Black Fears (Horror Noire, 2019)

Horror_Noir_PosterWhen you think of horror, it can often seem like people of color don’t exist. The Universal classics were devoid of black people. And even when they were present, they were violent savages (1933’s King Kong).

But Horror Noire looks deeper into the presence of the black community in horror films.  It is not really hard to find black horror fans today. And really, horror has a long history of popularity in the black community…but often with very different lessons.

The film opens by noting the most famous horror film of them all is a film a lot of white people do not often cite as a horror film.  But you can see why Birth of a Nation is truly horrific in its story and racist portrayals of black men.

Through interviews with writers, directors and many actors the decades of horror are explored.  Early on the documentary explores forgotten films from the 40’s such as Son of Ingagi by Spencer Williams (most remembered as Andy from Amos & Andy).

There is a heavy look at the 70’s with regard to films that came out during the height of blaxploitation films. While films like Blackenstein do not fare well, Blacula and Ganja and Hess transcend the genre.

There is a terrific statement in the film:

“We’ve always loved horror. It’s just that horror, unfortunately, hasn’t always loved us.”

The insights from actors in regards to their roles is key. Kelly Jo Minter, Ken Sagoes and Miguel A. Nùñez Jr all bristle at the notion that their roles were incidental. Of course, they were aware that in many cases they were the only people on the set of color…but as Sagoes notes, he was happy to have a check.

Horror Noire is a worthwhile documentary that I found fascinating and educational. I highly recommend sitting down for it.

As an aside…Jordan Peele…while you are changing the face of horror…please do not forget about Keith David, Ken Foree and Tony Todd.

Fast and Furious (The Quick and the Dead, 1995)

Quick_and_the_Dead_posterStop me if you’ve heard this one…a mysterious drifter comes to town with a purpose only known to her.

Ellen wanders into a small town ruled by Herod.  Every year, Herod holds a quick draw competition.  Gunfighters from all over come to show off their skills. He is a cruel and vindictive man. He has a former partner in crime, Cort, in chains.  Cort walked away from his criminal ways and became a preacher. But Herod is trying to push Cort into cast away his faith.

Ellen is a hard drinking and tortured woman.  She has arrived for the competition.  But as she grows closer to her goal of fighting Herod, the weight of vengeance starts to wear her down. She takes some comfort with Herod’s young and cocky son, called the Kid.

The Kid is tired of living under his father’s shadow.  This is one of the closest points to being human Herod has.  He tries to force the Kid out of the contest when it is clear the kid aims to go against his father.

Meanwhile, Cort tries to convince Ellen to walk away…leading to Herod seeing an opportunity and set Ellen and Cort against each other a shootout to the death.

If this sounds like a mass of western cliches…well, it should.  This is the point of Sam Raimi’s film.  He is paying a very loving homage to the classic spaghetti western.  At the same time, this is shot with the classic Raimi style.  Weird angles, impossible visuals and over the top characters.

This is Gene Hackman at his scene chewing best.  His performance as Herod is the classic “Evil Town Leader” mold, and a whole lot of fun. As the Kid, Leonardo DiCaprio is a lot of fun to watch.  He is immensely over confident, but that is kind of his charm.  Russell Crow’s performance as Cort is a bit more understated. And it serves the character well.  Cort is a bit like Bill Munny from Unforgiven in that he turned from evil and seeks a more righteous path.  But his past refuses to make this easy.

Raimi fills the background with a remarkable cast of character actors.  Lance Henrickson is the fancy Gambler and gunfight Ace.  Keith David is the bounty hunter hired by the town to kill Herod.

The Quick and the Dead is a great love letter to the westerns of Sergio Leone and entertaining as all git out.

The Advertising Scam (They Live, 1988)

they-live-posterI have only one thing to say.  Fifteen minute fight between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David.   ‘Nuff said.

 

 

 

Oh, you expect me so say a bit more?  Fine.

Beloved Wrestler Roddy Piper is Nada, a wandering Construction worker looking for work.  When he discovers a group of resistance fighters hiding among the city’s homeless, he finds himself stuck in a battle against humanity and aliens bent on human enslavement.

 

When Nada discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the aliens, he tries to figure out what to do.  He enlists help from fellow construction worker Frank and TV Executive Holly.  What follows is an insane ride.

The film is packed with action and humor.  One of the most memorable moments is Roddy walking into a bank wearing the magic sunglasses and holding a shotgun declares, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass.  And I am all out of bubblegum.”

The other big moment is a nearly fifteen minute fist fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David.  It is amazing.  Asked recently if he ever considered shortening the fight, Carpenter indignantly declared “F**k no!”

This is a good cast who make a rather ham-fisted film work.   Keith David is always good and Meg Foster is mysterious and uncertain in her motives.  And those eyes.

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I mentioned ham-fisted…the plot is a huge screed against the 80’s consumerism and Reaganomics.  When Piper puts on the glasses, he sees in black and white…

But he does not just see the aliens.

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He also sees how they are taking over….advertising.

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It is hard to ignore, and while it may be a valid criticism, it is done in a way that feels almost comedic.  The aliens reward people willing to cash in.  A guy goes from being a bum to a member of the 1%.  In a way I am surprised nobody has remade this one yet since 2008.

In spite of this, the film is effectively fun and has some real twists.  It is a well loved Carpenter film for a reason, and it is not for the politics.  It is a goofy action film, a cross between the grim and serious Escape From New York and the boisterous Big Trouble in Little China.

Mighty Mutatin’ Machine (The Thing, 1982)

The-Thing-PosterHot on the heels of Escape From New York, Carpenter and Russell worked together on the Thing.  A film based on the short story “Who Goes There” (which had been adapted previously as The Thing From Another World).

Focusing on a research team in a remote arctic location, this story of paranoia is highly effective.  The team is attacked by a pair of Norwegians.  When they go visit the base, they find the remains of some major mayhem.  They also find some bizarre corpses and video evidence of something discovered within the ice.

What they do not realize, until it is to late is that the Norwegians were not attacking them…they were after something else…something protected by our American team.

And what they discover is an alien lifeform that can mimic any life form it encounters.  And that is when it really gets interesting.  Who can you trust?  Who is human and who is not?  Carpenter uses this to fuel a paranoid and exciting story full of twists and turns.  Kurt Russell’s helicopter pilot becomes a defacto leader, much to the annoyance of Garry (Donald Moffat) and Childs (Keith David).

The cast is excellent.  It is hard to go wrong with guys like Keith David and Kurt Russell, but the entire cast are top notch in their performances.  The film is full of tense moments that lead up to shocking moments.  The shocks are courtesy of FX guru rob Bottin and his crew.  The transformations are bizarre and gruesome in the best way possible.  This film is a benchmark of effects achievement, and it is a great selling point for practical effects.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is an absolute sci-fi and horror classic and one of Carpenter’s best films.

the-thing-blu-rayThis month, Shout!Factory has released an all new Blu-Ray of the film.  The Two disc Special Edition has a very nice 2K scan, resulting in an excellent picture.  The packaging has lush new cover art.  It also has the Drew Struzan original on the reverse side.

The special features are are numerous and about as comprehensive as a package is eve be.  There is a brand new interview with Carpenter by director Mick Garris.  Another new feature is the Men of Outpost 31 which features interviews with several cast members (though, no Kurt Russell).  Both of these offer new and entertaining insights to the film.  They also included the Terror Takes Shape, a 90 minute making of film from the original DVD.  It was left off the previous Blu-Ray.

The set also includes vintage featurettes, audio commentaries (a new one with Director of Photography Dean Cundey), outtakes and one of the more surprising inclusions the Network broadcast version of the film.

This is a set worth having in one’s collection.  It is filled to the brim with features to explore the history and design of the film.  Shout!Factory has done a stellar job here.

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