A guide to classic movie monsters, reconceptualized
Monday, Oct. 31, is Halloween, of course. And among the most tried-and-true methods of gearing up for All Hallows’ Eve is watching your favorite horror movies. We here at Alibi are helping out by (self-serving plug coming) hosting a screening of the 1987 cult film The Monster Squad at Guild Cinema (3405 Central NE) this weekend. In that family-friendly frightener, a group of young horror movie fanatics are called upon to save their hometown from a gang of monsters including Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy and the Gill-Man. They’re all variations on the Universal Monsters, Universal Studios’ holy quintet of creatures from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Our Midnight Movie Madness screening of The Monster Squad will take place Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28 and 29, starting at 10:30pm.
So, since were in such an old-fashioned monster movie mood this season, we thought we’d run with the theme and take a look at Universal’s classic lineup of creatures—maybe unearth a few more scary movies for your viewing pleasure this weekend. But instead of directing you toward the ones that started it all—1931’s Dracula, 1941’s The Wolf Man, et. al—we thought we’d spotlight some of the most unique variations on these familiar figures of fright.
Cronos (1993)—Before he gave us Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim, Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro came up with this wildly original take on the vampire myth. Incredible Argentine actor Federico Luppi stars as an elderly antique dealer who stumbles across an ancient alchemical device which grants him eternal life (with the slight side effect of forcing him to drink blood in order to survive). There are no fangs or bats or Gothic castles in this thoroughly modern vision, but del Toro delivers a tale whose origins are clear and whose innovations are evident. It’s bloody, beautiful, sentimental, scary and surprisingly sweet. (Amazon Video, Hulu, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, DVD and Blu-Ray)
May (2002)—This debut feature from cult filmmaker Lucky McKee (The Woods, The Woman, All Cheerleaders Die) is a Gothy teenage take on Mary Shelley’s god-playing mad scientist saga. Angela Bettis plays the titular character, a lonely young woman traumatized by a difficult childhood who has a hard time connecting to the people around her—so naturally she decides to “make” her own friends. This alternately chilling and blackly comic tale has built a sizable following in the years since its release. Though the correlation to Dr. Frankenstein and his reanimated monster is more thematic than literal, the connection is undeniable. (In Hungary, for example, this film was known as Frankenstein Játékai—or Frankenstein Games.) Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris and James Duval round out the excellent cast of young actors, adding to the credibility of this creepy tale. (Amazon Video, Microsoft, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, DVD and Blu-Ray)
Ginger Snaps (2000)—Lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty is nothing new. Heck, Teen Wolf was making jokes about growing hair on your palms back in 1985. But John Fawcett’s 2000 Canadian flick (which whelped a string of less accomplished sequels) successfully combines slow-burn drama and body horror issues in this tale of two sisters, one of whom is munched on by a werewolf and cursed to undergo “the change” once a month. Screenwriter Karen Walton—who went on to write several episodes of “Queer As Folk” and co-executive produce “Orphan Black”—obviously knows the existential dread of being a teenage girl. Her savvy script channels all those fears into one savage and subversively funny tale of unprotected teenage sex, menstruation and furry, flesh-eating monsters. (Amazon Video, CinemaNow, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, DVD and Blu-Ray)
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)—Inventive mummy movies aren’t exactly easy to come by. Most are pretty solidly rooted in the whole “dead Egyptian priests coming back to life and attacking tomb-robbing archeologists” schtick. This uncategorizable midnight movie fave is based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale (the “Hap and Leonard” books) and directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm). Bruce Campbell stars as a cantankerous oldster who thinks he’s Elvis Presley. The elderly King is stuck inside an East Texas nursing home alongside a dude (Ossie Davis) who’s convinced he’s JFK (an even more preposterous suggestion). Nonetheless, our two pop cultural heroes join forces when an honest-to-goodness ancient Egyptian entity shows up to suck the souls of their fellow residents. This one’s ridiculous, funny, original and one heck of a must-see. (Netflix, DVD and Blu-Ray)
Humanoids From the Deep (1980)— “The Gill-Man” from 1954’s Creature From the Black Lagoon is an original, proprietary monster. But that didn’t stop generations of filmmakers from creating their own gill-having water hazards—from 1964’s The Horror of Party Beach to 2009’s Muckman. Pioneering exploitation filmmaker Barbara Peeters (The Dark Side of Tomorrow, Bury Me an Angel, Summer School Teachers), for example, directed this watery monster flick for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. The time-honored tale of man-killing, woman-raping sea beasts is still a controversial pic. Peeters alleges Corman and second unit director James Sbardellati added a lot of the film’s more explicit sequences after the film was wrapped. Nonetheless, it’s sleazy, slimy fun with ham-faced good guy Doug McClure (TV’s “The Virginian”) and aging model/actress Ann Turkel torching waves of mutated salmon beasts as they attack a tiny California fishing town and slaughter various horny teenagers. (DVD and Blu-Ray)