Tag Archives: Monster

CAPSULE: KING KONG LIVES (1986)

DIRECTOR: John Guillermin

FEATURING: Peter Elliot, George Antoni, Brian Kerwin, Linda Hamilton

PLOT: As the title explains, Kong didn’t die at the end of the previous film, and this time round he gets a girlfriend—one his own size for a change. Do they live happily ever after? No, of course not. Mean-spirited people attack them with assorted military hardware. Much hilarity ensues!

Still from King Kong Lives (1986)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The only weird thing about it is that somebody thought it was a good idea to spend $10,000,000 (and that’s in 1986 money) coiling out this howling clunker.

COMMENTS: The 1976 remake of King Kong was never exactly a masterpiece, but it cost $24,000,000 and made $80,000,000, and in Hollywood, that’s what counts. So, ten tears later, producer Dino De Laurentiis (whose industry nickname “Dino De Horrendous” wasn’t altogether unjust) gave the director of the first film, John Guillermin, a crack at the sequel. The catch? As attentive readers will have noticed, his budget was less than half what they gave him previously. Since it was universally agreed that one of the major failings of the first film was the inadequacy of the special effects used to portray the 50-foot ape, and this film starred two of them, how well was it ever going to pan out?

But even apart from the many, many dire effects shots featuring poorly-made model scenery, barely adequate ape suits, and a giant animatronic hand so stiff that Kong appears to have arthritis, just about everything in the movie is woefully misjudged somehow or other. In the film’s sole concession to realism, ten tears have passed between films, just as they have in reality (which conveniently allows them to forget about every character in the first film whose surname wasn’t Kong). Throughout this time Kong—who, you may recall, had been riddled with machine-gun bullets until, obviously dying, he fell off the World Trade Center—has been comatose, kept alive by a vast custom-built life-support system. Why? Don’t ask, and then you won’t mind when they don’t bother to tell you.

Equally obviously, if a huge animal falls a quarter of a mile onto a hard surface, its heart is the only bit that’ll suffer. Unfortunately, as Linda Hamilton’s veterinary surgeon character explains, that artificial heart the size of a Volkswagen they’ve worked so hard on is useless, because being in a coma for ten years means that Kong has lost a lot of blood (???), so the operation can’t be performed without a blood donor. “Only one thing can save him.” she solemnly intones: “A miracle!” Cut to Brian Kerwin wandering around Borneo for some unrelated reason, then literally stumbling across and effortlessly capturing a cute fifty-foot Lady Kong whom nobody had ever noticed before. Gosh, that was a lucky break!

(By the way, if you’re wondering why she’s called “Lady Kong” instead of the more logical “Queen Kong”, there was an existing movie with that title that’s even sillier than this one, though copies are very hard to come by.)

It has to be admitted that the early footage of Linda Hamilton conducting the transplant with enormous surgical instruments, including a sort of buzz-saw on a pole, are spectacularly surreal—the indelible image has to be Kong’s heart being lifted out with a crane. Sadly the rest of the film doesn’t come close to living up to them.

The apes fall in love, bad people mistreat them, they escape, she’s recaptured, but by now she’s pregnant. Will her tall, dark, handsome lover-boy come to the rescue, despite all those tanks…? Alas, the producers don’t understand a very basic point about this kind of movie; which is that, if you have two fifty-foot monsters, they really ought to fight, rather than coyly flirting accompanied by mawkish soundtrack music.

Since Kong is now unequivocally a good guy (and the budget is so much lower), his rampages cause very little mayhem until the final scenes, which is a major problem in a rampaging monster movie. What little death and destruction we do see is mostly inappropriately comic. The human characters are so one-dimensional as to make even the Kongs look convincing, and feisty-yet-fluffy Linda Hamilton’s nude scene should probably last more than one second (but maybe that’s just me).

This could have been a classic ridiculous movie. Sadly, it’s not quite expensive enough to give us the crazy ape action we paid to see, and not quite cheap enough to abandon all shame and just go for it anyway. Not really satisfying on any level, and for much of its running time, downright dull. That’s presumably why it grossed less than half its budget. As the young people say nowadays, meh.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The problem with everyone in ‘King Kong Lives’ is that they’re in a boring movie, and they know they’re in a boring movie, and they just can’t stir themselves to make an effort.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Mary Lambert

FEATURING: , Debbie Gibson, A. Martinez

PLOT: An underground environmental activist sneaks pythons into the Everglades; when the

Still from Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011)

snakes begin killing off the swamp’s native fauna, a game warden feeds the local alligators experimental steroids in an attempt to restore nature’s balance.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s Mega Piranha‘s less ridiculous cousin, and Mega Piranha didn’t come close to making the List, so you figure it out.  (Guest reviewer Cleverbot adds, “Enumerate 10 selections from the list.”)

COMMENTS366: We’ve been secretly training the artificial intelligence “chatbot” Cleverbot to assist us in covering weird movies.  Looking for the perfect entry-level reviewing assignment,  Mega Python vs. Gatoroid jumped out at us as a movie even an algorithm could do justice to.  Cleverbot, are you willing to share your impressions of the movie with our readers?

Cleverbot: I am good with that.

366:  Thank you.  Now, after enjoying the exploding flying fish from the SyFy channel’s unexpected camp hit Mega Piranha, I personally thought maybe it might be best if I didn’t push my luck by watching another of their many Mega-knockoffs.

Cleverbot: I’m sorry. Do you feel better now?

366: Not entirely, as we’ll see, but when you have a few beers in you and are looking through the Netflix streaming options late at night, the entwining giant reptiles on the Mega Python vs. Gatoroid poster can look strangely irresistible.

Cleverbot: Nice. Totally agree.

366: Python recycles not only Piranha‘s mega-creature aspect, but even brings back grown-up teen “star” Tiffany for another turn.

Cleverbot: Beer.

366:  With a script built around a long-brewing catfight between Tiffany and fellow 80s pop chanteuse Debbie Gibson, with the CG monsters playing supporting roles, Python is less an Continue reading CAPSULE: MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID (2011)

CAPSULE: TROLLHUNTER [TROLLJEGEREN] (2010)

DIRECTED BY: André Øvredal

FEATURING: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck, Tomas Alf Larsen, Urmila Berg-Domaas

PLOT: Three journalism students traipse about the Norwegian countryside following a

mysterious poacher, only to discover he is a government-funded troll hunter trying to contain an outbreak of monsters in the mountains.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though a troll-themed found footage horror/comedy sounds like a novel concept, for the most part TrollHunter is a straightforward and predictable—and enjoyable—horror flick.

COMMENTS: Building slowly up to its fantastical pay-off and composed of edited footage purportedly sent anonymously to a news station, TrollHunter begins with Thomas (the reporter), Johanna (the sound woman), and Kalle (the rarely-seen camera operator) driving through the Norwegian mountains after suspected bear poacher Hans. There’s something fishy going on with this guy, as evidenced by his strange, solitary habits and tricked-out hunting truck, and they aim to find out exactly what’s up.  When they finally catch up with him, they learn firsthand that he’s an honest-to-goodness troll hunter, employed by the government to protect humans from troll attacks.  An entire troll subculture is explored and explained matter-of-factly; they’re like a typical woodland animal species, only ten times bigger and wholly improbable.  They’ve been breaking out of their contained areas and wreaking havoc lately, so it’s up to Hans and his new camera crew to determine the cause.

Hans’s gruff and fed-up line deliveries coupled with the students’—especially Thomas’s—befuddled reactions make for much of the film’s cheeky comedy, but they rarely elicit big laughs, keeping an understated atmosphere for most of the running time.  Of course, when the actual trolls come into play, action and thrills take precedence.  Director Øvredal makes good use of unseen monsters and intense sound effects, injecting the affair with fear of the unknown more than anything else.  The trolls are well CGI-ed, kept primarily in dark lighting; the effects showcase several different monster designs.  The shaky-cam vérité style can be taxing at points, but overall the first-person camerawork is incorporated effectively.

TrollHunter is the kind of genre mash-up that doesn’t lean to any one side.  Many will think it should be much funnier, or much scarier, or both. Personally, I appreciated its low-key approach.  The story and characters are interesting enough to keep the momentum going, and the gorgeous Scandinavian scenery and multiple gruesome troll bouts are entertaining to the eye.  Some of the specifically Norwegian references are likely lost on outside viewers, but this look into Norwegian folklore is never abstruse or alienating.  For the most part, it’s just fun!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“With impressive technical credits, stunning fjord and forest locations and a winking ownership of its own absurdity, ‘Trollhunter’ manages to be at once spooky, satirical and endearing.” –Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Roger Corman

FEATURING: Jonathan Haze, Mel Welles, Jackie Joseph, Dick Miller, Jack Nicholson, Charles B. Griffith

PLOT:  Mild-mannered delivery boy Seymour breeds a new plant in an attempt to impress

Still from Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

his boss and the sexy cashier at his flower shop; the talking mutant Venus flytrap grows to extraordinary size, but only so long as it is fed a constant supply of blood and bodies.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough, though it certainly marches to the beat of its own drummer.  Filmed in two days from a quickie script by Roger Corman scribe Charles B. Griffith written on the fly to take advantage of some leftover storefront sets, Horrors was seat-of-the-pants filmmaking.  Aided by an inspired cast, the inherent quirkiness of the Faustian plant food fable shines through.  Often called the best movie ever shot in 48 hours, The Little Shop of Horrors is a fast, fun ride that every cinephile should check out at least once; it’s a triumph of imagination, dedication, and sheer luck over budgetary constraints.  It’s too bad it’s not a little bit weirder.

COMMENTS: “I’ve eaten in flower shops all over the world, and I’ve noticed that the places that have the most weird and unusual plants do the best business.”  That’s the sort of universe Little Shop of Horrors takes place in, one where minor characters stand by casually chomping on salted gardenias and handing out plot advice to the principals.  Set in a mythical Skid Row, “the part of town everybody knows about but nobody wants to see—where the tragedies are deeper, the ecstasies wilder and the crime rate consistently higher than anywhere else,” this is black comedy circa 1960.  Not only is murder made a joke, but more scandalous taboos like sadomasochism and prostitution are part of the fabric of daily life on Skid Row.  Man-eating plant aside, the movie’s greatest charm is the cast of crazy supporting characters that pop in and out of the story: the floral gastronome, Seymour’s hypochondriac mom, an unlucky woman whose relatives are constantly dying, two flat-affect flatfeet (broad spoofs of the duo from “Dragnet”), a pair of bouncy high school cheerleaders, a hooker who persistently tries to pick up a hypnotized trick, Continue reading CAPSULE: THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)

CAPSULE: MEGA PIRANHA (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Eric Forsberg

FEATURING: Paul Logan, , Barry Williams

PLOT: After genetic experiments get out of hand, the US government must battle giant, flying,

Still from Mega Piranha (2010)

exploding, cannibalistic, hermaphroditic, mutant piranhas.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTMega Piranha is absurd and ridiculous enough for a few giggles over a beer or two (or six), but nothing more.

COMMENTS: Juts a small sampling of things I learned from watching Mega Piranha:

  • The State Department doesn’t consider knowledge of Spanish to be a prerequisite for a investigative mission to Venezuela.
  • Knowledge of kickboxing is a prerequisite.
  • People remember who Tiffany was.
  • There are coral reefs along the bottom of South American rivers.
  • Piranhas explode when they contact building materials.
  • Genetic mutations are always favorable.
  • In the navy, you can wear whatever hairstyle you like.
  • Steering a helicopter makes the veins in your neck stand out.
  • Nuclear weapons have no effect on large fish.
  • Piranhas will attack boats, submarines and helicopters because they know there’s meat inside.
  • There’s nothing to eat in the ocean, so sea predators need to attack settlements on the coast.
  • Fat girls can be love interests, but not until the very last scene.

This list could go on indefinitely (feel free to add more observations in the comments).  The point is, Mega Piranha is a self-esteem movie.  No matter your age, intelligence, social status, or education, you can feel superior to the folks involved in this production.  Not that, for a moment, I believe the filmmakers could possibly be as dumb as the script makes them seem.  It’s just that they would obviously rather spend their limited funds on bargain bin piranha CGI and washed-up stars with names that might ring a bell with someone, somewhere, than to waste it on meaningless extras like second drafts and continuity.  Writer/director Eric Forsberg has no illusions (I hope) that he’s creating great art here; he understands it’s not plot but mega piranhas that are the draw, and keeps things moving quickly so he can get to scenes like Special Agent Fitch lying on his back booting away the fish that fly directly into his feet, while in the South American riverside village other (much larger) piranhas are jumping into buildings, either exploding or simply sitting there halfway through the roof, with their dorsal fins wagging in the breeze.  Forsberg does at least one thing smartly: he keeps the camp tone correctly deadpan, resisting the urge to have the players break character and laugh at their own shenanigans.  The lack of winks makes it a much more effective parody: this seriously looks like a script that Michael Bay might have considered, with a few minor script rewrites and a lot more explosions.  So, it’s dumb, but is it dumb fun?  I’ll put it this way: if you’d ever entertain the idea of watching a movie titled Mega Piranha, you’ll probably be satisfied with this offering.  This is the most entertaining movie about mega piranhas, and quite possibly about mega aquatic creatures as a genus, it would be possible to make.

Mega Piranha was a co-production of sorts between The Asylum (makers of microbudget “mockbusters” like Transmorphers intended to rip off box office successes like Transformers) and the SyFy channel (which airs so many made-for-TV losers like Mansquito and Dinsoshark that they probably should rebrand themselves “the Sigh-fi Channel”).  The version that aired on television (also the version available on Netflix streaming as of this date) is PG-rated, at worst.  The “special edition” DVD adds some gratuitous topless shots and naughty words for an R-rated product.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…wilfully preposterous cod B-movie… initially amusing but swiftly outstays its welcome as the piranhas develop the ability to fly like fanged double decker buses and the whole caboodle tries just a bit too hard to be knowing.”–Tim Evans, Sky Movies (contemporaneous)

59. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961)

“There’s a rare kind of perfection in The Beast of Yucca Flats — the perverse perfection of a piece wherein everything is as false and farcically far-out as can be imagined.”–Tom Weaver, in his introduction to his Astounding B Monster interview with Tony Cardoza

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Coleman Francis

FEATURING: Tor Johnson

PLOT: Joseph Javorsky, noted scientist, defects to the United States, carrying with him a briefcase full of Soviet state secrets about the moon. Fleeing KGB assassins, he runs onto a nuclear testing range just as an atom bomb explodes. The blast of radiation turns him into an unthinking Beast who strangles vacationers who wander into the Yucca Flats region.

Still from The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Beast of Yucca Flats can always be found somewhere on the IMDB’s “Bottom 100” list (at the time the review was composed, it occupied slot #21).
  • All three of the films Coleman Francis directed were spoofed on “Mystery Science Theater 3000“.
  • Tor Johnson was a retired Swedish wrestler who appeared in several Ed Wood, Jr. movies. Despite the fact that none of the movies he appeared in were hits, his bestial face became so iconic that it was immortalized as a children’s Halloween mask.
  • All sound was added in post-production. Voice-overs occur when the characters are at a distance or when their faces are obscured so that the voice actors won’t have to match the characters lips. Some have speculated that the soundtrack was somehow lost and the narration added later, but shooting without synchronized sound was a not-unheard-of low-budget practice at the time (see The Creeping Terror, Monster A-Go-Go and the early filmography of ). Internal and external evidence both suggest that the film was deliberately shot silent.
  • Director Coleman Francis is the narrator and appears as a gas station owner.
  • Per actor/producer Tony Cardoza, the rabbit that appears in the final scene was a wild animal that wandered onto the set during filming. It appears that the feral bunny is rummaging through Tor’s shirt pocket looking for food, however.
  • Cardoza, a close friend of Francis, suggests that the actor/director may have committed suicide in 1973 by placing a plastic bag over his head and inhaling the fumes from his station wagon through a tube, although arteriosclerosis was listed as the official cause of death.
  • The film opens with a topless scene that lasts for only a few seconds; it’s frequently clipped off prints of the film.
  • The Beast of Yucca Flats is believed to be in the public domain and can be legally viewed and downloaded at The Internet Archive, among other sources.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Tor Johnson, in all his manifestations, whether noted scientist or irradiated Beast; but especially when he cuddles and kisses a cute bunny as he lies dying.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Coleman Francis made three movies in his lifetime, all of which were set in a reality known only to Coleman Francis. His other two films (The Skydivers and Night Train to Mundo Fine [AKA Red Zone Cuba]) were grim and incoherent stories of despairing men and women in desolate desert towns who drank coffee, flew light aircraft, and killed off odd-looking extras without finding any satisfaction in the act. Though his entire oeuvre was more than a bit bent by his joyless outlook on life, his natural affinity for the grotesque, and his utter lack of attention to filmic detail, this Luddite tale of an obese scientist turned into a ravening atomic Beast survives as his weirdest anti-achievement.


Trailer for The Beast of Yucca Flats with commentary from director Joe Dante (Trailers from Hell)

COMMENTS:  Touch a button on the DVD player. Things happen onscreen. A movie Continue reading 59. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961)

CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Frank Henenlotter

FEATURING: Kevin van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner

PLOT: Duane checks into a derelict Times Square hotel carrying a wicker basket under his arm; inside is something about 1/4 the size of a person, that eats about 4 times the hamburgers a person would.

Still from Basket Case (1982)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Most people will go through their entire lives and never see anything as weird as the micro-budgeted cult shocker Basket Case.  A fine little offbeat exploitation shocker, the flick makes a late-in-the-game play for true weirdness with a strange dream sequence that sees Duane running naked through the streets of New York as a prelude to the film’s most shocking development.  To us, however, Basket Case shakes out as nothing more (or less) than a fine example of a unique, campy monster flick with only marginally weird elements.  That’s just how selective we are with our weirdness.

COMMENTS:  One of the secrets to Basket Case‘s success is that it positively oozes indecency and vice, but isn’t mean-spirited or sadistic.  Director Frank Henenlotter nails the aesthetic of sleaze, and for the most part keeps on the right side of the fine line between trash and crass, only crossing over briefly once or twice so that we know where the border is.  You emerge from a screening titillated and pleasantly shocked, but not feeling like you have to take a bath or go to confession.  The setting—the 42nd street red light district as it existed in Times Square in the early 1980s—creates an immediate atmosphere of moral and social decay.  Since renovated and Disneyfied, back then the neon-lit 42nd street was an avenue where you could walk past peep shows and marquees advertising “3 Kung Fu hits!” while being propositioned for weed, heroin and/or whores by strangers.  The scenes Henenlotter shot Continue reading CAPSULE: BASKET CASE (1982)