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Saturday, November 6, 2010
The Lucky 13 Returns! Week Two: Man vs. Nature
There's a chill in the air. The warmth of summer has decidedly past. The leaves are turning. There's no doubt about it. As it does every year, nature is turning against us. Only lucky for us, we'll probably all survive it, more or less. But what about those extreme circumstances--when nature takes a look at man and says, to quote the little Marie in Rocky, "Screw you, creepo!"
Well, that makes for some seriously panic-inducing horror. It's a deep-seated fear in humankind, this notion that the natural world is against us, or can snuff us out in the blink of an eye. Whether its the weather, or the myriad flora and fauna that teem on its surface, Earth is not always the safest place to be. So join us this week, both here and over at Brutal as Hell, as we take a look at our favorite "Man vs. Nature" horror films...
B-Sol on Them! (1954)
It really doesn't get much scarier than giant, radioactive ants. There have been a whole slew of films about massive insects turning on humanity, but by my estimation, the granddaddy of them all will always be Gordon Douglas' 1954 masterpiece of atomic-era creature horror--THEM!
It all starts with a little girl in the middle of the desert, frightened beyond the capacity to speak? Why, you ask? Well, because she's witnessed the massive ants trudging their way through the New Mexico desert, tearing apart the silence with that ear-splitting, unearthly chattering. From there, the grown-ups discover exactly what's got her spooked, and before you know it, all manner of scientists and military men are enlisted to stave off the very dire threat.
Them! was one of a series of films that warned against the dangers of nuclear testing. It was because of that testing that the ants grew to such gargantuan proportions and set their sights on us. Granted, that might be an unrealistic scenario, but the message is clear: It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature. Bottom line, you mess with the natural order of things at your own peril. Man saw fit to split the atom, and as a result, he's forced to pay the price for his arrogance.
Them! is one of the all-time classic horror films of the so-called "Silver Age" of the genre. And the best part about it, when you get right down to it? Still, after all these years, those ants, with their cold eyes and incessant screeching, still have the power to chill the blood.
Missy Yearian of Chickapan Parish on Night of the Lepus (1972)
Every now and then you find a movie that seems to have been made with you in mind. The filmmakers must have been doing research on you specifically to come up with a concept that is so unique to you and you alone. I mean, really, how could anyone know that you, say, have thing for giant bunnies attacking a small town in Arizona? Night of the Lepus, it seems, was made specifically for me.
Cole Hillman is experiencing a plague of rabbits on his Arizona ranch. When he asks resident scientists to help him out with the problem, the consequences are... well, they're just so charming. Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet effing Leigh) get their experimentin' on to see what they can do to help save Hillman's ranch. When they inject a single rabbit with a hormone meant to weed out the population, their daughter--proving once again that children are evil and must be destroyed--accidentally releases the rabbit into the wild.
As the rabbit runs about in the wild, it grows to an incredible size. (One thinks this could have been the progenitor of the human growth hormone, no?) It doesn't take long for this rabbit to get it on with other rabbits, as rabbits are wont to do. And the town is soon faced with a plague of super-enormous rabbits. What will our heroes do to save Arizona from this scourge of furry-faced fiends?
Yeah, you see, Night of the Lepus sounds like a piece of dookie. And you know, you'd be right to assume that's just what it is. It is, after all, about giant bunny rabbits attacking a town. But the film is also an exercise in pure amusement. Though the first forty minutes of the film are largely rabbit-less, it works well to build up suspense and make our first viewing of a killer bunny--in an old mine shaft--all the more exciting.
As the irritating child of our scientists lurks about in the mine shaft, she discovers one of our enormous bunnies viciously attacking the already-dead body of a miner. This image is complete with bright red paint-like blood smeared all over our bunny's face. It's a shining moment, my friends, and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that I nearly fell off my couch for the laughing.
After this first viewing, we are treated to many more shots of our killer bunnies. And here's how it goes. We see regular-sized pet bunnies attacking a teeny-tiny set of this Arizona town. And trust me when I tell you there is nothing better than watching cute, furry little buggers hop all over a fake town. It's, as I said, terribly charming.
I suppose therein lies the problem. If you see it as a problem, which I, obviously, do not. This movie is not scary at all. But really, do we want it to be? Do we want to have nightmares of giant bunnies? Well, I suppose, yes, the best of us do want that, but the point is in the joy of the affair and not the terror. You'll laugh. You'll cry. Oh what a time you'll have. After all, who doesn't love a movie that includes this line: "Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!"
Christine Hadden of Fascination with Fear on The Edge (1997)
While not a horror film, The Edge (1997) is man vs. nature at its best. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, it is a tale of survival, jealousy, and betrayal - with a heaping handful of adventure and some fairly gruesome sequences tied in.
Charles (Hopkins), a brilliant yet reserved billionaire, makes a trip to Alaska to accompany his fashion model wife Mickey (Elle Macpherson, not straying too far from type, obviously) on a photo shoot. It’s obvious from the get-go that she and her principal photographer Bob (Baldwin) share more than just a work-oriented relationship, and when Charles and Bob go further north with another assistant, Steven (LOST’s Harold Perrineau), and a bush pilot to look for a better vantage point for the shoot, things become strained. It’s quickly evident that while helpless and abandoned in the woods, Bob considers it a fantastic time to quite possibly just kill Charles so he can return and continue to woo the old money-bags’ wife and walk into some easy money.
When the plane crashes, killing the pilot and leaving the other three men stranded deep in the Alaskan wilderness, true colors are shown and tempers flare. Adding to the already distressing condition of simply being left in the wild with your enemy and dealing with the harsh weather conditions, they have the dreadful misfortune of pissing off a 1500 pound Kodiak grizzly bear with terrifying results.
At first, Charles tries to reassure the men with his book-smart acumen, telling them all will be fine, and they will simply walk out of the woods if no one comes for them. But as time goes by without rescue, they start walking in circles and they meet up with not only the man-killing bear (several heart-pounding times) but with hunger, disorientation, and blame, it becomes a struggle to stay alive and recognize who the true enemy really is.
A thrilling adventure, The Edge also has the added benefit of being scored by the late great Jerry Goldsmith - and it’s a positively superb accompaniment.
Well acted and all-too realistic (yeah, Bart the Bear did his own stunts!), The Edge should find an audience with horror fans looking for some survival frights - it certainly has more than enough of that to go around.
Vault contributor Paige MacGregor on Jaws (1975)
It is an undeniable fact that then 28-year-old Steven Spielberg’s first major motion picture, Jaws, changed the face of film forever. The film cost approximately $8 million to produce and became the first summer “blockbuster”, making $7 million during its opening weekend alone. The movie is best known for the iconic great white shark that terrorizes a small New England island community called Amity, but it isn’t the shark that makes Jaws my favorite “man vs. nature” horror film.
I hadn’t been exposed to many horror films when I first saw Jaws, and I have to admit that the movie really freaked me out. It would be years before I watched something like Hostel and became accustomed to the amount of blood and gore is frequently featured in contemporary horror movies, and for that reason Jaws seemed pretty gruesome those first few times I watched it. Of course, the really freaky part of Jaws is the fact that viewers can’t see the shark for the majority of the film (due to technical malfunctions with the robotic shark, “Bruce”, which prevented cameramen from capturing many of Spielberg’s planned shots), and as a result of this technique in combination with the film’s infamous soundtrack suspense builds, ultimately creating the movie’s reputation as an iconic “man vs. nature” picture.
I continue to watch Jaws time and time again not because of the shark, however, but based on the performances given by the film’s main cast: Roy Scheider (The French Connection, SeaQuest 2032) as Amity police Chief Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Mr. Holland’s Opus) as Marine scientist and shark expert Matt Hooper, and especially Robert Shaw’s (From Russia with Love, The Sting) portrayal of the old sea salt shark hunter Sam Quint. Between Quint’s repeated rendition of “Spanish Ladies” and the interesting and often comedy-ridden dialogue and interactions that arise from three disparate men sharing a common goal—to kill the man-eating shark—I can’t decide if I’d rather have Quint, Hooper, and Brody as three crazy uncles (okay, maybe two uncles and a cousin) or as beer-drinking, shark-hunting buddies.
Regardless, the scene from Jaws that will forever be emblazoned in my mind is Quint’s monologue about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis: “Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes.” Thankfully, Spielberg’s initial plan to cast Sterling Hayden (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, The Godfather) as Quint fell through because of some issues between Hayden and the Internal Revenue Service and Robert Shaw was brought on board to play the veteran. It’s not often that a single scene makes or breaks an entire film for me, but when it comes to Jaws I highly doubt that I’d be as devoted a fan if Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw weren’t cast as the three main characters. After all, can you imagine someone else saying, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”?
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Join us next week for The Lucky 13, when we honor Veterans Day with a look at the horrors of war...