Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Horror Out of Space

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (2001): written by Larry Sulkis and John Carpenter; directed by John Carpenter; starring Natasha Henstridge (Lt. Ballard), Ice Cube (Desolation Williams), Jason Statham (Sgt. Jericho), Clea DuVall (Kincaid), Pam Grier (Commander Braddock), and Joanna Cassidy (Whitlock): Grungy, grimy sci-fi horror-Western from the great John Carpenter. It's worn really well, possibly because it's the antithesis of today's PG-rated, CGI-heavy action movies. The cast is a hoot. Teaming up the Amazonian blonde Henstridge (Species) with Ice Cube is all sorts of awesome. 

There's some smarts in the movie's back-story, and some thrills in the various explosion-heavy battles with the monsters on Mars. One sometimes wishes for better monsters. So it goes. The premise works as a weird sort-of-sequel to Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit (a.k.a. Five Million Years to Earth). Carpenter worked with Kneale while producing Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, for which Kneale wrote a screenplay that he then took his name off because of concerns about the film's violence. Hmm. Recommended.

Alien: 2003 Director's Cut (1979/2003): partially based on the stories "Black Destroyer" and "Discord in Scarlet" by A.E. Van Vogt; written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shushett; directed by Ridley Scott; starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Parker): As a restored, director's cut on BluRay, Alien looks terrific. It's like a whole different movie, with the looming alien ship and surrounding wasteland dominating the proceedings (and dwarfing the puny humans) in the first half. One forgets how gradually things build: it's nearly an hour before the real horrors erupt, but once they do, they come in a flurry. 

The cast is uniformly fine. The Director's Cut adds in several scenes in which the cast interacts, countering the crew's isolation from one another in the original cut. Yaphet Kotto's Parker benefits most from the restoration -- he's clearly the second protagonist now after Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. Like her, he's also the voice of Reason throughout the film. 

The set design and Ridley Scott's shooting of it is another character in the movie. The future has never looked like such a combination of the Gothic and the industrial. And there's the Alien itself in its various manifestations, kept off-screen or only partially glimpsed until the climax. It's still a masterpiece of design based on H.R. Giger's creepy ideas. 

The re-insertion of a scene that prefigures the colonist-stocked alien 'nursery' of Aliens is the most gratifying addition, especially for those of us who first encountered the scene in Alan Dean Foster's novelization of Alien way back in 1979. A Lovecraftian, haunted-house-in-space masterpiece that's probably still Ridley Scott's best movie. No sequel or prequel has surpassed it in terms of a horror movie that combines the cosmic with body horror. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. If anything ALIEN has gotten better with age! At the time I think a lot of critics felt it was just an overdone 1950s monster movie. And I read that novelization too, you're right about that scene being so gratifying.