Hello again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! If you’re like me, you’re digging yourselves out from under the blanket of snow left by Winter Storm Nemo. Astonishingly, Buffalo managed to avoid a repeat of the Blizzard of ’77, and got nowhere near what Connecticut and New York City got, but we still go a respectable portion of snow. And so I got it into my head to make a short list for y’all of some appropriate viewing material for this kind of weather. Are you ready? Bundle up, and we’ll get watching.
CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL (1993, Trey Parker): From the men responsible for South Park comes this gruesomely funny little independent film, detailing the story of Alferd Packer and the disastrous trip from Utah to Colorado that left his companions dead and partially eaten. Unsurprisingly, Parker takes some liberties with Packer’s story, including having a tribe of “Nihonjin” “Indians” played by Japanese students (Nihonjin being Japanese for “Japanese people”) teach Packer martial arts and rescue him from the gallows with katanas.
The film handles the subject of cannibalism as light-heartedly as possible, including a spirited discussion of whether or not it’s okay to eat a man’s butt. Likewise, an attempt to raise each other’s spirits through song and snowman-building belies the grim and near-certain fatality of being caught unprepared in a Colorado winter. Despite the catchy tunes and silly costumes (I love the googly eyes on the one trapper’s skunk-fur hat) this is, at heart, a tale of men slowly freezing to death and being forced to resort to eating their own dead in a desperate, last-ditch effort to survive.
The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick): All work and no play makes writer and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) a homicidal maniac after he takes a job as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, moving his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) in for the winter. Before long, Jack is being tormented by the ghosts of the Overlook, and Danny is manifesting psychic powers.
Though author Stephen King originally disliked the film for stripping away much of what he deemed of worth in the story (most notably, minimizing Jack Torrance’s alcoholism, an affliction King was battling as he wrote the novel), he’s become less irritable with the film over the last thirty years, describing it at times as “chilling” and noting in Danse Macabre that the film truly added something to the realm of horror fiction. The film also stands as a testament to Kubrick’s obsessiveness as a director, including forcing Shelley Duvall through 127 takes to get a line of dialogue perfect, and ACTUALLY MENACING HER WITH A BASEBALL BAT TO ENSURE HER TERROR ON SCREEN WAS BELIEVABLE.
THE THING (1982, John Carpenter): The men of U.S. Antarctica Research Program Outpost #31 have a problem. A shapeshifting alien, frozen in the ice for thousands of years, has been released and is now impersonating one or more of them, and replacing more of them with each passing hour. The survivors must find a way to identify who among them are now “things” and prevent them from reaching civilization, where they could infect the entire world.
Much closer to John W. Campbell’s original novella “Who Goes There?” than its predecessor, 1951’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, John Carpenter’s take on the material plays up the paranoia of Body Snatchers-style replacement, overlaying it on top of the cabin fever and desolation of a group of men stuck at the bottom of the world. The isolation is emphasized by the Ennio Morricone soundtrack and long, tracking shots of the icy wastes. As an added bonus, Rob Bottin’s creature designs and practical effects ushered in new levels of grue and physical, venereal horror. I consider the 1982 THE THING to be one of the most perfect films ever committed to celluloid, and with good reason. It’s a film where everything just comes together and works so perfectly.
There you have it, readers. Three films to enjoy while the snow piles up, burying your car, your pets, and your house. As the numbing, draining cold seeps into your bones, at least you’ll go with a smile frozen on your face.