Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Halloween 2014: September 27

The Giant Claw (1957)

Today, I’ll be taking a break from Toho’s fantastic kaiju flicks and heading back to the world of American made fifties B-movies. There are many ridiculous rubber monster movies I’ve never gotten to, like “From Hell It Came,” “It Conquered the World,” and other movies with the word "it" in the title. Tonight, I’m checking “The Giant Claw” off my list, one of the most notorious monster movies. Why is it notorious? Because the title creature is, perhaps, the goofiest looking monster in the entirety of classic genre cinema. How goofy is it? The producers of the film were too embarrassed to put the monster's face on the poster.

The film begins above the Arctic Circle, where scientist are running radar test on a new plane. While in the sky, the pilot sees a bizarre UFO. His superiors laugh at his claims and take him off the mission. However, others soon begin to see the strange beast, a huge bird that might be from local mythology (But is actually from outer space.) In time, the Giant Claw is destroying jets, attacking cities, and killing people. The enormous bird isn’t easy to kill either as, get this, the creature is protected by a shield of anti-matter. What is the Earth to do?

“The Giant Claw” takes some time in revealing its title monster. At first, the creature is only seen in glimpses, a huge, blurry shape spotted from the cockpit. The way the movie holds off on showing the flying monster reminded a lot of “Rodan,” a movie this one superficially resembles. However, it soon becomes clear that the creature was kept off-screen not to build suspense… But because the puppet is ridiculous looking. Take a look at this damn thing. What the hell? Let’s count the flaws here. The creature has a long, scrawny neck that leads up to a goofy, slopping snot with huge nostrils. The mouth is less like a beak and more like a raw jaw, with jagged teeth sticking out. The eyes are bulging and seemingly, randomly placed on its head. Spindly chicken legs are curled up under its fluffy, spherical body. The wings are ratty and unconvincing. The Giant Claw is topped off with a friggin’ Mohawk, a row of vertical feathers growing out of its head. The puppet combines the least appealing aspects of turkeys, ostriches and buzzards. It’s ugly, cartoonish, and wholly laughable.

But you probably all ready knew that. What about the other hilarious shit in this movie? It’s tempting to say that the movie wrote around the horrible prop by giving the monster ridiculous abilities. However, we happen to know that the special effects for the film were done long after the script was written. So, for some reason, this giant bird has an invisible shield of anti-matter that cloaks it from radar and makes it impervious to projectile weapons. How or why this is possible isn’t important. Amazingly, the Giant Claw isn’t atomic in origin but rather from outer freakin’ space. Imagine what the home world of the Giant Claw must look like. The funniest sequence in the film involves the hero and his girlfriend driving along a road. Behind them, a group of hot-rodding teens speed by. The teens yell about the hero being “square” and repeatedly call him “Daddy-o!” And then the Anti-Matter Space Buzzard swoops down and eats them. Goofball moments like this makes it seem like “The Giant Claw” is aware of its own ridiculousness.

The uproarious monster upstages every other problem the film has. Bored sounding narration pipes in several times. The way the hero devises how to defeat the beast involves blowing himself up intentionally, which seems like bad planning. Despite its many, many flaws, there’s something likable about “The Giant Claw.” The hero, played by Jeff Morrow, is interesting enough. He has decent chemistry with Mara Corday as his love interest. The two swap fast-paced dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in a forties screwball comedy. Amazingly, the movie actually suggests what would happen if a giant monster attacked America. Business would freeze, martial law would be enforced, and everyone would be afraid to leave their home. Though most of the miniature effects are laughable, the city destruction at the end is weirdly creditable. (And I’m not talking about the blatant stock footage from “Earth vs. the Flying Saucer.”)

That’s the difference between “The Giant Claw” and the shitty B-movies of today. It’s easy to make fun of the film but, with a better designed central threat and a slightly stronger script, you can imagine this movie actually being pretty good. Instead, the monster is utterly preposterous and far too much of the film is devoted to people standing around in rooms and talking. If you’re looking to have a bad movie night, pop in “The Giant Claw.” The laughs will be as big as a battleship. [7/10]

Graveyard Shift (1990)

As far killer animal movies go, killer rat movies always made the most sense to me. Rats carry disease, they eat anything, some of them are as big as cats, and odds are good there’s one somewhere in your house right now. Some dirty pro-rat propagandists claim they make good pets but I don’t believe them. I went in “Gravegard Shift” knowing it was considered a lesser Stephen King adaptations. However, the movie was in a cheapie three pack with two other King adaptations. Three movies for ten bucks and one of them is a killer rat movie? I couldn’t resist.

The film follows a drifter from West Virgina who has drifted up to a small Maine town, of course. Looking for work, he winds up at a rat infested textile mill, next to an old graveyard. The mill is dangerously hot and lorded over by a real asshole named Warwick. Zoning committees getting on his tail, Warwick recruits a bunch of guys, including hero Hall, to clean out the dilapidated sub-basement. It’s dangerous work, not just because of the ruined, flooded basement, but because a giant rat monster lives under the factory and has started killing unsuspecting workers.

“Graveyard Shift” has a fairly scatter-shot screenplay but it does have a few things going in its favor. It’s notable that there aren’t any name actors in the film. Instead, the cast is full of experienced character actors doing their thing. David Andrews is a fairly nondescript protagonist but solid enough as a lead. He has decent chemistry with the likable Kelly Wolf. Stephen Macht, otherwise known as the dad from “The Monster Squad,” speaks with a bizarre New England accent. He huffs, fumes, beats people, and generally goes far over the top. Vic Polizos goes nuts too, screaming like Rambo when spraying rats with a fire hose. Andrew Divoff, the future Wish Master, gets a great death scene. Better then all the rest is Brad Dourif as the seriously unhinged rat exterminator. Arguably, the film peaks early when Dourif - his eyes intense, his face coated with flop-sweat - growls a monologue about the Viet Cong torturing American POW with rats. Dourif actually contributes little to the plot, mostly existing to pad the body count, but his typically unhinged performance is doubtlessly the highlight of the film.

“Graveyard Shift” might also have something deeper on its mind then crazy actors being chomped on by a rat-monster. The people employed at the mill work there because they have few other options. It’s a miserable job, with terrible hours and in intense heat. The boss promises his workers a tiny raise if they help him clean out the basements, an even shittier job. The rats in the factory are representative of both of the workers and their employees. They’re just trying to survive and are crapped on by everyone above, like the rats. The boss, however, is figuratively a “rat,” blackmailing and backbiting those around him into servitude. At first, I was wondering if Warwick and the rat monster might actually be one and the same, in a werewolf-style twist. Most of the people who die crossed him first. Each time an employee dies, the boss, dispassionately, slips a new “help wanted” sign on the door. Disappointingly, the movie doesn’t follow up on this.

In truth, any blue collar subtext “Graveyard Shift” is forgotten by the bonkers last act. After digging into the sub-basement, the remaining survivors fall into an underground cavern. They land on a huge pile of human bones. The remnants of a building stand in the middle of cave, surrounded by rotting wood and shallow puddles. Warwick goes totally nuts, becoming a murderous villain. It’s hinted at throughout the film, a wing or a tail visible, but at this point the audience gets a clear view at the movie’s monster. The creature seems to combine the grossest attributes of both rats and bats. It has the bat’s transparent wings, blind eyes, and large ears. It has the rat’s nude tail and grey, slimy body. As a special effect, the monster moves a little awkwardly. As a monster, it’s still pretty cool looking.

It’s a bit disappointing that “Graveyard Shift” had the potential to be something better then it was. The sets are extremely well-lit and atmospheric. A scene that has Dourif exploring the near-by graveyard works really well. The script is poorly structured, lurching into a finale awkwardly and never addressing a few important plot points. The movie could have gone in either directly, committing to being a blue collar horror-fable or a nutty monster movie. Instead, it’s stuck between the two extremes, making it interestingly odd but not quite fulfilling. [6/10]

So Weird: Werewolf

It’s nice to see that “So Weird” is going to put its stamp on some classic monster concepts. While spending some time with a family of friends, Fiona befriends the couple’s adopted daughter, Laura. She has the enthusiasm normal to a girl that age but something seems off about her. Meanwhile, at night, a strange creature has been spotted killing the town’s livestock. When Fi finds a press-on nail in one of the footsteps left by the creature, she puts two and two together. Now that she knows Laura is a werewolf, what should she do about it?

“Werewolf” is probably the scariest episode of the series thus far. In order to confirm her theory, and prove she’s not crazy to Jack and Cary, Fiona and the boys wander into the woods after dark. Soon enough, they are pursued by the wolf. The episode never actually shows the werewolf. Instead, it falls back on what I call “monster-o-vision,” swooshing point-of-view cameras with a funny color filter added on. Unlike in season one episode “Strangeling,” this proves weirdly effective. Fiona, Jack, and Cary seemed genuinely panicked and just avoid getting attacked by the monster more then once. I can imagine this episode giving really young viewers nightmares at the time which, ironically, makes it a better Halloween episode then yesterday’s actual Halloween episode.

Aside from its thrills, “Werewolf” is also surprisingly emotion. Laura asking to sleep in Fiona’s bed because she’s scared sets up her emotional vulnerability. After chasing her around as a wolf, Laura reverts back to a scared little girl on the tour bus, having a heart-to-heart with Fiona as the sun comes up. Instead of her parents and the townsfolk being frightened, they all band together around the girl, accepting her and determined to help her. Which is actually rather touching. Imagine that, an episode of an old kid’s show that is funny, scary, sweet, and creates a moral about accepting people who are different without being trite. See, I told you “So Weird” was a good show. [8/10]

Tales from the Crypt: Easel Kill Ya

“Easel Kill Ya” doesn’t have the most original premise, even for a “Tales from the Crypt” episode. A hard-on-his-luck painter, and recovering alcoholic, hasn’t sold a painting in a while and the bill collectors are starting to call. He meets a nice young girl who likes him at an A.A. meeting but even that doesn’t inspire his creative juices again. Inspiration does strike, however, when he accidentally murders a vagrant outside his apartment. After that, he murders someone, snaps a photo of the corpse, and then paints with the victim’s blood. His work catches the attention of a morbid millionaire but Jack doesn’t know how much longer he can keep this up.

Like I said, “Easel Kill Ya” is a story that has been told before, in H.G.L.’s “Color Me Blood Red” and “A Bucket of Blood,” which I reviewed earlier this season. The episode is mostly worth watching for two reasons. Tim Roth gives a delightfully nasty portrayal as Jack. The dude is so sleazy that you wonder why he hasn’t murdered before. He’s creepy enough that you can’t imagine the romantic subplot going well. The girl probably would have run out on him long before she discovered his collection of snuff photos. There’s some solid gore, like when an old lady gets impaled on a pair of hedge clippers, and a steamy sex scene. I’ll admit I didn’t see the final twist coming, even though I probably should have. I bet Tim Roth fans will get a real kick out of “Easel Kill Ya,” a not-spectacular but still entertaining tale. [7/10]


whitsbrain said...

"The Giant Claw" is a perfect example of a movie so painfully bad it morphs into something strangely enjoyable. This movie has the most outrageously stupid looking monster this side of a Gamera flick. It has to be seen to be believed.

The story is the typical 1950s shows up pissed off, starts destroying stuff, military fights it with everything at their disposal but nothing stops it, scientist comes up with some goofy new theory which of course, destroys the beast. This may be the most unintentionally funny movie I've ever seen.

As far as "Graveyard Shift" goes, I remember being kind of disgusted with the scuzzy conditions at the plant. However, it was nothing compared to the place my own imagination went when I read the story long ago. King got me to conjure up some horrific images of crud, filth and scum.

Bonehead XL said...

I described "The Giant Claw" to a friend today by saying it has the perfect balance of tedium and entertainment, making it great social bad-movie watching.

The "Graveyard Shift" short story is good, and better then the movie, but I wish King had spent a little more time with the monster-rats. They were really interesting and only appear at the very end. (Though I guess "leave 'em wanting more" is better then "leave 'em disappointed.")

Kernunrex said...

Graveyard Shift: Best. End Credits Music. Ever.