Friday, May 29, 2009

follow friday

to this week's followers, welcome aboard!

Come for the boobies, stay for the food (reviews)...

Radiation Cinema! a fun movie blog that centers on the sci-fi and monster movies of the atomic age. So whether it's living in the post-apocalyptic nightmare or fending off radioactive grasshoppers, this is a good read.

We've been roved through by a Mild Colonial Boy (Esq.) who writes the amusing nerdfest A Wandering Monster, I which is probably an anagram but I'm too dumb to figure it out. He's got some videos of Vin Diesel admitting that he plays the Dungeons and the Dragons, among other things.

Cinema du Meep is another good movie blog chock full of '70s and '80s pop culture and more. I just started reading, and it is a fine addition to my blogroll.

Sehnzeleid (isn't that a Rammstein album?) of The Basement of Ghoulish Decadence writes a horror movie blog that immediately grabbed me with his irreverent style and similar taste.

Welcome aboard, and I hope you enjoy my ramblings!

Ray's Hell Burger

Ray's Hell Burger made the news a few weeks ago when President Obama and VP Biden made a surprise trip to this gem of a burger joint tucked into an Arlington strip mall. While part of me rolled my eyes over the slow news day reporting, I'm glad it made the news. Because Ray's is top contender for my #1 burger this year. They are simply fantastic, affordable and not as crazy crowded as you'd assume.
My burger experiences center around the New York area due to where I live, so I was very glad to be able to hit this place on Memorial Day weekend. Firecracker and I went on a 6-state road trip while traveling to a wedding, which led us to D.C. A quick search on Google got us the address, and thankfully friend Kim warned us about the lack of signage. Good things are worth hunting down, and it was crowded even on a Sunday, so if it had a big sign we'd probably still be waiting. The place is rather tight with highboy tables and the line was only 5 deep when we got there, but tables were scarce. We found one outside, and the weather was great.
They do have some decadent burgers available with foie gras for $18- a hell of a lot cheaper than a similar burger at NYC's The Burger Shoppe (full review)- but we opted for simpler fare. I got the B.I.G. Punisher, topped with fresh jalapenos, mushrooms, a cilantro-jalapeno pesto, caramelized onions and cheese; Firecracker got a bacon and cheese monster, and Maggie went for the au poivre burger with a delicious sherry cream sauce and mushrooms. We got the cheese puffs as sides, and I grabbed a Sasparilla to drink.
I ordered mine medium rare, and as you can see from the lovely red juice on the bottom bun, they cooked it right. The gals had theirs medium and medium well. I like a juicy burger and Ray's delivers. They grind the meat fresh all day and you can taste it; this was on par with Anthony Bourdain's downtown Les Halles burger (full review) where they grind sirloin to order. I still think Bourdain has the top spot, but Ray's is one hell of a contender, and in the D.C. area this has got to be the best. The meat flavor is spectacular, and the toppings accentuate without overpowering. Even the Punisher had just enough heat to tingle just enough. We didn't even explore the huge selection of cheeses they have available. I'd eat here every week if I lived nearby. And I think Maggie is going to!
This from the city that birthed Five Guys Burgers and Fries (full review), that paragon of fast food. D.C. might just be the burger mecca. There's even a Les Halles, but I don't know if theirs is as good as the John Street location's. But I do know this- no matter what your political affiliation, you owe it to yourself to drop by Ray's Hell Burger. The sesame bun may be a little plain and sometimes it can't handle the monster burger inside, but we forgive that for one of the best tasting burgers I've yet had.

View Tommy Salami's hidden treasures in a larger map

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

I watched this again as part of a dare with Caitlin of 1416 and Counting, who has to watch Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth. I think I got the better part of the deal...

Yet another early 80's evil computer movie... love 'em!

When this came out I was 11 years old, and my mom wouldn't let me go see it. After the Poltergeist incident, where I sneaked into the Franklin Theatre with my friend Ruben and had nightmares about the tree outside my bedroom window eating me, the TV eating my sister, and our house being built on a cemetery, horror movies were verboten. So I had this described to me in gory detail by Ruben:
"It's so awesome! It's like about this um, town of witches who own a killer TV station... they want everyone to watch... and it makes um, your Halloween masks like go crazy and make bugs come out of your head!"
Now Ruben was easily excited, but so was I, so I had to see this movie. But it was not to be. I forgot about Halloween 3: Season of the Witch for over 20 years. Then I read that it was an attempt to end the Michael Myers story and instead make a new tale each year, a sort of anthology franchise. Now that is a great idea; take an established franchise and inject it with fresh blood every year by handing it to a different writer and director, and let them spin a horrifying Halloween yarn, like we're around a campfire. Sadly they handed it to Tommy Lee Wallace, who wrote and directed. The best thing he ever did was the adaptation of Stephen King's It for TV, which he thankfully left the prepubescent gangbang ending out of.
The masks are damn creepy. Looks like a Misfits album

The movie begins with the kind of titles spoofed endlessly in movies like Student Bodies (full review) informing us that it is Northern California, October, Saturday the 23rd. One week before Halloween. A man flees unseen assailants, tries to hide behind a gas station where the black-gloved, suited pursuers corner him. He manages to escape by crushing one with a car- but they don't seem human. Are they men in black? The gas station attendant finds him collapsed and brings him to the hospital where Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins, Detective Ray Cameron from Night of the Creeps) is working the night shift. The man babbles about how "they are going to kill us all!" when he sees a TV commercial for Silver Shamrock Halloween masks, and they sedate him.
Doc Challis is played by Tom Atkins, who made Night of the Creeps so good

The remaining black-gloved man sneaks in and covers his mouth while he pulls his skull apart- according to the doc when he does a post mortem- and then stalks out the door. When the Doc chases him, he walks calmly to his car, covers himself with gasoline, and kablooey. Thrill me, indeed. Ellie Grimbridge, the daughter of the murdered man, comes to I.D. the body the next morning, and teams up with the Doc to get to the bottom of the strange death of her father.
The annoying as hell commercial by Silver Shamrock is everywhere, sounding like a cross between an Atari 2600 game and a loop of the Lollipop Guild theme from Wizard of Oz. It's enough to make your head explode and turn you into a murderous killing machine even if you're not wearing one of their masks!
Welcome to our scary little village! Begorrah!

They head to the village of Santa Mira, a predominately Irish town full of security cameras and suspicious people, where the only big business is the Halloween mask factory. Everyone speaks with an Irish accent out of Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and everything is painted some shade of green. The town has a curfew and Jamie Lee Curtis's voice announces it over the loudspeakers for everyone to confine their activities to their own home, as the security cameras keep a watchful eye. There they meet a family of tourists in an RV, and Marge, a store owner visiting to fix an order of masks.
Nothing soothes grief like a hearty boning.

The town is led by Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy- "The Old Man" from Robocop) who runs the factory, and in effect, the whole town. He's vaguely creepy, and an inventor of practical joke novelties. Their first night there, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin, Bullets Over Broadway) jumps the Doc's bones while Marge finds a computer chip in one of her masks. Unfortunately for her, picking at it with a nail file makes a blue laser shoot out and blast her face open. And yes, bugs come out of her head! So Ruben was right. He's a cop now, so it's good to know he'll be able to foil plots by druidic cults thanks to watching this film. The black gloved men also tear the head off a drunk who babbles to Doc Dan that he wants to burn the factory down.
She totally ate Pop Rocks and soda!

The next day Conal gives them a tour of the factory, but is very guardful of "trade secrets," and nosy Ellie gets them into trouble when she sees her Dad's car parked in a garage. That night the black gloved men take Ellie away, and Doc goes to find her- sneaking into the factory. Finally he realizes the minions are automatons, when he punches one in the gut and gets a handful of goo. They drag him back to Conal Cochran's lair, where he explains his fiendish plot to give every child a mask that has a little bit of Stonehenge in it. See, Stonehenge was a sacrificial altar and wields enormous power, that will make their heads explode and burst forth with crickets and snakes.

You don't really know much about Halloween. You thought no further than the strange custom of having your children wear masks and go out begging for candy.

It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands where we'd be waiting... In our houses of wattles and clay... The barriers would be down, you see. Between the real and the unreal. And the dead might be looking in, to sit by our fires of turf... Halloween. The festival of Samhain. The last great one took place 3,000 years ago and the hills ran red... With the blood of animals and children.
That's Conal laying it all down for the Doc, monologing like a punkass super villain who's never watched a James Bond film. He ties him up in a chair with a mask on and leaves him, the second mistake. Of course he gets away, frees Ellie, and pours a bag of the killer microchips onto Cochran's evil lair so the monolith electrocutes the living hell out of everyone. But can he stop the broadcasts that are set to unleash crickets and snakes from every child's head?
I hate when vandals smash my jack o'lantern!

The movie has one great scare at the end that still got me even though this is my second viewing of this bizarre flop. Just when you think you're safe, robot out of nowhere! Poor Ellie. Doc sure seemed to like bashing her head in with that tire iron. One thing that's never explained is if the automatons are fake, or made from corpses; you'd hope Conal killed Ellie and used her body, otherwise Doc Challis left her to burn to death in the Shamrock factory, not knowing that he rode away with a killer robot instead. Which is a little more chilling.
Doc makes it to the same gas station the story started in, calling the local TV stations to stop the broadcasts. I'm guessing the director thought this would be something like Network meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers as he shouted "Stop Channel 3! Stop it! ST

OP IT STOP IT!!!" as the annoying as shit commercials played in the background. But it's hilarious, instead. Halloween 3 was a complete failure, though it was pretty gory for its time, especially the model of Marge's exploded face, which still looks like something from Faces of Death. The concept is just so silly and undeveloped; it shows that the script went through several incarnations, including one by John Carpenter, before the director reworked it.
Stonehenge! Where the banshees live, and they do live well!

Santa Mira was also the setting of the classic film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers; the original story of Season of the Witch was written by Nigel Kneale, who wrote the Quatermass movies. He sued to have his name taken off the film after seeing how violent it was. Despite these pedigrees, the movie is sort of like Troll 2 played straight, without kids pissing on dinner and Dad hollering "You can't piss on hospitality!" or super ghost grandpa and his magic sandwich, or the campy witch. Tom Atkins tries his best, but he's not allowed to be as awesome as he was in Night of the Creeps. Dan O'Herlihy has a blast as Cochran, the master prankster who wants to sacrifice millions of children to his Celtic gods, but it's too late and feels a lot like Body Bags-era Carpenter. He was busy making The Thing, and thank goodness for that.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? oh, that would be something!
Quotability Rating: nil
Cheese Factor: stinky Irish gubbeen
High Points: gross-outs, ending
Low Point: SLOW!
Gratuitous Boobies: half a second of Ellie's left nipple.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Whole Wide World

The road I walk, I walk alone.

Robert E. Howard created some of the most memorable characters in fiction; most famously Conan the Cimmerian, a barbarian unsoiled by the weaknesses of civilization. I wrote in dept about Conan here, and when I'd heard there was a biographical film based on Howard's life, a romance of all things, I had to watch it. It helped that Vincent D'Onofrio, that intense actor who gave us Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket, played Howard himself. And Renée Zellweger plays Novalyne Price Ellis, a schoolteacher who had a brief friendship and romance with the author, and was perhaps the only person who walked alongside him, on the road he professed to walk alone.

"A morose, ungainly misfit among men"

Based upon Ellis's memoir, "One Who Walked Alone," it captures small town Texas life in 1933
when Novalyne, a new schoolteacher, arrives in town. She lives at a boarding house for single women, but is rather plucky for a woman of the time. When she hears that a published writer, a bachelor of her age, lives in town she finds a way to meet him. And he's quite unlike any man she's met before. The pulp writer is a boisterous dreamer, a big handsome poet of strong convictions and little care of who thinks what about him.
At first, this appeals to Novalyne and they have a sort of courtship; but as he opens up to her, she seems the deeply pained man inside. Howard was an incredible prolific writer and filled volumes with his tales of Conan, Solomon Kane, Kull, Bran Mak Morn hammering away at his typewriter long into the night; at pennies a word, he made thousands... to pay for his mother's medical bills. She had tuberculosis, and Howard was writing for her life. Early on in the film, we see the spell that mother holds over son, and how inside Howard is still a vulnerable little boy whose had a sickly mom since childhood, and will do anything to save her.
When Novalyne calls the house, since Howard doesn't seek her out for a second date, his mother just says he's too busy, and never gives him messages. Finally Novalyne goes to the house, and hears him reciting to himself as he types away. It's a fine role for Zellweger, famous for later becoming Bridget Jones, and she's utterly believable as a fiery Texas woman who refuses the fetters society places on her. She sees a kindred spirit in Bob, who has no use for civilization; Conan is constantly described as more animal than man, lean and hungry, not made lazy, dull and weak by civilized conveniences. Howard often forwent a fedora for a sombrero, finding it more practical; but we get the feeling he's goading people on, wanting them to laugh, so he can give them a piece of his mind.
All men can go to hell!
We are, every damn one of us!

He admires her seeking him out, and while he is as unsocialized as his hero, showing up for a date under-dressed, and taking her to see films like Captain Blood, they manage a courtship of kindred spirits. He's trapped by his mother's rigid hold on him, her sickness making her impossble to deny, and Novalyne by her sex. But while Howard demands loyalty, he doesn't expect her to behave any preconceived way. They quarrel and test each other; he lends her a risque book, to see how inhibited she is, and she refuses to be bullied by his facade, and shows him that he can't scare her off.
oward's life is a sad story, and Dan Ireland's film manages to make a difficult man engrossing to watch. When he describes his tales to Novalyne, the background darkens and sounds of swordplay echo all around. He could come off as ridiculous, but he doesn't. That's to D'Onofrio's credit as well, making him more than an overgrown boy with escapist fantasies, but a writer capable of building entire mythologies in his head and putting them to paper in a shorter time than it took Tolkien to sharpen his pencil. Howard's worlds were more raw, and hardly as detailed, but just as alive. And while "troubled" puts it lightly, D'Onofrio's Howard is certainly appealing enough to make the passionate kisses he and Novalyne share believable.
In the end, Novalyne was able to shake off the fetters of society and went to LSU where she taught for many years. Howard was never able to break the bonds his mother had on him, and when he learned that her disease was terminal, he took his own life. But for a short time he created some of the most memorable "yarns," as he called them, ever written, and got to share some time with a woman who could stand up to his Conan-size temper. Perhaps she influenced his character of Valeria, the fiery swordswoman with an even sharper tongue.

Friday, May 22, 2009

80's Trash of the Week: Fatso

Dom DeLuise is probably best known for being Burt Reynolds' abused sidekick, but he did star in a few films of his own, and probably the most personal, and one of the funniest, was 1980's Fatso. Movies like Big Night, Moonstruck and even Goodfellas- with Henry trying to work his illegal deals while also preparing meatballs and veal cutlets- have shown the Italian-American obsession with food, but I think none hit the mark as closely as this DeLuise film.
We see little Dom born, and he is a colicky baby who grandma placates with a cannoli when he cries. He grows into Dom DeLuise, and we meet him and his sister Antoinette (Anne Bancroft) at a funeral for an obese cousin. Everyone is crying and emotional, and fiery Antoinette is crying into the casket of Sal, telling him how much she'll miss him, and she soon tirades into how angry she is at him for eating himself to death. Bancroft wrote and directed the film, and she perfectly captures that uniquely Italian-American manner of boisterous emotion, where the more we love you, the louder we berate you. Another matron just shakes her head and opines, "no more eggplant parmigiana, Sal."
Dom sneaks to the kitchen to drown his sorrows with a heel of Italian bread dunked in bubbling tomato sauce and then coated with grated parmesan cheese. His New York food predicament is hilarious. He can't walk five feet without a fruit salesman tossing him an apple, a vendor making him a dirty water dog as he approaches, the baker hoisting a sfogliatelle to lure him in. It's very amusing today to see DeLuise, who's skinnier than Kevin from "King of Queens," be in a movie called Fatso. Compare it to Simon Pegg with a tiny beer belly in Run Fatboy Run. Nowadays DeLuise is barely fat.
Dom DeLuise is at the top of his game here, with a character capable of subtle sheepishness, exemplifying human weakness, and bursting into energetic comic slapstick. The funny fat guy- we all know one. Anthony DiNapoli is a hilarious paradox, showing how food is like air to some of us. He tells his younger brother, "You don't know how to run your plate!" because he eats all his eggs first and then the bread. When he finally goes to the dietitian, he brings a bag of food for everybody from Balducci's. The look of pure horror on his face as the nurse reads off the list of foods he's not allowed to eat. When she says bread and macaroni, a tear runs down his cheek.
He meets a nice Polish girl named Lydia (Candice Azzara, Easy Money), and finds that when he's around her, his romance with food slips to the wayside. He's got someone to love other than eggplant parmigiana. When he goes to pick up a birthday cake and ends up waiting so long in line that he can't stand it anymore, and eats a slice of the cake. This infuriates Antoinette so much she explodes in the way only Anne Bancroft can. This is the final straw that sends him to Chubby Checkers, a support group for dieters. Among them, Dom really looks like he barely has a weight problem, and Bancroft uses the camera to make us feel like gazelles caught in a herd of water buffalo. But the film is never really cruel; it just wallows in self-deprecation and celebrates human weakness.

"Give me those keys or I'll cut you from your throat to your balls!"

They padlock the fridge and pantry cabinets shut with chains, and one night he's watching food commercials and can't sleep. "Gimme those keys or I'll cut your throat down to your balls!" After chasing each other around with knives, his little brother Junior (Ron Carey, High Anxiety) convenes an emergency intervention of the Chubby Checkers. The parade of portly pals comes in to help, but Dom's confessions make them so hungry they tear the chains off the wall and eat everything in the house. The slow descent into madness is brilliant. They start with hot water with lemon, which makes Dom say he doesn't like cold food. Not even a cold apple? No, I like warm apple pie. With cold ice cream. You ever suck the jelly out of a jelly doughnut and then stuff it with chocolate swirl ice cream?
Watching Junior refuse to get the honey out of the cupboard as the houseful of hippos sits around talking about chocolate-covered orange wedges, he feels like a lamb in a wolf's den. "The big guy couldn't wait for Dom to make tomato sauce, so he ate my leftover lasagna- FROZEN!" After his big binge, he concentrates on time with Lydia, as she distracts him. And all his well until one night, after he decides to himself to ask to marry her, she doesn't show up. Family is visiting, and they order Chinese food, which Dom goes to pick up. But he can't get over why Lydia hasn't shown up, and the Pu Pu Platter starts calling...
"You eat $40 worth of Chinese food and scare the shit out of everyone and you're SORRY?" The final blow-up with his sister lets Dom have a funny, touching heart to heart with them about why he eats so much, and how he might not be so anxious about it if they loved him for who he is. "Do crazy people hate themselves? I'm always trying to find an excuse for eating! I don't need an excuse. When I eat, I'm ME!"
Now, this might not be trash, it's actually a funny, touching and still poignant move madeon the cusp of the '80s that feels more like an independent '70s production. As someone who was morbidly obese and lost 160 pounds, the depiction of food cravings and how difficult it is to diet when you're surrounded by a thousand sumptuous feasts beckoning you from every restaurant, bakery, and snack shop in the neighborhood were hilarious and true. (For the record I used to be Hurley, and I'm down to Jack Black size and still losing). If you want to remember Dom DeLuise at his best, this is the movie to find. Though his Caesar in History of the World Part One is unforgettable, natch.

"You want to get something to eat?"
"No, I had some Chinese."
"What did you have?"
"Oh, everything."

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2 cannolis and an espresso
Could it be remade today? Sure, it should be.
Quotability Rating: Minor
Cheese Factor: Ricotta, melted mozzarella, and parmesan on top
High Points: Anne Bancroft's insane sister
Low Point: The romance montage drags a bit
Gratuitous Boobies: Actually, there's a tit in the opening credits...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Arnold Project #14: The Terminator

The Terminator blasted onto the scene in 1984, and action films- specifically science fiction stories- were never the same since. Now we're poised for the fourth entry in the series, Terminator: Salvation to appear, so let's look back at the one that started it all. It's still one hell of an action film.
A simple title card with vague computer type reads Los Angeles 2029 A.D., and we are thrust into a post-apocalyptic nightmare where hulking machines roll over battlegrounds paved with human skulls. The smoke-blackened sky of nuclear night is only light by the rapid fire of machine lasers peppering the ruins to blot out whatever human life remains.

The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire.
Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future.
It would be fought here, in our present.

And then a perfect cut to machine crushing down on us from above- but it's only a garbage truck. But the point is made, we are surrounded by machines, and our cities barely resemble the Earth they are built upon. An electrical disturbance interrupts the garbage man, and when the smoke clears, a hulking man appears. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mister Universe. Mister Olympia. The pinnacle of physical human achievement, we saw him a few years back in a fantasy film called Conan the Barbarian that was sure a lot better than those Hercules movies bodybuilders usually did, dubbed from Italian. We figured he might make a few more of those and retire. He had bigger plans. He is naked, and approaches three street punks.
Blue haired punk is Bill Paxton, before he was Chet in Weird Science

His first words are "Nice night for a walk." The punks are reduced to dogmeat in seconds; the violence is shocking and early as he tears the heart out of a knife wielding thug. The message is instant- humans are weak. We're little more than fleshy bags full of blood and organs, as any car accident photo will tell. And seconds afterward, another man appears from the same kind of light Arnold did. A lean, scarred fellow with animal eyes, who "rabbits" down an alleyway as police see him, and deftly disarms them as they foolishly come close. But instead of knocking the cop out as our anti-heroes are expected, he points the gun at him and demands to know what day it is. And then, more puzzlingly, what year.
We're given little time to think as the chase goes on through a department store, where he picks up a trench coat and a pair of now-sought after Nike Vandals, snags a shotgun from the cops' prowler and disappears into the grimy city like one of its own rats. His first stop: a phone booth, with a phone book- a relic nowadays, but an icon when the film came out, before cellular phones, telemarketers and do-not-call lists; he pulls out a page with the "Connor, Sarahs" on it and dashes away.
Sarah Connor is definitely an '80s lady.

Who's Sarah Connor? Cut-, she's riding past us on her Honda scooter. Feathered hair, big sunglasses, a smile for the morning sun. She's the all-American girl, off to work waitressing at a diner. See her punch card? Yup, that's her. Cut back to the big guy, he's breaking into a car nonchalantly, driving off with it; to a gun shop, going on a shopping spree worthy of an NRA member who just won the lottery. The 12 gauge autoloader. The .45 longslide with the laser sight. The Uzi 9 millimeter. The phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range. Hey, just what you see pal. Howya gonna pay for this? BLAM, with lead, buddy. (Actually, he loads the shotgun with one round, and when the gun store guy says "You can't do that!" Arnie practices the best line from his future film Commando, and says "Wrong!")
Meanwhile Sarah's having a bad day at work. She has no idea how much worse it's going to get. As these two unsavory characters- a musclebound monster toting an arsenal and an attitude of kill whatever gets in my way, and lean and hungry street rat with a shotgun and pants he stole off a hobo- converge on this every-gal's happy little life, cinematic history was made. Two enormous careers, those of Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, met for the first time. They'd reunite twice more to make films that broke box office records and set the bar for action entertainment- the next would be a sequel to The Terminator, and the last would be True Lies, the only film that managed to make Arnold seem like a real guy, and make us really laugh. Though that thumb war scene was still pretty creepy.
But before that, Arnold had to deconstruct himself, and play the bad guy. He'd already become a star with Conan, and could easily have skated along taking roles in similar, but lesser films; he would, in fact with Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja. We needed to take the muscleman out of the fantasy world of swords and loincloths and turn him into an action hero; but first, he'd have to play the ultimate villain. An unstoppable killing machine. The Terminator.
The famous poster.

James Cameron's lean script careens along at a relentless pace, something he'd repeat with Aliens and the sequel. In the first fifteen minutes we've met the Terminator, the hero, and the damsel in distress- though she's anything but- and the characters are sculpted before our eyes with very few words. Linda Hamilton gets the least credit but her Sarah Connor is as naturalistic as can be, and sets the foundation for the outer-limits characters of Kyle Reese- the apocalypse warrior who volunteers to go back in time to save her- and Arnold's stone-faced cyborg, who still manages to crack wise without a single emotional inflection. Without a good Sarah Connor, it would all fall apart. She has to believe it, so we will. The wrong actress could not take it seriously, and laugh at it- or worse yet, take it too seriously. You can't expect us to believe two warriors from the future coming back to present L.A. because a waitress will decide the fate of humanity right away. It takes just the right amount of skepticism from the target, and she handles it beautifully. She'd only been in Children of the Corn, a few episodes of "Hill Street Blues" and Tag: The Assassination Game before this and her best role would be in the sequel. Not to say I didn't love watching her on TV's "Beauty and the Beast."
Cameron and his future wife, Linda Hamilton.

The cops are brought in early, part of the brilliance of the script. In most monster films, and that's what this is, at its core, the authorities are malicious, stupid, or apathetic. In this one, they know Sarah's in danger before she does, and believe her immediately. It's not their fault that they can't protect her from the most efficient war machine yet devised! Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Millennium)plays one of the most human of the second tier characters, Detective Vukovich. He spots the two Sarah Connors in the daily reports and talks Lt. Traxler (the excellent Paul Winfield, White Dog) to protect the last one in the phone book. This once again solidifies the realism; Keystone cops would not work with this storyline, as our suspension of disbelief is already strained.

It takes 35 minutes for the battle between Reese and the Terminator to begin; we don't even know their names yet, and we are riveted. We know who the bad guy is- we've seen Arnie mow down a housewife and Sarah's roommate already- but she doesn't know. She only sees a creepy guy in a trench coat stalking her at the Tech Noir danceclub (perhaps the perfect term for the early '80s grimy tech shown here and in Blade Runner). And she doesn't see the Terminator until the laser dot is right between her eyes. While the previous killings mimicked the gruesome exploiters of the '70s, where the victims were so much lamb for the slaughter, this one is a slow-motion ballet of modern gunslingers facing off on a strobe-light painted dance floor. Everything freezes like our memories of trauma in recollection, for a few seconds, before the thunder of the shotgun breaks the spell and sends the hulking menace to the floor.

But it's just to trick us; the Terminator is as surprised as we are, and picks itself up off the floor with a frown of disdain for its maker; I thought I was supposed to be tough? We chuckle a bit, but then the real chase begins, and it's something we've never seen before. An indestructible walking arsenal trying to kill two people on the other side of a crowded nightclub, firing through the fleeing bystanders indiscriminately. As I've said before in my review of Junior, Arnold is a physical actor of some prowess, who rarely gets a chance to utilize it. He's waiting for a slapstick script if someone had the balls to write it and the brains to make him take it. Here he looks nothing like Conan, the warrior proud of his genetic gifts; here he walks smoothly, with a mechanical grace and economy of movement, glancing only at his targets and looking through everything else. Look as he crushes the hand of a bouncer, without even glancing back at him. Or my favorite, when he's firing the Uzi, and suddenly sinks half back into a crouch, tilting right to fire, so he doesn't have to take a step. Surely there were steps taped on the floor, and perhaps he was coached, but his control over his body from decades of sculpting it made him anything but clumsy.

"Come with me if you want to live." Kyle's immortal first words to Sarah exhibit the same economy as Arnold's movements, as the chase continues down back alleys, gives us our first tease of "Terminator vision" with its red tinge and gun sights, and the first hints of just how tough he will be to kill as Kyle shoots a car's gas tank and the cyborg leaps through the flames, punches through the windshield of their escape vehicle and tries to strangle Sarah to death. And its other skills, like imitating the voice of a police officer whose car it steals, come clear. Sure, a few blasts with a 12 gauge might buy you some time, but this cybernetic organism absolutely will not stop until you are dead.
The technical details are monologued in some deftly written scenes as they hide from the Terminator and the cops in a parking garage. Michael Biehn, who'd played a few previous roles in The Lords of Discipline and as the demented stalker of Lauren Bacall in The Fan, gets to play hero in perhaps his most iconic role but for Cameron's next blockbuster, as Corporal Hicks in Aliens. His intensity makes his tale of a future holocaust where humans are herded for slaughter, and his mission to protect Sarah's future son easy to swallow. Sadly he'd get few roles of any caliber since, except for Johnny Ringo in Tombstone. Here he channels a sort of likable madness, required to make us want him to defeat this awesome new movie star. For as cold as the Terminator is, the audience certainly gleans a certain enjoyment from watching him wield his awesome power. And without any emotions to allow for scenery chewing, we just might root for him.

Sarah Connor quickly shows her mettle as Reese and the Terminator duel with shotguns from moving cars down a dead end. Reese is too busy blowing big holes in the bad guy to notice the wall they're hurtling toward, so she throws the gearshift into first and slams the brakes. And when the cops surround them, she saves his life by informing him that they'll kill him- in our time, all humans aren't fighting together against the machines. So before he can try to finish off the machine, he has to surrender.
Back at the police station house, Reese is interviewed by psychiatrist Dr. Silberman, who gleans even more details from him. Of course they don't believe him, and they try to convince Sarah the same. He could be wearing body armor, and be on PCP. But even when they crack jokes, Cameron keeps them on the macabre side. The tone is never allowed to be jocular. Even earlier, when Sarah is waitressing and spills a drink, only to have a kid put a scoop of ice cream in her apron- the humor is all downers. Lance Henriken's Detective gets some laughs at his own expense- he's a jaded blabbermouth who the Lieutenant has to cut off a lot- but every joke is at someone's expense. The bleakness of the future permeates the entire film, and we are kept on edge throughout.
Even the biggest gag- three words that would be synonymous with Arnold for over two decades since- is the darkest humor imaginable. The Terminator, after repairing itself with some of the best latex special effects yet seen at the time- shows up at the police station, now in its famous black leather motorcycle jacket and sunglasses to hide the bullet holes and gleaming red eye. When the desk cop blows him off, he quietly surveys the lobby and says, "I'll be back." Seconds later, he's back, driving a car through the building and flattening the rude authority figure in a an unforgettable scene of wish fulfillment for anyone in the audience who's run into a wall of bureaucracy. Not that I condone such behavior, but in 1984 you could film this sort of thing. Now, he'd have to be seen diving clear of the wreckage.

But this movie isn't squeamish about the Terminator mowing down cops. For the cherry on top of the second act consists of him walking through the entire police station and killing everyone in his path, with a shotgun on one arm and an assault rifle on the other. The sheer amount of violence in this film caused quite a stir at the time, so much that in the sequel, most of it is between two cyborgs to keep the blood spill and body count low. It's almost more effective now, when most action films eschew it. The special effects were groundbreaking for the time, and Stan Winston made his bones ... by making the Terminator and his metal skeleton. Before this, he'd done make-up for The Bat People and an Italian production entitled Dracula's Dog, so it was amazing how he and Cameron leapt from the B movie pit into creating one of the most stunning spectacles of the decade.
Cameron has some favorite shots- he loves filming someone getting killed with a beverage in their hand. He loves things getting stepped on or run over. Before this, he'd only directed Piranha 2: The Spawning and a short film called Xenogenesis, though he was a unit director on Roger Corman's Galaxy of Terror. After writing the script, he managed to get his soon to be wife, Gale Ann Hurd, to get her production company to buy it for $1 with the condition that he direct, and history was made. They would collaborate through the '80s.
Part of what makes The Terminator so engrossing is how he keeps cutting to scenes of the horrible future through Kyle's dream sequences. They re-use the same models but manage to keep it fresh by showing something new each time. The resistance can take out some of the fearsome Hunter-Killer tanks and hoverjets through guerrilla tactics, but the fragility of human existence is always kept clear. Perhaps the most chilling scene is when Sarah is tending to Kyle's wound and he remembers how he lost her photograph. It foreshadows their bonding, but also shows a Terminator (not an Arnold model, but his bodybuilding pal Franco Columbu) infiltrating their hideout and going on a killing spree. As it soullessly guns down their dogs and then stalks forward in shadow, we see it from Kyle's prone position, its eyes afire with cold red light. It's an image so effective, they reuse it throughout the franchise.
Cameron is also wise to not make the Terminator too superhuman; it has to repair itself, it rots and draws attention with the smell, and has to track them down. It can't just show up outside their window like a boogeyman. My favorite is how it finds Sarah's mother using her address book (remember those?) and then waits for her to call. The simple pan across her mother's devastated cabin, and the slow reveal of Arnold talking to Sarah on the phone using her mother's voice, is chilling and effective. Later, when we see him knocked off his motorcycle by a truck after dodging pipebombs, only to get plowed into by a tanker, and still get up- with a limp- we finally get a hint that he may be defeated, but he is one tough cookie.
Get. Out.

The film is as relentless as the Terminator itself; the truck barely dented him, and the famous scene were he climbs in the cab, his face half metal and half flesh, and merely says "Get out!" was so good they used it again with the T-1000 in the sequel. The make-up is particularly impressive here; in some of the repair scenes it's obviously a latex head, but this still looks real, before CG. When the tanker truck explodes through Kyle's own unstoppable perseverance, we think it's all over. Brad Fiedel's amazing, dissonant score- something he'd been doing since '71 with the "Cannon" TV series- even tricks us by taking on a mournful, triumphant tone. Talking about the movie without mentioning its unforgettable score is impossible, and Brad Fiedel would never make one this good again. He was the perfect choice.
From here to the end, the monster movie formula moniker is more apt, as the Terminator rises from the flames of the tanker without its Arnold shell, and instead is a metal endoskeleton created by Stan Winston. Looking at it now, many of his tricks of forced perspective and puppetry by keeping only so much of the robot on screen are more noticeable. The movements are sometimes jerky, showing the stop-motion animation work. But even 25 years later, the Terminator is real enough to be frightening as its severed torso hunts Sarah through machines on the factory floor. The score takes on a Psycho aspect and the scrapes of metal on metal and the howl of hydraulics and servos becomes horrific in itself. And Sarah's triumph, with her infamous line of "You're terminated, fucker!" is hard bought. By the end of the movie, we believe she can raise the son who will lead the resistance.
The fantastic script stood on the shoulders of giants, however. Science fiction writer (sorry, speculative fiction) Harlan Ellison would eventually sue Cameron and win, claiming that the movie was derivative of three of his works: an Outer Limits episode entitled "Soldier," about a warrior from a desperate future accidentally sent back to our time; another episode "Demon with a Glass Hand," where humanity's savior travels back in time to save it; and his novella "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream," one of the most important works of science fiction, about a defense computer who decides humanity is the enemy and wipes most of us out. There are many differences between The Terminator and those works, but the similarities are quite damning. Cameron never admitted consciously plagiarizing the ideas, but if you hunt down the Outer Limits episode called "Soldier," the image of the postapocalyptic future looks a lot like this one. Ellison is now credited as an influence in the credits of the first film. Cameron would go on to make an even better sequel, and continue to break box office records by raising the bar on action films and epics, culminating in Titanic.
The latex effects may look fake now, but they are top notch.

By playing what is possibly his most memorable role as The Terminator, Arnold took a huge gamble by going from Conan the Barbarian to science fiction films as the bad guy. He originally auditioned for the role of Kyle Reese, but after speaking with Cameron it was decided he would be better as the cyborg, and how true it was. It showed he had range, even if he only spoke a few lines. His powerful presence paired to a powerful and memorable character cemented his star status, and by the time they made the sequel together, Arnold and Cameron were two of the biggest names in Hollywood in their respective professions.
James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger today.

But the original vision was much different. The Terminator was supposed to be an average guy more capable of blending in, something they used in T2 with the T-1000 played by Robert Patrick. Lance Henriksen originally auditioned for the part- infamously kicking the door in of the casting director, with his hair oiled back and tinfoil on his teeth- and even O.J. Simpson was on the short list, but Cameron thought "such a nice guy couldn't be a ruthless killer." And many of the plot points used in the second film were already planned for the first, such as attempting to destroy Cyberdyne Systems before they can invent Skynet. In fact, shots were filmed that showed technicians picking up pieces of the destroyed Terminator at the factory as Sarah was wheeled away in a stretcher, showing Cyberdyne logos on the building.
This movie bears rewatching because it has become part of the culture. It was selected for inclusion into the National Film Registry in 2008. The film's open ending, where Sarah is driving a Jeep into the desert with a pistol at her side, hardened from her experience and recording messages to the unborn son she now carries, made us yearn for a sequel and in 1992 they delivered, topping the original in almost every way. The second sequel without Cameron got a lot of fan flack for how it stooped for jokes such as "talk to the hand" and suggesting that the future cannot be changed, but it was still a solid entry and deserves kudos for its dark ending. The upcoming Terminator: Salvation which opens today starring Christian Bale as John Connor and apparently no Arnold Schwarzenegger is much anticipated, despite director McG's track record. Let's hope it stays true to the original vision. And IMDb shows a Terminator 5 in development by Cameron; I'd love to see him return to both the Terminator and Aliens franchises that he contributed so richly to.

All the entries in The Arnold Project

And you know me, there is a lovely gratuitous sex scene, that early '80s staple, where John Connor is conceived. Between this and the gratuitous sex scene in Highlander, I was a happy 13 year old.

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