Friday, May 16, 2014

Trifecta Of Terror! The Arctic Blues Derby

It's been a while since I've brought you a TRIFECTA OF TERROR!, and I figured it's high time to do so!  With The Preakness Stakes tomorrow, we're smack dab in the middle of the Triple Crown series in horse racing, so no time like the present to wager on which of the following flicks would be a winner.

How does this work?  Well, I choose three films with a similar topic or like-minded theme that would compliment each other and put them in the order that represents a winner (the best film of the three), a place (second place finisher) and a show (the third place finisher).  Meaning,  if you are so inclined, you could have an afternoon or evening of like-minded films and work your way from the mediocre to the stellar of the bunch (or vice-versa if you're likely to fall asleep and don't want to save the best for last).

In previous editions I listed them as win-place-show.  But I think I'm changing that up and listing them from "worst" to "best".  In this virtual race, we spotlight three films that have you shivering and

Your "show" film:  THE THAW (2009) - When a film stars Val Kilmer you have to wonder if you're going to get decent-quality Val (as in Tombstone or Heat) or low-quality Val (practically everything else).  I honestly don't think he does a bad job in this eco-thriller that takes place in the Canadian Arctic (though truth be told he's not in the film the entire running time).  Kilmer plays a research scientist who, after discovering the remains of a wooly mammoth, finds out it has carried a parasitic worm all the way from the days of the dinosaurs.  He tries to quarantine the group of ecologists he has with him, and to prevent another group (including his estranged daughter) from joining them.  Of course he does not stop them from arriving and chaos ensues.  I actually found this a pretty good film, with a good supporting cast (Martha MacIsaac being the stand-out), a fairly original script, and a fun gore and gross out factor.  If you don't like swarming bugs, beware this film.  As per usual, there are some dumb-ass moves (as in most horror) that lend no help to the scientific validity of the content.  And though it's supposed to be environmentally pro-active or at least sending a message about global warming, there's not much hope for mankind if the people solving the problems are anything like the scientists (and the graduate students at the heart of the film) are here. But for a fun flick likely to make you squirm and perhaps even induce a few buggy nightmares, you could do a lot worse.

Coming in second, we have our "place" film, which is actually a television episode of one of my favorite shows of all time, THE X-FILES.   I bring you:  ICE (1993).

Ice is one of those stand-alone episodes from the beginning of the series that laid the groundwork for the show's success.  Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) are on assignment in Alaska to determine why a group of scientists have turned up dead. The sense of dread that envelopes this tense hour of television is one of the main reasons I (and millions of others) developed such an affinity for the landmark series.  After a look at the bodies of the dead scientists, they find a dog - alive - that has black nodules on his skin and deduce it must be bubonic plague.  But things get even more perplexing (and unsettling) when they see something move under the dog's skin.  When the helicopter pilot subsequently becomes ill and dies, they discover a parasitic worm moving under his skin and remove it, believing it to be the contagion.   Naturally, Mulder believes the worm to be extraterrestrial, an idea Scully is not quite ready to entertain.  In any event, the duo is determined to prevent the contagion from spreading to the rest of the world.  Such a great episode, very reminiscent of John Carpenter's THE THING - and with good reason, as the concept for both came from John W. Campbell's  Who Goes There?, a novel that also inspired 1951's THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.

Although there are dozens of similar-type films about trouble in the Arctic, I had to choose one of my favorite films - and one of the best remakes in cinematic history.  You all know what I'm talking about - our "win" film:  THE THING (1982).

A group of researchers in the Antarctic head to a nearby Norwegian station to find out why their dog was fired upon by one of their helicopters (which in turn, crashed).  They find a burnt-out station and a bizarre corpse that looks more inhuman than human and end up bringing it back to their station to do an autopsy on it. Without warning,  the pursued canine horrifically mutates into an unrecognizable creature and tries to attack the men.  One flamethrower later and the men are dissecting the monstrosity, only to discover it was in the process of imitating the men - or whatever else it is able to ingest. The men learn the Norwegians had found what appeared to be a spaceship in a block of ice estimated to be thousands of years old, and begin to wonder what may have escaped from it.  One by one the men seem to turn on each other, unwilling to believe that they themselves have been "infected". 
THE THING is a study in patience, dread, and true horror.  A stellar cast led by Kurt Russell, combined with superb practical special effects and an impending sense of doom makes THE THING a winner in any category of film. You just can't go wrong.  If this was an actual horse race, the odds would be even and the horse's name would be Secretariat.

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