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Posts Tagged ‘31 Monstrous Failures’

31 Monstrous Failures #21: It’s Alive!

October 21st, 2011 No comments

Thinking back to my youth, I realize that I spent a great many nights staying up well past my bedtime. Late night TV was when the weird stuff was on. One could catch reruns of Kolchak and The New Avengers, old movies based on ’40s radio shows,* and even some latter-day exploitation quickies.

Naturally, nothing attracted my attention so much as the promise of a prehistoric monster. Which certainly explains how I managed to stay awake through…

It’s Alive!

This is not the one about the killer baby. This It’s Alive! was released five years earlier and is unrelated except that both films feature creatures which are (SPOILER) alive.

It was directed by Larry Buchanan, who is known to B-movie fans for his uncredited remakes of Invasion of the Saucer Men (The Eye Creatures), The She Creature (Creature of Destruction) and It Conquered the World (Zontar, the Thing from Venus).

Unlike those, It’s Alive! wasn’t based on a previous American International Pictures release. Which is not to say that it’s particularly original. It’s pretty much your standard stranded-couple-captured-by-redneck-who-feeds-them-to-his-dinosaur plot.

The monster is curiously hard to pin down. The costume (pictured above) is recycled from Creature of Destruction, where it was used to portray a gill man ala The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Since it’s obviously a guy in a rubber suit, and is shot mostly in close-up, it’s easy to assume that it’s supposed to be more or less man-sized. Except when Buchanan goes to the trouble of staging a forced perspective shot, when one realizes that it’s actually meant to be a giant dinosaur. With ping-pong ball eyes.

*I blame my dad for my youthful interest in movie adaptations of The Great Gildersleeve. He bought a big stack of 8-track tapes of old radio shows from Stuckey’s, and would play them whenever we were on a long car trip.

31 Monstrous Failures #20: The Nature of the Enemy

October 20th, 2011 No comments

Writer/producer Rod Serling famously said of his Twilight Zone series that one-third of the episodes were good, one-third fair and one-third lousy. That may have been humility, but it was also a pretty accurate assessment. When Serling and his writers were good, they were very, very good, but when they were bad… (Watch any of the Serling-written “comedy” episodes, such as “Cavender is Coming,” for a taste.)

It was much the same on Rod’s follow-up series, Night Gallery. And Serling, for all of his well-founded complaints about network interference, was quite capable of delivering a stinker on his own.

Submitted for your approval (sorry, wrong series), this short tale about mysteriously missing astronauts. Serling’s introduction:

“This offering is a landscape, lunar and low-keyed, suggestive perhaps of some of the question marks that await us in the stars … and perhaps pointing up the moment when we’ll collect something other than moon rocks. This item is called…”

The Nature of the Enemy!

The story is set in Mission Control, a week after a pair of U.S. spacecraft arrived on the moon. “Project Settlement” was intended to establish a base of operations for future astronauts. Unfortunately, one ship crashed on touchdown and the last transmission from the other said that it was “under attack.”

Mission Control personnel watch on their monitor as “Project Rescue” lands to search for survivors. Meanwhile, reporters inquire who might be “the enemy.” All that the lone astronaut finds is a kitbashed platform about 30 feet long, 15 feet wide and sporting a large metal arm. As speculation mounts as to the purpose of the device, the rescue astronaut is himself attacked by something off-screen.

One of the reporters has a moment of clarity about the platform. “It looks like…a mousetrap!”

And, sure enough, “the enemy” soon scampers into view. And washes its furry face with its paws.

To be honest, I have no idea what Serling was trying to accomplish. If he was telling a twisted joke about the moon being made of cheese, the legitimately creepy atmosphere of the garbled moon transmissions undercuts it. If he was offering an essay on the unknown entities that await us beyond the embrace of Mother Earth, well, it’s a fucking rat.

31 Monstrous Failures #19: Rondo Hatton

October 19th, 2011 No comments

Let’s be clear: the “failure” to which I’m referring here is entirely on the part of the Universal Studios executives who exploited…

Rondo Hatton!

Rondo Hatton had developed acromegaly, a pituitary gland disorder resulting in distorted facial features. He hadn’t intended to become an actor, but his distinctive look got him noticed by a film director shooting a movie in Tampa. Hatton later moved to Hollywood and was cast in various bit roles including the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which he lost an “ugly man” contest to Charles Laughton’s Hunchback. (Laughton, of course, had the advantage of makeup.)

Hatton gained attention when he portrayed “The Creeper” in the ninth entry of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes film series, The Pearl of Death. Universal subsequently attempted to build him into a horror film icon. (Instant monster! Acting ability not required!) Pretty dickish, considering his medical condition.

He appeared opposite Gale Sondergaard in The Spider Woman Strikes Back,* then appeared twice more as The Creeper in House of Horrors and The Brute Man before his early death in 1946.

Hatton’s visage lived on, most notably when it was used as the basis for the makeup worn by the actor playing the thuggish Lothar in Disney’s adventure film The Rocketeer. It may have been intended an affectionate homage, but it still seems kinda dickish.

*Sondergaard had portrayed the title character in The Spider Woman, another installment of the Holmes series. However, The Spider Woman Strikes Back was a sequel in name only.

31 Monstrous Failures #18: Tybo the Carrot Man

October 18th, 2011 No comments

By its third and final season, Lost in Space had long since abandoned its somewhat serious “first family in space” format and devolved into the Dr. Smith & Robot Adventure Hour. Dr. Smith was the mincing, cowardly yet lovable villain portrayed by Jonathan Harris, and Robot was, well, a robot. Together they were the Martin & Lewis of the outer galaxy.

In the penultimate episode, the duo faced their most infamous–and deservedly so–threat. “The Great Vegetable Rebellion” introduced us to the terror of the salad bar…

Tybo the Carrot Man!

Lacking a present to give the Robot for its birthday(!), Smith visited a planet of sentient plants in order to collect a bouquet of flowers. This, quite understandably, brought down the wrath of the aforementioned carrot man, played by the dependable Stanley Adams.* Before one could say “arugula,” Dr. Smith was transformed into an ambulatory celery stalk. Sure, why the hell not?

The website Attack of the Monster Reviews has a detailed, three-part write-up on the making of this episode, including an amusing anecdote regarding Jonathan Harris’ celery suit and a purple llama.

*Adams was better known for his guest role as con man Cyrano Jones in the fan-favorite Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

31 Monstrous Failures #17: Kronos

October 17th, 2011 No comments

One of the movies I’d long intended to watch was the 1957 sci-fi thriller Kronos. Once, about 25 years ago, I caught it on late night TV only to fall asleep midway through and wake up an hour or so later during a rerun of the documentary series The World at War. It took me several minutes to realize that the constant bombardment of planes and tanks was being meted out against the Nazis, and not an outer space robot.

A quarter-century later, the films that once were consigned to the wee hours are now available to watch in the time and manner of my choosing. And so, this past Saturday, I took advantage of my long flight back from England to see what I’d missed at last.

I fell asleep again. But at least I had enough foresight to first hit “pause.” It’s because of this that I can report that…

Kronos!

…is not very good.

It has some decent building blocks, including performances by sci-fi stalwarts Jeff Morrow and Morris Ankrum, and an effective musical score by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter.

Its skyscraper-sized robot monster sports an unusual, decidedly non-humanoid design. It’s a telescoping, boxy thing with a translucent dome, a pair of antenna and four piston legs. And the special effects aren’t too bad, aside from the cartoon animation employed for “walking” scenes (as seen in the screencap above).

But I realize just why it was so easy for me repeatedly to fall asleep during this flick. It’s only 80 minutes long, but not until the 37-minute mark does Kronos poke his dome above the surface of the ocean. Up until then, it’s a lot of tedious plodding about the arrival of a flying saucer and its mental possession of an Earth scientist. And a helicopter. Flying around. A lot.

There’s an intriguing, if nonsensical idea here: aliens from a distant world have learned the secret of transmuting energy into matter, and have as a consequence used up all of their resources. Instead of, say, converting some of that matter back into energy, they instead send a colossal “accumulator” to Earth in hopes of sucking us dry. It’s up to Science! to stop Kronos before the aliens launch more accumulators.

All well and good, but this is one of those silly films in which top military brass base their strategy solely on the word of a single scientist. And when he turns out to be an alien quisling, they immediately accept at face value the advice of another researcher at that same institute (“LabCentral”).

Inexplicably, Kronos stomps around destroying cities with lightning bolts from its antennae. Never mind that its mission is not to conquer or destroy our world, but to collect our energy. Which it then shoots at people.

Thankfully, the aliens–whom, I must reiterate, are smart enough to create matter from energy–didn’t expect anyone to think of shorting out the terminals on their giant walking battery. Which is what our own smarties do, courtesy some convenient “omega particles.”

Categories: Movies Tags: ,

31 Monstrous Failures #16: Black Pudding

October 16th, 2011 No comments

Once again, I’m fudging the premise of this year’s Halloween countdown. The monster known as the Black Pudding isn’t itself a failure. In its day (the mid ’70s), it was a formidable addition to Dungeons & Dragons‘ roster of roving oozes. It was immune to cold-based attacks, and lightning bolts split it into two or more independent creatures. The Black Pudding quickly dissolved adventurers’ hard-won loot and generally made for a bad day in the labyrinth.

Not being familiar with British foodstuffs, I was puzzled by the Black Pudding’s odd name. And it wasn’t until this month–during my just-concluded trip to the U.K.–that I was at last confronted by the reality of the…

Black Pudding!

Two of the three hotels at which I stayed included black pudding in their breakfast buffets. A combination of curiosity and a desire to sample the local cuisine led me to sample the hockey puck-shaped item. To be honest, it didn’t taste like much of anything. It was just a hard, in-no-way-pudding-like object that was inexplicably deemed edible.

It wasn’t until a few days later at a butcher’s stand that I thought to inquire about the composition of the black pudding. Turns out that it’s really a quasi-sausage primarily made of congealed pig’s blood. I don’t know if this was one of those”we use every part of the buffalo” notions, or if someone was sitting around one day thinking “what am I going to do with all of this pig’s blood?,” but that anyone ever believed that this was a thing that people should eat boggles me. And that they would still do so in the 21st Century? Really, blood pucks for breakfast are best left behind with leeching and the other shitty ideas of our stupid, stupid ancestors.

31 Monstrous Failures #15: Reptilicus

October 15th, 2011 No comments

While Japan’s kaiju output is unparalleled, other countries have suffered their own giant monster attacks over the years. England withstood Gorgo, South Korea survived Yongary, and Hong Kong fended off The Mighty Peking Man. But, I can hear you ask, “What of the Danes?”

Denmark was by no means untouched by the goliaths. In 1961, it faced the slithering horror known as…

Reptilicus!

There were actually one or two neat ideas that went into the conception of this Danish beastie. A bloody hunk of reptilian flesh was brought to the surface by a drilling operation. Unchecked, the meat regenerated into a colossal, prehistoric serpent with relatively smallish talons and seemingly decorative wings. (Actually, the latter did work, but we’ll come to that in a moment.) While resistant to conventional firepower, Reptilicus boasted the ultimate defensive mechanism: blowing it to bits would result in each chunk growing into a complete new creature.

The creature also had a signature offensive weapon in the form of green, acidic mucus that it could spit at long distances. Many a Dane was dissolved that day.

All of this was undercut by some truly appalling special effects work. The puppet snake itself was unconvincing. Humans gobbled up by Reptilicus were obvious cartoon drawings. And then there were the flying sequences, which were so bad (even by the production’s low standards) that the American distributor cut them entirely.

The final shot of the film was of a blown-off limb twitching with life at the bottom of the ocean, awaiting a sequel that would never come.

31 Monstrous Failures #14: Hath

October 14th, 2011 No comments

And today I’m in London, baby! Assuming that all goes according to plan (I’ve queued up these posts in advance), I’ll be heading to the Doctor Who Experience, followed by the Forbidden Planet Megastore. Seems like a good time to bring up one of the lamest denizens of modern Doctor Who, the piscine humanoid known as the…

Hath!

The Hath were fish with arms and legs. Or, more precisely, actors costumed in fishy heads and hands, otherwise covered by budget-saving jumpsuits.

Each Hath was equipped with a fluid-filled rebreather to allow them to survive outside of the water. Keep this in mind. It will be important in a moment.

Introduced in the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter”–which is problematic for all manner of reasons that are beyond the scope of this series of blog posts–the Hath were locked in a generations-long war with humans on the planet Messaline. This was one of those conflicts that had raged on for so long that both sides had forgotten the original reasons for it…except that, for very complicated reasons involving instant cloning, the war was only a week old. (I told you that this story had problems.)

Anyhow, there was a sequence in which the Doctor’s companion Martha and a friendly Hath traveled across the dangerous planetary surface. Martha fell into some quicksand–as the Doctor’s companions are wont to do–and the Hath tried to rescue her. He slipped in instead, quickly disappearing beneath the watery surface. Instead of–I don’t know–maybe trying to throw him something to grab onto, Martha immediately gave up on the poor creature and sat sobbing on the shore. Never mind that HE WAS WEARING A BREATHING DEVICE.

Only on Doctor Who could a fish drown in a pool of water.

(Note: this is not the most ridiculous Doctor Who monster to which I earlier alluded. That’s still coming.)

Categories: Doctor Who Tags:

31 Monstrous Failures #13: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters

October 13th, 2011 No comments

As a kid, I eagerly awaited each September and its promise of an entire new year of Saturday morning kids’ programming. I would read the double-page ad spreads in my favorite comics, watch the half-hour specials and their tantalizing preview clips, and plan my viewing schedule, pen and TV Guide in hand.

I was still dinosaur-obsessed, and if there was anything almost as good as a dinosaur, it was a sea serpent. So it was that I was really excited about a new show called Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. I noted the plural in that title; there would be multiple sea monsters!

Imagine my dismay when I sat down that first Saturday of the new season, and was confronted by the reality of…

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters!

Johnny Whittaker, whom I knew from his starring role in a contemporary Tom Sawyer movie, was the human star of this Sid and Marty Krofft production, alongside Billy Barty in a seaweed-covered, buggy-eyed suit.

It turned out to be a disposable kiddy situation comedy about a boy who befriended a particularly unthreatening sea monster. He had to keep Sigmund hidden from the eyes of prying adults and safe from his own noisome family, including bumbling brothers Blurp and Slurp. It was the usual Krofft puppet show, complete with laugh track.

I was not pleased.

So, on behalf of my younger self, I would like to offer this belated statement:

Fuck you, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.

31 Monstrous Failures #12: Cathy Lee Crosby

October 12th, 2011 No comments

When in debuted in 1972, The Night Stalker was the highest-rated made-for-TV movie ever. Starring Darren McGavin as rumpled investigative reporter Carl Kolchek, it was the story of a vampire in contemporary Las Vegas. A sequel followed the next year, with a weekly series during the ’74-’75 season.

The Night Stalker series, despite its later influence on The X-Files, didn’t even last the full season. It’s not hard to see why. After battling werewolves, robots, aliens and rakshasas, by the end of the show poor Kolchak was left with the likes of…

Cathy Lee Crosby!


Cathy Lee, prior to her stint as one of the hosts of That’s Incredible!, portrayed Helen of Troy. Yes, that Helen of Troy.

However, rather than launching a thousand ships, she spent her time hanging out at an exclusive dating service, draining the youth of its patrons to sustain her immortality. You know, just like in The Iliad.

Fortunately for Carl, his show was canceled before he had to fight Phyllis Diller as Medusa.