Friday, May 17, 2013

Modern Monsters

This post is my final entry in this year's May Monster Madness Blog Hop. I confess I didn't realize this was supposed to be a daily thing, but being forced to post every 24 hours, regardless of mother's day, late outings, filling out progress reports or smashing my face into the pavement, has proven a mental exercise that I needed. I want to thank Anne for the invitation, Anne, Emma and Ked for setting this whole thing up, and finally to all the participants - both my fellow bloggers and our readers. This has been a fun week, and I look forward to doing it again next year. If you want to hear more of what I have to say, please tune in each week to the Dark Discussions podcast . It took us some time, but Phil, Eric and I have really hit our stride as we hit our 100th episode.


I have no doubt that the heyday of monster films has passed. The only reliable source of monster movies lately has been the SyFy channel, and the less said about those films the better. But all is not lost. There have been some excellent, or at least enjoyable, monster films in recent years, and I've picked a bunch that worked well for me.

Some parameters - I needed a timeframe for modern, so I chose the 15 year period from 1998-2012. 20 years gets us back a full generation, which feels too far back. 15 years gets us to a time where the CGI monster had mostly replaced the practical, and the internet, cell phones and other modern conveniences were becoming everyday things that most films could no longer ignore.

Also to keep it modern, I ignored films that were continuing from an earlier era. No remakes or sequels to old franchises, so those new Godzilla films were off the table, as was the Kong remake, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Piranha 3D.

I am also sticking with what a "monster movie" means to me. Something tangible - no ghosts. Something unnatural - no normal sharks, gators, snakes, etc, though mutated or genetically manipulated forms were fair game. Nothing human or close to human - slashers, serial killers, real historical figures, etc. Lastly, nothing so overly familiar that they have graduated from the "monster movie" genre into one of their own - vampire movies, zombie movies, werewolf movies, etc.

So without further ago, 25 26 of my favorite modern monster films, in semi-chronological order:

1998
Deep Rising
http://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Deep-Rising-1-300x162.jpg
Stephen Sommers' first film remains his best. Treat Williams and Famke Janssen play a pair of theives on a luxury cruise ship beseiged by a prehistoric sea monster called Ottoia (which in fact bears next to no resemblance to the actual animal it is supposed to be).  Fast paced and tongue firmly in cheek, this film would make a great double feature with Tremors.


The Faculty
 http://www.explore-science-fiction-movies.com/images/parasite-parasitoid-types-of-aliens-the-faculty.jpg
On the heels of Scream, Robert Rodriguez delivers a post-modern teen horror blend of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing. The monster itself is only revealed in small bits towards the end, but this before-they-were-stars studded yarn is one of the strongest horror flicks of the 90s. (Soon to be discussed on the Dark Discussions podcast - stay tuned!)

1999
Deep Blue Sea

Let's be honest, the monster genre has more cheese than a fondue party, and Deep Blue Sea is perfectly comfortable being a can of Cheez Wiz. What's not to love about genius level bio-engineered sharks chasing Thomas Jane, LL Cool Jay and Sam Jackson through the confined corridors of a sinking medical research platform?

2000
Pitch Black
Vin Diesel arrives in style in David Twohy's visually stunning, morally ambiguous thriller. Riddick is one of the best characters of the last 20 years, and Pitch Black offers layers for those willing to look deeper than its Aliens-inspired action. Check out the Dark Discussions episode here.

2001
Jeeper's Creepers

A tight thriller that divides people with its ending. The finale made the movie for me, when it revealed that the Creeper was in fact some unearthly being, and not merely some nut job. Monster movies were pretty thin back then, so it was a pleasant surprise (now spoiled. Sorry!)


Monster's Inc
http://fixtstore.com/news/files/2010/12/monsters_inc_028.jpg
Who says monsters have to be scary? Well, I guess I did, but if this movie does anything, its show that scary is in the eye of the beholder. While far from my favorite Pixar film, Mike, Sully and Boo are some of my favorite characters from their stable, and this film is a visual treat for any monster fan.

2002
Blade II
http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/BladeReaper.jpg
Here not for its vampires, but for the Reapers. The film that cemented my love for Guillermo del Toro. A great blend of action and horror.

Eight Legged Freaks
http://images.zap2it.com/images/movie-30291/eight-legged-freaks-4.jpg
Now we're talking! Hordes of gigantic spiders attacking a small desert town? This is Monster Movie 101.


Reign of Fire
It's kind of shocking that dragons, one of the greatest monsters of legend, didn't really get much love until the last decade, and even now Dragonslayer's Vermithrax Perjorative remains the standard. The apocalyptic setting is a great twist to the classic trope.


2005
The Descent
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2006/08/04/arts/Descent600.jpg
I rarely use the term "instant classic", but this one was. An absolute must see (just make sure you don't get the American ending). And don't forget to hear the Dark Discussions review!


Feast
http://static.giantbomb.com/uploads/original/1/10354/2181755-feast.jpg
Best known for being the most successful Project Greenlight film, this really is a nice little gem of a monster movie. Fast paced, sharp humor, and not at all shy about pulling the trigger on any of the characters. An excellent variation on the "monster seige" movie.


2006
Black Sheep
blacksheep.jpg
No, not the Chris Farley vehicle. This tale from down under features carnivorous GM sheep, an evil sheep fetus, and tosses in a weresheep for good measure. One of the best horror comedies of the last decade.


The Host
http://www.internalbleeding.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/the-host-4.jpg
This Korean monster movie has of the best monster moments ever, as the monster runs up and down a riverbank eating people on their lunch break. Its a big wad to blow so early in the movie, but the daring choice pays off and the film delivers.

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3582/3685171545_9ffe67bd7d.jpg
The first film was all swashbuckling, this time its all sea monsters. It has my favorite celluloid adaptation of the Kraken, and the Flying Dutchman is jam packed with awesome creature designs.


Slither
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-q6S6FeHB-Vs/TYdaE_agrYI/AAAAAAAAAHg/DqEKeKcgEuc/s1600/6a00d8341c51c053ef00e54f528a488833-800wi.jpg
James Gunn's homage to alien parasites is bloody and wickedly funny.


2007
The Mist
http://www.heroicfantasygames.com/TheMist/film2_small.jpg
Thomas Jane returns to the list in what may be my favorite Stephen King film ever. If you have a chance, watch the black and white version - it just enhances the mood and disguises some of the weaker FX shots. We covered this film in one of my very first Dark Discussions podcasts (forgive the rough edges).


2008
The Burrowers
The Burrowers
Not a lot of western monster films out there (Valley of the Gwangi and....?). In this tale a group of lawmen take off after some Indians for killing a band of settlers, only to watch it all go to hell once they discover the true killers.

Cloverfield
A great "man in the street" take on the classic monster rampage. Not a huge fan of Clover himself, but his little parasitic buddies creeped me out. Just waiting for the sequel...



Hellboy II: The Golden Army
I already mentioned the Tooth Fairies, but this is a film chock full of great monsters. The Plant Elemental is simply stunning.




The Ruins

Brutal killer plant movie. Did terribly at the box office, but really deserves to find an audience. Dark Discussions podcast coming soon.


Splinter
http://iamgeeker.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/splinter_hand.jpg
A pair of criminals and their hostages are trapped in a gas station by a fungal (?) parasite. The use of a gymnast as the monster results in the creepiest set of moves since Linda Blair came down the stairs. Discussed on Dark Discussions podcast.


2009
District 9

Neil Blomkamp's debut film is one of the stronger SF efforts in recent memory, and the Prawn one of the most well realized CG creatures to date.  

Splice
A slow burn Canadian SF-horror hybrid. I think it has been terribly misunderstood by its critics. A modern Frankenstein film that again asks what responsibility we have to our creations, and what price must others pay for our own hubris.

2010
Monsters
MonstersUK.jpg
The giant alien monsters take a back seat to the human drama. The use of post-monster carnage  to comment on US foreign policy may irritate some viewers, but the film works for me even when its politics don't.

Troll Hunter

A Norwegian found footage film taps into classic folklore to deliver a fascinating behind the scenes look at how the government handles monster containment. Another must see film.

2012
Cabin the Woods


One of my favorite films of 2012, by one of my favorite entertainment-makers. The finale is just bug nuts with monsters, and the ride there is a treat too. Check out the Dark Discussions Podcast.

So there you go, 25 26 films that prove the monster genre just ain't dead yet, and with movies like Pacific Rim coming down the pipe, we might yet be seeing a revival.

Are there any films I missed? Anything you think deserves a mention? Please let me know in the comments.

Thanks again to everyone involved in the 2013 May Monster Madness Blog Hop. I just checked my stats, and today is by far the biggest day I've ever had. Come again soon!



Thursday, May 16, 2013

For Ray

This is my entry for Day 6 of the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. Please visit the other blogs posted at the links below, and if you find any of this at all useful or entertaining, please let us know, and your friends as well.

The recent loss of Ray Harryhausen hurt. I was surprised at that. After all the man was old, and for a time, I hadn't even realized he was still alive, and he hadn't made a film in years. Yet when the news of his passing came, it was a punch to the gut. I guess I hadn't realized just how deep is my affection for the man and his work. Really, outside of Lucas and perhaps Stan Lee, there probably exists no other entertainer who so fully fired my imagination. So as my tribute to Ray, my undying thanks and affection for his art and his enthusiasm for the genre, I present my 9 (1 for each of Sinbad's voyages) favorite Harryhausen creations.


9. The Scorpions from Clash of the Titans















Why? Because they were giant scorpions, and scorpions are cool.  That's all the justification I need.

8. The Bees from Mysterious Island
http://www.midnightonly.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/mysterious-island-5.jpg
Not one of my favorite RH flicks, but one I've probably seen more than most thanks to its frequent airing on Ch 5 in NY. Of all its creatures, the bees always stuck out in my mind, which is weird because I don't like bees nearly as much as cephalopods. The scene of the characters being sealed into a honeycomb just struck a nerve.

7. Figurehead from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
http://dcairns.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/figure1.jpg 
Most of RH's monsters are either mythological monsters or prehistoric beasts, with some giant bugs tossed in for variety. The Figurehead stands out for its originality - what a brilliant way to destroy Sinbad, by turning his own ship against him!


6. Allosaurus from One Million Years BC
http://www.moviefanfare.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/one-million-years-bc-allosaurus.jpg 
RH must have loved dinosaurs because he made so many of them. Weirdly, he made three different Allosaurus models that I know of, and not one of the more famous T-rex. What I like about this one is its size - big dinos like the Beast from 10,000 Fathoms or the T-rex from Jurassic Park are too big to take as a personal threat. Yes, you want to be out of their way, but its hard to believe they'd take notice. Here, the monster is nearly at eye level. The danger felt more intimate, and more real.


5. Minoton from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-P8pENULiWBg/Td8cRghuq-I/AAAAAAAABKo/jZCPrOWtd_4/s1600/minotaur8.jpg
Strong and stoic, Minoton was really just a big body guard for Queen Zenobia, Disappointingly he  doesn't do much in the film - all style, no substance - but my fondness for minotaurs is unabiding.

4. Trog from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_9_iMNcLAXpg/TKvXSzg1gwI/AAAAAAAAAyc/qhlJZAgNLms/s1600/eye+of+tiger+26.jpg 
You'll note this list is heavy on Eye of the Tiger. It's a film I have an irrational affection for, as my father had obtained a... not quite legitimate copy of it and I watched it ad nauseum as a child.

3. Talos from Jason and the Argonauts
http://bavatuesdays.com/files/2011/05/Jason_talos-1.gif   
Minoton's big brother. Big, badass, the Harryhausen monster I'd least want to fuck with.

2. Prince Kassim from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
http://crustula.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/kassim.jpg?w=500 
A baboon with a human mind, Kassim is one of Harryhausen's most impressive works. You can fake a dragon or a griffon or a cyclops, but its hard to believably emulate a real animal.

1. Medusa from Clash of the Titans
 http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mbl5eqWIEB1rzs31zo1_500.jpg


Could there be any other choice? Terrific monster design, perhaps RH's greatest piece of animation, a terrifically shot and suspenseful scene, and a classic monster from Greek myth. One of my favorite scenes from any film ever.


NOTE: Where's Joe? I know Mighty Joe Young was mostly done by RH, but Willis O'Brien also had a hand in the design. I wanted to limit the list to stuff that was 100% Ray.
 

He's back!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog hop to bring you this important message:

Don't know about you but I am a huge fan of Pitch Black (and the XBox Butcher Bay game). This seems to be ignoring  the self-important sequel and getting back to basics. Looks good.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Where No Monster Has Gone Before

The internet, the final frontier. This is the Blog Hop of May Monster Madness. It's seven day mission, to seek out freaky beasts and weird mutations, to boldly go where no monster has gone before!

Guess what opens today? Guess who's a massive Trek nerd? Guess what today's MMM entry is?

Ten Trek Monsters

10. The Mugato from "A Private Little War" (TOS)

 A large, venomous primate from the planet Neural. Contrary to popular belief, this is not simply an ape with horns - the art designers obviously worked in subtle and unique anatomical features.


9. The Targ from "Where No One Has Gone Before" (TNG)
http://lcars.frontierfleet.net/images/0/09/9cc57e3a89dc15963e534898fc8ade8d.jpg
Worf's childhood pet, targs are common domesticated animals from the Klingon homeworld Qo'noS. It does kinda look like a pig with horns...

8. Alien Unicorn from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
When Shatner stepped up to the (not good but not as bad as believed) fifth Trek film, there was one thing you could be sure of: Horses. But Spock taking down a horse with a Vulcan Nerve Pinch? And not just any horse - a BLUE horse with.... horns.

7. Space Dog from "The Enemy Within" (TOS)
http://malnurturedsnay.net/files/Space-Dog-The-Enemy-Within-star-trek-the-original-series-6352214-694-5301.jpg

Oh come on!

6. The Vidiians from "The Phage" (VOY)
http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/SulanDurstsFace_8843.jpg
I tried to avoid tagging obvious humans-in-makeup alien races as monsters, but for the Vidiians I'll make an exception. A once great alien race brought low by "the phage", the species can only survive by harvesting the organs from other races. OK, that doesn't make much sense - a starfaring race with the technology to graft organs from species with totally different evolution histories into their bodies without risk of rejection or contamination and yet is unable to clone their own replacement organs just fails as a SF concept, but totally works as a creepy monster.


5. Spider-Barclay from "Genesis" (TNG)
Weird and freaky and totally unlike anything you'd usually see on TNG. The whole episode (directed by Gates McFadden) is nicely atomospheric and crammed full of evolutionary throwback crewmen like Fish Troi and Jean-Lemur Picard. Sure the science sucked, but I enjoyed the results.

 4. Gary Mitchell from "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (TNG)
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-lWjdQPip7K8/UETFlZfIZUI/AAAAAAAASN8/4nrM2bCEdbc/s1600/star-trek-Gary_Mitchell_gary_lockwood.jpg
Another rule breaker, as I've not been using humans as monsters, but then Gary is a human with the power of a god. Hand ultimate power to a being that still has all the mental and emotional weaknesses of the human race? Bad idea, but one of the best episodes of the franchise.

3.  Alien Parasites from "Conspiracy" (TNG)

A daring, ballsy episode that highlighted everything wrong with TNG's early seasons. The parasites were a last minute addition because the show runners refused to allow an actual difference of opinion to happen in Starfleet. So the parasites were invented, giving one of the goriest and most memorable scenes of the entire series, which they proceeded to pretend never happened because that "wasn't Trek."

2. The Horta from "Devil in the Dark" (TOS)
http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110626014561/memoryalpha/en/images/1/12/Horta.jpg
One of my all time favorite episodes. Kirk, Spock, coming to an understanding with a truly alien life form, one of the few that wasn't a man with a funny forehead.  This is Trek at its best.


1. The Gorn from "Arena" (TOS)
http://www.reelgood.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/gorn_051.jpg
And so is this. Same basic idea as "Devil in the Dark" - fight a monster, then learn not to kill each other. But this is Shatner at his Shatneriest. Flying kicks and a double fist back attack against a giant lizard monster while delivering Shatnerian play-by-play to his crew. The Gorn also made a noteworthy to one of the few memorable Enterprise episodes (In a Mirror Darkly)

So sad that there were no good "monsters" to take from my favorite Trek series (DS9), and that so many had to come from the original series. But then that willingness to embrace the cheese of rhino-puppies is what made the original series so damned fun. The "New Trek" era just took itself way too seriously. If ever they bring the Enterprise back to television, I hope they remember to pack the horns.

Note: I left off the Ceti-Eels because I used them in yesterday's post, and sticking with the Mogwai-are-too-cute-to-be-monsters rule, I had to leave out the tribbles, too.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Monsters of Diminutive Size

Day 4 of the May Monster Madness Blog Hop. I hope you all are enjoying this as much as I am. Sorry this is so late- it was a bear of a day highlighted by a faceplant into the sidewalk. Hint: don't trip with your hands in your pockets. Thankfully my face broke my fall. Still don't know how I tripped, but I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the monsters below is responsible:

(presented in whatever-pops-into-my-head-next order)

Disembodied Hands
There are several of these running around that I am aware of, most notably Michael Caine's from the Oliver Stone magnum opus The Hand, Bruce Campbell's from Evil Dead II (Bruce will return later in the list), and of course Thing Addams from The Addams Family. I'm not really sure body parts count as monsters, but my list was a tad thin otherwise. Really the biggest danger they pose is their ability to pull horrible puns from onlookers.
http://cdn.gowatchit.com/posters/original/movie_3353.jpg


Killer Toys
A ton of these guys running around, too. From Demonic Toys to Small Soldiers, we have Good Guy Dolls and Voodoo dolls, Talking Tina and the Zuni Fetish Doll, Dolly Dearest and ventriloquist dummies. Does the clown doll from Poltergeist count, because that thing was pretty damned freaky?



Mind Controlling Alien Parasites
Could probably do a MMM post just on these little bastards alone. Off the top of my head there's Night of the Creeps, Slugs, Slither, Shivers (ok, not sure that one was alien), The Hidden, the "Conspiracy" creatures from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Worst for me has to be the Ceti Eel from Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn.
 

The Tingler from The Tingler (1959)
Speaking of parasites, how about William Castle's most infamous creation? I wish some theater still existed with the wired seats. Maybe for Avatar 2 ?



Killer Robot from "The Invaders" episode of the Twilight Zone (1961)
 Want proof that The Twilight Zone was one of the greatest things ever on television? Here it is. One of the many fantastic Richard Mattheson penned episodes, this is twenty odd minutes of Endora being terrorized by a wind up toy robot, barely a line of dialogue, just terrific direction, lighting and Jerry Goldsmith's music.




Mini-Demons from the Gate (1987)
Confession - I have not seen this film since it first opened in theaters. I do remember 16 year old me loved the hell out of it. I wanted him to write this entry for me, but no one's seen him for some time.
 

The Troll from Cat's Eye (1985)
Not one of the better Stephen King films, but it was fun. Back then I saw the Troll as a villain, but after teaching for 17 years I recognize he was doing his part to control the vermin population.
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-ihSgw375liU/Tk6S1X4HR9I/AAAAAAAAAFU/LHrGYFkuDxw/s1600/Catseyetroll.jpg

Li'l Ashes from Army of Darkness (199)
"Ramming speed!" I know some folks love the new entry into the series, but I really wish there was more maniacal mindfucking (hear our Dark Discussion roundtable on the 2013 film here: http://darkdiscussions.com/Pages/podcast_097.html ). Weirdly I'm having trouble finding images of the evil mini-Ashes, so I'll just put this up instead:
Army of Darkness "Ash" Lego Mini-Figure


 The Bug from The Matrix (1999)

A lot of awesome stuff in the first Matrix film, but this was the one thing that sent shivers up my spine...
http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120222044461/matrix/images/6/6a/Matrix-bug.jpg


Tooth Fairies from Hellboy II: The Golden Army 
This is a great movie for monster fans. Gone is the "audience stand in" normal guy from the first movie - all the freaks step up front and center. There are some terrific designs here, and some very solid action sequences (as well as a touching rendition of "Mandy"). The tooth fairies are classic DelToro creatures, and even though they are significantly outweighed by every other beastie in the flick, they are hands down the scariest of the lot. 
http://viewsfromthesofa.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/fairy.jpg

Homonculus from Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973, 2010)
Here's another film that terrified me in my youth. The original is very dated, both in (tv-budget limited) effects and in gender politics, but it is still creepy as hell. Del Toro's remake worked for me, too, though the new creatures share more than a little DNA with his tooth fairies.



Alien Cobra from Prometheus (2012)
There's a lot  from Prometheus that bothered the crap out of me, but if you can ignore its A-movie ambitions and watch it as a B-grade monster flick, it has a lot to offer. As someone who used to handle snakes for a living, I totally got Milburn's desire to reach out and touch some... thing.
Prometheus Deleted Scenes Biologist 


Norris Thing from John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)
Great movie, many great moments. Not many laughs. This was the biggest.
the thing norris monster


The Facehugger from the Alien franchise
Yeah, we all think of the Alien as scary, but really, when you get down to it, what makes it scary? It's not that its going to kill you. Its that it will grab you, seal you in a wall, and leave you to be mouth raped by this nasty bugger.


Oh, and if you thought Lego Ash was cute...
Game Over Man! Get dis Alien Facehugger Plush at #SCIFIpawty from r pals @thinkgeek


Piranhas from Piranha franchise
I normally wouldn't count "real" animals as monsters, but these have never been normal piranha. Dante gave us genetically engineered piranhas (with a special Harryhausen-esque mini-fish-man to boot!), Cameron gave us flying piranhas, and Roth and Aja gave us prehistoric piranhas, so I rule "monsters all around." The best has to be the Jerry-O'Connell-penis-eating-piranha.
Piranha 3D Movie 2010 Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Richard Dreyfuss, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Dina Meyer nude

Bonus mini-monster from Joe Dante's Piranha (1980)
 http://monsterminions.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/phil-tip-creation_dxo.jpg?w=450&h=252


Gremlins from Gremlins franchise
I won't call the Mogwai monsters - too damn cute. But really, these are the Godzilla's of the mini-beasts. Look at all the mini-critters up there from the 80s. Bet all of them were inspired in some form by the Gremlins (and I didn't even toss in the obvious knock offs like the Critters, Ghoulies, Trolls and Leprechauns).  I'm already hearing a lot of bitching about the proposed remake, but I'm excited. Sounds like the studio just has a money making idea and no direction. I suggest we stop bellyaching and take charge. Demand a follow up or reboot, rather than a remake, using state of the art puppetry. Beg the studios for it, let them know we'll support it, and maybe we'll get it. Hell, maybe they'd let Joe D do it again.
gremlins-stripe.jpeg


Thanks for visiting. Be sure to hop to the pages below. Tomorrow, some monsters will boldly go where no monster has gone before....