Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Halloween 2015: October 4

The Blob (1958)

A few years back, I reviewed Irvin S. Yeaworth’s “The 4D Man” and “Dinosaurus!” Those two films form the latter half of a rough trilogy of sci-fi/horror films Yeaworth made in the fifties. This trilogy began, of course, with “The Blob.” “The Blob” may be the definitive fifties monster movie. It has nearly all the clichés we associate with the genre. There’s the small town setting, the monster arriving inside a comet, the teenage protagonists, the drag racing, and the disbelieving cops. The only thing missing is the bugged-eye alien villains. Instead, “The Blob” features a far more insidious threat which has become iconic in and of itself.

Steve and Jane are two normal teenagers, enjoying a night out in their quaint small town. While outside, they see an unusual shooting star streak across the night sky. An old man discovers the meteorite, a strange gelatinous substance bursting forth and attacking him. Soon, it becomes apparent that the blob is an intelligent, predatory creature. The invader stalks the town, only Steve and Jane knowing for sure what it is. Will the kids be able to convince the local police in time before the Blob has consumed everyone?

“The Blob’s” lasting contribution to popular culture is its titular entity. Though a low-budget creature feature, full of occasionally laughable moments and cheap elements, it produced a movie monster unlike anything anyone had seen before. It’s a simple creation really. The Blob is an ambulatory glob of red fluid with acidic properties. Anybody that touches the Blob is dissolved upon contact. The devoured flesh is adsorbed into the Blob, making it grow larger after every meal. Though an alien lifeform, the creature has no defined purpose, instead consuming everyone it gets a hold of. Because of its slime-like qualities, the Blog can ooze under doors, through grates, and into all sorts of small areas. Though the special effects that brought it to life are simple, the Blob is a totally convincing creation, moving and functioning like a living being. Blob-like monsters have become standard fixtures in all sorts of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy fiction. And “The Blob” did it before all the others.

On paper, “The Blob” is essentially no different then any of the other locally produced, low budget monster movies made in the fifties. This is not detrimental to its quality. A great deal of “The Blob’s” appeal is its small town setting. There’s a lot of funny, small characterization to the townsfolk. One of the deputies keeps a fully-stocked chess board in his desk draw. When sirens blare through the town, an old man gets up. He slips on a helmet for the bombing raid before he hears fire truck sirens, slipping on a firefighters’ hat. The old man, who becomes the Blob’s first victim, has a pet dog that hangs around for far longer then expected. Jane has to convince her little brother to lie for her so she can sneak out. The kid gets more characterization then you’d expect from such a small role. These little details make the world of “The Blob” feel more fully realized, adding more color and enjoyment.

Despite its hilariously catchy and purposely tongue-in-cheek theme song, “The Blob” is not all that humorous. The slimy monster is played entirely straight. In a weird way, the Blob is still kind of creepy. Just the way it moves it slightly off-putting, the creature sauntering right into the uncanny valley. By film’s end, the Blob is giant, a huge consuming mass that is nearly unstoppable. The scene of the creature stalking Steve and Jane through the department store is mildly suspenseful. The Blob attacking the movie theater, the most iconic scene in the film, is highly memorable, if nothing else. The way the being is defeated is kind of brilliant too, the film devising a way to stop a seemingly unstoppable threat.

Steve McQueen and Aneta Corsaut are both charming in their lead roles. By some accounts, McQueen didn’t think much of the film. Irvin Yeaworth would make better films, as “The 4D Man” is a more mature, nuanced story. “The Blob” is so of its time that it borders on kitsch. That’s another thing people associated with fifties B-flicks, that super wholesome attitude. Despite this and a few other corny elements, “The Blob” definitely struck a chord with audiences. The main monster is still unforgettable. Maybe that’s why people keep remaking it. Other elements may become dated but the appeal of the Blob is ever-lasting. [7/10]

Black Sheep (2006)

New Zealand has a good pedigree when it comes to gross-out horror/comedies. This is the country that produced Peter Jackson, after all. Before taking us to MiddleEarth way too many times, Jackson created brilliantly grotesque and hilarious splat-stick comedies. Following that proud tradition is Jonathan King’s “Black Sheep.” New Zealand is a country with lots of sheep in it. Having the woolly critters becoming man-eating carnivores actually makes sense, since there’s more sheep then people on the island. However, sheep are silly looking creatures, with their fluffy coats, vacant faces, and stupid baas. So killer sheep is a solid foundation for a horror/comedy. “Black Sheep” is clever enough to milk that concept for all the laughs and grisly effects it can.

As a kid, Henry suffered two traumatic events in one day. Firstly, his older brother Angus murdered his pet sheep and jumped at out him wearing the animal’s bloody husk. Secondly, the boy’s father died in a herding accident. The events have left adult Henry with an intense phobia of sheep. Now, Angus has transformed their father’s sheep herding business into a million dollar company. His genetic tampering has produced a new species of sheep. When some meddling animal rights activist stumble in, the new sheep breed is unleashed. It hungers for human flesh and can turn men into weresheep with a bite. Trapped on a farm with killer versions of what he fears the most, Henry and his friends have to survive the woolly nightmare.

“Black Sheep” does a good job of fusing the low-brow and the high-brow. For example, the movie is something of a satire of corporate greed and hippy activism. Angus is a cartoonishly evil business. He completely disregards moral in his quest for a better… Sheep. He has a lab full of scientists, performing all sorts of grotesquely unethical experiments in order to further this goal. Yet the activist aren’t portrayed as much better. An early, funny line makes it clear that the two hippies’ last attempt to free animals resulted in the death of those animals. Grant rushing in to free the sheep is what results in the outbreak. The ridiculously named Experience rambles about chakras, auras, and hulls a candle into a pit of offal. Among the high-minded jabs are jokes about animal farts and sheep fucking. Both of those pay off really well at the end.

Mostly, the movie gets a lot of mileage out of how goofy sheep look. Look at these stupid things. Watching woolly, fluffy sheep run around as vicious animals makes me giggle every time. Unlike some horror movies with ridiculous threats, “Black Sheep” is aware of how silly its monsters are. It exploits the silly looking sheep for lots of humor. A favorite moment has a sheep behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. Another has a sheep lunging at a victim, tackling him to the ground. “Black Sheep” piles on the gore too. Intestines are yanked from bodies repeatedly. Limbs are chewed off. One poor bastard even picks up his severed leg, tossing it at the sheep attacking him. Yes, we even see a penis tore off by a vicious sheep. “Black Sheep” is as gory as any zombie movie from the same period. Contrasting such grisly effects with the naturally dumb-looking sheep ends up providing lots of laughs. The effects from Weta Workshop are top-notch too, of course.

A good indicator of just how damn far “Black Sheep” goes can be seen in its were-sheep. Yes, were-sheep. I’m a big proponent of other were-animals, besides wolves. In addition to sheep tearing people apart, one of their bites can also infect people with the sheep virus. After getting nip on the foot, a victim discovers a hoof inside his boot. After decimating a whole gathering of folks, the survivors awaken as half-human/half-sheep abomination. Two major characters morph into full were-sheep. The usual stretching and morphing you expect from werewolf flicks are ramped up to goofier levels. The were-sheep are actually pretty cool designs, with their hunched over backs and extended snouts.

When I first saw “Black Sheep,” my response was so enthusiastic that I actually ranked it among my favorites for the years. I’m, perhaps, a little more nuanced in my film criticism these days. The cast is relatively game, especially Peter Feeney as Angu and Danielle Mason as Experience. However, the script is fairly thin, most of the characters being relatively thin sketches. Not all of the jokes land. A reoccurring joke about the family cooks’ meals, most of which seemingly involve animal intestine, gets old real fast. The resolution to the weresheep problem is a little too neat for my taste. Lastly, director Jonathan King occasionally lapses into some shaky-cam style theatrics. Not sure why that was needed for a flick like this.

You’d be hard press to call “Black Sheep” a classic and the film retreated from the minds of cult/horror fans pretty quickly. But it’s still worth a look. The effects are clever and well-utilized. The sheep are cut-ups. The script has more then a few amusing ideas inside of it. I mean, any movie that features a were-sheep and mass-death via exploded flatulence can’t be bad. Watched with some friends and the assistance of alcohol or salty snacks, “Black Sheep” goes down very smoothly indeed. [7/10]

Tales from the Crypt: Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

The sixth season of “Tales from the Crypt” gets started on a high-note. Geraldine is the very definition of an ambulance chasing scumbag lawyer. While traveling through a small town, she’s detained on a minor moving violation. The judges and cops in the town turn out to be unusually harsh. Minor infractions are retaliated against with public punishment. Out-of-date punishments, like the stocks or public hangings, are still enforced. Geraldine doesn’t know this though. She finds the hardcore world of local law difficult to navigate.

While Russell Mulcahy’s previous “Tales” were entertaining episodes, he really outdoes himself with this one. The episode begins with a low-angled walk through the court’s waiting room, setting the tone as comical if cruel. Mulcahy’s exaggerated style is well-suited to this story. Walks down the halls are heavily shadowed. Dutch-angles are employed. The script is classic “Crypt” stuff. A bad person receives an ironic punishment for their crimes. An extra layer of absurd comedy helps things along. The judges pick apart ridiculous details. Catherine O’Hara plays Geraldine as a delightful scumbag. Peter MacNicol is hilarious as her put-upon, if slightly naïve, public defender. The horror elements come not just in the form of the court’s cruel and unusual punishments. While in the stocks, O’Hara is greeted by grisly phantoms of the people who have died because of her frivolous lawsuits. It’s not great art or anything but it’s funny, gory, goofy, and a good time. In other words, an ideal “Tales from the Crypt” experience. [7/10]

So Weird: Still Life

Molly and the kids had planned for a weekend camping trip but a freak thunderstorm ruined those plans. Instead, Annie, Jack, Clu, and Cary are stuck inside. Earlier in the day, Molly had purchased a painting of a pleasant lake scene. The painting is so compelling that, one by one, the group disappears inside. Annie realizes that the painter has crafted some sort of magical world, where people can be sucked inside. She has to convince everyone to leave the painted world before it’s too late.

The last couple episodes of “So Weird’ have been such major stinkers that “Still Life” actually comes off pretty well. There’s no obnoxious comic relief or ridiculous antics from the antagonists. Alex Zahara, as the painter, actually gives a thought, laid-back performance. While the premise is entirely unexplained, it’s interesting enough. The painter’s ability to change the environment by painting something else is a nice touch. Annie’s attempt to get every out of painting involves her bringing something important to them, like a picture of Fiona for Molly or an old baseball mitt for Jack. This roots the story in some sort of emotional heart. The ending is easy to see coming. The leak in the house makes the eventual conclusion easy to guess. Yet there’s a sense that something serious is at stake here, unlike the last few shows. Characters are in actual danger. It’s not up to snuff with the strongest episodes of seasons one or two but “Still Life” lacks most of the things that have annoyed me about this season thus far. [7/10]

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