Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Thing From Another World

Typically, I'm not a science fiction fan. Though, of course I can certainly be persuaded when the film is really good and enjoyable (or really campy, crappy, and stupid, I like both so I guess it makes no difference). The Thing From Another World is much more a suspenseful film with incredible atmosphere, unlike it's remake which concentrated mostly on special effects. The beginning of both movies start out the same... an arctic research station discovers a strange object buried in the ice. Upon inspection, it appears to be a flying saucer. They use explosives to try and uncover the ice to see exactly what they're dealing with here, and in doing so, they accidentally blow the whole space ship up. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on one's optimism at this point), a "space man" is seen frozen in the ice as well. The spaceship may have been blown to bits, but the space man seems unharmed. They unearth it and bring it back to their camp in a frozen block of ice for study. Some putz who is supposed to be watching over the damn thing, puts a blanket over it so he doesn't have to look at its creepy eyes. What the idiot doesn't realize is that it's an electric blanket that is turned on and it melts the space man to freedom in about 20 minutes. This is where the original and the remake split as far as story wise. The original is funny and somewhat tongue in cheek (while retaining it's sullen and effective atmosphere) and the remake becomes the story of a shape shifting alien that could easily destroy the world if it ever reaches civilization, directed by the ingenious John Carpenter. I do believe that the remake is considered #174 in the top #250 best movies ever made (source: IMDB.COM). Though it may not be the thriller that it's remake became, the original has that special something that makes it an instant classic. It's a creepy cold atmosphere placed near the North Pole with some really strange happening goin' on. After Mr Moron melted to creature and it escapes into the blizzard outside which doesn't seem to effect it much, a search engages. While tearing apart the sled dogs, "The Thing" loses an arm (that grows back) which is taken back to the laboratory. Upon scientific inspection, it is deduced that the arm is comprised of plant tissue. The scientists among the group explain that on another world, plant life may have evolved the same way that mammals evolved here on Earth. It feeds on blood, in fact blood from the dogs on the severed hand bring it back to life. Much like a plant, severed pieces that break off of "the Thing" begin their own growth. One of the weirdo scientist is actually growing some baby Things which creepily appear to be breathing. The group starts to remember their botany rules and realize that ice cold does not always kill a plant which is why the Thing creeps around outside. But, extensive heat will wilt a plant beyond saving (I know this to be true because I've killed many many many houseplants, after a while you just start blaming it on botanical suicide, the plant won't know you're lying). They electrocute the sucker, set him ablaze and destroy him. Not many fatalities and I can definitely say that the remake is totally superior. But hey, in 1951 they didn't have the razzle dazzle of great computer and make up effects that we have now. Granted, the villain in this movie is an intelligent carrot, I can't say that could be accomplished even with today's special effects. Watch the remake if you want a really suspenseful alien flick with a very oppressive atmosphere, but if you just want a comical story being taken totally serious with hilarious puns sprinkled here and there... watch this gem of an original, well thought out, cult flick...a true classic!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blue Sunshine

Blue Sunshine came out in 1977 and has all the earmarks of a seventies film. Polyester, disco, and bad hair. Speaking of bad hair... this movie has a lot of it and is in fact the main catalyst for the story. OK, here goes... A few certain people start noticing unnatural hair loss and displaying very erratic mood swings which are starting to become extremely violent. Their violent behavior quickly evolves into homicidal actions. I won't go into each one, but there is incredible character buildup which makes the action in the film much more exciting because you begin to feel like you actually know these people. An element that most mainstream horror/sci fi movies often neglect. Before any of them can be cured, it's realized that all the balding lunatics went to the same college university ten years ago. It turns out that some asshole sold them all a bad batch of acid called "Blue Sunshine". For those of us old enough to remember, LSD always had colorful names... Blue Sunshine, Black Dragon, Red Mercury, etc. A bumbling detective figures all this out and tries to save the world from this "plague". The most suspensive portion of the movie is figuring out who took the Blue Sunshine and who didn't. You see, a lot of the lunatics are wearing wigs so it's hard to tell because the hair loss comes before the violent tendencies occur. The climactic ending to this movie is full of humor, which changes the mood of the story ten fold. Three different puppets with the likenesses of Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones, introduce the opening of a new disco (which was just making it's big splash around the time of filming). I guess the techno pop that disco had, really pushed the bald acid heads (who are more like crazed zombies now) over the top and they start freaking out and killing everyone. Moral of the story... avoid bad drugs (good drugs are OK) and if you freak out from bad acid, you should probably avoid discotechs. A really great period piece and very effective for a cheap independent film from Jeff Lieberman who also brought us the cheap but effective horror film about worms called "Squirm" which most of us have only seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000. A side note that must be acknowledged is the ever present full moon with a slight bluish tint, obviously foreshadowing the bald lunatics who took the Blue Sunshine.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Alice Sweet Alice

This is a strange movie to say the least. Not quite up to a David Lynch level of strangeness, but very strange nonetheless. This was Brooke Shields first movie (I think maybe age 8 or 9), it was also Paula Sheppard's first (and only other) film. Paula's other movie "Liquid Sky" can be found here on Cultarama, so by all means give it a look see. In both movies, Paula Sheppard plays an incredible bitch, but from what information I've managed to obtain about her says that she's a very sweet and generous woman, who after making only two films, retired from show business to become a mother. Oh well, not to be rude but if she hadn't succumbed to the grapplings of motherhood, I'm sure that she would have given us many more wonderful performances. Brooke Shields character of Karen, younger sister to the demented and violent older sister Alice (Paula) is the main center of the story even though she gets killed off pretty early in the movie. Karen is a sweetheart, but Alice could easily pass for a sociopathic serial killer. She's a prankster (and an evil one too), she detests everyone, especially her sister Karen. The movie begins with Alice stealing her sister's favorite doll with promises of smashing it. Mom is convinced that Alice was just up to her usual tomfoolery and soothes her by letting her try on her new dress to be worn at her upcoming Communion. The day before Communion, their Priest Father Tom gives Karen a very special present (a beautiful gold cross necklace that belonged to his grandmother). Since Alice didn't get shit, she now has many hostilities towards her sister. Mrs. Tredoni (Father Tom's housekeeper/cook/answering service, maid, old friend of family, etc) also seems a little miffed about Father Tom giving Karen such a wonderful gift. Midway through this story, we are introduced to many odd and somewhat annoying character, such as Mr. Alfonso, a 600 lb tenant with piss stains on his pants and eats cat food right along with his 300 felines in an apartment the size of a broom closet. Another is Catherine (Karen and Alice's mother) who is just trying to be as good a mother as she can in trying keep peace amongst her feuding children. At the actual Communion, Karen goes missing. We see her being attacked by someone who looks like Alice because it's a small built individual (probably a woman), wearing the same kind of raincoat that Alice always wears, and donning a specific mask that we know Alice has stashed in her secret trunk in the basement. One of those creepy-ass masks that were mostly clear but had exaggerated makeup on them (y'know, typical nightmare fuel). Karen is subdued and thrown into a large wooden box and set aflame. A nun finds her charred body after smelling the smoke. She screams and everyone panics. Catherine (the mother) is very bluntly told by her bitch sister Annie that Karen in dead. Pandemonium erupts, and everyone starts screaming and crying... meanwhile we see Alice slipping Karen's veil under her raincoat to conceal it. Alice is the perfect suspect in the murder because not only did she like to dress just like the killer was dressed, but she also has very sociopathic tendencies, and is hateful and jealous towards her younger sister for many reasons. The estranged father of Karen and Alice arrives in town for his daughters funeral, to comfort his ex-wife and to get to the bottom of who killed his daughter. All the clues acquired point directly at Alice. As the bitchy aunt Annie (who is in a constant battle of wills with Alice) is leaving the apartment. Again, "someone" dressed in the raincoat and mask that Alice wears, attacks Annie in the stairwell and stabs the hell out of her. Once Annie is taken to the hospital, she is convinced that Alice is the person who stabbed her. Alice is taken to a psych ward and questioned about the stabbing of her aunt. She is given a polygraph test which establishes that she knows who stabbed her aunt, but she tells the truth when she says that it was her dead sister Karen. So either Alice is nuts or she really saw Karen (or someone who looks like Karen, possibly wearing the same yellow raincoat). Alice's parents think maybe it could have been Angela (Annie's daughter/Karen and Alice's cousin) who also has a yellow raincoat and just happened to be missing when Karen was killed. One problem, Angela is fat and doesn't resemble Karen or Alice in any way. Angela calls Alice's father (her uncle) and says that she has run away, has Karen's gold cross (which was given to Karen shortly before she died and was then taken by the killer) and asks her uncle if he could possibly meet her at some abandoned building. He follows Angela into the building where she stabs him, he chases after her and they struggle. During the struggle, the mask slips off revealing that it's Mrs. Tredoni and not Angela. The cross is hanging around her neck (which identifies her as Karen's killer). The father manages to bite the dangling cross from her neck before she pushes him off a ledge, landing on a pile of concrete, killing him. Mrs. Tredoni hates Catherine and her family (not yet sure why). She kills Karen because she is jealous that Father Tom gave Karen his grandmother's gold cross. She attempts to kill Catherine too, but misidentifies her and stabs Annie instead. Also being very religious (fuel for the best crimes imaginable), she thinks Catherine is a total whore because she is divorced. Catherine goes to Father Tom's house, but only Mrs Tredoni is home. She starts telling Catherine about how she herself had a little girl at one time, who also died during her first Communion. She feels that her little girl was killed in order to pay for the sins of her parents. Afterwards, she came to care for Father Tom (she points a knife at Catherine) not YOU! During the autopsy of Alice's father, they find the cross lodged in his throat. The cops make the connection that it's the same cross that was stolen from Karen and figure out that Mrs.Tredoni is the actual killer, not Alice. She goes to the church (where police are waiting to apprehend her) and gets in line for Communion. Since Father Tom knows what she's done, he won't give it to her. She screams out "But you gave it to that whore!!". At which time she stabs Father Tom in the neck. As she holds his lifeless body, the cops rush in. The last scene is the creepiest... as the cops are rushing around, we see Alice pick up Mrs. Tredoni's shopping bag that contains the knife used as the main murder weapon. She looks at it and slowly hides it back in the bag and gives the camera a really evil look. The look of an accused and innocent young girl who now has the capacity and desire to kill.