Friday, May 10, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Compound the Chaos

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Xenomorphs, Lucille Ball, a Friday the 13th spoof, and a horror master team-up.

ALIENS (1986)

A typical approach to making a sequel is to do something along the same lines as the original film but bigger - more action, wider scope, larger body count, etc. A prime example of that is director James Cameron's 1986 follow-up to Ridley Scott's 1979 instant classic Alien. The approach is evident right there in the title. The first movie featured one alien. This one is bringing the audience multiple aliens. A whole bunch of them.

It begins with tragedy. When Alien survivor Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crawled into a cryostasis tube at the end of that film, she was hoping the ship she was riding in would be picked up in six weeks. But when the ship is found and she wakes up, she finds that she has been drifting through space for fifty-seven years. She missed her daughter's entire life - the eleven-year-old she was trying to get back home to has been dead for two years, having passed away at the age of sixty-six.

The company Ripley worked for was up to some shady stuff in the first movie, secretly ordering the android that was on board her ship to bring an alien specimen back to them, and fifty-seven years later they suck just as much. When Ripley tells her story, their main concern is that she caused the destruction of the very expensive towing vessel the company owned, never mind that it's not likely any of the current executives were working there that long ago. Ripley is further shocked to hear that LV-426, the moon where her crew found a derelict ship full of alien eggs, has now been colonized. Sixty to seventy families have been living there for twenty years.

There are over three hundred surveyed worlds at this point in time, but the alien xenomorph Ripley encountered has never been found on any of them... So a company representative suggests that someone on LV-426 go check out the area where Ripley said the derelict ship was. They find the ship. They find the eggs. And soon that colony is overrun with aliens, nearly every single person there either killed or cocooned with a chestburster incubating inside them.

When the company loses contact with the colony, they dispatch a platoon of Colonial Marines and weaselly company representative Burke (Paul Reiser) to go see what happened. Ripley knows what happened. Heartbroken over her daughter and plagued by nightmares of chestbursters, she agrees to go along to LV-426 as an advisor. The Marines guarantee her safety, and Burke promises they'll be destroying any aliens they might find. You can't trust a promise from Burke.

Cameron introduces some iconic characters as members of that platoon of Marines. Ripley bonds the most with Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn, who replaced the initially cast James Remar during production), who is the sensible hero type. Among the fodder there's also Bill Paxton as the wisecracking Private Hudson, who has some hilarious freak-outs when faced with a planet of aliens; Jenette Goldstein as the badass Private Vasquez; and Lance Henriksen as an android called Bishop. Since Ripley had a bad experience with an android in the previous film she has a tough time trusting Bishop, but he is trustworthy and couldn't harm a person regardless of the situation. It's against his programming.

Alien put seven ill-equipped blue collar types up against one alien. Aliens puts more than a dozen heavily armed Marines up against dozens of aliens, so yes they are much bigger action sequences in this film than were in the first movie. As a tagline said, "This time it's war". But there are a lot of quiet moments between these bigger scenes, as Cameron did a great job of balancing the action with the same slow burn feel Scott brought to Alien. Aliens has similar pacing, and the visual style makes sure we feel like we're still in the same world as Alien. It's a perfect mixture of honoring what came before while Cameron still puts his own stamp on it.

The action there is doesn't even kick in until almost halfway into the movie. Aliens takes its time getting Ripley and the Marines to LV-426, it follows them as they check out the ruins of the colony. Then the Marines stumble into an alien nest and all hell breaks loose... And then the movie becomes a variation on the first Alien scenario, as the platoon has quickly been whittled down to just a few Marines. Their way off LV-426 is destroyed, they're stranded here, stuck in the colony and surrounded by aliens. While they lock themselves in rooms and hope the aliens won't come bursting in, there are some awesome moments involving motion detectors, much like Alien had an awesome sequence involving a motion detector when Tom Skerritt went looking for the alien in the air ducts.

Only one survivor is found at the colony, and Ripley's maternal instinct kicks in when she meets this survivor: it's a little girl called Newt, played by nine-year-old Carrie Henn. It was clever of Cameron to have Ripley lose her daughter and then meet this surrogate daughter that she'll go to any lengths to keep safe, and Newt is adorable.

As if taking on so many xenomorphs wasn't already challenge enough, Cameron then introduces their egg-producing Queen, which is much larger than the average xenomorph. That means we get a mother vs. mother battle in the climax.

Handing the reins of Aliens to Cameron seems like an obvious choice these days. Of course they would want him to make the sequel, he's the "King of the World". But at the time, this was an incredible opportunity for him. He was hired to write the screenplay based on the strength of his script for The Terminator, which hadn't gone into production yet. While 20th Century Fox was happy with the script he was writing, they didn't sign off on him directing the film until after The Terminator was a proven success - and why would they? Before The Terminator, his only directorial credit was on the poorly received Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, which he had no creative control over.

So The Terminator was the first movie Cameron got to make where he was actually calling the shots, and then he moved from that directly over to Aliens. With those two films, this beginner made two of the most popular sci-fi action movies of all time and secured his place as a major player in the entertainment industry.

I do find Aliens to be a bit long - especially the special edition cut, which is 154 minutes, 17 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. And as with Alien, I have to be in a specific mood to watch the movie, otherwise I will not have a pleasant time getting through it. But when I am in the proper mood, I can appreciate just how well made it is in every aspect. This is a great sequel. The smaller, darker Alien is more my speed, but if I hear that someone prefers Aliens I can totally understand why.

HERE'S LUCY (1968 - 1974)

I Love Lucy is the sitcom Lucille Ball will always be remembered for, but she starred in other shows beyond that one, including a couple sitcoms that, just like I Love Lucy, ran for six seasons a piece. The third of Ball's six season shows was Here's Lucy, and while she was divorced from I Love Lucy co-star Desi Arnaz by the time she reached this one, she did draw in a couple other co-stars who co-habitated with her: the two children she had with Arnaz, daughter Lucie Arnaz and son Desi Arnaz Jr., who were 17 and 15, respectively, when Here's Lucy began airing.

In this show, Ball plays Lucy Carter, a widow raising two teenage children - Lucie and Desi Jr. as Kim and Craig - while working for her brother-in-law Harry (Gale Gordon) at Carter's Unique Employment Agency, which finds unusual jobs for unusual people. I began watching Here's Lucy on Amazon Prime expecting the show to primarily find humor in domestic situations while showing Lucy's endeavor to raise two children on her own, but it actually seemed to be much more interested in finding humor in situations brought about by Lucy's job - and it was especially interested in featuring celebrity guest stars.

Ball had been in the entertainment industry for 40 years by the time this show came around and had already starred in one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, so she had obviously made a lot of famous friends over the decades. A good portion of them made their way onto Here's Lucy. The majority of the episodes revolve around a celebrity guest, among them Jack Benny, Wayne Newton, Carol Burnett, Johnny Carson, Liberace, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sammy Davis Jr., Vincent Price, Flip Wilson, Ginger Rogers, Eddie Albert, Andy Griffith, Donny Osmond, Frankie Avalon, Chuck Connors, Milton Berle... the list goes on, and is long. There's even a Mannix crossover and an episode where Ball shares the screen with herself, as Lucy Carter enters a Lucille Ball look-alike contest.

Here's Lucy dips into absurdity early and often. I certainly didn't expect a show about a widow and her children to have an episode inspired by Mission: Impossible just six episodes into its run, and that's not the first time Lucy gets mixed up in spy missions or crimefighting. The show is not afraid of pushing reality aside, and had very little interest in continuity - while the basic set-up was kept in place week to week, an episode would rarely have any connection to the one that followed or preceded it. Unless it was a multi-episode event, like the several episode road trip that began season 2. Things were certainly different back when this one was airing; shows try to tell more of a continuous story these days, and usually try to be more relatable.

There are times when Here's Lucy feels more like a variety show than a sitcom, as episodes will take any opportunity to turn into a song and dance routine... And that's when Lucie Arnaz could really steal the spotlight.

Lucille Ball was, of course, very funny, and she had a great chemistry with Gale Gordon, who delivered an amusing performance as the perpetually frustrated snob Harry. If you liked I Love Lucy, I'm sure you'd have a fun time watching Here's Lucy, as I did. But the main thing I got out of watching this show was the realization of how talented Lucie Arnaz was - and, I assume, still is. On Here's Lucy, she could sing, she could dance, and she could be funny. She came off as a star in the making on this show, and it makes me wish she had a much more extensive screen career than she has had.

Here's Lucy had a couple false endings on the way to its sixth season. Season 5 ends with what was intended to be a series finale, as Lucy and Harry close down the employment agency and look back on the events of the last five years. Season 4 ended with a set-up for a spin-off that would have followed Lucie Arnaz's character Kim as she moves into her own apartment. The spin-off would have been called The Lucie Arnaz Show, and that's a show I would have been very happy to watch.


Director Matt Frame's horror-comedy Camp Death III in 2D! caught my attention with the claim that it was a parody of Friday the 13th Part III (in 3D!). That's my favorite installment in my favorite horror franchise, so I was totally on board to see a comedic twist on its scenarios... As it turns out, the title is really the closest Frame's film gets to being a parody of that specific Friday the 13th movie, but scenes from early F13s do get the spoof treatment throughout.

This movie may not live up to the promise of being a parody of the third Friday the 13th, but it certainly does live up to the tagline "This movie is stupid" and the description that it "will be the stupidest movie you'll see all year". It employs a brand of over-the-top, manic, ridiculous humor that I'm generally not a fan of, but I can see viewers enjoying it if you happen to watch it with a group of friends who enjoy scatalogical humor and mind-altering substances.

If you take the history of Jason Voorhees and add in some fudge and a puppet you have the set-up for Camp Death's slasher Johann Van Damme, whose stalking grounds is a camp called Camp Crystal Meph - an example of the kind of absurd humor that can be found in this film. When young Todd Boogjumper decides to re-open the camp as "a nature based rehab center for the criminally insane and institutionally unbalanced", Johann returns to hack his way through this new batch of potential victims. Since most of them have some sort of mental and/or physical disability, those issues are played up for laughs, which some viewers are sure to find offensive.

The jokes in this are aiming as low as possible. More than enough of them emerge from the toilet; by the time a character ends up with a plunger stuck to their face and a turd in their mouth, it's no surprise at all.

Camp Death III in 2D! comes in at just under 80 minutes in length, but it moves along at such a quick pace, the story jumping around in an effort to throw out a non-stop barrage of jokes, that I found it to be exhausting to sit through. There is a lot going on in this movie, as you would expect from something that has almost 70 cast members and 18 people credited for the story. Plus the screenplay credit for Frame. Not content with just being a funny take on a stalk and slash scenario, the film also tosses in baffling asides like a musical sequence, maniacal squirrels that are reminiscent of the gopher in Caddyshack, and a speeder bike chase lifted straight out of Return of the Jedi. This thing is all over the place, a prime of example of something having "too many cooks".

This was not my type of movie, despite it being a parody of movies that I love. I was tired of it long before it was over. There were some things I appreciated about it, though. I liked some characters and performances - like Darren Andrichuk's foul-mouthed Uncle Mel, whose catchphrase is "F*ck your world!", and Katherine Alpen as a camper named Verta.

I was also impressed by what Frame was able to accomplish on a low budget (apparently around $35,000 CAD). The movie looks great and contains CGI effects you normally wouldn't expect to see in a project like this. The fact that Frame was even able to make something that's so scattered is quite an achievement. 

The Camp Death III in 2D! review originally appeared on

BODY BAGS (1993)

A few years into the anthology series Tales from the Crypt's seven season run on HBO, Showtime decided they wanted to try to get in on the horror anthology show action as well, and they had a hell of a collaborator on the TV movie test run of this endeavor: John Carpenter executed produced Body Bags, composed the score, directed two of its three segments, and even stepped in front of the camera to host the thing. Making the project even cooler, the third segment in the film was directed by Carpenter's fellow master of horror Tobe Hooper. All three were written by Billy Brown and Dan Angel.

Carpenter clearly had a lot of fun playing the host character, a ghoulish fellow called The Coroner, who drinks formaldehyde and messes around with the corpses in his morgue while addressing the audience to tell us the stories contained in the film. The Coroner is always disappointed to come across someone who has died of natural causes; he's much more interested in the stories of the people brought in zipped up in body bags - because that means their demise was something awful. Homicide, a terrible accident, etc.

The first segment is called The Gas Station (although I've also seen it referred to as Unleaded), and it takes place at a gas station miles from the nearest town - which happens to be Haddonfield, the setting of Carpenter's Halloween. As Anne (Alex Datcher) clocks in for her first night of work at the gas station, news reports inform us that a serial killer has once again been terrorizing the town of Haddonfield... It's not Michael Myers this time, though. By the end of this night, Anne will know exactly who this serial killer is.

On the way to the reveal of the killer's identity, Anne crosses paths with several familiar faces. Robert Carradine is a gas station co-worker, Sam Raimi is the place's employee of the month, An American Werewolf in London's David Naughton is a customer Anne has a flirtatious interaction with, Carpenter regular Peter Jason makes a fun appearance alongside Molly Cheek, George "Buck" Flower plays a homeless man who needs to use the restroom... and most memorable of all is a cameo by yet another master of horror, Wes Craven, as a creepy fellow credited as Pasty Faced Man. Craven does a really great job bringing this character to life during his brief screen time.

There's not much to The Gas Station, but it's a fun little slasher short... and since it's a slasher, that means it's the most "up my alley" of the three segments, and thus my favorite of the bunch.

Next up is Hair, a very odd and humorous story starring Stacey Keach by Richard Coberts, a man who is devastated by the fact that he is losing his hair. I know how he feels, I've been fighting the same battle since I was in my early twenties. I had very thick hair in my youth and never imagined I would lose it, but it had different ideas and now there's not much of it left. As Richard freaks out about his hair, his girlfriend (played by Sheena Easton) tells him he's "behaving like a baby." He responds, "Well, why not? I've got hair like a baby!" I can relate to this.

Tormented further by sights like a long-haired Greg Nicotero walking a shaggy dog down the sidewalk, Richard decides to get a hair transplant at the Roswell Hair Growth Laboratories, which is owned by David Warner's Dr. Lock, who is assisted by a nurse played by Debbie Harry. At first this transplant works beyond Richard's wildest dreams. His hair grows so long so quickly, Creepshow 2's Sam Whitemoon would be jealous. But soon the hair growth is completely out of control. Hair sprouts from places it shouldn't. Like inside Richard's throat. And when severed, these hairs prove to be little snake-like creatures that crawl away on their own.

Hair is simultaneously amusing and unnerving as we watch Richard fall apart from excessive hair growth, with the moment in which he tries to pluck a hair from his throat being especially bothersome.

Then we reach Hooper's segment, which is called Eye and is the darkest, most disturbing story of the three. It also happens to be another "transplant gone wrong" story, which makes The Gas Station stand off to the side on its own. If something is going to have three segments, it's kind of weird that only two of them have the same theme.

Mark Hamill plays Brent Matthews, a baseball player whose career is threatened when he loses an eye in a car accident. (Roger Corman is the doctor who has to inform him of the extent of his injury.) Brent undergoes an experimental eye transplant, and it looks promising that he's going to be able to continue providing for his wife Cathy (Twiggy) and the child they're expecting. Unfortunately, this new eye starts giving Brent horrific visions, and seems to be affecting his personality. Brent starts changing, becoming violent... I first saw Body Bags back in the early '90s, then didn't see it again for a good twenty-five years. During that time between viewings, Eye is the segment I remembered most, and I think that's because it's so troubling.

Body Bags is a good anthology, and I would have loved to have seen this become an on-going series - mainly because I wish there was a whole lot more of Carpenter playing the Coroner to watch. Showtime was interested in expanding Body Bags into a proper series, but Carpenter felt the budget they had in mind was too low and he didn't like the fact that the show would have to be filmed in Canada. (The feature was shot completely in California.) So Body Bags the series never happened. At least we have this movie to enjoy.

Now how about a sequel? Give me more Carpenter Coroner!

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