- ATTIC SPACE: Aliens, Elvis and Hollywood’s Master Plan by Bill Braun
by Christina Sng
Such a pretty face, I said,
Petting the little girl’s head.
Her parents looked on
Proudly, as I plucked it
Cleanly off her neck.
Letters on your passport, ink crumbling to soot under my thumb; the
corner of your mouth in black and white grains, a dye of dust. Creases
that pierce fragile papers—stamped across, scrawled on the dotted
line—the name signed with one border in mind. Travel scars. I wanted an
angel to wave you across an earthly river, dissolve wires with a
wingtip’s touch, a flash of fire earthed just long enough to save you.
No papers, no crowds. No shots among the leaning trees. Rust on these
pages, a reliquary smear; angels’ tears cannot be salt, must fall sweet
as a promise of learning, not the bitter lessons. I have no papers of
passage, no name that you do not know; I want your wings between me and
this dark, your scars to print me a road through the trees. Your
picture in my hand, your name burning on my tongue: mine whom I
abandoned, regent of my night.
No pomegranate, comb of bloodied
jewels and honey-pale pith, passed
hand to hand like an entrusted
heart: not in this underworld.
We choose; earth turns, grasses
underfoot no matter who walks
aboveground, who waits below;
sun poised beside moon, half-light
that reveals everything, halfway
from here to nowhere. Here,
now; no bargains sealed in sheaves
of tears, frost-blackened flowers
left to fall among the burning,
binding seeds. Only our hands
hold this river’s shores apart,
together: we walk our own ways.
The mist had cleared
Just before daybreak
When I stumbled out of
The graveyard in teas.
I had just raised the dead,
Just as Papa said I would.
My family followed,
Dead as posts,
Yet they walked,
Curdled flesh and bones,
Following me back home.
I made them fresh beds,
Laid them fresh sheets,
Washed them gently
So no parts might
Fall off, and tucked them
Comfortably in blankets.
I lay beside each one
Of them, kissing each
Slightly rotted forehead.
The mist outside thickened,
And I whispered to it:
I wish for another miracle.
In the morning, my heart
Stopped beating, just as
The doctor had said.
Come evening, we sat
Quietly by the fireplace
Just as we always did,
Dead, but together,
Just as Papa said we would.
THINGS to come . . . by Bill Braun
As I begin the process of completing yet another Pulitzer-prize worthy composition for the latest issue of Electric Velocipede, I glance out the nearest window and realize that my favorite of the four seasons has come to an abrupt end. By the time you, dear reader, will be receiving this issue in the mail we will have already been months past the fall season. Having been born and raised in the Midwest I have come to appreciate the break from the onslaught of spectacularly humid summers before the dead of winter sets in. And I do mean dead. If you have never had the opportunity to live through a Midwestern winter, count your blessings. The months of continuous bleak, cold and dreary days are just the beginning. The real fun comes when you get to plow out from under literally feet of snow, just so that you can make a brutal attempt to get to work on time; only to do it all over again the very next day. Unfortunately, bitter as I may sound, winter just does not hold the same magical quality that it once did for me as a young boy.
Yet, aside from the fact that the fall season is a brief moment of serenity before the inevitable storm (no pun intended) it holds the most special of places in my heart. Specifically, the month of October tends to fall smack in the middle of this season. And it is during this month that a great many things take place that I always look forward to. At the top of this list would have to be the anniversary of the marriage to my only true love. Having just celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary I am able to make this claim with the utmost sincerity.
A close 2nd is the rut of bow deer hunting. Any fellow bow hunter needs no explanation. For those of you who are not hunters no amount of explanation would ever be effective.
Finally, the month of October abounds with the celebration of Halloween. It’s a chance for the kids, or in my case the kid at heart, to dress up like their favorite hero, villain, alien or the like. Neighborhoods take the time to decorate their homes with the creepiest of the creepy and there just seems to be an overall embracement of the very “darkness” that at all other times of the year is generally feared. For what greater fear is there than the fear of that which we cannot see, that which is unknown?
With Thanksgiving just a few short weeks following Halloween I always find the time to reflect on that which I am thankful. My wife and children, the home in which we are raising them and the fact that Lifetime for Women jumped on the bandwagon in an attempt to compete with the growing number of cable stations providing hours of televised terror during the weeks leading up to Halloween. Although I say this with an air of sarcasm, believe me when I say that I am making this statement with absolute seriousness. I love watching television and I love watching “scary movies” even more; and for a few brief weeks during the year I get an abundance of what I consider great television.
Kudos most definitely goes out to the Sci-Fi channel for just that. This year’s special, wedged neatly between hours and days of movie marathons, was appropriately hosted by The Evil Dead’s, Bruce “Ash” Campbell. Boogeymen 2: Masters of Horror aired on October 30, 2004 and was the Sci-Fi channel’s answer to the Bravo channel’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Between these two specials alone I was temporarily satisfied with over 5 hours of fright-filled fun, while receiving a feeling of enlightenment at the same time. God bless cable TV.
Sci-Fi’s Boogeymen 2: Masters of Horror dealt primarily with in depth interviews of those modern masters and their impressive careers. With the likes of Dario Argento, Tobe Hooper, George A. Romero, Wes Craven, John Landis, Stuart Gordon, Guillermo Del Toro and, last but most definitely not least, my hero, John Carpenter, it was a buffet laid out for a king and his royal court. Interviews with the cast and crew of many of their particular masterpieces, intermixed with various clips from those same movies, I was as happy as the proverbial pig in shit.
However, this happiness that I was basking in unfortunately took a turn for the surreal. I, of all people, began to question my own personal loyalty in the horror movie genre. While watching the segment on Tobe Hooper and the historic role he played with his creation of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre they began to interview Gunnar Hansen/Leatherface, during which time the issue of the Texas remake was brought to light. Mr. Hansen’s response to this was nothing short of perfect; “I wonder if they get it, and I wonder why they need to remake the film? Why do you need to remake a movie that already did its job really well?”
As I raised my Heineken in salute to this exemplary summation I slowly began to reflect back on issue 6 of Electric Velocipede and the harsh words that I spat out during the article titled: Aliens, Elvis and Hollywood’s Master Plan. It had to do with the nauseous feeling I would get every time I would hear about yet another movie remake. I believe I used the fictional word “remakitis” when trying to describe the mentality of those involved with the process of insult. Suddenly I felt as if I was betraying the very ideals I tried to set forth. Why? What could make me feel this way? Then it struck me. I had become that which I hated most. I had taken an active role and added my $8.50 to that movie remaking money machine called Dawn of the Dead . . . and I liked it! Forgive me of my hypocritical ways for I knew not what I was doing.
Then again, maybe I did.
Regardless of the multiple Midwestern inaccurate references, aside from the fact that George A. Romero already did the job “really well,” I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. More importantly, I enjoy the fact that the popularity of this movie has spawned resurgence in a very possible future. That is, the future of the horror film. It seems that since the debut of the Dawn of the Dead remake the Hollywood machine has finally opened its eyes and bore witness to what was once a daunting thought; the Horror movie may actually be a good idea again. Although I see hope for the future of cinema, my clairvoyance cannot see major bookstore chains ever returning horror novels to their rightful, solitary, section. I’ll just be forced to continue weeding through the likes of Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy and Ken Follett with the hopes of finding the latest Ed Lee, Clive Barker and Richard Laymon.
Wrong as that may seem, I can only take it one step at a time. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?
But I digress. And in doing so I must take a closer look at how I could have gone from the riotous proponent of endangering the very lives of those associated with remakes, to shelling out the unforgiving, after 5PM, full-price admission. Was it something that I ate? Could it have been a bad Dallas-esque nightmare? No, it was none of the above and I take full responsibility for my actions.
But, why? Why did I do it? There has to be a reason. Then again, maybe the issue isn’t that I went to actually see the movie. I think it’s crystal clear by now that I love a good scare on the big screen and I have to take the opportunity when they arise; few as they may be. No, the more I dwell on the issue the more I begin to realize that maybe there’s more to a remake than just money. Ok, ok. Settle down. You’re all right in screaming at me. Money is the root of all evil. But perhaps there are a few of Hollywood’s directors, writers, producers and actors that want to pay homage to the original by doing the only thing they know how. Maybe the original wasn’t all that good in the first place. Maybe it didn’t do the original short story or novel justice.
But that is precisely where I would like to pick up; basically where I last left off. I do not feel that an apology is warranted for the harsh words that I used in previous issues, but at the same time I do believe that I owe it to take a closer look at some of these remade monsters of the screen. The more that I become aware of the situation, across all genres, the more I realize that it is becoming epidemic in proportion. Seeing as how my comfort level lies with the darker side of the cinema I think that I’ll stay in its shadowy embrace and begin with a personal favorite: John Carpenter’s “remake” of The Thing (from another world).
Because Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece has influenced me like no other horror movie I realized that certain biases may arise during this examination. I realize that Howard Hawks’ original 1951 classic may not get its fair shake. Therefore, the only way that I could possibly stay clear-headed about the entire event was to take the movie back to its roots and start at the beginning. I had to dig out an old 1976 Ballantine paperback Best of John W. Campbell Science Fiction Book Club Edition, flip through to one of his most popular short stories, Who Goes There?, and consume it in all its musty, attic-smelling glory. It was really the only way.
So, here it goes. Film and literature class 101 . . . with just a tab bit more freedom.
First and foremost, if you’ve never had the opportunity to read Who Goes There, place it at the top of your list. It is a wonderful piece of fiction that I believe was entirely ahead of its time in terms of being able to send chills down the reader’s spine on topics that modern science had probably yet to even consider. Only weighing it at approximately 65 pages, it packs in enough suspense to make it a truly enjoyable page-turner; the most impressive feature being a complete sense of unease, mistrust and total paranoia among the characters.
The premise was simple enough. A group of scientists in Antarctica discover a spacecraft and the alien life-form within. This life-form has the ability to imitate life on earth with nearly flawless replication; hence, the feeling of mistrust and paranoia among the key players. Add this to the totally isolated setting and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a wonderful transition from the page to the screen. Or so one would think.
I give Howard Hawks credit for making the attempt at translating John Campbell’s written word, but, unfortunately, my praise for his work would have to stop there. Although 1951 did not have the technological advances allowed 30 years later when Carpenter took his chances, the story succeeds not just in what the viewer sees, but more importantly in what the viewer feels. Don’t get me wrong, the special effects achievements by Rob Bottin while working with Carpenter were second to none. The real translational accomplishment came when the viewer was put on such edge while watching the movie that they couldn’t avoid feeling just as helpless as the characters on the screen.
This is where John Carpenter and Christian Nyby (director, The Thing From Another World) most obviously part ways.
Nyby describes the Thing as a “super carrot” that “lives on blood,” almost as if the audiences in 1951 would not have been able to grasp the real terror and motives behind Campbell’s monster from beyond the stars. The imitation of life is never truly discussed, nor is it even considered. Instead, Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks describe the alien as being more pod-like in nature, with James Arness being the only true saving grace in playing the part of the Thing. Although more Frankenstein’s monster in appearance, there are several scenes involving Arness that, in my opinion, are really the only possible reasons behind The Thing From Another World being billed as a classic. Anything else in this version comes across as being nothing more than Hollywood fluff; like adding several women characters for the sole purpose of having at least one romantic love interest during the story. This was neither necessary in the telling of the story, nor was it a part of the original novella. If anything, this was just a sign of the movie-making times.
John Carpenter, on the other hand, completely embraced the idea that Campbell set forth. He accepted that Campbell’s imitation of life on Earth was the very heart of the story. Although the imitation process was difficult to describe on both paper and the big screen, Carpenter summed it up best with the character-driven dialogue, “I don’t know what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off whatever it is.” What a wonderful blending of comedy and true horror during a scene when the audience gets its first glimpse of the Thing doing what it was created to do.
Nearly 20 years before the birth of CGI, Rob Bottin took special make-up effects to a new level in an Oscar-worthy performance. He made the best of what was given to him and truly had free reign to do whatever he felt would propel the movie to the height that it was able to achieve. But as I mentioned earlier, the success of Carpenter’s version over Nyby’s has much more to do with the telling of the story than with the special effects alone. In 1982 Hollywood hadn’t reached the unfortunate point of special effects driven movies. Storytelling through acting and setting were still an important aspect with the success of movies.
With this concept of imitating life perfectly comes the extreme paranoia associated with not knowing who is who. Not knowing who to trust. Not knowing who goes there. This is where Carpenter excels and what Campbell created; isolation, mistrust, confusion. Without these key ingredients the audience would only have seen yet another alien invasion movie. Another War of the Worlds. Another Independence Day.
Because Carpenter was able capture the feeling of unease that John Campbell set out to achieve I believe, without question, that The Thing could not be labeled a “remake” of The Thing From Another World in the true sense of the word. A retelling? Absolutely! A remake? Absolutely not!
But with this understanding comes the acceptance of the fact that there must be other reasons out there for Hollywood to continue on with its tidal wave of remaking the same movie once, twice and, in some cases, a third time. Unfortunately, they aren’t all as easily explained as what you have just read. But hopefully, should the almighty creator of EV be gracious enough to allow me to pursue this matter in future issues, we can all come to appreciate and give credit where credit is due. Who knows, with the future remake releases of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog, “things” could get really interesting.
Finally, as a side note, I wanted to further cast aside any concerns that the preceding article may have weighed more favorably to the work of John Carpenter. The Bravo channel’s October 31, 2004 airing of The 100 Scariest Movie Moments did not include The Thing From Another World. John Carpenter’s The Thing made #48.
Way to go Mr. Carpenter!