Forget Saw; Fear the Beard

Okay, while the thought of watching torture scenes in multiple dimensions may be appealing to some, I think I’d rather watch some old-school action flicks. Having become obsessed with a handful of three-decade-old movies starring Kurt Russell and directed by John Carpenter,  I can literally talk of nothing else. The big three of this oddly specific genre are: “The Thing,” “Big Trouble in Little China” and “Escape From New York.” And they’re so much better than the latest bloodbath slasher threequel at the local AMC.

Maybe it’s the cheesy special effects. Maybe it’s how awesome Kurt Russell is. Maybe it’s just the fact that director John Carpenter is a gritty action-adventure-thriller genius. Either way, these ‘80s throwbacks are absolute gold.

Take “The Thing” — it’s my horror flick of the moment. As a creature-feature set in Antarctica, it’s pretty much the original snowed-in supernatural thriller. An all-male research facility discovers that a human-mimicking alien has infiltrated its ranks, and the scientists have to root it out before it spreads to the rest of the world.

The beauty of this film lies in two parts: The excellent cheesy gore and Kurt Russell’s beard. I only recently started appreciating classic horror films like “Halloween” and “The Shining” — my days of  peeking out from behind stiff fingers are finally over — and as such, I really love the comical alien monsters that break through the real fear this film generates.

And the beard. If Kurt Russell’s full beard in “The Thing” were an actual person, it would be the epitome of cool. It would’ve done drugs with Hunter S. Thompson, pissed on Kubrick’s grave and become an ordained Buddhist priest. There are no words good enough to describe its majesty.

Now, “Big Trouble in Little China” has an entirely different feel. A supernatural action-comedy that spoofs ’70s kung fu flicks, “Big Trouble” is a farce in which Russell struggles to save his best friend’s fiancée from becoming the bride of an evil two-millenia-old Chinese magician.

It does share one quality with “The Thing,” however: the caliber of the special effects. I am a sucker for so-bad-they’re-good creatures, and this flick has some whoppers. Glowing eyes, slimy apes and magic that looks like a laser show are only some of my favorites in this one. I’m absolutely positive Carpenter knew that the flick was campy; this movie is so wrong, it’s right.

Which brings us to my final film, “Escape From New York.” Russell stars as Snake Plissken (what a name!), a futuristic war hero who is sentenced to prison, but who can earn his freedom if he can get the president out alive. The atmosphere is what really draws me to this one. It feels like “The Warriors” on crack, with Russell running around sporting a giant gun and an eye-patch and the free world resting on the shoulders of a madman. It’s gritty action ‘til the bitter end. Plissken is everything you ever wanted John McClane to be, but knew Bruce Willis couldn’t pull off.

You can ignore these flicks if you want; after all, they came out when most of us were still unplanned pregnancies. But if you’re down for something a little different and a little dated, you can’t go wrong with Carpenter and Russell. With winners like “Saw 18” crowding the Halloween box office, I promise you’ll have a better time renting one of these campy gems than making an overpriced trip to the theater.

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