A Look Back at Night of the Creeps

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from watching the movie and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

When you craft a story meant to entertain people, it is already tough to mix genre elements and make them work together while still telling a cohesive story. Imagine how hard that could be when making a movie with the mentioned creative mix?

Back in the mid-1980s, a young film enthusiast named Fred Dekker not only pulled it off but actually made a feature-length film titled Night of the Creeps which was his cinematic directorial debut. Before making that science fiction/horror/comedy movie, Dekker grew up watching movies of horror, science fiction and fantasy and developed a passion for movies (and movie production eventually).

After much learning through UCLA, Dekker broke into Hollywood and started a professional career in film and eventually got his dream project in the form of Night of the Creeps.

“Night of the Creeps is very much a first feature with the attitude of many first features. The I-may-not-get-to-do-another-movie-so-I’m-going-to-do-everything-I-want-to-do-in-this-movie attitude. It’s an attitude that often backfires, but in this case, it’s exactly what makes Night of the Creeps so much fun,” Dekker stated.

With the short film history lesson done, it’s now time to take a look back at Night of the Creeps written and directed by Fred Dekker, and released in 1986 by TriStar Pictures.

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If you were the police chief, how many police officers would send to corner one zombie?

Early story

The story begins inside a space ship where one alien creature (carrying a canister) is running away from two armed personnel. With the two chasers delayed, the creature manages to shoot the canister into the realm of space.

On Earth, the year is 1959. In a typical American suburb, a college student visits a sorority house to pick up his date. Together, along with a few other pairs in cars, they spend time at a parking spot with a nice night view. A young police officer, who is aware of the news about a potential killer on the loose, approaches the pair and recognizes the lady from the sorority house. He tells them to go home for their safety, and then leaves them.

Shortly after, the canister from space arrives and crashes nearby causing the college student to drive the car (with his date with him) and find the spot of the crash. He parks the car by the woods and moves into woods leaving the sorority girl alone, sitting and waiting. He finds the canister and decides to look at it closely. Through an opening, an alien slug suddenly jumps from the canister and into his mouth. Meanwhile, the lone lady in the car hears the news about the loose killer and realizes the details about their location (being the destination of the killer). Slowly creeping up on her is a man with an axe.

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What teenagers in America used to do in the 1950s.
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Someone closing in…

In 1986, at the same locality, college students party around and engage in lots of activities in relation to pledge week being organized at a local university. Among the students walking down the sidewalk are Chris Romero and his handicapped friend J.C. Chris spots a pretty girl from a distance and instantly falls for her at first sight. With the help of J.C., he decides to pursue her…

Quality

Even with a low budget, Night of the Creeps is very creatively done and comes with a good amount of fun for viewers who enjoy elements of horror or sci-fi, 1950s romance, 1980s teen comedy and even detective story. What made this movie a cinematic gem is that Fred Dekker and his creative team combined their strengths with the talents of their cast members specifically Jason Lively, James Marshall, Jill Whitlow and Tom Atkins.

At its core, Night of the Creeps is a zombie horror flick that had sci-fi elements of UFOs and the 1950s as a strong foundation (in addition to serving in the background of the plot). Those combined genre elements alone (backed with a plot that is cohesive enough thanks to Dekker) made this movie solid and yet, the implementation of detective/crime storytelling and 1980s teen comedy (specifically college culture) further added more punch and variety in making the film really engaging and fun.

That being said, the actors delivered the goods with their respective performances. Jason Lively and Steve Marshall have excellent chemistry together as the 1980s college boys Chris Romero and J.C. They started their acts as typical college guys trying to achieve something when it comes to campus achievements and winning the girl’s heart. They also delivered strong performances on the comedy and they pushed their dramatic limits further when the film’s tone shifted to horror. Jill Whitlow is interesting as sorority girl Cynthia who has that girl-next-door charm. She proved to be talented with acting as she had convincing romantic chemistry with a certain jerk and Chris.

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Steve Marshal, Jason Lively and Jill Whitlow as J.C., Chris Romero and Cynthia.
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The horror film genre legend himself, Tom Atkins!

The standout performer among them all, unsurprisingly, is Tom Atkins as detective Ray Cameron. Before making this movie, Atkins worked in horror movies and a few cult movies, and got involved with the legendary John Carpenter. As such, playing the veteran detective Cameron here was a natural fit for the actor. As the aging and troubled detective, Atkins portrayed him dramatically and because of his very rugged touch, the actor really looked like he actually lived through decades of police work in the fictional town. Atkins also proved to be very good with quotes, specifically with “Thrill me!” It should be noted that this is Atkins’ personal favorite role in the horror genre.

When it comes to telling a cohesive story to emphasize the mixed genre elements, I should say Fred Dekker and his team succeeded. The pacing ran at a medium pace for the most part and even during the slower scenes, there was never a boring moment. More on storytelling, Night of the Creeps’ concept made sense for the most part (about how a slug from outer space would gradually cause zombification on people and even animals, in the midst of college-related events happening) and still had room for suspense, spectacle (note: Jason Lively and Jill Whitlow themselves used dangerous weapons near the end of the film) and, yes, character development! All of that pulled of nicely in roughly ninety minutes and the viewing experience was ultimately fun and engaging.

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I wonder if this image would be considered offensive by the SJWs…
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Perhaps this will inspire you to research what American life was like back in the 1950s.

It should be noted that, in terms of presentation, key scenes were very well directed and strong performances from the actors were realized. The scene where detective Cameron and Chris had a private talk was intriguing to watch, and that one had the strongest act Tom Atkins made in the film. I should also mention that, apart from the dramatics and performances, I enjoyed the cinematography done by Robert C. New especially with the way the camera moved as the actors delivered their lines in key sequences. There were closeups that perfectly captured the moments when the actors delivered their strongest acts. Last but not least, the music by Barry De Vorzon fit the film’s tone and concept smoothly.

Conclusion

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Here they come…

I really love Night of the Creeps and I want you – my readers and fellow film buffs and pop culture geeks – to watch it from start to finish. I never saw this movie in the cinemas in the 1980s but was fortunate enough to watch it on cable TV on a late night in 1998 (twelve years after its cinematic release). That was a night I’ll never forget because Night of the Creeps delivered the fun and exceeded my expectations. Then years ago, I finally acquired the Sony Pictures Blu-ray disc release which I replayed from time to time at the comfort of home with my Xbox One console as the disc player. The film looks even better in high-definition!

The best thing I love about Night of the Creeps is its big mix of genre elements which was supported by solid storytelling and performances. When it comes to spectacle or shock moments, it should be stated that the practical effects used (note: no CGI or computer-generated images here) in the movie still stand up strongly until now although I must say that the aliens creatures in the early part of the story were just not convincing enough.

Even by today’s standards, Night of the Creeps is enjoyable and gripping to watch, and the fact is nobody in Hollywood is making anything like it, nor are there any filmmakers willing to do a big mix of genre elements and tell a cohesive story with good performance from hired talents. This alone makes Fred Dekker’s directorial debut a cinematic gem that has been overlooked by too many people

In light of modern society and its norms, I declare that Night of the Creeps will give you a good dose of escapism not only from real life but also from the corrupted and highly politicized culture of Hollywood which points to the Political Left (whose central figure Barack Obama supports Iran, the terrorists and illegal immigrants) and its trouble makers (examples: social justice warriors or SJWS, the socialists, the radical feminists, the LGBTQ) who managed to infiltrate the American film industry and even the American media (note: you can tell if a movie review was written by an SJW who only writes something to fit his/her social justice agenda). This old movie was made to deliver fun without any political garbage whatsoever. That being said, it will make you wish that Hollywood would just focus on making their movies truly entertaining and be free from political poison at the same time. Movies that carry political overtones or emphasize identity politics are major turn-offs.

Overall, Night of the Creeps is highly recommended! That being said, I urge you to order a Blu-ray copy of Night of the Creeps now at Shout Factory and Amazon. Whichever Blu-ray version you acquire (note: the Shout Factory version has newer and more extra stuff), you can’t go wrong with Night of the Creeps in high-definition.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Total Recall (1990)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from watching the movie and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

I miss the old days when an R-rated action-packed science fiction movie can be passionately made with exceptional directing, clever writing, great camera work that’s consistently steady, solid performances from the actors, action that was not too choreographed, and visuals that heavily utilized practical effects and optical effects.

I’m talking about Total Recall, the 1990 sci-fi action movie that starred a much younger Arnold Schwarzenegger supported by Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Rachel Ticotin and Ronny Cox. Directed by Paul Verhoeven (who directed the 1987 classic RoboCop) with a screenplay (based on the Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman, Total Recall was a tremendous hit in the cinemas grossing more than $261 million worldwide with a production budget of over $60 million. To date, the film remains a favorite not only with fans of Schwarzenegger but also with people who love action movies, sci-fi movies, movies of the 1990s and geeks.

But before looking back at this movie, it is important to take note that Total Recall took several years of development before it finally got produced. The very first screenplay was written by O’Bannon and Shusett in the 1970s (after securing the film rights to Philip K. Dick’s short story when the author was still alive). Eventually prolific movie producer Dino De Laurentiis took the project for development. Years later, De Laurentiis’ company collapsed (due to failed projects) which provided Schwarzenegger the golden opportunity to get Total Recall by persuading Carolco to secure the rights for a few million dollars. After many screenplay drafts written and the hiring of Verhoeven as director (note: Schwarzenegger approached him personally) plus Gary Goldman, the rest became history.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox in a memorable scene.

Now, here is a look back at Total Recall.

Early Story

The story begins at the surface of planet Mars where a man and a lady (both wearing space suits) travel on foot. Suddenly, the man slips down and breaks the frontal shield of his helmet exposing himself to Mars’ air. It turned out to be an intense nightmare for Douglas Quaid who was in bed with his beautiful wife Lori. Lori asked him about the unidentified woman who appeared in his dreams, but Quaid expresses his love for her. On his way to work, Quaid saw a TV ad inside the train about Rekall, a company that sells holidays and adventures in the form of memories. At work, his fellow construction worker discouraged him from availing of any services from Rekall. After work, Quaid visits Rekall and decides to avail of an ego trip as a secret agent. Just as the memory trip was about to start, Quaid wakes up violently…

Quality

This movie is still great to watch. Let me start first with the creative team of Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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A great action scene about to start…

When it comes to the synergy between the director and the lead player, Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger make a great creative team that made this movie very special! When asked during an interview what it was like for him to work with Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven said:  Arnold is great. Switching from Rutger Hauer to Arnold is not that big a step. It’s strange to say that, because he’s this crazy Austrian, with an accent—but, for me, Arnold is the American Rutger. I think if I did a few movies with Arnold, I could do as much with him as I did with Rutger. Now, this movie was the wrong thing . . . But I think you can do much more with Arnold, explore more possibilities, than was necessary for this movie.

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Sharon Stone as Lori.

Now, it is a fact that Schwarzenegger lacks versatility when it comes to acting. Even so, Verhoeven succeeded in getting a deeper-than-expected performance from the star in this movie. Sure, we get to see Schwarzenegger fight bad guys with really rough action, fire guns, run and jump around here but what really stood out here was his portrayal of a man who discovers that the life he knew was all a lie and goes on to find the truth about himself. This role remains a standout role of Schwarzenegger’s among all the characters he played in his many other action films. What is also notable with Douglas Quaid is that the protagonist is always in danger and never invincible, very similar to how Bruce Willis played John McClane in Die Hard. If you watch this film after seeing Schwarzenegger play his invincible icon in the Terminator movies, you will feel his pain, tension and curiosity here! As if that was not enough, there is also the other role Schwarzenegger played in this movie that you should see.

Of course, Total Recall also drew greatness and depth from Verhoeven who also got strong performances from Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Rachel Ticotin and Ronny Cox. Sharon Stone is the beautiful wife who will shock you. Michael Ironside is the henchman who will make you root for Schwarzenegger even more. Rachel Ticotin is the brave woman who is believable with the cause she is involved with.

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Rachel Ticotin as Melina.

More notably, Ronny Cox is the all-powerful and ruthless executive who will get on your nerves and make you root for Schwarzenegger a lot, very similar to how his villainous role in RoboCop made moviegoers root for the cyborg policeman. It should be noted that the evil executive-henchman duo of Cohaagen (Cox) and Richter (Ironside) here is a directorial trademark of Verhoeven’s and it should bring back memories of the other evil duo in RoboCop. More than that, Ronny Cox succeeded in selling the concept that Cohaagen really had been the administrator of the colony in Mars exploiting the resources and the people for a long time.

More on getting the most out of the actors, Verhoeven and his team crafted a memorable hand-to-hand fight scene between Lori (Stone) and Melina (Ticotin) actually taking part in the action and stunts. Sharon Stone clearly got athletic in this movie and her efforts paid-off nicely, complete with another fight scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger (she actually even threw two high kicks at Schwarzenegger’s head) early in the film. Beyond the hard battle with Stone, Ticotin went on to take part in further action scenes in the film and she sure is believable as an action performer. To put things in perspective, Stone and Ticotin are not action stars but they excelled nicely in their work here and this also made Total Recall special.

When it comes to storytelling under the direction of Verhoeven, Total Recall moved at a medium-to-fast pace and there was never a single moment of rushing, nor a single boring moment at all. The film just kept going smoothly complete with true unpredictability which results lots of twists and surprises. I should also state that the dialogue from the finalized screenplay is still excellent, and they were nicely delivered by the actors. Verhoeven also added depth to the film by using mystery while also getting good performance from Schwarzenegger as Doug Quaid finds out that life is not what it seems. I should state that the sci-fi elements of altering (and adding) human memories with the use of computers and the business of selling virtual holidays and ego trips were strongly emphasized. These also add to the film’s mystery which should engage you to wonder and analyze as the story moves on.

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The best view from an office on planet Mars.

On the spectacle, Total Recall is heavily loaded! The action is violent, plentiful and carries that particular aesthetic that only director Verhoeven has. It’s hard to explain in words but once you watch the action in this movie (plus comparing it to RoboCop and Starship Troopers), you will realize it. Even so, the action never turned this movie into a brainless affair. The action worked nicely to balance the mystery and suspense.

The visual effects here were mostly done by practical and optical ways. Special effects specialist Rob Bottin, who famously worked in John Carpenter’s The Thing and worked also with Verhoeven in RoboCop, came up with very memorable animatronics to simulate facial and physical changes on characters on key sequences involving sci-fi elements. The team also crafted really freaky looking makeup works on the Mars mutants, which really gave this film a strong sci-fi look. I also like the use of miniatures and physical sets that visualized the colony in Mars. By today’s standards, this movie’s visual effects still look great and I can only wish that filmmakers today would rely less on computers and go back to using practical effects (note: physical stuff) and, on certain occasions, optical effects.

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Really great movie makeup work by Rob Bottin.

When it comes to the physical environments, this movie was filmed a lot in Mexico, specifically on key locations and on the sound stages in an established movie production studio there. Years ago, when I first learned for the first time that the trains used in the film were real-life trains that actually operated in one of Mexico’s real-life transportation systems, I was astounded! Paul Verhoeven himself confirmed that the train sequences were not only shot on location with real trains (note: monitors were added by the filmmakers to achieve a futuristic look) but the place’s architectural design were very unique and fitted nicely with the sci-fi concept of the movie.

The Mars colony set does not look fake to me. In fact, it really looks like it has long been lived in by people and the filmmakers nicely designed it. The Venusville set looks very convincing and, within the story, it got decayed due to long-term businesses, constant vehicular traffic and people who always flocked the place. The Mars hotel meanwhile has that cleaner, nicer look with tourists who paid good money for pleasure and discovery.

I should mention that the cinematography here done by Jost Vacano is excellent. The set-ups of the camera to get great angles of the actors is special, and the same can be said about the capturing of the spectacle that happened on-screen. The flashback of Mars inside Quaid’s mind had great, floating views of the location complete with perfectly smooth movement! Vacano also worked with Verhoeven in RoboCop.

Finally, the musical score by the late Jerry Goldsmith is very memorable and this is my favorite among all his works. The music provided gave this movie a strong sci-fi feel and when suspense plays, the tunes added nicely to it. The most memorable music tracks here are the opening credits music (which is immersive) and the foot chase between Quaid and Richter on Earth (the music really keeps the pace high).

Conclusion

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Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid in a key scene.

Total Recall is a true, adulterated sci-fi action classic and easily it is still is one of the best ever movies I’ve seen from Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven and Stone. A few visual elements did not age well but its highly engaging story (combined with the strong performances and spectacle) remains its key selling point. There is a lot of ambiguity throughout the film and it will keep you wondering if the story (or at least portions of it) was reality or all a dream in Quaid’s mind. The way the story is structured combined with the excellent spectacle, this is a movie that is worth watching again and again! It remains an effective viewing experience for me until now.

As it contains the directorial trademarks of Verhoeven mixed with Schwarzenegger’s own style of expression and hard action, Total Recall is a very unique move of its own and it’s impossible to replicate nor match. Keep in mind that the 2012 remake of this movie was badly made (even though it had a big budget and highly advanced visual effects involving the use of computers) and ended up being a complete failure.

To put it short, Total Recall is more than just an action-packed thrill ride. It is also a mystery film that will keep viewers on the edge as the search for answers continues. Total Recall also explores the theme of what would you do when you realize that the life you remember turned to be an exceptional lie, and that you are literally caught in the middle of a web surrounded by dangerous, powerful people. I could never forget how my mind got motivated as I focused on the narrative the first time I ever saw this great movie decades ago. Total Recall was a sci-fi viewing experience like no other.

Overall, Total Recall (1990) is highly recommended! I urge you, my readers, to buy the movie on Blu-ray disc or watch it via streaming.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back At Halloween (1978)

A lot of people call the 1978 low-budget horror film Halloween from director John Carpenter an all-time classic that is also one of the scariest movies ever made. As a commercial product, it made around $70 million in ticket sales worldwide on a production budget of less than $400,000. When it was first released, it received a mixed reception from movie critics but two notable critics – Roger Ebert and Tom Allen – praised it and arguably propelled the film. Halloween also sparked a wave of slasher horror films that got produced most notably the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street films. The slasher horror sub-genre also became a business-friendly model for movie studios that wanted to profit without spending too much on production costs.

Apart from the continued praise and accolades it received, Halloween was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry (NFR) by the Library of Congress which found it to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The film was selected by Empire Magazine as an entry in its “The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time” feature.

I learned about all those winning achievements before even getting to watch John Carpenter’s Halloween for the first time ever many years ago.

How was my 90 minutes of watching it the first time? Halloween did not do well for me and it’s not as great as I thought it was.

Let’s start with the plot. On the evening of October 31, 1963, a 6-year-old Michael Myers (wearing a clown costume) killed his teenage sister and was discovered by their parents outside their home (in Haddonfield, Illinois) still holding the knife. Fifteen years later, Michael was to be escorted from a sanitarium to a court by Dr. Sam Loomis and Marion Chambers but he took advantage of a situation to steal the car (of Loomis) and drive all the way to Haddonfield. Along the way he killed a mechanic (to wear a boiler suit) and stole key items (knives, rope and the distinctive mask) from a store.

Shortly enough Myers stalks Laurie Strode while Dr. Loomis reaches Haddonfield anticipating great danger from the Myers. Wanna know what happens? Watch the movie if you can.

Strong points

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Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter on the set of Halloween.

Halloween is not a mere low-budget horror movie that got very successful commercially. Rather it is a labor of love and collaboration. Many times during the filming, the cast members participated in the arrangement of the equipment and along the way they bonded closely with John Carpenter, Debra Hill and the other film crew members. In some ways, the bonding added to the serviceable quality of the actors’ performances on-screen as well as the clever techniques used by the filmmakers. Donald Pleasance is the true start of the film and clearly did his best on making Dr. Loomis a very believable concerned professional that viewers can relate with. Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode is memorable and will always be remembered as the archetype “final girl” of the horror genre.

Carpenter did not only write and direct the film but also provided the music which alone added to the scare factor and overall mood of the film. Definitely without the music, the movie would have been ineffective in scaring viewers. Even until now, having a movie director who is also talented and capable of providing the music is rare.

Considering the low budget, the filmmakers did a good job making the movie visually creepy. The way they had Michael Myers mix in with the shadows in the dark interiors of the houses remains great to watch. Also who could forget Michael’s emerging from the darkness in the background as Laurie Strode (in the brighter foreground) remained unaware of his presence late in the film? That sequence is true horror classic.

The cinematography by Dean Cundley is excellent to the eyes. The film looks bigger than its budget shows and there were lots of shots showing a wide, open “world” within.

As for the horror icon Michael Myers, having him as a mysterious figure was the right move pulled of here. He stalks people and takes his time killing the victims which easily freaked out moviegoers back in 1978. His mask with a very expressionless face further added to his creepy look. Back to his being mysterious, Michael Myers is truly effective as a violent horror figure as moviegoers are left up to imagine on their own why is he such a killer, why is he so cold, what could have made him like that, etc.

Weak spots

While the movie had its strong points, they are not enough to keep Halloween the acclaimed, all-time, very scary movie many claimed to be. In my honest view, I don’t find Halloween scary at all even with the combined visuals, action and music.

As it preceded the 1980s wave of slasher horror movies, John Carpenter’s movie lacked the violence and the goriness of those other films which ultimately made it look tame by comparison. It is no wonder why when the filmmakers produced Halloween II (1981), moves were made to make that sequel more violent and gory to keep up with the competition. That being said, Halloween just can’t keep up with those other slasher horror films when it comes to scare factor and violence. Really, Halloween is ultimately not scary to me.

While Michael Myers is iconic as a horror figure, he really is not that intimidating as a villain in the movie. Sure he stands from outside the place staring at Laurie Strode like an obsessed stalker but I personally don’t find that effective. In fact, I just end up saying, “Oh, he’s just posing to catch Laurie’s attention and then vanishes without a trace…like an attention grabber with some cowardice within.”

On the way things happened in the story, unrealistic or unbelievable scenarios made me lose focus on the narrative. Let’s be honest with ourselves as we try to relate to what happened and who took part in the story. Who would walk into another house alone in the dark (read: not bothering to turn the lights on) alone? Who would go to the yard alone in the dark to check on the noise or disturbance felt? The lack of lighting sure adds to the creepy factor but ultimately these are cheap tactics by filmmakers to build up suspense and jump scares.

And then there was that scene in which Dr. Loomis spent too much time standing at one particular spot only to realize that his stolen car was just parked nearby. Was he absent-minded all the time to even notice his car?

Another weakness in the film is its slow pacing which made me feel sleepy at times. The film’s dialogue lacked punch and there was a lack of interesting developments before the killings set in. As for the serviceable acting, there were a few actors playing the victims of Michael Myers who registered sub-par reactions which detracted from the targeted scare and shock values of the killings. Perhaps a few more takes and compelling the actors to perform better would have helped.

Conclusion

I know I will be bashed here by the fans of Halloween and John Carpenter but I must say that 1978’s Halloween is simply not a great film, not scary at all and it did not age well. I question not only the acclaim it received but also its status as a preserved film in the National Film Registry. Had I not seen all the other slasher horror films and limited myself to Halloween, then this John Carpenter movie would have been more engaging and scarier. Sadly that’s not the case with reality right now and I can clearly say that Halloween is over-rated. Sorry John Carpenter.


Author’s Note: This article was originally published at my old Geeks and Villagers blog. What you read on this website was an updated and expanded version. In other words, this newest version you just read is the most definitive version.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article to be engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco.

 

Escape From New York Is Still A Solid Movie To Watch

In my life, I was fortunate to have visited the City of New York not once but twice. The first in 1997 and the last in 2011. Already the city was highly modernized and Times Square was often filled with people enjoying the place without worrying about criminals pouncing on them.

What I never got to discover was New York City during its dark, old days when it had a lot more crime and a depressing social atmosphere as seen through the history books of the city. This alone makes watching John Carpenter’s 1981 flick Escape from New York a more interesting experience for me personally. Anyway, here is my review of Escape From New York.

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Kurt Russell as Snake.

The movie begins with information that in the then-future of 1988, crime in America skyrocketed by 400% which compelled the Federal Government to convert Manhattan of New York into a maximum-security prison zone which is eventually surrounded by very high walls (complete with armed guards), mines on the routes out of Manhattan and armed security personnel patrolling the water (by helicopter). Those who were sentenced to imprisonment at Manhattan really have no hope escaping.

In the then-future of 1997, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is captured by the authorities for a Federal Reserve robbery attempt and eventually he gets offered a deal: if he rescues the captured President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) in New York and recovers a sensitive audio tape, a presidential pardon will be arranged for him. Before going to New York, Snake is injected with micro explosives which will blow up in less than 24 hours and they can only be neutralized if he succeeds with his mission. Snake flies into New York but his mission starts roughly.

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The gang and its leader.

That’s enough with the plot. Now I’ll talk about the quality of the film.

For a movie with a low budget of $6 million, Escape from New York looks pretty grand in certain parts specifically with the physical presentation of the streets of the city looking very deserted (note: location filming took place at the isolated and decayed sections of East St. Louis, IL), the on-location shooting at Liberty Island and the gladiator fight at the St. Louis Union Station’s grand hall. Furthermore, the filmmakers managed to stretch whatever Dollars they had to making the New York prisoners looking undesirable and dangerous.

The visual effects, believe it or not, were the result of the film crew having very talented specialists who made the photo-realistic shots. The matte paintings looked very convincing and so did the wire-frame animation sequence which was done with the use black light and special tape (which are visually visible as lighted wire frames). Not to be outdone is the use of miniatures to emphasize New York City with the flying shots. Definitely no computer-generated images here!

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James Cameron doing a matte painting for the movie.

In terms of storytelling, the film remains engaging to watch and along the way you do get to feel and relate with Snake Plissken who does not really care about the affairs of the President nor the Federal Government. He is one of those individuals who only wants to be left alone although his crime of robbery shows his desperation. Snake by the way reflects the anti-authoritarian views of director John Carpenter who in turn wrote this movie’s script after the Watergate Scandal happened.

On face value, Escape from New York looks like an action film but if you’re expecting mind-blowing stuff, intense explosions and lots of hard action, you will be disappointed. The best way to look at this movie is that its presentation of action is moderate. There is the firing of guns but don’t expect a war. There is some hard action here and there, but don’t expect extensive choreographed hand-to-hand fight sequences. What defines the action big time, however, is Snake’s “gladiatorial” battle with the big guy who overdid himself and gave Kurt Russell a truly hard time on shooting the action scenes. Snake’s struggle in the ring was truly Russell’s hard struggle. He was not acting at all during those action scenes.

Ironically, the lack of action and explosions did result the incidental acts of the many extras hired to play New York’s prisoners which really made the film’s concept of a metropolitan prison convincing. Snake’s escape from a run-down building being chased by many bad guys was fun to watch. The scene in which the good guys rode a vehicle only to be hit by debris thrown by many bad guys was intense.

With regards to performance, Kurt Russell’s Snake is truly iconic. He captures the character’s tough guy mentality and the good and honorable guy deep in the character’s heart. Donald Pleasence as the US President was pretty engaging even though he did not have the same amount of screen time as Russell. Pleasence is a very skilled actor and his handling of showing the US President as a scared and desperate person in captivity and as a cold-hearted man with power in safety is very memorable.

The other players like Lee Van Cleef (the hard authority figure), Ernest Borgnine (clearly the comic relief), Isaac Hayes (The Duke), Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Tom Atkins all had nice performances and they contributed well into the film’s quality.

With regards to weak spots, I could only wish the opening explanation (that crime accelerated by 400%) was accompanied with staged or archived footage of city crime to emphasize society’s downfall and make the film’s concept of turning New York into a prison more convincing. Also there was the missed opportunity by the filmmakers to use archived news footage of New York City’s history of high crime and police corruption. Lastly the final conflict between Snake and the Duke lacked impact and was underwhelming.

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Snake, his companions and the US President (rightmost).

Overall Escape from New York is not only one of John Carpenter’s best films…it is truly a Hollywood action-adventure classic with a very intriguing concept (New York City as a prison) that deserves your attention. Unlike Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Escape from New York is timeless and remains fun and relevant to watch. Just don’t expect to see bombastic action and stunts.

If you intend to watch the movie, I suggest buying the movie’s collector’s edition Blu-ray disc release while it is still available. Good luck finding a copy of it.


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Author’s Note: This article was originally published at my old Geeks and Villagers blog. What you read on this website was an updated and expanded version. In other words, this newest version you just read is the most definitive version