RoboCop

Nancy Allen and Peter Weller in <em>Robocop</em>

On the commentary track that accompanies the Criterion Collection’s new DVD version of RoboCop, director Paul Verhoeven kicks things off by admitting that, on a first read of the film’s script, he declined the project, mistaking it for just another “B-level science fiction movie” from the Hollywood crap factories. Verhoeven’s comments are closely followed by those of producer Jon Davison, who imagines Verhoeven simply reading the first 20 pages of the script by Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner and then throwing the damn thing across the room. (From RoboCop, Verhoeven advanced to the far more swollen melodrama of Basic Instinct and Showgirls — his active philosophy where Hollywood crap is concerned seems to be “if you can’t beat them, join them.”)

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John Carpenter’s The Thing

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In his cultural history of the horror genre, The Monster Show, writer David J. Skal compares Francis Bacon’s famous 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion to equally disturbing special effects work in John Carpenter’s The Thing. The surrealistic imagery conjured by Rob Bottin to depict the

transformation of a human being into a shape-changing thing from

another world is nearly unimaginable, and Bacon is one of its few

precedents. It must be seen to be believed, and it represents a kind of

high-water mark for fevered creativity in the horror film. [Ed. note, 2008: This review references a DVD edition of the film that hasn’t been available for years. Current editions represent a significant improvement in picture quality.]

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Videodrome

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James Woods and Deborah Harry in Videodrome

Finally released in a widescreen video version (on DVD) and as crucial now as when it was first released, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a dark parable for the television age as well as a horror movie about the very nature of horror movies. With clinical and allegorical relish, Cronenberg uses a gut-busting horror film to turn the oft-repeated claim that violence in the media catalyzes violence in society on its ear.

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