Space fans, set your DVRs! The Challenger Disaster premieres tonight—Saturday, November 16 from 9-11pm ET/PT. It's airing on both Science Channel and Discovery Channel at the same time.
When I heard there would be a movie about the Challenger disaster, I was intrigued—I assumed it would be another documentary, explaining O-rings, launch temperatures, management issues, and so on. (I have been mildly Challenger-obsessed since the day it blew up, and more so after studying the disaster in college.) But when I heard the movie was a drama starring William Hurt as Richard Feynman?! I was hooked.
The Challenger Disaster is Science Channel's first drama. It covers the investigation into the catastrophic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, when all seven crew members died shortly after Challenger lifted off. I remember watching on TV as the craft burst apart, leaving twisting trails of smoke. After the disaster, President Reagan created the Rogers Commission to determine why Challenger failed.
Chairman Rogers (BRIAN DENNEHY). Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel/BBC.
The Rogers Commission and its report were a huge deal, partly because of tensions within the commission itself. Chairman Rogers and physicist Richard Feynman butted heads, and Feynman ended up writing his own appendix to the report, in which he detailed problems with the management culture at NASA. Feynman opened with this little zinger (emphasis added):
It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask "What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?"
Feynman also wrote about the experience in his book, What Do You Care What Other People Think? In The Challenger Disaster, we see a dramatization of that work—a reasonably faithful record of what happened, but employing dramatic license to add tension here and there. The movie is interesting both for newcomers and people who are familiar with the story, though the latter might find Hurt's portrayal of Feynman a little more sober than what we might expect.
(L-R) General Kutyna (BRUCE GREENWOOD), Chairman Rogers (BRIAN DENNEHY), Sally Ride (EVE BEST). Photo courtesy of Science Channel/BBC/Patrick Toselli.
The Challenger Disaster deals with a grim, technical topic without getting mired in the grimness nor the technical bits—but it does give us enough of each to understand what's happening. The most interesting parts of the story are when we come to understand the politics of the situation. In those moments, we see the tension between Feynman's scientific instincts and the political maelstrom that surrounds him. The man had guts. The weakest moments are the repeated (and frankly ham-fisted) nods to Feynman's cancer. It's hard to go ten minutes in this movie without another reference to Feynman's mortality and his refusal to accept it; while this is probably largely true, it plays on the screen as hero worship. But all in all, this is a terrific movie, particularly for a TV movie. Tune in tonight.
A companion documentary (that I have not yet seen) airs on Monday, November 18 at 10pm ET/PT on Science Channel. Entitled Feynman: The Challenger, it covers Feynman's life and work, including his involvement with The Manhattan Project. I'll be tuning in for that one too.
Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.
But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace.
In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly.
Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff.
Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.
1. THANKSKILLING (2009)
Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)
2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.
3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.
4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)
This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.
5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)
To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.
6. KRAMPUS (2015)
Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.
7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)
“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.
8. JACK FROST (1997)
No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.
9. ELVES (1989)
Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.
10. SINT (2010)
The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.
11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)
Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.
12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)
Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.
13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)
Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.
14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)
If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.
15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)
Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”