About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Five Movie Scenes That Scared the Hell Out of Me

I am a big fan of a good well-made suspenseful horror film. Yet I have not been scared watching a movie in something like 30 years. Sure, there have been many films in the genre that I have found tense, disturbing, suspenseful and just plain creepy. As far as reacting with actual real fear to something that I've seen on screen, though...nope...nothing....not for a long time.

However, in my younger days (much younger, in some cases) , I was pretty frakin' terrified by some movies. Most especially, the ones I used to watch alone on TV, late at night, after everyone else in my house had gone to sleep. That intense movie-watching induced fear phenomenon has rarely repeated itself since then.

I suppose my lack of recent cinematic fear could be a function of age. Or could be that I went on to acquire so much knowledge regarding the techniques of film-making that it became hard for me (at least on some level) not be to conscious of  the all the cinematic techniques that are generally employed by any given film maker when they are attempting to scare the living shit out of you.

Back in the day, I was a sucker for many a good horror movie and even some movies (I hesitate to confess) that were not even really in the horror genre. Those movies, and more particularly particular certain scenes in them, have stayed with me. I can still remember and relive the fear they induced. Today, I understand why those scenes managed to get to me way back when but that does lessen my sense memory of the whole affair.

So now I'm about to induce that sense memory once again as I present my Top Five Movies Scenes That Scared the Hell out of me.

5.The Birds (1963)
D: Alfred Hitchcock

Scene: Immediately after the birds' first big attack.

Given the era that I grew up in, Alfred Hitchcock just had to make this list. For my money, The Birds is Hitch's scariest film. No. Not Psycho. The Birds.

Yes, I know that Psycho is the movie that for, better or worse, gave us the entire horror slasher genre. Janet Leigh getting stabbed to death with a large kitchen knife while taking a shower is pretty disturbing, to be sure. However, I was much older by the time I finally saw Psycho. More importantly, though, I think the idea of being attacked by a psychotic transvestite while washing oneself never really connected with me. Now, when it came to the idea of these flying animals that I'd seen in large numbers up in the trees all my life just suddenly, and for no apparent reason, aggressively turning on the human race, well, that's a fear that I connected with quite a bit. I'd experienced first hand seagulls trying to steal french fries from the lone helpless kid on the beach. The knife wielding psychotic transvestites didn't really try that one so much.

I was 11 or 12 when I first saw The Birds. It would be several years before I'd take an entire university course on Hitchcock and would come to know the guy's work inside out. Back then, all by myself, watching the late late show (that's what they used to call midnight TV airings of movies in the pre-Craig Ferguson era), I was fair game for Mr.Hitchcock's masterful fright techniques. About all I knew about the celebrated suspense director at the time was the parody version of him I'd seen on The Flintstones.

The particular scene that really freaked me out did not involve an avian attack. It involved its after math. Right after the 1960's version of Angry Birds launched the film's first action attack set piece, Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren, the stars of the film, find a ten year old Veronica Cartwright on the balcony of her house. In the scene, the young Cartwright has just discovered the dead body of  her teacher played by Suzanne Pleshette (as a longtime fan of The Bob Newhart Show, that in of itself was already disturbing enough). In the scene, Cartwright is wailing her eyes out. There is something about her cries over a death that we did not even witness that was particularly chilling. In addition, the matter-of-fact way that Hitchcock shot the scene made it emotionally disturbing. It managed to induce a fear of the birds after the fact. The avian aggression is nowhere near as scary the deep psychological scars it leaves behind.

You've got to hand it to Hitch for, among other things, having a perfect eye for casting. If you've seen Veronica Cartwright in any of her many characters roles in films ranging from Alien to The Right Stuff to The Witches of Eastwick, you know that totally nailing hysterical crying scenes is one of Ms.Cartwright's amazing gifts as an actor.

4. Fantastic Voyage (1966)
D: Richard Fleischer

Scene: White blood cells attack the miniaturized submarine.

Yeah. I know. Even the description of the scene sounds silly. And Fantastic Voyage is not, strictly speaking, even a horror movie. To be fair, I was 6. In retrospect, I might of been a bit too young to be watching this movie. I wish I'd of shown better judgement back in those days. Between that and the glue eating, my life was a mess back then.

Right off the bat, the very idea of the people inside a submarine being shrunken down small enough to be injected into a human body was kinda wigging me out to begin with. The only time in my life I have ever had surgery was when I was six years old. The memories were no doubt still very fresh at the time. I would not have put it together then but anything medical, let alone anything so fantastically intensely medical,  had the power to really get to me on deep level.

Again, what was I doing watching this movie?

Fallout from the evil white blood cell attack.

The scene that really got me in this case was the one that happens when the effects of the shrink ray (or whatever the device was - I don't really recall) start to wear off and the microscopic submarine slowly starts growing larger. The sub and the scientists inside become large enough to get the attention of the body's immune systems. The science behind the whole premise of the scene (and the entire movie) is impeccable, I'm sure.

Anyway, white blood cells start attacking the submarine. So suddenly these flying white bubble-ish things start hurling themselves at the sub. The visual effects were a tad cheesy even by 1966 standards. However, it is still a very tense moment in the film,  especially if you've been sucked in by that point....and if you're six years old.

Yes on both counts. Totally. The nightmares later that night did a nice a job of embellishing the fears that scene unearthed in me.

I did not see Fantastic Voyage again until many years later on video. Only this time around, being in my early 20's, I found myself focusing, for some strange reason, on Raquel Welsh and her exploitatively tight wet suit. From there on in, I had a decidedly different reaction to the movie.

That's one way to conquer a childhood fear.

3.War of the Worlds(1956)
D: Byron Haskin

Scene: The first on-screen appearance of the Martians.

The 1956 version of War of the Worlds has some very dated visual effects. We're not talking about the more sophisticated terror of the 2005 Steven Spielberg remake here. And I wasn't exactly 6 when I saw it. I think I was like twice that age. I guess War of the Worlds  (as the title song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show tells us) was just one of "some terrible chills" that producer George Pal promised to show his bride.

The '56 War of the Worlds was only loosely based on HG Wells' landmark alien invasion novel of the same name. The scene that really scared me in this movie was loosely based on a scene in the book (and was more faithfully recreated in Spielberg's 2005 remake).

Our two heroes, Gene Barry and Anne Robinson, are holed up in an old farm house in the midst of one of the many Martian  attacks on Southern California (yep, aliens were still from Mars back in the 50's). The Martian spaceships (a very cool design, BTW) can be seen hovering over the farm.

Our heroes look out the window at one point and see a Martian, out of its ship,scurrying by outside. The creature is only seen for a fraction of a second. At this point in the movie, we've seen their ships but not the Martians themselves. That brief glimpse was freaky in its own right.

Barry, being the man in a 1950's SF/Horror movie, runs outside to investigate. Knowing the conventions of the genre very well, he leaves Ms.Robinson alone to fend for herself. Then, while Robinson is looking elsewhere, we see a three-long-fingered hand reach for her shoulder. It makes contact and she screams and turns around. Then we see the three-eyed Martian full-on for the first time. For it's time, it was a very well made monster. It did not look at all like the classic 50's obviously-a-guy-in-a-suit  monster (more likely it was puppet). The Martian was very slimy and creepy looking. Looking back at the stills from the '56 War of the Worlds now, well, honestly, it's actually almost laughable.

I don't remember laughing at it.

2. Alien (1979)
D: Ridley Scott

Scene: The alien egg opens.

Alien has, among other things, the distinction of being the last movie that ever really frightened me. I remember finally catching up with it during its initial theatrical release while visiting Toronto in the summer of '79. I was 15 at the time.

Alien was playing in a big old movie palace kinda theatre (The University, if I recall the name correctly). I went to a weekday matinee showing so, naturally, it being Toronto, nobody was there. So there I was, completely alone one the balcony of this old massive ornate movie theatre. The balcony alone must have had the capacity for about 150 people.

What was it with me and watching these movies alone?

You'd think the many terrifying factors of Alien would have been enough to scare me under those circumstances. Not so much. The intimidating psycho-sexual creature, the face hugging alien and the chest bursting scene were all definitely disturbing, gross and tense. In terms of actual fear, there was, as you might expect, only scene that really got to me.

A lot of times its the anticipation that is the most frightening thing in horror movies. This is especially true when there is a master director like Ridley Scott at the helm. Case in point, the seemingly 20 minute scene with Harry Dean Stanton looking for the lost cat in and amongst all that monster friendly darkness and enclosed spaces. While that scene was was unnerving, it's not the one in question.

Remember the scene where John Hurt and his fellow astronauts discover the massive amounts of alien eggs on the crashed alien spaceship on some unknown planet? That's the part that got me. One sequence in there in particular, actually.

One of the eggs suddenly, slowly and quietly opens up. That's creepy enough. Then stupid John Hurt decides he wants a closer look. When it comes to characters in horror movies, apparently these people have no fear...or common sense. At this point, Scott in masterstroke of suspenseful direction, slowly moves his camera in towards the egg, then over it top of  it and then right down into the pulsating ooziness of the center of the thing.  It's a brilliant shot; one of the best in the film. The viewer just  knows that something bad is in that egg. The egg is creepy and dangerous yet the audience is forced to look right down into it.

That camera movement, more than anything in the movie, filled me with dread. At the time I knew very little about the film so I didn't know about the face hugging alien or anything like that. I just knew something really bad was coming. The shot was just plain scary on a totally visceral level.

Despite a bit of a gross out factor, turns out nothing happens in that shot. Then, after all the tension has been released, and Hurt and the rest of the audience have relaxed, the face-hugger, suddenly and without any build-up of tension, comes leaping out of the egg. In rapid motion, it wraps itself around Hurt's helmet as he falls out of frame. It all happens so fast that the eye can hardly even process the action.

I think I jumped about a foot when that thing sprang out of the egg. Luckily, no one was around to see it.

1. The Fly (1958)
D: Kurt Neumann

Scene: "Help me! Help me!"

In 1986, David Cronenberg made an incredible remake of the classic 1958 horror movie, The Fly.  The film is intense, unsettling, gory and ultimately almost metaphysically disturbing. Classic Cronenberg in other words.

And, pound for pound, it's a much more effective thriller than the original Vincent Price version. The '58 Fly is a tad staid and stiff. The giant fly head looks pretty silly, even next to Goldblum's now 25 year old creature make up in the remake. Also, vintage horror movies like The Fly and The Last Man on Earth where Price doesn't play the villain never really worked for me (check out Theatre of Blood or the Dr.Phibes movies for a couple of amazing villain performances by Price).

All that aside, the end of original Fly has one of the most chillingly frightening scenes ever put on film. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea star David Hedison (though he's credited as Al Hedison) plays a scientist that, like Goldbum, is attempting to develop a matter transport device. Due to, literally, a fly in the works, Hedison ends up with a Fly's head and the fly ends up with Hedison's head.

Long story short, the film ends with the Hedison-headed fly getting caught in a spider's web. The spider starts wrapping the fly up in with its web, effectively paralyzing the insect with the human head. The head remains uncovered and, squirming like hell, the human headed fly yells in a tiny high pitched voice, "Help me! Help me!" as the spider gets ready to eat him alive.


Finally, Price (who plays Hedison's brother) looking down on the tiny horror, picks up a rock and throws it on the spider web, mercifully killing both victim and killer instantly.

That tiny cry for help is probably the scariest thing I have ever heard. It's wickedly unsettling on a primordial level. I saw the scene for the first time by itself, out of context,  in a documentary on great horror movies. That can only speak to it's incredible power. Those helpless words from that terrified lilliputian voice have stayed with me to this day.

It was quite some time before I watched the movie as whole. Watching 90% of the film for the first time, I found myself grimly anticipating the "Help me! Help me!" scene. When the film finally reached its conclusion, the scene had not lost one bit of its disturbing emotional impact. 

While Cronenberg's remake is a great horror film, interestingly, it never hits a moment as viscerally unsettling as the cries of "Help me! Help me!". Oddly, the line is not the in '86 version at all. It only turned up on some of the posters. It was probably put there by an artist that was once as freaked by that scene as I was.

I think this Halloween, I'll put all of these scenes on around midnight and watch them all alone and see if I can recapture some old fearful magic.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Friday, October 21, 2011

15 of The Weirdest Combinations of Artists and Cover Songs Ever

Sorry, folks, no Shatners or Nimoys in this baby.

15. The Sun by They Might Be Giants

One of my fave bands covers a song from an educational album they used to listen to as kids.

14. Batman by The Jam

 Back in the late 70's, covering any TV show theme song, let alone one that (at the time) was very strongly associated silly kids stuff, was a bit of a risk for an emerging New Wave band from the UK.

13. Sympathy For the Devil by Laibach

Love this version.

The lead singer sounds like Henry Kissinger doing Bela Lugosi.

12. It's Not Easy Being Green by Frank Sinatra

I remember getting a major "WTF?!" when a friend of mine who was huge Sinatra fan heard this one for the first time.

11. Love is All Around by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Do you think maybe Joan Jett had a crush on Mary Tyler Moore as a kid?

10. My Own Personal Jesus by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash sings Depeche Mode. Man, those last few albums of Cash's career were awesome.

The video is by yours truly.

9. Follow Me by Blondie

I guess Blondie was big enough at the time that they could get away with doing a song from a Broadway musical. Then again, this album did mark the beginning of their downturn.

8. High Ho by Tom Waits

 Imagine Snow White directed by Bertolt Brecht...

7. Suzanne by Neil Diamond

 You step into an elevator circa 1975 and hear this.

6. Sunshine Superman by Mel Torme

Ya gotta keep up with these kids today, Mel.

5. By The Time I Get to Phonix by Nick Cave

And in the other direction....

I don't care how much of a dark post-Punk icon you are, you should still show some respect your elders, Mr.Cave.

4. Don't Give Up by Willie Nelson and Sinead O'Connor

I'm not sure what's weirder: that Willie Nelson did a song with Sinead O'Connor or that he did a cover of a song made famous by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush with Sinead O'Connor.

3.Let The Sun Shine In by Frente

The song that made Pebbles and Bam-Bam famous.

A beautiful version, in spite of itself.

2. Here Comes Santa Claus by Bob Dylan

I'm not sure where Bob is at these days. Jewish? Born-again Christian? Buddhist? One thing is for sure: none of those religions believe in Santa.

1. Ob-la-Di-Ob-La-Da by Bing Crosby

This one is just too awesome for words...

The frakkin' back-up dancers alone are priceless.

These are some of my choices for really odd cover versions, feel free to chime in with some of yours below...

Friday, October 14, 2011

The thing about The Thing

WARNING: This post contains some Big Time SPOILER ALERTS on the original novella and all three Thing movies (including the NEW THING MOVIE)

The Thing, the third movie in what can now safely be referred to as The Thing franchise opens today. Like the titular shape-shifting creature, the story and basic premise of The Thing has shape shifted and adapted to the themes, issues and even fears of the various times in which films were made.

The latest take on the badass chameleon alien monster has garnered a great deal of skepticism amongst fans.  Reactions have ranged from “No!” to “Why?”.  However, there has consistently been a new movie version of The Thing every thirty years or so since 1951.  The original novella, Who Goes There? by legendary SF writer John W. Campbell Jr. was published in 1938.  The basic premise behind the story of a group of scientific researchers in Antarctica who discover a malevolent alien being buried in the ice goes back even further than that.

If you take into account the underlying archetypal themes of the story, such as shape-shifting, spiritual possession and the evil twin, it’s a tale almost as old as civilization itself.  In literature and folklore, the yarn usually involved such evil or mischievous forces as fairies, demons and ghosts. By the time the more technological and scientifically advanced mid-20th century rolled around, the mythological figures were replaced by the more mysterious and ominously threatening forces of alien beings from other worlds.

Writing under the name Don A. Stuart for the pulp magazine Astounding Stories, Campbell’s novella Who Goes There? first appeared in print in 1938. It’s hard to verify all these years later but more than likely the title was meant to be a reference to the opening line of William Shakespeare’s immortal tragedy Hamlet. The line is spoken in reaction to the first appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s recently murdered father. Timeless themes are already prevalent in the title alone.

Who Goes There? is a well written piece of short fiction that gets a lot of mileage out of a simple premise.  A group of researchers working in a research base in Antarctica known as Big Magnet stumble upon a spaceship in the ice that has been buried there for 20 million years. In a classic ironic bad move typical of these kinds of stories, the crew brings a frozen alien being back to the station. Once the alien thaws, it comes to life. It soon becomes apparent that The Thing (as it it is referred to in the story) can take the form, shape, memories and even personality of any being it kills. It is even possible, the crew soon realizes, that The Thing may be able to do this to more than one being at any given time.

The story quickly becomes a classic cat and mouse game of suspense with the added twist that it’s never really clear who is the cat and who is the mouse. Short story even shorter: all incarnations of The Thing are  finally detected and destroyed by MacReady, the base’s assistant commander. The Thing is stopped just short of building its own atomic-powered anti-gravity device. Its plan was to escape Antarctica and infect the rest of the planet.  

That’s a key part of the premise of the original 1938 story. What is at stake is more than just the survival of the men and the ensuing “who is The Thing in disguise?” paranoia. It’s about protecting the entire world.  If anything, the altruistic motives of the crew in Who Goes There? trump even their own instincts for self preservation. A telling premise for a story that first appeared  on the eve of World War II.

13 years after the first appearance of Who Goes There? in print, a film adaptation of Campbell’s story, The Thing From Another World, was released. Though the film was not really an adaptation. Just about the only elements of Campbell's story that turn up in The Thing From Another World are the remote location, a very cold climate, an alien and a crashed spaceship.

The Antarctic location of the base is replaced by an Arctic location.The research station has become a US Air Force base in Alaska.  In this case, the alien spaceship (or "flying saucer" as it is referred to in the dialogue) has crashed not 20 million years ago but very recently. The Thing itself is a classic Guy-in-a-Suit 50’s sci-fi monster movie alien. The decision to dump the shape shifting angle is interesting, given the Cold War era context of the film. The movie easily could have gone in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers direction. Distrust of everyone and everything for fear of Communist infiltration was an idea heavily promoted in politics and the media in the early 1950’s. 

The Thing From Another World, though, takes a much simpler path. Destroy the evil alien monster at all costs. The greater good of the free world trumps anyone person's own personal safety. The underlying threat of The Thing taking of the world most likely resonated strongly in the era of the Red Scare.

The Thing From Another World opts for an obvious no-frills killer monster plot line. The Thing is some kind of a plant monster that feeds on human blood. And who knows? The monster could be the vanguard of a much larger alien invasion. Protecting the rest of world from the evil creature is paramount. The film’s central conflict is just like the film it was shot on: black and white.

Historical, political and social contexts aside, The Thing From Another World is a very effective thriller. Even by today’s standards there are scenes of great suspense that still hold up.

The movie’s director is credited as Christan Nyby, a long time editor for legendary Hollywood director Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep, Sargent York, Rio Bravo and the Star Wars-inspiring  Air Force). While Hawks is credited as producing the movie, it has been widely reported that most if not all of the film was actually directed by Hawks himself .

Whomever is responsible, the movie was one of the first to use the classic suspense tactic of the sudden scare without any build up of tension.  For instance, there is a scene when the base commander casually opens a door. Suddenly, and without warning, The Thing is right there on the other side, attempting to lurch into the room. The scare is so effective that there is automatic suspense for the rest of the film any time anyone even reaches for a doorknob.

The Thing, in the end, is ultimately destroyed, by the the actions of the brave and resourceful US servicemen, another powerful theme of post WWII early Cold War Era (one that, quite understandably, has resurfaced in a post-911 world).  Even the media is heroic in the end (not really something that has stayed with us into a post-911 world). The reporter embedded on the Air Force base to cover the crashed flying saucer story, gets on the radio at the end of the film and broadcasts to everyone back home in America that the threat from another world was defeated this time but there may be many more invading Things to come. He utters the now classic line that has come to define much of 1950’s Hollywood Sci-Fi, “Keep Watching The Skies!”.

The Thing From Another World did well at the box office in 1951. It saw many subsequent re-releases and TV airings in the years to come. One of the fans the movie picked up along the way was a young kid on whom the 1951 Thing made a lasting impression. That young man’s name was John Carpenter. Carpenter would, of course, grow up to be one of Hollywood’s most successful horror directors.  He made his mark in the late 70’s with one of the early progenitors of what is now a staple of the horror sub-genre, the slasher film. The film was Halloween and it also happened to slash box office records (pun intended).

In 1982, Carpenter got his chance to remake one of his favourite movies.  Despite his affection for The Thing From Another World, he kept very little of the original film in the remake. Instead, Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster returned to Campbell’s original novella. The plot is very close to the plot of the ‘82 Thing. Even the character names are mostly the same. About the only thing Carpenter retained from the ‘51 version was a similar font in the onscreen title sequence.  John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very different  beast than The Thing From Another World.

The setting is back once again in an Antarctic research station. The malevolent alien retains many of the shape shifting assimilation characteristics of the The Thing of Campbell’s story. Even McReady’s (yep, that character is back too) unique blood test for detecting alien duplicates is almost virtually the same.

Kurt Russell (who, by 1982, had finally successfully ditched the typecasting curse of all those 70’s live action Disney comedies like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Strongest Man in the World) plays the character of MacReady. The names are the same but the novella and movie characters are not exactly identical. For one thing, McReady and the other characters are pretty much only concerned with their own survival and self-preservation. Not only is protecting the rest of the world from The Thing a secondary consideration but so is protecting the other members of the research crew.  With a creature so deadly and so evasive, it becomes every man for himself pretty quickly. Literally every man. Oddly, the 50’s version of The Thing has female characters but the 80’s (true to the 1930’s story) does not.

And it is this aspect of the characters that makes Carpenter’s vision of The Thing so dark.  People easily become selfish and unlikeable under such a threat. Is the conflict with the monster or with each other or even with civilization itself?

The other darkness and far more visual elements of The Thing are the effects. Using a combination of animatronics, stop motion animation, make-up and plain old fashioned puppetry techniques, Carpenter and his effects crew created some incredibly creepy and wonderfully cinematic appearances for the eponymous monster. Each time we see The Thing either being detected and/or getting caught in the act of assimilating another victim, the visual effects take center stage. However, there's more to these scenes than just their functioning (as many critics back in the day loved to point out) as a showcase for impressive effects work.

People and animals are distorted, their faces or other body parts are twisted often screaming mutilations of nature that have become appendages to the creature. The Thing itself is filled with pulsing veins, spurting blood and unknown organs. Tentacles, claws, crab-like legs writhe about as the creature assimilates living beings and lashes out for more victims. The Thing expands to great heights or great lengths or both. The creature of The Thing is disturbing, compelling and frightening at the same time. Yet the appearances of the creature are also tinged with an undertone of pathos. In the end, The Thing is a dangerous beast, to be sure, but its actions are also portrayed as those  of a cornered animal, deeply aggressive in its fear.

The Thing is kind of an exaggerated version of its enemies. It is fighting for its own survival and self-preservation just like its human counterparts. Overall, the portrayal injects a grim yet compelling vision of the human condition in what could otherwise be mere horror movie escapism.

In 1982, the Cold War had heated up once again in the early days of the Reagan era. Gone were the dominant anti-war, anti-establishment ideologies of the 60’s and 70’s. The world was swinging back to conservatism. In its historical context, Carpenter’s nuanced portrayal of a creature just as distorted and frightened as its human enemies reads almost as a last gasp of liberalism in an increasingly reactionary era.

That portrayal may explain why the film bombed in its initial theatrical release. Ultimately, on an almost subconscious level, The Thing is scary, suspenseful and grotesque but most importantly, it is bleak and nihilistic. It’s a message and a motif that can be a bit of a turn-off on a first viewing. It all holds up much more strongly over multiple viewings. That was no doubt why The Thing only attained its classic cult status after its initial home video release.

The Thing had such a long and distinguished track record as cult classic that rumours of remake or a sequel have been lingering for years. After 30 years, the rumours were wrong. 

No remake. No sequel. But there is a prequel.

The newly released film version of The Thing depicts events that immediately precede the events of the classic ‘82 version. Narrative-wise, that’ s a prequel. However, the movie has the exact same title as the 1982 version. Ostensibly that makes it a remake. Or maybe a premake? A requel? Whatever the case, it’s a clever way of hitting the core audience of fans of the classic ‘82 version while also attracting a new generation of movie-goes who are unfamiliar with the classic and are just looking for some new SF Horror thrills.

On that level, The Thing 2011 (seriously, how is Universal Pictures ever gonna keep their catalog straight?) certainly delivers, but it really doesn’t end there.

The now classic themes of The Thing are all present: terror, paranoia, violence and plenty of visually elaborate effects. The story focuses on the Norwegian outpost referred to in the opening of The Thing 1982.

While director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. displays reverence for Carpenter’s The Thing, the film differs from the ‘82 version in many significant ways. Gone, for instance, is any sense of pathos for the alien creature. The creature is violent, aggressive and horrifying. Like the in the ‘51 version, The Thing is evil. Kill it now. Period.

The Thing 2011 displays a sense of terror that reaches audacious extremities. van Heijningen lingers on the creature at just about any point in the story when it becomes a mass of unnaturally pale twisted human body parts. We see The Thing as made up human appendages along with blood drenched veins, slimy tentacles, hairy insect legs and crustacean claws. And that’s just for starters.  

The Thing also contains such intense psycho-sexual imagery as a thick-veined alien phallus-shaped form of what was once a human arm that forcibly inserts itself directly into its victim’s screaming mouth. Or, in another the sequence, a six legged, half assimilated naked form of a man  crawls over top of another screaming male victim. It then slowly lowers its grotesque semi-human naked form down onto the man and forcibly melds with his flesh. Glimpses of The Thing’s oral orifices consistently appear as some variation of a vaginally shaped mouth lined with tiny sharp castrating fangs.

Geez, Freudian much, guys?

In spite of (or perhaps because of) such imagery, The Thing 2011 is able to build suspense with the best of them. van Heijningen knows how to direct his actors, shoot his shots and edit his scenes to create tension that is often palatable. The paranoiac undertones of the story are probably the strongest feature of The Thing 2011.

The current Thing is unmistakably a product of a post-911 world. We live in a time when most of the western world still remains on edge about potential terrorist attacks. Those plotting such attacks, we are told, are potentially living in our midst. The re-currant “trust no one” theme of The Thing plays particularly chillingly in 2011.

Despite the fact that The Thing is a pure force of evil, the humans are not necessarily a pure force for good. Their actions in their quest for survival against a deceptive and powerful enemy are often morally compromised.

In the 2011 Thing, the character of Dr. Kate Lloyd (another solid performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World fame) plays more or less the same role in the story that the MacReady character played in the original novella and the ’82 film. The young American female scientist seems to intuitively understand the potential threat of the creature almost from square one. Unfortunately, her “more mature” male old world colleagues do not share that intuition. In that sense, Lloyd’s character is closer to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character in the Alien franchise than she is to Russell’s (or even Campbell’s) MacReady.

The Thing 2011 is often intentionally ambiguous both in terms of its narrative and its morality. Dr. Lloyd makes some extreme decisions, working on what appears to be (to the viewer at least) somewhat questionable evidence. Her choices make for some of the most emotionally charged moments in the film.
Is Lloyd a hero? Or an anti-hero? Did she do what was necessary to survive? Or did she irrevocably cross morally unacceptable boundaries?
What was that about a post-911 world again?

At the current rate of prequels and remakes, we are due for another version of The Thing in roughly 2041. What changes to our world with the next 30 years see? More importantly, how will those changes impact the story and underlying themes of the next Thing movie?

We will just have to wait and, in MacReady’s final words of the ’82 Thing, “...see what happens.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

1982 : A Great Year for SF/Fantasy Movies or The Greatest Year for SF/Fantasy Movies?

There are some years that are known, for some strange coincidence of circumstances or another, as  the year in which a number of great classic movies were released. The most notable example is probably 1939, the year that such classic movies as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, The Women and The Hunchback of Notre Dame hit movie screens.  Or, another example might be that Jaws, Nashville, Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Barry Lydon were all released in 1975.

But what about a year when many classic films from one specific genre all came out at the same time? That year was 1982 and the genre was Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Not long ago, in the course of my research for many of my other blog entries, I started to notice something. I saw that a great many of  films released in 1982 were classic, cult, influential or really good (and, in some cases, all of the above) science fiction and fantasy movies.  I had come across this coincidence once or twice before but it was not unit I saw all the SF/Fantasy releases of '82 lined up back to back that the true significances of the year really hit me.

1982 is arguably the year that the SF/Fantasy genre really came into its own both in terms of its cinematic aesthetic and as a viable source of assured box office success.

By the early 80's, there had already been a number of creatively and commercially successful SF/Fantasy films: Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, The Empire Strikes Back, two Superman movies, the first Star Trek movie and (if you count it as part of the genre) Raiders of the Lost Ark, to name a few. The genre was finally breaking free of its previous status of being confined to schlocky low budget B-movies and "silly kids stuff".

It was also an era were visual effects were coming into their own, particularly in the fields of matte technology, stop-motion animation, prosthetic make-up, animatronics and perhaps most importantly, in the still nascent craft of Computer Generated Images or (as it would become popularly known years later) CGI.

Another factor new to the movie biz in '82 was the emergence of home video. Many of the that year's SF/Fantasy movies ended up finding a bigger audience on video than they ever did in their original theatrical release (remarkably bigger, in some cases).

The SF/Fantasy movies of 1982 took all those factors to next level and beyond; the genre would never be the same again. Take a look at the SF/Fantasy movies that entered the world of cinema in 1982 as they are listed here in order of their release dates....

Swamp Thing
Released February 19,1982
D: Wes Craven

The precursor of today's comic book movie craze....sort of.

In the early 80's, despite the surge in the SF/Fantasy surge, movies based on comics were few and far between. You had the Christopher Reeve Superman franchise and that was about it. And, let's face it, Swamp Thing is hardly Superman.

The story of a scientist turned into...well...a...swamp...um...thing in a lab accident had been something of a cult comic hit in the 70's. The character would later turn out to be enduring enough to see a number of reworkings, (most famously by the innovative comic writer, Alan Moore). The movie, however, is a tad more conventional. It stars future Twin Peaks star Ray Wise, former Maude star Adrienne Barbeau and, oddly, sophisticated French actor Louis Jordan.

The title was the subject of much derision by non-comic book fans back in the day.  For the uninitiated, Swamp Thing does sound like a schlocky B-movie premise and the film does, to an extent, play to those expectations. Those two factors may well be what impacted the film's initial box office disappointment. Over time, though, Swamp Thing did build a cult audience (through, you guessed it, home video). It was enough of a following that a sequel, Return of Swamp Thing, was finally released in 1989.

A pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Wes Craven (already known for his cutting edge horror movies like The Last House on the Left and the original The Hills Have Eyes) directed Swamp Thing. Craven tends to play down the horror genre potential of Swamp Thing in favour of an interesting mix humour and action. Reportedly, Craven was attempting to convince studio execs that he could direct more mainstream fare featuring larger scale action sequences and bigger name actors.

While not necessarily true to the spirit of the comic at the time, Swamp Thing is a fun movie, that is a fascinating anomaly for both its director and its time.

Cat People
Released April 2, 1982
D: Paul Schrader

If you prefer your horror fantasy stories about human feline transformation  to be steeped in generous amounts of nudity and erotica, Cat People is definitely the movie for you.

The film is probably best remembered today for the David Bowie song of the same name (of which there were two different versions, the Giorgio Moroder produced movie version and the alternate version that appeared on Bowie's Let's Dance album).

Cat People is a remake of French-American director Jacques Tournier's fascinatingly offbeat 1942 cult horror movie of the same name. The remake was directed by Paul Schrader, who has also written screenplays for some of Martin Scorsese's best films including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ.

Similar to its source material, Cat People is closer in nature to fantasy than horror. The moody and atmospheric portrayal of a people who transform into a lethal panthers by night is kinda creepy but not really all that scary. How could it be when Natasha Kinski, the female lead, spends something like 80% of the movie completely naked?

I remember a few years after this movie came out, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go see Wim Wenders' film, Paris, Texas which also starred Kinski. Having only seen her in Cat People, I answered, "Yeah. I really want to see what Natasha Kinski looks like with her clothes on.".

Conan The Barbarian
Released May 14, 1982
D: John Milius

Robert E. Howard's best known and most successful creation finally made it to the big screen in '82.

Conan made his way into movie theaters via a successful line of Marvel Comics adaptations and the brisk sales of the Conan paperbacks boosted by the babes and beefcake cover art of legendary artist Frank Frazetta. Marvel, Frazetta and the movie's Libertarian director John Milius had much more influence on the portrayal of Conan in this film version than did the original Howard short stories.

The comics, the Frazetta covers and the movies' (the first one in particular) vision of Howard's barbarian wanderer shifted one specific interpretation of the character to what is now essentially the definitive image of Conan in pop culture. Personally, I've always found that particular popular interpretation to be more misogynistic and more generally hostile in nature than its source material. True, Howard's stories were written for an almost exclusively male audience in the 1930's and thus weren't exactly a bastion of political correctness to begin with. The extremities Conan has been taken to in the 75 years since Howard's death, however, I find are just a little too catered to appeal to horny, socially disenfranchised 14 year-old boys.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm as into well-crafted unapologetically male escapist anti-heroes as the next geek. It's when that escapist fantasy transgresses into a real world philosophy of life that it becomes an issue.

Nonetheless, there are few interesting and entertaining Howard-inspired episodic elements in Conan The Barbarian. For me, though, it's all a simple A to B revenge story with few unexpected twists or complications along the way. Every time I've seen the movie, I've spent the last twenty minutes saying "Oh, c'mon, just slay James Earl Jones already and get it over with."

My ideological, Robert E. Howard purist and  insider screenwriting perspectives aside, Conan The Barbarian is still regarded by many as an epic sword and sorcery Fantasy classic. For a lot of people who grew up with the movie on video, Arnold Schwarzenegger simply is Conan The Barbarian. Indeed, home video is really where Conan The Barbarian made its mark.

Though never quite achieving "blockbuster" status during its initial theatrical release, the movie still did reasonably well at the box office. However, the initial and subsequent home video releases more than tripled Conan The Barbarian's revenues.

That alone makes Conan The Barbarian seminal to the SF/Fantasy film genre.

The Road Warrior
Released May 21,1982
D: George Miller

Woah. Did this one come out in 1982 too? Yep. It did. Well, in this country it did, anyway.

Mad Max 2, as it was known in Australia, had already been released in that country on December 24, 1981 (a true Christmas classic if ever there was one). The Road Warrior was, of course, a sequel to Mad Max, the 1977 Australian post apocalyptic action movie. Mad Max was huge in Australia and died at the box office once it crossed the Pacific to North America.

Retitled The Road Warrior for its release here, the movie was not just that rare case of a sequel that was bigger and more successful than the original movie. It was that even rarer case of  90% of its audience not even knowing the movie was a sequel to begin with. The first movie was just part of the three minute prologue as far the average North American 1982 movie-goer was concerned.

The Road Warrior took in twice as much at the box office in the US and Canada as it did in Australia...and it took in quite a bit Down Under. Australian director George Miller's genre defining post apocalyptic western also, for better or worse, helped make Mel Gibson a Hollywood star. Does anyone remember when Mel Gibson was still Australian?

The Road Warrior follows the story of rival tribes and gangs battling it out in the wasteland of the Australian outback for the some of the world's last remaining gasoline. It is a violent and at times almost sadomasochistic action movie. It is also incredibly well made and just plain thrilling to watch. Everything from the stunts, to the cinematography to the editing to the music all work in concert to achieve the one goal: keep those car chases and crashes moving, moving, moving and then moving some more.

I remember when the movie came out on video, a friend of mine told me that his dad fell asleep while watching The Road Warrior. As 19 year-old kids, we could not get our heads around that one. The Road Warrior at that time was the most exciting, loud and action packed movie we'd ever seen. How could anybody possibly fall asleep watching it?

Almost 30 years later, I picked up a copy of the Blu-ray edition of the film on sale for a great price at Future Shop. I went home and put the disc on in all it's high resolution picture and 5.1 Tru HD surround glory. I'd had a long busy day that day.

So, you guessed it, I fell asleep watching The Road Warrior.

Released June 4 , 1982
D: Tobe Hooper

Tobe Hooper, the director of the original 70's Texas Chainsaw Massacre goes quite a bit more mainstream Hollywood with the film, Poltergeist.

This is another one of those '82 films that is borderline, generically speaking. Is it Horror? Fantasy? Both? There are plenty of scares in Poltergeist for sure but there are also fantastical elements, big special effects and extensive action sequences. With Steven Spielberg producing, Poltergeist also blazes a path not often followed before or since, that of the family friendly horror movie.

A standout scene in Poltergeist takes place when one of the kids is attacked by a clown doll under his bed while it is possessed by evil spirits. While the possible exception of the Batman's arch nemesis, The Joker, never have I seen anything so chillingly capture that childhood fear of clowns. Yeah, sure they're funny looking with the red noses and the make-up and all but what are they hiding behind that bright garish face? Probably something bad.

Then there's the scene where the same kid's other toys are possessed by evil spirits. The toys dancing and flying about the room are fun at first but they get scary pretty fast. And let's not forget that it's the unforgettable blond little girl with the piercing eyes, after all, who is the detector and conduit for the evil spirits.

So many horror elements involving and aimed at kids is not common in these kinds of movies. Usually scary movies are aimed at frightening one specific audience to the exclusion of all others: what kids find scary is not what teenagers find scary nor is what teenagers find scary what frightens adults.Poltergeist is an attempt to frighten, excite and entrain everybody at once. It's evidence of the increasingly savvy marketing transformation that Hollywood went through in the 80's.

Or, like I said, a considerably more Hollywood mainstream  movie from the guy who made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Released June 4, 1982
D: Nicolas Meyer

Considered by most fans to be the best of the Star Trek feature films, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan almost never was. The much anticipated 1979 return of the crew of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek The Motion Picture made Paramount Pictures a ton of money. However, the production of the first Trek movie was an over-budget, behind-schedule nightmare. No one at the studio even wanted to think of jumping into that mud pit again. Then Paramount was bought by a multi-billionaire who also happened to be a Trekker. He was dying to a see second, better Trek feature film. So he hired veteran TV producer Harve Bennett to do the whole thing on the cheap and,well, the rest is Starfleet history.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a very entertaining retro action adventure film with the original TV cast playing above their game (especially Mr.Shatner). I've always felt, though, that the film is marred by a flawed ending. I was down with Spock's death, even the first time I saw the movie. My big problem comes after that. The final moments of Star Trek II are filled with hammer-over-the-head "Spock's not really dead! There will be a sequel!"  messages repeatedly spelled out in the both language of the film and in actual spoken dialogue. It kinda mucks up an otherwise enthralling, satisfying and (especially for fans) cathartic finale.

I've also heard many fans complain that director Nicolas Meyer was clearly unfamiliar with the series before signing on to the project ("Mr.Chekov...I never forget a face"). True, but Meyer still put together an extremely thrilling and exciting reunion for the crew of the Starship Enterprise. He would also go on to direct my fave Trek feature, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

In Star Trek II, veteran actor and Chrysler pitchman  Ricardo Montalban turns in a  brilliant performance. He plays the titular character of Khan, the Melville-quoting, genetically engineered super human villain resurrected from the original 60's TV series. And, yes, for those of you wondering, that was Ricardo's real chest in the movie.

Star Trek II also made a big mark on the home video front but in a different way than some of the other '82 SF/Fantasy classics. It was the first VHS tape to be "priced to own". When released on video a year later in 1983, the Star Trek II VHS tape retailed at the then low, low price of 19.95. That was as opposed to $125, the previous average retail purchase price for movies on home video. Needless to say, the cheaper movies on VHS thing stuck.

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
Released June 11, 1982
D: Steven Spielberg

ET, The Extra-terrestrial was the highest grossing movie of 1982 and is still one of the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time. Ironically, though, ET does not have the same cult status longevity amongst SF/fantasy fans that many of the other '82 SF/Fantasy movies do.

In fact, ET is the only Spielberg film that I've only seen once (yes, including Always). I remember enjoying it in the theatre back in '82. My favorite line still sticks in my head: "Why doesn't he[ET] just beam back up to his ship?" "This is real life, silly.". However, in the almost 30 years since, I have had no desire to revisit it. 

I think the reason ET never made a bigger impact with me was that whole thing just seemed a little too aimed below my age. I was 18 at the time and "sucky" was still something of an issue for in movies those days (don't get me started on the Ewoks).

And, with apologies to all the fans out there, ET is really sucky. Like seriously. Big time.

Not that Spielberg didn't do that over-the-top sentimentality well. He did. Like seriously. Big time.

That being said, ET really cemented SF/Fantasy has a major box office property. Prior to Star Wars in 1977, there was only one #1 grossing movie of its year in the SF/Fantasy genre. The year was 1968 and the movie was Stanley Kubrick's immortal 2001: A Space Odyssey (the box office numbers were no doubt bolstered by the numerous repeat viewings by the ever-growing LSD-dropping film-goer demographic).

By 1982,  ET was the third such #1 grossing film of its year (fourth if you count the James Bond movie Moonraker as SF/Fantasy) since Star Wars in 1977.  So what was the number of SF/Fantasy films that were #1 grossing movies of their years between 1982 and 2011, you ask? The answer: 13.  Quite the shift, that.

To his credit, Spielberg recently said that he regretted digitally futzing with ET some 25 years or so after its initial theatrical release. Well, George Lucas he ain't.

Blade Runner
Released June 25, 1982
D: Ridley Scott

Along with Star Wars and 2001, Blade Runner is one of the greatest and most influential SF films of all time.

Like a lot of people who saw Blade Runner during its initial theatrical release in 1982, I really didn't like it on my first viewing. Impressive visuals and effects but everything else seemed pretty muddled.

Part of the problem back then was that the film was not what audiences were expecting. Blade Runner came right after two massive Harrison Ford hit movies released two summers in a row: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

Having seen an early cut of Blade Runner and (more importantly) the preview audience reactions to early screenings of the movie, the studio marketing people quickly put together some cleverly deceptive trailers. They basically sold Blade Runner as was something it was not. The first trailers made Blade Runner look like some kind a film noire action adventure movie featuring a main character that was a hybrid of Ford's two iconic roles: Hans Solo and Indiana Jones. They also pushed the fact Blade Runner was directed by Ridley Scott, the guy who brought us that exciting SF horror thriller, Alien.

Only people who saw the movie in theaters or on video in the 80's (or who own the DVD or Blu-ray disc that contains multiple alternate release versions of the film) are familiar with one of Blade Runner's biggest initial problems. The movie originally had a voice-over track that was heard intermittently throughout the film. The voice-over was a problem for many reasons. It was clunky narration that was awkwardly written (by outside writers much later in the process, reportedly) to sound like a hard-boiled futuristic version of  Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane. The voice-over narration also attempted to pigeonhole the story and ultimately the film itself into something it was not; it over-simplified or over-explained or even misinterpreted many pf Blade Runner's more subtle narrative and thematic elements.  Perhaps worst of all, the voice-over features what is quite possibly Harrison Ford's worst acting ever. Overall, it was bad for the movie. And I have not even begun on the tacked-on studio-imposed happy(ish) ending that robbed that version of Blade Runner of any nuanced depth it may have had left.

It took me a some time to come around on Blade Runner. Interestingly, the movie did find its audience later on video. Its new-found success was on the big screen with revival showings at repertory cinemas (ask your grandparents, kids). Midnight screenings were especially popular. I remember one such screening at the old Seville theatre in Montreal as the time I first started reconsidering Blade Runner.

Ridley Scott's 1992 Director's Cut ,which omitted the awful voice over and the "fly away into the sunset" ending, marked a big improvement. It gave Blade Runner a much more suitable introduction to a new generation of fans.

They shoulda got whoever did the narration for this trailer to take over Ford's narration of the initial version of Blade Runner. Just sayin'.

The Thing
Released June 25, 1982
D: John Carpenter

The Thing is a movie that earned its legendary classic cult status entirely on home video.

Halloween and Escape From New York director John Carpenter's remake of Howard Hawks' 1951 film The Thing From Another World bombed in its original theatrical release. After its home video release, the SF thriller finally found its audience right there in their living rooms.

The Thing is another one of those films that straddles the generic line.  It's part SF, part horror and all paranoia. Carpenter's remake ditches the 1951 version's guy-in-a-suit monster (that was prevalent in a lot 50's SF and horror movies). Instead, Carpenter decided to return to the plot of SF writer John W. Campbell Jr.'s original 1938 short story, Who Goes There? (which the '51 version was ostensibly also based on). In Campell's story, The Thing is a shape shifting alien being capable of taking on the identity of just about any living thing (small "t"). One day this creature turns up at Antarctic research station manned by a very small crew. Do I really need to explain where the paranoia part comes in?

Many critics have stated that the film is heavily influenced by Ridley Scott's Alien. That is true only to the extent that both films are about a small crew of people facing a malevolent and unknown alien force in a confided environment. Beyond that, The Thing is its own movie . The visual effects, for instance, are of a different range and character than the creature in alien or of any other preceding monster movie, for that matter.

The Thing has a number of scenes featuring the eponymous creature making a fleeting appearance as it attempts to take the form of another one of the men (oddly the 50's version has women in the cast and the 80's version does not). Some of these scenes are very well directed. Others are incredibly well directed.

Outside of a couple of the main characters, we don't really get any insight into the who these guys living in a remote antarctic research station really are. The way they dress and  the general attitude seen in the way the uniformly strong cast plays the men is about as far character development goes. None of that, however, does anything to reduce to ever mounting tension that Carpenter builds so well.

The dialogue frequently refers to the outside temperature as "Forty below" but watching the way the cast plays being cold, I doubt any of those actors have ever actually experienced even 20 below, let alone 40.

BTW, stay tuned to this blog next week for more on new remake/prequel of The Thing.

Released July 9, 1982
D: Steve Lisberger

Tron is the shock troop of today's CGI special effects movie world. It also dates back to a pre-The Dude Jeff Bridges. Back when Bridges was still often identified as "Lloyd's son", he was just another hunky leading man and was never seen as the Oscar-winning respected Jedi master of the craft of acting that he is today.

Tron does for early 80's computers what Fantastic Voyage in the 60's did for the human body: have little people explore its inner workings in the most highly imaginative and inaccurate way possible.

I remember what amazed me the most about Tron was how Disney managed to come up with the "character" of Bit. Bit was essentially a digital version of the little cute child-like sidekick character that was requisite for all Disney movies back in the day. Also fascinating to me was Wendy Carlos' electronic score, particularly in the scenes where the anthropomorphized programs "interface" with the god-like "users". Carlos' haunting choral score for these scenes seems to suggest some kind of divinity on the part of the "users". I always wondered Carlos had managed to slip a subversive statement about religion in there.

This might win you a on-line trivia game some day: the inner world of the computer that Bridges' finds himself trapped in was designed by cutting edge comic book artist Moebius, who has also lent his talents to seminal SF.Fantasy films like Alien and The Fifth Element.

Tron is a movie that built a so much of a new audience on video that it took 30 years to accumulate the critical mass of fans necessary to make a sequel.

I remember being really impressed with the level of sophistication in the computer animation featured in Tron. A friend of mine who was studying computer science told me that "Oh, computer graphics are going to go wwwaaayyyy beyond that." . Stunned,  I replied, "No way!".

Q The Winged Serpent
Released October 29, 1982
D: Larry Cohen

Q The Winged Serpent is the only '82 SF/Fantasy movie still lingers today in relative obscurity. The DVD "special edition"'s that keep turning up suggest that this little over-looked lost gem of an exploitation movie still has at least a small but loyal cult following.

I don't remember Q The Winged Serpent playing in the theaters at all. I only caught up with it many years later on video.

The story involves a cult somehow resurrecting the Aztec flying god Quetzalcoatl (not to be confused with Quetzalcoatlus, the prehistoric pterosaur named after the flying serpent god) in 1982 New York City. The story of a giant winged serpent killing people off one by one in The Big Apple may not sound that promising but, trust me, stick with it.

NYPD detectives Richard Roundtree and David Carradine (wow, they finally got around to the Kung Fu/Shaft team-up I'd been waiting for my whole childhood ) investigate a perplexing series of rooftop killings.
A pre-Law and Order, pre-"I'm going to to go diss the entire American political system then move to Halifax and extol the virtues of alcoholism" Michael Moriarty plays a petty criminal who discovers where Q's nest is. He then attempts to extort the city in exchange for information on the creatures whereabouts.

The movie is funny, engaging, quirky and exciting all at the same time. Plus there are some unexpectedly strong performances, especially from Moriarty. Q The Winged Serpent is certainly worthy of the year in which it was released.

Seek this baby out.

The Dark Crystal
Released December 17, 1982
D: Jim Henson and Frank Oz

For my money, this is the best big screen project ever undertaken by Jim Henson (with the possible exception of The Great Muppet Caper). Not until Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, has cinema seen a Fantasy world so thoroughly and masterfully created.

For instance, the evil race of the Skekis are the most fascinating film villains this side of Darth Vader. The heroine character of Kira, the gelfling, is compellingly and disturbingly attractive for a puppet. Those giraffe like Landstrider things are pretty cool too.

The screenplay for The Dark Crystal could have been written by Joseph Campbell with a polish by Carl Jung. The story and very nature of the fantasy world are all about the struggle between good and evil. The film tells the story of the quest to restore the natural balance between the two.

I remember seeing this movie at a matinee in a packed downtown theatre on Boxing Day 1982. The crowd of mostly younger kids was pretty darn quiet when those final credits started rolling. No doubt the movie's message was too Jungian for their tastes.

Something like that may account for The Dark Crystal's disappointing box office numbers back in '82. Probably it was a tad too sophisticated and dark for a movie featuring puppets made by the guys that gave us Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.

After all, it's no ET.

Now if only '82 could have also seen the release of Star Wars, 2001, Alien, Planet of the Apes, The Terminator, Forbidden Planet, Westworld and all three Lord of the Rings films then that would have been the perfect year for SF/Fantasy movies.