Category Archives: monsters
Oh what a monthit’s been here on the blog with a slew of great contributions fromauthors and bloggers. Look, if you haven’t had a chance to pore overthe Monster Movie Marathon guest posts, I urge you to do so becauseeverybody did a fantastic job. So many aspects of monster movies werecovered, and monsters in general, and because of that I kind of feellike I should apologize for taking the tone to a kindergarten level.But it is my blog after all, so if I want to reminisce aboutmy childhood some more, I will.
I didn’t become abig fan of monsters until probably my teen years, but the seed wassewn way back when I was a little boy. Looking back there were a slewof monsters I saw in movies and on television–not to mention thechildren’s books–so I thought I’d offer up a fave five list of myfavorite monsters from childhood. Don’t tell me there aren’t at leasta couple from your childhood too, that you hold dear.
5) Gizmo(Gremlins): I wasprobably ten years old when I first saw Gremlinsand lemme tell ya, when those cuddly critters ate after midnight andmetamorphosed they freaked me right out of my own skin. I think JimHenson’s Workshop worked on the character design for these guys(correct me if I’m wrong). In any case, Gizmo was absolutelyadorable. I mean come on, don’t tell me you didn’t want one just likehim when you were a kid. Sure, they were higher maintenance than aprize poodle, but what dog could compete with such a cute littleface.
Andif you consider Gremlins2 the cuteness factoronly skyrockets. Remember the scene where he straps on the redbandana like Rambo and starts fashioning his own bow and arrows.Effin’ sweet. Yes, the movie was kind of crap–but in a good way.
4) Beast Man (He-Manand the Masters of the Universe):When I comes across the occasional episode of He-Manwhile channel surfing, Ihave a hard time figuring out just what the heck I loved so muchabout that show. The animation was recycled to a ridiculous degree,the plots were utterly silly, and talk about an unrealistic settingof the bar for a boy with body image issues. The entire male cast ofthis show had to be on some magical form of steroids.
Anyway,one of the many thugs under Skeletor’s employ was Beast. He was anorange, musclebound halfwit that got thrown around by He-Man probablymore than any other villain–maybe Lockjaw took more thumpings perepisode, but it’d be a close call. Still, the character design wasgreat, and despite being an ineffectual villain the guy struck animposing image when on screen. Of course, he’d open his mouth and theintimidation factor went out the window, but the same could be saidfor every characteron that show. I have a soft spot for the orange galoot though, so Ihad to put him on the list.
3) The TazmanianDevil (Looney Tunes): Lessmonster than marsupial perhaps, but I say the adorable holy terrorcounts so he’s on the list. He’s dumb as a post with sharp claw andteeth, and a ravenous appetite for destruction. Honestly, Daffy Duckhas long been my favorite WB cartoon character, but I’ve got a softspot for Taz. He was one of the villains that I rooted for as achild. Him and Wile E. Coyote.
My memory is a bit foggy, but I don’t think there were many vignettesmade with Taz. I should hit YouTube and see what I can find. Lordknows there are a ton of Coyote sketches. But they’d have to be fromthe early era of WB for me to enjoy them. All the cartoons they didafter 1960 really lost their appeal. It’s those ones from the 40s and50s that are really special to me, in terms of animation style andtone. Sigh, now I really need to go find a Tazmanian Devil cartoon.
2) The Wolfman(Hilarious House of Frightenstein) -I’m not sure if anyone outside of Canada even got this show. Maybe acouple New England stations. Anyway, this was one of my absolutefavorite kids shows when I was growing up. Hosted by VincentPrice–yes, THE Vincent Price–it was basically a sketch comedy andvariety show. There was Dracula, Igor, Frankenstein, the Witch, and afew other zany characters. The vast majority of which were played byone man. But the character I dug the most was the Wolfman
I don’t know who was doing the make-up for this show, but the Wolfmanwas one of the most convincing jobs on the show. And for a campyCanadian children’s show that’s a remarkable achievement. The Wolfmanwas the house DJ of sorts, spitting out a whole lot of radio discjockey cliches with some punny monster gags, then he’d play a classicrock song. Maybe there was some disco thrown in–it was an oldshow–but I’ve blocked those memories out. Throw in a psychedelicbackdrop as he and Igor danced to the songs, and the sketch was justmesmerizing for a kid like me.
1) Super Grover(Sesame Street): I couldhave populated this entire list with Jim Henson’s Muppets, but Iforced myself to keep it to one. Just about everything I loved aboutSesame Streethad something to do with monsters. There was the two-headed monsterwho fought with itself, the aliens who beamed into homes and marveledover household objects, and Cookie Monster of course. Picking onethat was a constant joy to watch though, I gotta go with Grover. Notjust Grover. SuperGrover!
Groverhad to be the most artless andlikablecharacters on SesameStreet.He was a dimwit and a clutz, but so genuine a personality it wasimpossible not to smile when he was on TV. The little sketches whereGrover talked to little kids were surreal in that I could easilysuspend disbelief, ignoring it was just some guy with a hand puppet.That was Jim Henson’s magic, though. Those Muppets, more often thannot, felt as real as the people on the show. So when Grover put on ared cape and a steel helmet to become Super Grover, my eyes wereglued to the screen.
Well, there’s my list. I’m interested to know what you’re list mightlook like, so feel free to leave a comment and share what yourfavorite monsters were when you were a little kid.
by Jeff Strand
Delirium Books (2009)
It’s been a little while since I read a book that nearly made me retch. If I was keeping a daily tally on how long it’s been since the last time a book managed to make me a bit queasy, I’d have to set it back to zero now. It’s not a gore fest, mind you, but there were just a couple scenes that really made me cringe. Body horror has a way of doing that to me. What kind of horror fan am I?
So, this is a novel about Benjamin Wilson–and his parasite. Well, technically it’s not his, so much as it’s the property of a top secret project, and it just happens to wind up inside Benjamin after a tangled series of events, which is capped off with him having to shoot one of his students in self-defense when the boy goes on a seemingly random psychotic rampage. After that traumatic event, he begins to experience some strange cravings and inhibitions are lowered. Basically his every latent compulsion and desire is coming to the surface, sometimes when he’s not even aware of it.
Then there’s that searing pain in his stomach.
This novel is a quick, crazy read. And, it’s not just a horror novel, as there is a wild kind of road story to it, too. That’s because Benjamin is saved early on from certain death by a femme fatale bountyhunter who abducts him and tries to get him to the folks responsible for the parasite, so they can get it out of him. There are others who are aware of the parasite too though, and will stop at nothing to get it–whether Benjamin lives or dies in the process. Gunfights, car chases, double crosses, etc.
Benjamin is an amiable character and easy to root for, but there are moments when he is hip deep in the action and it feels like he is just taking it all in stride. Like, he’s in such an incredibly unheard of onslaught of circumstances and he still maintains an aloof sense of humor at times. Most of the time he is freaking out and scared shitless, so that helps, but his wisecracking feels overdone once in a while.
Other than that gripe, this is great pulpy horror/action novel, and it served as a great sample of Jeff Strand’s work. I’m eager to read more of his work down the road.
Dinocroc Vs. Supergator
starring Corey Landis, Amy Rasimas, and David Carradine
written by Jay Andrews and Mike MacLean
directed by Jay Andrews
Anchor Bay (2010)
Oh, Roger Corman, you do love your killer beasts, don’t you?
In a production of slighter higher caliber than a SyFy Channel schlockfest, this slice of B-movie heaven stars two CGI monstrosities and a squad of actors whose talents are even more frightening than the creatures hunting them.
Do you really need a plot? Okay, fine. There’s a secret research lab situated on a picturesque island oasis, and its two research specimens, a giant alligator and a mutated crocodile that looks like it’s been crossbred with a T-Rex, have escaped to wreak havoc on all the tasty humans on the island. And it’s up to a sexy game warden, her doting sheriff of a father, a supposedly swarthy undercover agent, and a mercenary called the Cajun–don’t you just love that–to stop the beasts before they devour everyone on the island.
If you’ve ever seen a Roger Corman film, you’ll know what to expect: bad acting, blood, and boobs. And this movie has plenty of all three.
Now, I may be spoiling things for you, but the title of the movie says it all: the whole point of the movie is to pit the two giant beasts against one another. But the two creatures don’t actually get to throw down until the final ten minutes. The first eighty minutes are spent having the two monsters pick off random disposable characters in slapdash sequences. The death scenes involving the Supergator are particularly frustrating, because the creature doesn’t really appear on screen like the Dinocroc does. Instead, some meat puppet utters a hammy one-liner before a flash of scales goes across the screen and the actor disappears. Well, there is one scene involving a couple of bikini-clad blondes–easily the two worst actors of the bunch–one of whom gets chomped in two. Other than that, Dinocroc seems to be doing all the dirty work, and doing most of the chasing as it bounds down roads chasing the main cast.
The monsters don’t look terrible, though. I was expecting low resolution garbage akin to those SyFy movies, but the care put into these wound up producing two monsters that were good enough for Jurassic Park’s maybe pile. As for David Carradine, he’s not involved in much of the action, basically sitting poolside and issuing orders with his steely gaze. It wasn’t exactly a movie that did the late legend any favors, but I suppose it paid the bills.
I have been resistant thus far to bother watching Piranha 3D, mainly out of cynical rejection of its appeal to the lowest common denominator, but Dinocroc Vs. Supergator has softened my resolve. Sometimes, it’s okay to watch a terrible movie for the sake of watching of a terrible movie. This movie is proof of that.
Monsters Vs. Aliens
starring Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogan, Will Arnett, Keifer Sutherland, Paul Rudd, and Rainn Wilson
directed by Conrad Vernon
There seems to be an animated movie that pays homage to just about every genre out there, so it’s only right there would be one dedicated to monster movies from the mid-20th century. I used to love those movies as a kid. Ah, who am I kidding–I still love ’em.
Monsters Vs. Aliens actually focuses on one monster movie I’ve never seen though: Attack of the 50 Ft. Tall Woman. I remember the iconic poster for it, but I’ve never had an opportunity to watch it. Susan (Witherspoon) is set to marry the man of her dreams, an ambitious weatherman voiced by Paul Rudd, but while fretting outside the church she’s struck by a meteorite and soon grows to a frightening fifty feet tall–and her hair turns white for some reason. She’s captured by the military and thrown in a prison for monsters until a giant alien probe lands on Earth in search of the substance Susan absorbed to gain her height and powers. Her allies in the battle against aliens include the Missing Link (Will Arnett), the Blob (Seth Rogan), a super-intelligent cockroach (Hugh Laurie), and a giant bug that’s even bigger than Susan.
The plot of this movie is shaky, which could be forgiven considering it’s both a children’s movie and an homage to those cheesy sci-fi movies from the 50s and 60s, but I’ve seen so many high caliber animated movies over the last several years that a film like this needs more than an A-list cast and slapstick. Basically the meterorite that hit Susan had a precious mineral the aliens want, so the chase is on to capture her and extract it. Meanwhile, the U.S. President, aptly voiced by Stephen Colbert, goes into panic mode and authorizes the other monsters to thwart the aliens. Good enough for me.
I didn’t watch this in 3-D, so I couldn’t tell you how that turned out. I will say watching the film in plain ol’ 2-D doesn’t hinder the viewing experience, though the scenes meant for the 3D viewing are blatantly obvious–just like every other 3-D movie. If you’ve got kids that might have a penchant for the weird, this is a good movie to let them watch, and for the grown-ups it is a nice tip of the hat to those movies of yesteryear. Though, I would suggest the adults grab a classic monster movie to work with this one as a double-feature. Maybe Attack of the 50 Ft. Tall Woman or Them!.
written & directed by Andre Ovredal
Alliance Films (2010)
Only on rare occasions does the fake documentary/found footage sty;e of storytelling ever work in movies, even rarer in horror movies. Cloverfield, Quarantine, Diary of the Dead. These are not what I consider particularly good movies, and they’re three of the better films of this genre. So when I heard there was a Norwegian horror film that uses the found footage gimmick to incorporate giant trolls, my expectations weren’t too high. But the idea of a new horror movie with giant trolls was still too tempting to ignore.
The movie starts off by saying the footage was found and examined, but the events shown cannot be verified. Okay, fine. The footage is captured by a trio of student journalists investigating unexplained bear deaths in the forests of Norway. Hunters are up in arms because it’s all apparently the work of a vagabond poacher. The trio eventually track down the poacher, a grizzly middle-aged hunter living in a cramped mobile camper who only hunts at night. They follow him into the woods one night when he leaves the campgrounds, hoping to get footage of him shooting a bear, but what they instead discover are strange lights over the thickly forested horizon, guttural roars that could come from no bear, and the poacher retreating back towards them screaming one word: TROLL!
And with that one line, a mundane mockumentary turns into one of the best monster movies I’ve seen in years. The teens convince the poacher to let them tag along on his hunts, oddly amused and enticed by his assertions there are trolls roaming the countryside at night, and he is the one man in Norway hunting them down. For a while, there’s no sign of actual trolls on camera, much like there was no shark in Jaws beyond allusions to him. The cameraman films treetops swaying wildly as if a giant is pushing its way between them, while the girl with the boom microphone is picking up strange noises that sound less like a wild animal or more like expletives from a Klingon. Then, they see the troll for the first time and all hell breaks loose.
While the CGI effects aren’t perfect, they are more than enough to suck you in, and the three-headed troll that stands three-stories high gives the movie’s first holy shit moment. There’s more than one troll though, as they spends days scouring the countryside hunting them and gathering footage, trying not to get eaten (with various levels of success), evading the government officials trying to confiscate their footage and keep trolls out of the public eye, and learn more about why this trollhunter is so disenfranchised with his lifelong duty to keeping the mythical menace at bay.
There are moments in the movie where the plot strains credulity, but the suspension of disbelief came quite easily for me, and the incredible character designs of some of these trolls, which range from miniscule to gargantuan, were commendable. The subtitles are a pain in the ass at times, but when aren’t they a pain when you’re trying to focus your eyes on the action. At least when the action hits a fever pitch, dialogue becomes inconsequential. I also thought the way aspects of the real world are used to rationalize why trolls aren’t widely known, especially the bigger ones, like high tension power lines on the mountainous landscape are really electric fences to keep them penned in, and the rocky countryside is really a troll graveyard since many trolls turn to stone when they die. It’s a bit cheesy in a way, but I dug the logic employed to explain them.
If you love monsters, you need to see this movie, if for nothing else than to see the trollhunter slap on a suit of homemade armor and duel with a troll literally living under a bridge.
The Caretaker of Lorne Field
by Dave Zeltserman
The Overlook Press (2010)
Some small towns, particularly the ones with a long history, tend to have some lingering traditions and legends that border on the bizarre. In Dave Zeltserman’s The Caretaker of Lorne Field, a groundskeeper tends a field in the middle of the woods, pulling what appear to be weeds, from the spring thaw until the first frost–every single day. His name is Jack Durkin, the Caretaker of Lorne Field, a hallowed position in town that was his birthright and has been the responsibility of every eldest son in the Durkin clan.
Why tend a derelict field of weeds? Because, if he doesn’t, those weeds will grow into monsters that will ravage the earth of every living thing. The creatures are called Aukowies, beastly, ravenous creatures with a malevolence unmatched by anything known to man. The trouble is that the present generation in the town passes off the legend as superstition, and consider Jack Durkin a fool for espousing such malarkey. Even Jack’s wife and two sons don’t believe him when he says he’s saving the world everyday.
The story is a terrific tug-of-war between Jack Durkin and nearly the entire town, particularly his wife, over the existence of the Aukowies and the Contract that binds the Durkin family to Lorne Field. Jack tends the field, wearing the scars of war and the ravages of time, making a modest salary for his deeds. It’s a thankless job. Meanwhile, his wife, Lydia, is resentful and doesn’t believe the Aukowies are anything more than a silly tradition that should have been abandoned decades ago. She lives in poverty and wants something more before she too is withered to the bone.
The book was a little difficult to get sucked into at first, because Jack and Lydia are both utterly unlikable characters in the beginning. Hard-bitten, caustic, and verbally abusive, neither of them really present themselves as sympathetic characters, rather a bitter, old married couple reaching the end of their rope. As the story develops though, and the two sons come into play–the eldest highly resistant to becoming the next Caretaker–and Jack’s relationships with certain townsfolk become clear, it becomes a hard book to put down.
The generation gaps are widely apparent and exploited to great effect. And the growing question of Jack’s sanity becomes very taut, as his wife and others in town conspire to undermine his duties in Lorne Field so he will be forced to give up what they consider an insane tradition that needs to be erased. Zeltserman presents opposing points of view that keep you guessing until the final chapter whether Jack Durkin is right or simply insane.
Some of the dialogue in the beginning of the novel between Jack and Lydia feels very tinny, and created a bit of a stumbling block for me as I tried to get into it. Once I got about a third of the way through, that kind of fell away and I realized that two people who have lived such a limited existence, stuck in a small house together under trying circumstances for decades, are bound to speak in repetitive and grating tones.
I’d definitely recommend this book for folks looking for something off the beaten path in their horror and speculative fiction. There’s a hint of The Twilight Zone to the story, with the small town playing host to an extraordinary legend. And there’s a hint of Alfred Hitchcock too, with the mounting tension inside the Durkin family. A couple of the little twists in the story are telegraphed to the point you can see exactly how the next scene will play out, but the story still works.
Zeltserman’s bread and butter is apparently with crime and mystery fiction, but he’s got the chops when it comes to horror, too.