Thursday, November 26, 2020



“Yo, Jay-cob, stop hoarding the squash.”

He sat transfixed, staring into the gold-hued, butter-and-brown-sugar-laden mound of gourd innards. His sister’s words scarcely registered amidst the clatter of silverware on plates and the collective sound of intense gluttony.

“Mom, can you poke Jacob with your fork? I think he’s buffering.”

Jennifer smiled awkwardly and reached out to shake her son’s forearm. The pristine fork slipped from his nonexistent grasp and clunked onto the draped table.

“Jake, honey…are you okay?”

The young man shook his head and looked up from his side-dish reverie.

“What?” he mouthed.

“Your sister asked you to pass the squash,” Jennifer intoned, nodding incrementally towards Emily, who was now occupied with making grotesque faces at her brother.

 “Oh, sure…here.”

The precious cargo was delivered and Emily ladled a disproportionate amount of baked acorn squash onto the hinterland of her already-crowded plate. She craned her neck in an exaggerated manner, took note of her brother’s sparse portions and immediately flashed a devilish grin.

“Isn’t weed supposed to make you hungry?” she mock-whispered to her older sister.

A look of anger flashed across Jacob’s face.

“Yeah, you should know, you annoying bi…” 

Like Thor’s hammer, a fork-armed fist came down on the table, causing any cutlery close to the epicenter to jump upon impact. Immediately all eyes were on Michael, the family patriarch.

“Are we still incapable of having a single Thanksgiving dinner where we don’t end up yelling at one another?”

Jacob was immediately moved by the sight of his father. Like a flash, his anger was spent, replaced by the sort of knowing melancholy that was undeniably relatable.

“Sorry,” the young man whispered, making a show out of spearing a few planks of turkey onto his plate while glaring at his sister.

Sooo, Jacob,” his uncle, Jason, tentatively ventured, “how are things at Cathage Academy?”

“Good,” the young man replied.

“’Good’,” parroted his father, casting a side-eye at Jason. “Forty-five grand in tuition and all he can manage is ‘good’.”

After ladling a tsunami of brown gravy onto his plate, Jacob put down his utensils, linked his fingers together and then fixed his uncle with a plaintive stare.

“I’m sorry. Seems I haven’t answered your question to my father’s satisfaction. Carthage Academy is wonderful. The Political Science program is great. The class sizes are small, and I never feel like just an ass in a seat. My professors are patient, learned educators who seem genuinely interested in guiding my future career choices. All told, five stars out of five…would learn there again.”

Everyone froze mid-chew and was intently staring at him. Immediately, the dinner scene from Troll 2 flashed in his brain and it took all of his willpower not to jump up on his chair and bring this charade to an unconventional, but definitive, halt. Instead, Jacob opted not to piss on hospitality, choosing instead to stifle an outburst of laughter and skewer his father with an intense stare.     

“Will that do?” he asked pleasantly.

There were no eyes to meet. His father had already gone back to rooting around on his plate with his fork.

“Better,” he replied, barely audible. “But you didn’t have to be so snotty about it.”

“Are you still thinking about going into journalism?” Jason pursued. By feeding the fire of civil discourse, he hoped to divert attention away from the palpable bad karma, a presence so real it might have been caught in the act of stealing the last of the white meat.

“Probably my best bet,” Jacob replied.

He was suddenly aware of a slight headache coming on, likely triggered by the two (three?) glasses of cheap moscato his mother always to seem to buy in bulk lately. Of course, the conspicuous absence of the elephant not in the room was an equally-feasible culprit.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he idly continued after briefly massaging his temple. “We’ve already had two or three reps from some pretty big media outlets come to the school and guarantee jobs for journalism majors.”

“Wow,” Samantha exclaimed, interdicting a morsel of sausage stuffing that threatened to leap out of her mouth. “God, when I was in college, journalism wasn’t even an option.”

Jacob pulled his plate in close, picked up his utensils and then loaded up a gravy-marinated forkful of turkey and mashed potatoes.

“Yeah, well, as soon as the T.A. got rolled back, there were a lot of new upstarts.”

 “The T.A.?,” Jason asked, cocking an eyebrow above the borders of his tortoiseshell glasses.

Jacob paused and chewed diligently, rotating his unburdened fork in front of him in a gesture meant to expedite the process.

“Telecommunications Act,” he finally managed. “Clinton deregulated the media back in 1996. It was supposed to open things up for competition, but all it really did was let corporations buy up a shit-ton of independent newspapers and television stations.”

“Language,” Michael muttered, giving his son a brief Kubrickian stare, which was promptly ignored.

“Oh, yes, I think I read something about that,” Jennifer ventured, cheerily prospecting for nods of approval around the table. None were forthcoming.

“Thirty years ago there used to be over fifty different media companies,” Jacob continued. “But after deregulation, it went down to about six or so.”

“You kids are too young to remember, but back in the 80’s, the news was so simple,” Jennifer observed, looking pleasantly surprised that she now had the floor. “It was just some guy sitting at a desk reading stories with some plain-looking graphic in the background. No spin, no editorializing, just reporting the facts.” 

“Yes, I remember that, too,” Jason concurred. “Everyone seemed to be on the same page back then. With the whole ‘truth in media’ movement lately, I think we’re finally getting back to that.”

Jacob nodded vigorously, stalling so he could speak again. His mother hated it when her kids chewed with their mouths full.

“Yeah it was pretty there for the longest time. The corporations snapped up all of the competition and then set up their own 24-hour cable news networks. Between that and social media, it pretty much kicked off the whole ‘customized reality’ era.”

Haw, good name for it,” Samantha barked, pouring a fresh goblet of wine for herself. Jacob was suitably  impressed; his sister was probably two glasses ahead of him by now.     

“Seriously, that’s what my profs are calling it now. If you were right-wing, you had Fox News, and then Rush Limbaugh, Parler, Info Wars and QAnon for the real wing-nuts…”

“Jesus Christ!” Michael suddenly blurted. “Are we seriously talking about this? Now, of all times?!?”

Everyone’s heads collectively snapped around to look at him, risking group whiplash. Immediately Jacob felt a powerful stab of regret.          

“Sorry, Dad,” he mumbled, and then instinctively cast his gaze downward.  

He was immediately lost in the monochromatic landscape that was his dinner, a muddy mish-mash of gravy, turkey and mashed potatoes, punctuated by a clementine-hued asterisk at the edge of the plate. Something from this gastronomical tableau was missing, however, and he spent an inordinate amount of time lost in examination. Even the palpable sensation of his little sister staring a hole in the side of his head failed to dislodge him.

“Looks like the good stuff’s finally kicking in,” Emily whispered to Samantha, who admonished her with a playful slap and non-committal frown of disapproval.      

But it was recognition, not chemicals, that finally triggered Jacob’s dulled synapses.

“Cranberry sauce!” he blurted, more audibly than he intended.

He spun his knife in his hand, like Tom Cruise with a whisky bottle in Cocktail, an old movie that his Dad and Granddad used to inexplicably watch every Thanksgiving. For years, its precious one-hundred-and-three minute runtime seemed to douse the fireworks without fail. At least until his grandfather stopped coming to dinner.

That purplish, gelatinous cylinder, ridged from its aluminum prison, quivered half-way across the table as if openly mocking him. Instead of giving his annoying sister the satisfaction of asking for her help, Jacob used his simian-length arms in an attempt to reel a cross-section of the tart prize.

“And, Emily, how’ve you been lately?” Jason queried, casting a quizzical look towards Jacob as he struggled to separate, balance and secure a limp slab of cranberry goodness.

“Alright,” she shrugged, violently mashing her squash to destroy even the slightest hint of particulates.

“’Alright,’” Michael scoffed, shaking his head. “Roof over her head and good food to eat whenever she wants it. A bit better than ‘alright’, I’d say.”

Jacob didn’t see the storm blowing up in Emily’s eyes, nor the expectant grimace that flashed across Sam’s face. He was completely preoccupied with the Herculean task of transporting that trembling disc of cranberry jelly back to his plate.

“Yeah, well, we’re can’t all be like the ‘golden child’ over here,” Emily spat, jabbing the handle of her fork in her brother’s direction.

Jason was starting to have regrets for inadvertently stumbling upon this conversational landmine, but Jacob was completely oblivious. He stuck out his tongue, like a Shaolin monk adopting the forward stance to reinforce stability and concentration before launching into a miraculous display of agility.

“Well, at least he has some focus,” Michael blared, almost relieved by the opportunity to be combative. “He’s planning for his future, and your sister had her pick of good jobs out there now. But what are you doing? Absolutely nothing!”

“Michael, please!” Jennifer said, her look pleading and pained, not angry.

The sight of that jiggling payload precariously balanced on Jacob’s fork suddenly reminded him of his grandfather. Every time his mom cracked a tin of the stuff, he could hear ol’ Bob fly off the handle, regardless of what room, or state, he was in.

‘Jesus Christ, Jenny!’ he could hear the old man bellow, as if he were sitting to his immediate left. ‘All you gotta do is boil some sugar water and throw in a few damned cranberries. Even frozen ones are good. Ten times better than that friggin’ abomination.’

The yelling in his memory was immediately eclipsed by his sister screaming right into his left ear.

“Yeah, well, at least I didn’t sign off on murdering my own father!” she screeched.

With that, Jacob lost his concentration and the glistening, maroon-hued puck slipped off of his silverware, cart-wheeled in mid-air, slapped into the side of the turkey platter and half-landed on his mother’s pristine white tablecloth with a wet “thlup” sound.

Immediately Jacob felt everyone’s stern regard turn on him. He glanced incrementally to the right and saw that his mother had cupped her hands to her mouth in shock, either because of Emily’s declaration or the growing patch of cranberry blood that was rapidly spreading out on her gilded tablecloth. He calmly placed his knife and fork down and slowly stood up.

All eyes watched as Jacob paced around for a bit, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hands and combing his hair back with his fingers. It’s not like this was a revelation. He knew what had happened, but to hear it uttered out loud had a certain crass awfulness to it. It was the equivalent of digging a dead pet out of the back-yard and using it as the table’s centerpiece. Eventually Emily reeled in his gaze, stopping him dead in his tracks. She looked devastated.

“She’s right, you know,” Jacob intoned, gesturing at his younger sister and looking at each of them in turn.

“Jake,” his mother said, exhibiting unearthly patience. “We did everything we could.”

“Really? Did we?” he returned. “Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, after Nana died, that those people were the only company he had for the better part of the year?”

That’s when his father shot up, the chair groaning in protest as the back of his legs sent it skidding along the hardwood floor.

“He did that to himself, Jacob,” Michael growled. “All of those toxic beliefs he had. It got to the point where I couldn’t even stomach being in the same room with him. My own father.”

“Well, you should have talked to him!” Jacob countered. It was a decent bluff. Inside he felt like he was flailing.

“What, do you think we didn’t try?” Michael shot back, sounding incredulous. “He wouldn’t even listen. His mind was 100% made up. Nothing would budge him…nothing.”

Samantha suddenly cleared her throat and took a deep, bracing gulp of wine.

“Jacob, do you remember last April when he went in for gall bladder surgery?” she ventured.


“He asked me and Em to look after Troubles because he said he ‘couldn’t trust Dad anymore.’ As soon as we got back to his place we blocked every one of those stupid fringe cable channels, cleaned up his Facebook feed and unsubscribed him from God knows how many email chains.”

“Yeah, well, we all know how well that worked, huh?” Jacob snidely observed.

“You’re right, Jacob,” Michael said. “It made him even more pissed him off and paranoid than ever. Every voice mail he left for us, every DM, every email…nothing but ‘snowflakes’, ‘sheeple’ and ‘libtards.’  Whatever conspiracy-du-jour the underground rabble was still crapping out at the time - the dumbest, sickest shit you can possibly imagine about Jewish global conspiracies, cannibal pedophiles, 5G cell phone towers, monitoring chips, fucking lizard people - he’d regurgitate all of it without question.” 

Jacob winced as if stung and Michael collapsed back down in his chair, seemingly drained after being forced to evoke all of this again.  

“He was a smart, critically-thinking man once,” he mumbled. “But, towards the end, the shit he was peddling made absolutely no sense. For the love of God, if not for the vaccine, we probably wouldn’t all  be here today.”

He fell silent, giving his wife an opportunity to pick up the invisible conch.

“We thought all of those new media regulations would clean things up and give him a chance to decompress. And, when that didn’t work, we called the Department of Continuance to get him into the clarity seminars. We hoped that would bring him around, but it just made him more angry and obstinate.”

Jason sheepishly glanced around the room. He looked as if he’d been clubbed in the head with a piece of driftwood.

“You guys never told me it was that bad.”

“It was awful,” Michael resumed. “But the worst thing was getting that call from the DOC. They flat out told me that he was too far gone and they recommended quietus.”

Except for the faint sound of Socks the cat whispering between the chair legs in search of dropped morsels, the room was suddenly very silent.

“So that’s it then,” Emily hissed, lowering her voice incrementally as if suddenly concerned that there might be monitoring devices hidden in the green beans. “We just give up on people now.”

“It was the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make, Em,” Michael responded without a moment’s pause. “We’d just suffered through four years of the worst backslide this country has ever seen, in part, because of people just as deluded and ill-informed as my father was. If forty percent of the population flat-out refuse to accept reality, what can we do?”

“I dunno,” Emily said, sounding venomous. “Maybe help them?”

“They can’t, or won’t, be helped,” he replied. “There’s no way we can progress if half the population is grossly misinformed, willfully ignorant or flat-out regressive. If we have any hope whatsoever of moving forward as a nation, people like that have to go.”

Jacob felt sweat beading on his top lip. He picked up his napkin and dabbed at his face. He suddenly felt very sick and had to sit down.

“Uncle Jay?” he asked, introducing an inaugural sip of water to his body for the first time today.

Jason looked away from an unfocused point somewhere mid-table and perked up.

“You asked me what I wanted to major in,” the young man said, scraping the increasingly-formless burgundy blob off the table and slinging it onto his plate.

“Yes?” his uncle asked, leaning forward expectantly.

“I think I figured it out.”

An endless beat of silence.

“Do tell,” Samantha said, sounding impatient.

“I think I’m gonna go into law.”

This time it was his father’s turn to drop a fork.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

What Kind Of Trump Supporter Are You?

In my mercifully-limited interactions with Trump supporters, I've discovered that they pretty much fall into one or more of the following categories:

(1) 401K Fetishists  These folks have somehow got it into their heads that only business people are fit to run the world, despite the fact that a disproportionate number of them are complete and total sociopaths.

Despite the fact that Trump had a comically-bad public sector business record and the personality of a 80's porn distributor, this was the guy the American people decided to foist up as their best possible avatar to lead their nation.

And, hey, I'll give the guy credit where it's due. He did a reasonably-good job building on the economic momentum initiated by President Obama. But, then again, any moron can exempt businesses from paying a dime of taxes which could be used to fund critical social programs or remove key regulations to make affluent folks even richer.

During those heady salad days (I.E. up until around mid-March of this year), Americans who could actually afford investments were perfectly content to turn a blind eye to Trump's worst attributes, merely because their $401K's were performing well. Which begs the question, why are some of these folks still supporting that clementine hobgoblin after COVID-19 eloquently pointed out the critical flaw in our society, which is based entirely around constant, unsustainable consumption?

I guess many of these $401K fetishists also share one (or more) of the following odious leanings...

(2) Objectivist Ayn Randian Assholes

Sadly, an entire generation of Conservatives / Republicans were weaned on the teaching of this inexplicably-influential Russian crone:

Even though her "screw everyone else, I'm lookin' out for number one!" philosophy is anathema to the development of a humane and progressive society, Conservatives and Republicans are 100% more likely to have a poster of ol' Baba Yaga here up on their wall versus Margot Robbie.

"What? Objectivism? A fancy-sounding philosophy that gives me the right to act like a self-absorbed dick-head? Wow, where do I sign up?"

I swear to Vishnu that the following story is true. I was in Salem on vacation one time, just hanging out in a busy shopping district....oh, wait, before I go any further I have to explain that this took place during THE BEFORE TIMES when we could BE OUTDOORS and STILL GATHER IN GROUPS OF TWO.

Anyhoo, a couple of people representing a recognizable social action group were stopping people and asking if they'd like to sign a petition to raise awareness for environmental concerns. At one point they stopped this douchey-looking, suit-and-tie, briefcase-toting mound of mobile hair gel and asked if he'd be willing to sign the petition.

Without a beat he held up his hand, marched right past them and announced: "Nope...I'm a Republican."

'You're not a Republican, I thought to myself. 'You're a galloping ass munch.'

Oh, related point: if you've spent your entire adult life railing against the "evils of socialism", I sincerely hope that your livelihood wasn't even incrementally impacted by this whole COVID-19 crap. Because if you accept so much as a dime of funding during this time, you may want to make your self-quarantine permanent.

(3) The Brainwashed

Even though we should, in theory, have access to more reliable information than ever before, many of us seem perfectly willing to customize our news, effectively crawling into an echo chamber, never to re-emerge into the light of reason and awareness ever again.

Back in the day, everyone got their news from the same established periodicals or nightly network broadcasts. Granted, there were still discernible political leanings between, say, Time or Newsweek magazine, but they weren't driven by a blatant corporate agenda or mandated to churn out bloated, 800 page issues every month filled speculative (read: wing-nutty) editorials.

For those out there who still remember COMMUNAL SPACES and CHATS AROUND THE WATER COOLER, folks would often gather together the following morning to discus the previous day's events. The thing is, back then, everyone was vaguely on the same page because they were still being informed by fact-based journalism.

But then, along comes Bill "Good Ole' Boy" Clinton, who deregulates media ownership with the disastrous Telecommunications Act of 1996. This essentially let corporations snatch up hundreds of independent media outlets until, nowadays, everything in the U.S. looks like this.

Given this new climate of corporate over-watch, media has since become little more than a soap-box for rich owners and their agendas. And, look, this isn't limited to conservative news outlets. It's a serious symptom for any 24-hour cable news channel. 

I don't know about you, but every time I click on a CNN or MSNBC YouTube vid, I'll watch it up until they stop reporting the details of the event. Then, as soon as they roll out a panel of so-called "experts" in to "interpret" what they just told me, I click it off. Back in the 80's, there was no "interpretation" of the days events. You were told the facts and you made up your own damned mind about it.

But, hey, at least CNN and MSNBC still qualify as a news organization, as opposed to Fox "News", which is little more than a constant conveyor belt of conspiratorial opinion pieces mouthed by an interchangeable parade of creepy thimbots masquerading as journalists...

It's really interesting to see what happens when intrinsically good people, who have be exclusively marinating in Faux News, Rush Limblaugh and *heaven forbid* Info Wars, suddenly get  disconnected from the teat of fear, paranoia and hatred.

At least this story has a happy ending:

(4) "Look, I'm Not Racist, BUT..."

Back in the day, before such things were normalized, the only place where people could openly yell racist shit in public were at wrestling events. I imagine Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, AKA The Iron Sheik, had some charming l'il homilies yelled at him by rednecks many a time while he was a heel for the WWF.

Then again, he's said some bizarre shit himself, so maybe that's not the best example.

But, hey, now looky here! We got ourselves a prezident with zero control over the darkest aspects of the human ID. Finally, them pesky filters and bulwarks of common decency are gone and I can finally speak the truth! Sure my investments are in the dumper and 10% of the U.S. population might die due to Trump's idiocy, but I can still feel good about myself by publicly airing my hatred for brown people!

(4) Art of the Deal...With The Devil

Hey, guess what, guys? Trump's actually a Democrat at heart!

Fun fact, that l'il "hit piece" was actually compiled by human / blobfish hybrid Ted Cruz! Thanks, two-faced, sycophantic, spineless toad.

Okay, I hear what you're saying...a guy can change his mind, right? Well, what if I were to tell you that Trump pivoted on this issue merely because he knew it would win him the Evangelical / right to life vote?

And, granted, when he was elected, he did go on to become one of the biggest "right to life" champions. And for this, his feckless base LOVE him for it, with former director of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, going so far as to say that Trump "masterfully capitalized on his pro-life position in a way I think no one could have envisioned four years ago" and that "voters who are pro-life love Donald Trump and they will crawl across broken glass to get him reelected."

What really amuses me is how Evangelicals, I.E. all of those "holier than thou" types, are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that Trump is one of the most corrupt and immoral creeps to ever hold the office of President. 

And for folks who value the wisdom of the Bible, there sure like to ignore this particular chestnut:

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God".


So, there you go. How many categories do you fit into? One? Two? Do you proudly check off every box?

Speaking as someone who was raised with a conscience, functioning ears and eyes and a memory that extends more than five years, I disqualified Trump as a presidential candidate / human being back in the 80's when I first heard him vomit the most narcissistic, inane shit to tumble out of a mammal's mouth. I consider myself a good judge of character and my first impression of Trump was of an ego-maniacal, Gordon Gecko-style blowhard corporatist who wears ignorance, excess and greed on his sleeve like a badge of honor.

Seriously, America, consider picking someone from a different sector to lead you next time. Assuming there will be a next time. A scientist, maybe? about a virologist?

EPIC:  "This is your brain."

If people had just paid a modicum of attention to Trump's pre-presidency exploits, I'm confident that he would have been immediately disqualified as a valid presidential candidate.


FAIL: "This is your brain on Faux News, Rush Limblaugh and Infant Wars."

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Obligatory Halloween Post...From Another World!

Keep watching the skies, you glorious weirdos!

It's SHOCKtober, kiddies, I.E. that time of FEAR when I regale you with yet another tale of how a  classic horror movie scared the ever-lovin' shingles outta me as a young, aspiring horror hound!

In past entries I've talked about some early formative scares as well as my encounters with such scintillating cinema sins as An American Werewolf in London, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, The Return of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead, The Shining and Dawn of the Dead.

Before the internet, the best way to learn about scary movies was via  my aforementioned and much-loved horror movie books, such as Tom Hutchinson's Horrors: A History of Horror Movies, released in 1983.

Like a masochist, I'd flip through these hoary hardcover tomes, auditioning potential the next fright flicks to traumatize myself with. During every peruse, I couldn't help but gravitate towards the following off-putting image, which was from a film that had been released one year prior:

'Jesus shitly fuck,' I thought to myself. 'That is pure nightmare fuel!'

This was driven home by a macro view of the same scene on page 162:

My half-baked brain had a really hard time reconciling what it was looking at. My dread level was elevated when I read Tom's pearl-clutching description of the flick:

"The movie...offers enormous opportunities to the make-up and special-effects department, and Rob Bottin certainly makes the most of them, turning a dog into a hideous spider-like beast and causing a man to lose his head and burst apart at the seams. Yet for all its technical brilliance (the film) teeters dangerously on the edge of what is acceptable in horror films. It’s box office results were disappointing, perhaps because word-of-mouth indicated that the film was not just horrific, it was too grizzly and unpleasant to be viewed comfortably. No horror film should be viewed comfortably, of course. Audiences should always be kept on the edge of their seats or even halfway under them. But they should not be made to feel so uncomfortable that they feel sick and ill. It’s a debatable point but  the lack of (the film's) financial success suggest there is some validity to the argument."

Even though I'd managed to make it through some pretty stomach-churning fare in the past, the very thought of watching this flick made my blood pressure spike. Indeed, the critics in these horror books seemed convinced that this movie was the absolute nadir when it came to good taste and restraint.

Here's Nigel Andrew's equally-excitable review:

"Mutilations and mutations occupy about equal screen time, as a group of Arctic scientists are picturesquely torn apart by alien forces. A decapitated head sprouts spider legs and scuttles across the floor; a dog's head spontaneously burst open like a bloody flower; and the climax features...a towering, roaring, slavering bouquet of limbs and innards and organs all lashing around like an escaped Hieronymus Bosch painting."

The funny thing is, I actually understood the Hieronymus Bosch reference because of this other horror book I owned back then...

Featured on page 15 was the artist's classic triptych: The Garden of Early Delights, including the following harrowing depictions of hell:

I didn't know it at the time, but ol' Nigel's analogy would prove to be spot on.

So, one fateful winter night, when I knew the 'rents would be away for the entire evening, I ran down to my local vidja store, the Video Scream, er...Screen, and picked me up a copy of...

THE THING (1982)

The movie starts our with a stereotypical "flying saucer"-style UFO hurtling towards our planet. This immediately triggered the thought that 'Hey, this flick isn't's space-y! It's like Star Wars!' but then I remembered the last time I assumed that, the movie turned out to be Alien, so I quickly jettisoned that hope like a xenomorph out of an airlock.

Segue to a bad-ass title sequence which saw "THE THING" slowly burning into my cathode ray tube T.V. screen and, subsequently, my increasingly-skittish brain.

After several picturesque but desolate establishing shots, I watched with budding interest (and discomfort) as the speck of a distant helicopter drew closer, winging it way across the stark, white, frozen, landscape. Eventually its quarry was revealed: a dog or, more specifically, an Alaskan malamute lithely running away from the whirlybird.

That's when the helicopter's passenger whipped out a semi-automatic rifle and start sniping away at the doggo. Rewatching the movie now, I can't but help to wonder if Sarah Palin was affected by this film as a child even more than I was.

Even at a very young age, I could recognize quality film-making when I saw it, noting director John Carpenter's awesome camera set-ups in this sequence. This was aided considerably by the legendary cinematography of Carpenter's long-time collaborator, Dean Cundey, resulting in one of the best- looking horror films in cinema history. Hell, even the slimy bits that followed later on looked good, in their own weird way.

As the dog and the pursuing chopper started to approach a remote-looking research station, I got a brief montage introducing us to the film's characters, including the legendary Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady. Resplendent in his Snake Plissken-era long hair and prospector beard, Russell once again proves that he's a god among men within a few seconds of screen time. That is, until he loses his computer chess game and sulkily hucks what's left of his drink into its electronic innards, shorting out the "cheatin' bitch" in the process.

And, yes, back in the early 80's it was perfectly feasible to invest a ludicrous amount of money into a computer that did nothing but play chess with you. What can I say, back then we were all hidin' in caves and shit, terrified of the sun. Anyhoo, I digress...

I remember watching intently as the dog, arguably the best actor in the entire movie, entered the perimeter of the camp. By the way, I was already completely invested in the film by that point. Likely because the exteriors for this fictional setting of U.S. Outpost 31 in Antarctica, was actually a real set built on location in remote Stewart, British Columbia. Nowadays, most of this would be shot on a sound stage or with the actors standing in front of a green screen with a CGI snowbank comped into the background.

When MacReady blearily emerges from his watch post and stumbles out into this very real environment, I’m 100% sold on the illusion. This is really driven home when the cast gear up in their snowsuits and venture outside, curious as to what all the ruckus is all about. You can see their breath in the cold air, which modern special effects artists would just simulate with CGI. To this day, "simple" effects like CGI cold breath sticks out to me like a sore thumb.

The helicopter's frantic passenger jumps out and hurls a grenade at the dog about as well as Trump would theoretically throw a baseball. After promptly blowing both himself and the chopper up right some good, the pilot stalked up to the camp's perimeter, guns blazing, clearly hell-bent on killing the mutt.

Just before he can "Old Yeller" the poor pooch, Garry, the base commander, played by Donald Moffat, smashes out a window with his revolver and ventilates the babbling Nordic freak. Even this scene really disturbed me as a kid. I was used to seeing people flying back in an exaggerated way when they got shot in movies, but here, when the actor got tagged in the head, he just kinda face-planted into the snow as if the life was instantly sucked out of him. This rag-doll doll effect, accompanied by a final death spams, seemed subconsciously realistic to me.

That's when I was introduced to a flurry of characters, including physician Copper (Richard Dysart),  chief mechanic Childs (Keith David), geologist Norris (Charles Hallahan), radio operator Windows (Thomas Waites), senior biologist Blair (Wilford Brimley), roller-skating cook Nauls (T.K. Carter), sardonic burn-out / assistant mechanic Palmer (David Clennon), assistant biologist Fuchs (Joel Polis), Clark the dog-handler (Richard Masur) and meteorologist / random casualty Bennings, played by Peter Maloney. Immediately, everyone seemed well-cast and inhabited their respective roles perfectly.

As MacReady and Copper wing off in the chopper to investigate the Norwegian base, Carpenter turns out attention back to the base. Accompanied by the eerily-appropriate strains of Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious", we see this foreign dog creeping around the base. Again, I'm an animal lover, particularly dogs. I've been around them all my life and I know when they're giving an unnatural performance. So, to you, Jed the wolf dog, I wanna say cheers, my dude. Good job creeping me right the fux out.

At one point, the dog slinks into a room and we see a silhouette turn towards the animal. Although you could probably parse out the identity of this person now by process of elimination back then I had no idea who that was. In fact, I'm pretty sure Carpenter pulled a fast one and used some random person's silhouette who isn't even in the cast. At this point, I started to pick up on all the subtle techniques that Carpenter was using here, including the frequent use of dissolves.

I feel myself shifting uncomfortably on the couch as MacReady and Copper arrived at the destroyed Norwegian base. Here's another example of the film's seamless production design. The place is a creepy, burned-out husk that clearly shows signs of a desperate struggle. Between the bloody ax driven into the wall and the incredibly gruesome sight of a dead body with it's wrists slit open and a  Pac-Man like straight razor wound to the neck, Carpenter and company build an atmosphere that is truly unsettling.

I almost shut of the movie at that point, but I steeled myself and pushed on. Unfortunately the creep factor went through the stratosphere when Copper and MacReady came across a giant block of ice with a massive humanoid shape cut out of the middle of it. What was even more disturbing was the  body dumped outside, a strange and twisted blend of charred limbs and melted faces. I almost had a conniption when the Doc suggested that they wrap the monstrosity up and take it back to the base for an autopsy.

"What are you guys doing?!" I muttered audibly to myself. "Does that Mr. Potato Head floral arraignment of half-melted body parts look even remotely normal to you two fucks?"

Oddly, they didn't seem to hear me. After they got this mangled stew of flesh back to the base, I was "treated" to a nauseating series of nigh-pornographic close-up autopsy shots, showing this weird, twisted, mishmash of human remains close up. The puzzled look of revulsion on the actor's faces pretty much mirrored my own at that point.

Even though Blair's autopsy leads him to conclude that the monstrosity has a completely normal set of internal organs, when the camera pans up to revel a warped and twisted face, we clearly know that something's rotten in the state of Norway. Later on, THE CREEPIEST HOBO scares the crap out of Bennings, so he orders Clark to put the animal in the kennel

The scene where the mystery dog is penned up with the other animals is absolutely amazing. I know I keep harping on this, but I really think this good boi deserves a posthumous Academy Award. He slooooowly walks in and methodically lays down, all the while doing this insane Willem Dafoe in Platoon 1000-yard  stare, which understandably unnerves the rest of the pack.

As soon as Clark is out of sight, we see why the dogs are getting so spooked. I sat there in stunned wonderment as the Norwegian dog started to shake and then his head suddenly split open like a gory flower. I gaped, slack-jawed at the screen as the revealed skull just kinda fell off, revealing a massive lashing tongue.

At first I was just too flabbergasted to hit "STOP" on the VCR remote. Particularly when the dog's once-beautiful fur broke out into a rash of flailing calamari. I sat there, transfixed as this beautiful animal transformed before my very eyes into a Lovecraftian nightmare monster.

The other dogs, who could sense that shit was about to get very real as soon as their spooky new flat-mate moved in, are now desperately trying to get as far away as possible, even chewing on the wire mesh of the cage door. At this stage, limbs and tentacles are just lashing and splattering all over the cage. In a particularly sickening scene, the creature appears to power-jizz all over one of the crouching dogs.

And that's when I shut the movie off for a second, partially due to terror and partially due to nausea.

'Who the fuck decided that it was a good idea to give Carpenter a budget?' I thought to myself.

After pressing "PLAY" on the remote, I instinctively recoiled, expecting to see something even  worse. Instead I watched as Clark headed back to the pen, clearly alarmed by all the ruckus. As soon as he opened the cage door to investigate, a dog came flying at him from out of nowhere. After spotting the writhing mass of rampant tentacles, he immediately kicks the door shut and locks it.

Even half-drunk in his quarters, MacReady can hear the growling and unearthly screams. He sounds the base alarm and dashes off to help. When he reaches the cage, Clark's testimony pretty much sums up the entire situation:

"I dunno what the hell's in there, but it's weird and pissed off, whatever it is."

We then see Bennings burst into Child's room, asking for the flamethrower. When a character in a horror movie invokes the "kill it with fire" clause, you know the shit is hitting the fan!

The next time I chanced a glimpse inside the cage, it was through a mesh of interlocked fingers. And, *spoiler alert*, the scene was predictably awful. By now, the creature has done due diligence in its effort to imitate and absorb this entire pack of dogs. The beast unleashes a hellish, ear-piercing scream as MacReady whips the gate open.

Both of us watched in astounded horror as the thing lashed out at one of the remaining dogs, practically mummifying the poor thing in a yarn-like ball of pulpy tentacles. I feel myself living vicariously through Mac as he snaps, blowing away the remaining dogs in what any rational man would see as a mercy kill.

Unfortunately, Clark isn't rational and he tries to wrestle the weapon away from Mac. This gives the creature an opportunity to morph again, sprouting a pair of grotesque, oversized limbs which reach up, crash through the roof and start pulling the bloody, skinned carcass towards the ceiling. That's when Childs finally had the presence of mind to step up with the flamethrower.

Unfortunately, he immediately found  himself in a staring contest with a one-eyed horror show that unexpectedly split open and shot a tongue-and-tooth-covered rose petal of pure nightmare fuel in his direction. At the very last second, in an act of pure self-preservation, he finally triggered the flamethrower, instantly cremating the inexplicable threat.

I'm not sure what caused me to stop the film for a second time at this point. Was an assault by a monster who's penchant to terrify wasn't restrained by a set physical form? The genuine terror displayed by the cast? Or was it the creature's final death scream, a triumph of sound design that lingers in my nightmares to this very day? Whatever it was, it took awhile for me to voluntarily wade back into this visual abattoir.

Comes the dawn, and I immediately get another justification for skipping the popcorn. Wilford Brimley looks decidedly nauseated here as he hacks open the nightmarish amalgam of surreal flesh left over from the previous sequence. The scene fades out on his authentically-disgusted facial expression, the fade-out hinting at the time it took for both his and our brain to process what we've just witnessed. In the very next scene he’s regaling his buds with his theory about the creature:

"You see, what we're talkin' about here is an organism that imitates other life-forms, and it imitates 'em perfectly. When this thing attacked our dogs, it tried to digest them...absorb them. And, in the process, shape its own cells to imitate them. This for instance. That's not dog. It's imitation. We got to it before it had time to finish."

This gives considerable weight to the following scene where he's administering a sedative to one of the surviving malamutes, all the while grilling Clark about his time with the alien doggo. Clark reacts defensively and it's almost as if Blair sees the writing on the wall right then and there. The paranoia has begun and, in a very real way, it's already game over.

The team reviews video footage brought back from the destroyed camp. Even though my stomach was beginning to settle at that point, the grainy images immediately made my skin crawl. With the video seemingly documenting that the Norwegians discovered a massive humanoid shape buried in the ice, MacReady, Norris and Palmer head off in the chopper to check it out.

Soon the trio find themselves standing at the site of a massive downed spacecraft, the same one we saw hurtling towards earth before the credits. This chilling scene is augmented by a stellar matte paining by the legendary artist Albert Whitlock as well as some truly eerie music by the equally amazing Ennio Morricone. It's a one-two punch to the nerves that had me dreading the implications of what's to come.

After MacReady reports his findings back at the base and Nauls scolds his team-mates for putting their "dirty drawers" in the kitchen garbage ("Hey,'s a CLUE!"), we fade see Blair in his lab. In a gloriously-dated ode to Atari-era video game graphics, we see the doc run a "simulation" of an intruder cell attacking and copying a dog cell. Notwithstanding my suspicion that Blair is holding out on Mac and playing some unconventional mod of Asteroids, Wilford Brimley is absolutely riveting in this scene.

His computer then spells out something that I suspect he already knows: that there’s a 75% chance that one of the team members has already been infected. Worse still, we're told that, the entire world population will be infected within 27,000 hours of first contact if even so much as a single intruder organism reaches a civilized areas. After reading this, Blair calmly opens his desk drawer and takes out a revolver, clearly resolved to do take some extreme, but likely necessary, action.

Continuing my subconscious goal of gnawing my fingernails down to the quick, I watched as Bennings and Windows moved the remains of the morphed dogs into a store room.

"Talk about drawing the short straw!" I muttered to myself. "I wouldn’t touch those fucking things with a 10-foot pole!"

The paranoia, exhaustion, and tension continues to build among the men, as Fuchs corners MacReady and whispers a request for a private meeting. Clearly Windows and Bennings pick up on this, giving the two some stink-eye.

Windows can't resist taking one last peek at the twisted face under the sheet. As he covers it back up and turns away, the blanketed form starts shifting around in place. Then, as if that wasn't scary enough, Carpenter gives us a low angle and we see a narsty fountain of goo running off the table and onto the floor. Of course, that's when Windows says "sionara!", leaving Bennings to the niceties of what I could only imagine was a nicely-congealing, ten foot tall slime monster.

During their secret tete-a-tete, Fuchs tells a clearly-bored MacReady that Blair is concealing information from them and then drops the bombshell that the organic samples aren’t technically dead. Wheeee!!! That's when we cut back to Windows checking in on Bennings who, *surprise! surprise!* is nowhere to be seen. After finding a pile of bloody, ripped clothing, not unlike what Nauls found earlier, Windows gets a glimpse of something distinctly repellent in the corner.

Seeing that half-naked, blood-and-slime-covered, hentai perversion of Bennings  immediately sent chills down my spine. But I didn't have time to dwell on it, as Windows wisely ran out to Mac and Fuchs and the three of them rushed back into the room. Naturally, the Benningsthing has already skedaddled, and, for a moment, I thought that Carpenter was gonna pull a classic Scooby Doo moment.

"Suuuure, you saw Bennings turning into the thing, Windows! I think you need to lay off on whatever Palmer's been selling to you, brotha!"

Fortunately we're spared this cliche when they spot Bennings run-staggering away from the storehouse. They give chase and pretty soon, everyone on the base has surrounded their irrevocably-altered colleague. By now the creature has turned itself into a near-perfect duplicate of Bennings, save for the hands, which are these surreal, elongated, skeletal and skinless mockeries.

In a haunting moment that recalls the finale of 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the creature balefully looks at his former friends and makes a noise that I immediately add to my audio book of nightmare fuel. When confronted with this hellish aberration, MacReady does what every self-respecting man would do: kick over a fuel drum and then light the fucker on fire.

My gleeful chant of "Yeah! Burn, bitch, burn!" was tempered somewhat by the next scene where a clearly-traumatized Garry tells Mac: "I know Bennings! I've known him for ten years. He's my friend!" Donald Moffat's performance here is heart-breaking, embodying a wide range of fear and helplessness. This is made all the more tragic by MacReady's cold retort: "We gotta burn the rest of him."

In a moment that even my teen-aged brain recognized as a classic example of "too little, too late", I watched as Mac and company gathered up and torched all of the bio-samples and then plowed them over. As the last one to leave the scene, Mac catches a glimpse of someone leaving the helicopter, which is parked in the distance. When he investigates, he discovers that the chopper's instrumentation panel has been turned into a mechanical version of what The Thing does to a human body.

I didn't have long to ponder The Mystery of the Disemboweled Chopper for very long. A gunshot rang out, signalling the start of THE GREAT WILFORD BRIMLEY FREAK OUT SCENE. To all those Millennials out there who think that Wilfred Brimley is nothing more than a "diabeatus" meme, just watch this glorious sequence and tell me that he doesn't serve up some of the juiciest line deliveries in cinema history. In my opinion, this is one of the actor's career highlights.

When Mac arrives at the communication room, it's pure bedlam. A dazed Windows is cowering in the corner, bleeding from a nasty head wound. Blair has gone completely apeshit, "axe"-ing every sensitive piece of equipment in the room a question. All the while he's delivering lines like "It wanted to be US!" and "I’LL KILL EWE!!!" like an octogenarian prospector strung out on bath salts. His rage, fear and conviction are all 100% real to me.

After Mac's famous "card table gambit", they overcome Blair and lock him up in the tool shed. Even slightly concussed and borderline nuts, Brimley wasn't done dropping some science on me yet. When Blair tells Mac that he "doesn't know who to trust anymore", Kurt Russell replies "I know what you mean, Blair" in such a weird, stilted tone. This line delivery was so odd that I seriously though that Mac was a "thing." It's as if deliberately trying to antagonize Blair, patronize him or make him even more paranoid.

Regardless, before Mac leaves the shelter, Blair tells him to "watch Clark and watch him close, you hear me?" Even back then I didn't give much credence to this warning since, in the prior scene, Clark is shown mourning the remaining dogs that Blair has deliberately put down and that didn't feel very "thing"-esque to me.

Just as rattled as the characters were at this stage, I watched as Gary, Copper, Childs, Fuchs and Mac had an impromptu strategy session out in the snow. After Copper proposed a blood test, this immediately led to another horrifying discovery: the untainted whole blood storage unit has been opened and  destroyed.

Naturally, this ramped the ol' "Mistrust-O-Meter" up to "11", and pretty soon the accusations are flying like spitballs. Since Copper is the only one with access to the fridge and Garry has the only key, the spotlight is immediately on them. They don't do a very good job defending themselves, with Garry looking decidedly twitchy and sweaty and Richard Dysart's Copper offering up one of the most idiosyncratic line deliveries along with the kind of look that the Dramatic Gopher would consider overblown.

Just as they're about to come to blows, someone notices that Windows has dashed off. They catch up to him just as he smashed open a rifle cabinet. Garry shows up first, pointing his revolver right at the radio operator's head. Mercifully, Mac arrives on the scene and talks them down. At this stage, Garry's nerves are clearly about as shot as mine, so he resigns as the base commander so Mac takes charge, under a withering storm of suspicious looks and silent protests.

After burning the blood samples, MacReady gives one of his best soliloquies:

"I know I'm human. And if you were all these things, then you'd just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn't want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It'll fight if it has to, but it's vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it's won."

After isolating prime suspects Copper, Garry and Clark he orders Norris and Childs to tie them up in the rec room, shoot them up with morphine and watch them like a hawk. Kurt Russell then delivers an amazing solo performance, basically doing what amounts to a "captain's log" entry into a tape recorder. The level of exhaustion, weariness and resignation in his voice is just palpable. If there was any doubt that Mac wasn't our avatar in the film, it's dispensed with in this one scene.

At this point, the power inexplicably goes out, giving Carpenter another opportunity to show why he's a master of suspense. We see Fuchs in his lab light a candle and investigate a strange noise. As he creeps through the darkness, a dark figure suddenly whips past the foreground, accompanied by a jolting musical sting. Watching this for the first time as a kid, I nearly hit the roof. Normally, I hate jump scares but, when they're earned, they can be pretty awesome.

Fuchs follows the mysterious figure outdoors and stumbles across a fire pit which contains MacReady’s torn and charred overalls. With that, my disorientation got kicked up another notch. I think that's why the movie is so effective and continues to be potent to this very day. Screenwriter Bill Lancaster, son of the famous actor Burt Lancaster, doesn't bother to fill in every blank. When things start falling apart, he plants plenty red herrings and false leads to throw the viewer off-kilter.

Before Nauls can share this interesting piece of trivia with the group, we see that Mac's simplest orders are getting blow-back. When he tells Palmer and Windows to team up to search for Fuchs, the mechanic will have nothing of it, leading to a nasty confrontation which Mac is forced to de-escalate.

With a nasty storm bearing down on the camp, MacReady leads a group out to the tool shed to check on Blair. Once again, Dean Cundey lights this night-time scene perfectly and the use of color tones is extraordinary. In a lesser film, this whole sequence could have been a murky mess, but here it not only pops, it makes the viewer feel palpably chilled.

The visit to Blair is another surreal moment. Mac ask the scientist if he’s seen Fuchs but the Doc ignores the question, saying "l'm not gonna harm anybody and there's nothing wrong with me.
And if there was, l'm all better now. l'd like to come back inside.You got my promise."

When I was watching this for the first time, my young, over-clocked brain was thinking 'Um, okay, he sounds pretty sincere, but there's just something not right here.'  The next time I watched the film I finally noticed THE FUCKING NOOSE HANGING IN THE FOREGROUND. Yeah, that kinda undercuts your "I'm all better now" claim there, Blair, ol' boy. I dunno, maybe he had it there as a precaution, just in case something slimy came to the door, looking for donations on a cellular level.

On the way back from the tool shed, Nauls spots a charred body just lying in the middle of the camp. They rush over and find the remains of Fuchs, his glasses still sitting next to the impromptu crematorium.

"Maybe he burned himself, before it could get to him!" MacReady speculates.

Ultimately, the circumstances surrounding the scientists's fate is undetermined. By all accounts, Fuchs had a lot more to do in earlier drafts of the screenplay, so I'm not sure if his role was truncated just for the sake of time. Whatever the reason, it feels like yet another deliberately planted mystery designed to further disorient and obfuscate the viewer. Speaking off, on the way back inside, MacReady notices that the lights in a shack are inexplicably back on so he leads Nauls up there while Windows heads back to report their findings to the group.

After another fade out and in, we're told that 45 minutes have clocked by with Mac and Nauls failing to return. With the weather getting worse by the second, Childs gives the order to start boarding up the outside doors. From his vantage point, Norris looks out the window and spots someone stumbling back towards the door. He also exhibits clear signs of a bum ticker, which, in my mind, instantly exonerated him from B.E.M. (bug-eyed monster) status.

Under protest, Palmer lets the prodigal son back in and its revealed to be Nauls. Breathlessly, the cook reveals that he found MacReady's torn-up jumpsuit up by his cabin, so he decided to "cut him loose" from their mutual tether and hoof it back to the base. That's when John Carpenter's camera zoomed in on a nearby door handle as it twists and turns, revealing that something wants in real bad. At the time, it also caused my teenaged heart to seize up in my chest.

Childs is adamant about keeping the door sealed but the debate is cut short when the sound of shattering glass can be heard coming from the store-room. The chief mechanic runs over and starts hacking the door down with an ax, intent on murdering the intruder. As soon as the door is breached, Childs stops in his tracks, as a ghostly-looking, frost-bitten MacReady is shown holding a stick of dynamite next to the idling spout of his flame thrower.

Nauls and Norris try to sneak up behind Mac and tackle him, but he fights them off. Norris falls back into a shelf and actor Charles Hallahan exhibits some pretty convincing symptoms of a legitimate heart attack, which I found disturbing in its own right.

While MacReady holds his accusers at bay, Copper tries to revive the ailing Norris using a defibrillator. Dysart has another great moment here, uttering a subtle little whimper when his first attempt to revive Norris fails. Seconds later we find out why the geologist wasn't responding normally, leading to one of the best set-pieces in the entire film.

As Copper comes down with the paddles for a second time, Norris's chest pops open like a bear trap. I distinctly remember watching this as a kid and physically recoiling away from the screen. Well, as you might expect, this impromptu, shark-like maw clamps down on Copper's forearms, biting them clean off.

The sequence is sold perfectly by a combination of Dysart's bloodcurdling scream and a tricksy illusion designed by special effects whiz kid Rob Bottin. Bottin brought in an actor with missing limbs, gave him fake forearms, and triggered the creatures "jaws" to chomp 'em clean off. As if that wasn't convincing enough, he made cast out of Dysart's face, crafted a lookalike mask and then put it on the amputee for the long shots!

Viewing this for the first time, I had no clue how it was done. I just knew that it looked 100% real. This prompted another pause in the film and the sort of silent affirmation that only an aspiring gore hound would say.

'Awrite, suck it up,' I said to myself. 'It's not real. Remember Dawn of the Dead? That was gory and you made it through. Get back in there, buttercup!'

As I pressed "PLAY" on the VCR remote, I'd soon be forced to realize that Carpenter wasn't gonna let me off the hook quite so easily.

Watching through partially-obscured vision, I saw the now-limbless Copper fall back from his "patient" who's chest cavity promptly exploded in an Old Faithful-style geyser of writhing tentacles and splattering gore. I sat there, dumbfounded, as the same ghastly image in my horror book manifested itself right before my unblinking eyes. Have you ever gone to one of those spook houses or haunted corn mazes and just frozen up like a deer in headlights when something truly terrifying pops up from outta nowhere? Yeah, that was me watching this scene. I was literally too traumatized to look away.

I audibly exclaimed "OH THANK JESUS!" when MacReady torched the slimy McNasty with a gout of fire from his flamethrower. We then cut away to a (way too) close-up on the operating table to see "Norris" twisting and writhing as he burns to death. But that's when something ten times worse started to happen. His head, his fucking HEAD, started to twist back and forth and shimmy across the table. The neck, now stretched to the breaking point, began to split off the body and rupture, revealing a nasty, green-and yellow, fibrous tangle of  goop-filled veins inside.

When I watch the scene now, I'm amused by how close actor Kurt Russell is is holding the prop dynamite to the burning tip of the flamethrower. But back then felt like the narrator in an H.P. Lovecraft story, feeling my sanity ebb away a little bit as Norris's decapitated head gently touched down onto the floor via its gory bungee cord.

Then an impossibly-long tongue suddenly lashed out of the mouth, attaching itself to a nearby desk.
The head then used this impromptu tether to drag itself to safety, making a really creepy, otherworldly sound all the while. As the others rushed in to extinguish the blaze, I watched the rogue noggin' sprout six spider-like legs and two antennae-style eye stalks, peek out from underneath the desk and then skitter away like a giant cockroach. That's when I actually started chuckling to myself like a certifiable madman.

Carpenter must have suspected that this scene was so extreme that laughter would be the only defense against it. Moments later, MacReady and company slow turn around to see the spider-head gamely trying to make a break for it, prompting Palmer to utter the deathless line: "You gotta be fucking kidding me!" Thankfully, Mac roasts the abomination before it can make good its escape.

After witnessing this autonomy of body parts displayed in the previous scene, Mac comes to the realization that every single cell in the creature is its own individual organism. This inspires his theory that any tissue, even blood, will instinctively recoil away from harm if its threatened.

He starts barking orders at Clark, giving Richard Nasser a chance to deliver some truly patronizing line deliveries. Across the room. Keith David's Childs is cold as ice, practically daring Mac to kill him. He only backs down when Mac cocks the revolver and aims it point blank at his face. Clark then takes this moment of distraction to rush at Mac with a scalpel, but the chopper pilot whirls around and shoots his assailant right in the forehead.

Side note: since I'd only seen my first movie head shot at age 12 in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was still pretty squeamish when it came to cinematic violence. So, as you can imagine, my inaugural viewing of The Thing was like the horror movie equivalent of taking someone who can't swim up in a helicopter, flying over the middle of a lake and then pushing them out the door.

Taking no chances, Mac ordered Palmer to lash Clark and Copper's bodies to the table and then got Windows to tie everyone else down. He then collected a blood sample from everyone, scraped the plastic coating off some copper wire, and then heated this up in the barrel of the flamethrower.

Thanks to John Carpenter's crackerjack direction and excellent editing by Todd Ramsay, what follows is one of the most tense and nail-biting sequences in cinema history. As Mac prepares his ad hoc test, we have no sweet clue who’s human and who’s a thing, even the characters themselves. Witness palpable look of relief on Thomas Waites's face when Mac dips the hot wire into his blood sample without any effect.

Carpenter then proceeds to serve up one tense "PSYCHE!" after another, to the point where even I started to doubt our protagonist's sanity.

"This is a crock of shit," Childs mutters, mirroring my own thoughts.

Just before the innocent Clark and Copper are are both cleared, Garry echoes the sentiment of Childs, declaring that "This is pure nonsense. lt doesn't prove a thing!" to which Mac retorts: "l thought you'd
feel that way, Garry. You were the only one that could have gotten to that blood. We'll do you last."

Just as Mac dips the hot wire into Palmer's blood sample, the contents of the dish suddenly lurches up, making an audible screech, not the xenomorph's scream in Alien. Stunned, Mac reflexively drops the sample and backs away. After the blood spatters to the floor it seems to rally, oozing away like a mini version of The Blob whacked out on Jolt cola.

The next few scenes hit me like multiple blows to the head with a railroad tie. Carpenter gives us a master shot of Palmer convulsing, his face expressionless and dead-eyed. Before he's replaced on screen by a Rob Bottin nightmare creature, David Clennon gives a chillingly-effective performance that literally had me wincing at the screen. Especially when Nauls, Garry and Childs, tied up next to Palmer, start screaming for their lives and desperately rail against their bonds. Idly, I couldn't help but think back to the poor dogs in the first transformation scene.

The following sequence is both a cinematic ballet of absolute chaos and a surreal blending of alien and human flesh. Via some powerhouse editing, Palmer starts to morph into another one of Rob Bottin's monstrosities, turning into a bloody, hyperactive scarecrow of amorphous flesh and flailing, overextended fingers. At one point, Palmer's distended skull splits open, a tongue lashes out, grabs poor hapless Windows by the throat and then pulls his head into its own trap-jaw noggin.

Carpenter then makes a strange choice, opting to shoot just the feet of the two men standing uncomfortably close to one another as their bodies start to meld into one. This was disturbing enough as some sort of psycho-sexual nightmare. With the Palmer-thing now merging with Windows at the hands and head, the radio operator's body starts flinging around the room like a ragdoll. All the while there’s blood and gore raining down all over the room, to the point where the greatest danger to the Palmer-thing is a nasty slip n' fall accident.

Eventually what's left of Windows flings off across the room and strikes a wall. Mac finally gets his flamethrower operational and torches the Palmer-thing. As it's incinerated, the creature makes a truly dreadful wailing sound, it's fractured, fang-filled head opening and closing like a giant Venus flytrap. Desperate to escape, the walking nightmare bursts through the wall and tries flee into the darkness.  Mac pursues it doggedly, finally using his dynamite to blows it to smithereens.

Apparently this all left Mac just as stunned as I was, because it took him several beats to register the screams for help coming from within. He goes back inside and flames Windows, who's already starting to turn from his contact with Palmer. The brief moment of peace that followed was immediately shattered when both Nauls and then Childs start freaking out because they're still tied up with Garry, whom they're convinced is a thing. But, in a plot twist, the former base commander turns out is human as well, giving him an opportunity to deliver one of the best lines in the movie:

"I know you gentlemen I’ve been through a lot but when you find the time I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!!!"

When we fade back in, we see Childs staring at the window. Mac appears and tells him that they're going out to give Blair the test, adding: "if he tries to make it back and we're not with him, burn him." Well, to no-one's surprise, the tool shed's door has been opened from the outside and the famous oatmeal salesman is no-where to be seen.

Mac, Garry and Nauls discover that Blair has pulled up the floorboards and tunneled underneath the shed. In this movie about a shape-shifting alien creature, it's the only moment that stretches credibility and had me snorting in disbelief. Look, I can buy the fact that he dug a tunnel, especially if he's a "thing" now, but where the hell did he put all of that excess ice and snow?

The perfectly-sculpted, Hoth / Echo-base style ice corridor leads to which appears to be a makeshift workshop. Even as a kid, this scene was so patently unbelievable that I really couldn't wrap my brain around it. Clearly this scene is trying to tell us that the Blairthing has been stealing equipment parts from all over the camp to craft a  miniature version of his flying saucer, but it comes across as pretty ludicrous. When did he get the time to do all of this?!?

Say what you want about this unlikely plot development, but you can't slight the bravura film-making that follows. Carpenter follows this up with a moody series of establishing shots, accompanied by the director's very own heartbeat-like electronic score. The camera slinks around the base, as if doing an impression of something that traumatized us in a previous scene. It really amps up the viewer's feelings of cold, desolate isolation.

While coming back from Blair's flipped tool shed, Nauls spots a figure what he thinks was Childs leaving the base, running out after something. Aaaand that’s when the power cuts out.

Mac posits that the thing has willfully knocked out the generator. After Garry writes this off as "suicide", Mac reminds him that the thing's best strategy now is to plunge the entire base into a deep  freeze. Not only will this kill its human opponents, it'll give the creature a perfect opportunity go back into hibernation and wait for an unwitting new rescue team to come across it.

"Maybe we'll just warm things up a little around here," Russell growled in his distinctively bass-ass sorta way. "We're not gettin' outta here alive...but neither is that thing."

Our three remaining heroes use their remaining explosives to blow us Blair's Etsy project as well as every single other building on the base. As they moved into the generator room, an exchange between Mac and Garry really drove home just how fucked these guys really were.

Garry: "Generator's gone."
MacReady: "Any way we can fix it?"
Garry: "lt's gone, MacReady."

And this is where the film kinda stumbles into tropes a little bit. Mac idiotically tells Nauls and Garry to split up and set their charges all over hell and creation. Yes, I know every single horror movie does the whole "let's split up to cover more ground" bullshit, including Alien, but that's still don't make it any easier, youknowhutimean?

As Garry inched his way deeper into the bowels of the complex, his flashlight suddenly started to konk out. Natch. Back then I wasn't familiar with the set-up for every single horror movie scare, so when Garry fixed his illumination issue, turned around and then ran face-and-eyes into a ninja-like Blair, I just about shit a Trump wall worth of bricks.

This shock to the system was a quick reminder that Carpenter wasn't finished with me quite yet. Taking advantage of Garry's surprise, Blair clamped his ham-hock onto his former friend's face and then pushed him out of frame. I then watched in abject horror as Blair's fingers started to worm their way underneath the flesh his quarry's face. This led to the ghoulish sight of Blair dragging Garry's corpse away, his hand completely molded into the base commander's mush like a trailer hitch designed by David Cronenberg.

After Nauls just kinda fucks off, Mac notices the conspicuous absence of his peeps. He sets the remaining charge, sensing that something is lurking nearby. Then, after Carpenter builds an unbearable amount of tension by lingering on a static shot of the corridor for what feels like an eternity, the floorboards start to explode upward. Knowing that something big and ugly is headed right towards him, Mac leaps out of the way, losing his last stick of dynamite in the process. A storm of tentacles breaks through the earth, pulling the detonator back inside.

That's when the creatures bursts up through the hole and, let me tell ya kids, it's a doozy.

The Thing's final form is a massive, twisted-looking beastie with Blair's head on one side and a massive maw filled with sacrificial dagger-sized fangs on the other. The body itself is random patchwork of raw-looking human and canine limbs, bloody flesh and tentacles of various sizes and shapes. As it roars like a fucking kaiju, special effects lunatic Rob Bottin pushes an aborted-looking dog shape out of its flank, causing my stomach to do back-flips.

Mac, ever the hero, comes to his senses long before I would. He dives for the still-lit dynamite, picks it up, utters a pithy "Yeah, well, fuck you too!" and hurls it at the creature, blowing it to smithereens. A horrible screech, possibly human as well as alien, is heard amidst a chain reaction series of explosions, culminating in an impressive non-nuclear mushroom cloud.

"Whelp, they're all dead!" I cheerily said out loud to myself.

To my legitimate surprise, Mac is shown stumbling through the ruins, bundled up in a blanket and clutching a bottle of his precious J&B. He might have survived the explosion but he has the bearings of a dead man walking. He and I both know that, when the fires burn out, the base will plummet to sub-zero temperatures and his demise is inevitable.

As Mac settles into the nearest snowbank, Childs appears from out of nowhere. At first Mac is startled, but he quickly resigns himself to whatever might come next. The final exchange between these two is appropriately chilling, the perfect capper to a nigh-perfect film:

Childs: "How will we make it?"
MacReady: "Maybe we shouldn't."
Childs: "lf you're worried about me..."
MacReady: "lf we've got any surprises for each other, l don't think we're in much shape to do anything about it."
(after a pause)
Childs: "Well... what do we do?"
MacReady: "Why don't we just...wait here for a little while. See what happens."
Childs: "Yeah."


As the credit rolled I sat there, praising myself for getting through another rewarding, but clearly harrowing, fright film. Just like every other heavyweight horror flick I'd watched prior, John Carpenter's The Thing had subjected me to a unique and unexpected experience.

Gone was the implied violence and subtlety of Carpenter's tense but understated Halloween. Like Dawn of the Dead, this was a balls-to-the-wall gorror movie, but stripped of any sly, coal-black humor to soften the blow of the nasty bits. Indeed, watching The Thing was my graduate thesis. I'd evolved from a terror tenderfoot to someone who could deal with pretty much anything a director could throw my way.

In the intervening years, I've seen a lot of horror movies that have also creeped me out or disturbed me. But, after ten awesome years, I can finally end this series, knowing that I've given due praise to the movies that have made me an ardent fan of cinema as an art for and horror in particular. These movie taught me that, regardless of the genre, movies can't be a passive experience. They're meant to make to laugh, to think, to dream and to scream.

So, Dearest Reader, if you take anything from this series, let it be this: don't tolerate "entertainment" that's content to be nothing more than a passive product. Seek out the works of eccentrics, madmen and crazy people, knowing that when you've absorbed their works, thing-like, you'll emerge on the other side a more resilient, thoughtful, wise and interesting person.   

Happy Halloween and thanks for reading!


PREQUEL FAIL: Speaking of valueless non-threatening "product." 

Friday, October 11, 2019

"Vote Smart! VOTE S-MART!"

Hey, folks!

The ol' Eee Cee Dee is back...just in time for the next Federal Election on Monday, October the 21'st!

In this short-n'-sweet entry I'm gonna reveal why I'm voting with my head and not my heart...but you might not have to!

This post, in part, is inspired by all of those lovely folks on Bookface who are shitting on Justin Trudeau without acknowledging the existence of Andrew Scheer. This is likely because they don't want to publicly admit that they're gonna vote for a soulless, Ayn Randian, Objectivist, socially regressive, corporate thimbot who’s entire political career is more U.S. Republican and less PROGRESSIVE Conservative.

For me, every word and deed from Scheer and his ilk just drives home the fact that they're all just a bunch of Alliance and Reform scumbags with the serial numbers filed off.

As someone who's actually voted Progressive Conservative in the (distant) past, I can't vote for this current incarnation of the Conservative Party in good conscience because they go against my personal definition of what it means to be Canadian. And as much as Justin Trudeau has screwed up and disappointed me, my memory of Stephen Harper is still waaaaay too fresh to ever vote for another ethically bankrupt Conservative creep.

This post is also inspired, in part, by all of the sweet, naive, idealistic young people out there who are all like "Fuck the status quo! I'm voting for the Flying Yogic Party!"

Hey, don't laugh, kids! That last one used to exist. In fact, I actually voted for them one year on a lark.

Look, your optimism is all well and good. Trust me, I'd like nothing more than to vote for Elizabeth May's Greens. But, since Justin Trudeau fucked all of us by reneging on his election reform campaign promises in a blatant act of self-preservation, I still can't vote with my heart. But you might be able to.

So, how can I determine this, you ask? Well, just follow these two easy steps:

(1) Follow this link and plug in you postal code to determine your electoral district. For example, I just confirmed that I'm in the Halifax-West riding.

(2) Look up the your riding's Wikipedia page and scroll all the way down to the "Election Results" header. It's here that you'll see the voter history of your area.

To follow through on my example, my riding has voted Liberal in the past four elections. Great. Unfortunately, the runner up has been whatever white-bread Miracle Whip sandwich the Conservative Party has decided to proffer up on my doorstep.

Now, if things had continued to trend like it did back in 2008, when the Liberals were first and the NDP was second, I would merrily vote NDP or Green with a song in my heart. But because the Conservatives are the historic second place finishers in my 'hood, I'm gonna hafta vote Liberal in the next election.

I can hear people already kicking back against this, but, sorry...hate the game, not the player. Honestly, until we get rid of this antiquated "first past the post" bullshit and evolve to a more progressive and fair proportional representation process, there's absolutely nothing you can say or do to convince me to vote otherwise.

I also have a memory that goes back more than four months. I remember back in two-thousand-ought-ought when hordes of crusty, old Conservative a-holes came out in droves to vote for their single option while progressives pissed away their votes between the Liberals, NDP and Greens. The result? While the majority of folks voted for a change in government, our screwed-up political system handed Harper's Conservatives the full reigns of power with only 39% of public support.

Sorry, but if I have to limit my options in order to prevent a blatantly-reptilian, Parseltongued choad like Andrew Scheer from becoming our Prime Minister, I'll game this shit outta this crooked system until the flying yogic cows come home.

EPIC: This isn't just an issue here in Canada. Seriously, it's time to shift the status quo.


FAIL: Just because we've had something forever, it doesn't mean that it's good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Obligatory Halloween Post Has Risen From The Grave

Beast Witches to Boo on Halloween!

So, here we are yet again, scare addicts! It's that time of year when I talk about a movie that took a sizable chunk outta my sanity as an impressionable yoot!

In past chapters I've talked about some of the scariest fright flicks ever made, including An American Werewolf in London, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, The Return of the Living Dead, The Evil Dead and The Shining.

I'm not sure how old I was when I first saw this year's entry, but I learned of its existence when my parents inexplicably let my buy The Encyclopedia of Horror edited by Richard Davis back in 1981.

At the tender age of 11, I certainly wasn't prepared for the gruesome image I saw on page 139:

A distinct look of revulsion played over my face as I read that the still was from a movie that "showed in macabre detail what happened when zombies overran New York."

I can already hear the hard-core horror hounds out there screaming "What?!? New York?!? It happens in Pennsylvania, you dumb-ass!"

But back then I didn't know any better. I took the writer at face value as he went on to add: "Most of the action takes place in a large supermarket (?) which becomes awash with blood."

I was officially intrigued. As I read through the book I encountered more details on page 149:

"Mr. Romero now has color, and blood is gorier in color. Mr. Romero has never been one to eschew physical grue. Characters have the tops of their heads blown off in graphic closeup. Bolstered by larger budgets, Mr. Romero doesn't always resist the temptation to indulge himself, and is danger of overstatement as far as his moral message is concerned."   

The intensity of the movie was further bolstered by the following lurid image on page 153:

The pic was captioned thusly:

"In the 1970's, horror movies, with their surfeit of blood and special effects, were becoming almost too gruesome and frightening for the average horror fan." 

Yeah, no shit, Rich.

Prior to reading this book and seeing these images, the most graphic violence I'd seen in a film was likely Raiders of the Lost Ark. It would still be a year or so before I'd see "Mr. Romero's" notorious first feature film, a nasty little piece of celluloid which I've already talked about here and here.

In fact, the experience of seeing that particular magnum opus traumatized me so badly that I swore off Romero movies for at least two or three decades. I honestly didn't want to subject my embryonic  wits to any more of this madman's nightmare fuel. But every subsequent horror book I collected talked about this nasty sequel in hushed tones, as if daring me to watch it.

Here's what Tom Hutchinson had to say about it in Horrors: A History of Horror Movies two years later:

"Most of the later part of the action takes place in a huge shopping mall to which the zombies come. 'They gravitate to places that have meant a lot to them when they were living,' says one of the characters in the most overt statement yet about such a consuming and consumed society, although the sight of redneck farmers out on a zombie-shoot is a fairly obvious comment on our sporting lives."

And whereas its predecessor was in black-and-white, this sequel was in color, which meant "the gore was more realistically effective in the way it looked on screen. So heads explode in wincing close-up, because that is still the only way to eradicate the zombie plague, as once again a small group of people flees the rotting wrath to come. The plague analogy is very relevant for, besides being cannibalistic, the zombies pass on their contagion to whomever they bite, so that a man on the run dies of the bite and is then revived as one of the living dead." 

By this time I'd seen Romero's debut film and knew I wasn't even vaguely ready to watch it's gorier color sequel. Especially based on what I read and saw in Nigel Andrew's book Horror Movies.  

This book featured another stomach-turning still from the movie:

Now, it's one thing to screw up the courage to watch a movie that's scary but its a completely different bag o' rats to stare down the barrel of what my increasingly-frantic horror library was calling one of the goriest films ever made.

But eventually my horror movie apprenticeship hardened my stomach to the point where I thought I could tackle this one. So I took a trip down to my local video store, rented the town's single threadbare copy and followed my usual masochistic ritual. I turned off all the lights and crawled up on the couch. Given the film's reputation for vomitorial visceralism, I eschewed the snacks that I normally set aside for movie time. 

Despite my precautions, I had no idea at the time that nothing can prepare you for your first viewing of...

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

If you've never seen this classic horror movie, then what the hell are you doing?!? Go watch it first and then come back to read what this inconsequential jack-ass has to say about it!

After pressing "PLAY", I watched with dread as the movie began with a television station in turmoil. Nothing directly ties Dawn to its predecessor, but I like to think that this flick continues the story started in Night of the Living Dead...and the zombie plague has gotten a helluva lot worse.  

People are shouting, papers are flying in the air and two "experts" are hotly debating the current situation, leading to one of the film's many memorable quotes:

"Every dead body that is not exterminated becomes one of them. It gets up and kills! The people it kills get up and kill!" 

For some reason the yahoos gathered in the studio started heaping scorn upon the guy for saying this. Were they oblivious to what was going on all around them? Hadn't they seen the first film? In some weird way, this presages the current Trump-era tend of dismissing clear and present dangers like climate change as "fake news." 

So Romero, sneaky bastard that he is, wasted no time sneaking in some sly social commentary. Beyond this scene parroting the growing trend towards "circus" television, I watched as Givens, the unscrupulous station manager, forced his employees to keep broadcasting a list of non-existent rescue stations. One of our protagonists, Fran, played by the delightful Gaylen Ross, kicked back against this, which led to the following exchange:

Givens:    Garret, who told you to kill those supers?
Fran:        Nobody. I killed 'em. They're out of date. 
Givens:    I want those supers on the air all the time! 
Fran:        Are you willing to murder people by sending them out to stations that have closed down?
Givens:    Without those rescue stations on screen every minute people won't watch us. They'll tune out!

This introduced a pretty constant theme in the movie: seeking diversion and comfort from a world spinning down through through materialism and short-term gain. Realizing that all semblance of remaining order is lost, Fran agreed to escape in the station's news helicopter with her partner Stephen, a.k.a. Flyboy, played by David Emge. 

We then smash-cut to a S.W.A.T. team that's poised to raid a dilapidated tenement building. At least I assumed they were S.W.A.T.; most of them looked like hippies dressed up in Halloween costumes and awkwardly toting plastic M-16's. Clearly the movie didn't have the budget nor the inclination to hire real S.W.A.T. guys or train the extras in weapon handing and police tactics. As I would quickly learn, these petty observations would soon be rendered inconsequential. 

At the time I had no sweet clue what was supposed to be happening in this scene. And that's what I love about independent movies from this era. Unlike modern studio films, you're not spoon fed information and you've gotta puzzle things out for yourself.

Distracted by trauma during the introduction, I'd missed out on the reference to martial law. Apparently, things have gotten so bad that citizens were no longer able to occupy private residences and the bodies of the recently deceased had to be turned over to authorities for proper disposal. Well, the folks in this particular building weren't too keen on the idea of the cops bombing in and taking over their turf. An armed conflict ensued, giving Romero and horror movie makeup maestro Tom Savini an excuse to set off more explosive blood squibs than what was used to kill Sonny Corleone in The Godfather.

As someone who was still squeamish about seeing on-screen blood and graphic violence, this scene quickly caused my stomach to curdle. And when one the S.W.A.T. guys, appropriately named Wooley, suddenly veered deep into the weeds, things got much, much worse. 

I remember thinking to myself: 'Yeah, I know society is falling apart here, but how did this sloppy, psychotic fuck pass his last psych exam? Or his fitness exam, for that matter? Sorry, but as soon as this loon racked his shotgun and started raving about how Martinez needed to show his "greasy Puerto Rican  ass" so he could "blow it off", I was hoping the field commander would show up, take Mr. Electricity off to the side and ask him to "ex-nay the whole Uuertopay Icanray thing". Oh, and maybe encourage him to switch to decaf.

But nope, I sat there, jaw agape, as this lunatic went into rampage mode throughout the building. At one point Officer Batshit kicked down a random door, fired his shotgun, and blew the head off the poor fucker who just so happened to be standing there. 

This prompted me to punch the "STOP" button on the VCR remote control, for the first of many, many times during the movie.

"Wha-wha-what the fuck was the point of that?!" I muttered to myself, reflexively putting the back of my hand up to my mouth. Clearly the years hadn't caused Romero to go soft. If they're starting with a full-on head explosion, what they hell were they gonna do next?

Tentatively I pushed the "PLAY" button again and recoiled away from the television screen. 

My answer came pretty quick. I watched as a bunch of zombies got released from one of the quarantined rooms as they tried to put Old Yeller down. One of ghouls grabbed his unwitting girlfriend (?) and chomped down on her neck and then her arm. Again, Tom Savini's gut-wrenching makeup effects prompted another pause.

'I'm not gonna make it,'  I thought to myself, trying to stem the rising tide of bile. As my horror books had blithely observed, the gore in Night of the Living Dead was repellent enough, but this time out things were in color. Lurid, realistic, stomach-churning color.  

When I resumed the movie, my nausea got a brief reprieve but my nerves didn't. I was introduced to two of the S.W.A.T. team members, namely Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger), who have an encounter with a one-legged priest who's unpretentious delivery gives added resonance to the following chilling line:

"When the dead walk, señores,we must stop the killing or we lose the war."

Much to my complete and utter lack of delight, I got to see what this creepy and cryptic reference meant in the very next scene. As it turned out, the people in the tenement building have been stashing their dead and dying loved ones in the basement, who are then zombie-ing out and eating each other. *HUUURRRKK* Romero and Savini, the sick little monkeys that the are, document all of this in a series of devilishly-sadistic closeups.

I swore under my breath as I mistakenly hit "PAUSE" instead of the "STOP" button, inadvertently lingering on the sight of a gross, putrefying zombie gleefully munching away on a leg bone. Averting my gaze, I started mashing random buttons until the screen mercifully went black. 

"Jesus Christ!" I yelled out loud, likely causing my parents in the next room to stir. "What the fuck is wrong with these people?

Now, it wasn't as if I was watching this movie at an impressionable age and I couldn't tell the difference between reality and fantasy. It was just so vile, repulsive, realistic and nightmarish that it was starting to make me feel sick. After resuming the film, I managed to get to the end of the scene, feeling a palpable sense of relief every time Roger and Peter delivered another merciful head-shot to each of the rotting, cannibalistic aberrations.  

Something else worth noting at this point is the film's production design, or lack thereof. Dawn of the Dead wasn't shot on some hermetically-sealed, pre-constructed back-lot set that was made to look grungy. Nope, Romero went out, found the gnarliest, most dilapidated, run down, filthy apartment building he could find and then just started crankin' the camera. Between the vile setting and Michael Gornick's sickly-looking cinematography, Dawn of the Dead actually looks like it smells bad. In fact, to paraphrase my recent review of Terrifier, this movie looks like it was shot in "Smell-O-Vision" and the knob got permanently stuck on the "Devil's Anus" setting. 

As it turns out, Roger and Stephen are bros, so both he and Peter go along in the chopper flight. As the foursome get a bird's eye view of the countryside, we witness the full scale of the zombie apocalypse as packs of armed rednecks and military types are shown roaming the countryside, gunning down any wandering ghouls they encounter. 

Many times I've bitched about movies being tonally inconsistent, and this one is no exception. In fact, a case could be made that Dawn is tonally schizophrenic. After all, movie drunkenly careens from one of the most intense moments of visceral horror to a scene where roving bands of heavily-armed yahoos are wandering around, sport-shooting ghouls and enjoying an outdoor boil-up, all to the tune of "'Cause I'm A Man" by The Pretty Things.  

But somehow it worked for me. Maybe its because Romero had given me just enough down time in the helicopter to get to know our main characters. Perhaps it was because a moment of levity was just what I needed after all of that extreme brutality. Maybe it was the oddly-reassuring connective tissue (pun not intended) that this sequence provided to Night of the Living Dead. Whatever the reason, it didn't feel completely out of place to me. 

Eventually our heroes were forced to land and refuel. It was at that point when I really noticed the film's oddball musical choices. Speaking of schizophrenic, Dawn of the Dead's soundtrack is just as patchwork as its tone, featuring genuinely-creepy tracks by legendary Italian prog-rock band Goblin sandwiched between incongruous clips of generic stock music. The music is super-weird in the airport sequence; kinda like a bandsaw being oscillated back and forth at high speed. It really adds to the feeling of creeping doom. 

As our heroes explored the abandoned airport, a deader popped out of nowhere and tackled Flyboy. At the time I chuckled to myself, thinking 'Wow, dude might be an ace pilot, but he's pretty useless when it comes to hand-to hand combat. What the dell was that whole cross-body-block thing? Honestly, that shit's funnier than the redneck cook-out scene.'

Moments of black comedy dispensed with, it was clearly time for Romero to get down to the task of scaring the shit out of me again. I watched as a cadaver started to creep up on an oblivious Roger as he re-fueled the chopper. Now, in a crappy horror movie, this would result in some big showdown between the two, but not here. Here it's all about the gag. Driven by pure instinct, the zombie climbed atop a pile of crates interposed between him and Roger, inadvertently stuck his Frankensteinian melon up into the helicopter's rotor blades and promptly got more than a little taken off the top. 

Moments like this started to take the sting out of the graphic violence for me, to the point where the movie started to transition from balls-out horror to something kinda comic book-y. Having said that, not two minutes later, in one of the movie's more subversively-tasteless scenes, I watched in abject terror as Peter was forced to gun down two prepubescent ghouls who bushwhacked him in the airport office.

My nerves scarcely had a moment to recover before one of the most iconic zombies in cinema history made his debut. I squirmed in my seat as this bald rotter with the hideously decayed face and chest started silently closing in on a distracted Peter. Given his black and red plaid shirt, I idly wondered if this guy had inadvertently wandered down south from Mississauga.

As Flyboy aimed his rifle at the encroaching ghoul, I knew that he'd never owned a Daisy air rifle as a kid since he'd clearly never been exposed to even the most basic gun safety rules. His shot missed the zombie and nearly hit Peter, requiring a timely intervention from crack shot Roger.

Now refueled, our heroes quickly got airborne again. Eventually they flew over a massive parking lot and an equally-sprawling two-level complex. This led to one of the most gloriously-dated exchanges in film history:

Stephen: What the hell is it?
Roger: It looks like a shopping center, one of those big, indoor malls

Even in the mid-Eighties this was a really antiquated reference. By then, consumerism was at its zenith and shopping malls were everywhere. After touching down, our heroes looked down into the parking lot where scores of zombies were aimlessly milling around. This led to the following dialogue between Stephen and Fran, which continued to hammer home the film's theme:

Fran: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.

Fun fact: after you watch Dawn of the Dead you'll never look at shoppers in a mall around the Christmas season the same way again.

As the characters first ventured inside, I was really impressed by how well the movie used the mall as a location. Sometimes it felt as if Romero was shooting the flick in real time as the actors explored their surroundings. At one point the lights, animated displays and the incongruous muzak got turned on, leading to yet another funny tonal shift. I even found myself chuckling as Romero juxtaposed more over-the-top gore with scenes of zombies bumping into one another on the escalators and tumbling over the railing and into the fountain. 

At this point I really took notice of the low-fi makeup job on most of the zombies. In Night of the Living Dead, the make-up artists had it relatively easy. Since it was in black and white, all they needed to do is slap white makeup, facial appliances and chocolate sauce on a bunch of extras and *poof*, instant zombies. But in Dawn, Savini had a much bigger challenge.

Between shooting in color, the on-set lighting, the film stock used, and the sheer number of zombies that were needed, Savini's plan to shellac the background performers in a flat grey hue kinda backfired since it ended up photographing blueish-green. But considering the film's budget and time constraints, I find it easy to suspend disbelief and just go with it.

I also noticed that the blood in the film didn't really look like blood at all. I didn't know it at the time, but the egg tempera candy apple red gore used on-set was actually mass-produced by the 3M corporation. When the dailies started to come in, Tom told George that he hated the color of the blood, but George thought it was reminiscent of the EC Comics of his childhood and they decided to just roll with it.

After Peter and Roger took off to look for supplies, I felt a rush of anger as Stephen charged after them, effectively leaving Fran to her own devices. With everyone running riot around the mall, a Hari Krishna zombie slipped into the stairwell, leading to a legitimately creepy scene where he menaces Fran. Mercifully she managed to hold the l'il undead bastard at bay long enough for the guys to get back and help her.

Wow, and you though Hari Krishna's were pushy in real life!

This brings me to actress Gaylen Ross and the character of Fran. Compared to the shell-shocked  Barbra in Night of the Living Dead, Fran is practically Ellen freakin' Ripley. Sadly, she's also kinda useless at the start of the film, leaving Stephen to fend for himself during the airport attack and then retreating from the Hari Krishna zombie quicker than if it was alive. But the good news is, Fran does have an arc. She starts out about as valuable as a screen door on a submarine but by the end of it, she can handle herself quite well.

Nowadays you'd probably get criticized for showing a female character experience any sort of courage or competency struggle *cough, cough* Rey in Star Wars *cough, cough* but, in my humble opinion, that isn't realistic either. Hey, I'm big enough to admit that, if I was faced with what Fran had to deal with in Dawn of the Dead, I'd probably be the first one to go "full Barbra" on my fellow survivors. 

It's then revealed that Fran isn't at the top of her game because she's got a bun in the oven, prompting this bizarre exchange between Peter and Stephen:

Peter: Do you want to get rid of it?
Stephen: What?!?
Peter: Do you want to abort it? It's not too late...and I know how.

When I heard this I thought to myself: 'How the hell does Peter know how to abort a baby?!? Is he just gonna boot her in the stomach?!?' As a good Catlick boy, hearing this casually-thrown-out line was more shocking than some of the gore effects. This leads me to another point: sometimes George Romero's dialogue is pretty tin-eared.

Anyhoo, back to what was happening on screen. I was really enjoying how every part of the plan to seal off and then secure the mall was being documented in loving detail. It was almost as if Romero and company were providing a real zombie apocalypse visual survival guide. But every time Peter and Roger haphazardly tore-ass through the parking lot with another set of trucks, I couldn't help but wince. To this day, I'm stunned that no one was killed while making the film.

After fooling the zombies time and time again, ol' Rog starts to get pretty cocky, bordering on Wooley-levels of unhinged. This leads to one of my all-time favorite lines in cinema history:

I felt myself growing increasingly nervous as Roger's overconfidence started to get the best of him. He let his guard down at one point and got chomped on both the arm and the leg. Now, you gotta understand the context here. This was very likely only the second or third movie I'd ever seen that  featured zombies. The concept of a dead body being reanimated, walking around and spreading its infection by biting other people was nebulous, mysterious and decidedly vile.

Notwithstanding the compelling visual evidence that at least a baker's dozen aspiring stuntmen were maimed or killed during this scene, the chaos was palpable. A lot of the gore is incidental; such as the throwaway moment where a zombie gets run over, stands back up, ripping his own arm off in the process, and then continued to attack the truck. Again, going back to the golden zombie rule: these things weren't dropped until the creature's nexus of animation, the brain, was destroyed. Needless to say, the implications for this rule is a gore hound's wet dream.

With all of the entrances sealed off, our heroes set their sights on exterminating all of the zombies inside the mall. This was kicked off with a wonderful scene where they raid a gun shop, montage-style. Say what you want about Romero practically bolting the camera down as well as his workmanlike dialogue coverage, he's undeniably a crackerjack editor and this sequence is pure gold. Keep in mind: this pre-dates Ash getting prepped in The Evil Dead by three years. Oh, and you gotta dig that weird-ass tribal music playing in the background!

Eventually Peter, Roger, Stephen and Fran managed to put all of the zombies down and life slowly started to return to some semblance of normalcy. For one brief shining moment we got a chance to breathe a sigh of relief. But even then, the ever-present sound of the zombies pawing away at the mall's entrance doors was a constant reminder that a tsunami of death and chaos was lurking just outside, seeking to find and exploit a single crack in their defenses.

This led to the movie's most iconic scene where our Fantastic Four are standing together up on the top floor of the mall, looking down and listening to the slathering horde pounding and clawing away outside. Even though Romero's dialogue can falter at times, it's bone-chillingly effective in this sequence:

Fran: They're still here.
Stephen: They're after us. They know we're still in here.
Peter: They're after the place. They don't know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.
Francine Parker: What the hell are they?
Peter: They're us, that's all, when there's no more room in hell.
Stephen: What?
Peter: Something my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Voodoo? My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

Like all the best campfire tales, Ken Foree's accomplished delivery sent chills down my spine and prompted me to seek comfort in a...well, a comforter that was lying on the couch. I bundled myself up, steeled my nerves and kept watching.

This dire speech was immediately re-enforced by poor Roger finally succumbing to his zombie bites. Between Scott Reiniger's stirring performance and the eerie musical cues, it was really, really hard to watch. Especially as Roger's corpse started to stir under the sheet and sit up, eventually revealing yet another classic Tom Savini makeup job.

Side note: every once and awhile the character's turn on their television, and we see a dude I originally dubbed "crazy eye patch guy" appear in emergency news broadcasts. For the record, the character's name is actually Dr. Millard Rausch and he's played with aplomb by Richard France. Only in a 70's-era low budget indie horror flick would a guy like France be cast as a scientist. Nowadays it would be some prim n' proper Anderson Cooper-looking motherfucker.

But no, here we get Richard France, yet another gloriously-distinctive weirdo that Romero loves to cast in his movies. I immediately fell in love with this guy. Thanks to his deep, baritone voice, matter-of-fact delivery, strange mannerisms and absolute certainty in delivering the script's whack-a-do lines, he effortlessly commanded every single scene that he was featured in. Plus, I admired his penchant for screaming "DUMMIES!!! DUMMIES!!! DUMMIES!!!" over and over again.  

Eventually life became so domesticated inside the mall that, at one point, Peter prepared an elegant anniversary dinner for Stephen and Fran in has to be the most gloriously-dated 70's-era scene in any film. Even though the couple are surrounded by the trappings of normal life all around them, there's something supremely claustrophobic and depressing about the whole thing. If anything, this sequence embodies Fran's prescient prediction from earlier in the film:

"You don't see that it's not a sanctuary, it's a prison!"

As if in response to this, a huge pack of motorcycle-riding lunatics showed up to invade the mall. Again, Dawn shows it's influence by presaging Mad Max by a year and The Road Warrior by four. Prior to the big show down, I watched with growing concern as Peter, Fran and Stephen removed all of their jewelry and fancy clothes and donned their survival gear again. The message wasn't lost on me: if the world is falling apart you can only distract yourself for so long before you're forced to deal with it.

What followed over the next thirty minutes could only be described as an orgy of blood and mayhem. After getting past the barriers, the invaders drove their bikes en masse right through the mall and then started to pillage everything. Witnessing the looters snatch up property that he thought now belonged to them, Stephen snapped and started sniping away at them.

During the ensuing chaos, I was witness to approximately one-hojillion explosive blood squibs, a multitude of hacked-off limbs, decapitations and at least one nauseatingly-realistic disembowelment. Presiding over this insanity was a gleefully-anarchic Tom Savini, providing the gore effects behind the scene and inhabiting the role of lead-biker Blades. Witness the scene where he buries a machete in the head of one of the zombies, resulting in the iconic third still at the beginning of this entry. 

I didn't know it at the time, but, just like every other setting for Dawn of the Dead, the mall was a very real location: namely Munroeville Mall in Munroeville, Pennsylvania. Every night, after the place closed closed down for the day, Romero and his cadre of cinematic horror nerds would bomb in, shoot all night long and then try and clean everything up before the place re-opened in the morning.

Re-watching the film, I'm stunned that they managed to make the place presentable every day, what with cars and motorcycles ripping around, mannequins being run over and gore flying everywhere. I've always wondered if any casual shoppers ever slipped in an errant patch of blood in the sporting goods section of JC Penny or noticed a random ear stuck to the inside of the photo booth.

Whereas the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake featured the fast-moving zombies which were de rigueur at the time, I still maintain that Romero's shambling ghouls are much more interesting. Eschewing the fantasy logic that re-animated dead bodies shouldn't even be physically capable of sprinting around like Usain Bolt, the shufflers really lull you into a false sense of security. They may be clumsy and inherently pathetic, but if you aren't paying attention and they come at you in a clutch you can find yourself proper fucked without much ado.

By the time the pie scene rolled around, I really didn't know what to think. I remember having a really hard time reconciling the violence with the humor. Towards the end, Dawn of the Dead is like a live-action Road Runner cartoon where Wild E. Coyote's resulting wounds are realistically and clinically depicted by a crazy former Vietnam combat photographer cum supremely-talented makeup artist. I didn't know if I should laugh, scream, cry or projectile-vomit onto the television screen.

As the zombies began to overwhelm the bikers, something happened that made absolutely no sense to me. With the ghouls closing in all around, one of the raiders inexplicably strapped himself into a heart monitor machine and gamely followed through with the test, even as the creatures fell upon him like a living luau. I sat there in stunned silence, listening to the monitor's readings screech as they literally tore him limb from limb right before my disbelieving eyes.

This necessitated another pause. As gross as the visuals were, even I knew that Romero was clearly fucking with me at this point. The thing that surprised me the most is that I hadn't stopped the movie in quite awhile. So, either I was becoming numb to the cavalcade of gore or the film's humor had de-fanged any cruelty inherent in the act. 

But even then, Romero still had one final, amazingly-memorable trump card to play. After Flyboy got lethally nibbled he came and back almost immediately as one of the most iconic zombies in cinema history. As if Tom Savini's hero-level makeup job wasn't amazing enough, David Emge completely sells the illusion. When he emerged from that elevator, eyes and mouth agape, covered in hideous wounds, revolver dangling abstractly off one finger, Emge became the prototypical zombie in my mind. To this day I still have no idea how he managed to walk around on his ankle like that.

And with that, the living dead reclaimed the mall. As if to reinforce the whole "zombies gravitate to places that are familiar" angle, Zombie-Stephen instinctively staggered his way back through the mall, tore through the wall and incrementally made his way back to the hero's secret safe-room. Unfortunately his new squad of undead bros came along with him.

This led to an absolutely insane climax. With a tidal wave of ghouls now streaming past their barricade, Peter told Fran to escape in the helicopter while he held off the horde. But, then, right at the last second, instead if Peter shooting himself in the head, he jumped up, battled his way through the slavering undead and fought his way towards the helicopter. The musical accompaniment for this sequence, by the way, sounds like it might have inspired the opening title score for the A-Team.

Years later I found out that Romero's original ending was crazy-bleak. Peter shoots himself in the head and Fran decapitates herself by sticking her l'il blonde noggin' into the helicopter's rotor blades.¡Ay, caramba! I'm super-glad Romero jettisoned this downer ending. Between the pie fight and the death of Stephen, I don't think my poor brain could have coped with yet another whiplash-style tonal shift. 

As the orchestral strings swelled and the helicopter flew away, I breathed a palpable sense of relief and felt kinda proud of myself. I'd managed to make it all the way to the end without tossing my cookies or pausing every five seconds to dry-heave into a beef bucket. If anything, Dawn of the Dead truly reinforced the artistry of horror films for me. Even if they weren't made for a lot of money, they could still be epic, tackle big themes and resonate with you long after the credits rolled.

I'd also finally come to the conclusion that cinema gore was illusory. Convincing and gross, sure, but an illusion nonetheless. From that point forward, whenever I saw a practical effect, my first question was " did they do that?" instead of "Oh gawd...can I reach the terlet in time?"

Whenever I re-watch Dawn of the Dead, my respect for the movie continues to grow. To me, it's more than just an iconic horror flick. I see it as a direct response to film critics and the moral majority who continue to complain that movie violence begets real violence.

To me, it's the other way around. Compared to news footage of kids coming home from Vietnam in body bags or students getting shot in cold blood by National Guard at Kent State, movies like Dawn of the Dead were just a reflection of the turbulent times that the creators lived through. In fact, by combining extreme gore with black comedy, Romero was telling us not to get bent out of shape over the fake stuff but to pay attention to the real horrors inherent in our reality. 

So, this Halloween season, avoid Zack Snyder's serviceable but vapid remake and check out the one and only Gone With The Wind of zombie flicks, Dawn of the Dead.

EPIC:  Recent documentary about the making of the film, included in Anchor Bay's marvelous DVD boxed set from 2004. WARNING: SPOILERS AND NOT EVEN VAGUELY SUITABLE FOR WORK!

VINTAGE EPIC:   This once hard-to-find doc from 1985 talks about Romero's early career and features some stellar behind-the-scenes footage from the production of Dawn of the Dead:

IRONIC FAIL: The reason Dawn of the Dead is currently unavailable in hi-def form is because the film's original producer and current rights holder, Richard P. Rubenstein, blew six million dollars inexplicably converting this classic horror movie into 3-D and now he wants a ludicrous amount of money for the rights to try and recoup his losses. Read the infuriating details right here.