By Jonathan Wojcik
ENTRY 11: HONORABLE MENTIONS IWhen I set out to review a "weird" monster movie every day of December, I started with a fairly long list that even included Nope, but I spun that off into its own article when I realized how much of the list set the weirdness bar too high. Jean Jacket may be fantastically designed and extremely unique for a cinematic monster, but it's also well established to simply be a very, very strange form of animal life...and does that really fit into the same list of "monsters" that encompasses such things as a psychokinetic tire, the concept of trauma (twice!) and a global uprising of shadows? Once a baseline was set by such movies as Deep Dark or Tetsuo or anything we have coming next, more than half my list had to be dumped all at once for simply being too comprehensible.
But something comprehensible can still be fairly strange...so today, we'll be taking the first of at least two breaks to go over some of the creatures who didn't make the cut. All of them wildly creative and cool, but just a tad short of completely "anomalous"...
STUFF (THE STUFF, 1985)
This is a pretty famous one in horror and B-movie subculture; one day, mining workers find some kind of creamy, white ooze from beneath the earth and are compelled for whatever reason to taste it. It turns out to be delicious! So delicious, in fact, it's immediately marketed as a dessert known only as "The Stuff," its origins kept secret as it sweeps the globe and even threatens to displace the popularity of ice cream. So of course it's actually alive, parasitic and eats people's brains from the inside, turning them into ravenous stuff-hungry zombies before they finally collapse into puddles of white sludge. It's a commentary on capitalistic greed and mindless consumerism that some still find relevant today, and it's considered a fairly entertaining movie beyond just its message or its gimmicky premise, though I have to admit I've never quite seen the whole thing myself. Maybe that's because food grossouts are the one category of grossout I'm vulnerable to myself; I'm totally one of those people who can't eat something for a while if I see it oozing out of somebody's mouth, and do I really want to lose vanilla ice cream, greek yogurt, mayonnaise, marshmallow fluff, whipped cream AND cream cheese all at once?! Not that I regularly eat all of those, in fact, I've only had maybe two of them in an entire year, but I'd still rather they remain on the table!
The real reason The Stuff isn't part of my "bizarre monsters" list is of course that it's a little too easy to wrap my head around. A toxic, amorphous endoparasite is cool and I respect it, but it's no more unbelievable or mind-bending than a very big slime mold.
HUNGRY BEAST (TERRORVISION, 1986)
This goofball movie was written by Charles Band and director Ted Nicolaou, which begins with aliens flushing some sort of ravenous monstrosity down their version of a garbage disposal. This converts it to energy and beams it into space, but wouldn't you know it, human satellite television just so happens to be compatible with alien trash chute technology. Carnage ensues when the creature is reconstituted through a television and into the house of some wealthy swingers, where the safety of Earth ends up largely in the hands of their neglected kid and his punk friends. They even manage to sort of "tame" the monster, at least for a while, but things go more awry when the alien who disposed of it shows up to finish the job.
...There's also a subplot involving the local celebrity, "Medusa," an Elvira-like horror hostess who kind of steals the movie, and I thought you'd enjoy knowing that although she gets eaten by the creature in the end, they're last seen fused together into one being headed right back to Medusa's TV studio. So really, this movie is about the birth of a whole other monster, half space-garbage, half Elvira knockoff, and it's just too bad the director moved on to other ideas before we got to see where all that might have gone.
ALIEN PARASITE (SLITHER, 2006)
"Slither" was actually the directorial debut of James Gunn, who went on to write the live action Scooby Doo films, Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad, but I'm going to have to say none of these are as good as Slither, which combines almost every classic parasitic space monster trope into one grotesque black comedy. Emerging from a meteor in a crawling pod-like state, the creature is really a tiny barb that tunnels through the body of the first human it encounters and overtakes his brain, eventually transforming him into a tentacled mutant that can transform living victims into a giant, horrifically still conscious "wombs" full of more slug-like or leech-like offspring, which in turn transform hosts into slime-spitting zombies.
When one character is only nearly absorbed into the hive mind, she witnesses the outrageous endgame of this life cycle: once a large enough population has been assimilated, they all fuse together into an organic structure large enough to launch the parasite back into space! There's a bit more to the plot than the monster alone, namely that its fusion with a human mind introduces it to the concept of love, but the deranged alien biology is still the real draw. It's a lot of different monsters rolled up into one, and it's still no more convoluted than a lot of real parasites; just try to follow the development cycle of Tantulocarida, for one.
TUNNEL DWELLERS (ABSENTIA, 2011)
Shot with home video cameras and minimal special effects, Absentia is an ultra-low-budget independent film by Mike Flanagan that nonetheless tells a compelling story with a highly unsettling antagonistic force; unseen entities that live in an extradimensional space behind man-made walls, particularly in tunnels under bridges. They can still people away to their realm where victims are implied to suffer hideous tortures for undisclosed reasons, but they may relinquish a captive if offered something they consider valuable. The good news is that they appreciate such mundane trinkets as bottlecaps, buttons and jewelry, not unlike packrats or ravens. The bad news, of course, is that they still consider an entire human life to be of equal value to a bag of marbles and loose change, which makes for a truly horrifying gut-punch by the film's climax.
The entities, though never seen clearly, are described as resembling silverfish, of all things, but their other characteristics point unmistakably to this being fairy-folk horror; that these are the things cultures of the past came to think of as elves, goblins and trolls.
BLACK FUNGUS (SPLINTER, 2008)
By Toby Wilkins, Kai Barry and Ian Shorr, I recall this being a pretty well made and exciting one about a small group of people who find themselves trapped inside a remote truck stop by the vessels of our star attraction. The parasitic fungus spreads through the thin, black needles it not only sprouts from its zombified hosts but can even launch like darts, and that's not all: the organism's needle-tipped tendrils can even literally knit hosts together into twisted new shapes, amalgamating the body parts of infested humans and animals into its own creative moldy corpse chimeras! Body-hijacking fungi are sort of an everyday fact of life if you happen to be an insect and are certainly nothing unusual in media today, but in 2008, this was one of the very few Cordyceps-esque horror antagonists I'd ever seen, and its custom taxidermy powers remain a surprisingly rare angle for the "zombie" genre.
CATTLE SPAWN (ISOLATION, 2005)
Written and directed by Billy O'Brien, the official synopsis for this movie regrettably describes the monsters as "fanged cattle" and its cover displays a close-up render of a bloodshot, bovine eye, all giving the impression of some cornball horror parody with spooky, killer zombie cows. In reality, Isolation is a creative, tense and dreadful Alien homage in which a struggling farmer agrees to allow genetic testing on his animals in exchange for desperately needed funding. The intention is to engineer livestock that will grow and multiply much faster to meet food demands, but the result is a sickly calf born "already pregnant" with embryos so outrageously malformed, they're more like inside-out tangles of bone than recognizable animals.
Of course the things aren't dead. Of course they're mobile and they're parasitic. Of course the same mutation spreads to any bovine that they feed from, until the farm's few remaining cows become helpless parasite-factories. Of course the oldest specimen has also been growing a lot larger since it escaped, and you probably won't be surprised that by the end, there's a heavy implication that the abnormal genes have jumped species.
The design for the giant-sized parasite is also so magnificently convoluted, you will never figure out its anatomy from the glimpses you're given, and even this production maquette won't tell you which end of it is which; you might think the front of the creature would be what appears to be the malformed skull on the right, but it's the pelvis, on the left, that looms out of the darkness like a "face" before some other, unseen appendage strikes one hapless victim.
Though still within the realm of "just" a genetic mutant, these remain among the most memorably twisted mutants I've ever encountered on-screen. Even the life cycle, the exponentially horrendous embryos-within-embryos, is a marvelously grisly idea once again already familiar to anyone in the parasitology field.
THE SOCIALITES (SOCIETY, 1992)
Director Brian Yuzna's wildly varied career also includes writing, directing or producing a slew of other horror films, but also includes both writing and producing Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, of all things! In Society, the son of a filthy rich family grows increasingly uncomfortable with their lifestyle and behavior, until he realizes that most "high society" wealthy are cruel, sadistic monsters that parasitically feed on the lower classes without mercy. And after catching up with what the rest of us already knew, he finds out they're also literally hideous creatures that eat people!
This kind of metaphor is risky in modern America, where the idea of "the wealthy elite" is often tied into disturbingly antisemitic or xenophobic conspiracy theories, but that's just because some people aren't willing to admit that their favorite celebrity entrepreneurs, tech giants and former presidents are pretty publicly the actual examples of what they're so afraid of.
We never know what The Socialites are other than just a "different species" that has been living off humanity for untold eons, but they're able to morph and rearrange their own flesh, taking on such outrageous forms as a giant hand or a talking ass (yes, really) and even melt together into huge, amoebic tangles of human anatomy that absorb human victims through a process they disgustingly refer to as shunting.
GHATANOTHOA (GLORIOUS, 2022)
The third film of director Rebekah McKendry's career only released only months before I started writing this review series, but I can confidently say it immediately made its way into my all-time top ten horror, fantasy, and science fiction films if not fairly high among my favorite films in general. Almost the entire story takes place in a single public restroom, where our human protagonist (if you want to call him that) finds himself unable to leave, trapped all alone with an all-knowing entity that speaks to him through, well...a glory hole.
The concept behind Ghatanothoa is typical of the cosmic horror genre - a genre I've mostly been burnt out on since my teens! - and the name is even lifted directly from a Lovecraft story, but his characterization is an absolute joy throughout. As he explains fairly early into the film, he is a force of pure death and destruction, born from an even greater being's hateful desire to erase all life throughout the universe...but "Ghat," over time, has grown to question his purpose and even love living things. What does this have to do with imprisoning one seemingly random man in a bathroom?
I'm not going to spoil one more word of this one. If you can handle some gore, please check it out, and let me know how much you loved this poor monstrosity by the end of it all.