Review: John Carpenter’s The Thing

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Consider this my 2016 Halloween Special! John Carpenter’s The Thing is my favorite movie of all time. I even rewatched it (for about the billionth time) so that I could do this review. Mainly because talking about your favorite things can result in a lot of fangirling and hyperbole, and I wanted to articulate myself as well as possible.

To start us off, The Thing is a remake of a film made in 1951 called The Thing From Another World. It’s also based on a short story by John W. Campbell, Jr. entitled “Who Goes There?” The premise is that a group of men are working at an outpost in Antarctica when a man in a helicopter comes swooping in, meaning we start right in on the action. He’s chasing a sled dog, trying shoot it from above. Once the situation is diffused, with the gunman and his pilot dead, they take the dog in. What ensues is an unfolding mystery and lots of paranoia fuel.

There are some elements to this film that are easy to praise right out of the gate. Like the super famous special effects. Rob Bottin did the majority of them, with the dog creature being provided by Stan Winston. I recall the first time I watched The Thing and the incredible impact the effects had on me. Not only was the creature design unique and intense, but the majority of the effects continue to hold up, even through multiple viewings. That’s amazing considering it came out in 1982.

The setting and atmosphere are second to none. Antarctica is one of the most desolate places on earth. Nothing for miles around with freezing cold temperatures that can injure and kill if you’re exposed to them for too long. It’s established that they can’t raise anyone on their radio, and eventually even their transportation is destroyed. It leaves our cast of characters completely isolated, making their spiral into total paranoia and distrust even more swift. It must be said that the music (composed by Ennio Morricone) and the beautiful cinematography add immeasurably to this uneasy feeling the whole experience gives you.

But it doesn’t stop there. The cast is full of strong acting all over. No one is a weak link, and everyone goes that extra mile to give their character life and personality, so that despite the size of the ensemble cast, each man stands out. Though it’s clear MacReady, played by Kurt Russell, is our hero (well, he’s my hero anyway). He’s fantastic as an every man that you can sink your teeth into, but he has something extra. Something that makes him a good opponent for this Thing. If he sees he’s about to lose, he’ll flip the damn game table, which is established in a scene early on. Some might call that being a sore loser, but in the case of fighting off a creature like this, it’s the best character trait a person can have.

Lastly, it’s a film that can be analyzed to death. As someone who enjoys picking things apart and talking about theme and symbolism and twists and turns, that’s a huge plus. Going back through and trying to figure out when someone might’ve been assimilated into the Thing’s army of one will break your brain. There are so many possibilities. So many variables. I’ve seen people track the Thing’s movement in the film, and it’s very fun to think about. Especially when you realize there were moments where characters were acting entirely as themselves but were already infected.

I can’t talk about this movie without talking about my experience with it that makes it my favorite. For starters, my favorite genre is horror, so it stands to reason that a dark, scary movie would be my number one. I first saw this in my teens. I was just getting into the genre, and I was watching everything. Good, bad, indifferent, I was trying to absorb it all and discover what I loved so much about horror. This movie was a huge step in answering those personal questions for me. It made me realize that I love body horror, survival horror, and stories with strongly written characters in tense situations. It became one of my major guiding points as I went forward. If it was compared to The Thing, I knew I wanted it in my life. And that still holds true.

Not to mention that it blew me away. It stuck in my head and wouldn’t leave. I had to watch it again to take it all in. The bizarre transformations, the intricate plot, every character and the nuances with which they were played. More than all that even, I’d never been scared like that. When the dog creature transformed, that was shocking enough. But when Norris’s stomach unexpectedly becomes a gaping maw… Not coincidentally, the Norris Monster is my favorite one in the film.

If you haven’t seen this yet, please do it. It’s a smart movie, a fun movie, a well-made movie, and a pants-peeingly scary movie. Ten outta ten!

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#TFW: Spooky Settings

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This Top 5 Wednesday is all about your favorite settings that freak you out. So here is some intense narrowing down, but rest assured these are the ones that take the cake. Enjoy!

5. Coldheart Canyon (Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker) This isn’t just any haunted house. This is a haunted house times ten, even if you only take the ghosts into account. But what about the mutant offspring of dead Hollywood stars roaming the grounds? And the mural that comes to life and unleashes hell. It’s so bizarre and unlike any other haunting novel. It has lodged in my brain with such force that I listed this rather than the Overlook Hotel. Take that how you will.

4. Undisclosed (John Dies At The End by David Wong) The place where anything and everything can and will happen. Shadow people. Ghosts… of a kind. Flying jellyfish that make sweet love to lamps. Drugs that literally give you the ability to see into forever. It’s a trip. Nothing is as wild as this town which we’re not even given the real name to. Making it more mysterious and magnetic, of course.

3. Kurôzu-cho (Uzumaki by Junji Ito) A little Japanese island cursed by spirals. They make the citizens insane, mutate and deform their bodies, change weather patterns, and completely consume all life to become a perfect spiral. It’s eldritch, cosmic horror at its finest, and it only works so well because the island is so compelling and awful. In this case, because this is a manga, you even get to see the island and what it becomes. So bonus points for that.

2. Maine (Stephen King) I could’ve said Castle Rock. Or Derry. Or Chester’s Mill. Or Ludlow. Or ‘Salem’s Lot. But it’s all of them. Every last one. It’s the fact that Maine is inevitably linked with the idea of horror and bad luck because of King. It’s a real state filled with fictional towns overrun with vampires, blown asunder by evil machinations, and used as the hunting grounds and playthings of alien creatures. The ground itself is touched by evil. The people are indifferent, and when heroes rise, they pay the price.

1. Area X (The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer) So what could possibly be my number one? A large patch of wild flora and fauna that appeared out of nowhere one day. Researchers have tried to explore it, but each team has suffered a different, dark fate. The place grabs you and transforms you. It’s full of alien geometry and fearful beasts. And it might be the end of civilization as we know it, like a virus that you can step inside. By far the creepiest place imaginable.

If you’d like to support this blog, check out my Redbubble shop. As always, happy geeking!

Redbubble Sale!

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Redbubble is having a sitewide sale on the 24th, and I have a special code for you. If you buy something from my shop, use 20off-sjdesigns at checkout to get 20% off tomorrow. This code expires at 11:59 PM of the 24th, so take advantage now. I know no one wants to think about Christmas before Halloween, but it is coming. This could help you stock up on much needed prezzies. So get in on this!

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Short Book Recommendations: Halloween Edition

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Previously, I gave some recommendations for short books. It’s time to do it again, but this time with Halloween reads in mind. There’s still time, so if you wanted something shorter to read for the season, here are plenty of options for you. The page counts are from my own editions to give you an idea of how short these books really are.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (71 Pages) We’re starting with the classics. This one has been taken and shaken up several times, but the original is still creepy. Maybe not for the reasons you’d imagine. It has a bit of fridge horror to it, which makes it even creepier in my book. Pair it up with the Disney cartoon for extra fun.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (116 Pages) A werewolf story! Well, technically. The good doctor doesn’t turn into a literal wolf, but this story is all about a good man unleashing his id all over the world. And just how sick and nasty that turns out to be. It’s also tragic like a werewolf curse, making it very similar at its heart. Also, another classic, the kind that proves why they have staying power.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (112 Pages) A classic vampire tale that predates Dracula, tackling the story from the perspective of a young woman who is beset upon by another young woman. Very controversial for its time, which makes it an interesting one to dissect. It’s also just chilling. The author wasn’t faced with the vampire conventions we have today, so the patterns Carmilla follows are steeped much deeper in folk tradition. Try this one out for something new… that’s actually very old.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (186 Pages) This one’s for the people who are looking for something besides books about monsters. This is a literary novel with a dark edge sharp as a knife. We follow Lester Ballard, and he has lodged in my brain with the same force as characters like Patrick Bateman and Hannibal Lecter. So if you’re looking for something dark, autumnal, and unforgiving, this is for you.

Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye (198 Pages) Another in the same vein as the above. That title alone would be a terrible thing to hear, wouldn’t it? Already it’s chilling. It’s mainly about a German village that’s trapped in very old ways and very superstitious. It makes for a haunting read punctuated by some truly terrifying moments but with a literary edge that makes it darkly beautiful.

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. (161 Pages) If what you’re after is a book about a monster that’s just fun and not super deep, here is the story that eventually became The Thing from Another World and John Carpenter’s remake (my favorite movie of all time) The Thing. It’s all about a bunch of burly men trying to deal with an alien threat with some nice, horror notes throughout. It’s a bit cheesy and pulpy, but it’s worth trying out, especially if you’re a fan of either adaptation.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (134 Pages) Keeping on the science fiction path for a moment longer, this is a modern classic. It tackles the existential horror of being trapped and tortured in a way that no other story ever has or ever will. We follow the last humans on earth as they’re toyed with by a supercomputer named AM. And it is devastating. Also, very well-written. Ellison can always be counted on for that. Keep in mind that the page count is for an entire collection of stories, so there’s more spookiness to be found than just the one.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (63 Pages) Typical of Flynn, this is one twisty, turny ride. Is there a haunting? Perhaps. Is there a twisted person behind it all? Maybe. Is our gray-morality character going to find they’re on the wrong side of all of it? Oh, you know it’s true. It’s quick and fun, perfect for the season, and it’ll tide you over until she finishes that next, dark book.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (149 Pages) I did a fuller review of this in my September 2016 wrap-up. I get to explain there why I feel this book was brilliant, fun, and frightening with important messages all over the place. It’s a riff on Lovecraft. It’s surprising and page-turning. I feel like this one has it all for your Halloween needs.

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (164 Pages) Ending on the strongest note I can imagine. The book that became Hellraiser, a modern horror classic. It’s a little different than the movie that came after it, but the changes were all made by the author himself, so you can see how both versions of the story are valid. It’s dark and gruesome with lovely writing. It’s a vision that is entirely unique to Barker, and it’s worth having a look.

Now guess what! Redbubble is having a sitewide sale on the 24th, and I have a special code for you. If you buy something from my shop, use 20off-sjdesigns at checkout to get 20% off tomorrow. This code expires at 11:59 PM of the 24th, so take advantage now. I know no one wants to think about Christmas before Halloween, but it is coming. This could help you stock up on much needed prezzies.

Know that any support you guys give me is so appreciated. As always, happy geeking!

Horror Triple Feature: Hush, Halloween III, and Angel Heart

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It’s time for another Horror Triple Feature, where I wrap-up the last three horror films I’ve watched. It being October, I’m of course watching a lot of scary stuff. So let the spooky reviews commence.

hushposterHush. This is one that’s gotten a little buzz, and I was mainly interested because of the director, Mike Flanagan. He’s the same guy who made Oculus, which I really enjoyed. This one didn’t hit the mark for me. I’m not into the home invasion sub-genre really. This one had an interesting twist, in that the victim is a deaf woman, but even that had its drawbacks. Mainly that the actress playing the character is not herself deaf. Trust me, I know someone who is deaf who was not amused to find this out. So it’s not really authentic, and it ends up being fairly run-of-the-mill. There’s maybe ten minutes of tension where she doesn’t realize she’s being stalked because she can’t hear him. Then he reveals himself, and it becomes like any other movie.

I feel that movies like this ought to be non-stop intensity. A cat and mouse game to the death. There was too much lag time between bloody set pieces, so the tension slackened and things became boring. It’s such a short film, but it doesn’t keep a good pace. Also, the killer starts the film silent, in a creepy mask, then removes the mask and becomes just… some guy. All his mystique is instantly erased, and she has such an easy time tricking him that he comes off as a moron with no plan. 0/10, was not intimidated.

This is the sort of movie that might be fine for a single viewing but doesn’t offer anything more than that. It barely offers the chills I’d expect in the first place.

Final Rating: 2/5

hiiiposterHalloween III: Season of the Witch. The Halloween movie that doesn’t star Michael Myers. There are a lot of mixed feelings about that in the horror community. I’m not really into the slasher genre, so when I heard this was very different, I got excited. This film has more problems than simply not starring the guy that had become the series’ poster boy. To say that this film’s plot is far-fetched is underselling it. The amount of disbelief you have to suspend is the equivalent of trying to make an elephant fly. On the one hand, it was fun. On the other hand, it was goofball city. We’re meant to take this threat seriously, that’s made clear, but it’s very hard to. They went with a fusion of technology and ancient magic that had me looking around, waiting for it to be a joke. It wasn’t. That was actually the plot.

Yet in the same breath I have to say there were some very effective scares in this. In particular when our hero is shown the bad guy’s ultimate plan of pure evil. Specifically the part where we see the actual end game really worked. And that damn jingle. That freaking ear worm of a jingle. By the end, the sound of it makes you frantic. You feel exactly what Tom Atkins is clearly feeling. It has that same charm of something like In the Mouth of Madness and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You watch this man learn a terrible truth and scramble to find someone who will listen while appearing completely mad. That sort of existential horror will always tap into something primal in us, making this film a hard one to stop thinking about.

Final Rating: 3/5

ahposterAngel Heart. Special thanks to Welcome to the Basement for bringing this one to my attention. It got a mention in their latest episode (Scream Blacula Scream!), and the way they talked about it, I was immediately intrigued. Man, they weren’t kidding. Angel Heart is a neo-noir thriller that’s part psychological and part supernatural. It’s pretty much perfect. The period setting of the 1950s is very atmospheric. The acting is top notch, and like everyone who talks about this movie, special mention goes to Robert De Niro for being such a subtle and amazing creep. The twist ending is nicely done. In a world full of twists that end up making no sense or try too hard, this was a breath of fresh air.

There have been a lot of movies since this one to imitate it, trying to have the same impact. Trying to inspire the same horror. I have to say that most of them fall short, and I think it’s because they don’t capture the sadness that’s such an integral part of this movie’s ending. It’s not only that it’s shocking. It’s also tragic. The films that have followed in Angel Heart‘s footsteps seem to get the part about being disturbing and scary but entirely miss the part about character depth. That’s where this one, I can see, is a modern horror classic. Watch it. I dare you.

Final Rating: 5/5

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Review: Penny Dreadful Season 1

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A little while back, I watched the first season of this show and fell in love with it. It wasn’t hard to do so. It’s the sort of show I’d flock to no matter what went on in it, with all those classic horror characters hanging out and getting into scary shenanigans. I got lucky in that it was also well-written, well-acted, and generally fantastic.

The premise is that we get to see those Victorian classics that give us chills in a semi-realistic setting full of grit and drama. Stories like Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray take center stage, weave in and out of each other, and create something entirely new. That’s where the uniqueness of this series really comes in. It’s not a straight adaptation. There’s enough there for fans to recognize all the pieces, but the twists abound. In great ways, so not even the stodgiest fan could bemoan how they ruined such-and-such book or character.

Frankenstein and his monster shined the most for me in that regard. There’s a major, sudden jolt from one type of story to another as the plot plays out, a reveal that is masterfully done and leaves your jaw hanging. Even aside from the shocks and thrills, their story as a whole gave me the same feeling the book did when I first read it. I remember feeling that Victor and the Creature were both equally sympathetic and wicked. The Creature was more like his father than he realized and vice versa. That comes across beautifully here.

The overall plot involves a play on Dracula, with lots of vampire hunting. We have Vanessa Ives, played spectacularly by Eva Green, who takes on a Lucy Westenra role. If my saying that makes you feel like you’ve got her part and the story as a whole all figured out, no, you don’t. Everything in this show comes with a twist or a catch or an all new perspective. Really what this show does best with things like having the Creature nicknamed Caliban or making Vanessa a stand-in for Lucy is hide Easter eggs. You needn’t know these things to enjoy the show, but they enhance the watching and highlight the show-runner’s cleverness and his obvious love for these stories.

I could go on about the fantastic performances and the cinematography and how the story kept me glued to my screen. At the end of the day, it’s the affection and respect John Logan, the show’s creator, has for these classics and this time period. What he’s crafted here wasn’t some goofball cash-in, using beloved characters for a slapdash story. It’s intricately woven and perfectly paced. It’s cohesive and makes perfect sense no matter what kind of fan you are. Everyone ought to experience this, and with it being nearly Halloween, now is certainly the time.

I hope I convinced you to give this show a try. If you would like to support this blog, check out my Redbubble shop. As always, happy geeking!

Meta: Zombies Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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If you’re not familiar with the Christian bible, the biblical apocalypse has a lot of confusing and diverse elements. One of these is the heralds who show up on horseback. When we see the four horsemen, that’s when we know we’re good and screwed. They are War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. I had the sudden… shall we call it a revelation? Such a bad pun. It occurred to me that zombies fill all four slots rather nicely, meaning they become a modern day metaphor for a world-ending scenario that’s been talked about and debated for some time. Let me explain.

War. Wars are generally fought by armies, and when a horde of zombies gets large enough, it comes off as something of an army, doesn’t it? An unstoppable force destroying everything in its path. When a disaster like a zombie outbreak begins, the military is usually one of the first organizations (after local law enforcement, fire departments, and hospitals) to get involved. Most of the depictions of outbreaks show the military being overwhelmed, unable to stop the hordes, broken and scattered and turned into monsters themselves. It’s a war. And the zombies win.

Pestilence. Whatever it is that makes the dead rise, it usually takes the form of a disease. A blood-born pathogen that can be spread via a bite. Like rabies, once a bite breaks the skin, chances are you’re infected. Only in this case, the rise of the zombies has happened so quickly that there’s no treatment and no cure. It’s a disease that, from the standpoint of what a disease is meant to accomplish, is perfect. Its infection rate is superb, and the chances that you’ll be able to outrun it forever are limited.

Famine. Whenever we think of famine, we think of people starving to death, a food shortage, a water shortage. Let’s look in a different direction. A vastly spreading group of creatures that are always hungry. They will never stop, and their only motivation is to feast. They will eat you alive. If you’re lucky, there will be so little of you left, you won’t get up. If you do, you’ll join them, infected with that same, insatiable hunger. Unable to stop. Always starving.

Death. They defy the very definition of life. For all intents and purposes, zombies should not be possible. The body needs blood flow carrying oxygen to all parts in order to function. You have to breathe to move. Your heart has to beat. Yet they’re dead and they walk. Natural life as we know it would have to cease and whole new laws begin. Namely… the world must be ending.

Maybe then the Horsemen don’t have to be literal riders we see in the sky with scythes and skulls for faces. Maybe the fruits of their labor would be witnessed in one perfect army, one perfect disease, one perfect hunger, and one terrifying form of death that isn’t death.

I hope I freaked you out. And I hope I made you think about the deeper metaphor behind our zombie fiction. If you want to support this clearly twisted blog, check out my Redbubble shop. As always, happy geeking!

Recommendations: Weird Horror Fiction

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We’re heading into Halloween fast, so I wanted to take the time to make some recommendations. After obsessing over what kind of category I wanted to tackle, I went with the weirdest horror novels I’ve read. I especially love weird stories, and chances are good you’ll encounter something totally unique on this list. Time to get weird.

Dominion by Bentley Little. I admit that when I first read this, I wasn’t as well-versed in Greek mythology, so it might not shock me as much now. Even still, when was the last time you heard about a horror novel that pulled solely off of Greek myth for its scares? It’s very different that way. It being Bentley Little, it goes farther than you’d imagine, with all those old-school monsters running around. This is still one of his more well-loved books and with good reason.

The Regulators by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman. King always takes a few more chances with his Bachman books. That’s just as true here. It’s a sister book to Desperation, and where that book was a dose of survival horror with a lot of great scares, this one is a much weirder take on the same theme. We’re in an alternate universe to Desperation, where some characters are even topsy-turvy. The world suddenly becomes the gore-infested love-child of a kid’s cartoon and a western. What… do you want me to say about that? It’s odd. Completely, randomly odd. Even though sense is made of this in the end, the way the setting gets warped puts it in a class all its own.

Horns by Joe Hill. This is my favorite of Hill’s books. While he always does things his own way, whether it’s a haunting or an apocalypse, this stands out as his most unique idea yet. A young man gets slobbering drunk on the anniversary of his girlfriend’s murder and wakes the next day with horns on his head. When he tries to get some help, he realizes that people generally don’t notice the horns, but they do have an effect. They make people confess their worst crimes and their nastiest desires. It goes from slapstick silly to deadly serious in a turn that is absolutely delicious. It will make you feel all the things. If you were tired of hearing about this, as it is widely read, let me be one more person to nag you about it.

Wetbones by John Shirley. This book is flat-out nasty. It’s very splatterpunk in the way it deals with the violence, if the title wasn’t a clue. We’re dealing with some creatures you could loosely call “vampires”, and what they leave in their wake are piles of wet bones. This book is unflinching, and the ending we barrel toward is bizarre. Shirley doesn’t pull punches on gore, but he also doesn’t give you what you expect.

Gyo by Junji Ito. Adding a little Japanese horror into the mix. This two part manga is not my favorite of Ito’s work. Some might argue that Uzumaki is just as weird and better. Better, sure. Just as weird? I feel like this takes the cake. Bio-mechanical zombie fish? This is another that feels like it started as a comedy and gets gradually creepier and creepier until you’re thoroughly freaked out. There is nothing like that panel of that shark, by the way. Google it.

The Cipher by Kathe Koja. Two people discover a hole in their apartment building. It’s empty, perhaps bottomless, but it has a will. That’s weird and scary enough. But it gets worse. Which means it gets better, too. The writing is really gorgeous and lyrical. It has that dreamy, Eraserhead vibe that has you questioning everything. You’ll find yourself tensing up without realizing it, and you’ll never forget the strange ride this book took you on.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. Of course I recommend the entire Southern Reach Trilogy, but even if you find yourself not following it up with the other two books, this one is fantastic on its own. A group of scientists are sent to Area X, a place full of alien wildlife that simply appeared one day, to try to find answers. They aren’t the first, and the trip proves to be as dangerous and terrifying as you’d imagine. There’s a lot of cosmic horror here. The sort of thing that makes you feel so small in the face of something so frighteningly big and incapable of being fully understood. Also, VanderMeer is one of the forerunners of the New Weird movement, if that tells you anything.

John Dies at the End by David Wong. I will keep talking about this book until everyone reads it. It’s a comedy, horror, science fiction novel with a fantastic set of characters and an unpredictable plot. It’s wildly entertaining and surprisingly frightening in-between the laughs. While we all know that’s the point of this list, have I mentioned it’s weird? To the point that I can’t really describe the plot. If I did, it would make it sound much more simple than it is. Read it for yourself. Despite the main character’s various and vigorous warnings, read it.

I hope you liked this article. If you did and want to support my blog, check out my Redbubble shop. As always, happy geeking!