Fatal Attraction (1987)

FatalArt

Directed by: Adrian Lyne

Written by: James Dearden

Starring: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer

“Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan.” — Glenn Close as Alex

•  •  •

Growing up, one of my favorite pastimes was watching horror movies on cable, with my finger firmly on the “Previous Channel” button of the remote. I was your stereotypical hands-in-front-of-your-eyes scary movie fan. I loved watching while not watching, because I was always legitimately terrified.

Fatal Attraction popped into my October movie queue because of Bravo’s 2004 series, The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. This miniseries was perfect for me at the time, because it introduced me to classic horror films without my having to actually watch them.

Fatal Attraction landed at No. 59 on the Bravo list, and the scene Bravo chose for its scariest moment was the ending, when a presumably dead Alex (Glenn Close) springs out of the bathtub à la Friday the 13th to once more attempt to butcher Dan (Michael Douglas) and his family.

But that’s not nearly the scariest moment of this movie. In fact, I’m not sure it’s fair to pinpoint a single scene.

Fatal Attraction is great because of its sense of encroaching dread that begins right from the start, when Dan and Alex meet while bellied up to the bar at a fancy work event. It’s clear what Alex’s intentions are from that very moment, and as a viewer I was yelling, “Get out of there, man!” but my pleas of course fell on Michael Douglas’ deaf ears.

Glenn Close gives one of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen. She lets the viewer know that there’s something off about Alex the first time she appears onscreen. But Close also completely sells her seductive nature, and it makes total sense that Dan falls into her trap of late-night dancing, afternoon spaghetti dates and freight elevator blowjobs. (Close was nominated for Best Actress for this role, but lost to Cher for her role in Moonstruck, another film I have yet to see.)

There’s genuine horror when Dan attempts to leave to go home to his wife after the couple’s weekend affair, only for Alex to slit her wrists and surprise him with one of the bloodiest goodbye kisses of all time. This leads to the late-night phone calls to Dan’s home, showing up at his apartment and, eventually, kidnapping his child. Alex’s descent into madness is both terrifying and sad, as it’s clear that this is a woman that needs help. But her violent outbursts leave little room for sympathy.

Alex’s persistence drives Dan to confess his sins to his wife (the absolutely lovely Anne Archer). But even when the couple presents a united front against this relentless stalker, Alex doesn’t blink. In fact it enrages her even more, leading to the ultimate climax.

I was afraid for the entirety of this movie. I hated going along for this ride with Dan, because I knew where it was going to end up. But with Fatal Attraction you can’t get off the roller coaster. You’re stuck on it with Alex.

The Fog (1980)

Fog

Directed by: John Carpenter

Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh

“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Death.”
The tagline that I just made up.

•  •  •

The Fog is the story of the most considerate seafaring ghost-lepers ever to stalk the coast of California. Sure these slimy, maggot-faced killers gruesomely stab the villagers of Antonio Bay with rusty boat hooks, but at least they have the courtesy of knocking on the door before entering to kill.

This movie is John Carpenter’s followup to the massively successful and groundbreaking Halloween in 1978. He and his writing partner, the spectacular Debra Hill, set out to create an old-fashioned ghost story that would be a left turn from their recent slasher-film success.

In that they succeeded. The Fog’s monsters are no Michael Myers, and the fear is mainly driven by the super-unrealistic sea fog. Carpenter wants you to fear the unknown by not knowing exactly what’s out there.

But the death scenes are just too much, in that they sometimes feel like they’re ripped from a made-for-TV movie that you might watch just cause you’re bored. As I said before, the lepers are overly polite, and perform a sinister knock on the door before they hack and slash. That gives us about three different times where someone opens the front door, stands in the doorway for 20 seconds asking, “Who’s there?” and then is stabbed through the back as they turn to go back inside.

Is it fun? Oh my god, yes. Is it good filmmaking? Not really.   

Despite some obvious criticisms of the film as a whole, the cast is decidedly stellar. Adrienne Barbeau makes her film debut as Stevie Wayne, the radio host who literally every resident of Antonio Bay is tuned into at all times (1980s!). Stevie Wayne is the film’s badass — a single mom working overtime while also fighting off mutant lepers in her lighthouse radio studio. And although there were other solid choices by the casting department, Stevie Wayne’s character is the only one to move the needle in terms of emotional attachment from the viewer.

Jamie Lee Curtis plays an unlucky hitchhiker who stumbles into Antonio Bay on the wrong night, and Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh (Psycho, 1960) is the mayor, who is trying to make sure the town’s centennial celebration goes off without a hitch (she fails). It’s great seeing both of these actresses on screen, but their scenes don’t have nearly as much at stake as Barbeau’s.

This is a perfect film for the month of October, but I wouldn’t put it among the many scary movie classics out there. It’s good to catch on TV and see more of John Carpenter’s early work, but it just doesn’t stand up to his other, more popular films.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Werewolf

Directed by: John Landis

Written by: John Landis

Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne

“The undead surround me. Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring! I’m lonely! Kill yourself, David, before you kill others.” — Griffin Dunne as Jack

•  •  •

My barometer for horror films directly correlates to a scene in the movie Juno in which Ellen Page and Jason Bateman argue over who is the “ultimate master of horror.”

“We’re talking about buckets of goo. I mean, there’s red corn syrup all over the place. There’s fake brains comin’ out the yin-yang,” Bateman says about Herschell Gordon Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore.

That’s what I want from a scary movie. The more over-the-top and outrageous the blood and monsters appear, the better. And boy, do we get over-the-top in An American Werewolf in London.

The movie’s plot is simple enough: Two Americans traveling in the English countryside are attacked by a werewolf. One survives (David Naughton as David), but the other (Griffin Dunne as Jack) sticks around from the afterlife to try and get his friend to kill himself before the next full moon (which, of course, he doesn’t).

Makeup mastermind Rick Baker (Men in Black, A New Hope, The Ring) more than earned the Academy Award he received for working on this film. There are plenty of simple delights from the makeup department, such as the tiny flap of skin that dangles from the undead neck of Jack the first time he visits David from beyond the grave.

There’s also the pleasure in seeing how David continues to decompose each subsequent time he appears on screen. Baker takes real care in simultaneously making you nauseous and giggle.

But the master stroke of this movie comes when David finally transforms into the werewolf. Actor David Naughton had to sit in the makeup chair for 10 hours a day for an entire week of filming to pull the scene off. It was worth it, as Naughton releases blood-curdling screams when each part of his body extends with the skin-crawling sound of bones cracking and stretching. When you watch the scene you can actually see the labor that went into it, as this isn’t a computer-made transformation. All the work is manual, and it’s absolutely remarkable.

An American Werewolf in London is capped by a top-notch soundtrack that features only songs relating to the moon. “Bad Moon Rising” by CCR plays the scene before the transformation, and the doo-wop classic “Blue Moon” keys up as the end credits begin to roll. Each song adds just the perfect spice to the bizarre horror-comedy that unfolds before you.

It’s almost October, which means that there will be a lot of horror movies I need to watch in the next month. Stay tuned, and let me know if there are any favorites you have that should be added to my never-ending list of Films I Should Have Seen By Now.

Aliens (1986)

Aliens

Directed by: James Cameron

Written by: James Cameron and David Giler

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn

“That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?” — Bill Paxton as Private Hudson

•  •  •

I really wanted to like this movie, damn it.

Even in 2017, the hype was undeniable. James Cameron, fresh off his legacy-launching job at the helm of The Terminator, was directing the sequel to arguably the best science fiction film of the 20th century. Everyone I’ve talked to about Aliens has heaped praise upon it. I went into this movie expecting it to be bigger and scarier than the original.

But it’s just bigger. And more annoying.

The original Alien thrives by putting a small crew in a claustrophobic hellhole from which there is no escape. It works because the smaller cast makes each character actually take on a life — whereas Aliens brings an entire squad of marines into the picture, for the sole purpose of being able to have more kill sequences without running out of human ammo. But I just can’t bring myself to care about any of those characters. In fact, they’re not even characters —  they’re just pawns being sent out to be destroyed en masse.

This movie is aggravatingly predictable across the board. In the first film, Ian Holm plays a traitorous android whose sole mission is to get the “perfect organism” back to the company, with the rest of the crew ID’d as expendable. In the sequel, we have Bishop, an android who from the start Ripley distrusts and despises loudly and openly. But of course James Cameron isn’t going to play the same villain trick again, and there’s a sense that Bishop has to do something to redeem the viewers’ negative impressions of androids (which of course he does).

Paul Reiser with his charming baby blues plays Burke, the new company man. Let’s not forget that this is the same company that sold out the crew in the first film in order to get the alien back to Earth and study it. But don’t worry! Everything is different now, and Burke assures Ripley that he wants to help destroy these creatures at all costs, which no sane viewer can buy for even a millisecond.

This all sets up a suicide mission in which the characters plunge down onto a space colony that has been torn apart by the xenomorph aliens. Everyone’s dead. Well, except for Newt, the young girl who has somehow survived while hiding among the wreckage, just waiting for Ripley to show up. Ripley takes on a motherly role for the child, and the dynamic between the two is one of the real enjoyable aspects of Aliens. Sigourney Weaver received an Oscar nod for best actress, and I have to believe that the scenes between her and the young actress Carrie Henn are a big reason for the nomination.

The movie’s strongest moments come through effects and makeup, and there are some truly dazzling sequences. The xenomorphs remain terrifying, and now that there’s an entire horde of them, chaos and violence follows wherever they roam. And that can be a whole lot of fun, don’t get me wrong.

But I can’t excuse the lazy storyline that just doesn’t have enough emotional bite to captivate me. There was a phenomenal sequel that could have been made here. Cameron just didn’t make it.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

illustration

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Melissa Mathison

Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote

This is one of those movies that, in a way, gave impetus to the idea for this blog. I’m not exactly sure how I got to be 25 years old without ever seeing this 1982 Steven Spielberg classic, but the fact that I did really seemed to upset people.

I talked with my parents on the phone recently, and they were adamant that we had watched this movie together as a family — but I don’t believe them. Or at least I wasn’t alive yet when the family watched it.

Anyway, seeing E.T. for the first time as an adult in 2017 admittedly does take away some of the magic. Some of — OK, a lot of — the child acting is grating, and the special effects obviously don’t cause the same jaw-dropping reactions they would have if I had watched the movie when I was younger.

If I had seen those kids on their bikes flying in front of the moon 15 years ago, my imagination would have run wild. I would have wanted to hop on my bicycle and zoom around the neighborhood as soon as the credits rolled. Watching it today, it’s hard not to just see the ridiculous use of green screen.

That said, Spielberg is a master at creating atmosphere, and the alien invading suburbia plot works so well in E.T. I especially like how the only adult showed in the first half of the movie is protagonist Elliott’s frustratingly clueless mother. All other adults — including the great villain-turned-hero “Mr. Keys” — are filmed from the waist down until the very end of the film.

So Spielberg creates this world that we experience from the child’s point of view, which is incredibly smart in making us believe this boy-alien relationship. It blocks out any encroaching “realness” of the outside world, and keeps the viewers — like the children — in a bubble.

There’s a scene in the middle of the movie that really stood out for being from an earlier time. Most people probably remember it because E.T. cracks open a few Coors and gets comically drunk while Elliott is away at school. But do you remember what Elliott was doing at school? He and his classmates are about to dissect frogs. But before they do this, they have to freaking chloroform live frogs in a jar.

Is this the way the world used to work? Did schools actually pass out live frogs and tell children, “OK, you take it from here.”

“They won’t feel anything,” the teacher tells the class as he instructs these 10-year-olds to kill a living creature. Elliot famously saves the day, and the result is a flurry of frogs hopping out of the windows.

Thirty-five years after its release, E.T. struggles to stay enjoyable in ways that other earlier Spielberg films (Jaws, Jurassic Park) don’t. I really don’t want to harp on the child actors too much, but Henry Thomas is just bad. Really bad. He can pull off amazement and wonder, but line delivery just isn’t his strong suit. I kept feeling like I wanted to escape his performance, but there was no way out. He’s in it nearly every scene — and it wore me down.