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Posts Tagged ‘31 Monstrous Failures’

31 Monstrous Failures #11: Sharktopus

October 11th, 2011 No comments

For years, the Sci-Fi Channel (hack, SyFy, hack) has offered up a weekly dose of “original” movies on Saturday nights. While some have been cheapo sequels to existing franchises (Species, Highlander) others have slavishly followed a formula. Pick a monster from mythology (Minotaur, Harpies), prehistory (Pterodactyl, Mammoth) or underwater (Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus). Hire a slumming celebrity (Eric Roberts, Deborah Gibson) for a bit of name recognition. Film in some cheap overseas locale. Don’t worry about the script; all anyone cares about is a highly promotable concept.

Some of the most popular have been those featuring aquatic monsters. After exhausting the list of oversized water beasts (Mega Piranha), producers began turning to hybrids (Dinocroc). From there, it was a short trip to…

Sharktopus!

The problem that I have with the Sci-Fi Originals isn’t that they’re not good. I expect that. It’s that they’re not even that fun. Movies like Sharktopus don’t make any more than a minimal effort. The only wit on display is in the name.

I’ve heard it said that these are the successors to the lurid B-movie thrills of days gone by—the sort of thing that producer Roger Corman foisted on audiences—but, to my mind, there was a difference. Corman was actually a pretty good director. He hired quirky talent (Jack Nicholson, John Sayles) looking to make a mark. These were cheap films shot in a few days for the purpose of putting butts in the seats, yet you don’t make a movie as downright odd as the original Little Shop of Horrors if you’re not trying.

The makers of the Sci-Fi Originals may be trying to emulate Corman—and it’s necessary to point out that Corman’s own production company gave us Sharktopus—but it’d be nice if they gave both their monsters and their audiences something to chew on.

31 Monstrous Failures #10: Cyberwoman

October 10th, 2011 No comments

Today I’m in Cardiff, Wales, the former site of the Torchwood Hub. So, what better time to bring up the seamier side of the Doctor Who franchise?

Torchwood was conceived as a sort of Doctor Who After Dark, with a team of  specialists investigating alien activity on Earth while cussing and copulating. Yet it somehow managed to be far more immature in addressing matters of sexuality than its kid-friendly parent series.

For me, there’s no better example of Torchwood‘s sniggering salaciousness than the…

Cyberwoman!

Doctor Who‘s Cybermen are humanoid beings who have replaced most of their parts with plastic and metal. Ruthless and emotionless, they seek to increase their ranks by forcibly converting others into Cyber-creatures.

In their most recent incarnation, they look like this:

Never mind that it’s well-established that there is no cosmetic difference between formerly male and female Cybermen, and never mind that the modern-day variety are pretty much a disembodied brain in a metal shell. When Ianto’s girlfriend Lisa became a half-converted Cyber-person she was costumed in techno fetish gear. With heels. And underwire support. Because Torchwood.

31 Monstrous Failures #9: Tabonga

October 9th, 2011 No comments

Plant creatures, as a rule, don’t have a lot of personality. Oh sure, Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors gets by on his lovely singing voice, and Swamp Thing is as much man as monster. In general, stems and leaves and vines don’t lend themselves to truly memorable monsters. But what if you slap a face on them?

Enter…

Tabonga!

The “It” of 1957’s From Hell It Came managed to hit three out of the four quadrants of ’50s movie monsterdom: it was a Native Superstition brought to life by Atomic Fallout and Well-Meaning Science Gone Wrong. If only Tabonga had arrived by Flying Saucer, audiences could’ve shouted “Bingo!” and left the theater fully satisfied.

On a random Pacific island, a native prince was betrayed by both the local witch doctor and his own cheating wife. Killed by ceremonial dagger, the prince’s body was buried. Later, thanks to the unholy combination of a vengeful spirit and some handy radiation leftover from nearby atomic testing, a tree grew from the spot. A tree with a face…and a dagger protruding from where its heart would be.

American scientists uprooted the growth and injected it with an experimental compound (because, Science!). Before you could say “this is much less fun that a movie about a killer tree with a face ought to be,” Tabonga was on the prowl!

31 Monstrous Failures #8: Thought Eater

October 8th, 2011 No comments

The creators of Dungeons & Dragons soon ran out of “real” monsters like Chimeras and Manticores, and had to fill out the ranks with fiends from their own imaginations. Some were inspired, like the Beholder: a floating orb covered in magic-spewing eyestalks. But not all of them were as awesome as the Gelatinous Cube. Some were more like the…

Thought Eater!

From the original Monster Manual:

Thought eaters are dwellers in the ether. Their senses, however, extend into the physical plane, and any psionic or psionic-related energy use in either area will attract their attention (range of ability or magic equals attraction range). The thought eater appears to be something like a sickly gray, skeletal-bodied, enormous headed platypus to those who are able to observe it. Its webbed paws allow it to swim through the ether.

Somehow, I don’t see slayers of sickly, skeletal platypuses becoming heroes of legend.

31 Monstrous Failures #7: The Creeping Terror

October 7th, 2011 No comments

One challenge with this year’s theme of crappy monsters is that I’ve already plucked a lot of the low-hanging fruit: Ro-Man, Birdemic, the Lepus, the Giant Claw and the Mighty Peking Man. Even though I may have to dig a little deeper to fill an entire month, that doesn’t mean that I can’t hit a few of the classics. Like, for example…

The Creeping Terror!

The 1964 movie The Creeping Terror is one of the central texts in the canon of So Bad It’s Good. Though, as with Manos, Hands of Fate or Monster A Go-Go, you’re probably better off watching the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version.

The Creeping Terror recounted the landing of an alien spacecraft in the California countryside. A biological probe resembling an oversized slug constructed of tubing and carpet scraps shuffled forth, propelled by the barely-concealed feet of the extras toiling underneath the costume.

As with other ultra-low-budget films, The Creeping Terror was largely shot without sound. An off-screen narrator was dubbed in to explain what in the heck was happening.

Here’s the highlight of The Creeping Terror: the infamous dance hall massacre. “My God, what is it?!?”

31 Monstrous Failures #6: The Shunned House

October 6th, 2011 No comments

Author H.P. Lovecraft may have been one of the grand masters of horror fiction, but every once in a while his attempts to hint at vast, unknowable creatures from before the dawn of man took a crooked turn into the absurd.

One of Lovecraft’s tricks was to describe his terrible beasts as indescribable. He’d toss in a few words like “rugose,” “squamous” and “batrachian,” and allow the reader to fill in the picture. Another was to focus on one physical feature, such as the “three-lobed burning eye” of the evil god Nyarlathotep.

It’s the latter that resulted in the less-than-effective big reveal of the beast buried in the cellar of…

The Shunned House!

This is the actual house that provided the location for Lovecraft’s story, and it’s still standing on a street in Providence, Rhode Island.

Its fictional counterpart was more imposing, an abandoned structure with a malign presence that produced strange fungal growths and turned men into monsters. After witnessing the transformation and dissolution of his uncle, the protagonist of the tale decided to dig down to the source of the evil and dump several jars of sulfuric acid on it.

Suddenly my spade struck something softer than earth. I shuddered and made a motion as if to climb out of the hole, which was now as deep as my neck. Then courage returned, and I scraped away more dirt in the light of the electric torch I had provided. The surface I uncovered was fishy and glassy – a kind of semi-putrid congealed jelly with suggestions of translucency. I scraped further, and saw that it had form. There was a rift where a part of the substance was folded over. The exposed area was huge and roughly cylindrical; like a mammoth soft blue-white stovepipe doubled in two, its largest part some two feet in diameter. Still more I scraped, and then abruptly I leaped out of the hole and away from the filthy thing; frantically unstopping and tilting the heavy carboys, and precipitating their corrosive contents one after another down that charnel gulf and upon this unthinkable abnormality whose titan elbow I had seen.

That’s right; the “unspeakably shocking” thing that would haunt this man’s dreams until the day he passed from the Earth was a big elbow.

Oh well, they can’t all be Cthulhu.

31 Monstrous Failures #5: Robert

October 5th, 2011 No comments

Today I hit the road for an eleven-day tour of England. However, there will be no interruption of this year’s Halloween countdown; I’ve queued up enough posts to carry us all through until my return. You may breathe easily.

And what monster is more appropriate for a trip than a rubber tire? A telekinetic tire with a mind for murder? Let me introduce you to…

Robert!

Okay, I’m being unfair here. Robert, the star of 2010’s Rubber, can’t be considered a true failure. He’s of a piece with the movie’s Dada sensibilities.

But, at the end of the day, he’s still a sentient rubber tire. As monsters go, he’s only slightly scarier than Amityville 4‘s killer lamp.

Rubber is a truly odd experience, and Robert is not at all the oddest thing in it. The movie opens with a character directly addressing the audience:

In the Steven Spielberg movie “E.T.,” why is the alien brown? No reason. In “Love Story,” why do the two characters fall madly in love with one another? No reason. In Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” why is the president suddenly assassinated by some stranger? No reason…You probably never gave it a thought, but all great films, without exception, contain an important element of no reason, and you know why? Because life itself is filled with no reason…Ladies, gentlemen, this film you’re about to see today, is an homage to ‘no reason,’ the most powerful element of style.

Indeed, there’s absolutely no reason given for the abandoned tire’s self-awareness, nor its deadly telekinesis. And there’s no reason that there’s another audience within the film watching events unfold through binoculars. Or that the “filmmakers” are trying to poison them so they can all knock off early.

Rubber does score some cheap points about the moviegoing experience–including a scene in which the exhibitor literally steals money from people’s wallets–but mostly it’s very silly fun about a sinister sidewall with a talent for making things explode.

Categories: Movies Tags: ,

31 Monstrous Failures #4: Megalon

October 4th, 2011 No comments

I always preferred Toho’s Godzilla films to those of Gamera, the giant flying turtle from rival studio Daiei. The Gamera series looked cheap(er) in comparison. It pandered to its audience by placing kids at the center of the action. And its monster designs were unlikely agglomerations of mismatched parts.

Unfortunately, the success of the terrible terrapin left Toho scrambling to catch up. Children in disturbingly short pants began to cheer on Godzilla. And even the monsters he fought became a jumbled mess.

Such was the cockeyed cockroach known as…

Megalon!

As the god of the underwater Seatopian civilization, one might think that he would be–I don’t know–a fish or something? Instead, he was some manner of napalm-spitting beetle with a lightning-emitting horn and pointy “hands” that clasped together to become a drill.

Godzilla vs. Megalon was arguably the low point of the classic Godzilla film series, yet ironically it may be the one most familiar to American audiences. Not only did it get a big theatrical release–with a poster that aped the ’76 King Kong remake by placing the two monsters atop the World Trade Center–it was the only Godzilla movie to play on network TV. John Belushi, dressed in a Godzilla suit, hosted a highly-edited version on NBC. The film subsequently fell into the public domain, making it all-but-inescapable for a time.

Megalon himself fared less well. He was one of the few Godzilla co-stars who never made a second appearance.

31 Monstrous Failures #3: Tyrannosaurus Rex

October 3rd, 2011 No comments

In that long-lost age prior to CGI, movie producers had three means of bringing “live-action” dinosaurs to the screen. There was the man-in-rubber-suit method popularized by Godzilla and kin. Then there was stop-motion animation as employed by Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen. But if you didn’t want to spend months meticulously photographing articulated models, and you hated the smell of latex, there was one tried-and-true recourse: actual reptiles.

An ambitious effects artist might glue some weird horns or frills to a monitor lizard to make it look more dinosaurish (emphasis on the -ish), but at least one unmodified iguana showed up in the 1940 D.W. Griffith-produced One Million B.C.

The funny thing was that, despite growing up a dyed-in-the-mammoth-fur dino nut, I never minded the lizards very much. If I squinted my eyes real tight, I could just about imagine the photographically-enlarged caimans to be honest-to-goodness prehistoric monsters.

But no amount of squinting would allow me to accept it when some actor pretending to be a paleontologist began identifying those horny toads as official, familiar dinosaurs. Submitted in evidence: producer Irwin Allen’s 1960 remake of The Lost World, and its ersatz…

Tyrannosaurus Rex!

Nope, sorry, not buying it.

I don’t care that it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous explorer Professor Challenger making the call. This…

…is not a baby T. Rex.

And this…

I don’t know what the hell this is. But it’s not a Brontosaurus.

I’m just saying.

31 Monstrous Failures #2: Frankenstein’s Monster

October 2nd, 2011 No comments

The early days of television were a massive experiment, as veterans of other forms of news and entertainment adapted to the challenges and opportunities of video. Before the advent of videotape, live shows were commonplace. One was Tales of Tomorrow, a science-fiction anthology that produced 85 dramatizations over its two year run.

Its 1952 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein starred Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Monster. Chaney, while never able to live up to his father’s legacy as the silent film era’s master of makeup, was at least able to boast that he’d portrayed all four of Universal Studios’ monstrous quartet: Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Mummy. So, it must have been quite a coup for the producers of Tales of Tomorrow to enlist him as…

Frankenstein’s Monster!

Legend has it that the heavy-drinking Chaney was soused during production and mistook the live performance for another rehearsal. I am not here to speculate on Mr. Chaney’s condition, but something was definitely up with the way in which he carefully avoided breaking the prop furniture during his rampage. (At one point, he picked up a chair, gingerly set it down, then mimed smashing it.)

I’ve edited together the furniture-moving fun below!