The Mist

Interesting fact: “Mist” in German, means “crap.” Luckily, unlike many a Stephen King adaptation, this one is anything but.

The Mist is a loving tribute to the 60s creature feature, with Frank Darabount (who directed the King-lyThe Green Mile/The Shawshank Redemption) helming a character-driven insider-outsider dynamic set in Maine (of course) against the backdrop of a grocery store, of all places.

Clean up in aisle 3!

While the tentacles in the promotional collateral betray a more nautical feel, it’s actually Lovecraftian pterodactyl thing-ies that scare the bejeezus out of the townsfolk (some of them, that is. There’s a fire and brimstone preacher lady, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who won’t be swayed and is determined to usher in Armageddon).

The plot is full-on 60s sci fi: not only are there weird and wonderful creatures, there is a strange and secret military experiment being conducted. Camo trucks are driving through town by the dozens. What in god’s name is going on? This is compounded by a strange and bizarre, not to mention scary, weather system, enough to make Al Roker crap his pants (Google that and “White House” if you want some unpleasant reading).

The system is hiding the aforementioned creatures, and dueling groups of townsfolk hunker down in the store, using their wits to do battle with one another, and the creatures, who reproduce themselves by bursting forth smaller creatures from human cocoon cavities, a la Alien. Grossly good stuff.

Toby Jones is once again excellent as the grocery manager, and unlikely hero, along with the more stoic doting dad Thomas Jane. Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is well-cast in the thankless role of resident skeptic/creature luncheon meat.

Stephen King’s vision is both cynical and revelatory, taking potshots at pomo and religious thinking alike.

The Mist, however, has an ending that is seriously downbeat, and would be even by the very dour 70s. Some viewers take umbrage with what they see as a narrative cop out, but it actually adds to the gritty nihilism not too dissimilar from Night of the Living Dead.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast of The Mist]

Poltergeist

In the midst of this pandemic, we are all at home being swallowed up by our screens, so the little girl in Poltergeist is no different in a way.

There’s no getting around it: this one’s iconic and influential, a warm nostalgia bath of 80s goodwill, some amazing performances and cheap ‘n’ cheerful special effects.

Tobe Hooper may have helmed Poltergeist, but there’s no mistaking the Steven Spielberg influence, making this much more Close Encounters of the Third Kind than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in tone and execution, for better or for worse. And horrorphile preference will color perceptions here, though that’s not to say the Spielberg influence means the gore will be tempered. There is one scene in particular that’s almost Fulci-esque.

The Freelings live a run-of-the-mill suburban existence in a planned Orange County community, meant to mirror the experiences Spielberg had growing up in Arizona sprawl, and a kid of Reagan wet-dream.

Steve (Craig T. Nelson) is a developer while wife Diane (JoBeth Williams) takes care of the kids, including Carol Anne, all wide-eyed and bangs. The young girl awakens and begins chatting with a static TV screen, then promptly disappears but not before declaring “they’re here.”

Who are “They?” That’s what Poltergeist gets to the bottom of, as weird goings-on transpire, such as a gnarled stump of a tree that transmogrifies, and a dining room set that does the same, kinda.

A team of para-psychologists join in into investigate, sagging the proceedings with a Ghostbusters-lite feel, before the the film dials it up another for a rip-roaring finale.

The real star here though, is pint-sized medium Tangina, played by Zelda Rubinstein, about whom the late great critic Pauline Kael said [she] “gives the movie new life and makes a large chunk of it work.

***1/4 (out of 5)

[Check out our discussion of Poltergeist on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]