Why No Alien Sequel Will Ever Be As Scary As The Original

The Alien series has walked a crooked line in the sci-fi genre. What began as a sci-fi/horror franchise quickly gave way to  sci-fi-action leanings with the release of Aliens and ensuing sequels. Eventually the franchise crossed over into B-film territory (Alien V. Predator, anyone?) before director Ridley Scott attempted a return to seriousness with Prometheus. In terms of genre, it is truly a meandering franchise.

Of course, for my tastes, straight horror is the way to go. The new trailer for Alien: Covenant looks promising in that regard. What few glimpses it offers seem to make excellent use of shadow and dark atmosphere, contrasted with a blisteringly exposed chest-bursting scene, all of which signal a return to the techniques of tasteful horror film making.

But sequels to Alien are, by their nature, flawed. I’ll go so far as to say that no Alien sequel will ever be as unnerving as the original. What ruins further installments is the viewer’s foreknowledge of the Alien universe as he or she experiences each new film. Director Ridley Scott seems hell-bent on clearly delineating the Alien mythos with his continued installments, thus reducing the audience’s discomfort with each sequel.

I wasn’t yet born when the Alien was released in 1979, but I can imagine what it might have been like to be in that audience. For someone who’s never heard of the Xenomorph, the experience of watching one reproduce must have been, well, alienating. The discovery of the downed alien spacecraft and the room of eggs on LV426 conveys a sense of dread, mystery, and foreboding, accentuated by the copious darkness in the atmosphere. The original chest-bursting scene, with no previous knowledge of what would take place, would have induced an incredible helpless anxiety, like being on a roller coaster you aren’t sure is safe. The entire process, from face-hugger to chest-bursting to the acid blood, is a horrific exploration that the crew of the Nostromo desperately does not want, but thanks to the claustrophic confines of the ship, have to endure. It is a plot designed to make its viewer feel estranged from normalcy and hopeless. In order to achieve that effect, the viewer must also find it strange and new.

H.R. Giger’s original artwork would eventually become the Xenomorph.

In addition to the strangeness of the Xenomorph life cycle, one should also consider the appearance of the beast itself. Surrealist artist H.R. Giger designed the Xenomorph to be at once horrifying and alluring. Importantly, it lacks eyes, preventing audience empathy and projection, and adding a level of unpredictability to the creature’s actions. As whatculture.com notes, there is also a certain rapey sexuality in the construction of the Xenomorph, such as its phallic inner mouth, or the shape of its elongated dome. As some have pointed out, it is a creature which is meant to embody rape itself, in form and deed. An audience’s first view of the xenomorph is at once familiar and unusual in a most unsettling way that requires repeated viewings to get used to. And yet, with the years, sequels, and community formed around the film, a collective desensitization has been accomplished.

Of course, this phenomenon goes along with any monster that stars in multiple installments of a franchise. With Alien, however, the very purpose of the film is to immerse its audience in an uncomfortable strangeness. Without that strangeness, the film makes considerably less of an impact. James Cameron brilliantly circumvented this problem, either intentionally or unintentionally, by turning the franchise from horror to action. In doing so, he created a different kind of satisfying experience, but not a scary one. We horror addicts have been hard pressed to find a post-1979 Alien experience to be anywhere near as nightmare-inducing.

With this in mind, the only way Alien: Covenant can live up to its horror origins is by introducing aspects of the universe the fans haven’t seen yet. Doing that risks losing the original film’s concision, however, and could easily tip over into ridiculousness. I maintain a cautious optimism about the new film, but I expect it will seem more like an impersonation of the original rather than a unique installment worthy of consideration on its own.

Paper Cuts: 2/6/17

Aliens: Defiance #9 (Dark Horse)

The last time I checked in with the Aliens series was during the initial launch of the Prometheus line back in 2014.  It is not that those comics were bad, but there were a bit wordy. If I remember correctly, it was just not compelling enough to keep reading after the first several issues.

I rarely will mention cover art in these reviews, but it was beautiful, dark, and creepy.  It was drawn by Stephanie Hans whom I have enjoyed since she first appeared in the interior of a Superior Spider-Man one shot.  Hans has a water color, painted style that is soothing and haunting.

Brian Wood continues to be one of the most workman, versatile writers in the entire comic industry.  Wood can write post-apocalyptic landscapes, Viking and Revolutionary warriors, and major two characters as well as anyone else.  All of these previous stints make Wood the perfect writer for a well thought-out Alien series.  This book had all the markings of what has made the series a lasting icon.  A small desperate cast, an emotionless android, government schemes, and the lurking notion that an xenomorph is lurking on a ship in cold black space.

The interior art is not only great on its own merits, but compliments the story well.  It was done by Wood’s long time DMZ collaborator Tony Brescini.  Each character wears their emotions, or lack of, on their face across the entire book and could tell a story even without any dialogue.  Brescini’s art in this book is simple and compelling.

Not only am I looking forward to issue number 10, but also looking forward and going back and catching up on the entire series.  If one main reason for licensed properties is to get readers to further engage in the universe, anyone who reads this book will be lining up at the doors of the theaters in May.

Ratings: 4.5 out of 5

Quick Cuts:

Zenescope launched the third volume of Grimm Tales of Terror.  It was standard affair for that series with serviceable art and Tales of Crypt one shot storytelling.

Ratings: 2.5 out of 5

Spell on Wheels from Dark Horse delivered a lackluster issue in what was one of my favorite miniseries of the years. I’m hoping the final issue delivers like the first three issues.

Ratings: 3 out of 5

 

She Wolf from Image launched a new arc with #5 and the art alone is worth a read, but this entire series is worth catching up on as well.  The best comparison would be a cross between Archie and Twin Peaks.

Ratings: 4.5 out of 5

Is That An Alien in Your Pocket, or Are You just Having a Psychotic Break?

We moved into our house. I didn’t know I had a dream home until I moved into this one. It’s in an incredibly populated neighborhood, and yet, there is wildlife. Coyotes in the neighbor’s yard, chipmunks up the wazoo and more bunnies than could possibly be safe. Though, you know my prepper obsession and I bet those little hoppers would be good eatin’ during the zombie apocalypse.

Bunnies, chipmunks and squirrels – fine. But there are snakes. Little snakes and big snakes. Black snakes and snakes the color of the grass.

My cousin-in-law (who just so happens to live only five doors down from our new little bungalow) is from New Orleans and her parents live in a suburb of the city. Her father woke up to get a drink in the middle of the night, put his bare foot on the floor to get out of bed, and STEPPED ON A SNAKE. He stepped on a freaking snake. I’ll give you a moment to run around the room waving your hands in the air screaming “NOOOOO!!” like me.

A snake. On the floor. In the bedroom. In the dead of night.

The older I get the more aware I am of my own weaknesses. I know that I could survive worse, but I don’t know who I would become after stepping on a snake in the dark. From that point forward I might have to wear my knee-high Sorels twenty-four hours a day. I might have to build a house on stilts, everything inside whitewashed so that nothing could go unnoticed. People might get sick of me warning them about this horrible thing that could happen to them in the middle of the night. I might wear a headlamp at all times and carry a walking stick to test the ground before I took a step.

Please don’t think me flippant. I am aware of the hellish things we do to one another. Sometimes it’s easier to worry about the little things. Things that are really neither here nor there and will probably never even happen. I can’t consider the real terrors around us if there is any chance of making it through the day. Lord, help me I can’t even look at the news, Twitter, or Facebook lately because when I do, I can’t stop crying. The real monsters in our world have awaked more monsters and there seems no end in sight.

Bedtime floor snakes are improbable. Ghosts are an intriguing distraction. And Aliens? Well, that shit’s fucked up.

From: fbeacon1973@verizon.net

To: ghostsintheburbs@gmail.com

Dear Liz,

I work at Town Hall across from the main branch of the library. I’ve walked past your “ghost stories wanted” flier for months now and have finally mustered up the courage to contact you. Though my tale does not contain ghostly apparitions, I do believe that it falls into the paranormal realm. I have been visited by extraterrestrials since I was a little girl and have been taken several times. I assure you that I am not mentally ill and that my experiences are real. I feel compelled to tell you my story so that you may document these occurrences. Would you consider meeting me in the library? I spend most every weekday lunch in the periodical room. I do hope you’ll consider meeting with me.

Sincerely, Frankie Beacon

Well, I thought after reading the email, Why not?

Truth be told, I’ve never been all that interested in aliens. I’ve heard plenty of sighting stories on paranormal podcasts and seen them reenacted on the History Channel, so I know a little bit about the topic. But these tales always felt a little too vague for me. Like, I saw lights in the sky then I lost the time for a few minutes and now I think I have a chip in my earlobe. Worse are the psychic healers who claimed to contact their “sky friends” for career or nutritional advice.

I have to admit that I feel the same way about tales of Bigfoot encounters. Witness stories always boil down to, “We heard loud noises, then something threw rocks at us, then we were scared and we left the woods.”

Don’t get me wrong, if I found myself gazing up at a U.F.O. or getting hit by a Bigfoot-thrown rock I would definitely lose the time and run away too. But that kind of scary story just isn’t my cup of tea. In spite of all that, something about this woman’s email intrigued me, and I love visiting the library, so I emailed her back to set a lunch date.


The Wellesley Free Library’s periodical room is a window lined happy place. There you can find both current and back issues of all your favorite magazines and newspapers and even borrow those magazines and newspapers for free. Or you can enjoy the atmosphere and catch up on celebrity gossip, devour the chilling drama that is our current political experience, or find recipes and outfit ideas as you sip coffee (I’ve said it before, and you know I’ll say it again, you can enjoy hot beverages *and food* in the library).

It was a bright summer morning when I entered the periodical room. With my Linden Street sandwich in hand I scanned the room’s tables for a woman who might look like she had been abducted by aliens and I walked right past Frankie. She stood and gave a small wave and motioned me over to her table.

Whereas I had been looking for a nervous nail-biter, makeup free with sensible shoes and the pale glow a town office job might grant, Frankie was the polar opposite. She had straight, light brown, shoulder length hair with a nice little swoosh of bangs. I’ve always wanted bangs, and they’ve been an immediate mistake every damn time I’ve tried them out.

Frankie wore a long-sleeved navy blue and white striped St. James shirt with coral capris. A thick stack of gold bangles encircled one thin wrist, and she wore gold boat shoes on her feet. If her email address gave away her birth year, then she was about forty-three years old, though I would have pegged her around thirty-five. Her face was more striking than pretty, and it had a light tan, as though she’d spent the weekend on island.

I walked back towards her and we shook hands. I noticed her wedding rings immediately. On each side of a massive diamond solitaire sat two eternity bands set with beautifully bulky diamonds. We took seats across from one another at a table, unwrapped our lunches (a Starbuck’s latte and a Honey Special on a wrap for me, and a veggie packed homemade salad with grilled chicken and a water bottle for her) and we made some small talk about our excellent library before I took out my digital recorder.

“Ok,” I said, with a smile. “So what’s all this about aliens?”

Frankie considered me for a moment and glanced around. In the room with us were one older gentleman sitting in a leather chair in the corner, and a couple of college-aged girls at a nearby table, with headphones in their ears and heads bent down over laptops.

I realized Frankie was getting cold feet. All of a sudden I had an overwhelming urge to know this completely normal-looking woman’s tale of alien abduction.

“Look,” I said, attempting to keep her from bolting. “I’ve had three women tell me that they conjured the ghost of their dead friend and used her spirit to grant wishes like a genie. I know a guy who obsessively uses the Ouija board and talks to dead people. There’s a woman here in town that is looking for an exorcist to cast a demon out of her daughter. Trust me, whatever your story is, it takes a lot to freak me out.”

Frankie smiled at me and shook her head as if to clear it. She placed her two, perfectly manicured hands flat on the wooden table and said, “It’s not just about the aliens, it’s complicated.”

“My two older kids are in school until three o’clock and I have a babysitter for the little one until two-thirty. I’ve got time,” I assured her.

Frankie nodded her head then began, “There are a lot of ways to control people,” she motioned to her aluminum water bottle. “Take water, for example, who the hell knows what they are pumping into it. I collect rainwater and purify it, it’s all that I drink.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, but I wished I hadn’t brought along my Starbucks latte.

She noticed my hand grip the caffeinated treat a little tighter then said, “Look, they’ve convinced you to spend a fortune on that drink. It’s just a little indulgence, right? But how do you feel when you go without it? They’re floating all these fancy terms like “sugar addiction” and “caffeine addiction” to distract you from what they are really getting you hooked on. Sugar addiction my ass. Do you have any idea what’s really in that drink?” She demanded.

“Well, it’s just soy milk,” I began dumbly.

“Don’t even get me started on the soy,” Frankie pushed herself back from the table, her gold bracelets jingling. She gathered herself and continued, “Look, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. It’s not any of our faults, but they,” Frankie pointed at the ceiling, making me look up and wonder what problem she had with the reference area on the floor above us. “They taught the government everything they know.”

“Frankie,” I said, trying to hide my annoyance by unwrapping my sandwich. The last thing I felt like doing was speaking to a hardcore conspiracy theorist. “I’m not following.”

“Sorry,” she said again, pushing her perfectly sweeping bangs back from an incredibly wrinkle-free forehead. “It’s just that I am relieved to have someone to talk to about this. Not many people want to hear it.”

“Well, I’m grateful that you want to share this with me,” I said, not feeling at all grateful. “In your email you mentioned that you first encountered aliens in your twenties.”

“Well, yes, the first time I actually spoke to an alien I was about twenty-three, but I’ve been visited since I was a girl. They’ve always been here, watching me. The house I grew up in is over by the Wellesley Country Club. I still live in that neighborhood. When I was little I spent most afternoons sneaking around the golf course, playing by the tree line. That was where I first became aware of them.”

“How did you know they were there?” I asked.

“I noticed the whistling first,” Frankie said. “Soft whistles, three at a time, just barely audible. I first heard it when I was playing around the golf course. But then it followed me home. If the whistling occurred and I happened to be with someone else, only I could hear it.”

“That’s strange,” I said simply.

“It’s one of the ways that they communicate with each other. They can speak our language, but they are so much more evolved than we are.”

“Then what?” I asked, taking a bite of my sandwich.

Frankie sat back in her seat and stared at me, her icy blues maintaining eye contact for far too long. My internal stranger danger alarm went off as shrill as my two-year-old’s time out clock, but I tried to hold her gaze as I chewed my apparently alien-influenced food.

“I’m getting a seriously skeptical vibe from you right now,” she said quietly.

“No, I’m sorry if I am putting off that ‘vibe,’” I replied, putting down my coffee. “Look, I’ve never met anyone who has actually encountered an alien. Basically, Signs is my only real point of reference.”

“There have been hundreds of documented cases from around the world – of both sightings and abductions. The effectiveness of their cover up is insane. You talk about it and automatically you’re labeled a nutjob,” Frankie paused. “Have you heard of Barney and Betty Hill?” she asked.

“The names are familiar,” I said, wracking my brain.

“Theirs is the most famous, the most documented case of alien abduction,” Frankie began. “It happened in New Hampshire, south of Lancaster. They were driving home from a vacation at Niagara Falls when Betty thought she saw a shooting star, but then she realized it was moving upwards. They pulled into a rest area to walk their dog and watched as the object moved closer and closer to them. As it grew near, they could see that it had all these multi-colored lights.

“They were sufficiently freaked out, got back in the car and attempted to drive away, but the sky object in front of them got closer and closer until it hovered in the air directly in front of and above their car. Barney stopped the vehicle, and, rather incredibly, got out and used his binoculars to get a better look at the thing. He regretted it immediately. He panicked, got back in the car telling his wife they were about to be captured and turned around to drive away. Then the Hills lost the time,” Frankie said, her eyebrows raised as she sat back in her seat.

I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath and leaning far forward. I took a breath, and asked, “Is that it?”

“I wish that was it,” Frankie said with a loud, barking laugh that startled me. “Oh no, there was more, a lot more. They got home that night around dawn, totally freaked out. Their clothing was torn and there were weird markings on the car trunk, and these markings? They drove their compass bananas.”

“What about the dog?” I asked.

“The dog?” She asked, genuinely perplexed.

“Yeah, their dog, was it ok?”

“God, I don’t know,” Frankie said in utter annoyance. “But another problem was that Barney had a strong feeling that he’d been diddled with, though he couldn’t find any evidence.”

“Diddled with?” I asked, wondering if that was some sort of alien term, and still wondering about the dog.

“You know,” Frankie said, gesturing to her crotch. “Diddled with.”

“Oh,” I said, suppressing a giggle.

“The Hills actually reported the incident to a nearby Air Force base. Then, about ten days after the event, Betty began to remember,” Frankie whispered, causing me to lean forward again. “You can go online and listen to the accounts that Betty and Barney gave under hypnosis. Apparently, the aliens walked the couple around the spaceship and spoke with them before they got started on the medical examinations. The recording of Betty’s panicked voice, begging one of the aliens not to stick a needle in her naval cuts through you like a knife.”

“No way,” I said, disgusted.

“Scientists, researchers, a ton of government officials – they all took this couple seriously. Enough to spend a lot of time and money documenting what happened to them.”

“Who were these poor people? I mean, why them?” I asked, thinking this sounded a lot more like an urban legend than a “well documented” alien abduction case.

“The Hills were very well-known in their community. Betty was a social worker and Barney worked for the Post Office. They were active Unitarians, belonged to the NAACP and he sat on the local board of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. These were normal people, with no reason to call that sort of attention upon themselves,” Frankie explained.

I still felt doubtful and nodded my head. Actually, it wasn’t so much doubt as it was the feeling that she was peppering me with details to sell me on this story. I’m married to a real estate broker. Trust me, I know when someone is trying to sell me on something.

“It wasn’t just that,” Frankie continued, eyebrows raised. “The aliens told the Hills that they were from the zeta reticuli system.”

“Pretend I don’t know what that means,” I replied, annoyance surfacing.

“It’s a binary star system in the southern constellation of Reticulum,” Frankie said slowly, her own annoyance coming through. “But that’s not what matters, what matters is that we didn’t discover the zeta reticuli until 1969. The Hills were taken in 1961.”

“Ok,” I admitted. “That’s weird, and a little creepy.”

“Look, I’m not even doing their story justice, Google it when you get home. It will make for unsettling reading.”

“I already find it very unsettling.”

“You mean if it’s real, “ Frankie replied, sitting back and folding her arms over her chest.

I was beginning to feel like I was in some sort of debate and it was not at all enjoyable. What the hell had I been thinking meeting with this woman? I knew from my podcasts that these alien people always got their panties in a bunch if you didn’t immediately freak out when they told you aliens were real.

“Well,” I stalled, not wanting to offend her, but also wanting out of the conversation.

“If the Hill’s story was the only case, then I would be skeptical too,” Frankie pressed on. “If I hadn’t seen these things with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it either. But whether you want to believe it or not, aliens exist and they have a plan in place. No, not only is it in place, it’s in motion,” her bracelets jingled again as she pointed a finger at the tabletop.

Her salad sat untouched in front of her, and frankly, that irritated me. I wanted to enjoy my lunch and instead I felt like I was scarfing down my sandwich in front of an angry college professor. Besides that, if she really had a story I wanted details and not some generalized rant, so I asked, “You said that aliens have been visiting you almost your entire life. What happened besides those whistles you heard?”

Frankie took a long sip of her rainwater (which forced me to suppress a gag) and began, “I heard the whistling and other noises in the woods around the golf course. You know how when you walk down a forest path you hear things skittering away from you, chipmunks and squirrels and such? Well, I would hear the skittering, only it wasn’t going away from me, it was coming towards me, but I never actually saw anything or anyone.

“It felt like I was being watched constantly. One night I woke up around two in the morning. I had that feeling of being watched, and for some reason, something made me look over at my window. That was the first time I saw one of them,” she paused, dramatically.

I just stared at her and took a sip of my delicious, addictive latte, unwilling to keep dragging the story out of her.

“It was an alien, though I didn’t know it at the time. We stared at each other for almost a full minute and then he turned away from the window.”

“What did he look like?” I asked, imagining a green being with big black eyes set in a ball-shaped head. I wondered for a moment how I might react to such a thing and decided it would be with rage, not fear. I haven’t the time for that shit.

“He looked like,” she again took a long freaking pause before continuing, “He looked like a muscle head. You know the type? Like a bouncer at a college bar. He had jet black hair and looked almost human, but his forehead and eyes were larger than they should have been.”

“How do you know this wasn’t just some weirdo Peeping Tom?” I asked.

“My bedroom was in the attic,” Frankie explained.

“Oh,” I said, dumbly.

“Yeah, it was pretty scary. I desperately wanted to believe it was a dream, but then it happened again the next night, only there were two of them silently looking in on me. I actually threw one of my stuffed animals at the window and screamed for them to get out of there. They just slowly turned away from the window and disappeared into the darkness.

“The third night I was ready for them. I had my dad’s camcorder and my Polaroid camera. I tried to look like I was sleeping and then the second I had that feeling of being watched I jumped up and screamed, ‘I’ve got you creeps!’

“But it was just the one with the dark hair again. He gave this awful smile, he didn’t have any teeth,” Frankie shudders, remembering. “Then he turned away like he had the other times.”

“Did you tell your parents that there were men looking in your window at night?” I asked.

“No, I knew they wouldn’t believe me,” Frankie said, sensibly. “That’s why I tried to get them on film.”

“Did you record them?” I asked.

“No, they can’t be recorded,” she explained, shaking her head. “When I reviewed my film, it was just a shaky shot of my window and the audio of me yelling.”

I just nodded, feeling disappointed but not surprised.

Frankie nodded her head back at me, “I know, I was bummed too. After that I didn’t see them anymore, but over the next few years every once in a while I would get that feeling again, of being watched. I saw the black-haired guy once on the sidelines when I was playing field hockey in high school and then again near the stage at my college graduation.”

“No shit?” I said.

“No shit,” she confirmed. “Both times the shock of seeing him almost stopped me dead. He looked exactly the same. He wore the same outfit and his face had that same flat affect. Then after college I moved back in with my parents for a couple of years while I got my Masters from Babson.”

“What did you Master in?” I asked, curious.

“Accounting,” she replied.

“Cool,” I said, taking another bite of lunch.

“Nothing happened the first few months, but then one night he came again. Only this time, he came inside.”

“No,” I said, having to forcefully stop myself from saying ‘that’s what she said.’

“Yup. I woke up just like I had all those years before with that creepy feeling and as I turned to look at the window he was coming through it. Not like, crawling in through the window, he was gliding through the wall and window, as though they weren’t even there.

“I scrambled back toward my headboard and looked around for anything that I could use as a weapon. He was gliding towards me really slowly, so slowly that I had time to realize that I didn’t have anything to fight him with, so I stood up on the bed and I think I said something ridiculous like, ‘Let’s go motherfucker!’” With this, Frankie actually cracked a smile.

“Atta girl!” I said with a laugh, surprised by her bravery.

“If you were cornered like that you’d do the same,” she said confidently.

I disagreed, but asked, “How the hell did he react to you?”

“He gave me that awful toothless grin again then said, ‘Frankie, Frankie, calm down, I’m just here to talk.’ I stayed there, standing on the bed with my back against the headboard as he explained who he was and why he’d been watching me since I was a little girl.”

“Fuck,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s one thing to have seen this guy when I was little and then think I spotted him a couple other times in my life. I could explain that away to over-active imagination. But this man was in my bedroom, calmly telling me that I was one of the ‘different ones’ and that’s why they were interested in me. That’s why I hadn’t been taken.”

“Different how? And taken where?” I demanded.

“That’s exactly what I asked,” she said. “He told me that we are all being studied and that some of us are different. When confronted, those of us who don’t automatically retreat, those of us who instead take a stand, we are the ones they want to learn more about. He said that he needed me to cooperate.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” I said, taking the last bite of my sandwich. Frankie’s salad still sat untouched.

“It wasn’t good, but at least I can’t remember all of it,” she said, sadly.

“What the hell happened?” I asked.

“He told me that he was going to bring me to the ship where my mind could be examined. They were willing to manage my memories so that I didn’t have to recall the events, but I had to agree to go with them. I told him he could fuck off, that I wouldn’t go anywhere with him,” she paused.

“What did he do?” I asked, hoping she would say he just melted back through the wall again.

“He didn’t say anything for a moment, then he put that gross smile back on his face and told me that if I did not cooperate he would kill my parents and my cat and then kill me. I told him to fuck off again. That he’d have to kill me first to get to my family and he said, ‘No, Frankie, you’re not listening. If you do not cooperate, I will kill you last. Your parents and your pet die first. Then you get to die.’”

“Oh God, so what did you have to do?” I asked, not wanting to know.

“I cooperated. The last thing I remember is stepping off the bed and having him take my left hand in his. His hands felt like fine grit sandpaper. It was repulsive.”

I asked, “You said you can’t remember all of it, but what do you remember?”

“Not much,” Frankie admitted, looking up at the ceiling. “I remember being super cold, like shaking freezing, but I also remember being blisteringly hot. I remember what I think was a mirror and seeing a distorted reflection of myself in a black room sitting on a steel bench next to an extremely skinny man. He was holding onto my upper arm, really tightly, and he was, like, swaying back and forth. Weird other flashes came, but I didn’t remember all of it right away, they came back over the next few days.”

“The morning after it happened, I tried to convince myself it had been a dream. Then I got into the shower and that’s when I first noticed the marks on my upper arm,” Frankie pushed up the her shirt sleeve and pointed to a cluster of three marks on her right arm. They looked like little blue tattoo dots patterned as the three points of a triangle. “I think the alien made these marks as he was holding my arm, studying me.”

“Did you ever see that guy again, the window guy?” I asked, really really not wanting to believe this story.

“Oh yeah, he comes around every once in a while to tell me things, or ask me things. I’ve lost memories several times over the years, too. It is pretty awful, actually. He always visits when I am in a really stressful time in life. Like when I was getting my Masters degree, or when I moved to California for a while on my own, the night before a big interview, things like that. That’s part of the data they are trying to gather, the way we all react to different types of stress.”

“But, why would they want to know that?” I asked.

“They’re trying to figure out how to take us out for good,” she said.

“Take us out?” I asked.

“Yes, there’s an end date,” Frankie said.

“To what?” I demanded.

“To this,” she motioned around us. “They’re gathering data so they can most effectively end us. All that nonsense you hear about aliens abducting people to study our biology? It’s bullshit. They created us, they know exactly how our bodies work. And anyway, all they would have to do is study a couple of our bodies if they needed to understand our biology. No, they are studying what will most effectively bring an end to all of us without having to take out the entire planet. The first time they tried was with the big flood, but it didn’t work, a small faction helped us to survive.”

“Big flood? Do you mean like Noah’s Ark?” I asked, feeling myself about to fall down a deep, deep rabbit hole.

“Yes, exactly. They created us and then lost control. We became too aggressive. We are the perfect killing machines, we are too smart for our own good, and we can adapt to anyplace, anything. We survive too well. Then anytime we get a new piece of technology, we warp it into something that can be used to war with each other, or them,” Frankie was whispering now, leaning towards me.

“Well, why don’t they just kill us all?” I asked.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, they lost control of us and already tried that once and failed. We survive to well, heal too well. We are really hard to kill. Think about it, we can send one another into battle and then we know how to heal ourselves if we get hurt so that we can go back out and fight again. There are too many of us now, so they’ve changed tactics.

“We are on our way to destroying this planet and they won’t allow that. They created everything here. Look at every other species on this planet, how did human beings make such a huge jump mentally and emotionally speaking in evolutionary terms? It doesn’t make sense. But that’s besides the point, they’re developing a way to exploit our greatest weakness.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“They’re studying fear,” she replied. “It’s something that they don’t have. They evolved differently, they didn’t have to fear being chased by a bear or eaten by an alligator. They realized that, for us, fear is an incredibly strong emotion and they are studying how to use it against us. They abduct certain people to study how and why fear is triggered and then they study people like me who react with aggression rather than fear.”

“Fear,” I repeated.

“Just look at the news,” Frankie insisted quietly. “It’s starting. I mean, it’s already started. The most brilliant thing they’ve done is to push the fear of germs and disease, because, you know, we’re killing the effectiveness of antibiotics by overusing them. And once we do that, a lot of us will die off pretty quick once there’s a bad cold and flu season.

“They influence the news too. You know how everyone complains that there’s only bad news and fear based mongering now, and of course the internet is theirs and theirs alone.”

“Brilliant,” I said, meaning it.

“Isn’t it? They are very patient, and really, the way things are going, they only need to wait a couple more decades. Look at what we’ve turned religion into. Look at politics around the world. We take good things, powerful ideas and then twist them and create division, hate, fear. You see how it’s all escalating,” she sat back in her seat. “Once we’ve gone and taken ourselves out for the most part, they’ll come through in one final sweep, to take out the final survivors.”

“Maybe another flood,” I said.

“Or a bad cold and flu season,” she agreed, those damn eyebrows raised yet again.

“Are you even allowed to be telling me this?” I asked. “I mean, they threatened to kill your entire family.”

“I can’t keep it anymore, it’s too much,” she replied. “I don’t care what happens to me.”

“What about your husband?” I asked, my eyes flickering to the immense diamonds on her left hand.

“I can’t burden him with this,” Frankie said.

“But what about me?” I demanded loudly, making one of the college girls look up from her laptop and over to our table. “What if they don’t want me to know?”

“You’ll be fine,” Frankie said. “Things will wrap up soon anyways.”

I just stared at her.

“Wait, do you have children?” She asked, as though the idea had just dawned on her.

“Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I snapped.


The rest of the day I was absolutely terrified to look up at the sky. I kept Kat securely strapped on me in her front pack and sat Max and Joey in front of the television after school. I wouldn’t let them outside to play. When they complained about it I lied and told them that I’d seen a snake in the backyard. I’d deal with the fallout from that lie later.

It wasn’t until my husband got home from work that night, when I was having a glass of Chardonnay and telling him all about Frankie’s aliens that I began to realize just how far down the rabbit hole I really had fallen with her.

You know, crazy disguised as conviction can be very compelling. After spending just a little over an hour with Frankie, I’d spent the rest of my day terrified. Looking over my shoulder, questioning everything that I’d ever known to be sure, because this woman was so convinced of something so outrageous that she was able to convince me of the same.

Maybe crazy is too strong a word, but Frankie certainly wasn’t grounded in reality. But, then again, am I grounded in reality? I’m grounded in my reality. My reality is one of a safe, non-alien-abduction childhood. I live in a secure home with my family; I lock my doors (most) nights and think that’s enough to keep the bad guys (and snakes) out.

That’s my reality. But what if there is another reality?

I woke up around two o’clock that night. I don’t know what woke me. I got up and checked on the girls, then went downstairs for a glass of water. The dogs followed and asked to go outside. Icy terror filled me for a moment at the thought of letting them out under the immense night sky. Then I shook it off, opened the back door and forced myself to step out onto the porch with them.

I saw stars and sky through the dark trees above me. No aliens. No circular craft. No big-eyed muscle heads watching me from the branches above.

I thanked God for my quiet life of shuttling tiny people to and from get-togethers with other tiny people. For picking up dog poop in the back yard. For feeling bored and tired in the afternoons and going to the same restaurant on a date night every Wednesday. I thanked Him for my family and my friends who will surely intervene if I ever wander too far down a conspiracy theory void.

I called to the dogs and opened the door to let them back in. Just as I was about to step my smug ass back into my supposedly safe and secure home I heard three low whistles behind me. They were so soft that I would have missed them had the night not been so quiet.

Thoughts on Independence Day: Resurgence

Alien invaders count as horror, right?
I thought so.
Here are a handful of random thoughts about Independence Day: Resurgence.

id4 - city

1. Brent Spiner is a perfectly fine actor, but Dr. Okun was entirely too prominent in this movie.  The first Independence Day was the perfectly amount of Okun: get in, say some awkward things for laughs, have an alien tentacle wrapped around his neck and get out.
For this movie, it was almost like someone said, “Hey, what if we did that but for, like, half the movie?”  Okun is a good character in moderation.  “Moderation” is the exact opposite of what we got here.

id4 - spiner

2. Maika Monroe is great, isn’t she?  Man, she’s great.  I know there was an uproar over the fact that Mae Whitman wasn’t offered the chance to reprise her role from the original, but that doesn’t change the fact that Maika Monroe is great.  (For the record, Mae Whitman is also great.)
So here comes Monroe, stepping into the role of Patricia Whitmore to offer…nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  It ‘s not Monroe’s fault: it was a terrible, shallow character.  The few times Monroe was asked to really “bring it,” she did exactly that, only to see others not return the favor (or for the script to completely fail) and for those scenes to fall flat.

id4 - monroe

3. There was a subplot where Julius Levinson – the great Judd Hirsch – drives towards Area 51 with a schoolbus full of children.  I am very much looking forward to a spin-off in the vein of Cheaper By The Dozen.

Pictured: Julius with all his children
Pictured: Julius with all his children

4.  There were too many characters to really care about any of them.  Our “new blood” was comprised of 5 characters: Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Rain Lao (Angelababy) and Charlie Miller (Travis Trope).  That is entirely too many people to care about, especially when most of them are just empty husks.  They could have cut 3 of the characters and allowed us to form a stronger bond with the remaining 2: Patricia and Dylan.

5. It’s not Jessie T. Usher’s fault, but he was playing the role of Steven Hiller’s son and showed exactly zero of the charisma of Will Smith’s Hiller.  I say it’s not his fault, only because there are very few people who have the kind of easy charisma that Will Smith has.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that Dylan is Steven’s stepchild, so maybe that explains it.

I never said he didn't have smoldering eyes, though.
I never said he didn’t have smoldering eyes, though.

6. Liam Hemsworth is a very handsome man, but he is not a very good actor.

Not pictured: acting.
Not pictured: acting.

7. There is a great part at the beginning with an African tribe who hunted the aliens who crash-landed at the end of the first movie.  The tribe killed hundreds of aliens.  We spend a good bit of time with their leader, Dikembe Umbutu, who killed them with a set of machetes.  “You have to get them from behind,” he says.  He’s the best.
So what does he do for the majority of the movie?  He basically plays second-fiddle to a bumbling, comic-relief IRS stooge named Floyd.  I hated Floyd.  I hate Floyd so much.

id4 - dikembe

8. When in its case, the alien orb looked like The Matrix of Leadership from Transformers: The Movie.

id4 - matrix of leadership

9. What happened to Constance Spano (David Levinson’s ex-wife)?  Their relationship was a story throughout the original movie, and there is absolutely no reference to her here.  Not only is there no reference, but apparently Levinson has had a series of relationships over the past twenty years, including one such instance with Charlotte Gainsbourg (or her character or whatever).  I would have been happy with a simple comment.  Instead we got nothing.
An aside: I like Charlotte Gainsbourg (mainly her music), but, given her film roles (most notably Antichrist and Nymphomaniac), this movie seems like an odd choice for her.

10. On the Memorial Wall, the name “Russell Casse” can be seen, and a single tear rolled down my cheek.  When this comes out on Blu Ray, I’m going to pause that scene and see if I recognize any other names.

All of these thoughts (except the last one) are negative.  Independence Day: Resurgence is by no means a good movie, but it’s not a terrible one.  Sure, there are too many characters and that causes the movie to drag in parts.  But the action sequences were all tremendous and there were a lot of cool ideas (like, A LOT of cool ideas).  This felt like a movie that bit off more than it could chew: it had to fill in the gaps of what happened in the past 20 years, introduce a bunch of new characters, have the aliens return and set up a couple huge showdowns with said aliens.
I went to the theater and saw this as a double-feature with the original Independence Day.  Watching them back-to-back like that – along with the natural hype that comes with a 20 year delay – probably made this movie feel a little more disappointing than it actually was.  Again, this wasn’t a terrible movie: I think I just had my expectations set a bit too high.  I do think a couple changes would have made for a vast improvement (less Okun and fewer characters/storylines, mainly), but it still seems like a perfectly fine – if flawed – movie.  It’s tough to live up to the first Independence Day (some janky green screen aside, it still holds up and I still love it dearly), but this is still a movie I can see myself rewatching quite a bit.  I gotsta see that rampaging queen as much as possible, ya know?

id4 - queen 2

Two more thoughts, because I like to end on a positive note:

1. Jeff Goldblum is still a handsome man.

id4 - goldblum

2. William Fichtner is in this and he’s awesome.  William Fichtner is always awesome.

id4 - general

Galaxy Invader: Movie Review

 

Synopsis:
An asteroid crashes to Earth and is discovered by a professor and his student.  Is their relationship more than just “professor and student”?  Oh most definitely.
Anyway, the asteroid is a glowing orb and there is also a large, rubbery alien creature and there is a dysfunctional family trying to capitalize on it and a bar full of drunks wanting to murder and so on and so forth.

Pictured: Justice

Thoughts:
Everyone has their favorite bad b-movie that they ran across in a video store.  We used to go to the video store located in the front of Wal-Mart once a month or so and look for the worst movie we could find.  Have you ever seen The Boneyard, in which an old woman and her poodle are turned into hideous, mutated creatures?  Or The Beast, in which a man turns into a drooling, claymated monster for some reason?  Or Puma Man, which involves Aztecs, Stonehenge, Donald Pleasance and the insinuation of a flying sexual encounter?  Because I have.  I’ve seen all of those, and more.  So much more.

My favorite in the bunch was Galaxy Invader.  It was my go-to when a friend was in town.  “You haven’t seen Galaxy Invader?  YOU SIMPLY MUST!”  I’ve seen it more times than I care to count.  I’ve seen it so many times that, when I finally tracked down a copy to buy, I noticed that a line of dialog was missing from the copy I had seen.  I can see JJ saying, “What could I do, Pa, he had a gun,” with his arms in front of him, bouncing awkwardly.  I can see it in my head, but not on my DVD copy.  I own 4 copies of this movie and that dialog is missing from all of them.  It’s a conspiracy, I tells ya.

Did I say I own 4 copies?  Because I meant that I own, um, 0 copies of this movie.  I’m borrowing one from a friend.  You probably don’t know him, so don’t bother asking.  He’ll deny it, anyway.  And he doesn’t have a phone or anything.

Not Pictured: A Phone

This movie is beautiful.  The monster’s suit is terrible and rubbery, and, for a movie called Galaxy Invader, he is not the star of the show.  The star of the show is the Montague family.  The father – Joe – is abusive and leers after the wife of his best friend and owns one shirt that has a giant hole in the middle.  His daughter – who seems to be in her early 30s – desperately wants to run away with her boyfriend, a flannel-clad man who either hides his smoking from her, or was smoking during his shooting breaks and didn’t throw the cigarette away before the camera started rolling.  There’s no way to know for sure.  The wife – Ethel…of course it’s Ethel – just kind of puts up with Joe’s crap for some reason.  Their son is an idiot and is easily in his 40s.

Joe’s best friend is a cowboy-hat wearing jackass by the name of Frank Custer*.  For some reason, Frank is a big figure in the community and can easily gather up a bunch of trigger-happy drunks at a moment’s notice.  Frank says things they “HEYYY GOOOOD,” and has large strings of drool escape his mouth when he removes his cigar.  Frank’s wife – the aforementioned object of Joe’s affection – is Vickie.  She wears low-cut shirts and has a mole that reflects light.

The back of the VHS box shows a scene that never comes close to happening in the movie.  Not in any of the copies that I…I mean, my friend owns.  My friend.  Who, again, you probably don’t know.

The ending is delightful.  Just delightful.  I once watched this movie in a room full of people who had never seen it and the entire room erupted into roars of laughter.  It’s unreal.  It’s one of my all-time favorite scenes in any movie ever.  It’s perfect.  I would highly recommend that you watch the full movie.  But, if you just want to skip to the end, well…

The full movie is on YouTube!  I repeat, it’s on YouTube!

This movie is terrible and trashy and I love it completely.  Please watch it so we can all talk about it.  Please.  Please?

Pretty please?

Rating: 15/5

* Frank Custer is played by Don Leifert.  In the credits, it says, “Hat Provided by Don Leifert.”  They had a line in the credits that told us that he brought his own cowboy hat.  That always killed me.