Take one matured fillet of Victor Wong, one young fillet of Dennis Dun, add some 1980’s seasoning and leave to marinate in the Pork Chop Express for at least one hour. While the Wong / Dun fillets are marinating, pan-fry some lean raw mysticism, kung-fu, ahead-of-time comedy, mullet of Kurt Russell, green Father-of-Satan goo and tenderloin of Donald Pleasance. Tenderloin of Alice Cooper will suffice if there's a shortage of Donald Pleasance loin.
Once fillets are marinated, add to the pan and stir-fry very gently along with the other ingredients over a period of about three hours. Sprinkle essence of John Carpenter over the dish throughout, whilst also listening to dodgy 80’s synthesiser music. Accompany Carpenter stir-fry with red wine, cigarettes and way too much use of the rewind button...
This evening's entertainment was brought to you by Zomblee in association with the Jack Burton School of Reflex Development.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Plot Kurt Russell and Dennis Dun fight against ancient Chinese black magic to rescue a green-eyed Chinese girl from an evil 2000 year old Emperor in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Zomblee This film is fucking nuts. And I love it. Sometimes you just have to hand it to John Carpenter for taking the risk and throwing convention down the toilet, be it the everlasting fistfight in They Live, or virtually ALL of BTILC. He’s got pretty much all of his beloved genres in here – the western (in disguise of course), action, kung fu, comedy, monsters, ghosts, and the entire thing is a hoot from start to finish. You could tell a lot about someone’s sense of humour by gauging whether they find BTILC funny or not.
Released about the same time as Aliens, BTILC died a box-office death. No one got it. In a cinema era saturated with muscle-bound, straight-playing action men like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, it would seem that the cinema-going public were less than ready for the antihero that is Jack Burton (Russell). Dennis Dun plays his sidekick, Wang, but of course, in reality Burton is the sidekick and Wang the hero. The 1980’s being the 1980’s though, the public just didn’t get it. They thought that this time around, Russell was simply a disappointing hero. The 1980’s was no time for Carpenter and Russell to take a risk. But take a risk they did, and now they can laugh about it. Carpenter clearly brings out the best in Russell (“although I think that your best ever performance was Captain Ron!” Carpenter jokes with Russell on the excellent commentary track), be it Snake Plissken or helicopter pilot JJ MacReady. The inept Jack Burton is no exception. Russell’s comic touches are second to none in this flick and the guy was making us piss our pants in laughter. As Burton, he tries to act the big tough guy but just looks pathetically terrified instead. Rolling out more amazingly quotable one-liners than you can shake a set of chopsticks at, he simply excels himself here in a role he was clearly born to play – a kind of Snake Pitkin (that’s for you Norman Wisdom fans out there).
If you haven’t seen BTILC on widescreen DVD, you haven’t seen BTILC at all. Trust me, there’s no comparison. The stunning production design really becomes another character as it is at last given the opportunity to show itself in all its glory. The whole film looks fantastic.
“Wind it back!” was shouted by Jim more times than any previous ZC ever, and that my friends is official. Fair enough. This shit is too good to see only once. Enjoy.
“Wait a minute, I’m a reasonable guy but I’ve just witnessed some very unreasonable things!”
Jim Was I really that mouthy? It's one of those things that happen when one of your all time favourite movies of all time gets the nod at Zombie Club - you just can't help being excited. And excited I was - thrilled even - as I hadn't watched Big Trouble in Little China in wide screen since I saw this baby at the cinema back in1987. Wow - that's 17 years of catching syndicated pan-and-scan screenings on TV. Thank God for DVD. And the rewind button, because it sure got used tonight.
Is Big Trouble in Little China the most quotable film in history? You know it just might be - pretty much everything that comes out of Kurt Russell's mouth is cinematic gold dust. And the same thing goes for Victor Wong, who has even more fun as Egg Shen, the bus-driving Sorcerer than he did playing the greedy Walter in Tremors; another oft forgotten classic. Kim Cattrall - who later hit the big time in Sex in the City - is also surprisingly watchable, delivering all her lines with her trademark snappy enthusiasm; although I'm not too sure I buy her being Chinese. In a film containing 2000 year old warlords, plentiful green flames raining down from heaven and a trio of invincible supernatural warriors who wear baskets on their heads, I found that the hardest thing to believe in.
But that's by and by; it's Kurt's portrayal as the legendary almost-hero that really steals the show. After playing the identikit gruff anti-hero in both Escape from New York and The Thing, the idea of parodying yourself before anyone else does is genius. Or at least it would have been if the American public had been ready for it. How the best mystical kung-fu comedy buddy action movie ever made flopped at the box office I'll never know; there's just no accounting for taste sometimes.
“Of course the Chinese mix everything up, look at what we have to work with. There’s Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoist alchemy and sorcery. We take what we want and leave the rest… Just like your salad bar.”
Rawshark I hadn’t seen this film before, somehow I had managed to miss it at the cinema and video and all of its TV screenings. Of course this brought indignant cries of "How could you have not seen this film!" from my fellow Zombie Clubbers, and led to this slight rule-bending to allow Big Trouble in Little China into our Zombie Club night. Well, as Zomblee pointed out – it is Carpenter.
It didn’t take long to grab me. Opening with Kurt Russell as Jack Burton yakking away in his truck, the Pork-Chop Express ("the cheque’s in the mail"), it’s not long before all hell breaks loose and Kurt soon finds himself mixed up in a lot of bad ass Chinese mysticism shit, whilst wearing a Bruce Willis type sleeveless vest (which you can apparently buy online at www.wingkong.net).
Kurt Russell is outstanding here in the role of Jack Burton, a character that is rarely on the same page as the rest of the cast. Russell’s Burton is a macho hero who’s not really all that, knife-throwing skills apart. The film looks great and the script is so gorgeous you just want to hug it. Jim’s not far wrong when he says this is one of the most quotable films of all time. There are endless set-pieces including flooding lifts, ant monsters and mystic Kung-fu fights with guys that have green flashing eyes (Jim especially loved that part) and the film is chockfull of flourishes and touches of original detail. Cool cast too.
Big Trouble in Little China is a rip-roaring rollercoaster ride, endlessly watchable and a whole lot of fun to boot. Sure, it’s flawed (what the hell is that floating head Guardian thing?) and there may be too much genre-mixing going on, but to criticise a film like this is just nit-picking really. I for one will raise my glass to the great Jack Burton and his Porkchop Express. Buy it, see it and fall in love with it.
“Ok you people. Sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we’re not back by dawn, (winks) call the President.”
Director John Carpenter
Cast Kurt Russell
Runtime 99 mins
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Prince of Darkness (1987)
Plot A research team finds a mysterious cylinder in a deserted church. If opened, it could mean the end of the world.
Rawshark Obviously scarred by the critical mauling and lack of box office success for Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter decided to return to his low-budget atmospheric style of film-making in the hope of rekindling some of the fire that was left in the wake of Halloween and The Fog. For the most part, Prince of Darkness is a well-made ‘Son-of-Satan’ yarn, and proof that JC’s skills behind the camera didn’t really fizzle out until the early 90s.
Carpenter keeps two of his cast from his previous film (Dennis Dun and Victor Wong) and brings in horror legend Donald Pleasance as the priest investigating the 7 million year old capsule of green goo. Unfortunately Kurt Russell was apparently unavailable, so is replaced with a very wet hero (sporting a horrible blonde moustache), but hey, you can’t have everything.
Great moments include the gradual appearance of the vagrant zombies (watch out for a cameo from Alice Cooper), the stunning videotape dream sequences from The Brotherhood of the Sleep, and the way the film takes itself seriously with realistic and scientific babble. The people in peril in this film are not your average teen slasher victims, but intelligent scientists who try to rationalize everything they see, which adds to the feeling that this is the ‘Real Coming of the Apocalypse’. It’s a talky film, not an action film, as Jim pointed out – “There’s not much running in this film.”
A solid cast (moustache man aside), some great atmospheric camerawork, cool music, an intelligent script, and a big monster breaking out of a mirror at the end - what more could you possibly want from a horror film? Well, apart from Kurt Russell of course.
“Say goodbye to classical reality, because our logic collapses on the subatomic level ... into ghosts and shadows”.
Jim That Victor Wong - God rest his soul - has all the best lines.
After the dizzying heights of Big Trouble in Little China it was quite a brave move for Zomblee to pull this low-budget effort out of the bag. As Raw points out it has a few crossover cast members (what is Dennis Dun wearing?), a new hairy lead (who's not all that good actually - like a poor man's Al Cliver) and that John Carpenter score we're all used to by now, but very little else to resemble tonight's previous movie.
But despite my initial grumblings, that's not necessarily a bad thing. This is a bit of a siege movie - a handful of clued-up university students are trapped in an old church or something with a big green goo container in the basement machine room. While the tramps close in outside (and kill off a couple of characters stupid enough to try and leave), the students continue to study the goo, while occasionally one wanders off and gets infected. I don't really know what they get infected with, but whatever it is sends them totally crazy in a scary vacant-eyed angry way. Carpenter likes it when characters go mad and they do in many of his movies, although here the recently goo-infected ones have an achilles heel; they're heavily freaked out by mirrors. One scene in particular has the token black character going spare in front of one - the camera lingering on his agonised face for what seems like ages. It's very creepy stuff this unexplained madness - I still get the chills just thinking about it.
If anything Prince of Darkness is more like They Live - they both build slowly, both have a kind of derelict urban setting and both chronicle the events leading up to a possible end of the world. No, there aren't any professional wrestlers in this one and no, there's no massive bare-knuckle fight sequence, but the feel is the same and that made me feel at home. Now where are my sunglasses...
"Anyone seen Susan?"
Zomblee An everyday tale of Satan's dad, quantum physics, the end of time, and the most awful moustache you've ever seen.
Zombies + John Carpenter = my favourite film not yet made. The marriage of my preferred genre with my favourite director is my idea of perfect viewing. Sadly, he has never really experimented with the said genre, though Prince of Darkness comes real close at times. The 'zombies' in POD are more like possessed vagrants, the main featured zombie being one Vincent Furnier AKA Alice Cooper - someone who shares my enthusiasm for JC.
It's interesting to see POD again, especially since the success of Dan Brown's bestselling phenomenon The Da Vinci Code. Carpenter explores very similar theories in his writing here. For example, the ever brilliant Donald Pleasance's character Father Loomis speaks of this "secret locked away for 2000 years", speaking of secret sects and suchlike, (e.g. 'The
Brotherhood of Sleep') and damning the church for being "salesmen - selling our product". Is this yet another case of a writer/director way ahead of his time?
Carpenter wrote POD under the Martin Quatermass pseudonym - a clear homage to the classic landmark British sci-fi series from the 1950s. The correlation to Quatermass doesn't end there. Carpenter was clearly influenced by the writing of Nigel Kneale, who tended to focus on situations which brought together a team of professionals from differing vocational / theoretical backgrounds, joining forces to investigate some kind of unworldly occurrence.
This is why POD is worthy of your time. Credit must go to Carpenter for writing this script - this is some far-out (and often really scary) shit! When the Carpenter team get together, arguing and discussing the very real existence of an anti-God through theoretical quantum physics, it's obvious that the guy writing this stuff thinks that the genre needed a good kick up the arse. Like with the later In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter is trying his utmost to take the genre someplace new. Like Rawshark says, it's a talky film, and it needs to be because this is far from being a run of the mill, average horror film. It's ambitious as it is imaginative, compelling and scary, and it encourages you think about the bigger picture. Horror pictures certainly don't do that often enough.
Best bit? The Brotherhood of Sleep's dream / transmission sequences. Masterly in both conception and execution. You will never look into a mirror in the same way again.
"Cause precedes effect. We're born, we age, we die. The reverse NEVER happens."
Director John Carpenter
Cast Donald Pleasence
Anne Marie Howard
Runtime 102 mins
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And so it came to an end. Another John Carpenter double-bill Zombie Club will probably not happen for some time, so I enjoyed every minute of this one, as I know my decomposing co-zombies did.
BTILC is perfect viewing material for a number of occasions, and is in my opinion the best film Carpenter has done on any significant budget. The rewind button on my DVD remote is still recovering though.
There was a general consensus that POD is engaging, scary and clever but its slow-pace was quite an adjustment challenge after the non-stop antics of Jack Burton and the Pork-Chop Express. I hate to say this, but the 1980's was the last consistently good decade for JC, even though some films from this era prompt Jim to say "Just what the fuck is Dennis Dun wearing?!"
All in all, the John Carpenter Stir-Fry got the thumbs-up‚ from the zombies at table 11. A perfect combination of a variety of cross-genre ingredients, this dish is dedicated to the memory of Victor Wong. RIP.
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