Posts Tagged ‘horror movie’

The 2011 prequel ‘The Thing’ follows a bit too closely in the footsteps of John Carpenter’s brilliant movie

March 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 2, 2018

John Carpenter’s The Thing, released in 1982, is widely considered a magnum opus in the science-fiction/horror subgenre. I’ve long been curious about The Thing, the prequel released in 2011, which I recently got a chance to see.

The bulk of the movie takes place at a remote Norwegian research outpost in the Antarctic. The geologists at Thule Station — the name is pronounced just like “tool” — have made a remarkable discovery, one which they wish to keep secret, but which they require biologists in order to examine properly. But the scientists soon find that the unearthly thing they’ve dug up from the ice could threaten the existence of every living creature on Earth…

The story is related from the point of view of Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a Columbia University paleontologist whom biologist Sander Halvorsen (Ulrich Thomsen) recruits on short notice to help extract the specimen found near Thule. The pair travel with Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), Halversen’s assistant and Lloyd’s friend, to the Norwegian station on a helicopter piloted by Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

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At times graphic ‘Bone Tomahawk’ pits four men against a hostile environment and relentless foes

January 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 31, 2018

Author’s note: This post describes a horror movie that’s suitable for adult audiences only; consequently, sensitive or younger readers are advised to avoid this blog entry. MEM

Bone Tomahawk is an intense 2015 Western about a quartet of men who set out to rescue a man and woman who have been kidnapped by cannibals.

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The minor gem ‘Harbinger Down’ is a terrific homage to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’

December 20, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 20, 2017

Harbinger Down is a beautifully executed homage to John Carpenter’s classic movie The Thing that’s short on originality but long on scares.

This 2015 feature was written and directed by Alec Gillis, a special-effects and makeup veteran on productions going back to ’80s action classics like AliensTremors and Starship Troopers. The plot leans heavily on Carpenter’s 1982 tour de force but is executed well enough to entertain genre fans.

The story gets under way when a professor and two graduate students book passage on the Harbinger, a dilapidated Alaskan crabbing vessel, in order to track how the migratory patterns of beluga whales are being affected by climate change. When Sadie (Camille Balsamo of the 2014–16 crime drama Murder in the First) notices that the whales are attracted to a flashing beacon set in a chunk of ice, she persuades Captain Graff (Lance Henriksen) to haul this mechanical object onto the ship.

The ice turns out to contain a badly charred lunar lander marked with Soviet-era symbols. Within the crew compartment is a sealed spacesuit. Graff orders the entire find stowed in the ship’s hold and bars his crew and the scientists from any further investigation.

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‘Stranded’ features four astronauts (and a very weak script) in need of rescue

December 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 11, 2017

Stranded is a subpar 2013 science fiction/horror movie that fails to bring anything new to the subgenre.

The plot is fairly straightforward: A few decades in the future, a lunar mining facility known as Moonbase Ark is struck by a rogue meteoroid storm that wipes out all external communications and damages the generator and life support system. Although the four-person crew is in mortal danger because of the power outage — and, as becomes increasingly important, the engineer’s psychological instability and substance abuse problem — they examine one of the rocks that struck the base and find that it contains a mysterious spore.

Shortly after deputy commander Ava Cameron (Amy Matysio) cuts her finger while running tests on the substance, she shows signs of what appears to be a nearly full-term pregnancy. Dr. Lance Cross (Brendan Fehr, one of the leads from the TV series Roswell) believes that the ailing lieutenant simply is suffering from some kind of aggravated cyst. However, base commander Gerard Brockman (Christian Slater — yes, of Heathers and Pump Up the Volume and whatnot) insists Cameron be put in isolation because of possible contamination.

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Humanity has an inauspicious introduction to an alien organism in the sci-fi/horror movie ‘Life’

May 17, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 17, 2017

The grandly named 2017 movie Life is a grimly efficient horror flick set aboard the International Space Station in the near future. I use the word flick advisedly: This is a B-movie premise mounted on a very respectable $58 million budget.

The space station’s six-person course — ah, I mean crew — is working on a project called Pilgrim, in which an automated probe is returning Martian rock and soil samples to near-Earth orbit for analysis and experimentation. Matters get off to a rocky start when the probe is damaged by debris, which leads to a hair-raising high-speed rendezvous.

But that’s nothing compared to what happens when exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers that one of the samples contains a dormant single-celled organism. Once Derry brings the laboratory chamber’s temperature and atmosphere to Earth-like conditions, the microscopic creature begins first moving and then multiplying.

Humanity is captivated by the discovery, and an overjoyed elementary-school student names the life form Calvin on a live broadcast. No one is happier than Derry — although he and his crewmates will soon come to regret their finding.

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Confessions of a lifelong fraidy-cat; or, Why I (mostly) can’t abide horror films

May 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 15, 2017

When I was a child, I would sometimes glimpse horror films on television. These brief exposures inevitably made my pulse race and usually left me terrified, regardless of whether the scene showed someone being harmed or even threatened.

Once when I was 10 years old, my family and I attended a family gathering at my Great-Uncle Paul and Great-Aunt Jesse’s apartment in Queens. (Or maybe I was 8 or 13. Who knows?) The apartment’s combined living room and dining room was full of people. But one moment, when I happened to be facing the TV, I saw something that made me feel completely alone and utterly vulnerable.

There was some old 1960s movie on; I remember it being in color, although I couldn’t even tell you if the scene I saw involved a Frankenstein’s monster coming to life or a vampiric woman awakening. In fact, I’m not even sure if the sound was on or off. But just watching a few seconds of this production frightened me to the core. I think one of my parents — my mother? — noticed that I was petrified and steered my attention somewhere else, or perhaps got someone to change the channel.

It’s a weird childhood trauma to remember, if trauma is indeed the right word for such a minor ordeal. And yet thinking back on that moment — muddled though my recall of it might be — I get terrified all over again.

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Series summary: The ‘Laughing Gas’ movies

July 15, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 15, 2016

I recently rewatched all the entries in my favorite schlocky horror-movie series, and I wanted to recap them for your enjoyment!

• Laughing Gas (1959). Jim Laffmore (Lou Vernon) is the proprietor of Laughmore’s Comedy Club and Lounge, a venue that is wildly successful despite being located in the small West Virginia town of Plainville. What no one knows is that every night he floods the ventilation system with laughing gas in order to stimulate crowds.

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A slight excess of goofiness taints the majestic science-fiction horror atmosphere established in ‘Event Horizon’

January 25, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 25, 2016

Event Horizon is my favorite bad movie of all time. I love this 1997 feature because it comes oh so close to bona fide greatness.

The story is set in the year 2047, 32 years after humanity has established its first permanent base on the moon and a quarter-century after commercial mining has begun on Mars. After a brief prologue in which an obviously lonely scientist, William “Billy” Weir, wakes from a nightmare and tells a photograph of what turns out to be his dead wife that he misses her dearly, the action shifts to the U.S. Aerospace Command vessel Lewis and Clark minutes before it fires its main engines for a 72-day journey to the remote reaches of the solar system.

Only after the ship arrives and its crew emerges from stasis chambers — and after Weir, who’s tagging along for the ride, suffers another nightmare — do Capt. Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and his comrades learn why they have been yanked from a well-deserved shore leave and dispatched to the rarely visited fringes of known space. It turns out that a ship thought destroyed in 2040 has been found in a decaying orbit around the planet Neptune, where it is broadcasting a short but cryptic radio signal.

The Event Horizon was said to be a research vessel that was lost after its reactor went critical. But Weir (Sam Neill) informs his captive (and highly skeptical) audience that this information was fictitious — a cover story. In actuality, the ship disappeared without a trace after activating its gravity drive, a novel device built by Weir that may permit interstellar travel by folding the space-time continuum.

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Ask not for whom the sharknado tolls…

August 2, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 2, 2015

My contributions to the Sharknado canon, courtesy of some late-July Twitter brainstorming. Get at me, Syfy!

Sharknado 4: The Sharkening

Sharknado 5: Just When You Thought It was Safe to Leave the Storm Cellar…

Sharknado 6: Sharklahoma!

Sharknado 7: Into Sharkness

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The bomb at the far end of the galaxy: Why is ‘Supernova’ so bad, and why can’t I stop liking it?

October 9, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 9, 2014

Oh, Supernova. You could have been so, so good. Instead, you were so completely awful.

Supernova, the 2000 science fiction/horror movie, is a famously bad film. Its credited director is Thomas Lee, the pseudonym chosen to replace Alan Smithee after the cover of that moniker was blown by 1997’s An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn. According to the Internet Movie Database, the actual main director of Supernova was Walter Hill, the writer-director of 48 Hrs. and a producer of Aliens and several lesser science-fiction movies. IMDB also says that Supernova had uncredited directorial and/or editing contributions from cinema immortal Francis Ford Coppola (yes, the man who filmed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now!) and B-movie director Jack Sholder (The Hidden, which I actually remember as being quite good).

(Spoilers ahead.)

The movie’s setup is fairly straightforward. As ambulance vessel Nightingale patrols remote areas of deep space, its crew slowly adjusts to its newest member — pilot Nick Vanzant (James Spader), a former military man who recently finished rehabilitation for his addiction to a futuristic drug named hazen. The crew finds Vanzant to be cool and distant; he finds them to be gruff and unorthodox.

Captain A.J. Marley (Robert Forster) is working on his doctorate in anthropology, a pursuit that requires him to watch (and comment disparagingly about) violent 20th century cartoons. Benj Sotomejor (Wilson Cruz), who is either the ship’s navigator or its information technology guy — it’s never made clear — has reprogrammed and is becoming emotionally intimate with the Nightingale’s computer, Sweetie (voiced by Vanessa Marshall). Paramedics Danika Lund (Robin Tunney) and Yerzy Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips) are rutting like rabbits and considering whether to have a child together. (He’s gung-ho; she’s reluctant.) Dr. Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett), who had a hurtful relationship years ago with a hazen addict, seems to spend most of her time glowering and lecturing Vanzant.

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The agony and ecstasy of the 200-year-old teenager: ‘Byzantium’ thoughtfully delves into the lives of two bloodsuckers

July 11, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 11, 2014

In an odd way, Byzantium, the stylish 2012 feature directed by Neil Jordan, is a coming of age tale about 200-year-old vampires.

One of the pleasing things about the movie is that it doesn’t rush to clarify the relationship between its two main characters. Are the bloodsucking Eleanor Webb and Clara Webb friends or sisters? Are they lovers? Theirs turns out to be a relationship literally unlike any other in history. But the script, which screenwriter Moira Buffini based on her original stage play, takes its time explaining the specifics.

The story is set in motion when a man who seems to understand Clara’s unusual nature strong-arms his way into the flat that Clara (Gemma Arterton) shares with Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) in a run-down English housing project. Clara responds violently, and the pair flee in the middle of the — presumably autumn — night to a quiet coastal resort town in what I take to be Ireland.

While Clara quickly and efficiently begins plying a familiar trade, prostitution, Eleanor wanders into an assisted-living facility for the elderly, where she draws the interest of an awkward young worker named Frank (Caleb Landry Jones, who to my surprise turns out to be an American actor).

While Eleanor coolly attempts to fend off Frank’s gentle but unwelcome attention, Clara quickly insinuates herself into the life and home of Noel (Daniel Mays), the lonely owner of a bankrupt hotel-cum-boarding house called the Byzantium. By the end of their first full day in the resort town, Clara and Eleanor ensconce themselves in Noel’s large, lavish but ill-kempt property.

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‘Godzilla’ brings the monsters and action but leaves characters (plus a potentially important environmental subtext) behind

May 26, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 26, 2014

The opening credits of the new film Godzilla follow a conceit. We are viewing classified photographs and footage from the 1940s and 1950s, accompanied by snippets of text from formerly secret documents. As is typical when governments release such papers publicly, many of the words are censored — thick lines appear before our eyes, obscuring material that is still deemed secret. The words that remain are names and titles. (For example, we’ll see “music,” censor lines and then “Alexandre Desplat,” the name of the film’s composer.)

I found this to be an amusing approach to the material at hand, which incorporates real-life nuclear weapons tests into its fictional story. We’re told, for instance, that the bombs detonated in the Pacific were actually strikes against Godzilla, an enormous prehistoric predacious lizard that was somehow discovered in the 20th century. Would that the film had been able to be so consistently clever throughout. Alas…

The film opens in 1999 when scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) walk into the remains of a long-dead Godzilla-type creature that has just been discovered at a remote mining operation. Inside the immense corpse, they find two pods. One is intact and evidently dormant; the other, apparently catalyzed by exposure to air, has just hatched, releasing…something. The scientists, who work for a secret project known as Monarch, gape in amazement at the trail of flattened trees left in the something’s wake.

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In a remote research base in Antarctica, ‘John Carpenter’s The Thing’ walks among us…

December 10, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 10, 2013

It is early winter in Antarctica. A dozen men are stationed at an American research base so remote that they have no means of communicating with the outside world, even by radio.

Three strangers approach unannounced. There are two men, both Norwegian. One accidentally blows himself up with a hand grenade. The other man is shot and killed after he fires his rifle at an American. And the third visitor is…not what it seems to be.

The Americans know immediately that something strange is afoot, but a visit to the Norwegians’ wrecked and abandoned base does nothing to illuminate the mystery. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that the Norwegians encountered some kind of alien life form.

This creature — this thing — can assimilate and perfectly mimic the appearances of its victims. It now seems to have infiltrated the American outpost. And it would like nothing more than to introduce itself to the animals and plants that populate the Earth’s more hospitable realms… 

This is the premise of John Carpenter’s The Thing, a 1982 science fiction/horror classic that subjects its characters and audience to a taut mixture of suspense and visceral shocks. The movie was written by Bill Lancaster based on a classic short story by John W. Campbell Jr. and directed by John Carpenter.

The man at the center of the story is helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady, a pragmatic but thoughtful man of action who skates along the barrier between sanity and paranoia. MacReady is played by a bearded, intense Kurt Russell; as the story progresses, and the prospect of oblivion moves ever closer, his determination to survive — and to destroy the alien — shines through with increasing ferocity.

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Look out ‘Below’: World War II submarine action meets ghost story in fun but flawed genre mashup

December 6, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 6, 2013

I have a love-hate relationship with horror films.

From a very young age, I’ve always found scary movies to be absolutely terrifying. Once, as a child, my family went to visit my Aunt Gussie and Uncle Paul’s apartment in Queens, and some kind of monster movie was playing unnoticed on a TV in my line of sight. Every time I looked at the screen, I was overcome by a wave of foreboding, and my heart would start racing. I would look away and soon calm down… But I couldn’t resist redirecting my gaze toward the TV, even though I knew it would upset me.

At some point — I think as the scene reached its climax and the monster (Frankenstein’s?) finally unleashed some kind of rampage — my mother or someone else noticed my abject terror, and either the channel was changed or the TV was shut off or my attention was actively redirected or I was moved to another room. (Yeah, it was definitely one of those things.)

Even to this day, I don’t watch a lot of scary movies. One of the few I saw at a relatively early age was Alien, and the only reason I watched it was that it belonged to the science fiction genre, which I found all but irresistible in my younger days.

Still, sometimes I just want to be scared without being totally revolted or terrified. Over the past year or so, I found a way to channel this impulse: By reading scripts for scary movies.

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Carpenter’s ho-hum ‘Ghosts of Mars’ is a pale imitation of the master’s best work

May 29, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 29/May 31, 2013

John Carpenter is a film legend, the director of such science fiction and horror hits as HalloweenThe Thing, Escape from New York and They Live! Unfortunately, Carpenter’s outstanding resume only serves to make Ghosts of Mars, his ho-hum 2001 outing, all the more disappointing.

The story, scripted by Carpenter and Larry Sulkis, is not unpromising. The tale begins in the year 2176 on Mars, which is in the process of being terraformed and colonized by a matriarchal society. Martian police Cmdr. Helena Braddock and a team of two veteran and two rookie officers are dispatched to an outpost to pick up one James “Desolation” Williams, a notorious criminal wanted for murder.

The task seems simple enough, even though Williams is considered highly dangerous. But when the team’s cargo train arrives at the town, they find it has become a charnel house. Several beheaded corpses are hanging from the rafters of the recreation facility. A few inarticulate individuals are hanging around, but they’re incapable of explaining what has happened.

It soon becomes apparent that the eponymous ghosts of Mars have taken possession of a number of humans and begun killing the rest. After Braddock is slain, it falls to her chief deputy, Lt. Melanie Ballard, to organize the surviving members of her team, Williams’ gang and a few others against a coming onslaught of zombified townspeople.

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