HOST Found Footage Goes Zoom!

I started this movie not expecting much. I am not a paranormal fan, found footage is not a favorite genre. I tend to go against the grain when it comes to these movies. I love Cloverfield, it’s a guilty pleasure I turn to when I’m feeling sick. You don’t have to think about it, just enjoy the ride. Paranormal Activity is not a bad series, but the long drawn out moments where absolutely nothing is happening makes them such a snooze. So, I went into Host happy to hear it was a smooth 57 minutes long. Even if it let me down, I only lost an hour. Then to my surprise, I spent that hour growing increasingly tense and engaged. It’s hard to scare me, I watch too many movies, specifically horror, to be easily frightened by any movie, but the tension did affect me. I was concerned and uncomfortable as supernatural phenomena began to change the participants of the séance. As the action increased, I worried more and became more focused on the screen. I recommend this movie for any horror/thriller fan. I also recommend watching the film on your laptop instead of the big screen for the best experience.

The film originated from a zoom prank gone viral that Rob Savage decided could become a film. Proof that from boredom, creativity can blossom. Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, and Jeb Sheppard managed to create something unique with Host. This movie’s small zoom room experience pulls the watcher in and makes them feel like they are a part of the film. As we sit home during the pandemic, we have all begun to use Zoom like platforms to connect with friends, family, and co-workers on an almost daily basis. The familiarity with the medium provides the viewer with a connection to the actors that we don’t typically experience as we view a movie. I often sit in on meetings watching others, listening to them talk, maybe letting my mind wander. These experiences have become mundane. Now they can terrify.

Filmed entirely using social distancing practices with each actor separated in real life, the movie essentially captures pandemic life. Fantastically the director pulled in a wonderful female writer, Gemma Hurley, to add to the script, so the story points are there filled in with a believable female perspective and dynamic. The actor’s conversations are organic and feel unscripted because, for the most part, they are. To understand how the script was developed, a great interview was done on Nightmare on Film Street Podcast with the Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, and Jeb Sheppard, Fantastic listen!

As the Séance continues, the scares begin, and Haley’s friends do not take things seriously despite initial warnings. This is how things start to fall apart. It had me begin to wonder, who will get it first, what will happen, but of course, I got it wrong (YES!). As the scares increased, I could feel my heart beat faster and harder in my chest, something that rarely happens. The small rooms and subtlety of the background changes encourage multiple viewings. Especially if you want to get all the reference to other movies within the film, let the Easter eggs rain!

While I loved the movie, I wonder how the audience will look at this piece in the future. How well will it age? We now respond so well to the film because it is so timely. It speaks perfectly to the life everyone is living. The directors and writers themselves understood that they needed to get this out quickly because it was a part of this phenomenon. But classics are timeless; they have a quality that speaks beyond the time for which they are apart. Is this art going to transcend the isolation and fear of COVID to touch future audiences?

Written by Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, and Jed Sheppard

Cast Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise, Webb Radina, Drandova, Caroline Ward, Teddy Linard, and Seylan Baxter

Directed by Rob Savage

Edited by Brenna Rangott

Available on Shudder

Release Date: July 30, 2020

A Movie in the Wrong Time

When John Carpenter’s movie The Thing was released it paned. Critics HATED it and audiences avoided it. I was not until its release to television with repeated viewings by fans that the films popularity grew from cult status to reach culturally iconic status 30 years. Perhaps John Carpenter’s The Thing was doomed to be despised from the start; because its source material, Who Goes There? was derived from a time so opposite the social and political issues of its release time. Every movie has a time for which it speaks, and if it is release out of sync with that time, no matter how good it is, society at large just will not embrace it.

A lot can affect the success of a film opening; marketing, critic reviews, audience reception and access, or simultaneous releases. Essentially if the box office profits are not greater than the films expenses then the film is considered a failure. Even if a film does not meet expected profits, yet it makes money, it is still considered a failure. So, for example, Citizen Kane, despite positive critic reviews was ignored by the press when it was released and failed at the box office making only 1.5 million dollars. It is believed William Rudolph Hearst, a media mogul of the time was offended by the film’s villainous portrayal of a media mogul and so refused to allow marketing[i]. Fight club, considered by many a modern classic, was an enigma to studio marketers and critics alike and so it failed to find that essential early movie going audience.[ii]

Many people blame the failure of John Carpenters’ The Thing on the release of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. a few weeks prior. Pleading the audience loved Spielberg’s feel good alien and could not stomach the horrors of The Thing two weeks later. Arguably The Thing is the polar opposite of E.T. in every way except that they are both extraterrestrials. But to say the movie was too scary and dark is overly simplistic an answer. You could point to the success of Poltergeist as an argument that audiences were eager for horror, so the terror of The Thing was not the detracting factor. It was something deeper[iii].

Another movie, now critically acclaimed, that failed miserably at the box office that same year is Blade Runner, a science fiction adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. This is another dark movie where the view of humanity is dark, with an ambiguous, futuristic ending that leaves audiences with a bleak, hopeless feeling. These movies were released in 1982, the decade of the yuppie, Reganomics, and a return to conservative politics. Popular culture in the 80s reflected optimism, excess and overindulgence. It was the era of cocaine, hairbands, dissonant family values and teen angst. While beneath the surface of all the outward “yuppie” success the prevailing truth was a decade of stress and dissatisfaction. Audiences of The Thing were not yet prepared to see a movie whose voice was born from the great depression and spoke of distrust, paranoia and asked us what it means to be human.

In 1938 when John W. Campbell published Who Goes There? the Munich Pact was signed between Britain, France and Italy to let Germany partition Czechoslovakia. Hitler had marched into Austria and proclaimed it part of Germany. The Holocaust had truly begun as twenty to thirty thousand Jewish citizens were sent to concentration camps. The Germans had also discovered nuclear fission. The Atomic age had truly begun!

The United States we were just starting to recover from the Great Depression. Which great depression greatly reshaped the nation. No nation could face such a devastating crisis and not change. Migration altered our country’s population distribution. Toward the end of the Great depression America saw a resurgence of democratic virtues and the idealism of the “common man.” As totalitarian regimes spread thru Europe and Japan, the mythological American “Common man” hero became a staple of the pop culture of the time.

Enter John W Campbells Who Goes There? a novel where the common man is trapped by an unyielding environment and must overcome an enemy that hides within, disguising itself as one of the masses.  In Campbell’s story a pervasive frustration and paranoia is rampant. The stories ambiguous ending leaves the reader unsettled and not quite sure if the alien escaped to take over the world. Did our heroes in fact stop it? Though the explorers are so sure they did, the reader himself is left to wonder and this feeling fits with the precarious state of the world. Throughout the book they argue amongst each other about the nature of what they find, whether they should examine it and if it is dead. The doctors among the group Blair and Dr. Cooper, argues about the safety of thawing the creature, and if any germs released would be compatible with human beings. Norris the groups physicist was concerned because certain animals on earth: “They freeze every winter and thaw every summer – for three months – and live.” But Blair states emphatically, “The beast is as dead as those frozen mammoths they find in Siberia.” Once the Thing wakes and they discover its nature it is Blair who first descends into paranoia and fear. He determines isolation is the only answer to the problem, much like America did when first faced with the idea of World War 2. As Europe descended into Madness it became their problem and only 13% of Americans wanted to intervene. It was not until the bombing of Pearl Harbor that American sentiment changed[iv]. Here Blair decides his only chance at survival is to lock himself away, after all who can he trust? “I don’t want anyone coming here. I’ll cook my own food… Kinner may be human now, but I don’t believe it.[v]” But soon enough they all distrust each other as they have no idea who is human and who is other. It is this tension, this fear of the other that makes this story so griping and horrifying. There is nowhere to run and readily identify a monster when it looks just like you. And why not. The Germans as they began over taking Europe did not look like monsters. You could not identify the monster with a glance.

Next comes the 1950’s and the most misunderstood era ever. Often held up as either the greatest era of our time or derailed as the most repressive and hated era of history, depending on your political ideals. To set the scene let me say, America was seen as the world’s strongest military power, with a booming economy. As Americans moved to the suburbs, they embraced consumerism whole heartedly. This was the post-war baby boom. The problems came from things we could not see[vi]. A fantastic movie depicting the suburban issues many vets faced is the 1956 classic The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

Aside from the obvious racism and segregation of the time, women faced a new problem as their families fled to isolation in the suburbs. Where before women had roles as organizers and fundraisers for museums, orphanages and hospitals, as credentialed professionals; now the government and society pushed them into a singular role of the housewife. Women found dissatisfaction in this new role and a dependency on Prozac as they tried to cope with the isolation and lack of purpose beyond the nuclear family.

While many think of the Fifties as the decade of thrift, in fact it is the era when America truly began to embrace excess.  The suburbs were about affluence, unprecedented consumption and conformity. If your neighbor had it, you needed it too, debt be damned! Selling became less about procurement and more about status. The large middleclass suburbs gave birth to big box discount stores built first by Eugene Ferkauf, who sold discount appliances to suburban families.

As America became a global power anxiety about nuclear weapons marked this decade with fall out drills in school and adds for family fall out-shelters. We had dropped the bomb to win the war and now we were attempting to build The Super, a Hydrogen Bomb, before the Russians. No movie shows this better than the 1950 movie Destination Moon as America races to be the first to launch missiles from the moon and stay number one in the atomic Race.

Fear of juvenile delinquency, especially that of females pervaded popular culture. This is seen in movies like Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story and campy horror movies like Teenage Zombies, The Violent Years, and Teenagers from Outer Space. As we moved into the fifties we were at the top of our global power, we had pulled ourselves out of the depression and were showing once again America was unstoppable. At this same time, TV was replacing radio as the new medium of popular culture. It had become less a luxury item and more affordable to the average American family. It began to spread from the coastal cities then gradually inward toward middle America. This lowered Movie sales and radio revenues making the TV the new national media. But it came at a price. “It could grant instant fame to a person or popularity to a fad and just as quickly withdraw that fame or popularity.” – Fred Allen[vii]. I would say this is true for the entertainment industry in general and many actors, comedians, producers and writers have fallen victim to the fickle whims of the entertainment industry.

In 1951, Christian Nyby attempted to make Who Goes There? Into a film under the name The Thing from Another World! It did better than all other science fiction movies that year making taking in 1.95 million at the American box office. Again, critics did not understand or feel the film was more than a monster movie. Now, decades later, critics and fans alike understand that this was not only the best Science Fiction film of 1951, but a ground-breaking film regardless of the genre you put it in. Margret Sheridan plays Nikki Nicholson, a strong female character who does not quake with fear waiting for the men around her to save her. She pursues her love interest, who quite frankly tried to get her drunk and have his way with her. It’s odd to see the fifties lens on sexual assault and how flippant and cut they make it. He is posed as the likable hero and she the hard and loveable gal who can put up with his boyish charm. Nikki takes command and walks beside him into danger. She is a tough, fast talking girl who quite honestly could be the first inkling of a final girl.

In a time of nuclear fear, while this film may portrays the female lead well, it certainly gives the scientist and his ilk the short end of the stick. It is fascinating to see how little they knew about radiation then. Their sample room, full of radioactive rocks was kept on base in a simple closet with no protection to the men and woman walking by it, daily absorbing all those extra “rays.” The creature itself is detected because he and his ship are radioactive making the Giger counter an important tool in this nuclear age movie. The head scientist becomes convinced that the creature must be protected regardless of the cost, that it is superior to man and holds the secrets to the stars. He wants to study the creature, understand it and unlock its mysteries. When others try to convince him of its danger Dr Carrington replies “There are no enemies in science, Professor, only phenomena to study. We are studying one.” Could there be a more chilling and unfeeling portrayal of science? Modern scientist had just created the most destructive force known to man the atomic bomb, and now our culture was dealing with the consequences and the morality of it. How did we feel about what we had done and the scientist who had created such destruction?

While in the book the Thing is hidden inside us, copying us, Nyby’s monster is distinctly other. This appealed to a time when McCarthyism was beginning to take hold of the country. The Other, the Communist was out there, and the common man, the patriotic American must be vigilant against him. So, it was only natural that the scientist become the protagonist alongside the monster and the hero became the American solider. By making these changes to the story, Nyby was able to adjust the crushing desperation and despair of the original story. He had a monster to face off against, our heroes fought and destroyed him, triumphing in the end, but sending a warning to stay ever vigilant for future attacks. As Ned, our newspaperman finally gets his broadcast he warns, “Every one of you listening to my voice, tell the world. Tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the skies! Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!” I think if these specific changes to the story had not been made the film would not have been as successful. The country was too hopeful, feeling it could take on the world and win. Though they knew the “bad guy” maybe lurking among us, most Americans were not really swept up in the fanaticism of McCarthy fervor.

Jump ahead thirty years to the magical era of the eighties. After the troubled times of the 1970s, ex. foreign turmoil and rising inflation; the rise of social, economic and political conservatism in the 1980s is not surprising. Often hailed as the decade of exuberant materialism and Reaganism, the 80s also saw the explosion of “yuppie” culture typified by the emergence of blockbuster video, cable TV and the Iconic MTV and its music video. As much as we like to think of this as the decade of decadence, the start of the 1980s was actually a horrible time for the film industry. In 1982, we saw the beginning of an upswing for some magic films and some disastrous flops! This year saw major flops like A midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Yes, Giorgio and Inchon. The most popular movies of the year were E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Tootsie, An Officer and A Gentlemen, Rocky III, Porky’s, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, 48 Hrs. Poltergeist, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Annie. All movies that have happy endings by the way! Stephen Spielberg not surprisingly recently was quoted as saying “We’re nostalgic for the ‘80s because it was a stress-free decade, everything was sort of innocuous: style, music, it was great.[viii]

As with the Fifties this could not be further from the truth. Underneath the pop veneer of Neon, MTV, synth sugar coating was the cold war, the crack epidemic, AIDS, The Iran Contra Affair and rampant consumerism that eventually lead to a second economic depression. Not only was there stress during this happy decade from the politics of the era, but social challenges faced by minorities and the LBGT community made further highlight the darker side of the eighties. The AIDS epidemic had taken 10,000 U.S. lives before Ronald Regan publicly acknowledged it. The AIDS epidemic isolated individuals and made an entire community a target. It was seen as a “Gay disease” and those with the disease were “Aids victims.” Government response to the Crack epidemic made matters worse for an entire generation putting a disproportionate amount of urban, black men in prison for small amounts of narcotics leaving them with a legacy of broken families and criminal records.

The New Right’s growth exploded as disaffected white liberals, unrestricted free market capitalist, evangelical Christians, and anti-tax crusaders came together to take over the right-wing party. The Cold War showed no signs of warming as arms control advocates on one side demanded a “Nuclear Freeze” and the other side continued to warn against the Soviet threat.  As people moved from ageing Eastern coastal cities with their overcrowding, pollution and crime, they headed to the suburbs and rural regions of the Southeast, Southwest and California. These migrators became known as Sunbelters. They were tired of high taxes for social programs they saw no gains from, stagnating economies and government interference.

These disaffected Liberals eventual became known as “Regan Democrats” providing him the votes he needed to become governor of California and then President. Regan came through with campaign promises with government deregulation, reduction in government spending and tax cuts for individuals and corporations which became known as “Trickle down” economics. In 1982 Reaganomics proved less successful than hoped as the United States went into its worst depression since the Great Depression. Families lost homes, farmers lost their land and nine million people lost their jobs as of November 1982. After a slight recovery, just in time for his reelection campaign, the Stock Market crashed in 1987 another smaller decline, however; fans of Regan and his economic policies continued to grow popular.

Like most Americans Regan believed the Soviets and the spread of communism was a threat to freedom and democracy. He thus provided financial and military aid to anticommunist governments and insurgencies around the world with a policy known as the Regan Doctrine. In his eight years of office the Federal Government accrued more debt than in the entire history of the American Government. Regan also appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Some of the other things he did during his presidency were: he worked with the Soviet Union to curtail the buildup of Nuclear Arms, visited West Berlin and delivered his famous “Tear Down That Wall” speech, he signed a bill prohibiting abortion assistance, and took responsibility for the Iran-Contra affair. Many American’s still consider Ronald Reagan one of America’s greatest Presidents.

The best way to explain the cold war I have ever heard is by Philip Roth in the Prague Orgy when describing the difference between the soviet block and the US, “There Nothing goes and everything matters; here, everything goes, and nothing matters.[ix]” Kind of explains how we think of the eighties no too. By the end of the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990s the Cold War had defrosted, but at the beginning of the decade it was at its frostiest and suspicion of the Soviets was its highest. The extreme polarization is similar to today’s atmosphere between the democrats and republicans. It was very us versus them, America vs. the Reds, Democracy vs Communism. In response you have the iconic American culture, TOP GUN, and iconic alternative culture, the Smiths and their subtle anti-consumerism. These fans were the counterculture of the eighties[x].

This Political Conservatism is reflected in the 80s popular culture. The “Yuppie” is a college educated, well paid, baby boomer with expensive taste. Everyone believed there was a chance to completely change their life and 1980s Hollywood reflected this in many ways. Just look at movies like American Giglio and the Iconic Pretty Woman where a prostitute meets prince charming and blows him away😉, as well as Night Shift and the also Iconic Risky Business. You now had to do better than everyone else as well and you had to do it by yourself! The individualism highlighted by Americanism was in full swing in the eighties. This constant pressure highlights the underlying anxiety and self-doubt pervasive of the era. While us forty somethings may not have felt it as much because we were 10 and 12 at the time, the adults were certainly feeling the stress. While looking back I Remember my parents constantly worrying about money, while my siblings and I never thought of ourselves as poor because we had just as much as everyone around us. You have to wonder if we were struggling so much, why did we need the Betamax’s, VCRs, Jordache Jeans and yearly family vacations. Keeping up with the Jones’s is expensive and unnecessary! Poverty if oft not mentioned in the eighties, but it was pervasive. When it was shown in Hollywood though it was in stories of overcoming and rising above. Rocky is a classic example for here you see Stallone Rise-above-poverty and become uber rich as the movies progress. Ralph Macchio’s poverty in Karate Kid has no grit or risks. It is the cleaned-up Malibu version with no real stakes[xi].

Many of the popular movies of the time appealed to movie goers of all ages and had an underlying message of optimism. Teen movies also had their heyday at this time with The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful and Ferris Buller’s Day Off which still have cult followings. By the end of the 80s 60% of Americans had cable televisions and MTV which debuted on August 1, 1981 with the video Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles. This medium of television influenced the music industry, fashion and culture around the world. MTV became the Anti-Yuppie forum as time wore on, give those frustrated an outlet for their views, like Public Enemy and Heavy Metal acts[xii].

This was the stage for John Carpenters The Thing released in theatres on August 21, 1982. Full disclosure, I love this movie! I watched it for the first time hiding behind the couch as my parents watched it when it came out on video release in 1983, I remember being terrified and having nightmares for years, I was eight years old. I am always dumbfounded to hear this movie was hated by critics and moviegoers alike. But then I also loved blade runner and I am a self-proclaimed sci-fi junkie raised by parents who loved the genre. John Carpenters decision to stay as close as possible to the original source material, with its ambiguous ending and themes of suspicion, frustration and paranoia was ultimately the movies downfall and saving grace.

While the movie has been vindicated and is widely considered to be one of the best horror films of all time with groundbreaking practical effects that still hold up; in its day audiences and critics did not like or understand this movie. John Carpenter made the movie with $15 million, but the movie only made $19.6 million in domestically. Roger Ebert called it “A great barf-bag movie…. with superficial characterizations and implausible behavior.” Ebert hated the characters, the effects, the plot and premise. It was even nominated for a 1983 Worst Musical Score Razzie award. Writing for The New York Times, noted movie critic Vincent Canby described the movie as “foolish, depressing” with its actors “used merely as props to be hacked, slashed, disemboweled and decapitated, finally to be eaten and then regurgitated […] it is too phony to be disgusting. It qualifies only as instant junk.[xiii]” But I think what you are seeing here is a reaction not to the quality of the film, since obviously over time audience came to realize how amazing the film truly is, but to the time the film was released in.

In a time when everyone was trying to succeed and come out on top, when consumerism was at its highest regard and fear of the other (the reds, the junkie and the diseased) was at an all-time high, we are given a movie where all members were on equal footing, wealth means nothing and the enemy is inside us just will not land. It spoke to the underlying anxieties and unspoken realities we were not ready and unwilling to face in the eighties. In the movie, all the members of the station are at the mercy of the elements. They are stationed at Tule for eight weeks.  John carpenter does a fantastic job of showing how everyone in the camp is essentially equal. While MacReady may be important because he can fly the Helicopter but once the copter is gone, it is only a person’s skills that makes them valuable, not money, birth or standing in the community. You must rely on your wits and each other. Then add into the mix that suddenly the people you are relying on to help you survive may not be who you think they are but are imposters. Who do you trust? How do you find out who is who? They had nowhere to run, they would die, so they had to solve the problem on their own. “See, what we’re talking about here is an organism that imitates other lifeforms, and it imitates them perfectly.” While this movie speaks to individualism, it’s talking about the absorption and destruction of the individual. As Blair says “He could have imitated a million life forms on a million planets, could change into any one of them at any time. Now it wants lifeforms on earth.” The movie builds its paranoia in an extremely stressful and anxious way.  Benning’s is the first human to die after the dogs. This scene is burned into my child’s brain. The score burns behind the image as the camp surrounds the Benning’s Thing with his alien scream and malformed hand. The horror as the group realizes the alien is not just imitating “lower lifeforms” like dogs. Next Blair destroys not just the chopper but the stations radios too. “You think the thing wanted to be an animal? No dog makes it a thousand miles in the cold. Nah, you don’t understand. That thing wanted to be us! If the cell gets out, it could imitate everything on the face of the earth and it’s not going to stop!” Wilford Brimley commands the screen as he leaks fear and tension. If they do not succeed their lives and the future of mankind is on the line. And it only continues to get worse as they realize they have to figure out who is human and who is alien. The closed in sets, the cold, harsh environment are as much a character in this movie and the eleven actors. The eighties were stressful enough, where was the cathartic release? Where was the hope? Then, in the end there was no triumph or success. Just Jonesy (Keith David) and MacReady (Kurt Russell) sitting and waiting to see who’s who as they freeze to death. Dark and ambiguous. Fabulous! But not what eighties audiences were looking for.

As the cold war ended and we realized rampant consumerism was the path to massive debt, recession, environmental disaster and misery, audiences changed the way they consumed movies and empathized with the movie differently. Suddenly Carpenters movie made more sense. What do you think?

I did not discuss the prequel. But in 2011 a third installment was made that takes place at the sight of the nordic base before the 1982 movie. I offer no analysis, it has flaws and interesting moments. My favorite moment is the credits when they take you through and show you everything the others found at the base when they arrived.

[1] Cook, Megan, “Popular Movies that Were Originally Flops” Insider https://www.insider.com/popular-movies-that-were-originally-flops-2018-11#man-on-the-moon-won-jim-carrey-a-golden-globe-but-was-a-miss-for-most-critics-48

[1] Garfield, Leanna, “Cult Classics the Bombed at the Box Office” Business Insider June 7, 2016 https://www.businessinsider.com/cult-classics-that-bombed-2016-6

[1] Moore, Nolan “Why did “The Thing” (1982) bomb at the box office” August 16, 2015 Screenprism.com https://screenprism.com/insights/article/why-did-the-thing-1982-bomb-at-the-box-office/

[1] Heilbrunn, Jacob, “’Angry Days’ Shows an America Torn Over Entering World War II” The New York Times, July 25, 1023 https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/books/review/those-angry-days-and-1940.html

[1] Jones, Darryl, McCarthy, Elizabeth, and Murphy, Bernice, “It Came from the 1950s! Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties.” Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Pp 284 https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/9872

[1] Green, David B “2012: The Man Who Figured Out What You Really Want Dies.” Jewish World. Haaretz Israel News. Haaretz.com June, 5 2015 https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-2012-e-j-korvette-founder-dies-1.5369523

[1] Jones, Darryl, McCarthy, Elizabeth, and Murphy, Bernice, “It Came from the 1950s! Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties.” Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Pp 284 https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/9872

[1] Morgan, Tiernan, The Decade that Changed the Art World: Money, Media, and Brands in the 1980s: The Primary Takeaway of Brand New at the Hirshhorn is its Demonstration of How High the Stakes of Representation Became During the 1980s, a Decade of Proliferating Imagery and Technology.” Hyperallergic 2018, May 10

https://hyperallergic.com/439334/the-decade-that-changed-the-art-world-moey-media-and-brands-in-the-1980s/

[1] Litt, Toby, The 80s: the best of times, the worst of times, Jul 29, 2010, TheGuardian.com

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/jul/29/80s-culture-a-team-karate-kid

[1] History.com Editors, The 1980s, June 7, 2019, A&E Television Networks https://www.history.com/topics/1980s/1980s

[1] Litt, Toby, The 80s: the best of times, the worst of times, Jul 29, 2010, TheGuardian.com

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/jul/29/80s-culture-a-team-karate-kid

[1] History.com Editors, The 1980s, June 7, 2019, A&E Television Networks https://www.history.com/topics/1980s/1980s

[1] https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/john-carpenters-the-thing-had-an-icy-critical-reception/

Thank You,

Jane Bownes

FedPartners, Business Analyst

VA Acquisition Academy

Office of the Chancellor

7485 New Horizon Way

Frederick, MD 21703

Jane.Bownes@va.gov

Office: 240-215-0619

Cell: 301-646-6006


[i] Cook, Megan, “Popular Movies that Were Originally Flops” Insider https://www.insider.com/popular-movies-that-were-originally-flops-2018-11#man-on-the-moon-won-jim-carrey-a-golden-globe-but-was-a-miss-for-most-critics-48

[ii] Garfield, Leanna, “Cult Classics the Bombed at the Box Office” Business Insider June 7, 2016 https://www.businessinsider.com/cult-classics-that-bombed-2016-6

[iii] Moore, Nolan “Why did “The Thing” (1982) bomb at the box office” August 16, 2015 Screenprism.com https://screenprism.com/insights/article/why-did-the-thing-1982-bomb-at-the-box-office/

[iv] Heilbrunn, Jacob, “’Angry Days’ Shows an America Torn Over Entering World War II” The New York Times, July 25, 1023 https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/books/review/those-angry-days-and-1940.html

[v] Jones, Darryl, McCarthy, Elizabeth, and Murphy, Bernice, “It Came from the 1950s! Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties.” Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Pp 284 https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/9872

[vi] Green, David B “2012: The Man Who Figured Out What You Really Want Dies.” Jewish World. Haaretz Israel News. Haaretz.com June, 5 2015 https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-2012-e-j-korvette-founder-dies-1.5369523

[vii] Jones, Darryl, McCarthy, Elizabeth, and Murphy, Bernice, “It Came from the 1950s! Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties.” Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Pp 284 https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/9872

[viii] Morgan, Tiernan, The Decade that Changed the Art World: Money, Media, and Brands in the 1980s: The Primary Takeaway of Brand New at the Hirshhorn is its Demonstration of How High the Stakes of Representation Became During the 1980s, a Decade of Proliferating Imagery and Technology.” Hyperallergic 2018, May 10

https://hyperallergic.com/439334/the-decade-that-changed-the-art-world-moey-media-and-brands-in-the-1980s/

[ix] Litt, Toby, The 80s: the best of times, the worst of times, Jul 29, 2010, TheGuardian.com

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/jul/29/80s-culture-a-team-karate-kid

[x] History.com Editors, The 1980s, June 7, 2019, A&E Television Networks https://www.history.com/topics/1980s/1980s

[xi] Litt, Toby, The 80s: the best of times, the worst of times, Jul 29, 2010, TheGuardian.com

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/jul/29/80s-culture-a-team-karate-kid

[xii] History.com Editors, The 1980s, June 7, 2019, A&E Television Networks https://www.history.com/topics/1980s/1980s

[xiii] https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/john-carpenters-the-thing-had-an-icy-critical-reception/

Crawl: Florida Man’s Jaws

This will be a nice short review because let’s face it this was a nice short movie. There is very little to this movie so there is not to much to say. It centers on the story of a father and daughter trapped in a house inexplicably filled with alligators. The house was empty, but the neighborhood wasn’t so the premise is flimsy, but hey, suspension of disbelief people. So let’s go along for the ride and have fun right. Eh, maybe.

There are some good jump scares, some touching scenes, a few tense moments. None of the deaths are particularly gruesome. Bucking the recent movie trend, SPOILER, the dog might actually make it. Over all I felt like this movie just did not push it. At the end I kind of wanted the alligators to win. This was just a blah movie that I will forget about by the time I drive home.

Crawl (US Release Date 7/11/2019)

Director Alexander Aja

Writer Michael and Shawn Rasmussen

Cast Kaya Suadelsnio, Barry Peper, Ami Metcalf, Colin Mcfarlane, Anson Boon

Trailer https://youtu.be/H6MLJG0RdDE

The Perfection: I ate my lunch while watching and was just fine!

So I heard the hype about this movie and thought I would check it out. “Movie so gross it will make you vomit!” This is just hype to get you to watch the movie. While the movie has some violent and graphic scene I have seen much worse. I don’t particularly like gross out horror, but in this instance the violence fit the script. It was at no point done just to see how much they could get away with, until the very end scene that is. That one they could have cut. Then they would have had a perfectly acceptable movie. While not an award winner, it was mildly entertaining. Some people might find it triggering as it deals with child abuse and child rape.

This movie suffers from not know what it wants to be so it tries to be everything, a psychological thriller, a horror movie and a drama. In the end it never achieves anything fully. The acting by Allison Williams and Logan Browning is superb but they end up with a cliché ending and bizarre end scene that just makes no sense. Up until then I am following along with the movie and willing to let them drag me along. Even though I question what’s the end game the whole time. I guess the writers did not know either because it is obvious the whole time there is no way for this to end well for anyone.

As with most Netflix movies the special effects are not as good as blockbuster theater movies. Body damage aside, digital effects have that plastic look (Green, yellow vomit with slightly glowing maggots) and shadows are off. Otherwise its watchable. I’d say there is plenty else to watch if your looking for a good movie. However if your like me, some times you’ve seen everything and you just want something new. If that’s the case, this a fair few hours that you don’t have to pay the theaters to see. The twist aren’t hard to spot, but if you’re watching it while cleaning you might have to back it up occasionally. I’ve watched it once, but I won’t be doing it again.

The Perfection (US release date May 24 2019)
Director: Richard Shepard
Writers: Eric C Charmelo, Richard Shepard, Nicole Snyder
Cast: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Alaina Huffman, Steven Weber
Production Company: Miramax, Capstone Film Group
Preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q57D6kF5B1k

Brigthburn: Nature vs Nurture – what if Superman were bad?

Biologically speaking life is driven by the acquisition of resources with the least expenditure of energy and passing our DNA on to the next generation. We see this the most in parasitic creatures. They use others to do the work for them, even having other creatures parent for them while expending zero energy to get the resources their young will need to survive. It is a fantastic if harsh system for them if you are simply looking at the numbers. Cow birds sneak their eggs into the nest of other birds. Then their young are fostered, usually at the expense of their own children. This is because they usually hatch first and grow larger faster demanding more food and time earlier than the foster birds own children. Sucks, but at least mom didn’t out right kill anyone right.

Then there is the of world of the parasitic wasp. One parasitic wasp , H. argyraphaga, lays its eggs in a spiders abdomen where it will have lots to eat when it hatches. But not before controlling the spider from inside and forcing it to build a web of protection from the torrential monsoon rains it will sleep trough during its metamorphosis. When done with the web, the larva finish its meal, chucks out the spiders husk and spins its own pupa. Thanks mom!

Some parasitoids go inside ant nest and attach their eggs to the ant larva. Then they chemically disguise their eggs so they are accepted as ants. Even when it becomes an adult wasp the ants still treat it as an ant, feeding and grooming it until the chemical wears off and the adult leaves the nest to mate. Talk about lazy deadbeat.

Oh but It gets worse, There are even hyperparasitoids that parasitize the parasitic wasp! One wasp tracks the chemicals emitted by caterpillars infected by wasp larva and then lay their eggs on the larva already eating the caterpillar. These parasites are not the heroes however. They simply eat the existing parasites and leave then eat their way out of the caterpillar, emerging covered in viscera in their full adult glory! You see it is not just in their nature to kill, it is in their nature to take everything they need to survive and then destroy what raise them. Their life cycle cannot be completed with out the death of what raised them. It is with this glorious knowledge in mind that I watched Brightburn last night. (Yes I Studied bugs in college and I am complete nerd).

What does all this have to do with a superhero/horror movie you ask? Well slight spoilers follow:

The writers of Bright burn asked the question what if Superman was not a beneficial relationship with humanity (a symbiote) but instead a parasite? What if he did not start out with his powers, but instead was bullied in school? What if instead of getting advice from loving alien parents, his pod whispered dark thoughts? What if superman was a 12 year old kid? we’d be totally fucked right, or would loving foster parents be enough to save us in the end? The only hint we get to Brandon’s actual origin is a scene in school where the kids are asked about the difference between bees and wasp. Brandon offers that bees are pollinators and wasp are predators. Some are even parasites. This and some strange chanting are the only insights into what may be driving Brandon’s behavior. Is this nature, because nurture was very normal.

I loved the details put into the costuming, Brigthburn (he is called this because this is the town in which he first emerges) does not have a perfect costume like superman, but instead has manipulated his own blanket. What I like about it is the insect like face. It elongated his head and over time, because it was knit, stretched so the eye holes became rounder (like a bugs or wasp) and the shoe lace mouth he used to sew the front becomes very mandible like completing the look. They also furthered his otherworldlyness by altering Superman’s smooth flying movements and speeding up the framework. This made him harder to follow, he seemed to zip around and jerk from place to place much like and insect. They also added insect sounds to the foley work adding to his alien nature. All in all Brightburn is creepy as fuck

There is gore to his kills leaving no doubt that he is no superhero. Jackson A. Dunn does a fantastic job flipping from a smiling sweet young child to a disturbed boy with a major superiority complex. His coldness borders on the spectrum and I loved it. Matt L. Jones confrontation scene with Brandon was hands down my favorite in the whole movie, just the right amount of humor. David Denman did an amazing job playing a conflicted father with a horrible discussion to make and I felt awful for Jenifer Holland. Script choices aside, I believed her performance. I felt there could have been some tweaks to make the script better, but overall my audience was pleased. A few people even cheered and guffawed out right at the end. This movie balanced out the horror well with some great comedic moments and the general audience will have fun. Billy Eilish comes in strong at the end with “Bad Guy” giving the movie the perfect send off. Overall director David Yarovesky did an excellent job and I would go see this in the theater.

Brightburn (US release Date 5/23/2019)
Director: David Yarovesky
Writers Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
Starring:Jacks A Dunn, Jennifer Holland, David Denmar, Matt A Jones, Meredith Hagner, Becky Wahlstrom, Gergory Alan Williams
Distribution Company: Sony Pictures
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0391pRUFIY

The Curse of La Lorona: Ruined by a crappy audience!

This was the weekend of tears. We could choose between Breakthrough a drama about a teen who falls through the ice and ends up in a coma (tear jerker in the extreme) or La Llorona about a crying specter who preys on children. Yeah!

The Curse of La Llorona is in The Conjuring universe, but takes place outside of the main characters stories. This is a story line that highlights Hispanic history and traditions. Though slightly changed in for the film, as with every traditional story portrayed in pop culture, the story of the weeping woman is found in Mexican folklore and has played an important roll in Hispanic culture. This is not her first appearance in American culture, she has been popping up more and more lately in mainstream culture. The Curse of La Llorona also shows US audiences Curandera faith healers and some of their traditions. In a some what controversial step they invited Curanderas to perform limpias, spiritual cleansing before the screening of the film. Some Curandera who were invited attended the screening and others protested.

My screening of the film was on a Saturday night at 6:30 pm because I unfortunately had to work late Friday. The theater was half full and lets just say the audience was very enthusiastic. They yelled at the screen to warn the characters and tell them when they were doing something stupid. Every jump scene was accompanied by several loud screams. The first few times it was funny but it quickly got annoying. It took a suspenseful movie and made it a comedy. Some of the audience really enjoyed this, a few of us eventually just ignored it. When La Lorona revealed her non-spectral form during the climatic ending, a tone deaf audience member yelled out, she’s not even pretty. I guess they would have been more happy with a blonde chick. I thought Mariosl Ramirez is a very beautiful actor and when made up to look like a ghost she was pretty gross. Special effects did a good job making her creepy.

As a mother I found the movie uncomfortable. I love the horror genre, but since I have had my child I do find there are some boundaries I do like being crossed. Kids are to be protected not hunted. As La Llorona got more aggressive I became more stressed and wanted the movie to end faster. The first mother to loose her kids, driven mad with grief, even tells Anna (played by Linda Cardellini) she prayed to La Llorona to take Anna’s kids and bring her kids back. F’ed up and crazy! I can’t believe she didn’t smack her. I mean I know grief makes us crazy, but that is heartless.

Raymond Cruz plays the Curandera they must turn to because the church, with all of the bureaucracy would take to long to help. He is stiff and plays the roll with dry humor. I was on the fence as to weather or not I like him this time. I have enjoyed his work so much in breaking bad, the closer, nip/tuck and even Alien : Resurrection (Not a great movie, but he had fun in it.) I think the problem here was less his acting and more the movie. It was just OK. Some of the scares were legitimately good as were some of the chuckles. I appreciated the fact that it was a Hispanic movie with Hispanic actors. But in the long run this was not a five out of five. It had some drag and in the end is just a scary ghost story. There is nothing wrong with that though. It worked for what it was, it scared people.

As the audience was leaving one girl said “That was a great movie.” another audience member stood up and said “That ain’t true. That was not a movie you bring your grandmother to. Your children to either.” then she turned around and left with her family. In the bathroom I listened to a group from the audience discuss their experiences with haunting. The movie started discussion and they had a fun evening. So I get a big boisterous group and go have fun with the movie.

The Curse of La Lorona released 04/19/2019
Director: Michael Chaves
Staring: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Marisol Ramirez, Patricia Velasquez
Distribution Company: Atomic Monster and Warner Brothers Media
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOV-xMYQ7sk

Pet Sematary: One of my favorite Steven King novels.

I really wanted to like this movie, after all when the first version of this movie came out in 1989 it scared me so bad I almost walked out of the theater. That creepy little kid freaked me and my best friend out and I had watched Texas chain saw massacre with no problem. There was just something about this story that was unsettling. So when I first saw the trailer for the remake I was syked! Here was a chance to fix the flaws in the first movie. Zelda’s bad makeup, Pascal’s strangely designed character (he can appear to Louis, talk to the daughter in dreams, but only suggest things to Rachael?) and the greatly improved special effects (No more tiny doll) this movie is going to rock, right?

Oh man was I wrong. First thing to go in this movie was the father figure relationship between Jud and Louis Creed. While in the first movie there was chemistry between Fred Gwynne and Dale Midkiff I missed that connection in John Lithgow and Jason Clarke. Don’t get me wrong. John Lithgow is an amazing actor, but this was not his movie. I wanted that Maine drawl, that country gravitas that Fred Gwynne brought to the role and it was just lacking in this film. Jason Clarke Did a great job of playing a father slowly driven mad by grief and loss, but the final scenes, where he has lost everything, I simply did not see a man driven beyond his limits. When Fred Gwynne kills church and delivers the line, “go on, lie down, play dead, BE DEAD!!!!” it is over the top and not subtle but it is also clear he has been pushed. When Jason Clarke lays down with his child returned from the dead, the look in the eye is fantastic, the trickle of a tear says it all. ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake and I don’t know what to do.’ The story was cut to much and they were not give time to develop a meaningful relationship. Too much of Jud’s story was cut out or cut to snip-its of print story’s Louis searched on the internet to save time. Rachel’s back story was treated the same way. So now none of the characters actions were given gravitas. Was story sacrificed for special effect budget or was this simply poor editing?

I wasn’t scared by this movie. I wasn’t sitting on the edge of my seat, in fact I was a little bored. I will say that both kids gave excellent performances. In the ‘89 version Miko Hughes was one creepy little bastard. His voice over the phone, “First I played with Jud, then I played with Mommy and now I want to play with you.” I loved it. And in this updated version Jeté Laurence gave a truly macabre performance. With the aide of impressive makeup and eerie body control, she was able to project an preternatural, ghoulish shell of a person who has clearly lost something. She is unsettling. Gladly they kept the famed achilles heal cut scene but all the other death scenes felt slightly cheapened. The mother felt even weaker than the 1989 version of the film and in the original film and she was not that much of a strong character to begin with. In this version it felt like all she did was cry. I think I hated her character the most. My second least favorite part would be the new ending to the movie which I will not spoil, but suffice it to say is not surprising, just cliche and a joke.

Wait for this version to come out for free if you decide to see it at all. If you want to see Pet Sematary I suggest watching the 1989 version. While not perfect its the best we have. And if your a purest, read the book.

Pet Sematary: US Release Date 4/5/2019
Director: Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: John Litgow, Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence and Obssa Ahmed
Released By :Paramount Pictures