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Cloverfield – review

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member, Mark S. Deniz

[Part Two of Mark’s ‘Handheld Cinema Classics’ trilogy]

Something has found us…

So reads the tagline of one of the most powerful films of its type so far. Being as several of the monster obsessives I know have dismissed the film (for various reasons) and seeing as I, much as I am a lover of monster films, am not a monster film devotee, I am aware I may well be treading on thin ice in praising its quality. However, as I’m not known to easily shy away from making a fool of myself in defending a beloved movie, I take to the stage once more…

I agree the film starts quite badly, even though I understand why. There’s a distinct lack of personality from the protagonists and the hand-held camera action is hard work at times, even for me. I usually don’t have a problem with the camcorder effect but in the early stages of Cloverfield I really struggle.

 

The warning

There’s the shaky camera work, party gossip, revelations of flings at Rob’s leaving party and the wonder at this point is possibly why you’re watching the film.

And then…a little over eighteen minutes in, the film begins in earnest. We did need the intro for the characters but it was all leading to this, to the monster.

The film picks up in action, pace, intensity, and even though I adored the early pay off in The Host, where we see the monster in no time at all, I feel that the delay in showing us the Cloverfield monster was done to perfection.

I completely jumped out of my seat when the Statue of Liberty’s head came flying down the street[1], just before we caught our first glimpse of something big, something monstrous near a skyscraper.

 

The monster

A sense of panic builds as the party goers, along with half of New York, try to make their way out of the city before we see a massive tail take half of the bridge (and Rob’s brother Jason along with it).

This is where, like The Blair Witch Project, that Cloverfield stands out, as the filming feels real, you can’t understand why someone would keep filming at a time of such distress and faced with something so unbelievable but you also understand why it happens. It almost becomes an extension of ‘Hud’.

We then get a glimpse of the monster from another ‘screen’ as people in an electronic store stop to see the monster’s companions, the smaller beasties, grabbing a few civilians from the street before the best shot when the four protagonists flee down a subway tunnel to get away.

It’s here when I think the early stages of the film are justified, as we see Rob’s insistence on tracking down Beth, (which we would have had no feeling for otherwise) and Rob’s telephone call from his mother, where he has to explain that his brother, Jason, is dead.

They’re all running in the same direction. It’s like they’re running away.

From what?

And then we meet the little beasties, who are not actually so little, and where, unfortunately, the film loses a little again. As much as we want the camcorder to follow the action, we want it to be as believable as possible, to strengthen our suspension of disbelief. As ‘Hud’ is attacked by the monsters, there is no way he’s going to keep that camera running, or hold it while his companions are attacked. Again this is where The Blair Witch Project shines, as there is never a moment in that film where the camera action doesn’t gel, doesn’t fit.

The film blends the pace well, the direction keeping the dialogue within reasonable frameworks, before handing over to the action, which in turn is sharp and punchy.

After leaving the subways and the smaller monsters, we move into, what I consider the most disturbing part of the film, where Marlena starts to show symptoms from the attack and they are surrounded by the military, before Marlena is taken into quarantine. I’m not so sure whether this is disturbing because of what is actually happening to Marlena or due to the whole military involvement and what that usually results in in these kinds of situations. That they are befriended by an army officer, who helps them to get out of the building helps to counter this trope, but serves more to dilute than to diffuse.

We then follow Lily, Rob and ‘Hud’ as they make their way to the apartment block where Beth is, and here is one of the most gripping and enjoyable scenes, as they travel between collapsed rooms, at dangerous angles to get to their destination.

During the trip to Beth and the ensuing reunion, between her and Rob, we are witness to a cacophony of sounds, both from inside the apartment (as ‘Hud’ is forced to put the camera down to help them rescue Beth) but also from the battle outside between the monster and the military.

What’s that?

Something else, also terrible!

Leaving in the helicopter gives us much more scope, as instead of seeing everything up close and personal we get an overview of a section of the city and our up-to-now, best glimpse of the beast.

And for a beast he’s rather impressive, first as he razes the city, before knocking the helicopter (carrying Beth, ‘Hud’ and Rob) out of the sky.

We then get a couple of minutes of camera stasis, as we hear about ‘Hammerdown’ and how it is due to be initiated in fifteen minutes – we know now there is not much time for our gang.

 

The monster meets 'Hud'

‘Hud’ then ‘meets’ the beast, in the most gruesome and well delivered of scenes before we are left with Rob and Beth in a tunnel, understanding the gravity of their situation. Rob decides the best thing to do is document what has happened from their perspective, and for those that may find the video afterwards.

The film then ends and we return to the past, and Rob and Beth’s date at the funfair, before the camera dies and the credits roll.

***

There’s a lot packed into 85 minutes, and it shocks me every time I watch it that it is actually less than an hour and a half. In fact the 85 minutes refers to the whole film from start to ten minute closing credits and the wonderful ‘ROAR (Cloverfield Overture)’ by the excellent Michael Giacchino, an accepted tribute to Ifukube’s Gojira theme. The film is actually 73 minutes long, the length of a DV tape, giving a greater authenticity to the piece.

Not only is there much within the story to feast your eyes on, with reviewers using superlatives like “chillingly effective”, and with a “whip-smart, stylistically invisible” (script) but there is so obviously a reaction to events, such as 9-11 and subsequent terrorist attacks that give the film a little bit more of an edge for the US public.

I’ve read an equal number of reviewers damning the film for its over-the-top in your face approach to the subject of terrorism as those praising its use. Referring back to James Willett’s Remake and Reboot article I can’t help but agree with his sentiments about why Cloverfield succeeds and why the Godzilla remake fails, as the former follows the themes and feel of previous monster films, those that look at society and the human persona, whereas the latter is a merely a big monster going around trashing New York, a pale shadow of its 1954 original. Whether it is less subtle than other films is, of course, up for debate, I merely state here that it at least falls into the same category of the greats, in terms of intention.

J. J. Abrams stated that he wanted to create a monster for the US, a monster that could rival Japan’s Godzilla and here I think he failed, more for the fact that less than five years after Cloverfield’s release we are getting ready to witness another remake of Godzilla. Why I think he might have failed is that he wanted to give the US filmgoers a monster that they could call their own, not entirely realising that they had already bestowed that title on the Japanese behemoth. It doesn’t matter that he is not from the US (the ultimate irony is that he was created as a response to the atrocities inflicted on the Japanese by the US) for he is already part of their cinematic make up and will remain so.

But, Cloverfield is a great monster movie, it works on all the right levels: the tension builds up superbly, once the monster appears, the monster itself is fabulous, especially with its smaller cousins/friends/offspring, the idea for the videotape length sublime, etc. It’s a film I thoroughly enjoyed the first, second, third…around and will, I suspect, enjoy more the more I watch it.

Exquisitely placed to end Monster Awareness Month, I leave you with Cloverfield!


[1] The head of the Statue of Liberty was actually inspired by the poster for Escape from New York

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Clean up in Aisle Five: The Mist – review

Written by author, Sonia Marcon

The_Mist_poster

The Mist will surprise some viewers because it’s not directly a scream-fest horror. In fact, the only thing that makes this film considered to be horror is that it’s based on the novella by Stephen King, who everybody knows as “that horror novelist”. The story of The Mist can be considered as more of a comment on human nature rather than a horror story. Sure, it has big scary monsters as the thrust of the story but, in my opinion, the monsters are not the point. This film contains much scarier things than a bunch of monstrous animals. The Mist is a film that really can’t go wrong for me. To begin with, I am a huge Stephen King fan and when King’s story ideas are adapted for the screen by Frank Darabont, there isn’t much room for a wrong turn. Everyone has to have seen, or at least heard about, The Shawshank Redeption, an amazing film adaptation by Darabont based on the equally amazing novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by King. The Mist is, in my opinion, a very close second both as a novella and as a film.

Seeing that The Mist is a creation by Stephen King, I think it pertinent to talk about this story in relation to him whether you’re a fan of his writing or not. Something that I truly feel is a gift of King is his ability to create, be it story ideas, character relations or plot developments. There are many people who don’t like King as a writer, and that’s fair enough. Each to their own. But I think a gift of King’s is to bring the unbelievable and unimaginable right outside your front door. Film adaptations of King’s works, however, can be very hit and miss. Frank Darabont gets it right because his story adaptation and screen direction add a whole new level to the story idea. Even though a story in itself can contain brilliant characters and story nuances, things like emotion can easily be missed by both a writer and a reader. Frank Darabont brings this emotion to the forefront where the viewer cannot help but notice it.

the-mist-screenshot-2

There are two parts of this story that greatly benefit from the visual medium of film, which are the approach of the mist toward the shopping centre where this story is mostly set and the reactions of the townsfolk to the monsters. The scene where the mist comes in and envelopes the supermarket is terrifyingly brilliant and it is made even better by the sound effects of the film. As a viewer, you really do share the reactions of the townsfolk, who think that everything they hear can be easily explained. The thudding heard must be earthquakes, the mist itself must be a poison gas cloud from the military base on the neighbouring hill. This is the talent of King at work; they are normal people with normal reasoning who don’t immediately jump to extraordinary conclusions. Darabont works with these ideas to create a feeling of utter fear and despair by keeping the normality of the characters; he really utilises the whole ‘seeing is believing’ mindset. He also makes sure, in his adaptation of the story to screenplay, that there are no heroes because in this situation there is too much confusion for heroism.

the mist

One of the most fascinating parts of this story is, in my opinion, the fact that the monsters are just animals trapped in an unfamiliar place. They are not there to destroy the humans, they are just trying to survive. This works with the idea that there is no room for heroism because whenever any of the characters hurt or kill the ‘monsters’, it creates a real sense of sympathy for them because the ‘monsters’ are just acting in the only way they know how to when in a strange environment with hostile inhabitants. When they manage to get into the supermarket where the humans are, they are not there to kill the humans. They are just chasing the smaller monsters for food, which is obviously what they do in their home place, and if they do harm the humans, it is purely out of defence and fear. I personally find this scene the hardest to watch because I can’t help but feel sorry for the monsters. To me, it’s the humans in this story who act more monstrously than the apparent monsters.

Being regarded as a monster film means that it must contain something that is monstrously scary. To me, the animals that are regarded as monsters are nowhere near as fearful as Mrs Carmody, the religious zealot character who rounds up followers in the supermarket. This character made me realise that The Mist is not precisely a monster film. The Mist is ultimately a character drama that happens to feature monstrous animals. I truly feel that the character driven element of this story, initiated by Stephen King but enunciated by Frank Darabont, is what creates the most interest. The Mrs Carmody character is there to show how despicable and selfish human beings can be when placed in a situation of peril. I don’t think her presence in the story is a comment on religion by either King or Darabont, but more a comment on the ways in which human beings are ultimately not very nice. This film seems to be one of the many I like because it has believable characters in unbelievable situations.

The Mist - Face Off

I honestly could not think of a better director for this film than Frank Darabont. His adaptations of Stephen King not only make great films (admittedly The Green Mile is very long, but still) but also memorable narratives in their own right. I think The Mist is a necessary addition to Monster Awareness Month because it adds a touch of variety to the mix with its character driven story. If you like Stephen King stories, that’s one reason to watch. If you like Frank Darabont films, that’s reason two. If you like a film with some of the most imaginative monsters that look like bugs with big teeth, that’s a big reason three.

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Pan’s Labyrinth – review

Written by Monster Awarness Month team member, Harry Markov


Celebrating the monsters in cinema can’t be complete without mentioning the monsters in our mythology. Pan’s Labyrinth is the perfect example of how the monstrous in our folklore can be assimilated in the cinematic format, creating a modern, dark fairy tale for adults. Unlike a lot of the entries in the Monster Awareness Month, Pan’s Labyrinth is far from being a horror, while at the same time it displays a horrifying reality that has nothing to do with cheap scares.

I consider the setting a post-Civil War Spain in 1944 to be a dark ghastly land, where people are the true monsters as soldiers are wont to become during wars. It’s the inhuman that contrasts with the spark of innocence and humanity, though there are real monsters among their ranks. As a whole Pan’s Labyrinth impresses with how well it dances on the line of being startlingly real and tangible, and incorporeal and surreal. Yes, CGI remains a tool to bring the special effects to life. The fairies that aid Ofelia during her tasks, the sentient labyrinth that guards her from the Captain as well as the mandrake root Ofelia puts in a milk bowl to heal her sick, pregnant mother, all exist because of CGI. Yet, they are small creative touches compared to the Pale Man, who wants to eat Ofelia, or the Faun, who is Ofelia’s task giver. Guillermo resorts to older techniques such as animatronics and latex foam makeup, which transform the actor Doug Jones into both creatures.

The genuine interaction between Ofelia and the creatures is what imbues the movie with the power it has. If all the monsters were done with CGI, then the viewer would be aware that he is watching a movie. Instead, del Toro reinforces how real for Ofelia the fairyland is even if she is the only one that can see it, as is shown near the end, when the Captain captures her in the labyrinth talking to herself, when a moment prior Ofelia pleaded with the faun. Through the whole movie I wondered whether Ofelia really was the long missing princess Moanna or whether the tasks and the faun constituted her coping mechanism with a cruel step-father, a sick mother and civil unrest surrounding the Civil War.

Questioning in Pan’s Labyrinth runs as a central theme. The viewer questions the validity and the reality of Ofelia’s quest. Ofelia questions the motifs of the faun. The Captain questions the loyalty of his people, though really his questioning is far from being sympathetic. Mercedes questions the safety of her position in the house and her invisibility given by her social status in the Captain’s eyes. Guillermo del Toro has written one of the most depressing and dramatic movies about the monsters that hide within the shadows and our hearts.

Pan’s Labyrinth draws from known fantastic tropes and watching it feels as though you have been transported back into your childhood. For instance, Ofelia’s crossing in the otherworldly world, populated with giant frogs and shapeshifting insects, evokes an Alice in Wonderland atmosphere, which progresses throughout the picture. The constantly shifting labyrinth throws back to David Bowie and Labyrinth from the 80s. The magical number three resurfaces as the tasks Ofelia has to perform amount to three. Blood sacrifices, innocence and purity of the soul function as central themes.

Shedding the mortal self in order to return to the otherworldly as royalty is Ofelia’s quest in order to become Moanna again. Unlike other journeys of chosen, magical children Ofelia doesn’t return to her own world like Alice or the heirs of Narnia. The happy ending for her comes, but in the form of a bullet to her chest and her blood draining in the otherworldly king’s portal. What makes this ascent and claiming of one’s heritage as hard hitting is the uncertainty as to whether the world exists or remains Ofelia’s fabrication, a tool to escape. Yes, Pan’s Labyrinth falls into the fairy tale genre, yet, it’s a fairy tale geared for adults. Ofelia doesn’t always make the right decisions during her quest and faces the consequences of her actions.

Despite Pan’s Labyrinth’s strengths, the movie is far from perfect. Guillermo del Toro weaves three stories within the movie. First, the complex family dynamics between Ofelia, her sick mother and the Captain. Then comes the Captain’s hunt for guerilla fighters, where Mercedes supplies the soldiers with medicine and provisions. Third, Ofelia’s quest. While well acted as separate storylines, there is not much cohesion between them, in the sense that one distracted from the other two and created the effect of watching three distinct short movies pasted into one two hour extravaganza.

Even with its shortcomings, Pan’s Labyrinth remains a powerful movie, where the monsters are saviors and protectors. Where the inhuman extends a hand in order to preserve innocence in an era, where innocence died on the front line.

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Pan’s Labyrinth – review

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member Orrin Grey

While movies like Blade 2 and Hellboy had already put Guillermo del Toro in the geek movie spotlight, it was Pan’s Labyrinth, with its six Academy Award nominations and three wins, that really gained del Toro the worldwide critical acclaim and industry clout that he now possesses. And with good reason. Del Toro himself has many times said that Pan’s Labyrinth is one of his favorites among his own films, and it’s certainly the surest, most confident, and most accomplished entry in his filmography to date.

Listening to one of del Toro’s commentary tracks is always a fascinating pastime, and it always leaves me with a renewed sense of awe at his commitment to detail and the material. Listening to the commentary track for Pan’s Labyrinth takes this to a whole other level. The amount of care that went into the film is mind-boggling, as is the control that del Toro had over the material. Del Toro’s films are all carefully color-coded and stylistically controlled, with motifs that echo and repeat, but, again, never has any of his films felt more intricate, on close inspection, than Pan’s Labyrinth.

It’s a movie that del Toro himself has said is a “litmus test” for its viewers, with an ending that appears, at first glance, to be ambiguous. So as to avoid spoilers for those who maybe haven’t yet seen it, I’ll refrain from talking about the themes of the movie, or the objective reality of its fantastical elements, and simply say to watch the movie for yourself, and then treat yourself to del Toro’s commentary track, where he spells out his feelings on the film and its themes pretty plainly.

Instead of that I’ll talk about the monsters of Pan’s Labyrinth, since that’s kind of what we’re here for. As I’ve already said when talking about Hellboy, del Toro is a director who loves monsters more than just about anyone else I can conveniently think of. He’s been quoted as saying that “if there’s not a monster on the call sheet, I don’t show up for work.” And while the two Hellboy films are his most monster-filled movies to date, Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t far behind.

For a movie with a reported budget of around $19 million, Pan’s looks amazing. The creatures are almost entirely brought to life using practical effects. The most famous monster to come out of Pan’s Labyrinth is the incredibly creepy Pale Man, but the Faun deserves equal attention (especially the effect of his legs, which is only heightened by learning how it was achieved), and the movie also boasts fairies, a giant toad, and a mandrake root. Both the Faun and the Pale Man are brought to life by veteran creature actor Doug Jones, who previously played Abe Sapien in Hellboy.

In a lot of ways, Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy are two very different movies, one quiet and emotional, the other broad and pulpy, but they both show a visionary director working at the top of his game, bringing his considerable love of monsters to two very different tables.

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Hellboy – review

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member Orrin Grey

Guillermo del Toro is my favorite director. This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following along, since I talked about his Cronos for Vampire Awareness Month and his The Devil’s Backbone for Ghost Appreciation Month. And later this month I’ll be finishing off my hat trick of his Spanish-language films by tackling Pan’s Labyrinth.

But long before I was a fan of Guillermo del Toro, I was a fan of Hellboy, and Hellboy’s creator Mike Mignola. When it was announced that del Toro was going to direct a movie version of Hellboy, I knew that there wasn’t anyone else more perfect for the job. Much like the oft-repeated story of Mignola and del Toro sitting down to discuss the movie and both saying “Ron Perlman has to play Hellboy,” I don’t think there’s anyone else who could get behind the camera and make this movie work as well as it does. That said, and while Hellboy is one of my favorite movies for a lot of reasons, as a fan of the source material first my relationship with any adaptation of it is always going to be somewhat troubled.

While del Toro’s Hellboy is closer to the comics than anyone could reasonably have hoped, it still deviates from them in innumerable ways. Some are things that I wish had been handled differently, others are ones that I understand the necessity of in translating the material from the comic book page to the big screen. Some, like the expansion of Professor Bruttenholm’s character, are probably actually an improvement. (The professor is now a major character in the comics, albeit only in “flashback” stories, but at the time the movie was made his presence had up ‘til then been fairly minor.)

What del Toro does achieve, though, regardless of my feelings about any of the changes, or his interpretations of the characters, or whatever, is to take a weird property that almost anyone could screw up and bring to it all the same love and attention to detail that highlights his Spanish-language films. In his commentary track (which, as always, is well worth listening to) del Toro says that Hellboy is the movie that merged his own artistic sensibilities as displayed by films like Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone with big-budget (comparatively) Hollywood filmmaking.

But this isn’t Hellboy Appreciation Month, nor even Movie Appreciation Month. This is Monster Awareness Month, and there’s no better movie to appreciate monsters in than Hellboy. In the commentary track for The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro says that he thinks horror is important because it teaches you to love “the Other,” the monster. And del Toro’s love for monsters is obvious in every inch of Hellboy. Not only are most of the main characters technically monsters, but in this movie the monster actually gets the girl!

The enemy monsters are at least as impressive as the good guys, though, from the beautifully executed Sammael (one of the most impressive monsters in the history of film) to a clockwork Nazi zombie to the giant Lovecraftian Behemoth at the end. (I don’t think I’m giving too much away here, it’s in the animated menu on the DVD.) The influences of Mike Mignola’s designs are certainly evident in the creatures, but so is del Toro’s unique vision. And of course there are plenty of scenes where Hellboy fights one or more of the above. Del Toro says that they wanted the monster battles to be Harryhausen-esque and, in fact, that they asked Harryhausen to be a consultant on the film, but he declined because he perceived modern movies as being “too violent.” What he did leave del Toro with was a nugget of wisdom that serves the movie’s monsters very well, that “most people animate monsters acting like monsters; monsters should always be thought of like animals.” This Harryhausen-esque approach gives the monsters (both good and bad) a sense of character that such creatures have rarely had since the days of stop motion, and also makes for some of the most satisfying knock-down, drag-out creature action ever put on film.

Whatever its imperfections, Hellboy is a big, boisterous celebration of monsters of all stripes, and about as perfect a movie for Monster Awareness Month as could be asked for.

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The Mothman Prophecies – review

by Monster Awareness Month team member: KV Taylor

The Mothman Prophecies

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I was born and raised in a West Virginia-side Ohio River town. Not in Point Pleasant*–some many miles up the river–but the story of the Mothman in Point Pleasant is something we’re all pretty familiar with by early childhood, around there. Like the movie says when you fire it up, it’s based on actual events–but I’m going to try and not spoil the ending just in case you’re not a river rat.

The spin given to these actual events I mention comes from a 1975 book of the same name by John A. Keel. The Mothman Prophecies has long been a staple of cryptozoological/fortean research, though whether it’s been more useful for mocking or educating is a matter of personal taste. It’s an interesting read (once you get through the weird casual 70s misogyny and Keel’s perpetual reminding us that he’s not trying to say he’s amazing, but…), and whether it’s accurate or not, creepy as hell. Still, it’s really more of a disjointed series of interviews and strange occurrences centered around the 1967 events in Point Pleasant, interspersed with commentary on the state of ufology and paranormal studies in the 60s, than an actual narrative.

Mary Klein's drawings.

Mark Pellington’s Mothman film is a different story. We begin in Washington, DC, where John Klein (Richard Gere) loses his beloved wife Mary (Debra Messing) young. She leaves behind her drawings of a dark figure that a hospital nurse suggests is an angel, but looks a bit more sinister than that–an impression that’s helped along by the careful shot framing and impressive photography up to this point, in particular the visual theme of two glowing red circles that has been recently introduced and will continue to lead us down the path.

Also helps that said drawings are terrifying.

Fast forward two years, and Klein’s attempting to drive to Richmond in the middle of the night–and if you’ve ever driven from DC to Richmond, you won’t find that so insane, because that’s about the only time driving I-95 is tolerable. (Did I mention I now live in DC? Yeah.) Anyhow, he ends up stranded on the Smallwoods’ doorstep–unbeknownst to him a 400 mile drive from Richmond, in Point Pleasant. Cue a harried Gordon Smallwood (Will Patton) pulling a shotgun on him and backing him into the bathtub. Turns out he isn’t just being a bad stereotype–Smallwood thinks Klein has done the exact same thing several nights running, and is understandably freaked out.

Not even sure this is Point Pleasant, to be honest, but it looks like the sort of nice town where you'd expect this sort of thing.

Officer Connie Mills (Laura Linney) shows up to save the day, and between the two of them they sort out that he’s not where he’s supposed to be, and this is yet another Weird Occurrence in a growing list in Point Pleasant. This is a lucky thing for the viewer for a few reasons. For one, only Laura Linney can deliver a terrible line like, “Things have been… strange around here” and make it come close to working. She also gets to say, when asked if she grew up on a farm, “Shucks no! … We even had shoes for church and schoolin’!” Having delivered that line myself several times, I enjoyed this particular method of dispensing with the Appalachian stereotype portion of the film.

There follows a series of disturbing events, mostly centered around Gordon Smallwood, that take on the character of disaster predictions: plane crashes and earthquakes that a mysterious being known as Indrid Cold lets him in on before they happen. In the meantime, the strange occurrences Officer Mills talked about continue all over town: strange phone calls from alien voices, sightings of the mothman here and there, causing trauma, breakdowns, and bleeding eyes. These events are taken from Keel’s book, sometimes with extreme attention to detail that makes them even more chilling when you’ve read it. But they’re all filmed in a kind of artistic horror vision that does the job well. The dialogue is drab, but again, at least the actors and crew make the best of it.

Scary otherworlder emerges from the trees to commune with his chosen West Virginian oracle, Gordon. Please don't think my flippant attitude means this didn't scare the bejeezus out of me.

Our heroes John and Connie are trying to collate all these happenings as the town, in particular the tormented Gordon Smallwood, is losing it. A discussion with the mysterious Indrid Cold, who seems to have the ability to read John’s mind and, more importantly, knows all about the death of Mary, sends John flying to Chicago to meet with a specialist in these sorts of things, a trove of fortean information called Alexander Leek (Alan Bates). He sort of fills the John Keel role, providing us with our necessary, harried neurotic paranormal investigator infodump .** Leek explains that these mothlike or birdlike creatures show up just before disasters and have done throughout human history. When Klein asks him why, we’re treated to more terrible dialogue: “Their motivations aren’t human.” And later, “You’re more advanced than a cockroach. Have you ever tried explaining yourself to one of them?”

Regardless of the lines, the man has a point both with that, and when he says they drew Klein (and, we can assume, Gordon) into this because, “You noticed them.” And most people don’t. He also deigns to offer, during a later visit, that something terrible is clearly going to happen in Point Pleasant, if mothman is showing up there.

Ancient mothman, or Leek's persecution complex in watercolor? You be the judge.

This is where the movie starts to break down a little, pacing-wise. Klein becomes obsessed with the idea that something terrible is about to happen and that he has to stop it like he couldn’t with his wife, to the point where he’s actively screwing up everything in his life between bouncing back and forth between Point Pleasant, Chicago, and DC, and Gordon Smallwood is finally consumed by his association with the (frankly, extremely scary) Indrid Cold. Klein makes another late night drive to West Virginia from DC just in time–

For The Bad Thing to happen.

Red = Bad. Sorry, kid.

The movie has its good points and bad points. I do think the writers made a valiant effort at eking out both relevant and scary details and events from the book in their scene selection. It lacks what people in my generation would probably think of as the X-Files feeling of the book (which came long before that show, but you know what I mean), but it’s a decent way to tell the story. For some of the baffling deviations and additions, many were welcome and necessary for an effective screen adaptation: the loss of the Men In Black***, the reporter-friend Mary Hyre being transformed into the quietly bad-ass Officer Mills, and even the reworking of the Indrid Cold entity from a benevolent alien abductor into a more sinister-feeling prophet of doom.

The photography, as mentioned, is extremely effective, and perhaps the movie’s greatest strength. The use of the horror movie cheap shot with a sudden shocking image is relatively subtle and leaves an indelible impression–particularly if you watch it late at night with the lights off, as was no doubt intended. The framing and even camera pacing can feel a little overdone, but overall are extremely cool. The soundtrack is great for all the tension floating around, and the sound itself, particularly in the strange phone voices, is often shiver-inducing.

As for odd deviations, I’ve seen this movie some dozen or more times now, and I still don’t really get why they had to do the whole framing thing with Klein’s wife dying and seeing the mothman and… all of it. Well, no, I do get it: Klein, as a kind of slick, successful, but sad city fellow, is an outsider in provincial Point Pleasant, and as he becomes familiar with the town and its people, so do we–as his personal stake in discovering what this mothman is up to grows, so does ours. Except that the former seems unnecessary (I realize I’m not the best judge, but small town Ohio Valley… exactly the same as every other small town known to your average horror movie watcher) and the latter almost feels like it just serves to junk things up.

The movie doesn’t offer definite answers about the provenance and intention of the mothman–even less than Keel’s book, and in some ways, less than reality****. But I think that rather than falling flat, as leaving questions open often can, it actually adds to the mystery, uncertainty, and darkness that makes the movie worth watching in the first place. Perhaps it’s not for everyone, but odds are good that if your phone rings soon after watching it, you’ll at least consider jumping out of your skin.

Wake up, number 37.

*Check out that mothman statue!
**One that is not wholly accurate, as he has some weird theory that “mothman” is a translation of something this same entity is called in the Ukraine. Which is possible, of course, but Keel’s book says that “mothman” was coined by a newspaper because Batman was popular at the time.
***Don’t get me wrong, I loved the MIB in the book, but it would’ve derailed the movie.
****The Bad Thing that happens? Yeah, they know why. Also, they changed the number of people–which may simply have been out of respect for the tragic reality of the event.

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The Thing – review

Written by author, James Willetts

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Between 1980 and 1982 John Carpenter made three films which have stood apart as his greatest. ‘The Fog’, ‘Escape From New York’, and ‘The Thing’ are a perfect run of films, perhaps equalled only by the infamous McTiernan run of ‘Predator’, ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Hunt for Red October’.

‘The Thing’ is itself considered to be the first in an unconnected apocalypse trilogy, along with ‘Prince of Darkness’ and ‘In the Mouth of Madness’.

A remake of the 1951 film, ‘The Thing from Another World’, and influenced by equal parts Alien and Lovecraft’s ‘At The Mountains of Madness’ Carpenter used the snowbound setting and unusual enemy to create one of the greatest base under siege scenarios in movie history.

The plot is engagingly simple. A group of researchers in the Antarctic are confronted by an alien creature which takes on the form of those it kills. Introduced into the camp through the body of a dog it swiftly begins to replace them. With communication and transport gone the rapidly dwindling survivors have to work out how to stop an enemy who could be any one of them.

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The best horror films all have simple themes; there’s something out there that isn’t like us and it’s coming to get you. From ‘Alien’, to Zombie films the set up of something outside that wants in works every time. ‘The Thing’ is no different, existing as a near perfect example of this trope.

That in itself is a pretty common theme in alien films. Just think of all those other classic invasion movies; ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, ‘Village of the Damned’ and even ‘They Live’ all have an undercurrent of suspicion and paranoia that comes not just from the fact that an invasion is underway but that it is so covert.*

Many of these films hold themes of Communist designs on America, the fear of Fifth Columnists and enemies within. The idea that your neighbour might not be who you think he is, that the monsters outside may already be in the home adds a layer of real world paranoia.

But ‘The Thing’ is not your typical alien invasion movie. ‘The Thing’ has no long term plot to rule the world, no doomsday weapons or space fleet. There are no humanly obvious reasons for it. It is an alien in the truest sense of the word; a virus or a parasite, infiltrating and replacing those around it until it takes control.

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But for all that, it’s still a remake by the guy who gave us ‘Ghosts of Mars’ and ‘Vampires’ – why should you care about this film?

Well, firstly, it’s got a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. Yes, that Ennio Morricone. It’s not as flashy as some of his other work, but it’s pretty good, and it works for the suspenseful, paranoid workings of a movie about a shape shifting alien.

Then there’s a central performance by Kurt Russell, in a role previously turned down by Jeff Bridges. From an introduction that sees him pour his drink into the computer he’s playing chess against, to the moment when he picks up a flamethrower and starts to try and burn back the monstrous abomination in their midst he brings life to a character who carries the movie.

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It’s famous for the panning it got on release – two weeks after ‘E.T’, the same week as ‘Blade Runner’, both of which it suffered in comparison to.

However ‘The Thing’ is probably most well known for its ground-breaking special effects, in particular the incredible prosthetic and model work from Rob Bottin, who also worked on ‘Se7en’, ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Total Recall’. The various transformations that the alien goes through were all designed to keep the audience guessing. In fact it was deemed so shocking that distributors were advised to only play it in screens near the toilets – just in case viewers needed to flee the cinema.**

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In fact, much like ‘The Fly’, this is a film which is best viewed to marvel at just what could be done with prosthetics, models and a lot of imagination. The plot is fairly basic, and the real meat of the story comes from working out just who is still alive and human.

The common complaint about ‘The Thing’ is how slow it is, and it’s a fair comment. Whilst not overly long it doesn’t exactly fly by, being more concerned with a slow build up of tension followed by a shock, a reveal and another build up. It’s not as though the outcome is unexpected; the few survivors clinging on as the alien attempts to oust them. The very end, leaving questions unanswered is neither the happy ending that most cinema goers crave, nor the out and out failure that might warrant a sequel.

But perhaps the real reason to watch ‘The Thing’ is this; for all its flaws it still stand as one of the most inventive, original and disturbing films about those things outside the door, and what to do when they replace your neighbours.

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*More recent examples of alien infiltration can be seen in ‘The Invasion’ and ‘The Faculty’. A subversion can be found in ‘V’, where everyone is aware that ‘aliens walk amongst us’ but not that they are hostile, and ‘District 9’ where the aliens are amongst us but apart from us, thanks to their obviously inhuman look.

**This is in all probability an urban myth – but it’s a good one!

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Jurassic Park – review

Reviewed by author, Mark West

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Cast:

Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Joseph Mazello, Ariana Richards

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by David Koepp & Michael Crichton (based on his novel)

121 minutes, PG, 1993

aspect ratio – 1.85 : 1

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I first picked up Michael Crichton’s novel “Jurassic Park” in 1991, based on the fact that I’d enjoyed his memoir ‘Travels’, I liked dinosaurs and the cover proclaimed that it was soon to be “a major film from Steven Spielberg”. I really enjoyed the book – though some of the science got speed-read – but couldn’t figure out how Spielberg was going to realise any of what I’d just read. Two years later I found out, as my wife & I went to the old cinema in Wellingborough (it’s not there now – as Malcolm says at one point, it’s become extinct) to see it.

The film opens in the dark, as a container holding an unseen Velociraptor (effectively the film’s bad guys and called Raptor by everyone), is lowered to the ground. After a mistake, a worker is attacked and killed and the scene grabs the attention immediately. Advised by his lawyer, it’s agreed that John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), a billionaire, needs to have his new venture – Jurassic Park – signed off by some experts. Hammond invites palaeontologist Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) – dangling the carrot of funding their Montana dig for the next three years – along with Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a mathematician who specialises in chaos theory. The group are flown to Isla Nublar, near Costa Rica, where Hammond’s futuristic theme park is set up, populated with dinosaurs cloned from DNA found in fossilised mosquitoes that have been preserved in amber.

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At the visitor centre, after a quick tour (and an animated film that gets out a lot of exposition which slowed the book down – a clever cinematic device there, on the part of Spielberg and Koepp), the group meets up with Hammond’s grandchildren – Tim (Joseph Mazello), a dinosaur nut and Lexi (Ariana Richards), a would-be hacker – and sets off on a tour. Meanwhile, greedy computer expert Nedry (Wayne Knight) has set up the parks systems to fail, to enable him to steal some DNA to sell to a rival company.

After separating when the group comes across an ill Triceratops, Grant, Malcolm, Gennero and the children are at the T-Rex paddock when the power fails completely. The T-Rex attacks the tour cars, killing the lawyer and injuring Malcolm but Grant and the children manage to escape. Ellie and the game warden Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) manage to find Ian and then try to reset the power, discovering on the way that the Raptors are now free. The power is re-set, but Muldoon is killed and Sattler injured. Grant and the children head for the visitor’s centre and whilst he goes to find the others, they end up trapped in the kitchen with two Raptors. They manage to escape, find Grant and Sattler but are cornered in the entrance hall by the Raptors. Somehow, the T-Rex is also there and the group escape, as the dinosaurs fight it out.

As they drive away from the centre, with Hammond and Malcolm, Grant says he won’t be able to endorse the park. Hammond agrees.

This is a superbly well-made film, as you’d expect from Spielberg (still in his bright lights and smoke phase, the bleached-out look he now uses with Janusz Kaminski nowhere in sight) and pretty much everyone – in front of and behind the camera – acquits themselves well.

The actors do solid work in roles where, by necessity, they often take second place to the spectacle. Sam Neill is rugged and capable (have you ever seen him put in a bad performance?) and Laura Dern gives Sattler more depth than the script seems willing to (when Malcolm demonstrates chaos theory by putting water on her hand, she says “Alan, look at this” excitedly, as if they’d just discovered alien life). The children are fantastic and always believable, with Ariana Richards going from scaredy-cat big sister (at the T-Rex paddock) to no-nonsense brother protector (in the kitchen with the Raptors) and Joseph Mazzello is a real treat as the smart-alec kid, who’s read Grant’s book and has views of his own. He also gets some great lines and delivers the funniest ones (“well, we’re back in the car!”) with great timing. Jeff Goldblum clearly has the most fun, with his rock star mathematician and cool dialogue, but his usual quirky actor-ly tricks seem a bit out of place. Richard Attenborough ranges from cuddly to cold, his accent sliding occasionally and Samuel L Jackson does very little, apart from smoke cigarettes down to the filter. Bob Peck is terrific, a gruff man who knows what he’s doing and his was the only death where I thought it would’ve been nice for him to have made it to the end. Wayne Knight has one major set-piece (in the rain and mud) so didn’t particularly register and Martin Ferrero makes the most of his lawyer’s sliminess (especially his reaction to the T-Rex).

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We're gonna need a bigger boat

The writing is very good, combining enough science jargon dialogue to make you think it could be real (leaving the really complicated stuff to the introductory cartoon) with some great interplay between characters (particularly Malcolm and Grant, when they’re in the tour car alone) and some nice, funny lines.

The direction, as one would expect, is virtually faultless and it’s perhaps nice that Spielberg made this before everything became handheld. He makes full use of the locations – be they Hawaii (standing in for the island) or the sets – and its always clear what’s going on. He does indulge in a few of his trademarks – bright lights behind people, dollies into people’s faces, kids in peril – but they all serve the story. As for the action sequences – well, he delivers each and every major set piece and all of them are gripping. The T-Rex paddock is perhaps the most famous of these, rain-slicked and terrifying, but the Nedry death-scene is well handled, as is the brilliant kitchen sequence.

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As I said in my “Creature From The Black Lagoon” review, a ‘monster movie’ lives or dies by the quality of its stars and this delivers completely. Stan Winston built the full-size animatronic creatures and Phil Tippett (stop motion genius) was going to do the full-body dinosaurs, using his go-motion technique. Dennis Muren was also on hand, representing ILM, who were due to do all the compositing. But Muren had other ideas and, using the technology they’d developed for Terminator 2, showed Spielberg a test film of a gallimimus herd running across a field followed by a T-Rex. Spielberg was so impressed, he scrapped the go-motion idea (though Tippett and his crew animated the CGI dinosaurs using models) and so set in motion a tremendous leap forward in film-making (or, depending on your view of the increasingly poor CGI in many films these days, a sideways-at-best step), opening up a whole new palette of possibilities. The thing I found, bearing in mind this film is eighteen years old, is how good the dinosaurs looked. Critics often sneer that they’re in soft focus or the dark and rain and therefore can’t be seen clearly, but I’d disagree – the shot where Grant and Sattler see the Brachiosaurous eating leaves from a tree is superbly realised.

Further proving the quality of the workmanship on display, the blend between Winston’s live-action dinosaurs and ILM’s is incredible and it’s sometimes difficult to tell which one you’re looking at. Having seen the film at the cinema when it first came out, I think that’s a major part of the success – and this was a tremendously successful film – and a major reason why this should be seen as a landmark film. The latex and pixels blending works, these people cared about what they were doing, they wanted it to be right.

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Having said all that, the film does have its flaws. The characters, as I mentioned, do tend to play second fiddle to the creatures (who are probably only on-screen for about 20 minutes or so) and sometimes logic appears to take a back seat. As an example of the latter, the T-Rex paddock attack is foreshadowed by the vibrations every character feels, as the dinosaurs lumbers over to them. Yet at the climax, the T-Rex manages not only to get into the building (how did it fit through those doors?), but also creep along on wooden floors and not be noticed until it’s literally right on top of the Raptors. But these are niggles – as you watch the film, you’re rattled along at such a pace, gazing at the spectacle, that these moans seem almost obnoxious.

Jurassic Park won Oscars for Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. It also picked up a BAFTA for Best Special Visual Effects.

The film was followed by two sequels – The Lost World in 1997 (and if you’re looking for logic plot holes, how about a T-Rex sailing a ship?) and the Joe Johnston directed Jurassic Park 3* in 2001.

This is a great film, pacy and scary and wonderous and I highly recommend it.

*[Editor’s note] There is to be a Jurassic Park IV, also directed by Joe Johnston. Rumours abound that the dinosaurs in this version will be taught to wield guns, although Johnston has denied this.

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Jurassic Park – review

Written by author, James Willetts

Every film fan has one. That perfect film that if you had to choose one, would be your favourite. Doesn’t matter how often you say you couldn’t ever choose, that you have too many favourites, that you need to write a list. Not matter how often you say it, it’s not true. There’s always that one film.

Every film fan has them. Those perfect moments in a film when it just connects. Maybe it’s a perfectly written line, or an all too human facial expression, or just something that you’ve never seen anything like before, but this film has just blown your mind.

Every film fan has one. Those perfect cinematic experiences which elevate a good film to great. They’re not even anything to do with the film itself, it’s just because of when you saw it, or who with, or where. That film, those memories, will always have an attached meaning for you. They’ve transcended cinema. They’re part of you.

For me all those things describe one thing. Jurassic Park.

Sure, the opening to Star Wars IV: A New Hope had a bigger impact on me. Without that shot of the rebel blockade runner fleeing the Star Destroyer I would never have fallen in love with cinema.

And my perfect cinema experience is still Pan’s Labyrinth, sandwiched between a man who reeked of the sea and a woman who kept telling me what the Spanish words actually meant.

And all the others; staying up to watch Hercules in New York and Shark Attack 3 in hysterics, The Host and Rocky Balboa as a hangover cure.

All of these and more have had a profound impact on me, in ways that I can’t really put into words.

But above and beyond all of those, sits Jurassic Park.

Better than Star Wars?

And it can all be boiled down, I suppose, if it has to be, to a single shot. A single moment which, for me at least, is truly perfect. A moment that sums up everything that Jurassic Park as a film, that all films maybe, can be.

There’s so much there, though, so much more than that one scene. Spielberg often comes under fire for his sweetness, his inability to let a movie end without a happy ending. It can often feel jarring, even insulting, for a movie like War of the Worlds or AI to end in such a way, ignoring what has gone before, trying to tie everything up neatly. When it works though, it raises his films to greatness. His best films: E.T., Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade, all contain the happy ending.

They are all, when it comes down to it, childlike movies. They are movies that seem filled with a childlike wonder at everything around them. It sometimes feels as though there are two Spielbergs. There is one who sees the world around him as it is, the one who makes Schindler’s List and Munich. But then there’s the one who makes Hook.

I think the reason that Spielberg is so well regarded is because he is the first filmmaker that anyone can recognise. That might seem like a self-defining trait, we recognise him because we know him. I mean it like this though. Before we understand the idea of Directors, or Producers, we know that there are some films that are made by certain people, defined by them in a way that there role in the actual film has little to do with.

All art contains the fingerprints of its creator. A Tim Burton film could never be mistaken as anything but. You can tell when Zach Snyder made something.

And before you knew who Spielberg was, you knew his films.

Those films that I mentioned are identifiable as his from the moment they start. The credit for at least part of that has to be laid at the door of John Williams, whose scores for Spielberg’s films have the same feel of instant recognition.

Certainly Williams lifts Jurassic Park. The main theme is instantly recognisable, a wistful and beautiful tune utterly in keeping with the backdrop of Isla Nublar. Where his theme for Superman and Indiana Jones was bombastic, joy filled and overblown, Jurassic Park is not about the people. Their triumphs and tragedies, whilst the meat of the plot, are secondary to the central idea of the film.

When it comes down to it, this is a classic Monster movie. A scientist, not mad but certainly eccentric, creates life. And just as in Frankenstein he is unable to control it. This theme, of man creating his own downfall, is one that runs throughout many horror films. From The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, via The Invisible Man and on to The Fly the idea of science gone wrong persists.

And as for the monsters themselves; boy are they good. Whilst the T-Rex is the obvious choice, it’s the raptors who emerge from the film as the real monsters. From their initial set up on the raptors are introduced and pitched to perfection, the xenomorphs of the dinosaur world. Smart, vicious and lethal they quickly establish themselves as the ultimate in predators.

It is only right therefore that the most celebratory moments of the film come from those times when we see the real stars, the Dinosaurs themselves.

As John Hammond’s greatest creation becomes his greatest enemy, his pride and near sightedness proves his downfall. That the body count is so low is testament not to the lightness of the proceedings but the light touch that Spielberg puts to what is essentially a horror film for children.

Gone are the dark shocks of Jaws. Gone the brooding, menacing score. In their place a lush, verdant setting and scares that thrill more than disturb.

For every dinosaur obsessed child, this was a film crafted for them. A film which celebrated that love.

When you see the Gallimimus run, or the raptors hunt you see every game that every child with a dinosaur toy has ever played. The T-Rex smashing a car over the edge of a cliff, or crashing through a wall to eat a lawyer. These are simple pleasures.

Testament to that is the care and attention that went into making the dinosaurs as realistic as possible. This is the last great film where the model and computer work are seamless. For a film made in 1993 those special effects still work. At 17 years old the film remains one of the greatest works of CGI ever made. No other film from that age stands up to similar scrutiny.

If the dinosaurs are the real stars it should not be forgotten that the cast is exceptional. Even the two child actors who are so grating now were, at the time, a joy to watch. To a 9 year old, the inclusion of a young boy with knowledge of dinosaurs that surpassed a palaeontologist was great.

And all of that culminates in what is for me that single perfect moment. A moment that is scripted to perfection. As Williams’ score unfolds, we see for the first time a Brachiosaur. And we see two people who have spent their whole lives dreaming of a time they thought long past seeing it alive in front of them.

The perfect moment?

That moment, that dream come true, that shot of the Brachiosaur, stretching out. The pair of them geeking out over it. I can’t watch that without doing the same.

Somehow, that scene just works. That for me is magical. If anyone asks me to point out a single shot, to show just what can be done with a film it’s this I point them to.

That’s my perfect scene in my perfect film. The one that makes you fall in love with the monsters.

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Tremors – review

Written by author, Ruth Merriam

“Be advised there are two more, repeat, two more motherhumpers.”

It was with both eagerness and wariness that I considered my offer to review Tremors. I’d seen it when it was released in 1990 and loved it, and I’d managed to catch it a few times on TV . . . but it had been at least a decade since my last viewing of it. Would it hold up after the intervening years and the introduction of so many other horror-comedies?

Oh yes. Yes it did. Pardon me while I gush.

Within the first two minutes of the film I was in love all over again. This isn’t really a monster movie; it’s a buddy film. In this case, the buddies just happen to be two mostly useless and easy-going handymen, Earl and Valentine (played by Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon, respectively), who decide they’ve finally had enough of living in the thriving metropolis of Perfection, Nevada (population 14).

Most of their decisions involve a game of rock-paper-scissors.

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Most of their decisions are poor ones. These are anti-heroes if ever we saw them.

They don’t get very far. We get a little taste earlier in the film that something is going on when a geology grad student, Rhonda (played by Finn Carter), asks them about unusual seismograph readings. When they happen upon one of the townsfolk up in a power line tower (most sincerely dead), then find another situation that doesn’t make any sense, they know something is very, very wrong.

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Valentine muses,

“What the sh*t?”

Indeed.

But let me tell you why I love this movie since I’m failing miserably at trying to write up a synopsis. Perhaps it’s because I’ve driven through this kind of high desert countryside and it really is that empty and wide open and little settlements really are that isolated. Maybe it’s because I’ve known guys just like Earl and Val.

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Maybe it’s because the dialogue is crisp and natural, the ensemble energy is great, the effects are good without being overly or gratuitously gory, or because there are a few genuine jump-in-your-seat moments.

Yeah, I could see myself scrambling up a rock while a giant subterranean worm tried to eat me.

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Earl, Val, and Rhonda hit the rocks.

All of the action in the film takes place in this valley. With only a few exceptions (short screen time = wormfood), the characters are the townspeople. This is a small community of misfits and it would have been easy to have made them stereotypes or oddballs for the sake of oddity. No, you get what you’d expect out here in the backside of nowhere: an assortment of people just living life on their own terms and relying on each other. Even the conspiracy theory survivalists are utterly believable.

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“Broke into the wrong goddam rec room, didn’t you, you bastard?”

I know people like this, people who have small personal arsenals, who discuss the merits of various bullet types like you’d discuss the weather. This is why the film works – it’s believable. None of the characters are closet geniuses or covert operatives. No one is a former Special Ops officer, a whiz kid, or a specialist at anything at all. The characters are people you can imagine having met and the monsters in their midst don’t turn any of them into superheroes.

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They’re just working out a way to kill off the worms and get out of the valley. I guess you just never know if this kind thing is lurking under your feet along with the scorpions and snakes.

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So . . . yeah. I love this film. I’m right there with them while they’re quibbling and scrambling onto the roofs and I share their elation when they figure out how to kill the worms.

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Colours really are more vibrant in the desert!

Did I mention romance? Humorous dialogue that just *works*? Good cinematography? Well framed shots? Great model work? A big dose of fun to go along with the few thrills? A really great cast? All there.

Some movies you watch again and again because they’re cheesy or just plain awful. We call those “popcorn movies.” Some movies you watch again and again because of nostalgia or sentimental reasons. This movie I’ll watch again because it’s just so damned likable. In fact, I’m going to watch it again tonight with my husband since he’s never seen it.

I think I’ll make the bacon-flavoured popcorn to go along with it. Hold the cheese.

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