Tag Archives: Monster

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: PHASE IV (1974)

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DIRECTED BY: Saul Bass

FEATURING: Nigel Davenport, Michael Murphy, Lynne Frederick

PLOT: Following a mysterious cosmic event, ants in a remote corner of Arizona are acting strangely, and a pair of scientists are out to determine if the insects’ behavior has implications for the future of humanity.

Still from Phase IV (1974)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Given the parts and tools needed to make a monster movie, a master of Hollywood imagery chooses instead to make a kind of video essay envisioning humans and ants becoming one in a sort of neurological singularity. Surprise of surprises, no one really got it, but it lingers in the memory as an example of genre filmmaking providing a platform for genuinely idiosyncratic visions. The film, like its director, is one of a kind.

COMMENTS: Saul Bass is the strangest kind of movie legend. While everyone else was trying to earn fame as an actor or an auteur, or the more adventurous hoped to become a household name as a writer or a composer, Bass carved out a lasting legacy as a master of marketing and design. His graphic skills are still revered as some of the finest and most memorable film posters and title sequences (the latter in partnership with his wife, Elaine) ever devised for the medium. He built a second career for himself as the creator of some uncommonly memorable corporate logos, and his distinctive style even earned him his own Google Doodle. His skill at capturing a movie’s mood soon carried over into the filmic storytelling itself: what could have been a simple end credit sequence to Around the World in Eighty Days became a six-minute animated epic retelling of the tale audiences had just sat through; some accounts (including that of Bass himself) give him credit for crafting Psycho’s iconic shower sequence; and his own dabblings in short filmmaking earned him three Oscar nominations, claiming the short documentary prize for “Why Man Creates.”

All this is to say, when you sit down to watch the sole feature film that Bass ever helmed, you should know not to expect anything traditional or commonplace. Yet audiences and executives alike seem to have been completely unprepared for the kind of movie that Bass intended to make. The subject matter suggests a B-movie with cheap thrills, a la Empire of the Ants or Kingdom of the Spiders. To think that Saul Bass would get control of a film and make something  uninspired is to fail to read the man at all.

For one thing, it’s probably the most delicately paced nature-on-a-rampage movie ever made. Like a metaphysical take on The Andromeda Strain, the film pits methodical scientists against a mysterious phenomenon they are just beginning to understand, and we see their step-by-step process as they test out pesticides and make halting first steps at communication. It feels real, if not suspenseful; the closest thing we have to a ticking clock is the ever-present threat of the government withdrawing a funding. It’s a thriller for tenured university professors.

Bass and screenwriter Mayo Simon are far less interested in the human side of the tale. With the scientists played by the classically arrogant Davenport and the determinedly milquetoast Murphy, and Frederick’s ingenue mainly present to facilitate the ending and to provide the geography for an entertainingly creepy ant’s-eye tour, there’s not much to latch onto. It’s not as though you’re rooting for them to die, but you’re definitely not invested in whether or not the scientists live. Especially when you’ve got the convincingly creepy world of the ants to reckon with. From their 2001-style monolithic creations on the Arizona plains (Arizona being played, oddly enough, by Kenya) to their elaborate funeral ceremonies, the bugs are where it’s at. The close-up photography of Ken Middleham (who cut his teeth capturing similar up-close insect footage for The Hellstrom Chronicle) is absorbing and brings character and nuance to the ant populace, in a way that no present-day CGI take on the material could ever manage.

Adding Phase IV to our list might have been a no-brainer, had the producers not chosen to cut a four-minute chunk out of the movie’s finale. The released cut leaves you with an enticing uncertainty, as the surviving humans are left to contemplate their unknown future. But that’s nothing compared to the original vision (recently rediscovered and offered on a French Blu-Ray release and as an iTunes extra), in which the transcendental implications of the coming conjunction of life on Earth are explored and the true meaning of the film’s title is revealed. With Dalí-esque landscapes, an unsettling soundscape created by Stomu Yamashta, and a cacophonous mix of solarization, overlaid imagery, and off-kilter angles, it almost manages to capture the unseeable vision of a biosphere transformed. In some respects, it’s the greatest Saul Bass opening sequence ever: a prelude to the evolution of the human race.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Think of it as the 2001: A Space Odyssey of treacherous ant movies… it’s a gorgeous and strange film to look at, accentuated by Brian Gascoigne’s sparse and eerie electronic score.” – Jim Knipfel, Den of Geek

(This movie was nominated for review by Morgan. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937)

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DIRECTED BY: William C. McGann

FEATURING: , Allen Jenkins, Marcia Ralston, John Eldredge, Elspeth Dudgeon

PLOT: Two policemen, an artist, a femme fatale, a pair of captains, a socialite, and a housekeeper are all trapped in a lighthouse with the Octopus, a criminal overlord, and an octopus, a mollusk, menacing them as they investigate a mysterious murder.

Still from sh! the octopus (1937)

COMMENTS: Sh! The Octopus has something for everybody. Its inspired mash-up of screwball comedy, mystery, horror, science fiction, and melodrama defies categorization, and isn’t for those who tend toward dismissiveness. When a feature film clocks in at under an hour, can be found streaming for free on YouTube, and has been buried in a sea of Reader Suggested titles, all the warning signs are there. I ignored these signs and committed myself to fifty-four minutes of wild gyrations between tiresome comedy and middling comedy, ultimately witnessing a witch-y performance and a narrative punchline that made a certain technicolor 1939 classic feel derivative.

But first, the story. Irish-American cops Kelly and Dempsey are cruising around off duty when they are informed via dispatch that Kelly (Hugh Herbert), who spends his time in the patrol car popping pills of unknown provenance, is about to become a father. Meanwhile, “marine artist” Paul Morgan has purchased an abandoned lighthouse from the federal government to focus on his paintings—a lighthouse with the aptly named “Captain Hook” as its caretaker. Meanwhile, Clancy, another Irish-American, has been appointed as the police commissioner tasked with bringing down a gang-lord known as “the Octopus”. Meanwhile, at the lighthouse, more and more people assemble as the plot spirals outward wildly, revealing that the FBI, the “Society for Peace”, the proto-CIA, and the proto-INTERPOL are all interested in the plans for a Radium Ray—a weapon so powerful that, as the inventor’s daughter informs us, “whoever controls it would control the world!”

That’s a lot of “meanwhiles,” and a lot of Irish-Americans. And that’s the kind of movie this is: your basic “haunted house” framework with every conceivable plot-graft bolted on to it (probably by some Irish-American workers). I’m a fan of screwball comedy, and so had more patience for what was going on than most would, but I still was wondering what all these gyrations could possibly be in aid of. However, there was a twist at the end that left me chuckling for a good fifteen minutes after the lighthouse exploded. (Whoops; spoiler alert.) Sh! The Octopus is a barely passable movie, to be sure, but it does have that twist. And it’s a concise bit of nonsense for the more stereotypically minded on St. Patrick’s Day.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Probably the weirdest little film made by a studio during the Golden Age of Hollywood.”–Phil Hall, Film Threat

 

CAPSULE: GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) AND THE “GODZILLA: THE SHOWA-ERA FILMS, 1954–1975” BOX SET

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DIRECTED BY: Yoshimitsu Banno

FEATURING: Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase, Toshio Shiba, Keiko Mari

PLOT: Hedorah, a monster created from earth’s excessive pollution, wreaks havoc on Japan.

Still from Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
COMMENTS: “Hedorah is a monster of our own making.” In the intro we see Hedorah rise from some sludgy gloop floating in the ocean. The creature attacks freighters and factories and at the same time inhales the pollution they emit to grow larger and more powerful. A young boy and his marine biologist father are on the case, and soon discover the origins of the creature and why and how it is evolving.

The child is the film’s protagonist. He seems to have a connection with Godzilla. He knows Godzilla is coming before he appears. Like the original 1954 Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Hedorah comes with a strong message about the harm man can do: Godzilla was awoken by hydrogen bomb tests, Hedorah is an alien being made massive and powerful by pollution.

At this point in the Godzilla series, the King of the Monsters has been both an enemy of mankind, and sometimes somewhat of a hero. At the story’s climax walls of electricity are set up in hopes of frying Hedorah. When the generator fails, Godzilla lends man a hand with his breath. As a child, I loved Godzilla as the hero; it’s something I’ve never grown out of.

There is, of course, also a final battle between the two creatures. If you come to Godzilla flicks for the creature fights, you will be rather disappointed here. This Godzilla reminds me a little of one of the Three Stooges putting on goofy moves, shrugging and shuffling about. And Godzilla flying through the air?! What was that? I suppose Hedorah would be a slippery sucker to grab at, being a pollution monster. He starts out looking like a giant sperm, but evolves into a flying saucer shape, and eventually takes an upright form. Hedorah is not one of Toho’s more effective monsters, visually, but he does more damage than most.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah is a unique entry among the Godzilla Showa era films. It is the only film in the series that I am aware of that includes psychedelic imagery and animated sequences. These elements are unusual for Godzilla, but there is nothing particularly weird about them for a film from the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah has its goofy moments, but at times is actually quite grim. The poisonous toxin emitted by Hedorah kills instantly and the film has a significant body count . The harsh message of the animated sequences gives the pleasing and colorful animation a disturbing quality. I loved the addition of animation.  I also loved the attractive young couple they added in as secondary characters. All the Continue reading CAPSULE: GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971) AND THE “GODZILLA: THE SHOWA-ERA FILMS, 1954–1975” BOX SET

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER (2019)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Beulah Peters, Erick West, Daniel Long

PLOT: Having lost his father to the claws of the terrible “Lake Michigan Monster,” Captain Seafield assembles a crew of specialists to exact his revenge.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: This movie is very dumb, in a good way, and very derivative, in a good way. Tews creates a scratchy, black and white world à la Guy Maddin in a clever, mindless romp where every rule of narrative is bent as the story crescendos to a dizzying municipal-political climax.

COMMENTSIn the spirit of the movie, this is a DIY review. Feel free to cut and paste the sections below however suits your mood.

Disclaimer: In no way have I been remunerated for the views expressed herein. Fact is, they’d have to more than double the film’s budget to buy my good graces.

Good: There is a jokesy doppelgänger of Guy Maddin at work in Lake Michigan Monster. Ryland Tews captures the Canadian auteur’s aesthetic—grainy black and white, mythic proportions, and the idolization of a city (though not Winnipeg for this go-around)—and puts it to work for an episodic comedy that would seem ramshackle if it weren’t so charming and also somehow pinned to what just about passes as a story arc for the good Captain Seafielding.

Plot: Assembling a mercenary crew comprising a weapons expert, a N.A.V.Y. drop-out, and a “sonar individual”, Captain Seafielding (Ryland Tews) hopes to hunt and destroy the titular monster that he blames for the murder of his father. With half-baked schemes (à la “Nauty Lady” and other pun-driven titles), he fails again and again until he is abandoned by his hirelings and is forced to summon a ghost army (found, incidentally, in an Episcopal cathedral). After losing all his henchman, worldly and otherwise, he must complete his quest mano-a-beasto.

Weird: Lake Michigan Monster is merely 78 minutes long, but a whole world and mythology is haphazardly crammed into each and every nook. Seafielding begins each outing with a magical, animated map of the action, on which designations for each crew member zip around according to his mad whim. The fourth wall is battered to dust as Seafielding, in character, begins to dismantle the narrative shell that keeps the audience separate from his machinations; we become very much the accomplice in his silly work as the movie goes on. To boot, there are the kind of quips and asides that we’d expect more from popular television.

Opening or Closing: So what is it like to watch this movie? Unless you have some very creative film buddies, it’d be hard to get closer to the core of the crafting experience. Mind you, this isn’t just some dumb evolution of a movie into a movie about movies. This is just some dumb s̶e̶a̶ lake-faring yarn that feels like it’s being told to you live over a glass of bourbon, or whatever that type of whiskey it is you find in Scotland. But there is a gloriousness to its apparent idiocy. No real actors, no fabricated sets, but one heckuva a closing sea shanty await you in this wild and whimsical outing.

You can also listen to our interview with some of the gang responsible for Lake Michigan Monster.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Tews and company have crafted something unique here, an absurdist fever-dream that looks (and sounds) like little else.” -Matt Wild, Milwaukee Record (contemporaneous)

327. GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS (1973)

“Once upon a time, director FREDRIC HOBBS made a sex film called Roseland that turned out to be one of the weirdest, wackiest, oddballest sex films ever made. This time he’s made a monster movie called Godmonster of Indian Flats that, no surprise, is one of the weirdest, wackiest, oddballest monster movies ever made.”–“Something Weird” ad copy for Godmonster of Indian Flats

DIRECTED BY: Fredric Hobbs

FEATURING: , Christopher Brooks, E. Kerrigan Prescott, Steven Kent Browne, Karen Ingenthron

PLOT: When a cowboy is cheated out of his casino winnings by the rough crowd at the local saloon, he drunkenly falls asleep in a nearby stable, where he wakes up next to a strange mutant sheep embryo. A scientist comes across the pair and transports them back to his cavern laboratory, where he attempts to grow the sheep to full size in an effort to exploit its size and strength for good—or evil. Meanwhile, a ruthless land baron schemes to keep his tight grip on his town, using his power and wiles to shut down the machinations of speculators from back east, particularly the credulous representative sent to acquire the property.

Still from The Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • Auteur Fredric Hobbs is a respected artist and sculptor, with work in the permanent collection of the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. He proposed a school of thought called ART ECO, which combines fine art with environmentally conscious living.
  • Hobbs released two films in 1973. The other, Alabama’s Ghost, has been described as a “magic/vampire/voodoo/Nazi/musical blaxploitation tale”. His X-rated musical comedy Roseland from 1971 has never been released on DVD and is hard to find even on VHS, while his first experimental film, 1969’s Troika, is now little more than a lonely IMDB entry. He never made another film after Godmonster.
  • Godmonster is set in and around Virginia City, Nevada, a historic town where Samuel Clemens famously introduced his pen name, Mark Twain. Today, it serves primarily as a tourist district, featuring re-creations of an Old West town, which Hobbs incorporated into the film.
  • icon Erica Gavin has a brief appearance as a bar girl. She’s hard to spot, although she has helpfully posted the first six minutes of the film online to help narrow the search. (Stuart Lancaster was also a Meyer regular.)
  • Ingenue Karen Ingenthron is Hollywood royalty, the granddaughter of The Munsters’ Grandpa Al Lewis.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A bunch of apple-cheeked youngsters enjoying an all-American picnic under the midday sun, blissfully unaware of the mutated, woolly, camel-faced abomination lumbering toward them.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Fake funeral for a furry friend; Mariposa dances with mutton; riot at the old dump

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDGodmonster of Indian Flats has no idea what it’s doing, and it does so with tremendous confidence, flair, and reckless abandon. Cross-breeding two radically different notions—a blatantly silly monster movie and what is either an angry screed against or a secret manifesto for fascist leadership—results in scenes that consistently blow the mind, culminating in a finale that is justly remembered for being outrageously outré.


Something Weird trailer for Godmonster of Indian Flats

COMMENTS: Like the very best of truly bad movies, Godmonster is a Continue reading 327. GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS (1973)

CAPSULE: ONE-EYED MONSTER (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Adam Fields

FEATURING: Jason Graham, Amber Benson, Veronica Hart, , Ron Jeremy

PLOT: At a porn shoot in a remote cabin, an alien possesses Ron Jeremy’s penis and sets about killing the cast and crew.

Still from One-eyed Monster (2008)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird, just a one-joke premise that might have held five minutes worth of comedy, stretched out to feature length.

COMMENTS: A movie about an animated killer penis? Starring (sort of) Ron Jeremy, as himself? It’s both a can’t-miss and a can’t-hit idea. Sure, people will tune in for the high concept, but even if you do your very best, could an idea that sounds like it was thought up during middle school recess work as more than a passable time-waster?

The answer, of course, is “no.”  You may giggle occasionally, but aside from the “writes itself” gimmick, this is by-the-numbers B-filmmaking about attractive people in a cabin being killed by an unseen presence. And I do mean “unseen”: we don’t get our first glimpse of the titular monster until the movie is 2/3 over (spoiler: it’s not worth the wait). Not only that, but this is a movie about a porn shoot that only has one nude scene. In other words, almost everything the target audience tuned in to see—penis monsters, penis monster kills, sex, nudity—occurs offscreen. That leaves us with a very talky movie relying on a few limp industry jokes—such as referring to an actress who’s only been in a hundred adult videos as a “newbie”—while following the Night of the Living Dead playbook by rote (there’s even a scene where the obnoxious white villain locks the noble black hero out of the cabin).

While One-Eyed Monster is generally unexceptional, there are a few high points: some cute moments with a “neurotactile simulator” and a funny, campy Vietnam flashback monologue from a grizzled Charles Napier. But my feeling is that they should have turned this script into an expensive porn movie instead of a cheap horror movie. We use our “” rating sparingly, but One-Eyed Monster comes close to meriting it. It’s not like it’s loathsome—just puerile. Be warned: watching it is a waste of time. (Its 4.2 IMDB rating supports this thesis). You might be cool with wasting your time, though, and if so, have at it. Maybe you’ll get a couple of chuckles out of the deal. The DVD does include a 35-minute reminiscence about the early days of the adult film industry from veteran porn stars Jeremy and Hart, which is a good bit more interesting than the feature film.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There is the postmodern thrill of a film-within-a-film and actors playing themselves – and Jeremy proves particularly sporting in allowing his legendary proportions to be reduced to alien bait…  too short to let any of its more flaccid moments bring it crashing down, and funny enough (at least in a drunken crowd) to make your eyes water.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (festival screening)

(This movie was nominated for review by “philbymon,” who called it “[t]he weirdest thing I’ve seen recently.” We bet he’s topped it by now. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE PIT (1981)

DIRECTED BY: Lew Lehman

FEATURING: Sammy Snyders, Jeannie Elias

PLOT: A psychotic, outcast 12-year old boy talks to his teddy bear and feeds his enemies to creatures who live in a pit in the woods.

Still from The Pit (1981)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Pit is a mish-mash of eerie/weird ideas and frustratingly bad directorial decisions; unfortunately, the latter dominate the former.

COMMENTS: It’s called The Pit, but most viewers would call it “the pits.” If you’re a regular at this website, however, you’re probably not one of them. After all, any movie that has both a creepy kid who talks to his teddy bear (that talks back) and a pit full of flesh-eating monsters (which the psycho-moppet calls “trollogs,” a bastardization of “troglodytes”) has something going for it. That said, The Pit is a big mess, sporadically interesting, but mostly a big tease of the weird movie it could have been in more competent hands. It’s torn between its high-concept psychodrama and its longing to be a drive-in creature feature. It rushes around trying to be all things to all people: it starts out confusingly with an out-of-context killing, inserts gratuitous nude scenes that are often ridiculous (besides peeping on his babysitter, Jamie uses a bizarre and improbable scheme to get a local mom to strip), shoehorns in barnyard comedy, sends out a bunch of guys in furry monster suits to run around in the woods chased by a posse of shotgun-wielding yokels, and epilogues with a nonsensical “twist.” It’s reasonably inept B-movie fun, but it’s not as deranged as it needs to be to earn classic bad movie status. Instead, it’s almost endearingly clumsy, like a lesser effort.

We get that Jamie is ostracized for being a weird kid, but the script goes way too far out of its way to hammer that point home. It’s one thing when his fellow snot-nosed tykes make fun of him, but having little old ladies in wheelchairs loudly insult him when he’s standing in earshot (“just not right, that boy!”) is laying it on too thick. Still, with his bowl haircut cut and a nose that’s growing just slightly faster than the rest of his face, Sammy Snyders is effectively creepy, without being an exceptionally good actor (taking into account his age and the extraordinary demands of the role). He’s in that awkward stage of early adolescence: you can still see fading traces of the cute kid he once was, but he hasn’t yet developed into a young man. He has good facial expressions; his eyes simmer and his lips tremble when he gets frustrated, which happens often. His line readings are a different matter, although it is a challenge for a 12-year old kid to convincingly deliver monologues like “she’s not like the others, Teddy, she’s pretty” to his teddy bear. The awkwardness arguably works in his favor; this is a bad B-movie version of a schizo kid, so a performance that’s a little unconvincing adds an unnerving edge: more evidence that this boy’s “just not right.” And if you’ve got a phobia about creepy, psychotic kids, this one could haunt your nightmares.

This is director Lew Lehman’s only feature. Screenwriter Ian A. Stuart complained that he made a hash out of the story, which was written as a serious thriller about a disturbed kid (everything was supposed to be all in Jamie’s head).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… there’s no argument that I can perceive that makes The Pit a legitimately effective motion picture. Its deranged tone, bizarre characters, and a loopy structure that makes the 97-minute running time seem every bit of 20 minutes longer than the filmmakers were ready for all contribute to make certain of that.”–Tim Brayton, Alternate Ending (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Patrick,” who called it “[a]n utterly bizarre 80s horror film .” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)