Post #8: Black Mountain Side–Thing Is, It Ain’t The Thing Which, As Things Go, Is A Good Thing

I. Love. Podcasts.

More often than not, I hear about something I otherwise may not have.

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Something like Black Mountain Side.

Quite a whiles back in January 2016, the folks at The What Cast interviewed Michael Dickson. An interesting discussion ensued. Dickson, it turns out, knows his Lovecraft, and it was his description of the movie in that context that had gotten me really curious.

This was compounded by seeing Jack Finch mention it on one of my favorite YouTube channels, Top 5 Scary Videos, another treasure trove of titles I may not have found otherwise.

Right up front, I gotta warn you. First, spoilers.

Second, don’t expect the plowing of virgin soil. Some archaeological/scholarly types find something better left unfound and are driven insane. In this case, that something is part of a possible altar or temple.

Pretty standard Lovecraft premise along with an infection/contamination element, ideas we’ve seen before not only in The Thing, but in X Files, 28 Days Later, hell even Planet Of The Vampires.

Also any film like this set in a frozen outpost hearkens back obviously to The Thing. That’s not necessarily problematic. Carpenter casts a heavy shadow. Trying to deny and avoid that would just be stupid. On one level, Black Mountain Side might be called The Thing without The Thing.

That would be unfair and inaccurate.

For one thing, Black Mountain Side is a fine study of group dysfunction and disintegration in its own right. The team is isolated, sleep deprived, under stress. All they have to go on is a theory. Near the end of the ice age, rising temperatures thaw an ancient bacteria. People die. The results are depicted on a piece of pottery discovered near the site.

In the What Cast interview, Dickson (who plays Professor Olsen) explains: “These resemble people, but what’s strange is that they’re disfigured. In all the other pieces, their portrayal of people is fairly accurate. They’re standing up. Arms, legs, heads. But that’s not the case in this piece. People are missing appendages. They’re slouched over. I believe this depicts an illness, a plague.”

The cold, it turns out, kept the bacteria at bay. I have to wonder if this isn’t a possible gesture by writer/director Nick Szostakiwskyj toward the perils of global warming. It also explains why the indigenous workers leave under cover of darkness and head further north into the cold versus south away from it.

The “smart” people find this baffling and, as usual, ignore the locals.

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Sorcerer of Trois-Freres, 13,000 BC

Usher in The Deer God (a clever hat-tip to Trois-Frères), the deity the structure is associated with. Whether or not The Deer God is actually there is anyone’s guess.

It’s a fine MacGuffin. Something (ancient bacteria, Deer God, both) renders the team insane. What causes the insanity isn’t nearly as important as the result. The reliability of anything these men see or hear is now suspect.

This vicious circle is never resolved and is one of the things that makes Black Mountain Side so very cool while distinguishing it from The Thing.

I’ve also seen a fair amount of faint praise for Black Mountain Side: terms like “homage” and “love letter to Carpenter’s The Thing.” To make such generalizations is to miss the point.

Gods, insanity, mass hallucination, these just don’t figure heavily in The Thing. This ratchets up the Black Mountain Side’s sense of cosmic dread in all its Lovecraftian glory. Couple this with the Ancient Aliens notion that beings such as Anubis, Medusa, and other hybrids could have been the results of extraterrestrial genetic experimentation, and, well, you see where this is going.

This is not to suggest there are no parallels. There are, not the least of which is the fact that, like The Thing, Black Mountain Side hinges on paranoia and isolation. Both are speculative fiction of the first order. Not “Hey, here’s what’s going to happen,” so much as, “Hey, what if this happens?”

What if indeed.

Post #7: On The Brain (Or What’s On Your Mind?)

First, minor announcement time. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month. Except I’m not writing a novel. Instead I’m putting together a book about a very specific horror subgenre that’s near and dear to my heart. Hopefully I can make their 50,000 word goal. I’m already behind, but hey, I’m plucky. Don’t wanna get any more specific for now, but wish me luck. Onward.

I had about 500 really unkind words about Kevin Stevenson’s On The Brain (2016). Originally, I thoroughly trashed it. But some other reviews and interviews revealed some things that radically altered my perspective.

Oh sure, this movie has its flaws, and I was more than ready to write On The Brain off as another sad example of a director setting some goals then failing to attain them. Sometimes the results are spectacular on and Ed Wood, Jr. level. Other times, I’m left with the impression that everyone gave up, shrugged their shoulders, and said, “Eh. Probably good enough.”

The story is based on an unpublished manuscript, The Dangerous Season, by Ina Gay Trask. I’d really like to read this–if for no other reason, just because the infestation only affects men. Interesting.

The plot gets a little bumpy. Some events and conversations do little to advance the action. There’s a parasitic infection, supposedly from contaminated meat, although there’s also an unresolved subplot that the protagonist, a new sheriff, brought the infestation to town with him.

The parasites’ transformational effects can apparently be staved off by a makeshift mask/inhaler MacGyvered together by the local doctor (I have it on the good authority of not one but two linguists that “MacGyvered” has one “r.” Hey, I do my research. I am, after all, a total professional)

It does become a bit unclear whether or not Kelly, our beleaguered sheriff with the dark past, even is the protagonist as we start to focus on Mariama, the quick-thinking doctor. Worth pointing out is Sharon Frederickson as the pushy, gun-brandishing mayor. There’s nary a stick of scenery left once she’s done gnawing on it which is always more than fun to watch.

So, like I said, I was ready to shred this On The Brain. But again, I do my research and try to find some other opinions, evaluations, and information about whatever movie I’ve picked to review. That’s how I discovered that this modestly budgeted effort was shot in 12 days.

Yup. 12.

The amount of things I can’t get done in a month, let alone less than half a month, is staggering. That in mind, the practical and makeup effects in the movie already held up pretty damn well, but with time and budget in mind, I find myself wondering, “Okay how’d the manage that??”

Stevenson also deserves credit for not extensively showing the parasites (other than through subcutaneous slithering). Imagining how they must look is, for many of us, far more effective and terrifying than showing them–an effect that rarely comes off as terrifying even in big-budget flicks.

Similarly, there’s never any explanation for where everyone has gone. The town seems deserted, a fact that is commented on a number of times. This could be looked at as a lack of resolution, but the lack of explanation also serves to amp up the dread so, again, credit where it’s due. So, thankfully, I do find myself looking at On The Brain as an enjoyable watch with an interesting spin on the infestation/infection idea. I’m anxious to check out more Stevenson stuff.