John Carpenter was king of the horror hill in the early 1980′s. He invented the slasher move in ’78 with the seminal Halloween. Two years later he created the brooding, atmospheric The Fog. And in 1982 he made The Thing, a film that achieved astonishing new heights with special effects.

Whilst he may not have been terribly creative with the titles of his movies, no-one can deny that these are all genre classics and films that people come back to time and again. Subsequent sequels to Halloween and the recent remake of The Fog didn’t live up to the quality of the originals, so it’s only reasonable to be a little apprehensive about the upcoming Thing prequel due out in the autumn.

Teaser poster for The Thing prequel

The trailer at least seems to confirm that they haven’t made a complete hash of it. Presumably they realise that this movie has a significant fan-boy following so maybe the big studios are learning from the mistakes of the past. Then again that could be optimism talking – we all want it to be good, right?

To sound a more cautious note – the director is a first-timer with an unpronounceable name. The female lead is the one from Final Destination 3 and looks a little weak. And we can only speculate about the quality of the effects, which were so critical in the original. No doubt they’ll be largely CGI but if they’re done on the cheap I have serious concerns about how they’ll compare to the hellish, squirming horrors of Carpenter’s vision.

The 1982 John Carpenter classic

But let’s not pre-judge. Nor should we forget that Carpenter’s film is itself a re-make. The 1951 “The Thing from Another World” is fondly remembered and is a pretty good movie, although for me it’s memorable mainly for the sheer number of actors they manage to cram into every shot. Watch it again and you’ll see what I mean.

The novella that both films were based on

Both films are based on an original story by John W Campbell who submitted it to Astounding Stories for publication in 1938. Interestingly it’s the Carpenter film that sticks more closely to the Campbell plot. The 1951 film has a very simple story and eschews the central plot device of the alien who can infiltrate our inner circle, taking on human form. It’s under these circumstances that the later film creates it’s claustrophobic, paranoid atmosphere so successfully.

The Thing from Another World 1951

Of course it’s impossible to shake off the unmistakable odour of HP Lovecraft’s eldritch tale of antarctic horrors, At the Mountains of Madness. Inspired by the heroic adventures of the polar explorers of the day, and intrigued by the alien world that they found there, it was Lovecraft who first established that the Antarctic contained more fearsome beings than polar bears.

With such an illustrious heritage, the new film has much to live up to. Early signs are good, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that a no-name director and a b-movie actress can deliver something that’s respectful of its ancestry.

I’m a frustrated artist really. I wish I could draw but I can’t, so I guess that’s why I turned to photography. Whilst I’m OK at it, I’m nowhere near as good as this guy. Joshua Hoffine connected his skill in taking pictures with his love of horror and became – guess what – a horror photographer. Genius. Why on earth didn’t I think of that?

One of a series of stills illustrating the H P Lovecraft story "Pickman's Model" by Joshua Hoffine

You simply must check out his work. The most recent set of pictures is more my kind of thing, based on Lovecraft as it is and therefore more about what you don’t see than what you do. Some of his other photos are rather more hardcore, and very good they are too but less to my taste I guess.

It puts me in mind of the work of Charlie White who I’d all but forgotten about. In a similar vein Charlie reduces what looks like a film into a single frame, something that I think Joshua does too.

Fleming House, Caltech, Pasadena by Charlie White

His pictures condense fictional movies into that solitary moment, distilling the atmosphere and the tension right down, reducing it to its essence. Freezing that moment, and in a way that single shot can convey just as much as a 90 minute film. Really interesting stuff, I encourage you to investigate it further.

http://joshuahoffine.wordpress.com/

http://www.charliewhite.info/

BBFC bans Human Centipede 2

Posted: June 7, 2011 in Commentary

Horror has always had a difficult relationship with the censors. By definition, the subject matter will always challenge those tasked with defending our moral chastity but the last time that horror film makers really fell out with them was in the video nasty crisis in the early ’80s. In recent years however the British Board of Film Classification has been a remarkably enlightened and sensible bunch.

It depresses me that I'm helping to promote this rubbish

The news that they have banned the sequel to the Human Centipede is something to take notice of then. The original was a rather pathetic and unnecessary film, clearly designed to shock and get people talking. No doubt it made money, so in that respect it probably did what it was designed to do. The story was entirely based around a single rather revolting image of three people surgically grafted together, mouth to anus (I’m sorry, but there’s just no nice way to say it). And that was it, the entirety of the plot, and of course if it hadn’t been such a disgusting image it would have disappeared without a trace.

The sequel is by all accounts worse and, for more detail, see what the BBFC and the director has to say about the film on Empire’s website, here. Getting banned is wondeful publicity for the film of course and it has many people – like me – talking about it. Whether or not they can make money from a film that will be so difficult to legally see (and pay for) remains to be seen, but I’m sure in the long run the film will make a return and give others ideas about other repulsive images that they can realise on screen.

There will be much moral outrage to come and that’s to be expected. Tragically, it looks like this time, they might be right and when a newspaper as liberal as the Guardian covers it, we really know we’re in trouble. What depresses me so thoroughly about this sorry excuse for a film-maker is that in his bid to make a quick buck (sorry, art) he drags down the whole of the horror genre with him. It’s hard enough admitting to the uninitiated that you’re a horror lover as it is – most people see horror as a single genre and won’t distinguish between the highs and the lows, but it’s the lows that they remember.

It’s tragic, but recent breakthroughs in horror like Let the Right One In are quickly forgotten by the general cinema-going public. Human Centipede and its grubby little sequel, however, will remembered by the average punter for years to come.

Classic Horror Campaign

Posted: June 7, 2011 in Commentary

What a brilliant idea. Head over to Classic Horror Campaign’s site and sign their petition where, at the time of writing, there are over 1500 signatures demanding the return of classic horror to our TV screens. I don’t think it had even occurred to me, given that I see so much on DVD, but they’re absolutely right.  A regular double-bill on BBC on a saturday night would be quite wonderful and definitely something that I’d tune in for. Agree? Then head on over!