Friday, October 31, 2008

Horror Story

I’ve never really been one for getting involved in Halloween shenanigans. There have been a few good animation parties over the years. One, in the late 1980s, was on a boat trip down the Thames. My costume, with a mutant baby in a rather disgusting embryonic sac bursting out of my chest, revolted the barmaids so much they refused to serve me.

Some years back, a party in LA saw me put some real effort into it by dressing as an English tourist, with a camera slung round my neck and a bullet hole in my forehead. Amongst the costumes there was a guy in a giant lobster costume and a woman decked out as Lisa Marie’s Martian Girl from Mars Attacks! who had the perfect walk and perfect tits.

Thinking about it, back when I was a mere pup Guy Fawkes Night was the much bigger deal at this time of year. One time, during a big fireworks party in the garden, we burnt an ostrich in effigy on top of the bonfire. But that’s a whole different story, and one probably best avoided. Even if you don’t participate in All Hallows’ Eve, there’s usually something that will send a chill down your spine this time of year. For me that came today in the form of a news item from The Hollywood Reporter.

I’ve probably harped on about this before, but the best introductions I had to film growing up came from the film seasons the BBC used to broadcast on a regular basis. Why they don’t do it anymore I’ve no idea. It may be they think viewers won’t be interested or, with the recent proliferation of satellite and cable channels, especially with some dedicated to movies, it too much of a hassle obtaining the rights. Either way, it’s a damn shame.

It’s where I got to see the films of Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Powell & Pressburger, including a number of their less well-known films. I was also introduced to Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, The Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy. Then came genres like Film Noir, westerns from John Ford and Anthony Mann. The one I remember as a favourite, because of my age at the time, was the collections of science fiction movies from the 1950s and 1960s.

They screened it a couple of times and the list would usually include This Island Earth, The Thing from Another World, Them!, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Forbidden Planet, Invaders from Mars, George Pal’s The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and When Worlds Collide, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Incredible Shrinking Man. Sure, kids today would probably turn their noses up at such fare, but stuck indoors on a rainy afternoon, with a mug of hot chocolate in hand, these films were just the business.

Some may have had stories that were thinly veiled allegories, warning about the red menace, and occasional creaky special effects, but those films were cracking entertainment. So much so that the sprinkling of remakes from amongst the selection never really lived up to the original. Tobe Hooper’s remake of Invasion from Mars was simply unnecessary and Spielberg’s take on HG Wells' tale of Martian invaders had great sound design but little else to recommend it.

Back in the early 1980s, John Carpenter’s The Thing stuck closer to John W. Campbell Jr’s original short story, Who Goes There?, than Howard Hawks’ earlier version but went way overboard in the gross-out effects. Watching it again recently, the real shocks, still comes from the simple blood test rather than the bodies being continually split apart. Phil Kaufman’s interpretation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, set in the post-Watergate years, was probably the most successful of all the remakes, replacing the previous fear from beyond the shores with a deep mistrust of authority.

Meanwhile, our distrust of Hollywood continues with 20th Century Fox’s remake of Robert Wise’s classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. Keanu Reeves stepping into Michael Rennie’s shoes as Klaatu? When this movie comes out I think we’ll all be ill that day. Now, that is just wrong in every respect. Could it get worse? Of course. The news from The Hollywood Reporter is that Joel Silver is producing an update of Forbidden Planet for Warner Bros. from a script by Babylon 5’s J. Michael Straczynski.

If that doesn’t elicit the kind of blood curdling scream that makes the little extortion ring of trick-or-treat twits run a country mile, I don’t know what will.


At 11:55 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

God, I miss those BBC seasons. We talked about this before, and I think we were both at a loss as to why they don’t do them any more.

I can enjoy remakes if they either bring something new (and interesting) to the table. Or, they just go bonkers and throw splatter at the screen and get big laughs. I’m with you on The Thing, and I’d even read the book of the movie before going to see it, so knew exactly when the blood would do its thing. Still made me jump a mile, though! ;-)

At 11:56 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

And that still from The Day The Earth Stood Still is just glorious.

At 2:50 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

I'd forgotten about the remake of Body Snatchers.....'shiver' that one kinda fugged me up.

At 2:11 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Those seasons always introduced you to a lot of different films and filmmakers. When was the last time any channel showed a film by Ernst Lubitsch, the mentor of Billy Wilder? Or The Creature from the Black Lagoon? That used to be in the seasons as well.

It would be good if, as the seasons change, the BBC programmed a series of film classics on the weekend afternoons. This afternoon on BBC2 they’re showing Sam Fuller’s Run of the Arrow, which is a good thing. It’s just a shame it’s prefaced by The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.

There really has to be a strong reason for a remake. If it’s simply because a studio hasn’t got any decent original ideas on the table, that’s not good enough.

The thing with The Thing is Carpenter went back to the source material and the various monsters started off okay – the whole husky incident was particularly freaky. But when it came to the detached head sprouting legs and scuttling off, and David Clennon’s character says, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” that certainly echoes the audience’s reaction. That one sequence alone was the real let down in the movie.

Having admitted that I can only watch Kubrick’s The Shining during daylight hours because it really creeps me out, I actually stopped the DVD of The Thing just before the blood test and watched the rest of it the next morning. Sorry if that makes me a complete wuss.

So far there’s very little information about the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Whereas Bob Wise’s classic was about alien races concerned that humanity, having harnessed the power of the atom, would bring their penchant for violence out into the stars, the remake appears to be about humans harming their own planet. Why would alien races really care about that?

Oh, and I hope you spotted the Rocky Horror Picture Show lyric reference. That was something to feel smug about.

So what’s a Forbidden Planet remake going to bring to the table? That film is a stone cold classic. The special effects, including the monster from the id, were superb, as were the Krell sets by art directors Cedric Gibbons and Arthur Longeran. Then there was the great theremin-produced soundtrack. Where can it be improved?

Will, I haven’t bothered with the two further remakes - Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers in 1993 and last year’s The Invasion directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel – because Kaufman’s film was so good. That final meeting between Donald Sutherland and Veronica Cartwright has to be one of the scariest scenes in modern cinema.


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