Saturday, October 22, 2016

that thing you do.

I'm off to see the great god John Carpenter* so in tribute to the man himself I've decided to revisit the straight to DeeVeeDee delicacy that is Harbinger Down.

Unless you live in the UK where they retitled it Inanimate.

As opposed to just calling it Spooky Shite in the Snow and have done with it.

I mean what do you expect when the man famous for making the 'Predalien' and trying to attach hoover pipes to the back of the monster suit in Alien 3  much to the affront of David Fincher - decides to direct a threepenny remake of The Thing which promises absolutely no CGI effects.

Well maybe a few.

Well, what could possibly go wrong?

Harbinger Down (AKA Inanimate. 2015).
Dir: Alec Gillis.
Cast: Lance Henriksen, Camille Balsamo, Matt Winston, Reid Collums, Milla Bjorn, Winston James Francis, Mike Estime, Edwin Bravo and Giovonnie Samuels.

It's June 25th, 1982 around 8.30-ish in the morning (you can tell by the lighting) and a (non-CG, honest) Soviet spacecraft is racing toward the Earth’s atmosphere in a vain attempt to return home in time for the first screening of John Carpenter's The Thing.

Yup, always good to start your film with a nice in-joke to keep the interweb geeks happy.

Obviously the unnamed astronaut has already seen that movie's pre-credits teaser tho' seeing as he's thrown caution - and originality - to the wind by trying to copy that spacecraft's trajectory in a kind of airborne tribute not seen since the heady days of the Red Arrows.

It'll come as no surprise then when the poor sod crashes into a barren, icy landscape.

Lance Henriksen wonders where it all went wrong.

Jumping forward 33 years later and the much maligned on release movie is now considered one of, if not THE best monster movies of all time and John Carpenter's finest work.

As much as I love it tho' I did recently come across what I think is the reason for its lack of success at the box office.

The films title which is frankly nonsensical.

John Carpenter's The Thing?

No he's not.

Plus there are no characters that go by that name - or anything similar - in the whole film.

Audiences were probably put off by thinking that the title gave away who the monster was so didn't bother going to see it, those that did where probably confused looking for this mysterious John Carpenter character during the movie and missed all the good bits.

With hindsight perhaps a better title would have been 'Director John Carpenter wants to remake the title sequence from the Howard Hawks/Christian Nymby original film but has taken his inspiration from the original short story about a shape-shifting alien'. 

Tho' that would have left less space for the artwork.

But I digress.

Anyway, it's still 33 years later - from the films opening, not from the last time I typed 33 years later because that would now be 66 years....or 99 if you count the 33 years in the explanation....hang on I've typed it again - and woolly hatted college student Sadie (Balsamo from TeeVee's Murder in the First), her big haired buddy Ronelle (The Suite Life of Zack And Cody's Samuels) and their creepy professor Stephen Merkin (John from Cincinnati's Barry Cunningham himself, Winston) are all set for a nice cruise aboard the  crabbing vessel Harbinger in order to stick some GPS trackers to a group of beluga whales.

As you do.

The best thing about the trip is that it's absolutely free, thanks in part to the ship being owned by Sadie's granddad, the salty seadog Captain Steffi Graff (Henriksen), which means that professor Merkin can blow the allocated travel budget on giant sized bottles of Just For Men, tubes of Pringles and cherry fragrant lube.


Camille Balsamo desperately searches for an original idea...or halfway decent special effect.
After the obligatory meet the crew bit - yup all the cliches are here and accounted for including the sexy Kurt Russell wannabe Bowman (Collums), grumpy man mountain Big G (Francis), wise-cracking black dude Dock (Estime) and saucily secretive Soviet sexpot Svet (Bjorn, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal was busy - or has a mediocrum of taste, obviously) - the whale watching fun begins.

Luckily the film is quite short so it's not long before the Harbinger crew have dragged the crashed Russian spacecraft from out of the icy depths and on board the ship.

Originally mistaking it for a Ferguson Videostar VHS machine due to it's size and abundance of big buttons they elect to store it in the hold and thaw it out in the hope that it will still work, therefore enabling them to sell it on Ebay and all retire as rich men.

Except Svet who'd be a rich woman obviously.

If you concentrate you can still hear the CLUNK.

Upon further investigation its true nature is revealed, along with a freeze-dried cosmonaut and a box of worms.

Worms that for some reason or another have been genetically altered to assimilate DNA and and kill stuff.

As to why this is never made clear but most likely because it looks cool.

Or it was at least meant to.

Once thawed the wacky worms mutate into a massive day-glo monster hell bent on devouring both the students and the Harbinger’s crew, messily absorbing them into an ever-growing nightmare of latex, KY Jelly and headache inducing lighting effects.

With only a few flame thrower-like liquid nitrogen guns for defense, Sadie, Captain Graff and the rest of the crew must band together before the creature can complete it's plan of total domination of the worlds crabbing industry.

Or something.

Let's be honest do you really care?

Really truly?

"Put it in me!"

Way back in 2010, the Academy Award-winning character effects studio Amalgamated Dynamics (look them up, they've done loads of stuff including Starship Troopers, Death Becomes Her and AVP) or ADI as they are much more sexily known, were hired to create the practical monster effects for the abysmal 2011 'prequel' to The Thing.

Yup, we're back to that movie again.

Unfortunately much to ADI's annoyance and to general viewer apathy, the studio decided to replace all their practical effects work with an incredibly shoddy amount of cheap CGI of the kind not seen since the days of the Playstation 2 for no other reason than that's how Hollywood works.

Given the choice between swallowing it down (I'm assuming that they still got paid) or burning down the Universal backlot, Alec Gillis and his pals sensibly decided on a third option.

They would use crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise money for their own monster movie which they would make using only practical creature effects created through the use of animatronics, prosthetic makeup, stop motion and miniatures.

The beauty of this idea was twofold, firstly there was already a huge audience clambering for a return to the 'real' effects based films of yesteryear plus - and most importantly if it turned out shit then ADI wouldn't be out of pocket.



Frighteningly realistic effects from the 2011 version of The Thing.

Well their hearts might have been in the right place but unfortunately Gillis appears to have left his directing skills down the back of the sofa.

A sofa that was then covered in petrol and set light to.

And to make matters worse all the original ideas for the screenplay were in a folder behind the cushions when he did it.

Alongside a post-it note with the names of a halfway decent cinematographer, an editor with two good eyes and a competent lighting guy.

On a brighter note he at least had Lance Henriksen's number stored in his phone.

As well as all those dodgy photos of him shagging a goat that he was going to use to blackmail him with.

Because to be honest I can't imagine any other reason for him wanting to appear in this.

I mean he can't be that skint surely?

Shite in mah mooth? Shite fucking everywhere more like.

It's to Henriksen's credit tho' that he, alongside the rest of the cast manage to breathe any life at all into the paper thin characters on show but even then it's an uphill struggle thanks to a piss-poor script that desperately attempts to recall the heady days of 80's body horror but ultimately just leaves you longing for a re-watch of George P. Cosmatos' Leviathan instead.

And not just the scene where Amanda Pays has a shower in her undies.

Kudos especially to Milla Bjorn, who fights valiantly against one of the most ludicrous character arcs I've ever had the misfortune to sit thru' and to poor old Reid Collums who thanks to being forced to wear a stick on beard whilst carrying around a toy fire extinguisher looks for all the world like a small boy cosplaying Kurt Russell as Macready.

At least if they'd written the whole thing as a self-aware black comedy none of this would have mattered.

But they didn't and it does.

Amanda explanation needed.

Neither good enough nor bad enough to be truly enjoyable, Harbinger Down seems happy enough to settle for just being average and when you stop and think about the talent involved it's a crying shame.

I bet John Carpenter live is fucking brilliant tho.

*Unless you're reading this at any other day except Saturday 22nd October 2016 obviously.

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