Movie Review – An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Written & Directed by John Landis

I don’t think I have ever been able to put my thumb on John Landis. He is such an enigma of a director to me. He makes fantastic comedies like The Blues Brothers, The Three Amigos, and Coming to America in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he churned out crud like The Stupids, Blues Brothers 2000, and stopped directing films in 2010. I would never say he’s my favorite director, but I don’t hate his work as a whole either. It just wholly stumps me when I think about his career building potential in one decade only to ultimately flounder in another. Right in the middle of his seemingly impervious series of hits came this horror-comedy that is much more horror, in my opinion, An American Werewolf in London.

Continue reading “Movie Review – An American Werewolf in London”

Movie Review – Possession

Possession (1981)
Written & Directed by Andrzej Żuławski

The most terrifying experiences we have daily are through our nightmares. The worst is when the nightmare feels so real you forget you are asleep, becoming lost in a world of symbols rather than logic. Your anxieties manifest as material beings tormenting you, familiar landscapes become claustrophobic mazes, and the faces of those you love can serve as masks for dark thoughts and fears. Writer-director Andrzej Żuławski places his horror film Possession in this realm from the first frame. Now the question of whose nightmare we are living inside of is definitely up in the air.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Possession”

Comic Book Review – Booster Gold: Future Lost

Booster Gold: Future Lost (2020)
Reprints Booster Gold #13-25, Action Comics #594, Secret Origins #35, Millennium #3,4,6,7
Written by Dan Jurgens & Steve Englehart
Art by Dan Jurgens, Ty Templeton, John Byrne, and Joe Staton

Booster Gold had evolved since his first appearance by the time Dan Jurgens was kicking off the second year of the title. Gold was an intriguing gimmick, a personification of 1980s corporate greed as presented in a superhero, but as his origins were fleshed out and his life complicated, the man from the 25th century fell from grace and had to rebuild. Jurgens didn’t really know what quite to do with Booster Gold beyond the idea, and the stories suffer for this reason. His villains are entirely forgettable, and the supporting cast feels dull. D.C. saw some potential in Booster, though, and in these issues, he’s recruited by Maxwell Lord for the newly formed Justice League International.

Continue reading “Comic Book Review – Booster Gold: Future Lost”

Movie Review – The Thing

The Thing (1982)
Written by Bill Lancaster
Directed by John Carpenter

John Carpenter’s films were mostly considered failures financially and critically when they were first released, and he made many of them quickly. From 1976 to 2001, Carpenter directed 17 films and handled writing, producing, and score composing duties. He most certainly enjoyed genre films, mainly science fiction & horror, and definitely made them the way he wanted. The result is a very mixed bag of pictures, in some ways an acquired taste with some movies being better entry-level pieces than others. My personal opinion is that most of Carpenter’s films are not good, but the good ones are absolutely fantastic. When he finds all the right parts and slides them into place, you end up with some of the best horror pictures ever made. The Thing is a perfect example of this.

A Norwegian helicopter pursues a sled dog across the Antarctic wastelands, right into an American research camp. The American scientists and military personnel inside coming out to try and figure out what is happening but not before one of the Norwegians accidentally blows himself, and the other is killed while shooting at the dog. The men at the station are entirely befuddled about why anyone would expend such effort in hunting down a sled dog. MacCready (Kurt Russell), the pilot, and two other men journey to the Norwegian outpost’s remains and find it a smoking hovel. There’s a malformed corpse outside the snow, resembling a human but twisted and distorted. Back at the research station, the sled dog wanders the hall, bizarrely in calm and in control for an animal. As the days roll on, it becomes clear these men have allowed something evil into their presence, an entity from beyond the stars with one purpose, to consume and reproduce until all life on Earth is gone.

The Thing is indeed a horror masterpiece, capturing the roiling sense of paranoia that is all too easy to agitate in human beings. These characters are confronted with something beyond their personal understanding of the universe that their interpersonal relationships deteriorate quickly. My viewings of The Thing are probably in the double digits by now, but I always discover new things or notice storytelling choices. We never get a backstory on any of these characters, and we don’t need it. There is a sense that everyone has interpersonal connections, both positive and negative, but there’s no unnecessary exposition to explain to the audience what is going on. MacReady and Childs (Keith David) obviously have tension between them, which is exacerbated by the situation with the alien. The sign of good writing is that I can feel those relationships without having them explained to me. 

The horror of The Thing is the fear of complete annihilation. This was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and his cosmic elder gods who are so beyond human ability to stop them that his protagonists often find themselves lost in insanity. The Thing is a shapeless being, unable to be defined in terms that match our understanding of biology. There is also the alien nature of Antarctica, the least explored landmass on Earth, a setting for Lovecraft’s longest work, In The Mountains of Madness. That title would be used by Carpenter for his more explicit Lovecraft homage In The Mouth of Madness. Antarctica is desolate and remote, far from any sign of civilization. The annihilation could be global, as identified by Blair (Wilford Brimley), or centered around the destruction of individual identity. To be alone, away from those you love in a frozen wasteland, all you have left are your memories and identity, and then those are stripped away is nightmarish.

The shining gem amid this beautifully written picture are the even more mind-blowing practical effects. Rob Bottin is responsible for the multiple forms The Thing takes, and each one is a beautifully designed nightmare. In the film, these forms appear as static sculptures and puppets that deliver unforgettable moments. Carpenter allows the film to build to ever-increasingly intense terror, beginning with the sculpture pieces, remnants of failed forms The Thing tried to take. By the time we get to the defibrillator scene, all bets are off, and Carpenter allows the film to go completely insane. I am not a huge fan of gore and blood, but damn if that scene isn’t a masterpiece of horror. Your brain is trying to keep up with the bizarre ways the creature morphs and reshapes itself in seconds in an attempt to survive and keep going. 

Few horror films reach the pinnacle that The Thing achieves. It’s so funny to read about how poorly it did at the box office and that the movie caused Carpenter to lose his next job. Universal has a multi-picture deal with the director and bought him out after the performance of The Thing. Home video and edited for television airings allowed the audience to grow, and now The Thing is pretty universally considered one of the best films Carpenter ever made. There was a hideous prequel, stupidly titled The Thing that came out in 2011, which should be avoided. There is also a remake in the works, but I really hope that falls through. They can never recreate the magic of Carpenter’s picture, computer effects will inevitably replace the perfect physical ones, and they will pale in comparison.

Movie Review – The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)
Written by Charles Edward Pogue & David Cronenberg
Directed by David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg will be forever associated with some of the best body horror in cinema. Though his film career is not limited exclusively to horror, his most celebrated works fit into that genre. Cronenberg has a great interest in exploring the line between the psychological & physical, how technology behaves like an infection, and the ultimate frailty of our material forms. The movies he has had made are not carving a new path but taking the one created by the first body horror pictures like Frankenstein and Dracula and going more in-depth with their themes, re-examining these ideas of humanity & identity through a contemporary lens.

Continue reading “Movie Review – The Fly (1986)”

Comic Book Review – Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later Omnibus Volume 1

Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later Omnibus Volume 1 (2020)
Reprints Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #1-39, Annual #1-4, Timber Wolf #1-5, Adventures of Superman #478, and Who’s Who #1-11, 13, 14, 16
Written by Keith Giffen, Tom & Mary Bierbaum, Dan Jurgens, and Al Gordon
Art by Keith Giffen, Doug Braithwaite, Dusty Abell, Brandon Peterson, Jason Pearson, Rob Haynes, Ian Montgomery, Joe Phillips, Stuart Immonen, Colleen Doran, Curt Swan, June Brigman, David A. Williams, Chris Sprouse

I have not read many omnibus collections though there is a larger type of trade paperback collection that gets pretty close. It used to be when comics got bound together for a reprint, you got about 6-8 issues a book. Now we are seeing year-long arcs being collected and, in the case of omnibuses, entire creator-focused runs. Everything about Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later feels epic in scale. The cast is beyond sprawling, and the story arcs touch on brand-new elements and established bits of Legionnaires lore going back decades. These issues were originally published in 1989, and the influence of Watchmen and that British new wave of storytelling is also present throughout. 

Continue reading “Comic Book Review – Legion of Super-Heroes: Five Years Later Omnibus Volume 1”

Movie Review – Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Japan often remixes Euro-American fantasy tropes to create incredibly different contexts and characters. This is done with traditional Western witches in Kiki’s Delivery Service. The black cats and flying brooms are here, but the context is changed so that being a witch is passed down from mother to daughter. There are no wicked witches here; instead, the women serve as community healers and advice-givers. This does tie into the Japanese folklore of tsukimono-suji (hereditary witches), but the iconography is most definitely the classic Western culture witch.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Kiki’s Delivery Service”

Movie Review – My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

No one wanted Totoro. From the first pitches by Miyazaki and his producer Toshio Suzuki in the early 1980s, they were rejected by multiple studios who didn’t believe that such a pastoral, simple story about two little girls and the spirits of the forest would appeal to too few people. This was also the first film from Miyazaki to take place in an identifiable 1950s Japan, further diminishing the escapist fantasy the distributors were looking for. When My Neighbor Totoro was released, it was shown as a double-feature with Grave of the Fireflies, a brutal tragedy about Japan’s victims of the American atomic bombing. It wasn’t until a year after its release when it began airing on television that My Neighbor Totoro finally found its fan following.

Continue reading “Movie Review – My Neighbor Totoro”

Movie Review – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is not the first Studio Ghibli movie, but it is considered the first one. Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation studio, was founded in 1985 after Nausicaä was released. However, because it is the first film by Hayao Miyazaki to present the themes and types of stories present in his later work, Nausicaä has retroactively been made a part of the Ghibli canon. It fits perfectly, and for most fans, they don’t even notice the difference in dates.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”

Movie Review – Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Written by Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon
Directed by Stephen Herek

I vividly remember renting Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure when I was about 8 or 9. My mom was doing something that night related to the church, and so we got to rent a movie while staying home with our dad. I had seen the television commercials for Bill and Ted, but living in a family of four kids with only one working parent, we didn’t go out to the movie theater much. Video rental was how I saw most films, but they had to be PG-rated or lower, with some exceptions made for PG-13. I can remember loving this movie, not knowing who some of these historical figures were at the time, but enjoying the goofball duo that led the picture. 

Continue reading “Movie Review – Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”