Category Archives: 1980s

Nightmare City (1980)

*. This is a bit of fun. The movie that’s “so bad it’s good” is a far rarer phenomenon than you’d think given how often you hear movies described that way. But Nightmare City fits the bill.
*. One of the surest ways for any movie to go wrong is by trying too hard or attempting to do too much. Their reach exceeds their grasp. But you have to have a grudging respect for a movie like Nightmare City that had no budget and no talent to work with but which nevertheless decided it didn’t want to do anything by halves.
*. Just before I get started I should say something about Nightmare City‘s status as a zombie movie. Some people (including the director, Umberto Lenzi) insist the infected aren’t zombies but are only suffering from some kind of radiation sickness. I don’t think it makes much difference what we call them, but for what it’s worth the alternative U.S. title is City of the Walking Dead while in France it was released as L’invasion des zombies. In addition they sort of eat their victims (or at least drink their blood), apparently infect others (although this isn’t made clear, their numbers certainly seem to be growing), and can only be stopped by head shots (hence the command given to “aim for the brain,” which is a memo that nobody in uniform seems to have received).
*. On the other hand, at least some of them move quickly and they seem to have unimpaired mental functioning. They can even use automatic weapons and drive vehicles. When we see a zombie cutting the phone line to the general’s house with a pair of garden shears, or a team of commando zombies taking out the city’s power station, we know we’re dealing with some pretty clever undead.
*. I’m calling them zombies. Because even if they aren’t technically zombies the story fits the traditional pattern of zombie apocalypse films. It’s the same as the virus outbreaks in 28 Days Later and World War Z. If you want, you could think of Nightmare City as ahead of its time.
*. A zombie movie with no budget is difficult but not impossible. But trying to do a full-fledged zombie apocalypse in a major city (unnamed in the film but I believe the exteriors were all shot around Madrid) with limited means is courting disaster. Disaster ensues.
*. We know we’re in trouble right from the opening firefight. A drawn-out massacre where cops and zombies go at it with submachine guns at close range. But there don’t see to have been any squibs available so all we see, over and over again, is people throwing their hands up in the air and then falling to the ground. Later we’ll see their corpses with a bit of blood splashed on their clothes.
*. As for the zombies, they’re just a bunch of normal looking guys but for the fact they have varying degrees of mud on their faces (and no other part of their bodies). None of them seem to be wounded in any way or suffering any other adverse effects from radiation but manic bloodlust.
*. So we have terrible-looking zombies and no good gore effects. That’s bad for a zombie movie. But it gets worse. Or better.
*. The proceedings are bizarre. For example, we get a slaughter scene set in a television studio that is broadcasting some kind of dance or aerobic show live. I really don’t know what the point of this show is. The girls seem to be working out but they’re wearing heels. Cue the monsters!
*. Other moments seem totally inexplicable, at least to me. What is the bloody knife doing sticking in the eye of the clay head near the beginning? Did some explanation for that get cut?
*. The action is all pretty dumb, but I did like the way a man throws a television set and it explodes, setting not one but two zombies on fire. That usually only happens with cars.
*. The dialogue is entertaining in an over-the-top yet obscure way. Here’s a sample exchange. Dean: “It’s frightening, how could a thing like this happen?” Anna: “It’s part of the vital cycle of the human race. Create and obliterate until we destroy ourselves.” Dean: “Words. We’re up against a race of monsters.” Anna: “Created by other monsters. Who only have one thing on their mind. The discovery of greater power. At least this time there won’t be any historical justifications, if any of us survive.” Dean: “Do you think it’s possible to stop them?” Anna: “The infection is like an oil stain, and who knows how far the contagion has spread?”
*. Apparently nobody in the city has flashlights so when investigating the basement you have to light a lamp. A lamp. Even in 1980 these were antiques. They are also very hard to operate unless you really know what you’re doing. I know because I’ve tried. They’re not at all as simple as lighting a candle.

*. I love how Anna’s idea of stocking up on provisions is to fill a crate with bottles of milk and hard liquor. You gotta stick with the basics when zombies attack. Hell, even the zombies like their booze. The shot of the lot of them hanging around the ambulance drinking it up was another moment of (unintentional?) hilarity.
*. The ending suggests the circular nightmare that might have first been done in Dead of Night. But shouldn’t the journo Dean evince some awareness that his nightmare is becoming reality, that he’s experience all of this before?
*. That same crazy disconnect between what’s going on and people’s reaction to it is part of the fabric of the film. Look at how the two newsmen just stand watching the massacre at the airport, not even bothering to run for cover from all the bullets flying around. And even better is the blank expression on the face of the guy at the television studio when he discovers the body of the girl whose throat has been slashed. Is he surprised? Frightened? Curious even? Nothing registers.
*. The main narrative climaxes at an amusement park, as Dean and Anna try to escape the zombies by climbing a roller coaster track. Why? Because in a movie like this where else could they wrap things up? This is all as silly as it gets, but for those who enjoy Eurotrash horror it is a lot of fun.

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The Evil Below (1989)

*. The main character in The Evil Below is a scruffy charter boat operator played by the director, Wayne Crawford. The character’s name is Max Cash. His father’s name is Max Cash, Senior.
*. Since this is a terrible movie, and rather dull for long stretches, I had the chance to spend some time thinking about this. Was “Max Cash” meant as a joke? Crawford had, after all, played the eponymous lead in Jake Speed, a comic book action film released just a few years earlier.
*. I think The Evil Below was probably meant as just such another comic book adventure, only this time with divers looking for a sunken treasure ship. Alas, as you may guess from the name of the ship, the El Diablo, it is cursed. Apparently (and I’m by no means certain that I got the story straight) the El Diablo was being crewed by a sect of heretic priests when it sank. Because the ship was not destroyed, the power of this evil bunch will continue to grow “until Armageddon.”
*. So it’s up to Max and his new lady friend to destroy the ship, which is something they don’t really want to do because it’s full of glittering baubles. There are also some rival treasure hunters sniffing around, some dangerous aquatic life, and an undead millionaire. This last-mentioned zombie guy is so evil he even wears a black hat underwater!
*. I really like how the priest manages to write the word “ship” in his blood before he dies. Is that supposed to be a clue? To what? They already know all about the El Diablo. Seems a kind of pointless way to spend your final moments.
*. I had some trouble following what was going on, in large part because the editing is so rough that it’s hard to pick up when a scene has shifted location. Nevertheless, there were moments when I was entertained in a so-bad-it’s-kind-of-good way. The dialogue is very funny. The girls all wear bikinis. Because there was no budget the action scenes are all cut so that you never actually see anything except a bloody corpse after the fact.
*. 1989 was the year of underwater thrilles. Think The Abyss, Leviathan, and DeepStar Six. The Evil Below sinks well below all of these and I can’t really think of any good reason to watch it today. Thirty years ago it might have seemed like a harmless enough way to pass the time, but that time has passed.

Leviathan (1989)

*. Leviathan is usually — and by “usually” I mean “universally” — described as a rip-off of Alien and The Thing, with the action this time being set on the ocean floor. It’s only real borrowing from The Thing, however, is the appearance of the creature.
*. Which means it’s an Alien rip-off. And by “rip-off” what I mean is “remake.” Instead of spacesuits there are futuristic deep-sea diving suits, which look exactly the same. The union crew of the mining base argue over their contracts and when their time will be up. They explore a wreck that has been overcome by a dangerous parasitic life form and inadvertently bring it back on board. It proceeds to slime its way through various dark industrial corridors, picking off the crew one by one. You get the picture.
*. Fun fact: before calling it the Nostromo, the spaceship in Alien was going to be called Leviathan.
*. Even the crew is the same old gang. Peter Weller is Tom Skerritt, the resourceful and self-sacrificing team leader. Amanda Pays is Sigourney Weaver, right down to her sexy underwear. Ernie Hudson is Yaphet Kotto, the token black man. Daniel Stern is Harry Dean Stanton. Richard Crenna is Ian Holm, the doctor who is hard to trust. Hell, even Megan Foster is “Mother,” the sinister, inhuman corporate head who treats the crew as expendable.
*. When you’re watching a movie that’s this much of a copycat you fall into the trap of having the audience say, “This is just like Alien.” And, since Alien was a great movie, this quickly turns into “This is just like Alien, only not as good.”
*. Leviathan is a long way from being as good as Alien. Just for starters, the creature here looks silly. Actually, it looks like about a dozen different things at different stages of its development, all of them silly.
*. The script also seems to be working too hard. Poor Ernie Hudson in particular is stuck repeating lines on numerous occasions when it appears that nobody is paying attention to him. He does, however, have one saving moment when the CEO says that she realizes the crew must have gone through hell and he responds “Gone? Bitch, we’re still here!”
*. Then there is the premise. Wouldn’t it be easier to gentically mutate a deep-sea creature into a deep-sea monster than to do the same to a human?
*. Things really fall apart at the end. It’s hard to exaggerate how bad this is. It is very, very bad. First Weller, Pays and Hudson escape to the surface only to be surrounded by sharks. The sharks don’t do anything. Then the creature surfaces, looking quite ridiculous while . . . treading water? Things look very much like the end of DeepStar Six at this point. Then poor Ernie is killed, for no reason at all aside from the fact that the black guy always gets it. This was still the ’80s. Weller manages to dispose of the monster by tossing an explosive into its mouth with a circus shot. This gives him the chance to yell out a defiant last line: “Say ah! motherfucker!” Then he coldcocks Megan Foster, which makes him feel “much better,” despite almost all of his crew being dead.
*. 1989 was the year of the underwater action flick. The Abyss and DeepStar Six were the other two biggies. Leviathan isn’t much worse in any particular regard, but then it isn’t any better either (and in fact very little of it was shot underwater). I saw it in the theatres when it was first released, and this latest time was the first time I’ve seen it since. I doubt I’ll be watching it again, but I do remember it being fun back when I was younger and less critical.

DeepStar Six (1989)

*. Yes, this is the same Sean S. Cunningham who produced and directed Friday the 13th. In my notes on that film I mentioned his remark that the slasher killer Jason was meant to be a creature like the shark in Jaws. So with DeepStar Six we might think of him as returning to those same roots.
*. There’s something endearing about the way DeepStar Six goes back to this idea of the old-school monster movie. 1989 was the year of the underwater horror-action flick. In the other movies, however, just a simple monster wasn’t enough. The supernatural had to be dragged in (The Evil Below), or aliens (Lords of the Deep), or some Thing-style shape-shifter resulting from experiments in genetic engineering (Leviathan, The Rift). In DeepStar Six the creature is just a hungry lobster set free by the irresponsible use of explosives. It’s far closer to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms than it is to Alien.
*. Which is all to the good. I’ll go on the record here as saying that despite having a coveted zero critical rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes (last time I checked), I think DeepStar Six is the best of these underwater flicks precisely because it’s such an unabashed B-movie.
*. It’s corny as hell, but it’s a good time and rarely drags. There are a handful of suspenseful scenes, like the one with the sub teetering on the edge of the cliff. There are some good kills, at least in the script (the gore effects aren’t great). The monster looks like something borrowed from Toho Studios. The cast are the usual bunch of types, with Greg Evigan as the bearded hunk, Nancy Everard as the girl in the wet shirt and no bra, and Miguel Ferrer stealing every scene as the hapless douche Snyder.
*. Isn’t it weird how the monster seems to change size so radically, being able to get through little doors and hide in small enclosed spaces, but then turning into Godzilla every time he surfaces?
*. I wonder why they bothered introducing the taping business with the remote (“Start the VCR!”) when they weren’t going to re-introduce the tape later. I thought we’d at least see a blurry image of the creature. Maybe something got cut from the script or fell on the editing room floor.
*. Apparently Cunningham was trying to scoop the other underwater movies slated for release in ’89. This upset James Cameron, who was working on The Abyss, but he had nothing to worry about.
*. It definitely could have been better done. It’s cheap, crudely shot, and very stupid (Snyder is just following orders when he nearly blows the installation up!). But it’s also a silly bit of fun that manages a few memorable scenes, the best of which is the man in the diving suit who is cut in two. Of all these underwater movies it’s the only one I think is worth re-watching. But it helps if you’re a kid, with a hankering for classic Creature Features. Even thirty years ago they really weren’t making them like this any more.

The Abyss (1989)

*. I’ve written before (or at least I think I have) about the myth of the “director’s cut.” These became very popular with the advent of DVDs, leading to a host of “special” or “restored” editions of movies that had (so the story went) been butchered by heartless or brainless studio executives on their theatrical release.
*. I call it the myth of the director’s cut because I think it’s a fiction that these restored versions are always better than what audiences saw in theatres. Not every bit of trimming was the equivalent of the desecration of The Magnificent Ambersons or Touch of Evil. Nevertheless, that was what some directors wanted you to believe when the director’s cut came out on DVD.
*. I guess the most salient example of when the director had a real case to make came with Blade Runner, whose release truly was bungled and which now exists in several different versions. But Blade Runner was an exception to the general rule, which is that most of what gets cut from a movie before it’s final release is cut for a reason. How many “deleted scenes” have you seen that you thought should have been kept? In my experience there have been very few. Was Apocalypse Now Redux really Redux? Not in my opinion.
*. Anyway, to bring this discussion around to the present case, James Cameron is a director with a healthy ego (I mean that in a positive way) who has availed himself of the myth of the director’s cut on several occasions, most notably with the special editions of Aliens (1986) and The Abyss.
*. I am surprised at how many people think Aliens was improved with the added material, but that’s a case that seems to have been absorbed into the Blade Runner narrative now pretty firmly. The Abyss is a bit different. The special edition adds about 30 minutes of material that Cameron was apparently happy to cut at the time and which audiences didn’t mind losing either. Nevertheless, given that DVDs were invented to give us more, we now have more.
*. I saw The Abyss in 1989 when it came out and I thought it too long then. Instead of adding 30 minutes they should have cut the same. Mainly what has been added is the business at the end where the luminiscent sea monkeys threaten major coastal cities with tidal waves. Are they doing this in protest of man’s pollution of the oceans, industrial whaling and fisheries, or the outrage of the Great Pacific garbage patch? No. They are concerned about our species’ propensity for violence. I don’t know why. I would have thought they’d be happy to have us kill ourselves off.
*. All kidding aside, I applaud the earnestness of Cameron’s anti-nuclear message, which also featured prominently in Terminator 2. I just think it’s a poor fit with this film and the fact that this entire climactic sequence was cut on release without leaving a sense of anything missing gives some idea of what a bag of yarn The Abyss is in terms of narrative.
*. Another thing Cameron deserves a lot of credit for is his ability to handle mega-projects like this. The Abyss was an absolute nightmare to make. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the 1993 documentary Under Pressure: Making The Abyss. Apparently this was one of the most difficult film shoots ever, and one can believe it.
*. Was it worth all the trouble? That will depend on how you view the results, but I’d just point out that 1989 was the year of the underwater adventure film and the other two big titles — Leviathan and DeepStar Six — actually didn’t do much underwater photography. They just shot the film in such a way that you thought the actors were underwater. I don’t think that hurt either film, so the authenticity of The Abyss came at quite a price.
*. I do appreciate the underwater stuff and think it looks terrific. When it won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, however, it was for the CGI and animation done by Industrial Light & Magic. This is far less impressive. The liquid pseudopod effect took six months to create, and was cutting edge at the time but doesn’t look like anything special today. Meanwhile, the sea creatures and their glowing pink city just look silly and frankly rather crude. The CGI can be excused for being very early CGI, but there had been better animation before this. Cameron wanted to do for the bottom of the ocean what 2001 did for space, but the star gate sequence in 2001 was more impressive than the pink jellyfish castle and its slightly robotic-looking butterflies.
*. You might have thought Michael Biehn would get to be the hero again (he played the all-too-human Reese in The Terminator), but . . . he’s sporting a moustache. That’s a sure sign that’s he’s gone over to the dark side. So, no. Sorry Magnum.
*. I wonder what Cameron’s thing is for battlebots and fighting machines. The Terminator(s). Ripley strapped into the cargo-loader contraption at the end of Aliens, which we get again in Avatar‘s climactic battle. Here it’s dueling submersibles. I’d read something into all this, but I think he’s just a mechanically inclined person.
*. Part of being a popular artist (in any medium) is having an uncomplicated or conventional sensibility that translates as authenticity. I mentioned the earnestness of Cameron’s anti-nuclear message but his sentimentality is another more obvious example. This is a guy who really believes in the power of love and he’s not afraid to play it up. In Titanic I think this worked, for the most part, but in this movie I thought all the business with Lindsey telling Bud how much she’s always loved him while he descends into the bone-crushing depths got kind of corny. Does that make me cynical? Hard-hearted? I don’t think so. I’ll cry at a good romance. I just thought that in this movie it was mush.
*. At the box office it barely broke even, which was a pretty big disappointment given the budget and Cameron’s track record at the time. Since then, and with the release of the special edition, it has gained some fans and is occasionally even referred to as a cult film. This surprises me.
*. It surprises me, at least in part, because, as noted, I don’t think the material they put back in helps it a bit. But more than that, I just don’t think it has aged that well.
*. Some popular artists last, others don’t. I have doubts about Cameron’s staying power. He has a well-deserved reputation as king of the blockbusters: from setting the standard with action franchises (Terminator, T2 and Aliens) to stand-alone megahits like Titanic and Avatar. I really liked all of these movies (except Avatar) when they came out, but today . . . not so much. I even came away from a recent re-viewing of Aliens feeling let down, which surprised me.
*. The Abyss was, as I began by saying, not a movie I liked in 1989 and I think even less of it now. Some of the underwater work is truly amazing, but aside from that it’s overwrought and clunky, lurching from one crisis to another before whisking us off to its fantasy ending. I actually enjoy the silly monster movies Leviathan and DeepStar Six more, if only for being trimmer. There may be a moral in there somewhere about the nature of what lasts. It’s not always what was biggest at the time.

Creepshow 2 (1987)

*. The most successful genre fiction and films give us exactly what we expect, but with a twist. They make the familiar just a little unfamiliar. Not so much that audiences feel cheated about not getting what they paid for, but enough so that they don’t feel like they’ve seen it all before.
*. The twists on old, familiar stories are very small indeed in Creepshow 2. Here’s what I mean.
*. “Old Chief Wood’nhead”: the archetype here is the Mummy or, an even better fit, the Golem. A statue comes to life and exacts a bloody vengeance on those who have offended against its traditions and its people.

*. “The Raft”: I believe this is the only one of the three stories that had been previously published (by screenwriter Stephen King). The archetype is the Blob, now displaced into a quarry swimming hole. I think King really likes this story, as it also served as the inspiration for “The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill,” the second story in the original Creepshow anthology (and the one where King himself played the title character).
*. “The Hitchhiker”: the archetype is the vengeful ghost, but there had also been spooky hitchhikers before. The story here may have been inspired by a Twilight Zone episode, and Rutger Hauer’s The Hitcher had only come out the year before. A hint of Spielberg’s Duel also seems to be playing in the background. Meanwhile, the plot of getting revenge for a hit-and-run would be used to kick off another King project in Thinner (1996).

*. I didn’t care for this one too much. Only the second story struck me as any good, with the first and last being far too formulaic. The first was the worst, as we’re just sitting around waiting for the Chief to come to life and do his thing, and the third didn’t have much to it aside from the comic indestructibility of the hitcher and his inane obsession with thanking Lois Chiles for the ride.
*. It was the ’80s, to I won’t mock the big hair or the jock’s yellow budgie smugglers in “The Raft.” I draw the line though at the soundtrack. Just listen to what we get as Chiles drives her Mercedes through the woods trying to knock the hitcher off her roof. It’s so generic, and unsuitable.
*. The frame story struck me as comic-book nonsense, but since it’s presented as a comic book I don’t know if that’s much of a criticism to make. Like a lot of the films made from King stories in the ’80s it all has a YA feel to it, and even the gore effects, which are pretty simple, don’t do much to affect this. All of which means it pretty much gave audiences what they expected. I just think that wasn’t enough.

Cat’s Eye (1985)

*. I don’t mean it as a put-down when I say Stephen King is a small-screen kind of writer. I just mean that that’s what his work most comfortably adapts to. Dickens is the same way.
*. Maybe it’s his intimate domestic settings (turned upside-down, of course), and his focus on small, familiar experiences that swell in subjective time and space. Whatever the reason, when I watch King adaptations I rarely think of seeing these movies in a theatre. Kubrick’s The Shining is one exception, but I can’t think of any others off the top of my head.
*. Cat’s Eye is a horror anthology, consisting of a couple of stories (the first two here) that appeared in the collection Night Shift and a third that was written specially for the screen.
*. The cat as a connecting thread doesn’t work. It just runs from one story to another and only has a plot function in the last. (In the first story, as originally written, a bunny gets the shock treatment.) Apparently there was a prologue that explained the cat’s role a little more and how the troll was trying to steal the breath from another little girl (also played by Drew Barrymore), but this was cut, against director Lewis Teague’s wishes. With the Incredible Journey set-up gone, as things stand it’s not clear what the special relation between the little girl and the cat is. It’s said (by Barrymore) that he’s supposed to be trying to get “back” to save her, but when they do finally meet it seems as though it’s for the first time.
*. Well, there have been anthology-horror flicks with flimsier frames. I can’t say I was bothered by the cat here, even if he remains kind of enigmatic. Cats also make for poor actors (much worse than dogs) and the ones they had here (Teague says they used about a dozen) performs pretty well.

*. The first story, “Quitters, Inc.”, struck me as the best, both for having the most original story and for having James Woods playing the lead. His nervous demeanour fits well with the part of the overstressed exec suffering from nic fits.
*. My ranking “Quitters, Inc.” best is seconded by Teague in his commentary, where he calls it the most satisfying and the one that works best on its own. He also mentions how audiences remember it the most.
*. I don’t know this, but I’m guessing the little dig at the end comes from a Roald Dahl story, “Man from the South.” This story was also the inspiration for “The Man From Hollywood,” which was the Quentin Tarantino-directed segment in Four Rooms. These things get around.

*. I found the second story a bit of filler. It also gets off to a slow start (not in the original story) which just introduces us to the cat again and then lets us know that Cressner is a man who likes a good bet. That’s not enough information to bother with such a set-up.
*. After that we just have Robert Hays walking around on a ledge. I thought the cat might stroll out on the ledge to join him, and help with the pigeon, but that didn’t happen.
*. Speaking of the pigeon, I found it hard to credit that it would be so persistent in going after Hays’s ankle. In the story, however, King explains: “Pigeons don’t scare, not city pigeons, anyway.”

*. The final story was in fact the movie’s reason for being, as De Laurentiis wanted a vehicle for Drew Barrymore, which is kind of creepy in a way. As things turn out, however, she’s given very little to do. I think she was a great child actor but you don’t get to see that here.
*. You do get some pretty good special effects as the troll hops around the bedroom, and the final battle with the cat works well too, especially considering the difficulty of working with cats. But in the end it’s a very simple story about the kid who sees a monster in her bedroom but her parents won’t believe her, etc.
*. If you stay for the credits you actually get to listen to a “Cat’s Eye” theme song. They did that sort of thing in the ’80s.
*. As usual there are a lot of insider winks at the King oeuvre, beginning with cameos by Cujo himself (a film also directed by Teague) and the demon car Christine. But despite an obvious attempt at being lighthearted, there’s nothing particularly funny about any of it. It all just contributes to the sense of a movie that’s meant as light entertainment. Apparently it did OK box office but much better on home video, which was its natural home.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

*. I wonder what went wrong. I’m not talking about the tragic accident that saw Vic Morrow, Myca Dinh Le, and Renee Shin-Yi Chen killed when a helicopter fell on them. That’s a case that’s been through the courts and we know what went wrong there. I mean, what went wrong with this movie? They had some good material, a big budget, and decent talent involved. Why doesn’t it work?
*. The big problem, as I see it, lies in what they did to the stories. Specifically, they seemed intent on providing a bunch of happy endings. Steven Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” episode is the most obvious instance, but it’s not the only one. The third story was actually going quite well until the Happy Ending fairy struck again. And the thing is, it isn’t just a happy ending. It’s a happy ending that directly reverses the ending of the original episode, where Anthony is wishing for snow that will kill the town’s crops and lead to famine. Here he’s bringing the desert to bloom. That’s not just a change, that’s a spit in the eye of the original. And for what?
*. The first story is the only original one (that is, not taken from the television series). This doesn’t make it any better. In fact, it’s a really clunky morality tale about a bigot getting his comeuppance. Where is the wit and the weirdness in that?

*. It’s also worth noting that the first episode was supposed to also have a happy ending, with Morrow’s character being redeemed by saving a pair of Vietnamese children whose village is being destroyed. That it didn’t end up that way was only the result of the helicopter accident.
*. Credit Spielberg with at least being aware of the problem. Originally his story was to be the last one but I think he realized just how weak it was compared to Dante’s and Miller’s efforts and so demoted himself. Roger Ebert: “Spielberg, who produced the whole project, perhaps sensed that he and Landis had the weakest results, since he assembles the stories in an ascending order of excitement. Twilight Zone starts slow, almost grinds to a halt, and then has a fast comeback.”
*. The other problem with the stories is that there aren’t any twists or surprises. All of them play out just as you’d expect, or as less than you’d expect. The only nice touch was the reappearance of Dan Aykroyd at the end.

*. I think the critical consensus is nearly unanimous in finding the last two stories the strongest, and Miller’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” the best overall. I’d agree with this, but I have to say that I’m not blown away by what Miller did. He took a great original and didn’t mess it up. John Lithgow almost takes things too far, but by this point in the movie I think we’re all ready for someone to start cutting loose. Still, watching this segment again recently I really didn’t find it as thrilling as I remembered. In fact, I’m not sure if the TV episode wasn’t better.
*. But maybe what went wrong really does go back to the helicopter accident. When something terrible like that happens, and it was the first of the episodes to film, it must have cast a pall over the rest of the production. I’m sure it affected Landis. Apparently Spielberg just wanted to wrap his episode up as quickly as possible and put the whole thing behind him. I’m sure it would have weighed on Dante and Miller too.
*. I guess it all might have seemed like a good idea at the time. But the direction they wanted to take it was all wrong, and in the event this was a movie built in the eclipse and rigged with curses dark.

Creepshow (1982)

*. The 1980s are calling! Check out Leslie Nielsen’s VHS library! Ted Danson’s leonine mane of hair! The world’s longest extensions cord — running all the way down to the beach just to plug that giant box of a TV in to! Oh, I remember the ’80s well. And I don’t miss them a bit!
*. For all of its dated corniness, however, I’m surprised at how well this movie has held up. It has, I think, a small cult following, and its air of gruesome silliness still works. In fact, given that movies in the twenty-first century have thus far been dominated by a comic-book/videogame aesthetic, it hasn’t missed a beat.
*. It wasn’t an original concept. British studios like Amicus and Hammer had already made anthology horror movies inspired by stories taken from Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and other EC Comics. It was a natural fit between the two media, and I really like how the dissolves into and out of the pages of the comic book and the lurid colour scheme here plays this up.
*. Kim Newman: “The episodes tend to set up interesting situations, but fail to come up with the necessary funny/horrible punchlines.” I don’t agree with this. The punchlines seemed pretty good to me. The head-as-birthday cake? The eruption of cockroaches? And perhaps best of all, Leslie Nielsen’s triumphantly insane boast that he can hold his breath a long time? I thought these all struck the requisite note of ironic closure.

*. This shouldn’t be surprising, as both Romero and King have said they were raised on EC Comics and they’re both clearly in tune with the pulp spirit of the originals. I’m not sure Romero was a great director, but King does a great turn with the script here and I think it’s what mainly carries things along. He was at his peak as a writer in the ’80s, and the dialogue in particular is both naturalistic and dramatic in his best way.
*. King wasn’t a big fan of the sub-cult director Andy Milligan, calling his film The Ghastly Ones “the work of morons with cameras.” But I wonder if “Father’s Day” was at all inspired by that movie, since it contains a very similar scene. Maybe not (the idea goes at least as far back as the grisly end of John the Baptist), but perhaps he thought there was something there that he could borrow and improve on.
*. Speaking of possible influences, I wonder if the effect of bringing the pages of the comic book to life in a continuous dissolve was borrowed from Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror. They were both horror anthology films, so Romero might have had it in mind.

*. The cast also does a lot to help out. “The Crate” strikes me as the weakest story, at least in its concept, and it’s also the longest, but it’s given a jolt of energy with a couple of really good performances by Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau. Even though Barbeau in particular is really hamming it up, the comic-book tone is again captured perfectly and she just seems right.
*. King’s great theme has always been the threatened nuclear family, and that’s the basis of the frame story here as Billy (played by King’s own son, Joe) is abused by his crummy father (when gently prodded by his wife about his excessive discipline the man of the house replies “That’s why God made fathers, babe.”).

*. I wonder if the “Something to Tide You Over” segment was the source/inspiration for the Dutch film The Vanishing (1988). There’s the same premise of the lover with a need to find out what happened to his girlfriend being lured to a similar fate by a madman. I don’t know if the two films have ever been linked, but a connection seems possible.

*. To be sure, this is no Dead of Night. The anthology horror genre never climbed those heights again, and to be honest I don’t think it ever tried. Leaving Dead of Night aside, however, I think Creepshow stands out as one of the best of the rest. Some people prefer the British efforts, but I find them missing the sense of campy fun on display here. Before the coming of CGI, this was as close to comic books as the movies got. For better or worse.

Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)

*. Not Pink Floyd’s The Wall. But Pink Floyd: The Wall. Or, as it appears splattered on the title screen, Pink Floyd The Wall. Because that’s what’s on the album cover.
*. I think to some extent you have to be English to get it. Sort of like you have to be English to get If …., a movie that gives you some idea of where the satire on the education system here is coming from. As a psychobiography of Pink (Roger Waters), it’s very much the story of post-War England, or the England that the Second World War made. I don’t think that’s something an American audience can fully understand.
*. Gerald Scarfe brings this up on the DVD commentary, saying “I always sort of wonder how well this translates into other countries, you know because for us, or for me in particular, growing up in this period of the war it’s all very very reminiscent.” Unfortunately, Waters doesn’t respond to this and the point is dropped. Waters does, however, remark later that the movie Pink is watching on TV, The Dam Busters, means nothing to Americans but was a really big deal for English audiences.
*. Well, I can say that the album was so popular when I was a kid that it basically entered into my bloodstream, if not my DNA. It was a double album (if you remember such things) and I think I knew all the words to all the songs. I saw the movie around the time it came out and the imagery then got fastened to the music in my head.

*. I don’t think I’ve listened to it much since I was a teenager, or seen the movie again. Which is just to say that the story of a middle-aged man looking back on his life and trying to understand what went wrong is something I experience myself watching it for the first time in some twenty or thirty years. It’s not the story of my childhood or life, but it’s the story of the soundtrack to my childhood.
*. When I say I stopped listening to The Wall it’s not because I felt that I’d outgrown it or didn’t still like it, so much as I probably felt it didn’t have anything to say to me any more. Maybe I was wrong. It seems self-absorbed and a bit woolly today, but it still offers up its own magical “spots of time” (Wordsworth’s words for the kind of moments described in “Comfortably Numb”).
*. In short, while I was never a rock star trashing hotel rooms in the ’80s, I feel like I can relate to something here. Come to think of it, Roger Waters never trashed a hotel room either. So there, we do have something in common.

*. It’s an odd film in the sense of being a collaboration between three men — Waters, Scarfe, and director Alan Parker — who made roughly equal contributions. They did not get along well at all. Or at least Parker didn’t get along well with Waters. That seems to have been the main conflict.
*. Such conflict shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It’s hard to get three headstrong creative types all on the same page for a project like this. The surprising thing is that it came together at all.

*. It’s a movie I have a hard time judging today. So much of it seems a part of the past: both my own and a past world.
*. Perhaps the best example is the centrality of the different shots of Pink sitting like a zombie in front of the tube. Forget about relating to post-War England, I wonder if young people today can understand how much life revolved around television in the 1980s. We’re more accustomed to other screens and slightly different forms of autistic behaviour. I know of very few people, young or old, who do this kind of thing.

*. One thing a lot of (young) people were watching in the ’80s was MTV (launched just the year before this movie was released). You could think of The Wall as an extended music video and that wouldn’t be far from the mark. Also, as with some music videos, the images are now wedded to many of the songs. Before I saw the movie I’m sure I never associated “Comfortably Numb” with a kid throwing a dead rat into a canal, but now they can’t be pulled apart.
*. As a visual feast, it’s hard to fault the film’s design and the vitality and strength of its imagery. Scarfe’s animation in particular has really held up well. Even after so many of its types and referents have disappeared his images still have bite.

*. The Wall was a concept album, and I think the movie’s biggest failing is that the concept doesn’t come through all that well. Originally the wall just symbolized the barrier between a performer and his audience. It was a kind of mask, there to protect an artist’s vulnerabilities, but grew to encompass any sort of alienation (the television screen as a wall, isolating us in a cathode-ray cocoon) and finally even political borders.
*. I don’t feel that much of this comes through in the movie, which strikes me as being a thematic muddle. I think there must be a connection between Pink’s loss of his father and his subsequent morphing into an adult Nazi, but I’m not sure what it is. I don’t know why the post-War English should feel that the Nazis actually won in the end, somehow.

*. I also don’t understand Pink’s obsession with his mother. The album makes her out to be a smothering figure, a sort of fleshy wall of her own, but in the film she seems quite remote. You can’t help feeling that something isn’t coming through.
*. The result of much of this is to make Pink, played by Bob Geldof, appear more than a bit precious. Waters complains that the movie is “deeply flawed” because “it doesn’t have any laughs.” I think he may be on to something. A movie like this needed a bit of knowingness, an ability to laugh at itself, to show us that Pink understands how ridiculous, as well as tragic, he has become.

*. If I had to summarize here I’d say I still think it’s a great album, but not one I go back to much, and the movie is a great interpretation of the album but ditto. To borrow the image of the wall again, it seems like a hermetically sealed part of my own past and my memories of the ’80s. Or at least what I didn’t like about myself and didn’t like about the world in the ’80s. Which makes it a real achievement on one level, but it’s a past I don’t want to be reminded of now.
*. Does that mean I’m still building my own wall? Sure. I mean, whatever happened to alienation? It didn’t go away. In fact, I’d say there’s more of it than ever. We’re certainly more absorbed in our screens. But we don’t talk about alienation much any more. Narcissism is the new mantra. Either way, it’s an escape from looking at the real world that’s now taken for granted if not encouraged. Art, in turn, has become even further removed from the human, moving toward greater artificiality, superficiality, and convention. At least that’s my reading of the writing on the wall.