Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fool's Views (6/27 – 7/3)


Back again, my friends,

As you might guess from the list below, this was the week before I started work on my Invasion of the Body Snatchers article for HorrorHound. Having revisited all four of the screen adaptations, as well as reading the source novel the week before for the first time, I have to say that sometimes, research is pretty enjoyable stuff. I’m also fairly pleased with the resulting piece, which should be featured in the Sept/Oct issue of HH. But, here’s a little taste until then – as well as a couple of fightin’ good civilian flicks, viewed via Netflix streaming on the Fool’s 6/30 birthday.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!



HORROR:
SEEING DOUBLE #9: SNATCHED!
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
(5th viewing) d. Siegel, Don
A tale of mounting suspicion and horror as small-town doctor Kevin McCarthy learns that emotionless alien duplicates are replacing the population of his community of Santa Mira. Based on Jack Finney’s novel, the most remarkable aspect of Don Siegel’s classic sci-fi shocker is that while the political ramifications have been well documented (it was produced during the communist witch hunts of the 50s and its subtext is clearly rooted in the fear of conspiracy), it can also be enjoyed purely for its thrills. It’s beautifully constructed , steadily ratcheting up the pressure until we find ourselves wondering about the person sitting next to us. McCarthy’s performance builds from blasé self-satisfaction to raving dementia with nary a false note. (By the way, that is director Sam Peckipah as Charlie the gas man.) Originally shot without the framing device, studio heads became nervous that such a nihilistic effort might be off-putting to an audience and demanded the doctor’s office bookends and voice-over narration inserted, and while it provides a pseudo-hopeful ending, not an iota of sheer dramatic impact is lost – a miracle unto itself.



Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) (4th viewing) d. Kaufman, Philip
Director Philip Kaufman’s worthy updating of the 1956 sci-fi masterpiece is quirkier and more graphic, with oogey scenes of PG-rated violence and stellar acting all around. This revamped version of Jack Finney’s novel, by W. D. Richter, relocates the setting from that of a small town to that of the equally isolatory existence within a bustling metropolis (San Francisco, in this case), where individuals’ relationships with one another are often so tenuous and surface that we might not initially notice if our neighbors had been “replaced.” Donald Sutherland stars as a SF health inspector who, along with Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright, begins to suspect that their fellow citizens are being taken over by pod people from space. Kaufman cultivates a marvelous sense of dread and suspense, with numerous striking scenes and elements (the iconic “shriek”, the man/dog combo) – as well as one of the more truly haunting and unsettling endings to be found anywhere. As if to give his stamp of approval, Kevin McCarthy and Don Siegel (star and director of the original film, respectively) appear in memorable cameos.




Body Snatchers (1993) (3rd viewing) d. Ferrara, Abel
Feeling the story could be revived for the current generation, producer Robert H. Solo instructed celebrated writer/director Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Stuff) to come up with a new angle for the pods, then Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator) re-vamped it for their sensibilities, only to leave the project after being stuck in development hell, whereupon Abel Ferrara took the reins. If it sounds like a lot of cooks, you’d be right, and the evidence is all up there on screen in this dumbed-down version of Finney’s tale. In the lead role, Gabrielle Anwar is attractive but a total lightweight in comparison to her predecessors’ gravitas, and the mishmash script gives its capable ensemble (Meg Tilly, Terry Kinney, Forest Whitaker, R. Lee Ermey) nothing to do but strike mannered poses and gape at Thomas Burman’s so-so transformation effects. A sloppy, schlocky, pale imitation of its forerunners, this is the least of the screen adaptations…as it has nothing at all to say.




Invasion, The (2007) (2nd viewing) d. Hirschbiegel, Oliver
In this, the fourth screen version of Jack Finney's classic science fiction novel, alien spores piggyback on a returning space shuttle that crashes and scatters debris from Dallas to Washington. Anyone who touches the debris gets the infection, which is then spread by the exchange of liquids and/or projectile vomiting (as opposed to seed pods –one of the few new twists provided). There are some intriguing ideas at work here, such as the pods seizing political power in multiple countries, causing peace to break out, or the fact that once infected, there is no waking up from the transformation. While Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, and Jeffrey Wright do what they can, but too often, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (or more likely, the uncredited James McTiegue, who oversaw the much-publicized reshoots) resorts to basic car chase scenes (spinning tires, multiple crashes, car in flames, dozens of pod people hanging onto it, etc). It’s too bad, as through the Hollywood muddle, it seems like screenwriter David Kajganich had some intriguing ideas – it would have been nice if the pods, er, suits would have let him fully explore them.



CIVILIAN:
Black Belt Jones (1974)
(1st viewing) d. Clouse, Robert
Clouse directed Jim Kelly alongside Bruce Lee and John Saxon in Enter the Dragon, and the following year helmed this cheese-tastic blaxploitation kung-fu epic with Kelly playing the lead role. Yep, “Black Belt Jones” is his name, and he’s gonna keep his neighborhood clean from mob bosses and crooked loan sharks, all the while getting his groove on with foxy lady/lethal weapon Gloria Hendry.



Taps (1981) (1st viewing) d. Becker, Harold
When budget constraints call for the closing down of a military academy, the cadets (led by Timothy Hutton) barricade themselves inside the walled gates, playing wargames against the outside world in this thoughtful, if preachy effort from Onion Field director Becker. Rising talent Sean Penn, Tom Cruise and Giancarlo Esposito play the young guns with equal parts earnest bravado and niggling fear, while George C. Scott’s fading warrior recalls his Patton glory. Ronny Cox also does fine work as the Army official called in to negotiate a truce.

2011 totals to date: 270 films, 165 1st time views, 129 horror, 21 cinema

BOOKS:

They’re Here…: Invasion of the Body Snatchers: A Tribute, edited by Ed Gorman & Kevin McCarthy

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