In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we discuss the witless camp of “Beware! The Blob” – the 1972 follow-up to the original monster movie classic with a surprisingly catchy theme song and galaxy of stars improvising their way through a sitcom version of the original story. Plus, Dean Cundey puts blob goop on a kitten’s cute little paws.
Then, it’s back the the future of Blob technology with the 1988 version, featuring AMAZING special effects but nothing else to recommend it – unless you’re a Del Close completist, in which case you’ll actually need to see both blobs. Be an upright citizen and enjoy!
For a long time, Carrie was a title that evoked a reaction from perhaps more non-fans than fans of the genre, and this is the highest compliment you can pay the authors. The name conjures a very broad idea of high school, with many variations depending on one’s personal memories of that time in their lives, all retaining the common thread of inherent hellishness within the walls of that mythologized American institution. Who among us (who are reading this) has not at one time imagined themselves the social scapegoat of their entire school, and subsequently imagined themselves the avenging angel of the prom that Sissy Spacek became?
Carrie was not merely the first horror film to deal with the unpleasantness of high school, but one of the first American films, period. Incredibly, the film includes John Travolta a mere two years before he helped heap on more of the same bullshit about the best years of our lives in Grease, nearly undoing all the pig-killing work he accomplished for Brian De Palma. As a film, Carrie is so damned good that even though every single detail has been parodied and referenced relentlessly in the past 35 years, it detracts not one whit from the viewing experience. This is the highest and rarest compliment you can pay to anything enmeshed in mass pop culture unconsciousness.
A shame then that Carrie does not enjoy the same reverence it once did for so long, even amongst horror fans. Whatever cache it once held has depleted and wouldn’t you know, there’s a remake on the way to rewrite history for the young unknowing. Tragically the film has suffered a fate cousin to the pain of the bullied – the pain of anonymity.
Before the anonymity, there was an intervening period of post-Scream quasi-recognition for young movie fans: those weird years of normalization when the New Horror of the 70s became accepted and dulled by the mainstream. This was a time of opportunistic revivalist sequels: if a Scream fan was likely to at least have heard of Carrie, some executive somewhere reasoned, then why not make a sequel? Whatever shallow inspirations led to the production of The Rage: Carrie 2, you can at least say on it’s behalf that unlike filmmakers in the modern era of soulless remakes, the authors of this poor sequel at least had some kind of reverence for the original. That doesn’t translate to a good film because unfortunately, the authors were also idiots. They bring back Amy Irving as Sue Snell from part one and, her for exposition and carelessly discard her.
Worse than being stupid, The Rage is also sorely bland. The influence of TV on film can be seen plainly going from Carrie 1 to 2 – for all of De Palma’s visual glossiness, the high school of Carrie felt like it could be a real place. The school of Carrie 2 is a WB (CW now) teen drama, down to each melodramatic story point and especially Carrie 2 herself, who is conventionally attractive and nothing at all like Spacek’s wonderfully awkward misfit.
Incidentally, The Rage: Carrie 2 came out the same year as the Freddie Prinze Jr classic, She’s All That. Both films are alike in their basic teen-soap logic that all an attractive girl needs to do to be made over into someone even more attractive is take off her glasses. They really should’ve been the same movie, with Rachel Leigh Cook torching the big dance at the end. They could’ve just made a film of the infamous Carrie: The Musical.
NEXT WEEK: WITCH MARRIAGE SPECIAL! I MARRIED A WITCH (1942, RENE CLAIR) & BEWITCHED (2005, NORA EPHRON)
What is Steven Spielberg’s fascination with screaming children? Are they the best avatars of innocence to exploit for audience sympathy? Does he consider children his audience? Is the audience for a Spielberg movie the adult who’s a child at heart? The arrested development case? Are they one in the same? Did the special effects of Spielberg’s productions give baby boomers a sense of childlike wonder and amazement? Did that make them want to stay there, in that safe place? Did they feel secure? Did they ever feel like adults in the first place? Did Spielberg movies give cultural legitimacy to the boomer aesthetic of the eternal adolescent? Did E.T. blow John Carpenter’s The Thing out of the water because audiences didn’t want a science fiction movie for adults? Did Poltergeist really need to come out eight days after E.T.? Did Spielberg really need to fuck two leading American horror directors at once?
Was Poltergeist a horror film for adults? For children? Was the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, chosen to direct Poltergeist and make it a film for adults? Was Steven Spielberg nervous about entrusting a PG-rated horror film to the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Did Spielberg ask Hooper to make changes? Did he tell him? Did Spielberg direct two films at once? Has there ever been a single accurate report as to the controversy of who “really directed” Poltergeist? Would the average citizen of Hollywood have more to gain by boosting Spielberg, or the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre after the film was a hit? Would you trust Tobe Hooper around your children? Would you trust Steven Spielberg? What if there was a helicopter involved?
Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in curses? Do you think a movie can be cursed? Did you know that many people who worked on Poltergeist died? Did you know that three people who worked on Twilight Zone: The Movie died before the movie was even finished? Did Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen see Poltergeist? Did they see themselves as the next screaming Spielberg children, swept up in flashing lights and wind machines? Is Spielberg a religious man? Does he have a sense of his Judaism beyond the social isolation and Holocaust nightmares of imagination? Did any Jew of the Baby Boom generation? Do practicing Jews believe in the secular new age afterlife presented without reference to The Creator in Poltergeist?
If Spielberg is not a practicing Jew, is he superstitious? Is that why he wasn’t involved in Poltergeist II: The Other Side? Did Poltergeist II really need to be made? Did the story lend itself to a sequel? Did Michael Grais and Mark Victor watch The Exorcist II: The Heretic for inspiration before writing the screenplay? Should they have been allowed to continue in the film business after Poltergeist II? Might we have been spared the script for Cool World or would Frank Mancuso Jr. have found even worse writers to take the story away from Ralph Bakshi?
Was Julian “Henry Kane” Beck fatally ill as a result of the Poltergeist curse? Is that what made his performance so scary? Was it in good taste to pretend Dominique Dunne’s character from the first film didn’t exist because she was murdered in the interim? Were the godless Michael Grais and Mark Victor tempting further animus from the spirit world when they disrespected the dead? Did Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams skip out on Part III so as not to push their luck? Did Heather O’Rourke die after starring in Poltergeist III because she pushed hers too far? Will Poltergeist ever be remade by the superstitious pagans in Hollywood for fear of breaking the seal on Spielberg’s vengeful victims? Is this kind of a Wes Craven’s New Nightmare-in-reverse situation? What is it?
TOMORROW: DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS COMMENTARY TRACK! SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987, LEE HARRY)
The Alien – capital T, capital A “Alien” – has been the Mickey Mouse of sci-fi horror for over 30 years now. That’s because there wasn’t really a recognized hybrid genre of “Sci-Fi Horror” before screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and his partner Ronald Shusett conceived a version of O’Bannon’s early sci-fi comedy Dark Star (directed by John Carpenter) in which the goofy beach ball-looking alien would be a terrifying monster and another crew of astronauts would be stuck in the black void of the cosmos with nowhere to run. The famous tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” said it all. Selling the audience on both a realistic spaceship and a seemingly real, unprecedentedly bizarre looking space monster helped change the standards by which space movies were judged. The same can be said of Star Wars, which similarly combined a lot of endearing features from an escapist fantasy genre and portrayed their spaceships and aliens so vividly with state-of-the-art special effects that all around the world, the mainstream was reintroduced to those charms as adults.
The fun hypothetical question to ask of both films is, what if the sequels and multi-media franchise empires had never followed? Just one self-contained Star Wars adventure and one Alien? The impact on the rest of the movie business actually would have remained much the same. Mickey Mouse would have remained in the dark shadows of our imagination, that’s for certain. The most prominent features of Ridley Scott’s original film, compared to the later sequels of James Cameron, David Fincher et all, are the slow pace of the story and the way the alien is shown as little as possible. This was not a case of the effects being unconvincing and necessitating minimal view as with the shark in Jaws, but simply Scott’s preference as the director. He did not consider himself a horror film maker after all, and under the harsh light of a horror movie fan’s experience, the film really ceases to be suspenseful or scary after the first viewing lets you know when the monster is going to suddenly emerge. Coupled with loud noises on the soundtrack when said jack-in-the-box “jump” moments occur, the overall effect of Alien on the horror end of the equation is ultimately rather lacking. No wonder the sequels barely bothered trying to be scary after people had seen the Alien in full view by the end of Scott’s movie – a view which practically reveals the zipper running up it’s back. Whoops. So close.
The residual strength of Alien is ultimately in the science fiction department. While unmistakably drawn from the late 1970s, the film’s cast of characters live and work in their spaceship as if they were born there. Their descent onto the alien planet and discovery of an alien ship containing alien eggs is a masterpiece of wonder in the face of the unknown, a creation of mood helped by Jerry Goldsmith’s awe inspiring score. The methodical arguments between Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm and Tom Skerritt over what actions to take grounds all the fantastic elements down to a practical level and makes the future seem all the more real. Culminating in the unforgettable sight of the mysterious alien “facehugger” wrapped around one of the astronauts, the first act of Alien is as engrossing and impressive an introduction to a possible future as Kubrick’s 2001.
Being a big studio, high profile, new post-Star Wars Summer blockbuster event picture, Alien contained a massive amount of gloss and polish which not every “Sci-Fi Horror” film produced in its wake could compete with when trying the experience. These Alien influenced horror films could, however, afford to imitate the most talked-about grossout moment of the movie: the infamous “Chestburster” scene where a penile hand puppet with teeth explodes out of John Hurt’s belly. Thus in the immediate wake of that infamous demise came a whole spate of fake heads and torsos being busted open from within by ugly sock puppets. Probably the worst among these is Alien 2: On Earth.
Alien 2: On Earth exists in the company of many other Italian knockoffs and unofficial sequels to American genre movies, such as 1983′s Escape From New York cash-in 2019: After the Fall of New York, previously featured on this very podcast. But where 2019 had some resources behind the production and ideas to add to the initial premise stolen from John Carpenter, Alien 2: On Earth appears to have been made for a handful of lira and adds absolutely nothing creative as a fake sequel to Alien. Following a team of modern day geologists on a doomed excursion into some Californian caves, the film does include blobby alien hatchlings which cling to and burst out of faces, but nothing else which could be confused for the original. The sole defense you could make of this film is that its producers did what fans of the real Alien movies waited decades to see – the aliens “on Earth” – but the incompetence of the filmmakers on every level makes any viewing an endurance test of pain.
Only sheer obscurity has kept 20th Century Fox from suing over the title, even after the recent Blu-Ray release by Midnight Legacy – who, like the film’s creators, are probably banking on the title and not the abominable film itself.
NEXT WEEK: NAZI HUNTING SPECIAL! BLACK BOOK (2006, PAUL VERHOEVEN) & BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH (2010, UWE BOLL)
Which is the more forgotten, John Landis or An American Werewolf In London? Which was the more important? The latter, his masterwork sole feature foray into horror. If everyone has one good story in them, perhaps every comedian has one jarring scary story. Before the Twilight Zone: The Movie debacle killed the legitimacy of a career, Landis introduced comedic horror into from the fringes of exploitation into 1980s big budget Hollywoodland and set the precedent for films like Ghostbusters (scored by American Werewolf composer Elmer Bernstein.) Besides genre blending innovations, Rick Baker’s makeup special effects caused such a stir that the Oscars felt compelled to create a new award just to recognize them, right at the cusp of the decade’s special effects renaissance.
However ahead of their time all technical or comedic aims achieved were, they’d be moot if the rest of the film weren’t so meticulously empathic as the horror mounts. The story is deceptively simple in taking the audience along on the experience of being in denial about becoming a werewolf, transforming for the first time and coming to grips with the aftermath. The momentum builds up to and winds down from David Naughton’s first night of lycanthropy as the fulcrum of the movie and this is a brilliant idea.
Praised at the time for giving a passe genre a “contemporary” take – costar Griffin Dunne was cast from a national Dr Pepper campaign – An American Werewolf In London retains a dry laconic wit and sympathetic story that hasn’t aged a day. After a diminished legend in tandem with the industry’s near-abandonment of practical special effects in favor of CGI, this film deserves renewed esteem as a modern classic of the newly humorous and splattery direction mainstream horror films took off into afterward.
The splatter boom of Freddy and Jason was long over and recently deconstructed by Scream when the ill-advised sequel An American Werewolf In Paris was finally released in 1997. Unlike the similarly belated but goofy and genial Escape From LA, Paris involved none of the original cast or crew. The film is barely even be recognizable as a sequel except for the clumsy mis-reuse of Landis’ subplot about werewolf victims haunting people as undead corpses. In deference to diminished attention spans in the intervening 16 years, there are a lot of werewolves this time around. The only titular American werewolf, Tom Everett Scott, is an obnoxious bore compared to David Naughton. They transform constantly thanks to a special serum, and their transformations are CGI video game sequences of the totally cheap and gratuitous kind made possible by recent technology.
An American Werewolf In London has been slated for remake in 2011 through Dimension Films and penned by coincidentally British hack Fernley Phillips (an upperclass twit of the year name) whose only previous credit has been the Jim Carrey laughingstock The Number 23.
We assure you, we don’t find this in the least bit amusing.
NEXT EPISODE: KING FEATURES SYNDICATE SPECIAL! FLASH GORDON (1980, MIKE HODGES) & POPEYE (1980, ROBERT ALTMAN)
Some tales are told, then soon forgotten. But a legend…is forever.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been synonymous with the horror genre for almost 40 years now and there’s probably nothing new left to say about it, but that won’t stop An Alan Smithee Podcast from trying! Fortunately one of us brings a fresh pair of eyes to the spectacle, while the other has seen it more times than is healthy. If you’re a regular listener you can probably guess who’s who. This imbalance brings up many elementary points of discussion around the film which have been taken for granted so long that they’ve fallen into neglect: Hooper’s exquisite compositions, the subtle omission of any explicit gore, and the insidiously disturbing reappearance of a friendly character we didn’t yet know was part of Leatherface’s crazy family. Even the annoyances of Franklin, apparently everyone’s least favorite wheelchair–bound lamb to the slaughter, get debated as the podcast’s longstanding TCM fan defends the character’s relative whininess (given his circumstances) against the average moviegoer’s initial take on him. Finally, we’re just like Siskel and Ebert! Even if you’ve seen this film before – and you should – now you can vicariously experience the film’s famous shocks all over again through a TCM virgin’s first bloodletting.
After thoroughly chronicling the tumultuous history of Cannon Films and New Line Cinema’s attempts to turn Leatherface into the next Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, we turn our attention to the most ill-begotten Chainsaw sequel of all.
The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was held on the shelf for three years before finally being shortened and released as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The delay was due to stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey hitting in big in the interim and their agents throwing a fit over what this movie could do to their careers. Easy as it is to hate those who would blacklist the horror genre itself, this movie really is wretched. The story is a sparse rehash of the original with nothing to add but lame attempts at over-the-top humor, mostly supplied by an unrestrained McConaughey whose face-biting antics would’ve been much more useful in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past or Fool’s Gold.
The only compelling idea Henkel introduces is an infamous last-act twist involving a left-field appearance by the Illuminati, favorite brand name conspiracy of international global domination conspiracy enthusiasts. The revelation of their secret involvement with the chainsaw clan at least explains the absence of continuity between sequels (each movie was some kind of separate Illuminati attempt at a hilarious prank.) We do our best to square Henkel’s intentions against the results, which may or may not have sucked on purpose. Can this documentary reveal the answer? Does it matter? Who will survive and what will be left of them?
NEXT EPISODE: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF SPECIAL! AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981, JOHN LANDIS) & AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (1997, ANTHONY WALLER)
The dichotomy between our two movies in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast is as simple as the difference between bats and birds. Both are examples in their own right of movies done by the numbers according to formula. The raw materials at hand make all the difference.
Tennessee Williams adaptations were something of a cottage industry for Hollywood after Marlon Brando’s breakout role in A Streetcar Named Desire, such as Baby Doll (1956), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) also directed by Brooks, and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Sweet Bird of Youth came at the tailend of that cycle, just before ending with Night of the Iguana (1964) as the last popular Williams film adaptation for many years. Brooks made a perfectly serviceable drama here, thanks to the talent at hand. A couple years prior, Williams himself had somewhat written the play for Broadway with his own recent fame in mind, and one feels his security in the recurring elements he knows he does well: Southern gentility, alcohol and drug fueled madness, patriarchy, and as the title implies, faded youth. Sweet Bird is also about the fear of lost fame, beginning and ending with Paul Newman and Geraldine Page reprising their stage roles as a deliriously addled movie star panicked that she’s growing old – and Newman, her pool boy / valet / boy toy. They’ve holed up at a hotel in Newman’s old Flordia hometown, to settle unfinished business with old girlfriend Shirley Knight, her political boss father Ed Begley and an unrecognizably young Rip Torn as Begley’s right hand nephew. Brooks’ direction is flat, but with the acting talent and author at hand it doesn’t matter. While Sweet Bird didn’t set the world on fire, they made a truly enjoyable movie practically on autopilot and that’s commendable.
Bats came out eleven years ago today. Like Sweet Bird, this film also has self-assurance written all over itself, except that they’re all calculated around the soft bigotry of low expectations. Is there an elegance to the simplicity on display? The Williams movie was about the tragedy of youthful beauty being not long for one’s posession, like a bird disappearing to the wind. Bats is about bats. Would you be surprised to learn that the titular bats were altered by science? That there’s a sheriff played by Lou Diamond Phillips? That the lead beautiful Chiropterologist Dina Meyer has a wisecracking black sidekick played by a rapper with one word in his name? That this film was released a week before Halloween?
Bats was destined for calculated success. It may have only made 10 million worldwide on a 6 million budget, but the popularity evidently endured long enough for the 2007 direct to television sequel, Bats: Human Harvest.
Listen on to discover the connection between Bats and Scream 2 (hint: hold your computer screen up to a mirror) among other sweet bits of trivia about these movie-by-numbers kits.
NEXT EPISODE: PLEASE TEACH ME ENGLISH (2003, SUNG-SU KIM) & ZARDOZ (1974, JOHN BOORMAN)
Horror franchises and would-be franchises evolve and devolve in the most unpredictable directions. The Piranha series is an illustrious and obscure one, as we began talking about in our look at Piranha II: The Spawning. In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we complete our preparations for Piranha 3D, the biggest 3D horror event since the last one, with praise for the 1978 Roger Corman-produced original Piranha and abhorrence for the little seen 1995 Showtime channel remake also produced by Corman.
In 1978 Joe Dante got to direct his first film for Roger Corman after working for him as a trailer editor. Piranha announced to the world Dante’s expertise at monster movie nostalgia, a filmmaking role he was destined to practice throughout the special effects driven regressive childhood of the 80s. Alan Smithee has discussed his unjustly ignored monster and boyhood nostalgia throwback Matinee (1993). One of the few filmmakers taken under the wing of Steven Spielberg – that kindlier, cornier purveyor of boomer childhood and other people’s adulthoods – Dante must have known there’s no better way to get his attention than making a smarter and funnier competitor to that year’s Jaws 2.
Death Race 2000 or Rock ‘N’ Roll High School might have been the trash masterpiece that marked the peak of Corman’s second renaissance after the days of Vincent Price, but Piranha gave movie fans a warmup for Dante’s future stories of monster movie tropes intruding on the TV version of reality.
One of Piranha‘s secret weapons was the first genre screenplay of Johny Sayles, who’d go on to become one of the most respected independent filmmakers in America. In 1995, Corman was selling off his assets and remaking old titles for as little money and thought as possible, including the liberal recycling of the old scripts themselves. Piranha ’95 is a photocopy of the original crumbing away on cheap, brittle paper. The piranha themselves are mostly recycled as well, footage from the original film. This movie is almost guaranteed to disappoint fans of the original even more than Piranha II: The Spawning.
Piranha 3D has the good luck charm to be the third reputable follow up to the continuing adventures of good old Project Razorteeth. The cast indicates an appreciation of the original’s b movie eclecticism: Ving Rhames, Elizabeth Shue, a long lost Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss in a Jaws spoofing cameo. Director Alex Aja knows how to pile on the grist they way they did 20 years ago. Incidentally, Dante has a 3D family friendly horror film called The Hole coming out later, so all three may now join that exclusive club inhabited by Dante and James Cameron called “What the heck do we have in common? Oh yes, piranhas and 3D.”
NEXT EPISODE: CONDUCT ZERO (2002, JO GEUN-SK) & FAR CRY (2008, UWE BOLL)