The Classics of Horror #14 – The Thing (1982)

The creature-feature obsession that had ruled the black and white sci-fi horror cinema, stopped almost entirely in the 50s, with audiences overwhelmed by crappy B-movies and tired of being thrown the same story inhabited by paper-thin characters.

A man alone, with a single film, changed everything at the beginning of the 80s. John Carpenter’s The Thing popped out of the blue in the pinnacle of the slasher era, ruled by Michael Myers (created by Carpenter himself) and Jason Voorhees, and blew everyone away.

A straight-up, nostalgic sci-fi film about a shapeshifting alien being hunting down a handful of scientists in Antarctica exploded at the box offices all around the world and broadened the horror genre boundaries.

The Thing 1What many people aren’t aware of is that The Thing isn’t just a 50s sci-fi exploitation; instead, it’s based on John W. Campbell Jr’s novella Who Goes There? (1938) which was more loosely adapted by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby as the 1951 film The Thing from Another World.

Therefore, Carpenter’s masterpiece is probably the best remake ever made in horror cinema, besides being one of the most compelling and entertaining creature-feature movies ever made.

Needless to say, I love this amazing motion picture.

Firstly, the practical effects are top-notch. This movie came out in 1982 and, if it wasn’t for the characters’ outfit and a few “dated” editing choices, you wouldn’t notice it was made some 35 years ago! Every shot involving “the thing” is a feast for the eye: the practical effects are so brilliantly crafted that look more realistic than 99% of anything else I’ve seen in every other movie. Furthermore, the brilliant editing and colour scheme help to keep the fiction believable, making every action sequence flow seamlessly. Even the peaceful moments look compelling and entertaining, thanks to the gorgeous locations and smart utilisation of lighting.

Secondly, the music is a pure delight for the viewer’s ears. Ennio Morricone, the great composer finally awarded by the academy for Django soundtrack, delivers a constant sense of tension and impending doom that heightens the crucial moments and strengthens the calmer ones.

Finally, the story is compelling and its execution spotless. Contrarily to most of the older or newer creature-feature flicks (for example, The Void), The Thing benefits from a strong narrative and a plot that constantly makes sense. The scientific aspect of the story is therefore intriguing and believable, making for an experience that works as both pure sci-fi and straight-up horror.

The Thing 3If no movie is perfect, The Thing is one of those few exceptions that get ridiculously close to perfection. Reflecting upon the film, for a while I thought the overabundance of characters gave them less reliability and, therefore, the audience couldn’t really care for their faith. However, I recently came to the conclusion that this is a fundamental trait of the movie: a key feature of “the thing” is that it can take the appearance of anybody, which generates doubt and suspicion among the scientists within the facility. Thus, having many characters into play increases the feeling of uncertainty in the audience, as well as the sense of dread among the characters.

Besides, the acting is astounding and make the protagonists compelling even though they don’t have backstories or unique characteristics.

Overall, I think it’s a shame that The Thing doesn’t benefit from the same reputation as other genre-defining films, such as Psycho or The Exorcist. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour and give it a chance right away, because Carpenter’s masterpiece must be part of your horror knowledge!

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The Classics of Horror #8 – The Exorcist (1973)

I knew when I started my blog that, sooner or later, I would have gotten the chance to review this genre masterpiece. And now I feel like I’m not ready to do it.

What can you say about an exceptional product that has been disected over and over throughout the years by the best critics in history? How do you approach the “scariest movie ever made” and make it justice? What smart comment can you add to what has been said millions of times before?

Reviewing The Exorcist is simply an impossible task.

However, I’ll try my best to pinpoint some of the incredible features that made this film so great and influential.

Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, the first game-winning decision by Warner Brothers in the making of the film was to hire the author himself as screenwriter and put William Friedkin at the helm.

The involvement of the author of the novel guarantees a substantial loyalty to the source material and its themes, whereas Friedkin’s direction adds the gritty realism and shocking value required for a movie like that.

We all know the plot of The Exorcist: a little girl, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), in Georgetown is possessed by an insidious demon. Her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), a famous actress, takes Regan to several doctors, experts and psychiatrists, whose attempts to cure the girl are utterly useless.

Close-up of a bruised Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil sitting in chair.Despite being a devout atheist, Chris then clutches for the last straw and summons a priest to help her: Father Karras (Jason Miller), who himself is dealing with grief and anger due to his mother’s death, is however unable to provide the proper support, so that he uses expert exorcist Father Merrin to perform the exorcism and backs him up throughout the process.

Running for about two hours, The Exorcist never has a single dull moment. The build up to the climactic battle between good and evil, God and Devil, the two priests and Pazuzu is as compelling as the ritual itself.

The Exorcist 1The story, unheard back then in a first-class drama, is compelling because there are no disposable characters. Every single cast member is on point in their performance: the doctors are not just oblivious paper-thin figures; instead they cleverly try every way to improve Regan’s conditions, convinced they derive from some form of disease or mental illness that could be treated medically.

The accuracy with which Friedkin approaches the medical exams and attempts is mesmerising. From the machinery to the hospital procedures, every single scene involving a scientific feature is spotless.

The audience is, therefore, compelled to the story because it looks extremely realistic (even though the subject matter might seem absurd to the sceptics) and emotionally attached to the characters.

Ellen Burstyn’s performance, in particular, is truly Oscar-worthy: the viewer feels for her as a mother, mostly because her acting is top-notch and her love for Regan overcomes her fear and desperation even in the darkest (and scariest) moments.

Linda Blair, as Regan MacNeil, is also perfectly cast. Starting off as a sweet, innocent girl, she soon turns into one of the most iconic and scariest characters in cinema history.

The Exorcist 3The practicality of the effects, combined with Blair’s acting skills, make for gut-wrenching possession scenes. Although a couple of them were clearly sped up in the editing room, The Exorcist holds up better than 95% of the movies that came out in the 2000s.

This film is genuinely frightening on many levels: from the actual scenes depicted in the movie to the implications hidden in every dialogue.

Featuring no exposition whatsoever, The Exorcist is ahead of its time and, thus, an immortal motion picture that unlikely will lose impact in the years to come.

Since it’s an actual scary film that doesn’t need jump-scares to startle the audience, this movie is not an easy watch. For example, my parents (who are in their 50s) still can’t manage to sit through it in its entirety.

The Exorcist 4In particular, the sequences in which Regan stabs her intimate zone with a holy cross or those where she unnaturally twists her neck are genuinely off-putting and disturbing, no matter how old you are or how many horror movies you’ve seen.

Yet, the constant aura of angst and uneasiness is carried throughout the film because of the immaculate cinematography created by Owen Roizman and the soundtrack by Michael Oldfield, easily the best horror score in cinema history.

Besides a minute lack of explanation about the death of a doctor (probably killed by Regan under the control of Pazuzu), The Exorcist is a solid film that has it all. Do you really need me to recommend it?

The long-time waited – and deserved – sequel to Regan’s story. The Exorcist – TV series review

The Exorcist (2016-2017) tells the story of Angela (Geena Davis), a mother in a wealthy family overwhelmed by tragedy and issues: her husband Harry is recovering from serious brain damages, her older daughter Kat is dealing with a serious trauma and consequent depression and her younger daughter, Casey… well, she’s possessed by a vicious demon.

The Exorcist TV 2Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera), their community’s priest and “rising star” within the Church’s hierarchy, investigates on the case and tries to help the family go through their troubles, whilst being backed up by outcast exorcist Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels).

Meanwhile, a satanic cult – led by demons who reached the fully possession of their hosts – is trying to take over Chicago and kill the Pope in visit to the city.

Divided in 10 episodes, each one of them directed by a different person and based on the William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, The Exorcist is a sequel to the movie The Exorcist (1973). Which, mind you, I was completely unaware of, since I went into this series without knowing anything apart from the cast members.

So, if you have not seen it yet, I recommend you to go watch it immediately, without proceeding further in this review – which is going to contain minor spoilers and hints to the plot twists. I would only say that The Exorcist is probably the best horror series since AHS: Asylum (2012-2013).

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As was made obvious since the synopsis of the series, Father Tomas and Father Marcus team up to defeat – i.e. exorcise – the demon that’s possessing Casey, which seems to have a grudge against Angela’s family.

The demon itself is an entity that horror fans got to know already 44 years ago: Pazuzu, who, after having haunted Regan MacNeil in the movie, is now craving for the Rance family’s souls in the TV series.

Pazuzu – masterfully played by Robert Emmet Lunney – is a pivotal character in the series and is given a backstory and in-depth explanation of his behaviour which make him a very compelling villain.

Thus, the series perfectly links to the original film, enriching the characters and providing different outlooks to the story.

Moreover, contrarily to many TV series, all the actors have been cast appropriately, with Ben Daniels and Hannah Kasulka being the standouts. Geena Davis instead, who plays Angela Rance, seems quite an unlikable and unreliable character throughout the first 5 episodes. However, once her motivations and backstory are revealed, she becomes arguably the best, most rounded character in the series and she carries along huge chunks of the plot in the final episodes.

the-exorcistThe chemistry between Tomas and Marcus is also astounding. It reminds me of the contrasting relationship between Rust Cole and Marty Hart in True Detective (2013) – although such high levels of perfection could hardly be reached, in my opinion. Marcus (Ben Daniels) gives the required physicality to his role and avoids to going for the over-the-top route, which in some sequences must not have been easy.

Casey (Hannah Kasulka) is also a pleasant surprise: her character ranges from adorable and defenceless to unsettling and terrifying – in the first episode, for example, she’s absolutely frightening in the scene in the attic.

Despite the high-budget to their disposal, the directors decided to rely on CGI only in a few, minor scenes, whereas the practical effects and, especially, the makeup are always spot-on. Which is something worth-praising.

To be fair, I was a bit afraid when I’ve seen that every episode would have been directed by a different person. I thought the continuity could have suffered from it. Instead, the plot flows seamlessly and The Exorcist looks more like an 8-hour-long film than a series of 40-minute-long episodes.

Even though the series flows well, three episodes stand out in my opinion: the first one (captivating and suspenseful), the fifth (action-packed and intense) and the last (powerful, fulfilling and, surprisingly, emotional).

I can’t end this review, though, without mentioning the score: jaw-dropping! My ears were in pure delight listening to the remake of the original soundtrack from The Exorcist – the movie.

Overall, The Exorcist is an intense and satisfying ride that humbly pays homage to the film and novel of the same name. It also rarely holds back and combines horror elements (including bloody, violent and hyper-sexualised scenes) with intriguing sub-plots and interesting social commentaries, carried along altogether by a top-notch cast. Highly recommended. Cheers!