Creature Feature Segment.
I wanted to do a piece on films I felt have a similar theme among them. I originally started working on this back in August, but burned out on it. This week, I figured I'd have another go.
Here is some totally subjective and potentially inaccurate speculation about a bunch of films that range from utter trash to hidden gems. Some of them seem to be pretty transparent 'Alien' rip-offs, others offer more original and interesting ideas and tackle more present issues, such as environmentalism, toxic waste and genetic engineering. Either way, I enjoyed watching and thinking about these films with a view to present them as collective.
Be warned, we're entering 1980's creature feature cinema purgatory.
1. Deep Space (1988)
I found out about this from checking out videos for sale on an ebay store. The cover got me!
This is a Fred Olen Ray film. I can't say I've put any time into checking out many of his other films, but from what I've read about him, Deep space is actually pretty tame in terms of his usual level of trash/sleaze. (Check out the trailer for Hybrid 1997. He also did Evil Toons, which was an utter atrocity.)
I wrote myself a synopsis as I watched, but I don't really think the film warrants a walk through (I can't make a lot of sense of what I wrote.) The creature effects were kinda ok... the alien rubber suit looked good, but to my memory, not much else happened fx wise, the whole thing was pretty light on gore.
The film had Charles Napier in the main role as a detective Ian McLemore, who somehow winds up having to chase down the alien, who gets to earth in a satellite that crashes, but turns out to be a biological weapon.... I think. I didn't really manage to follow the plot too much.
It felt strange to see Charles Napier playing the good guy role, I grew up watching the Blues Brothers and had him imprinted as the 'Good Old boys' lead man Tucker McElroy, who was out to take revenge on Jake and Elwood. He also played a pretty nasty bad cop Harry Sledge, in Russ Meyer's Supervixens, But that's another story altogether...
Anyway, his character in Deep Space (set on earth, not in space) was still a butt-hole. There's a bunch of weird silly stuff that goes down, like Charles Napier playing the bag pipes to his date, who subsequently strips off, a scientist (Fox Harris - who was also in Forbidden world - see later) using an unnecessarily big drill to open an alien egg/chrysalis and being attacked by the face-hugger rip off lurking inside and C Napier having a go at the creature with a chainsaw.
If you've got nothing better to do, watch it. I feel I should re-watch it to refresh my memory, but I probably won't.
2. Creepozoids (1987)
Yep, another one, totally sold on the cover. I actually found this through looking for horror T-Shirts several years back. I bought it and when it came it was a nasty iron on transfer shirt, so wearing it was really uncomfortable. Shame, as the design was and is still killer!
This one follows a group of military deserters, trying to find shelter from acid rain in a post apocalyptic scenario, set in 1998, following a nuclear war. They break into an old military lab and get picked off by the creature that was engineered and got loose in there. There are some fun transformations, silly effects and good gore. There's a scene with a giant rat that's kinda intense and the surprise ending goes on forever, but is freaky in it's own way. I'll not spoil it for you.
Linnea Quigley has a main role in the film. Despite having been in some of my favourite films and many others, Linnea Quigley's acting abilities never fail to astound me...Wooden as hell. However, hats off to her, she started in '75 and is still going, having been in a slew of films over the decades and has a further 7 projects in the pipeline for release over this year and next.
This is more watchable than Deep Space, still kinda silly and a bit slow at times, but the creature is fun. I've watched it a few times over the years. I think each time I watch it, I remember why I hadn't for so long.
3. Creature / Titan Find (1985)
I got really excited about this one, seeing a trailer on youtube a few years back. I managed to get the VHS pretty cheap and to be honest have enjoyed watching it on several occasions.
The intro section speaks about a technological race between two rival companies, Richter Dynamics (DE) and NTI (USA,) both striving to discover new materials and pioneer cutting edge manufacturing techniques.
The first sequence is two goobers in floppy space suits finding a containment unit out on the surface of Titan and messing about with it. The result is one guy dies and the other apparently gets used as a host for the alien in the tube. The alien-host dude heads back to earth in his ship, but manages in an exertion of his remaining willpower, to crash into a space station, thus preventing the the alien being getting to earth.
The next scene is a team being briefed on their mission for NTI, to reclaim an artefact of alien origin from Titan - the one the two previous guys just stumbled upon.
The crew set off, crash land on Titan and try to find their alien artefact and repair the ship. The head corporate guy is an arsehole and puts the companies interest above the safety of the crew. They find a Richter Dynamics ship and up pops Klaus Kinski, who is creepy as ever. People disappear and reappear under the control of the Alien, luring other crew members to their death.
The alien exerts mind control over the humans via parasitic brain slugs, using the host's knowledge and technology to spread itself to other worlds. Conversely, the main alien itself presents as animalistic and only interested in eating people. There is one pretty intense scenes where the alien bites the head off an unlucky crew member.
There are some fun gore effects, the film is not too slow moving and many of the characters are quite likeable.
Total cheese, but I dig it!
4. Forbidden World / Mutant (1982)
A New World Pictures production. Allan Holzman the Director's original vision was changed by Roger Corman due to budgetary constraints, morphing Holzman's initial idea of creating a 'Lawrence of Arabia' type affair, into an Alien rip-off (apparently.)
Sam, the robot wakes up the federation marshal Mike Colby from deep sleep/stasis. They're under attack, but not to fear, there's calming classical music in the background. They fight off the attackers and Sam breaks the bad news - rather than going home on leave they have new mission...
Go to Xarbia to get to a high security lab where an experimental genetic life-form has gotten loose and is causing concern. The original purpose of said life-form, was to be a producer of an abundant food source. The irony is, it'll start to eating them.
Sam and Mike arrive, meet the research staff and the experiment. Prof. Cal Timbbergen (Fox Harris,) introduces Subject 20, which currently isn't doing much and is in a latent chrysalis form, hiding out in the incubator. It's a metamorphic mutant... Apparently. Prior to that it had run amok around the ship and damaged a bunch of stuff. So mike is here to deal with it, except Dr Hauser doesn't want subject 20 destroyed. Dr Glaser (June Chadwick) convinces Mike to hold fire - wait one night and see what happens.
Jimmy, the general ship boy (I think) is left to keep an eye on the Subject 20, which starts acting differently - signs of heavy breathing. Jimmy freaks and notifies the others. The chrysalis plops out a little goopy thing, which then attacks Jimmy. Tracy (Dawn Dunlap) is sent to investigate. She finds Jimmy on the floor and unconscious and they get him unconscious up to the medical lab. Meanwhile subject 20 is loose somewhere in the ship.
There's a kinda weird montage sex scene where Mike and Dr Glaser get down. Other characters are also viewed during the montage, chilling out for the night all set to a really strange synth piece of soundtrack, led by one of the crew playing his space saxophone.
Tracey takes a sauna the next day and Mike walks in on her and manages to save her from Subject 20.
Subject 20 grows and starts to take control of the ship, the crew start dying off and the only way they can find to destroy it is to give it Prof. Cals cancerous cells. The premise of the whole film is actually pretty cool, the performances and editing are well done and keep it fast paced. There's a bit of a conspiracy and dirty secret surrounding the origins of Subject 20 - the team selected a donor, Annie, who was to play host mother to the original mutant.
Tracey and Dr G try to talk to the mutant at one point and it responds using a computer. It all ends badly, inevitably. Jimmy's body has been morphed into a food supply for the alien, which looks pretty gross and is quite fun!
They finally dispatch the creature with an injection of tumor tissue from Prof. Cal, which Mike has to get out of him surgically with no anaesthetic. The alien disintegrates pretty fast after the injection, as it metabolises things very very quickly, so the cancer spreads super fast. Only Mike and Tracey are left alive.
The end sequence reprises the event s of the film, which feels pretty surreal.
There are some cool scenes and awesome gore effects. The final creature looks pretty shit sadly, but the rest of the monster effects and melty, transformation stuff is pretty rad. I really liked this one and have given a few re-watches and enjoyed.
5. Humanoids From The Deep / Monster (1980)
Humanoids covers some pretty interesting topics; the impact of industrialisation on small communities, genetic modification, displacement of indigenous peoples and racism.
It's a pretty good film really, for something of this level. The concept is strong, there are some moments of good acting and the film has a creepy and suspenseful atmosphere, which really brings the claustrophobic and tense impression of a small isolated fishing town's dynamics to life.
There film also brings a far darker theme of mutants hunting down and impregnating young women. This adds weight to the statement that there is an undercurrent of misogyny that pervades much of the horror genre. Interestingly, the films credited director was Barbara Peters, although a male co-director was apparently involved, but not given a credit.
Otherwise, the film pulls no punches in terms of the gore and effects. The scenes where the dogs have been killed are quite upsetting, but that's just my values coming into play I guess. The creatures themselves look quite ridiculous, big cumbersome rubber suits flapping around with their silly 50's B movie styling. It's good fun though and the final big clash of creatures and the town's people is quite impressive, with so many of the creatures running about the place.
The production as a whole is kinda slick and also pretty fun. There is a lot to engage with in terms of the themes and a lot that could have been expanded. The film is by no means intelligent, but there really are some powerful points that could have been expanded to explore interesting issues.
What can I say, I have watched this a few times over and continued to enjoy it.
A side note: I watched a film recently called Breeders (1986), that had the same deal - aliens come to earth to mate with women. It was pretty much a succession of young ladies being in situations where they get naked, then a guy turns up, has a seizure which turns out to be his alien infection taking over, following which, the alien virus/parasite afflicted man assaults the woman. Total trash, I half watched an Italian dub of it and understood nothing. Ah well.
6. The Being (1983)
This thing opens with a DJ's radio segment, reporting local news for Pottsville, Idaho. The film is set across Easter. There is a narration following the radio part, saying people have gone missing, the ultimate terror has taken form, blah blah blah. What a load of shit this film was...
The main thing is the police and government come together to fight a monster that evolved from a local boy mutated by radioactive waste that has contaminated the local drinking water.
It's fairly standard, sequence of deaths until the final stand off. I couldn't really focus on this one and totally got suckered by the trailer, which as in most cases, condensed the best bits of the film into a minute and a half. The rest is slow paced padding. I figured I'd add this just because it's fairly new to me.
The gore is minimal, a kid joyriding a car in a junkyard gets his head pulled off and There's a scene where a young couple are getting down at a drive-in (the film they're watching looked more interesting than the one they're acting in.) Goop oozes in through their radio and the creature attacks the couple in the car, whilst a naked busty blond struggles with an amorphous monster lump on the drive in screen. Some humour is attempted with the scene cutting to some kids in another car in the drive-in, screaming in a comical way. It's all fairly hammy and incongruent to the rest of the film.
A stoner gets dragged out of his car. Again, I feel this plays into white-bread suburban American cultural propaganda - don't have sex, do drugs, smile or laugh, if you do, the creature will get you. I wonder how many of the screen writers were ploughed to death with religious morality tales and urban legends in their youth...
In a later scene, the mayor and the detective - whatever his name is (don't care,) check in about the creature attacking people. Pottsville is no.1 dumping ground, technologically advanced, something. Again, who cares?
I'm having to work hard to follow this, but actually, the more I can pay attention, the more mildly interesting themes appear.
There's a black and white dream sequence in the middle with a flying car. Puddles of goop, the grumpy mayor pulled away from his dinner engagements, who secretly likes booze and smut despite his wife's campaign against it. She gets picked off by a slimey tentacle / tongue looking thing.
The film could be good, if it wasn't so slow and there was maybe some more gore. The creature is kinda fleshy and slimy looking, which is fun I guess. Looks like a big penis with teeth and a rolling single eye. (I had to use it for the post's main picture up top.)
There's a waitress as one of the main characters, who finds the monster mutant boy's mother, who is a crazy old lady now and nothing much happens. It's trying hard to bring all the element s of the story together, but damn, it's not really getting there.
The detective guy kills the creature in the end by chucking bottles of sulphuric acid at it and taking an axe to its head.
I don't know.... Maybe I'd like this if I could actually sit and focus on it, but damn it's just so boring...
7. Scared To Death (1980)
Low budget, grimy and gritty, but it had some heart. Slow moving, but there was a certain charm to this. The creature - The Syngenor (Synthesised Genetic Organism,) was brought back for a sequel 'Syngenor (1990)' with a bigger budget and David Gale (Dr Hill from re-animator) as an evil Scientist. That was still pretty slow and minimal on decent effects.
I can't really say a lot about this, apart from the cover and the title are killer, but the film doesn't really live up to them. Everything drags a lot and it's a bit stale, but I just dug the vibe when I first watched it. I tried a re-watch, but couldn't stick it out.
The main gist is there's a genetically modified super soldier on the loose, haunting storm drains and popping up to kill people. It's another formulaic - monster kills a bunch of people, they trap it in the end and manage to kill it.
The monster's rubber suit is kinda cool in design, once again very 50's B-Movie, but I don't remember much other gore or effects. The characters are annoying for the most part. The monster is supposed to reproduce asexually, so there's a race against time to track it down and dispatch it.
They lure it into a factory and manage to crush it in a big hydraulic press thing.
Yeah, mostly dry. I'm not sure what caught my attention and made me think I enjoyed it particularly. Like I said, I kinda dug the cover art.
8. The Beast Within (1982)
This has some fun effects and some great dialogue in places.
Nice score - kinda generic, but always good to hear things performed by an orchestra, rather than synth.
Generally the film is slow paced, but good if you have a completist mindset. I liked the transformation scenes quite a bit. Brave low budget puppetry that benefits from an atmospheric, creepy and uncomfortable setting and storyline.
The main plot points are, a woman is raped by some unseen monster and she later gives birth to a son, who turns out to be the progeny of the monster and later transforms himself. In a scene with a great bit of monologue, the Judge of the small town the film revolves around, explains how the monster came into being from a man locked away in a cellar, starved and forced to eat the dead body of his lover. This crime was perpetrated by the Judge's brother (the town's undertaker,) who caught his wife in bed with Billy. There's something about cicadas being buried for sixteen years and then resurfacing - hence the manifestation in the son, who becomes ill suddenly and returns with his parent to the town where his mother was raped by the monster to find a cure. It all feels kinda tenuous.
In a way it's heartfelt and touching, watching the boy suffer in his sickness and transformation. He's good and creepy when he gets his strength back and goes off on a killing spree to take revenge on the town elders who were part of his true father's hideous demise.
The gore is fairly subtle and understated. There's a good bit of creepy atmosphere, and the production values are fairly slick, but it's not groundbreaking as a film really. I'd say it's almost more of a thriller than a monster movie. I mostly dug it for the transformation scenes.
9. Xtro (1982)
This was a slog to get through. I just had the resounding feeling that the creators had been told explicitly about horror film tropes, but had no real interest in horror, making them carry everything out in a formulaic and quite gratuitous way without really substantiating any of the affect.... I'll try make that make sense: There is a scene where the alien comes to earth and impregnates a random woman in a cottage, who then gives birth to the abducted father from the title sequence.
There is something that reminds me so much of Hellraiser in this film - the 'oh so very English' actors and the total unlikeable-ness of each character. It's funny, but it feels like they tried to remake Hellraiser with an alien as the central figure, but this came out five years before Hellraiser. It's the abhorrent greed that possesses each of the characters, well that's what I felt anyway, that makes them so unlikeable. They each want to control the other and have their own way. It's just kinda depressing.
Anyway, the effects were kinda fun, in a pretty cartoonish way. The kid, Tony was amazingly annoying and the sequences with the toys sent any credibility the film had through the floor. The soundtrack - the composer should have been shot for, it's just ridiculous.
Anyway, you get the picture. Watch it if you want to see something that is like a paint by numbers version of a sci-fi horror taken to grotesque extremes that are generally repulsive and devoid of any artistic merit. I can't quite believe that you'd have to pay around £20 for a secondhand DVD of this....
10. The Deadly Spawn (1983)
I think I found this through an amazon recommendation and bought it on a whim, hooray for targeted marketing! I had the synapse version as pictured above and only sold the DVDe recently. I'd not watched this in years.
I forgot what an amazing film it is. It's very low budget, gritty and bravely executed.
The main strength is the way the film is put together and the overall premise: a meteor crashes to earth and aliens spread out into the surrounding area and attack people.
The characters we are presented with are all likeable people, honest, intelligent, sensitive. They die and in quick succession too. The film doesn't move slowly. First the parents die, in the basement. It's brutal, the creature is shown quickly and despite looking fairly ridiculous, the impact of the death of the husband and then wife is pretty hard hitting. In most other horror films, the characters who die off seem to be written as slightly unpleasant or deserving, but here they are pure victims of inhuman indifference. There's an echo of existential dread here; death does not have favourites or discriminate, when it comes, it takes us regardless and unheeding.
The most heart rending part of the film for me was the death of Ellen. Sweet, smart and confident, she is cornered by the alien and beheaded, her decapitated corpse crashing out of the window and falling into the yard outside. Such an irreverent and dehumanising end to a character who had such strength. I found this to be incredibly bold from the writers' point of view, almost sadistic in a way, considering how the audience may receive it. It's almost a move that alienates the audience, but here is the power again of this film; it's not a soppy comedic creature film, but a real hard hitting piece that evokes a sense of human terror in the face of the illogical.
Charles, the kid is an amazing character. He's just a total dude, quiet, reserved and thoughtful, he discovers the alien in the basement, sees his mother's face eaten off her disembodied head, right in front of him and doesn't seem to flinch, but make a cool analysis of the situation and discovers the aliens are sightless. He goes 'Home Alone' on them and comes up with a variety of traps to get them.
Anyway, as you can tell, I really dig this film. I couldn't watch it too often however, it's not a lot of fun to watch. It's quite bleak in its way, but I think that really is the huge saving grace that makes up for low production values, ok acting and brave, but crude special effects.
11. C.H.U.D (1984)
You know it, you love it, it's about a cover-up concerning toxic waste transportation and dumping under New York, mutating the underground homeless population into flesh eating fiends. Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.
There's the wonderful atmosphere of the city; the gritty nature of poverty, urban depilation, homelessness, all mixed up with scary monsters crawling around in the sewers.
Again, in its way it can be slow in places, but generally it's pretty cohesive and well directed.
John Heard and Daniel Stern are great in it and John Goodman even has a bit part as a cop in a diner that is attacked by a group of C.H.U.D.s
I can't say too much beyond I really like this film. It's no masterpiece, but there's something cool about the way it's put together. The characters are strong and it's easy to come to sympathise with them and the creature effects are good fun. Probably the top of my list here.
12. Leviathan (1989)
I found this on VHS in a local charity shop a good few years back. It's pretty slick and high budget and stars Peter Weller (Robocop,) Amanda Pays (Who was also in the similarly fishy Kindred (1987,) which I spoke about here here,) Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) and Daniel Stern (CHUD and home alone.)
A deep sea mining ship unleashes a genetic mutation from a Soviet ship they encounter wrecked on the sea floor. The resulting monster that mutates from afflicted crew members stalks the survivors all over their sub until they manage to get away and destroy it on the surface.
Super slick production values and some good acting, it's higher budget but maybe not A list for this kinda film. I really enjoyed it however.
The effects are cool, the crew starts mutating after drinking vodka they snuck aboard from the soviet ship. The survivors flush the mutated agglomeration of afflicted crew members off the ship, but a bit of a tentacle stays and grows into a big nasty jobby that attacks the remaining crew. It's pretty mean, it can rip through steel doors. There are shades of The Thing (1982) which I won't write about here, because we all already know it's one of the greatest films ever made!
The result for Leviathan is it's kinda like Alien set in the depths of the ocean this time. It makes a statement about messing with things humanity doesn't really understand and how big business prioritises image and profit over the lives of its employees, pretty heavy stuff. Definitely worth a watch, it's just super solid.
13. DeepStar Six (1989)
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham (Friday 13th.)
I just wanted to add this as I watched it not too long ago. The execution of the film is pretty slick with some cool creature effects and cliff-hanger moments with some fairly heart-wrenching outcomes. The Captain (Taurean Blacque,) dies in self sacrifice following an accident with a watertight bulkhead, which was a touching moment in the film.
Miguel Ferrer plays as ever an infinitely unlikeable character in this deep sea weapons program / creature / corrupt corporation / civil defence nuclear program flick.
Matt McCoy is an interesting casting choice in this. I remember him from Police Academy 5, so almost expect to be laughing whenever he's on screen. There are some mildly funny moments with him. The creature bites him in half while coming back aboard from going out to fix a ruptured part of the base. The thing chomps straight through his high pressure dive suit.
All the trouble starts when the company trying to position a missile sled on the ocean floor blow up a cave, which will provide stability for the missiles to sit on... Something like that. There are a bunch of nuclear explosions and stuff.
An unknown thing attacks the vehicle doing the positioning / blowing-up. The thing then attacks the base and everything plays out with the crew trying to stay alive and getting picked off and falling to Ferrer's paniced attempts to save himself by throwing them to the creature, or just generally fucking up.
The score is pretty good. Acting and direction work well, things are fairly well paced and the creature effects are pretty good. The creature reminds me a bit of the worms / Graboids from Tremors, although this came out a year before Tremors. It does later emerge looking a bit like a giant lobster thing.
The tension comes from the remaining crew members having to decompress before resurfacing. Ferrer's character manages to kill himself with pressure sickness trying to escape without decompressing, taking the only escape pod. This is fitting as he kills Van Gelder with a Co2 spear by accident.
There's a vid on youtube pairing this with Leviathan. Pretty right on - same year of release, dealing with pretty similar ideas, but the monsters are pretty different. The theory is this is an Abyss / Alien cash-in. Apparently a third film "Lords Of The Deep" was released in 89 too. I may have to give it a look, although the review on IMDB says it's pretty abysmal.
That's all a bit disjointed, but if you want a better impression of the film, just watch it. It honestly is good fun. Pair it with Leviathan and you've got a decent night in!