Film

The Past and Future of 'Sin City' 'Deadpool', 'Alien', 'Predator' and 'Halloween'

Deadpool, seemingly embarrassed.

Flops, superheroes, monsters and noir in The Next Reel.

Those of you who have been reading The Next Reel’s four years’ worth of columns, know that at the end of each year I, your humble, yet heroic and adventurous, author revisits the previous 12 months’ worth of articles and provide new and exciting dimensions on them all.

You’ll also know that as a PopMatters journalist I have to travel to the far corners of this planet (and many others) in order to bring you both the most amazing columns ever written by man (and alien) and to help fund the PopMatters synchronized figure skating team, the PopMatters glee club and the PopMatters model train racing society (a go-go). Sadly, plans to petition the IOC for a pro-team of Pin The Tail on the Donkey enthusiasts in the Brazil Olympics has fallen through, but that’s another article.

In the last year (or so) of mirth, mayhem, skullduggery, hijinks and shenanigans I have not only served as your loyal Next Reel author, but I have also completed and published my first novel Seven Days to Die: A Jake Slater Mystery (which, surprisingly, considering the name, is a horror novel). Amid these ventures, not to mention raiding a lost temple in Peru and restoring national treasures, relentlessly making fun of Scott Baio (Charles ain’t in charge of much these days), stopping an alien invasion with song, relentlessly defending a hay bale against evil-minded archers and… did I mention I’ve got a novel out… I also got married to my dream girl. Not only that, but my dream girl and I had our honeymoon at Knotfest (because we rock!) so life is more than what you’d call "pretty good", pilgrims.

But on to revisiting The Next Reel.

You know, people really don’t like it when you yell "FOOD FIGHT" in a crowded library. And that goes especially for librarians. That goes doubly when you’re the only person who brought food and in this case I was. Don’t worry, as a writer of thousands of articles (not to mention -- boom -- my novel) and a lover of literature, I didn’t throw anything at the books, only the patrons. That didn’t help my case when the police arrived (who were promptly pelted with burritos) and the boys in blue surprisingly arrested me. Naturally I had plenty of time to relax with my thoughts as the draconian law enforcement detained me to await trial.

Naturally I used the break to write "The Trials and Tribulations of ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan", all about filmdom’s most iconic screen cop played by the great Clint Eastwood (without an empty chair to debate with). Toward the end of that awe-striking article, I mentioned that famed comic artist Frank Miller created the popular story That Yellow Bastard for his Sin City comics series in response to his disappointment in the final Dirty Harry flick, 1988’s The Dead Pool. However, The Dead Pool had an additional comic book impact.

Back in 1991 legendarily unoriginal (and oft-despised) comic book artist Rob Liefeld created his own redraw of DC Comics’ Deathstroke (aka: Slade Wilson) and presented him to writer Fabian Nicieza to include in their comic book The New Mutants. Naturally ,Argentinian Nicieza informed Liefeld that they could not possibly include a DC character in their Marvel comic book, no matter how big a Teen Titans fan young Rob was.

Rob persisted and insisted that he was not just ripping off DC’s Deathstroke, but that he was also ripping off Marvel’s own Spider-Man and Wolverine too, so that must make it okay. Possibly in an effort to simply shut him up, Nicieza threw his hands in the air and agreed to include the character only if he could write him as a spoof of superheroes. Rob was already taking his bubble bath at the time so how could he object? Thus "Wade Wilson" (again, in obvious tribute to "Slade Wilson") was born and became one of the most action-packed, self-aware and comical superheroes ever to escape the gridded page.

This year of 2016 finally saw the (real) big screen debut of Wade Wilson (as played by Ryan Reynolds) as he was meant to be seen. Of course, Wade also appeared (as played by Reynolds) in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine but in appropriately self-aware fashion the 2016 film laughed its way out of that appearance and the new movie became one of the most acclaimed and successful superhero films of all time (especially considering its R-rating). The film, like the character, maintained the same superhero name that Rob Liefeld had chosen for him, borrowed directly from the Dirty Harry film: Deadpool.

True story.

When the library trial came around I naturally beat the rap (with careless ease) because the judge turned out to be a big fan of Dirty Harry. The victory proved short lived, however, as it turns out that people also really don’t like it when you yell "FOOD FIGHT" in court.

So, 2015 sailed on as the government had my courtroom food feud conviction vacated so that they could send me into the field to cover the legendary Swamp Monster of Borneo. It was terrifying, but as my team and I wrestled the angry plesiosaur to the ground and into its transportation tank, I mumbled "This is almost as scary as having to sit through Basic Instinct 2… hey, there’s an idea."

Thus the next thrill-inspiring two-part article debuted in the form of "Great Movies With Terrible Sequels: Sequels so Bad They’re Scary". Among the most notorious of the films discussed in that article was Halloween II: Season of the Witch (1982). I'm still trying to get Donovan Leitch to sue over that title, but he keeps insisting "I might as well try and Catch the Wind."

The film series that began with John Carpenter’s impactful and influential Halloween (1978) has had its fair share of turkey sequels, not to mention a snooze fest of a remake in 2007 (great, we were all wondering what kind of action figures Michael Myers liked to play with) and an even worse sequel to that film in 2009. While the perpetrator of those last two, singer Rob Zombie, has been removed from the series, he moved on to make an incredibly fresh and original movie called 31 which is about… Halloween-masked killers murdering people on Halloween. Okay, then. Those of you who want more of that, it's out in limited release this month.

Meanwhile, the Halloween franchise itself has had more than its ups and downs in the ensuing years. First Halloween 3D was slated for 2012 but later cancelled when its creative team of Patrick "Dracula 2000" Lussier and Todd "Jason X" Farmer found themselves hogtied to the Hellraiser reboot (which also never came out). Next Patrick "Piranha 3DD" Melton and Marcus "Feast 3" Dunstan checked in to write Halloween Returns for late 2015. Remember seeing that last year? Neither do I, because it got delayed until Dimension Films lost the rights to the franchise and the potential next "terrible sequel" to Halloween was almost immediately cancelled.

Hollywood is a strange place and Dimension’s loss proved to be former sister company Miramax’s gain. This team up with Blumhouse Productions could have proven to be another drop in the "awful" bucket except for one shocking revelation: the man producing the new film would be none other than John Carpenter himself. Yes, the genius who created Michael Myers 38 years ago is coming back to, as Carpenter promises "make the 10th sequel the scariest of them all."

We’ll hold you to that, John. After all, the Myers-devoid Halloween III was also your idea and your production, too. But we’ll stay optimistic!

Not known for brevity, the two-parter continued as I helped rescue a boat load of orphans trapped in a deluge of a storm off the coast of Boston. Stupid field trip if you ask me. Needing some comedy to break the tension, I told the kids the stories behind "Great Movies With Terrible Sequels: Laughable Sequels in Action". As the title might suggest, I covered both comedies and action sagas that started out great and got godawful, awful quick.

Bridging the gap between the actionable / comical and the horrific collections was Predator 2 (1990), the saga-scalping bomb that sent the series into hiding for a full 14 years. The Predator species wouldn’t even be seen again without their counterparts from Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) until 2010’s Predators and let me tell you, none of those films are what you’d call "Oscar Bait".

Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971)

In that article, however, I couldn’t help but muse about how the original Predator (1987) was so incredibly tough it actually featured a rare onscreen performance by Shane Black, writer of Lethal Weapon and all kinds of other testosterone boosting motion pictures. He has since gone on to become a kick-ass director bringing us films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and Iron Man 3 (2013).

Well, folks, the rumors are true. Just as John Carpenter is set to return to the Halloween Franchise to bring it back to its roots, so has Shane Black been slated to come back, this time behind the camera, to write and direct 2018’s The Predator, which promises to make the series more of an "event" again and return it to its intimate, mysterious and terrifying settings. Not sold yet? Well, the '80s hits keep on coming because Black’s co-writer on The Predator happens to be none other than Fred Dekker, writer of House (1986), Night of the Creeps (1986) and his first collaboration with Shane Black, The Monster Squad (1987). BOOM, baby!

I was exchanging weight loss tips with Axl Rose in the insane asylum in Louisiana (at which we were both… volunteering) when we engaged in the age old argument: which sucked more, Alien 3 or Alien Resurrection? One of the inmates (I mean "guests") offered up the idea that the aforementioned "AVP" movies were the worst of the lot to which I comfortably replied (with careless ease) that Shane Black and Fred Dekker were back to revitalize the Predator saga, so that’s a moot point.

That same inmate ("guest") sarcastically countered "Isn’t that the same Fred Dekker who directed and co-wrote RoboCop 3, which both tanked that once venerable series and caused [the also aforementioned] Frank Miller to leave Hollywood for over a decade until [the equally aforementioned to the other two] Sin City (the 2005 film) gave him unique creative control? That [aforementioned aforementioned] Fred Dekker???"

I was knocked for a loop and Axl had to hold me up as my jaw worked silently and I stared wide eyed like DeForest Kelley in The Final Frontier. After about 90 seconds of aghast, silent hyperventilation, I composed myself enough to say "Yes, that Fred Dekker. And do you mean the same Sin City that was co-directed by Robert Rodriguez for his own Troublemaker Studios which also brought us the Rodriguez-produced Predators (2010) which, in turn, did enough damage to that series to require Fred Dekker and Shane Black to come back to rescue it? That Sin City? And don’t get me started on Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) by the same Rodriguez and Miller that completely tanked that franchise! Bam! FULL CIRCLE! Got it? Now get back to group therapy, Freddy!"

Mickey Rourke in a "Safe Room" in Sin City (2005)

As the inmates ("guests"! "guests"!) scattered, I still needed some quiet time so I ejected one of our most dangerous clients from the "safe room" and settled down in the cushioned corner to write "Deconstructing the Star Beast How the 'Alien' Saga Went Wrong" and clear my head of it all.

That article proved to be a success, (as had its predecessor "Building the Perfect Star Beast: The Antecedents of ‘Alien") and since that time "Prometheus 2" has been officially given the name Alien: Covenant and set for a 2017 release. Neill Blomkamp’s plans for a fifth (depending on how you count things) film have been shelved pending the outcome of Ridley Scott’s prequel Covenant, in spite of the fact that Blomkamp is exploring possibilities of ignoring both Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection and including Newt as an adult character and the return of Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley.

Neill Blomkamp's concept art for the proposed Alien 5

One reader pointed out the lack of mention of the video game Alien: Isolation (2014) which won several awards and brought the saga back to its horrific roots (with the player right in the midst of it). The uncut version of Aliens (1986) features a scene in which Ripley (asleep in stasis for 57 years) sees a video of her then-aged daughter Amanda "Amy" Ripley (played by Weaver’s mother Elizabeth Inglis in a bit of casting genius). Isolation picks up this concept and explores Amanda’s quest 15 years after the events of Alien (1979) as she investigates the disappearance of her mother.

Naturally, she finds a bit more than she bargained for and a Xenomorph pursues Amanda throughout a dark space station. Technology closer to Alien (as opposed to Prometheus’ higher tech) enhances the game play and evasion takes precedence over fighting. The cerebral horror found in the game serves to bring Isolation closer to the original film than any other entry.

When I retrieved the stolen jewels from the gondola high above the Alps and dove from the cable down to a swooping plane to escape just before the car exploded I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to keep a cent of the proceeds from the loot and even the promised reward would be casually dismissed. That immediately made me think of Hollywood Creative Accounting, thus I wrote the column "Hollywood Creative Accounting, or, How to Hide a Hit and Still Profit From It" and made a few ivory tower CPAs very, very angry at me.

In that article we explored the various big movies disguised as flops so that studios (like Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, Paramount, Disney and even Gold Circle Films) don’t have to share their loot and some of the lawsuits and scandals that have arisen from such a practice. We’re talking hits like Harry Potter, Batman, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Fellowship of the Ring, Forrest Gump and, yes, once again, Alien. How could they be flops? Read the column. In the aftermath of that story we actually got the long awaited My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 which, unlike the first film, got overwhelmingly negative reviews and earned a much smaller take that not even Gold Circle would lie about the accounting for.

That same article discussed how Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) was disguised as a failure that lost no less than $167 million for poor Warner Bros. Naturally this is less "Hogwarts" than it is "hogwash", because Warners has repeatedly dipped back into Harry’s pot to make three more films based on the wizarding works of J.K. Rowling. Further, Rowling’s 2001 book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has been made into a film by, you guessed it, Warner Bros. for a 2016 release. The author of the screenplay? Rowling herself. Rowling also collaborated on a new Potter book Harry Potter and the Cursed Child with a July 2016 release date. A play has already been made of the book (before its publication, even). Is there any doubt Warner Bros. will be far behind with a film?

I mentioned that as part of their lawsuit with Warner Bros., producers Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker have been listed as producers of every single Batman film since 1989 and the recent misfire Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is no exception, carrying both their names. This, however, was not the hit Warner hoped for (more on that later) so let’s hope they got paid up front.

And that, folks, is how you turn a hit into a flop and get rich by doing so.

Next time in the exciting pages of The Next Reel we talk more about the present state of flops (and what studio is churning out the majority of them), talk about the Superman movies that we almost got, sink to even worse territory with Fantastic Four, rant and rave about terrifying love songs and insulting Sound of Music numbers, snack a bit on The Hunger Games, and talk about what’s really going on behind the scenes in the DC Extended Universe.

See you there, true believers.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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