Memory: The Origins of Alien


You never want to mess with the furies.

2019) Documentary (Screen Media) Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Diane O’Bannon, Ben Mankiewicz, Ronald Shusett, Roger Corman, Roger Christian, Ivor Powell, William Linn, Clarke Wolf, Axelle Carolyn, Henry Jenkins, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Carmen Scheifele-Giger, Gary Sherman, Linda Rich, Mickey Faerch, Rhoda Pell, Shannon Muchow.  Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

 

One of the classics of its time was Ridley Scott’s Alien, which came out in 1979. While it wasn’t the first movie to meld horror and science fiction, it is certainly one of the best examples of both genres. Even now, 40 years after its initial release, the movie still terrifies and inspires.

Over the years there have been plenty of “making-of” documentaries about the film but few have taken the tack that this one has. Philippe, best known for his dissection of Hitchcock’s shower scene from Psycho in his documentary 78/52, looks more at the gestation of the film culminating in its infamous “chestburster” birthing scene which in 1979 caused audience jaws to collectively drop. Even today, new viewers of the film going in unprepared can be taken unawares.

Philippe does a deep dive into writer Dan O’Bannon’s influences to begin with; from his fascination with Greek and Egyptian mythologies to the loathing of insects he developed on the Missouri farm he grew up on to his eventual love for writer H.P. Lovecraft, no stone goes unturned in discussing where the ideas for Alien germinated. O’Bannon’s widow Diane (her husband passed away in 2009 of complications from the Crohn’s disease he lived with all his life) acts as something of a shepherdess, guiding us through his initial filmmaking foray (Dark Star which he co-directed with John Carpenter) through an abortive Dune project with Mexican surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky but which introduced him to the work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger and through the frustrating attempts to sell what would become his masterpiece. Giger’s influences are also briefly summarized as well as a lengthy discussion of painter Francis Bacon’s influence on the look of the chestburster scene (I would have preferred a little more time spent on Giger but that’s just me).

The documentary isn’t as comprehensive as The Beast Within, the making-of documentary that first appeared on the DVD edition of The Alien Quadrilogy which collected the first four films of the franchise along with an array of special features. In fact, some of the archival interviews from that feature appear here, projected onto video screens on a faux bridge of the Nostromo, a touch I liked very much.

There is a very intellectual approach to the film; there are interviews with respected critics and film historians such as Axelle Carolyn, Ben Mankiewicz and Clarke Wolf. There are also contemporary interviews with some of the cast and crew of the film including Cartwright and Skerritt (but interestingly enough, not Scott or Sigourney Weaver whose career essentially began with the film). There is discussion of how the politics of 1979 affected the film and how some of the social points are still relevant (the expendability of the working-class crew, for example).

In many ways, this is an excellent lead-in for those who haven’t yet seen the film although I can’t imagine someone willing to invest the time on a detailed examination of a movie they haven’t seen. Fans of the movie will no doubt enjoy this even though some of the on-set stories have been told elsewhere.

Almost by necessity there is an endless parade of talking heads although it is well-dispersed with footage from the film as well as behind-the-scenes footage, particularly when the examination of the chestburster scene finally arrives about halfway through. I don’t honestly know if this is the definitive documentary about the film – it really doesn’t examine the movie’s effect and legacy except in very broad terms. Still, fans of the movie will find the academic approach different and perhaps enlightening. It reminds me of the early days of DVDs and VHS home video releases when certain movies got documentaries that really gave great insight into the development of the film unlike the modern back-slapping love-fests that you see these days when you see anything at all.

REASONS TO SEE: Definitely a godsend for fans of the movie.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be too detailed for the casual fan.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as horrific images from the original film.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is one of the first purchases by the fan-owned entertainment company, Legion M.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/6/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews: Metacritic: 70/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Empire of Dreams
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Wallflower

The Bleeding House


 

The Bleeding House

This isn’t the Fuller Brush man.

(2011) Horror (Tribeca) Alexandra Chando, Patrick Breen, Betsy Aidem, Charlie Hewson, Nina Lisandrello, Richard Bekin, Henderson Wade, Court Young, Victoria Dalpe. Directed by Phillip Gelatt

 

Your sins will generally find you out, and karma can come in an ice cream suit. Yeah, you’ve heard it before. Most of us do what we have to do to survive and occasionally we dodge what we perceive to be a bullet; but sometimes that lands us into a far worse situation.

The Smiths live on the outside of town, isolated and generally left to themselves. They are not really welcome in town; there was a fire which killed a family in town that the Smiths were pretty much credited with setting. However the father, Matt (Bekin) who is a crack lawyer, got his wife Marilyn (Aidem) off for the crime – she was the one accused. Ever since, the Smiths have been social pariahs.

Daughter Gloria (Chando) doesn’t really care. She’s a bit on the off side, prone to pinning insects to her wall and also to fits of rage. Quentin (Hewson) is the normal one in the family – the young son who yearns to leave this house and live somewhere where nobody knows who his family is or what they are accused of doing. His girlfriend Lynne (Lisandrello) urges him to leave and he finally, now that he’s turned 18, has the gumption to do just that.

Into this unnerving and volatile mix comes Nick (Breen), a sweet-talking stranger of excessive politeness wearing a white suit that Tom Wolfe might have owned. His car has broken down and a mechanic won’t be available until the morning. Would it be possible for him to spend the night as temperatures are expected to go down below freezing that evening? Matt is reluctant but Marilyn sees this as an opportunity to have an act of charity change the opinion of the townspeople regarding the Smiths. As Matt has just recently lost the position of running a high-profile case that would have turned around the family’s ailing fortunes, every bit of positive spin on the family is needed.

Of course, horror film veterans will know that Nick isn’t who he claims to be and that what happened the night of the fire is far different than what anybody in town has realized. The sins of the family are about to come to roost and who will be left standing at the end is anybody’s guess.

There is an air of Southern gothic here (although I think the film is set in the Northeast) mostly provided by Breen, who oozes silky, snaky charm. The theme of Biblical retribution adds to that feel, although the rest of the cast wisely stays away from acting in that style, a juxtaposition that adds to the movie’s allure.

Horror fans may find the movie a bit slow-moving, particularly in terms of the murders but fear not – when they do come, they are gruesome if not inventive. Gelatt prefers to let you know what’s coming and allows his characters to be aware that they are about to die. It adds to the psychological torture of the victims and of course that is transferred to the audience who squirm in their seats either hoping that the victims will get away or for certain sorts to hope that the murderer finishes the deeds.

There really isn’t much that is going to surprise veteran horror fans, which goes in the negative column; the secret that the Smiths are hiding isn’t really hard to figure out although there are some nice touches, such as Marilyn cutting the meat for the family (including the stranger Nick) because the knives are locked away where a certain member of the family can’t get at them (no points if you figure out which one).

While the story isn’t particularly new or told in a fashion that is fresh, it’s still a pretty fair tale and given how Breen carries the movie with slick Southern charm, you’ll be hooked in unless, of course, horror isn’t to your taste. If it is, this is one of those movies that kind of fell by the wayside that didn’t get the press coverage or fanboy love that it might have deserved. If you’re looking for something you didn’t see in the theaters to rent one dark night, this one might just be the movie you’re looking for.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-made and tautly paced. Breen is deliciously malevolent. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Plot points are telegraphed more than a little bit. Payoff twist is nice but not really surprising.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of graphic violence, a few bad words and some disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chando was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Best Younger Actress for her work in “As the World Turns.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Septien

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers