The Monster Squad (1987)

Director: Fred Dekker

Starring: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Tom Noonan

“The Creature stole my Twinkie.” (Eugene, The Monster Squad)

Kids’ films in the 1980s were much better than they are today. They had an edge to them, a realism that most of today’s films are too scared to address. You only need to look at Spielberg’s 2002 re-release of ET, in which he digitally removed the guns being held by the agents and replaced them with walkie-talkies. In short, today’s children’s movies are for pussies.

Anyone who’s recently watched The Goonies will know exactly what I mean. The kids in that film acted realistically, they had an attitude, they got into nasty scrapes, they wanted to see women’s boobs, they make fun of the fat kid, and every now and then they’ll swear to sound tough (but only in each other’s company, mind, never when an adult’s around). It felt real. Ditto, then, with The Monster Squad, a similar film of that era which for some odd reason never gained the same cult following as that other much-loved “group of kids go on an adventure” movie.  Continue reading “The Monster Squad (1987)”

Alien Terminator (1995)

Director: Dave Payne

Starring: Maria Ford, Rodger Halston, Lisa Boyle, Bob McFarland

MCKAY – “Jinx is dead, and it’s not a pretty sight.”
PETE – “Ooh, open casket or closed casket?”
MCKAY – “No casket.”

When a movie’s title is simply those of two cult sci-fi classics slapped together, it should hardly shock you to the core to discover that the film itself is essentially 90 minutes of clichés. While it doesn’t really reference The Terminator in anything but name alone, Alien Terminator’s plot is more or less a direct lift from Alien with a bit of The Thing thrown in for good measure. It should probably have been called Alien Thing, really.

After years working underground in self-imposed isolation, a group of scientists are spending their last day together before their work is over and they get to return to the surface. As is so often the case in these set-ups a spanner is thrown into the works, and this metaphorical spanner happens to be a mutated rat.

"It's a good job for you there are no guns down here otherwise my aggressive gesture would have had significantly more impact"

You see, one of the scientists is actually working on a secret project, trying to create the ultimate biological weapon. This results in one of his rats going apeshit, killing the other mice in his cage and then escaping through the air vent. It’s a bit like the scene with the dogs in The Thing, except on a much smaller scale and off-camera to save budget.

Eventually the rat kills a cat and then infects one of the workers and that’s when everything goes all Alien, to the outrageously plagiaristic extent that one of the guys is seemingly killed by a smaller creature then comes back to life, is feeling fine and then has an alien burst out of him at the dinner table. Through his back though, of course, because if it came through his chest you’d actually see it and it would have cost money to do.

So apparently this is how you studied DNA in the mid-1990s.

It’s the low budget that really makes itself most apparent in this movie. The main “alien” is a guy in a ridiculous furry suit, the scientist’s futuristic tools include some Virtual Reality glasses and some hideous CGI animations… it quickly becomes apparent that most of the budget was blown on the big explosion that takes place near the end of the film.

Meanwhile, the dialogue is as predictable as you can get – it’s not an exaggeration to say that nearly every single scene contains at least a few lines of typical sci-fi/action cliché dialogue. There’s the classic “How are you holding out” / “Gee, I didn’t know you cared” interchange, the vintage “I’m going back for her” / “dammit, she’s probably already dead” / “but I need to know for sure” debate, and of course who could forget the classic “we need to stop this thing” / “what do you mean we, I don’t get paid enough to have that thing kill me” argument.

"Ha ha guys, isn't this just like the scene in Alien? The scene where that guy dies and OH MY GOD IT'S HAPPENING"

These clichés aren’t solely restricted to the dialogue, mind you – they’re weaved throughout the plot, the casting decisions, and every other aspect of the movie. There’s the faceless organisation boss who orders the controversial decision, the secret double agent and the attractive hard-ass woman who doesn’t have time for men but will ultimately fall in love with one of them by the end. And, of course, you can easily spot a mile off the weaker actress who has clearly just been hired because she’s got the biggest breasts and is willing to get them out (which she predictably does for no reason).

Alien Terminator is goofy fun if you fancy a game of Spot The Stereotype. It’s not a well-made film by any means, but it’s worth a watch for a laugh.

Troll 2 (1990)

Director: Claudio Fragasso

Starring: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Robert Ormsby

“Do you see this writing? Do you know what it means? Hospitality! And you can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!” (Michael, Troll 2)

A lot of films are considered awful, but Troll 2 is so bad that calling it awful feels like going easy on it. Not content with simply being a bad film, Troll 2 was actually at one point the #1 worst-rated film on the entire Internet Movie Database site.

That’s one hell of an achievement, and one that most people who’ve seen the film wouldn’t argue with, but that dubious honour only tells half the story. It doesn’t explain, for example, that despite (or indeed because of) its flaws it’s one of the most entertaining films you’ll see.

This Jimmy Saville goblin is easily my favourite of the bunch

The plot is up there with Citizen Kane. Young Joshua and his family head to the tiny country town of Nilbog to do a house swap with a family there. All is not as it seems though, as Joshua’s dead grandfather appears in a vision to tell him that the town is actually inhabited by goblins pretending to be humans. What’s more, these goblins want to turn Joshua and his family (as well as a group of teenage lads who’ve also driven to Nilbog) into plants so they can eat them. Because they’re vegetarian goblins, you see.

The slowest rescue scene ever committed to film

The truly impressive thing about Troll 2 is the consistency with which it delivers comically bad moments. From the opening scene in which Joshua’s grandpa tells him the story of the goblins, to the moment where Joshua literally pisses  on a dinner table to stop his parents from eating tainted goblin food (leading to the classic line at the top of this review), to the sister’s amazingly bad dance routine, to the hilarious goblin costumes, to the blatantly obvious ‘revelation’ when Joshua looks in a car mirror and realises why the town’s called Nilbog, every single scene features at least one thing that’s laughably awful.

To give Troll 2 a little credit (and only a little, mind) there are some moments that are clearly supposed to be ridiculous. The part where a young lad in a camper van is seduced by a woman wielding an ear of sweetcorn, in which their passionate encounter ends up getting so steamy that the entire van somehow fills up with popcorn, couldn’t possibly have meant to be serious.

Not a good actor among this bunch, yet they're all lovable in their own way

Indeed, the more you watch Troll 2 and the more hilariously bad moments you encounter, the more suspicious you get and you start to fear you’ve been the victim of an elaborate practical joke, that the movie that was designed to be deliberately bad and you’ve fallen for it. Thankfully, as proven by the recent (fantastic) documentary Best Worst Movie, it’s clear this wasn’t the case and the cast and crew were actually trying their hardest.

Troll 2 is the perfect film to watch with a group of friends. While most cheesy films suffer from bad acting or a daft plot, Troll 2 is rare in that every single element – the direction, music, acting, special effects, script, plot and editing – is fantastically terrible. It’s the movie equivalent of all the planets lining up as they revolve around the sun – it’s so rare that every single element that could be shit is present and accounted for. As a result, it’s a joy to watch from start to finish.

(technical ability)

(pure joy)

Night Of The Bloody Apes (1969) (Video Nasty review #4)

Director: René Cardona

Starring: José Elisa Moreno, Carlos Lopez Moctezuma, Norma Lazareno

“I’ll say that’s absurd, the proofs are circumstantial, it’s more probable that of late more and more you’ve been watching on your television many of those pictures of terror.” (Dr Martinez, Night Of The Bloody Apes)

Night Of The Bloody Apes is easily in my top ten Mexican-luchador-wrestling-ape-based monster movies, and I can assure you that’s a highly competitive list. Given its title though, it’s actually a little disappointing since there’s only one ape in the film and it’s not really a proper one. Let me explain.

The movie has two main plotlines. Lucy, a masked wrestler, is having problems living with herself after she puts another wrestler in hospital by throwing her out of the ring during a match. Meanwhile, in the same hospital, the mad scientist Dr Krellman is upset that his son is dying of lukemia and so decides that the only way to save his life is by giving him a heart transplant.

"I hope everyone likes my new church outfit"

Maybe hearts aren’t too easy to come by in Mexico – I’m no Top Gear presenter so I’m not really touching that one – but for some reason Dr Krellman decides that, rather than waiting for a human heart to become available, he’ll kill a gorilla and take its heart instead. Because that’ll definitely work and won’t fuck things up.

After the transplant, it quickly becomes clear that it definitely hasn’t worked and things are very much fucked up when Krellman’s son becomes a sort of half-man half-gorilla. His face turns into that of a strange monkey man and he has the sort of rage that can only be matched by watching someone watching two hours’ worth of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

"I only came here for bunion surgery"

Monkey chap then escapes the hospital and goes on the warpath, raping and mutilating various ladyfolk living nearby. It’s up to Dr Krellman to find out how to stop him… possibly by replacing his monkey heart with another human one. If only there was some sort of hospitalised female wrestler close to death with a heart that could be sneakily removed and used instead…

Wayne Rooney relaxes at home

Night Of The Bloody Apes is just silly from start to finish and while it’s understandable why it was considered a video nasty at the time it’s still very tame compared to some of the others. The ‘rape’ scenes are thankfully clothed and very brief and the blood is a bit unrealistic. In fact, perhaps the most controversial moments in the film are the two heart transplant scenes, which actually use stock footage of real-life human heart transplants for added realism. If you’re a bit squeamish when watching operation footage then, this isn’t for you.

By far the best thing about the film is the terrible dialogue. Since it was originally filmed in Mexico it’s all dubbed, but the translation to English is so literal that many of the lines make no real sense (like the example at the top of this review). This results in some quotable classics, like the scene where Dr Krellman tries to convince his accomplice to take the injured wrestler’s heart: “A little slither of bone lies in her cerebrum. And if by some miracle she lives she’ll be an idiot for the rest of her life.”

If a big group of you want to have a laugh while watching something pleasantly crap, Night Of The Bloody Apes is a good shout. Watch it on your own though and the novelty will wear off about half an hour in. Naturally, the trailer makes it look a lot more exciting than it really is:

Attack Of The Super Monsters (1982)

Director: Tom Weiner

Starring (voices): Tom Weiner, Cam Clark, Robin Beth Levenson, Joe Perry

“This is a real emergency: the super monsters have sent a triceratops to the outer suburbs of the city.” (Dr Carmody, Attack Of The Super Monsters)

This film is fucking nuts, so let me try to take you through the plot. It turns out that the dinosaurs didn’t actually die out millions of years ago: instead they’ve been living underground. In that time they’ve managed to learn how to speak English by reading humans’ minds and have appointed a leader, the evil Emperor Tyrannus (a T-Rex).

Tyrannus summons Eddy the allosaurus and tells him to go up to Earth to start up some shit. Eddy shoots some beams out of his eyes at some dogs, causing them to turn into evil red dogs and maul their owners. Oh, by the way, the dinosaurs are guys in suits (Godzilla-style) but the dogs and humans are anime cartoons. Think Roger Rabbit.

The Gemini Squad - a right bunch of knobs

Things get even weirder when we’re introduced to the Gemini Squad. They consist of Jim and Gem (who are brother and sister), Gerry (a fat guy) and Wally (a science officer with a weird face). Oh, and a doctor guy called Carmody who somehow knows everything that’s going on and has an explanation for it all.

Anyway, it’s clear while watching Attack Of The Super Monsters that it’s actually four episodes of some Japanese TV show haphazardly edited together to make a movie. Four different dinosaurs are summoned throughout the film and they’re all defeated in the same way: Jim and Gem merge their energy to form Gemini, a weird genderless hermaphodite thing who can somehow pilot a spaceship a bit better or something, then proceed to kill the dinosaur (which then blows up for no reason).

"Oh, hello there"

It’s a bizarre mix of live-action “man in suit” shenanigans, anime-style cartoons and crap model vehicle shots reminiscent of an even lower-budget version of Thunderbirds. Yet despite how rubbish it all looks it’s got a charm that makes it fun to watch throughout. The script is so awful it’s hilarious, the dinosaurs have amazingly hammy voices and it’s all just a good bit of fun.

In all, it’s worth a watch, if only so you can say you’ve seen a pterodactyl command some bats into turning some men into skeletons before said pterodactyl slams into a skyscraper over and over again. And who doesn’t wish they could say that?

And for your amusement, here’s a clip showing how the film teaches you the best way to defeat a Triceratops while you’re in a shitty LEGO truck.

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Silent Hill (2006)

Director: Christophe Gans

Starring: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden

“Mother is God in the eyes of a child.” (Cybil Bennett, Silent Hill)

Most movies based on video games are, to put it bluntly, a pile of shite. Super Mario Bros, Double Dragon, Dead Or Alive… all horrible. It’s probably for this reason that I’ve somehow managed to go five years without checking out the Silent Hill film, but having finally watched it yesterday I was reasonably happy.

Silent Hill‘s plot is loosely based on that of the first game in the series. The game started with a chap called Harry Mason going on holiday with his daughter. When a girl steps in front of the car, he swerves to avoid her and crashes. When he comes to, he realises his daughter is missing, leading him to explore the nearby town of Silent Hill to see if he can find her. Cue lots of fucked-up monsters.

Standards at the NHS were clearly slipping

The movie, meanwhile, replaces Harry with a female character, Rose. Her adopted daughter has been sleepwalking and talking about a place called Silent Hill, so Rose takes her to Silent Hill to see if it triggers any memories about her past. Then, as in the game, they crash on the outskirts of the town and the daughter goes missing. It’s a small difference but an important one, as it makes it harder to sympathise with Rose when you know she deliberately chose to go to Silent Hill rather than ending up there by accident.

"Don't ever take me to that fucking hairdresser again, mum"

Silent Hill is a beautiful movie. Obviously when I say that I’m not referring to the horrible, mutated monsters that sometimes look like wriggling human-sized acid-apitting condoms, I mean the way it’s shot. The town of Silent Hill almost feels like a character itself, such is the detail with which everything’s been designed. The moody, empty streets look like they haven’t been updated since the 1950s and the constant fall of ash from the skies gives everything a surreal, otherworldly feeling.

Combine this with Akira Yamaoka’s stunning music (the vast majority of the movie’s score consists of music from the games) and you’ve got a movie that’s a treat for the eyes and ears when there aren’t freaky monster things shuffling about.

For a film based on such a grim series of games there are only a couple of visually shocking moments in the film, the most notable being someone having their skin ripped off and flung against the wall of a church. A normal occurrence on a Thursday night in Liverpool, sure, but something rarely seen in the world of cinema.

"That must have been one hell of a Nando's"

Silent Hill is enjoyable until the final 30 minutes, when everything starts to go a bit mental (well, moreso than usual). The plot starts getting needlessly complex and confusing, and it all gets a bit silly. This of course is nothing new for those familiar with the Silent Hill games, but at least there the plot took a back seat to the whole ‘shooting things and trying not to die’ challenge the player faced. Since most movies are very much plot-focused, there’s nothing for the convoluted story to hide behind.

As a video game movie, Silent Hill is one of the better ones out there. It perfectly captures the tone of the games, right down to the silly plot. As a movie judged on its own merits though, it’s a gorgeous film that unfortunately runs out of steam when its story becomes as messy as the habits of its monsters.

Pumpkinhead (1988)

Director: Stan Winston

Starring: Lance Henriksen, Jeff East, Matthew Hurley

MAGGIE: “Don’t worry, God will help us.” (loads shotgun)
TRACY: “Then what’s that for?”
MAGGIE: “In case God doesn’t show up.”

Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) is a bit of a hillbilly. He lives in a house with his young son, who makes him a necklace thing for seemingly no reason. The next day a few bikers come to the village and run his son over, killing him. Lance is clearly pissed off (and rightfully so), so he seeks out a crazy old woman who teaches him how to make a demon based on his rage that will seek vengeance. And so Pumpkinhead is born. Cue mindless killing of the bikers.

I had always wanted to see Pumpkinhead ever since they made an action figure of him in my favourite action figure series, Movie Maniacs. After all, it had to be memorable if someone took the time to make an action figure of it. As it turns out, Pumpkinhead is at best an average film which lacks a set of balls.

Pumpkinhead is a huge monster (even the action figure dwarves the other ones in the series), but all it seems to do to the people it kills is put its hand over their head and pick them up a bit. That’s extremely fucking weak. The plot’s also a bit simple. Boy dies, man goes mad, enlists the help of a demon which then kills people. Meh.

The fact that it’s from the ’80s is no excuse. Pet Sematary still scares me to this day. But this was just poor. There are two ‘jump’ scares in the film. One just isn’t scary (Henriksen’s dead son sits up in the car next to him) and the other’s poorly timed (a dog wanders slowly into the frame to a dramatic musical sting). And as impressive as Pumpkinhead looks, it doesn’t seem that it could do any harm at any point, especially given that its main party trick is the old “picking people up by the head” routine. Give me a pointy stick and I could probably take the bastard.

Yes, there are a couple of deaths, but they all happen off-screen so we don’t really know what happens. The only one that’s sort of shown is when Pumpkinhead uses the tried and tested “pick up by the head”, climbs a tree then drops the person he’s carrying. Naturally however, we don’t see the impact. To be fair, there’s one clever moment where an unfortunate chap is impaled on a rifle, but that’s about it.

Incidentally, the story for Pumpkinhead was based on a poem by Ed Justin. Here’s how it goes:

Keep away from Pumpkinhead,
Unless you tire of living
His enemies are mostly dead,
He’s mean and unforgiving
Bolted doors and windows barred,
Guard dogs prowling in the yard,
Won’t protect you in your bed,
Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead

Oddly, it doesn’t mention anything about Lance Henriksen’s son getting his head caved in.

Sorry to say, Pumpkinhead isn’t too great. If you’re a special effects junkie it’s certainly worth a watch to see the great Pumpkinhead puppetry (with Stan Winston directing it’s no surprise the monster looks great), but I wouldn’t make it top of the priority list if I were you.

Nightbreed (1990)

Nightbreed posterDirector: Clive Barker

Starring: Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg

“Miss Winston, everybody has a secret face.” (Decker, Nightbreed)

Despite being one of the UK’s finest horror minds (having written the likes of Hellraiser and Candyman), Clive Barker’s Nightbreed doesn’t really get much love in the UK.  Maybe it’s because it’s not really as scary as the stories he’s better known for, or maybe it’s because it’s the horror movie equivalent of Fraggle Rock, I suppose we’ll never know.

The story’s your typical “boy meets girl, boy has been having weird dreams while his shrink tells him he’s a serial killer when he isn’t really, boy goes to a cemetery and is killed but then becomes part of a weird underground-dwelling group of undead monsters” plot you’ve seen a million times before. It emerges early on in the film that Boone, the lead character, isn’t actually killing the families he’s been led to believe he has and that instead his psychiatrist (played with just the right amount of cheese by genius director David Cronenberg) has been doing the killings while hypnotising Boone into believing it was him instead.

Due to his dodgy dreams, Boone finds himself drawn to a spooky graveyard where he is shot dead by police, but not before encountering a group of undead chaps and ladies who live under the ground and are generally keeping themselves to themselves. Boone’s quack discovers this and decides to tell the police, leading to an almighty clusterfuck later on where loads of cops fight hundreds of monsters in their underground lair.

For the most part Nightbreed’s acting does the trick but I was a bit unconvinced by Craig Sheffer in the lead role of Boone. Watching him change from a human to monster (as he does numerous times in the film) just isn’t believable because he doesn’t seem bothered by it, and though it isn’t his fault I was also distracted by the fact that every time he turns into his monster form he reminds me of a bad Kurt Russell lookalike:

Kurt Russell lookalike

To be fair, he’s not the only one to evoke such a reaction. When Not-Kurt-Russell eventually finds himself in the monsters’ underground lair, the film more or less turns into a game of Oh Look, It’s A Celebrity Lookalike. “Oh look! It’s metal icon Rob Zombie!”

Rob Zombie lookalike

“Oh look! It’s Vanessa Feltz! (though she’s in everything these days so it’s no surprise to see her making yet another appearance)

Vanessa Feltz lookalike

“And oh look! It’s Sportacus from children’s televsion keep-fit shitefest Lazytown! Well, a bit.”

Sportacus lookalike

Once you get past that, Nightbreed is actually cheesy fun. David Cronenberg is clearly the star of the show as Decker, the mental serial-killing psychiatrist, and his mask is fairly creepy too:

David Cronenberg

Meanwhile, as you’d expect from Clive Barker, there’s also plenty of gore and nudity to be had (even though the former is about as realistic as Aberdeen’s chance of winning the Scottish Premier League and the latter is courtesy of some terrifying monster women) and Danny Elfman’s music helps give a Burtonesque feeling to certain scenes.

The best bit though is probably the scene where female lead Anne Bobby (who coincidentally shares her names with both my aunt and uncle) first enters the underground tomb, since this is the first opportunity viewers get to see most of the film’s countless weird and wonderful monsters. This was also the scene that gave me Fraggle Rock vibes (as explained at the start of this review), because it basically shows a bunch of muppets living under the ground.

There are times when the plot gets a bit mindless, and while the film clearly wants the audience to be on the side of the monsters it can be tricky when some of them are pricks (such as the pervy one whose face is falling off or the one who looks a bit like Knuckles from the Sonic games and is generally a wanker to Not-Kurt-Russell). This may be partly due to the fact that the film was savagely cut and edited by the studio shortly before its release, something that irked Clive Barker according to later interviews because he didn’t get to tell the story the way he wanted to. Despite all this however, it’s still a good laugh to watch if a little disjointed.

Unfortunately Nightbreed is only available in Region 1 DVD in America and can’t be bought on DVD in the good old U of K, but if you can find it somehow (nudge wink elbow guffaw) then it’s well worth a watch for the cheese factor and the monster designs. Three out of five skulls, I reckon.