Simply reviewing plain old horror movies is, remarkably, a new thing for me and my yearly Halloween bananza. Check out part one if you haven't yet, but long story short, we're going through my all-time favorite monster movies and why I like them, which is actually, probably, the same thing as going through a list of my all-time favorite movies in general. I suppose I am a simple person of simple tastes.
Slither is a movie that aims to be a loving homage to the entire shlocky monster genre, calling to mind aspects of The Blob, The Deadly Spawn, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Creeps and many, many more. There's a parasite that hatches from a meteorite, there are brain-controlling slugs, there are acid-spitting "zombies," there's a cancerous tentacle monster and it's all tied together in the same nightmarish parasitic life cycle. There are aspects worth criticizing - some cliches and stereotypes that weren't really supposed to be as lousy as they turned out - but for the most part, Slither strikes a competent balance between being morbidly funny and just plain morbid, with a creatively weird monster, some good-nature and spot-on satire of life in a small American town, and a blonde, Southern heroine who's also, refreshingly, an evolutionary biology teacher.
It's a crying shame that Slither was a "box office flop," failing to even make back its own budget. Perhaps if it had come out only a couple of years later, once horror-comedy really came back into vogue and social media even moreso, it might have really taken off as at least an overnight cult hit.
If you're familiar with the Silent Hill series, but not Jacob's Ladder, I think I only need to inform you that this movie basically inspired everything people love about Silent Hill 2. The film follows a Vietnam veteran still suffering the effects of an experimental chemical weapon, and his fluctuating grip in reality remains quite possibly the most terrifying ever put to film.
This sequence alone has always stayed with me, his panic and disorientation uncomfortably familiar enough to someone with your every-day, ordinary social anxiety, and from the moment a flock of crows seems to have invaded an otherwise ordinary party, you know things are going horribly wrong. Never before or since has a horror movie captured the feel of a nightmare's broken logic so accurately, and I've never stopped trying to piece together the anatomy of the thing at the climax of the scene.
I don't have a very presentable clip or trailer to share with you here, so instead, enjoy Wikizilla's soundclips of what the things from Matango sound like, which should tell you more about this film's atmosphere than any hokey theatrical trailer. This non-Godzilla Toho Studios production seems to find its way onto a lot of "funny" "bad movie" lists, and I honestly have no idea how. It's a tense, moody piece where the growing mistrust and hostility between people in a desperate situation also happens to parallel the growing fungus and rot all around them, on a mysterious island even most animals know to avoid.
Yes, there are giant, walking mushrooms and some people have difficulty taking those seriously, but that's probably because their sense of wonderment was throttled to death long ago by one too many flailing, CG demons and zombies. If you ask me, those giant, walking mushrooms are absolutely haunting. Their stiff, rubbery movements seem more like how a giant mushroom-man would really move than a product of "dated" special effects (from Toho? There's no such thing!) and those sounds. Those horrible, horrible high-pitched giggles and muffled, strained chortles echoing through the fog of a psychedelic mushroom forest are delectably skin-crawling.
Is it a !!!!!!SPOILER!!!!!!, or just something you easily already deduced, if I tell you those things used to be human beings? That they become addicted to the psychotropic mushrooms of the island and feel nothing but pleasure even as their bodies erupt with mold, losing their minds to some sort of hallucinogenic bliss until they're completely entombed in one gigantic toadstool-body and still never, ever stop laughing about it?
Maybe shrugging this one off as a "bad" movie is just the only way some viewers ever sleep soundly again. Why don't you make sure all the lights are off and play this clip over again, with the knowledge that inside every one of these blind, clumsy, trundling mushrooms is probably the decaying, withered remnants of the person it once was.
With uncanny animation by the legendary Jan Svankmajer, Little Otik is actually an adaptation of Otesanek, a story written in the 1800's by Czech author Karel Jaromir Erben in which a couple, so desperate for a child, adopt a gnarled hunk of tree roots as a crude surrogate. In the original story, both are overjoyed when their wooden child springs to life, but its growing size and hunger soon threaten their entire village.
The film adaptation closely follows this narrative, albeit in a more modern setting, and with only one of the two parents really falling for the monster's charms. The ending - also lifted directly from the fairy tale - is rather abrupt and ambiguous, but the whole thing is a fantastically strange ride, and Otesanek is a monster as memorable as any other we've looked at here.
If your craving for horrible, surreal infants isn't satiated by a giant piece of wood, I recommend Little Otik as a double-feature with David Lynch's classic Eraserhead. For those who haven't seen this one, it tells the simple story of Henry Spencer, a lonely, awkward man left alone to care for his premature infant son while enduring a monotonous day job in an uncaring city.
It's a realistic, down-to-earth slice of life, or it would be, if Henry weren't a resident of an abstracted nightmare realm where the real and unreal are impossible to separate. The baby itself is ostensibly human, but it sure as hell doesn't look or function like a human, and we're left wondering how much of that might just be Henry's distorted perception...though even its mother questions, not long before she leaves for good, whether she really gave birth to a human being.
This is a difficult one to find, lately. It used to be available on Netflix, but now you'll have to hunt it down on DVD, and if you enjoyed the claustrophic, menacing art direction of Ridley Scott's original Alien, I highly recommend you do. Trailers make this sound like some cornball "outbreak" movie, and synopses describe its monsters as "fanged cattle," but both are more than a little misleading. The antagonists are indeed mutant bovines, yes, but you would never recognize them as such if you weren't told. The creatures are a product of bizarre, disquieting fertility experiments to produce faster-growing, asexually replicating livestock, and their forms are so unnatural, so aberrant, it's impossible to piece together what the mature, predatory specimen actually looks like at all, even though we're given some breathtaking glimpses of its maddeningly convoluted physiology. An image of the monster's production maquette can be found on the web, but that still doesn't make perfect sense of what we see on-screen. An artfully grotesque monster in an artfully grotesque movie.
...I'm sorry, I have to do this. Even though this is a serious, honest, effective horror movie...
...It's udderly terrifying.
So many, many horror narratives talk a big talk about forces "beyond our understanding" and entities that "defy comprehension," but Absentia may be one of the few modern supernatural thrillers to truly deliver on this promise. Impossibly lurking in an alternate space within walls, floors and other solid surfaces, the things in Absentia seem to concentrate their power in the tunnel under an overpass, they crave offerings of buttons, jewelry, baubles and trash, and they spirit people away to their impossible realm for an existence of unspecified but apparently horrific tortures. Like Don't be Afraid of the Dark, these beings distinctly recall the oldest, darkest tales of "elves," "dwarves" or "trolls," but it seems clear that we humans only came up with these terms to make some sort of sense out of whatever they really are.
We never more of these creatures than a dark, scurrying shadow and a brief glimpse of a three-fingered hand, but we're told their appearance recalls silverfish, a fantastically odd choice on the writer's part that sends the mind soaring with images of scaly, fuzzy, skittering bug-goblins.
Without spoiling any more, I will also say that Absentia offers by far one of the darkest climactic twists I have ever seen in a horror film. You never see it coming, it might take a moment before you even realize what happened, and when you do, you might find it positively gut-wrenching.
Trick R' Treat
This is one of those modern scary movies marketed by a certain level of "sleaze," promising audiences plenty of blood, guts, and even naked lady boobs, the kind of stuff most dedicated horror fandom sites still eat up like ten year olds who just stumbled onto mom's secret stash of guro manga. This is not, however, as blunt and simple a film as that usually entails. It has a bit of gore and it has a bit of sex, but it's a whole lot more tasteful and fun than you might have ever expected, with fantastic storytelling and art direction weaving four loosely related supernatural stories into one satisfying climax.
You'll get to see some terrible human beings suffer the effects of hardcore Karma, you'll witness one of the coolest werewolf transformation sequences ever filmed, and you'll no doubt fall in love at first sight with Sam, the film's adorably diminutive Halloween spirit who fully deserves the seat he seems to have already earned alongside horror's most famous icons...even if what lies under his mask is kind of a mixed bag of "satisfyingly weird" and "trying juuust a little too hard."
Return of the Living Dead
It's become such a cliche for zombies to crave human brains and constantly moan for them, it almost seems like one of those things that shouldn't have a single, specific origin...but it does, and this is it. This is the movie that established zombies as brain eaters, and it remains absolutely the best zombie movie I can think of. It's terrifying without taking itself too seriously, and it's not afraid to stretch the concept of a "zombie" into more grotesque and imaginative definitions than most. Even a butterfly collection starts flapping its long-dead wings once contaminated by the mysterious "trioxin," and who could possibly forget the Tar Man here, one of the most beautifully designed, eerily performed cinematic undead of all time? You can thank actor and puppeteer Allan Trautman for a performance so convincing, you almost can't believe there's a real human actor under that dribbling slime at all.
This is such an inventive, fun-loving zombie movie that it's all the more disappointing where the genre eventually headed. After the smash success of this one, why do we still get so many melodramatic, cookie-cutter post-apocalypse stories?
Little Shop of Horrors
We've got two other examples of malevolent veggies on this list, so why not end part II with the queen of them all? Most people reading this page probably already know this movie like the back of their tendril, but if you don't, you should be dropping absolutely everything to get up to speed this instant. We're talking about one of the most celebrated, memorable musicals ever written, with an amazing premise, lovable characters and one of the single most enchanting villains of all time. Audrey II is the definitive carnivorous plant in our popular culture, imitated more than any single person could conceivably keep track of, but never has another flesh-eating vegetable matched Twoie's infectious personality or musical talent.
Even those of you who have seen this one a million times may have still missed the restored cut, featuring the original, multi-million-dollar "bad ending" (for humans, at least) in full color and sound.