Tag Archives: aliens

30 Days of Madness, Day 13 — Xtro (1982)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

xtro

I took several screencaps. I decided this one was the least likely to give anyone nightmares.

Directed, co-written, and scored by Harry Bromley Davenport, who has maybe the most British name of any horror director.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.

I remember reading about this film when I was a teenager, in an encyclopedia of movie monsters, if I remember right. I was both intrigued and horrified, and so has this film remained in my mind, a film I’ve long wanted to see yet felt hesitant about seeing. All of a sudden it was not only in the discussion for my horror viewing this month, but free for the viewing on YouTube.

Davenport must have fancied himself something of a John Carpenter. And if so, he’s done Carpenter proud as far as this film’s atmosphere and visual effects go. The effects are astounding–gruesome and bizarre as imagination will allow, but astounding. Scenes are blocked and edited extremely well, and I have to give credit to Davenport, cinematographer John Metcalfe, and editor Nicolas Gaster. They’ve crafted a hell of an alien horror flick.

Unfortunately Davenport’s Carpenter-esque synth-laden musical score is one of the worst I think that I’ve ever heard (the opening riffs sound like something from a Super Mario Bros. game but less nuanced), and the acting is often sub-par. The effects are right up there with Ridley Scott’s Alien of 1979 and Carpenter’s The Thing, released just months prior in 1982, but the story isn’t. In fact, I’m still not sure what the story is. A man disappears into a strange light and reappears three years later (and by reappears, I mean, crashes to earth, kills some people, impregnates a woman with a sort of ovipositor, and is then moments later born from that same woman as a full grown man–and yes, it is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in a horror flick).

The man finds his wife and son, who take him into their house against the better judgment of the boy’s surrogate father, who is a tool, of course, despite the fact that his misgivings are more than well-founded. Son catches dad eating his pet snake’s eggs and runs away. Dad chases him and injects something into him with his mouth. And that’s when things start to get weird.

About 45 minutes into this, which was already one of the stranger movies I’d seen, things took a really bizarre turn and just kept getting weirder. But this is where my spoilers end.

It can be fascinating to trace a film’s lineage, so to speak. Xtro was so clearly inspired by Alien, yet if you look at the design of that creature in the screencap above, you can see almost a prototype of Ripley’s “baby” from 1997′s Alien: Resurrection. I would not be surprised if Jean-Pierre Jeunet was inspired by Xtro when crafting the third sequel to the movie that inspired Xtro.  And so we are all connected in the great circle of cinema.

Final grade: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1894 (out of 3259, a relative 42/100)

Our Favorite Films of 2012 — Prometheus

By Steve Hawco

 

 

I’m not going to bother making the case for Prometheus as the best film of the year, but it sure was my favorite. Ridley Scott’s officially unofficial prequel to his masterful Alien, Prometheus lacks the Hollywood glamour of Les Misérables and the real-world poignancy of Zero Dark Thirty, but it makes up for it with genuine chills and the best production design seen this year.

Scott works from a relatively anemic script by Damon Lindelof (of Lost fame) and Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour), telling a sci-fi tale of archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, Devil). Exploring caves in 2089 Scotland, the ambitious couple discover evidence of extraterrestrial visitation to Earth. The star maps scratched onto the walls lead Shaw and Holloway and their team to a distant moon, dubbed LV-223, aboard a Weyland Corporation vessel, the Prometheus.

The explorers find structures on LV-223 that are clearly the result of intelligent design, and Shaw aggressively pursues her search for the origin of life on Earth, despite the dangers posed by the harsh environment and a mysterious organism. From here, the script leaves a lot to be desired, as our intelligent protagonists make idiotic, damning decisions and most of our questions are left unanswered. The biggest criticism leveled against Prometheus, understandably, has been the script, and the sins of Lindelof on one of the most ravenously devoured TV shows of all time haunt a movie that he didn’t even begin the writing for in the first place.

Hiring Lindelof may have been a glaring mistake, but thankfully it was Scott’s only one. The movie is a stunning example of art direction and special effects (a large percentage of which are practical effects rather than computer-generated), and the 3D cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean) shows off the slick costumes and props throughout. The set pieces are amazing, featuring a race by two of the characters across alien terrain while a huge spaceship crashes into the dirt at their heels, and an unholy birthing scene that makes a case for “scene of the year.”

 

 

Prometheus looked stunning in 3D, with amazing depth throughout, the highlight being the whole-room smartphone apps of the future which makes three-dimensional holograms all around the characters. I am happy to report that the 3D Blu-ray looks almost as good as the RealD theater presentation.

Top it off with a wonderful performance by the red-hot Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) as the android David, and you have one great movie in the sci-fi/horror genre. Just don’t ask for a satisfying conclusion to any question apart from, “How high will the body count get?”

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

A Buried Cinema review — They Live

By Tom Kapr

John Carpenter is one of my favorite writer/directors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror cinema. From 1978 to 1988, he made some of the best, most memorable, and most influential films of decadeHalloween was so influential that it popularized an obscure sub-genre of horror with which we are now are so regrettably familiar, the slasher film. Escape from New York was likewise instrumental in popularizing the dystopian anti-hero. Starman is one of the few films about a benevolent alien coming to earth that isn’t pure kiddie fare, and makes some of cinema’s most profound statements about humanity. Big Trouble in Little China had a firm hand in bringing kung fu into American movies. And then there is The Thing, arguably the greatest and scariest movie about a malevolent alien coming to Earth ever made.

There are two things you’ll see that are constants in John Carpenter’s classic thrillers. The first and more obvious of the two is his practical effects, which put to shame many of today’s films of the genre. The second is his pacing, which lets the tension build up slowly but steadily until all hell breaks loose. They Live is no exception.

 

 

The basic plot is that an alien race has taken over Earth through subliminal messages and live among us disguised as humans. On billboards, in magazines, on T.V., everywhere humans look, there are subliminal messages that say things like “obey,” “marry and procreate,” “watch T.V.,” and “stay asleep.” A drifter named Nada (played by Roddy Piper) gets ahold of an underground human resistance group’s special sunglasses, which allow him to see the aliens and their messages for what they truly are. In one of my favorite moments, he looks at the cash in a man’s hand and sees that what it really says is THIS IS YOUR GOD.

 

 

The alien effects are as basic but as effective as can be, and are trademark John Carpenter. And, in keeping with Carpenter’s patient pacing, we don’t actually see the aliens until about a half-hour into the film. It gives the audience time to become complacent with the world’s normalcy, much like the characters in the film. When Nada is assaulted by a couple of aliens disguised as police officers, he takes them out, then takes the fight to the alien leaders. The final half-hour is almost constant gunfire and very violent, but always moving the plot forward as Nada seeks to stop the signal that is keeping the city’s inhabitants blind to the truth.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Scary Movie Alien Countdown: The #1 Scariest Movie Alien of All Time

By Tom Kapr

We finally made it to the end of the countdown. Here, after a quick recap of the other films discussed in this series, is my “Number 1 Scariest Movie Alien of All Time.” Watch and enjoy.

#10. Battle Los Angeles (2011)

#9. The Blob (1958, 1988)

#8. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

#7. Star Wars Episodes IV & VI (1977, 1983)

#6. Predator (1987)

#5. War of the Worlds (2005)

#4. The Thing (1982)

#3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1978)

#2. The Alien series (1979, 1986, 1997)

#1…

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #2: “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.”

By Tom Kapr

You’re investigating a shipwreck. You find a strange egg. As you’re examining the egg, it begins to hatch. Suddenly, a crablike creature jumps out and latches itself to your face. It sticks an ovipositor down your throat.

You’re in a coma. You wake up. The creature that had attached to your face has fallen off. It appears dead. Aside from a sore throat, you feel remarkably fine.

Until dinner, when you start to feel a strange feeling in your chest. It begins to hurt. It hurts a lot. The pain is unbearable. You feel like your being stabbed from the inside. Finally, your ribcage bursts and the young creature that has been lain inside you for gestation erupts.

You’re the first victim. The rest will meet their deaths at the jaws, claws, and deadly acidic blood of the full-grown beast.

It is no wonder that H.R. Giger’s xenomorph from Alien is the single most terrifying extraterrestrial being ever put on film. Nor is it a wonder that screenwriter Dan O’Bannen and director Ridley Scott’s 1979 outer-space horror flick is the single greatest haunted house movie ever, and is consistently at the top of the list when discussing alien horror.

One would be remiss not to include in the same discussion James Cameron’s action-packed 1986 sequel Aliens, which pitted sole human survivor of the first film Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a platoon of Marines against an entire colony of the vicious xenomorphic parasites (meaning they take on certain morphological characteristics of the living creatures in which they are impregnated). It also introduced the aliens’ mommy, in one of the most effective third-act reveals ever. And of course, it ends with the iconic mano a mano battle between one very pissed-off Ripley and one very pissed-off alien queen.

Later incarnations of the Alien xenomorphs are equally terrifying, though the films they inhabit are less iconic and of lesser quality (though writer Joss Whedon and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection is underrated, for its style, its story, and the direction in which it takes the concept of the xenomorphs).

So what is the #1 scariest movie alien of all time?….

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #3: “They’re here already! You’re next!”

By Tom Kapr

The “they” referred to in Dr. Miles J. Bennell’s infamous rant are, of course, the emotionless pod people of the 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, remade as another classic, to even greater effect, in the 1978 version. I wrote about these two films once before, for Day 17 of my 30 Days of Madness series this past October; the following is an amended version of my earlier article.

They really just want us to get our roughage.

Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers, which started as a serial in Collier’s Weekly in 1954, has been adapted to film four times: first in 1956 by screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (who also wrote the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past) and director Don Siegel (the man behind the iconic 1971 Clint Eastwood crime-thriller Dirty Harry as well as John Wayne’s 1976 swan song The Shootist); second, in 1978 by screenwriter W.D. Richter (who also wrote one of my favorite camp comedies, Big Trouble in Little China) and director Philip Kaufman; third, in director Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers in 1993; and most recently, in The Invasion of 2007.

The 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a brilliant exercise in McCarthy-era paranoia (Joseph, not Kevin). The 1978 version is just as brilliant a horror film but with a less optimistic outlook on the future of the human race, replacing McCarthy-era paranoia with post-Watergate paranoia and adding a healthy dose of public health-focused parallelism. It is rare for both an original film and its remake to be so high and so close in quality (though this is the second time on this list that it’s happened).

The 1978 version is more committed to its concept, however–that concept being that a life form from outer space comes to Earth and spreads in the form of pods that grow another version of you that replace you while you sleep, another being that is identical to you in every way and even retains your memories. Much like in The Thing, it is an alien life form that assimilates your human form, but the difference is that this alien is not malicious. In fact, this alien has no feelings whatsoever. The alien in The Thing would kill you and then camouflage itself as you. The Body Snatchers invade under the pretense that they are making a better you. A you with no emotions and therefore no pain, no anger, no jealousy, no war, no maliciousness; no passion, no joy, no elation, no compassion, no love. I can think of no more frightening an invasion than one that would replace us all with unfeeling replicas, and in fact, Invasion of the Body Snatchers of 1978 may be the scariest alien invasion film of all time. (Yet there are two more spots left on this list….)

1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers also has the bonus of some absolutely astounding practical visual effects that, again much like The Thing, still hold up against anything released today. It contains some of the creepiest images ever created, and possibly the single most terrifying final scene in movie history. Watch it if you dare. But don’t fall asleep….

Next on the countdown: “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.”

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #4: “Nobody trusts anybody now… there’s nothing more I can do….”

By Tom Kapr

(Spoilers ahead….)

In the opening scenes of John Carpenter’s The Thing, two men in a helicopter are chasing a husky through the Antarctic wilderness, shooting at it with a rifle and lobbing grenades at it. When I first saw this film, my initial reaction to this introduction was one of disgust toward the men in the helicopter, and some hesitation about the film in general. I have a deep and abiding love for dogs, and something approaching a deep and abiding hatred toward anyone who would commit senseless acts of violence against dogs. In cinematic terms, I tend to hate movies that show dogs meeting gruesome or violent deaths. For example, I hate Tony Scott’s film Revenge, in part because it is a silly film, but mostly because of a graphic close-up of the “hero’s” yellow lab being blown away with a shotgun, a consequence of his affair with the wife of a mobster (the “hero’s” affair, not the dog’s). (On the other hand, I am a sucker for Independence Day and always get a thrill from that ridiculous slow-motion shot of Boomer the golden retriever jumping to safety just in the nick of time as a fireball roars past behind him.)

Doggone aliens, always trying to invade Earth and whatnot....

So, getting back to my inaugural viewing of The Thing, when the husky reached the American scientific research compound and Donald Moffat’s character blew the rifleman’s eye out with his pistol, in effect saving the life of the dog, I felt relief. The dog was safe. (A man was dead, but we can save a discussion of the moral implications of valuing the life of a dog over that of human being, however despicable, for another time.) It is not until twenty minutes later that we learn the truth, in the kennel, as the mysterious husky’s face suddenly splits open, revealing the true nature of the beast beneath, and an entire team of huskies has to suffer the consequences; the truth, that our heroes have quashed what was in fact a last-ditch, desperate attempt by the now-pitiable, eyeless-and-dead rifleman to stop a violent and cunning alien life form from further invasion of our planet.

Kurt Russell and company spend the remainder of the film wondering who is still human and who might be the alien in disguise. The Thing is unquestionably the masterpiece of John Carpenter’s science fiction filmography, a perfect blend of alien terror, body horror, and psychological suspense as the characters try not to turn on each other while knowing that no one can trust anyone, because anyone could be the monster. And this monster is one of the best in history, terrifying in both idea and execution. The creature effects, created and designed by Rob Bottin (with a crew that included the late great Stan Winston), still hold up after nearly three decades, putting to shame most current science fiction films and all their computer-generated imagery. Truly great practical, or in-camera, effects will almost always outlast CGI, which, even when done well, usually has an aura of un-reality about it.

I can sum up the horror of the monster in The Thing in one sentence: Nothing in cinema ever was or ever will be quite like a human head scurrying across the floor on spider legs.

My migraines, personified.

On a final note, the “husky” in the beginning of the film is one of the best performances by a dog in the history of movies. Played by Malamute-Wolf mix Jed (who also starred in The Journey of Natty Gann and White Fang), every movement seems deliberate, every facial expression full of thought and meaning. The human cast is fine, and Kurt Russell is one of the greatest, but performance-wise, Jed steals the show. Rest in peace, Jed (1977-1995).

Next on the countdown: “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next, you’re next…!”

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #5: “No one would have believed that our world was being watched….”

By Tom Kapr

“No one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of our empire over this world. Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us.”

These are the words of the opening voice-over narration of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, taken almost word for word from the opening paragraph of H.G. Wells’ classic 1898 novel. (The bit about the 21st century is, of course, the major difference.) Although it has been updated to take place more or less in the year of its release, 2005, and even though the protagonist has been changed from a nameless first-person narrator looking for his wife to a divorced man trying to hold on to his ever more distant children, Spielberg and company’s adaptation is surprisingly faithful to the book.

This version of War of the Worlds is nearly a perfect film for the first two acts. As with so many big-budget thrillers lately (and with so many Spielberg films lately), it derails in its third act: it becomes cliché, with Spielberg even stealing a bit from one of his own previous films (and not one of his good ones, either); characters start making decisions that make no sense except to set up the next mediocre scene; it ramps up the action aspect too much by having Tom Cruise’s character essentially go commando on an alien ship; and it wraps things up in the end too tidily, giving itself a happy ending it did not earn.

To be honest, the aliens themselves are not even that scary, though they are much more menacing than their description in the novel (in which they are essentially unable to move around in our gravity on their own power). But they have some amazing technology, and that technology is designed solely for the purposes of the worldwide genocide of humanity. As in Battle Los Angeles, the film that got this list going, the invasion and subsequent extermination is much more gritty and in-your-face than in most films in the alien-invasion genre. Whereas Battle Los Angeles spent most of its time at street level in L.A., the extermination process in War of the Worlds has a far more epic feel to it. It is the scenes of the unseen aliens in their tripods, obliterating every human in sight, that earns this film a spot on this list.

And as if monstrous alien machines casually exterminating human beings isn’t scary enough, leave it to Steven Spielberg to pepper his film with visual references to the Holocaust. The first scene in which the tripods attack is one of the most heart-pounding sequences ever filmed: Cruise’s character runs through the streets as people left and right are caught in the alien death ray and literally disintegrated into ash. When he makes it back home and sees himself in the mirror, sees what was recently his neighbors caked all over his face and body, we feel his revulsion as he freaks out. This and a later scene in which the clothes of disintegrated people rain from the sky, as well as a handful of other scenes including a burning train speeding by and a bunch of bodies floating down a river, are reminiscent of Spielberg’s work in Schindler’s List. The director is taking the subtle anti-war themes of Wells’ novel and expanding on them in a powerful way. These echoes of the consequences of Nazism, terrorism, and systematic violence in general, make the invasion of War of the Worlds one of the scariest in film.

They decide to settle it with a staring contest.

(Read Nate’s article on loose adaptations for a slightly less enthusiastic look at Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.)

Next on the countdown: “Nobody trusts anybody now, and we’re all very tired… there’s nothing more I can do, just wait….”

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #6: “She says the jungle… it came alive and took him.”

By Tom Kapr

A long time ago, in a federated state far, far away, I began a countdown of the ten scariest movie aliens ever. Then my world turned a little bit sideways, and two months and two thousand miles later, I landed in Colorado. Now life has calmed some, so it’s time to turn back to the wonderful horrors of the silver screen with a film that caused one of the most heated debates ever on the Buried Cinema podcast. And though it still loses my Flickchart vote to Shaun of the Dead, here is number six on the countdown…. (You can read the list from the beginning here.)

Predator is a paradox. Written by brothers Jim and John Thomas (who went on to write a handful of other, poor-to-middling thrillers) and directed by John “Die Hard” McTiernan, Predator is one of those big, dumb, loud, vulgar, testosterone-fueled action flicks for which the late 80s are known. Machismo runs rampant and cheesy dialogue seeps from every seam, not least of which is that immortal line uttered by Jesse “The Body” Ventura, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” However, what makes Predator such a paradox is that it is also one of the coolest and most brilliant science fiction films ever. And it gave us one of cinema’s all-time great antagonists: the Predator himself (played by the seven-foot-two Kevin Peter Hall).

Other Predator aliens have gone on to battle everyone in film from Danny Glover to Adrien Brody to the xenomorphs from the Alien films–even Batman. But when it all began, it was one terrifying, unseen presence lurking in the Central American jungle, picking off platoon commandos one by one as easy as if it were swatting butterflies. As the line from the movie suggests, it was as if the jungle itself had become a sentient, hostile force. Eventually it came to one of the great climactic showdowns in cinema: Predator vs. Schwarzenegger. And when Schwarzenegger finally got the upper hand and saw the Predator up-close, personal, uncloaked, and unmasked, it turned out to be one of the most fearsome alien beings ever conceived–and one of the ugliest (though I’m sure he was very handsome to the ladies back on his home planet).

It’s true what they say, that a picture is worth a thousand words:

[Editor's note: I forgot to mention Stan Winston, who is responsible for the awesome design of the Predators and the special effects in the first two films, as well as many other memorable creatures in some of the greatest science fiction films ever made. Stan Winston, the world of the movies will never be the same without you.]

Next on the countdown: “Across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us….”

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #7: Pretty much anything that lives on Tatooine

By Tom Kapr

This month I’m looking at the best and worst that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer, beginning with my countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

#7. Luke Skywalker: “I was born here, y’know.” Han Solo: “You’re gonna die here, y’know. Convenient.”

Yes, chances are, wander too far on the Skywalkers’ home desert-planet of Tatooine, and something will either try to kill you or, at the very least, capture you and sell you into slavery–to somebody that will likely end up trying to kill you.

Yes, that is an arm hanging out of the rancor's mouth.

Many of the horrible nasties to be found on Tatooine make appearances in the rousing opening scenes of Return of the Jedi, when Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Lando Calrissian make their multi-phased attempt to rescue a carbonite-frozen Han Solo from the clutches of the evil gang-lord Jabba the Hutt. Jabba dumps Luke into the den of the rancor, a huge mass of claws and teeth that we’ve already seen munch on two unfortunate alien folks. (The rancor surely was nightmare fuel for many a young Star Wars fan–I know it wasn’t just me. Right?)

Not long after Luke kills the rancor (in an oddly sympathetic death scene complete with a dog-like whimper), Jabba attempts to throw him and his friends to the sarlacc, in whose belly they shall, as C-3PO translates from Jabba, “find a new definition of pain and suffering as [they] are slowly digested over a thousand years.” One would assume it would take a far shorter time than a thousand years for that digestion to actually kill you, but the idea alone was enough to scare… um, many a young Star Wars fan. Then to actually see some of the bad guys falling into the sarlacc’s gullet during our heroes’ glorious escape scene is enough to solidify that horror.

Jabba the Hutt. (Possible meth addict.)

We can go back to the first Star Wars film as well, when Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the droids had to contend with not only the profiteering Jawas and a cantina full of hard cases that would shoot you as soon as look at you, but also the terrifying Tusken Raiders–who are not an overly aggressive football team, as their name might suggest, but a race of savage “sand people” who look like something out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare. They are a warlike race who are known to raid farms and settlements.

(As if that were not enough, Darth Vader’s stormtroopers are on the prowl searching for the two droids, and resort to burning the Skywalker home while Luke is off contending with the sand people, reducing his unfortunate aunt and uncle to charred skeletons–another image for children to dwell on while lying awake at night.)

There are other vile creatures that live on Tatooine that are never seen in the films, like krayt dragons and womp rats, but let us not forget the horrors of Jabba himself. During the time period of the original trilogy, Jabba is the head of the Hutt gangster clan that rules Tatooine through violence, intimidation, and shady dealings with the Empire. He looks like a putrid slug, he sounds like a demon, and he uses that long disgusting tongue on Leia. Ick.

No wonder Luke was in such a hurry to join the rebellion.

Next on the countdown: “She says the jungle… it came alive and took him.”