Posts Tagged ‘gone horribly right’

Species (1995)

I find it ironic that the first entry in former model Natasha Henstridge’s body of Hollywood work is a movie in which she, well, shows off so much of her body. While the “aliens mating with humans” type plot is hard to pull off successfully (and without resorting to tentacle rape), especially in a serious movie, this one also boasted semi-famous actors and a decent plot. Did it succeed? Let’s find out.

Species is a sci fi horror film directed by Roger Donaldson, and starring Natasha Henstridge, Marg Helgenberger, Alfred Molina, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker, and creature effects by H. R. Giger.

When SETI was established decades ago, it sent out a polite “hello” to any intelligent races that might be listening, in the form of information about Earth and its inhabitants, including info about our DNA, hoping that someone would say “hi” back. Twenty years later, they got a reply, in the form of information on the creation of an endless fuel source. Cool – they’re friendly! Naturally, when they send their next transmission, a sample of alien DNA and instructions on how to splice it with our own, a government team is set up to see what happens when Tab A is spliced with Slot B. Led by Dr Xavier Fitch, the team tries following the instructions in the transmission, deciding to make the result female in order to avoid any natural aggressive tendencies of a male specimen. Out of a hundred fertilized ova, finally one of them survives gestation, producing a hybrid named Sil, resembling a human girl. She grows quickly and appears to be highly intelligent, but she has violent night terrors which appear to be flashes of genetic memory of home. Her outbursts during these nightmares lead the team to judge her dangerous, and they try to kill her with cyanide gas. She escapes the lab, and a team is assembled to track her down and destroy her before she can mate with a human male, producing more like her and possibly eliminating the human race. Naturally, she has reached sexual maturity since escaping, and is now on a mission of her own – booty.

With a plot like this, one might expect Species to be nothing but softcore porn with only the vague sketches of a plot and shitty special effects to string the sex scenes together. Surprisingly, the movie actually works as a serious thriller. The opening scenes take the time to lay the groundwork for the story, rather than saying, “Here’s a hot alien chick, look at her boobs and don’t worry about the plot.” The story unfolds realistically, with the plot playing out in a logical fashion, winding up to a conclusion that feels genuinely tragic despite its necessity. Sil’s lack of a nudity taboo meshes naturally with her background – she is a creature of instinct, raised in a lab, with heightened senses, greater strength and agility, and the ideal appearance for attracting a mate. She acts and feels like a genuine organism looking for a suitable mate rather than a space slut willing to shag anyone.

The characters are, thankfully, not a cast of morons. While Fitch’s decision to terminate Sil in light of her violent nightmares seems ill-conceived, it makes sense – she is only likely to get stronger and more agile as she matures, and who knows how she sees the world. The composition of the team gathered to hunt her down is also logical: Dr. Arden to study her behavior for clues about her next move, Dr. Baker as a familiar face that Sil might trust, empath Dan Smithson to track her via her emotional states, and mercenary Preston Lennox for when they have her cornered and the time comes to kill her. Even Sil appears to have genuine motives for what she does beyond “gotta get laid”. While she is deadly, she does demonstrate species-perpetuation instincts, and she is decently choosy about her mates (rejecting one hopeful when she senses that he has diabetes). Though she can and does kill several people through out the movie, she is cunning and discreet, and generally kills only to defend herself or erase a sexual rival – this sort of thing happens all the time in nature on Earth – but as a non-native species there is a higher chance of her buggering up the biosphere.

While Species sounds like it might just be a brainless festival of tits and blood, I recommend it to fans of sci fi horror. Giger’s creature effects are amazing as always, Natasha Henstridge is hot, and the whole thing is overlaid on a surprisingly well-developed storyline. Worth a rental.

The Butterfly Effect (2004)

If you could go back and change any event in your past, would you? Can you imagine the consequences of doing so? What if your every effort to make things better only makes things worse? What if fate is just a sadistic bastard?

The Butterfly Effect is a drama-sci fi film co-directed and co written by Eric Bess and J. Mackye Gruber. It stars Ashton Kutcher, Melora Walters, Amy Smart, and Elden Hensen, andthe Director’s Cut sports one of the most depressing endings I’ve ever seen in a movie that wasn’t about the Holocaust.

Evan Treborn has long suffered stress-related blackouts during traumatic events in his childhood and adolescence. In an effort to get a handle on what is going on during the missing periods, he has kept a series of journals over the years from the age of seven to the present day. By age 20, it has been seven years since his last blackout, but he discovers that he can use these journals to mentally travel back in time to these traumatic events, thereby causing the blackouts in the first place, and in doing so he tries to alter his own past for the better. However, each time he tries to change things, he causes an unintended ripple effect to the present with unintended and unpleasant consequences for everyone involved.

So. Ashton Kutcher. Ashton “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Kutcher, in a dark drama about a guy’s messed-up past and progressively more mess-up present. Yeah. Fortunately, Kutcher does drama well, which can cause a bit of whiplash considering he was in three comedies immediately before this and went on to host Punk’d, but hey. Not many comedic actors can pull that off. I consider this movie to be the evil counterpart to Frequency from four years earlier, considering how much fate seems to enjoy kicking Evan in the balls every single time he tries to improve things. The overall plot is well-crafted, though, with only a few question marks left in the end that resolve themselves cleverly with some though. However, the way it steers him to his final depressing decision smacks of borderline sadism, as his intentions are perfectly selfless and there is no indication that Evan “deserves” his fate.

On the positive side, it is refreshing to see a time travel movie that doesn’t invariably work out for the better. Nearly every time travel movie I’d seen up till The Butterfly Effects release offered a happy ending as a consequence of playing with the timeline, even if the initial effects were nearly disastrous (like Marty McFly nearly writing himself out of the timeline in Back to the Future). This movie is well-written and well-acted, with none of the goofiness that might have completely ruined the effect. However, the ending is so far down in the shadows of Depression Land that I almost needed to watch Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to cheer myself up.

If you want a time travel movie with plently of mind screw and darker consequences for timeline manipulation, I suggest renting The Butterfly Effect, but keep some antidepressants or a comedy handy for afterwards.

Jurassic Park (1993)

“You did it. You crazy son of a bitch, you did it.”

When Steven Spielberg announced that he was going to make a movie called Jurassic Park, about a theme park populated by dinosaurs, every nerd in the world perked up their collective ears. Spielberg had already established himself as an influential director that doesn’t make a habit of settling for half-measures, and every human being is hard-wired to get excited about dinosaurs. Put the two together, and it sounded like a match made in heaven.

Guess what? It was.

Jurassic Park is a science fiction thriller based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. It stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, and lots of really awesone-looking dinosaurs.

It sounds like a great idea: use revolutionary genetic analysis techniques to clone dinosaurs from blood samples gained from mosquitoes preserved in amber. Billionaire eccentric John Hammond thinks so, anyway, and he has decided to build a dinosaur theme park of Isla Nublar, a small island 87 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, populating the exhibits with his cloned dinos. However, after one of the dino handlers gets shredded to hell by a velociraptor a minor incident with one of the dinosaurs, Hammond’s investors get spooked and send in their lawyer, Gennaro, to check things out. Hammond agrees to send two experts on a tour of the park. He invites paleontologist Alan Grant and his wife/fiancee, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, for the privilege, offering to fund their research for the next three years in exchange; they agree and join the tour group, along with chaotician Ian Malcolm, Gennaro, and two of Hammond’s grandchildren, dino enthusiast Timmy and computer nerd hacker Lexi. Hammond hopes to prove to Gennaro once and for all that the park is absolutely safe. After all, he spared no expense.

Little does he know that his head computer programmer, Dennis Nedry, is an under-the-radar employee of BioSyn, a corporate rival of Hammond’s company InGen that has paid Nedry a king’s ransom to acquire some of Hammond’s dinosaur embryos. As the tour starts, Nedry sets his plan in motion, using a program he wrote to disable the entire park’s security systems – after all, he designed them. By the time anyone realizes what Nedry has done, the automated Range Rovers carrying the happy tourists through the park have been halted in their tracks, leaving their passengers stranded near the T-Rex paddock. What was going to be a nice outing in a theme park full of cloned dinosaurs is rapidly turning into a terrifying fight to survive in a theme park full of cloned dinosaurs, as Our Intrepid Heroes try to get to safety and get the security systems back online…

I saw this movie in the theater the summer it came out, and I was left with the impression that Steven Spielberg + Stan Winston = GOOD THINGS. The dinosaurs were a seamless combination of animatronics and CGI, and even the CG dinosaurs seemed to have real weight to them, especially the skyscraper-sized Brachiosaur that served as the viewer’s first look at OMG DINOSAURS. The velociraptors showed a chilling level of cunning, particularly as they chased Timmy and Lex through the visitors’ center, that matched up well with game warden Muldoon’s apparently genuine admiration and fear of them. And the T-rex, the first major predatory dino the visitors encounter, looks like he really wanted to chase you down and eat you. There were difficulties, of course: scenes with the animatronic rex in the simulated rain had to be stopped again and again, as water soaking into the rex’s rubber skin gave it the shakes. And a few liberties had to be taken with some of the “star” dinos for the sake of pure awesome (and because this was what we knew of them at the time): the velociraptors were built on a scale closer to that of the much larger Deinonychus to make them more scary, but that was made okay with the discovery of Utahraptor. The dilophosaur probably didn’t have a frill, but Nedry really needed to have that final OH CRAP moment. Dozens of animal sounds were mixed together to creature unique calls for all the dinosaurs, and all the elements mixed together extremely well, helping the audience believe that the dinosaurs were real.

The human cast also did very well, here, both in discussing the potential problems of the dinosaur park (only Malcolm descended into the filibustering that would become Crichtons unfortunate trademark in later books) and in acting and reacting against the dinosaur effects. Neill and Dern as Grant and Sattler convinced me that they knew their respective fields well, while Jeff Goldblum, as always, plays the deadpan twitchy genius Ian Malcom. Richard Attenborough plays Hammond as more of a child-friendly Walt Disney expy than the greedy bastard he was in the book, only wanting a nice diversion for the kiddies (and therefore he is spared the book’s death-by-zerg-rush). Bob Peck as Muldoon was pretty much the great white hunter, knowing full well how dangerous the raptors were, while Wayne Knight is every character he has ever played, making me want to give him a swift kick in the face regardless of his intended corporate espionage. The actors really made the dinosaurs work, though, and without them and the tight plot this movie would have just been a crapton of flashy effects without any real substance to them.

In conclusion, while the special effects are easy to take for granted nowadays and certain dinosaur portrayals are now out-of-date, Jurassic Park remains a fun, eye-popping roller-coaster ride through the dreams of a wealthy entrepreneur, forced to watch his vision turn into a nightmare. This movie will be one of my favorites for a long time.

The Crazies (2010)

02/02/2011 2 comments

Things to be scared of in a horror movie:

  • Dolls
  • Clowns
  • Power tools
  • Your house
  • Cars
  • Dead people

Now, thanks to George Romero, the master of the modern zombie movie, we can add one more item to this list: Your friends and neighbors.

The Crazies is the 2010 remake of the George Romero science fiction horror film of the same name about a town that becomes infected with the “trixie” virus, designed by the military to destabilize the population by turning them psychotic and murderous. It stars Timothy “Scream 2” Olyphant, Radha “Pitch Black” Mitchell, Joe “I am not Kurt Cobain” Anderson, Danielle “Mr. Brooks” Panabaker, Preston “Dexter” Bailey, John “Armageddon” Aylward, and Larry “Pinocchio’s Revenge” Cedar.

It starts fairly simply. In Ogden County, the local sheriff, David (Olyphant), is watching a baseball game when his deputy, Russell (Anderson), spots Rory Hamill, a local resident and town drunk, walking into the field bearing a shotgun. David confronts Rory, but is forced to shoot him. David and his wife Judy (Mitchell) start to notice strange behavior in the other residents, usually some variation of staring blankly into space and repeating a phrase or sentence, but eventually escalating into violence, as with a local farmer who locks his wife and son in a closet and torches their house. When David and Russell investigate a local’s story about a plane crashing in a nearby swamp, they soon discover that whatever the cause is, it is likely military, and their worst fears are proven true when the military moves in to quarantine the town. Now, caught between the military and his own neighbors turned psychotic, David tries to get himself and Judy out of what is quickly turning into a Crazy-infested warzone.

There is a certain level of low-grade terror in the idea that your neighbors and family – people that you’ve known your entire life – could suddenly snap out and go on a rampage. Add to this the threat of a disease that anyone can catch, plus the fact that it was deliberately created by the military (another group we are taught to trust) as a weapon, and you’ve got some high octane paranoia fuel. On the bright side, the military are swiftly taking responsibility for the outbreaks, but on the dark side this means (like it usually does) eliminating absolutely everyone in the area. How do you escape? How can you tell healthy friends from infected Crazies? Add to this the fact that a loved one has been unfairly marked as infected, and you get a pretty nerve-wracking little horror movie.

The acting was… decent. While zombie movies are not known for attracting Grade-A acting talent, I think the cast did well with the material they were given. I haven’t seen the original (but plan to), so I can’t compare whether the remake was an improvement or not. The makeup effects were well-done as well, having been developed with real-life diseases in mind, with the ultimate goal of making it look “real”, like something that you could actually catch from the Crazies. The final result combined elements of rabies, tetanus, and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. The makeup studio used, Almost Human, previously did work in films like Quarantine, Franken Fish, and Prom Night, and aimed for a “hyper alive” look rather than the listless tenacity of traditional walking dead.

As zombie movies go, The Crazies took a traditional concept and sent it in the direction only recently being explored by filmmakers: the non-undead rage zombie. As a contribution to this subtype, it doesn’t add anything new, but it does well enough for what it is. I would rent this again in a heartbeat.

Event Horizon (1997)

Hell is only a word.  The reality is much, much worse.

In the year 2040, the faster-than-light starship Event Horizon embarked on its maiden voyage to test an experimental gravity drive that used an artificial black hole to create a temporary wormhole, allowing instantaneous travel between any two points in space.  It disappeared without a trace. 

Good news:  In 2047, the Event Horizon was spotted in orbit around Neptune.

Now for the bad news…

The experiment was a complete success.

Event Horizon is a British science fiction horror film written by Philip Eisner, directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, and starring Laurence “The Matrix” Fishburne, Kathleen “Apollo 13” Quinlan, Joely “The Patriot” Richardson, Jack “Idle Hands” Noseworthy, Jason “Lucius Malfoy” Isaacs, and Sam “Jurassic Park” Neill.  Since its release it has been happily adopted by fans of Warhammer 40,000 as part of that universe’s backstory, and readers of Lovecraft will find many familiar elements in its concept of a realm infinitely worse than hell waiting just beyond the fabric of the known universe.

When the Event Horizon reappears within our solar system, a salvage team is sent to recover it.  Led by Captain Miller (Fishburne), the crew of the Lewis and Clark are accompanied by Dr. Weir (Neill), the original designer of the Event Horizon, who explains how the gravity drive was supposed to work.  The team discovers that the crew has been massacred, but all the final entry in the ship’s video log tells them is that everything was Just Fine until they activated the gravity drive – at which point everything went completely (and literally) to hell.

As the salvage mission continues, Engineer Ensign Justin (Noseworthy) is pulled into the gravity drive’s core, returning in a catatonic state and later attempting suicide due to whatever he saw within.  It is not long before the rest of the crew starts having hallucinations of their various fears and regrets: Miller sees a former teammate he was forced to abandon, and Weir sees his dead wife (missing her eyes, for bonus scary points).  After a cleanup of the log show the crew going insane and violently mutilating each other (deleted footage also depicted a sadomasochistic orgy recorded on the log that probably would have made Clive Barker blush), the salvage crew is faced with the possibility that the Event Horizon’s maiden voyage actually dropped it into Hell (or worse), and brought something back with it… something that plans to return home with this new batch of victims.

While the script is pretty much an excuse plot and some of the dialogue turns cheesy at times, the cast of Event Horizon do a good job in carrying the horrific concept of the film.  Sam Neill is delightfully unnerving as he allows the darkness of That Other Place to corrupt his soul, his obsession with recovering his baby slipping easily into insanity with only a nudge.  The Event Horizon itself even comes across as its own character before they start anthropomorphizing it, with its almost actively malevolent design inspired by the Notre Dame Cathedral with more spikes and alien geometries than any sane man would put into a scientific vessel.

The special effects are well-done and subtle throughout this movie thanks to the studio’s decision to go with a smaller FX company to keep the budget down, with only a few points where they were obvious (the late Mrs. Weir’s empty eye sockets and the clearly animatronic legs in one shot of Miller’s burning comrade).  The cleaned up video log is a true nightmare, a surreal bloodbath that stabs you right in your primitive animal brain while making your logical brain demand to go back and make sure that it really saw what it thought it saw.  While the “chaos dimension” that induced all the madness is only mentioned and never seen, it is clear that, whatever the FX guys could come up with to depict it, the reality of it would have been much worse.  Worth noting is the fact that the original cut was 130 minutes, with more gore and a longer segment of vlog to enjoy, but test audiences and the studio were both so disturbed by the result that Anderson was ordered to scale it back, to his regret, and the footage has since been lost.

In the end, despite its flaws, this movie is a chilling and welcome addition to sci-fi horror.  If you want a little horror in your sci fi, go see Alien.  If you want a little sci-fi in your horror, go see Event Horizon.  Alone.  With the lights off.