Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Thing (1982) - A Crazy Brainfreeze Theory

First and foremost, as it shouldn’t need to really be said, there will be spoilers in this piece…so if you haven’t seen this film, stop reading NOW!

John Carpenter’s The Thing has become one of the all-time cult classics, often revered by fans as a perfect film – and rightfully so, as it pretty much is.  The 1982 film was initially killed at the box office by E. T., as moviegoers preferred a friendlier alien that summer, but in the decades since, it has rightfully found its audience through home video.  In debates about remakes, The Thing is usually cited at the top of the list, due to its skillful expansion on the original source material of John W. Campbell, Jr.'s Who Goes There?

The success of The Thing can be attributed to many different factors; its brilliant script by Bill Lancaster, the jaw-shattering practical special effects by Rob Bottin, its claustrophobic Antarctica setting and, most importantly, its top-notch cast of characters.  Each actor, from Wilford Brimley to Keith David to Kurt Russell brings their A-Game and ups the ante of suspense, making the audience constantly second-guess “who is The Thing?”

Even today, fans still debate the ambiguous ending where Russell’s MacReady and Keith David’s Childs sit across from one another in the burnt out remains of US Outpost 31, their guard still up as to which one of them may be The Thing.  Of course, the general consensus is that Childs is The Thing as he shows no breath coming from his mouth.  This theory is only further cemented by the fact that Russell is the star of the film and there’s absolutely NO way the hero could actually be the villain right?  There have even been fan theories that MacReady is aware that Childs is The Thing as he offers him a drink – which may or may not be gasoline and not truly liquor (as The Thing wouldn’t be able to tell the difference). 

But…what if R.J. MacReady was actually The Thing all along?

Think about it; The Thing’s ultimate goal is to survive by any means possible.  As any great horror/sci-fi protagonist would, MacReady surely goes to great extremes to ensure his survival by the films’ final reel.  Throughout the film, MacReady desperately tries to convince his companions that he is truly human and that one of them is actually The Thing; I’m not saying that one of them ISN’T…but that they’re also The Thing.  If MacReady was The Thing as well, wouldn’t the ultimate sign of self-preservation be to expose and eliminate a lesser version of itself – in a basic sacrificial lamb fashion?  In this particular case, the blood test sequence and, especially the scene where Bennings Thing has its freak out in front of everyone out in the snow. 

Each time the group believes to have exposed and killed The Thing after it has copied one of their own, the extermination is not in vain as it’s for the Greater Good of The Thing’s survival.  This also adds a win for MacReady Thing, as its number of antagonists dwindles with each reveal and destruction.  
If The Thing is all about adapting and learning, why couldn’t MacReady Thing assimilate quicker and learn the blame game that is being played out amongst the characters?   After all, the computer game of chess that MacReady is playing when we first meet him is shown for a reason.  He’s either under the radar or making himself stand out as the “leader” by organizing the tests and finger-pointing those who are The (lesser advanced) Things.  If MacReady was The Thing, hiding in plain sight and orchestrating the events of the film would be a flawless cover.
Ultimately, the greatest ruse that The Thing could do would be to fool not only all the men at US Outpost 31, but also the film's audience for the past 30+ years!

Monday, March 7, 2016

NIGHTMARE 2 Ain't So Bad...from a certain point of view

This is NOT the right logo...signaling that we're in for a very different Nightmare...
For all intents and purposes, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 is frankly, the bastard son of the Elm Street series.  With its seemingly blatant disregard for rules established in the original film, its lack of the famous Bernstein score, and overall lapses in logic throughout its 87 minute runtime, some fans would even put it below Freddy’s Dead!  

Perhaps the biggest complaint about Nightmare 2 is the pool party massacre and how it should be impossible for Freddy to be attacking a bunch of kids who seemingly aren’t asleep! 

Time has been kind to Freddy’s Revenge though, as the film has finally found its audience through its genre-bending “final boy” structure and its blatant homosexual ticks in its characterizations and screenplay.  Fans now seem to embrace the fact that the film’s hero is a boy (who may or may not be struggling with sexual identity issues – it’s really the viewer’s call), a plot choice that was actually pretty daring and bold in 1985, in the height of the “Final Girl” string in Horror.  

Recently, I’ve watched the film through a different perspective and, honestly, it makes for a much better and more entertaining film.  In short, Nightmare 2 is a film where Freddy isn’t actually in it – not quite like the body-hopping of Jason Goes To Hell though – and doesn’t really do any of the killings in it.

Let me explain….

Jesse Walsh is the new kid in Springwood.  Even if one wanted to dig deeper into his struggles for sexual identity and that he’s actually in the closet, another way to view the character is that he’s just trying to find his identity as “the new kid”.  Sure, he’s got a hot girl who’s into him and a solid friendship with the likes of Ron Grady (again, the homosexual angle could go in this direction), but just sticking to the “new kid” angle also works here for the sake of this piece
Mark Patton as Jesse Walsh
Freddy has been dead and lying dormant since the events of Nightmare 1, as Jesse has after all moved into Nancy Thompson’s old house.  He’s looking for a way back to power and he’s found the perfect gateway through Jesse Walsh.  Now, don’t get me wrong:  there are nightmares in this film though they’re mostly just affecting Jesse himself and this is the way that Freddy is able to get to him and, ultimately, drive him to murder.

That’s right…Jesse is the killer here.  He killed Schneider, Grady, and everyone at Lisa’s pool-party.  In fact, he even tells Lisa that Freddy tried to make him kill his little sister at one point.  Freddy himself even orders Jesse to “kill for me!” when he offers him the glove in the basement.

Given all the blood on him, it's obvious that Jesse sliced up Schneider.
During the scene where Schneider is killed, Jesse idly stands by in the shower, seemingly watching as the coach is dragged in and strung up before a hilariously fake-looking Freddy (actually a stuntman) wobbles out from the mist to finish the job. In fact, Jesse is overcome by the mist of the shower and “Freddy” emerges.  This explains why this particular Freddy looks so fake (obviously because it’s not Robert Englund), but also because it’s NOT Freddy.  Jesse, wearing Freddy’s glove, kills Schneider.  The appearance of Freddy here is only suggesting that it’s actually him who is doing the killing; under Freddy’s influence, this is how Jesse views himself as he kills….more on this when Grady is killed.

This looks more like a kid in a Freddy Halloween costume than it does Robert Englund!
Throughout the film, there are some rather odd things that happen in Jesse’s house – lightning striking the toaster, the overwhelming heat from the furnace (i.e.: Freddy’s burning fire increases as his power does), and exploding parakeets being some of the standouts.  These strange occurrences can be chalked up to Freddy’s power; obviously the entire family is not asleep and dreaming when their parakeet bursts into flames.  These events are all courtesy of Freddy’s flexing his muscles and tightening his grip of Jesse throughout the film.  This would also explain the human-face dogs and gnarly-face cat at the power plant during the last reel, too.

Again, Jesse’s struggle with his sexual identity could come into play once he flees Lisa’s pool party and sneaks into Grady’s bedroom.  Grady himself emphasizes this with “…and you want to sleep with me”.  However, for the sake of this piece, let’s again not look at it from this angle; instead just look at as THIS is who Freddy is willing Jesse to kill next – after all, he did try to get him to kill his little sister earlier, but Jesse was able to overcome that urge and win that battle. 

The fact that Grady falls asleep while he’s supposed to be vigilant is what finally brings Freddy out and causes Jesse to kill him.  In this scene, Jesse is wrestling with Freddy’s influence to kill Grady; this why Jesse is in such excruciating pain throughout.  All of the crazy body mutilation that the audience sees happening to Jesse in this scene is what he’s seeing happen to himself in his own mind as he figuratively is becoming Freddy…there’s no other way to explain how Freddy can emerge from Jesse’s mutilated body as if he were dropping a robe!  Grady, of course, is terrified by the way Jesse is acting as he puts on Freddy’s glove and prepares to attack; again, Freddy’s influence has interfered and locked Grady’s bedroom door. 

This is actually Jesse ready to attack Grady, who is terrified by his friend's sudden mood swing!
Once Grady is killed, a bloodied Jesse who is literally wearing Freddy’s glove sees Freddy in the mirror – this is how Jesse sees himself now that Freddy has won and made him kill again.    

It's Freddy whom Jesse sees himself as in his reflection.
One cool thing about Freddy's appearance from this scene on through the end credits is the fact that he's not wearing his glove (because Jesse has it obviously) and instead, has his blades protruding from his fingertips.  Seeing this as a kid always sort of bugged me...but now, I get it in the sense that it's showing Freddy in his most primal, evil form -- not unlike his look in Wes Craven's New Nightmare, where he's got blades coming out of all five fingers.

Back at Lisa’s house, Jesse returns exclaiming “I killed Grady” – because he actually did, which is why he is covered in his friend’s blood.  Like so many times before, he struggles with Freddy’s power and ultimately loses before attacking Lisa and the pool party.   When Freddy stands up in the living room, Lisa is seeing Jesse Walsh under the complete and total influence of Krueger.  She is NOT actually seeing Freddy.  Here, Jesse is again wearing the glove and trying desperately to kill her next!  The audience is only seeing Freddy for the rest of the film from this point on because, let’s face it, we’re watching A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 and we came to see Robert Englund – not some bloodied kid wearing the famous glove.

Jesse shows up, covered in Grady's blood...because he just killed him.

This is still Jesse that Lisa is seeing, but for the sake of entertainment, the audience sees what Jesse sees -- Freddy Krueger.
Freddy’s power manifests itself once more at the pool-party in various forms; locking the door to Lisa’s parents’ bedroom, turning up the heat in the pool, making the hotdogs explode, causing fires to randomly spring up throughout.  But again, it’s 100% Jesse Walsh (albeit covered in blood and in complete possession by Freddy) running around by the pool, slashing and killing party-goers. 

Picture Mark Patton running around in this scene, slashing up all these bros!
When Freddy stands in front of the fire, arms extended, and proclaims “you are all my children now”, imagine Jesse saying this.

Easily the most iconic image from Nightmare 2.
In the eyes of everyone at the pool party, Lisa’s dad included, Jesse has broken bad and has been killing everyone in sight!  Lisa’s dad is ready to shoot the kid to end the massacre, but she herself intervenes because of her love for Jesse; this elicits an expression of shock and surprise from Jesse/Freddy because A.) Jesse sees, from within Freddy’s grip, that Lisa may be able to help him and B.) Freddy sees her as an immediate threat to his control over Jesse – to which he responds by casually leaving the scene and heading to more familiar territory where he’ll have the upper hand. 

In short, any time that Freddy is on-screen and interacting with any characters other than Jesse Walsh, imagine that it’s actually Jesse himself.  I’m not sure if this theory has existed in fan circles or not, though it likely has, but it was certainly a new outlook on the film for me!  This perspective opened my eyes and imagination, ultimately resulting in me appreciating it in a much richer light.  It also adds a different and darker element to Freddy’s character – we do see brief hints of him possessing characters like Dan during the climax of Nightmare 5 and Maggie in Freddy’s Dead (the Broke Jay/burnout guy in Freddy vs. Jason doesn’t count though, as that film itself doesn’t count). Give it a try and I’m sure you’ll agree!
For more info on Nightmare 2, check out Mark Patton's upcoming documentary Scream, Queen!  My Nightmare on Elm Street  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Master Of Puppets: 30 Years of Riffs and Damage Jackals

The first song from Master of Puppets that I ever heard was "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"; it was the third song on the Seattle '89 video from the Live Shit:  Binge & Purge boxset.  Through the remainder of that live video, I was introduced to "Battery", "Master of Puppets", and finally "The Thing That Should Not Be".  For whatever reason, while I liked the songs, they didn't immediately click with me.  I had yet to buy the Puppets record on cassette and listen to the album in full.  At that point, I'd say I was still a "new Metallica" fan in every sense of the phrase. 

The following summer, while on a family vacation (with my best friend, Chris, along for the ride), I'd finally gotten on board.  

Some time after getting the Live Shit boxset, I vividly remember a phone call from Chris where he was praising the Puppets record, having just gotten it himself.  He even played part of the title track for me over the phone (this is not the way I'd recommend listening to a song).  Again, I wasn't interested...maybe because the songs were too long?

Back to that summer road trip though; during that entire trip, Chris was letting me wear some of his Metallica shirts -- Ride The Lightning being one of them, as I only had an original Damage, Inc. shirt that I'd found while rooting through the left behind belongings of the my grandmother's neighbors!  On that trip, we visited Delaware's own Fort Delaware.  During a tour of the fort's ground and empty, cavernous halls, I recall Chris singing the lyrics to "Sanitarium", as the sights we saw resembled just that!  For the rest of that trip, I borrowed Chris' cassette and digested it completely -- I was hooked!

Battery - the acoustic intro was interesting.  As the beautiful melody swelled and gave way to that crushing intro riff, it was ON for me.  While I don't recall my initial reaction to the song's lyrics, the line "cannot kill the family / Battery is found in me" always stood out for me.  As a pre-teen struggling to find his own identity and be a part of "something" (I wasn't a jock, a thug/pothead/rapper kid, or a nerd), I finally found my family.  Back then, I remember fondly struggling to sing along to the chorus since it was so damned fast!  The Live Shit Mexico City '93 version was an early, instant favorite though, that still ignites the same early feelings with its galloping riffs and tempos.  Today, the song gets me pumped when I'm needing some motivation!

Master Of Puppets - Let's put this out there right now:  I was never a druggie or a pothead.  Never was and never will be.  In the 7th grad, a lot of my friends got into that stuff because, I guess, they wanted to be seen as cool or fit in with the older kids (this was, after all, the height of Gangsta Rap and Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg were all over MTV).  It never appealed to me, though I did try and fit in with my own friends and their older friends -- some of who were the very same kids who bullied and tormented me in elementary school...no idea why I'd want to hang with those assholes, right?  Acceptance I guess?  

Anyway, on the posi side of this coin, there's always been my older cousin Tim McMahon.  He's been the older brother I never had and I've always looked up to him, even now as an adult in my thirties!  He introduced me to Hardcore Punk music and, more specifically, the Straight Edge lifestyle through various great bands and even his own band, Mouthpiece.  This lifestyle doesn't do drugs, smoke cigarettes, or drink booze.  All that indulgence just never appealed to me and still doesn't to this day.  It was in the 7th grade when I started identifying as Straight Edge, so discovering this song and getting its full impact at that time made perfect sense.

While its lyrics aren't specifically about that positive lifestyle, they paint a horrible, painful picture of what I can only imagine to be a never-ending nightmare of a life.

The laughter at the end of the song still scares me a bit!  The line "now your life is out of season" (specifically the way Hetfield sings it on the Seattle '89 video) always gives me a chill.  For sing-alongs, it doesn't get much better than the call and response of the verses and choruses to this track as far as I'm concerned.  Riff-wise?  There's an unbeatable main riff derived from the intro riff.  The solos and entire middle section are beautiful and crushing in the same breath.

The Thing That Should Not Be - if you don't know by now, Horror movies are kinda my thing, right?  "Thingy" is a musical Horror film.  Monster riffs that obliterate your eardrums and even your bones, this song has it all.  The echo effects on the vocals (especially during live performances) always strike me as evil and moody as hell.  One of the first import CDs I ever bought was an interview disc where Lars Ulrich discusses the soon-to-be-released Puppets record.  In it, he describes this track as being related to "The Call of Ktulu" from Ride The Lightning and how "Thingy" was a neighbor of Ktulu's who lived a few caves down from him.  That comical image has remained with me ever since!  VERY heavy riffs and tempo that make me wanna stomp!

Welcome Home (Sanitarium) - not as great as "Fade To Black", but still a favorite.  The intro and main riff are incredible and I find myself humming them all the time in any given situation throughout the day.  Lyrically, I can't relate exactly, but their sense of rising up from oppressors rings true to my elementary school bully days for sure...especially "Leave me the fuck alone" from classic live versions.

Disposable Heroes - epic story-telling.  Amazing, galloping riffage.  I instantly see the images portrayed in the lyrics while singing along. 

Leper Messiah - going back to that interview disc with Lars from '86, I love the images he paints of Jim and Tammy-Faye Baker types profiting off others who blindly follow and give their riches to greed in the name of being holy.  Great riffs, too.  The ending of "Lie...Lie...Lie..." is pretty sick, too.

Orion - to quote Cochise from The Warriors, "Magic.  A whole lotta magic."  While it's an instrumental, the riffs and melodies speak for the lack of lyrics.  When "Orion" is playing, I'm usually in a reflective mood, reminiscing days gone by and face I don't see anymore.  This one stirs up great memories and thoughtful smiles for me.  The middle section, of course, is the highlight...pure Cliff Burton.  There is so much emotion in this section whether it's the album version, the guitar/bass jams from the early '90s and '04 (or the other jams from '93), a proper live version, or the Through The Never sound check version.  Much like the photo montage over the end credits of Cliff 'Em All, I'm always thinking about friends or family members who have passed on while listening to this part of the song.  Also, riff-wise, Hetfield is a beast here.

Damage, Inc. - "fuck it all and fucking no regrets" . . . that line pretty much sums up the entire song and Metallica's general attitude (to this day).  As a fan, it sums up what being a fan means too; we're a family of jackals, rabid to the very end.  In some perverse way, both "Battery" and "Damage, Inc." resonate the Metallica Family message the same way that "Nothing Else Matters" does these days.  In elementary school and high school, this was the song that got me vibed up to take on the tasks at hand.  I'd easily rank this as my favorite song (depending on the day) or at least in the top 3 or 5.  The only (!) time I saw it played live, I just about lost my voice during the taped intro of Cliff's bass solo!