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Bengal’s Halloween Horrorthon Part III of VI

Almost half way there, how much more horror can my large group of readers take? Well, let me start you off easy with something crazy, something titillating and something kind of fascinating from cult horror icon Tobe Hooper.

Lifeforce (1985) (U.K.)

Image by IMDB (Please insert the obvious TNG joke for those in the know.)

I must say, I struggled to find a header image that, one, I liked, and two, didn’t show off one of the more…noteworthy aspects to this Tobe Hooper cult classic. I was first made aware of Lifeforce while watching on Netflix the highly entertaining documentary on the infamous Cannon Group, Electric Boogaloo.

Cannon has already received much deserved attention from this blog through its masterfully silly Ninja trilogy as well as Michael Dudikoff’s American Ninja and Avenging Force. Now, we take a look at one of the stingiest film companies’ most expensive and impressive works. From the man who directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its comedy sequel as well as (maybe) Poltergeist, co-written by the man who wrote Alien and with a bombastic, epic score by the Pink Panther man himself, Henry Mancini.

It’s cast list includes the lead played by Steve Railsback who I last saw in 1980’s The Stunt Man, Patrick Stewart who you clearly see above you, Peter Firth as a quite British SAS agent and secondary, Frank Finlay as an inquisitive scientist who of course gets too close to comfort to the mystery and Mathilda May as the seductive and almost always nude space woman. It should provide some comfort that May had no reservations nor regrets about the requirements to portray the role and to be honest once you get past the bare obvious thing about her role, she can be kind of frightening.

Based on a short story by Colin Wilson whose title completely gives away the mystery of whom the mysterious aliens are in this movie, it is set in an extremely different, not so distant future as viewed from the mid-80s. A joint space expedition between the U.S. and U.K. is trying to actually land on the returning Halley’s comet but something else next to it catches the crew’s attention.

A massive obelisk that can grow in size into the appearance of an organic umbrella is riding on its tail and the shuttle’s crew just has to investigate no matter how clearly ominous it appears. To be fair, Halley’s doesn’t come around all that often so the opportunity is there and they’ve got to take it.

It’s at this point that I have to compliment the production design and scope of a movie that is one, crazy, and also from a company that was known to and had to penny-pinch to stay afloat. By the production standards of a mid-80s movie, Lifeforce can be pretty impressive, especially in the moments set in space, inside the obelisk, inside the space shuttle and then during the climatic, apocalyptic sequence in London.

What the crew find are three humans in giant crystals, all nude and very visually appealing if you get where I’m coming from. It’s almost as if they are… meant to look most alluring. They are surrounded by the drifting, dead carcasses of what seem to be bat-like creatures. Again, that could be a mighty big tell for the uninformed about this movie. One of the reasons given and the most understandable one to bring back these three humanoids is why they’re humans not of Earth here in this obelisk in the first place.

However, shortly after getting them aboard the shuttle and beginning the long trip home, contact is lost with the shuttle. It’s found drifting erratically above Earth. Another shuttle goes up to investigate and the entire ship is scorched from the inside, the whole crew skeletonized. The three in the crystals are curiously unaffected and the only unaccounted for member, Col. Tom Carlsen (Railsback) who captained the vessel, is found landing in an escape pod later with little to no memory of what had transpired on the journey home. He does begin to suffer horrible nightmares relating to the shuttle, its crew and one of the three humanoids, obviously in this case being the female.

The European Space Research Centre based in London, where the crew’s mission control was established, is where Carlsen tries to recover and give answers about what happened. It’s also where the three beautiful humanoids are brought in to see what they are and what relation they have to the ill-fated shuttle. Once May’s lead female alien awakens, you already know things are going to go cork-screwed from here on out.

In spite of the Cannon Group association and that yes, a lot of screentime is spent with a very titillating woman walking around naked and causing havoc, there is a genuinely entertaining even spooky at times mystery for Lifeforce to delve into. The dawning realization of what the lead scientist played by Finlay discovers about the humanoids, what they are and more importantly what they can do and intend to do is quite fun. Firth’s Col. Caine being the straight man to an increasingly unhinged Col. Carlsen as they both try to find out what happened on the shuttle and contain the danger of what those three are leads to a race against time that is as extravagantly out there as it is curiously, bizarrely, even paradoxically grounded. To the point that I can believe there could be aliens out there who would prey on us, namely through one of our more… intimate bodily functions.

It got to the point where I wondered if association with Cannon and a hot, full-frontal lady walking around were the reason for Lifeforce’s negative critical reception and reputation, only ever served from being forgotten due to a cult status. It’s honestly, as the British would say, a cracking good experience.

If there are problems, serious problems which gives it low critical marks and an IMDB rating that hovers above 6.0, I didn’t see it. I mean, perhaps the concept once it’s fully recognized by movie’s end and how the film plays on a strangely ambiguous note is part of it’s reputation not being higher.

You can call it sleazy, you can call it stupid, you can call it exploitative to an actress which based on her remarks didn’t feel exploited at all. You can even call it too strange to be good which I didn’t realize was a qualification for a bad or lesser film. What I call it is a movie that deserves less said here about the full picture to fully appreciate with a production that is economic enough to appear both expensive yet cheap in a way that is remarkable, much like a Hammer movie.

I also call it a movie you should definitively check out unless you really are put off by female nudity and yes, I did notice that the film was hesitant to show full male nudity, implying an unsurprising double standard from the filmmakers. There’s this long standing hang-up at least in America where an R-rated movie can’t show at least clearly, a fully nude man but is more accommodating to a fully nude woman.

For many reasons, Lifeforce is an ostensibly dumb movie with plenty of food for thought.

Silver Bullet (1985) (Spoilers here)

Image from Werewolf News (Here, have a mid-tier werewolf transformation.)

If the section for Lifeforce seemed slight, it’s because it’s a movie where a good portion of it I want you the reader to see for yourself. Due to it’s cult status, it does not guarantee having a wide viewership, so if there is anything cool or interesting left unspoiled out in the ether, I’d like to keep it that way.

Silver Bullet, also considered a cult classic, is not that film for me. For that reason, I don’t mind giving away the narrative too much, including the identity of the man whose a werewolf. Now, if you’re interested in watching Silver Bullet one day, then please skip this section to Cat’s Eye.

Another reason I want to spill the beans is due to the actor and appearance of the man who is a werewolf, Everett McGill. You might know him from portraying Stilgar in the original Dune movie by David Lynch and for playing a Bond henchman in License to Kill, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Silver Bullet is an OK Stephen King adaptation. I’m not a good judge of that seeing as how I haven’t read any Stephen King story, let alone the novella that this flick is an adaptation of, Cycle of the Werewolf. Instead, I should say it was an OK King movie. Many might think I give my thumbs up for consideration for a lot of movies I review in my retrospectives. Well, here’s one that I don’t necessarily recommend but I also wouldn’t say skip.

If you like or want to watch as many werewolf movies as possible, are a big fan of Gary Busey or just need to see any given movie based on King, then sure, it’s worth your time. Anyone else can use their own discretion.

Set in a place where 80% of King’s stories are set, his native Maine, not that you would necessarily know by watching, Silver Bullet is the story of a seemingly old woman recounting the year that her hometown of Tarker’s Mills was preyed upon by a werewolf and how her and her handicapped brother Marty end up learning who it is and being witness to its end.

The movie is set in 1976 and was made into a movie in 85′ and yet rather than having the woman recalling the story by what was the then present of the mid-80s, it sounds like she’s recalling it when she is elderly, just like Rose in Titanic. Considering that Jane the sister is either a pre-adolescent or a young teen in 1976, that would mean she’s retelling the tale far in the future, meaning after 2022 when I’m watching and reviewing it. She would be middle-aged, approaching 60 today. That thought kinda scattered my mind a bit while viewing.

Tragic child actor Corey Haim plays Marty, who is confined to a wheelchair. Now, because this is a werewolf movie, you naturally assume that the title of Silver Bullet is about just that, a werewolf’s weakness. You’re correct, eventually.

It starts off as the name of Marty’s wheelchair which eventually becomes a motorcycle that his Uncle Red (Busey, huge surprise) builds for him. So, a story about a werewolf has a central character whose wheelchair turned motorcycle is called “Silver Bullet”. King has been accused of a lack of subtlety from time to time.

On the note of Gary Busey, I did check afterwards about the accident he suffered that caused him brain damage and wondered, if based on his style of playing an oft drunk yet affectionate Uncle if that was just his style or an offshoot of the accident. Couldn’t be, as it occurred in 1988 three years later. It so happened it was a motorcycle accident he went through and his Uncle Red here gives Marty a stern warning about being careful on the machine he builds for him. Oof.

Other notable faces include an early appearance by John Loc….Terry O’Quinn as the town sheriff who of course remains skeptical of the claims that something more than human is preying on the town in increasingly frightening numbers. So much so, that vigilante search parties begin going against the Sheriff’s commands and he in return becomes helpless to stop it once one of the victim’s relatives, an aggrieved father, tells him what right he has to stop them from committing “personal justice”. I kept waiting for someone to say “vigilantism” or “vigilante” but it never happens. Just an observation about how the most expected description isn’t used here.

It soon becomes honestly an R-rated yet never excessive GooseBumps or supernatural Hardy Boys tale, considering it amounts to a brother and sister with their eventually convinced Uncle to solve a mystery. R-rated because ,what else, werewolf-inflicted violence and some of it can hit quite hard, especially when only seeing the aftermath.

One reason I decided to up and reveal the identity of the man whose a werewolf is because of how McGill appears in the movie. After a midnight rendezvous where Marty stupidly decides to try out the Silver Bullet at night in spite of the night-based terror on the loose, he of course confronts the werewolf at what appears to be a swamp walkway. It was that location that threw me off from thinking it was set in Maine when that looks like a location from down south like South Carolina’s Congaree. Gary Busey and his signature accent also helped with that confusion.

Marty uses some leftover Fourth of July fireworks to blind the werewolf and break one of it’s eyes, saving his life. What helps seal the deal on finding out the mystery for Marty is that the town’s Man of God, Reverend Lowe, has an eye-patch all of a sudden and in the place Marty struck. More importantly, Lowe’s human appearance kept reminding me of a certain figure from the comics.

Image from Horror Obsessive

Image from Comic Art Fans

I have no idea if Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon saw Silver Bullet and thought that having an eye-patch for a badass, Texan reverend literally searching for God in order to kick his ass in Preacher would be a swell idea or if this is sheer coincidence. All I know is that no one else including TV Tropes, which loves to point these things out, have brought it up and yet I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the best graphic novel series that one might hate solely for it’s severe (to put it lightly) stance on religion and everything that comes with it.

As for whether Silver Bullet is a story where Stephen King is airing out some thoughts on religion himself by making the Christian pastor the main antagonist, I doubt it. It appears that Reverend Lowe may have been bitten by a werewolf once in the past and like most werewolf characters has no real control over the horrors that his state puts upon him. However, and this is suggested to be the case based on the cycle of the moon, how close to or full it is to be precise, he can be a malevolent monster when he is human and much to poor Terry O’Quinn’s chagrin, can transform at will.

There is an ambiguity to Lowe’s responsibility as a serial slayer of innocent people based on how much is him and how much was the werewolf, which is of course intentional. Like it will be when I cover The Monster Squad, often the silver bullet is not so much just a weapon of self-defense or a hunter’s tool, but an act of mercy.

Silver Bullet works, but not to the point of enthusiastic appraisal. Maybe that’s why it’s one of the more “quiet” cult classics, let alone for horror. Other cult hits before and after this selection have more notoriety and popular recognition, coming dangerously close to leaving the distinction of “cult” behind.

One of my favorite movies, Big Trouble in Little China, I’ve now come to wonder if it’s gone past that status to becoming just a classic of action-horror-adventure 80s’ cinema, let alone one of the most accessible John Carpenter pictures. That there’s a remake on the way with Dwayne Johnson involved should make you wonder.

Don’t worry, we can put that idea to the test in the next part of the horrorthon but for now, take or leave Silver Bullet for your perusal. Not seriously pushing you one way or the other.

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Image from Bloody Disgusting (A future Charlie’s Angel and the world’s best tabby.)

I would like to take this time to remind you that even now, well into into the 21st century, people out there still harm and attempt to kill black cats, especially around Halloween. Considering how sweet-natured and affectionate my departed black cat Prowl was and that there is no basically no difference between a black cat and any other cat because obviously, I wonder how much is adhering to superstitious fear and how many use that superstition to air out their sadism with some manner of excuse.

Stephen’s King’s Cat’s Eye, an anthology picture with two stories adapted from his short story collection Night Shift and one created just for this movie, also plays up another superstitious myth meant to put down our brother and sister cats. The idea that at night, a cat can go up to where you sleep and steal your breath away. Literally.

I know of many myths involving felines, mostly stemming around the black ones of course, but I hadn’t heard of this myth existing until after watching Cat’s Eye. I thought the urban legend of cats stealing your breath was made up then and there by the movie. Nope, my mother told me that that legend existed well before 1985.

Like most superstitions, it was likely a consequence of time and fate. For instance, a person with pre-existing breathing or lung issues ups and croaks in bed. And a cat just happened to be there at the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t have any facts to back that up, but then again I don’t need to when cats nor any animal on this planet has the ability to suck air out of someone’s lungs. We can’t do that to ourselves.

In a move of genius, King and film director Lewis Teague (returning from Cujo) make an adorable tabby cat the framing device for three stories, eventually becoming the rightful protagonist for the third and final story. That story involves trading one myth for another, one for the cat to gallantly fight against.

The first story involves the stray cat wandering around Manhattan getting picked up by a stranger, right after witnessing a vision of a mysterious girl in a window, pleading for the cat’s help. The stranger takes the cat to Quitter’s Inc, a most extreme organization dedicated to helping anyone interested in kicking nicotine for good. They pride themselves on an especially low failure rate, only 2%. What they do with that 2% or most of their methods would certainly get them shut down or thrown in prison. It’s implied they have big money behind them and allows them to get away with it all.

James Woods is possibly the best overall actor in the film, big surprise, as his acting talent is one of the few redeeming features of the guy as far as I know. He might be the best thing about Disney’s Hercules and fans were oh so happy to see him reprise Hades for both Kingdom Hearts II and even Kingdom Hearts III.

Woods portrays Dick Morrison, a family man who is desperate to kick the habit for his wife and daughter, especially his daughter. He soon realizes how…much is included in the package deal of how they will get him permanently off smoking and the poor kitty is used to demonstrate a “shock” room. Non-lethally of course as the kitty has to get to the next two stories. It’s meant to forewarn Dick about what his wife will go through if he doesn’t stop after two strikes. The third strike, well, goes even harder.

It’s obviously an allegory for the kind of pressure one trying to kick the habit would go through, exaggerated with external forces promising physical harm on top of simple nicotine withdrawal. Some, like Leonard Maltin did, might find it mean-spirited but then again horror stories are not often known for being nice.

For anyone who has had some form of addiction they know they can’t manage and should stop, like me and food intake, it can feel real watching this segment. Sure, I’m pretty confident I’ll never get into nicotine as this rate in my life and not just because I was raised knowing it was horrible for you in the long run.

It’s a fun and dark in a different way from other King tales, as we often associate him with supernatural horror. Of course, books/movies like Misery are all about dispelling that pigeonholing of King’s range, on top of being one of the most visible meditations on parasocial relationships going off the rails.

My favorite of the three is the middle called “The Ledge“, starring Kenneth McMillan and Robert Hays, you know, from Airplane! The cat escapes Quitter’s Inc and manages to make it all the way to Atlantic City, where after escaping a death-defying lane of traffic, is picked up by an utterly scummy businessman played by McMillan. He has his mooks pick up Johnny Norris, a gambling man whose history with McMillan’s Cressner finally catches up to him.

With his girlfriend probably dead and him being framed for drug possession, Johnny is seemingly given one chance to escape with both money and his life by Cressner. Just crawl along the edge of a high-rise building all the way to the other side. Johnny being the gambler takes it though the other choice is to accept being framed and going to prison.

The tabby watches the events from the safety of the balcony as Cressner and his minions put extra obstacles in Johnny’s way on top of the wind, narrow ledge and some really obstinate pigeons. Does Hays’ Johnny survive and get back at Cressner? How does Hays keep arriving at dangerous situations involving great heights? I leave that for you to find out though I can tell you our tabby friend clearly makes it through and arrives in Wilmington, North Carolina for the final story where he’s the star of the show.

The cat arrives in suburban Wilmington and finds a young girl named Amanda played by Drew Barrymore, three years after E.T. It happens that this is the same mysterious girl the cat has been seeing in his visions. So, the cat goes ahead and warms himself up to young Amanda who immediately wants to adopt him. Candy Clark plays her mother who immediately does not want the cat part of the family, mostly because her daughter already has a pet bird.

James Naughton plays the father who is at best indifferent about the whole deal, because for some reason dads often are at least in fiction. However, the cat has good reason to become part of Amanda’s family as a mysterious, small gremlin-like creature, called the “troll” also makes his way to the household. Suddenly seeing a supernatural element enter a story which has thus far included outlandish if still natural elements can be jarring. Then again, maybe the filmmakers wanted to ease you into that element through the cat’s magical visions of a girl beckoning the cat to find and protect her.

The design of the troll resembles a cross between the front of a tortoise’s face and…something else I can’t quite place but it does strike the right balance between too dark and too whimsical. The effects for when the troll is going thorough Amanda’s room at night and climbing up stuff are pretty impressive though some of the green screen like when the troll is at the foot of the bed and you see Amanda’s superimposed feet look really bad.

Eventually, the troll frames the cat, whom Amanda names “General” for murdering and eating Polly the bird, all so there is no cat that can get in the way of him stealing the girl’s breath. That and the mom’s prejudice over the cat is enough to convince her to take General away over to a pound where it will be slotted to be euthanized. However, this cat, like it has before, takes advantage of split second opportunity to escape the pound and race back to the house in spite of a rainstorm to save Amanda from the troll. Now that’s some pawsitive reinforcement of human and cat relations there.

12 cats were used to portray General and in order to convince the cats to all do the very specific things they wanted, as felines are notoriously difficult to train unlike dogs, they goaded them into certain actions through offering them food, often tuna. I don’t know how the offer of food convinced them to do all the things the film needed of them. Scenarios such as getting an angry, hissing face and swatting something seems to be a contrary response to an offering of delicious tuna.

I’ve thought much of any scene where a cat is visibly angry like when Jonesy the cat starts hissing in closeup when Ripley has a chestburster nightmare at the beginning of Aliens. I mean, what did directors like Lewis Teague and James Cameron do to piss off cats in just the right way and at the right time?

Either way, Cat’s Eye ends on a note that reaffirms humanity’s relationship with not so much our “best friend” but our “best associate”. It also toys with the conceit that cats will try to steal one’s breath in a deliberate fakeout ending that I saw coming.

I suppose if Cat’s Eye has any consistent theme, it’s with the exploration of both phobia and obsession. The first story, Quitter’s Inc., juxtaposes the compulsion to smoke with the fear of being being watched upon by strangers and the expectations to meet commitments and failing. The on-the-nose yet perfect use of The Police’s Every Breath you Take accentuates this in one memorable hallucination sequence on Dick Morrison’s part. The song is later used more comically in the final battle between General and the Troll, with a different context.

The second story, The Ledge, combines the compulsion to gamble, with the fear with what will or could happen if you didn’t heed Kenny Rogers’ advice on whether to hold or fold em’. That fear then bleeds into a fear of heights and someone trying to actively kill you.

The third doesn’t seem to have any addiction or compulsion unless you have a compulsion to adopt cute animals which in this case is a good thing as it protects you from miniature fantasy monsters. There is the fear of what may bump in the night, like the troll and perhaps the danger of misunderstanding what one should be wary of. Again, humanity had an irrational fear of one of the most adorable creatures yet discovered in this universe. This is a story of a once feared animal becoming the hero they were always meant to be.

Next time, a look at an 80s vampire classic and its 2010s remake that if conceivable could be better than the original.

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