October 31, 2010

Guest Post by Lisa Mannetti: My Favorite Night Terrors

Lisa Mannetti is the author of The Gentling Box and 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover. You can read my interview with her here (and until Nov 10th enter a giveaway to win a copy of The Gentling Box) or read my reviews of her books here and here. You can also find her short fiction in and Legends of the Mountain State 4 and Shroud Magazine, among other places.


My Favorite Night Terrors

n the surface, things that terrify everyone else terrify me. For example, when I first read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I slept with the lights on for about a week. The Exorcist scared me badly enough, that I slept with the lights on all night for a month—maybe it was longer. It was hard not to be afraid during that movie—the nuns were always telling us that St. John Bosco was tormented by the devil and levitated, and I just figured if it happened to a saint and a twelve year old, what chance did I have to escape that ugly fate? None. Similarly, when I was a kid, I used to convince myself that the Mummy was actually foot-dragging right down my driveway, headed (for reasons known only to Karloff) for our front porch—since I heard him starting toward the house from the back lawn, I’m not sure why he didn’t want to crash the kitchen door, but perhaps there were too many stairs for a five thousand year old disgraced prince. Or maybe he suspected my mother kept the tanna leaves in an urn on top of the mantel or something.

But in addition to the usual night terrors in books and films, I had my own list of things that made me quake and often vaulted me right out of bed (lights on) just to make sure nothing was awry in my little world. These included, but weren’t limited to:

Fear of toxic goiter (the pictures in my mother’s medical surgery books were fodder for my young warped mind). Fear of leprosy (it’s embarrassing to admit, but my mother had a friend who went to work in a mission in Thailand and I used to refuse to get the mail on days I spotted one her letters in the box and there were plenty of nights I actually got up to make sure my palms weren’t turning yellow like my mother’s texts described and by the way, do you know that there’s actually a distinction between nodular and anesthetic leprosy?) Fear of wolves (I wasn’t a particularly stupid child, so don’t ask me why I thought gray wolves were going to descend from Canada and find their way to Port Chester which is only 23 miles north of New York City). And, to round out my portion of irrationality, I was afraid of witches. I’m talking deathly afraid. I didn’t know any, but I was sure they were around –probably in the house at the end of the block--and these hideous warty-chinned creatures wanted to get me. (For all I knew the witches were commanding the wolves—just like in Baum’s The Wizard of Oz—and getting the damn things to come trotting right down the thruway and get off at Exit 3.) And finally, I was numb with fright at the thought of the dead guy in our attic. This was the former owner of our house, whom, my older brother assured me, hanged himself—on the days my brother didn’t have this suicide jumping out the third floor window with flames roaring at his back like some suburban version of the demented Mrs. Rochester. Of course, no one was killed or died in our attic, but you couldn’t convince me of that. I used to sing hymns right out loud whenever my mother sent me up there to get the Christmas--or worse--the Halloween decorations.
And I have to admit, since I live in the house I grew up in, I still feel a sort of pinging dread whenever I have to go up there. Or down in the cellar for that matter. In fact, I’m getting a little worried now, because I can swear I hear something ....shifting down there...near where the old coal bin used to be...and the cats are up here with me.

Listen, do me a favor? Here’s a flashlight, you go down and check, okay?

Guest Post by Andre Dumas: The Host

Andre Dumas has one of my favorite online haunts for horror. Reviews, interviews, and witticisms, it's all there--including my favorite "Way To Go Moments". You can find Andre at her blog The Horror Digest.

The Host

As my good friend Dr. Ian Malcolm once said, “Life finds a way” and so can monsters apparently. What goes on in our daily lives and what happens is impossible to change. We can dream up ideas of time machines and parallel universes offering up second chances, but when it comes down to it, we must realize that we cannot change what has already happened--or what will happen. Whether you choose to believe that some God up there is controlling the course of events or if it’s all just a random predestined road map, it’s pretty hard to ignore the truth of the matter. This is what I’ve always taken away from monster movies and while it certainly is not the only way to read the monster theme, I think it’s an interesting one to examine.

Perhaps the film that embodies this theme almost perfectly is the South Korean film The Host. The Host is almost like several movies at once. It can be considered part comedy, horror, Sci-FI, infection, action adventure, revenge and mystery. It embodies a chaotic structure because the monster makes it that way. With one jaunt through a crowded river park area, the monster changes the landscape of an entire city. On the smaller scale, our main character-- Gang-du’s daughter, Hyun-seo gets taken by the monster and sets he and his family’s life into a grueling nightmare.

One of the best pleasant surprises I have ever received, was watching The Host. I had been putting it off for weeks, months even. Ignoring the almost 5 star rating on Netflix and being sorely mislead by the front cover--I assumed it would be just a typical silly SyFy type monster movie. I also avoided it because I thought it may reek of water terror. I have this phobia around animals in the water, and any film that features them will never fail to make me cry at least a little bit inside. In the end, I’m not sure what changed my mind. It really had everything working against it in terms of my personal taste, and yet I gave it a chance and am so glad I did.

Like a lot of monster movies, the truly captivating part about The Host isn’t the monster at all, but the relationships that are created and defined as the film goes on. When the film begins we know very little about our main family. We know the father bleaches his hair and acts like a 19 year old. We know the daughter is young and slightly embarrassed that her own father can’t come to career day. We know the Uncle is an alcoholic, and the Aunt is a famous archer. All we have are skeletons of a family that will grow and develop into flesh as time goes on.

That isn’t to say however that the monster isn’t a vital aspect of the film. He is after all the manifestation of the idea of fate and being unable to change life’s events. Aside from that, the monster is also just pretty amazing. Born from the rash decision of an American military man to pour hundreds of bottles of toxic chemicals down the drain, the monster is a mutated masterpiece. We first see it dangling off of a bridge, than dismounting gracefully into the river. The onlookers are wowed by its appearance, and after trying to get it to eat food the monster retreats underneath the water. Suddenly, as life appears to go back to normal, Gang-Du stares in horror as he watches the beast running full force down the walkway, snatching people up left and right and coming right towards him. It’s a moment that sent me reeling in terms of extraordinary unbelievability. I felt like I was a kid again, worshipping the esteemed size of Godzilla. This monster--was awesome.

Sure, the CGI in places leave little to be desired but overall the presence of the monster is one that is almost quite humbling. Every entrance of the monster is just as surprising and thrilling as the first. Here is what we all love most about monster movies and The Host never fails to deliver the goods. It is a film that challenges the genre, allowing for pure emotional connection and character’s that you ultimately care about over the monster. While I will always have a special place in my heart for Godzilla, The Host comes awfully close to being my favorite monster movie of all time, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.

Monster Movie Marathon: Bigfoot (The Red-Headed Stepchild of Monsters)

Bigfoot is blurry!

That might be my favorite joke from the late Mitch Hedberg. I mean, who's to say that all those grainy, blurred photos haven't accurately portrayed the sasquatch? Maybe the damned things are just blurry by nature.

Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, we didn't really have any Sasquatches running around. We have our fair share of forests, but living on a peninsula if the buggering' things existed out here we'd have found one by now. At least with the vastness of the Rocky Mountain regions and the Canadian Shield, there's the argument that no Bigfoot has been properly documented because there's just too much forest for them to hide in. Although, with the increasing Orwellian reach of Google Earth and Google Streetview, not even the deepest darkest woods are safe for reclusive missing links.

I kind of like the idea of a giant ape-man lurking in the forest, personally. As far as things that go bump in the night are concerned, that's a damned scary prospect. If you've ever seen Animal Planet or some other broadcast document encounters with grizzly bears and silverback gorillas, you get a fair idea of the kind of terror a beast like Bigfoot can instill. I like walking through the woods and my encounters with dangerous wildlife have been uneventful, but I can honestly say I'd most likely lose my composure in the presence of an enormous, hairy, stench-ridden--and it would most certainly smell foul--monstrosity with opposable thumbs.

Oh sure, the 1987 family film Harry and the Hendersons did a lot to ease any apprehensions I had towards the creatures as a child--that and the ridicule levied upon anyone claiming to have seen one. Just about every person claiming they saw Bigfoot described it as a docile animal, like a pacifist with excessive body hair. Almost every depiction of the myth gives it a noble savage appearance, as if Neanderthalian features were only a facade covering a gentle soul. A nice thought, a reassuring one too, because who would want to consider a thing like that might see you as a source of protein.

But I've heard a couple of sightings that paint a less complimentary picture of the myth. One guy, I recall, even claimed to have been abducted by a small family of Sasquatches. Never mind whether or not the guy was wearing a tinfoil hat during the interview. The idea that the thing would carry you around the woods like you were a granola bar being saved for snack-time is frightening. Where are the novels and movies that depict that kind of Bigfoot. I mean good ones, not some third-rate, self-published, or direct-to-DVD garbage. I mean, John Lithgow Vs. Bigfoot rather than Harry and the Hendersons.

Some monsters are unduly defanged by the masses. Bigfoot needs to be scary. Not blurry.

Rabid Rewind: Slither

starring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks
written & directed by James Gunn
Universal Pictures (2006)

Slugs, man. They ain't exactly what I'd call frightening, but they're damned disgusting when you look at them up close. And I'm one of those people who don't take well to picking up slimy critters, either. Leave 'em in the muck, I say.

So, when Slither came out a few years ago, it instantly had a creepy vibe going for it. Whether it'd be any good, that was a different question.

I think the saving grace for the movie was that it didn't take itself too seriously. It managed to provide plenty of scares throughout, a good mix of those jump scares and drawn out "oh no" moments. On top of that though, there was a witty undertone to a lot of the story, which avoided becoming all out parody or slapstick. I've always asserted that finding the right balance of humor and horror is a precarious act. These guys pulled it off, thankfully.

It's a small farm town chock-full of those colorful rural characters you so often see when Hollywood depicts the small town Midwest. The ones who take front stage at least hold a measure of charm, thanks largely to the performances from the likes of Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker.

A small meteor hits Earth and out crawls the slimiest overgrown slug I've seen on film. It's about the size of a house cat, and if you've seen some of those nature videos where they've shown those giant snails then you get the picture. One of the locals Grant (Rooker), a cradle-robbing curmudgeon, spies it while out in the woods with a drunkenly affectionate gal. Now this is one of the early scenes where you're tempted to shout at the screen, "Don't do that, man!", or something like that, as he starts edging up to it like he wants to poke at it with a stick. Well, he gets stuck himself for all his curiosity--and we're off to the races. Grant becomes infected by one of the parasites and slowly transforms into a monster, meanwhile the slugs are spreading through town to find more victims.

The movie just carries the kind of charm you'd expect from a horror movie made by horror fans. Despite the gross-out moments, it's got an irresistible humor. Grant Henry playing the lovable, asshole mayor MacReady steals more than one scene, and Fillion carries the lead role well as Sheriff Pardy with that kind of early Shatner charisma.

The effects are good, but are a bit dated in a couple of scenes. CGI slugs will do that, though. Overall, it's really put together well. If you want a fun monster flick with some laughs peppered throughout, I'd say this a good one to go with. Find Tremors starring Kevin Bacon and make it a double creature feature.

October 30, 2010

Guest Post by Tonia Brown: Killer Kids

Tonia Brown is a fellow writer of dark fiction, as well as the alter ego of writer Regina Riley. Her new erotic horror novel, Lucky Stiff: Memoirs of an Undead Lover, is available now and I will be reviewing it here on Wag The Fox in the near future. She also has another novel set for spring 2011 called The Cold Beneath, which will be a blending of the undead and steampunk. Nice.


I should preface this blog post by explaining something that most of my friends know about me, but as perfect strangers you might not be aware of.

Children frighten me.

I don’t mean that I have a phobia of babies. (Other wise known as pediaphobia, or it’s almost naughty moniker, pedophobia.) I don’t squeal in fear at the sight of a child or run when I hear a baby cooing—though I have been known to cringe when handed a delicate newborn. My fear is nothing so simple as it can be treated with medication or some sort of acclimatization. No. I am afraid of kids on a much deeper level. The thought of childbirth disturbs me. The idea of being responsible for a little human being vexes me. The whole business of raising kids altogether leaves me nauseas with trepidation.

I should also explain that I have the utmost respect for those with kids. You are doing a fine job of perpetuating the human race, and as a fellow member of said species, I salute you. I really don’t see how you do it! Having a kid is such a terrible amount of responsibility. Me a parent? I could never manage it. Again, I salute you.

That said allow me to get around to my topic of choice for this posting.

Killer Kids

When it comes to movies there is nothing quite as spooky as a devilish child. Whether it’s the tortured ghost of a preteen boy meowing from a taped up closet, or an undead little neighbor girl with a hunger for human flesh, when we put children in horror films they almost always seems to guarantee a scare. And the younger they are the more frightening they can be. Children in the corn. Children in the mines. Children in the sewers. My, oh my!

The youngest in this killer kid phenomenon is probably the baby from It’s Alive. (There might be a few possessed fetus films out there, but for the sake of this blog we will say that being a killer kid starts at birth, not conception.) When it was first released in ’74 the movie flopped. But after the film’s advertising focused more on the killer baby aspect and less on the distressed parents, it was re-released in ’77 and snagged a whopping seven million dollars.

Why? Because killer babies are freaking scary! That’s why! Even though you rarely get to see said offspring, he stills screams and cries in the most disturbing way. (My twin sister can mimic the cry of the It’s Alive baby with skin crawling perfection, and often torments me with it.)

Another alarming killer baby movie is Grace. To be fair, and spoiler alert here folks, but the baby doesn’t actually kill. Instead the mother kills for it. And there are only a few deaths in the actual film, with several others implied toward the end. Despite this, Grace pulls several creepy punches by giving you a once dead baby that now yearns for human blood and a vegan mother who learns that meat really is murder. Tasty, tasty murder.

Jumping up a few years in age and we find ourselves with a selection of delightful films that focus on killer toddlers. Leading this uber creepy brood is the one of the greatest of all killer kid films, The Omen. Hands down, Damien is one of the scariest children to ever grace the silver screen. You want to believe he is just a boy. You want to believe it’s all just bizarre coincidence or really bad luck. But in your heart of hearts you know better. He isn’t just a boy. He’s the son of Satan. With a suicidal nanny, a yen for matricide and a guard dog roughly the size of a horse, what more does he need to set our blood cold? Oh wait! I know. How about those terrible piercing eyes and fatal pout?

Village of the Damned produced one of the most bizarre of all killer kid scenarios. Who was at fault for the blue eyed, blonde haired brood of telepathic psychopaths? Aliens? Who knows! The kids in this one are right scary, all innocence and smiles and maturing at an unnatural rate. But look out, ‘cause those tots can kill you … with nothing but their mind!

Slide the dial a bit higher on the age range and we really open the options on the killer kid genre. In fact, the majority of crazy children movies take place in the preteen and early teen range. It seems that most filmmakers place the blossoming of evil at about twelve years of age. Why? Perhaps it’s because they feel that kids younger than twelve don’t really know what they are doing. (Though Damien would certainly beg to differ.) Or maybe it’s easier to get a twelve year old actor to actually act evil. (Though the young man who played Damien would certainly beg to differ.) Whatever the reason, twelve seems to be the magic number, giving us all kinds of preteen terror!

Amidst this cinematic plethora of awful adolescents are the twin films The Bad Seed and The Good Son. Though filmed years apart, both are about terribly, terribly naughty children, one about a boy and the other a girl (I’ll let you figure it out based on the titles.) who kill and destroy and maim and make even the most spoiled of brats look like a saint. The reason I dote on these two films is because the kids involved are not all that special. They aren’t spawns of the Devil. Not supernaturally enhanced. Not accidentally chemically altered. These two kids are just plain old sociopaths. They kill because it benefits them. They kill to punish others or to preserve themselves. But even worse, they kill because they want to.

And that, my friends, is pretty frightening stuff indeed.

The list of killer kid movies goes on and on, but my space here on Mr. Fox’s blog is limited. So I will close by saying, once again, that kids in general scare the bejesus out of me. Put those kids in zombie make up and I’m liable to pee my pants and run away screaming in terror. But I don’t think it’s just Hollywood’s smoke and mirrors that makes these kids so creepy. I think the real reason lies in the fact that we often equate youth with innocence. Most of us feel that evil, real hardcore evil, is a learned trait, not a born one. But when we challenge that notion, when we suggest that someone can actually be born bad, why then we ruin our precious idea of redemption. And without redemption, all the rules of the ‘good versus evil’ game change, forever. After all, how can one return to innocence, if there was no innocence to begin with?

Happy Halloween folks, and keep an eye on those little ones. Won’t you?

Rabid Rewind: The Mist

The Mist
starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Samuel Witwer
directed by Frank Darabont
screenplay by Frank Darabont
based on a Stephen King novella
Dimension Films (2008)

Out of all the movies based on Stephen King stories, I think The Mist is probably the best suited to be included in the Monster Movie Marathon. A small town under siege by macabre insect-like creatures? Yes, please. Not all King novels translate well to the screen, but I think they hit this one out of the park.

Thomas Jane plays an artist, mostly for movie posters and the like, living on the outskirts of a small Maine town with his wife and young son. There's a nice nod to The Dark Tower in one of the opening scenes, as Jane's character is designing a poster for a film adaptation to that King novel--oh, how I wish. A big storm rolls through and a fallen tree crashes through the house, requiring him to head into town the next morning for supplies. He and his son go and while at the grocery store a wall of mist rolls down from the hills, into town, and within it an unseen army of creatures that are killing anything that gets caught up in the rolling mist. Folks are basically trapped in whatever building in which they can find shelter.

Now, there's a bit of a hangup in my view concerning the mist, as it doesn't seem to penetrate any cracks in windows or doorways. In fact, there are scenes when the doors to the grocery store are open and the mist doesn't move beyond the doorways. Meh, I digress.

The townsfolk inside are essentially trapped as anyone who ventures out disappears into that thick fog and screams bloody murder when an alien silhouette attacks and kills them. No one can exactly see what's out there, and few are in a hurry to find out, so they all hunker down and gawk out the windows waiting for help to come. Good plan, I guess. But as time rolls on, tensions mount and and the fear and paranoia escalate to a point where those inside start turning on each other as much as they band together against whatever is out there.

And there's some crazy stuff out there. The storage room scene early on where a giant tentacle reaches inside through the gap in the bay door is phenomenal. I also really enjoyed the scene where they tether a character with a rope, to act as a lifeline, when he insists on leaving with a small group. That scene is palpable with suspense, and if you haven't seen it then you ought to check out the movie just for that.

What holds the movie together is the conflicts inside the store, among the various townsfolks, with the scared but composed folks unofficially led by Thomas Jane, while the panicked and paranoid folks gather round to Marcia Gay Harden's Bible-thumping malcontent who preaches that the mist and its creatures are a punishment from God. Harden has played some abrasive characters before, but she throws it into high gear for this movie and barely manages to avoid becoming a cartoon.

The creature design is very cool and very creepy, once they start coming out of the mist to appear on screen, and seem to hold up well. Sometimes when the unseen threat in a film is finally seen, there can be disappointment, but that didn't happen for me in this movie. They don't reinvent the wheel, but I can put myself in those people's shoes and imagine how I'd lose my composure with any one of those critters.

And while I'd love to talk about the end of the movie, I just can't spoil it. I can only suggest you watch this movie if you want to see a scary creature feature and get ready for a very contentious ending.

Rabid Rewind: Kingdom of the Spiders

Kingdom of the Spiders
starring William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode, & Marcy Lafferty
directed by John "Bud" Cardos
screenplay by Richard Robinson & Alan Caillou
Dimension Pictures (1977)

Sometimes it's hard to believe there was a time when William Shatner wasn't a bloated parody of himself. Once upon a time, he used to be a trim parody of himself.

Somewhere between Star Trek and T.J. Hooker, Shatner starred in this one about a smooth-talkin' veterinarian in a small Arizona town overrun by tarantulas. The spiders steal the show early on, or rather the camera work used to depict them steals the show. A hapless cow is in a field grazing when it becomes startled, and its flinching is probably some of the best acting in this film. Then, through the act of moving multiple cameras along the ground towards the cow, we get the sense that the cow's surrounded. The cow even takes the time to look at each camera as it approaches--loving it.

After Hansen (Shatner) sends blood samples from the dead cow to a lab, Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) a sultry entomologist drives into town to investigate. While she's trying to get a handle on the spiders, Hansen's trying to get his hands on her. If you ever saw Captain Kirk wooing green women, you get the picture. His brash come-ons and doubts about her concentrated spider venom theory somehow win her over, though. Maybe it's just one of those 70s style tropes that a feminist just needs a really good lay to loosen up a bit.

No time for sex though, since the spiders are spreading through town fast. Too bad too, because the tension between he, the scientist, and his widowed sister-in-law who has the hots for him could've used more screen time. I mean, how dumb is it of a guy to introduce the gal he's trying to screw to the gal who wants to screw him? No matter, the sister-in-law is spider bait anyway.

Like I said, the spiders steal the show. And a large reason for that is how they kill people in the most dramatically absurd ways the film dares. I mean, in one scene a cropduster pilot dies while spraying DDT over the fields, because spiders have stowed away in the cockpit of the plane. That's right. Mother@#$%ing spiders on a mother@#$$%ing plane! And the shrill screams from the pilot put Jamie Lee Curtis to shame.

Townsfolk lose their minds too once the spiders hit the town limits. Pandemonium is a word. And people are being snared in cobwebs before any of them can enjoy the county fair, which was never canceled because of the unscrupulous mayor. Another trope of the 70s: mayors who refuse to listen to reasonable warnings about wildlife because of some tourist trap.

The movie is fun to watch for plenty of reasons, though great acting and realism are not among them. Find popcorn, grow some seventies-era sideburns--you too ladies--and kick back for ninety minutes of Shatner-tastic creature feature fun.

October 29, 2010

Guest Post by Will Errickson: I Demand a Monstrous Bride

Will Errickson is the man behind a new blog in 2010, Too Much Horror Fiction. He's got a great review style which focuses on the earlier fiction from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Definitely worth checking out, and easy to see why I tapped him for his opinion on movie monsters.

I Demand a Monstrous Bride!

These women aren't scream queens. They aren't heroines. They are not victims, or final girls, and they ain't the hero's girlfriend. Make no mistake: these ladies are the monsters. And I love each and every one.

Elsa Lanchester, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) The ne plus ultra of female monsters (this pose here based on the profile of Nefertiti). The Bride is beautiful, terrifying--and terrified, alas--and yet so delicate and poised. Note the fine stitching and the blemish-free cadaverous skin; the question arises: who exactly was Dr. Frankenstein trying to please, his original monster, or his own unspeakable desires?

Gloria Holden, Dracula's Daughter (1936) As icy as a Russian empress, a doomed and tragic figure, Countess Zaleska offers up dark sacrifice to her father and pursues in vain lusts she can never satisfy. Her untouchable and flawless features speak of lifetimes of longing and despair... and worse.

Carroll Borland, Mark of the Vampire (1935) The original Goth chick? Luna descends on tenebrous wings and does the bidding of Count Mora. Exactly what goes on in that cavernous old house that terrifies the villagers so? Oh, if only you knew...

Barbara Steele, La Danza Macabra (1964)
"Amidst the mist and coldest frost
With barest wrist and stoutest boast
He thrusts his fists against the post

And still insists he sees the ghost!"
If ghosts looked like Elisabeth Blackwood, why, I'd believe in the supernatural in a second.

Ingrid Pitt, The House that Dripped Blood (1971) I understand that the vampire represents the darkest corners of our sexualities, and that the fanged mouth is a kind of oral rape, but this is ridiculous! But not that ridiculous. It's the kind of ridiculous where you start to laugh, and then you realize you can hear her tongue slicking wetly over her canines... uh, I mean--where was I?

Simone Simon, Cat People (1942) That pout. That slouch. Those eyebrows. That accent. Irena Dubrovna knows what she wants, but she can never, ever have it. At least that's what the psychiatrist tells her. Her husband says otherwise. She thinks something terrible will happen if she gives in. Guess who she finally listens to?

Soledad Miranda, Vampyros Lesbos (1971) The first time I ever saw Soledad Miranda in this movie after hearing about it for over a decade, I had to keep turning the DVD off. It was too perfect. It was too delicious. Countess Carody--a vampiress who, instead of being imprisoned in a coffin, lounges slicked in baby oil beneath a scorching Mediterranean sun stretching her legs and arching her feet. Oh. More, please.

Amanda Donohoe, Lair of the White Worm (1988) Lady Sylvia Marsh, another aristocratic woman but who is not, as it may appear, a vampire. She's a serpent goddess, an avatar of the white worm that pagans worshiped long before the age of Christianity, that annoying upstart religion with its undead god. Her androgyny, with her post-Annie Lennox hair, is a refreshing change from some of the other hyper-feminized monster women.

Sadie Frost, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Oh, oh, oh, be still my beating heart. "Miiiina," I can hear Lucy Westenra chime out, "oh, Miiina! Come here and give us a kiss!" The Bloofer Lady, indeed ("bloofer lady" being Cockney slang for "beautiful lady." At least that's what Lucy's child victims called her).

Melinda Clarke, Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993) Now this is what I call a punk, punk, a punk rocker. Julie ends up dead after a motorcycle accident with her douche bag boyfriend, who just happens to be the son of one of the military brass who's trying to cover up that nasty chemical spill at the warehouse... So douche bag brings her back to life, and now she's hot to trot, except she also has a mean appetite for other things too. Some guys have all the luck. Douche bag.

Nastassja Kinski, Cat People (1982) More delightful androgyny in a remake that gets a bad rap because it literalizes what the original tried to keep as metaphor. Well, what do you expect from a filmmaker/screenwriter who once penned dialogue like, "Did you ever see what a .44 Magnum can do to a pussy?" Yikes.

Katherine Isabelle, Ginger Snaps (2000) Misfit Ginger's about to become a woman, and leave behind her even misfit-ier sister Brigitte. But something bad happens in the woods by the playground one night and Ginger is suddenly becoming more than a woman. And now she's developing a taste for boys. Ahem. If you take my meaning. More twisting up of that whole "literal metaphor" thing which horror loves to do.

Sharon Tate, The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) I... I can't even talk about Sharon Tate. The original title of this movie was Dance of the Vampires, and let me tell you, that is one creepy dance they get up to. Funny, too, but not funny-ha-ha, or even funny-strange, but more like funny-let's-get-the-fuck-out-of-here-now funny. You know how that is.

Andrea Rau, Daughters of Darkness (1971) Poor Ilona. She's been trapped under the thumb of that Countess Bathory for who knows how long. Now that beautiful young couple has come to stay at the empty off-season Grand Hotel des Thermes and would it be so wrong if she flirted a little, just a little, with the husband? Yes. It would be very wrong indeed.

Susan Denberg, Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) How in the world did Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein create a Frankenstein bride without any stitches at all? Come on, dude, that's half the fun right there.

Macarena Gomez, Dagon (2001) Ah, she's got Barbara Steele eyes. Everybody knows H.P. Lovecraft had some serious issues with women and sex, but he wouldn't ever just write about it directly; he was always going on about tentacles and slime and how he hated seafood. And then finally this movie comes along and when the lovely young Uxía Cambarro reveals what she's hiding under the bedsheets, well, holy shit, I think ol' HPL spun in his grave. The filmmakers nailed his greatest fear. Plus, this movie gives a great happy ending.

Anulka and Marianne Morris, Vampyres (1974) Another movie where I had to stop the DVD--well, the VCR--back in the day. At one point these two go at an unsuspecting guy so hard and so... carnivorously it's almost difficult to watch. Well, it was before I just embraced this part of myself.

Magenta and Columbia, Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)I know, I know, Rocky Horror is dorky beyond belief. But I'd forgotten just how creepily smokin' these two hangers-on of Dr. Frank N. Furter's were, and how they moan and coo and lasciviously wrap their lips around Richard O'Brien's lyrics ("Not for very much longer," growls Magenta in her best East European accent; Little Nell's Betty Boop voice gives me a strange and unexpectedly satisfying shiver). It was a delight to revisit their performances after so many years!

Guest Post by Aaron Polson: Thing One and Thing Two

Aaron Polson writes horror, which may or may not be inspired by his job as a high school English teacher. His short stories are published all over the place, and his next novel Loathsome, Dark, and Deep will soon be available through Belfire Press.


Thing One and Thing Two

I first watched Howard Hawk’s The Thing from Another World (AKA Thing One) in the mid-eighties. I was eleven at the time and staying with my newly married sister and her husband. The film from 1951 carried a creepy enough vibe, and at the time it was enough. Hawk’s rendition of John Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” (the novella on which both his film and John Carpenter’s The Thing are based), is shot in black and white with snappy acting and a stiff, Frankenstein’s Monster portrayal of the Thing by James Arness. In his film, Carpenter went back to the original story, in some aspects a closer adaptation to Campbell’s work.

At the core of both movies is the discovery of an alien being who has been buried in the ice for millennia. The U.S. military men and international band of scientists at the heart of Thing One actually make the discovery, fly out to the ice sheet, and accidentally destroy the traveler’s ship. The Thing alone survives, frozen in a block of ice. Thing Two announces its presence more subtly, first as part of the research contingent explores a destroyed Norwegian research base and finds the block of ice from which the Thing had been cut, and then when they trace the Norwegian’s steps to the site of the craft’s crash. In both films the visitor is not friendly, and our heroes find themselves trapped with an aggressive invader. Perhaps they are mankind’s only line of defense against interstellar threat.

Both films rely on isolation to amplify the dread and fear. Thing One finds our intrepid crew isolated in an Arctic wasteland. They have fairly consistent radio contact with the outside world, but the outside world—a commanding general in particular—causes confusion and communication breakdown when he can’t decide what he wants them to do with their find. Thing Two takes us to Antarctica, and wins this round with bleak cinematography and spotty radio contact. It is not only cold in these films; it is deadly cold, at least for the human occupants of the isolated bases.

One of the main differences between the films involves the amount of screen time dedicated to the monster. Thing One, a sort of sentient carrot who reportedly lives on human blood, rarely show’s its angry face—a break from many “man in a rubber suit” monster films of its day. But less is more here, as it often can be. The crew only catches fleeting glimpses of the creature, but those glimpses are timed well, adding to a growing sense of doom until the final conflict. Carpenter’s Thing Two, however, is fueled by creature effects veterans Stan Winston and Rob Bottin. Ironically, it’s Carpenter’s Thing which camouflages itself, creating a clone of a host body or hiding within, affording—at least in theory—less reason to show the monster. But with Winston and Bottin at the special effects helm, Thing Two leaves a trail of nightmare creatures and gore in its bloody wake.

Thing One is a great piece of filmmaking and nostalgia, a toss back to a time when a walking carrot could stir nightmares. The dialogue comes sharp and quick, the characters are just human enough to root for, or against in the case of Robert Cornthwaite’s Dr. Carrington. Thing Two is a desperate exercise in trying to stop an enemy when the enemy could be any living thing; it ends with one of the most bleak and sinister endings in horror cinema—and that’s indeed what The Thing is in both films: a piece of horror dressed in science fiction clothing. I can still watch 1951’s The Thing from Another World and find it entertaining, but the eleven-year-old who lay awake with thoughts of vampiric vegetables from space on his mind is long gone, replaced by an adult who recognizes the terrible beauty between the special effects in John Carpenter’s grim vision.

Rabid Rewind: The Crazies (2010)

The Crazies (2010)
starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, and Danielle Panabaker
directed by Breck Eisner
screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright
Alliance Films (2010)

I haven't seen the original version of
The Crazies by George Romero, so I can't judge whether the remake is better or worse like a lot of other people have. All I can really say is that I liked this version.

It's not exactly a zombie movie, but it presents a threat that comes in a form similar to the modern day zombie--fast, aggressive, and more viral than necromantic. In this movie, the Midwest American town is threatened by an outbreak that causes the townsfolk to gradually go--wait for it--crazy. They start out a bit dazed and out of sorts, but then they turn violent in shockingly malevolent ways, as if their inhibitions and suppressed outrage are let out of the proverbial cage. To bring this kind of twist to the whole rabid horde of humanity is a welcome addition in the 21st century, as far as I'm concerned, even if it is brought about through a remake of a 70s film.

The casting is just about pitch perfect for a movie of this sort. A lot of the supporting cast is comprised of cardboard cutouts, yes, but the actors playing them offer up enough small town charm to each that I didn't really mind at all. And when the movie is looking at an entire town's population being threatened, it's kind of hard to give every jeezly character a fleshed-out backstory.

After catching the first season of Deadwood last year--I'm currently wading through the second season this fall--I have become a bit of a fan of Timothy Olyphant's work. He brings enough of his lawman character from that show into this modern day setting, and tempers him with the contentment and tranquility of modern America, that it feels like a wholly separate character. Mind you, seeing the news on television, it might be reasonable to assume that the townsfolk in the film would go as easily outhouse crazy over news of a mosque being built rather than a virus leaking into their water supply.

Speaking of the Tea Party, the whole government takeover thing is readily apparent in the film, but it doesn't bog down the pace too much. Thankfully, Breck Eisner saw fit to show the authorities similarly incompetent in containing the outbreak as the real-life government was in aiding Hurricane Katrina victims. The meat of the story lies in a small group of people trying to survive long enough to make it out of town before the catastrophe becomes inescapable.

If you have seen the original film, chances are you prefer it to this modern interpretation. Me, I'm coming from the other direction. Now I want to see the original to see just how relevant it is to my modern sensibilities. I've heard some say the original is better, and I've heard a few others who say it hasn't stood the test of time. For now, I would say this would be a fine movie to watch on Halloween if you haven't already seen it.

October 28, 2010

Guest Post by Joshua Reynolds: Werewolves

Today's guest post is from author, Joshua Reynolds. Here's a brief bio from his blog: "Joshua M. Reynolds is a freelance writer of moderate skill and exceptional confidence. He has written quite a bit, and some of it was even published. For money. By real people."

His new novel, Dracula Lives!, is available now through Pulpwork Press. I'm reading it now, and it's pretty darned good, so expect a review of that in the near future.


So, I'm sort of what you might call an equal opportunity monster fan these days. I've come to know the joys of the slow whisper of a mummy's bandages across a tomb floor and the flagrant rustle of a vampire's inappropriate evening wear. Nonetheless, there is a beastie which I hold close to my shrivelled black heart and that is the WEREWOLF. That ravening engine of two-or-maybe-four-legged destruction is just about the best darn monster ever, for my money.

I've seen just about every celluloid representation of the werewolf going, barring a few obvious entries *cough Twilight cough* and I have yet to be disappointed. Mind you, that likely has more to do with my tolerance for bad cinema than anything else. If we're aiming for favourite films though, mine has to be none other than Universal's classic werewolf picture...Werewolf of London.

I can already hear you now-'Heresy!' you cry, 'Heresy, sir!' Too which I say fie. Fie! Yes, The Wolf-Man is a great film, but Werewolf of London is better. Why? Two werewolves for the price of one! A werewolf-on-werewolf smackdown occurs that, while it sadly sees no actually fur flying, is quite cool nonetheless. Even better? One of the werewolves is also a mad scientist!

Fine, he's a botanist, but still! Tibetan werewolves! That's got to be better than the garden-variety European ones. Everyone knows Tibet is exotic. And they wear hats! And cloaks!

Also, if you'll allow me to get real for a minute, Werewolf of London got not one, but TWO songs based on it, by Warren Zevon and Paul Roland respectively and yeah, maybe Zevon mentions Lon Chaney instead of Henry Hull, but come on...Werewolf of London is totally rock and roll.

Oh, and since everyone and their dog has heard the Zevon one, have the Roland version:


Monster Movie Marathon: Do You Root for the Monster?

When I was a little kid, I always rooted for those kind, innocent folks as they ran and hid from the big bad monster. It was easy to put myself in their shoes and get caught up in the story. What if some hairy werewolf or giant lizard was after me? Why I'd run as fast as my pudgy little legs would've taken me. I wasn't so much identifying with the supposed heroes in those movies, I was really placing myself in their situation.

Now that I'm all grown up, I'm not so sure my method of watching a monster movie is any different. When it's an especially action-driven movie, I'm pretty much just looking to get sucked into the action and imagine myself in the same situation. For the slower-paced, more atmospheric films, then I'll pay more attention to the protagonists and try to go along with their storylines. There are movies, however, where it is extremely hard to root for the good guys. In those cases, I root for the monster.

A perfect example is Cloverfield. What, to me, could have been a spectacular monster movie became tiresome and insufferable thanks to vapid, unappealing characters the film followed from beginning to end--not to mention the irritating shaky cam style of filming. Accepting the notion that the "found footage" approach worked well, with a supposed camcorder used to document an alien invasion in New York City, there is still the problem of giving the audience characters that they can root for. I really had a hard time liking any of those people in the movie, and I quite frankly relished in each of their deaths as the story progressed.

In a movie like The Mist, where hordes of insectoid and cephalopodan creatures prey on humans, there are a few core characters to rally behind. Thomas Jane gives a particularly good performance as a father who must hold his own panic at bay for the sake of his son, but for the sake of a slowly degraded social structure inside the store. It's those other characters, the malevolent and apathetic ones as played by Marcia Gay Harden, that make it all the more easy to root for those macabre critters to pick them off one by one.

I suppose my willingness to join the monster pep rally dates back to my empathy for Boris Karloff as Frankenstein. The big lummox wasn't so bad--once you got to know him. Is it so hard to imagine a sympathetic side to some of those other monsters in movie history? I mean, King Kong was a victim of celebrity, wasn't he? And how about The Thing? Wasn't that alien only a victim of circumstance, trapped in the arctic after crash landing? Okay, it was a real dick when it thawed out, I'll grant you that, but all that proves is that the Thing is not a morning person--I can relate.

More often than not monsters will want to eat you, but let's be honest ... you kind of have it coming.