Ray Milland and Rosie Grier put their heads together.
Is it fair to describe The Thing with Two Heads as a legendary movie? We think so. It's The Wild Ones taken to its shark jumping extreme thanks to the blaxploitation maestros at American International Pictures. Instead of a white convict and a black convict handcuffed together after a prison escape, this flick features a racist white doctor whose head is grafted onto a black patient's body. These two really hate each other, which is a serious problem considering they spend 24/7 at kissing distance, but they're stuck.
Ray Milland, who once won a Best Actor Oscar, is trying to prolong his own life. Grier is a convict on death row who donates his body to science. He has no idea what the science he's donated himself to entails, just that he'll avoid execution for thirty more days and buy time for his relatives and lawyer to prove his innocence. Sounds fun, right? Once Grier wakes up after surgery and realizes what's happened he flees with Milland's noggin riding helplessly along and decides to prove his innocence himself. But Milland is slowly gaining control of their body. You get the feeling this isn't going to end well.
The Thing with Two Heads is low budget, cheeseball, light on genuine humor, and perfunctory in its ending. And yet... how can one resist? Is it an ingenious parable about the historical theft of black bodies by white men? Or is it just a chunk of opportunistic schlock? Only the screenwriters know. We'll say this, though—considering how low this movie could have sunk (picture Milland looking down at Grier's dick and exclaiming, "Whoa! That's bigger than my Oscar!") it's actually pretty restrained. Put it in the better-with-alcohol category and don't watch it alone. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1972.
Need to get rid of an uninvited guest? Try hummus.
For a b-movie The Thing from Another World is quite entertaining. Above you see its nice Belgian promo poster, which has a different look for the era, with its colorful vortex and entranced looking couple. Belgium, of course, is multi-lingual, so the movie was titled La chose d'un autre monde in French and Het ding van een andere wereld in Dutch. It was directed by Christian Nyby, who was taking his first turn in the director's chair, but a certain uber-experienced fella named Howard Hawks apparently assumed a supervisory role, which may be why the film has such a sense of competent ease about it.
Snarky critics often joke that The Thing is basically James Arness as a giant carrot, but that's silly. The monster is a type of vegetable, but Arness does not dress as one, or anything close. He's a humanoid creature in a jumpsuit. We mention it only because those carrot quips, which suggested the film was some sort of low budget disaster, kept us from watching it for years. If the monster was just a carrot they could chase it away with a bowl of ranch dressing or hummus, but it's actually made of sterner stuff than that. Even fire barely fazes it.
In the end, whether thanks to Nyby or Hawks or some combination thereof, what you get here is a good, solid sci-fi thriller, well put together, well acted, reasonably scripted, and ultimately pretty entertaining. There's no Belgian release date, but after premiering in the U.S. in 1951, it made France in January 1952, so it probably opened in Belgium just a bit later. We're sure we don't have to mention that the 1982 remake was great, but if you haven't seen it feel free to take a gander at out little write-up on in from several years ago.
Eli Roth and AMC make History with a seven part look at horror cinema.
Those of you in the U.S. who appreciate horror cinema may want to carve out a little time Sunday night for the final episode of the retrospective Eli Roth's History of Horror. It's been airing weekly on the cable network American Movie Classics, aka AMC, since mid-October. Though the British network BBC broadcast a very good three part horror retrospective in 2010 (and it even had a similar title—A History of Horror), genre landscapes shift quickly. The Brit series was made before important films like Get Out, It, Let Me In, its remake Let the Right One In, et al hit cinemas. Eli Roth's History of Horror is a newer and deeper look at fright films. Each 60-minute episode focuses on a specific type of terror, such as vampires, monsters, demons, and slashers.
Overall the series is great. Roth discusses not just the movies, but horror's cultural impact, and weights those observations toward the last ten years. Because of the change that has occurred this decade those sections resonate nicely. Horror's ability to make social issues digestible as allegories is a key part of the form's worth. For instance, Get Out's idea of the sunken place, a metaphor for living (and dying) while black in America, would be rejected by many white filmgoers if it were in a standard narrative. But for us the social impact of horror movies is merely a bonus. We love them viscerally first, intellectually second. We lovethe tension that results from not knowing—usually, at least—which characters will survive. We love how the films' kinetic and often low budget natures lead to amazing little accidents, such as the bit in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when Leatherface grabs Teri McMinn on the porch of his house and both the girl's sandals fly off. That sort of detail isn't in a script. It happens during the shoot, and the director thanks the filmic gods for the extra iota of serendipitous realism.
While very good, the series isn't perfect. In the episode on zombies, Roth discusses slow moving zombies for a while, then erroneously credits the arrival of speedy zombies to Danny Boyle 2002 hit 28 Days Later. But it was 1985's Return of the Living Dead that featured the first sprinting zombies in an American movie, and this was preceded by the 1980 Italian zombie epic Incubo sulla città contaminata, aka Nightmare City. We also were surprised Near Dark was ignored in the vampire episode. Timehas shown it to be better and more influential than The Lost Boys, which was discussed at length. If you doubt that, note that Near Dark's critic score on Rotten Tomatoes is 88%, while Lost Boys' is 27%. Critics are often wrong, especially when it comes to horror, but that level of variance is no fluke. And just to settle the argument, the audience rater on that website also prefers Near Dark. We suspect either box office receipts or Roth's personal preference played a role there, when quality should have been the deciding factor.
But we were gratified to see that many of our cherished beliefs were echoed by Roth and his co-hosts Rob Zombie and The Walking Dead producer Greg Nicotero. Yes, the towering werewolf from The Howling is the scariest ever put on screen. Beyond a doubt, John Carpenter's The Thing, which was close to universally panned upon release, is a top tier thriller. We're anticipating the segment on ghosts, the focus of Sunday night's series finale. We imagine these were saved for last because viewers are most interested in the subject, a curiosity that derives from the fact that many people actually believe ghosts exist. We expect the episode to discuss such old and new classics as The Haunting, The Shining, The Ring, and The Woman in Black. We'll see. But no spoilers, please. If you're in the States you can watch it before we do, whereas we'll have to (totally legally, we swear) download it the next day. But whenever you watch it, the show has been a nice treat for horror aficionados.
Survival of the scariest.
It’s appropriate The Thing is about a monster that constantly evolves, because it’s another of those ’80s sci-fi movies, like Blade Runner, where most reviews of the day were unflattering, but have since evolved to acknowledge the high quality of the film. The Thing isn’t just great—it’s visionary. The cold, the vastness, the silence, the bone weariness of a bunch of working class scientists pitted against an interstellar horror right out of Lovecraft—a movie of this type could never be made today, as the less effective 2011 prequel proved. The ’80s Thing took the ’50s original and gave it grit and terror. The 2011 version lost the grit and, with its abundant CGI, managed only a few scares. You know, here’s the thing about CGI—producers always want the cutting edge of possibility, but those effects never look real. They’d be better off asking CGI techs to do only what they’ve truly mastered. Just because you can get the computers to render it doesn’t mean it looks good, or that it’s good storytelling. But don’t get us started. The above poster and promo pamphlet were made for the premiere of the second version of The Thing in Japan today in 1982.
Horror is a universal language
Above is a worldwide assortment of the creepiest posters we could find in honor of Halloween. Interestingly, Halloween is getting more popular internationally all the time. Where we live it was virtually ignored as recently as ten years ago, but nowadays it’s not a rarity to see both kids and adults dressed in costumes for the occasion. Trick-or-treating hasn’t quite taken hold, just because the layout of the communities don’t really allow for it, but adopting new personas or playing characters is something everyone seems to love, no matter where they live. Everyone likes a good scare, too, and these films do the job nicely. They are Halloween, Halloween again, Rosemary’s Baby, Zombie Holocaust, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Squirm, Return of the Living Dead 2, The Shuttered Room, Evil Dead 2, Hellraiser, Suspiria, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Vampire Women, The Omen, The Thing, The Shining, Backwoods, Fright Night, and Seuseung-ui eunhye. Happy trick-or-treating.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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