Author Archives: Alex Good

I Think We’re Alone Now (2018)

*. How many times have we been down these empty streets? I lost count years ago. But this time it’s different.
*. In the first place, there aren’t any zombies. Del (Peter Dinklage), sole survivor of the End of the World As We Know It, doesn’t even carry a gun. What’s the point? The corpses he’s burying aren’t going anywhere, and aside from the smell don’t pose any threat.
*. The second big difference is that Del is OK with being the last man standing. But then why wouldn’t he be? He’s a librarian! So he does some fishing, makes a meal, cleans up some houses, and then spends the rest of his days reading and watching old movies. Silent movies, even! That’s going full librarian. Think of the Burgess Meredith character in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” (1959), only without the ironic ending. That’s my kind of apocalypse. How does he even heat that massive library building in the winter? With solar panels? Please. But apparently that’s not a worry.
*. He’s not even looking for company. When a woman does crash her car into his solitude he isn’t as excited as Morgan when he first sees Ruth in The Last Man on Earth or Neville seeing Lisa in The Omega Man. In fact, Del wants nothing to do with her and is only drawn into getting involved because she needs medical attention.
*. Del’s anti-social nature makes the surprise reveal later in the movie all the more credible. Grace (Elle Fanning) is not the only other survivor. In fact there’s a whole city of people somewhere over the horizon, leading perfectly normal lives. It’s just that Del wouldn’t know anything about them because he wasn’t looking for them and they weren’t looking for him. That’s both remarkable and entirely plausible.

*. After the apocalypse, or some kind of collapse brought about by a pandemic, wouldn’t Los Angeles (I’m guessing from the desert and then the palm trees) be the very last place you’d expect civilization to reconstitute? It’s about as artificial, which is to say as energy-intensive, a city as one can imagine.
*. Then again, I guess it’s the artificiality of Southern California that is the point. All those shiny happy people living like so many blissed-out vegetables in the sun, they’re just us. What’s being played on, I think, is the idea of the apocalypse as a revelation of how we really live now, or at least see ourselves as living. So while the zombie apocalypse reflects a war of all against all, revealing just how much we’d like to kill our neighbours (with the Purge movies making the same point), I Think We’re Alone Now reveals society as made up of so many tranquilized living dead. Man-made zombies, when you think of it.
*. Either way, we’re all the walking dead, with the same picture of society being drawn. That is, that there is no such thing as society. We’re all in this alone. Even the budding romance between Del and Grace does nothing to change this.
*. The theme of cleaning up is introduced in various contexts. Del’s “job” is to clean up the town. “There’s Windex under the sink,” so that should help clean up Paul Giamatti. And of course there’s the cleaning up of memories of grief and loss through fanciful neurosurgery. A lot of reviewers objected to the third act, but I’m not sure where else this movie was going and I thought it was consistent with the rest of what we’d seen.
*. Because I liked the new spin it puts on what has become a popular storyline, and because both Dinklage and Fanning are very good, I came away impressed by I Think We’re Alone Now. The only let down was Reed Morano’s direction and photography, which I didn’t think went well with what was going on. What’s with her strange obsession for shooting in silhouette, washing out Del’s and Grace’s faces? It just adds to a sense of detachment throughout that I thought pulled away from characters I wanted her to get closer to.
*. Then again, that very distance might be part of the point. I Think We’re Alone Now isn’t just post-apocalyptic but post-feeling. It’s a totally secular and passionless end of the world, with no zombies and no rapture and no gangs of rapists and looters roving the highways. There’s just silence and a clean slate for nothing much to happen on.

Red Spring (2017)

*. Red Spring has one of the most misleading DVD covers (and it’s taken directly from the theatrical release poster) that I’ve ever seen. Prominently displayed at the top are alien-looking monsters that are nothing at all like the vampires in the film, who are presented as just regular folks with fangs and some dark eye shadow. Then there are some actors who don’t look like any of the actors in the movie, riding vehicles that aren’t seen in the movie, blasting away against the background of a bombed-out city, which is, again, not seen in the movie.
*. I may have missed where it was explained, through not paying enough attention, but I also couldn’t understand why it was called Red Spring. Judging from the pile of leaves they hide under at the end I think it’s supposed to be Fall, and I don’t recall there being any springs mentioned in the plot. As for the red part . . . blood?
*. There’s no point ripping into this one too much, as they clearly had no budget and not much else to work with. That said, I’ll mention again how important it is for movies with little in the way of resources to stay in their lane. Where such movies fall down is when they try to do too much. So a post-apocalyptic movie about people fighting off zombies, or vampires, is probably a bad decision when you don’t have any money. You can’t do effects, like gore. You can’t do stunts. CGI isn’t a great leveller because bad CGI looks a lot worse than no CGI at all. So a movie made on the cheap just ends up looking cheaper.
*. This is what happens to Red Spring. The big gore scene is just the withdrawal of a bullet from one character’s leg. There’s no violent dismemberment, or bodies discovered with anything more than a bit of blood on their face. There’s a scene where a girl jumps from a motorbike into the back of a van that’s not convincing at all. The opening scene is shot in Toronto but we see almost none of the city.
*. Things might have been better if writer-director-star Jeff Sinasac had set the whole thing in the bunker, without showing the vampires at all. Hey, it worked well enough in 10 Cloverfield Lane. But then the script would have had to have been a lot better. As it is, it’s stiff and unlikely, with lots of awkward bickering and a whole lot of stupid behaviour. This latter even becomes a kind of gag, with characters wondering aloud “How dumb are we?” Plenty dumb, as things turn out. The decision by Carlos to just wander off from the bunker being perhaps the most obvious example. But how else was he going to get killed, and the bunker infiltrated by zombies?
*. The most disappointing thing about the film though, or really the only disappointing thing since it would be unfair to expect too much and so suffer any disappointment, is that despite being such a small, independent production it’s so generic. Apparently the script had been kicking around for over a decade, but even pushing it back that far it would still have been just another post-apocalyptic zombie flick. If you’re doing a small picture anyway why not try doing something a little more original or personal? It’s not like a movie such as this was ever going to be able to compete with all of the big-budget zombie extravaganzas out there anyway.
*. Pauline Kael famously referred to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead as “undoubtedly the best movie ever made in Pittsburgh.” Perhaps Red Spring is the best Kincardine has to offer, though I’d still want to know of any competition. Just keep expectations low, and ignore the DVD cover.

The Road (2009)

*. I was never clear what happened to The Road. It was based on a bestselling Cormac McCarthy novel and came out just a couple of years after the Coen Brothers had scored a hit with No Country for Old Men. It was a relatively expensive production with some A-list talent. It got mixed but mostly positive reviews, including some raves. But it flatlined at the box office and today almost nobody talks about it.
*. Part of this seems to have been due to its receiving very little promotion. The studio played around with its release date, I think perhaps realizing that there were problems. But more than this I think it’s a movie that some people admired but few enjoyed. I neither admire it nor enjoy it. In fact, I don’t like it much at all.
*. I reviewed the novel when it came out, and even though I’d been a fan of McCarthy for a while I was starting to sour on him. The Road seemed to me representative of the rut he had become stuck in (a not surprising rut given that he was by then an old man who was written out). I thought the story was just a trashy tale of the apocalypse rendered in a pastiche of folksy-Biblical language. Still, I had some hopes for the movie. McCarthy’s novels have a deliberately cinematic cast to them, making screen adaptations easy and natural (No Country for Old Men was in fact originally written as a screenplay.) Maybe, I figured, it would play better as a movie, as that seems to have been how it was originally conceived.
*. For example, in the book the road gang are presented as very much something out of one of the Mad Max movies: an army of mix-and-match desperados with slave girls and catamites being led in chains behind their wagon train. On the DVD commentary director John Hillcoat talks about how they wanted to tone this down so as not to be referencing The Road Warrior. Which is funny in a circular way. A reference to The Road Warrior was taken out so as not to reference The Road Warrior.
*. To be honest though, what I was looking forward to the most was some explanation of how the Man (played by Viggo Mortensen) was going to push a shopping cart through snowy woods. Or even down a road very far. Most shopping carts don’t handle that well in grocery-store aisles, and though they are sometimes adopted by the homeless in big cities they don’t have to do anything like the work the one in the book does (where at least they show the Man having to repair the wheels at one point). Well, as it turns out the cart is ditched in the early going here and they move to a more practical sled with bicycle wheels. This was done deliberately. As Hillcoat mentions on the commentary, it’s physically impossible to use a shopping cart the way it’s used in the book. I mentioned this in my review of the novel, but I don’t recall anyone else calling McCarthy out for it.
*. Alas, McCarthy’s language was not so easily jettisoned. And so the script is riddled with cornpone pseudo-philosophy like that spouted by the Old Man (Robert Duvall): “Even if you knew what to do, you wouldn’t know what to do.” Heavy, man. Or this from the Man: “All I know is that the child is my warrant. And if he is not the word of God then God never spoke.”
*. There are at least three glaring questions speech like this raises.
*. (1) Who speaks like this? That’s actually an easy one to answer. No one.
*. (2) Who is the Man speaking to? He’s not keeping a journal or recording these words of wisdom for posterity. Hillcoat says that he just felt he needed an interior monologue to get inside the Man’s head. But with such language? Apparently Hillcoat wanted to leave out all of McCarthy’s more “poetic” flights because they would have sounded too self-conscious. Well, guess what?
*. (3) What does it even mean? I can understand the Man’s being responsible for the Boy is what gives his life purpose and meaning, but that’s hardly the same as being the word of God, whatever you may imagine that as meaning. Maybe it has something to do with his “carrying the fire.” I don’t know. I thought it was all hokum.
*. The art direction is fine, but by this point I think I can say I’ve seen enough ruined, post-apocalyptic cities. The film is tonally bleached out to make it look like we’re traveling through a sunless valley of ashes which I suppose is realistic enough (I take it there’s been some kind of environmental catastrophe or nuclear winter) but after a while it just looks dull. It’s The Walking Dead without any colour.
*. The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is one of the most annoying child characters I’ve seen in years. When told to run he freezes and the Man has to drag and carry him to safety. When told to stay put he goes running off by himself. When told to be quiet he can’t stop talking. And what talking! It’s all “Papa!” “Please, Papa!” “No, Papa!” and “Papa, Papa please!” I wanted to kill him half an hour into the movie and he just kept getting worse.
*. No, I didn’t like The Road. In fact, I may have been even more disappointed in it than I was in the novel. We’d been here before — the blasted landscape, the moral testing of what a man will do to protect his family — without all the Biblical cadences and portentous reaching after some mythic status. Some critics, I think, got it right. Ann Hornaday: “It possesses undeniable sweep and a grim kind of grandeur, but it ultimately plays like a zombie movie with literary pretensions.” Kyle Smith: “Zombieland was the same movie with laughs, but if you take away the comedy, what is left? Nothing, on a vast scale.”
*. Put another way, The Road was a hard movie for me to finish watching, and not at all on account of its unrelieved grimmness. What I found unbearable was its derivative character and turgid self-importance (faults I also found with the book). It’s usually described as a moral fable, but what’s the moral? No matter how bad things get you need to take care of your kids and not eat people. A couple of scenes play out well, but after about an hour I only wanted the journey to come to an end.

The Night Eats the World (2018)

*. It took a while, but with The Night Eats the World the zombie apocalypse goes back to its roots, by which I mean Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. Yes, George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead is still the origin of the modern movie zombie, but the narrative template was really set with Matheson’s story of plague vampires, which was later filmed as The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, and finally in 2007 under its original title.
*. I say The Night Eats the World goes back to Matheson for one simple reason: it’s the story of a lonely sole survivor of the apocalypse. I have a hard time thinking of other zombie movies like this. They all deal with small groups of survivors, never people on their own. So at least in that respect The Night Eats the World is something different.
*. One night at a party Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) locks himself in a room and goes to sleep, only to wake up to find that pretty much everyone is dead and zombies have taken over Paris. Luckily he twigs to what is going on right away and goes into survivor mode, barricading himself in the apartment and then scavenging food from elsewhere in the building. He even gets quite domestic, scrubbing the floors and donning rubber gloves to clean the place up.
*. Safety and food, however, turn out to be the least of his difficulties. Once they are provided for he gets lonely, and that way madness lies. At one point he tries to get a cat, but the finicky feline prefers the company of the undead. This leaves him with a zombie trapped in a cage elevator to talk to, and lots of solo drum sessions that seem to mimic masturbation.
*. The film’s focus then is not on gore. There is little of that, and if you’re expecting to see a zombie feast you’ll be disappointed. Nor is it a movie that ever feels like it’s going anywhere. It just stays in park for 94 minutes.
*. It’s a movie almost entirely without dialogue except at the beginning and end, but one that plays a lot with various aural cues. The zombies themselves are totally silent, not even making groaning noises, but bumps in the night are magnified. And Sam, a musician, makes music out of various household items. We get the sense that this is as important to Sam as food.
*. A common criticism (from audiences more than critics) was that nothing really happens and that it’s boring. I’ll go along with this part way, but I think it’s a movie that actually has something interesting to say about our experience of time. In such an isolated state time has less meaning. Our interactions with others, or even just our environment, is how we measure time. It’s significant that we’re never sure in this movie just how much is passing. Has Sam been cooped up in the building for a week? A month? Six months? We aren’t told, in part because I don’t think he has any idea either.
*. I can give it a qualified recommendation. It’s a somewhat fresh take on the zombie genre, which I would say had already passed its peak a decade earlier. At least the premise — if not the individual elements, which are very familiar — is not something we’ve seen a hundred times before. There is, however, no real point to the story beyond what it means to be the last man on earth. As Sam comes to realize, being alive makes him the freak in a post-apocalyptic world. The zombies are the normal ones. This is a message that’s latent in much of the zombie genre, but here it’s presented as just a depressing reality. A final pan across the rooftops of Paris reveals an urban desert.

The Omega Man (1971)

*. When people think of Charlton Heston what probably first comes to mind is the Hollywood legend, the guy who was always the star, often in blockbusters. They see him as Ben-Hur, Moses, El Cid, or George Taylor, nobly representing humanity in The Planet of the Apes.
*. It’s surprising then to come to a film as late in Heston’s career as The Omega Man and see how cheap it looks, and indeed was. Yes, there are some impressive shots of a deserted Los Angeles, but apparently these were achieved by the simple expedient of shooting on weekends (and if you’re a real movie nerd who likes to get picky about such things you can still see people and cars in the background). Meanwhile, the rest of the movie looks like it was made for TV.
*. This probably shouldn’t be surprising since the director, Boris Sagal, worked primarily in television and the budget here wasn’t large. But I think the main reason I found it noteworthy is because of the outsized place this movie holds in my memory, and I think the memory of most people who grew up watching it on TV.

*. For us, The Omega Man was the original post-apocalyptic thriller. Yes, Richard Matheson’s source novel I Am Legend had been filmed before as The Last Man on Earth, but who had seen that? And Romero’s Night of the Living Dead had invented the modern zombie apocalypse just a few years earlier, but that had been a low-budget indie. So The Omega Man wasn’t the first such film, or the best, but it became something of a monument in the post-apocalyptic landscape. Which is why, seeing it again for the first time in more than twenty years, it struck me as such a diminished thing.
*. As for Heston, he seems as out of place as his safari jacket and military uniforms. Kirk Douglas had it written into his contract that he appear shirtless in at least one scene in Paths of Glory, and I can only imagine Chuck had some similar provision about going topless. Alas, he should have kept this shirt on. He was pushing 50 here, which is pushing 70 by today’s standards.
*. Two things set The Omega Man apart from the usual end-of-the-world film fare. In the first place there is the business of race. When Heston meets the Last Woman on Earth she turns out to be Rosalind Cash, which in turn leads to one of the first interracial kisses in a movie (Captain Kirk had kissed Uhura on television in 1968). But that’s just the icing on the cake for a movie that is full of odd racial angles being played. There’s also Zachary (Lincoln Kilpatrick) complaining that Neville’s house is a “honky paradise,” and immediately being told to forget “the old hatreds.” The society of the future is colour blind, after having literally whitewashed all the brothers and sisters with albinism. Meanwhile, the survivors are a hippie rainbow coalition. This stands out all the more because I can’t think of another post-apocalyptic film that introduces the subject of race much at all. In Night of the Living Dead Ben (Duane Jones) is black, but nothing is made of this because it seems to have been an accident of casting and is never adverted to in the script.

*. The second thing that strikes one’s attention is the role religion plays. The Family are a tribe of Luddites running an inquisition that suggests some kind of end-of-times theocracy. Again this is something you don’t find in many post-apocalyptic films, where the zombies usually don’t have any kind of religion or politics (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies being one recent exception). Heston’s turn as the crucified Christ at the end is just the fulfillment of this motif, foreshadowed by the earlier scene where the little boy asks him if he is God. Turns out he is!
*. The action is pedestrian and doesn’t get helped one bit by the score. Just listen to it from the point where Neville is about to kiss Lisa to when he gets the power back on. That’s a suspenseful stretch of the story but the scoring kills it. It’s hard to imagine something less appropriate, which makes me think it came from a can.

*. What strength the film still has is entirely owing to the strength of the basic idea. As so often in cases of the apocalypse, one envies the survivors, at least a bit. Humanity has had a good cull, leaving Neville tearing about L.A. in his choice of sports cars, cracking wise to himself, and hiding out at night in a mansion powered by an electric generator. Not perhaps the most obvious (or safest) place to hole up in the event of a zombie apocalypse, but it’s stylish in an early ’70s Playboy-pad kind of way. With Lisa by his side I can imagine Neville comfortably spending the rest of his days lounging about in a monogrammed housecoat, smoking a pipe and reading military histories in-between domestic chores.
*. I kind of wish I hadn’t watched it again. It’s a movie that looms large in my imagination, but it’s really not very good. Or put another way, it’s better remembered than experienced. The return to Matheson’s story for 2007’s I Am Legend should have been a slam dunk, but it was an even bigger failure. Meanwhile, Matheson’s book has held up quite well. I’m not sure how to explain that.

Destroyer (2018)

*. Watching Destroyer was an odd experience. I started off enjoying it somewhat, though the plot seemed kind of formulaic. A tough cop nurses a guilt complex after being involved in an undercover investigation that went bad, resulting in her partner being killed. Years later, an alcoholic shell of her former self, she has the opportunity to settle the score.
*. The only thing new here is that the cop is a woman, played by a decidedly unglamorous Nicole Kidman, made up to look like a derelict. She even walks like a zombie, what director Karyn Kusama calls her “broken cowboy” gait. Otherwise everything goes pretty much as you’d expect, with Detective Erin Bell working her way up a chain of informers until she can get to the big guy responsible at the end. She beats people up. She gets beaten up. But she stays on the trail.
*. That’s all pretty standard and I was a bit disappointed that the story didn’t have anything more to offer but the fact that our broken cowboy is a cowgirl. But then we get to the end and there’s a twist. Though it’s not a twist in relation to the basic elements I’ve just described. Instead we find out that the story has been traveling in a big circle, with the end taking us back to the beginning. And in fact the time scheme has been scrambled throughout. Some of this was clear at the time, especially with the flashbacks to the events that happened 17 years earlier. But in other places the rearrangement of events in a different order came as a surprise.

*. That should have been a good thing, mixing the formula up a bit. But I didn’t like it. For starters, I was confused. In fact, I’m still unsure of what was going on. Why did Silas get back in touch with Erin? If he wanted to get in touch with her, why did he make it so hard for her to find him? Was he surprised that she might want to kill him?
*. The goal was to show Erin caught in a “purgatorial netherworld,” unwinding the spool of her life as she lies dying. That’s an interesting idea, but I just don’t think it was executed all that well. Because of the confusion the jumbling of the time scheme causes there isn’t any sense of the story snapping shut at the end, as it should. Some points are tied up, but others remain obscure to me even on repeated viewings.
*. In short, and this goes to why I found Destroyer and odd experience, I started off thinking it too obvious and ended up finding it too obscure.
*. Most of the rest of the film I thought equally split between good and bad. I liked Kidman’s transformation, and her performance generally. I liked the semi-industrial score. I liked the photography, which really creates a sense of the L.A. sun being a force people need to be protected from with blinds or bits of shade. I liked the way, after a long chase on foot, Bell and the man she’s pursuing have to stand hunched over, hands on knees, gasping for air. That’s a realistic touch that few movies bother with, but let’s face it, unless you’re a professional athlete I don’t care what kind of shape you’re in: if you have to run hard for any distance in your 40s you’re going to be licked in a hurry.
*. On the other hand, I really didn’t care for the whole subplot with Bell’s daughter. I didn’t buy that at all, and while a soft touch for such sentimental stuff usually I found the whole conversation about Shelby’s one happy memory to be contrived. Nor did I get a sense of any chemistry between Bell and Chris, her partner. This was a serious problem, because without that it’s hard to get on board with her revenge tour. Not to mention they were both compromised figures to begin with, having a scheme to rob from the bank robbers.
*. On balance, despite all the stuff it has going for it, I thought the misses outnumbered the hits in Destroyer. I found the plot full of improbabilities, making it gritty without being realistic. Which is another odd conjunction. but not a happy one.

Eight Legged Freaks (2002)

*. Scarlett Johansson just before she became a star. Next up would be Lost in Translation. But is there anything in Eight Legged Freaks that would suggest such an elevation to the A list? I don’t think she’s anything special playing the teenaged Ashley. Her later career turned into a bunch of roles that seemed like variations on a robot (the AIs in Her and Lucy, the cyborg in Ghost in the Shell, the alien in Under the Skin, whatever Black Widow is supposed to be). So at least we’re still at a point here where Ashley is a real person.
*. What’s more surprising, if sad, is the subsequent decline of Kari Wuhrer. I like Wuhrer, and she’s actually quite good here in a leading part. She certainly plays above her co-star David Arquette. But while she’s kept working (no mean feat in this industry), Wuhrer mainly went on to appear in a lot of bargain-basement horror work. Sequels such as The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting, Hellraiser: Deader (the seventh film in that franchise), The Prophecy: Uprising and Forsaken (the fourth and fifth entries there), and Sharknado 2: The Second One. What a filmography!

*. We needn’t spend much time on the movie itself. Things go downhill from the title, which is missing a hyphen. These aren’t eight freaks that happen to have legs but an infestation of giant spiders, the result of a toxic chemical spill. Obviously it’s meant as a send-up of a concept that had already been parodied enough by now. None of it is very new, or funny. Most of the humour is strained, even as a cartoon. I think by now it’s a movie that’s pretty much been forgotten.
*. For good reason. It’s a monster movie mainly, and the monsters are terrible. I’d say the CGI has just dated badly, but even at the time it looked bad. As Desson Howe remarked in his contemporary review, “those spiders look like special effects.” And not good special effects either. I honestly prefer the giant hairy spider in Tarantula!, even taking into account when that film was made.
*. So pretty much all we’re left with is Scarlett Johansson before she was a star. Which isn’t saying much in my book, so I won’t say anything more.

Arachnophobia (1990)

*. This was my first time coming back to Arachnophobia since I caught it in the theatre thirty years ago. I had forgotten almost all of it. Easy to do when so much of it is so generic. The big-city doctor moving with his family to a picture-postcard small town where bad things happen. It’s Steven Spielberg meets Stephen King, spiritual neighbours who aren’t usually associated.
*. I’d forgotten Jeff Daniels as the doctor. I’d forgotten the spiders. Sure, I knew it was about killer spiders, but giant spiders? Swarms of spiders? No. Actually just poisonous spiders. That’s another part I’d forgotten. I’d even forgotten Julian Sands as the ponytailed scientist with the British accent. How could I not remember the Warlock?
*. The only part of the movie I still recalled was John Goodmn as Delbert the exterminator. I even remembered many of his lines, from “Tear out bad wood, put in good wood” to “Yeah, that’s right, I’m bad.” He’s a lot of fun.
*. Today it strikes me as wholesome family entertainment. No gore, and (in the form of Delbert) a bit of humour. The spiders are a one-joke monster: hiding away in various everyday places — a football helmet, a bedroom slipper, a popcorn bowl — before zapping their victims. It all plays out very predictably, to the point where the final battle between Daniels and the General starts to feel like a bit of a drag. Something that I think they were aware of given how hard the score is working throughout the whole cellar scene. It doesn’t let up for a moment.
*. It’s not very inspired or noteworthy in any way, but given the genre I think you have to rate it pretty highly. It was accused of being a rip-off of Kingdom of the Spiders, and its most prominent successor would be Eight Legged Freaks twelve years later. It’s a lot better than either of those movies.

Tarantula! (1955)

*. In the 1950s everything got supersized. Blame the bomb. In his book The Monster Show David J. Skal names Godzilla (1954) as the film that launched “one of the biggest ritual displays of naive metaphor the world has ever seen.” The vehicle of that metaphor being giant creatures, the tenor atomic anxiety.
*. This is an obvious point that doesn’t need any further emphasizing here. In this movie the naive metaphor is a giant tarantula. In Them! it’s giant ants. In The Amazing Colossal Man it’s Glenn Langan. In The Giant Gila Monster . . . you get the point. The question I have is why a fear of nuclear war would bring forth such monsters.
*. Radiation makes people sick. Very sick. It doesn’t make things grow or give them super powers, both of which effects are actually pretty cool. And yet that’s the way it was imagined in the early nuclear age, and indeed has been up to the present day and figures like Doctor Manhattan. I’m not sure what to make of that.
*. Another thing driving the spate of gigantism in SF during the ’50s, and perhaps of even greater importance, was the improvement in special effects. By today’s standards the giant creatures stumbling through model landscapes or looming over hillsides may not be very convincing, but they were the CGI of their day. Sure you can see right through the giant tarantula’s legs in some of the shots here, but I’ll bet audiences in 1955 were thrilled. A movie like this gave them everything they paid for.

*. Mara Corday. Damn she looks good. She’s sexy even when just looking faintly bemused at what’s going on. Meanwhile, John Agar tries to do the same thing and only looks like a simpleton. Double standards.
*. Professor Deemer is often described as a mad scientist but his associates seem to have been the really bad ones, especially in their rush to do some human testing. The way the dying Paul injects Deemer with the growth isotope serum is particularly cruel. Their project, however, is humanitarian. Like Dr. Cragis in The Killer Shrews they’re concerned about growing global population and world hunger. Deemer wants an alternative food source while Cragis wants to shrink people so they won’t need to eat as much.
*. Deemer is concerned that by the year 2000 the population will be 3.6 billion. We nearly doubled that. As a result, today’s mad scientists are more interested in radical plans for depopulation than trying to save the human race.
*. Jack Arnold gets a lot of credit for being one of the major figures of this genre, directing such classics as It Came from Outer Space, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Incredible Shrinking Man. I think he did well enough with the material, but he wasn’t what I’d call an auteur. I feel like he really just keeps things moving along. He knew what audiences wanted to see and he didn’t cheat them, giving them their monsters in a series of building climaxes. The connecting tissue is just the usual dull stuff to be gotten through, which helps build up those climaxes even more.
*. All of which is only to say that this is a movie that’s no more than what it sets out to be, which is to be an excuse to see a giant spider crawling around the desert eating people before having Clint Eastwood flying in to save the day with some well-placed napalm. Fun then and fun now. How confident are we that our CGI blockbusters will play this well in fifty years?

Revenge (2017)

*. When Revenge came out it was greeted as a stylish, feminist rape-revenge movie, and I think people were using those adjectives to suggest ways it was different. But much as I like Revenge, I don’t think it’s new in either regard.
*. Is it feminist? Yes, but even within the rape-revenge genre there had previously been movies where the woman had exacted her own rough justice. As long ago as the ’70s there’d been Madeleine in Thriller: A Cruel Picture and Jennifer (note the name) in I Spit on Your Grave (which Zeir Merhi had originally titled Day of the Woman, as evidence of his feminist bona fides).
*. Is it stylish? Yes, definitely. It immediately made me think of the work of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer, Let the Corpses Tan) with all of its bright colours and crazy edits. You get the feeling director Coralie Fargeat wanted to make a statement with her feature debut, and she does. Even the symbolism — the apple of discord, Jen being impaled on the very phallic tree branch and then sprouting an erection from her own midsection — comes with exclamation points. But is there more symbolism here than in Bergman’s The Virgin Spring? Probably not.

*. Where I think it could be credited is in being so fantastic. Most people who disliked Revenge complained about how it broke all canons of plausibility. Could Jen have survived that fall? Was that really a likely way for her to get off the tree? Could anyone, among the many victims in the movie, survive the loss of so much blood? Why does Jen only cauterize the wound in her front, and not in her back? Indeed, where did the wound in her back go? And how did that beer can leave a tattoo? That wasn’t reversed? How is Stan firing so many shots out of that bolt-action rifle without reloading?
*. All good questions, with no good answers. But they just go to show that Fargeat isn’t interested in making a realistic movie at all. That really should be clear from Jen (Matilda Lutz) going on the rampage like a Barbie of Death, dressed in bra and booty-shorts with a hunting knife, shotgun and bandolier of ammo.
*. Does the sexualization of Jen go too far? Kevin Maher: “Can a movie be feminist and misogynist at the same time? Can a female director make a cheap and tacky piece of exploitation perv-bait without actually knowing it? Does regularly filling the frame with the lead actress’s barely covered buttocks qualify as an act of female empowerment?”
*. I don’t think the point is female empowerment. That was more what those movies in the ’70s (might have) had in mind. I think Fargeat is sending up the genre by being so over-the-top. I mean, just look at that bloodbath at the end. Apparently they splashed so much blood around that the prop department was running out of it.

*. You even have to laugh at some of the dialogue. Does Jen, who knows she’s in trouble, think that she’s going to placate Stan (Vincent Colombe, looking a lot like a young Eli Wallach) by telling him that he’s not her type because he’s “too small.” Hm. Kind of the wrong answer in such a situation. And does Richard (a perfectly heel Kevin Janssens) think he’s going to buy off Jen by telling her he got her a job in Canada, which is “practically Los Angeles”? Good luck with that.
*. Luckily there isn’t much dialogue after the first act plays out, and literally no more lines for Jen. This is a double bonus because Lutz is left only having to look good in the part, and the camera spends as much time looking at her ass as her face. Which I say is fortunate not because she has such a nice bum but because her face doesn’t register the kind of toughness that seems required. Or maybe she’s really supposed to have that doll-like quality all the way through.
*. I take it there’s a joke, and perhaps a feminist message too, in the way the girly-girl turns out to be so much tougher and more resourceful than the bros out on their expensive hunting expedition. That dangling giant pink star earring is a great touch.

*. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie so much. But it’s more than just a flashy spin on rape-revenge films. It’s actually very well put together. Fargeat doesn’t miss a trick in artfully composing frames that seem like they should be more static than they are. Even in the most formal of them there’s a sense of dynamism. Maybe it’s a trick of the sun, or the way the camera moves. Speaking of which, I love the long take following Richard out of the shower, and I thought the whole merry-go-round at the end was wonderful.
*. I understand people despising the rape-revenge genre. I’m not a big fan of these movies myself. Nevertheless, there are a number of standouts, or at least movies that have gone on to develop cults. Think of The Last House on the Left and Ms. 45. Or all of the sequels there have been to I Spit on Your Grave (five, I think, starting from the 2010 remake). There are even people who find something in Baise-moi (not me).
*. That said, having seen most of these I’d have to say Revenge is my new favourite rape-revenge movie and the only one I feel like I could recommend to pretty much anyone. Whether it should have been this much fun is another question.