So, Nick Powell over at The Cinematic Katzenjammer asked for contributors this month to write up a post or do something creative using The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as a starting point and any horror-themed movies that happened to fit one or more of their particular talents. I decided to have a bit of fun picking four films (one for each rider) and pointing to moments in each that to me, define the essence of their namesakes. They’re not all horror films, but if you’re in the right mood you’ll see the horror in parts of them.
Amusingly enough, the devil has gotten his due here as well. ALL of these were done up as Random Film of the Week entries at one point, but three were lost when I misplaced a USB thumb stick with a ton of other fresh content I’d done for the site a few years back when it was on Blogger. One good reason for me doing this post was to kick myself in the butt hard and get on to full rewrites soon of those three.
In addition, I’ll warn you now that the Fifth Horseman (Spoilage!) is on board. So if you haven’t seen any of the four flicks listed here… you’ve been warned in advance. Which is unusual in this day and age, as spoilers usually just spill out and all over you in the oddest of places. Hell, I heard the end of Gravity from a yakky lady babbling like a jerk on her cell phone in a grocery store a few days ago. I wanted to throw a large can of low-sodium black beans at her head, but I’d be typing this from a jail cell, it was the last can of that brand on the shelf and I needed it more than her head needed a two-pound can-sized impression in it.
Anyway, saddle up and get ready to ride (or duck behind something and hope you’re unseen)… we’re off!
For Pestilence, I chose 1971’s The Andromeda Strain, Robert Wise’s masterful sci-fi film based on Michael Crichton’s excellent page-turner that’s still an excellent, thrilling read. Pick it up in the morning and I bet you can’t put it down until the final page (which will come later that evening if you’re a quick reader). After a US satellite carrying a deadly germ crash lands in the tiny village of Piedmont, Arizona, a strange virus kills off everyone but a baby and the town drunk.
The film is an excellent ensemble piece about the team cobbled together to tackle the problem and the resulting investigation that reveals just what was in that space capsule of doom and why the two survivors made it through unscathed. Wise’s documentary-like approach is quite faithful to the book with only a few tweaks from the original (a main male scientist is replaced with a female one and a there’s a name change for another character), the film is exactly the length it needs to be and manages to be deadly serious and seriously amusing at exactly the right moments.
For me, the key sequence that shows the results of the strange virus that wipes out Piedmont is the brilliantly chilling montage that splits the screen into many windows as two of the scientists make their way around looking for the capsule. Bodies of the young and old are shown where they died, some in peacefully mundane positions, while others are in some bizarre spots due to the virus not killing them right away, allowing them to commit suicide in assorted horrific ways. Other than some animal “death” sequences during the science phase of the investigation (a few rats and monkeys are put to sleep and it sure looks as if they aren’t getting back up), the film isn’t “violent” at all. If you’re easily disturbed, you will get a nasty jolt during a post mortem on one human victim where coagulated blood pours from a cut wrist like sand from a broken hourglass.
Add in an unsettling electronic score from Gil Mellé, some early hand-made “computer” effects and set design that’s practical and “futuristic” yet still all to real and this one’s a great entry for those looking for a nice mature slice of nostalgia. Sure, more modern and paranoia-filled disease flicks cater to shorter attention spans, but Wise and company made a solid little chiller that still packs a punch in my book…
War? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing other than some great movies for an against it, I say. I was going to initially go for one of the versions of All Quiet on the Western Front, but I finally got around to seeing Sam Peckinpah’s underrated, depressingly spectacular Cross of Iron and it’s my new best friend (and yours for this post). Well, “best friend” as in that train wreck of a pal that always looks like hell on Monday morning at work and has a whale of a story about his wild weekend that you wonder how the heck he survived. If anything, he’s that walking cautionary tale that’s kept you off hard drugs and away from loose women with brass knuckles (and other surprises) under their skirts.
Cross of Iron is a brutally beautiful chaotic mess that like Peckinpah’s best films, gets its point across with no one left unscathed. Tonally, it matches, then outstrips the director’s The Wild Bunch for sheer chaos and thematically, both films share a particularly fatalistic approach to their characters. The casting here is excellent with James Coburn as Stransky, a war-weary German Corporal and Maximilian Schell as the snooty, medal-happy battalion commander Steiner who thinks his new command will be an easy time. Toss in David Warner and the great James Mason for added gravitas and once you get into it, this one’s a compelling and inevitable must-see. Yes, that striking poster art was no help back in 1977 and it’s certainly not telling you things end great now. But hey, if you don’t know Germany lost that war, you’re in some serious denial. Then again, any good student of military history will probably tell you the words “Wehrmacht” and “Eastern Front” weren’t exactly a winning combination for the Germans in 1943.
Key sequence: the whole damn movie. Seriously. It’s one you need to sit through in order to appreciate. The battle scenes are lengthy (for good reason – War IS Hell, you know), and frequent, but hey – try and tell War when to stop and see what happens when it follows its own clock until the shells run out instead.
Getting hungry? Well, Famine has a tasty little surprise for you in the form of Soylent Green, Richard Fleischer’s great and grim 1973 sci-fi flick that’s still a pretty effective and memorable movie experience. On one level, it works almost perfectly as a futuristic procedural as Charlton Heston’s amoral detective Thorne investigates the brutal murder of a food company executive only to discover a deeper secret that affects everyone on a ridiculously overcrowded Earth (of which we only see a filthy, packed fake-looking New York City set).
On another level it’s a cautionary tale with a big bite from the era where world hunger and ecological issues (hey, remember when Ecology was used ALL the time as a word?) were on the map as two of the hot social issues of the day we all needed to be very concerned about. Yeah, that didn’t work out so well, huh?
(Thanks, Warner Bros.!)
Truth be told, Heston makes for a pretty bored and lousy investigator of the hedonistic lifestyle for the first part of the film, as he’s initially more concerned with stealing the dead rich man’s food and “furniture” (the pretty young women who get stuck with wealthy coots in this film are called that horrible term) than cracking the case. So it’s his elderly roommate, Sol Roth (a wonderful Edward G. Robinson in his final performance) who through his own hard work (reading old books and meeting with fellow friends of his age range) and upon finding out the film’s big secret, decides to end his own life out of disgust and resignation. I don’t know about you, but that’s a bit of horror to me to choose to go out without a fight like that. Then again, the secret is THAT depressing of a revelation that Sol is pretty justified in his decision.
This (Spoilage alert!) gorgeously shot death scene is the films key moment for me and it’s also when Thorne finally gets what’s going on as he watches his friend die peacefully and tracks the body to its final destination. I’d say thanks to YouTube and a few comedy shows that have revealed the ending of the film, more people know the closing lines to Soylent Green than have actually seen the whole film. If you’re among those folks, I say go check this one out as soon as humanly possible. And stay away from those “organic” green crackers if they go on sale at your local grocery…
Finally, there’s the Horseman we’ll all meet personally at some point or another (like it or else), Death. I had a ton of films to choose from, but went with the first one that came to mind because it’s so potent and one note that it’s impossible to confuse it for something it’s not. Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood or Carnage) is all about death and nothing but death. From the moment this one begins with that old lady in the wheelchair getting strangled to that surprisingly oddball ending scene (it’s funny as hell to me), ToDN is a test of nerves for the squeamish and a test of patience for anyone expecting a plot that makes sense or has a satisfying resolution. If you’re smart enough to see through the gore, nudity and unlikable characters, it’s clear that Bava is having a hearty (and bloody) laugh at the viewer’s expense.
(thanks again, alatan108!)
As the sole pure horror film on this list, the movie works its magic quite well, delivering the kills at a decent pace as well as the confusing plot and vapid characters common to the genre. This one’s a template for plenty of slasher flicks that came around afterward, so don’t be too surprised if some of those kills look familiar. Like Cross of Iron, this one’s a big “watch it from the beginning to get the complete experience” film, so you’ll want to grim or grimace and bear it, preferably with someone with an arm you can clutch, a huge sense of humor and an appreciation for gore galore and a body count of thirteen mostly deserving dolts.
You can watch this for free all over the Internet, but it’s better on a bigger screen with a clear transfer than some dinky high-res tablet or tinier phone screen, that’s for sure. Just make sure to have a cinematic chaser handy that’s all comedy if you watch this one at night or you’ll probably have nightmares about poky and stabby things, some flashes of naughty bits and maybe a shotgun blast or two. Oh, and bonus points if you’re a fan of the Friday the 13th films and catch the kills inspired by some found here.
I think that’s it for the moment, except for it’s about 6:30 in the morning and now I can’t go to sleep because I need to get up and do some stuff in the city later this morning. Oh well… I’ll set a few alarms, lay down and see what happens. Granted, I can drop off at the drop of a hat and yep, I’ll probably wake up a minute before all those alarms go off as usual. Then it’s the long crawl out of bed and into a cup of coffee before experiencing the horrors of a night without a proper sleep.
Hmmmm, I’ll need to fix that sleep stuff pretty soon, but that’s another post for another time.