John Carpenter

Black Site

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The Elder Gods once ruled over the human race, until humans found a way to deport them to another world. A secret military base is dedicated to finding, catching, and deporting the few remaining Elder Gods on Earth. When an Elder God who killed one soldier’s parents is caught, the site is thrown into chaos and it is up to her to send it back to where it came from.

When I pressed play to start this film I had fairly low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying Black Site. Tom Paton (Redwood) wrote and directed this Lovecraftian sci-fi thriller. The film wisely begins with a bit of text to establish context for the audience, making it much easier to understand what is happening when the film really begins. We are then introduced to a young girl as her parents are killed by an Elder God. Years later that same girl is a young woman working at the Black Site. The plot is interesting because it brings in ideas created by Lovecraft with other worlds and Elder Gods with long tentacles, but it also has a woman going through internal turmoil when the god who killed her parents is captured. Things become even more tension-filled with a group of highly trained humans infiltrate the site. They are clearly trying to get to the Elder God, but why they want to reach him is less clear. This aspect of the plot gives the film an 80’s John Carpenter feel such as Escape From New York. It is one part Lovecraft, one part Carpenter, yet still feels like a fresh take by Patton.

While the general plot and various twists and turns it takes are very well done, there are some parts of the dialogue that are less successful. Specifically, there is something about the two main female characters and how their dialogue is written that comes across as unnatural. These characters are written so they say a lot of witty one-liners and talk tough, but there isn’t a lot to their speech other than that, especially with the young female protagonist. She is written in a way that seems like her only mode is sarcastic one-liners. It almost comes across as if her lines were written for Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was definitely an aspect of the film that stood out and not in a good way. I still think the rest of the plot is well done and the dialogue for the Elder God is fantastic.

The acting in Black Site falters in a few scenes, but as a whole the cast is entertaining to watch. The film stars Samantha Schnitzler (Viking Siege, The Sitter) as Ren Reid. Ren has to be tough because of her work and she uses that toughness to mask the trauma of seeing an Elder God kill her parents. Schnitzler does a great job of occasionally letting Ren’s inner vulnerability break through as she tries to get to the god, but at the same time the writing hinders the performance a bit. She does what she can with the one-liners, but there are many times where they fall a bit flat. The performance that will likely stand out in the minds of audience members is Kris Johnson (Airborne, Who Needs Enemies) as the Elder God Erebus trapped inside a human body. Johnson is lucky to have some of the best dialogue in the film, but his delivery is what sells his portrayal of the god. It truly feels like there is something very powerful trapped inside the man on the screen.

There are many artistic elements that work very well throughout the film. The special effects are surprisingly well done. The CGI is primarily used to create the imagery Ren sees in visions, which includes seeing what the Elder Gods look like in their true form. There are also more subtle ones used to show the high tech security of the site as well as what appears to be electricity that comes off Erebus when he is trapped in the man’s body. Many of the effects also look great because of stunning cinematography and iconic use of lighting. The score for the film is also fantastic. It sounds as if a John Carpenter film and a 1950’s sci-fi film had a musical baby. All of these elements help to enhance the plot while also moving it forward.

Black Site is a modern sci-fi tale with elements of Carpenter and Lovecraft while also having heart. I was pleasantly surprised with the film, especially when it came to the beautiful effects and the excellent score. The plot itself is also quite fascinating as it slowly reveals many secrets, although there are times where the dialogue detracts from the plot a bit. This also affects the acting in some scenes, but as a whole the cast does a great job. Black Site delivers plenty of entertainment to the audience and it makes me interested to see what Paton does next.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Halloween (2018)

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It’s been 40 years since Michael Myers escaped and wreaked havoc on the quiet town of Haddonfield, IL. In that time the lone survivor of the attack, Laurie Strode, has done everything she can to prepare herself and her daughter for the inevitable day when Michael would escape. The night before Halloween, her greatest wish and biggest nightmare comes true. Michael escapes, and his rampage will take him back to the town where it all began. It’s up to Laurie to finally put an end to it all.

At this point, horror fans should have an idea of where this film stands in the Halloween franchise timeline. If you’re unfamiliar, here is a quick refresher: Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to the 1978 Halloween. Basically, forget every other story line after that first film, because they are irrelevant to this sequel. The screenplay for this new imagining of Halloween was written by David Gordon Green (Joe), Danny McBride (Your Highness), and Jeff Fradley (Vice Principals) and it was directed by Green. The trio brings an interesting mix of background from more serious films, to comedies, to this being Fradley’s first feature film. As a result, there are some aspects of the film that shine and others that don’t quite live up to the franchise.

One of the single most successful aspects of this film is that the filmmakers managed to make Michael Myers even more sinister and murderous than he was in the first film. He is an unstoppable force and his kills are far more gruesome this time around. The development of Laurie’s character is also fascinating. She becomes obsessed with Michael to the point where it completely takes over her life, and it feels like an authentic direction for her character after the trauma she endured the first time Michael escaped.

The filmmakers decided to include many scenes and Easter eggs throughout the film that act as nods to the original Halloween as well as the sequels, even the Myers-less Halloween III. It makes it fun for the audience to watch closely to see how many hidden gems they can spot. At some point the film begins to feel like there are too many different things going on. There are simply too many characters the film follows, too many subplots, and even the Easter eggs get to be a bit excessive. Some of the issues I have with the film could be attributed to there being three screenwriters with varying backgrounds. They likely all wanted to put their mark on the franchise while also honoring the film they know and love, but the plot ends up being muddled in parts because the focus moves from place to place instead of focusing on one or two characters. The third act is where the filmmakers clearly hit their stride. Not only is it the most exciting part of the film, it also finally delivers what fans have been waiting for these past 40 years. The focus tightens on Laurie and her family as they face off with Michael, and the madness that ensues is sure to delight fans.

Even though it seems like there are too many characters to focus on at times, the entire cast does a phenomenal job. The obvious shining star of the film is Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, True Lies) as the one and only Laurie Strode. Only Curtis could bring to life such an iconic character, and it is great to see her reprise her role. Curtis excels as she portrays Laurie simultaneously traumatized by the events 40 years ago, while also dedicating her life to preparing to kill Michael. Judy Greer (Cursed, 13 Going on 30) also solidifies her own scream queen status as Laurie’s daughter, Karen. The dynamics between the estranged mother-daughter duo allow Greer to deliver a strong performance, especially as she is forced back to her roots in the third act. A smaller role in the film that resulted in some scene-stealing moments shows Jibrail Nantambu (Preacher) as young Julian, who is being babysat on Halloween night. This kid is downright hilarious, even when his night takes a dark turn, resulting in some of the most memorable lines of the film. Honorable mention also goes out to Andi Matichak (Evol), Haluk Bilginer (The International), and Toby Huss (Rescue Dawn).

The artistry in Halloween (2018) is by far one of the highlights of the film. Right away it is impossible to ignore the drool-worthy cinematography, enhancing the tension and beauty of the film. The original film went for more minimal practical effects, primarily relying on blood to emphasize any wounds. This film cranks out the gore, giving fans some fantastic practical effects for grizzly, unique kills by Michael. The effects team really put in the effort to give the audience something that is both horrifying and believable, and they succeeded. On top of that, it’s impossible to talk about Halloween without talking about the score. John Carpenter returned for the music in this film along with his son, Cody Carpenter, and Carpenter’s tour guitarist/godson, Daniel Davies. The three composers did an absolutely fantastic job of bringing the classic theme that fans adore while also breathing some new life into the rest of the score. The score truly brings the film to life in a way that only Carpenter and co. could pull off.

Halloween (2018) is a love letter to John Carpenter’s original that only true fans could pull off. There are moments when the film diverges into to many different directions, but there are many things to love about the film. The film has many fantastic nods to the original franchise, as well as thrilling new material including an even deadlier Michael (complete with more graphic kill scenes) and a badder, stronger Laurie. Even Carpenter, Carpenter, and Davies’ score gives a fresh twist to the familiar. The third act is when fans will truly see the film shine as Michael and Laurie become the focus. While the film may not quite live up to the hype, and perhaps a rewatch after the hype has died down will shed new light, the film still has something for every fan to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

***Spoiler/Tip: There is an end credit “scene.” Don’t bother staying around for it. It’s literally just a black screen and you can hear Michael breathing, that’s it. You’re welcome.

Throwback Thursday Movie: In The Mouth of Madness (1995)

John Trent is an insurance fraud investigator. After the disappearance of a famed horror author Trent is assigned the case to discover the truth behind what happened. Along with the help of the author’s editor, Linda Styles, Trent descends into a dark world. The more he learns about the author and his work, the more the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur. It seems like there is more to this story than meets the eye.

To be completely honest, I had never heard of this movie until June of this year. I was at John Carpenter’s Live Retrospective. Carpenter started playing a theme I had never heard before and was showing scenes from a film I had never seen. As soon as I got home I looked the film up and discovered In the Mouth of Madness. After watching it for the first time 21 years after it was released I can say that this film is truly another masterpiece by the great John Carpenter. This is a very different kind of film for Carpenter. It is the kind of film where you have to pay close attention or else you might miss some vital little details. It is also different from other films that Carpenter directed in that it deals with Lovecraftian themes and it makes you question what is real.

The basic premise of the plot focuses on John Trent. When horror author Sutter Cane goes missing Trent is hired to see if Cane’s publishers faked his disappearance in order to get the insurance money. Through this investigation we as the audience are taken on a journey that does not have a linear timeline. This adds to the feeling that reality is bending as the story continues. We also learn that Cane’s books not only seem to have a psychological effect on the readers, but that they may be part of a plan to unleash monstrous creatures from another world. This plot really drew me in because it was unexpected, and it made you pay attention. If you didn’t pay attention you were likely to miss some of the best parts.

This was a brilliant performance by Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon) as John Trent. Neill has been in many major motion pictures, and he never disappoints. His portrayal of Trent stood out as another great performance because of the transformation his character goes through. Again, this isn’t something you see in a linear timeline. The audience is introduced to Trent towards the end of his transformation; then they get to see what lead to his downward spiral into madness. His journey as the ever practical and skeptical investigator that eventually becomes a man whose world has been turned upside down is breathtaking.

Carpenter is known for having gorgeous practical effects in his films. This one is no different. For the most part we see simple makeup effects on the people who have been infected by Cane’s writing. There were only a few of the practical effects that truly stand out. One amazing effect was of the editor, Linda Styles, as her body contorts and twists into a grotesque thing. Another practical effect from the film was brilliant because of it’s subtlety. The sweet little old inn keeper, Mrs. Pickman, becomes a horrific tentacle covered monster. What is clever about the practical effect is that you never see the monster full on. There are small close ups of a tentacle here and there, but for the most part it is a simple silhouette. The final stand out scene is when the evil beings from the other side break into our world. There are many giant, slimy, tentacle covered beasts ready to wreak havoc in our world. The effects, much like Trent’s grip on reality, become more and more fantastical as the story progresses.

The only negative I can say about this film is that I wish I had seen it sooner. In the Mouth of Madness is another marvelous work of art by John Carpenter, albeit a lesser known work. This is the kind of film that you will come back to again and again, each time finding new details that you had never noticed before. It will also stick in your mind for days after viewing, making you ponder reality, fantasy, insanity, and where the lines are drawn. All those who are in need of a horror film that will give you a mental workout, this is your film.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10