Title: The Terror Within (1989) Rated: R
Directed by: Thierry Notz Written by: Thomas McKelvey Cleaver Starring: Andrew Stevens as David George Kennedy as Hal Starr Andreeff as Sue Terri Treas as Linda Tagline: “It wants to get out!”
By Jason Plissken
Pre-screening memories: I am a creature of habit. It was evidenced the the sheer volume of films I would watch throughout my childhood. You see, in high school I would work at Ruby Tuesday’s and arrive back home rather late. After still being hopped up on fried cheese and chili, I would unwind by sitting on the sofa and watch something lurid or scary, or, on those perfect ‘kismet’ evenings, something with a little of both.
Skinemax was always a good pudescent primer, where I witnessed Valley of the Dollsfor my first time, and then went on to watch it’s Roger Ebert-penned sequel. On other evenings, monsters were on the bill. For if there was anything guaranteed to populate wee-hour movie channels of the 80s, it was breasts and beasts.
Truth be told, I never watched the entire film as a teen. I couldn’t. For it only took a few minutes to send me darting upstairs to bed and seeking shelter of my covers, never to return to the nightmarish visions I saw on the screen that night.
You see, one particular evening, I saw this advertised in the TV Guide and new it was right up my alley. After a holocaust, a group of survivors in a underground bunker battle mutated creatures threatening to take over. It also featured inter-species lovin’ which would result in the birth of a horrible mutant alien baby.
Unfortunately, I was lulled into a slumber after a particularly grueling evening at the restaurant before the film even began. I awoke during a pivotal scene in which the titular “terror” descended from the rafters to lay waste to one of the main characters. That scene, combined with my groggy awakening from my onion-ring-induced nap, led me to retreat from the film, never to visit it again.
The podcast: We are excited to have another special guest for this special episode, Mr. Bruce Barlow, one of the special effects artists for legendary producer Roger Corman’s ‘The Terror Within.’ In this episode, Bruce recounts the conditions under which the film’s most memorable scene — an alien baby birth — was constructed and shot. Bruce also recounts moments throughout his career in the special effects industry, which includes Ghoulies II, Critters 2: The Main Course, Munchies, Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain and Dinocroc. You can see a sample of Bruce’s work right here, shot during the film’s aforementioned slimy baby alien birth.
A big ‘thank you’ to Bruce for his time, wit and wisdom for walking with us through this memorable little creature feature and be sure to check out Bruce’s website MonsterFX5 to keep updated on all of Bruce’s latest endeavors.
In true Corman fashion, our audio was not up to snuff on the recording of the film, so the clips from it may sound a bit ‘tinny.’ For that, we apologize, but luckily Bruce was here to liven up the proceedings. As always, you can click herefor the podcast, or listen below:
Title: American Graffiti (1973) Rated: PG
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas and Gloria Katz Starring: Ron Howardas Steve Bolander Richard Dreyfuss as Curt Henderson Charles Martin Smith as Terry ‘The Toad’ Fields Cindy Williams as Laurie Henderson Candy Clarkas Debbie Dunham Mackenzie Phillips as Carol Tagline: “Where were you in ’62?”
Contributor Pete Hayes goes cruising down the strip with Mark aka Kip Pullman, the owner of ‘Kip Pullman’s American Graffiti’ website to relive the sights, and most importantly the sounds of the seminal coming-of-age film from George Lucas.
Mark’s site is the go-to resource for all things ‘American Graffiti,’ and he shares his encyclopedic knowledge of the film, the soundtrack, behind-the-scenes trivia and his own tales of his first time witnessing ‘American Graffiti’ with his father. (A big thanks to Mark for all his knowledge in this episode!)
Find out if the return trip was worth the drive for Pete as he navigates his way down memory lane by clicking here, or listening below (and turn the sound up loud enough for your neighbors to hear it!).
Title: The Black Hole (PG) Directed by: Gary Nelson Written by: Jeb Rosenbrook and Bob Barbash
Starring: Anthony Perkins as Dr. Alex Durant Maximillian Schell as Dr. Hans Reinhardt Yvette Mimeux as Dr. Kate McCrea Robert Forester as Captain Dan Holland Roddy McDowell as the voice of V.I.N.Cent Slim Pickens as the voice of B.O.B. Tagline: A journey that begins where everything ends!
The Black Hole was another one of those movies that I was familiar with because of gossip around the playground. I had been too young to see it when it was first released, and without cable or a VCR there was really no chance to see it, so all I had to go on were the exaggerated stories of my classmates, and the toy Maxmillian that hung on store shelves. I never actually had the Maxmilian myself, although I always treasured my VINCent figure. I’d had enough time playing with the Maxmilian model at friend’s houses and heard enough of their tall tales about him to understand just how absolutely cool he was, and to cement my determination to see the film.
At around six or seven years old, I finally managed to see The Black Hole, thanks to an uncle who had both cable and a VCR, and it has the distinction of being the first film I remember being so upset by that I was unable to continue watching. The memories are so fuzzy that I can’t even judge how far into the film the disturbing part occurred, and time has left most of the film’s details as little more than fuzzy images in my mind. Men gathered around machinery, talking about science that I couldn’t understand. Lots of walking down long hallways with weird monks. Of course, the adorable floating robots, one of whom I remember feeling very sorry for because he looked so sad and beaten up.
And then Maxmilian gutted someone with a spinning claw, and my experiences with the film ended abruptly. I can’t swear that it was an especially graphic scene of violence, or even that it had no place in a G-rated film, but the image of a person being gutted by a deadly robot arm was so burned into my mind that it became the focus of my nightmares for years to come. The fact that it was Maxmillian, a figure second only to Darth Vader in my imagination when it came to cool villains, made it all the worse. Years of having the robot built up, his cool design capturing my imagination, led to it almost feeling like a betrayal to see him performing such a brutal act. Even as a child, I understood that he was the villain, and that was what villains do, but the quality of the action he took was far more intense than I was obviously prepared for – as evidenced by the fact that my screams of horror led my mother to turn the film off then and there, and my traumatized associations with the film kept me from ever watching it again.
New Memories: You know what? I stand by my childhood cowardice. Although it was the only truly intense scene in the film, that gutting is basically as intense as you can get in a PG-rated film. It’s also a perfect example of how to get an incredible reaction without any blood. Anthony Perkins (who I did not remember was in the film!) is trapped in front of a door with Maxmilian’s spinning claw thrusting towards him – he holds up a book to defend himself – the claw spins right through the book and into Anthony Perkins. We don’t see what it does to him, he screams and then his body is tossed into some circuitry, but we saw what it did to the book, and that’s enough to let our imagination fill in the details. Something my imagination has actually been doing for most of my life. I think the reason this weighed so heavily on me is because it’s one of those rare moments of intense violence that made it into my extremely young viewing material. There’s basically just this, the earwig from Wrath of Khan, and my aforementioned experiences with Swamp Thing. It’s obvious that all the buildup of Maxmilian in my mind led to the kill in the movie being a key moment, but it’s important to note that it really is an intense sequence. Look at the only character to be a cooler villain than Maxmilian, Darth Vader. Across three films he kills a total of four people (not counting rebel spaceships he shoots down), and all of them in the most bloodless way possible. The heroes are cutting some people apart and blasting holes in others, while Darth uses a light saber to make a guy disappear, throws another down a pit, and, in the least bloodless murder method possible, uses remote-control strangulation on the other two. These aren’t really the things nightmares are made of.
Now for a discussion of the actual movie. My three-word review? Schizophrenia on celluloid. The Black Hole seems to have no idea what it’s trying to accomplish. Is it a meditation on the point at the end of scientific knowledge, where the limits of our perceptions and measurements lead us to a terrifying place where science and religion become one? Is it a wacky comedy about sassy robots? Is it an action-thriller about spacemen battling evil robots? I have no idea, and I just watched the movie. If it weren’t for the great art design tying everything together, I’d be left wondering if the individual scenes hadn’t been snagged from unrelated films and edited together. On its most basic level (ten or fifteen script drafts before production, I’d wager), the film seems to be a reworking of The Tempest set against a purloined vision of 2001’s future. There’s just enough of the original film in there to make me wish I was watching it – the actors are good enough to express the themes that the dialogue isn’t quite up to making clear, but for every scene that features characters essentially debating whether or not morality has any relevance in the field of scientific research, there’s another scene where pompous robots get into target-shooting competitions with each other to prove which model is superior.
And what robots they are. It’s hard to express to someone who hasn’t seen the film just how much damage V.I.N.Cent. does to the credibility of every scene he’s in. It was a daring choice to one-up to attempt to make the robots actual characters in the film, rather than just passive devices needed to move the plot along, as they had been in Star Wars. The attempt by the filmmakers is in no way helped by the utter failure of Vincent and B.O.B.’s design. While the zombies and Maxmilian look like they realistically belong in the world of the film, Vincent looks like a cartoon character brought to life, as if the whole thing was based on a long-running French comic strip, where the bizarre exaggeration of his huge eyes and ball legs made perfect sense, but then the filmmakers were too faithful to the source material and tried to recreate him exactly, winding up with an awkward thing that looks utterly out of place standing next to real people.
If nothing else, I’ll give The Black Hole this – it really made me fall in love with model-makers and matte artists all over again. The film is packed with FX shots panning around the Cygnus, and it looks fantastic every time, as do the endless hallways that fill it. While it may not ever have an important place in cinema history, if anyone ever wants some examples of two wonderful artistic disciplines that CGI has bludgeoned to death, they need look no farther.
For a journey back in Black, click here, or warp down below:
Film: House (1986)
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Fred Dekker and Ethan Wiley
Starring: William Kattas Roger Cobb George Wendt as Richard Moll as Big Ben Kay Lenz as Sandy Sinclair Tagline: Horror has found a new home.
Pre-Screening Memories: To be fair, I loved the movie Houseas a kid.Really loved it.Despite the R rating it carried, it was a movie that was harmless enough to keep the parents from fretting, and it contained enough gore and strangeness to keep a newly crowned teenager coming back for more.My memories of the film were faint, but not too obscured by time to feel as distant as, say, Explorers.I still think trauma may have had something to do with that one.
So, House is the story of Roger Cobb, a horror novelist who moves into his aunt’s home after her death.The house is filed with memories, both of Roger’s youth with his aunt and the disappearance of Roger’s son.Roger recalls seeing the young tyke in the pool, but, after jumping in after the kid, finds himself alone in the pool.Much like a werewolf bar mitzvah, that is both spooky and scary.
Roger finds himself alone in the house, separated from soap opera actress/wife Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz), devoted to the idea that he is finally going to write his Vietnam memoirs. Unfortunately, Roger is beset by odd neighbors, including Harold (George Wendt from Cheers), and some poltergeists, one of which is quite scratchy and lives in the closet.Metaphor, anyone?Seriously, though, the house comes at Roger from some odd angles.The missing kid showing up in the window’s reflection, a troll-like version of his wife, and the phantom of his dead aunt, warning him about the house’s attempts to trick Roger.
Ultimately, the movie marries the threads of Roger’s Vietnam memories and his missing son, culminating in a showdown between a zombified war buddy and Roger.I remember reading a review of this movie in a rag called The Horror Showfrom my youth which ended with the line (and I’m certainly paraphrasing from memory), “The film ends, perhaps not in as satisfying a manner as one would like, but, like all nightmares, it does end.”I think that’s about right.The problem I’ve found with almost all ‘haunted house’ movies is that, once you establish the creepiness of the haunting, how do you end it?Do you personify the house in a single entity like in House or do you go all psychological like The Haunting?I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s an appropriate question.
New Memories: Upon viewing this movie as an adult, I couldn’t bring myself to dislike it.There are some goofy effects, some jokes that fall flat, some moments when the tone doesn’t quite jive, but I couldn’t hate it.House is the cinematic equivalent of a puppy for a horror fan.It just wants to please you soooo much, and it often succeeds, but it’s the effort that counts.The story, by and large, makes sense, and I really like television’s The Greatest American Hero, William Katt, in this one.I think he gives a pretty fun performance, if not always a consistent one.It was an important film for me as a burgeoning horror fan, understanding the delicate balance between horror and comedy.I have now seen House twice since my reintroduction to the movie, and it has been a wholly satisfying experience. It does my heart good to hear that a new generation has discovered this movie, this strange movie.Much like Big Ben, it won’t lay down and die, and I, for one, am happy to hear it.
Ethan Wiley makes a return to the House with Bo and Rob and recalls some fascinating tales from his years in the business, from sweeping floors at Industrial Light and Magic, to his puppeteering prowess in Gremlins and the mad skills of John Ratzenberger. Check out Ethan’s site as well, Wiseacre Films, for news on his current projects.
A big ‘thanks’ to Ethan for his contribution to this episode! You can hear it all here, or scroll down just a little bit: