Eco Horror – Mother Nature Strikes Back
Growing up in the 70s, I was exposed to dozens of horror films from the 50s and 60s that centered around man’s environment getting revenge on the beasts who dared tamper with or destroy the world around them. Those movies, along with Universal’s monster movies, were my ‘starter-horror’. They’re what made me what I am today. Not sure if I should thank them or sue anyone left alive who made them.
Guest blogger Spencer Mitchell loves the Eco-Horror sub genre as much as I do. So this week, I’m jumping in the back seat and letting Spencer take the wheel. Take it away, #1 Hellion!
Many popular films and novels feature conflicts involving man vs. man or man vs. beast. But what happens when humans face conflict with the world around them? The world is indifferent to the suffering of humans, but that doesn’t mean the fates of the two are not intertwined. So here are five of the scariest movies that show what happens when we don’t respect the power of planet Earth and the end of the world comes for us.
The idea of nature rebelling against humankind is not a new one. In 1954, just as the world was in full terror due to the Cold War and the rise of nuclear technology, the horror movie Them! provided quite the scare. This movie was one of many “big bug” films that focused on nuclear testing gone awry to create humongous, radioactive creatures. Though it is remembered as little more than a classic black-and-white B-movie today, Them! certainly shocked audiences with its frank portrayal of what could happen to the natural world in the event of an atomic incident. (Hunter’s note, Them! is one of my all time favorite movies.)
In 1976, tiny creatures went rogue once more in the sci-fi thriller The Food of the Gods, loosely based on an H.G. Wells novel. This time, the abnormal growth in animals is due to a miraculous “food” that bubbles up from the earth to provide sustenance for rats, wasps, and worms. This substance (a result of man-made waste) ends up making the animals grow larger than humans, disturbing the gentle balance between man and nature. Though the film was financially successful, it is widely forgotten today – which is actually rather unfortunate since the theme of ecology striking back against industry remains prevalent in our modern world.
In the 2004 action movie The Day After Tomorrow, Manhattan is thrust into a climate-change-induced Ice Age, leaving millions stranded in a polar prison. Though the film dramatizes the effects of global warming, it definitely serves as a potent worst-case scenario. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), drastic climate change is in our imminent future whether we like it or not, forecasting “a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.” This will eventually cause changes in precipitation patterns, droughts, the melting of ice caps, and even stronger hurricanes.
When a horror master decides to take on the subject of man versus nature, you know the result will be a chilling portrayal of what can happen when the world fights back. M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening involves a mysterious plant-based neurotoxin that drives those exposed to it to commit suicide. This film may include more fantasy elements than others, but the message is clear – when science messes with the natural world, the natural world has ways of defending itself and seeking retaliation.
Found-footage horror films have always served to bring the viewer in closer to the subject and make it feel more realistic. This is even more chilling when the subject is a deadly waterborne epidemic that hits a small Massachusetts town during a local festival. In 2012’s The Bay, hundreds of townspeople succumb to a flesh-eating, stomach-turning illness caused by unsafe waste disposal that was covered up by the local government. The entire event is captured on film by a young reporter and presented as a mockumentary. It’s a chilling horror film, but it also shows how far some people are willing to go to deny the effect humans have had on nature.
Though many of these films were made to entertain and frighten viewers, they are not created in vain. They show what could happen to our world if we keep disturbing nature’s delicate balance…and what will happen if we don’t make the changes soon.
The X Files Is Back – I Do Believe!
I have to admit, I was an X Files fan for life right from episode one. The show carried me through the 90s and was a constant source of inspiration when I was starting my writing career. Christ Carter was a guy just like me, a man deeply influenced by Kolchak and The Twilight Zone. I wanted to believe I could be Christ Carter one day!
The TV series lasted 9 years, ushering in the wave of paranormal shows that continue to this day. It spawned two movies, video games, comic books, novels and a lasting legacy with legions of fans who have always wanted more.
Well, sometimes, you get what you ask for.
The X Files returned to our lives for a 6 episode run on Sunday night. As soon as I heard the opening theme song, I was taken back to settling in on Friday nights (before it moved to Sunday) with a scotch and a cigar, phones off the hook so I could savor every episode. I don’t smoke cigars anymore and scotch gives me acid reflux, so this time I had to settle for a water some Skinny Pop popcorn. I made it manlier by getting the pepper popcorn. So there.
The first and last episodes will feature the continuing alien conspiracy, with the four in between being the monster of the week.
Although the first episode wasn’t exactly a barn burner, I was amazed over how easily David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson slipped into their roles as Mulder and Scully. Sure, they’re older, a little wiser, a little jaded, slightly broken. But they’d have to be after everything they’ve been through. Their chemistry is still there, and the look and feel of the show was spot on. All of the alien stuff was confusing, but it always was! It even ended with the Cancer Man (I’m not calling him the Smoking Man). From the sneak peek, it looks like all of the gang is back, and I couldn’t be happier.
Will this lead to another 6 episodes? A movie? A full season? I hear Carter is already prepping more episodes. It’s all going to come down to ratings and the willingness of the stars to commit. So you better get everyone you know to watch!
If I was a betting man, I’d plunk down some dough on more X Files to come. Let’s hope I’m better at seeing the lay of the land than Fox Mulder.
Best Horror Movies of 2015
I have to admit, I was watching horror flicks right down to the wire to make sure I got as many as I could in before making my annual top 13 list. There were some I had high hopes for that didn’t make the cut like Let us Prey and, believe it or not, Paranormal Activity – The Ghost Dimension. And then there were the usual pleasant surprises that just had to make the cut. Unlike other years, there was no question about my #1 movie. I love it so much, I’ve made it my favorite movie of the 21st century.
Oddly enough, there are no cryptid movies on the list this time around. Didn’t really see any worth considering, other than Zombeavers. That’s right, I said Zombeavers.
OK, enough of my preamble. Will you join me for the countdown?
#13 – A GIRL WALKS HOME AT NIGHT
Admittedly, I’m not a big vampire guy (though I do love Near Dark!). This Iranian art-house vamp flick may be a little slow for some, but I loved the change of pace. And the fact that it was in black and white gave it huge points in my book. Heavy on atmosphere and subdued performances, I give it two fangs up.
#12 – ORB
You all know I love alien movies. I can’t make a top 13 list without including at least one. Knowing that, I watched just about every alien-esque movie that came out last year. Most were total duds or just plan confusing. Not so with Orb, a neat gem that reminded me a lot of the movie Bug (the Ashley Judd one, not the awesome 1975 drive-in creature feature with Bradford Dillman). Three siblings are confined in a lake house. One of them is a vet who is admittedly crazy, but says he has something captured in the basement. Aliens + paranoia = Hunter bliss.
#11 – BACKCOUNTRY
You like Jaws? How about moving the action to land and substituting the shark for a bear? Yeah, that hits the spot. Based on a collection of camping gone wrong stories, this one literally had me holding my breath. It was one of those Netflix random discoveries that makes my subscription worth it. This city boy is staying the hell out of the woods now.
#10 – GOODNIGHT MOMMY
Ah, those crazy Austrians and their demented children. This subtitled affair is a slow burn of sheer craziness. I figured out the twist early on, but it didn’t matter. The execution makes this a must-see for true horror fans. Kids are creepy – especially twins who collect hissing cockroaches and are left on their own like feral children. TV star mommy with a shrouded face thanks to mucho plastic surgery makes for a very unsettling home in the middle of freaking nowhere. And I love what those boys do with super glue. Bad kinder!
#9 – ALMOST MERCY
You know that weird kid that everyone swears will grow up to be a school shooter? Well, in Almost Mercy, he has a friend – a strange girl, no less – to keep him grounded. Or can she? I can’t get over how good this movie is. It’s bleak, funny, sarcastic, loaded with social commentary and drenched in blood. And if you think you know what it’s about by my description or the blurb on IMDB, try again. Watch this so you can be one of the cool kids.
#8 – THE GREEN INFERNO
Man, a lot of people have dumped all over this cannibal gore fest. I guess I just don’t run with their crowd. The latest movie from Eli Roth, starring his lovely wife, Lorenza Izzo (who was also in Knock Knock – yowza), delivers on what it promises to be – a brutal movie about conservationists getting what they deserve, at least according to Trump. The gore in this one was way over the top for a theatrical release, and for that, I applaud Roth. And you will truly hate the asshole activist leader. Watch it on an empty stomach. Or if you’re truly badass, watch it during a pig roast. Mmmmm, long pig.
#7 – CREEP
2015 was the year for Mark Duplass, who gave us a great indie horror movie like Creep, and a big budget clunker like The Lazarus Effect. Creep is a 2 man show about a dude hired online to film a guy going about his regular day because he’s dying and wants to leave a record of his life behind for his child. Duplass is downright unsettling. You will never be able to get ‘Tubby Time’ or ‘Peach Fuzz’ erased from your brain after watching this. This is part of a series of low budget horror flicks that Duplass is slated to make for Netflix. You have to check it out.
#6 – BONE TOMAHAWK
Of course an author who wrote a horror western (Hell Hole) is going to love a horror western movie. The fact that it stars my hero, Kurt Russell, had me all in from the word git! Part The Searchers and part The Hills Have Eyes, Bone Tomahawk is a dusty ride through dangerous terrain with the ragtagiest bunch of ragtags ever assembled. The spooky race of Trogs that have kidnapped a woman and Russell’s deputy are freaking bizarre. Saddle up and hit the trail!
#5 – WE ARE STILL HERE
Horror movies need more main characters north of 40 (coming from a man living in that altitude). You get better, more believable actors and a sense of gravitas that can’t be found in most tits ‘n zits flicks. Barbara Crampton is one of my all time faves (and yes, I met her last year!), so I had to watch this one. An older couple settle in to a house that is very haunted, but by what? There are several scenes that actually disturbed me and made me jump. And the third act is just bat shit wild. After watching this, I dare you to go into your basement with the lights off. Go on, I triple dog dare you!
#4 – THE VISIT
M. Night Shyamalan is back! The Visit is about the most fun you’ll have with a horror movie. And, it’s found footage done right. The performances by the kids are great and grandma and grandpa are simply off their rockers. If I was staying with them overnight, I’d need a diaper (like grandpa and his dirty diaper shed) and 10 Xanax. This is one I can watch again and again. Naturally, there’s a twist at the end, and the payoff is damn good. Let’s hope M.’s days of The Happening are behind him.
#3 – THE FINAL GIRLS
This wonderfully original premise has a girl who gets reunited with her deceased scream queen mom by transporting into the 80’s slasher flick that gave Mom her start. I loved living in an 80’s slasher movie for an hour and a half, considering I was a teen during that golden decade. The Final Girls is snarky, nostalgic and touching as all get out. My wife actually cried when we watched it. And she’s as jaded a horror fan as I am. It’s a trippy movie with lots of blood, just enough laughs and a few salty tears. This one really took me by surprise.
#2 – SPRING
In any other year, this would be my top movie. Maybe because I’m getting older and soft, but I can’t get Spring out of my head. It’s a horror love story. That’s right, a horror love story. Set in Italy and beautifully shot, the story centers around an American 20-something who stumbles into and falls in love with an exotic, mercurial beauty who just happens to turn into a different creature every night. These are the two best performances of the year, hands down. It was done so well, I was ready to pledge my love for Louise despite her monstrous nature and the possibility she may kill me. I had vivid dreams about this for nights afterward. I haven’t had a movie affect me like that in at least 20 years. Right after it ended, I ordered it on Amazon. This will be one I go to every year.
#1 – IT FOLLOWS
There is nothing I don’t dig about It Follows. First, it’s a totally fresh idea wrapped around familiar territory. From the opening scene of a neighborhood that brought me right back to Halloween to the nerve jangling synth soundtrack, I was smitten. A curse in the form of a shape shifting ghost that will follow you until it catches you and kills you can only be transmitted by sex. That’s right, VD meets an ethereal Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. I posted a full review when I saw it that you can read here. It Follows is my favorite horror movie of the past 30 years. I don’t think I’ve been this jazzed by a movie since The Thing. I’ve watched it several times and it only gets better. I listen to the ass kicking score when I write. I may even tattoo a scene from it on my body one day. Yep, you can count me in as an unapologetic, rabid fan.
If you want another top 13 list that is very different from my own, check out my partner in Monster Men crime’s list. Old Jackie has quite a few great recommendations even I have yet to watch. Between the 2 of us, you definitely have enough movies to keep you busy during a big ass snowstorm!
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Top 5 Haunted House Movies Just In Time For Halloween
It’s Halloween, the time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. Ghosts and demons lay in wait for little boys and girls who prefer tricks over treats!
What better way to spend the season than watching great horror movies? Here are what I consider the 5 best haunted house movies of all time. For my money, ghosts are far scarier than monsters because we’re potentially looking at our own destinies. Will you be among the trapped spirits some day, haunting the family living in your former home?
5. THE SENTINEL
The 70s were a treasure trove for horror. This is the decade that gave us true frights like The Exorcist, The Omen, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left and Halloween. Lost in the mix is this chilling classic about a NY fashion model who moves into a creepy brownstone apartment. The residents are the most disturbing cast of characters you’ll ever meet. Part ghost story, party possession tale, some scenes in The Sentinel will haunt you for the rest of your life. And it’s loaded with stars, including Christopher Walken, Chris Sarandon, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Beverly D’Angelo, Ava Gardner. John Carradine and so much more.
4. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
This flick needs no introduction. Even if the story the Lutz family told the world is total B.S., this is still a spine tingling movie.This one has it all – evil spirits, bleeding walls, mystery rooms, imaginary friends with bad intentions and a home clouded by the spectre of a mass murder. James Brolin is brooding and terrifying as the spirit of the house drags him down. Almost 40 years later and this one still gives me chills.
3. THE CHANGELING
George C. Scott plays a composer who lost his family in an accident. Trying to put his life back together, he moves into a huge old house that, as we come to find out, is quite haunted. First of all, Scott may be the biggest-name actor in a horror movie – ever. His performance gives a gravitas rarely seen in the genre. As the story unfolds, you’ll find your goosebumps just won’t go away. That’s one haunted house I might skip if invited to spend the night.
2. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY
I wasn’t a fan of The Blair Witch Project and the whole found footage dealio, but Paranormal Activity changed my mind. This one actually made my wife and I nervous when we went to sleep that night (it doesn’t help that we live in a haunted house). I can think of better things to film in the bedroom, but I’m glad they concentrated on the demonic spirit here. I just watched it again last week and it’s still unsettling. Find the BluRay with the alternate ending if you can!
Hands down, this is my favorite ghost movie ever. Short on special effects because it doesn’t need them, a college professor gathers willing subjects to live in a haunted mansion in Massachusetts. As the caretaker warns them in the beginning, “No one can hear you scream in the dark. In the night.” Using the twisted history of the house to put your nerves on edge, The Haunting is all about atmosphere and odd sounds and tortured souls. This is a must watch for any true horror fan.
So, what would make your top 5 list? There were so many I could have added here, but I forced myself to whittle it down to the 5 that deeply affected me, long after the end credits.
It Follows – In The Footsteps Of Horror Greatness
It seems like it’s been decades since I was this thrilled by a horror movie. And when I sit back and think about it, 30 years is about how long I’ve been waiting for a movie like It Follows. Maybe it’s because the movie has a whole late 70s, early 80s vibe, taking me back to the time when I was young and enthralled by the movies of John Carpenter and George Romero. In fact, there are so many elements of It Follows that remind me of Halloween, yet with an entirely unique story and feel, that I felt like a teen again, experiencing a whole new world of horror at its best.
Here’s the story – Jay (played by Maika Monroe, who was just in the horror/thriller The Guest) is a kind of directionless girl living in the suburbs of Detroit. She has a tight group of friends (her sister, Paul who was her first kiss and also kissed her sister when they were younger, and Yara, a girl who spends all her time reading ebooks on a pink clam shell) who just hang out with no real aspirations or parental supervision. We only see Jay’s mother from side angles, and when we do, there’s always booze nearby, so we get the feeling that this generation has been left to themselves.
Jay is dating a guy she met outside the neighborhood. He takes her out one night and they make good use of the back seat of his car.As she’s basking in the afterglow, he chloroforms her, straps her to a wheelchair and has her sit in an abandoned building, waiting for a spirit to begin stalking them. He explains that by having sex, he’s transferred a curse to her. She will be followed by a spirit that can look like anyone until she passes it to someone else. If she gets caught before she does, the spirit will kill her and in turn, kill him.
The rest of the movie is spent with Jay running from the shape shifting spirits. They walk slow, but they also never, ever stop following you. She can drive far to buy some time, but the spirits will always catch up with her. There’s never really a moment of full rest, and you can feel the desperation with each frame. Her friends stick by her, but even they can’t help much because they can’t see what Jay can and no one knows how to stop it.
Now for the look of the movie. All of the cars in It Follows are hulking behemoth’s from the 70’s/80’s. From the decor of the houses, to landline phones and even the way people dress, you’d swear the movie was set in 1979. The only connection to modern times is Yara’s e-reader. Viewers are shown the absolute depression of Detroit, with rows of abandoned, crumbling homes. I feel the director chose to stop technology and fashion right when Detroit was beginning to falter, capturing the final heyday of a city in amber.
The opening sequence of It Follows is the best I’ve seen since Halloween. The score is absolutely chilling. I went out and bought it an hour after I saw the movie. It’s part of a new wave of horror movies using synth soundtracks, just like they did back in the day, to set your nerves on edge.
We all know that horror movies have long conveyed that premarital sex leads to very bad things. I can think of no worse consequence than the curse bestowed on Jay in It Follows.
And yes, I’m going to come right out and say this is an instant classic. For my money, it’s the best horror movie I’ve seen since Carpenter’s The Thing. I get the sneaking suspicion that writer/director David Robert Mitchell is as much a Carpenter fan as I am, because he’s created something that can proudly sit alongside the master’s best works.
Best Horror Movies Of 2014 – Monster Men Style
As you all know, I posted my top 13 horror movie list a month back. My Monster Men brother Jack did his own list, with some flix I didn’t see or stupidly forgot to add to my own list. In this episode, we mash the two together and wax poetic about the cream of last year’s (children of the corn) crop. Since very few horror movies have come out so far in 2015, this gives you a chance to catch up on what you missed before we get inundated with fresh meat. Let me know what some of your favorites, and least favorites, were in 2014.
After we filmed this episode, we sat down to watch a classic of our youth, Without Warning. Gotta love any movie with Jack Palance and Martin (nobody gives 2 fucks for Bela!) Landau trying to out-ham the other. It was waaaay slower than I remembered, but still had a few creepy moments. This was mandatory late night viewing when I was a kid.
Top 13 Horror Movies of 2014
This is the second go around with this post for me. You see, I spent 2 hours this weekend putting together a comprehensive list of my 13 favorite horror flix for 2014. The kicker is that WordPress lost the post entirely. To my credit, I didn’t cry or curse or break anything.
So, here I am again, once bitten, twice shy. My reviews are short and sweet this time around, but you’ll all get the point.
I was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to find 13 horror movies worth noting this year. As of July, Oculus was my top pick. Egads! Thankfully, things picked up in the second half and I had a good group to choose from.
So, before WordPress deletes this post and me in the process, on with the show!
#13 – ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE
Funny, dark, twisted and downright strange at times. Come for the pretty cheerleaders, stay for the ultra strange story. Undead cheerleaders and magic go together like PB&J.
Sexy, gory and deliciously decadent. Paz de la Huerta oozes sex as a nurse by day who kills wayward men by night. A lesbian attachment to a new nurse is the catalyst for a nuclear explosion of a third act with enough blood to feed a colony of vampires.
Another solid horror flick from the James Wan gang. It has some genuinely creepy jump scares and a demon that’ll turn your bowels to water. The Annabelle doll is nothing like the actual possessed doll now under glass in the Lorraine Warren museum. Worth the watch while you wait for The Conjuring 2.
#10 – DEAD SNOW 2 : DEAD VS. RED
How do you top a movie about Nazi zombies? Pit them against Russian zombies! The comedy in this is as sharp as Dead Alive and the gore is goregeous. I think it’s even better than the first.
I LOVE alien movies. I picked this over Extraterrestrial by the Vicious Brothers because I felt this one was actually more frightening. The scene in the tunnel is worth the price of admission.
If you’re claustrophobic, this movie may land you in the nuthouse. Think Indiana Jones running around the Paris catacombs, that are terrifying in their own right. This is a very, very strange movie with tons of scary imagery. I compared it to the big daddy of funhouse rides.
I scoured the planet to find this Bobcat Goldthwait Bigfoot flick. A squatchman like myself couldn’t resist. The movie starts funny and gets downright eerie. The protracted scene of the couple in their tent makes for the tensest moment in horror cinema of the year.
#6 – THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN
This came out of nowhere and shocked the hell out of me. A ‘found footage’ possession movie that works! The actors look like real people and the mystery and scares are genuine. A great find on Netflix.
The Aussies know how to do horror. Mr. Babadook is a Dr. Caligari-esque children’s book that goes on to possess a 7 year old boy’s mother. Or is she? Turns out, she blames the boy for the death of his daddy on the day he was born. Great performances and a nuanced story with some super creepy moments.
I’m a Ti West fan, and I think this is his strongest movie yet. Set in a Jonestown-type compound, what makes this chilling is knowing that something like this can and has happened. The performance by Gene Jones as Father, the head of the cult, is the best of the year.
Another alien movie, this one centers on a young couple on their honeymoon at a family cabin during off season. Starring Rose Leslie (Ygritte on Game of Thrones), this one is sexy, scary and at turns, gut churning. A must watch.
Demented. That’s all I can say about this one. Oh, and funny, desperate, tragic, sick. Two down on their luck old friends get pulled into the orbit of a couple who make them do dumb shit for money. How far would you go to make easy cash, especially when you’re in desperate need of some greenbacks? Love this movie.
I know this won’t top anyone else’s list except maybe Bobo from Finding Bigfoot. What I loved is that this is a squatch movie where you actually see Bigfoot – and he’s pissed! Bigfoot has never been more terrifying. Fans of my book Swamp Monster Massacre will know exactly why this is my top flick of the year. Give me angry squatches and I’m yours.
Horror Flix Gone Bad
I’ve often been overheard saying I prefer a bad horror movie to a good non-horror movie. I won’t go so far as to say I’d rather sit down and watch THE COLLECTION over THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, but you get the point. On a side note, I saw an extended version of my favorite spaghetti western, introduced by the late Eli Wallach, about 8 years ago. I even got to meet him before the show. Talk about the most magical night you can have at the movies!
Anyway, if you dig horror, you regularly sift through a lot of stinkers, panning for terror gold. We here at Monster Men Central invited author Jason Brant to wax unpoetic about some of the worst the genre has had to offer. Some are so bad, they must be seen, sometimes enjoyed again and again. And others, well, we’ve warned you.
Finding More Found Footage Films In Time For Turkey Day
Yep, I dropped a lot of F bombs in this post’s title. Before I ramble on, I wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving to you all. If there’s one thing I’m grateful for (actually, there are many), it’s all of you who wander over to my blog and read my books and just keep me going. You are all bad motor scooters and mean go-getters.
I also want to give thanks to fellow author and horror douche (his words, not mine), Jason Brant for being on the Monster Men. We actually shot 2 episodes with Jason because we had such a good time. The first one is all about found footage movies. Just when I thought the subgenre was done, a slew of new flicks flooded the market this year. Jack, Jason and I go through a bunch, telling you which ones to seek out and which to avoid.
As you can see, I found my cowboy hat in the bottom of my closet just before we started filming, much to my wife and daughters’ chagrin. My youngest asked me if I was going to a rodeo, since I was also wearing a flannel shirt and jeans.
Just a quick update on the writing front, my next cryptid novel is in the hands of my beta readers and line editor, aka my sister. As soon as I sent it out, I got to work on a little novella that promises to be a demented ride straight to hell. If all goes well, expect 4 new books in 2015, plus some short stories.
And now I’ll leave you to your turkey and booze and football. Enjoy the long weekend.
They Live!: Re-Examining John Carpenter’s Sci-Fi Epic
After a hectic Horrortober, I have to tell you, I’m tired. But not so tired that I can’t go through the rounds of editing on my new book. This one’s gonna be a doozy.
Sometimes, when the fates see you need a hand, they deliver. Today, I’m featuring a post by Spencer Mitchell about one of my favorite directors, John Carpenter. We waxed poetic about JC on the Monster Men some time back (Episode 37 to be precise. Click here to see it). They Live has always held a special place in my heart, mostly because Rowdy Roddy Piper was my all time favorite wrestler.
Well, here’s Spencer’s take on They Live, giving this old writer a much needed rest. Take it away, brother…
The prevailing image of filmmaker John Carpenter remains that of a “master of horror.” The problem with that perception is that it doesn’t acknowledge his depth as a filmmaker. He’s dabbled in multiple genres, and he’s also shown time and time again that he can make compelling films, whether they’re made inexpensively with few performers, or big-budget star vehicles with lots of special effects.
Carpenter first gained recognition when he edited a film that won the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short in 1970. The film, entitled The Resurrection of Broncho Billy, told the story of a contemporary young man who fantasizes about being a cowboy during the days of the Wild West. Four years later, his own feature film would debut and introduce him to the public as a sci-fi force to be reckoned with .
In his first major work, Dark Star (1974) and the following film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Carpenter established his ability to make films effectively (however crudely) with only provisional resources at his disposal. Dark Star was a science fiction comedy (co-written by and starring Carpenter’s classmate Dan O’Bannon), while Assault dealt with the defense of an abandoned police station. Both films were made on meager budgets with unestablished actors, and with Carpenter doing all or most of the musical scoring himself.
Carpenter had his first “breakthrough” hit with Halloween (1978). The name of bloodthirsty “Michael Myers” came from the name of the British film distributor who helped Carpenter release Assault on Precinct 13 in the UK. “Laurie Strode” was the name of an ex-girlfriend. The first big film for Carpenter, it also marked the on-screen debut of actress Jamie Lee Curtis. After the success of Halloween, however, Carpenter began to find himself being pigeonholed into the confines of the horror genre. Despite this, or perhaps to counteract it, he began working on projects such as a television biopic of Elvis Presley with former child star Kurt Russell. They would collaborate several more times on films such as Escape From New York (1981) and Big Trouble in Little China (1983).
Over the next few years, Carpenter continued to establish his reputation as an imaginative, genre-defying auteur. Capable of concocting the right blend of the suspenseful, the terrifying and the spine-chilling, his work on The Fog (1980), The Thing (1982) and Starman (1984) helped the horror genre attain box office prominence and respect from critics. Employing the concept of aliens in both The Thing and Starman, he explored more advanced themes of paranoia and control. Both films are not necessarily about what the alien, or “Thing”, symbolizes, but rather the unrelenting acknowledgement that such unknown threats exist, and that we should be afraid of them. The fears explored in these films ultimately led to the production of 1988’s They Live.
The film involves another alien conflict, this time led by a drifter who puts on special sunglasses that allow him to see how government entities are subliminally influencing the thoughts of all citizens. The otherwise-normal looking political leaders are seen by the drifter (via the magic sunglasses) as horrific beings bent on complete control of their citizenry. Unpopular amongst critics upon its release, the film has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. As a viewer, you might recognize uncanny similarities between They Live’s apocalyptic narrative and the problems inherent in our own society today.
Carpenter also accurately depicts the continuing rancor over the issue of climate change. One character in the film rails against the increase of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, saying about the aliens, “They’re turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere.” While advancements in alternative energy have been made recently with the gradual adoption of natural gas powered vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbines, global politics continue to prevent the implementation of real change. And as the world tries its best to come to terms with the reality of global warming, many are left feeling alienated themselves – adrift in a society that teaches little else than how to contribute to an endless cycle of spending, wasting, and consuming.
While the unconventional casting choice of professional wrestling villain Roddy Piper in the lead role garnered the film some unique attention when it came out, some fans of the film will also note a connection to the writings of David Ickes, and the multitude of conspiracy theories he posited. Ickes himself commented on how perceptive Carpenter’s vision of the future in the film was in relation to his own conceptualization of actual reality. In an America devastated by economic collapse and disillusioned by the subsequent NSA scandals, a government interested in total mind control doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
In some respects, They Live is also reminiscent of 1976’s Network, which was written as a parody of the television industry but whose scenes now mirror what modern media has devolved into. As for Carpenter, he made his name eliciting powerful (often terrified) reactions from his audiences, continuing to both scare and inspire to this day. And for those that tried to pigeonhole him as nothing more than a purveyor of popcorn horror flicks, may they someday see through the propagandistic, consumerist veil of humanity’s alien overlords.
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What are your thoughts on They Live?