Elvis in the Nightmare Alley

elvis2Elvis, 2022, 159 mins, 4K UHD

As one might expect from Baz Luhrmann, Elvis is an exhausting, dizzying ride. Which, for fans of Luhrmann’s films, is something that fills one with a particular excitement and sense of anticipation- while for detractors of his style, must fill them with dread. To be brutally honest, that’s this film and my post here in a nutshell, I don’t really need to write anything more. Lovers are gonna love, haters gonna hate. Whatever its merits as a dramatic work, its intoxicating stuff, a trip to a cinematic carnival of the senses- bright lights, incredible music, a kinetic energy that is almost tangible: Pure Cinema.

But as far as being a dramatic work, I’m not entirely sure, for instance, how much this film really functions as the biopic some may have been expecting. Its there, but its almost incidental to the cinematic ride that Luhrmann is intent on taking us on. This isn’t really an examination of Elvis the man; his talent, his sexuality, his womanising, his drug-taking, which ideally would surely make -maybe someday will make- a dark and fascinating psychodrama. Instead this is Elvis the Myth, Elvis the Icon, Elvis the amusement ride.- strap yourselves in!

elvis3Which is not to suggest that this is superfluous, empty nonsense, its certainly more sophisticated than that. For one thing, its almost like a particularly nasty horror movie in a musical disguise: to be frank, I’ve spent the last few days quite haunted by it. There is something quite nightmarish about it,  if only because there is just something about Tom Hank’s notably grotesque Colonel Tom Parker that gets under one’s skin. He’s the Devil in a Stetson, and he seduces and betrays poor Elvis in such an intense, heightened way that it approaches religious allegory (albeit I’m sure plenty have equated Elvis with Jesus before) and Luhrmann even cheekily throws in a nod to Welles’ The Lady of Shanghai with a hall of mirrors in which the Devil traps our hero in his web. Parker is a sly Machiavellian monster who essentially ensures Elvis cannot himself be blamed for his own tragedy: Elvis is a victim here and Luhrmann ensures its a seductive proposition. He may be exaggerating the truth here but it is essentially the truth

Austin Butler is something of a revelation- writing as a veteran of seeing the John Carpenter Elvis: The Movie in the cinema back in my youth, in which, as bizarre as it sounds today, Kurt Russell ‘played’ Elvis, I reckoned nobody, surely nobody could ever convincingly play Elvis (a sentiment only further proved by later Hollywood depictions – Val Kilmer, anyone?). But there is something remarkable about Austin Butler here. Aided by some excellent make-up any disbelief gradually fades away; the sheer physicality of his performance is brilliant and likely worthy of an Oscar nod. Meanwhile, much has been said regards Tom Hanks buried under all that prosthetics (some seem to find it patently ridiculous) but as I noted earlier, I found his Colonel Tom Parker quite disturbing, and I suspect there’s a certain craft on display here (those eyes, dammit, for one thing) from Hanks that is unfairly belied by all that make-up: I think Hanks is excellent and I despised him utterly for most of the movie.

I was reminded, watching Elvis, of films like Oliver Stone’s JFK or, obviously, Luhrmann’s own Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge! (a film I adore); hyper-kinetic cinema, full of bravura cinematography and editing, bewitching use of music and visual effects, films that are dizzying glorifications of manipulation. Its easy to get carried away by it, and I wonder how well Elvis might hold up on repeat viewings, but I absolutely enjoyed it this first time around. There’s a nagging feeling of a rushed ending, of perhaps entire subplots missing on the cutting-room floor (already there are rumours of a longer cut or mini-series edition) and certainly a sense that we are seeing highlights of the icons life and not the substance of it, no real explanation of what made Presley tick. This isn’t that movie. But it is a Baz Luhrmann movie.

More than that though, far as I’m concerned, its a Baz Luhrmann horror movie: over the past few days I have been so surprised by just how much Tom Hanks’ Colonel Tom Parker must have gotten under my skin. Utterly disturbing, Hanks as a monster has quite totally freaked me out.  You’re the devil in disguise, Tom, and you got me all shook up.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist).

Murder of a franchise

halloweenrisesHalloween Kills, 2021, 105 mins, Digital

I’ll keep this as short as I can, this film deserves no more. There’s was a point during this film where I felt like damning John Carpenter for ever making the 1978 film that spawned this wholly lamentable horror franchise. Halloween Kills is so horrible it almost outweighs the positives of the 1978 original ever existing at all. Halloween Kills is badly written, badly acted, badly directed. Only the other day I was praising Ghostbusters: Afterlife for demonstrating how to resurrect a film franchise,  how to make a sequel befitting and honouring its original. Well, here comes Halloween Kills to demonstrate how not to do it. It is such a disaster I can’t quite put it into words; to be brutally honest I wasn’t expecting much, if anything at all, and yet it still managed to disappoint.

Actually, it made me quite angry. How do films, as demonstrably cynical and badly made as this get made? Of course, the answer is money, which I’ll come to in a few paragraphs, but bear with me here, because the question is nonetheless valid. There are so many continuity errors, factual errors, clumsy mistakes, it was one of the laziest, most ineptly made films I’ve ever seen, and I’ve suffered through plenty of them. Its so bad it feels almost deliberately bad, there is so little indication anybody really tried at all. There were so many moments that my jaw dropped at the crass stupidity of characters or plotting, the film increasingly edging so close towards parody and farce, it felt almost insulting, like the film-makers were physically slapping me in the face.

So lets get to the money, and the scariest thing about this film. It cost $20 million to make, grossed over $130 million worldwide, so there will be another Halloween film. And possibly another after that. Where will the horror end?

Which gets me worried; knowing how money attracts Hollywood attention, and recent rumours circulating, there’s surely a cautionary lesson in this film- that John Carpenter should, by all things Holy, somehow, if he has it within his power, veto any attempt to reboot/remake his 1982 classic The Thing, because nobody, surely, wants that film sullied like the way Halloween has been over the decades – with Halloween Kills, it has plummeted to stygian depths Lovecraft never considered. Worst film I will see this year, I expect (and sincerely hope).

Murders on the Horror Express

murders1Horror Express, 1972, 91 mins, BBC iPlayer

The first casualty of a bad horror film is any shocks, it seems. Well, that and the reputations of all involved. I dare say there are a few revisionists out there who describe this film as some novel precursor to John Carpenter’s The Thing but that’s utter tosh. Okay, the film owes a little to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella “Who Goes There?” that both the original The Thing From Another World as well as John Carpenter’s version were based on, but its so poorly executed here its practically incidental- possibly it was even accidental (an alien is thawed from millions of years in ice and proceeds to jump from body to body killing travellers on a Trans-Siberian express). No, this is just a really poor, terribly bad horror film hamstrung by a zero budget and only enlivened by the casting of Hammer greats Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, albeit one has to pity them the misfortune of featuring in such a lousy film. Indeed, my overwhelming sensation watching this film was almost of pity, soberly considering that no matter how great we may now think both Cushing and Lee were, the truth is that back in the day they were likely poorly-regarded b-movie horror actors who had to bum around for gigs in awful productions such as this (see also Cushing’s appearance in the not-quite-so-dire The Devil’s Men). Mind, I’m not certain what Telly Savalas’ excuse is for appearing in this as a Cassock captain, who seems to drop in from nowhere on the hunt for the killer like some sabre-rattling Inspector Poirot (and no, its nowhere near as amusing as that likely sounds).

So it was a wholly irritating, sobering experience, this- I’ve been curious to see it for a few years now (thank goodness I was never tempted by those Arrow sales), entirely on the basis of seeing Cushing and Lee in a movie together again. Had this been a mid-sixties Hammer romp, it may have been just as silly but it would, curiously enough, have been a better-made film, even considering the limited budgets Hammer films were notorious for. At least it would have had Hammer’s signature gothic style, gaudy colours and fine period costumes/art direction, and would have been enlivened by seeing the usual Hammer retinue of actors with a dramatic music score. Sadly, there’s none of that here, and as one might expect from a cheap Spanish production there’s also woeful dubbing on any dialogue uttered by someone other than Cushing, Lee or Savalas, which only further detracts from what actually going on.

I suppose one can admire -although with considerable sadness- the professionalism of Cushing and Lee who heartily continue to act their best whatever the rubbish they are in (maybe all those Hammer flicks were ample practice), giving genuine effort here which the film hardly deserves. Truly, the two Hammer veterans deserved much better and its such a pity that they so needed to pay the bills that they had to sign-on to pictures such as this. Its far beneath them, but that’s true of quite a few films in each of their filmographies. Mind, its true most actors likely appear in films they’d rather forget- something that was much easier to get away with in decades before home video came along. What on Earth either Cushing or  Lee would have thought had they know this particular film would still be widely available to viewers all these decades later? They would likely have been horrified. Its not often I ever say of a film featuring Peter Cushing “never again!” but its certainly true of this nonsense.

Magnum Farce

MCDCOPS EC004

Copshop, 2021, 107 mins, Amazon Prime

I’ll cut Joe Carnahan some slack, as I’ve enjoyed many of his films, like Narc (2002) and I adored his darkly meditative The Grey (2011), and even rather liked Boss Level (2020) -so much so that I’ve already watched it twice|- and there’s much to like in Copshop. Indeed, the film starts with such a brazen sense of attitude, using Lalo Schifrin’s theme from Magnum Force over its opening, that I dared think this might turn out to be great… but alas, it turns out its a bit of a dud, the use of that music just hinting at how much this film is an exercise of style over substance. Some people will love it, no doubt, but it just wasn’t for me, really.

Which is such a pity, because the film features a pretty great cast. Gerard Butler plays Gerard Butler as usual, but Frank Grillo is pretty great, demonstrating again that he surely deserves better projects. Alexis Louder is very good but the script is so preposterous regards her character she has an uphill battle (more of which below), but the star performance of the film is that of the great Toby Huss, largely a tv actor who was so good in the (probably largely forgotten) tv series Carnivale back in 2003/2005, and more recently Glow (2019)- here he plays a psychotic killer and he enlivens the film tremendously, indeed almost saves it.

Copshop is a largely derivative… well, okay, its Carnahan, so lets play nice- Copshop is an affectionate nod to 1970s thrillers and exploitation films, hence its use of the Magnum Force theme and 70s funk songs on its soundtrack. Its indebted to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, clearly, in its isolated police-station under siege, and it has a lot of mileage from that sense of 1970’s ‘cool’ that provides much of the fun of the film. Its the kind of film I’m quite inclined towards, but like so many thrillers and action films these days, it just doesn’t know when to stop. I’m not sure when it happens, but at some point it moves from being fun to being silly. Maybe its when Louder’s Valerie Young is bleeding out from a gunshot one minute, is strapped up the next, and then survives a brutal gunfight in spite of a shotgun blast to the chest (yo for Kevlar!), and after being quickly ‘fixed’ by paramedics steals their ambulance to go chase after Gerard Butler’s assassin as if she’s fresh as a daisy.

Okay, okay, maybe it is just the daft fun of the film but the appeal of the 1970s films which this film so craves is that they felt grounded and real, even while they were cool- but films like Copshop just don’t know where to stop. Its like those excesses of Marvel films leak into every bloody film these days, and the days of genuine realistic human characters with natural physical limits are plain gone, and its spoiling so many films now, I’m no longer surprised anymore, I’m appalled.

Agh, Commentary Tracks

Well, a pat on my back for watching a disc within a few weeks of buying it (doubt it’ll catch on) but life never gives without taking away, so add another commentary track to the list of all those that I haven’t listened to yet. 

(The disc in question was A Most Violent Year, a film which I first watched on a stream back in 2015 and which I really liked, so when I noticed it cheap on Amazon it proved a no-brainer. More on that maybe at a later time, but yeah its still a great film with fantastic cast/performances, but the Blu-ray comes with a commentary track which tempts and infuriates me at the same time).

So anyway, its such a pity that whenever there’s nothing on the television or I haven’t gotten my head into a book, I can’t just suggest to my wife Claire that we settle down with a commentary track from one of those discs (if I did, she’d give me one of her dirtiest ‘are you mad?’ looks for sure: commentary tracks are for film-nerds. True or false?). 

Not all commentary tracks are equal. Some are awful. Some are great. Some (certainly those when one gets John Carpenter and Kurt Russell together) are legendary. There’s some good commentaries by academics, film historians or critics- some can be very dry, or feel like they are just reading from prepared notes (which sometimes I’m sure they are), but often they can be more balanced than listening to tracks from cast and crew stroking each others egos and ‘goshing’ at whatever’s onscreen. Some can be surprising, I remember that the Matrix films had commentary tracks from philosophers and critics who didn’t necessarily even like the films. Which made me think at the time what a neat idea it was (although studios would obviously be appalled by it), to perhaps put negative views on some tracks, you know, get someone to argue for, someone argue against, the film in question. 

Great unrecorded commentary tracks:

  1. Alfred Hitchcock on Vertigo
  2. Stanley Kubrick on anything (although Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke together on 2001 would have been like brushing one’s hand against a Monolith, or falling into a Stargate, I suspect).
  3. Phillip K Dick on Blade Runner– wouldn’t that have been great? He might have hated the finished film but who knows, he might have loved it and just listening to him see that world through his eyes… sober or high, it would have been a ball.
  4. Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. Just imagine. 

I assure you that if either of those commentaries existed they wouldn’t have remained unlistened to. Crikey, I probably would have jumped into the commentary before even watching the movie. Anybody else got some ideas for great commentary tracks we’ll never hear?

Another Thing…

anotherThingWhilst on the subject of John Carpenter movies (cunning link there to yesterday’s post) I’ve found myself pre-ordering another copy of The Thing, this time the 4K UHD edition that Universal are releasing in September. I don’t know how many times I’ve bought this film on a home video format: DVD twice, Blu-ray twice… actually I think it may have been three times on Blu-ray, and that is just plain insane even to me. But it’s The Thing, and it’s on 4K UHD, and it is surely the last copy of this film I will ever buy. Please, lord, the last time. I’m beginning to think the 4K format is the work of the Devil.

It is rather quietly ironic, in what is supposed to be the slow decline of physical media, that we can still be suckered into buying these new editions of films we’ve bought so many times before. Its likely no accident that Carpenter is so well-represented on 4K disc (Prince of Darkness, Halloween, Escape From New York, The Fog and They Live with more likely to follow before the disc replicators finally grind to a halt), as his films have always been very popular on home video formats. I remember back when VHS started here in the UK, Escape From New York was one of the first big ‘hits’ on rental in 1983, partly because its a good film but also because it sported, at the time, a pretty amazing stereo track the likes of which previously unheard of in the home. Of course it was on VHS in pan and scan/pain an’a scam format but hey, it was 1983 and our televisions tended to be still black and white even then, and absolutely 4:3. How times change, but some Things (see what I did there?) stay the same, sort of.

These Vampires still suck

vampiresLast night I rewatched John Carpenter’s Vampires for the first time in maybe fifteen years, which probably indicates what I think of it. I first saw the film back in… well, it was likely 1998, because it was a R1 DVD that I bought before the film had even had its theatrical release here in the UK. Those were the heady, rather intoxicating days of R1 DVD players and delayed International roll-outs of movies. This time around, it was a Blu-ray edition from Indicator, which Amazon reliably informs me I purchased back in 2017… and which I haven’t watched until now. Clearly, I have a bit of a problem with Carpenter’s Vampires.

The sad thing is, I lay all the blame here on John Carpenter, and I’m writing this as a huge fan of both him and his movies. Over the years he has made some great movies and most of them have likely made a fortune on various home formats – his films are loved by fans. Not just admired but genuinely LOVED. And the guy himself, although obviously I’ve never met him, seems a nice, laid-back, down to Earth and unassuming guy with an extraordinary talent for making cool genre films. And, perhaps more importantly, for making genre films cool.

But Vampires isn’t one of them. The problems are manifold, the bad far outweighing the good. Chiefly, for once it seems Carpenter is undone by his budget, which is odd because he usually thrived under the pressure of limited resources and time, but here he finally succumbs. Final takes look like first or second takes, the interior sets are some of the shakiest I have ever seen, the largely b-movie cast so woefully wooden they give the stakes and coffins a run for their money. Worst of all, the composition of the shots (always one of Carpenters strengths, his films really shining in widescreen once the bad old days of pan and scan were left behind) is terribly poor. There seems little ambition- the usual low-angle tracking shots, so effective in films like The Thing, The Fog and Halloween are simply awol here. Maybe the cheap sets made them impossible but there’s no indication of that eye Carpenter always had. The craft is absent, the ambition and imagination missing. Indeed, the better (and most visually interesting) shots look suspiciously like second-unit work, such as the make-up/special effects footage of the vampires crawling out of the earth and some of the stunts (the captured vampires being yanked out into the sunlight to burst into flame, for instance).

Frustratingly, the script shows sign of promise, but what should be a scary horror movie seems to be upturned into a modern-day Western, Carpenter hijacking a film to satiate his foiled ambitions to make a Western. James Woods is woefully miscast- he’s a fiery character actor but hardly up to an action lead more fitted for Roddy Piper, Keith David or someone similarly larger than life. Instead, Woods would have been perfect -absolutely perfect- as the crooked priest played here by Maximilian Schell; he’d have torn the scenery up as the priest who betrays God to join the master vampire Valek. I want to see THAT movie! He’d have been brilliant in a role largely wasted on Schell. Instead Woods looks out of sorts, uncomfortable in a physical role unsuited to him (Carpenters framing of shots does him few favours in this respect). Mind, Woods does look excellent compared to Daniel Baldwin playing his vampire-hunter buddy Montoya: Baldwin is excruciatingly bad here, I’ve seen chairs that stand more convincingly than him, and Conservative and Labour MPs with more chemistry together than Baldwin and poor Sheryl Lee as Katrina, a hooker turned-vampire who serves as some bizarro love interest for wooden plank Baldwin.

To be fair to the thespians, maybe the fault lies in Carpenter whose heart was alarmingly just not in it; really, this is the Carpenter equivalent of a modern Bruce Willis movie, and an indication of what was to come. He’d make one more movie three years later (the dismal Ghosts of Mars) and then one more in 2010 (The Ward, which I watched once and promptly forgot) before finally calling it a day. His slide in quality was so pronounced that his fans can be forgiven for being thankful he didn’t make any more. I often wish I would hear news of Carpenter getting back behind a camera and making a great movie like in the good old days but maybe his (unofficial?) retirement really is for the best. I’d be fascinated to learn what happened, but suspect he simply grew out of love with making movies. They are hard work, and the way the business was going even back in his day, it was just getting harder. I believe Carpenter has paid his dues and owes us fans nothing anyway: the films we have are enough, but I could certainly do without Vampires

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020)

t2bpI fondly remember Train to Busan, it was Die Hard on a Train (with Zombies!), and there was a point early on in this film, in what turned out to be a prologue before the main plot proper, when I thought that this film was going to be Die Hard on a Boat (with Zombies!). I figured that zombies would get loose on the big boat of refugees sailing to freedom and that, trapped on the ocean for three or four days in its race to salvation, it would be a claustrophobic thriller with lots of story breaks/crises (the engines are on fire! We’ve sprung a leak! Zombies in the Lifeboats! etc). In hindsight that might have been construed, possibly rightly so, as a lazy sequel, a very minor twist on established formula as most sequels are. Maybe the film-makers for Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula should be praised for trying something different, for upping the scale and having some ambition – essentially what they have done here is a similar trick to what James Cameron did with Aliens following Ridley Scott’s claustrophobic, more intimate original. Unfortunately though its possibly too much of a departure, because this film has lost most of what made the original so great.

I suppose this is the danger of coming into a film blind having no idea what to expect other than, er, lots of blood and zombies. I just didn’t expect it to be quite so much of a departure from the first film, especially when all of the changes leaves the finished production such a crushing disappointment.

So its not Die Hard on Another Train or Die Hard On A Boat; indeed its not Die Hard at all. This is more Escape From (a Zombie-Infested) New York/a (Zombie) Road Warrior/Fury Road and on that level, of some bizarre self-indulgent genre mash-up, its almost fun. Diminish your expectations and settle for a low-rent John Carpenter-inspired flick and I guess its really quite enjoyable. Well, it would be if it didn’t feel quite so much like watching someone playing a videogame. There is so much CGI in this film, particularly in the Mad Max-inspired chase through a zombie-infested city, that it rather degenerates into a cartoon; Final Fantasy: The Zombies Within maybe. The night before I watched Baby Driver and thrilled to its real-life car chases and stunts, which really put the woeful CGI here into sharp relief and all the worse for that comparison.

Maybe its the sheer scale of the thing, having so much CGI (at some points it looks like a Sin City-style greenscreen movie) and thus the sheer number of shots forcing the quality of it all downwards – it happens all the time, you’d think film producers would have figured by now that Less is More. The best films heavily reliant on CGI effects struggle to maintain credibility, here its quite beyond them, the physics and weight of most of the vehicle shots quickly degenerating into videogame nonsense and the CGI zombie hordes soon quite boring rather than anything threatening. Its a shame; if they’d just left it as an Escape From New York-inspired heist film trying to rob a bank in a zombie-infested/criminal militia-run city, a kind of Apocalypse Now journey into zombie heart of darkness, it could have been intense, thrilling, scary.

This film is everything but scary. Maybe that was largely true of the original, too but that film at least had thrills and tension. Instead this has a crazy grandpa, blubbing kids, a morose wooden hero… and lots of shades of other, better movies. Not a terrible movie but not far from it really: biggest sin of all is how much it looks like one of those FAQ/Walkthoughs of videogames one sees on YouTube. Movies should be more than that.

Revisiting Big Trouble in Little China

Watched my Blu-ray copy of Big Trouble in Little China last night; first time I ever watched that disc, which really qualifies this as a ‘Shelf of Shame’ series of posts. 

Don’t know why I waited so long to get around to this (other than perhaps the crazy number of times I watched this film on VHS and DVD), as I love this movie, have done since I saw it at the cinema back when it first came out. I was so blown away by the film- I thought it was brilliant; funny, action-packed and so much sheer fun. Yet it just failed to get an audience at the time. It was so weird. I’ve kind of gotten used to it now, so many times I’ve walked out of a cinema buzzing and later its like I’ve seen a different film to everyone else. I’m way off the cultural zeitgeist, that much is clear.

But like with Blade Runner and so many others, VHS saved this movie. I wonder if streaming will ever save movies the way VHS did (and later DVD, I guess). Streamers don’t usually post viewer numbers but I suppose that’s just the same as most studios never posting VHS sales, which I was always curious about. I’d love to know, for instance, how many copies of Blade Runner have been sold over the years- someone must have those figures, surely? Those old days of VHS rentals and sell-through… one could just tell, somehow, when a film was very popular (certainly in the days of rental stores when you couldn’t get a booking without waiting days/weeks: Die Hard was another film when copies were like gold-dust). Streaming… its anyone’s guess how well new films are performing when they are streaming.

Big Trouble in Little China does seem to be one of those films that gets better with age. It still seems an unlikely film amongst all the others in John Carpenter’s filmography, it feels a little odd. Carpenter’s films are usually so dark and edgy, and China feels just so light and fluffy, daft and fun, almost like a cartoon brought to live-action. The humour is off-key, something which really flummoxed the studio at the time (‘what? Jack Burton’s not the hero? He’s an idiot?’) and left them lost regards how to sell it. Maybe it would have worked better as a more typical low-budget Carpenter flick, like Escape From New York, without a big budget loading the film with all sorts of false expectations (people seemed to think it should have been another Indiana Jones movie, but Jack Burton is no Indiana Jones- even though Kurt Russell is just so good in this). So typical of John Carpenter though, subverting expectations. I miss that guy. It was a better world when he was still making movies.

He’s making original CD albums now, just to prove how messed-up this world is. He should be making MOVIES, darn it.

There’s been lots of talk over the years about remakes/sequels/reboots of BTILC and EFNY. They should follow the BR2049 route, bring back both Carpenter and Russell and show us Jack Burton as a retired old bum in a bar getting roped into an alien invasion storyline and missing things up all over again. Okay. Horrible idea, but no more horrible than some of the sequel projects mooted over the years. 

The 1980s was a pretty cool decade for genre movies, wasn’t it. Cooler than we possibly realised even at the time; when we were in that decade, post-Star Wars boom as it was, it rather felt like it would last forever but times change, tastes change, etc. Mind you, I just remembered that Howard the Duck was released the same year as BTILC. So maybe I should discard these rose-tinted glasses.

Last night, on Halloween

returnMost film bloggers, for obvious reasons, spend October devoted to watching horror films- its inevitable really; timely at best, tiresome at worst, and I’ve done it myself in years past, to some extent. Not this year, though during the month I did watch one decidedly sub-par horror film (The Curse of la Llorana) that rather proved that there’s nothing quite as boring as a bad horror film, and that, God Knows, there are far too many of them. Besides, there is enough horror on the news every day without adding to it by watching horror movies. 

I’m finding -indeed, I just commented as much on someone else’s blog- that Covid is changing how I’m looking at things, that I’m suddenly looking through some strange prism, like how the world seems to change when reading a good Philip K Dick story, or H P Lovecraft. Its like watching a colour movie gradually fading into black and white.

So anyway, last night was Halloween, so it would have been rude not too finally succumb to the season by watching a horror film. Actually, I watched two, picking two of my favourites: John Carpenter’s classic The Thing, from 1982 -a very good year for movies-and for a change of pace (real-life schedulers please note) Dan O’Bannon’s delightfully irreverent zombie flick Return of the Living Dead, the unofficial sequel to George Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead

thing3The weird thing is that Covid is changing how we look at certain movies, because Carpenter’s The Thing, in the past accepted as a reflection of the Aids epidemic, inevitably now reflects the paranoia and unseen menace of  the Covid Pandemic. The enemy within, the spreading alien contagion, the betrayal of our own bodies. I won’t labour the point, but it did make watching the film this time around a different experience. Part of that is so much bullshit- its what we are seeing, not what the film was originally  intending, and the important thing is that its still a great film, but its a reminder that films never change, but we do, and the world around us. Naturally I was watching Arrows Blu-ray edition from a few years back and it looks quite beautiful (I actually thought it had come out last year, but was horrified to learn it came out back in 2017, yet again me being baffled by the passage of time) – I understand a 4K UHD edition is likely coming out next year, and have to wonder just how much it can improve upon Arrow’s disc, and wonder if I will be suckered into buying this damn film again. Its clearly Carpenter’s best film, and one of the best End of the World movies ever made. I understand they are making a remake/reboot, somehow with Carpenters blessing  (probably the cheque he gets handed to him, he loves easy money, bless him).

Return of the Living Dead, from 1984… crikey, I can still remember seeing this in the fleapit ABC cinema in town back in the day.  Its a cheap and nasty b-movie that revels in being silly, which is an angle even more brilliant now than back when it came out, mainly because of all the zombie stuff we’ve seen since, particularly The Walking Dead (Return should be aired immediately after every season finale of The Walking Dead, if only for a Reality Check). Zombies are a stupid idea; the central premise overwhelmingly daft, its amazing that people get suckered into taking it so seriously, when you really think about the ‘logic’ of it.

There’s a lovely moment in Return when the rain, infected by the ghastly chemicals that reanimate the dead, soaks into the soil of a cemetery (the ‘Resurrection Cemetery’, ‘natch) and the dead start to rise, and a skeleton promptly thrusts itself out of the wet earth, its jaw drops, and the soundtrack breaks into song “Do you wanna PARTY?!!” Its daft, irreverent, silly, hilarious. These zombies know how to rock, and they know how to party . “Send more Paramedics!” one of them gasps into a radio handset, and once that meat has been exhausted, another calls in “Send more Cops!” Its all about the brains, stupid. Considering its humour, the film is also surprisingly dark, its ending inevitable, rather echoing the dark inevitability of the conclusion of The Thing