In the climactic finale of Annihilation, there is a moment in which a shape-shifting alien bioclone with burning arms lovingly embraces a charred corpse in a lighthouse that has been struck by a meteor and overtaken by a mutated blight that threatens all life as we know it. Go ahead and read that sentence again if you have to. I dare you to try to come up with something so outlandish, so unsettling, so straight-up weird, much less deploy it at a crucial moment in a multimillion-dollar motion picture production. We live in a time where pretty much every sci-fi film with a budget this size (about $40 million) ends one way: explosions. The scripts all contain the same line: Big CGI Thing bursts into CGI flame. Heck, explosions probably typify the finale of most Hollywood films, sci-fi or otherwise, and the scripts for their inevitable sequels all contain the same line: Bigger CGI Thing bursts into bigger CGI flame.
But Annihilation goes a long way to assuaging the bitterness now associated with what the Hard Sci-Fi genre has threatened to become, and writer/director Alex Garland might just be the beacon of hope in this regard. It was already clear that Garland’s a formidable painter, but it’s still special to see a wider canvas filled with such vibrant colors. His debut directing gig Ex Machina knocked it out of the park (and is in some senses a superior film), but with Annihilation he gets more characters, more locations, more visual effects and more freedom to tell the story his way.
Continue reading Annihilation (2018)
Looking back now, it’s almost hard to believe that John Carpenter’s career was in such a rough state back in 1983 that he needed to take on a project like Christine just to keep it afloat.
Carpenter was coming off The Thing, which while rightfully regarded now as one of the best horror films ever made, was a massive critical and financial bomb upon release. He needed his next film to turn a profit and find a larger audience or else, and at the time, no one commanded more attention in the horror genre than Stephen King. His popularity was so immense that production on Christine began before the novel was even published. When the film finally hit theaters in December 1983 — less than eight months after the novel’s release — it was already the third Stephen King film adaptation of that year, following Cujo and The Dead Zone, respectively.
Christine was by no means a passion project for Carpenter, and in the years since, he’s referred to it as his worst film. Strictly speaking, it’s kind of clear why: the premise is gimmicky and by the numbers, a total retread of some of King’s already better known works. In many ways, Christine is like a spiritual sequel to Carrie (1976), but for tortured teen boys.
Continue reading Christine (1983)
As stated in our review of The Fog, few directors have had their filmography subjected to as many pointless remakes as John Carpenter. The Thing might be the one that seems the most untouchable, the most sacred in its original form. Ironically, the 2011 Thing remake is probably the best Carpenter remake of them all. Still, the further one delves into the (re)making of the update, the more it just seems like doing Thing over again is a bad idea. Eric Newman, one of the producers on the 2011 film, had this to say about the development:
“I’d be the first to say no one should ever try to do Jaws again and I certainly wouldn’t want to see anyone remake The Exorcist…we really felt the same way about The Thing. It’s a great film. But once we realized there was a new story to tell, with the same characters and the same world, but from a very different point of view, we took it as a challenge.”
No, this isn’t going to be a rant about originality (or lack thereof) or a rant about practical effects (or lack thereof) in modern filmmaking — if you were to blindly click anywhere else on your screen right now you’d probably hit one of those. If anything, much as our rundown on Carpenter’s Escape from New York attempted to define “infodump”, what we’re really concerned with here is how far the term “remake” really stretches.
Continue reading The Thing (1982)
Hollywood has a thing for remaking anything with John Carpenter’s name on it, even the snoozier stuff like The Fog. It almost never ends well. Whether or not you enjoy early Carpenter fare like Assault on Precinct 13 or Halloween, there’s little doubt that the remakes amount to nothing but unorganized grabastic pieces of amphibian shit. They remade The Thing recently, too, which approaches sacrilege, and they even had the gall to structure the thing (ha!) as a prequel of sorts without bothering to dream up a different title (like Dawn of the Planet of the Thing: Origins). We weren’t fooled: it’s a remake. Just last week a proposed remake of Big Trouble in Little China hit the internet because why the hell not? It’s there, isn’t it? What else are we supposed to do with it? Sit on the couch with Dwayne Johnson right there and everything and just watch it?
The Fog, Carpenter’s first studio feature after the unexpected success of Halloween, might have been one that could have been improved by a remake. The original contains a great deal of evidence as to why Carpenter’s films seem so remakeable, regardless of whatever the reason is that no one can seem to pull it off. 2007’s Halloween completely missed massive aspects of the original that made it good in the first place, as have most other Carpenter re-dos, but with The Fog there wasn’t much to worry about in that arena. The premise is straightforward and the execution in the original leaves much to be desired, based on a few things we’ll touch on here. But lo and behold: they quite literally hired the dude who directed Blank Check to helm the Fog remake, and the update managed to be so many zillion times worse than the already-not-that-great original. Go figure.
Continue reading The Fog (1980)
There’s a building on a quiet alley in a rundown part of the city that’s almost abandoned, draped in shadow and disrepair. Inside the building is a collection of individuals from vastly different walks of life. There is a supervising lieutenant freshly assigned to the job. There is a grief-stricken father in the throes of shock after discovering his murdered daughter. There are two dainty secretaries wearing sweaters (one orange, one yellow). There are three hardened criminals, one of whom is sick with a possible virus. Each of the people inside the building is an individual with an individual story. Outside is different. Outside is a creeping evil, a legion of hunters that is nonetheless a single faceless and motiveless mass, no individual stories to be found. The hunt is all.
…sounds like a horror movie, right? Like the kind John Carpenter might make? Even beyond Carpenter, this is not at all an unfamiliar formula for fright-fests — strangers unite against mysterious evil — serving as the entire premise of movies like Cube and Saw. The idea that something lurking out there will inevitably attack each stranger regardless of their differences is an inherently scary notion. And even though Assault on Precinct 13 isn’t necessarily a horror movie, it’s at its most effective when it operates like one.
Continue reading Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
It’s cool that It Follows is getting the hype it’s getting. A lot of it is overboard, of course, as tends to happen sometimes when one good review snowballs until such claims as “It Follows is the best American horror film in decades” become commonplace. I’m all for lionizing good indie flicks, but it’s also important to let the thing stand alone for a while too, right? Anyway, that said, yes: It Follows is damn fine cinema. Technically a 2014 release, the film is just now gaining traction through an extended cinematic run.
Writer/Director David Robert Mitchell has a premise that nearly defies explanation because of its simplicity: there is this thing, slow-moving but not dumb, and if it’s “passed” to you then it will follow you. It can look like anyone, even someone you know. If it catches you it will kill you. Respite only comes from passing it along to someone else, and even then you’re still only next in line. That’s simultaneously an awesome premise — elementally terrifying in how simple it is — and yet one that’s been done a thousand times before. “Slow-moving thing inexplicably stalks people” is a staple of the horror genre, from Halloween (which we’ll discuss in a moment) to Alien (which we’ll discuss in another moment). Most “horror” flicks nowadays are really just slasher flicks with that premise mixed in. Thankfully, though, even though the premise of It Follows has been done before, it’s never been done quite like this.
Continue reading It Follows (2015)