There are three things I’m certain of in this world:
1) Helluva Good French Onion Dip is by far the best french onion dip on the market (and nothing else even comes close–if you even mention Dean’s french onion dip, I will ban you from the Internet!).
2) George Lucas could not have screwed up The Phantom Menace any more than he did. It is literally impossible to make that movie any worse.
3) You just finished reading my “Display Your Movies” post and, while you thoroughly enjoyed it, you’re longing for bonus entry about how to display your massive collection of monster movies.
Well, all I can do is “enjoy” for #1 and “plot” for #2, but I’m happy to help you out with the third one.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love love love classic monster movies, and have many more than I would like to admit. In my office, I actually have a collection of vhs (!) monster movies that I meticulously saved up for and bought as a kid growing up in Ohio. Why do I keep them? Well, it’s always fun to have my students try and figure out just what the hell a vhs is, after all the time I spent looking forward to purchasing them from Saturday Movie Matinee in the Richland Mall I can’t bear to get rid of them, and if I kept them at home I’m pretty sure Claire would make me throw them away (because honestly I can’t think of a reason to keep them–I already have practically all of them on dvd).
Don’t believe me? Check it:
If you squint, you can just make out a few impressive finds, including a colorized version of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (more on that movie later) and a copy of Peter Cushing’s Island of Terror, which is not available stateside on dvd. Yes, you should be jealous.
Now, obviously I can’t display all of my monster movies in the living room. To be honest, you should only display about half the number of your other dvds in the living room. However, they’re important to me and I consider them part of my identity. So, I wanted to place a few choice movies in a cluster on one of the shelves in the living room. Just like my other movie display entry, I have some advice if you’re a bit nervous about the process.
And in case you’re wondering, here is my selection of monster movies currently on display in the Grimm/Odenweller house.
Just like with your regular movie collection, this is going to say a lot about you. If some monster movie expert comes to your house, you want to be able to impress them with your selection. Fortunately, I already had King Kong in with my other movie display, so I didn’t have to worry about it here. However, my all-time favorite movie is the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers featuring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynters. It’s absolutely wonderful, and I can’t wait for it to come out on blu-ray (currently, when I want to treat myself, I rent it in HD off of Amazon, like I’m some kind of animal!). However, I also included Forbidden Planet, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, and Mysterious Island as must-haves.
The monster movie fan club is an exclusive membership, and we can be a bit snobbish. Plus, if the casual observer glances at the collection, it would be great if they could recognize a few titles (then comes the nostalgia, and then they’re trapped!). For me, I threw in the The Blob, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and One Million Years B.C. I think it’s a great way of connecting with people who have only a passing familiarity with this genre.
One of my favorite things about monster movies is that the names are so crazy and wild. You definitely want to showcase this, which is why I included some movies with really appealing titles: Attack of the Giant Leeches, The Crawling Eye, From Hell It Came, I Married a Monster from Outer Space. Tell me you wouldn’t at least pick up I Married A Monster from Outer Space, just to look at it. Then, while we’ll sharing a laugh, I can casually drop in that, if you watch this movie closely, it’s basically about women dealing with marrying a closeted gay man in the 1950s (the husbands look normal to everyone else, but are incapable of emotions, particularly when it comes to showing affection and having sex). Then BAM! You’re hooked.
This can also apply to cool dvd covers, which is why I’m considering putting Attack of the Crab Monsters out as well:
This is mostly for you. It’s great to have the classics and reliable ones out there (again, I don’t know what it is about Planet of Dinosaurs, but I do enjoy that movie), but it’s easy to forget about your more recent purchases. That’s why I have The Abominable Snowman (underrated and, at times, genuinely unsettling) and Caltiki: The Immortal Monster on display–it’s convenient (just throw it in the dvd player) and a nice reminder so that when you’re admiring your collection you can say, “Hey, I forgot I owned From Hell It Came.”
And just like that, you’re ready to have a monster movie display that will be the envy of your friends and won’t annoy your wife at all!
As you know by now, I have an absolute love for monster movies. I used to hit up the now-defunct “Saturday Movie Matinee” video store at the Richland Mall in the bustling megalopolis of Mansfield, Ohio, and I would stare at shelf after shelf of classic (and not-so-classic) monster movies. With limited funds, I would pore over each box, making the tough decision between Island of Terror and The Land Unknown or Invasion of the Body Snatchers (colorized!) and It Came From Outer Space. It was fantastic.
Yet, every once in a while, I would strike gold somewhere else, normally in some discount bin at Meijer. My prize finds were UHF (granted, not a monster movie, but still a classic) and One Million Years B.C. (not to be confused with One Million B.C., starring Victor Mature), and I always kept my eyes open. On one such adventure, my eyes caught an intriguing movie box, featuring scantily-clad women in futuristic costumes fighting a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Check it:
Not as scandalous as the overseas version, but honestly the idea of people fighting dinosaurs was enough for me. Plenty of dinosaur monster movies exist, but for every One Million Years B.C., there are plenty of craptastic ones (Dinosaurus, King Dinosaur, Lost Continent, People That Time Forgot, The Lost World…). I had high hopes about Planet of Dinosaurs, and to be honest, they were met..eventually.
This movie is, by all measures, an utter disaster. It uses stop-motion effects for the dinosaurs…even though the movie was made in 1978. The actors look (and “act”) like 1970s porn stars. The script is horrible, there is way too much walking, the electronic musical score is almost overpowering, and the plot is pretty cliche. Hell, it’s so bad that the MST3K guys even riffed on it (and did a fantastic job).
And yet, despite its ineptitude, I kept coming back to watch it again and again. Hell, I still own the original vhs I purchased forever ago, the dvd that was released, and even the 30th anniversary dvd (though, through some sort of error, the dvd cover reads “20th anniversary edition“). There is just something about this movie, and if you’re a fan of campy adventure, I think you’ll feel the same way.
Let’s start with the effects. They’re actually pretty great. Check out these dinosaurs:
And speaking of effects, don’t forget that Planet of Dinosaurs has one of the greatest death scenes of all time:
Now, almost at the opposite end of the spectrum is the acting. Some people have blamed the script, but when you watch the movie…well…it’s pretty obvious. Sure, the plot is borderline cliche, but so are 90 percent of all monster movies. It’s a traditional storyline: Group is stranded, characters suffer suspicions/doubts about one another, the group bands together against a common foe, and ultimately the characters achieve harmony with themselves and their new environment. And, for me, that traditional storyline works, especially when you consider that the group is stranded on a planet of fucking dinosaurs! BAM!
Seriously though, the acting is rough, but the intent is there. Listening to the commentary track (yes, I am that fond of this movie), you hear about this group of people who just wanted to make a movie and, by goodness, they did. Only one of them was a trained actor (and he hams it up something fierce), they acknowledge all of their mistakes, but again the intent was there.
At the end of the day, I think it comes down to the fact that I have weaknesses for dinosaurs and for adventure movies. Quick, name five great dramas. Easy, yeah? Five great comedies? No worries. Five great science fiction films? Please. But five great adventure films? Tricky. And I’m not talking about action/adventure, I mean true adventure, 1950s serial-type adventure. You have Raiders of the Lost Ark (which I have talked about before) at the top, a few decent contributions (e.g., Romancing the Stone, Tarzan) and a bunch of crap. Planet of Dinosaurs swung for the fences. It was a pop-up to center field, but the exhilaration was there. And dammit, at least they tried.
Three years ago, my former roommate (and current cousin) decided to hold a movie competition. We got together, ordered pizza, and each watched our submissions. Jake’s was Gymkata, a film filled with combat so bizarre that Cracked actually featured it as the best fighting style “too awesome to actually exist.” Mine was Dracula 3000, featuring Casper “Hard Jaw” Van Dien, the long-lost Coolio, and one of the most bizarre endings in movie history. This was followed by much Patron, drunk dialing, and even drunker karaoke, and by the end of the night I was the winner. I had found that year’s best worst movie.
When asked what makes a great movie, legendary director Howard Hawks said, “Three good scenes and no bad ones.” If you think of the great films out there, Hawks is surprisingly spot-on. Unfortunately, it’s easier to find a great movie than a great bad movie.
The trick is that the bad movie has to be enjoyably bad, not just bad (like I’ve talked about scary movies). As wisely discussed on the fantastic How I Met Your Mother, when people think of the worst movie ever there are two main camps: Plan 9 from Outer Space and Manos, the Hands of Fate. Both groups have great arguments, but no consensus is ever made because they are talking past one another. Watch either one a few times (without help from the MST3K crew) and it’s clear that both movies are horrible. However, Manos is painfully bad – the plot is painful, the dubbing is like watching a foreign film without subtitles, and the film itself doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. Plan 9, on the other hand, is the best worst movie because, at some level, it’s actually enjoyable. It’s got heart. Ed Wood was clearly going for something – he just took Suck Ave. to get there. The effects are hilarious, not pathetic. The acting is poor, but earnest. The plot is ridiculous, not stupid. And as a result, the film provides an opportunity for others to mock it (in a non-resentful way).
Jake and I tend to lean more toward the Plan 9 format. So, for our annual competition, the bad movie has to be enjoyable (e.g., Commando (which I argue is the best worst movie ever made) or Death Wish 3). As an extra twist, the movie also has to feature at least one recognizable actor/actress.
My entry this year was Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, which is a gut-wrenching tale of a mega shark fighting a giant octopus. For reals! Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that. I mean…there’s the…ummmm…I mentioned the shark, right? And the octopus? Yeah…that’s about it. Think of it like Boa vs. Python, but instead of a boa and a python, it’s an overgrown shark and a huge octopus. Awesome!
Needless to say, it’s a great bad film. It features, among other things, the giant octopus swatting a helicopter out of the air using a tentacle and it even has the mega shark attacking the Golden Gate bridge. For reals!
And, for an extra bonus, it has one of the most ridiculously awesome scenes in the history of cinema. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed:
All kinds of craziness. Throw in the odd performance of Lorenzo Lamas and the romance between characters (featuring the most erotic scene since Leslie Bibb and Joshua Jackson showered together in Skulls), and I thought I had victory all but guaranteed.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. While Jake was blown away by the aforementioned ridiculous scene (he just stared at me in disbelief and said, “Are you going to win again this year, you SOB?”), the movie’s ridiculousness peaked too early (that scene was within the first half-hour), and so it didn’t have the impact of my epic victory from last year: Shark Attack 3: Megalodon.
It didn’t help that Jake’s film was Howling III: The Marsupials, which was hilariously bad. Granted, it didn’t feature a recognizable actor, but that was because last year my entry didn’t contain a recognizable actor (though I maintain that the actor Ryan Cutrona was recognizable, given that he was Betty Draper’s father in Mad Men, and was also in Changeling, 24, and a commercial for Cancun). This is an ongoing feud, as it was my response to the first year when Jake said his recognizable actor in Gymkata was that the film was directed by “the director who also directed Enter the Dragon.” Nice try, jackass.
IRregardless, next year we’re back on track with actor name-recognition and bad movie hilarity. One year to find the next best worst movie. I had better get started.
Forgive the lengthy introduction, but this is not the first of these entries I hope to make.
Good science fiction is tough to track down these days. You have horror movies trying to be science fiction (and failing at both), which results in The Happening (only tolerable if you watch with Rifftrax), superhero movies trying to be science fiction (sorry, Will, but Hancock was rough), and science fiction that we all wish wasn’t science fiction (I dare you watch Hayden Christensen in Jumper. Seriously. I dare you.).
Some science fiction tempts you by starting out strong; Event Horizon had great potential and Sunshine was gearing up to be one of the best science fiction films ever made until the last 20 minutes (imagine Episode I disappointment without the suck). And then there are some science fiction films that approach perfection for the entire length of the film and receive the critical praise they so richly deserve (WALL-E and District 9 immediately come to mind).
But this entry is about underrated movies, and I’ve selected to highlight a little film released in 2000 called Pitch Black, the story of a group of passengers marooned on a planet where they struggle to survive on a sun-scorched world. Featuring Vin Diesel, the movie was met with indifference: $39 million at the domestic box office and 36% approval with the Cream of the Crop. The effects are a little dated, no one threatened to sweep the Oscars with their performances, and you won’t find this film on any Top 10 lists.
So what’s to like? What makes this movie so underrated?
With the possible exception of Vin Diesel, no actor or actress stands out in this movie. And, when it comes to science fiction and horror, that can be a good thing. Quick, name me an actor not named Wilford or Kurt in The Thing. Someone not named Sigourney from Alien? Hell, name one actress from The Descent.
A strong story negates the need for a strong performance—everyone just needs to do his/her job. Pitch Black is no different. Because no one takes it over the top, the cast fuses into a plot delivery device that is neither memorable for being good…or for being bad. As a result, the actors disappear and the characters emerge; characters without boisterous secrets or petty dramas, but with personal issues they prefer not be made public. They react to the situation, not the script, and don’t bore us with their petty problems. It is refreshing.
By far the strength of this movie, the ship crashes on a (seemingly) deserted planet. But this isn’t like most films where the surface is surprisingly like earth except with a slightly higher Nitrogen count or whatever. This is a truly alien landscape, complete with three suns, no water or plant life, and a ringed planet on the horizon. To quote one Ted Mosby, it is hauntingly beautiful, without some bullshit oasis or friendly humanoids to help these survivors out of their bind. There’s only a colony, long-deserted (though not voluntarily).
There are no flora, but plenty of fauna on this seemingly lifeless planet; this ultimately serves as the threat to the population. In a precursor to Peter Jackson’s epic King Kong remake, the creatures themselves have clearly evolved. It’s not one dominant life form, but multiple forms on different parts of the planet. There are the slugs donning exoskeletons and a phosphorescent glow nestled safe in the ground.
The winged, blue-blooded creatures who rule the skies, fighting one another after they’ve run out of torsos:
And the monsters who stalk above the ground, seared by light but immune to everything else (except for Vin, of course).
There is even evidence of other creatures who were clearly not fit to survive long-term on the surface, with huge, hulking skeletons bleached by the suns as a reminder of their downfall due to docility.
And, best of all, this is all information that we gathered as audience members. There isn’t some scientist who’s studied these beasts, some survivor who learned how these brutes think. It’s purely visual evidence, giving us the freedom to construct our own narratives. Subtlety and imagination triumph—Michael Bay fans need not apply.
Finally, some real tension. Without the stock characters that plague these monster movies, survival becomes a genuine uncertainty. The monsters remain in the dark, where our minds can create far scarier demons than any CGI bullshit. Instead of looking for flaws, we can focus on how the scene unfolds; we replace skepticism with escapism, something that is sorely lacking in most modern horror movies.
Pitch Black won’t change your life and you might not even want to recommend it to your friends. But Netflix it and you just might be pleasantly surprised.