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Lance Henriksen (#110 of 2)

Ripley’s Got a Death Drive Alien³ at 25

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Ripley’s Got a Death Drive: Alien³ at 25

20th Century Fox

Ripley’s Got a Death Drive: Alien³ at 25

David Fincher’s Alien³ may be the only film ever made to peak with its logo. As the 20th Century Fox fanfare crescendos over the studio’s familiar logo, the music holds on the minor chord before the usual last note, replacing jubilant bombast with a dissonant groan of strings. The alteration produces an immediate sense of discomfort and unease, setting the tone for something ominous and fearsome. It’s an ingenious shot across the bow from Fincher, ushering in a feature career dotted with immaculately ordered, carefully scored works of blockbuster entertainment that veered from audience-pleasing major keys to their grim underbellies.

The perversion of the Fox theme epitomizes a succinct grasp of horror that only occasionally surfaces in the film proper. Too often, Alien³ shows its seams, whether in its thematic arc or the design of the xenomorph, and at not even two hours it still feels weighed down by unnecessary exposition and padded suspense scenes. But blame for much of this cannot fall at one person’s feet, as the film was notoriously the product of years of production hell that saw the studio soliciting wildly different drafts from writers including (but not limited to) cyberpunk author William Gibson, writer-director Vincent Ward, and producer/filmmaker Walter Hill. Eventually, ideas from each version found their way into a Frankenstein monster of a shooting script, one further plagued by endless on-set rewrites that left Fincher so exasperated that even Fox’s officially released behind-the-scenes footage shows the director railing against the pressures of the studio’s poorly planned project.

Like Father Like Son Joe Hill’s NOS4A2

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Like Father Like Son: Joe Hill’s NOS4A2
Like Father Like Son: Joe Hill’s NOS4A2

For years, I had a short story gestating in my head about a ghost who haunts movie theaters, bearing witness to decades of cinema history. Imagine my chagrin when, in 2008, blazing my way through Joe Hill’s compulsively readable anthology 20th Century Ghosts, I came across a story that read like it was plucked out of my skull, concerning a moviegoer who died during The Wizard of Oz and just kept on watching movies. I have no illusions that my version—throttled in the womb though it was—would have matched or even approached the quality of Hill’s execution. But it wasn’t until my reading of his new novel, NOS4A2, that I gleaned some idea of how he managed to map out in such uncanny detail my mental conception of Americana. It’s because a foundational stone of who I am as a genre fiction reader (and, consequently, wannabe writer) and who Hill is as a bona fide professional storyteller is the literary oeuvre of one man: Stephen King.

It’s unfair to insert the accomplished parent into a review of the equally accomplished progeny and even more unfair to up and practically credit the latter’s work to the former as I just did in unforgivably reductionist fashion. I was, of course, overstating for effect. But just like you can’t quite help thinking about father David when Brandon Cronenberg does body horror, it’s difficult to begin one’s thoughts on NOS4A2 in particular without considering King. It’s not just the winking references (exclamations of “my life for you” and “hiyo Silver”) or superficial similarities like the rhyming psychopaths, supernaturally charged cars, and ubiquitous children’s songs. It’s the fact that NOS4A2—a relentless, profoundly disturbing monster of a book—reads at every level like King’s work at its prime, a discomfiting mix of the otherworldly and quotidian, seeded with buried psychic traumas and iconic representations of pure evil.