Monday, 30 June 2014

Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed

In the years that I've been writing the EYE, I've always made a point of acknowledging the passing of people who have influenced and inspired me. At the risk of turning my blog into a digital graveyard, I think I do it because I feel a compulsion to say "thanks" to these strangers who have, through their various art forms, given me so much.

As you reach middle age, the deaths of those who inspired you in your youth begin to occur with more frequency. Witnessing the passing of entire generations can become a bit overwhelming, and inevitably a few important obits go by the wayside.

The cool poster above for this year's FanTasia film festival serves as a reminder for me that for various reasons (hiatus, illness, work), I never got to acknowledge the deaths of these three greats.

Three lifelong friends, each of whose contributions to the evolution of modern science fiction, fantasy and horror were so significant that it's hard to imagine said genres existing without them. All three, gone within five years.

I never had the honour of meeting Ray Bradbury or Forry Ackerman, but I did get to shake hands and exchange a few words with Ray Harryhausen when he visited Sydney for a lecture about 15 years ago. Meeting the man and seeing some of his iconic stop-motion monsters up close was a truly humbling experience for me.

Sunday, 29 June 2014


As a director, Bobcat Goldthwait piqued my interest with 2011's God Bless America, but after seeing his new backwoods horror movie Willow Creek, he's now firmly on my radar as a filmmaker to watch.

Bigfoot enthusiast Jim and his indulgent but staunchly non-believing girlfriend Kelly head into the California wilderness for a romantic camping trip. The purpose of the excursion is to grant Jim his wish of shooting his very own amateur cryptozoology documentary about the popular mythical beast. Their destination is in the heart of Sasquatch country itself, the town of Willow Creek, situated in California's picturesque Humboldt County.

Jim's wish is to retrace the footsteps of famous 'Squatch-sighters Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, the men who shot that blurry 1967 footage that has become so ubiquitous. Jim and Kelly spend a day bumbling around in the town itself, enjoying its kitschy Bigfoot related tourist attractions and meeting a few of the local denizens, some of whom are friendly, while others are quite hostile. The next day the couple get back in their car and head off into the surrounding wilderness, but Kelly's patience for her boyfriend's obsession is starting to wear thin. What will they find in the dark wooded hills?

One of the things that makes Willow Creek work so well is the contrast between the first and second halves of the film (this really is a two act movie). The first half, taking place mostly in the town, is sunny, light-hearted and frequently laugh out loud funny. Although there are a few hints of the menace that's to follow, the tone here is more mumblecore mocumentary than horror.

It's when the couple head into the woods that things take the expected turn for the "abominable". What follows is a well disciplined experiment in extremely minimalist horror filmmaking. Willow Creek is very much a spiritual successor to The Blair Witch Project, and as with that film it feels like Goldthwait is trying to test the extent to which you can terrify an audience with as little visual stimulus as possible. And it works.

To even begin to describe the scenes that follow would be to spoil the fun, because the tricks that Goldthwait employs to instill tension, fear and dread in the viewer are so utterly simple. Suffice it to say that Willow Creek's strength lies in its sound design, proving once and for all that our imaginations, when provoked, will conjure up more terrifying imagery than any filmmaker could ever put on screen. 

To cap it off, there's a jump scare buried in that second half that is a text book example of how to do it right. I saw it in a packed theatre and for half a second it was like the entire audience levitated out of their seats!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Nothing the God of Biomechanics wouldn't let you in heaven for

Since his death on May 12th, Hans Rudolf Giger has been in my thoughts every day. 

Like so many of my generation I discovered and fell deeply in love with his work whilst devouring the contents of Scanlon & Gross' The Book of Alien in 1979. Ever since, his work has continued to be a constant source of profound awe and amazement for me. I feel privileged to have been able to see his art exhibited twice, at the Galerie Bijan Aalam in Paris in 1979, and again in '93 at the Alexander Gallery in New York. It's a dream of mine to one day visit his bars and museum in Switzerland.

With all this in mind, it's great to see that a new book compiling some of his personal photographs has been released. H.R. Giger: Polaroids looks like it offers a rare insight into the inner life of this enigmatic and brilliant artist. I'm dying to get my hands on a copy.

Read more about it at 032c here.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Harbinger Down

I love The Thing, and I have no problem with filmmakers assimilating the DNA of Carpenter's classic to bring us more gooey, Thingy goodness. In recent years movies that are heavily inspired by The Thing have started popping up more and more frequently, to the point where it's starting to become a little sub-genre in its own right. As is to be expected, the results have ranged from mediocre (The Thaw), to excellent (The Last Winter, Splinter). Just as I still love Alien rip-offs, I'll never tire of seeing people attempt to emulate the tension and creature effects of that seminal Arctic monster movie.

As such I'm stoked that we've got not one, but two The Thing clones headed our way. The first is Marvin Kren's Blood Glacier (the follow up to his excellent Rammbock), which has already been out for a while, and despite receiving a lot of negative reviews looks like it could provide a few icky thrills. The movie that has me more excited however, is special effects veterans Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr's upcoming Harbinger Down.

Gillis and Woodruff's Amalgamated Dynamics has turned in some great creature effects over the last 25 years in the likes of Tremors, Starship Troopers and this year's Godzilla. They've also provided terrific effects work for a number of not so stellar movies, and one of those is the woeful 2011 remake/prequel of The Thing. During production of that film, much was made of the practical effects that ADI were utilising to bring the Thing to life, but by the time the movie was finished most of their work was hidden under layers of CGI. Honestly, that was the least of that movie's problems, but the disappointment at seeing all of that great practical work obscured by not-so-great CG was the last straw (just to clarify my position on CG, I'm not completely averse to it and love it when it's done well. See District 9, Elysium, Godzilla '14 etc).

So is Harbinger Down, written and directed by Gillis himself, ADI's response to that fiasco? Is this them going "well that was a disaster, so why don't we unofficially remake it ourselves with no studio interference"? If the frenetic trailer is anything to go by, then perhaps. Said trailer features a number of  glimpses at effects that are very reminiscent of Rob Bottin's famous work, and it's kind of endearing to see how unabashedly they're ripping-off Carpenter's movie. You've got your arctic locale; big chunk of ice containing monster remains; glimpsing the creature through a chain link fence; killing it by burning; charred remains seen in the snow. The trailer is full of imagery that fans of the '82 masterpiece will instantly recognise.

It's also kind of charming that they are being so unpretentious with the film's marketing. Look at the taglines on the poster above: from the creature creators of and a practical effects film. It's seems obvious to me that Harbinger Down was driven purely by an enduring love for Bottin's work, as well as a desire to make a buck from the effects legend's legion of fans, many of whom were likely disappointed by Matthijs van Heijningen's 2011 failure.

Bob and Dennis Skotak are also part of the Harbinger team, making the effects pedigree of this movie truly amazing. Of course it has to be noted that there's a long history of features directed by effects gurus that are just plain awful. Whether Harbinger's screenplay, cast and myriad other crucial elements of filmmaking are any good remains to be seen, but despite those reservations I feel optimistic about this one! I mean, there's going to be some stop-motion fucking animation in this! How can you not love that?

Oh, and did I mention the icing on this gory cake? Lance Henrickson is in it!

Read more about it here, and check out the trailer below.