One of the finest horror films ever made is this 1978 remake of the 1956 classic. It's been remade other times. Hell, Aug. 17 is the release date of yet another version, this time starring Nicole Kidman. That new film will be hard-pressed to top this take starring Donald Sutherland.
Sutherland essentially stepped into the role played by Kevin McCarthy in the original. (McCarthy actually makes one of cinema history's greatest cameos in this version.) Sutherland's character is now a member of the Department of Health, inspecting restaurants (not a doctor, as in the original) in San Francisco, where people are starting to act very strange. Big-assed pods are being passed among civilians. Regrettably, they are not a new '70s vegetarian delicacy: They are alien organisms capable of cloning humans who fall asleep next to them.
The cast for this film was phenomenal, and that's one of its greatest touches. Performers like Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy create sympathetic characters with major depth. Seeing them lose their personalities as they are assimilated into the clone population is horrifying.
For my money, the moment where Sutherland points at Veronica Cartwright and screeches is one of the Top 10 freakiest moments in cinema history. It's the ultimate downer ending.
Special Features: Some short, newly produced documentaries on the making of the film, the most interesting being a look into how the film's sound was produced. The sound designer actually made recordings of his baby's heartbeat through his wife's pregnant belly. That accounts for that strange, windy, beating sound we hear when the pods are growing. That horrible pod-person scream is actually a pig's squeal, blended with human breath. Sutherland sits down for interviews, although co-stars Goldblum and Nimoy are nowhere to be found. Director Philip Kaufman provides a feature-length commentary.
Recently, I've been using this space to trumpet the arrival of The Film Crew, the latest endeavor for Mystery Science Theater's Mike Nelson. The new venture for Nelson is fun, but it still pales in comparison to the series that brought him into the spotlight. The original show continues to enjoy new DVD life, with classic episodes consistently being released.
This latest collection is a gift to fans of original show host Joel Hodgson, who pilots three of the four episodes here. The films being spanked are Ring of Terror, Indestructible Man, Tormented and Horrors of Spider Island (the sole episode in the batch hosted by Nelson).
Watching Joel and the robots trash bad cinema is great fun, but even better are the segments starring Trace Beaulieu and Frank Coniff as Dr. Clayton Forrester and Frank, Joel's bosses and tormentors. They are the men forcing him to watch bad movies on the Satellite of Love in outer space, and their sketches in between movie segments are priceless. TV's Frank has a particularly poignant musical moment at the end of the Ring of Terror episode.
Maybe someday, Hodgson will emerge from his cocoon and treat us to another barrage of bad-cinema insults, although that seems unlikely. He was offered a role in the 1996 film, but he declined. When he did a guest spot on the show during its '90s run, he refused to offer a commentary and only did sketches. It seems his bad-movie-spanking days are over.
Special Features: Best of the features would be the MST3K Jukebox, Vol. 2, which includes the moving "A Clown in the Sky." The features are good, but they are not bountiful. Man, I miss Joel.
Since the release of this, Will Ferrell's first starring vehicle, I've grown to love the guy. He first struck me as kind of a stiff, with his Roxbury "clubber" character and that lousy cheerleading sketch on Saturday Night Live. In recent years, my attitude has changed, and I see the humor in almost everything he does.
That is, everything except for this movie, which I went back and watched again, thinking I might find a new appreciation for it with my new-and-improved Ferrell attitude. Hell no. This movie still blows, one of the worst films based on SNL characters, right along with It's Pat and Superstar.
Chris Kattan and Ferrell star as the Butabi brothers, clubbers eternally seeking admittance into the most hallowed nightspot, the Roxbury. The writers of this film expanded the characters from their SNL incarnations by making them into man-children who still live with their dad and work in a fake flower shop. The humor is stale--and you know you are in trouble when you are looking to Chazz Palminteri and Loni Anderson for big laughs.
Special Features: A short feature uses archival footage of Ferrell and Kattan discussing the movie. There's nothing substantial to justify a reissue DVD for such a bad movie.