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5 problems for Resident Evil 5 (the movie).

This is a mission movie. Alice wakes up in an Umbrella facility the prisoner of past heroine and video-game avatar Jill Valentine. As Jill tortures her noisily in between asking somewhat inane questions like “Who do you work for?” there are secret forces at work. That being Ada Wong, another game character here introduced into the series for what might be the first time. Ada is working for — excuse me, with — Albert Whiskers, who releases the super-powered invincible zombie fighter Alice and also sends a crack team to retrieve her. The two parties fight their way through, meeting familiar faces along the way.

Problem #1. Retribution could have easily not have happened in this series. At no point does it offer a sense of self-worth or place in the storyline. I may not be the fairest judge of things, as I missed the last two in the mega-franchise, but I’m led to believe that perhaps the storyline itself may not be so valued. I wonder if somebody at the beginning, or around Apocalypse, decided to create a bare bones, rough rough outline — a plan for future installments to create a decent through-line. If they did, surely Retribution wouldn’t be on it, because it doesn’t advance the story. Or, it doesn’t do what fifteen minutes from another movie couldn’t.

It starts and Milla Jovovich is being shot off a boat that’s getting hit by Umbrella I assume, and she falls in the water. She wakes up in a facility, and needs to be rescued. The conflict is setup in the film — she could have easily not have woken up in the facility, and continued on her merry — with only a minor connection to the previous movie.

Problem #2. This is a lot like the original Resident Evil, which saw trained commandoes roving through creepy corridors and exploring biomedical facilities. It’s kind of like Aliens — and this would make Retribution the Resurrection. Only, instead of the more heterogeneous squad fighting aliens in inventive ways and everything’s an extremely bloody cartoon, Retribution is zombies and severely displaced game villains. Zombies with guns is gonna be your chief antagonist, among the axe dude more familiar in an African setting, and a giant Licker that once again reminds us of the original.

Zombies with guns? Come on. They’re the worst. They have the worst qualities of people and monsters, combined into a moorish alchemy blah that’s just very boring to watch. I didn’t even like the zombies with guns in Resident Evil 5, and that’s one of the great co-op games of recent memory. I want more monsters. Zombies feel cheap. They’re also rather unimaginative, especially in the context of a series with no shortage of interesting creatures to blast with acid rounds. Oh wait, you don’t do those either, Mr. WS.

Problem #3. They try something interesting here. I’m sure that the clone thing was born out of “How the fuck do we get M-Rod back in here?” but it might be the most recent example of my favorite phenomenon in movie series that have gone on too long — they have to come up with weird shit to keep it fresh. Back when we had so many horror franchises, even the weird shit went on too long, when everyone from Jason to Pinhead went to space with the Leprechauns. Here, we get clones that the artificial intelligence controlling Umbrella (the Red Queen from the first movie) uses in preposterously over-the-top experiments that test… something, I’m sure.

We have clones running around in artificial environments, not quite knowing what’s going on. How could you explain it to them, especially when one is a four year old girl? It’s an interesting premise, but it shouldn’t be here, and should be actually fleshed out. When the clone daughter of Alice asks if she is indeed her mother — upon facing a room of blank Alice clones — Alice says, “I am now.” What? I am now? Jesus, WS, you came really close to actual sci-fi drama. All she needed to say is — nothing. Just looked sad because in that moment, she was powerless.

But wait…

Problem #4. Alice is the most powerful thing in the universe. She’s always got an answer, and unfortunately in that moment it was a dumbass one-liner. I am now. Yeah, that helps. Also, when Leon Kennedy (yes) tells her to not go Ripley-style back for the clone girl because she isn’t as important Alice, Alice says, “That’s where you’re wrong.” Actually, no. He’s absolutely right. But you could’ve said, “I’m the most powerful thing in the universe,” and strode off. Why justify something that’s so wrong? Yeah it’s sad that this girl has to die, but you’re the one who’s supposed to save the last twelve humans on Earth. I think they need your help, because everyone else in this movie is shit, unless the plot requires them to be something else for the moment.

And about the clone thing one more time, it’s interesting for sure, but it means literally nothing. The AI that runs the place is like malfunctioning or something. These tests play out for no reason, or at least, to the whim of a computer. Take the zombies out, and you’d have like a poor man’s Eagle Eye. Make it a bit better? Poor man’s I, Robot, perhaps. I haven’t seen Colossus: The Forbin Project yet. I know you can’t reference Eagle Eye without that and expect to be taken seriously.

Problem #5. The Underworld moment. As if the connections between the two franchises weren’t many and varied as is, now we have to have Ada Wong doing the one thing we thought was cool from the entire Underworld series, that time Kate Beckinsale shot through the floor and went to, you know, like a different floor. Seriously, to close this out, let’s list all the weird fucking connections between Resident Evil and Underworld

– They’re the two biggest and only sci-fi horror franchises of the day
– “Strong” female characters (but they’re both tabula rasas)
– The leads are married to the directors (Anderson, Wiseman)
– Genre-challenged genre mashups (The Matrix meets… Hammer horror)
– Title etymology (Evolution, Extinction, Afterlife, Awakening, Apocalypse — can you tell me which are which?)
– Wentworth Miller (Speedman’s co-worker in the first Underworld)
– They’re both poor substitutes for Blade

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It’s 1982, and paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is summoned to the Thule research station in Antarctica by a rather intense Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), who’s made quite the discovery. Her expertise is required early on in examining frozen remains of an alien life-form, but when Thule is threatened by this thing from another world, it’s her survivalist instinct and pyro-tendencies that save the day–for the most part. If you’re familiar with John Carpenter’s The Thing, a remake in itself, there’s nothing new here in terms of structure or story, which depending on your viewpoint is a good or bad thing; for the 2011 film, the 1982 original was formula perfected, and this formula is not only repeated in Matthijs van Heijningen’s movie, it’s updated to satisfying modernity. We have, as we did thirty years ago, a team of scientists battling a malevolent alien creature capable of shape-shifting to the image of friends and associates, and gruesomely showing off in doing so. In this film, it’s the showing off part that sells.

When a member among the crew is suspected of being an alien in disguise, that’s bad news for him. When the alien then transforms into a more lethal form as self-defense, that’s bad news for everyone else. These transformations made the John Carpenter movie iconic, and in the new film, computer generated imagery and physical creature effects work in tandem toward sickening results. With a shudder of flesh and the grinding of bones, body parts sever, split, snake–and come after you. The creature makes a mockery of the human form, contorting it to mimic aliens it must have assimilated before, where heads meld together, and massive jaws rend out of stomachs to the tune of otherworldly wails. This is something you don’t want to become, be eaten by, or even look at–it’s easy to sympathize with the crew, who often turn on each other in the face of suspicion.

The crew of John Carpenter’s movie was a close-knit bunch of blue-collar boys, but at the first sign of trouble from the icy wasteland, tension brimming just below the surface begins to poke through. In Matthijs van Heijningen’s movie, potential factions are visible from the start: Americans vs. Norwegians, scientists vs. pilots, men vs. women, newcomer Kate vs. everybody, everybody vs. sinister Sander. As the film plays out, alliances and suspects shift–the alien could be anybody, and it isn’t telling. The prevailing question through not only this movie but the original is: who goes there? Human or alien? Characters only feel safe when they’re looking over their shoulder, and the alien certainly knows that frail human necks get sore after a while; paranoia manifests in tight grips on rifles and flamethrowers, and people are put into groups, examined, quarantined.

Moviegoers in 1982, when they did, came for the alien gore, and stayed for the psychological aspect. It’s a story akin to the greats in The Twilight Zone or Stephen King’s The Mist, where gooey creatures are portals to the much darker evils of man. Unfortunately, this piece de resistance of the story is not nearly as strong in van Heijningen’s film, though it does exist. A lot of it is that sacred law of diminishing returns, but mostly it’s the characters. For the most part, they’re enough to invest in but never truly cared for, as they occupy one of two roles: background detail or lazy stereotype.

There is precious little time for characterization; same as in 1982. But screenwriter Bill Lancaster was able to draw fully-rounded characters despite the forward-moving plot, placing great significance on every line spoken by individual members of the ensemble; they’re charged with defining not only the character, but the character’s place in the situation. Hefty work done efficiently, but not quite in 2011. The cast feels much larger this time, and that’s because we never get to know most of them by the time they’re assimilated. Names of the Norwegians were elusive, and it was difficult from the outset to keep track of everybody. By the time chaos hits Thule Station, these nameless guys are running around shouting things–often in a different language–which is appropriately panicked and confusing, so it works, but the audience is lulled into a distance from the action. It’s up to Kate to engage us, and whether or not she does is somewhat inconsequential, because the film would doubtless have been improved if the supporting cast wasn’t as expendable. For evidence of this, we can look to John Carpenter’s.

The film is written by Eric Heisserer (from drafts by Ronald D. Moore), based on “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, and he turns out a competent job, keeping the tension high despite mostly pale characters. Together with fine acting, the script is brought to life and touches all prerequisite bases for fun, alien-smashing action. As it checks steps off the list–unearth the creature, figure it out, deny it, suffer attacks by creature–the cast follows through in stride. Accents are masked and changed, tempers fluctuate organically, expressions speak loudly. In horror, strong emotions reign, whether it’s fear or anger or sadness. In science-fiction, suspension of disbelief is chiefly credited to the actors, and The Thing of course straddles both genres. Not an easy task on the part of the players, but one well performed here.

Unlike other modern creature features, physical actors could interact with equally physical monsters, though they were smartly enhanced by CGI. The creature itself is where the filmmakers stood apart from John Carpenter’s, as the original monster could seem to do anything–but move. The new creature is not only mobile but fast, and its new predatory nature adds a welcome element of suspense. Critics have noted that van Heijningen must have taken influence from Alien, with chases down hallways and even in some cases, creature design. One might of course argue that this is a necessary path the film needed to take.

The issue surrounding The Thing is that most films of its kind–good science-fiction horror movies–don’t need to take paths in the first place. They don’t have to be engineered to a specific blueprint in order to please people, but in this hideous day and age, where remakes of reboots of franchises of adaptations reign, the audience is king. With The Thing, the audience was a notoriously difficult bunch to please–fans. In adapting a preexisting work with any type of fan-base, there will be complaints. The filmmaker then has forked-roads to travel, whether he stays faithful to the source material or creates something new, if modernizing it or not is the right way to go, etc. He’s beholden to this crabby audience, which typically perceives his final decision as the wrong one. Producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman chose wrong when they decided to do a remake of a now beloved classic, and that was step one.

It’s a tragedy that The Thing was released to commercial failure in theatres, because it speaks to the greater realm of modern science-fiction film, a realm that’s slavish to the nerd kingdom. Not helping is of course that van Heijningen’s movie cannot stand on its own, where John Carpenter’s most certainly could, and felt nearly defiant, rather than adoring, in the face of its predecessor. This movie truly should have been titled Who Goes There?, but I suppose the distributors wanted to milk as much money from whatever marquee value The Thing brand name carries. Not much, as we discover. One is led to wonder exactly who was targeted to see this film. The big horror movie franchises of the day ring polar opposite to this one: Paranormal Activity, Saw, Final Destination–these days the creature feature has been displaced by the zombie flick, and those who appreciate monsters are used to the rubber or stop-motion dragons and Brundleflies of days gone by. CGI in The Thing? It was bad enough in 1982 when there was going to be animatronics and miniatures in The Thing, as opposed to only makeup effects!

So if not fans of The Thing, and if not modern horror fans, perhaps this will be The Thing to rein in a new generation of fans? Afraid not; the kids of the day would rather see ghosts and Death itself kill people, which, on a visual level, is to say nothing at all kill people. Movies (a visual medium, by the way) of that type also tend to feature kids, which is something of a selling point whether we like it or not. Compare Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character Wendy in Final Destination 3 to Kate in The Thing–there was romantic tension where now there is only survival and stern, commanding looks. While some might prefer the latter with more passion, a majority prefers the former, albeit casually. The youngsters of the day would just as quickly wonder what a Snake Plissken is as they would claim that the new Thing is a rip-off of the video-game Dead Space. Another audience not easily pandered to when sixty-year old aliens are concerned.

Additionally, and possibly most importantly, The Thing is a remake. It may technically be a prequel, but why then wasn’t it called Before the Thing, or The Thing Zero, The Thing 2, or One More Thing? Because those are all terrible titles–once again Who Goes There? was left wide open. The money-men were banking on its assets as a remake, not a prequel, and in late 2011, audiences have had their fill. Not only of remakes, but of horror remakes.

The giants in the genre have all been dried up in the last couple of years: Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, even smaller titles like The Hills Have Eyes, Last House on the Left, Black Christmas, Fright Night, and of course, arbitrary entries in the John Carpenter canon: The Fog and Assault on Precinct 13. Maybe next year we’ll get rumblings of a Big Trouble in Little China remake, but dark. The Thing came far too late, though ironically it was just as late as John Carpenter’s was, following up Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby’s.

It may have felt like a good idea at the time, but revisiting The Thing was as fruitful as taking a tissue sample from the frozen alien specimen. It is as it’s always been–a film with a small, but significant appeal. Van Heijningen’s movie may not interest you on principle, but I’d advise you to seek it out on home video. It’s a creature feature in a league with Frank Darabont’s excellent The Mist rather than Underworld Evolution or Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and at its best moments, provides very real, very intense moments of terror that don’t merely recall the 80s days, but fill us with those same, welcomed feelings. It may not be the best sci-fi horror movie of all time, but it breaks this writer’s heart when a genuinely entertaining film is passed up because we were all expecting it to be bad. It’s the current climate–we’re done with remakes, and perhaps we could blame the victim here in saying that it shouldn’t have joined those ranks to begin with, but as the credits roll and we see how this story bridges into John Carpenter’s The Thing, I’m glad it did.

Spoilers incoming

There are three routes you can take if you want to be a film-snob, these routes of course often intersecting at grotesque and pretentious crossroads. They’re arthouse, indie, and foreign, the big bad three. F the first two, but let’s pause for a moment and examine the last. I’ve seen a few foreign films in my time, mostly Korean as of late (representin’*), and I’ve seen a lot of shit because of it. Granted my least favorite film of all time is American-made, and science-fiction, but a lot of Takashi Miike movies would be up there, as would Irreversible if I were in a crass enough mood (it’s got moments). We tend to view foreign films as a higher form of film art because the mainstream stuff is filtered in. We get Shaun of the Dead and In the Mood for Love because they’re so good they deserve international release. But I don’t think they put the live-action Wicked City on the Criterion Collection yet (I know because I’m looking for it).

These foreign films most Americans see, in addition to simply being good, don’t steep themselves in their culture to the extent where we might not fully appreciate what’s going on. Then there are movies like Audition, which is perhaps the most well-known, or second well-known after Ichi the Killer, Takashi Miike flick — a good movie that can be enjoyed on a base level, but requires minor, but further, knowledge of Japanese culture.

The reason Audition makes it to US shores is because it’s one of the most acclaimed horror movies in recent times, its claim-to-fame being a climactic torture sequence, as well as a particular limbless guy-in-a-bag who eats vomit. Gnarly stuff, the kind of stuff that American teens (and Eli Roth or James Wan) would definitely be into. For me, I wanted to see if this would be another Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance — a comparison that will be revisited later — and I was interested in seeing a Miike jab at feminism. Here’s a spoiler: it involves a lot of needles.

Without speaking down to you (because this is basically trivia), the thing to be aware of going in is that Japan, historically, has been behind the times on the whole ‘women’ thing. They like women, as most of us do, but seeing them as equal I believe wasn’t instant — like… it was here. Characters treat women as objects in a game in this movie, which is the premise, so we aren’t totally lost going in, but knowing context is helpful to pick up what Miike’s putting down.

Is it possible that after years of being assholes to women, there will be repercussions? That’s the question being asked here, and it seems to have a pretty straightforward answer, as you might imagine. It fucks people up, bottom line. Also, burning little girls’ legs with fire, that fucks em up too. I was interested to see this movie because it is Takashi Miike, a man who deals heavily in violence against women and movie rape, things I’ve given up on — mostly because of him. This must be his penance or whatever, though there do remain those uncomfortable moments. The difference here is that they’re supposed to be uncomfortable.

Also uncomfortable is the cutting off of limbs; the torture scene isn’t nearly as hard to watch as really any moment in Ichi, or the more extreme bits in Chan Wook Park fare, but it’s worth the price of admission, even for non-torture-porn fanatics. The movie truly shines though in its first and second acts. The setup to the darkness we know is ahead in my mind takes greater directorial strength than the 2001-like trip through layers of unreality, or the transcendent pain — it’s a slow-boiling family drama, one with humor and small, touching moments.

This is where I was engaged the most, because as ghastly as holding wife auditions is, I couldn’t help but feel for the character, his supportive friend Ishikawa, and his son. I actually liked them — Miike characters. But then the movie goes a bit haywire and a dream sequence of sorts takes us out of the emotional realm and into the depths of hell.

The character is drugged, and as he’s falling to the floor he gets visions of backstory for the girl character. I take issue with this sequence for many reasons, but chiefly, it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. We’re led to believe that he’s experiencing all of these things, that he now knows that the uncle tortured her. It’s possible he inferred it all in a fever dream, which also saw his late wife returning, but it’s hard to say. At this juncture, I was really lost, and it took me out of the movie. I knew what was coming next, so every time there was a false ending to this sequence I was getting more and more frustrated. Not necessarily because I needed to see the torture, but because I assumed it’d be up next.

So he goes all David Lynch, which stretches what could’ve possibly been a short film to feature length, and is an interesting move from an artist. It’s not something you see a lot, especially in a movie like this, which could’ve been just as satisfying with a pared down A-to-B-to-torture structure. I appreciate it, but didn’t really buy into it as fabric in the greater movie.

It’s not a huge problem, didn’t ruin the movie for me. I think the reason why I enjoyed Audition as much as I did is because I was able to see a real master work his craft without being demented by his own weirdly-o sigs. It’d be like watching Pulp Fiction for the first time after seeing Kill Bill and Death Proof — given you aren’t a fan of feet like QT is. Miike puts a lot of weight into detail. Notice the torture tools the girl uses — needles, wire, syringes — they’re feminine in that they’re finesse, less about blunt force and more about pinpoint tactics. She’s engineering his pain, talking him through it and being methodical. Half of the terror is psychological warfare, which trickles down to the audience very effectively: this chick is totally nuts (“deeper, deeper, deeper“).

As wild as this scene is, it really isn’t as bad as I imagined. I went into Audition as anyone would — anticipating some hardcore fuckedupperies. I wanted this to be another Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a movie you could show to a friend, preferably a female one, and be like, “This is the charming tale that gets a little dark. It’s about these guys who kidnap a little girl, and then things go south.” When they go south in Mr. Vengeance, they go south and never let up. Movie gets pretty rude. Audition doesn’t really, and I don’t think it’s the director holding back, rather it’s a measured dose of violence, despite its craziness — and tameness.

Miike doesn’t want to chance the ending becoming tongue-in-cheek. Every time Ichi kills somebody, it’s a gore-fest, but he’s being a bastard screeching and running around like a jerk, so it’s madly challenging to take seriously. Or handle, period. It’s almost an affront to the institution of cinema violence, but that’s why we have the blonde dude, I suppose. Audition doesn’t need the blonde dude, because it isn’t really about the violence, though that is the clear centrepiece. He’s using violence this time, not being used by it. So this time I didn’t really feel had by Miike. I think that this time, he was simply trying to do a good movie.

This isn’t to say that he doesn’t every single time set out to make a good movie, it’s more that he isn’t full of himself in this case. Let’s go back to white Takashi Miike for a moment: Audition is like the Reservoir Dogs of the Tarantino canon. It’s a solid movie, and it isn’t bleeding with Tarantinoisms. I happen to like Tarantino, so I liked Death Proof and even Inglourious Basterds. I don’t like Takashi Miike, but I did like Audition. If you’re looking for a place to start with the dude, duck his latest effort and go straight to this one. It’s low-key horror, chilling and intense while intelligently stopping short of lame-o torture porno.

*Not really. I might be Korean in flesh, but not in spirit, which is good, because it’s opened my eyes to the stupidity of taking pride in one’s heritage

We’re familiar with the old filmmaking trick of revealing the monster slowly, hiding it in the shadows as Ridley Scott did so famously in his 1979 sci-fi horror classic. I suppose that principle is what holds Event Horizon back so frustratingly, even though there is no ‘monster’–there isn’t much of anything. The problem with Paul WS Anderson’s horror outing pre-Resident Evil days is not within its premise necessarily, but the filmmakers’ treatment of it. There is nothing inherently wrong with the ‘hide the monster’ principle, as it worked so well in Alien, but the principle becomes an applicable principle to me when it descends into an irreversible part of film history, and filmmakers continue to carry on the tradition forever, so what we get is no monster at all until the third act. Ridley Scott would inadvertently spawn a legion of SciFi Channel Original Movies, which waste so much time with characters and plot and brief monster attacks scattered now and again, all leading up to a CG monster-filled third act, which to me says: this movie is an unforgivable but entertaining thirty minute film, stretched out into a 90 minute eye-gouge fest. Speaking of eye gouging…

It’s filmmakers who believe they understand how to work a proven formula, but are lost at the first sign of inadvertent complication, as in the case of Event Horizon, where they scramble with ideas and never really reach the sanctity of cohesion. The premise is summed up in three market buzz words: haunted house spaceship. Gothic horror in space, and remember folks, in space–no one can hear you scream (nudge nudge). From where I’m standing, which is typically outside the horror genre, haunted house movies should be about weird things going on, and the characters never really figuring out what’s happening, because it’s paranormal. Like in Paranormal Activity. It’s the classic case of characters not understanding the enemy threat, because they wouldn’t, and that makes it scary.

Unfortunately this movie exists in the hard realm of science-fiction. Trust me, this isn’t an endorsement of the stickler mindset of hard sci-fi, but for all SF stories, there is a requisite element of science. For those who don’t often traverse the speculative fiction genres, it might come as a surprise to find that science-fiction and fantasy actually mix very poorly. Star Wars is an anomaly. That’s what paranormal activity is, it operates on the principles of fantasy, and those simply don’t gel in a scifi setting, which implies more than ‘spaceship.’ Characters in this film, these scientists, can’t comprehend the hellish ongoings of the titular spaceship, the Event Horizon, so an explanation, except for a really shitty one at the end, is never given.

Though they try, and that’s the bulk of the movie’s action. Characters speculate and argue while being picked off one by one in different, usually pretty dumb, ways. What we have here is frustration born out of so obviously missed opportunities. The movie seems to struggle to figure itself out as the characters do, and we want it to get there, otherwise we’ve been investing somewhat in a pretty neat story idea for nothing. To have “Spaceship that’s gone to the end of the universe and back, who knows what it’s picked up” as a setup and reach no conclusion–or worse, the conclusion is somewhere between “this spaceship is actually a portal to hell,” and “this spaceship is alive, and hell,”–is incredibly jarring. You get to a point in watching the movie where you realize that the story’s actually done unfolding, and you’re disoriented, confused as to where you are.

What’s going on? You really missed it guys; the horror only comes out of guessing and imagining the setup’s payoff for so long; eventually the payoff has to come, and further horror exists in the payoff’s implications, or for its creation of further setups to Ten Little Indians death scenes. Because honestly, that’s what we came to see–an Alien ripoff. We have a crew in space, and they’re on a creepy spaceship. Instead of aliens, or demons, or biological military test experiments, we get something very intangible, something very close to ‘nothing.’ And Ichi the Killer, although Jason Isaacs hanging from hooks was actually kind a of neat effect.

Remember the good old days, buddy

So Event Horizon is broken as a horror movie, and long gone as a scifi movie. Does it entertain? Somewhat, but for incongruous reasons that aren’t even just ‘so bad it’s good.’ It’s another eclectic mix, which is a common thread I’ve found in the Paul WS canon. Take Resident Evil for example. Compared to its sequel, and I’d assume the rest of the sequel thrillogy, it’s practically the greatest movie ever made. But restrain yourself–it’s not. It’s a solid zombie movie with a few horror elements outside the shambling horde, like laser hallways and dogs, and one Licker, a mutant frog, if I remember correctly and icon of the games. It’s a pretty entertaining movie, but it’s not really a great film. I find that I enjoy it because of the laser hallway, the Licker, and Colin Salmon, but know that the story and art direction and everything is derivative, but not quite as slick as Doom. Good parts and bad parts, like a comedy movie that you laugh with and at, like 17 Again, if you’ve ever seen it. One or two surprisingly good jokes, but the rest is, you know, fucked.

Event Horizon has a great cast–Sam Neil, in one of his few roles, Laurence Fishburne right before The Matrix, Sean Pertwee from Dog Soldiers, and Jason Isaacs, from just about everything. There’s also the absurd stereotype black guy, who establishes himself very early on as the absurd stereotype, and never lets up–“I’m comin’ back, motherfuckers!” as the immortal line goes. Interestingly, this guy was played by Richard T. Jones, who you might remember as James Ellison, the best part of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. In this movie, he plays a much less serious, much higher-pitched voice character, who must have decided that Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element was, I don’t know, a good idea.

Thing is, I kind of liked Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element, and I kind of liked this guy, because Event Horizon is a big dumb movie, and he fits right in. In a perfect world he would not, and Event Horizon would be an effective sci-fi horror, of which there are so few, although kudos Hollywood for Pandorum just a few years ago, which bettered this film, in my opinion, and for Sunshine, which wasn’t a slasher movie, but had that kind of spirit.

Event Horizon is compromised, but it’s a hard one to write off as a complete failure because the art direction is great, and it is generally pretty creepy. The jump-scares are lame, but otherwise I don’t know why more movies don’t go with the whole ‘people with no eyes,’ thing, because it’s totally scary. In fact, I knew there were eye-related things in this movie, which is why for the longest time I never watched it. Unfortunately I was much more frightened by the idea of Event Horizon than the actual movie. I’d rather just play Dead Space, and honestly… game wasn’t that fun.

Perhaps we should be thankful; these current days of Matt Damon and Steven Spielberg have set a precedent for Philip K. Dick adaptations–they’re big deals. His name finally means something to somebody, and he no longer languishes in the low-budget genre ghettos. I on the other hand will approve of this shift in Hollywood with a nod or too, but reminisce fondly on the days of old, when the early Dick movie reflected the early Dick novels–they were small. Now, Total Recall and Blade Runner were big productions, but going through the years we have Next and A Scanner Darkly and of course Screamers, which were either indies, or given little fanfare, or not taken seriously, like the classic Arnoldo. Or all of the above. I could say–without vouching for Next–that they all constitute cult classics, and in the case of Screamers, it makes perfect sense.

Here we have a joining of names that would tickle any nerd–Dan “Alien” O’Bannon, Peter “Robocop Across the 8th Dimension” Weller, and Philip K. Dick. It’s a movie about killer robots, a war in space, and it’s a gritty, low-budget actioner that’s high on imagination. It also becomes something of an echo of John Carpenter’s The Thing, although I’m sure the original short story predates the 1982 flick. Screamers deals exclusively with Dick’s “What is human?” question, exploring the human-as-machine theme as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, though not in the same way.

As Steven Owen Godersky puts it, “Phil Dick’s third major theme is his fascination with war and his fear and hatred of it.” Screamers doesn’t use its war between the Alliance and the New Economic Block as mere backdrop as Total Recall does with its rebellion; it’s integral to the theme, as war will lead naturally to questions of humanity. The robot metaphor works as well as it does in other Dicks, but here it allegorizes that classic phrase, “Man’s inhumanity to man.” People are fucking each other over on Sirius 6B, fighting wars and leaving soldiers for dead. What better way to visualize this than to have a gunshot wound be filled with wires and servos?

Peter Weller, playing a character named Hendricksson, which I believe was his name on 24 as well, decides to make peace with the other side, but must trek across Screamer-infested, radioactive, winter terrain. He takes a young soldier Jefferson along with him, the lone survivor of a spaceship crash–he was headed to fight on another planet, which signals to the Alliance that Earth has moved on, and they didn’t get the memo, or weren’t supposed to. The idea of a faceless organization stabbing its expendables in the back is a common thread in the O’Bannon canon, and here it’s the military. We can’t trust these people.

So old enemies become friends, and they’re united against a common enemy–machines. Not only those who left them for dead on Sirius 6B, but the Screamers, which are Alliance-invented killer robots. Indeed Hendricksson and Jefferson meet up with two NEB soldiers and a black market merchant when they reach the enemy base, and must travel back to the Alliance compound to escape. Along the way they find something troubling, a little boy named David who turns out to be an advanced species of deadly Screamer.

Concern. Not only have the Screamers evolved by their own accord, they’ve become perfect illusions. The Screamers began as horrific weapons of man’s design, which tear soldiers’ limbs off before going in for the kill, as seen in the beginning of the movie. Now they look human–the line between human and killer machine has blurred, it seems. So this proves to be quite the conundrum, as Hendricksson will discover that another variation of Screamer is a wounded soldier, and there’s an as of yet unidentified “Second Variety.” One thing is known–the Screamers will repeat things because they can’t think of anything smarter to say.

This creates instant paranoia on the desolate battlefield of Sirius 6B, and we’re not sure who to trust. The final twist in the movie, which I shouldn’t spoil but would love to talk about, is essentially a repeat of what happens in Blade Runner–the line, it’s just so damn blurry. What does that say about us?

The premise in Screamers is great. Pure phildickian, and a setup for thought-provoking scenarios that make this film stand out among other scifi action movies. Helping it in this regard is the production design and art direction. The movie looks fantastic on a conceptual level. The ruins of industrial cityscapes, the bunkers embedded in hills, the underground laboratories–very classic imagery. Add on top of that that Screamers is Aliens, Doom, and all those movies where you have soldiers with big scifi rifles checking corners in metal hallways–there’s pretty much nothing I appreciate more in science-fiction film. Eventually the crew comes across the site of a massacre that screams Dead Space and Aliens: this was a settlement of some sort, complete with that Weyland-Yutani propoganda about colonizing a better world of tomorrow.

So yes, we have soldiers and futury locations, and they’re scouring those locations. Unfortunately the hostile element–the titular Screamers–are to me very uninteresting visually. They’re either little boys, Terminators in the flesh, or stop-motion robots. The stop-motion I like, but this movie being as low-budget as it is, they’re not on screen for very long. From a writer’s standpoint, I understand why the Screamers make sense as little tiny robots, but I much prefer big enemies in my scifi action movies. I’ll call this the Gort principle, for any of you who actually saw the 2008 remake, you’ll know that Gort goes on a rampage as a 500-foot tall robot, and then decides to manifest a cloud of nano-robots. Sigh, boring. Nanorobots can’t shoot lasers or smash buildings!

In Aliens and Doom and most recently The Thing, we had monsters that were either human-sized, or a little bit bigger. You’re probably wondering at this point what the freaking deal is, but there is a specific product resultant from an enemy’s size. Enemies are meant to be shot at, but when they’re tiny, shooting is often discouraged. It’s less exciting. This is all on a visual level, of course. In the end, I just wish there’d be a human-sized robot that didn’t have to look like a human. From what I can remember of this movie’s sequel (which will be covered soon), aside from the stupid The Descent-esque ending, there might be some stuff there.

But as it stands with Screamers, all we got are robots that simply don’t look that interesting, save the Type 3 fish-monster-dinosaur looking thing. That’s a nerdgripe for sure, and very minor, because at the end of the day, this movie kicks ass. It’s totally entertaining, and aside from some hinky acting every now and again, gets the taste of Paycheck out of your mouth. This movie also reminded me a lot of Doomsday, for one reason: there was an attention to the minor characters. In Doomsday, there were two or three redshirts, identifiable immediately. But they were great characters who had fun chemistry between them, and I didn’t want them to die. I liked Jefferson, and one could tell that Hendricksson did too. The NEB soldiers were actual characters, they weren’t just nameless grunts. This attention to detail is perhaps expected from a script co-written by Dan O’Bannon, but also telling of the movie’s quality and standing among movies of its ilk.

When I was a kid there were three things that scared me: Ghosts, demons, and aliens. I didn’t really know what exactly a demon was, so I got over that one quickly. Ghosts are still scary to me. Please, refrain from asking why. I reversed on aliens almost instantly, and I cherish the opportunity to watch alternatively green and grey-headed aliens doing their green and grey day-to-days.

There remain, however, a few aliens. A few aliens indeed, that continue to scare the piss out of me. Let’s count down (eight, really), and just in time for Halloween…

10. Tralfamadorians (Slaughterhouse-Five)

Kurt Vonnegut’s aliens have a neat perception of life and death. And yet, they still die…

9. Na’vi (Avatar)

The idea of somebody putting their dingle into a giant blue cat makes me shiver in the night.

8. Martians (Mars Attacks!)

The fear I felt over the comedic aliens from the comedy Mars Attacks! ran so deep, I still have yet to see the film. That’s definitely the prime reason, though my general dislike of Tim Burton (outside of Ed Wood) doesn’t help. These aliens, which probably shook me the most out of any on the list, rank lower for a number of reasons, but the chief among them is, simply, I haven’t even seen Mars Attacks!. And I won’t let them control me.

7. Grant Grant (Slither)

Yes, mouth mutation will get you pretty far. It’s a little freaky; the cherry on top of this fleshy, pink blob from outer space–or your local podunk town. It’s Grant Grant, who’s been recently transformed by a tiny alien needle into a zombie hivemind.

Kill me Pardy.

6. God’s Very Own Aliens (M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs)

I’m a painful Shamhammer apologist. Granted, I haven’t seen too much of The Happening, skipped The Village, and will never touch The Last Airbender, but… well, that deflates my argument. Lady in the Water was good, that’s all I wanted to say. It’s not a horror movie, it’s a fairy tale–oh, I don’t care.

Signs on the other hand is very much a horror movie. It’s also a great scifi movie, and a solid story about faith and God. Here to help Mel find the word of the Lord are aliens, and they like to hide in scary places, like the TV. Look out

5. Tripods (The War of the Worlds)

Spielberg’s The War of the Worlds is a highly effective movie. The aliens, high and mighty in their damn tentacle-tanks, destroy everything. If they see you, and they emit that horrible fog-horn, you’re as dead as fried chicken. Chase scenes see buildings shattering like fried chicken, and boats topple over like they was made a paper. The scope of these creatures is immense, and I was held in high suspense of the reveal of the actual aliens. They weren’t as scary as I had imagined, but whatever.

The thing about The War of the Worlds is that when I first saw it in the theatres, I was very ignorant. In this case, ignorance paid off, based on some perspectives. I believed that The War of the Worlds, probably written by Jules Verne, found everybody killed by aliens at the end. Obviously this was before I Am Legend came out in 2007, where the idea that screenwriters might adapt a book’s story–or ending–faithfully was fully out the window.

So I was sitting there the whole time expecting aliens to win. When they didn’t, it actually felt pretty triumphant of them humans. Maybe that’s why I have such a favorable opinion of this movie. It’d be like seeing The Sixth Sense in the year 2000 and not knowing the end. You’d be watching from under your rock, but it’d work.

4. The Xenomorph (Alien)

While personally not frightened by the classic Drone/Warrior/Alien/Xenomorph, I was. Back when I was five and thought maybe aliens were real, I went to a Planet Hollywood, and on display they had a massive Alien Queen display. For some reason (perhaps I was ten) I could identify it as an alien, and was horrified: this is an alien that’s tangible, I thought. But since, I’ve made peace with the Aliens, and have seen every Alien movie, even the last one, AVPR: Aliens versus Predator Rated-R.

Spoiler olert… I liked it…

3. Killer Klowns (Killer Klowns from Outer Space)

It’s not necessarily their design, because they’re essentially just trolls in clown costumes/makeup. It’s what they do, all the twisted perversions of classic carnival imagery–which itself is benign but strangely dark. Klowns use their silly ray guns to encase people in flesh-melting cotton candy, throw flesh-melting pies, and eat flesh. A pattern.

The rescue mission at the end of the movie is shockingly suspenseful, because there’s been an established balance: how much we know about the Klowns, and how unpredictable they are. The team of intrepid heroes enters an incredibly hostile environment, and we simply do not know what to expect, but we do know that it’ll be horrific.

Killer Klowns is a horror/comedy. While it is very funny, I wouldn’t necessarily rank it up there with Shaun or Return of the Living Dead (or Tremors 2, if I ever get around to revisiting that one). It’s just a little too… eerie.

2. The Thing (The Thing 1982)

I’ve already spoken at length about The Thing, so I’ll say this in addition: the two Thing movies offer a whole to me as a fan of science-fiction film. In terms of the monster, The Thing ’82 satisfies the film fan half, while The Thing ’11 satisfies the sci-fi fan half. Because the movie guy appreciates spidery-heads and twisty dogs that make people go crazy, but the sci-fi fan loves a good monster.

Also, the blood test scene, the defribulator scene, and the dog scene are all extremely intense. The Thing is such a good freaking movie.

1. The Friends of E.T. (E.T.: The Ride)

If you’re wondering why there’s no picture of aliens for this one, I couldn’t bear to enter “ET the Ride,” into Google Images. This is an interesting one, because it’s very rare that images in a movie will legitimately frighten me (most recently this happened in Naked Lunch, with the parrot cage ‘sex’ that looked like a cruel mixture of Dante’s Inferno and Videodrome), but when you’re strapped into a ride, it’s a different dynamic.

First of all, you go into a building called “ET the Ride.” The scariest ride you’ve been on so far is T2 3D: Battle Across Time, because you’re now convinced that that twelve minutes you just spent were better than the 677 minutes of Terminator 3. You’re in Spielberg territory now, and you know what that means. ET is his most lovable creation, the candy-eating little bugger who just wants to get on home.

Whatever you do, don’t follow him there.

On ET the Ride, you and your group takes a bike ride through the forest to evade the government, who pops through the trees every once in awhile in their cars. A neat little diversion, and what I imagined to be the bulk of the journey. Then you fly over the moon, look at how high you are over the city, like Peter Pan.

And then you go to ET’s homeworld, and I think my father said it best: “I didn’t realize ET lived in Hell.”

There are aliens that have wrinkly holes for eyes, aliens that look like rotted pumpkins that got just so rotten they started spontaneously growing half-formed near-human faces, as if pumpkins, in some horrible far-flung Lovecraft universe, did that. It would be scary enough if there were two of these things, but they line the walls–for a long time. Orange steam is blowing and you’re touring slowly as they chant in unison how happy they are you’ve brought their friend home.

How happy they are he’s brought dinner.

Seriously intense stuff. I didn’t know if I was gonna make it, and if you think I’m joking–or a pussy–I shall pay for your roundtrip tickets to Orlando.

Feel like you’re getting the better end of that deal….

I was gonna do something more thoughtful for my 100th post, but I don’t have a job right now and can’t buy the entire David Cronenberg library from Amazon, or the Dollars Trilogy on Blu-Ray. Those posts will have to wait.

There was a moment in The Thing when I did lose focus and begin to drift, started thinking that I couldn’t wait to get home and watch some more Party Down. Indeed after the opening moments where we see that this movie isn’t characterizing its scientists nearly as carefully as they did in ’82, it slows down to something of an odd pace. The alien is loose and running around, and so are the characters. Scenes from the first movie (of this ilk) are recycled; we get a sense of where they’re going with all this, but it’s not engaging. This continues for only about a half hour/forty-five into the movie. After that, the gloves come off, and I saw exactly what I wanted to see – and more.

In the original The Thing, there are three major Thing set pieces that always stand out in my mind: the dog, the spider-head, and the blood test scene. They’re all self-contained pieces of fantastic horror, and they do exactly what most horror films skip over. In the new one, there is exactly one scene like this – and it’s a pretty good one. Keeping spoilers to a minimum (ironically enough), it’s the origin of the two-faced thing that gets examined in the original movie. The rec room scene, I suppose I’ll call it, has got a great transformation sequence, a lot of Thing-related fatalities, and above all – and this is what the original did that few other horrors do – it was really intense.

Watch the movie for this scene, because this is when it’s most like the Carpenter version. That movie alternated between dedicated suspense and high-intensity terror. That formula didn’t translate wholly to the new movie, which tries its hand at the suspense part far more often, and doesn’t excel. The rec room scene is key though; writhing body parts split off and start skittering away as the face moans its alien moan, flamethrowers aren’t working, tables are being flipped, people are screaming in horror – it’s an expertly done scene, and it gives us a really cool Thing monster, something that I’ll touch on later, because presently it reminds me of what this scene, and the movie, is very reminscent of.

That’s The Mist, the wonderful Frank Darabont adaptation of God-knows-who, which had, like this movie, somewhat CG-obvious creatures, fire-axes being used to kill said creatures, paranoia, and a nostalgic monster movie sensibility. I believe that when Darabont set about making The Mist, he probably wanted to do what Kubrick did for science-fiction with 2001 – make the ‘proverbial good monster movie.’ That’s why there’s a black-and-white version on the DVD.

This is something that sets both The Thing 2011 and The Mist apart from modern horror movies. Attached to the new Thing was a trailer for Paranormal Activity 3, which shambles into theatres this month. That’s the type of horror movie the demographic (teenagers) wants to see. They’ve never been into creatures and monsters – it’s all about just people, just dying (the Human Centipede definitively does not count as a monster). That’s why Final Destination does so well, and Saw, and all those slasher movies that find creative ways to kill people. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but hey – I love a good monster every once in awhile.

I know what you’re thinking – The Thing wasn’t really about monsters, because the thing never got five feet without being fried. The horror came from the transformation sequences, and all the grisly, disgusting inventions it cooks up to escape the flame. This new movie decided, thank God, to take things a step further, and this is the real reason to see this movie before it closes shop without making its budget back. The Thing doesn’t mess around. He wants two things – to survive, and to kill. Due to the limitations of the animatronics back in the day a decade before Jurassic Park, the alien wasn’t limber, wasn’t mobile. It wasn’t much of a hunter.

People are often face to face with a dribbling, fangy alien with tentacle face, or hiding from it without nothing but an ineffectual knife – these moments were a pure joy and certainly worthy of comparison to the 1982 flick. It’s simple really: the design is cool. Though I’ve played the games, the aliens look a lot like, or take the principle of, the monsters from the Silent Hill series. You take a human body and twist it into a four legged tentacle monster. It’s really the most unnatural, unnerving thing you could ever imagine being in the same room with.

Luckily our intrepid heroine is able to take action, and she proves quite capable in this movie. Picking up on the creature’s game pretty quickly (she probably got a few pointers from Kurt on the sets of Sky High and Death Proof), she leads the charge as Norweigans are being picked off all around her. I never really got to know any of these people. I know none of their names, save Sanders and Peder, though I don’t know who Peder is, just that his name came up in subtitles a lot. These guys, heroine Kate Lloyd included, aren’t nearly as memorable as MacReady, Childs, Norris, Palmer, Fuchs, Windows and the gang. When they died I was really more interested in their transformation, and what mutants their bodies would provide. I wasn’t really upset or anything, except maybe for the younger looking guy and the dude who gets killed by the facehugger arm – everybody was just standing around watching as he died a slow, horrible death. Pobre bastardo.

There is an ending in this movie that will undoubtedly piss off the purists. It’s a sure case of ‘we never needed to know that,’ but it’s like Gears of War 2, for those who played it – they show you questions, meaning they do things that are cryptic and try to maintain that less-is-more legacy that’s served the genre so well. In Gears 2, that was plainly amatuerish storytelling. Here, very little is gained, as mystery is uncovered only to give way for mystery, but it all seems useless, because the first mystery was so good.

The Thing was the Avatar and the Machete of 2011 for me. While I wasn’t as excited to see this as those two, this one is so, so much better. Would buy again, and indeed sometime in the future I’ll revisit this one to talk about the ending, and some other things that require spoiling for elaboration on. So for now I’ll leave you with one final recommending comment: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a total badass.

If you’ve seen The Thing from Another World, the classic Howard Hawks film from 1951, you remember the vegetable Frankenstein monster, the snowy setting, the 50’s charm, and the iconic line, “Always, watch the skies.” It’s a movie about the clash of ideals, here between military and science, about alien invasion and heroism. It may not be as intellectual as The Day the Earth Stood Still or as recognizable as Forbidden Planet (to use its contemporaries), but its an entertaining ride with a few great moments and wonderful characters.

It is, though, very light. The characters never seem to take the issue too seriously, and this reasonably reflects on the situation. There’s really nothing all that scary about Frankenstein’s monster in the year 1951 when one has access to rifles and electric floors. Never once did I feel like this creature would be victorious, or even half of the crew would be injured. This is where I come in and say that John Carpenter’s The Thing is so much different – and it is – but comparing these two seems almost wrong. Yes, they are two very different movies on a tonal and visceral level, but more than that, neither of these movies should have to live in each others’ shadow.

They’re both major entries in the canon of science-fiction film, but it seems that rarely do sci-fi fans appreciate both equally. I don’t. With the coming of a third Who Goes There? movie, I begin to wonder just what people will make of this unofficial trilogy sixty years in the making.

But that’s not important now. Merely musing…

We’re here to talk about The Thing, because this is not only one of John Carpenter’s best, but one of the very best science-fiction films. Certainly one of the best horror movies, though many would consider it second as horror/sci-fi to Ridley Scott’s Alien. Just like how Robocop owes its production to The Terminator from three years earlier, Scott’s sophomore picture is the reason why The Thing exists as it does. It showed a world hung up on Star Wars that space wasn’t such a nice place, and that science-fiction was more than a pretty face. It was an acne-scarred, sniveling one.

After the dreary sixties, and I suppose the dreary seventies, Star Wars reinvented pulp science-fiction, the romantic heroes who got the badguys and heroines who got kidnapped. I wouldn’t say that Alien is necessarily counterculture; it was born of a rather brilliant idea of O’Bannon and Shusett’s for a horror movie – what’s the scariest thing you can think of (the answer of course being rape by alien) – but possibly The Thing is. It’s aggressive, paranoid, violent, raw.

And yet, it’s a callback to the original short story by John W. Campbell. Carpenter wanted to do what Christopher Nyby and Howard Hawks didn’t: talk about what people do when thrown in an isolated space with the most frightening thing imaginable. This creature takes the identities of others, as well as their places, and this begs the question “who among us are human?” Since you can only be sure of yourself, this question offers Reason 1 why The Thing works.

The other is something of a controversial thing, the effects. Nobody can watch the The Thing and scoff at Bottin’s makeup and animatronic monsters. They’re a highlight in eighties visuals for sci-fi film, an absolute horror and joy to watch. Not only do they look freaky, they move around in ways you don’t want them to and do things to really mess people up. But some people are so understandably taken by these effects that they’re distracted, or come to think that they’re the reason for the movie. While the effects amount to Reason 2, they also did a lot to hurt the movie’s critical reception.

This is certainly an odd analogy but take for example Higher Learning, a film by John Singleton. Critics liked it, but didn’t think it had a strong enough romantic appeal (strong character relationships) and believed the characters were stereotypes. Essentially they wanted the movie to be more conventional drama. Having character drama about romance isn’t the movie’s point, that would definitely draw away from its message, which is all about how radical thinking is proliferated through generations, masquerading as education. Why is it that film is a medium that must conform to certain conventions and standards? Why must we always be entertained by these things?

The Thing‘s effects shouldn’t be tuned down. Perhaps that thinking stems from our appreciation of The Thing from Another World, which creates suspense with no gore. What works about the effects in The Thing is their service to atmosphere. There’s nothing more scary than Antarctica. Oh wait there’s nothing more scary than a creature that can take our identities. Now there’s nothing more scary than a stomach that eats your arms. We’re touring through a nightmare reality, a terrifying hallucination that is testing these men, seeing how long they’ll dangle over the abyss before falling off – snapping and turning on each other.

It’s a Twilight Zone-esque character study with a budget. We have characters thrust into a situation that keeps getting worse, where even survival seems pointless. In The Twilight Zone, the cheesy effects actually serve a purpose (whether intentionally or not), they create a layer for us to pierce through and see what’s just below the surface – they force us to investigate, and be rewarded, more often than not (some of those episodes are pretty aimless). The Thing does have the effects. No big-headed aliens, no Sasquatch thingy on the wing. We have an effective glimpse at not an alien creature, but at an alien world, and it’s scary as hell. I suppose it is forgivable for people to be distracted, but it’s the two elements that are absolutely crucial.

That of course is neglectful of the characters themselves, the script, the direction, the acting, and the music (though Morricone himself earned the film a Razzie, forever sealing that organization’s fate for me as “jokards”), all of which are astounding, especially for science-fiction film. Only rarely do we see attention to detail on all fronts in a movie with aliens.

Will we see it again tonight with The Thing (2011)? I know we’ll at least see the effects. They’re in the trailers, and they look great, if a bit Dead Space-ish (ain’t nut wrong with that). I assume that lip-service will be paid to the who goes there aspect of the story, but that’s just fine. As long as a body is on a laboratory floor morphing in the most horrifying ways only to be blasted by Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s flamethrower – that’s all I need.

Why I saw this movie is a long, almost embarassing story that I won’t suffer you to read here. While I suffered in watching it, I felt compelled to report back here on this blog, because I actually had something to say. Something negative.

After seeing just this one entry in the lengthy franchise, in addition to twenty-minutes of Final Destination 2, I can’t fathom why anybody would ever return for 4 and 5, or even 2 and 3. These movies are formula, and their movie-as-formula isn’t exactly the problem, it’s the formula itself. The template these are all based on – vision, no one believes him/her, it happens, more deaths, more people don’t believe him/her – is built on frustration. The hero/heroine’s (let’s just go with heroine in reference to Wendy from 3) efforts to save people are frustrated, she is frustrated by the other characters’ aggresive ignorance, and the characters are goddamn frustrating to the audience because they’re drawn to fill out one role.

The frustration stops when a clamp comes down on somebody’s head or a truck tears the back of their skull of. These gruesome death scenes are the only moments when the story moves forward, so it’s nearly cathartic in its alleviation of the frustration, but in a really bad way. In addition, Final Destination the series trades on its death sequences. But the problem with a medium like this – movies – is that the death sequences are tethered to and held back by the plot, which is crucial to the formula. As a result, there are only five or six death scenes in the movie, and the only one longer than a split second is far from entertaining – tanning booth death.

The premise to the series is actually pretty good; it feels like an episode of The X-Files. I bring that show up specifically because the writers and directors and producers of several entries in this series were James Wong and Glen Morgan, huge contributors to the long-running television show. The difference between the show and the movie series is something that could have made this series legitimately good, and not almost-half-average: adults.

If the series had adults instead of teenagers, maybe there could have been a sense of engagement in any facet of the movies rather than none. Why does there exist the requisite that all modern horror movies must have screamy teenagers? Because they’re cheap? Because of Halloween? Some of the most famous horror movies of all time have adults – Alien and The Exorcist spring to mind. Teenagers can never be well-rounded characters in this context of light horror because adults have difficulty writing them both in general and for a teenage audience. They assume that we’re expecting a certain thing, and what we get is boo-yah douchebags and womanizers and OMG orange tan chicks, where characters are defined by their stereotype.

The problem here is that the key demographic – teenagers and younger – are notorious for being dumb. That must be how they’re seen by the writers, because these characters don’t have complex characterization or subtle nuances; the audience understands them because they tap into various, specific parts of the cultural lexicon.

I think that the series could benefit if not only we had adults dealing with this problem, but if it was a detective story. The detective must solve these crazy accidents before he goes too, though nobody believes him and he must endure being witness to bizarre fatalities. It could be a gritty, dark story that would work once, but it would work well. Final Destination 3 has a scene where characters – the fringe weirdos – are talking about how death is inevitable, and it made me think that if we were dealing with characters who weren’t just going for the laughs we could actually tackle interesting themes about life and death.

But the series has never been about themes. In fact, one of the themes in Final Destination 3 is control, where Wendy is a control freak. How do I know that? Because whenever anybody, even Wendy, is describing her, they say she’s a control freak. I swear ‘control freak’ is the most frequently used term in the entire movie. She likes to control things, and this conflicts with death, who also likes to control things. Okay, that’s fine, but what does it mean on a higher level? Nothing, it’s just superfluous motivation for our character Wendy to have conflict with death, as if dying wasn’t enough.

Final Destination 3D takes a more hackneyed detective approach, which isn’t nearly as good an idea to keep the premise fresh as seen in Final Destination 2, where a bunch of people were gathered into a room and tried to stay alive. That could have been cool, but I never saw the rest of the damn thing. In Final Destination 3, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character Wendy took a bunch of photos and notes how they correlate to the deaths. Shoddy theory, but that’s why she pulls a photo of the World Trade Center and notes how a shadow of the plane on the building anticipates that a plane was going to fly into it. What the fuck?

So she goes out with her friend, Kevin, and they try to save these morons before they’re killed. None of them want to stay alive. They’re all antagonistic, and I guess the effect here is that we’re supposed to be rooting for death to kill them. Either I’m just not cynical enough to ever think that these people deserve what comes to them, or I just can’t distance myself from these characters to appreciate them as characters who actually, really, want to die.

Another problem is that the only interesting thing about the movie is the relationship between Wendy and Kevin. I was surprised but I actually liked their budding friendship, but of course – it didn’t add up to anything. The ending is ambiguous, so maybe they all died. I’d have to watch The Final Destination to find out if they did, or if they’re still cool.

God, the acting is so damn bad in this movie, and I don’t want to do what I used to do when I wrote my little movie reviews for the school newspaper (go down the list, you know, the directing sucks, the acting sucks, the script sucks, the editing sucks) but I need to make an exception here. If they didn’t have Mary Elizabeth Winstead, maybe I wouldn’t notice, but a lot of these characters are poorly portrayed, if only as a result of the weak writing. It’s not atrocious writing, it just feels synthetic and a product of little effort. Even Winstead can’t salvage it because Wendy, like I said, is a control freak. That is her character. She is not a character. Control freak is not character.

As a last note, this series has the worst string of titles ever, more stupid than First Blood, which goes
First Blood
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Rambo III
Rambo
Just take a look:
Final Destination
Final Destination 2
Final Destination 3
The Final Destination
Final Destination 5
It’s comical because there is exactly one that stands out. I’ve never seen a horror franchise that actually goes back to the numbering after they’ve dropped it, which is the trend nowadays, not to have numbers. I guess I give them credit for 5, but hell – I’ll never see it.

And how could you not? As much as I know I’ll enjoy the film when it hits theatres in October, I know it won’t last long or be well-recieved or good. It’s just not a movie that needed to be made, but I look forward to it anyway as a fan of the John Carpenter original, a fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and a guy who saw and enjoyed somwhat the Howard Hawks original original. The Who Goes There? story template is great, and even without that key casting I’d still look forward to it, even if it is seemingly just another in the line of horror remakes following the Wes Craven reboots of recent times and Friday the 13th and all that.

Horror is such a shitty genre nowadays that remakes don’t faze me. If original material turns out to be garbage like The Strangers, then I welcome familiar faces and ideas. I’ve come to peace with the fact that The Mist is the product of a brilliant filmmaker who probably won’t continue to dabble in horror (unless it’s Stephen King), and that M. Night Shyamalan is making some terrible, terrible choices years after his incredible Signs. Maybe it’s just fine by me because horror isn’t one of the genres I look for. I like horror/comedy, but I haven’t seen too many of those I’ve disliked. From Return of the Living Dead to Slither, the horror/comedy has been good throughout the ages, but I didn’t even like a horror classic like The Exorcist so how am I supposed to like its inevitable remake?

It’s a difficult genre, and I guess that’s why these filmmakers do it. Nothing is sacred, as people are bound to say, but I really don’t care about that. They’re not actively working to ‘ruin’ the original film, and the constant theory against the naysayers is that maybe attention will be brought to the old one with the release of the new one. Who knows? And that’s right – on some level John Carpenter’s The Thing was a remake, and it’s a classic, as is The Fly remake. Who’s to say that this new one won’t be? Aside from history and the formula it seems to be following…

In fact there are other things that concern me about this new movie. A long time ago I got into some farcical argument with a ’30 year old woman’ on YouTube.com, and it was on the video for The Thing 1982 trailer. Maybe you can still find it, I don’t know – I’m HeroOfCanton99, like Jayne and 1999 combined, the year I wanted people to think I was born in. Basically this lady’s stance was that she was uncomfortable with a girl being cast in the movie, because some seriously horrific things tend to happen to people in The Thing. I said “Damn it, I’m agreeing with you, you freaking moron,” but she didn’t really realize and continued to argue out loud to herself. It was surreal. Wonder what’ll happen when she finds out about the women in Gears of War “Curb Stomp Downed Enemies” 3?

I don’t feel entirely comfortable with it because I’m aware of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s history – three horror flicks, one where she gets killed, probably gruesomely. She’s assumedly not afraid of it, but I am. I don’t want to see that. I wouldn’t want to see it if it was anybody else, not just Mary Elizabeth Winstead, though that certainly doesn’t help. In The Thing, it’s not the character deaths that are actually gruesome: people die when they burn by flamethrowers. The terror comes out of the creature’s mutations, where faces split open and heads tear off slowly and painstakingly while tongues lash around and it’s the most horrible thing you’ve ever seen done to a human body. So awesome. God just typing that makes me want to watch the movie again. Really ingenious horror, and really cool sci-fi – the perfect blend captured here in this totally underrated flick.

If Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s head falls off and turns into a spider I might just vomit, but I’ve made a speculation as to what happens in this new movie:

The Swedish guy at the beginning of The Thing was a guy, not a girl. That means that she either dies in the helicopter explosion, dies earlier, or escapes to the mainland. I think that she’ll escape and leave the male hero to chase the dog and magically become non-foreign. Maybe that’ll pave the way for sequels… which is an odd thought. Hm, if they made a Thing remake trilogy, that would mark one of the strangest movie series ever.

That’s only a guess. Chances are she gets killed by a massive Thing monster, because I hear that we’ll see different forms of the creature, which is a good change of pace. Maybe one form will be Frankenstein’s monster, like the 1951 movie. HRRRNGGG

Another issue I have is an idea resulting from a filmmaker’s passion for the original movie. When McG, a big fan of the Terminator movies, made a Terminator movie, he had a lot of visual call-outs to the earlier films, particularly the first. I didn’t mind; I thought it was cool because I share his sentiment that those two movies are totally sweet. But if the director of The Thing (I’m not going to try to spell his name) also does this visual homage deal and has similar things happen, for some reason I don’t see it as working, perhaps because of the proximity to this story to the 1982 one.

In other words, won’t it be silly if the crew of the 2011 had a blood test scene if only days later a different crew did? Eh it’s a nerdy complaint, but that’s why it’s an issue and not a problem, I guess. Also, will this movie take place in 1982? Or will it be like Casino Royale (2006) and take place in the future of the 60’s Bond films, despite its chronology as first in the series?

So that’s it. If Avatar and Machete were the most anticipated movies of years previous, well, that’s not a good track record, so The Thing better work out because I definitely look forward to it more than… Captain America? If they do things similar to the 1982 movie I don’t see much margin for error, but that’s probably what was said about The Phantom Menace. Well, that’s definitely what was said.

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