Some time ago, I wrote a post entitled Horror 101 in which I tried to create a viewing list of movies that could help ease one into horror. I started with House On Haunted Hill and led eventually up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I realize now that for each entry I should have also listed some similar movies. Oh well. No use crying over spilled milk. Or blood. Or whatever. But I’ll remedy that this time around.
For Horror 102, I thought I’d continue this viewing list idea, and thought that another step toward easing oneself into horror would be to look at Creature Features. There’s something in the subgenre for everyone, from those who want a safe, possibly even cute feature, to those who want blood-soaked mayhem. Here we go.
#12 King Kong
I love and hate this movie. It’s a must-see and a great place to start with Creature Features. It’s a timeless classic obviously, and no remake has yet stood up to the original. It’s got some racial stereotype problems clearly which is one thing I dislike about it. But what bothers me most is how god damn sad it is. It’s also possibly the movie that launched the long running, oft repeated idea of what happens when white dudes just can’t leave things alone and turn out to be far worse monsters than whatever they’ve disturbed. Along the same lines: War Of The Gargantuas, Son Of Godzilla
This woulda been a much shorter movie if the dimwits who found Gorgo would have, again, left it the fuck alone. But no, they have to repeat The Kong Error. At least this one’s not sad since Gorgo’s mom comes to fetch her baby. Like the kids say these days, “Fuck around and find out.” I can’t think of anything similar except for possibly a godawful made for TV adaptation of Peter Benchley’s The Beast.
#10 Creature From The Black Lagoon
I know. I know. I’m already starting to sound like a broken record, but these white dudes just never learn. The Gill-man was perfectly happy, just minding his own damn business and hangin’ out in the Amazon until somebody invades his space, interferes with his life, then cages him up. It’s not quite as sad as King Kong as the Gill-man’s death is left somewhat ambiguous, but like Kong, the “solution” to something that can’t be explained or controlled is termination. True in Creature Features, true in american culture and foreign policy. Along the same lines: Beauty And The Beast (1946)
#9 The Blob
This is a somewhat different kind of “leave it the hell alone” problem. This time the creature lands here and attacks without all that much provocation. I mean, the farmer just took a stick and commenced ta pokin’ at the insides of a meteor. That’s when he gets latched on to (with incidentally some cool effects that, at least in that scene, still hold up pretty well). So in this case, leaving things alone would just prolong the inevitable. Still…white dudes. Am I right? I mentioned this in the Victim Zero post–there’s always gotta be some guy (cuz women aren’t this stupid) who pokes at something. Happens here, possibly first, and shows up again and again in Alien, Creepshow, Slither, and Life to name a few.
Here’s a slightly different twist to not leaving things alone. This time, the lab-coated lads and the military (wow, what a shock) are dropping atomic bombs to see what happens. Well what happens is they wake up something they didn’t know was there. But like I said before, fuck around and find out. It’s no secret that science fiction tends to reflect stuff in our own culture that we fear and can’t fully control, so there’s a whole slew of movies after WWII that focus on the results of radiation gone wrong. Godzilla is not the first of these, but it’s arguably a standout in terms of being memorable and iconic. Along the same lines: Rodan, Mothra
#7 The Tingler
I’d normally have put a Vincent Price/William Castle flick closer to the start of this list, but The Tingler has some genuinely creepy moments to it, especially involving the woman who can’t scream. Castle also does a fine job adding some noirish elements in terms of Dr. Chapin’s (Price) relationship with his greedy wife. Along the same lines: House On Haunted Hill (1959), The Fly (1958)
#6 The Shape Of Water
I really like Del Toro. He’s untouchable when it comes to showing the humanity of the monster vs. the monstrosity of the men. Like Castle in The Tingler, Del Toro also mixes in some noir. He also mashes up some hatred of “the other” and, of all things, musicals. Add to that the fact that The Shape Of Water is such a heartfelt love letter to the first two Gill-man movies, and you’ve got a weirdly heartwarming Creature Feature with for once (spoiler), a happy ending like Gorgo! Along the same lines: Altered States, Iceman
I know there are lotsa folks who won’t wanna hear this, but Cloverfield is essentially a reworking of Godzilla with maybe a little Gorgo and Gill-man thrown in. There are some key differences, but yeah, lotsa similarities. Again, something nobody knew was there is awakened by sciencey types who also attempt to capture it (gotta go to the crossover manga for this) and, oops. Yet again, leave shit alone. We never learn. Along the same lines: The Mist, Attack The Block, Jeruzalem, Eight Legged Freaks, every kaiju movie ever.
I’ve tried to like spiders. I just can’t. Not even relatively harmless tarantulas (they are supercool to watch though). They don’t make me react with immediate revulsion and violence like the sizeable cockaroaches we get round these parts, but they will definitely stop me in my tracks. For one thing, they bite. Knowing that very few of those bites, at least in this country, are not fatal is of no help whatsoever. Australia, well that’s a whole other story. Funnel web, white tailed, and red bellied spiders are enough to keep me from ever visiting down under. Anyway, this is less a case of “leave things alone” and more of an “oops we brought something back by accident.” What makes it work is its zen-like simplicity. Spiders+people=panic. Along the same lines: Kingdom Of The Spiders, Kiss Of The Tarantula
#3 The Blob
This remake took the source material and significantly dialed up the ick factor, tension, and gore. And as if dealing with a drain or garbage disposal wasn’t already sketchy enough, be especially on the lookout for the kitchen sink scene. Along the same lines: The Incredible Melting Man
There’s a level on which this could be called The Thing But On A Spaceship. Technically this was released first, so it might be just as fair to say The Thing is Alien In The Antarctic. The xenomorph doesn’t operate the same way The Thing does obviously, but the confinement and growing tensions amongst the crew are worth noting. The chest-burster scene is classic, and everything is set in motion pretty much all because John Hurt had to look inside an egg case which was pretty much all because a corporation couldn’t, yet again, leave shit alone. Along the same lines: Dark Star, Alien Contamination, Event Horizon
#1 The Thing
This is still a high water mark for Creature Features. It’s gory. It’s visceral. It’s Lovecraftian, especially in shoggothy, At The Mountains Of Madness, doomed Antarctic expedition way. I love how Cinefantastique asked “Is this the most hated movie of all time?” Oh well, the French. As Eddie Izzard said, “kind of spiky and kind of…French.” Fact is the practical effects hold up amazingly well pert near 40 years later. The Thing/dog thing, the defibrillator scene, the head sliding off the table then sprouting legs and running away, they all continue to stand the test of time. It’s also one of those rare cases where the remake outstrips and beats the immortal piss outta the original. Along the same lines: Black Mountain Side, Harbinger Down, Sea Fever
Okay, not a bad primer if I do say so m’self. What would you add? Let me know in the Comments.