Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Natasha Henstridge versus the Coordinated Cockblock Quintet: SPECIES (1995)

If you're human, chances are you have sexual fantasies about the wrong people. Danger, plain and simple, is hot. But if true danger comes your way then watch as as an array of problems--cockblocking friends, early arriving parents, lack of a condom, no erection, sudden eruptions of crying, or your own latent good sense-- conspire to save you, in a sense, from yourself. Would knowing the truth about Sil, the half-alien sex machine played by Natasha Henstridge in the 1995 classic SPECIES, make any difference if she threw herself into my arms? Your arms, I mean. God, what is wrong with me?

Sil's allure is there for a particular set of reasons: a Venus Flytrap genetic con job CATFISH type, i.e. her hot model profile is a front for an ugly Bride of Frankenstein haired silver CGI mess of a mutant. CATFISH gets high praise, but SPECIES (1995) gets a bad rap just because it's got huge flaws and an overly sexy plot, but I never want to see CATFISH ever again... Once onscreen and six or seven times in my own life was enough.

The dialogue is laughable in spots, but it's good to laugh, sometimes, as those Catfish dates can really leave their scars. THE ASTOUNDING SHE-MONSTER, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, PLAN NINE --they are laughable too, and look at the love they get! From me! A film's unique badness DNA can sometimes touch on aspects of the human experience more mainstream 'better' films--chained up in groupthink second-guessing--cannot. A certain breed of science fiction and horror film can sneakily go where no one else can. They get deep into the reasons we, or at least I, love movies that seem like they're being told by an excited eight year-old.

She's drowning a man as we speak
Looking to breed with any man not encumbered by faulty genes, Sil is every straight teenage boy fantasy come to life, or rather death, the death drive desire made flesh, the kind of fantasy only boys who've never had a hot girl come violently onto them at a coke party would dare nurture. As the scientist who tried to gas her with cyanide before she bolted, Fitch (Ben Kingsley) would say, "She's... that fast."

 You would think such a dire threat would warrant a call out to the National Guard, or at least inspire proper tailoring, but Fitch moseys around Sil's bloody trail in an oversize suit jacket and black T-shirt combo already quite passé by 1995, with a 'hand-picked team' of four civilian consultants: sociologist Stephen (Alfred Molina); 'hand-picked' telepath, Dan (Forest Whitaker, mouthing profundities like "her eyes are in front... her eyes in front so she can judge the distance to her prey"); MILF-ish Dr. Laura (Marg Helgenberger); and tough guy Preston (Michael Madsen). He and Dr. Laura forge the only non-dysfunctional relationship in the film, or indeed in any other. They let you know it is possible.

For the unattractive nerd trio of Dan, Stephen, and Fitch, though, Sil's chosen killing floor, Los Angeles, is a hostile, uncaring place and, as they are all Oscar-nominated actors (two of them winners), that alienation and nerdy reticence is felt very keenly in SPECIES. When Preston asks a club owner if any playas left with any hot blondes before they got there, he notes she'd pick "only prime players, no assholes." Suddenly the whole depressing shill of night life is felt in their and our bones. The night seems to descend on them all and everyone's inner lonesome here at this crowded club is stifling. By assholes, of course, Preston could easily mean himself, and particularly this nerd quintet he's with, a gaggle of merciless cockblockers with the power to call down air strikes on her car or trace her stolen credit cards before her current victim can even get, as they say, the tip in.

With its 'mobile population' and sun-baked facade of cheery affluence and anonymous isolation, Los Angeles bends and shifts to accommodate Sil's killing/sex spree, welcoming her based solely on her looks, which is all L.A. pretends to be about, wishes it could be satisfied with with a professionally feigned smile. The team of humans scrambling after her mimic the way the mainstream follows hipster artists into gentrified neighborhoods, eager to live in thriving artistic center, and in so doing turning said 'hood into just another overpriced chain store strip mall, forcing the young artists to be on the road again, ever searching for a sanctuary from the tedium of the country's Fitches. Los Angeles not only hides Sil, it is Sil.

And damning the empty shell of L.A. is just one bomb dropped in SPECIES: subtextually it explores aspects of media saturation no high budget movie would dare. Models smile blandly on every available screen and page, and unless we work in Soho or have friends who are rich with sound nasal passages and who still invite us to parties, we seldom see them in the flesh. This is only natural; our fantasies are never meant to come true, by definition. It's best to look that gift horse in the mouth and search for retractible fangs, but we never do. In an age of digital surface only L.A. has depth, since it's where the beauty goes to be pixelated. It's the jumping in point. The zombie Angelinos Sil encounters never dare register themselves as more than easily dispatched cliches lest their humanity unnerve the system. In her aching beauty Henstridge's Sil embodies all the potential they lack. She breathes something into the emptiness. It's death, but at least it's something. With Sil you're seduced by the surface and then gutted by the ugly CGI banshee within, BUT you get a five minute window to mate with 3-D perfection before you're suffocated by that digital Giger tongue.

She's gone onto some dreadful things (see: She Spies, I Get Sad, one of my very first posts on this site) and had children, which has removed some of her aching aloof draw, giving her other things instead--like a wry self-deprecation and maternal resonance. All that is clear, in fact, in the other classic Henstridge film, John Carpenter's GHOSTS OF MARS (2001), wherein Henstridge shines as the druggie cop who teams with Ice Cube to battle Goth zombie mutants. It's an underrated comedy masterpiece, GHOSTS OF MARS (2001) is, and one of my favorite sci fi-action-horror-comedy films. Check out my piece from Acidemic #1, Death-Driving Ms. Henstridge.

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