Darke Reviews | Alien (1979)

Some movies have good posters. Some movies have good trailers. Then there are the taglines.

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”

“Who ya gonna call?”

“Houston, we have a problem.”

“They’re here”

Each of those evoke a memory of a film or a moment in time. They are all you needed to know what you were getting into. Now, imagine if you will (a place beyond sight and sound?), the concept of a horror movie in space is all but unknown. Sci Fi horror and truly gruesome alien monsters don’t exist. You walk into your local cineplex and see the image above with this tagline:

“In space, no one can hear you scream.”

At the bare minimum you might be curious, but what would you be getting if you paid money for a ticket?

The very definition of gothic horror actually.  Written by Dan O’Bannon, inspired by his earlier work Dark Star, and co written by Ronald Shusett. Both of the men would go on to have little success beyond this with Total Recall being one of the few non-Alien based movies of any notoriety.  It’s a shame since they did such a fantastic job in making relatable working class characters that you bother to care about. If that seems a trend in some of my reviews, it is. It is important to me that I care about the characters and create investment in their well being. If I don’t care if they live or die, then where is the tension? There’s no reason to care, then I am only watching for the psychotic glee of witnessing horrific deaths. That has its purpose from time to time, but to be truly great – you need to care. It’s also worth mentioning many of the tropes and cliches of modern cinema started with movies like this. Not only that, but they created a universe here. One we keep dipping our toes back into year after year – Books, Comics, Sequels, Video Games…all of it.

The story here, for those uninitiated, focuses on a group of blue collar miners on a massive space ship and refinery called the Nostromo. They are woken from cryosleep by a mysterious signal from a nearby planet LV-426.  A small recon team is sent to explore the source of the signal and uncovers an ancient ship with secrets within. A specimen is brought back to the ship which begins its return voyage home; only for things to go  wrong. Claustrophobia, fear of an unknown creature, fear of each other, and an ever increasing body count ramp the tension to a climax unlike most others.

The acting cast reads almost as a who’s who of 70’s and 80’s films. Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas, Sigourney Weaver as Lt. Ellen Ripley (in one of her first screen appearances),  Veronica Cartwright as Lambert, Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, John Hurt as Kane, and Ian Holm as Ash. Every aspect of their characters works. They feel real. Their reactions are honest (in some cases very honest). Special recognition of course must go to Weaver. She has the unenviable task of carrying the film when it initially appears Skerritt – the veteran – would do so. She is outmatched in nearly every capacity by the creature that is stalking them except her will to survive. That is a thing of beauty to watch.

Director Ridley Scott, who has done more famous films than I can list reasonably, made this his opening to Hollywood as a director. He did it remarkably. Every aspect of this after the script came down to his raw direction. Tight claustrophobic tunnels, steam, poor lighting, uneven camera angles, and practical effects all from his hand and eye. Granted all the beautiful atmosphere that makes it the gothic classic that it is wouldn’t do well if the villain was Pennywise.


Beep Beep Ripley. Beep Beep


For that we went to the mad genius H.R. Giger. His brain had a thing for the blending of man, machine, and monster. This isn’t to say he made cyborgs or robots, but rather things that seemed to defy both in their surrealist organic nature. Thankfully, he won an Academy Award for this. The creature design is iconic and alone may be the reason this franchise has spawned so many sequels and stories over the decades.


This movie is definitive. It is the work you need to go back to if you want to do horror in space. No one, arguably, has done it better since.

It has some gore to it, but most of the horror comes from what you can’t see and what you aren’t being shown. This movie successfully combines psychological horror, science fiction, and monster movies.

It’s an absolute film.

This is Jessica Darke, with the last review of the night. Signing off.





Darke Reviews | Snowpiercer (2014)

What you haven’t heard of this one? S’okay most folks haven’t. It has been travelling the indie circuit for awhile without a true mainstream release. This is due, in large part to the conflict between the writer director and one of the production companies. When I start going through the cast though, you will probably be scratching your head wondering why this didn’t get a main release. Part of the argument was that the director did not want to shave time from the movie.

Was he right?

Let’s talk about him. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong is the man behind the camera. He has done nothing that most folks stateside have seen, with the exception of The Host (no not that one, the other one). You’ve probably seen it on Netflix if your queue looks like mine. I cannot talk about his body of work or influences as regrettably I haven’t explored south korean cinema as much as I perhaps should. What I do have to say is that he was a brave man to go toe to toe with  low budget schlock powerhouses The Weinstein’s at what was once Miramax. He would not compromise and for that alone he deserves praise. His direction as well in the film were above par.

Did the script support him?

I certainly hope so as he is one of the writers. This is one of those films that breaks the normal rules of writers. You have three writing credits for source material, one for screen story and two for screen play. That’s right, this one is based on a French graphic novel Le Transperceneige first published back in 1982. so fair credit to Jacques Lob,  Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette for providing inspiration. Joon-ho Bong gets both the screen story credit and a screenplay credit. The screen play is shared with Kelly Masterson, a playwright who apparently (per IMDB) was in seminary before going into theatre. In short no one in the writing is someone you’ve heard of.

In long (er); I hope we do hear more. The plot revolves around a classist society living on a train after the end of life as we know it. In a, not so subtle, jab at global warming our solution was “Ice-9” more or less. The world froze. People hid on this miracle train and the entirety of humanity is stuck on this mobile platform. Some folks just aren’t happy with their lot in life and want more than they have. He who controls the spice…er engine controls the world.

The cast is what pulls this together though. Chris (Captain America) Evans plays Curtis, our charismatic leader and main character. Much of the film, rightly, is focused on him with appearances by Tilda (Only Lovers Left Alive, Narnia) Swinton, John (188 acting credits) Hurt, Jamie (Turn, Jumper) Bell, Octavia (The Help) Spencer, and others. Evans, to be blunt, is incredible. There’s no Captain America here. There’s no Johnny Storm. There is a very troubled man who has a drive that only gets stronger the longer the movie goes on. Every expression, decision, and action he takes is made compelling by his performance. Everyone else is good, but he is incredible.

Two additional actors, Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, both formerly of The Host (2006 version) also should be mentioned. Neither are known state side except by a certain group of cinephiles. I’ve actually seen Kang-Ho Song in a vampire movie called Thirst. He’s good and I want to see more of him.

From a technical standpoint the movie doesn’t have to do too much heavy lifting. A few model shots of the train enhanced by CGI cover the bulk of the digital work. Make up and costuming are solid as well.

There will be those that compare this to other films in the dystopian future genre. That is inescapable. What this has different than them? Balls. Pure Balls. It is a brave film that had it truly been made stateside would not have gone in directions this went. So, back to the original question, was he right?


Yes, yes he was. The movie has very little fat on it and there is not much of its two hour running time that could be sacrificed. It would have lessened the film to do so.

Should you rush out to see this one? well…yes and no.

Someone I hope to call a  friend one day, Doug Walker, recently gave his own video review of the movie from last week that should not be named. He talks about how safe it is. How  gullible we are for giving it $100m. ( NSFW – thatguywiththeglasses.com/vide… ). He’s right. Movies like that get attention, ticket sales, and hollywood attention.

Movies like Snowpiercer? They deserve it. They take risks. They give us something we haven’t quite seen before. We need more of this and less of that.

So should you go see it? Yes, yes if you want to support films that deserve your money and deserve recognition.

Should you see it? No. The film is technically an action film and a violent one at that; but it has enough of a cerebral element and tonal quality to it that it is not right for all audiences.

I do recommend this movie. I liked it, but it’s not for everyone.