Sinister Summer: ALIEN Retrospective

Alien (1979) - IMDb

This. Is. ALIEN. You are with. Sigourney Weaver. Aboard the spaceship Nostromo. Caution. The area you are en-ter-ing is extremely dan-ger-ous. Something has gone wrong… If you get why I punctuated that the way I did, then you remember the ALIEN scene on the former Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (oh how I miss that attraction). Ridley Scott’s science-fiction horror masterpiece that convinced you that “in space, no one can hear you scream” is still the definitive science-fiction/space horror film. Furthermore, it reinvented the space-horror movies from the 1950/60s. Sitting between Halloween and Friday the 13th, this film came as a surprise for the horror genre because it countered the direction that the horror genre was going by reimagining the emerging slasher genre in a setting that is more terrifying and limiting than a house or town in which a serial killer is slaughtering teenagers. Just 10 years after the Apollo moon landing, this film takes on characteristics of that which is frightening about this new frontier that we are exploring. What if there is a killing machine monster out there? Scary stuff.

Steam Workshop::Alien (1979) Tour Inside The Nostromo

Until ALIEN, movies and TV shows set in space depicted a clean, optimistic, new world. ALIEN subverts this expectation by delivering a used, broken-in, aged space. The Nostromo was nothing like the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek or the Star Destroyers from Star Wars. The design of the Nostromo communicated a dirty, dingy space that is far less appealing than the world of the United Federation of Planets. The effect of this upon audiences was fantastic because it made the future look far more realistic than anything that had come before it. The world of ALIEN truly felt like a future that was used. Indirectly, this intentional design also shows us that the passengers aren’t heroes, highly intellectual explorers, or uniquely skilled individuals. The rough design of the Nostromo parallels the roughness, lack of refinement in the characters. Again, they feel like real people, a people that we could connect with in ways that we could never connect with the characters from space-horror and monster movies in the past. The future, as illustrated in this film, is relatable. From the design of the Nostromo to the development of the characters themselves, audiences are invited into a world stepped in expressive meaning and emotion.

Beyond taking the horror genre into space and integrating some of the psychological horror and slasher elements outlined in PsychoHalloween, and others, Scott’s Alien also provided horror audiences with a new type of final girl, social commentary on gender roles, heteronormativity, and human sexuality. Much like the Freudian components of Hitchcock’s Psycho, this horror film also explores the deep fears and desires that are often suppressed by the subconscious. Furthermore, the film also explores the fears associated with child birth by “impregnating” men resulting in body horror trauma. The counterarguments to heteronormativity is manifested in Ellen Ripley as an androgynous female who behaves in a very masculine way, the film provides an opportunity to talk about gender roles.

Although Ripley is, for all intents and purposes, not even on our radar for nearly 45mins into the film, following a tragedy, she is thrust into the forefront of this mission. Scott’s Alien dared to challenge the status quo in order to deliver the first female action hero, and place her in center stage. The long and short of it is that Ripley subverts the typical science-fiction hero trope to embody both the feminine and masculine to redefine what a hero is within the sci-fi/horror genre. Breaking gender norms for the time, she was neither arm candy, simply a side kick nor required rescuing by a male character. Her character and actions were not defined by gender. She is our final girl, and so much more. Not only did the character of Ripley contribute significantly to horror, she also broke ground for female heroines in the world of cinema at large. 

I Hope This Awesome ALIEN: COVENANT Movie Connection Rumor is True —  GeekTyrant

Like Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Ridley is also someone who is equal parts female and male. In fact, you could argue that she takes on more masculine characteristics as the narrative plays. This playing with the roles of men, women, and their respective bodies and minds can be realized when viewing the character of the xenomorph as the “monstrous feminine.” The monstrous-feminine is a psychological construction generated by male anxieties about the female body and sexuality. Scott’s Alien depicts the maternal body as monstrous. More specifically, the film repeatedly examines the scene of birth or origin. Interestingly, there are three different representations of the concept of birth in the film. In terms of the production design, Alien can be likened to a gothic horror set in space. Scott’s brilliant design conveys to the audience the extreme isolation and claustrophobia. There is also an fascinating dichotomy in the worlds that are represented in this film by pitting the mechanization and technology of the organization for which our explorers work and the monstrous origin world of the alien, which we learn more about (whether you like the films or not in the prequels).

Your central character need not always be the first or second character we encounter in a screenplay. This is true with Ripley as she emerges as the central character midway through the film. However, we are given hints at her destiny throughout the first act in subtle ways. It was important to the plot to establish her as a woman in order to make her actions later on in the film so kickass and assumption shattering. Had she been seen as “masculine” or strong from the onset, then we would not be as impressed with her actions–we would expect them. Part of her power as a strong female character in horror is taking what we assumed about her (or a female character in general) and subvert our predisposition. Whereas Ripley is not the first female heroic character in a horror film, she is one that never becomes subjected to the male gaze or becomes some fantasy version of a woman. Even though female heroic characters who wear sexy clothes, wield phallic guns, or use their bodies as femme fatals can be strong characters, they are still some heteronormative fantasy for a male screenwriter or director. 

Essentially, the aforementioned female characters lack an authentic humanity. Ripley is strong, vulnerable, independent, scared, mortal; these elements that make her believably human. There is so little suspension of disbelief in her character that she could nearly exist in real life. Furthermore, her character is incredibly complex; she exhibits strong intuition and intelligence, chutzpah, is brash, talks about PTSD, outspoken, rigidly wants to go by the book instead of saving a man’s life, has a natural beauty but doesn’t spend much time on hair or makeup. All these traits portray someone who has incredible depth and dimension. She is a survivor. No matter how grizzly, messy, constricting, or frightening her soundings become, she remains steadfast, collected, and brave. As the 1970s saw many changes in censorship, ratings, guidelines, etc., the ability to show gorier, more visceral body horror special effects, and on screen violence allowed Scott to confront the character of Ripley with cinematically innovative ways to test her resilience and survivorship. 

The character of Ellen Ripley is also a strong pillar of the American horror film by virtue of her representation of gender politics. Even before it became popular, in more recent times, to use both male and female characters in motion pictures as a conduit to comment on the state of affairs for a particular group within our society, Ridley Scott crafted a visual masterpiece that did just that. Highly innovative, forward thinking, and progressive. The subtext of the film confronts us with a woman trying her best to fit into a man’s world. In addition to that subtext, research into the screenplay for this film shows that all the characters were written as gender neutral. Interesting stuff, right?!? Another gender-related observation in the character of Ripley, is her both metaphorically and physiologically clothing herself in masculinity all while remaining a women. In one scene, Ripley steps into a space suit. And this space suit can be read as Ripley playing the role of a man while remaining a women at her core in order to challenge the patriarchal system to prove that she is capable of anything that a masculine hero is. 

Ripley is a highly intelligent character, realizes that about herself, and does not allow herself to be patronized or undermined. She does her job aboard the Nostromo like a legit boss. She knows procedure and protocol, and will follow it in order to protect her crew. Figuratively, she is protecting the ship from being willfully penetrated by a foreign object. This could be read as a commentary on rape. She is forcefully overruled, and we all know what happens next. Further commentary depicts male characters “forgetting” that Ripley is the senior officer. But because she is female, they feel they know better. I bet they wish they had followed her orders. Although much of what I’ve written deals with the masculine qualities of Ripley, her character would not have been as powerful a character if it wasn’t for her feminine side as well. When all hell is breaking loose, she soothes the nerves of the crew and offers comfort. Exemplary motherly qualities. Had a man been in her role, then he would most likely have not exhibited such love for the crew. Her success as a hero has as much to do with the touch of a women as it does the chutzpah of a man.

Alien's Chestburster Scene Real Meaning Explained | Screen Rant

Another motherly quality found in Ripley is her persistent urge for the crew to function as a group. Through the brilliant cinematography, we are consistently shown a group that is fractures and continually fails to band together until it is too late. Interestingly, each character meets his or her demise because of a tragic flaw and failure to group together to function as ONE crew instead of self-centered individuals. Had the group functioned as one, then more may have survived. This hypothesis is witnessed in the Ripley in Act 3 because she essentially embodies all the good qualities found in the other characters (think Captain Planet). She combines what everyone did well into one character. That is why she is the final girl. Only by combining all the qualities of the crew was she able to go toe-to-toe with the Xenomorph killing machine. 

John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV: Cult-Movie  Review: Alien (1979)

There are actually three prominent female characters in Alien. Ripley, the Xenomorph, and The Nostromo. Although Ripley is our central character, I would be remiss to not mention the other two that could be analyzed individually themselves. Much like Ripley exhibits both masculine and feminine characteristics, so does the Xenomorph with a mouth that oscillates between vaginal and phallic in nature. And finally, The Nostromo ostensibly gives birth to all the astronauts at the beginning of the film; and therefore could be referred to as the mother ship. Playing around with gender does not stop there. The facegrabber impregnates a male character and he gives birth to the Xenomorph. Underscoring so many elements and conflicts in this film is this idea of subverting gender identity with the intent to horrify by tapping into primal heteronormative fears. And let’s face it, child birth is terrifying.

The extent to which the special effects still hold up terrifying well in this motion picture is just one of many reasons why CGI can never replicate the way real like bounces off real objects and into the camera lens. Practical effects have literal depth and dimension–nothing simulated or recreated here. Practical effects offer the actors the opportunity to engage and interact with the world in which their respective characters live, work, play, and sometimes die. The single scene that stands out to me, and remains one of the best of all time is the “chestbuster” scene.

What an entrance! In addition to terrifying the audience, it threw the cast for quite the loop too; furthermore, this scene represents the first good look we have at the alien creature, even though it’s in its infant stage. Interestingly, the actors were literally taken by surprise because they had a general idea of how the scene was going to play out, but they were not informed as to specifics. Suddenly, Kane begins thrashing around so violently that everyone has to hold him down on the table, requiring everyone to move in closely to the body (a prosthetic one at this point). Just as the crew is holding onto Kane tightly, the alien BURSTS through Kane’s chest! His innards and blood spew everywhere! The actors’ reactions are grounded in realism, because these are authentic, unrehearsed reactions, which only adds to the gravity of the entire scene. Genuine reactions. You cannot get that with CGI. I mean, how is one supposed to fear for their life when acting next to a tennis ball on the end of a stick or string???

Unfortunately, all the sequels failed to live up to the substantive nature of the original and devolve into a generic futuristic action-adventure series; but the original ALIEN delivered a nightmare-inducing “haunted house” meets Jaws movie set in the far reaches of space where “no one can hear you scream,” and provided us with the breakthrough character of Ellen Ripley.

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Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

A Quiet Place Part 2 Review

The less quiet sequel exchanges atmospheric horror for increased action and thrills.

For the conversation with me and Minorities Report Pod, click HERE.

Picking up where the first one left audiences, A Quiet Place Part 2 is bigger, louder, and delivers more monsters than Part 1. While you won’t be living with the same level of tension that you had in the first one, the sequel offers plenty of gripping action sequences and those eerily quiet moments where your neighbor’s Reese’s Pieces bag cracking may make you jump in your seat.

This movie is certainly making waves in the box office, and has many claiming “cinema is back.” Well, back would imply that it went away, which would be incorrect; cinemas started reopening last July. Anyway. What I can agree with is that it is the first new theatrical release to receive an incredibly warm welcome by those that have been attending the cinema since last July and those that are just now returning. In many ways, this movie could be considered event cinema because of the response from audiences during previews last Thursday through the holiday weekend (speaking of which, I hope you had a meaningful, enjoyable Memorial Day weekend).

Before picking up where you left off in the first movie, you will witness the first day that the aliens arrived. Following the events at home, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. Forced to venture into the unknown, they realize the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats lurking beyond the sand path. Along the way, they meet other survivors, but things are not at all what they seem.

There is no debate that A Quiet Place Part 2 is an excellently made movie. From the set design to the acting to the technical elements, everything works very well. And talk about audio design and engineering! The approach Krasinki took to place us in the shoes of Regan was brilliant. While it by no means was to illustrate an accurate portrait of what it must be like to be deaf, it was true to the world that we are in, in the film. Those moments that we are not hearing what Regan isn’t hearing, are certainly some of the most unnerving and frightening moments in the film. While I take issue with the story sacrificing atmospheric and methodical horror for more action, thrills, and monsters, I cannot deny that even the writing is solid, for the story Krasinki desired to tell, that is.

But what is it? Is it still a horror movie? And that is why I am writing my review. To tackle that very question. I could write about how well everything was executed, but you’ve heard all that as this film has been very well received, by in large, by audiences and critics alike.

After I watched it, I was left with a feeling of meh, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. It wasn’t the film’s technical execution, it wasn’t the performances, it wasn’t the direction, per se, so what was it? And after I saw an analogy using Alien:Aliens and Terminator:Terminator2, it hit me. A Quiet Place Part 2 isn’t horror (no matter what you’ve heard);. In fact, it’s less horror than Aliens is.

Why is this even important? Does it impact the quality of the film? No. But it’s important to talk about because the first installment was horror and the sequel was billed as a horror movie. What we have here is a bait’n switch. The experience of a cinematic work can (albeit not always) be impacted by the expectations you have for a particular film. I was all geared up for a first-run horror film in the cinema; but what I got was a family drama with a hefty amount of action and some horror-adjacency.

It was brought up on the Minorities Report Pod episode I guested on to review this movie that this switch from horror to action may have been unavoidable because the monsters are no longer unfamiliar to us; therefore, the tools that worked for horror are no longer applicable. While I can understand where that argument is coming from, simply because we are now familiar with the aliens/monsters, that doesn’t mean the film needed to leave the prestige of horror behind for something more attractive to mass audiences. Many horror sequels continue to be horror even as we become more familiar with the world and characters. Examples: Annabelle Creation, SCRE4M, ANOES: Dream Warriors, Conjuring 2, Halloween H20 and H40, The Babysitter: Killer Queen, and the list could go on.

During the live Q&A with Krasinski and J.J. Abrams after the film screening I was in, Abrams stated, “it shouldn’t be thought of as a horror movie, because it’s so much more.” Wow. Just wow. Abrams has to gaul to suggest that if a film is too good, if it is rich with social commentary and character development, that it can’t possibly be a horror film. This is completely untrue. Horror films are far more truthful than any direct drama. These are the films, over the century, that are still being studied today. Many of the greatest films of all time are horror, and they are great because they still have so much to teach us about ourselves and society.

Through the horror film, we can better understand just how complex life really is and even what it means to be human. Topics such as gender roles, parenting, sexuality, faith, religion, government, the family can all be best explored through the horror film. While Krasinski does include some great social commentary that is well-executed, I got on my little soap box because Abrams is wrong in his opinion on why A Quiet Place Part 2 has to be more than a horror film.

While it is not horror, A Quiet Place Part 2 is an accessible family drama/action movie with some heartwarming character moments, and some occasional horror-adjacency. It’s certainly an exciting film that is action-packed from beginning to end. There may not be anything particularly memorable about this movie, save the exceptional audio engineering and the bear trap, but you are sure to enjoy this lean film. Krasinski stated that his career as a writer/director was heavily influenced by Hitchcock. And while Krasinski has yet to master the art of suspense with a camera, he does show a commitment to one of Hitch’s rules for filmmaking, “start each scene as close to the end [of the scene] as possible.” In other words, Krasinski does an excellent job of trimming the fat, leaving audiences with an action-packed, thrill ride for just over 90-minutes.

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Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

WRATH OF MAN and SPIRAL Reviews

The former is a must-see that delivers no-holds-barred explosive fun, while the latter is best left to die in the trap that it poorly setup for itself.

The last couple of weeks have seen some motion pictures return to exclusive theatrical runs. Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man and Chris Rock’s Spiral: from the Book of Saw. In-theatre press screenings have also returned! Whether the movies that are receiving exclusive theatrical runs are your cup of tea or not, it is highly encouraging to see the BIG SCREEN experience return around the country. 

Fortunately, I’ve been able to enjoy motion pictures in the cinema since July of last year, but most of the country hasn’t had that opportunity. Between the two movies I saw this week, I can tell you that you do not want to miss Wrath of Man in cinemas! Spiral, on the other hand, you can either skip it altogether or just wait for it to hit streaming/VOD. Oh, if you go to Cinemark, watch Wrath of Man in XD; and if you’re going to AMC, watch it in Dolby Cinema!

Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man is a no-holds-barred heist movie! It’s an extravaganza of beginning to end action and thrills. Jason Statham does his best Stathaming, and the nonlinear storytelling never loses the audience – while packing a punch. I sat down with Brad of The Cinema Speak podcast to chat with him about this film, so for the full conversation, click HERE. In short, there is literally nothing to dislike about this action-thriller! Although it is fast-moving, you know everything you need to know about each character. On the topic of characters, no one is safe! In addition to Jason Statham, a former 90s/2000s heartthrob returns to the screen (and this time not with a kinda-weird yet adorable haircut, nor is he surviving Michael Myers or shape-shifting aliens at school) – Josh Hartnett.

Everything about this movie just works — and works nearly flawlessly. From the moment it opens until the credits roll, it is non-stop balls-to-the-wall action, and at the center of that action is Jason Statham. I commented on the Cinema Speak podcast that I view Statham as a bonafide movie star in the classical sense. Much like other modern-day “classical” movie stars like the definitive example Tom Cruise or The Rock, Statham IS the movie. Even when he is playing a supporting role, such as in SPY, he is larger-than-life on the screen. Often playing the same type of character (or an extension of), movie stars are attached to sell the movie and up the ante, and act as a de facto identifier. Pretty soon, we will be referencing Statham’s movies as “are you going to see the new Statham movie” instead of referencing the movie by its title.

Wrath of Man is one of those movies that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. And what is that? A fun, entertaining movie without case for any kind of thoughtful subtext or socio-political agenda. Just an entertaining movie, plain and simple. And yet, you enjoy the characters and know just enough about each to care about them (or hate them). Point is, you feel something for these characters. We have a simple plot, and a complex central character. And this central character has a well-defined external goal that is met with obstacles brought on by a character of opposition. In other words, this is a movie with solid bones and foundation.

One of the standout storytelling devices in this film is the non-linear narrative. While we’ve certainly seen films employ non-linear storytelling, many films that do this often run the risk of or, do in fact, confuse audiences. Or, just as bad, the stylistic choice doesn’t add anything to (and sometimes even detracts from) the experience of the film.

Guy Ritchie’s non-linear choices are successful not only because they are clearly labeled, but because each flashback adds to the story through a process called character accumulation. This is the process a character goes through that reveals more layers to the audience that reinforce who the character is, what to expect from the character, the internal needs of the character, and what motivates the character. Think of it as character familiarization. In addition to learning more about our characters, the nonlinear flashbacks also provide different perspectives on key scenes that advance the plot to the explosive finale. These different perspectives aren’t used to complicate the plot, but rather to provide a means for the audience to reasonably grasp what’s going on without being patronized. Guy Ritchie assumes his audience arrives at the film with some modicum of intelligence.

Wrath of Man delivers a wildly entertaining experience at the cinema! You don’t want to miss seeing this on the BIG SCREEN. And don’t allow the paint-by-the-numbers surface lull you into perceiving this as just another generic action movie. Guy Ritchie’s clever, stylistic approach to this tried-and-true genre film feels just familiar enough, whilst delivering a fresh approach that will remind you that movies needn’t have a heavy-handed, agenda-driven message. 

So often, films and movies today are filled with agendas not characters. Not that there isn’t a time and a place for motion pictures to take a sociopolitical or faith-based stance –those kinds of films are important too — but too often nowadays, this has become the foundation for a movie, not the plot or characters. Wrath of Man has mass appeal but never sacrifices quality storytelling for the sake of commercialism. Treat yourself to this explosive experience!

Spiral is the movie equivalent of a comedian that only knows the punchlines. It’s derivative and predictable. Just as the victims have zero chance of surviving the traps, this movie has zero chance of re-watchability. Just watch the original instead.

Should you choose to watch the new film, in hopes of capturing even an infinitesimal amount of what made the original innovative, spawning countless movies in the torture-porn sub-genre of horror, you will be sorely disappointed. Everything about this agenda-driven movie feels heavy-handed and forced. Very little, if anything, happens organically. It’s common knowledge that this movie was a passion project for Chris Rock, inspired by his fandom of the SAW franchise — but where is the passion??? Even his acting is wooden and lifeless.

I am going to break my own rule and suggest that you NOT see this in cinemas. Why? Because I am trying to spare you from the torturous trap that I was in as I watched the longest hour and twenty-minute movie.

There is no sense of fun in this movie at all. While I do not care for the SAW franchise, and feel that there is no redeeming quality nor does it offer at cultural value, what fans enjoy about the franchise is the unrealistic, hyperbolic, Rube Goldberg-like traps. The traps in this movie played it far too close to reality, rendering the movie sickening to watch, devoid of entertainment value. And then there is the perpetuation of the narrative that law enforcement is simply corrupt by nature. I’m not going to go down that rabbit trail, but most law enforcement officers are NOT corrupt. A small fraction of a percentage are (just like with any vocation), yet this movie paints the portrait that entire precincts are corrupt. Unfair, and unfounded. 

This movie follows suit with so many that do not afford characters the opportunity for a redemptive arc. This was a problem that I had with Promising Young Woman as well. Ostensibly, filmmakers that create films with a heavy-handed (not subtle or subtextual) message have demonstrated the gull to set themselves up as self-righteous in the most self-aggrandizing manner, and have decided to be judge and jury.

Aside from the problems I have with the agenda-driven plot and characters, the kills themselves are simply overly violent to be overly violent. The only element of the traps that was creative (albeit cliché) is for the trap to be a dark mirror for that which Piggy/Spiral is accusing (and in most cases, not inaccurate). Think of it as SE7EN meets SAW. Otherwise, these traps and this movie do little to nothing to add to the world of cinema either critically or culturally.

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Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“The Truffle Hunters” Foodie Doc Mini Review

A delectable documentary with a truffle heart. To all foodies and dog lovers out there, this documentary is for you. You will swoon at the sweeping cinematography of both the serene landscape and intimate moments. While it may seem that you need to be a foodie and/or a dog person, you can be neither and still find enjoyment in this scrumptious cinematic documentary about old men and their dogs as they search for white Alba truffles in the woods of Piedmont, Italy. But for those that do love to watch food-related TV shows and documentaries, you definitely need to put this one on your watch list when it opens in theatres on Friday, April 30th. This whimsical documentary is a sumptuous journey that will nourish your mind and soul. Audiences will marvel at the exquisite camera stylo approach to capturing this slice of obscure humanity. Throughout the documentary, you will be enchanted by the charming old men and aged dogs living their best lives ever. You will also gain a much greater understanding of the significance of these particular truffles and why they are considered a delicacy by many. From the auctioning of these glorified mushrooms that resembles more of a Christie’s Auction than farmers market to the quaint dinners and quiet moments, the film delivers an immersive experience that will transport you to the Piedmont region of Italy. Beyond the central focus of following these men and their dogs–heavy emphasis on the dogs–on their secretive mission to find these rare truffles, the film also delivers thoughtful generational commentary on the growing trend of young people’s lack of appreciation of all the challenges life throws at them. Don’t allow the social-awkwardness and prideful demeanors of the hunters keep you at bay, you will ultimately find their personalities endearing, and you’ll root for them as they go from planning and contemplating the truffle hunt to the hunt itself. While you may think that this is just another documentary that is best suited for home-viewing on the Discovery or Travel Channels, you will deprive yourself of the sheer joy of being completely immersed in a delicious documentary that not only explores the relationship between men and their dogs but also serves as an allegory about a dying world.

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Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

SPOOKIES (1986) Horror Review

The criminally underrated obscure schlocky movie that delivers everything you wanted (and even that which you didn’t know you needed) out of a horror B-movie! After the guys at the Cinema Speak Podcast featured a micro-review of Spookies (1986), I knew right then and there that I needed to seek out this movie for both my viewing pleasure and as a horror academic. After seeing a countless number of horror movies, over the years, ranging from junk to masterpieces, I love when a horror movie can surprise me! And that is certainly the case with Spookies. But why?

Does this movie do anything particularly innovative? No.

Does it provide thoughtful commentary on the human condition? No.

Well then, it must deliver underrated performances or a compelling story? Not at all.

What it does provide is an hour and a half of truly mind-blowing creature effects and entertaining kills! Spookies packs a punch in all the right ways, delivering the perfect amount of spookiness one wants to see in a movie that’s ostensibly a surreal combination of Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction, Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead, and even The Isle of Dr. Moreau. You don’t watch this movie for the story, although it is loads of fun; you watch it for the sheer spectacle of a no-holds-barred love of the American horror film.

A 13-year-old boy runs from home because his parents forgot his birthday. Making his way through the woods, he encounters a drifter who is subsequently slashed to death. The boy stumbles upon an old mansion where a room is decorated for a birthday celebration that he (for some bizarro reason) thinks is for him. Like the call of a siren, a group of partiers also stumble across what they think is an abandoned mansion in the middle of nowhere. No one has any idea that it is home to a powerful sorcerer. With the help of other-worldly creatures and a werecat-like sidekick, the sorcerer terrifies and threatens the unwelcome house guests with one horror after another, as he needs sacrifices to give eternal life to his beautiful but dead bride.

Spookies was originally shot by two first-time filmmakers, friends and horror fans Thomas Doran and Brendan Faulkner in 1984, with additional scripting, directing, and editing by Eugenie “Genie” Joseph. Originally titled Twisted Souls, the first incarnation of this film was met with conflict and chaos on and off set. So the long and short of it is, the original director was fired from Twisted Souls, and the movie’s financier gave what had been shot over to Doran and Faulkner, both of whom had a vision of an ethereal movie with a monster a minute that takes place at a haunted mansion! And they couldn’t have asked for a more ideal location. The new directors brought their highly skilled crew to the John Jay Estate, located in Rye, New York. This colonial manner was once the home of one of America’s founding fathers, John Jay, who co-authored the Treaty Of Paris and the Federalist Papers, and was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

As you already know, the horror genre is filled with immense, and often underrated or undervalued talent, imagination, and sheer excellence in craftsmanship that work together to bring our nightmares to life. The proliferation of A and B horror movies in the 1980s resulted in an explosion of creativity on screen that made us laugh and scream. Rarely have I found myself genuinely surprised by a horror movie, but I absolutely loved this one for feeling fresh yet familiar! When I was asked by another podcaster, what about Cinema Speak’s review made me immediately seek it out, I responded with the description of the practical effects as being cheesy and charming as the commentary that inspired me to locate this obscure 1980s gem! Anytime someone highlights the practical effects in (any, but especially in) a horror movie, I am compelled to check it out.

So much of this movie’s plot makes absolutely zero sense, but it somehow pulls off the impossible by making that work! From a random, isolated thirteen-year-old boy running around the woods to celebrate his birthday to a group of college-aged young adults hanging out with an older couple to a cat-like love child, the movie defies all screenwriting logic. And you know what? It’s perfectly fine. Because where this movie excels is in the art of the horror experience! You get it all, unlikable characters that you cheer for when they meet their demise, a stupid kid that gets what he deserves, a tragic and twisted love story, and a haunted mansion in the middle of the woods surrounded by a graveyard. Throw in a heaping helping of high-budget ambition on a low-budget wallet, and you get this phantasmagorical movie that will make horror fans gleefully smile at the high degree of entertainment value with heart.

The movie’s technical achievement is outstanding! And not just the monster/creature effects, the cinematography and score are also quite good! While the performances are nothing to particularly write home about, they deliver what you want to see and experience in a schlocky horror movie. But the real stars of this movie are the monsters and ghouls created by the puppeteers, makeup artists, and other technicians. This movie could be read as a love letter to creature effects and to the work of Jack Pierce, Tom Savini, Rick Baker, Stan Winston, and other behind-the-scenes stars of the screen! Every time a new spooky monster was introduced, I was left simultaneously with my mouth agape and hugely smiling at the originality of each and every creature. Sure you have zombies, but the zombies were all designed with the utmost care. Ken Brilliant (The Lost World: Jurassic Park), John Dods (Monsters TV series), Ken Walker (Frankenhooker) and Jon Mathews (The Deadly Spawn) were on the special effects crew, and they did a great job despite the low budget. Nothing was left to chance or hurriedly constructed–well, except for maybe the grim reaper monster costume that is from Spirit Halloween.

Not only are the monsterous creations in the house, but they are outside as well! Literally everywhere you turn, there is a nightmarish entity just waiting to stalk and attack you. This addition of monsters in the yard offers up a clever dynamic that isn’t seen often in these type of horror movies. Usually the monsters or ghosts are contained within the walls of the house. Cinematically, what this does is convey that there is no escape from the claws, teeth, and tentacles of the monsters. This proliferation of monsters actually plays quite well! Clearly the directors knew how to handle this spectacularly because it could’ve so easily been disastrous. The film’s success is attributed to the directors’ talented crew and ability to execute a grand vision on a limited budget. But why does this film succeed at it’s poorly written plot? It wasn’t intended to tell a thoughtful or even coherent story; the intention was to immerse the audience into a surreal nightmarish world of monsters, magic, and mayhem. A world WITH DIMENSION that is so incredibly impressive and entertaining that we forgive the story for not making any sense, because we can see and love the hands of the artisans in each and every scene.

Spookies is one hot mess of a horror movie, but it could quite possibly be the most phenomenal hot mess horror movie ever! Don’t try to make sense of the plot; you will go crazy trying. In a manner of speaking, the movie has to be experienced rather than understood or passively watched. After reading this review, you may be temped to think of this as just another B-movie that only ardent horror fans whom refuse to acknowledge the accomplishments of contemporary horror cinema enjoy; but if you think that way, you will be doing yourself a grave disservice because this movie is fantastic! And at a quickly paced 85-minutes, you will be surprised how much you enjoy it and will want to watch it again to get a better look at the creature effects. This is definitely one of the most insane low-budget horror movies out there. Prepare to witness the monstrous special effects extravaganza of a group of clueless people running around being killed in glorious fashion. So do yourself a favor and gather a group of your friends together with some drinks and popcorn, and turn the volume way up to experience the horror gem that is Spookies (1986). 

Spookies is available on BluRay from Vinegar Syndrome or by more nefarious means. But if you choose the more nefarious route, you will deprive yourself of the behind the scenes documentary and special featurettes ONLY AVAILABLE on the BluRay.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

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