymore. I liked Simmons here.

MA: Don’t get me wrong.  I always like Simmons, but in this case he’s in his tiny low lit apartment sipping tea, I half expected him to start singing a lullaby.

And his help was about as effective as putting a band aid on a bullet wound!  “Aliens are studying you. Beware!” Whatever, dude. I mean, he doesn’t even offer to go to their house with them.

DARK SKIES grabbed me on an intellectual level, but it didn’t win me over on an emotional level. While I was interested throughout, I never felt all that into it. I felt like I was watching a drama about alien possession, not a thriller.

Maybe this one will play on Lifetime. I’m joking. It has more teeth than that, but barely.

I give it two and a half knives.

ALIENS: BOOOO!

MA: Quit complaining!  Two and a half knives is not much different from the rating LL gave it!

ALIEN 1: You clearly didn’t like it. You’re a jerk.

MA: I come out here in the middle of winter and cook you all up some burgers and hot dogs, and you call me a jerk?

ALIEN 2: Jerky jerk!

(The rest of the aliens start chanting “Jerky jerk” over and over)

MA: SHUT UP! That’s it. We’re done here And now that the aliens have had their fill of burgers and hot dogs, maybe we can finally eat something.

LS: Good luck with that There’s nothing left.

MA: Yeah, it’s all over the yard (turning to aliens) What’s up with you folks? Don’t you know how to eat?

ALIEN 1: Oh, we don’t eat burgers and hot dogs We just like to throw them around.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, for us, food is like toys.

ALIEN 1: Look I made a replica of the Death Star from STAR WARS out of buns!

ALIEN 2: Cool!

MA: Thanks for telling us! What a waste of food!

ALIEN 2: But it’s so much fun!

ALIEN 1: And you know what’s even more fun than throwing food around? Stomping on it!

(Aliens jump and down, stomping, hooting, and howling, as MA & LS walk away shaking their heads.)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives DARK SKIES ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives DARK SKIES ~three knives.

MAMA (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on a Short Film, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Evil Spirits, Feral people, Ghosts!, Guillermo Del Toro, Haunted Houses, Horror, Indie Horror, Scares!, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: MAMA (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A cabin in the woods. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA arrive in the middle of the night. There’s no electricity, so they have to turn on flashlights)

LS: Remind me to come here when there’s daylight next time.

MA: That would be too easy, and smart.  Unlike the characters in today’s movie MAMA, who continually show up at the mysterious cabin in the film at night, and when there’s no power.  Dumb!

LS: It’s just bad writing. Why not just stay at a motel until daytime?

MA: So why don’t you save your flashlight batteries and start our review of MAMA?

LS (shuts off the flashlight): Okie doke. They’re promoting MAMA with a heavy reliance on Guillermo del Toro, but he didn’t direct it, he produced it. Andres Muschietti directed this one, based on his three-minute short film of the same name (if you’re curious, check out the short film here on Youtube) Del Toro has said that when he saw the short, he had to help Muschietti turn it into a feature, and rightly so.  The short film is just one short scene where two young girls are visited by “Mama,” but it’s spooky enough so that you want to see more.

MA: Yes, in spite of the fact that we started this column poking fun at the stupidity of characters visiting places in the dark, MAMA is quite creepy and certainly satisfies in the spooky department.

LS: Let’s go outside. It’s too dark in here, and the moon is up.

MA: Okay.

(As they go outside, LS continues talking)

LS: The expanded movie delves into more weird stuff. First off,  we see a guy named Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who also plays Jaime Lannister, one of my favorite characters on the HBO series GAME OF THRONES), who has just come home after going on a shooting spree at work (and we’re told he just killed his ex-wife as well). He grabs his two young daughters and hightails it out of town, but a car accident cuts his plans short. After crashing into a ditch, Jeffrey takes the girls into the woods, until they find a seemingly abandoned cabin. He brings them inside, intent on killing them and himself to put an end to the nightmare his life has become. But something intervenes and saves the girls from his madness.

MA:  I really liked this opening scene, and it set the stage perfectly for the rest of the movie.  Its sets up a relationship between Mama and the little girls that makes this one a more credible ghost story than most.

LS:  We then jump ahead five years. Some private detectives (they look more like hillbillies) have been searching for Jeffrey and the girls and come across the cabin. How it took five years for anyone to find the crashed car or the cabin confounds me!  You know that the police must have searched the area thoroughly when Jeffrey was originally on the run with the kids. So why did it take five years for someone to track them down?

MA:  Agreed.  While it’s incredibly difficult to locate a body in a vast expanse of woods, it makes less sense for a car to remain hidden for that long, especially when it’s in the open.  You’d think a plane or a helicopter flying overhead would have spotted it at least.

LS:  Didn’t you just get through saying this story was more credible than most?

MA:  I was talking about the actual ghost’s story.  Most of the time, I’m thinking, why does the ghost care about scaring these people?  In MAMA, I understood Mama’s motives completely, and it made her actions all the more potent.

LS:  Fair enough. So those hillbilly detectives find that the girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), who have reverted to a feral state after being abandoned for so long. Victoria remembers basic skills she learned as a younger child (like she starts talking again fairly soon after their rescue), but Lilly is more feral than civilized and constantly hides behind her sister, afraid of the world.

MA:  I thought these early scenes of the girls in this feral state were particularly creepy and unnerving.

LS: Yeah, they’re pretty great. I almost wish we could have seen more of them in this state.

(Two filthy, feral little girls in clean white dresses suddenly appear near them.)

MA:  Uh-oh.  I’m getting creeped out here.

LS:  Don’t be a wuss.  They’re just little kids.

LITTLE GIRL:  Pa-pa.

MA:  No, I think you’re supposed to say “Mama.”

LITTLE GIRL (kicks MA in the knee):  Papa!

MA:  Okay, okay!  Papa it is. Ouch!  That was some kick!

LS (laughing):  I like this little kid.

Anyway, back to the movie.

The girls are taken in by their uncle Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) an artist, and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain, who we also saw in everything from THE TREE OF LIFE, 2011, to THE HELP, 2011, to ZERO DARK THIRTY, 2012), who plays bass in a punk band. They’re not exactly the most orthodox couple to take in troubled kids, but it’s either that or they go to their Aunt Jean (Jane Moffat, who also does the voice of Mama!), and Lucas obviously feels guilty about what the girls have gone through and wants to make things right.

MA:  I liked this part of the story as well, that Lucas and Annabel are such an unorthodox couple to care for a pair of kids.  They’re not cut out to care for healthy and well balanced children, let alone these kids!  In fact, in Annabel’s first scene, she’s taking a home pregnancy test and rejoices that she’s not pregnant.

This set-up was more original than most, and the movie is better for it.

LS:  But it’s not going to be easy. Victoria and Lilly regressed to a very primal state while they were left to fend for themselves, and it’s going to be a long journey back to a normal life. On top of that, there’s Mama. A supernatural creature who took care of them all those years in the cabin and who visits them frequently in Lucas’s house. The thing is, Mama is incredibly dangerous to everyone but the two girls.

LITTLE GIRL: Pa-pa.

LS:  You talking to me?

LITTLE GIRL: Pa-pa.

LS:  No, I’m not your papa, kid.  Scram, you’re starting to bother me!

(Little Girl kicks LS in knee.)

LS (howling in pain):  If you weren’t a little kid, I’d take a hatchet and—.!

MA:  Hey, kids, I think you’ll find some really yummy candy in that cabin over there.  Why don’t you check it out?

(Little girls nod, join arms and skip towards cabin, but not before the second little girl kicks MA in his other knee.)

MA (grimacing):  Son of a bitch!

(Little girls exit)

LS:  Let’s finish this review and get out of here before those brats come back.

MA:  Sounds good to me.

LS:  When Lucas has an “accident” and falls down a flight of stairs , Annabel has to care for the girls by herself. Slowly, she bonds with them, but this incurs the ire of the very jealous Mama, who doesn’t want anyone else taking care of the girls.

Throughout the movie, there are various scenes where Annabel comes very close to “meeting” Mama, but the movie holds off their meeting for a while. In fact, in one chilling scene, Annabel knows there is something in the girls’ closet, but when Victoria warns her not to go in there, she actually closes the slightly open door and walks away (finally, someone in a horror movie who’s not an idiot).

MA (Applauds):  Bravo!

LS:  Trying to help discover the truth is Dr. Dreyfus (Daniel Kash) who is the one who arranges for Lucas and Annabel to get custody of the girls, so they’ll stay close by and he can continue to get access to monitoring them on a regular basis for his research.

MAMA has some legitimate scares, and I liked it. At times, it reminded me of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY moviesthe way you need to pay attention to things going on in the background, etc. It also reminded me a bit of THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012), the way we’re constantly subjected to sudden scares by a creepy female ghost with issues about children. While I thought WOMAN  IN BLACK was okay, it could have been better. And I think MAMA works a lot better.

MA:  I’m glad you mentioned PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.  I saw MAMA in a packed theater with a very enthusiastic audience.  There was lots of loud screaming and plenty of nervous jokes, like the obvious “Why does everyone keep going to these places at night?” and “Wait till daylight, numb nuts!”, and so the experience reminded me a lot of watching a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie.  Granted, a lot of what they were screaming at, I wasn’t, but it still made for a really fun time.

LS: My audience was similar, and it did add to the fun.

MA: I liked this one a lot too.

LS:  My only issue is about the monster. As long as she’s in the background and the shadows, she’s really effective, but Mama looks a little hokey when we finally get a good look at her, up close. She’s a CGI creation (of course), and it’s funny, but she just seemed scarier to me in the “Mama” short film that preceded this one, even though the short obviously had a much smaller budget. She’s not awful in close-up in the movie– she’s still better than most CGI monsters – but I was hoping she’d be even creepier.

MA:  Really?  I liked the way Mama looked. Sure, she’s CGI, but I thought she looked more real than most CGI effects.  I thought she resembled a rotting corpse come back to life.  What I liked about it is I took her rotting self to be symbolic of the pain she felt over the loss of her child.  There was a sadness to her appearance throughout that really worked for me.  So, I can’t say that I was disappointed with Mama herself.  I thought she was an effective and very haunting spirit.

LS:  Like the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films there were a lot of scenes where things (in this case Mama or the kids) suddenly pop up in the background or jump at us. While this works in the scare department (like we were saying, a lot of people in the audience I saw this with were shouting whenever a “scare” happened), it seems to be a cheap way to get scares after a while.

MA:  Yep, that’s when my audience was screaming as well.  I agree with you about it being a cheap way to get scares, but in this case, it seemed to work.  One thing I did like about it was most of the time it wasn’t a “false” scare, like having someone other than the ghost bump into a character and spook them.  I really hate those kinds of scares.  Mama seemed to have exclusive rights scaring folks in this one, and she’s damn good at it!

Of course, the little girls did some of the frightening too, especially early on, but they were pretty darn creepy as well!

LS:  I do think the acting is very good, though. Jessica Chastain is obviously meant to be the lead here, and she does a fine job as a woman out of her element (as Michael mentioned, when we first see her, she’s relieved that she isn’t pregnant, then, suddenly, two strange children are thrust upon her). I really like her as an actress, and it’s cool to see her in a horror movie. She’s just fine here.

MA: Yes, I liked Jessica Chastain a lot. Annabel is actually a pretty well-written character, and Chastain makes her believable as hell.  I found it so refreshing in a movie like this that she wasn’t a “doting” mother type.  She wanted nothing to do with these kids, so as the movie goes on and the bond between them grows, it really works.

LS:  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is good as Lucas (and, briefly in the beginning, Jeffrey), even if he’s not given as much to do. Annabelle is clearly the more compelling character of the two, which is confirmed when Lucas is taken out of commission and she has to take care of the kids herself.

MA:  Coster-Waldau was okay, although truth be told I had difficulty recognizing when he was in a coma and when he was out of one.

LS:  Ouch!  That’s harsh!  But you’re right.

MA:  He was all right, but the character of Uncle Lucas is nothing compared to Annabelle.  He could have stayed in a coma and I wouldn’t have cared.

LS:  Agreed. Daniel Kash is also very good as the not-so-trustworthy Dr. Drefus, who has his own agenda.

But the best acting actually comes from the kids.

MA:  Agreed, although I enjoyed Jessica Chastain just as much as the two girls.

LS:  You’re right, Chastain holds her own. But we already know she’s good. The kids are a revelation.

Megan Charpentier as Victoria seems wise beyond her years and is very mature and controlled as her character. I was very impressed with her performance. Isabelle Nelisse, who plays the younger Lilly, is actually very spooky in several scenes, and downright unnerving. I was even more impressed by her, even though she doesn’t say a lot and does most of her acting with her behavior and facial expressions.

MA:  You got that right!  And she’s such cute little kid, too!  Yet she’s so creepy!  I think director Andres Muschietti deserves credit for capturing this very dark side of her.

LS:  Both girls do a remarkable job here and are way above the average kid actors we see in movies. I think they’re a big part of why MAMA works as well as it does.

The direction by Andres Muschietti is quite good, and the script by Muschietti and his sister Barbara (and Neil Cross) is pretty solid for this kind of thing. And it doesn’t completely fall apart at the end (it falters slightly, but doesn’t fall apart).

Usually January is when studios put out movies that they’re not so proud of, but there’s no reason why anyone should feel that way about MAMA. I liked this movie a lot and give it three and a half knives.

What did you think, Michael?

MA: I’m with you on this one.  I liked MAMA a lot, and I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did.

To me, it starts with the script by Neil Cross, director Andres Muschietti, and Barbara Muschietti.  Its story was more intelligent than most, and other than having people visit places in the dark when they could just as easily visit them in daylight, I didn’t find myself scratching my head at the proceedings all that much.

I liked the background story of Mama herself, felt sympathy for her, and understood where she was coming from when she was being so possessive of the little girls.  I also really enjoyed the story of the little girls.  Their lives begin so tragically I couldn’t help but feel for them as their story continued.

And Annabel and Lucas are such an unconventional couple for this kind of tale they were definitely refreshing.  I enjoyed Jessica Chastain’s performance a lot as Annabel, and she along with the two little girls really drive this movie along.

But the most satisfying part of MAMA is that it succeeds in being scary, and I think director Andres Muschietti deserves a lot of credit for crafting such an effective horror movie.

The film contains your standard “someone-appears-out-of-nowhere” jolt scenes, along with some creepy little kid scenes, and best of all, some genuinely scary supernatural ghost scenes which I thought looked better than most CGI stuff I see.

I did think the film faltered a bit towards the end, which seemed rushed.  How Annabel and Lucas end up together at the cabin in the woods (hmm, that has a nice ring to it!) is a bit of a stretch – I mean, he’s still in the hospital, and suddenly he just gets up and leaves, heads for the cabin, and just happens to be crossing the road just as Annabel approaches in her car.

Also, I wasn’t crazy about the look of the film near the end, as the woods take on a very cartoonish Tim Burton air.

However, I did like the very end of the movie, and I found it satisfying.  It also stayed true to the rest of the story.  There weren’t any “I’m an evil ghost so I’ll just kill everybody for no reason” or “The main characters have done right by me and so now my heart has just grown ten sizes bigger and now I’m going to give everyone a big hug” moments.  Mama’s behavior remains consistent throughout.

Sure, there were a few flaws here and there, most notably towards the end, but I found myself liking MAMA a lot.  I liked it just a tad less than you did, though.

I give it three knives.

LS:  Well, that wraps things up for another edition of Cinema Knife Fight.  We’ll see you next week with another review of—-.
MA:  Uh-oh.  They’re coming back.  Look!

(The little girls return.)

OLDER GIRL: There wasn’t any candy in that cabin. You lied to us.

LITTLE GIRL:  Pa-pa.  (She points to behind MA & LS)

(MA and LS look behind them to see ghostly male figure standing behind them.)

PAPA (growls):  Let’s go girls.  It’s your weekend to be with Papa.

MA:  Hmm.  Even ghosts have custody issues.  Who knew!

(Cabin door opens and MAMA steps out with her hands on her hips and begins scolding PAPA for being late.)

LS:  Let’s get out of here before things get ugly.

MA:  I hope this isn’t a set up for a sequel, PAPA.

LS:  Quiet!  Don’t give them any ideas!

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives MAMA ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives MAMA ~three and a half knives.

Transmissions to Earth: NIGHTBEAST (1982)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Horror, 2012, Aliens, Bad Acting, Drive-in Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Scares!, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , on September 20, 2012 by knifefighter

Transmissions to Earth
NIGHTBEAST (1982)
By L.L. Soares

After reviewing FIEND (1980) last time, I was curious about the other movies by Baltimore filmmaker Don Dohler. This led me to check out his 1982 flick, NIGHTBEAST.

Made on the same kind of shoestring budget as FIEND, NIGHTBEAST is the story of an alien monster come down to earth and terrorizing a small town. Right off the bat, you know what you’re in for. A small spaceship (about the size of a car) hurtles past the planets in our galaxy and crash lands on Earth. Nearby, a group of hunters have set up camp and are asleep, except for one guy who’s awake. When the crash occurs, causing a racket, the guy says “What the hell?” and then “Wake up you guys!” The other two guys are still asleep. Even when the ship’s occupant climbs out and destroys the craft – with lots of explosions and lights – those two hunters are still asleep! They only wake up when their friend shakes them awake to tell them he’s going to go investigate.

Of course, this is stupid move. The monster (who we see in shadows early on) is not only big with lots of teeth, it also has a ray gun which turns things glowing red (the same effect used in FIEND when the monster stole his victims’ life force – obviously this is an effect Dohler uses regularly), before they disintegrate. The two sleepy hunters grab their guns and go following their buddy, who gets vaporized in front of their eyes, leaving behind an outline of ashes on the ground! They don’t last much longer.

Local Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith)  also does not hear the crash and explosions, but a citizen comes to tell him about it. (People in this town sure aren’t very attentive). Sheriff Jack calls his Deputy Lisa Kent (Karin Kardian, with a Farah Fawcett hairdo), to come to meet him at the scene. As soon as the police get to the crash site, the monster immediately starts firing its ray gun at them. It’s funny how the laser beam only disintegrates some things and not others. It vaporizes people and automobiles, but doesn’t do anything to a stone wall the sheriff uses for cover. No one stands a chance against this thing, since it is impervious to bullets! But an old sharp-shooter named Perkins is called in to shoot the ray gun out of the monster’s hand. It shatters to the ground and the alien flees the scene, only to appear when people least expect it, to murder and maim.

Run for your life! It’s the NIGHTBEAST. He also comes out during the daytime, too.

The NIGHTBEAST itself is another one of those rubber-suited monsters. It looks pretty good some of the time, but the fact that its rubber means it never changes expression and always comes at you with a mouthful of giant teeth. It is never explained where it came from or why it’s here. It certainly doesn’t seem to be shipwrecked, since it destroyed its own spaceship. And it immediately starts killing people. There just doesn’t seem to be any logical motivation at all for why this thing goes on a killing spree.  The creature is just plain bonkers!

The Sheriff decides to evacuate the town. He goes to see Mayor Bert Wicker (Richard Dyszel), who has planned a pool party that day for the Governor, who is coming for a visit. The Sheriff tells him that he has to cancel the party and warn the Governor to stay away, but the Mayor just ignores him. The Sheriff also asks the Mayor to call in outside help for containing the monster (I have no idea why he doesn’t just call for reinforcements himself), but the Mayor conveniently “forgets.” It doesn’t help that the May0r constantly has a drink in his hands. His girlfriend, Mary Jane (Eleanor Herman) is always asking if people want something to drink, and the two of them act drunk for most of the movie. When they’re not arguing about who should get the other one a drink, he’s shouting at her, “Don’t call be Bertie!”

Mayor Wicker (Richard Dyszel) and his girlfriend Mary Jane (Eleanor Herman) are too busy drinking to be afraid of the NIGHTBEAST. Herman might just be the best thing in this movie! I wish she had been in more films.

Mary Jane is actually my favorite character in the movie – she’s a complete hoot – and I love every scene she’s in. Actress Eleanor Herman seems like a shoe-in for a character from one of John Waters’ early films – but strangely she only acted in two movies, this one and Dohler’s 1979 film, THE ALIEN FACTOR.  I really wish she had pursued more of an acting career because she’s so entertaining here!

Helping the Sheriff is Jamie  Lambert (Jamie Zemarel), a civilian who must secretly want to be a cop. He assists the Sheriff and his deputy in evacuating the town. Jamie is also seeing Suzie (Monica Neff) on the side – a girl who just happens to be the girlfriend of  local biker/troublemaker “Drago” (Don Leifert, who played the sinister Mr.Longfellow in FIEND). Drago is always taunting the police and causing problems. When he finds out about his girlfriend and Jamie, he slaps her around. When he leaves, the Sheriff and Jamie show up, so Jamie can warn Suzie to pack up and leave town. For some reason, she has to take off all her clothes before she can pack her suitcase, and she has some very obvious tan lines! Drago watches the Sheriff’s car pulls away and goes back into the house. He’s so made that Suzie is seeing Jamie that he strangles her to death. (Later on, Jamie confronts Drago for a pretty laughable fist fight scene.)

Meanwhile, the pool party goes according to plan, even though the Sheriff demanded that the Mayor and Mary Jane evacuate their home. Jamie  fires off a gun and tells everyone that there’s a poison gas leak from a nearby mine – which is when all the bikini girls and everyone else in the pool finally gets up and runs away.

The monster shows up at the house of the local doctor (and coroner) Dr. Ruth Sherman (Anne Frith) and her assistant (partner?) Steven Price (George Stover, a regular in Dohler’s – and early John Waters – movies, who also played Dennis Frye in FIEND). Trapped in the basement by the vicious beast, Steven pours some water on the floor and drops a live electric wire on it. The monster howls and high-tails it out of there. So they finally find out this seemingly indestructible creature’s weakness – electricity! – but it gets away before they can kill it.

The acting is mostly bad, but fun to watch. There’s one scene where the Sheriff and Deputy Lisa finally realize that they have the hots for each other (this is after dealing with an attack by the monster, when they should actually be on their guard) and what follows is one of the most awkward love scenes ever put on film. The two of them slowly take their clothes off and then roll around in bed. Their performance is stiff and unconvincing, but at least this movie has some nudity!

Sheriff Jack is about to give Deputy Lisa some big-time loving in this tender scene from Don Dohler’s NIGHTBEAST!

Steven goes over to the Mayor’s house and finds that he and Mary Jane are still there!  This leads to some very funny dialogue:

Mary Jane: Oh hi, Steven. Hey Bertie, Steven came to have a little drink with us.

Steven: Oh my God, he’s passed out! Dammit, Mary Jane, why aren’t you two out of town? Don’t you realize how dangerous it is here? Everyone else is gone.

Mary Jane: But you’re still here, Steven. And so is Bertie. And so am I. We can have a little party, just the three of us!

Then Steven goes across the room to a phone to call the Sheriff. When he’s done with the call, he walks back to the couch:

Mary Jane: There you are! I wondered where you went to. I’m so glad you’re back!

This is the kind of movie where people go down to the basement, look around, and don’t see anything, and suddenly the monster roars and appears to come out of nowhere. Just because we don’t have any peripheral vision, relying on the movie camera to be our eyes, doesn’t mean the characters have the same handicap, but they sure act like they do!

When the good guys figure out that a giant electric coil is the best way to get rid of the monster, they go to the local power station. Even though this is an emergency and they need the coil right away, the Sheriff finds the door locked and says “let me work on this lock,” instead of simply breaking the door down. While he’s taking forever to do this, Deputy Lisa, who always seems to be the one put on watch and left most vulnerable, is attacked by the biker Drago for no logical reason. He wrestles her to the ground and is trying to strangle her when Jamie shoots him through the back.

When the monster is finally shocked to death with electricity, poor Jamie gives up his life to save the town (and presumably the world). Considering that there never seems to be more than 10 people at a time in any given scene (and the biggest crowd is at the pool party), this sure must have been a tiny town that was in danger.

NIGHTBEAST is pretty awful, certainly not as good as FIEND, which at least had some good performances, especially from the terrific Don Leifert as Mr. Longfellow. The monster in NIGHTBEAST doesn’t have half as much personality as the FIEND, or any logical motive for what it does. By the way, Leifert is a highlight here as well, as the villainous Drago, but this time his character is much more of a supporting player.

NIGHTBEAST is bound to give you some good laughs, but don’t expect it to make any sense! Then again, that’s half the fun.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

We get more of that spooky “red glow” special effect in NIGHTBEAST.

THE TALL MAN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Controverisal Films, Family Secrets, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Mystery, Plot Twists, Scares!, Surprises!, Suspense, Twist Endings, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by knifefighter

THE TALL MAN
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

When I first heard about the movie THE TALL MAN, I thought it was another sequel in the PHANTASM series. For those who aren’t fans, the Tall Man is the main villain of that franchise. But this new movie has nothing to do with PHANTASM. So I thought, based on the title and the movie poster (with star Jessica Biel prominently displayed), that this was a standard horror movie. I was wrong on both counts.

Then I found out that THE TALL MAN was directed by French filmmaker Pascal Laugier, who previously gave us the movie MARTYRS (2008), which I consider one of my all-time favorite horror films. It had the same kind of effect on me when it came out as Takashi Miike’s AUDITION did in 2000. Needless to say, I was psyched and immediately sought THE TALL MAN out. It was supposed to be in limited theatrical release, but it wasn’t playing anywhere near me. Luckily, however, it was playing on cable OnDemand, so I was able to see it for myself.

I’m really glad I did.

THE TALL MAN is a movie full of twists and turns that are going to keep you off balance throughout, as you try to figure out who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what everyone here is up to.

It begins in a poverty-stricken small town called Cold Rock, Washington. It used to be thriving once, but the coal mines, the main source of work there, shut down, all the other jobs dried up, and people started losing their homes. Oh yeah, there’s one other reason why Cold Rock is such a sad place. Over the years, there have been several child abductions, and the children have never been recovered. A few people swear they got a look at who took their children, a dark figure that has taken on mythic proportions in the town. Everyone refers to the child stealer as The Tall Man.

It’s here in Cold Rock that Julia Denning (Jessica Biel, who we most recently saw in this summer’s big budget remake of TOTAL RECALL) tries her best to help people get medical care. Her husband was the local doctor, but he’s gone now, and since she was his nurse, she’s able to provide some basic services to those in need. It’s clear however, that even though her husband was respected and loved in Cold Rock, Julia will never be completely accepted by everyone in town. There are some people here who trust her, however, like the mute teenager Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) who will become more important as the film goes on.

Since she’s a widow, Julia has her friend (sister?) Christine (Eve Harlow) babysit her son, David (Jakob Davies) when she’s out making her rounds. David seems to be sickly, but lights up when his mother comes home.

Life is rough in Cold Rock, but Julia does what she can, until the day comes when she returns home to find Christine beaten and tied up, and a hooded figure running away from the house, carrying David in its arms.

While trying to retrieve her son David, Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) falls into a pit of mud in THE TALL MAN.

Julia runs after them, down the street to a large truck that drives away. Determined not to let them get away, Julia grabs on to the back door of the truck, and hangs on for dear life. She tries desperately to retrieve her son in a nightmarish sequence involving the truck, a vicious dog, and an accident. But eventually, she loses the trail, and collapses in the middle of the street, where Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) finds her and brings her into his car. He drives her to the local diner where Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis) is, and tells him to get an ambulance, while Dodd goes back out trying to find the child stealer based on what Julia has told him.

It’s at this point that things get strange. While washing up and changing her clothes in the office of Trish (Janet Wright) who runs the diner, she hears the Sheriff and another man in a heated discussion, wondering what they should do next. It sounds like they mean to harm Julia. What’s going on here?

To give away any more of the plot would be unkind, but let’s say, at this point, THE TALL MAN stops being a typical horror movie and goes in a completely unexpected direction. This is business as usual for director Pascal Laugier, who is used to running us through a maze in his movies, MARTYRS being a perfect example.

The cast here is very good, especially Biel, who is turning into an actress you can count on to deliver a decent performance. She’s actually much better here than she is in TOTAL RECALL, partly because she’s the lead character, but also because THE TALL MAN is a more serious, intelligent film.

THE TALL MAN is out there.

M. Night Shyamalan might still have the reputation as the king of the twist endings – even if it’s no longer warranted and he’s become something of a joke. But Laugier proves here that he deserves the title more, and he delivers the scares along the way.

The other aspects of this film are finely tuned as well, including the score by Todd Bryanton, which compliments the film perfectly. I was very psyched when I found out that Barry Dejasu was interviewing Bryanton about his soundtrack for THE TALL MAN for his Scoring Horror column (this review is being posted as a companion piece to his interview).

THE TALL MAN is so different from the usual horror movies we keep getting, and is so much more ambitious in its storytelling, that it deserves a wider audience simply because it tries to do something different, and I was disappointed to see that this one has been getting such shoddy distribution. But if you look for it on cable, you would do yourself a favor to find it.

While I didn’t like THE TALL MAN as much as MARTYRS, which remains Laugier’s masterwork, I still thought it was head and shoulders above most of the horror movies Hollywood has been giving us lately. THE TALL MAN is in no way as visceral and nightmarish as MARTYRS, but it does deliver plenty of chills and it will surprise you.

One thing about THE TALL MAN, that you don’t normally get with horror films these days, is that you’ll be thinking about it long after it’s over.

I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE TALL MAN ~ four knives.

 

The French movie poster for THE TALL MAN calls it “The Secret” fittingly enough.

PROMETHEUS (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Monsters, Prequels, Ridley Scott, ROBOTS!, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PROMETHEUS (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: An alien world, much of which is composed of desert. L.L. SOARES is sitting on a lawn chair next to a tent. He’s stretched back, getting rays, when MICHAEL ARRUDA happens by, driving a moon rover)

MA: Hey. You do realize that excessive sun isn’t good for you.

LS: Who are you, my mother?

MA (dressed as an elderly woman): What are you doing sitting around all day! Clean your damn room!

LS: Now there’s a scary image—you as someone’s mother!! Anyway, there’s six more hours of daylight. Leave me alone and let me get a tan.

MA: I would, but we’ve got a movie to review.

LS: Oh yes, the much-anticipated PROMETHEUS. I almost forgot.

MA: Almost forgot? I think the sun has fried your brain! PROMETHEUS is one of the movies you and I have been most looking forward to in 2012. How could you “almost forget” about it?

(In the distance, a humongous space ship takes off into the sky)

MA: Wow. It sure is nice to have an unlimited budget here in Cinema Knife Fight Land.

LS: Oh yes, in the realm of the imagination, we can do anything!

MA: Okay. If you can do anything, how about starting with a review of PROMETHEUS?

LS: All right I will, if that will make you happy.

MA: Please do.

LS: Ridley Scott’s new film, PROMETHEUS, is a prequel to his 1979 masterpiece, ALIEN. Let’s make that clear from the get-go, shall we? Scott and other people involved have been very cagey about whether or not the events of this movie occur before the story of ALIEN. Well, wonder no more. The ambiguity is gone. PROMETHEUS is clearly a prequel.

MA: Yes it is, although I would have enjoyed it more had there been more references to ALIEN.

LS: PROMETHEUS begins with an odd scene where a muscular albino alien is standing on a cliff over a waterfall.

MA: I liked this scene. I thought it was a very cinematic way to open the movie.

LS: He ingests something that appears to be acid (and also appears to be alive) and commits suicide, falling into the raging waters below. We’ll be seeing him (or, more of his kind, at least) later on.

The story then shifts to Scotland. It is the year 2089, and scientists Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discover a cave that has prehistoric drawings on the walls. The drawings include an image they have seen many times before: a giant figure reaching out to the sky, in the direction of five spheres. They believe this image is a message, since they have found it in other caves, in other parts of the world.

Using the image as a map, they are able to track down a planet in a solar system far away that has an earth-like atmosphere (although the carbon dioxide levels are rather high). Charlie and Elizabeth are sure the messages are telling them that this planet is the cradle of civilization—the place where aliens they call “Engineers” came from, and came to Earth to create us.

To get there, the scientists need cash, and this is readily provided by the Weyland Corporation, a mega-corporation with seemingly unlimited funds, headed by Peter Weyland (an unrecognizable Guy Pearce, in heavy old man make-up). Weyland, through a hologram, tells them he was very eager to find out if the scientists are right about their findings, but he has appeared to have died in the meantime (the craft has taken a few years to get there). In his place, as the corporate person in charge of the expedition, is the cold and authoritative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). She makes it clear from the get-go that while Charlie and Elizabeth are the ones who initiated this expedition, Meredith is calling the shots, since it is her firm’s money that bankrolled it.

(Sigourney Weaver’s character from ALIEN—RIPLEY—comes by, carrying a very large gun)

RIPLEY: You guys see a big ALIEN go by here?

MA: No, we haven’t.

LS (points): He went that-a-away!

RIPLEY: Thanks (she goes in that direction)

(The tent behind LS shakes)

MA: What was that all about?

LS: Who knows? As I was saying….The ship is piloted by a man named Janek (Idris Elba) and his team. The expedition is made up of a several other scientists, as well as an android named David (Michael Fassbender) who was created by Weyland to be his eyes and ears. David clearly has his own agenda when it comes to the mission, and often does things that everyone else is unaware of (things that are not always in their best interest). During the initial voyage in space, David is only one “awake” in the ship, while the rest of the travelers are in suspended animation.

Once they reach the planet, they find strange dome-like structures there, that clearly were not made by nature. Too eager to wait, a group of them immediately go out to investigate one of the domes. What they find there is rather remarkable, and potentially very dangerous.

The rest of PROMETHEUS shows us what they find in that dome, what it represents, and the can of worms the scientists open up by disturbing the site.

I went into this one with very high hopes, and clearly PROMETHEUS is one of the movies Michael and I have been most looking forward to in 2012. Personally, I am a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, and the idea of Scott returning to the “world” of that movie was rather exciting. Scott is a top-notch director, who was not involved with the various ALIEN sequels, so his directing the prequel is something of an event. He also hasn’t made a science fiction movie in decades, and since this is also the man who made BLADE RUNNER (1982), a lot of people were eager to see him return to the genre. After all, how many filmmakers can be credited with creating two films that many people consider to be among the best of cinematic science fiction?

So, considering the expectations I had going in, it is almost impossible that PROMETHEUS could have lived up to them. That said, the film is very good.

MA: Nah, I’m disagreeing here right away. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with PROMETHEUS, and for me, it didn’t have to do with high expectations. I just didn’t find PROMETHEUS to be a great movie. It’s a good movie, but it has a lot of flaws.

But I’m jumping the gun here. You were about to say why you thought the film was so good. So, what did you like about it?

LS: First off, the direction is top-notch, as you would expect in a Ridley Scott film.

MA: I would agree, up to a point.

LS: The cast is also above-average. I thought everyone did an excellent job here, and the cast includes many of my favorite actors. Noomi Rapace was Lizbeth Salander in the original Swedish films based on THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy. She was intense and extremely believable in those movies. Here, her Elizabeth Shaw is softer and less guarded—dare I say it, more human—but in her way, is just as tough.

MA: No arguments here. I liked Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw a lot. Rapace created a very resilient heroine in Shaw, and I thought she was strong enough to carry this movie.

LS: Idris Elba is someone Michael and I have been watching for a while now, first noticing him for stand-out performances in movies like 28 WEEKS LATER (2007), THE UNBORN (2009) and the remake of the slasher film PROM NIGHT (2008).

MA: Yep, I’m a big fan of Elba.

LS: I thought that he often was better than the movies he was in. More recently, he appeared in last year’s THOR and was an alcoholic Vatican enforcer in GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE. But his star has actually shone brighter on television than in feature films, for the most part, especially his role as Stringer Bell in the stellar HBO series,. THE WIRE, and his lead role in the current BBC series, LUTHER, which has been earning him much acclaim. He’s quite good in PROMETHEUS as Captain Janek, and even brings a sense of humor to the role, like in a scene where he tries to talk ice queen Martha Vickers into bed.

MA: Yeah, I liked that scene, but for the most part, I thought Captain Janek was just your standard good guy captain. I had no problem at all with Elba’s performance, which I enjoyed, but I thought the character was one-dimensional and not that exciting. I expected him to take on a more heroic and central role as the movie goes on, but that didn’t really happen.

LS: Actually, it did. He does do something very heroic toward the end.

MA: Yeah, I know, but for me it was too little too late. I mean, the action he takes is dramatic enough, but long before that, I wanted him to be a key player, and I didn’t feel he was.

LS: Let’s face it, Janek was a supporting character. Everyone can’t be the lead. Considering how many strong characters there are in the movie, I think they did a good job of giving everyone ample screen time.

MA: Oh, he’s in it enough. He’s just not that interesting.

LS: As for Vickers, it seems like actress Charlize Theron can do no wrong lately. I loved her in last year’s dark dramedy, YOUNG ADULT. And we just saw her as the evil queen, Ravenna, one of the high points in the movie SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Here, she’s another cold, unapproachable woman—a type she’s done several times before, and which she’s good at. I have to admit, I like it when she plays characters that are more outside of the “ice queen” box—characters who are a little more vulnerable, perhaps—but she makes the best of this role.

MA: Theron’s fine, but I thought Vickers was terribly underwritten. I wanted to know much more about her, and I wanted her to have more screen time, and play a more prominent role towards the end of the movie. She’s a very cold character and is almost more robotic than the actual robot character, David, in this one. I wanted to know why.

LS: Well, there is a scene where Idris Elba’s character asks her if she’s a robot!

As for Michael Fassbender, as the robot David, he might just be the most interesting character in PROMETHEUS.

MA: I think he is.

LS: Created to act and appear human in every way, David is not as subservient as he first appears, and clearly is more in control of the situations the crew comes across than anyone else. It should come as no surprise that Fassbender is so good in this one. He’s been impressing us in a lot of movies lately. Fassbender was also in 300 (2006) and was the British Lt. Archie Hicox, a memorable role, in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009). Since then, his star has only continued to ascend. Last year alone he was Magneto in the above-average superhero flick X-MEN: FIRST CLASS; played psychiatry pioneer Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD; and played a sex addict, in a fearless performance in British director Steve McQueen’s movie, SHAME. Fassbender just seems to be very good at everything he does, and his role here, as David, is no exception.

MA: I agree. I like Fassbender a lot, and I think he gave the best performance in PROMETHEUS. The only problem I have with his character David is we’ve seen this before. David is an android with a private agenda, apparently working in secret for the Weyland Corporation. This is clearly reminiscent of the character Ash (Ian Holm) in the original ALIEN, who had the same agenda, and was working for the same company.

LS: I think that was intentional, don’t you?

MA: Absolutely, but I still found it repetitive.

(One of the monsters from the PREDATOR movies comes by, carrying a gigantic gun)

PREDATOR: You guys see an ALIEN come by here?

MA: Nope. We’re reviewing a movie here.

LS (points): He went that-a-away!

PREDATOR (closes his helmet): Thanks!

(PREDATOR runs in that direction, turning on his cloaking device to become invisible)

(Tent next to LS shakes again, and there is the faint sound of giggling)

MA: Hmm. What’s the deal with the tent?

LS: How should I know?

MA: What are you up to?

LS: Nothing. Let’s just finish our review.

The rest of the cast is also quite good, with other stand-outs including Logan Marshall-Green as Elizabeth Shaw’s fellow scientist (and lover) Charlie Holloway. He plays just the right combination of cockiness and earnestness here. And Sean Harris is also a stand-out as the unorthodox geologist Fifield, who seems more like punk rocker than a man of science at times (however, I’m sure it’s quite possible to be both).

The effects are pretty impressive here as well. The movie was released in both regular and 3D versions, and while I didn’t get to see this one in 3D, I bet it looked pretty good in that format as well. The spaceships, the alien landscapes, and the alien creatures we see are all pretty flawless and believable, which only enhances a movie like this.

MA: I saw it in 3D, and while I enjoyed the visuals of the alien landscapes and spaceships in 3D, I have a feeling it looked just as good in 2D. Let’s put it this way. There weren’t any scenes where I sat there thinking, “this is so cool in 3D. I’m glad I saw this in 3D!” As has been the case with most 3D movies we’ve seen in the past few years, the 3D effects are almost an afterthought.

LS: If I have any complaint at all, it is the pacing. At just over two hours, I found that certain parts of the movie seemed stretched out and slow, throwing off the movie’s pace a bit. It was something I almost “felt” more than saw. And it’s funny, because early on, things move pretty briskly. We’re not in Scotland looking at caves very long, before we’re suddenly on a spaceship, approaching an alien planet. But once on the planet, there were just some scenes that seemed longer and slower than they should have been.

MA: Yeah, the pacing was slow in places, but interestingly enough, the pacing isn’t one of the things that bothered me about this movie.

LS: Considering how excited I was to see this one, I thought it might be that rare film that passes the four knife mark. But after seeing it, I was actually on the fence about whether to give it 3 ½ or 4 knives. A very good film, but not a masterpiece. I really expected even more from Ridley Scott, if you can believe it.

But what the hell, I ended up giving PROMETHEUS, four knives out of five, one of the best ratings I’ve given for a movie this year. It’s smart, it’s ambitious, and I really enjoyed it.

MA: I gave THE AVENGERS four knives, which is the highest rating I give movies (a five knife movie would have to be perfect, and that’s never going to happen!) and I think THE AVENGERS blows PROMETHEUS out of the water.

LS: No way! They’re two very different kinds of movies: one is pure fun, and the other tries to be much more than that. But I think PROMETHEUS is as good as THE AVENGERS. In fact, I think it’s better.

MA: Yes, they are two very different movies, but THE AVENGERS pushes all the right buttons and is nearly flawless, whereas PROMETHEUS, while good, falls short.

LS: And while it’s going to be very rare that we rate anything higher than four knives, it is possible. I gave KILL LIST four and a half knives earlier this year.

MA: PROMETHEUS could have been something truly special. It asks great questions—who made us? where did we come from? where do we go when we die? — but it gives us answers that are clearly inferior to these questions. I kept thinking, these are the answers the writers came up with?

LS: What if we found out the answers and they really were a letdown? Wouldn’t that be rather ironic?

MA: I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of PROMETHEUS. The movie had an awe-inspiring science fiction feel to it, and I thought the film was heading towards moments akin to things found in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I enjoyed the story, the visuals, and I liked the idea of humans on a quest to find our creators. I was definitely going along for the ride.

LS: I’m glad you brought that up, because I thought there were a lot of parallels between this movie and Kubrick’s 2001. From the clues that scientists find that tell them there was life on other worlds (in PROMETHEUS, it’s the cave paintings providing a map, in 2001, it was the more physical artifact of the Monolith), to a machine that has its own agenda and turns on the people who think they are its masters, to even the pacing and some of the visuals (the alien space ship here looks somewhat like the orbiting space station in 2001).

MA: And there’s some good suspense along the way as well. The scene in the cave with the weird snake creatures is one of the more intense scenes in the movie, and I absolutely loved the scene where Elizabeth has to perform surgery on herself to remove a certain “addition” inside her body. It’s by far the most intense scene in the film.

LS: Thanks for bringing that up! The surgery scene is one of the best in the movie! I loved that scene.

MA: But that’s about as intense as the movie gets. Later, as it builds towards its conclusion, I found the suspense lacking.

And in terms of awe-inspiring science fiction, the film hits its climax in a really cool scene when David discovers, among other things, a 3D map of our solar system, and at this point I was looking forward to the “where do we go from here” stuff. Unfortunately, where we go is strictly standard drama.

Compared to ALIEN, for example, PROMETHEUS is a dud when it comes to that kind of suspense. It’s not that scary.

LS: Yes, I think this is one thing that should be pointed out. Even though PROMETHEUS is a prequel to ALIEN, it is not a horror movie. Sure, there are some scary creatures here, but overall, PROMETHEUS is more a movie about ideas. Maybe that’s what threw off the pacing for me. I thought it was building like a horror film, slowly ratcheting up the suspense, and it wasn’t. It’s not that kind of movie. While ALIEN was unabashedly a horror movie set on a space ship, PROMETHEUS is a science fiction film that doesn’t follow the same blueprint at all. It’s not meant to be a rehash of ALIEN. It’s a completely different animal.

MA: I agree with you, but the problem I have is that in spite of this, PROMETHEUS still gravitates towards the horrific, but unfortunately it’s rather tame horror. And then, getting back to it being a movie about ideas, it doesn’t finish the job by giving us a big payoff. I liked the fact that it was about ideas, but I wanted these thought-provoking ideas to take me somewhere.

The “Engineers,” for example, prove to be about as intellectual as the alien monsters themselves. PROMETHEUS is missing that grand moment when everything comes together and you say, “Wow!”

There’s no Wow.

LS: I think I agree with you on that. I think that’s another reason why I had a problem with the pacing. In a way, there is really no payoff. There is an ending—and a set up for a sequel, I should add—there are major things that happen, but you’re right. There’s no big Wow. The question is—can it still be a great movie without one?

MA: I found the screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof to be muddled. There were several moments where I found myself scratching my head, like when Captain Janek is suddenly talking about having to protect Earth from this alien race who has been building weapons of mass destruction. What weapons of mass destruction? And how does Janek know this?

LS: The weapons of mass destruction here are biological. The things in the pods. Those are the weapons. The alien ship is full of them. That’s how Janek knows—the same way we know.

MA: Yeah, I get that, but I found it an odd way of saying it, and for me it was a distraction. Why not just say these dudes are messing around with biological experiments so let’s get the hell out of here!

I also wondered why Peter Weyland was played by Guy Pearce in “old man” make-up. I thought perhaps it was because at some point in the story he’d somehow be getting younger. Nope.

I was also disappointed with the answer to the “Why were we created?” question. I don’t want to give anything away here, but I found the answer unimaginative and disappointing, which goes back to there not being a grand “Wow” moment.

LS: I didn’t think it was unimaginative at all. And if it was disappointing—well sometimes things in life are much more underwhelming than we had hoped.

MA: And I also was disappointed that the famous discovery early on in ALIEN, where the astronauts discover the giant alien pilot sitting in his ship with his chest cavity exploded, isn’t recreated here in PROMETHEUS. I thought sure that image would be one of the last images seen in this movie, but that’s not how things play out.

LS: Yes, that’s strange. The giant alien pilot is explained. In fact, it sounds like that’s the germ of where PROMETHEUS, the movie, springs from, in a way. But, you’re right, there’s no scene that exactly replicates that image from ALIEN.

MA: I wanted more of a direct connection between PROMETHEUS and ALIEN.

With or without the hype, I expected more from PROMETHEUS. I liked its imaginative visuals and storyline early on, but later, when I expected it to become very suspenseful and dark, it doesn’t cut it, mostly because it never gets all that dark. And I didn’t like the answers it provided to its thought-provoking questions.

LS: I think you were looking for a movie that was much more like ALIEN, and PROMETHEUS isn’t it, because it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a different kind of movie, and I actually found it refreshing that it didn’t follow the rules we expect from sequels and prequels. As for the answers, just because you are disappointed in them doesn’t mean they aren’t thought-provoking.

MA: But that’s why I was disappointed. I didn’t find them thought-provoking. Seriously, in terms of it being a movie about ideas, it’s no 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, that’s for sure!

I give it two knives.

LS: We sure disagree on this one. I think you’re the one who’s been sitting in the sun too long. Speaking of which, I think I’ll go back to working on my sun tan now.

MA: Okay. I think I’ll take this moon rover for a spin. Sure you don’t want to come along?

LS: Nah. I’m in the mood to relax and contemplate some thought-provoking questions.

MA: Really? Like life, the universe, and everything?

LS: No. Since we’ve got an unlimited budget here, I was wondering more about what I’m going to have for dinner. Steak or lobster?

(One of the monsters from ALIEN pops its oversized head out of the tent)

ALIEN: I’d recommend the steak! (hands LS a beer) Here you go buddy, thanks for watching my back!

MA: I should have known..

—END—.

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

Michael Arruda gives PROMETHEUS ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives PROMETHEUS ~four knives.

Friday Night Knife Fights Presents: ALIEN VS. THE THING (PART 1 OF 3)

Posted in 2011, Aliens, Classic Films, Friday Night Knife Fights, LL Soares Reviews, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , on November 11, 2011 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS: ALIEN VS. THE THING
PART 1 (OF 3)
Featuring Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, and special guest, Mark Onspaugh

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome to another edition of FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. I’m Michael Arruda, and as always, I’m joined by L.L. SOARES. In addition to LL, we have as our guest tonight on FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS, the very talented MARK ONSPAUGH. Welcome, gentlemen.

L.L. SOARES: Gentlemen? Who walked in?

MARK ONSPAUGH: Happy to be here. I can’t wait to talk about two of my favorite movies.

MA: That’s right. We’ve got a great FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS for you this evening. It’s ALIEN (1979) vs. THE THING (1982). You heard me correctly. Tonight these two horror classics go head to head, and it will be up to our panel of experts to decide which one of the two is the better movie. It should be quite the bout.

It’ll take us three segments to get through this debate. Part 1 is tonight, and we’ll have Parts 2 and 3 for you over the next two Friday nights.

Let’s get this party started.

Mark, we’ll start with you. Which is the better monster, the Alien or the Thing?

MO: Tricky one.

MA: I think we’re going to be saying that a lot tonight.

LS: I know. I had the hardest time with this one. It was much harder than I expected.

MA: Both these films are terrific, and so it’s tough to compare them. Okay, Mark, give it your best shot. Which one is the better monster?

MO: While I love the design of the Alien (especially the final form) over that of the tentacled, mandibled Thing, an intelligent Thing is the perfect invader, hiding in plain sight and able to kill in a lot of ways—the Alien may be fast, but it can’t walk down a city street or sit in a diner without being noticed. I go with The Thing for invasion, the Alien for design.

MA: So, in terms of which one is the better monster, you’re calling it a draw?

MO: Something like that.

MA: Well, I won’t call it a draw. While I love both these monsters, I think Alien is the better monster, because it’s the coolest of the two. I definitely agree with Mark. Its design is out of this world!

LS: Of course it is, you knucklehead. It’s an alien!

MA: Ha, ha! I think Alien’s design is superior to that of the Thing. We also see more of the Alien. We hardly see The Thing at all, as it spends its time inside the bodies of humans, hiding out like a scared alien baby. Alien isn’t scared at all. It’s a big bad-assed monster that bleeds acid. Alien is an amazing creation, one of the most memorable ever to appear in a horror or science fiction movie.

And while I agree with Mark that an intelligent Thing is the perfect invader, I don’t really get the impression in THE THING that the creature is all that intelligent. I know he’s supposed to be. I mean, he builds a ship and all, but I don’t think his cunning is on display all that well in THE THING. I think that’s one of the flaws of THE THING, that the monster isn’t as well defined as it should have been.

On the other hand, there’s little doubt in ALIEN about the Alien’s purpose. It breeds and it kills, period.

So, in terms of which one has the better monster, I’m going with ALIEN.

LS: Yeah, my first reaction is to say ALIEN too, because H.R. Giger’s design for the monster is pretty amazing. When the movie first came out, audiences had never seen anything like it before. And it’s been copied a lot since. It really is an iconic monster.

But so is Carpenter’s version of THE THING. While the ALIEN monster looks cooler, and has different stages of development (all of which are dangerous and scary in their own way), the Thing can imitate any life form and attack when you least expect it.

They are both pretty formidable. I give a slight edge to ALIEN, but THE THING comes very close.

MO: I just thought of something else. The Alien needs a queen to reproduce, but the Thing seems asexual and any part can become a new creature—a definite advantage for an invader, especially if all “things” are part of a hive mind…

MA: It sounds like you’re giving the edge to The Thing?

MO: Yep.

MA: All right. Even so, Round 1 goes to ALIEN, since both LL and I gave the edge to the acid-blooded creature.

Next question. Which is the better hero, Kurt Russell or Sigourney Weaver? Russell of course was in THE THING, and Weaver was in ALIEN.

LS: They’re both great in their roles in these movies, but I’d have to give a slight edge to Sigourney Weaver. Personally, I just prefer strong women, and Weaver’s Ripley is one of the strongest in cinema history.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979).

MA: No argument there. She pretty much dominates the entire ALIEN series, especially when you get to ALIEN 3 (1992) and ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997), two of the lesser sequels. She’s the best part of those movies.

LS: But Kurt Russell is pretty terrific in THE THING as well. I’d say they both turn in great performances.

Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady in John Carpenter's THE THING (1982).

MO: Kurt Russell is a total bad-ass, and many of us have been watching him in movies since he was a kid—it’s like seeing a good friend become a superhero (not that I have).

(MA & LS exchange glances.)

MA: I could see you becoming a super villain.

LS: I could see you becoming soup. Trapped in a giant pot surrounded by cannibals.

MA: You think of the most pleasant things!

LS: Don’t I?

MO: You two never stop fighting, do you?

MA: I don’t think our readers want to see us get along.

LS: Where would the fun be in that?

MO: Anyway, if you two are done, I’ll continue.

As bad-ass as Russell is, Sigourney’s Ripley goes from scientist to action hero without ever losing her femininity – I don’t think her final scene in her underwear is so much about titillation as it is about being vulnerable—and she still kicks ass! Ripley paved the way for characters like Sarah Connor and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I pick Sigourney.

MA: Tough one, very tough. Like you two, I should go with Sigourney Weaver for all the reasons you guys put forth, but I really like Kurt Russell in THE THING. He is such a total bad-ass. As much as I like Sigourney Weaver in ALIEN, I just have more fun watching Russell in THE THING, so I have to go with Russell as the better hero. However, I’m in the minority here as you two picked Weaver.

Round 2 also goes to ALIEN.

And that’s all the time we have tonight folks. After two rounds, ALIEN has the early lead. Tune in next Friday night for Part 2 of FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS: ALIEN VS. THE THING to see if THE THING can catch up.

Thanks guys for joining me tonight.

MO: No problem. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next segment.

LS: Me, too. (to audience) And thank all of you for joining us. We’ll see you next Friday for Part 2.

MA: This has been FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. Good night everybody!

—THE END…. FOR NOW!—

This edition of FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS is © Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares and Mark Onspaugh