Horror 365 Movie(s) 360: Top 10 Tuesday, Top 10 Stop Motion Horrors

So yeah, writing about The Gate got me all up in my stop motion animation feelings, so much so that I may have to pop Jason And The Argonauts into the ol’ DVD player later and make an evening of it. As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve loved stop motion since I was a kid, so here’s a list of my Top 10 Stop Motion Horrors.

For this list, I’m focusing on movies that combine stop motion animation with live action So Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle Of Dogs, and Nightmare Before Christmas, as much as I love you all, sorry, but you’ll have to sit this one out. That said, let’s jump in.

#10 King Kong (1933)

The original all-time stop motion classic. The animation still stands up strong to this day, and the end still makes me mist up a little.

#9 It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)

Gotta have an early Ray Harryhausen on this list, and for some reason, this one has always appealed to me more than Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Maybe it’s the tentacles. I am a big Lovecraft fan after all.

#8 Subspecies (1991)

Radu’s demons. Despite being formed from Radu’s bloody, snapped off finger tips, they’re cute lil guys.

#7 The Gate (1987)

Also cute lil guys, and mischievous. I especially love the scene when they scurry under the door like silverfish then reshape themselves.

#6 Equinox (1970)

Got a two-fer on this one—the ape-lookin’ thing and the winged demon. It’s such a fun watch, and lays so much groundwork for later movies like The Evil Dead.

#5 The Puppet Master Series (1989-2020)

There’s just so much stop motion to appreciate throughout all these movies. I love Blade, and Tunneler and Pinhead are high points as well, but by far my favorite has to be anything involving Six-Shooter. Imagine a kind of demented, evil looking, six-armed Woody who actually shoots people.

#4 Dead Alive (1992)

Who doesn’t want a Sumatran rat monkey? Back before Peter Jackson started taking himself and Tolkien wwwaaayyy too seriously, he made some damn funny horror comedies. The part where this rabid-lookin’ beastie attacks a monkey in the cage next to it is fairly nasty. When it bites the protagonist’s overbearing mother, however…a yuk tsunami.

#3 Alice (1988)

If you like your nightmare fuel in stop form, you owe it to yourself to check out Jan Švankmajer. A lot of his work is just so surreal and bizarro that it stays with you for a quite a while. Alice, an unpleasant imagining of Alice In Wonderland, is a great place to start with this particular brand of weird.

#2 The Outer Limits: The Zanti Misfits (S1 E14 1963)

“The Zanti Misfits” is, hands down, the single most terrifying episode this show ever aired. It’s bad enough that they’re basically ants the size of your hand, but then they turn their heads and have sinister little human faces. I still shudder a bit just thinking about these nasty buggers. I’m reasonably sure that the weird insectoid critters in “The Sandkings” from the 1995 revival of The Outer Limits were modeled after these vicious little fuckers.

Honorable Mentions

  • American Horror Story: Freakshow- Intro
  • Clash Of The Titans- Medusa
  • The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad- Kali
  • Laserblast- aliens
  • Q: The Winged Serpent- well…the winged serpent duh
  • XX- Intersegment animations

And in the #1 spot we have…

#1 Jason And The Argonauts (1963)

First of all, this movie contains some of my all time favorite stop motion sequences and is also one of my all time favorite movies in the history of ever. The segment with Talos is super effective in the sense that the stop motion movement is perfect for capturing the movement of a bronze statue. But by far one of the best stop motion sequences ever filmed is the skeleton attack. I love this so much that eventually I’m getting one of these guys as a tattoo.

Stop motion animation just gives me so much unexplainable joy that it was extremely difficult to limit myself just 10 for this list (which, really, with 6 Honorable Mentions I kinda didn’t), and I’m sure I’m missing a few that some of you may hold near and dear to your own hearts. If so, tell me about them in the Comments.


Horror 365 Movie 359: The Gate

Yes, yes, the 1st season of Stranger Things was quite a watch. Sadly it fell apart soon after that. Sure, you’ve got Stand By Me. And of course there are both versions of It (IT-erations if you will). But before them all, we have to go back to 1987 to open up The Gate. Okay technically the novel It was 1986, but this ain’t a book blog, so let’s not split hairs here.

My point is, The Gate is a fine example of The Big Evil being taken on by a plucky band of little nerds, in this case Glen, Terry, and Glen’s sister Alexandra (Al). There’s a couple of incidental characters as well, namely Al’s friends Lori and Linda. Al has been left in charge whilst their parents head off for a little weekend getaway. Cuz kids. Jeebus. Admittedly, these kids are refreshingly likeable and not whiny, obnoxious brats.

Anyway, the tree holding Glen’s treehouse has been struck by lightning then cut down, revealing a large geode in the smoking hole left behind. In the investigation process, Glen gets cut and, uh oh, leaves a drop of blood behind. Thus begins the process (as if the suburbs were not their own circle of Hell already) of opening a portal to Hell.

Terry, of course, has a heavy metal album that handily explains all the inner workings of Hellmouths in their liner notes (they just don’t write those like they used to). According to the band Sacrifice (a for really reals thrash metal ensemble outta Canadia), apparently the only thing needed to complete the accidentally initiated summoning of demons is for a sacrifice to be dumped into the pit. So long as that doesn’t happen, all will be beer & skittles.

Complications, of course, arise. Early in said proceedings, Glen’s dog ends up dead. The rocket surgeon who’s interested in Al is tasked with taking the doggo’s remains to animal control. Instead he unceremoniously dumps the pooch in the pit. Cue mayhem, not the least of which are some kinda cute stop motion demons, and if these little guys look familiar, you can thank Randy Cook who also did effects for Laserblast, I Madman, and Q: The Winged Serpent to name a few.

In a 2012 Slant review, Odie Henderson suggests that “If you can get in touch with your inner 12-year-old, The Gate is a pleasant diversion.” Well, rest assured gang, that kid is never far from the surface for those of us here at Castle Blogferatu where some us are perpetually 12. Relatedly, let’s talk about stop motion animation. What can I say? I’m a sucker for it. All day. I’d go so far as to say that I’ll take pretty bad stop motion over pretty good CGI any day of the week.

Maybe it’s level of labor intensive craftsman ship. Maybe it’s nostalgia, something hard wired into those early childhood memories of watching Ray Harryhausen movies on tv with my dad. Who knows? But my entire movie-watching life, to this day I remain enamored of and wonder struck by it.

I’m not the only one who’s fond of this movie for exactly what it is. Dread Central’s Paul “Nomad” Nicholasi calls it a “must have.” He goes on to add “With the charm of E.T., non threatening action akin to The Monster Squad and some quality low level creeps, consider this the first horror movie you can show your kids, opening them up to a whole new world that will make them the twisted individuals we will one day call…our readers.” Indeed.

Henderson, meanwhile, observes that “By film’s end, one’s faith and familial love can bring back not only the dead but also one’s lost sneaker. Takács [director] and company don’t beat the viewer over the head with this, but these ideas were prevalent enough for me to take notice.”

I kinda love that observation, especially the sneaker bit, but it’s a little, I dunno, pronatalist? In other words, the script here can be flipped just as easily—parents, don’t ever consider leaving your precious 16 and 12-year-old kids on their own, not for so much as a minute, just to carve out even a speck of time to yourselves, let alone an entire weekend. You selfish bastards. What kind of monsters are you?

 BODIES- 1 poor ol’ floof
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Horror 365 Movie 358: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

Most people know better than to just stick our hands into some dark crevice, hole, or cavity sight unseen, and that holds even truer if that vacuity is here in Castle Blogferatu. Be that as it may, it’s time once again to go elbow deep into the depths of The Great Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Coffee Can Of Cinema and draw forth a title. And today’s title iiiiis…Let’s Scare Jessica To Death.

So, a quick perusing of the Neverending Movie List reveals an original rating of a mere 3 Skulls. According to the breakdown of the Skull Scale, that means it was tolerable. Barely. Why is that? Well, that’s a damn good question seein’ as how Let’s Scare Jessica To Death shows up on lotsa Scariest Movies lists.

Everything starts off with Jessica sitting in a boat right next to the shore of a lake. We immediately flash back to where this all started. A car pulls up to a graveyard. Out pops Jessica who romps off to do some gravestone rubbings while her husband Duncan and their close friend Woody wait by the car. Well, it’s a hearse, something, incidentally I’ve always always always wanted.

Anyway, whilst at a grave, Jessica sees a strange blonde woman. Jessica looks over her shoulder and starts to call to Duncan, but when she looks back, the woman is gone. Uh oh. Jessica, y’see, is A) a little death-obsessed and 2) was recently released from a mental institution and into the watchful care of Duncan who whisks her off to a recently purchased rustic farmhouse.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s some seriously spooky atmosphere to be found here, and it starts almost immediately. Less than 10 minutes in, Duncan mentions they’re headed to “the old Bishop place” to the ferry conductor who immediately regards them with suspicion. The old white dudes outside the general store look askance at them as well.

Once our crew gets to the place, Jessica sees a woman in a rocking chair on the porch then hears a voice asking “Jessica why have you come here?” and closes her eyes. When she opens them, the woman is gone. Turns out it’s Emily who’s apparently squatting. When she suggests that she’ll be on her way, fairly insistently, Jessica invites her to stay. Like ya do.

Here’s the thing (and if you haven’t seen this, stop reading)—Emily may or may not be a vampire. If she is, it’s cleverly foreshadowed. For instance, she tries to leave once it’s established that Duncan and Jessica now own the place. Jessica’s invitation that she stay, therefore, checks off the “vampire can’t enter unless invited” box.

After dinner, Emily plays guitar and sings “Stay forever my love my love.” When Woody asks how long she’s been there, she says “Ages.” She the suggests having a seance, and at one point remarks that “Nothing’s ever completely dead.” When Woody tries to hit on her, she responds with “I guess it’s just been a long time.” She also has exquisitely manicured nails for a squatter. So yeah, Emily’s plenty odd. Strange as Emily is, they discover the townsfolk aren’t much better.

The next day, our trio explores their homestead looking for stuff they can sell as Duncan blew his savings on this joint so they could get away from New York City. For one thing, they’re all bandaged someplace or other. When Duncan asks about a place to sell antiques, one codger says “If there was a place, I sure wouldn’t tell you.” Beyond that they’re generally silent, eerie, and hostile with some definite Rosemary’s Baby vibes by the end.

The main source of tension, however, is in Jessica’s head—not in the sense that everything is just in her head. In fact, we know it isn’t. But it’s never completely clear to Jessica whether or not it’s all in her head. This gets reinforced by her internal monologue in which she tells herself “act normal,” “now he thinks I’m getting sick again, but I’m not,” and “Did it happen?” Naturally nobody around her is sure either.

Finally, the mood and the story have a good deal of resonance with things that have come before it, not the least of which are Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and, arguably moreso, Coleridge’s Christabel. Emily’s singing and the focus on her eyes connect her to Keats’s “La Bell Dame Sans Merci” as well while Jessica’s psychological state also echoes The Haunting and The Turn Of The Screw. Hell while we’re at it, let’s throw in some Carnival Of Souls too.

And so, in the end, I’m forced to reconsider Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (it no doubt helps that I had it on whilst writing this) and give it a new, vastly improved Skull Rating.

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