Posts Tagged ‘Monsters


The Beast Within (1982)

beastwithinposterI’m not quite sure where to begin with The Beast Within. I sort of assumed, just by its name, that it was a werewolf movie, but it’s not that at all. After having watched it, I’m still not exactly sure what it’s all about. I also assumed that Ronny Cox would play a huge dick in it, because that’s what Ronny Cox does. But he doesn’t! He plays a normal dude! In fact, he plays a dad very concerned about his son. See what happens when you assume? Anyway, I’m not sure The Beast Within will overturn all your expectations, but it certainly is different than your typical horror flick.

The plot is super convoluted, which is one of the film’s shortcomings. If I were to go in-depth not only would this be a 2,000-word blog post, it would also be rife with spoilers. So I’ll do my best to keep it short and sweet. During their honeymoon, Caroline and Eli (Cox) MacLeary run into some car trouble. Eli runs to get help, leaving Caroline and their dog with the car. The dog sees something in the woods (because everyone has car trouble while they’re near the spooky woods) and bolts. Caroline of course goes after the dog, and is mauled and raped by someone… or something.

Caroline and Eli do some digging.

Caroline and Eli do some digging.

Seventeen years later, their son Michael is having some serious medical issues. Fearing they might be genetic, the couple must come to terms with the fact that Michael is the result of Caroline’s rape. So like any loving pair of parents they head to the town where it all went down to look for any information on Michael’s biological father. When they get there, they are confronted with nothing but spooky folks who refuse to cooperate, or even acknowledge that anything bad ever happened in their town. Luckily, Caroline finds a lead while fishing through the library’s old newspapers. Strangely enough, the folks tied to Caroline’s mysterious lead start dying horfiffic deaths, and Michael is becoming less and less like himself…

Yowza, this movie is so all over the place, and so strange! As I said before, the plot is circuitous and confusing and just generally batshitty, and it’s more than a little distracting. I think if it had been simplified even just a little bit, it

The beast within finally comes out...

The beast within finally comes out…

would have made a world of difference. That being said, I still admire how much this movie tries to cram into its 98 minutes, and I certainly didn’t find myself bored or exasperated by it, and for me that’s always a bonus. It even has stuff it wants to say about small-town nepotism and the beasts we all become once we grow into adults, even if it’s done a little clumsily. The performances are all pretty good too; even old Ronny Cox is convincing as a normal dude, which I never thought I’d say. But probably the best thing The Beast Within has got going for it is the practical special effects; damn, that shit looks good.

Apologies for this rather ambiguous post, but I don’t want to give too much away. This movie was fun in large part because I didn’t know what to expect, and I hate it when I accidentally fall down the trap of wasting paragraph upon paragraph detailing the plot. I think this movie is definitely worth your time, so long as you have patience enough to deal with a rather mystifying plot and a weird obsession with locusts.


Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

frankensteinsarmyposterWe blindly bought a used copy of Frankenstein’s Army from a pretty impressive horror section, like, in an actual store. It was one of those days where the stack of DVDs to purchase just got bigger and bigger, and I couldn’t think of a reason why I shouldn’t just throw another one on top. What’s another $3, I thought to myself? That was, of course, before I watched the trailer for the movie. If I’d seen that first, I probably would have put it back on the shelf in favor of something else. The good news is, the movie isn’t as bad as the trailer made me believe it would be. The bad news is, that doesn’t mean the movie’s good. Just a warning, this review is spoiler-y so if you care about that kind of shit, don’t read ahead.

A group of Russian soldiers are searching for some fallen comrades in Germany during World War II. This particular troop is lucky enough to be filmed, so the folks back home can see how the war effort is going, or something. Their search for their lost brethren takes them to a derelict building ridden with nun-corpses where they encounter strange creatures that come alive when met with an electrical current. The soldiers that are lucky enough to survive find out soon enough the man behind the movie camera is there for much more than recording. Turns out he’s actually running the whole operation: there are no fallen comrades; it’s all an undercover mission to bring the mad scientist Nazi Dr. Frankenstein (yes, the great grandson of you-know-who) back to Russia alive, where Uncle Joe can exploit the good doctor’s experiments that bring the dead back to life in robotic, weapon form.

Frankenstein’s Army is a movie constructed around the idea of its strange, monstrous creations. I guess the monsters were pretty cool, but the found-footage style of the film prevents us from getting any really good glimpses of the creatures. I definitely found myself asking what the film gained by using the found-footage format… and I have no answers. If anything, it detracted from the movie’s strongest assets, all while making me want to puke with its herky-jerky movements (not a novel found-footage complaint, I realize, but some movies do it better than others).


Dr. Frankenstein’s Brain Fusion

On top of that, all of the characters are all pretty gross. I never cared if any of them lived or died. Their relationships to each-other don’t offer anything new or interesting, it’s just your typical who’s-in-command-when-the-number-one-guy-dies-at-war conflicts, and the baddest of the baddies is insufferably, annoyingly evil. I was hoping at least Dr. Frankenstein would provide us with one interesting character, but when we finally meet him he’s pretty disappointing, too! Though he’s a little off-kilter (irritatingly, ‘quirky’ is probably the best word to describe him), he’s annoyingly calculated and mechanical (hehe, get it?). I wanted him to be a much more entertainingly unhinged ‘mad’ scientist than he ended up being.

So, what does Frankenstein’s Army have to offer? Well, aside from the few shots of robot monsters (dubbed zombots), not much. Even then, you can’t really see them enough to appreciate the work that went into creating them, which is a damn shame. There’s tons of gross-out gore, including a shot of Dr. Frankenstein attempting to fuse half a gooey Nazi brain with half a gooey Communist brain in all its squishy glory, so I guess if that’s what you’re looking for maybe this movie has something for you. But even still, I don’t find any of it very interestingly done. All in all a rather disappointing purchase that we won’t be keeping.


House II: The Second Story (1987)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

Perhaps ten years ago, I got into a conversation with a co-worker about Weekend at Bernie’s II (1993). I listened incredulously to his description of the plot: a voodoo witch puts a curse on Bernie’s corpse, such that it dances towards a buried treasure whenever music plays near it. The hapless friends tasked in the first movie with pretending their friend is still alive now are tasked with keeping the world from finding out that their friend is a boogieing zombie. It seemed hard to believe that there was a movie out there that would live up to the promise that description offered for over-the-top hijinx. When a while later I got my hands on a copy, I found out that, indeed, Weekend at Bernie’s II didn’t. A while later, though, I found myself in a situation where I was watching through a healthy backlog of movies at a clip, and made a double feature of the Sean Cunningham-produced House (1986) and House II: The Second Story. While House didn’t do a lot for me (it couldn’t settle on a tone, and seemed like its best bits were done better in Evil Dead II — sorry, Fred Dekker!), House II was a revelation: THIS was the zombie buddy-comedy that I’d been hoping for all this time… the Weekend at Bernie’s II  that delivered on its promise. We watched it again for Katy’s first time as the 25th movie in the 31 Days of Horror.

house 2 thai

A Thai poster. Not as cool as the disembodied hand ringing the doorbellon the VHS jacket, but more in line with what this flick holds in store…

In the 1950s, a couple that lives in a creepy house give their baby away for safekeeping just minutes before a nightmarish figure (voiced by Fred Welker, using the same voice he used for Darkseid on Super Friends) kills them both. In October of 1986, that baby, now grown, comes back to claim his birthright. He is Jesse McLaughlin, an up-and-coming artist, and he and his music-biz girlfriend Kate have come to make the family mansion into their new home away from the city. Before too long, they’re joined by Jesse’s meathead “entrepreneur” best friend Charlie (Fright Night‘s jonathan Stark) and his aspirant rockstar girlfriend. After only a few minutes have passed in screentime, Jesse explains that he’s named for his great-great grandfather, who was a bandit in the old west, and who built the house they now live in. Seems the elder Jesse had found one of the legendary Mayan crystal skulls along with his partner,  the ominously-named Slim Razor. When great-great Jesse absconded with the skull, Slim felt he’d been cheated. The younger Jesse and Charlie figure that there are big bucks in it for them if they can find the skull, and rashly decide it must have been buried with the elder Jesse. Why not dig him up? So they do, the night before Halloween… and that’s when the REAL fun begins.

Look! It´s a prehistoric bird...

Jesse, Charlie, and a prehistroric bird

I won’t say too much more, but it should come as no surprise that the elder Jesse isn’t dead at all — he’s been kept alive by the mystic powers of the skull, and is played delightfully by Royal Dano. Grandpa Jesse explains that the house has been designed as a temple for the skull, and that it acts as a gateway to alternate universes. They all have to work to keep it out of the wrong hands… This state of affairs — zombie grandfather, dimensional gateways — is something the fellows decide is best kept from an increasingly incensed Kate (who’s being egged on by her lecherous asshole boss, played by a young Bill Mahr), and leads to all sorts of wacky cross-time adventures. This movie at times feels like the pilot for an especially zany Sunday-afternoon adventure show of the sort produced by Sam Raimi in the ’90s, by way of a multiple-camera sitcom of the same period. It’s stupid, and even childish, but never really mean-spirited or cruel.  It gets away with its increasingly outrageous twists through charm and goodwill, and some moments that feel really heartfelt in the midst of the silliness. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that Slim continues to be a threat, but Cheers‘ John Ratzenberger’s guest appearance as an electrician with a helpful sideline comes as an unexpected delight. While, sure, it isn’t horror in the strictest sense, this seemed like a nice break from the gialli that we’d most recently consumed. Even Katy, who holds the ’86 House in high regard, was charmed by this one.


The whole House II gang… at least, all the regular humans

Don’t expect anything groundbreaking, scary, or intellectual here — it’s dumb laughs. But, like the Japanese House (1977) that I prefer to imagine this is the sequel to — this movie has nothing to do eith either other than its loose haunted house premise — this film is made all the better by virtue of its light spirit and easy demeanor.


Gargoyles (1972)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle

Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle

Gargoyles is a better-than-average TV-movie monster flick — no more, no less. That’s not a bad thing… but it’s not really good, either.

Dr. Mercer Boley is an anthropologist-professor-type who’s made a career out of publishing pop-science books about the real-world roots of old-time superstitions and monsters. The doctor’s headed to the southwest (they say to Mexico, but I can’t help think they must mean New Mexico, seemingly, given that everyone’s white and speaks English) to follow up on a hot tip. He’s joined by his perpetually-halter-topped college-aged daughter Diana, who hopes to get some good face-time in with her dad while he’s accessible. This “hot tip” comes from an old codger who’s presiding over a dying roadsite museum and general store. Seems he wants to co-write a book with the good doctor about his amazing discovery, rather than cough up the evidence he’s got, just ’cause. Naturally, father and daughter are suspicious, and are not much less so when the codger shows off a winged, horned skeleton that he’s re-assembled in his shed. Seems the local Indians had a legend about winged beasts, and… right then there are terrible noises, something outside breaks down the roof, crushing the codger and a broken lantern sets the place aflame.

Codgerin' it up over the mystery skeleton

Codgerin’ it up over the mystery skeleton

Diana’s really freaked out by this terrible death they’ve just witnessed, and the doctor seems singularly obsessed, playing the death-screams of the codger over and over, along with the horrible growling and rending noises that accompanied the collapse of the roof, and staring long and hard at the strange skull, which they managed to recover from the wreckage. They dare not tell the local police that they think whatever the things were that knocked in the shed might be related to this weird skull… not, at least, until more of these things — and living ones at that — come for the corpse of their brother…

So, these are the titular gargoyles, who appear once every few hundred years to menace humanity. They are the source of all kinds of the imagery that mankind associates with evil, and they are very well physically-executed by a young Stan Winston. Sure, they’re rubber suits — but what rubber suits! And there are different suit designs for each monster, rather than that old stand-by budget-saver of casting the same mold over and over again, or of showing the same two creatures and pretending they are legion.

Gargoyles love their babies too! Just like you & me...

Gargoyles love their babies too! Just like you & me…

By the end, the movie’s fallen into the King Kong monster trap: the thing’s got our women — in this case Diana — and the “decent white folk” have got to get her back. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that this, like so many monster flicks before it, is a not-especially-subtle cautionary about miscegenation, perhaps the moreso because of its casting of Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle, and the post-Civil Rights/Watts riots date of production. Even the hooligan bikers menacing the town (including a young, long-haired Scott Glenn) band with the police and the doctor — Establishment writ large! — to get Diana back. But, however reactionary those politics might seem to be on the surface, there is useful nuance here: we spend some time with the hatchling gargoyles, and see that these folks care for their young just like we do! Though the lead gargoyle talks a lot in all-or-nothing terms about one species ultimately winning out, it seems pretty clear that given the track record for extermination so far — generations of gargoyles, and the aforementioned Indians — the American society is the monstrous exterminator here, and not the gargoyles (though both sides have shed about equal blood by the time things are over). At the very end, there is a rather uneasy sense that maybe things can change in the future, but it’s a strange coda to a movie that seems to want to please both ends of the political spectrum that might be watching this as the movie of the week.

Maybe don’t run to seek out a copy of Gargoyles, but don’t turn it off if you run across it, either. It’s not super-remarkable, but there’s some stuff here worth the hour-and-a half investment too, all said.



Old Wave