You have to love the 80s. It was a golden era for horror, and a time when horror could be fun as well as horrifying. Today a lot of horror movies go straight for the jugular and can be way too nasty They’re almost a test of endurance. That can’t be said for this rather under-appreciated 1988 remake of a 50’s b-movie of the same name.
When a meteor crashes near a small town, biker rebel Kevin Dillon (The Rescue) finds himself thrown into a battle for survival alongside high school cheerleader Shawnee Smith (Saw). Even as authority figures and adults dismiss the disappearances along with sightings of a weird goo … of course it’s up to the kids to find a way to stop what’s happening. Yeah, there’s nothing all that clever here, but it retains that b-movie tongue-in-cheek tone that perfectly suits such a silly concept, with cast all doing a great job of going along for the ride. Director Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) piles on some effective gore with still great practical effects and a couple of genuine shocks (the kid in the sewer). Also I’d forgotten how likable Shawnee Smith is, and well Kevin Dillon’s always been a great bad-boy (where’s he gone?).
It reminded me at times of John Carpenter’s seminal The Thing remake but fares poorly in comparison due to clichéd characters and only passable acting, and that silly tone stops it from being scary even for a second. Yet as it stands this is still a great deal of fun and is certainly worth your time.
The Blu-ray is rather a pleasant surprise … image quality may seem a bit soft but colours are vibrant and overall the picture is clean, and free of any print damage. The sound gets the lossless 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio treatment, but seems to lack a bit of ‘punch’ overall. Extras feature a trailer and a director interview, but that’s it. Considering the movie at time of writing still lacks a UK Blu-ray release this Region B Australian release is a godsend.
It’s hard to believe this movie came out in 1986. It’s look and atmosphere still feel contemporary and semi-futuristic bar some 80s fashions and hair styles. This retelling / remake of the 1950’s b-movie has Jeff Goldblum on star-making form as eccentric scientist Seth Brundel, who after inviting a plucky reporter (Gina Davis) to his lab, reveals he has invented a teleportation device. However after the initial reveal, Brundel decides to teleport himself but makes the mistake of allowing a common house fly inside the pod, therefore setting into motion a grotesque and alarming physical transformation.
This is perfect material for director David Cronenberg (Scanners, Videodrome) who has always had an interest in body-horror and transformation in his movies. However beyond the gory effects (that still impress and revolt) this is a tragic love story. Helped immeasurably by convincing chemistry from the leads (who were a real life couple at the time) and a strikingly complex turn from Goldblum … watching events play out is both emotionally draining and exciting. It’s a very unique kind of horror experience, with no actual evil enemy but more a horrible set of circumstances. In that respect it’s not unlike The Elephant Man. It may be at it’s core fairly simple and only really has three characters … but what Cronenberg achieves with such simple tools is a revelation and made this an instant classic.
The Blu-ray has a decent if slightly soft image but colours are strong and close-up detail is good. The soundtrack in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio is also effective with atmospherics and Howard Shore’s obvious b-movie throwback score both doing their job. The only slight let down is somewhat mono sounding dialogue that whilst still clear could have done with sprucing up. Extras are plentiful though with an essential commentary from Cronenberg as well as some worthwhile deleted scenes, press kits, behind the scenes stuff and photo galleries. Overall a decent job for a genuine horror gem.
Director John Carpenter has certainly flirted with making a B-movie, the type that was all the rage in the fifties and sixties, like the infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space etc. Yet his skill behind the camera, his usually great casting choices and more often than not solid story-telling gave his movie’s somewhat higher standing amongst his imitators and predecessors. However in 1987, he finally did it … for better or worse.
This stars ex-wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper as a drifter who wonders into town in search of an honest days work for an honest days pay. However it’s not long before he discovers something strange going on with the people and city around him … and the discovery of a pair of sunglasses opens his eyes to what appears to have been a secret alien take over of mankind. Does he just stand by and accept it, or does he do something about it? What do you think?
The concept here is a good one and it’s commentary on consumerism and media obsession and government corruption is clever, but the surrounding movie is anything but. First off it stumbles with Roddy Piper – who I might add spends the first half of the movie wondering around and staring at things, expressionless. This translates into an equally vacant performance even when the shit hits the fan and he has to get all Rambo. He may look the part, what with his mullet and beefcake build, but he can’t deliver lines for toffee … even the now iconic ‘I came here to kick-ass and chew bubble-gum’ is delivered totally flat like he doesn’t even care if anyone is listening. Add to this co-stars who are equally a mixed bag. Genre stalwart Keith David is ok, but Meg Foster is utterly wooden to the point I was wondering if she was being like that intentionally. Of course none of this would matter all that much if Carpenter was on form, but here his direction lacks atmosphere or tension and just doesn’t bring much to the show apart from the occasionally well filmed punch up or shoot-out. I liked the quirky nature of this though despite it’s myriad of shortcomings and loved the idea, and well it certainly had a nutty charm. Just not enough going for it to be one I’ll be rushing back to any time soon.
The Blu-ray thankfully is a lot more worthwhile, from a Carpenter and film-fanatic stand point than the movie itself. We get the always entertaining Carpenter doing commentary duties alongside Piper, as well as new interviews with the director and cast. There’s also archive TV spots and an old documentary exploring the making-of. The movie itself is in great shape with a decent image quality that whilst generally a bit soft has some acceptable detail and strong colours. The soundtrack is available in stereo DTS HD Master Audio but dialogue is crisp and Carpenter’s usual synth theme is well utilised if somewhat forgettable. Overall rather undeserving treatment for such an average movie, but as a fan of the director I’ll be exploring this stuff regardless.
Ah, the blockbuster, that high concept thrill ride usually packed with special effects and not much depth (cough, Michael Bay, cough) but every now and then we get a summer event picture that at least tries to have an engaging story or half decent acting, and this somewhat throwback to 50s b-movies and Japanese sub-culture casts Bryan Cranston, fresh from his iconic turn in the multi-award winning Breaking Bad as a scientist who following a nuclear meltdown at the plant he works at, becomes obsessed with a government cover up in Japan and desperate to find out what really happened.
Not hard to guess it’s all really a cover up for the discovery of a very big lizard as well as a bunch of ready to hatch monsters, with the biggest smack-down in history just on the horizon. This is fun, hokey but very well done entertainment. Cranston, a very emotional and believable actor is as expected very good here, as is Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) as Cranston’s soldier / bomb-expert son in a more mature role than I’ve personally seen before. The story is packed with conspiracy theories, cover ups etc …and I love that sort of thing, and when we finally get some monster action (about an hour or so in) it’s full on, superbly staged and awe-inspiring to the point of actually being quite scary. The views from the people and soldiers as giant monsters loom overhead, or close by is nerve-shredding – achieving a sense of greatness and magnitude. Effects are also first rate with the destruction of cities, explosions and just general mayhem all packing a visual and emotional punch.
Other than it’s b-movie routs however, the movie has little else to say and I felt the first half was stretched out … we’re not here after all to look at readings on a screen and talk about nuclear testing, we want monsters! But for a blockbuster that does exactly what you might expect, with a decent, if a little under-used cast (Cranston) and some genuinely powerful moments … you still can’t go wrong. Just don’t expect much else.