Monday, October 27, 2008

Feature of the Month: Favorite Halloween Movies

Written By: Christopher Welch

I didn’t want my mother to kill my father. That’s the thought that kept running through my head, the thought that caused me to lose countless nights worth of sleep and condemn me to months of sleeping in a fetal position. Very early in my life my father performed two very cool to me, but very taboo to my mother movie watching acts. Both involved James Cameron films, one was Terminator the other was Aliens.

The point of this endeavor is to write about a Halloween movie, a movie that encapsulates what this spooky, creepy day means to me as a movie goer. For me this presented a monumental task, pick a scary movie, a movie that flat out freaked the crap out of me. The problem is that, at least for me, no such film really exists.

I love horror movies, but I don’t really find any of them at all scary. I’m not the kind of person that jumps and shrieks at shocking cinematic moments. I don’t get the heeby jeebies, the hair doesn’t stand up on the back of my neck and nothing really makes me look twice over my shoulder. I love watching horror movies in the theatre because they are a great communal experience and I thrill to watch the audience squirm and squeal as I sit there and mock them. I mean I’ve never, ever been one of those cowering, whimpering masses. Or so I thought.

It took a bit of humbling myself and a nice long trip down memory lane but afterwards I realized that there was one movie, and honestly ONLY one movie that flat out scared the living crap out of me. That movie was James Cameron’s Aliens.

To this day I remember the conversation amongst the elder people in my life. My father and his brother were at the rental store coaxing my mother into letting them rent Cameron’s follow up to Ridley Scott’s brilliant, genre busting Alien. My mother was arguing that this was a film that they should not screen in front of my young, 6 year old eyes for fear that the images would haunt my dreams and plague my mind. Wanting to show my father and uncle that I was extra grown-up I convinced her along with her husband and brother-in-law that I would be fine. Eventually she relinquished and my young mind would never be the same again.

We returned home and what I saw didn’t just scare me, it terrified me beyond the capacity for rational thought. To this day I remember very little about my first viewing of the film other than the fact that when the alien threatens to pop out of Ripley’s stomach in her dream sequence, I quite nearly lost my mind. It was at that time that I feigned falling asleep so that I could still be “cool” without losing face. Like a terrible car accident though, I couldn’t help but sneak peeks every so often and the images of the face huggers and the slime covered insect like baddies did nothing to calm my fears.

After that fateful night I don’t think I slept right for a month, if not longer. Every night I would get into bed and curl into the tightest ball humanely possible for fear that Ripley’s enemies were lingering at the foot of my bed, under my covers, just waiting to feast on my succulent, young (thus all the more tasty) flesh. Sure I wanted to go running into my mother and have her hold me and assure me it was all a silly fantasy but I knew that by doing so I would prove her doubts about my viewing habits thus not only get my father in trouble but also ensure that I would no longer be able to watch the cool “big boy” movies. Of course finally my young fears got the best of me, I confessed and after a nice coddling and chastising of my father my sleep returned to its normal, peaceful nature. Now of course as any self respecting movie fan should expect, the story doesn’t end there.

Jump to some 11 or 12 years later. I am working at Suncoast Motion Picture Company and for reasons that I can’t quite explain (and it should be pointed out I’d like to think fear wasn’t one of them) my manager and good friend Matt finds out that I, a self proposed James Cameron junky have never seen Aliens… or at least haven’t seen it in a VERY long time. I realized that something that frightened me that much as a child could very well thrill me now and after Matt’s money back guarantee I bought the film, went home and that night devoured Cameron’s sci-fi opus.

It’s funny because a film that scared the snot out of me as a kid, heck the only movie that ever really scared me my entire life quickly became one of my all time favorite movies. As I sat down and thought about it I thought what better movie to sum up the Halloween experience. I went from abject fear to adrenaline pumping excitement and joy. If that isn’t what Halloween and horror movies are all about then I don’t know what is.

For my money Aliens is not only James Cameron’s best film, but it is also one of the single most overlooked movies of all time. Every few years AFI and or someone else and their mother will come out with a list of the greatest movies or the scariest movies, or the most influential movies of all time. Invariably Alien always shows up on that list but Aliens is never anywhere to be found. This always leads me to ask the question; are we watching the same movie or does the critical community just follow the standard party line like seemingly the rest of the world? Make no mistake, Alien is a brilliant film, but pound for pound it doesn’t hold a candle entertainment or influence wise to Cameron’s sequel.

At the end of the day, no matter how you slice it Alien is a VERY effective, horror film that substitutes the boogey man and a haunted house for a spaceship and an acid blooded E.T.. While Sigourney Weaver is certainly the standout of the film and a great female role model, at the end of the day she’s really only the “survivor” of the horror film. She does very little other than be smarter and luckier than everyone else and as such outlasts the rest of her crew mates. In fact any real hope of establishing her as a revolutionary, women’s lib era heroine goes right out the window during her very seductive and unnecessary striptease (Go back and watch the movie and you’ll see what I’m talking about) at the end of the film.

On the other hand we have Aliens. In one film Cameron not only ups the scare factor by the hundreds by introducing hundreds of the face hugging, acid bleeding, stomach bursting baddies and the Queen Freaking Mother, but he also takes Ripley from being a reactive defensive, force to an aggressive, proactive one. Yet through it all Cameron never once allows Ripley to lose a single ounce of her femininity and in many ways adds to it even more by introducing Newt thus creating a motherly connection and relationship for the ultimate, female, badass supreme.

Sure Aliens takes a few minutes to get going but the moment Ripley and The Colonial Marines (Perhaps the single coolest group ever created for the movies outside the Jedi) hit the planet you never know what’s going to happen. The tension and the fear in the air is palpable as your realize death and so much worse can be lurking around every corner. Add to the mix humanity’s own capacity for opportunistic evil in Paul Reiser’s brilliant Cater Burke and the dread and suspense of the past as epitomized by Lance Henriksen’s Bishop and you have a film that’s infinitely more layered than Ridley Scott’s creation. Heck, I haven’t even brought up the cowardice of Bill Paxton’s “Game over man” Hudson.

In 1986 James Cameron forged Ellen Ripley into the single greatest heroine cinema has ever seen. From that point forward every film maker worth his or her salt has tried to emulate it yet none, save for Cameron have come even close. The fact that he did all of this in the scariest, most pulse pounding, sci-fi/action adventure film ever made is just icing on the cake.

For every big breasted bimbo stupidly running towards danger as opposed to running away from it, there is Ripley, armed with a pulse rifle, a grenade launcher and a flame thrower, descending into the mouth of hell and turning gender roles on their ear. Aliens changed the world of cinema in ways no one ever really gives it credit for, changed my views on horror in cinema, women in the world and almost made my dad sleep on the couch. I don’t know if that’s everyone’s idea of a great scary movie, but it sure as heck is mine.


Megan said...

Personally, I wouldn't put Ripley abover Sarah Connor but they are almost tied.

This movie scared the crud out of me too as a kid, but if we're going with that theme then my scariest film would be Little Shop of Horrors which scared me senseless as a kid.

Adam said...

I'm curious. What was your reaction upon watching it the second time? You said that it quickly became one of your favorites, but did it still freak you out?

FilmNinja said...

Dead on dude. Aliens still freaks me out, and it's badass at the same time. And it is definitely better than Alien. Not many sequels are better, and this one was a knock out.

I too would like to see Sarah Connor and Ripley duke it out.

Chris W said...

Look who's finally figured out how to start posting comments. The second time I watched it I darn near lost my mind because of how badass the movie is and because I couldn't believe it had taken me that long to give it another go. I wasn't scared at all, just simply in awe.

Anonymous said...

I agree, this probably is Cameron's best work and the soundtrack is easily in my top 10.

The sequels after this one are just awful though.

Adam said...

Nice. I love that feeling of awe that you get when you know you're in the presence of greatness.

Anonymous said...

You know its good when all the rest of the entries in the series try to imitate and unfortunately fail misreably.

I'd love to see him make another one but I know he'd never do it.