Tag Archives: Alien

I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR: REMEMBERING ROBOCOP

Robocop – released 30 years ago today – is perhaps one of the finest examples of mainstream sci-fi action to ever hit our screens.

The power and energy of that original violent epic from 1987 may have suffered a couple of chinks in its armour from a couple of diminishing returns sequels, a bland TV show and even an animated series. But you’ll have to seriously think it over creep if you think Robocop still doesn’t stand tall, in that rather cool pose with that automatic weapon coming out of his leg. Take that TJ Laser!

Infact Robocop is the greatest comic book adaptation that was never a comic book in the first place, with its humour, visuals and over the top violence you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that it was and was certainly no surprise when he made the transition to comic books and graphic novels, even sharing panel space with that other 80s cyborg, The Terminator and even Predator and Alien. Fine and deserving company.

What has made Robocop stand the test of time and head and robotic shoulders above the competition is that not only is it an exceptionally well made film, Dutch Director Paul Verhoeven’s US debut, that neatly weaves action, violence and pokes fun at Americana in a way European filmmakers do with such aplomb but also its actors.

You believe the actors, Robocop would not have worked with an established actor’s chin in the role (see Stallone’s Judge Dredd for details) and you really buy into Peter Weller’s portrayal of Murphy and later Robo when he starts getting some of his human memory back. In fact despite its futuristic dystopian setting it is very much Frankenstein meets Jesus in many ways.

Fact is that Weller is as synonymous with Robocop as Boris Karloff was with Frankenstein and it just doesn’t work as well with someone else in the role, which considering how much you see of him is odd. Weller will forever be Murphy and Murphy will forever by Robocop.

Back to that Jesus comment, Director Verhoeven is cited as saying that the film is a Christ story, witness how Murphy is laid out with him arms, Christ on the cross like before he is crucified by Boddiker and his cronies, in what is one of the most shocking scenes of the film, especially with those added faux tracking noises that just ramps up the tension and unease. Of course latterly as part man and part machine, with some human memories remaining, those scenes are truly exquisite and you really feel the characters pain, you see Murphy get resurrected.

He may not feed people with an abundance of loaves and fishes, clearly that scene ended up on the cutting room floor, but we do see Robo walk on water at the steel factory before the end of the film. It’s a take on the film that I’m not entirely sold on but certainly helps it transcends its mere action sci-fi trappings.

Kurtwood Smith is electric as Clarence Boddiker, so much so I find it difficult to watch him in his sitcom guise in That 70’s Show, it just doesn’t seem right. Miguel Ferrer, in a short but pivotal role, and the epitome of corporate evil, Ronny Cox are also delights in this very 80s film that perhaps says more about greed being good and corporate America than Wall Street ever did. Infact with its criticism’s of a money driven media obsessed society you could even argue that is more relevant today than it ever was, with the passage of time making it more science faction of sorts. It was rather telling then that disgraced former President, Richard Nixon, was hired to promote the home video release. Genius.

Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers certainly had their moments of flair but it’s a crying shame that Verhoeven hasn’t shown the zeal that punctuates almost every moment of this thinking man’s action classic.

If you’ve seen Robocop but not seen it in a while then your prime directive this is to get to know him again, if you’ve never seen it, then shame on you. Some of the effects may not have aged too well, remember it was 1987, but ED 209 still has a Harryhausen-esque charm about him and at the end of the day the story is king and so is Robocop.

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Event Horizon #30DaysOfFright

event2It is the year 2047, the rescue ship Lewis and Clark is sent to intercept the Event Horizon, a spaceship that mysteriously vanished some seven years earlier but has reappeared. Where has it been, where is the crew and who what is the sinister presence on board? Now the rescue crew, including the creator of the Event Horizon, must rescue themselves before it is too late.

Poor Paul (WS – as he is now known) Anderson has had something of a rough ride on the science-fiction slipstream, with numerous Resident Evils, Death Race and Alien Vs Predator – the latter which I rather liked in a Big Daddy Vs Giant Haystacks kind of way – all drawing buckets of scorn.

For me though his finest hour (or hour and thirty five minutes) has always been the 1997 movie, Event Horizon, and seeing as it part-inspired the uber-atmospheric PS3 smash, Dead Space, I’m not the only one.

event1Essentially the movie is Hellraiser meets The Shining in space…but then the Jaws in space tag never did Alien, which it has a nod to production design and creepiness wise, any harm. And for me that is what makes the movie so much fun, that it is essentially a haunted house movie in space, which is certainly more fun and original than The House on Haunted Hill remake or GhostShip (essentially the same tale as Event but…gasp…set at sea) and certainly better than Jason X which was also set among the stars.

Featuring a stellar (or should that be interstellar) cast comprising of Sam Neill (quite literally exorcising some demons he had left over from In The Mouth of Madness) and Laurence Fishburne, Joely Richardson, a pre-Harry Potter Jason Isaacs and the always dependable Sean Pertwee.

event7Sam Neill, as the designer of the Event Horizon, Dr Weir, is quality as ever, exuding authority and charm at first, with a disturbing back story that haunts him and us for much of the film. At first he is essentially like Ripley in Aliens, has knowledge but not acceptance of the crew. But if he’s good at being good, he’s great at being evil and devilish, see the third part on The Omen trilogy, The Final Conflict, and the aforementioned In the Mouth of Madness for further proof.

Fishburne as Captain Miller, in charge of the Lewis and Clark, is a great no nonsense turn and proves quite the foil to Neill and he really convinces in his leading role.

event4The film is as beautiful as it is deadly and is filled with intrigue, jumps and gore aplenty Event Horizon raises itself above the usual fair due to some wonderful set design and visual imagery – including the mother of all zoom outs from a space station – and a fantastic gate room that is a meld of Stargate meets Hellraiser box via Contact.

Zero gravity has never been so eerie with all manner of objects floating around the titular ship…which is a star of the show in its self, with its great design inside and out, taking its design cue from Notre Dame Cathedral.

event9With elements of The Shining, Alien, The Black Hole, Hellraiser, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Flatliners this isn’t just a mishmash of what we have seen before simply set in space, it is far more intelligent than that. As a psychological space horror Event Horizon has plenty of the crimson stuff and gore, but it is that slowly building sense of dread and pulsating paranoia that gets us as much as the crew.

Adding to the general feeling of unease throughout is the score that is simply something else. Being essentially a science-fiction/horror movie the music is something else, a fantastic fusion of the work of the late Michael Kamen (who worked with Queen on Highlander and scored both the Lethal Weapon series and Die Hards) and the techno sound of Orbital, creating something that is raw and visceral and perfect for the mood of the movie. If you loved Tron Legacy’s score then this is the horror equivalent.

event6Having experienced it on the big screen when it was first released it’s a real surprise that it was something of a misfire at the box office as it really grabs you from the off and engages throughout, delivering both in the science –fiction and horror stakes in buckets (of blood).

I found it a disturbingly thrilling cinematic experience that lingers long after it has been seen, if you haven’t explored the Event Horizon then you are in for one hell of a nerve-jangling ride.

This lean and mean film more than deserves its place with such sci-fi horror classics as Alien and The Thing and certainly packs a mightier punch and more jumps than both Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, the latter released the same year.

event10It’s not so much in space no one can hear you scream and more if no one is on board the Event Horizon then when you scream will anyone hear it? The answer to that one is an emphatic yes. Go see it!

Gremlins #30DaysOfFright

grem1To describe Gremlins as a kid’s film would be like describing the Bates Motel as a swell place to stay.

Cutesy in a typical Spielbergian world at the very beginning, sure, but it is soon revealed that we, the audience, and indeed the Peltzer family are sorely mistaken and have somewhat misread the situation in the ultimate ‘always heed the instructions’ moment in cinematic history

grem5An animal is for life, not just for Christmas, such is the number one life lesson that we can all learn from the Spielberg Executive Produced, Joe Dante Directed, Gremlins. Rounding out this trio of talent is then scriptwriter – later Harry Potter Director, Chris Columbus – who was on something of a roll after penning scripts for both The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes around the same period. This ‘E.T. with teeth’ captivated and entertained and still stands tall as a comedy horror Christmas classic, and you don’t get many of those.

Originally a spec script by the young Columbus the feature was set to be a very different ‘beast’ with the Gremlins being even more dark and twisted, with the irresistibly cute Gizmo turning into Stripe, Barney the dog getting hung and Billy’s mum’s head rolling down the stairs!

Being a Joe Dante film it is a veritable reference of film and cartoon delights, from a cameo by the legendary animator Chuck Jones to a blink and you’ll miss it Steven Spielberg disappearing in The Time Machine.

grem6It’s a deliciously wicked and rich film, even until this day and has an almost timeless charm about it like that other 80’s classic Back to the Future, which also shared the Universal backlot as its main set that created the town, Kingston Falls, and it does so spectacularly.

We get suckered into the cute, furry routine just like the Peltzers. It’s a family movie alright, but more about a families survival than in the traditional sense of the word. As such it caused such shockwaves Stateside and was one of two films that year, 1984, that helped create the PG 13 rating in America, the other film being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

grem4For all the Gremlins’ attacking from a Christmas tree, driving a bulldozer into the Futterman house, causing mayhem in the streets it’s a very low key scene that lingers in the memory and proves to be the most distressing, that classic monologue by Phoebe Cates on why she hates Christmas, a chilling story of them finding her dead dad stuck up the chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Inspired and perhaps only pipped by the SS Indianapolis story speech by Quint in Jaws for its powerfulness. And it is creepy as hell.

grem3The set pieces and the imagery, their swirling lights of the swimming pool when Stripes throws himself in at the deep end, the tension of the death of the college tutor scene played against the rapidly beating heart on the projector, on par with anything in The Howling. Not to mention the discovery of the pods and the classic kitchen scene culminating in death by microwave.

It’s a shame that Dante went for out and out comedy in the sequel as it would have been an interesting study in terror to see them go really, really dark. Of course, a remake or reimagining has been mentioned but it really does remain to be seen whether the Gremlins would hold the same appeal us knowing that they were merely pixels. The Gremlin creations by Chris Walas (who went onto win an Oscar for the effects on The Fly) are pretty much pitch perfect in design, that other unsung hero of the film is also Jerry Goldsmith and his blistering score that manages to be both comical, touching and scary in equal measure.

grem7It really is a nasty piece of work, and is all the more beloved and beautiful for it. Full of great energy, Dante clearly has great fun letting the Gremlins run riot in the usual Spielberg-like world, albeit one full of B-movie horror high jinks, and it all works wonderfully thanks to the film’s humour and the charm of its young leads. It maybe a special effects lead film but it’s the story that drives it, just like Back to the Future.

grem2Alien is often mooted as the monster sci-fi movie of reference but for me it will always be Gremlins, for me it will always be a great big little monster movie.

 

Top Ten Film and TV Reveals

10. The Phantom of the Opera… as seen in Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Even some 90 years later the image of the Phantom as he is first revealed in the classic Lon Chaney silent version is an indelible image that still possesses the power to repulse and shock, so one can only imagine the impact it had in its day.

 

9. Norman Bates… as seen in Psycho (1960)
Oh mother! Another classic that still retains all of its power to this day, even if you know the true identity of the murderer, it is still an impressive reveal, and is one of double proportions if you count Mrs Bates in the rocking chair and that swinging light bulb!

 

8. Doctor Who… as seen in Doctor Who (1963 – Present)
No matter the Doctor, no matter the transformation, the regeneration of one Doctor to the next has always made for must see television. For me the most memorable has to be Tom Baker falling off a giant satellite dish and turning into Peter Davison via some bizarre figure dressed in white (dunno either) to the most emotional, that of David Tennant into Matt Smith. Tennant pretty much was the Doctor so we really felt his emotional exit and the humility he brought to his final moments, moments that had been deftly built over the course of a year of specials and three final episodes. This really was the end of an era as it also spelt the end of show head writer, Russell T Davies, who clearly left no emotional stone unturned.

 

7. An ape on horseback… as seen in Planet of the Apes (1968)
We are as gobsmacked as Chuck Heston and his fellow astronauts when the hunting horns bellow to the crescendo of horse hooves and the sight of apes on horseback with ruddy rifles. It’s the first reveal that Heston and co are on a whole darned planet of them. As shocking and memorable as the final Statue of Liberty shot is, for me, it is this first stark reveal that truly sets the tone for all that follows.

 

6. James Bond… as seen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Connery had gone, James Bond was dead…but long live James Bond as another actor filled his shoes, namely George Lazenby. I can hardly comprehend on what the mammoth search for Bond must have been like or the anticipation of a new actor filling the role that Sean Connery had made his own. Cleverly, we are teased by the filmmakers who show us glimpses of Bond here and there in his rear view mirror behind the wheel of his beloved Aston Martin DB5 as he drives onto a beach to rescue a damsel in distress from some thugs. Once the villains are dispatched and the woman runs off and drives away in her car. Bond stands up and wryly talking directly to camera, the only time this ever happens, says to the audience as much as to himself: “This never happened to the other fellow!” A text book physical reveal that has rarely, if ever been bettered.

 

5. A Body Snatcher… as seen in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
It’s the final reel of the film and we are just relieved to see that Donald Sutherland, despite his Hair Bear Bunch barnet, is safe and not been nobbled by the pod people, but wait. He stops as Veronica Cartwright approaches, points, eyes roll and mouth opens distinctly inhuman like to let out one of the most chilling sounds and images ever to greet cinema going audiences. ‘They’ had finally caught up with him. The screen freezes and that image of Donald stays with you for ages after you first see it.

 

4. A Chest Burster… as seen in Alien (1979)
We know that John Hurt seriously hurts when he is flung around the Nostromo and that all is not well with his belly, in what is surely one of cinema’s greatest ever entrances as the aptly named chest burster, doing exactly what it says on the tin, and promptly shrieking as it exits Hurt’s body and splattering the white exterior crimson red. Primal stuff.

 

3. The Thing… as seen in The Thing (1982)
In the end the reveal is a massive relief of sorts, as you feel the anguish and paranoia of all the scientists and researchers sat on the chairs strapped to each other. We know the reveal is coming, but like those men on the chairs, we do not know when it is coming or from whom and we certainly aren’t prepared for what follows.

 

2. Doug Quaid… as seen in Total Recall (1990)
One of Arnie’s true classics I am of course talking about Arnie’s disguise as an overweight middle aged woman – thankfully not him in drag in the risible Junior – to get him through security before ‘she’ ends up with a facial tick of sorts only for her head to fall off and Arnie to step out from her as she opens up, with her head exploding as a bomb, as you do, with the immortal line “get ready for a surprise!” prior to detonation.

 

1. Keyzer Soze… as seen in The Usual Suspects (1995)
Who’d have thunk that weedy little Kevin Spacey was the murderous criminal mastermind behind it all. As ‘Verbal Kint’ states: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he never existed.” It’s a bravura performance that doesn’t need prosthetics or a fake accent to pull it off. Spacey dragging his foot one moment, then walking normally the next and then miraculously regaining the use of his withered hand is misdirection of the highest order and never fails to delight. It is unsurprising that Spacey won a best-supporting actor Oscar for his mesmerizingly understated performance.