November 29, 2011

The Thing (2011)

Released in 1982, John Carpenter's "The Thing" was a suspenseful and somber apocalyptic tale of the first contact with a dangerous and aggressive alien lifeform. A remake of Howard Hawks' "The Thing from Another World" (and itself an adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.'s novella "Who Goes There?"), the film had a cold reception from audiences who preferred Steven Spielberg's friendlier take on aliens: "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial". While it ended up being a box office failure upon release, Carpenter's "The Thing" is nothing short of a masterpiece of horror filmmaking, showcasing Carpenter's talent for handling suspense and some of the most amazing special effects ever done (by Rob Bottin). Twenty nine years later, producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman got the chance to make a remake of "The Thing", but found the task of surpassing it too overwhelming. Instead, production began for a prequel, dealing with the events that precede John Carpenter's film: the initial discovery of the Thing.

Set in 1982, "The Thing" begins with the discovery of a crashed extraterrestrial spaceship buried in Antarctica. The Norwegian scientific team that made the discovery contacts Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to lead the research, and he in turn recruits paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), as the spaceship wasn't the only thing they found: there is also frozen corpse of a creature that seemed to have been frozen after exiting the spaceship. Kate joins Dr. Halvorson and his assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) and travel to Antarctica to begin the excavation. Taking the block of ice to their station, the crew celebrates the discovery, but the warmth of the base has resurrected the frozen thing and it escapes from its ice prison. The Thing murders a member of the crew, Henrik (Jo Adrian Haavind) before it's burned to death by the rest of the team. Nevertheless, while the nightmare seems to be over, Kate discovers that the Thing is still with them, as it's able to replicate any life form. And it could be any of them.

As written above, in "The Thing", scriptwriter Eric Heisserer chronicles what happens before Carpenter's film. Around this premise, Heisserer builds up a story that, while following the pattern of Carpenter's film, it showcases a significantly different scenario. For starters, the story now has a female character in the lead role, which offers a different perspective with Kate being a young woman trying to make herself heard amongst a group of older men who also happen to be from a different country. This difference of nationalities also plays a big role in setting up the mood of distrust between the characters in the story, as it plays on the tension felt between the American and Norwegian members of the team. Heisserer's screenplay recovers elements from Hawk's film, like having scientists as main characters, and the dilemma of being forced to destroy what could be the discovery of the century. This results in a slightly different tone, as less paranoid (the scientists know what they are facing) and with greater emphasis on visceral horror.

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (son of famous Dutch producer Matthijs van Heijningen), this new take on "The Thing" goes to a great extent to replicate the look and atmosphere of Carpenter's film. In this aspect, the work done by production designer Sean Haworth and cinematographer Michel Abramowicz is remarkable, as they fully capture Carpenter's visual look. Like Campbell's novella, "The Thing" is a tale of isolation, and director van Heijningen captures this element nicely, particularly by having Kate alone with a dozen of men who may be against her. Van Heijningen adds his own touch with the shift in tone the screenplay demands: his horror is not fueled by paranoia, but by the horrid vision of the monster. The scientists' battle against the alien is a more direct affair and the Thing itself, this time designed by Michael Broom, is a formidable creature done by a mix of practical effects and CGI. Unfortunately, this approach comes with the bane of showing a bit too much of the monster for its own good.

The cast in "The Thing" is remarkably good, with May Elizabeth Winstead doing a great job leading the cast. As Kate Lloyd, she conveys the right mix of natural charm and strong presence her character requires, and she does a great job in making believable the development of her role from confused newcomer to the leader of the group. Ulrich Thomsen is equally as good as Dr. Sander Halvorson, the leader of the expedition, who feels his position threatened by Kate's leadership. Joel Edgerton plays American pilot Carter, a Vietnam veteran not really convinced with the way the scientists are handling the situation. Edgerton is a tad weak in his role, though certainly his character wasn't as developed as the others. Jørgen Langhelle who plays Lars (incidentally another soldier) is the polar opposite. Stealing every scene with his portrayal of the pragmatic Lars, Langhelle is a highlight of the film. As the other female in the team, Kim Bubbs is effective, though her character also suffers from being underwritten.

This lack of development in the characters is perhaps one of the film's problems, as some of the team members are left as mere stock characters meant to be canon fodder for the alien. Nevertheless, perhaps the greatest problem "The Thing" has is the existence of Carpenter's "The Thing" itself. Making a prequel of a masterpiece is a difficult task, and Van Heijningen certainly deserves kudos for making such a brave effort in delivering the film. He certainly succeeds in capturing perfectly the visual style of Carpenter's movie. Nevertheless, unlike its title character, Van Heijningen's "The Thing" isn't really an entirely perfect duplicate of the remarkable 1982's film. The shift in tone is a welcomed change, as is the female lead character; however, Van Heijningen's decision of showing a lot of his Thing may not be entirely fortunate. It's not that the monster doesn't look good (it does), but like all monsters, the more it's exposed, the less scary it becomes. And that's something Carpenter knew well.

On a lesser note, Van Heijningen's version of "The Thing" shows a certain American patriotism that feels a bit unnecessary; however, this is also something that could be traced back to Hawks' version. As it is, Van Heijningen's remake/prequel of Carpenter's "The Thing" can be seen as a heartfelt homage to two classics of horror cinema, and one that truly succeeds in actually being a fitting companion piece to the film it pays tribute. Certainly, Van Heijningen's film may not be entirely a true original, but it succeeds in bringing something different to the table, and in its use of suspense and graphic horror, it's easily one of the best horror films of this second decade of the century. Maybe not a perfect replica, but a remarkable attempt nonetheless.


November 25, 2011

The Changeling (1980)

Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft once wrote "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." Perhaps nothing represents best this notion than ghost stories, as since immemorial times, the mystery of death is one that has always been both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Naturally, ghost stories found their way into film, and so ghosts and hauntings have been part of cinema since Georges Méliès's short films in the 1890s. Given their settings, ghost stories are definitely a mainstay of Gothic horror in film, and have been the basis for several of the subgenre's greatest masterpieces (Wise's "The Haunting" and Clayton's "The Innocents" to name just two). Peter Medak's 1980 film "The Changeling" continues this long tradition of ghost stories in a Gothic horror vein, by having at its core an ominous haunted mansion, and the terrifying journey that its latest inhabitant must endure in order to solve the mystery behind some serious ghastly disturbances.

"The Changeling" is the story of John Russell (George C. Scott), a successful musician and composer who has just lost his wife and daughter in a tragic car accident while on a winter vacation. Still mourning his loss but hoping to rebuilt his life, Russell moves to Seattle in order to teach music at the local university, and leases a huge abandoned mansion that belongs to the Historical Society, hoping to find the quietness to compose again. The mansion, named the Chessman House, is enormous in size and supposedly has been empty for twenty years. However, Russell begins to experience a series of supernatural events that make him begin to wonder if he is truly alone at the house. Noises and other occurrences point out to the presence of a child who lived there a long time ago. While reluctant at first, Russell decides to investigate the mystery in order to find peace for both him and the ghost, and begins to discover the secrets of the Chessman House's past and the mysterious events that took place there.

Based on a story by Russell Hunter (and supposedly based on his real experiences living in Cheessman Park, Denver), the movie was written by William Gray and Diana Maddox, who cleverly built a captivating tale of mystery that slowly unfolds as Russell's investigation takes place. Putting the genre's conventions to good use, the writers follow closely the classic Gothic pattern for ghost stories, keeping an appropriate balance between the horror and the mystery. And mystery is the key of "The Changeling"'s screenplay, as the plot is filled with many twists and turns that build up a story that works like a hybrid between detective fiction and horror film, with Russell being akin to a hardened tough guy on a difficult case. This focus on Russell's research is perhaps "The Changeling"'s main departure from its otherwise classicist approach, but it's one that truly makes the story very interesting, particularly because of the and the fact that the main characters are very well developed, elevating the story from its formulaic origin.

Director Peter Medak creates an enormously atmospheric movie that really takes good advantage of the story's decidedly Gothic style. With a superbly elegant and classy work of cinematography by John Coquillon, Medak perfectly uses his location to make the Chessman House itself an important character in the movie. It's not only a mere set, Medak makes it an extension of the presence that lives with Russell there, much like director Robert Wise did decades before in the legendary classic "The Haunting". And as in Wise's film, Medak's "The Changeling" succeeds in making a horror movie where the terror comes from simple and mundane objects instead of complicated special effects. In "The Changeling", a red ball can be a more terrifying element than any monster. Medak plays with what's unseen and unknown to create horror at its purest sense. The great focus placed on mystery and suspense is classic Gothic horror, and the film's heavy atmosphere of dread and somber tone truly make it a proud heir of the ghost stories that precedes it.

Better known for his remarkable performance in Franklin J. Schaffner's "Patton" (1970), George C. Scott once again shows his enormous talent as the tortured composer John Russell. Scott's acting feels natural and realistic, easily making his character come to life with an honest charm that makes hard not to feel identified with him. Certainly, Scott's image fits nicely in the film's context, as he creates a character tough enough to the task, yet sensible, fragile and wounded. George C. Scott's real life wife Trish Van Devere plays his character's counterpart, Claire Norman, a member of the History Society and the one who helped Russell to get the house. In a character that easily could had become a cliché, Van Devere delivers a natural performance that enhances the film's subtle mix of realism with dark fantasy, and while her screen time is considerably smaller, her performance is effective. The film has also great performances by Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh and John Colicos in the supporting roles.

Overshadowed by the better known horror films that were released in the same year (namely Kubrick's "The Shining" and Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust"), Medak's "The Changeling" has many elements that make him one of the "forgotten" great horror movies of the 80s. With its classicist style and ominous Gothic atmosphere, it's certainly a throwback to a subtler kind of horror, more disturbing and unnerving than graphically shocking. In terms of style, Medak's "The Changeling" could be seen as the polar opposite to Spielberg and Hooper's "Poltergeist" (another great ghost story of the 80s), as both films tell the story of a haunted house, but with completely different craftsmanship. Restrained and simple, "The Changeling" may feel slow at times, particularly as it unfolds it's complex plot (which at times may be too complex for its own good); however, the slow pacing only enhances the suspense and tension built by director Peter Medak and ultimately benefits the movie as a whole.

"The Changeling" remains Peter Medak's most accomplished and remarkable film, as while his return to horror in "Species II" wasn't really bad, it was far from the supreme achievement he did in this film. Classy, subtle and restrained, "The Changeling" offered a modern take on the classic style of ghost stories, and left a mark that did found echo: the famous Japanese horror "Ringu" clearly borrowed certain elements from "The Changeling"'s plot and tone. With its haunting atmosphere of nightmare, superb work of cinematography and its appropriate slow rhythm, "The Changeling" is a worthy heir to the style of Gothic ghost stories that directors Wise and Clayton seemed to perfect in the 60s. A remarkable modern Gothic.


November 22, 2011

Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö (1990)

After the success of his 1988 film "Ariel", Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki produced the movie that would gave him international recognition: "Leningrad Cowboys Go America". A bizarre road movie about the misadventures of a Russian rock band in America, "Leningrad Cowboys Go America" would become a landmark in Kaurismäki's career. However, after this success, Kaurismäki decided to return to the themes he had previously explored in "Varjoja paratiisissa" and "Ariel", the stories of the underdogs, the losers, the dispossessed members of the working class who struggle everyday in the coldness of Helsinki to find something close to happiness. Titled "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" and released in 1990, the movie completed a thematic trilogy along "Varjoja paratiisissa" and "Ariel", which is now known as "The Proletariat Trilogy". Nevertheless, while similar, "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" is a bit different to the other two films, as it's one of Aki Kaurismäki's darker films.

"Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" or "The Match Factory Girl", is the story of Iris (Kati Outinen), a young lonely woman living a dull and monotonous life in Helsinki. Working at a dead-end job in a match factory, and supporting her uncaring mother (Elina Salo) and her forbidding stepfather (Esko Nikkari), whom she gives most of her meager salary. There's little joy in Iris' life, who spends her free time reading cheap novels and attending to nightclubs, hoping to meet the man of her dreams. Unfortunately, this never happens, and her social life is a disaster. One day she saves enough money to buy herself a new dress, much to the displeasure of her family who wants her to return it. Iris keeps it anyways and goes out, finally finding a dance partner in Aarne (Vesa Vierikko). They spend the night together, though Aarne thinks she is a prostitute and their relationship doesn't end well. When Iris finds out that she's pregnant, things get even worse, but she is also read to take revenge on the world.

While covering the same themes and obsessions as the other two films in the "Proletariat Trilogy", "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" represents a notorious break in terms of tone, as this time, Kaurismäki's trademark brand of dry comedy is downplayed and leaves room to a truly bleak and depressive tragedy. Like other Kaurismäki's anti-heroes, Iris lives with an iron-clad stoicism, facing the constant abuses from the people around her. However, for Iris there is no love or hope to inspire her, as the world seems to pretend that she doesn't exist. As if she was just another machine in the match factory, her life passes day after day in the same monotonous pattern. Heartlessness is common in Iris' world, and yet, amidst the big atmosphere of melancholy and despair, there are still brief glimpses of Kaurismäki's deadpan humor through the film. His comedy is not absent in "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö", just hidden, waiting to deliver a masterful lesson in irony that's the icing of the bleak cake that is "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö".

The dialog in "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" is minimal, yet remarkably efficient. Everything that needs to be said is said, not a single line is wasted, and if images alone can tell the story, then so be it. It is certainly a case of "less is more", a supreme triumph of simplicity in storytelling, as the minimalist approach Kaurismäki employs, as cold and distant it may look, surprisingly proves to be no less expressive than flashier visual styles. This minimalism, that Kaurismäki had been perfecting with each work, can finally be seen at its best in "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö", which reveals the Finnish director as a master of composition. With sparse camera movements, Kaurismäki conceives a visual narrative that's as efficient as it is economical, making of "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" to be almost a purely visual tale. The work of cinematographer Timo Salminen, Kaurismäki's regular collaborator is worthy of praise, as he captures the bleak gray world of Iris' Helsinki with realism and a certain degree of tragic beauty.

Yey, as remarkable as Kaurismäki's work of directing is, a huge part of the triumph of "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" is due to the effective performance of Kaurismäki's muse Kati Outinen as the match factory girl, Iris. In role completely different to the one she played in "Varjoja paratiisissa", Outinen truly creates a haunting portrayal of a tragic woman. With subtle gestures and deeply expressive eyes, Outinen says a lot with her silence, and in that expressive silence, she makes Iris to stand for every abused women, regardless of nationality. Perhaps even for every abused people, regardless of sex. As Aarne, Vesa Vierikko is equally great, making a painfully realist character that could had easily been nothing more than a mere archetype. In fact, most characters in the film could had been mere archetypes if it wasn't for the actors who play them. Case in point, Elina Salo and Esko Nikkari, who play Iris' parents. Particularly Esko Nikkari offers a remarkable performance that, like the film itself, says a lot in very few lines.

While certainly "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" offers a colder and darker vision compared to his previous films, Kaurismäki still remains a humanist in "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö", as while the film showcases a series of humiliations that Iris survives with naive stoicism, there is never a hint of miserabilism in the treatment. It's all frank and honest in its portrayal, something that could be seen as distant and harsh on Kaurismäki's part, but that it's actually a compassionate view without any trace of artificial dignity. This becomes clear as Iris begins to plot her revenge. Kaurismäki's dispossessed ones are never examples of "nobility in poverty" and in fact, Iris' tragedy slowly begins to show its true colors as a Kaurismäki comedy. The blackest, the bleakest, the most depressive and melancholic one, but a comedy at heart. The comedic turn that this tragedy makes is not a cheap one, it's not a betrayal to the tone set by the rest of the film, it's more like Kaurismäki's bittersweet irony raising up a wry smile.

Somber, depressive, yet powerfully evocative, Aki Kaurismäki's third part of the so-called "Proletariat Trilogy" may be a difficult film to watch, but it's certainly one that leaves a strong impression. "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö" of "The Match Factory Girl", bears all the trademarks of a Kaurismäki minimalist film taken to the max: sparse dialog, slow rhythm, minimal camera movement. Everything is there, as a final statement of his thoughts about the reality of Finland's underdogs as he sees it. It's a harsh view, but an objective one. void of cheap romanticism, Kaurismäki's view on the dispossessed is, despite all the bleakness, a humanist one. Certainly the fate of Iris, the match factory girl is hard. But for a moment, she may be able to raise a smile.


November 18, 2011

Ariel (1988)

With a calm and candid twist on the romantic comedy called "Varjoja paratiisissa" ("Shadows in Paradise") released in 1986, Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki began to leave his mark in the history of cinema, developing his very particular style of deadpan delivery and ironic melancholy. After making a modern noir reworking of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" in 1987 (titled "Hamlet liikemaailmassa"), Kaurismäki returned to the themes of social alienation and absurd misery that he had previously explored in "Varjoja paratiisissa". The result was "Ariel", the second installment in a thematic trilogy about Helsinki's dispossessed that has been known as "the Underdog Trilogy", "the Losers Trilogy" and more famously, "The Proletariat Trilogy". As those names may imply, the central characters in those films belong to the working class, and their stories explore their struggles in the difficult economic panorama that resulted after Finland liberalized its economy. And all done in Kaurismäki's distinctive brand of black comedy.

In "Ariel", Turo Pajala plays Taisto Karurinen, a chain-smoking coal miner in his 30s who has spent all his life in the rural town where he works. When the mine is closed, Taisto's father (Erkki Pajala), also a miner, gives his 60s Cadillac to Taisto and commits suicide, but not before advising his son to leave the town. Taisto gathers his life savings and heads to the big city, Helsinki, looking for a better future. Nevertheless, the capital doesn't really give Taisto the best of welcomes, as soon after arriving he ends up beaten and robbed. Without job and without cash, Taisto's wanders through the city looking for a job, which he fortunately finds on the docks. Taisto's life then becomes a routine of day labor work and night rock n' rolling at a club, but everything changes when he meets Irmeli (Susanna Haavisto), a divorced mother of a young kid (Eetu Hilkamo) with who he begins a relationship. Seems like luck is finally smiling to Taisto, but things ain't easy for the dispossessed, as soon Taisto gets jailed for a crime he didn't commit.

Written by director Kaurismäki himself, "Ariel" is basically a tale of bad luck as Taisto's life often finds itself set back by the forces he can not control. From the closure of the mine he worked to his arrival to prison, "Ariel" is a story of hopelessness and absurdity at its most Kafkian sense. But unlike the works of the great Austro-Hungarian writer, Kaurismäki's stories are imbued by a bittersweet sense of compassion shaped in the black humor that's deeply rooted in them. There is no pessimism in "Ariel", just a honesty that seems to answer with stoic indifference the many setbacks and bad jokes of life. Taisto, the Kaurismäki anti-hero, finds himself stripped of everything upon his arrival to Helsinki, and yet, in this tragedy he finds himself self-confident for the first time. The self-confidence of someone who has nothing else to lose, and everything to win. With sparse, yet carefully constructed dialogs, Kaurismäki builds up a set of unforgettable characters that become the heart of this relatively simple story of love, crime and bad luck.

As a director, Aki Kaurismäki refines the stark visual style of "Varjoja paratiisissa", which in its austerity contrasts the harsh and cold atmosphere of Finnish urban landscape with the warmth that brings the people who live in it. There's a greater emphasis in the film about the state of Finnish economy, not explicitly stated, but implied by the subtleties of the characters' actions (and emphasis not found in the other films of the Trilogy). Kaurismäki's regular cinematographer, Timo Salminen, captures the bleakness of Helsinki's streets and nightlife, and nicely frames the hopelessness of Taisto's struggle. Salminen finds a strange beauty in the alleys, bars and docks of Helsinki, that shines naturally, without idealizing them. Kaurismäki's narrative is more polished than in his previous film, perfecting the slow pacing and the deadpan delivery of his comedy. Certainly, his timing is more precise this time, as in "Ariel" there's a greater emphasis on finding the humorous side of the absurdities of life.

Acting in the film is of great quality, with Turo Pajala leading the cast perfectly capturing the spirit of Kaurismäki's style. With great ability, Pajala manages to deliver his character's stoicism with enormous subtlety and style. There's a great naturalness in Pajala's performance that helps to make easier to enter into Kaurismäki's style. Subtlety is the key in Pajala's performance, and it's remarkable what he achieves with minimalist gestures and strong delivery. Unfortunately, Susanna Haavisto isn't that lucky, and her performance as Taisto's love interest, Irmeli is just average. Instead of subtle, she feels a bit forced and artificial in her delivery. Kaurismäki's regular Matti Pellonpää appears as Mikkonen, a convict who helps Taisto to break from prison. A familiar face in Kaurismäki's body of work, Pellonpää once again makes a good performance, perhaps a tad limited by the seriousness of his character, but ultimately fitting as a counterpart to Taisto's naiveté.

The rest of the cast is effective, and particularly worth of notice is young Eetu Hilkamo's performance as Irmeli's son Riku, who truly steals every scene he is in. All in all, "Ariel" is a strong entry in Kaurismäki's cinema, a mature work that displays a more developed stage of the minimalist style that the Finnish filmmaker had been experimenting since his debut. All of Kaurismäki's themes and obsessions appear in "Ariel", from its absurd take on irony, to its depressive working class setting, it's all there, as a statement of the direction that Kaurismäki was heading his work at that point. And for this reason, the same problems present in his cinema appear again in "Ariel", particularly the difficulty that may present his offbeat and highly idiosyncratic deadpan comedy. Deliberatedly slow and contemplative, the stark minimalism of "Ariel" could be off-putting to audiences expecting a more traditional comedy. It's certainly, an acquired taste. Nevertheless, "Ariel" has in Turo Pajala an actor with enough charm to make all work.

Taisto's journey, from his rural town to the depths of prison, isn't really any different from an epic adventure of grand scale. The hero of the tale still must sort out all kind of problems and win the favors of goddess Fortuna. The minimalist scale of this epic is only representative of what's probably the core of the Proletariat Trilogy: surviving this life is already a matter of heroism. The misadventures of Taisto, product of an apparently interminable streak of bad luck, feel all the more realist and human. Without cheap philosophy or arrogant pretentiousness, in this second exploration of the world of the dispossessed director Aki Kaurismäki uncovers the bittersweet glory of the common man.


November 17, 2011

Varjoja paratiisissa (1986)

In the early 1980s, cinema of Finland experienced a grand renovation, as a new generation of young filmmakers erupted to reinvigorate the Finnish film industry. At the head of this new era were the Kaurismäki brothers, Mika and Aki, whose film "Valehtelija" (released in 1981, directed by Mila and written by Aki) represented both a heartfelt tribute to the French New Wave and a rupture with the Finnish old-guard. Two years later Aki Kaurismäki debuted with the feature length film "Rikos ja rangaistus", an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic novel "Crime and Punishment". Its follow up, the absurd comedy "Calamari Union" gave more insight about Kaurismäki's idiosyncrasies, but it would be in his third film, "Varjoja paratiisissa" where the Finnish director would fully establish the path his vision of cinema was taking. The first part of a thematic trilogy (collectivelly known as the Proletariat Trilogy), "Varjoja paratiisissa" is an introduction to the bleak black comedy of Kaurismäki's Helsinki.

Known in English as "Shadows in Paradise" (the literal translation), "Varjoja paratiisissa" is the story of Nikander (Matti Pellonpää), a shy and lonely garbage man living in Helsinki. One day and old co-worker Esko (Esko Nikkari) proposes him to join a new company he is starting, and while Nikander accepts, the project is finished when Esko dies of a sudden heart attack. This event begins to affect Nikander, and gives him the courage to invite Ilona (Kati Outinen) to a date. Ilona is a supermarket clerk, lonely like Nikander but with the aspiration of leaving Helsinki for good. The date goes wrong and a melancholic Nikander gets drunk and ends up in jail, where he befriends Melartin (Sakari Kuosmanen), who later joins Nikander as a garbage man. Ilona loses her job at the supermarket, and decides to begin an on-again off-again relationship with Nikander, whom is surprised by this. However, this is only the beginning for the stoic garbage man, who harbors dreams of stop being a loser.

"Varjoja paratiisissa", written by Kaurismäki himself, is at its most basic, the story of a lonely man looking to give some meaning to his life. Romance ends up playing a central part in the plot, but "Varjoja paratiisissa" is by no means a romantic comedy, or at least, not one in the traditional sense. Nikander, the protagonist, has spend his life just existing, until the dead of his old co-worker triggers an urge to do something else in life. An impassible stoic man, Nikander tries, fails and tries again without making a big fuzz about it. On the other hand, Ilona's more desperate attempts to improve her condition make her a more impulsive character. Their pairing is odd, and their relationship a difficult one, but in the end, most couples in real life are this way. Love, in the bleak world of Kaurismäki, isn't the solution for the problems, but it certainly helps to make easier the handling of the absurdities of life. Kaurimäki's view of the underclass is neither condescending nor harsh, just bittersweet.

The tone of "Varjoja paratiisissa" is decidedly ironic, with Kaurismäki preferring deadpan delivery for his comedy instead of a more overstated or energetic one. This simplistic low-key approach, which would become one of Kaurismäki's most familiar trademarks, is strangely fitting in the gray coldness of Helsinki that the director captures through the camera of Timo Salminen (Kaurismäki's regular cinematographer), which oddly, gives a warm feeling to this coldness. In a way, Salminen captures the warmness of humanity, who struggles through the absurdities of life looking for meaning. The struggle itself seems to be the point in "Varjoja paratiisissa", which finds its humor in its characters' apparently pointless and pathetic quests. And yet, there's neither cynicism nor condescension in Kaurismäki cinema, but a more honest naturalist contemplation of the absurd. Ultimately, the quests prove to be neither pointless nor pathetic, as amidst all the depressive bleakness, there's always some enlightenment.

Playing an extrapolation of the character he played in Kaurismäki's earlier "Rikos ja rangaistus", actor Matti Pellonpää delivers a subtle, yet remarkable performance as the stoic Nikander. Practical yet naive, introverted yet courageous, Nikander is a man full of contradictions, and Matti Pellonpää manages to create a painfully realist portrait of Kaurismäki's perennial underdog. In his deadpan delivery, there's a great sense of honesty that permeates everything he says, and that prevents his performance from looking artificial or rehearsed. As Ilona, Kati Outinen is also a great asset of the film, as with simple gestures and mannerisms, she manages to transmit the great bleakness of Ilona's world, and her the struggle to survive it. The eyes of both Pellonpää and Outinen synthesize the underlying themes in "Varjoja paratiisissa": Nikander's stoicism and Ilona's desperate depression are reflected deeply inside their eyes. Also of notice is Sakari Kuosmanen's highly charismatic performance as Nikander's friend Melartin.

The stylish aesthetic of Kaurismäki's cinema is at the same time its greatest asset and its most difficult problem, as it is certainly an acquired taste. The deadpan delivery and the bleak outlook could easily be taken as dull or tedious, and in fact the slow pacing that Kaurismäki gives to "Varjoja paratiisissa" makes it reach at times a point of boredom. Certainly, Kaurismäki's style was not yet entirely developed at this stage, and this is best reflected in the uneven slowness of its pacing, which can get tiresome. While realist in its approach, the bleakness of its atmosphere may not be that accessible on the first instance, and may take a while to get the black humor that lays underneath its brooding tone. Nevertheless, once one gets past the initial shock, the charm of Kaurismäki's subtle comedy begins to be more notorious as the characters reveal themselves. With its simple story, the heart of the story is in the characters themselves, whom in their big humanity reflect hwo strangely funny can tragedy be.

While far from a masterpiece, "Varjoja paratiisissa" or "Shadows in Paradise", is an important film in Aki Kaurismäki's cinema as it's where his distinctive style began to shine. As part of the Proletariat Trilogy, it introduces the themes that would be better explored in the posterior films ("Ariel" and "Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö"), and while it's brooding, melancholic pacing can be tiring, it offers a Kaurismäki willing to take risks to deliver a more honest work. Flawed, but enormously interesting, "Varjoja paratiisissa" may be a difficult film to like (perhaps Kaurismäki cinema in general is this way), but it's also one that offers a strangely warm joy found in the cold difficulties of life.


November 16, 2011

Una mujer sin amor (1952)

In 1951, Spanish director Luis Buñuel returned to the spotlight when he won the Best Director Award at the Cannes film festival for the Mexican film "Los Olvidados". Nevertheless, while this success allowed him greater control over his future projects (reflected in 1952's "Subida al Cielo"), the Spanish filmmaker still had to work within the constrains of the industry, an industry dedicated to its audience. The same year Buñuel released the surreal comedy "Subida al Cielo", he also made a more traditional melodrama dedicated to satisfy the commercial demand. That film was "Una mujer sin amor", which went on history as the movie that Buñuel disliked the most amongst all the film in his career. Certainly, the film's origins weren't really the best, as producer Sergio Kogan (who had previously employed Buñuel in "Susana") wanted to have another hit and asked Buñuel to simply copy André Cayatte's film version of Guy de Maupassant's "Pierre et Jean". Naturally, Buñuel didn't, and the result was perhaps the least Buñuel of the Buñuel films.

In "Una mujer sin amor" (literally, "A woman without love"), Rosario Granados plays Rosario, a young and beautiful woman married to an old antiquarian, Don Carlos Montero (Julio Villarreal). Their marriage is difficult, as Don Carlos is a dominant man, prone to scolding both his wife and son Carlos (Jaime Calpe). One day he is particularly harsh with his son, and the boy runs away from home, being found the following day by an engineer named Julio Mistral (Tito Junco). Don Carlos and Rosario are very grateful, and soon Julio becomes friends with the Montero family. Rosario and Julio begin an affair, as she confesses that she has never loved her husband, having married Don Carlos just for his money. Julio tries to convince her to run away with him to Brazil, but she refuses. Twenty years later, Carlos (Joaquin Cordero) and his younger brother Miguel (Xavier Loyá) have graduated from medical school, but suddenly, the Montero family receive the news that Julio has died in Brazil, and left all his money to Miguel. Carlos, begins to unveil the secrets of his mother.

As written above, "Una mujer sin amor" is a new version of Guy de Maupassant naturalist novel "Pierre et Jean", adapted to the screen by Jaime Salvador with dialogs by Buñuel's regular collaborator Rodolfo Usigli. Taking "Pierre et Jean"'s storyline as the basis, Salvador builds up a traditional melodrama centered in the person of the Mother. In Mexican melodrama, the figure of the sacrificed mother became a recurrent archetype, as an idealized moral center willing to suffer the misdemeanors of both her husband and her children due to her incommensurable love. An archetype that Buñuel turned upside down in "Los Olvidados" with the character of Pedro's Mother. However, in "Una mujer sin amor" the archetype is played seriously and becomes the focal point of the film in a consummately traditionalist manner. Not as a parody, not as a satire, but for real, a classic family melodrama of the most refined variety. But still, beneath the reverential traditionalism, the story lends itself to certain touches that makes it stand out amongst the rest.

In purely technical terms, "Una mujer sin amor" is impeccable. The greater production values allowed Buñuel to create one of the most lavishly realized films of his Mexican period. Gunther Gerszo's production design shines through the camera eye of seasoned cinematographer Raúl Martínez Solares, which works efficiently in the upper-class urban atmosphere of the story. Buñuel's visual narrative is at its best, as within the constrains of the melodrama genre, he succeeds in crafting a film with a strong identity of its own. It is certainly a typical melodrama, but one that stands out by the undeniable level of its craftsmanship. And yet, as traditional as the film is, it has its particularities. For starters, the story moves away from the brother's rivalry and remains focused heavily on the mother, Rosario. While Carlos drives this second half of the film, it's always Rosario's story what's being told. Not for nothing the title changed from "Pierre and Jean" (the sons in Maupassant's story) to "A woman without love".

As the woman without love of the title, Argentine actress Rosario Granados is remarkable as the sacrificed Rosario, a woman torn by a complex mixture of feelings: her regret for having married Don Carlos without loving him, her love for Julio, and her love for her sons. A woman with a lot of love to give, but who opts to repress her bigger love, her love for Julio. As in her previous film with Buñuel ("El Gran Calavera" in 1949), Granados once again displays a natural talent and strong screen presence. More experienced now, Granados also showcases a certain bittersweet subtlety that distances her from classic mother figures of Mexican melodrama. As her son Carlos, the young Joaquín Cordero is a highlight of the film, easily overshadowing Xavier Loyá, who plays his younger brother. As the elder Don Carlos, Julio Villarreal is delightful, building up a character that can go from nice to hateful in a whim. Titu Junco is sadly the weakest link, as his tenure as the engineer Julio isn't really a satisfying one.

Impeccably done, and beautifully looking, if "Una mujer sin amor" has a flaw is precisely how typical it ends up being. The fact that it's a work by the master of surrealism Luis Buñuel, only enhances the feeling that the film lacks that spark that the legendary Spanish filmmaker puts in his surrealist works. Certainly, "Una mujer sin amor" tackles themes that had been previously explored in countless melodramas, not only Mexican, but in general. In this aspect, there's nothing new, nothing fresh, no groundbreaking narrative structure, no outlandish visual style. Not even the black humor, so characteristic of Buñuel is present here. As it is, it's by all accounts just a film done for the paycheck. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be fair to dismiss "Una mujer sin amor" as quickly as Buñuel himself does, because within its genre, "Una mujer sin amor" is a film full of great style and a classy atmosphere. Certainly not what is expected from Buñuel, but it even makes a case for the independence of women, with Rosario's final speech taking a jab at traditionalism.

Closer in spirit to the cinema of Alejandro Galindo than to Buñuel's own filmography, it's not hard to see why Luis Buñuel dismissed "Una mujer sin amor" as his worst film: it's certainly the one that has less of his idiosyncrasies. Nevertheless, while its decidedly commercial purpose may overshadow its artistic value, the merit of "Una mujer sin amor" is the high level of craftsmanship that Buñuel had achieved by that point in his career. After having learned the hard way how to make commercial films for the Mexican industry, and having returned to glory with his masterpiece "Los Olvidados", the genius of Buñuel was now unleashed and found its way to shine even in the most typical and traditionalist story lines. It's impossible to deny that many directors would be proud to have "Una mujer sin amor" as their worst film.


November 15, 2011

Die Nackte und der Satan (1959)

After World War II, cinema in Germany, like many other industries, entered into a difficult period of reconstruction during the occupation of Germany by the Four Powers. The Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, had now access to cinema from around the world, and the American industry saw this as an opportunity to conquer the new market. Another problem for the film industry of West Germany was the fact that most of the country's film infrastructure, the legendary UFA studios, were in East Germany. Still, by the 1950s the film industry of West Germany kept a slow but consistent recovery, though it mainly produced what was soon called the Heimatfilm ("homeland film"), a very German genre of family dramas. The great popularity of these films gave the impression that the cinema of West Germany was a very provincial industry, though there were exceptions. An notable exception to this norm was "Die Nackte und der Satan", an offbeat horror film with a distinctive style echoing the glory days of German Expressionism.

In "Die Nackte und der Satan" (literally "The Naked and the Satan", but known in English as simply "The Head"), Michel Simon is Dr. Abel, a famous surgeon who has developed a serum that keeps alive dead tissue. However, Dr. Abel isn't that well and requires a heart transplant. His team, comprising Dr. Ood (Horst Frank) and Dr. Burke (Kurt Müller-Grad), is set to perform the operation. Unfortunately, things go awry with the transplant, but Dr. Ood decides to keep going. Dr. Burke protests but is murdered by the sinister Dr. Ood, who then proceeds to decapitate Dr. Abel in order to keep his head alive with his serum. The mad Dr. Ood is decided to help Irene Sander (Karin Kernke), a young hunchbacked lady he desires. To do it, Dr. Ood will perform a head transplant using the technology developed by Dr. Abel, who witness everything, horrified as he finds himself without a body. Lilly (Christiane Maybach), a dancer at the Tam-Tam bar, is the selected candidate to become the new body for Irene.

Written by Victor Trivas (who also penned Orson Welles' "The Stranger" and was nominated for an Academy Award for it), "Die Nackte und der Satan" certainly has an outlandishly grizzly premise. With its themes of head transplant and the isolation of a living head, it's difficult not to compare Trivas' story to the cult classic "The Brain that Wouldn't die" (1962); however, there's a great difference in tone between both films, as unlike its American counterpart, Victor Trivas' "Die Nackte und der Satan" is played as a more serious affair. The theme of degenerate human experimentation resonates strongly, with the duality of having the beneficial healing of Irene being grounded on the vicious actions of Dr. Ood. Duality is also present in Lilly, a beautiful model with a dark past akin to the classic archetype of a femme fatale. There's also, a greater emphasis on eroticism in the story that's surprisingly daring for its time, making of "Die Nackte und der Satan" a sexually charged thriller underneath its horror visage.

Also directed by Victor Trivas (who had not directed a film since 1935), "Die Nackte und der Satan" has a decidedly somber atmosphere, enhanced by a visual aesthetic that's reminiscent of the years of German Expressionism. This is not surprising, given that collaborating with production designer Bruno Monden was Hermann Warmm, the man responsible for the striking look of classics of the movement such as "Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari" and "Der müde Tod" (not to mention Dreyer's "Vampyr"). Through the camera of Georg Krause (another veteran of German cinema), director Trivas creates a moody piece that feels delightfully straight from a pulp novel. Despite their relative low budget, Trivas and his crew achieve in giving the film a dark beauty that fits nicely with its bizarre premise. Like the screenplay, Travis doesn't play his story for cheap thrills, and opts for a serious, darker approach that gives the movie an unsettling tone, enhanced by the surprising (considering the low budget) visual effects by Theo Nischwitz.

The cast in "Die Nackte und der Satan" is actually good, with Horst Frank delivering a strong, retrained performance as Dr. Ood. Crtainly, the character is the archetypal mad scientist of horror films, but Frank doesn't let himself loose with it and instead begins to build up the raving madness of Dr. Ood with welcomed subtlety, until the climatic ending. In her debut, Karin Kernke is for the most part good, as Irene, though oddly, she seems to lose her edge when her body is revealed. German sex symbol Christiane Maybach is quite natural and vibrant as Lilly, channeling bits of Marlene Dietrich's hardened persona in her persona. Nevertheless, perhaps the greatest surprise in "Die Nackte und der Satan" is to see legendary French actor Michel Simon (famous for Renoir's "La chienne" and "Boudu sauvé des eaux", as well as Vigo's "L'atalante") playing the kind Dr. Abel, reduced to just a head by Dr. Ood's evil. Simon is effective, though certainly his work is limited due to the real paralysis he suffered at the time of shooting.

In many ways, "Die Nackte und der Satan" feels out of time, not in tune with the cinema of the 1950s, but imbued by the atmosphere of a bygone era. The expressionist set design, the pulp novel atmosphere, the amorality of the characters, the theatrical acting; by all accounts the film could had been done in 1931. The presence of Michel Simon, Warmm and Krause just seem to confirm this, and this plays like a double-edge sword for the film, as while it gives the movie a nice ominous atmosphere, it also gives it an archaic visual look, as if it was a movie released 40 years too late. Nevertheless, this is not to say that the film is entirely stuck in the past, but it's definitely not exactly avant-garde anymore. Also, the fact that the film was done with a limited budget also plays a major role in the final result, as the film's shortcomings are enhanced by the lack of production values. Though production designer Hermann Warmm was not unfamiliar with budgetary limitations, the visual look is a tad cheapened by this.

In the end, it's hard not to think about "Die Nackte und der Satan" as something other than as an offbeat curiosity. With its heavily expressionist design and the ominous atmosphere it conveys, "Die Nackte und der Satan" is an interesting discovery for fans of German Expressionism. The serious approach that director Trivas takes on the story, results in a quite different film that could be expected given its strange premise, and actually plays like an intellectual version of one of those Mad Scientist horror films of the 30s. Decidedly a truly atypical entry in the cinema of west Germany of the 1950s, "Die Nackte und der Satan" is a tale of grizzly body horror that feels frozen in time. A bizarre curiosity, old fashioned perhaps, but bizarre indeed.


Poster of the French release.

November 14, 2011

Wolf Blood (1925)

Shapeshifting, the ability of certain people to transform into an animal has been present in the traditions of almost every culture in the history of humanity. The figure of the werewolf is perhaps the best known example of this fascination, as the mythological lycanthrope has been deeply ingrained in modern popular culture thanks to horror cinema. While vampires, ghosts and witches were well-known figures in Gothic literature before their transition to film, werewolves didn't had more background other than the many different folktales, loosely related between them. This lack of a solid bases resulted in a great freedom to experiment for the writers dealing with the myth of the werewolf, and it would be Curt Siodmak who would define the Werewolf in his seminal script for Universal's classic "The Wolf Man" in 1942. However, that wasn't the first werewolf film, as several movies before tried to make a film about shapeshifters. 1925's "Wolf Blood" is one of the them, an early attempt to bring shapeshifting to film.

In "Wolf Blood" (also known as "Wolfblood: A Tale of the Forest"), George Chesebro plays Dick Bannister, the new field boss of the Ford Logging Company, a lumber camp in the Canadian wilderness trying to compete with the powerful Consolidated Lumber Company. Their rivalry isn't really healthy competition, as Consolidated Lumber Company's aggressive tactics have grown more violent towards the employees of Ford Logging Company, who have even been shot. Bannister requires now the presence of his boss and a medical surgeon to treat his men, but his new boss turns out to be the young Edith Ford (Marguerite Clayton), who arrives with her fiancé, Dr. Gene Horton (Ray Hanford). Bannister falls in love with Miss Ford, but that's probably the least of his problems as he is attacked by rival loggers and left for dead in the woods. Fortunately, he is saved by a transfusion of wolf blood, though this fact begins the rumour that Dick is now a werewolf. Something that he begins to believe, as their rival loggers begin to appear dead. Killed by a savage beast.

Based on a story by Cliff Hill and adapted by prolific scriptwriter Bennett Cohen, the story in "Wolf Blood" has less in common with horror films of the same period and is actually closer to the westerns and adventure films that Cohen was churning out in the 1920s. In fact, other than the novel werewolf theme (which is actually introduced later in the film), the story is basically focused on Bannister's fight against Consolidated Lumber Company, and of course, the love triangle that's established between him, Ford and Dr. Horton. And taken in that way, "Wolf Blood" actually works despite its typical structure and obviously derivative nature. The werewolf aspect of the story, while certainly unexplored, makes for the memorable element of "Wolf Blood": when Dick too begins to believe he's actually a werewolf, the story enters a decidedly darker and more interesting tone. Unfortunately, this is merely a glimpse of what the story could had been if Cohen had been a tad more adventurous in his screenplay, though the ideas are there.

And it's in fact this glimpse what makes for the most remarkable sequence in the film, a visually attractive sequence that begins as soon as Dick begins to hallucinate about his new lupine nature. While the story is the usual fare of adventure and romance, directors Bruce M. Mitchell and George Chesebro at least had a less than typical idea for the film's visual look. With a pretty strong work of cinematography by Lesley Selander (whom later preferred the job of assistant director), "Wolf Blood" captures in a quite vivid manner the world of lumberjacks, in a series of pretty good shots of natural landscapes. And of course, the afore mentioned hallucinatory vision of the ghostly pack of wolves running through the woods is also a pretty remarkable achievement. Given their backgrounds, it's safe to believe that Mitchell was in charge of the visual look, while actor Chesebro handled the actors. Unfortunately, neither Mitchell nor Chesebro manage to take "Wolf Blood" beyond the usual B-movie fare, as the film has a pretty dated narrative style (even for its time).

Given that he was one of the film's directors, it's not surprising that the film's weight is entirely over George Chesebro and his performance as Dick Bannister. Unfortunately, the seasoned veteran of film industry (famous for his roles in Roy Rogers films for Republic) fails to deliver his best work, and is a tad hammy in his performance. Not to say that he is downright bad, but his work is certainly of a pretty average quality. Perhaps the handling of directorial duties was too much for him, as he never directed again and focused on his acting career. A lot better is Marguerite Clayton, who plays Bannister's love interest Edith Ford. As the young socialité, Clayton is actually believable in her role, and as stereotypical as her character is, at least she manages to give her a defined personality. As Dr. Horton, Ray Hanford isn't really amazing, though he does his job competently, albeit it could had been interesting if his character had been better developed.

Despite its clearly supernatural theme, there's little in "Wolf Blood" that would make it qualify as a horror film, as it is heavily grounded in the romance adventure kind of stories that were common in B-movies. Ultimately, this sadly undermines the originality of the film's novel premise, as while the themes are there, it all just feels unexplored, as if the filmmakers had opted to just play safe and go with the proved formula. Which is understandable, given that "Wolf Blood" was by all accounts an independently produced film; however, this doesn't justify the sloppy narrative style that Mitchell and Chesebro employ in the film, as even when compared to the movies done in 1925, "Wolf Blood" can't help but feeling a bit archaic. Granted, it has a couple of remarkably done sequences, but overall the result isn't entirely satisfying, and all in all the film can't help but feeling like a great idea that was left unexploited. Nevertheless, for an early shot at building a story out of werewolves, it probably could had been worse.

While not the first werewolf film (an unfortunately lost film from 1913, Henry MacRae's "The Werewolf" holds that honor), "Wolf Blood" is an interesting early werewolf film that has enough historical importance to be worth a watch. Certainly, it can be a disappointment if one expects a full-fledged horror film, but taken as what it is, a romance adventure with supernatural undertones, it's actually not that bad. A bit mediocre perhaps, but not exactly bad. Overall, "Wolf Blood" makes for an interesting watch if only to witness a quite different take on the werewolf myth, one done before the full moon, before the silver bullet, before Siodmak's classic "The Wolf Man" left its immortal mark in horror history.


November 11, 2011

La plus longue nuit du diable (1971)

According to folklore, there were female demons that appeared in dreams, taking the form of a woman in order to seduce men and have sexual intercourse. They were called succubi, or in singular succubus (the male counterpart is called incubus), and supposedly their visits not only represented a big risk of damnation for the soul, but also a rapid deterioration of physical health that could lead to death. With this mix of dangerous evil and sexuality, it was only natural that the myth of the succubus would enter fiction, and can be found in the works of authors ranging from Honoré de Balzac to Orson Scott Card. In film, succubi were naturally suited for the horror genre, and one of the films that explore this concept is an Italian-Belgian co-production from 1971, known in Italian as "La terrificante notte del demonio" and in French as "La plus longue nuit du diable", which could be roughly translated as "The Devil's Longest Night". The film also had several names in English, though the most common is "The Devil's Nightmare".

Also known as "Vampire Playgirls", "La plus longue nuit du diable" is the story of six tourists who travel through the Belgian mountains in a bus driven by Mr. Ducha (Christian Maillet). They find the road blocked and night is coming, but to their fortune, a farmer (Daniel Emilfork) tells them to go to castle Von Rhoneberg, where the Baron will surely allow them to spend the night. The group arrives to the Baron's castle, and to their surprise, they are informed that they were expected, so they enter the castle. Baron Von Rhoneberg (Jean Servais) gets to meet the group of travelers, which is made of young seminarist Alvin Sorel (Jacques Monseau), the old Mr. Mason (Lucien Raimbourg), Howard and Nancy Foster (Lorenzo Terzon and Colette Emmanuelle), and two friends, Corinne (Ivana Novak) and Regine (Shirley Corrigan). An eight guest arrives to the castle, Lisa Müller (Erika Blanc), a young and beautiful woman looking for refuge. However, her presence will trigger strange events related to the Von Rhoneberg curse.

Producer, Pierre-Claude Garnier, along writer Patrice Rohmm, wrote the screenplay for "La plus longue nuit du diable" with the central idea of having each of the guests represent one of the seven deadly sins. The succubus begins to murder the tourists using their vices to entice them and having them to die in mortal sin, so the Devil can collect their souls. A fairly original premise that makes for several interesting situations, as while most of the characters are merely archetypes of their respective sin, Garnier and Rohmm manages to built out of them a group of well defined characters. Particularly interesting is the relationship that's built between the seminarist and Lisa, as the young man begins a battle between his beliefs and his desires. Unfortunately, there's nothing more besides the seven deadly sins concept, as the theme of Von Rhoneberg's curse is only thinly explored, and there is also the odd inclusion of a subplot about a murdered reporter that doesn't go anywhere.

However, if the plot is thin, director Jean Brismée surely makes the most of it, as he makes of "La plus longue nuit du diable" an enormously atmospheric Gothic film of a surreal beauty. Two elements stand out in the film: the remarkable work of cinematography done by André Goeffers and the haunting, ethereal score composed by Alessandro Alessandroni. Giving great use to Goeffers' eye, director Brismée constructs a movie with the logic of a nightmare. Taking full advantage of the beautiful location he had for the film, Brismée conveys a nightmarish atmosphere of dread that give the film an ethereal mood. The dose of eroticism he adds to the film is appropriate, fitting the story's tone without detracting the attention to the horror in the film. In fact, "La plus longue nuit du diable" perfectly conveys that mix of malicious evil and sensuality that the succubi myths evoke. Alessandroni's score is perhaps the film's highlight, as he creates a haunting work of somber beauty, enhanced by the vocal work of his sister Giulia.

The acting is a mixed bag, as while there are some very good performances, others end up being too bland. As Alvin Sorel, Jacques Monseau is appropriate in his portrayal of a doubting young man, torn between the dignity he aims to represent, and his carnal desires. The gorgeous Erika Blanc (of "Operazione paura" fame) plays Lisa, the mysterious young woman who turns out to be the herald of the devil, the succubus. As Lisa, Erika displays her enormous talent to look both seductive and classy, often transmitting more with a simple facial gesture than with her lines. However, this facial expressiveness of her is shown best when her Succubus persona appears, as Erika Blanc manages to fully transform her image from one of great beauty to an horrific representation of Death. Certainly, the decision of having a subtle make-up helps, but it's Blanc who truly elevates the result. The rest of the cast is perhaps less interesting, with the exception of Daniel Emilfork, who's particularly chilling as the Devil himself.

"La plus longue nuit du diable" is a film of extremes, having elements of great quality yet at the same time being particularly weak in several aspects. Perhaps what harms the film the most is the bane of so many films: a poorly developed screenplay. Certainly, the seven deadly sins angle is notable in the way it's explored, and the film really takes off once the tourists begin to meet their demise. However, this happens later in the film, with the first part being not only the tourists' arrival and introduction, but the strange segment about the reporter. This is perhaps the strangest element in the film, as it serves no purpose other than to introduce the VOn Rohneberg curse. Anyways, it's a testament of Jean Brismée's talent how he managed to create such an atmospheric film out of such a thing screenplay. Also, the lack of budget is particularly notorious, as despite its great locations, the film does have pretty cheap special effects that deter from the viewing experience.

Despite its problems, "La plus longue nuit du diable" is a heavily underrated jewel of European horror that deserves to be better remembered. It was Jean Brismée's last film before retiring (he became a teacher at Belgium's Institut national supérieur des arts du spectacle et des techniques de diffusion) and showcases one of the best performances by the beautiful Erika Blanc. Certainly it's not a film that has aged well, but amongst the many horror erotica films done in the 70s, Brismée's take on the succubus myth is a remarkable work of great beauty. It's certainly tame for today's standards, but the important thing about "La plus longue nuit du diable" is its surreal atmosphere. It certainly lives up to its English title of "Devil's Nightmare", as that's the kind of logic the film has.


November 10, 2011

L'autre monde (2010)

One of the most interesting new concepts that resulted from the creation of the Internet was that of massively multiplayer online games, that is, games where multiple players use the Internet to enter a computer-simulated world. As technology advanced, the games have become more and more detailed in their depiction of virtual worlds, to the point that games like "Second Life" have even developed its own virtual economy. Certainly, this has also raised concerns about the security and privacy of these virtual worlds, particularly because of the malicious use that could be given to them. This idea of a new brave new virtual world to explore, where one can create an identity completely different than the real one, inspired French director Gilles Marchand (of "Qui a tué Bambi?" fame) to create a story of suspense with the concept of a computer-simulated world as the basis. The result is "L'autre monde", literally "The Other World", a somber neo-noir with certain echoes of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet".

Known in English as "Black Heaven", "L'autre monde" is the story of Gaspard (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), a young teenager who one day finds a cellphone in beach. Along his girlfriend Marion (Pauline Etienne), Gaspard reads the text messages in it and discover a strange relationship going on between a man called Dragon (Swann Arlaud) and the phone owner, Audrey (Louise Bourgoin). Full of curiosity, Gaspard and Marion track down Dragon and Audrey, and follow them to the nearby woods, where the couple has decided to commit suicide together. Gaspard and Marion try to save them, but they can only rescue Audrey, however, they chose not to reveal their identity to her. Days after that event, Gaspard grows more and more obsessed with Audrey, specially when he discovers that Dragon and Audrey met in the popular massively multiplayer online game "Black Hole". Gaspard makes an account in "Black Hole" and meets Audrey again, but this will literally take him to another world unknown for him, a world of deceit, lies and death.

With a screenplay written by Marchand himself and Dominik Moll (director of the remarkable thriller "Harry un ami qui vous veut du bien"), "L'autre monde" chronicles Gaspard's obsessive infatuation with Audrey, the story's proverbial femme fatal. Gaspard lives in what by all accounts is a perfect world: he lives in a paradisaical seaside town, has recently moved out of home to live in a flat with his friends, and on top of that has just started a relationship with Marion. However, Audrey represents a different world for him, a dangerous yet captivating world that's new and attractive to him (danger is sexy after all). And the novelty of this world is reflected in Black Hole, the online game she frequents. Marchand and Moll make of "L'autre monde" a tale of Gaspard's loss of innocence, as the world turns out to be a lot bigger than what he, in all his adolescent naiveté, thought it was. Gaspard's descent to darkness, and the use they give to the virtual world concept as a twisted mirror of reality is particularly interesting.

This duality between the worlds, Gaspard's real life and his online ventures are portrayed by director Gilles Marchand's use of computer generated animation. The virtual world of Black Hole is an animated noir nightmare perpetually in night time with a minimalist yet decidedly Art Deco design (as contradictory as that may sound). The animation is fluid and has a certain somber beauty, which contrasts with the one of the natural landscapes Marchard's captures in Gaspard's town. Cinematographer Céline Bozon captures the vibrant colors of summer, taking advantage of the locations to create a very natural visual look. In fact, visually Marchard's "L'autre monde" is a very attractive film, which reflects perfectly the way Gaspard's life changes as he enters Black Hole and begins to have a double life there. Duality is a key aspect in "L'autre monde"'s story, and Marchard handles well the mystery aspects of the film, proving himself a capable director and storyteller. Unfortunately, his skill fails to save the screenplays' worst flaws.

The acting is pretty good for the most part, though some of the younger cast members show their lack of experience in their performances. Leading the cast as Gaspard, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet is really good as the teenager awaking to a world bigger than him. There's great realism in his performance, as he looks convincingly as both a curious innocent and as a malicious jerk. With the film based entirely around him, Leprince-Ringuet's under a lot of pressure, but manages to carry the film convincingly. As the mysterious and alluring Audrey, Louise Bourgoin is effective, though perhaps less convincing. While definitely a beautiful woman, there's a certain stiffness in her performance that plays against her role as femme fatal. Melvil Poupaud, playing Audrey's overprotective brother Vincent is far more successful, making a convincing portrait of a violent, unpredictable man not so happy with the young Gaspard approaching his sister. Pauline Etienne as Gaspard girlfriend is good, but her role is terribly underdeveloped.

And this is perhaps the greatest problem of what otherwise could had been an awesome neo-noir thriller: it's terribly underdeveloped screenplay. Marchard and Moll have created a fascinating tale of lies and deception that truly gives an interesting use to the concept of a second virtual life. However, there's a certain restrain, an unwillingness to actually take the premise to new grounds that it's all left as a mere cautionary tale about the dangers of spending too much time on the Internet. Something that wouldn't be so tragic if it wasn't for the fact that the film seemed to be aiming for better. In "L'autre monde" Marchard conveys all the necessary ingredients for a thrilling noir story (mystery, eroticism, treachery and darkness), but ends up in an anti-climatic tone that seems to betray everything that the film was achieving. Certainly, a disappointment, as the restrain Moll and Marchard show in the weak way they end the story makes the film feel like a TV movie.

"L'autre monde" has many good things going for it, beginning with the approach Marchard takes to portray the virtual world of Black Hole, and the overall noir atmosphere the movie has. However, the weak finale is certainly a disappointment, as it undermines everything that's built initially. And perhaps the disappointment is bigger given the fact that both Marchard and Moll have proved to be skilled in the construction of thrillers (the previously mentioned "Qui a tué Bambi?" and "Harry un ami qui vous veut du bien" are more than enough proof). All in all, "L'autre monde" or "Black Heaven" isn't really a bad film, it's just nowhere near the level its interesting premise could had been taken.


November 09, 2011

Among the Fallen (2011)

The 21st century has seen a rise in the amount of independently produced films made by dedicated cinephiles wishing to take their passion to the next level. The increasing amount of digital film equipment available at the consumer level has helped this cinephiles' desire to become independent filmmakers, as it allows them to obtain better looking results within the scope of their limited resources. The horror genre has been benefited by this, as many of these indie filmmakers decided to begin by making a horror film. It's certainly a genre that suits the needs of an upcoming storyteller, as it has a well-defined set of "rules" and a structure that can blend to any kind of experimentation. However, perhaps the most important reason a young filmmaker has to make an independent horror film is simply that the genre is fascinating. Young director Jay Shatzer certainly seems fascinated by horror in his debut, the micro-budget film "Among the Fallen", a brief (barely 60 minutes) but pretty interesting take on the zombie subgenre.

"Among the Fallen" is the story of Will Ashford (director Jay Shatzer himself), a young writer grieving the recent loss of his young wife Sophia (Erica Shatzer) and their unborn child. Depressed and melancholic, Will decides to go to an isolated cabin in the countryside in order to finish his novel and hopefully, overcome the grief that haunts him. However, what seemed like a peaceful location becomes a nightmarish trap for Will as the cabin is attacked by zombies. To make things worse, Will has several horrible visions that confuses his already unstable state of mind, and ultimately is forced to fight for his life. Tormented by his memories, Will must put himself together and fight the zombies with whatever he can find. However, the writer begins to wonder if all the bizarre events that are happening are real or just another hallucination created by his damaged mind. To find the answer, Will has to fight the monsters, who keep coming for him, and the night has just started.

In "Among the Fallen", Jay Shetzer takes the classic scenario of a horde of zombies attacking a cabin (seen as early as in Romero's landmark "Night of the Living Dead"), and gives it a spin by using the concept as an allegory of coping with grief. Ambiguous and heavily symbolic, Shetzer's story is constructed following the surreal logic of a nightmare. Will's visions begin to blur the line between reality and hallucination, reflecting the descent of his mind into madness. In fact, Shetzer's screenplay could be easily divided in two halves: one dedicated to the slow degeneration of Will's mind, and the other to his battle with the zombies. In this aspect, Shetzer makes of the zombie battle a thanatogical study, with Will literally dealing with his dead people in a quite gruesome manner. Interestingly, the screenplay lacks lines of dialog or narration, a bold movement that works as a double-edged sword for the film, as while it kind of makes it somewhat tedious, it also allows to pay attention to the visuals.

And it's in the visuals where Jay Shetzer's "Among the Fallen" stands out amongst the many independent horror films that are produced. And this is not related to the special effects, but to the gorgeous work of cinematography done in the film (camera by Scott Martin and Kevin Mitchell). With great use of visual composition as well as great knowledge of his digital medium, Shetzer builds up a quite visually attractive film that, unlike what could be expected, resorts to long takes and a slow rhythm to narrate its story instead of the fast editing that's common in modern horror, and surprisingly it works. Giving great use to Martin and Mitchell's camera to capture the oppressively melancholic atmosphere of Will's grief, Jay Shetzer succeeds in crafting a "contemplative zombie film" that truly reflects its thematic ambitions. Certainly, it's not a perfect work of cinematography (lack of budget is more than notorious at times), but Shetzer's visual narrative is easily the highlight of the film.

As an actor, Jay Shatzer is fairly good, considering the whole movie rests over his shoulders. While certainly not a great thespian, Shetzer delivers an effective performance that gets the job done without too much overacting. In fact, his subtle and restrained approach works nicely even when the character finally decides to fight back. This gives his performance a quite natural, realist look that makes for a good contrast with the adventure the character is living. As Will's wife Sophia (who appears in flashbacks through the film), Erica Shatzer is amazingly natural and real in her performance. Certainly, director Shatzer took a realist approach when filming the flashbacks, and it fits nicely within Will's nightmare, as the fragmented pieces of a past reality forever gone. The rest of the cast is effective for a zombie film, and the work done in the make-up department (Pat and Scott Martin) is pretty good for the budget, though certainly nothing amazing.

Slow, calm, and melancholic, "Among the Fallen" is the kind of horror film that resorts more on its ambiguity and its atmosphere to create a mood. While owner of a definite visual style and a marvel of cinematography (clearly Shetzer knew what he wanted and how he wanted it to look), it's hard to ignore the fact that its storyline is pretty thin, which sadly harms the film quite a lot. The use of the zombie film to make a metaphor for coping with grief is a pretty interesting approach, but Shetzer's leave its premise underdeveloped, and the result is a film of great visual beauty that struggles to keep things going. Perhaps, if "Among the Fallen" was shorter, it all would flow seamlessly and Shetzer's debut could find a place amongst the best horror short films of recent time. But as it is, it's a bit too tedious for a short film, and too thin for a feature length film. A bit more of screenplay development would had benefited the film a lot, maybe expanding the role of Sophia or developing further ways to keep the ball rolling.

Despite its shortcomings, Jay Shetzer's "Among the Fallen" is a nice surprise amongst independent horror films, since it's definitely different than the norm for zombie films. With its remarkable visual look and its ominous atmosphere of melancholy (plus welcomed nods to both Romero's films and Raimi's "The Evil Dead"), "Among the Fallen" truly shows that newcomer Jay Shetzer has a lot of passion for the genre and a pretty good understanding of the visual medium, two things that could take him to make greater things after this debut. While at times it gets tedious, "Among the Fallen" is well worth a watch if only to appreciate how Shetzer employs his gorgeous visuals to portray the dark descent to madness of a man tortured by grief.


November 08, 2011

The Thing (1982)

In 1951, the sci-fi horror film "The Thing from Another World" was released and became a massive commercial success for producer Howard Hawks, who apparently also directed it (though credit went to Christopher Nyby). The film had a tremendous impact in a young kid named John Carpenter, and it prompted him to pursue filmmaking as a career. After film school, Carpenter earned cult status with two independent films: 1976's "Assault on Precinct 13" and 1978's highly influential horror film "Halloween". Both film had shades of Hawks in their making, the former being a spiritual heir of Hawks "Rio Bravo" and the latter directly referencing "The Thing from Another World" by having the film appearing on a TV screen. After having his third major commercial success with the science-fiction adventure "Escape from New York" (1981), Carpenter was set to enter the world of major studio filmmaking. And the film that would mark his entry would be another direct Hawksian reference: a full-fledged remake of "The Thing from Another World".

Titled simply as "The Thing", the story begins in the winter of 1982, in a U.S. research station located in the remote territories of Antarctica. Suddenly, the members of the American crew notice a Norwegian helicopter coming their way, apparently chasing a Husky dog that runs towards the American base. The helicopter lands, and their pilots, showing sings of insanity, try to kill the dog desperately, accidentally shooting towards the Americans. Unfortunately, both pilots end up killed accidentally, leaving the Americans the task of figuring out what made them to be insane and chase the dog, which soon finds itself at home at the base. Being unable to report the incident, pilot R. J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) venture to the Norwegian camp to find out more. To their surprise, they find the base destroyed, and the burned remains of a humanoid corpse with horrid features. Returning to the American camp, they'll Soon they'll discover that the dog the Norwegians were hunting wasn't a normal dog, but a thing from another world.

Adapted by screenwriter Bill Lancaster, this version of "The Thing" is a lot more faithful to its source (John W. Campbell's novella "Who goes there?"), with the monster as a creature able to imitate the crew members (or any living creature), a concept that was blatantly ignored by Hawks' version. This approach makes Carpenter's "The Thing" less a straight remake and more a completely different conception of Campbell's novella. As such, Bill Lancaster's script plays with mystery and suspense with great success, enhancing the sensation of paranoia and unpredictability of the plot with excellent results. Lancaster also builds up a great set of well-defined and complex characters, an instrumental element in the film, as a lot of the tension raised steams from the difficult relationships between the crew members, who trapped inside their camp, begin to distrust each other. Unlike Hawks' version, the film's tone is remarkably bleak and pessimist, as an atmosphere of impending doom begins to surround the crew.

In his seminal slasher "Halloween", John Carpenter placed more emphasis on suspense and atmosphere over gore and shock, and while "The Thing" makes great use of Rob Bottin's remarkable work of special effects, it still could be seen as an evolution of that style. Despite the extensive display of Bottin's work, there is still a greater focus on the ominous atmosphere of isolation, distrust and dread that's imbued in the film. Suspense in fact plays a major role in the film, as paranoia begins to grow within the American camp and everyone is suspect of being the Thing. With the great eye of cinematographer Dean Cundey (Capenter's regular collaborator), director John Carpenter creates a claustrophobic nightmare inside the American camp, which with the storm raging outside, becomes a haunting secluded location through Carpenter's vision. And as written above, the work done by Rob Bottin in the special effects department is simply amazing, a superb work of grotesque and absolute genius.

Since the tensions between the crew members make for a quite important element in the movie, the performances by the cast are instrumental for the success of the film, and in this aspect the cast of "The Thing" is also of great quality. In fact, the performances are so effective that one can almost cut the tension with a knife. Carpenter's regular collaborator Kurt Russel stars as pilot MacReady, a cynical man forced to be the man in charge as the situation gets worse. Wilford Brimley delivers another terrific performance as Dr. Blair, a scientist that goes insane figuring out the Thing's purposes. Brimley conveys perfectly the sense of despair that the whole station is, and in his character's madness is perhaps represented the crumbling of their hope. As the short tempered Childs, Keith David is also pretty good, being essentially MacReady's rival in the crew's leadership. Also of note is David Clennon's performance as Palmer, and Donald Moffat, whom adds a lot of dignity in his role as Captain Garry.

When initially released in 1982, John Carpenter's "The Thing" got a cold reception by both the critics and the audiences. Somber, dark and overtly pessimist, the film was seen as a shockingly grotesque spectacle and ended up overshadowed by Steven Spielberg's "E.T.", which had a quite different and friendlier approach to extraterrestrial beings. Nevertheless, Carpenter's take on "The Thing" stands as a monumental achievement in horror filmmaking, proving to be a nightmarish masterpiece that goes beyond its violence and gore, it's a dark venture into mankind's darkest fear: the fear of the isolation. Not only the crew is geographically isolated, they are suddenly alone amidst a bunch of strangers for, nobody knows who could still be human. In this aspect Carpenter surpasses Hawks, who left the monster as an outsider entity. Carpenter's Thing is astute, evil, and could be anyone in the crew; and as Dr. Blair and Captain Garry crumble demoralized by the Thing's menace, Carpenter makes the point that neither science nor military is enough to face it.

While certainly there are aspects in "The Thing" that haven't aged well, this remarkable film still stands as a wonderfully crafted work that shows the extent of Carpenter's talent as a filmmaker. While probably he'll always be remembered for his landmark classic "Halloween", the level of mastery achieved in "The Thing" makes it perhaps his greatest achievement. One of the most interesting and actually scary horror films of all time, "The Thing" is a perfect example of a remake that puts a different angle to its source and creates a powerful new story out of it. The student surpassing his master. Beyond the horror genre, John Carpenter's "The Thing" is probably one of the finest American films ever made.


November 07, 2011

The Thing from Another World (1951)

To most people, the name of John W. Campbell may not exactly ring a bell; however, Campbell was probably one of the most influential persons in the history of American science fiction. As the editor of the legendary "Astounding Stories" magazine, Campbell changed the name to "Astounding Science Fiction", and began to publish new young writers such as Lester del Rey, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov; essentially shaping up what later was known as the "Golden Age of Science Fiction". Nevertheless, Campbell wasn't only a skilled hunter of new talents, he was also a prolific writer himself, using both his name and the pseudonym Don A. Stuart. Campbell's novella "Who Goes There?", published in 1938, is perhaps his most famous work, not only because of its literary qualities (it's considered one of the finest American sci-fi novellas of all time) but also because of its film adaptations. The first of this adaptations is the 1951 classic "The Thing from Another World", a movie produced (and perhaps directed) by none other than Howard Hawks.

"The Thing from Another World" begins when a North Pole base, Polar Expedition Six, requests an Air Force resupply crew. Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) is sent to the place, taking amongst his crew a reporter, Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer). As they arrive, they are greeted by Doctor Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) and Doctor Redding (George Fenneman), whom inform them the reason of their request: a strange flying object crashed near their base, and they need to go and investigate. Pat's crew and the scientist travel to the crash site and discover that what crashed in the ice is actually a flying saucer. While they try to uncover the spaceship, the crew accidentally destroys it with the explosives, however, not everything is lost, as a frozen body is found in the ice nearby. The group excavates the body and take it back to their base, still in the large block of ice. A storm hits the base and leaves them without communication, and the strange being that was found at the crash site, begins to wake up.

Adapted by prolific scriptwriter Charles Lederer (though Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks himself also had uncredited but major participations), "The Thing from Another World" diverts significantly from the novella, and changes the basic nature of the monster. While in Campbell's story the monster was able to imitate humans (providing the suspense and paranoia), in Lederer's screenplay the Thing is an intelligent humanoid being with cellular structure related to vegetation. With this change, the story is less about the monster, and more about the social interactions between the crew and the scientists, particularly on the subject of how to deal with the Thing. On one side, the scientists of Dr. Carrington want to preserve the Thing alive, while Captain Pat Hendry wants to destroy it. Lederer takes the side of the soldiers, reflecting the general distrust of science that was felt after the Hiroshima nuclear bombs, and to a lesser extent, the Cold War paranoia, which was typical of sci-fi horror films of the Atomic Age.

Where "The Thing from Another World" shines is in the classy work of directing it has, which is by all accounts quite Hawksian. Though credited only as producer, there's some weight in the claim that it was Hawks and not Christopher Nyby who directed the film. And even if it wasn't Hawks, at least he had considerable input in Nyby's work. What is true is that "The Thing from Another World" is an action packed horror film that certainly plays the right notes and elevates its subject matter above the typical sci-fi fare. As written above, the tension in the film is entirely based on the friction between the human characters, and to this effects Nyby (or Hawks) put considerable weight in developing them and the difficult relationships between them. While they are essentially the basic archetypes of 50s science fiction (All-American soldier, mad scientist), a good effort is done in fleshing them out, and this is instrumental for the success of the film. Nyby and Hawks manage to make their monster a believable threat, something that most monster movies attempt and sorely miss.

Leading the cast as Captain Patrick Hendry, actor Kenneth Tobey delivers a good, restrained performance as the leader of the soldiers. Carrying the movie with his strong presence and natural charm. Subtle in his approach, there's a certain weight that he gives to his performance that makes his character feel trustworthy. Certainly, Tobey fits the classic 1950s hero role proficiently. Nevertheless, the film's highlight is Robert Cornthwaite, who plays Hendry's nemesis Dr. Carrington. Giving his role a calculated dose of malice, Cornthwaite makes a masterful depiction of a man driven by his obsession (knowledge) to the point of amorality, endangering the lives of everyone else. There's a bit of Melville's Captain Ahab in Cornthwaite's performance, and it's commendable the way he manages to portray his character's intelligence with minimal gestures. Margaret Sheridan plays Carrington's secretary and Hendry's love interest, and while her role is certainly limited, her work is pretty effective.

There's no doubt that "The Thing from Another World" is a classic of its genre, as amongst the countless sci-fi horrors from the 1950s, it has a certain class in its craftsmanship that elevates it above the many "creature features" that were produced in that era. Few horrors from the period manage to influx a premise like this (the vegetable monster) with the amount of gravitas the film has (1954's "Them!" would be another example). But certainly, for all its virtues, "The Thing from Another World" is not a film that has aged well, not only in terms of its technical merits, but also regarding its political ideology, which is clearly a product of its time. The film is fully imbued with the idea of treating any outsider as an enemy, and that military action should have more weight than any scientific approach (Dr.Carrington, embodies all the negative aspects of liberal and scientific views). In a way, it's the diametrical opposite to George A. Romero's 1985 film "Day of the Dead".

30 years after the making of "The Thing from Another World", director John Carpenter directed a remake of the film, more faithful (in plot and tone) to Campbell's classic novella. While this is perhaps a case of a remake proving itself superior to the original, Howard Hawks place as a classic sci-fi horror of Cold War remains unquestioned. While it does have several shortcomings and time hasn't treated it well, its enormous influence over science fiction cinema can still be felt. Though nowadays it's can feel dated and even archaic, Hawks' "The Thing from Another World" can still be an enjoyable film to watch, mainly because if had one element that no very few "creature features" of the same period had: class.