Friday, October 19, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Survival Can Be Murder

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.

Horror tales from the North Pole, Turkey, Australia, and L.A.


In 1938, author John W. Campbell Jr. (a.k.a Don A. Stuart) wrote a novella titled Who Goes There?, about a group of scientific researchers in Antarctica who discover a spacecraft and its pilot buried in ice near their outpost. When the alien creature, which has been frozen for millions of years, thaws out, it proves to be a telepathic shapeshifter that can replicate any living being around it.

Veteran filmmaker Howard Hawks chose to make a cinematic adaptation of Campbell's story the first project for his production company Winchester Pictures Corporation, but once Winchester got into development of the film they figured that the alien described in the novella would be too costly to bring to life, so the Thing that would reach theatre screens turned out to be a bloodsucking, Frankenstein's Monster sort of creature played by 6'6" actor James Arness.

Scripted by Charles Lederer, the film moves the action to the North Pole and begins with a United States Air Force crew led by Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and accompanied by a reporter called Scotty (Douglas Spencer) flying in to investigate a scientific team's claim that an aircraft has crashed in the vicinity of their remote, snowbound outpost. Pat intends to mix some pleasure with the business of this trip, as he happens to be romantically entangled with Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan), secretary to the outpost's head researcher Dr. Carrington (Robert Conthwaite).

Any chance for romance goes out the window when the scientists and airmen confirm that the aircraft that crashed near the outpost and sank into the icy ground was a flying saucer from another world. Although they accidentally destroy the saucer while trying to get it back to the surface, they locate the alien vehicle's occupant buried in the ice nearby and take the frozen creature back to the outpost... Where another accident causes it to thaw out and spring back to life.

The alien known as "The Thing" proceeds to stalk around the outpost, consuming the blood of any living thing it comes across - and the things it has to feast on here happen to be humans and the sled dogs. The scientists put their heads together to deduce that this alien is some kind of highly evolved plant life; in fact, the dialogue goes so far as to make a mockery out of it, even while trying to get across that this is a perfectly logical idea, by referring to the creature as a "super carrot" and an "intellectual carrot".

The Thing is tough to hurt, and even if it loses a limb it's able to re-grow body parts by consuming blood. Drinking blood also causes seed pods to sprout on its body. This is how it reproduces. Carrington is so fascinated by all this that he even plants some of these seeds in the outpost greenhouse and nurtures them with drip bags of plasma.

This is all strange and a little goofy, and at the time when this film was released viewers were actually creeped out by it, which is kind of hard to imagine more than sixty-five years down the line. The film had an especially strong impact on the young people who saw it back in the day, including a young John Carpenter, who would go on to direct a remake of it thirty years later. Its effectiveness has lessened over the decades, but it still holds up as an entertaining creature feature, even if a rampaging James Arness isn't the most impressive of creatures.

There is, however, a stunt scene that remains amazing to behold. At one point, the people lure the Thing into a room and manage to catch it on fire by dousing it with kerosene and firing a flare gun at it. As the burning creature flails around the room, they keep the fire going by tossing more buckets of kerosene on it, splashing flame all around inside a room where there are people at every turn. In the midst of this, Nikki is seen raising a mattress in front of herself as a shield, which the fire-coated stunt performer standing in for Arness swipes with his hand, leaving the mattress torn open and burning. When the Thing turns around from doing that, it's hit with another bucket of kerosene, which sends fire flying back onto the mattress, which still has someone hiding behind it. This scene is over in less than a minute, but those seconds of action come across as a display of incredibly dangerous insanity.

According to the credits, The Thing from Another World was directed by Christian Nyby, but this a situation like Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg on Poltergeist where no one seems to be able to agree on who directed more of the movie, the credited director or the producer.


If director Can Evrenol's film Housewife has anything going for it, it's the cinematography by Tayman Tekin, which calls to mind the color-soaked imagery Dario Argento's Suspiria or of films by Argento's fellow Italian filmmaker Mario Bava. Many of the scenes in Housewife are bathed in a beautiful blue lighting, or a pleasant amber, or a harsh red. Even when things aren't colorful, the images captured by Tekin still look wonderful. This is a very pretty film to look at, despite the horrific and grotesque subject matter.

Housewife also has one of the most disturbing opening sequences I have seen in recent memory. It begins with two young sisters having a conversation in their bedroom that is interrupted when the older of the two has her first period. Their mother has a very unexpected reaction to this event; she freaks out and proceeds to drown her daughter in the toilet... and when the younger girl witnesses the murder, things get even more out-of-control, and blood is shed.

Jump ahead a couple decades and the younger girl has grown up to be the housewife of the title, Holly Erguvan (played by Clémentine Poidatz). Understandably, Holly has been left with some serious issues. She becomes ill in the presence of children, she refuses to urinate in a toilet (the film doesn't address how she handles #2), and she has flashbacks to the night when her mother went on a murderous rampage. Yet she apparently hides her issues from her husband Timucin (Ali Aksöz) quite well, because as far as he's concerned they're working on having a child. He doesn't know Holly is still taking birth control pills.

Things get even weirder when Valery (Alicia Kapudag), a woman who used to live with Holly and Timucin, comes back into their lives and invites them to a special gathering of members of the Umbrella of Love and Mind, a cult that's described as being "like Scientology" and believes the apocalypse will be arriving soon. The cult is headed up by David Sakurai as Bruce O'Hara, a charming guy who describes himself as "a dream surfer", takes the stage dancing to KC and the Sunshine Band and, in his private time, likes to do martial arts exercises in the nude like William Sadler in Die Hard 2.

Bruce is drawn to Holly in the crowd, he places a hand on her head so he can get a glimpse into her mind and soul... and the colorful lighting isn't the only thing Evrenol lifted from Italian films when putting Housewife together, because from the moment Bruce and Holly touch the film fully takes on the sort of "dream logic" that is so common in Italian genre movies. Soon she can't tell the different between her dreams and reality - a fact that is directly called out in the dialogue. "Where are you? In a dream again?" "I don't know." "No. You're lost in a maze now."

The dialogue certainly helps the film achieve that not-quite-reality feeling. After making his feature debut with the Turkish-language film Baskin, Evrenol and his co-writer Cem Özüduru decided to make their second film in English, but the lines they wrote don't sound natural - even less so because they're being spoken by actors whose first language wasn't English. Poidatz is French, Aksöz is Turkish (they don't say why a French woman and her Turkish husband communicate only in English), David Sakurai is from Denmark and also lived in Japan, etc. Some of the cast members handle English better than others, but there's plenty of stilted dialogue awkwardly delivered through accents.

I could appreciate the strangeness of Housewife and the style of the film, but movies do tend to lose me once they reach a point where nothing makes sense and they're just jumping in and out of dreamland (without Freddy Krueger around to liven things up). That happened here, as I got tired of watching Holly drift through dreams and memories and started getting anxious for the film to wrap up well before it did. There was also way too much time in this movie when there was nothing much of interest happening on the screen. Thankfully, it's only 82 minutes long, but there's much less than 82 minutes worth of substance packed in between the beginning and end.

If you like your horror deeply weird and nice to look at, Housewife is worth a viewing. In the end, it wasn't really for me, but I'm glad I saw it, and I hope to see Tayman Tekin go on to do some more dazzling work on films I enjoy more than this one.

The review of Housewife originally appeared on


Back in the '00s, there was a wave of extreme horror films that came out of France, including such movies as Inside (which was recently remade), Martyrs (that got a remake, too), and the Belgian production Calvaire. Director Jamie Blanks' film Storm Warning isn't part of the New French Extremity trend, it's an Australian movie, but it would have fit right in with the others - especially since the heroine is French and its characters die in bloody, brutal ways.

That heroine is Pia (Nadia Farès), who has accompanied her boyfriend Rob (Robert Taylor) on what was supposed to be a pleasant day of sailing. Unfortunately, Rob takes them down the wrong waterway in a mangrove... and not being a fan of large bodies of water (thanks to Jaws), I get very creeped out when I see their boat going down this claustrophobic waterway with nothing but the vast ocean in the background.

Their boat having run aground, Pia and Rob make their way through the mangrove on foot and find a crumbling farmhouse that's 26 miles from anywhere. Visions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will dance through your head when they find this farm, and the people who live there turn out to be just as dangerous as Leatherface and his family. And even more disgusting.

This farm belongs to an elderly father and his two adult sons (John Brumpton, David Lyons, Mathew Wilkinson), who run a marijuana growing operation in the back shed. If they actually use the money they make from this business, it doesn't show in their home, which is an appalling mess. That's the least appalling thing about this trio, too, because Blanks and screenwriter Everett De Roche through in a whole lot of nauseating details about these guys that are in the film solely for shock value. When you see what type of video these three watch together as family entertainment, you know the filmmakers are just having fun messing with the audience.

Pia and Rob are captured by these three and held captive in their barn. I have watched Storm Warning twice, with about ten years passing between those two viewings, and something that happens in the barn is the only thing I remembered about the film during those ten years. Once in the barn, Pia proves to be MacGyver level capable of building booby traps out of the items around her. The first time I watched Storm Warning I watched it with my nephew, and when Pia starts making one specific item for personal protection, my nephew suggested an unlikely use for it. Seconds later, Pia confirmed that she was going to do just what my nephew suggested, and I was stunned.

That device works out quite well for Pia, as does a larger booby trap that's set off in the barn. If Wes Craven ever saw this movie, I'm sure this booby trap scene made him happy. (If you've seen Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on the Left, or The Hills Have Eyes you'll know the man was quite fond of booby traps.)

I don't think Storm Warning is all that great, it drags a bit on the way to getting Pia and Rob into that barn, but once the characters are in that barn and trap making begins, it picks up, and it's quite satisfying to see those traps get put to use.


I was all for a sequel being made to director David Slade's 2007 film 30 Days of Night, which was an adaptation of a graphic novel created by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. There were several follow-ups to the story on the page, so why not on the screen as well? I was glad to hear a sequel was going to be made, based on the graphic novel's sequel Dark Days. So why, since that sequel was released in 2010, did it take me until 2018 to watch it?

I wasn't actively avoiding Dark Days, I just never got around to it. I would consider watching it, then choose to watch something else. I was hesitant to dive in because Dark Days had been poorly received, and it wasn't exactly the sort of sequel I was hoping for - it was disappointing that this was a cheaper, direct-to-video film that recast the role of 30 Days of Night survivor Stella, replacing Melissa George with Kiele Sanchez. Nothing against Sanchez, if a character was coming back I just wanted them to be played by the same person.

Directed by Ben Ketai from a screenplay he wrote with Niles, Dark Days moves the setting from the remote Alaskan town of Barrow to Los Angeles and finds that Stella is trying to get the word out about the vampire siege she and her fellow Barrow residents endured for thirty days straight, defying the official story that the ninety-eight people who died perished in a fire caused by a faulty oil pipeline. At a speaking engagement in L.A., she shines ultraviolet lights on the audience to cook any vampires who may be present - but her story is considered a hoax, and the vampires who burn up in front of people are somehow brushed off as a hoax as well.

After the event, Stella is contacted by three vampire hunters: Rhys Coiro as Paul, Diora Baird as Amber, and Harold Perrineau as Todd. Each of them has lost loved ones to the vampires and have been going around wiping out their nests, guided by information from the inside. They're working with a vampire named Dane (Ben Cotton). This is another element that put me off from this sequel; I didn't like the idea that one of these vampires could hold on to their humanity like Dane does and live an almost-normal life. Dane just has to hide from the sun and drink bags of blood from a blood bank. If this is possible, if the vampires can hold on to who they are in their minds, I don't think one like Dane would the exception. Maybe Stella's husband could have stayed himself, maybe he wouldn't have had to burn up at the end of the previous film. And maybe these character don't need to keep killing every bloodsucker they come across. A vampire holding on to their humanity raises too many "what if" questions and causes too much second guessing. The explanation Dane gives is that the wound that turned him was superficial. Okay... so what's the point of no return when it comes to wounds and holding on to humanity?

Immediately after we meet Dane, one of the vampire hunters gets bit and has to be killed off right away because they can't hold onto themselves. Well, maybe it takes more than a couple minutes to hold on. The existence of Dane casts a shadow over everything for me that takes me out of the movie. These didn't seem like the sort of vampires that would become your buddy, these things are monsters.

The ultimate objective is to eliminate Lilith (Mia Kirshner), the queen vampire who bathes in blood like Countess Bathory, and the movie gives us reason to want them to get to Lilith quick, because she has captured a character played by genre regular Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, American Mary, See No Evil 2, Supernatural, etc.) You gotta save Katharine Isabelle! Then again, it doesn't matter much if they don't get there in time, because she dies in horror projects more often than she survives anyway. And if all you're going to have her do is scream and cry, put her out of her misery so she can go find a better role elsewhere.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days is a very different film than its predecessor, having characters hunt down vampires in a sunny big city rather than hiding from them in a snowy little town. It's also a substantially less interesting movie. From the script to the look of the film, it's a disappointment compared to the movie that came before. Since I feel that 30 Days of Night was one of the best horror movies of the last eleven years, it had plenty of room to fall from there, and it fell pretty far. I wanted better than direct-to-video for a 30 Days of Night sequel, but Dark Days is undoubtedly a direct-to-video movie. It never feels like it should have been a theatrical release. If they had tried to put this into theatres, the reception would have been even worse than it was.

I thought a sequel to 30 Days of Night could be pretty cool, but after seeing Dark Days I'm thinking this is a franchise that should be left alone, as it has been for the last eight years. Further stories may work on the page, but on the screen it's not going to get any better than the 2007 movie.

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