Archive for Dan O’Bannon

Men from Mars are from Mars

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2016 by dcairns


Tobe Hooper’s INVADERS FROM MARS — part of a set of actually quite interesting semi-bad movies he made for bigtime schlockmeisters Cannon (I would never have believe the daywould come when I might feel nostalgic for Cannon, but here we are). LIFEFORCE is a sort of laughable Quatermass-for-and-by-teenage-boys (the monster is the scariest thing ever, a naked girl) and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II is genuinely fucked-up and harrowing, if somewhat incoherent. See it — you’ll be punch-drunk afterwards.

In the 50s, designer-director William Cameron Menzies (name-checked in the high school in the 80s version) made an uncategorizable B-movie sub-classic, which tried its damnest to use a juvenile it-was-all-a-dream structure in an interesting way. I never felt it quite worked but always felt it was interesting, and Menzies’ expressionist child’s-eye sets are terrific.

One surprise with Tobe’s remake is how it doubles down on precisely the elements of the original that seemed dangerously hokey thirty years earlier and were least likely to find favour, one would have thought, with an 80s audience. Though there had been a spate of fantasy films with kid protagonists, IFM was never going to be another ET, was it?


The central conceit is that of the genuine psychological condition Capgras Syndrome, in which one imagines intimates have been replaced with impostors. Or, in this case, taken over with NECK IMPLANTS. Neck implants appeared in Menzies film before they became part of the mythos of true life alien encounters, which maybe tells you something about true life alien encounters — but maybe only some of them? The cast essay a wide range of approaches to alien possession: Louise Fletcher does her patented ice bitch act, but more manic, but the best players at this are mom Laraine Newman and especially dad Timothy Bottoms, who is helped by Dan O’Bannon & Don Jakoby’s script, which gives him lots of quirky schtick like gulping scalding coffee supersaturated with undissolved sugar. But his stilted line readings and spooky demeanour are a constant joy. When he unexpectedly appears from behind a bush with a man from the telephone company (everyone hates the telephone company) the scenario seems redolent of cottaging, and Bottoms does great work with his explanation: “He’s from the switching department,” delivered as if this goofy remote-control meatpuppet WANTS the ordinary humans to pick up some Hidden Meaning.


The other best bit of business for the mandroids is when Fletcher, for no discernible reason, starts reciting “A-E-I-O-U” repeatedly and then launches into a bit of Magwitch’s dialogue from Great Expectations (“get me a file and some wittles”). Interestingly, this is the bit right before Magwitch describes his friend who can crawl through tight spaces and eat your liver — a character who became serial killer Eugene Tooms in The X-Files. Magwitch never mentions that his friends sleeps in a newspaper nest like a hamster, but we can still agree that Great Expectations has had more influence on science-fiction than any other Dickens novel. Apart from Rod Serling’s Carol for Another Christmas, and at least until someone makes a post-apocalyptic version of Little Dorrit. Fletcher’s incongruous recital is wonderful precisely because nothing whatsoever can account for it — she’s a science teacher, not an English teacher, and anyway, WTF?


Great-beyond-great Stan Winston aliens — he obviously got the same note about this being a pastiche that Bottoms got.

Hooper seems to be riding the Louma crane for the whole flick, serving up sinewy, twisting moves that may not add tension but certainly impart elegance.

I recently interviewed the film’s production designer, Les Dilley, but failed to ask him about this one. Tough brief — the film doesn’t replicate Menzies’ distorted perspectives designed to make the child hero extra-diminutive and overwhelmed, but it still embraces a form of theatrical stylisation unfashionable at the time (same year as BLUE VELVET, though, interestingly). And then there’s a Geiger-ish sensibility to the aliens’ underground lair. The difficulty is, the first INVADERS was replicating the non-cinematic media influences a child of the era would have, from pulp magazines to comic books, bubble-gum cards, radio shows and maybe TV. In all of which, space and space invaders were a definite thing, with set generic qualities (Menzies dutifully includes Bug Eyed Monsters and a Little Green Man). That world of influences has irreversibly split in a thousand directions by the 80s, so the film struggles to create a unified sensibility that feels like it could be a small boy’s dream, though there are some nice details like a NASA security device that beeps like a digital alarm clock. This is all happening in a suburban bedroom…


And then there’s Bud Cort, who is just insanely wonderful for about five minutes before he gets disintegrated. Most untimely disintegration in sci-fi history, unless you count the guy in ANGRY RED PLANET who waits until the third act before getting dissolved, when he should have taken a Captain Oates long walk as soon as possible and spared us our misery.

There’s a thing: in ANGRY RED P, the Martians warn us to get off their dusty red lawn, but in INVADERS FROM MARS they’ve come here uninvited and dug ruddy great holes. It’s a bit rich, that.

Oh, Karen Black. Nurse. I hope I get sick.


Quigley Down Under

Posted in Dance, FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2013 by dcairns


Rosario Dawson: has vagina.

One aspect of Danny Boyle’s new film TRANCE (a remake of a feature by screenwriter Joe Ahearne) which doesn’t seem to have excited as much comment as one might expect, is the cameo appearance by Rosario Dawson’s vagina. It seems odd to me, since that was all we were talking about as we left the cinema. “Did you get a load of that vagina?” we said, or words to that effect. “What kind of man puts his girlfriend’s shaven genitals in his film?” asked our friend Ali. “A middle-aged film director with a very hot girlfriend,” was all I could suggest. “Look what I have to come home to!” seemed to be the thought Mr Boyle wanted us to grasp.


Linnea Quigley: as smooth and featureless as a young Harry Langdon.

And so we turn our attention, as every film blog must, to scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals. In fact, I have some hopes that this article will prove to be the definitive cinematic study of scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals.

Not that scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals have ever appeared in a film, to my knowledge. In that respect, and perhaps in others, the genitals resemble Gummo Marx. In a sense, however, scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals haunt 80s horror cinema as a kind of defining absence, and it is this unseen influence, this mute testimony, which I will attempt to address here.

The key text in the off-screen career of scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals is surely RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, an at-times rather witty sort-of-sequel to George Romero’s more celebrated and, let’s face it, classier NIGHT OTLD. One of the aspects of Dan O’Bannon’s follow-up that arguably robs it of some of its predecessor’s gravitas is Quigley’s graveyard striptease. I don’t say that a graveyard striptease would automatically render a film unworthy of respect. If somebody stripped during the graveyard trip scene of EASY RIDER, and my memory is unclear as to whether in fact they do or don’t, I’m not sure it would make any difference to that film’s claim to capturing the zeitgeist. The film would still be largely tiresome, incoherent and self-indulgent, but it wouldn’t be any worse for a graveyard striptease.

Somehow, though, Linnea Quigley, as punk rocker Trash, manages to lower the tone a little. Her wanton denuding somehow plants a seed of doubt in the viewer’s mind: are the filmmakers of this zombie teen comedy-horror somehow guilty of pandering to their audience? The doubt is arguably intensified by the fact that Trash, having become naked, remains naked for the rest of the film. All attempts to cover her up are stymied by the whims of fate, and those splintered ends of broken banisters that can so easily snag the corner of a blanket.


However, scream queen Linnea Quigley’s nakedness is not at issue. What we are interested in is her genitals, or lack thereof. As it was described to me by somebody who probably knew nothing about it, the filmmakers initially thought they could get away with full frontal nudity by shaving scream queen Linnea Quigley’s naked genitals. Pubic hair seemed to distress the censor, and so doing away with said hair appeared to offer a solution. But to the filmmakers’ shock — and one must suppose them naive and inexperienced fellows if this is true — they discovered that in fact removing pubic hair does not make the genitals disappear. In fact, more like the opposite.

And so a prosthetic covering had to be created, something to cup and conceal scream queen Linnea Quigley’s genitals and turn her into a sexless Barbie doll. The idea seems to have been that nobody would notice the lack of genitals, because everybody would be looking at her lovely face. Except for the censor, who gets paid to look at genitals. Blue pencil raised in readiness, he would be forced to let it fall, unused, when he discerned that the full-frontally nude woman was equipped only with R-rated body parts.

Here, I hoped to mention that scream queen Linnea Quigley subsequently married a makeup effects artist. In the words of Donald Sutherland in LITTLE MURDERS, “That marriage did not last.” But in fact the effects artist she married was not one of those employed on RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, though I think he did work on NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, where, if memory serves, Linnea Quigley’s breast swallows a lipstick. Yes, you read that right. After having a prosthetic lipstick-swallowing nipple created by him, reader, she married him. That marriage did not last.

Incidentally — very, very incidentally — I know of one makeup artist whose first major job was casting Kate Winslet’s genitals so she could give birth explicitly in Michael Winterbottom’s JUDE, by the way. Welcome to showbiz! And I note that Winterbottom’s defining trait as filmmaker is a puerile explicitness whenever it comes to pigs being slaughtered, women giving birth, and bloody beatings. This is a sad thing. Those three forms of entertainment have nothing in common except that filmmakers featuring them in close-up will be called “unflinching.” I like filmmakers who flinch before I do.

(After Michael Winterbottom comes Michael Springbottom. Before Michael Winterbottom comes Michael Autumnbottom.)

You might think I’m seizing on TRANCE as a sort of topical hook upon which to dangle these musings, but the connection goes deeper. In a willful bit of “only-if-it-were-essential-to-the-plot” conspiracy, TRANCE works very hard to make Rosario Dawson’s pubic region a vital part of the film’s narrative architecture. This includes a clue (art book with missing page — Goya’s The Naked Maja, the first painted nude with scandalous pubic hair) and a speech about how artists regularly left out the pubes to deny biology and make the female form more perfect. (Yet, like Linnea Quigley, these nudes did not display what should have lain concealed near the curly undergrowth so beloved of the late Jesus Franco — they were “smooth right round the bend” as Stanley Tweedle says in odd Canadia-German sci-fi show Lexx upon encountering a similarly vaginaless lady. Suggesting that the reticence of the artist had far less to do with some debatable perfectionism and more to do with censorship and/or anxiety about the female body.)


Anyway, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD has had four sequels (the living dead KEEP returning, it’s one of their defining traits) but neither addressed the presence of a woman without genitals running around in the first film. Is it time for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD VI: WHY SCREAM QUEEN LINNEA QUIGLEY HAD NO GENITALS?

“Just carve them up like regular chickens…”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on December 19, 2009 by dcairns

Dialogue from ERASERHEAD, complimentary image from FRENZY. Does this make you feel festive, much? What an old Grinch I have become. Still, I did watch FRENZY this week with an amenable bunch of my students, thus welcoming the younger generation in to Hitchcock Year at the eleventh hour. So that’s something to look forward to on Wednesday.

Nabokov said, or I think Martin Amis said he did, that it’s impossible to read books, only to re-read them. Without the overall view that you get from finishing the text the first time, you can’t absorb most of what the author has placed before you. And Verlyn Klinkenborg, quoted by the Self-Styled Siren,  make the opposite point: it’s impossible to re-read books, because when you re-experience a book you’re a different person from the last time you looked. As Heraclitus says, you can’t jump in the same river twice.

All of which wild quotation and quotation of quotation leads me to the fact that seeing FRENZY again was a very different experience, and I have  a perhaps more tolerant or forgiving attitude to the movie, maybe based on the looong journey I’ve been on with Hitch this year. So that’s something I look forward to sharing with you.

While on the subject of Hitch, I must pause to mourn the passing of Robin Wood, one of the first English-language critics to give serious consideration to the Master as an artist, and while on that melancholy subject, a tip of the Shadowplay hat to Jennifer Jones and Dan O’Bannon, who have likewise departed this mortal coil for parts unknown.