Tag Archives: Aliens

Fright Club: Celebrating Bill Paxton

Film lost one of the great character actors earlier this year. Bill Paxton – forever reliable, always memorable, often quotable – died in February at the age of 61.

Gone far, far too soon, he’s the horror icon-of-sorts we pay tribute to today. The man made a lot of films, many of them horror: The Colony, Impulse, Future Shock, Club Dread, Deadly Lessons, Mortuary. Sure, these are bad movies, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable.

We want to spend most of our time with the horror films that are really worth seeing. Three of them are even quite good!

5. Night Warning (1982)

Here’s a weird one. And convoluted, too. Orphaned Billy (Jimmy McNichol) lives with his horny Aunt (Susan Tyrrell), plays basketball, and necks with his girlfriend Julia (Julia Duffy). Aunt Cheryl kills the TV repairman, claiming he was trying to rape her. When police realize the TV repairman was actually the longtime lover of Billy’s basketball coach, an evenhanded treatment of homophobia arises – surprising, given the time period. Not that it’s the point of the film, but it is the biggest surprise.

No one is really trying to unravel the murder mysteries piling up here. Aunt Cheryl is too busy trying to keep Billy to herself while small town cop Joe Carlson (go-to bigoted cop figure throughout the 70s and 80s, Bo Svenson) just wants to know whether or not Billy’s gay.

You know who else does? Billy’s on-the-court nemesis Eddie (Paxton).

This is very definitely a low budget, early Eighties horror flick. Don’t get your hopes up. But it is such a peculiar movie. Susan Tyrrell is fascinatingly unhinged and so, so creepy that you cannot look away, and if you’re up for one hot mess of a movie, this is an especially absorbing time waster.

4. Brain Dead (1990)

What?! Bill Paxton AND Bill Pullman – is this some kind of lottery jackpot?

No, the two Bills co-starred as a good guy doctor and a sleazy corporate monster. Guess who plays which.

Paxton – working the gap-toothed smirk – needs his old pal Rex (Pullman) to use his skills as a brain surgeon to extract some info from an old colleague, played by Bud Cort. (Bud Cort?! This cast is like a precious gift.)

The film becomes one of those “descent into madness” horrors where the character isn’t sure whether he’s the doctor or the madman. The writing is weak and the direction laughable, but there truly is something going on her. Who knows why Pullman, Paxton or Cort all agreed to this gig. By 1990, all three of them could have done better. But they did this, God bless ‘em, and it is weirdly worth a viewing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtmqGe7740g

3. Near Dark (1987)

Back in ’87, future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow brought a new take on a familiar theme to the screen. A mixture of vampire and western tropes, Near Dark succeeds mostly on the charisma of the cast.

The always welcome Lance Henricksen is campy fun as the badass leader of a vampire family, while the beguiling Mae (Jenny Wright) – nomadic white trash vampire beauty – draws you in with a performance that’s vulnerable and slightly menacing.

The most fun, though, is Bill Paxton as the truest psychopath among the group looking to initiate a new member. All the film’s minor flaws are forgotten when you can watch an unhinged Paxton terrorize a barful of rednecks. Woo hoo!

2. Frailty (2001)

Director Paxton stars as a widowed country dad awakened one night with an epiphany. He understands now that he and his sons have been called by God to kill demons.

Frailty manages to subvert every horror film expectation by playing right into them.

Brent Hanley’s sly screenplay evokes such nostalgic familiarity – down to a Dukes of Hazzard reference – and Paxton’s direction makes you feel entirely comfortable in these common surroundings. Then the two of them upend everything – repeatedly – until it’s as if they’ve challenged your expectations, biases, and your own childhood to boot.

Paxton crafts a morbidly compelling tale free from irony, sarcasm, or judgment and full of darkly sympathetic characters. It’s a surprisingly strong feature directorial debut from a guy who once played a giant talking turd.

1. Aliens (1986)

Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen.

Of all Paxton’s unforgettable roles, his Private Hudson has to be the favorite. Better than Weird Science’s Chet, that talking pile of shit, better than the skeevy Simon from True Lies, better even than the punk who’s stripped naked by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator.

Paxton takes a character that could have been a formulaic Marine ready for the monster’s picking and turned him into an interesting, memorable character. He’s the guy you quote, he’s the guy who made you laugh, he’s the guy who kept your attention.

He’s the guy we will miss.

Game over, man.

Countdown: Movies You Can’t Turn Off

As we sat and watched Jaws for the 400th time last weekend, we laughed about all the movies that – when we find them on TV, no matter where in the film we switch on – we are compelled to watch to the end. It’s 11:30 pm and we stumble upon the opening diner sequence from Pulp Fiction? It looks like we’ll be up til 1:30 today. We’ve pulled together the list of films we cannot turn off when we find them on TV. What’d we miss?

Jaws (1975)

This is the top one for us. George, in particular, has seen this movie dozens and dozens of times. It’s an absolute marvel, and while every watching of course brings back memories, there truly is something new to notice every time you see Jaws. Spielberg’s raw talent, for example. Or John Williams’s pitch-perfect score. Jaws is always thrilling, always scary, always amazing.

 

Pulp Fiction (1994)

It’s a masterpiece that sucks you in no matter when you turn it on because every scene is a work of utter genius. Every character is as cool as can be, every exchange is more fun to watch than anything else you’re going to find on TV, and it’s the kind of movie absolutely no one ever really made before or since. There is nothing quite like Pulp Fiction, which is why you should watch it at every opportunity.

 

Die Hard (1988)

This is George’s favorite movie of all time, so it kind of goes without saying that it stays on if we come across it. And why not? The iconic Eighties game changer altered the course of action movies with its wiseass underdog, confined terror and magnificent Euro-trash villains. Not enough can be said for the smarmy brilliance of Alan Rickman, and watching Bruce Willis at the top of his game is always fun, too.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

This is Hope’s favorite movie of all time. There are no flaws in this movie. The fact that a movie wherein a man who eats human flesh helps the FBI track a man who wears human flesh could go on to win every major Oscar says about as much for the craftsmanship behind this movie as anything could. It’s Jonathan Demme’s greatest achievement and one of the greatest films ever made.

Caddyshack (1980)

When you can say every line along with the film you are watching, you’ve seen the film too many times. And yet, is it possible to watch Caddyshack too often? Ted Knight! Rodney Dangerfield! Bill F. Murray! No, it is not. Somehow this weird accumulation of spontaneous insanity remains fresh 35 years on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrTqenN1SqQ

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Another one that’s funny no matter how often you see it, Lebowski benefits from magnificent writing and superb direction (as is always the case with The Brothers Coen), but more than anything, the film demands rapt attention because of Jeff Bridges’s magical lead turn. Well, demand is kind of a fascist word. It’s just a really, really hard movie to turn off, man.

Alien (1979)

From the moment Nostromo lands – allegedly drawn by a distress signal – Ridley Scott’s horror/SciFi hybrid starts building horrific tension. Nobody wants to be awakened unexpectedly. This crew seems weary of their mission and tired of each other. Scott’s drained all the color from the crew and the set – it’s like being trapped in a bad dream that’s only going to get worse. And yet, we just can’t turn away.

Aliens (1986)

You can’t have one without the other. Where Ridley Scott’s original was a slow build horror show, James Cameron’s is a badass action flick and Sigourney Weaver is equally at home in either genre. Cameron abandons claustrophobia, opening the film up with death trap labyrinths and expanding the terror with an army of acid-blood monsters. This is the very best kind of high octane fun.

The Conjuring (2013)

Thank God for HBO because The Conjuring is on almost daily now. The thirtieth time you jump at the same damn ghost, you know a movie has got something, and we’re telling you, every time little Cindy Perron starts sleep walking into that bureau, we tense up. Yes, there are silly moments in this nuts and bolts haunted house flick, but director James Wan understands pacing and knows when flesh and blood are scarier than FX. The result is a fun, jumpy night with one stinky, foot grabbing ghost.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Richard Linklater’s wonderful, rambling ode to coming of age in the Seventies pops up a lot, lately. We usually come in right about the time a handful of freshmen are conning Ben Affleck’s delightfully dickish Fred O’Bannion that there’s a cherry ass to beat. Whether it’s Matthew McConaughey’s most iconic character or the way Linklater and cast languidly capture both a time period and a universal right of passage – or maybe it’s just wanting in on that party – we are always hooked.

Countdown: Top 5 and Bottom 5 Sequels

Yes, the humorless Kick-Ass 2 disappointed, as sequels so often do. Which are the biggest disappointments? And on a brighter note, which sequels lived up to – even exceeded – expectations? Read on!

Most Disappointing Sequels

5) Hangover Part 2

In 2009, Todd Phillips shared a clever conceit starring an amiable, talented threesome with real chemistry on film. Oh, how we laughed. In 2011 he found out that a clever conceit is only clever once. Revisiting every single joke was, indeed, Hangover 2’s only original joke. What we’ve learned is that one joke in 102 minutes does not a comedy make.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYL_T7f59o8

4) Exorcist II: The Heretic

Jesus. A drunken and flummoxed Richard Burton wanders through Africa on the advice of a demon locust; a hypnotized, angelically dressed Linda Blair looks on from her bedroom in the States. They followed perhaps the greatest horror film of all time with this lunacy? Who’s responsible for this atrocity? Is it Regan’s dangerously incompetent therapist? Director John Boorman? Satan?

3) Jaws 2

Hey, you know who’s not Steven Spielberg? Jeannot Szwarc. Wait, who’s Jeannot Szwarc, you ask? Exactly! He’s the guy who used to direct Beretta episodes who inexplicably helmed the story of a little island community that looks positively delicious to sharks. Szwarc’s disinterests? Character development, storytelling, understatement, bathers.

2) Caddyshack 2

For the love of God. Eight years after one pesky gopher and a slew of vulgarians beat Judge Smails at his own game (golf), a new set of classless sportsmen descend upon Bushwood. What happens if you swap out Ted Knight for Robert Stack, Rodney Dangerfield for Jackie Mason, and Bill Murray for Dan Aykroyd? Nothing funny, I’ll guarantee you that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saREFwdhKH0

1) Ghostbusters II

Stop it! Just stop it right now! Need you crush all our childhood happiness with your greed and listless comedies?! Why is this the most offensive of the sequels? Because the same director, writers and cast returned to cash in on the joy their first film left in our hearts by telling us that we can fight off the bad ectoplasm if we have more joy in our hearts. Ironic, since that’s what they killed with their movie.

 

Best Sequels

5) Spider-Man 2

Better villain, less predictable storyline, equal parts exciting and tender, Spider-Man 2 exceeded expectations. Few (if any) superhero films can boast such joyous thrills tied to such well-crafted storytelling because few (if any) superhero films care as much about the “human” as the “super”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCLTJJZ8gas

4) The Bride of Frankenstein

In 1931, the great James Whale rocked the cinematic universe with a familiar story, one outstanding performance, and the greatest make up job to date. But with Frankenstein’s 1935 sequel, he was able to show some real talent. This subversive, darkly humorous gem betters the original by a mile.

3) The Empire Strikes Back

When the time came for George Lucas to second his mind blowing ’77 blockbuster Star Wars, he made one terrific decision. He hired somebody else to write and direct. New characters, exceptional battles, and epic surprises help this unpredictable storyline not just live up to the original, but exceed it.

2) Aliens

Oh, hell yes. How was James Cameron to top Ridley Scott’s breathlessly terrifying original? By taking it in an entirely different direction, from terror in space to intergalactic ass-kicking. Bigger-better-faster-more doesn’t always work, but put Sigourney Weaver in a giant metal suit, and things turn out OK.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNE0dlHcmgA

1) Godfather Part II

Francis Ford Coppola outdid himself. The origin story, the familial conflict, Fredo.  Oh, Fredo. You break our hearts. Godfather Part II doesn’t just follow one mob family, it finds its heartbeat and exposes what it is that differentiates them from us. Flawless.