Office Horrors- The Mummy and The Abyss…

Ah yes, fresh for Halloween season the Office Horrors return. First it was Close Encounters. I should have learned my lesson, left it at that, never mentioned any other ‘old’ films (i.e. anything over ten years old) at work again. Seems not everyone is a lover of movies, or someone who watches them  more than once, Maybe I’m the odd one and they are normal, but I’m beginning to think I’m working with a group of Pod People, as per Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, or maybe Replicants as per Blade Runner– I mean, they look fine, they seem ordinary. But they slip themselves up in conversation. For instance, the other day I mentioned in passing that my Blu-ray of Hammer’s The Mummy had arrived in the post and I was intending to watch it one of the evenings. “Hammer?” came the (in hindsight) inevitable reply, to which I incredulously asked, “Yeah, you know, Hammer Horror, Hammer Films- Frankenstein, Dracula, Quatermass and the Pit… you know, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing…”. Blank stares back at me. Here we go again.

mummy (1)On the one hand, I know I shouldn’t be all that surprised. My own experiences of the Hammer Films date back to the late 1970s when ATV used to run Friday Fright Night movie seasons and used to run a Hammer movie pretty much every week. Movie Seasons like that just aren’t done anymore, haven’t been for years. Likewise any showings of Hammer films on terrestrial or even cable/satellite networks seem to be few and far between (other than grainy compressed versions on the Horror Channel) as most movies shown these days on tv seem to  be all fairly recent, with any older than 1980 or, (heaven save us), any actually b&w movies relegated to ungodly hours of the morning when viewing figures likely number in the dozens. So when would younger generations get the opportunity to see the Hammer classics?

And yet, on the other hand, it’s easier to watch a movie now than ever before, and surely everyone has heard of/seen Christopher Lee’s iconic Dracula, or Peter Cushing, so wonderfully watchable  in just about anything he was ever in? People have access to rental libraries, Youtube, dedicated movie channels, PPV, countless films available to buy DVD or Blu-ray. It could be argued its easier to see a film now than it ever was when I was young- before even VHS, when my movie watching was subject to the scheduling vagaries of just three channels that all closed down near midnight. Yet I managed to see many of the best Hammer films, or older classics like King Kong or the Universal monster classics or the 1950s b-movies. While I thrilled to then-new films like Star Wars I could see the lineage in them dating back to the older films, I could see where Lucas found inspiration for R2 D2 in the droids from Silent Running, or Star Trek found inspiration from Forbidden Planet. That kind of stuff should be easier now than ever before. So why do my office colleagues seem so ill-informed?

Then again, why bother even with the original Total Recall when you can watch an all-new, 3D, cgi-bangs and whistles version instead? Why bother with even Tim Burtons’s Batman when Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is newer/better? On the other hand, if filmgoers are so ignorant of older, pre-1980 or even pre-1990 movies then is this partly why we see so many remakes/reboots/re-imaginings in the cinema today? Audiences think so much is ‘new’ when actually its old stuff in fresh clothing?

A later office conversation turned to The Terminator movies. T2 seemed familiar to everyone, although one of the lads admitted he had never seen the first Terminator. Discussing James Cameron, everyone voiced positive opinions over Avatar, but I was alarmed when I voiced my own opinion that Cameron’s best film is actually The Abyss (or at least its Directors Cut version) and I received those familiar blank stares. Seems the Pod People had slipped up and revealed their true nature again… or maybe I should just be quiet and not so serious about movies. Perhaps, as I suspected last time regards CE3K, films aren’t really such a dominant, all-persuasive section of pop culture afterall, and Hollywood ain’t such a big deal.

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5 thoughts on “Office Horrors- The Mummy and The Abyss…

  1. Perhaps ‘CE3K’ really is some kind of uncanny dead zone in film history. No-one sees it, no-one knows where it is. And because ‘The Abyss’ borrows so much from it, then no-one sees that either. It’s been sucked into that black hole.

    Have you written about ‘The Abyss’ anywhere? It’s always seemed to me to be a straightforward mash up of ‘Aliens’ gung-ho and ‘CE3K’ lightshow. I know you’re not a fan of ‘Aliens’, and it rips ‘CE3K’ so blatantly that I’m surprised you rate it that highly.

    1. I admit to having something of a soft spot for The Abyss- I’ve always been sensitive to feelings of claustrophobia, depth and darkness, ever since I was very young, and being scared witless by Jaws in 1975 probably only intensified it. Right from the start of the The Abyss, with that sub going down, it had me hooked. So in some ways much of The Abyss was right up my street, so to speak. And there were the technical aspects of shooting it, the work of Ron Cobb designing it. And of course the unfinished ending, the resultant superior directors cut which I recall buying on VHS in a fancy limited edition box.

      That’s not to say I think the film is perfect- for one thing, much of the dialogue is excruciating. But I do think its Cameron’s best movie. I like the directors cut sub-plot, the scenes of human war, it’s ‘message’ such as it is, which harks back to stuff in 1950s b-movies and pulp sci fi short stories of that era when they warned of radioactive holocaust, that whole World War 3, End of the World stuff. The Aliens being peaceful, benign, like in CE3K. Yes there are further ‘borrowings’ from CE3K, particularly on the fx front, but its not a bad film to borrow from. I know on some level I should detest it but I do like it very much.

      And it has a very good score by Alan Silvestri. So yeah I like The Abyss. Hope we get a good Blu-ray next year per the rumours, it needs a decent home video release, the DVD dates back to the dim non-anamorphic days.

  2. I haven’t seen either version for about 20 years [since I had it on VHS: I never picked up the DVD]. But I was so disappointed when I went to see it at the cinema in 1989. You have to remember, ‘Aliens’ was a massive favourite of mine, and I was really expecting the goods with this one: aliens deep underwater? Sold.

    But it felt so flabby: it had great set-pieces, but they were loosely sellotaped together with crummy characterisation, and disaster movie schtick; and the limp CE3K stuff killed it for me [he even borrowed the little willo-the-wisp thing! I mean, come on…]. And I wasn’t that keen on the Director’s Cut: like all Cameron’s longer versions, there are things put back in that were rightly excised, that pull you out of the film [the tidal wave shots etc. around the world at the end of ‘The Abyss’ scupper the tension for me].
    I mean, the good bits are great, so I’ll probably watch it again. I do remember liking it more on VHS.*

    Here’s a question for you: how much more awesome would ‘The Abyss’ be if the aliens were frightening-looking? Dark and strange, like deep-sea creatures, instead of pretty jellyfish? It would tie in perfectly with the message of the movie, and it would be a much punchier picture. Just sayin’…

    *Hey! I used to have an ex-rental 4:3 version of this. And as it was shot in Super35mm, there’s loads more picture top and bottom than in the theatrical/letterboxed version.
    So in one of the water tentacle shots, you can see where the ILM have just put a hard line where the tentacle meets the water, below where the letterbox would be: they didn’t realise the frame would be opened up for home video! Did you ever see that?

    1. Ha, yes, I remember that dodgy fx shot on the VHS rental, I think it even turned up on a TV showing. It bugged me everytime I saw it (and I saw that rental tape MANY times, believe me!). Regards enjoying the film, remember I detested Aliens so I rather enjoyed Cameron’s switch to cute/pretty aliens in The Abyss (well, they WERE good guys). As you were someone who enjoyed Aliens I can understand why The Abyss frustrated you. I guess it did the same for most people. I just don’t think the aliens needed to look frightening, it would just encourage viewers to expect exactly what they weren’t going to get. Maybe The Abyss was the wrong movie to make after Aliens, sometimes directors set themselves up for a fail. I loved CE3K so it was inevitable that I would enjoy it.

      I read the book by Orson Scott Card, an established sci-fi author, who expanded on some of Cameron’s ideas and made more sense of it. It filled in many of the gaps and explained the aliens better.

      You are right about that will-o-the-wisp alien though, Cameron never knows when to stop. But then again, that ill-judged excess shows up in Aliens too, and most everything Cameron does.

  3. I know I’m a bit of an ‘old soul’ when it comes to… well, all sorts, but movie knowledge is certainly included… and I grew up as a lover of sci-fi/fantasy so read magazines where Hammer and their ilk were regularly mentioned, even if there was no evidence of them on TV… but, nonetheless… damn! (I say, in an American accent of incredulity.)

    Online there seem to be plenty of young people well-versed in film. Better than ever, some say, because of the aforementioned availability (how many are actually considering the films and how many just churning through Torrents & ticking off best-ever lists as fast as possible is another debate). But I guess out there in the Real World there are still plenty of ill-informed folk. Which is a shame, but also I suppose inevitable.

    On the (somewhat vindictive) bright side, it won’t be long before they mention something like The Matrix and a young new intake goes, “the what now?” Although, The Matrix is 15 next year — such a day could be already upon us!

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