Category Archives: 1980s

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.

From Beyond (1986)

*. Why did this team — director Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton — give or take individual members, keep returning to the works of H. P. Lovecraft? After all, they changed the actual stories so much as to make them virtually unrecognizable. Indeed, in some cases they seem to have only kept the characters’ names.
*. Roger Corman had taken the same liberties with the works of Poe in his Poe cycle, and apparently Gordon had the idea of doing the same with Lovecraft. This doesn’t, however, explain the particular attraction Lovecraft had.
*. I think the main draw was that it was material that was in the public domain that had name recognition. The titles were even sometimes presented as H. P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond, H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, etc. At the same time, however, the stories were not sources that people were too familiar with or particularly wed to.
*. As an added bonus, with Lovecraft you got tentacles. Lovecraft is all about ropey, grasping tentacles. For some reason these movies really like tentacles too. They almost make a fetish of them. So there was something that was simpatico there.
*. There is one consistent, and glaring, digression from Lovecraft they make (I’m still talking about the Gordon-Yuzna Lovecraft films in general here). That has to do with sex. Most of these films have an enlarged and explicit sexual component, but sex was never big for Lovecraft. Or at least, it wasn’t big on the surface. Biographers and literary critics like to speculate on the meaning all those tentacles might have had in the mind of someone so repressed.
*. Of course there’s nothing new about erotic horror. Dracula was a sexy guy. The Wolf Man was the awakened id. Around this time, however, horror was getting downright kinky. A year after this movie was released Hellraiser came out, which played up the S&M angle even further. In fact, they’re very similar films in many ways, with horny devils from another dimension and women who get turned on by all that nasty stuff. For Dr. McMichaels the “resonator” is clearly some kind of proto-orgasmatron.

*. As with the famous scene of “the head giving head” in Re-Animator, the envelope here is pushed pretty hard. I mean, Katherine giving Crawford a handjob and then licking her fingers is pretty darn explicit.
*. Aside from the sexual angle though there’s nothing much of interest here. Lovecraft’s story is done before the credits start to roll. The plot basically just exists to show off a bunch of gruesome effects involving people’s bodies melting in grotesque ways. And pineal glands that sprout like erections from foreheads. And tentacles.

*. At the beginning of the movie (right after the credits) Dr. Bloch leaves her keys in the door to Tillinghast’s cell when she leaves. I thought they were going to make something out of that, but I guess it was just a slip.
*. It’s not a scary movie but it does have some fun moments. Bubba (Ken Foree, who was Peter in Dawn of the Dead) fighting the monster in his red Speedo-underwear. Crawford sucking out eyeballs. Just hearing the name Dr. Pretorius (in the story Tillinghast is the mad doctor while the Jeffrey Combs character is unnamed).
*. But basically it’s an effects film. Given the date and how cheaply the film was made (in Italy, where the producers could really stretch a buck), we shouldn’t expect too much from those effects today. Some of them, especially the floating fluorescent eels, look pretty bad. There’s also none of the sense of transgressive danger that would energize Hellraiser and make that movie such a game-changer. From Beyond doesn’t ask us to take it seriously, because that’s not how it takes itself.

The Beyond (1981)

*. Say what you will about the films of Lucio Fulci, the man knew how to talk the talk. Here he is defending The Beyond against critics complaining of its narrative incoherence: “People who blame The Beyond for its lack of story have not understood that it’s a film of images, which must be received without any reflection. They say it is very difficult to interpret such a film, but it is very easy to interpret a film with threads: Any idiot can understand Molinaro’s La Cage aux Folles, or even Carpenter’s Escape From New York, while The Beyond or Argento’s Inferno are absolute films.”
*. The notion of an “absolute film” sounds like Hitchcock’s “pure cinema” but that’s misleading. Pure cinema was a way of telling a story visually, but Fulci has no interest in story at all. “My idea,” he explains, “was to make an absolute film, with all the horrors of the world. Its a plotless film, there’s no logic to it, just a succession of images”

*. Those, then, are the ground rules. If you find The Beyond hard to follow then you just don’t understand that it’s a nightmare and isn’t meant to make sense. Don’t try to figure out what is going on, or why. Give up on trying to figure out who Emily is, what she’s doing, and why she has to be killed if she’s already dead. Or how that overturned bottle of acid just keeps pouring and pouring until it seems like it’s emptied a couple of bathtubs. Or how the doctor’s revolver magically reloads, and why he doesn’t understand, despite all the evidence he has in front of him, that you can only stop zombies by shooting them in the head. This film has nothing to do with such matters. Perhaps there are answers in the Book of Eibon, but good luck finding it!
*. We could even take this “absolute film” defence further. The Beyond is usually grouped together with two other movies — City of the Living Dead and The House by the Cemetery — as forming what’s been called the Gates of Hell trilogy. These three movies have little in common aside from dealing with very local outbreaks of zombies. But why even expect them to be connected? If The Beyond isn’t internally coherent, how could it function as part of a trilogy?

*. I’m not a big Fulci fan. I’ve mentioned before how I think he’s the least talented — and that by a long shot — of the big three Italian horror masters (the others being Mario Bava and Dario Argento). He has little skill when it comes to building suspense, preferring to wallow in gore and to throw a bunch of images up on the screen that should be scary but rarely are.
*. Maybe it’s the lack of any sense of pace. Damn but Fulci’s zombies move slowly. They’re just barely ambulatory. Other times they only stand around like mannequins. Then there are the big fuzzy spiders. They crawl about their victim here with a distinct lack of urgency. This seems to be Fulci’s default pace. Horror approaches very slowly and steadily, like the creep of bloody foam coming up to the girl’s shoes in the morgue. But it’s never very scary, or even threatening.

*. The slow pace and lack of a coherent story, with some help from bad dubbing and bad effects, make for some funny moments. I don’t laugh at Bava or Argento, even when they’re really bad, but I find myself laughing throughout a lot of Fulci’s movie, even, or especially, when he’s at his best. There’s something so wonderfully silly and surreal about them. Like Emily being shown running out of the house over and over. What’s going on there? Or is that another question not to be asked?
*. I just mentioned bad effects, and that’s a point I want to underline. After all, if you’re selling your movie as just a bunch of unrelated images, those images had better be good, right? Well, they’re not. The dog and spider puppets look terrible. The effect the film keeps going back to is having faces dissolve into sludge: with lime or acid dumped on them, or being torn apart by spiders. But the latex and goo just look fake. And look at the watery blood pumping out of Emily’s throat when it’s ripped open by her dog (a scene stolen from Suspiria, by the way). That’s just ridiculous. It clearly isn’t coming out of any arteries.

*. Fulci also has a thing about going after eyes, and this at least gives The Beyond it’s one “good” (if physically improbable) kill as the spike in the wall is driven through the back of Martha’s head and punches out her eyeball from behind. I’ll give him one point for that. But it’s not as good as the eye being impaled with a splinter of wood in Zombie.
*. By that time, however, The Beyond was so far behind on the score that it didn’t make any difference. For some reason this is considered a bit of a cult film, though I don’t think it even rates that highly among Fulci’s other work. I’d rather watch Don’t Torture a Duckling or Zombie or City of the Living Dead again than watch this. As always with Fulci there are a couple of standout scenes and some interesting sets (the morgue, the flooded basement, the moonscape of hell), but that’s it. All in all it’s a turgid, waxy mess that isn’t well put together or original in any way. It may be “absolute film” but that doesn’t make it any better.

Silver Bullet (1985)


*. I guess the full title of this one is Stephen King’s Silver Bullet. But you might have guessed that much.
*. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Stephen King, especially his work in the 1980s, but it is very much of a piece. The nuclear family under stress, threatened children, realistic domestic details, small-town drama. He never strays far from his strengths.
*. Even certain structural elements keep repeating. I was reminded of this here as the Sheriff (Terry O’Quinn) figures out what is going on only to suffer immediate termination. This made me think of Scatman Crothers coming to the rescue (not) in The Shining, or Richard Farnsworth (ditto) in Misery. It’s just a way of teasing the audience into thinking that help is on its way and then yanking the rug out from under them.


*. Tarker’s Mills is another one of those idyllic King communities with a dirty secret. It might be next door to Lumberton (the town in Blue Velvet) or Twin Peaks (where Everett McGill also resides). But where Lynch is weird and surreal, King is grounded in the familiar and the everyday. King believes in the essential normality (and, ultimately, goodness) of life. I don’t think Lynch does.
*. I mentioned King as being particularly good in the ’80s, and just as there’s no mistaking Silver Bullet as a Stephen King movie, there’s also no mistaking its date. The soundtrack would be enough of a tip-off, with its poppy electronic score, but the haircuts clinch it. Also noticeable is the way you get to see so much of Marty’s hair, since back in the day you didn’t have to wear a helmet when riding your motorbike.
*. But more than any of this, the killer’s point-of-view shots are the biggest ’80s giveaway. As James Kendrick observes, Silver Bullet is really “little more than a slasher film in which the slasher is a lycanthrope, rather than a run-of-the-mill psychotic.”
*. I’m not sure who directed what. Don Coscarelli was the original director and apparently filmed part of it, but he resigned at some point and was replaced by Dan Attias. Attias went on to have a very prolific career as a television director but I don’t think he ever made another feature film.
*. One of the things there seems to have been some creative disagreement about was the appearance of the werewolf. I don’t think it looks that bad, but it’s nothing special either. I’d say the same for the transformation scenes. In the end, it’s a movie that’s less interested in the werewolf than it is in the Coslaw family (something that is very typical of King). We don’t really learn that much about the Reverend Lowe, which is a bit of a shame since he seems to be a tortured soul. When Uncle Red asks Jane a basic question like how he became a werewolf she just shrugs, and so does the rest of the film.


*. The bit at the end where Marty has to pluck the silver bullet out of the grate had to be borrowed from Strangers on a Train. It’s not in the book. It remains just a throwaway homage here though, as this is never a very suspenseful or scary film in the Hitchcock manner.
*. Roger Ebert thought the comic parts saved an otherwise very bad movie, but he wasn’t sure if they were intentional. I think they were, and I wouldn’t say this was a bad movie. It is, however, a horror film for young people. It has the feel of an after-school special, even with its occasional bursts of gore. That may be why it did so poorly at the box office. It rated as a tweener.
*. Most of the credit for what’s good has to go to the script. It’s not great, but it’s proficient: an effective arrangement of set-piece scenes (based on a novella, Cycle of the Werewolf, that was itself a collection of short stories all set in the same town). The plot builds just as it should, there are well paced reveals, and overall it makes for a nice blend of darkness and humour. Over thirty years later, it’s held up very well.


An American Werewolf in London (1981)

*. Re-watching this movie after not having seen it for decades led to a slight feeling of let down. I had very fond memories of it from back in the day, but seeing it again I was less impressed. It’s still a fun, quirky little movie, but there’s less here than I remembered.
*. Among the things I’d forgotten: what an asshole David is. I’m prepared to give him a pass for running away when the werewolf attacks Jack, because at least he does go back to help (when it’s too late). But when he won’t take off his headphones when Nurse Price is talking to him he’s being a real jerk. That kind of behaviour would get you some rough treatment in most hospitals. But he’s cute and she’s already fallen in love with him, so she ends up hand-serving him his food and decides she’d like to take him home with her. Sheesh.
*. On a related note, it’s a little thing, but I kept wondering why David was being kept in the hospital for so long when there seemed to be absolutely nothing wrong with him. And in a private room no less (Griffin Dunne refers to it as “a real full-service hospital” on the DVD commentary). David must have had some good insurance. Even in 1981 you couldn’t expect luxury like that.
*. Meanwhile, I like how on the commentary Dunne asks David Naughton why his character’s parents never visited him in the hospital. I was wondering that myself. I guess someone told them that he wasn’t badly injured, though he’d apparently been in a coma for quite a while.
*. Whatever happened to David Naughton? Jenny Agutter? Griffin Dunne? Dunne was in After Hours, so that’s something. Agutter (who had been on screen since the age of 12 and played the Girl in Walkabout) did a lot of TV. Hey, they all kept busy working, which in itself is an achievement for an actor. But it’s strange that none of these relatively young stars, appearing in a hit movie, really went on to have big careers. The curse of the werewolf, maybe.

*. Rick Baker won the first Best Makeup Academy Award for his work on this film, though the actual transformation scene, and there’s really only one, doesn’t last long. Still, I think it holds up pretty well nearly forty years later. And Griffin Dunne’s decaying body is just as impressive in many ways. I still look at his shredded throat and wonder how they managed to give it such a realistic appearance of depth.

*. By the way, is there any consensus of when you use “makeup” or “make-up”? In the credits, Baker is said to be in charge of “make-up,” and that’s the way I’ve usually spelled cosmetics and such. But I think more often now we say makeup (as the Academy Awards do, for example).
*. Baker was surprised that Landis didn’t want a bipedal werewolf. It was an untraditional choice, especially coming from a director with such a strong sense of tradition. And usually the four-footed variety of werewolf are played by actual wolves, or dogs (I’m thinking of The Beast Must Die or Wolfen). The only other four-footed, special-effect werewolves I can think of are in Ginger Snaps and Brotherhood of the Wolf (even in the sequel to this film, An American Werewolf in Paris, the creatures move around upright unless they’re in a hurry). I’m sure there have been others, but the point stands that it’s not a conventional choice.

*. I thought it interesting to hear John Landis, in an interview included with the DVD, referring to the transformation scene in sexual terms: “essentially it’s an erection metaphor.” He likens lycanthropy to puberty, with the growth of hair where you never had it before and a painful, uncontrollable swelling.
*. Now to some extent this has always been implicit in the werewolf psycho-mythology. The wolf-man is the beast within, the unleashed id that can’t wait to rip its clothes off and wreak havoc on convention. But what makes An American Werewolf in London odd is that David has already got the girl and taken her to bed before he turns into a wolf. After he goes through his transformation he is no longer a sexual threat but merely a wild dog ripping people’s heads off.

*. Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” was released in 1978. Why isn’t it on the soundtrack here? It’s hard not to think it was some kind of inspiration, though Landis has said he had a draft of the script written as early as 1969. On the commentary, Naughton and Dunne say they don’t know why Landis didn’t obtain the rights to it. Maybe it was too expensive, as it was a pretty big hit.
*. What I still like about this movie is the friendship between David and Jack that survives death, and the whole business of Jack’s genial, decomposing corpse showing up to offer advice. This was something new, and it works really well. I don’t mind the quick ending, or the blend of comedy and horror, but the comic parts really aren’t that funny (aside from the bit where David and Jack arrive at the tavern) and there’s very little horror. This makes it seem longer than I remember it, which is always a bad sign. Still, there are plenty of good parts and those are what stick with you.

Pin: A Plastic Nightmare (1988)


*. What a strange and uncomfortable film. And yet undeniably effective.
*. Canada doesn’t get enough appreciation for its great little horror movies. Everyone knows the name of David Cronenberg, but there are also lots of other quirky classics like, for example, Ginger Snaps, Cube, and this movie. All in all, horror is probably the genre Canada does best.
*. Pin takes its mythic chassis from Psycho, only Leon is the repressed young man whose personality is split with a plastic anatomy dummy rather than the effigy of his dead mom. Like Norman hiding his violent self behind “mother,” Leon hides his psychopathy behind Pin.
*. So the story itself doesn’t break a lot of new ground. But it’s handled in such a surprisingly thoughtful and mature manner that it stands head and shoulders above the ocean (I was going to say pool) of crap that flooded screens in the 1980s. I mean, I don’t think we even see a knife being brandished once. “Pin” may be a killer, but he’s no slasher.
*. Yes, the psychologizing can be heavy-handed. We get it that mom was a neat freak and dad was . . . Terry O’Quinn. So authoritarian and odd. Plus seeing the nurse use Pin as a sex doll would have scarred anyone, and attending his sister’s abortion might not have been healthy for Leon either. But I give the script credit for presenting us with this much back story and making it interesting. I mean, we never do find out what Norma Bates did to little Norman.
*. A man chopping wood is almost always a bad sign, isn’t it? At least that’s what I thought when I saw Leon with his axe building up the wood pile. It made me think of James Brolin in The Amityville Horror. I only learned later that the script for Amityville Horror had been written by Sandor Stern, who wrote and directed this movie. So maybe it’s just a personal association.
*. The cast is great. David Hewlett looks eerily plastic himself, especially with that haircut. He also has the ability to tilt his mouth at a striking angle. Cyndy Preston isn’t just a scream queen as Ursula but someone we can relate to.
*. They did a good job with the dummy, and an even better job casting Jonathan Banks (probably best known as Mike Ehrmentraut on Breaking Bad) as Pin’s voice. With his flat reasonableness he reminded me a bit of Hal in 2001, the computer that goes insane. I also like how Pin seems to become progressively bossier and less empathic as things go on. With his final words, doesn’t he even display a certain contempt for Leon?
*. Ah, once again with the old, bizarro-world cliché of being trapped in a house where all the doors are locked from the outside. It takes Ursula coming home to rescue Marsha. Now how much sense does that make?
*. Oh, these introverted families and their isolated homes. Gothic nightmares all play the same way (the author of Pin, Andrew Neiderman, became the ghost writer for V. C. Andrews after her death, and wrote the stage adaptation for Flowers in the Attic). “A good job is worth more than the money, it’s good for the mental health,” their aunt tells the new orphans. Good advice. At least a job will get you out of that damn house.
*. I can understand why this wasn’t a bigger hit. It’s too quiet and understated for its own good. And yet it’s presented with real professionalism throughout, and despite its familiarity in so many regards (the Psycho angle, the evil-mannequin angle, the gothic horror angle), it has a unique feel. Horror in the ’80s wasn’t all bad. It’s just that sometimes you have to look hard for the good stuff, and only find it hiding someplace weird.

Predator (1987)


*. It was thirty years ago and I was 18 and Predator was not a movie I or any of my friends would have dared to miss.
*. I went to see it a couple of times when it first came out, and I’ve watched it several times since. I think it’s held up remarkably well, earning a place among the best of the ’80s action crop.
*. It is, of course, a comic book. Apparently the initial idea was inspired by a joke running the rounds that had it that Rocky’s next opponent (after Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV) would have to be an alien. Our hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has veins like bungee cords sticking out of his arms. When he throws a massive knife at a bad guy, pinning him to the wall, he laughs “Stick around!” (I was neither surprised nor impressed to hear that this was an improvisation.) Despite presumably traveling light, the team manage to blow off what seems to be an entire truck load of ammunition (and ammunition is really heavy to lug around). There are lots of explosions, with stunt men flying through the air.


*. But for all this cheese, or maybe because of it, Predator is a great action flick, the sort of movie Howard Hawks might have made if he’d been making movies in the ’80s. The concept is as old as The Most Dangerous Game, with the super-soldier Dutch finding himself no longer the hunter but the prey in a jungle game of cat-and-mouse. Pure cheese, but it’s all put forward with professionalism in every department.
*. Item one: the pounding — and I mean pounding — score by Alan Silvestri. It’s not there to build suspense but to increase the flow of adrenaline, and it demands attention whenever it’s allowed to kick in. As a complement also worth noting, listen to the wonderful use of sound in this movie. When the team attack the guerilla camp you can hear the rising whine of the helicopter preparing for take off long before we see it, making it almost seem like part of the score. And it could be part of the score for how perfectly it fits in with all the other elements. Then there are the various Predator noises, including what was the sound of a whip snapping to register shifts in its vision. You can’t beat the sound of a whip snapping in an action flick.


*. Item two: the fluidity of the action sequences. Some of this is just good editing, but what struck me more is how well set up they were. Like the way we transition from one bit of action to another in the attack on the guerilla camp with a quick pan. Or the way the Predator is introduced in several different shots coming up behind Arnold.
*. Item three: the gradual revealing of the Predator. First we get the thermal-vision point-of-view shots. We see a hand that looks like a claw reaching out to pick up the scorpion. Then we see it as a camouflage effect in the jungle. Then its eyes. Then partially coming out of its camouflage, for very brief shots or only showing isolated body parts. Then, all at once, rising out of the water (ironically revealed at the very moment Arnold, covered in mud, has disappeared from its view). Then the climax in the final battle as it removes its helmet and we get to see the ugly motherfucker in all its glory. By showing us just little pieces a bit at a time, director John McTiernan makes the striptease last the entire film.


*. Yes, on the surface it’s a brainless action movie full of musclemen blowing things up real good. But a movie like this is easy to underestimate because its effects are so direct and visceral. And as for those musclemen, well, two of them would go on to become state governors.
*. Some of it I don’t like. Shane Black’s crude jokes aren’t even remotely funny. The final duel between Arnie and the Predator is actually the dullest part of the movie. None of the plot points bear much thinking about. And yet it’s all good, silly fun and the idea naturally developed into a franchise. Along with the Alien creature the Predator would turn into one of the period’s iconic movie monsters. Eventually, the two would have to face off, like Dracula meeting Frankenstein. But that would take a while yet.


Saturn 3 (1980)

*. The whole project was doomed from the start.
*. It was production designer John Barry’s baby. He wrote the original story and was slated to make his directorial debut with it, but got pulled at the last minute, apparently due to a falling out with Kirk Douglas. Never a good thing.
*. Barry was replaced by Stanley “The King of Hollywood musicals” Donen, who was one of the producers. I’m not sure Donen belonged in space. Actually, after the demise of the big studio musicals, he might not have belonged in Hollywood.
*. The cast didn’t belong in space either. Kirk Douglas does his best, but never seems at home. Farrah Fawcett is strictly eye candy. And Harvey Keitel . . . well, he was so out of place even his voice had to be dubbed.
*. I thought Fawcett’s Alex sounded dubbed as well. And the dog screams like a girl. What’s up with the sound in this film?
*. The script was by Martin Amis, and what Amis knew about screenwriting was nothing. There’s no continuity in the action, or even explanation for anything that’s happening. Roger Ebert: “The level of intelligence of the screenplay of Saturn 3 is shockingly low — the story is so dumb it would be laughed out of any junior high school class in the country.”
*. I mean, who is Benson (Keitel) and what is he up to anyway? Why has he gone to Saturn 3? What does he want to do there? Just hide out? Grow some hydroponic weed and chill with Farrah? Then, when Hector takes over, what is his game? I guess Hector’s brain has been infected with Benson’s obsession with Alex, but what does Hector think he’s going to do with her? Does he want to breed her in some Demon Seed sort of way?
*. Another dig at the script: “Did you know the original Hector came to a tragic end? He was killed by Achilles . . .” Yes, but what of it? What comparison is Amis (or Barry) trying to draw between the robot and Homer’s Hector?
*. Despite Barry being a design man, I thought everything about the look of the film was terrible. The usual endless dark corridors with lots of jetting steam and ductwork. Model spaceships doing slow crawls across the screen. Farrah Fawcett in a parade of sexy outfits, including a different nightie for every day of the week and a jogging ensemble including go-go boots and a blouse that’s only connected at her neck.
*. And then there’s Hector. Despite being the first of the “demigod series” he looks like a pair of Christmas tree lights sticking out of a Terminator chassis, brought to life by a tank of brain matter that circulates through by a network of silly-straws.
*. Douglas is in great shape. He even manages a nude scene, which is impressive for a senior. Fawcett was thirty years younger. One can sympathize with Keitel wanting to “use” her body. The only fun scene in the movie has him upbraiding her for her “penally unsocial” monogamy. It’s a crime that Douglas gets to keep her for his “personal consumption.” Don’t mistake that for a liberated or progressive point of view, by the way. I’d say this vision of the future looks like it’s taking a big step backward for women.
*. In recent years there’s been a slight uptick of interest in this film, in part because of some of the names involved but I think more for its delayed “camp” value. Well, I’m not going to jump on this particular train. It just seems to me to be a really bad movie, and not worth much attention.

The Hunger (1983)


*. There has long been a critical consensus on The Hunger. In brief, that it is all style and no substance.
*. I don’t see any reason to challenge that view. Tony Scott got a lot of flack for being a director of commercials and music videos who just transferred this sensibility to the big screen. On the DVD commentary he does nothing to shy away from the charge, frankly admitting that the look of the film was very much of a piece with the world he was coming from. “I brought the commercial world to the world of movies,” he says, though he also points out that this was not an original development since his brother Ridley, Alan Parker, and Hugh Hudson had all followed the same career trajectory and been doing work in the same vein.
*. As far as criticism of the look of the film itself went, Scott is equally at ease. He remarks how critics slammed The Hunger as “artsy, esoteric, and self-indulgent,” and that they were right. He only adds in his defence that it is “still an interesting film.”
*. Well. Sort of interesting. But not interesting enough, at least in my book.
*. A couple of shots of drapes blowing slowly in the otherwise still air would not have been too much. Or perhaps even five or six such shots. But once Scott got up to a dozen it was probably time to start cutting back. And after two dozen . . .
*. I can understand the darkness of the Blaylock’s mansion, seeing as they’re vampires. Though they’re never called vampires in the script and I’m not sure if they’re bothered much by sunlight (or crosses, or whatever). It’s also odd that they appear in mirrors when they’re otherwise not visible, which sort of inverts the usual vampire lore. But anyway, to get back to my point, I can understand their mansion being dark. But why does the medical center have the same dismal, bluish lighting as the disco? And why do so many people wear cool sunglasses at night, in dark buildings?
*. Scott said he was inspired by Roeg’s Performance, which was an influence I didn’t pick up on at all. Is it just because both movies had rock stars in them? He also says the style was inspired by Helmut Newton. I guess you could see someone like David Fincher being a modern inheritor to this look. During his commentary, Scott says if he were making The Hunger today he’d do it in a grittier, more realistic and less operatic way. But still somewhat operatic. That sounds like Fincher.


*. I would have thought a more obvious influence was Daughters of Darkness. The plot has a general resemblance (the decadent vampires who have a falling out, only for the queen to die and be succeeded by her lesbian lover), and I can’t believe they weren’t consciously trying to make Catherine Deneuve look like Delphine Seyrig. But Daughters of Darkness isn’t even mentioned by either Scott or Sarandon on the DVD commentary.
*. I found the editing to be painful. There just isn’t enough time to establish where you are before you’re bounced to somewhere else. And is all the obvious cross-cutting really necessary? I think the sequence where Bowie ages while waiting to see the heartless Dr. Roberts works very well on its own. I didn’t need to see the monkey dying at the same time. Because Bowie doesn’t have progeria, right?
*. Another reason I like that aging sequence is that it’s something we can all relate to. Your doctor doesn’t see you on time very often, does she? But this time she’s sorry!


*. David Bowie had a number of prominent movie roles, but I don’t think he’s any better than any other rock star has been on screen. Which is to say, he’s a hopeless actor. At least he doesn’t have to do much here but get old. The make-up effects for his aging are great though.
*. I was surprised they showed a large urine stain in the front of John Blaylock’s pants when Miriam crates him up. I guess that’s realistic, but still not something I expected.
*. I wonder when the wedding of alternative music (punk or whatever) with a gothic look and vampirism got started. Long before this. Perhaps it was with those Hammer vampire films set in swinging London. It seems vampires are drawn to clubs, and for a while “vampire sex clubs” were sort of a thing.


*. Bauhaus were never my thing. But then, neither was Bowie. I don’t care for the score of this film at all. The classical notes sound chintzy. The Lakmé flower duet, later to be used in a famous British Airways commercial (directed by Hugh Hudson, to come full circle) during the love scene between Miriam and Sarah is insipid. And what is that annoying noise being made when Tom discovers Sarah going through her withdrawal symptoms? It made me want to turn the sound off entirely.
*. Eternal life seems kind of dull on these terms, doesn’t it? You get to wear nice clothes, and live in swell digs, and listen to lots of classical music, but aside from that . . . not much. Maybe that’s why they all spend so much time making smoking look sexy.


*. It was marketed as an erotic horror film, and we all know what that means, don’t we boys? Hot lesbian action! Roger Ebert: “The Hunger is an agonizingly bad vampire movie, circling around an exquisitely effective sex scene.” I wonder what he meant by “effective” in that context. Tumescence?
*. At the end of the day, it’s a movie that just doesn’t add up to much. There’s about enough of a story to fill a half-hour television slot, tricked out with lots of flashy art direction. After a while, a very little while actually, it starts to get annoying. The climactic confrontation in the attic at the end was too much, what with the blowing drapes, flapping pigeons, and crazy camera tilts. (“Crazy” because according to Scott it’s actually supposed to be the attic itself that’s tilting! Ask yourself how that’s possible.) And what were all those damn pigeons doing in the apartment anyway? Did they fly in from Blade Runner? A John Woo picture? Everything in that attic would have been covered in pigeon shit. I know.
*. Then the studio insisted on adding a coda that brought Sarah back to life and stuck Miriam in a box. I don’t think it makes sense (Sarandon: “I was kind of living, she was kind of half-dying, nobody really knew what was going on”), but they wanted to leave the door open for a sequel. They didn’t get one (because, in Scott’s words, “The Hunger didn’t make a bean”), though there was a short-lived TV series based on the premise. Because for a movie that never had a story in the first place, where was there to go?


Amityville 3-D (1983)


*. 3-D! Oh no! Duck! Here comes the title!
*. I jest. A bit. The thing is, I’ve never seen this movie in 3-D, which means I may be missing a lot. Indeed, I may be missing the whole point of the exercise. A Frisbee comes flying out of the screen, and later a swordfish.
*. As with Friday the 13th Part III and Jaws 3-D, which were both released the same year as this, the 3-D process used was something called ArriVision. This was a process that was supposed to revitalize 3-D, but audiences didn’t like it. It probably didn’t help that the movies were crap.
*. I guess this is a sequel to The Amityville Horror, and its prequel Amityville II: The Possession, though none of the movies seems to inhabit quite the same fictional (or quasi-fictional) universe. This is, for example, the first film to mention the DeFeo family murders. In Amityville II the family is given a different name. And there is no mention of the Lutzes here at all (I think for legal reasons).
*. Why does it always have to be a writer who goes crazy in these haunted houses?
*. Another question: Why the hell does John want to live in such a massive mansion by himself? The Lutzes and the Montellis were married couples with loads of kids, so it made sense. But why would a single man with no kids living with him want, or need, a six-bedroom Dutch Colonial barn? He mentions before buying it that it will give him “plenty of room.” Well I should think so! But plenty of room for what?
*. I found this time out that I was starting to get tired of the house. The franchise as a whole is quite bound by the same basic set. We rarely leave the house, and that basement and that attic get very familiar quickly. Not that the series doesn’t try to get out more often, making the demon’s power remarkably mobile, but this in turn only makes me question what limits that power has.
*. The photos Melanie takes showing the rotting face of the soon-to-be-dead real estate agent are pretty creepy, but it seemed strange to me that nobody was very impressed by them. I don’t think anyone could see pics like that and think there was something wrong with the camera or the film. Though I have to admit, that angry emoji she discovers is pretty darn silly. Maybe the silliest thing in this silly picture.
*. Poor Dr. West. For a paranormal investigator he really didn’t have a clue what he was up against, did he?
*. It’s probably best known today for being what I believe was the feature-film debut of Meg Ryan, but is there any indication here of her later becoming a star? I don’t see anything.
*. There’s the same peculiar sense as in the other two instalments of a movie that isn’t sure what it’s finally about or where it’s going. Even at the end it’s left unclear what happened to Susan, or why. Is she that pathetic-looking orange light effect? As for the well being the gateway to hell, why does it fill with water? Or flames? And what is that stupid-looking, fire-breathing demon? Is that supposed to be the angry Indian?
*. The ending would seem to have driven a stake through any thought of a sequel, but then the house had blown up real good at the end of Amityville II and that didn’t stop them from bringing it back. Instead, it was poor box office that left the franchise dormant (at least for theatrical releases) until the twenty-first century, when all the horror classics from the 1970s and ’80s were remade. Next stop: 2005!