Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Apocalypse Comet

For the longest time I’ve always wanted to watch Night of the Comet but never got the chance to because our library never had it and I never had the money to buy it on DVD. As time passed I forgot all about it until I saw it on Netflix instant. I was happy. I thought the film was about a comet that passes by and turns everybody into zombies and its up to a group of survivors to fend themselves off from the flesh-eating hoards. I was partially correct. Instead, the film is a cheesy look at two girls who try to cope with the end of the world while fighting for survival against mutated people, a gang of nearly dead hoodlums and a government organization that wants their blood for a cure. Rather than reviewing the film I want to talk about something that scored big points with me concerning the way the movie depicts the apocalypse.

For the most part, apocalyptic movies took a big leap in terms of visuals over the past few years because of bigger budgets, CGI and pyrotechnic advancements. In the 80s, movies like Night of the Comet wasn’t really a blockbuster nor did it have groundbreaking computer graphics at its disposal. For the makers of the film to truly show a world that’s completely barren, dead and “toxic,” they had to rely on production design and color enhancing techniques… and, man, does it look amazing. While most apocalyptic movies then were usually restricted to small towns or had the military trumping over the city (Night of the Living Dead or Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Night of the Comet takes place in Los Angeles with nobody around. No cars, no people, no signs of life whatsoever. I have to applaud the film for how well they depicted an empty world. The skies have a beautiful, haunting red and orange tint to them as if a bomb had went off in the sky, which is so fitting. Very rarely do you see such an effect used by modern apocalyptic films. Here are some of my favorite shots that are so hauntingly good.

I think the movie take all previous apocalyptic movies prior to its production and rolls it all into one giant cheesy movie. There is a scene that is so similar to Dawn of the Dead that it comes off as uncanny; in fact, it has more of a similarity to the remake than the original. The two sisters, having realized that the entire city has become their playground, decide to go on a shopping spree inside a mall. So, with the radio blasting ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper, they begin to goof around while wearing all the rich people clothes and lipstick. It’s a montage and though it’s not as powerful as Romero’s critique of mindless consumerism, it’s fun and it lovingly tributes the idea that when everybody is gone… we can’t help but do all the things we’ve wanted to do. Like shoot a car with dozens of bullets.

While we are on the page of Dawn of the Dead, it’s also interesting to note that there is a scene in Night of the Comet where one of the survivors visits his mother, who is unfortunately dead, Well, after hearing a strange knocking at the door the survivor is confronted by a zombie boy who chases him into the bathroom. Then, the zombie boy begins breaking through the door while the survivor escapes to the car through the window. I didn’t notice it until just now but that almost seems like the inspiration for the beginning scenes in the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Both sequences have zombie kids, both sequences end in an enclosed bathroom and both sequences have the hero/heroine escaping through the window. It seems like Night of the Comet is Dawn of the Dead’s younger brother. It’s great because Dawn of the Dead was the first movie where Romero really showed you just how dead and empty the world is after the zombie apocalypse so it’s only fitting that the two films have so much in common.

I have never read I Am Legend (but I have the book) and I never saw Omega Man but I have seen the film adaptation of I Am Legend as well as the Vincent Price film The Last Man On Earth. Seeing our teenage heroine walk among the clothed dust piles on the sidewalks and the empty streets of Los Angeles really rings a bell to Richard Matheson. It’s not as serious and stripped of playfulness but it wouldn’t surprise me if the entire first half of the movie drew inspirations from the book. Both films seem to have the general idea that the blood of the survivors holds the elemental key to stop the infection and possibly cure them. The military in Night of the Comet is like any other military force in these post-apocalyptic movies, they will stop at nothing to find a cure especially if it means saving themselves. In fact, like a lot of the movie the cause of the end of the world is largely due to the government screwing up a project. Though the zombies in this movie aren’t really flesh eaters so much as they are people with decaying skin that want to start fights. I didn’t see any zombies eating people or hardly any zombies for that matter. I don’t even think they are zombies… they’re just mutants.

Personally, I like the fact that they aren’t your typical, mindless, flesh-craving zombies because then it would seem like every other zombie flick that came off the assembly line. I think this film takes a somewhat more realistic route to show the infection slowly eating away at the person’s skin, making them more hostile and aggressive. I don’t even think there are any scenes that show the zombies eating people, let alone trying to eat people. I think the absents of the zombies throughout the majority of the film was a good decision mainly because it doesn’t end up being a cliché where the entire film is based around surviving a zombie outbreak. If anything, the real enemies of the movie are the scientists who are scheming of ways to save themselves.

So there are a lot of moments throughout this film that borrow from previous apocalyptic movies such as Dawn of the Dead, The Last Man on Earth and even Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was one of the first movies that really showed the barren wasteland that is Earth after shit hits the fan and it was one of the first films that really utilized vibrant reads and oranges to emphasize the unusual setting. There is so much more I can go into like how the comet is associated with the world ending much like Night of the Living Dead and now that I think of it, this movie is really another love letter to Romero. That’s fine by me. I’m sure that many movies nowadays that deal with the apocalypse, especially zombie flicks, can owe a lot to Night of the Comet. If there is anything that people should try and bring back or homage from films like this, it’s got to be that awesome red sky effect. Because, even Die Hard does it and it looks amazing! That needs to be brought back. Don’t let it turn to dust like the people in this movie.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Thoughts on the Thing Prequel

As many of you know, especially after Thing Week… I am a hardcore fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing. You already know how I was exposed to it and why it is my favorite horror movie of all time but when I heard they were doing a remake, I couldn’t believe it because the first was so flawless. Then rumors began to surface that it wasn’t a remake but rather a prequel that starred MacReady’s brother, which doesn’t make sense because the first camp that was attacked was Norwegian. So, like a cynic, I decided to not follow the hype or anything about this prequel until I saw a trailer and just yesterday Bloody Disgusting released the trailer for The Thing (Prequel) along with the poster (pictured above). I know some might want to know what I think of it but first I want to express my feelings towards the poster.

I like the poster. I like it a lot. Is it the best horror poster ever? No but it does seem to be very stylized while still keeping that Carpenter-y feel. The big bold white letters that spells out ‘The Thing’ and inside the letters is “human” on the verge of becoming its full form. If you look at his right hand you’ll notice that it’s full-blown alien and I couldn’t help but think of the scene when the group, from the original, encounter the Bennings Thing running in the snow. He falls to his knees clutching his right hand, which looks like a giant deformed crab claw, tilts his head back and howls at the group before getting torched. That’s what this poster reminded me of. However, the more I look at it the more I can see just how bad (for lack of a better term) this was photoshopped. I’m still happy with it.

Note: As you watch the trailer below, keep an ear out for the Ennio Morricone score they use. I don't know if it's directly from the The Thing or if it's reproduced.

As for the trailer itself… it looks exactly like how I thought it would be. It reveals nothing about what the Thing will look like and rightfully so but I couldn’t help but get this feeling of redundancy. To many people, including myself, the original 1951 movie was already sort of a prequel to the John Carpenter film so watching this trailer made me feel like I was watching a remake of The Thing From Another World. It didn’t feel flashy to me, which is good but it did seem to be in favor of more action sequences than building an ominous/paranoid atmosphere. I would still end up seeing the film not because I’m excited but because I would like to know how they think the Norwegian incident went down. Again, it feels very redundant because we already know what will happen in the end… two Norwegians escape trying to shoot a dog that they believe is the Thing but end up getting killed in the process. If that’s not how it ends then I guess it’s not really a prequel but rather a remake of the ’51 film. However, there are some specific things in the trailer that I noticed that I want to briefly discuss

To me it feels a little out of place to have a female in The Thing if only because the Carpenter film was so cold and “manly.” This makes me believe even further that this film will be more of an adaption of the Howard Hawks film than a prequel to the John Carpenter film. Still, since it seems like she is the main heroine and we’ll have to wait and see if she can be better than MacReady.

There’s that nice big block of CGI ice that has our lovable alien friend in it. In the third picture, if you’ve seen The Thing as much as I have, you’ll notice that the shot that shows the ice block sitting in the dark was directly taken from Carpenter’s film. The camera slowly movies forward along the small balcony that overlooks the encased alien. So I guess they are going for some level of homage here.

The next couple of scenes are short, almost like flash-frames, but they are of the alien on its back either dead or just barely alive. I don’t like CGI and I’m sure a majority of the film will incorporate CGI monsters and attack scenes but after seeing these two scenes, I might have something to hold on to that they might have some practical effects as well. The practical effects and puppetry was a staple (almost iconic) in Carpenter’s Thing so why not carry on that tradition.

Also, instead of creepy upside-down head spiders, we’re getting crab-like snake things that grab people’s heads. Fine by me.

Overall, I have faith in Universal because they seem to take care of their horror movies considering the entire company was founded on horror but that still doesn’t mean that the film had to be made. I felt the same way about Wolfman but I still enjoyed it. I can only hope that this film will inspire others to seek out the Carpenter film, and the Hawks film for that matter, to see what true paranoia is.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Grindhouse Xenomorph

What can I say about the b-movie that is Dead Space? This isn’t an adaptation of the video game since it came out in 1990 or 1991 and it isn’t the movie the video game is based off of. This Roger Corman produced flick follows a freelance “space detective,” as I call him, who answers a distress signal from a nearby research facility on an unknown planet. When he gets there he finds out that the distress call was a false alarm, but was it? You see, this facility has been messing around with genetics in order to genetically create a virus that could combat another life-threatening virus that has plagued Earth. When the virus begins to manifest itself into a living creature, the resulting “baby” becomes loose in the facility. Using humans as its main source of food, the freelance detective and his trusty robot sidekick must find a way to stop it before it kills everybody in the station.

The only thing I can comment is at first I thought this was going to be a semi-humorous buddy cop movie with an alien twist but it turns out that the entire movie is a ripoff of Aliens. I wasn’t pissed about this because it went in a somewhat different direction but the resemblence between the virus and its lifecycle is uncanny to that of the Xenomorphes. In its final form, the virus has manifested itself in to a full-blown monster with giant mandibles, elongated head and body that seems to have its exoskeleton on the outside. I think what’s a dead give away aside from the giant pincers is that its head isn’t just elongated, but it’s flattened and looks like a giant headpiece, which looks just like the Queen in Aliens. Even more so, the virus forms itself into an egg, which was locked into an incubator. When one of the scientists gets too close to it the egg slowly opens up and shoots parasitic slug into her nose… just like Alien. Then, when its finished its larval form, the virus explodes out of the host’s chest and scurries away.

Does any of this mean anything in the long run? Probably not but I like ranting about these things. I quite enjoyed Dead Space if only because it reeks of b-movie goodness. It wasn’t as bad as its grindhouse counterpart The Terror Within but it was nice to see the b-movie equivalent of the Xenomorphs. In fact, many people have cited Alien for being a big budget 50’s b-movie, so I think it feels appropriate to view what it would have been like if it had a tighter budget. Still, when the movie got done I felt like watching Alien or Aliens. For being a film that was made in the 90’s, the practical effects were pretty damn good even though they weren’t as slimy or gory. I find it funny, though, that the poster for the film is set in space but not once during the entire film do any battles take place in space. There is only 10 minutes of total screen time that takes place in space, so it’s Alien in the Aliens 3 setting.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Beauty of Hill House

The Haunting has always been a favorite movie of mine, but it’s not the original. It’s actually the Liam Neeson remake that I would watch over and over again on VHS. There were two main reasons why I loved the movie: The special effects for that time and for myself were incredible and looked real, and at the time I was going through an awkward stage in my life where I fell in love with architecture and Hill House had some of the best décor that I’ve ever seen. Around 2002 I found out that the interiors were not part of the actual mansion but rather a set that was built inside a giant warehouse. I wasn’t disappointed but rather awe-inspired at how crafty, precise and imaginative the production designers were. At the time, I could imagine myself being rich and wanting rooms like those in the movie to become a reality for me. I would sit at the table, have the tape paused, and sketch out the rooms onto paper. I would even go as far as to draw out plans of Hill House so I could model my own house after it. Even now, as I watch the movie today, it’s still extremely impressive at how beautiful the set pieces are.

In an Obscure Hollow inspired post, I want to create a visual memorial to how beautiful and inspiring Hill House is. I am aware that the house isn’t called Hill House but I’m still in movie mode.