The Lucky 13: Week Two: Creature Features/Monster Movies
Intro by Marc Patterson
Well it’s week two of The Lucky 13, our ongoing summer long project where we’ve teamed up with B Sol and crew at The Vault of Horror to present some of our favorite films across thirteen sub-genres of horror. We got off to one hell of an awesome start last Saturday with the exploitation/grindhouse picks. It was great to see what the folks at Vault of Horror had picked out. And of course I had to start pimping my side blog – The Sounds of Fear – by getting it in on the action.
This week we take a slightly different tone. We explore the monstrous side of horror with Creature Features and Monster Movies. At first this sounded like something that might allude directly towards some of the classics, and certainly those are represented, but I was pleasantly surprised in some of the selections that came out of this weeks round up. So without further ado, in no particular order, are our favorite picks! And make sure to stop by The Vault of Horror to see what they have!
Annie Riordan on The Thing:
Summertime’s a-comin’, and here in the NorCal valley where the fires burn bright, the wind never blows, and the sun glows an apocalyptic red, that means temps averaging 103 from June to mid-October. I hate the heat, and no amount of iced tea, electric fans, or blue Otter Pops can cure my summer blues. Instead, I seek solace in Antarctica, the frozen Coney Island of my mind.
As soon as those triple digits hit, I pop John Carpenter’s The Thing into the DVD player and watch it on an endless loop. The colorless tundra, the subzero windchill factor, the tiny icicles embedded in Kurt Russell’s beard…what can I say? It helps. It beats the shit out of standing naked in front of my fridge, anyway. Oh yeah, and it also contains a multitude of slimy, ooze-expelling tentacled monsters with a talent for turning people inside out and leaving gory trails of burst organs and green pus in their wake.
Based on the 1938 short story “Who Goes There?” (which suspiciously bears a very strong resemblance to H.P. Lovecraft’s 1931 short story “At The Mountains of Madness” – hurm, is that plagiarism I smell?) John Carpenter’s The Thing – itself a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 film of the same name – will always have a special place in my diseased little heart. It was the very first gorefest I ever saw, sneaking out into the living room late at night as a pre-teen to catch a showing on Showtime or HBO or whatever. My jaw dropped when the dog’s head split open like a banana peel, I jumped with Kurt Russell when the alien blood screamed beneath a hot needle, I very nearly wet the couch when Norris’s chest exploded open in a gaping, hellish maw of serrated teeth. I worshipped special effects man Rob Bottin from that day forth and praised the Gods of Facial Hair for enrobing Russell’s peninsula-sized jaw and thereby making him reasonably attractive for once.
The paranoia, the bleak nihilism and the utter lack of anything even remotely female (except for Kurt Russell’s cheatin’ bitch of a video chess game) was a perfect fit for my Jr. High tormented psyche, like a undetectable brain tumor. I wanted to be there amongst the pot-smoking, eff-word using, flamethrowing badasses. And so I steadfastly continue my annual pilgrimage to Antarctica once the sun begins to burn my deathly pallor, making the journey where few men dare, fewer women care and always emerging victorious. I will be more than happy to spend the rest of this summer tied to my fucking couch.
I’ve been sitting here deliberating for days, and I mean days, over exactly how I want to describe my feelings on what could possibly be the best horror film to ever have come out of Korea. But I keep coming up with nothing. It couldn’t possibly be writer’s block. I mean, I love this film. The only thought that comes to mind is, BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING AWESOME! Really, is there anything more to say than that? A giant fucking prehistoric looking monster rises from the riverbed and starts munching on humans like they are a snack pack of Chips Ahoy cookies. Folks that come in contact with the monster, but haven’t been consumed, are quarantined by military officials. In the meantime, quarantine seems to be the only thing the government can do well. They can’t sort their head from their ass and is essentially rendered powerless. If all this isn’t enough, sitting center stage, in the middle of all the action it is this odd and endearing family that comes together like a dysfunctional form of The Waltons. Okay… maybe the Walton’s bit was too much. Dyfunctional though? Definitely. Either way, they are a lot of fun to watch I can’t help but look at the goofy bleach blond Song Kang-ho as the Korean equivalent of Nick Frost.
For me this film works on a variety of levels. On the surface this can be watched as nothing more than a super fun creature feature flick. If you were okay to simply go that route this film would still rock. There’s plenty of well paced action from top to bottom. But dig beneath the surface and things get downright insane. Like Godzilla it deals with some pretty heavy handed political sub-text. It’s an anti-government film no doubt. Some might go so far as to call it downright anti-American. Director Bong Joon-ho grew up surrounded by American military, and it’s no mistake that it’s an American at the beginning of the film that tells his Korean counterpart to dump all the formaldehyde down the drains. It’s this move that causes the creature to rise from the deep. Which moves us to the next bit of sub-text – the environment. Dump nasty chemicals down the drain and big monsters are going to rise up to punish you for punishing nature. Then there’s the outbreak itself, and the fear it breeds. All oddly reminiscent of the various biological outbreaks we’ve dealt with over the past few years. SARS of course was the big one at that time. Since then we’ve had all sorts of neat stuff to include the famous Swine flu.
So why do I love The Host so much? Because it’s fucking awesome! It’s so awesome it’s not even an opinion. It’s a fact. You can look it up.
I love monsters. While my desire for horror may sometimes ebb with the tide, and I may find myself growing weary of the endless hordes of slasher flicks and rape-happy cannibal hillbillies, I will always be down to see a new monster.
What’s better than one monster? Like, five monsters. And so, I will say that Monster Squad is probably one of my most-watched movies of all time, just for a few good gags and a plentiful array of beasties. I can recall a time in Elementary School when my friends and I probably rented that movie once every weekend.
But, I’m not going to get into any detail about Monster Squad, because I’ll bet you Ten Bucks that Ben is going to. Christ, it’s in his Avatar.
So instead, I’m going to tout the awesomeness of a lesser-known monster flick: Equinox.
Equinox is, at the same time, a great movie and a terrible one. It can pull this off by having two distinctly different cuts of the film, one of which includes about 30 minutes of padding added by the distributor to make it a ‘full length’ film, put together years after the original shoot. Watch in awe as the teens in question suddenly change clothes and grow/lose sideburns!
The great core story, though, focuses on a group of kids as they search through the remains of their professor’s house, and discover that he was researching the Necronomicon. Their plight, and the film’s great stop-motion FX work, features a trio of monstrosities, including a fantastic ‘tentacle monster implosion’ that starts the film off with a bang, and culminates on a guided tour of hell. All of this is a testing ground for FX wizard Dennis Muren, who would go from this to be the models and miniatures maestro for Star Wars, The Abyss, Terminator 2, and more. The impact this obscure little horror flick has had on summer popcorn cinema is beyond belief. Imagine my shock when I found that, without Equinox, the nerdy sci-fi and horror flicks that made my adolescence worthwhile would never have existed.
If you get the Criterion release of the film, you can watch the two versions side by side, and see a svelt, well-paced short horror flick that showcases an hour of solid monster visuals, and you can also check out the schlocky, slow, kind of stupid theatrical cut that eventually replaced it. Either way you can’t help but marvel and the demonic, hellish, stop-motion monstrosities brought to life by this little band of student film-makers.
Don’t presume to know the workings of my mind, Mr. Hall. And pay up ten dollars to every person who reads this.
Heh. Okay, okay, I’ll admit I was a hair’s breadth away from writing about The Monster Squad this week. It is indeed my absolute favourite film ever, and of course boasts the classic Universal monsters. But I’m going to save it for another time. Really, if we’re talking ‘creature feature’, that term implies something a little more than Drac, Frank, and co. Something that goes beyond the confines of humanoid shape and stature. Something really, really BIG.
But even more than that, creature features are about how people band together in the face of adversity, pooling their collective knowledge and abilities, formulating theories about the foe they face, hatching plan upon plan to outwit their opponent and stay alive. Tensions mount, tentative romances blossom, and much vaguely plausible sounding scientific waffle is spewed in the interim. And to my mind, no movie does this format in a more entertaining fashion than Tremors.
This tale of the carnivorous subterranean behemoths attacking the citizens of Perfection, Nevada is – pun intended – monster movie perfection. First off, there’s the wonderfully evocative desert setting. Next, a hugely likable cast, topped off by the tremendous chemistry between Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as the local handymen heroes Val and Earl; Finn Carter’s college seismologist Rhonda, intellectual without being a bookworm nerd cliche; and Michael Gross’s survivalist gun nut Burt, who somehow wound up the figurehead of the series in the subsequent lacklustre sequels and TV series. They’re all time-honoured, larger than life movie archetypes, but never do they lapse into caricature (though Gross may come close); never do they cease to be sympathetic, relatable characters who you actually want to see succeed, as opposed to a bunch of nitwits you can’t wait to see eviscerated. The Graboids themselves may not be the most aesthetically pleasing monster ever conceived, but hey, they get the job done – and they’re 100% practical, one of the many things that makes the original superior to the bad CG-addled sequels. Anyway, as with the best of all monster movies, most of the thrills come from the suggestion of their presence, a la Jaws, which the famous poster amusingly homages.
Indeed, the poster’s sly nod to Jaws encapsulates well the tone of the movie: self-aware without being smart-arse, witty without being smug – a far cry from much of the allegedly ‘post-modern’ 90′s horror that came in the wake of Scream. Likewise, while it may sport the odd curse word (generally followed with a “pardon my French”), and there may be a few instances of thick and gloopy gore, it’s pretty family-friendly overall. Put simply, there’s a sense of warm, wholesome fun about Tremors that makes it so endearing and re-watchable. Yes, I realise I’m writing this for a site called Brutal As Hell, but what can I say. Sometimes I like that little bit more soft and cuddly. And Tremors manages that, even with images of workman’s helmets dripping with brains, Victor Wong being eaten alive Quint-style, and giant worm creatures getting pumped full of several hundred bullets and blown to a pulp with dynamite.
Who doesn’t love a good monster movie? I mean, in the world of horror, it’s not hyperbole to say that it might be the most fun of all the sub-genres. Otherworldy creatures, epic battles, rampaging destruction: monster movies have it all.
There are ton of monster movies that I absolutely love, films like Pumpkinhead, The Mist, and all the classic Universal and Hammer horror films. But for this particular entry, I had to talk a little about my favorite monster if all time. He’s the biggest, the baddest, the city destroyinest. He is Gojira. Check out my video to find out why.