Halloween Guest Feature: Five Films That Scare… Craig Thomas
A BRIEF NOTE FROM STEVE:
Hey boys and ghouls,
It’s that hellish time I warned you about! Welcome to Anti-Film School’s Halloween Guest Week, where seven demented film writers are going to unleash terror beyond your wildest imagination. They are discussing five films that scare them and I told each of them to put their own creative spin on the topic, which means anything can happen. First up is a familiar name you’ve seen at Anti-Film School before. It is none other than our UK contributor Craig Thomas tackling the topic in a very unique way. So, lock your doors, say your prayers, and board your windows. They are coming for you!
-Theater Management (Steve)
PS: Body bags are available at the box office.
Without further ado, here’s Craig…
by Craig Thomas
Firstly, a confession. Films do not scare me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good (or bad) horror film as much as the next person but they are not scary. They can be disturbing, or very jumpy or incredibly gross. But not scary.
So I was a bit unsure about what to do when writing about five films that scare me.
I decided the best thing to do would be to trawl through my memory for films that either represented my worst fears or had a profound impact on my mental state, or both. I considered re-watching all of them to give a detailed re-appraisal but decided it would be better to write about them from memory, to focus on those scenes/themes that are indelibly etched into my mind. Therefore this may not be the most accurate guide to these films, but it will more accurately represent what scared (or should that be scarred?) me at the time.
Firstly, I’m going to go with a classic, namely, The Terminator. Yes, the second one is bigger, badder, louder and had the definitive robotic killing machine in the T-1000, and it did scare the pants off me when I was younger, but it is the original that makes the list. It is more visceral (it had an 18 certificate whilst T-2 had was certified 15) and as a child I remember being distinctly freaked out watching Arnie cutting his own eye out. But that isn’t what scared me. That would be the nature of The Terminator. That unstoppable killing machine. Completely relentless and pretty much indestructible.
I think the idea of such a monster is a historic constant, with every generation having its own version. Only this generation’s version could actually happen. Some might even go so far as to say it is inevitable. I am much more optimistic and think the human race will be destroyed by a nuclear war long before we are able to build our own destroyers.
Still, for years the idea of the unstoppable evil haunted my dreams and made going to sleep a potentially terrifying experience. Therefore, it makes the list.
Secondly, I’m going to go with one of my more recent fears. As I get older I find myself more and more concerned about my own mortality (whether or not this had anything to do with my discovering the works of Woody Allen is open to debate). But regardless of its origin, the scenario in this film is horrific and is essentially my second worst ever fear. The film is Buried.
A man wakes up in a coffin with a mobile phone. He has been buried in the Iraqi desert and has to raise an unrealistic amount of money or else he will be left there to die. Pretty grim, right?
Now, what makes this film so scary is not just the idea of being buried alive (which is second only to the fear of being cremated alive) but the way in which it is filmed. The entire movie is set in the coffin. It is shot from a million different angles, but it never leaves the box. It is so claustrophobic that you just want to switch it off and walk through open fields to get a sense of freedom. To get through it I had to consciously remind myself that I wasn’t actually in a coffin and that I didn’t need to conserve my air supply by holding my breath.
The third film is the only traditional horror film in the list. As with 95% of horror films these days, it uses the found footage gimmick. “Oh no” I hear you proclaim, “not another found footage horror film!” Yes, another one. Only this time there is a difference. This one is actually good. The film is called [Rec].
As with every moderately successful horror movie nowadays it has spawned a series of sequels ([Rec] 3 came out this year and [Rec] 4 is scheduled for 2013) to predictably diminishing returns. And because it is in a language other than English, it has had the compulsory remake (renamed Quarantine), of which I will speak later. But none of this should be allowed to take the shine off a great horror film.
As with a lot of these, the beginning is somewhat mundane, but once the action starts the pressure continues to build until the horrifically tense climax. This is one of the main reasons it made the list. There are no lulls in the action, no boring bits while you wait for the next jumpy thing. The stress levels never relent. To show how impressive this actually is, it is worth watching [Rec] and then watching Quarantine because the latter, despite being a shot-for-shot remake, lacks pretty much all of what makes the original so good.
Another reason for its inclusion is that it mixes a bunch of my favourite horror conventions and comes up with something fresh. It’s about a group of people trapped in an apartment building trying to avoid flesh-eating zombies and the flesh-eating zombie disease whilst the government lurks mysteriously (and brutally) in the background. What more could you ask for?
Watch it alone in the dark. You will be scared of what is lurking in the shadows.
Number four on the list (and the second non-English-language movie) is I Saw The Devil. Directed by Jee-woon Kim, it is the film that made me aware of the brilliant work that has come out of South Korea in the past few years.
This is easily the most difficult film to watch on the list. Indeed, after the first ten relentlessly brutal minutes I didn’t think I would be able to watch it all. But I persevered and it was well worth it. It is a brilliant film, but not for those with a weak stomach. At times it walks the line between horror and torture porn, with explicit violence being splashed across the screen and whilst it can sometimes be somewhat a bit much (and therefore a bit of a distraction), it is nonetheless a great film.
It tells the tale of a vicious serial killer who kills the pregnant girlfriend of a cop who then plays an increasingly violent game of cat and mouse with the killer, where he captures him, tortures him and lets him go only to hunt him down again.
It makes the list, not only for its unrelenting bleakness, but because it’s a tale about the thin divide between good and evil and how easily it possible to slip from one to the other and become the thing you hate the most.
It was difficult to decide on a fifth choice. I considered writing about a number of films, which I think deserve an honourable mention.
The Cube is a tense, sci-fi horror about people who wake up trapped in a series of booby-trapped cubes and is a great film.
Julia’s Eyes is worth a mention for touching on my fear of blindness, whilst she investigates the mysterious death of her twin sister.
Despite not being a fan of David Lynch, I nearly included Eraserhead, which whilst it bored me to tears, left a lasting imprint in my memory with its desolate scenes and horror-like depictions of married bourgeois life.
I’m also going to include Death Wish 3, which I saw at far too young an age. Death, drugs and extreme violence which really stayed with me, particularly the super-violent booby traps. A proper scar from youth.
But the film which makes the list is in fact, not a horror film and to be honest it doesn’t really scare me. But at the time I did find it deeply disturbing and to this day think that one particular moment was a bit much for the rating, which was Universal. Yes, the final film is for children.
It is The Neverending Story.
I’ve never been a fan of fantasy and always found the genre as a whole somewhat unsettling, but there is one particular scene that really scarred my psyche, probably more than any of the violent films that were a staple of my formative years. I remember little of the plot, though it involves a young boy going on some kind of adventure through a magical world for some reason, with his best friend who happens to be a horse.
The particular scene which added this film to the list is one where the horse get trapped in the Swamp of Sadness and just stands there, sinking deeper into the swamp waiting to die as the young boy watches on helplessly as his best friend essentially commits suicide in front of his eyes. I state again, this is a children’s film.
This is why it is properly disturbing and that is why it makes the list. Perhaps if I re-watched it, it wouldn’t seem so bad and it was just my youth and hazy memory that makes it seem so terrible, but I have no intention of checking that out, so it will always be a disturbing childhood memory and one of the ways cinema has scarred me for life.
And on that happy note, I leave you to watch the ultimate film for Halloween (or any other occasion, for that matter), Ghostbusters!
by Steve Habrat
After seeing the slow burner that was Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, you would never in a million years expect the follow up would be a breakneck action-thriller that refuses to let up. James Cameron’s Aliens is just that breakneck action-thriller, one that flaunts grand industrial style, chest-bursting thrills, and enough explosions that would make Michael Bay envious. Taking the world that was briefly seen in Alien, Cameron cleverly elaborates on Scott’s vision and delivers a world full of corrupt corporations, billowing doom, sleeveless masculinity, and hair-raising maternal protection (Both Ripley and the Queen!), all while strapping us in and sending us on a stomach dropping roller-coaster ride. Watch out, because you may get splashed with acidic alien blood! The true beauty of Aliens lies in the fact that, while most sequels resort to over-explaining everything, Cameron doesn’t explain, he just expertly expands the scope to give us a bit more breathing room.
Aliens begins with the rescue of Ellen Ripley (Played by Sigourney Weaver), who is the only survivor of a horrific alien attack that left the rest of the crew of the space freighter Nostromo dead. Ripley goes before the board of her employer, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and explains what attacked the Nostromo crew. Her story is dismissed and as a result, she looses her space-flight license. To her horror, she learns that the planetoid that housed the strange ship and alien eggs is now home to a terraforming colony. After contact is lost with the colony, Weyland-Yutani representative Carter Burke (Played by Paul Reiser) and Lieutenant Gorman (Played by William Hope) approach Ripley about accompanying a unit of marines to investigate what has happened to the colonists. They tell her that if she agrees to accompany the marines and act as a consultant, they will allow her to have her flight license back. After finding the colony abandoned, the marines begin to search a nuclear-powered atmosphere processing station, where they believe the colonists are taking refuge. As their investigation continues, the marines begin making horrific discoveries within the station and soon find themselves getting attacked by seemingly endless hordes of bloodthirsty aliens.
Unlike Scott’s 1979 film, Cameron’s film isn’t as sly with its intellectual undertones and it quickly calls attention to aspects that should have been left to us to figure out. Aliens makes it very clear that the film is interested in ideas about motherhood and protection of a mother’s young. Ripley has to assume the role of mother and protector to a young girl who calls herself Newt (Played by Carrie Henn). I wish Cameron wouldn’t have thrown this aspect of Aliens in our face but sadly, he does. Early on, Newt begins calling Ripley mother and the two share an emotional scene where Ripley talks about a daughter she lost and then instantly claims Newt as her new daughter. Cameron also calls quite a bit of attention to the gender roles within the film, mostly playing with the idea of the tough guy marine who is all talk when nothing is happening but is revealed to be a coward when things get nice and violent. It is especially apparent in Hudson (Played by Bill Paxton), a mouthy marine who likes to talk big but is revealed to be a coward when attacked by the aliens. His character does begin to come around near the end, but he remains far from the hard ass he portrayed when we first meet him.
Cameron’s Aliens benefits from strong acting, mostly from Weaver, who ended up with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work in this film. While Ripley doesn’t really reveal too much new about herself, her descent into protector is undeniably compelling. She is the toughest of all the flexing bad-asses around her. Her end confrontation with the Queen alien has to rank as one of the best movie showdowns of all time. She also gets one of the best one liners that science fiction has to offer: “Get away from her, you BITCH!” She is still the teeth-gritting feminist hero that she became in Scott’s Alien and here, she comes equipped with a bigger gun and flamethrower. While Ripley is all business 90% of the time, her quieter moments really resonated with me, especially when her eyes show a brief flash of a broken heart, one that I have to assume has made her the tough gal that she is.
As far as everyone else is concerned, Reiser is perfectly slimy as the corrupt Weyland-Yutani representative who has little regard for the human life around him. Michael Biehn punches in a perfectly measured macho role as Corporal Dwayne Hicks, who growls all of his dialogue but does reveal moments of vulnerability. I have to say that next to Ripley, Hicks has to be my other favorite character in Aliens. The young Henn wins us over as the adorable Newt, who salutes Hicks when he gives orders and quickly clings to Ripley. Lance Henrikson shows up as the android executive officer Bishop who has a hard time earning Ripley’s trust. Jenette Goldstein is another tough cookie as “smart gun” operator Private Jenette Vasquez, who shows just as much strength as Ripley. Paxton’s Hudson is the only character that I find slightly irritating and the one who gets the some of the worst dialogue in the film.
Aliens turns out to posses a large amount of the tension that made Alien such an prickly experience but it happens to be woven into white-knuckle action scenes. However, I wouldn’t be quick to call Aliens a horror movie, as there is more of an emphasis on action rather than scares. For all its palpable moments, Cameron still serves up a lean storyline that locks us in its icy grip for all two and a half hours. Cameron also offers up some heart-stopping sequences that are classic cinema moments as far as I’m concerned. I absolutely love the final fifteen minutes of the beastly thrill ride. I also have to say I am a fan of the marine’s first encounter with the aliens (shown through grainy camera footage shot by one of the marines) and a scene in which Ripley, Hudson, Hicks, Burke, Vasquez, and Newt await a slew of chomping aliens to attack will have your stomach doing somersaults. The downside to all of this is the fact that Aliens just isn’t as bright as Scott’s Alien, but you will be willing to forgive because Cameron does try his best to make this an intellectually rewarding experience in its own way. Practicing some remarkable discipline in the action department while also giving us exactly what we want, Cameron’s Aliens smartly builds upon Scott’s classic while leaving its own fingerprint on the Alien franchise.
Aliens is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Galaxy of Terror (1981)
by Steve Habrat
You’d think that a film that has Robert Englund, Sid Haig, and Erin Moran starring in it would be this stuff that cult movie dreams are made of. Well, then you need to see the atrocious 1981 Alien rip-off Galaxy of Terror, a Z-grade lemon from legendary producer Roger Corman, the man who churned out countless cult movie classics. Galaxy of Terror, or Mind Warp, as it is sometimes called, is a trippy glow-in-the-dark poser that scrambles the viewer’s brain with vague dialogue, musty storyline, rickety sets, and bland acting. The three things that Galaxy of Terror has going for it is some fairly decent gore for those who are simply looking for that, Tron-like lighting, and a scene in which a gigantic maggot rapes a curvy blonde. Yes, you read that correctly, a rape scene actually acts as a highlight moment for this piece of junk. I was pretty surprised too when the film ended and I found THAT one of the most interesting aspects of the whole experience.
Galaxy of Terror follows a group of space explorers who are sent to the desolate planet of Morganthus to locate another space crew who have all been killed by a mysterious unseen force. The newly landed crew consists of the troubled Captain Trantor (Played by Grace Zabriskie), Commander Ilvar (Played by Bernard Behrens), empath Alluma (Played by Erin Moran), cocky team leader Baelon (Played by Zalman King), the ship’s cook Kore (Played by Ray Walston), the wise space veteran Cabren (Played by Edward Albert), the ship’s technical officer Dameia (Played by Taaffe O’Connell), crewmember Ranger (Played by Robert Englund), and crystal thrower Quuhod (Played by Sid Haig). When the crew arrives, they discover a strange pyramid and slimy alien creatures that begin attack them one by one. Soon, they realize that the aliens are not the only things that they need to fear on this strange planet.
First, lets discuss the rotten aspects of Galaxy of Terror. Director Bruce D. Clark realizes there isn’t much meat to his storyline, a problem that he covers up with colorful lighting, special effects, forced depth from his characters, and lots of gruesome violence. He also doesn’t offer up anything in the way of likeable characters, allowing none of them to fully develop so we start rooting for them. All of the crew members walk around sulking and complaining about shaky events in their past, but it is all so hazily illustrated that you will find yourself not caring in the slightest. Half way through the film, Clark also sloppily establishes that Cabren is going to be the main protagonist. Everyone else that consists of the space crew is there simply to die in some off beat way; the most outrageous is the maggot rape, which just acts as an excuse for Clark to show off O’Connell’s body.
As far as the good aspects are concerned, it’s basically everything that Clark used to cover up his weak storyline. The film contains several scenes that will drive the gore audiences wild. There is death by constricting wires, an alien ripping one crew members stomach open with its claws, that certain rape scene, and more. I will say that the filmmakers did a good job with all of these effects; obviously more care was put into the gross stuff rather than anything truly substantial. The filmmakers also effectively light the sets, which are clearly cheap in their construction, making the planet itself fairly unsettling and surprisingly expansive. The film also benefits from having a few neat monsters lurking about, even if they are uninspired. These monsters are wisely kept largely in the dark or lit in extreme reds or blues, but it is anyone’s guess if they did that purposely because they’d be creepier or if they are really that cheap. Another layer of gross is added to the monsters by Clark’s use of nasty sound effects which accompany their icky attacks.
As far as twisty science fiction horror is concerned, you can do a hell of a lot better than Galaxy of Terror. The only other real reason to see this film is to see a familiar name in the opening credits department. That name would be James Cameron, director of such little films like Avatar and Titanic. Here, he is listed as Production Designer and Second Unit Director. It has been said that he was the one who designed the maggoty severed arm and designed it so the fake maggots would slither around the arm. There have been stories passed around about how Roger Corman used to make bets about how quickly he could shoot a film, the shortest being two days and one night, a rumor that seems to confirm the idea that Corman really didn’t care about the quality of the products he was producing. I could very easily see Galaxy of Terror being a film that was shot quickly, with no real artistic vision or care poured into the craft. Fun only as a did-you-know experience, make Galaxy of Terror a double feature with Alien and make sure Galaxy of Terror is played first. That way, Alien will make up for how letdown you are in Galaxy of Terror.
Galaxy of Terror is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.