It’s safe to say most writers aspire to create work that’s considered “original.”
If you believe you’ve happened upon an untouched concept, just ask: what are the chances? If I had a Spanish doubloon for every “fresh idea” I had – only to discover it had already been done, I’d have a soggy treasure chest full of worthless currency.
In the horror genre it seems, originality is highly praised — and barely read. The key is to find unusual angles for the usual tropes.
Let’s take the zombie sub-genre. Clearly it has reached a saturation point in every possible medium. Like the ambling corpses that populate it, it keeps hanging on, long after there’s any point or purpose. That’s not to say zombie stories are no longer relevant. If anything their persistence is testament to their relatability. Even before Romero, we vaguely understood the implications of an afterlife far removed from our idealized concepts — for both sides of the deal. We see how similar our neighbors seem to these mindless decaying machines of consumption. So what stories are there to be told within its framework?
Survival, loss, hardship and terror.
All humans made equal by a shared crisis. Plenty of room for stories within that framework, right? Yes, actually. People will still fall in and out of love, have children, make friends and enemies, compete for attention and position, strive for better lives. These are human stories, about life. Originality is rendered irrelevant.
If the Avengers and The Expendables franchises have taught us anything, it’s that more is better, or at least…morier. And while horror fans may enjoy the classic scenario of a small group facing a singular implacable menace, sometimes it’s fun to engage in sensory overload via a film filled to the face with a variety of menaces.
This list focuses on the over-the-top monster mashes that leave us sated like scary smorgasbords. No ALIENS, STARSHIP TROOPERS, zombies or other multitudes of the same species here; the following focus on flicks with several different kinds of monsters.
Back in 1933, horror and monster pictures were just beginning to take hold and prove their box office worth. But Universal’s nascent house of black and white horrors must surely have paled (literally) in comparison to RKO’s monster fest KING KONG. O’Brien had worked on a silent adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD nearly a decade earlier, but comparatively speaking, KONG was light years ahead in the FX department, featuring stop motion special effects work by Willis O’Brien that included not only the titular monster monarch but a stegosaur, bronto(or pleisio?)saur, styracosaur, a giant lizard and the triple threat of an allosaurus, eel monster and pterosaur engaging Kong in epic battles.
As if that wasn’t enough. O’Brien and crew devised an icky menagerie of smaller insect and reptile critters that attacked crew members forced off a log bridge and into a swampy pit by Kong. Reportedly, this scene was deemed too horrific by studio suits, so it wound up on the floor. Sadly, that footage is long lost.
In 2005, Universal released a fun -if overlong- remake created by The Lord of The Rings director Peter Jackson and his New Zealand effects house WETA, which featured more of everything, including the pit scene.
This would not be Jackson’s first shot at the infamous sequence though, as he lovingly recreated the lost footage based on the original script and various descriptions. See it here!
THE BLACK SCORPION
There was plenty of dino-filled matinee fare after KONG, though most were not nearly as well realized. Japanese films mostly just pitted single monsters (including Kong) against their reigning champion Godzilla until the mid-sixties, but this entry in the giant bug brigade, coming in 1957, brought back O’Brien and his creepy stop-mo aesthetic for a unique, if rather cheap effort that, aside from the titular mutants (their were actually many of the big arachnids) presented an unnerving subterranean sequence filled with spiders and worms that had all the nuclear age housewives shaking out their bouffants and sleeping with their kids’ Daisy BB repeaters for months.
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS!
Japan’s Toho Studios followed Universal’s formula of one film containing multiple monsters in 1965 by bringing their Big Three, Godzilla Rodan and Mothra, together to battle the new menace of GHIDORAH THE THREE HEADED MONSTER but it wasn’t until 1968 that they assembled no less than eleven kaiju for a proper monster party set in the far away future of 1999, when daily moon trips were/will be the norm and all the giant menaces that have so plagued the world have been corralled onto a pacific island affectionately termed Monsterland. But as we all know, the future will bring with it alien contact, and in this case the aliens are hostile. They’ve devised a method to control the monsters and promptly release them to raze the world’s capitols. Godzilla and friends, Rodan, Mothra, Anguirus, Kumonga and many more, eventually turn face and help defeat the aliens but the enemy has an ace up their silvery sleeves: King Ghidorah. The space demon, vastly outnumbered, quickly succumbs, finally dying after three films. It’s fun to see the 90s through the eyes of the 60s, but all those monsters onscreen at once is a 12-year-old sci-fi geek’s dream come true.
AT THE EARTH’S CORE
Exploitation studio stalwarts American International and Amicus came together for this very very 70s B pic based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs tale featuring western star Doug McClure, Peter Cushing and the irresistible Caroline Munro, in a tiny animal skin bikini no less. The plot: Victorian era scientists ride a drill machine past the earth’s upper crusts, where they find a neolithic civilization enslaved by a race of rodent men who are in turn working for telepathic flying reptiles.
But wait, there’s more. Along the way, our heroes encounter dinosaur-like beasts unseen in the above-ground fossil record, such as a giant bulldog lizard thing, two bipedal wild boars fighting over a mansnack, a beaked allosaurus, a fire breathing toad, and a creepy carnivorous plant. The same producers followed up with the equally monster-filled THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS, but neither of those carries the weird charm of this bad boy.
GALAXY OF TERROR
Just get a look at the poster art and there can be no doubt that this ALIEN-inspired Roger Corman production, despite its budget shortcomings, delivers monsters galore, and yes, a full galaxy’s worth of terror, not to mention a cast to kill for: Robert Englund, Edward Albert, Ray Walston, Erin Moran and Sid Haig. But its Taafee O’Connell who is best remembered for the dubious distinction of being raped by a giant maggot thing. So yeah, this is that kind of flick. Quite a departure from the above-mentioned films in terms of subject matter. Aside from the maggot thing, there is a tentacled brain sucker, a malevolent disembodied arm, a glowy-eyed giant demon, sentient wires, Erin Moran minus epidermis, and… okay not as much monstrage as some of the previous flicks, but just the idea of a film trying to outgun ALIEN earns it those coveted monster mash points.
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD
The legendary sailor and adventurer began his film career in 1958 with Ray Harryhausen at the helm of spectacular stop motion effects that, for my money, are his best work. Kerwin Matthews leads a cast of white folks playing Arabs doing battle with and running from, such monstrosities as Talos The Bronze Giant, a vicious horned cyclops, a two headed vulture, (aka a ‘Roc,’) a massive fire breathing dragon and an army of unsettlingly agile skeleton warriors. Spawned a handful of sequels, but none compare to the majesty and wonder of the original.
INFRA-MAN aka THE SUPER INFRAMAN
OMG, ya’ll — a Chinese kung fu/sci-fi/monster flick? No further sales pitch needed. An ancient subterranean troupe of intelligent and malevolent monsters (hmm…kinda like NIGHTBREED, but much better at jump kicks) rises to overtake the world and install as its ruler The Princess Dragon Mahm, a seriously bad bitch with a hand that is a dragon’s head sprouting a tongue for a whip. …FUCK yeah. That’s not all she has up her sleeve — er, reptile…arm/neck. She turns into a full blown winged dragon that can re-grow its head, countless times! So, a scientist creates an implant or something that allows bad ass Danny Lee to turn into the titular hero via a series of aerial flips. Just in time too, because the princess’ horrific hordes are as brutally destructive as they are ugly. Infra-Man’s seemingly unlimited powers serve him in battle against: a reptilian bulldog/gorilla beast with one metal drill hand and one metal boxing glove! A green tentacled fellow who can plant himself like a seed and sprout to Godzillian heights as a bundle of flailing tentacles! An orange bipedal arachnid who traps dudes in web spheres! An armor plated demon with a red mustache! A chick with eyes in her hands, that, of course, shoot lasers! Infra-Man is obviously China’s answer to Ultraman, Kamen Rider and countless other Japanese heroes, but I have to admit — I’ve always liked INFRA-MAN better than any of those shows.
More MONSTER MASHES to come!
Well of course we watch horror films year-round. Duh! So as Halloween season approaches, with its pumpkin spice candles and orange lights and hay bales I, as a severe adult OCD, look for films with those same attributes to build Halloween atmosphere en route to the Big Night. You don’t qeue up “Schindler’s List” on Christmas Eve. You go with “Miracle on 34th” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Right?
Likewise, not just any Paranormal Activity sequel will suffice in the Greene domicile as October counts up. At the very least, some attempt at creating an autumnal atmosphere is first and foremost. (That is –until this very year; I’ll elaborate soon.) When our victims-to-be pile into a van and head off to, say, an abandoned mine to spook each other on what happens to be October 31st, I’m not necessarily interested.
This list and its comments are based on (A) connection and relevance to the holiday of Halloween and (B) whether I’ve seen the film or not (remember! I am NOT a professional film critic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
So, if you’re on the hunt for horror films set on Halloween, (or within a few days) that are NOT John Carpenter’s famous blockbuster or any of its sequels, the following list, based on my personal satisfaction with it exists solely and entirely for you, my fall-loving fiend. Enjoy.
THE MIDNIGHT HOUR: ABC’s movie of the week from some October back in the eighties was this entertaining, even lovable TV party, with its Michael Jackson Thriller references, fun cast, great makeup FX and an ending that is surprisingly both wistful and downbeat.
HALLOW’S EVE: Not to be confused with the far superior ALL HALLOW’S EVE, (see below) this little ditty features god-awful improv disguised as acting and abominable clichés disguised as characters. A low budget is no excuse anymore; these guys could afford Danielle Harris so they should have been able to scrape together a few more bucks for a script doctor, at the very least.
THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT: The premise is a documentary crew investigating “edgy” independent Halloween haunts, descending into an ever seamier world of menacing and shady carny types. Sounds intriguing, but of course, it’s “found footage” which just doesn’t work at feature length anymore. So let’s be nice and chalk it up as a loss due to its dead format.
LADY IN WHITE: Nice atmospheric tale of a writer remembering that time he was locked in his school on Halloween night and encountered the ghost of a murdered girl. Nice sense of place and atmosphere.
ALL HALLOW’S EVE: A low budget horror anthology consisting of three tales set within the framework of a babysitter finding an unmarked videotape in the treat bag of one of her young charges, then foolishly watching it. The tales offer something a little unique, compared to more recent anthologies, and this will soon become a perennial favorite if you are of discerning tastes.
MISCHIEF NIGHT: Ol’ Doc Loomis (Jr.), Malcolm McDowell plays a neighborhood watchman who visits a wispy young housesitter to remind her to lock up tight, but you know how that goes. It’s not long before she’s playing cat and (vicious) mouse with a masked killer – but their fight doesn’t go as you might expect, so, recommended based on sheer originality.
MISCHIEF NIGHT: You’re not seeing double; this is the second of two films made within a year of one another and a good example of Generic Title Syndrome. (See also The Ritual x3) Emily has psychosomatic blindness, which won’t do her any favors when a crew of masked murderers show up to re-enact “You’re Next” on her hapless ass. Plenty of suspense, but nothing filling.
TRICK R TREAT: You cannot go wrong with this intertwined anthology of tales featuring the huggable Anna Paquin and original Hannibal Lecter Brian Cox. Little Sam becomes a new and fitting icon/mascot for the Eve, tormenting Cox’s character while Paquin’s confronts what appears to be a masked vampire.
HOUSE OF FEARS: Six teens sneak into a haunted attraction for some lulz, only to have the house’s characters seemingly become possessed by an evil force. Simple and fun, with suitable holiday thrills. Kind of like DARK HOUSE; not the Vic Salva one, but the other one with Jeffrey Combs, but maybe a little better.
DEATH ON DEMAND: Here then, is the bottom of the barrel: a slasher that manages to fail on every single level. Director Adam Matalon, a reality TV “director,” brings that fad’s cynical and soulless mentality to this unpleasant, condescending hate letter to horror fans, referencing Halloween only as a much-needed hook for suckers like me.
HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES: Rob Zombie’s films are a lot like his music in their multi-layered manic, carnival ride sensibility. Also, he’s deeply enamored with films from that magic stretch of cinema from between 1974 and around 1985, when most horror had a certain “outlaw” quality. While I’m not a fan of HOUSE’S sequel THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, I submit that this is a great Halloween-flavored flick with a little harder edge than the others on the list, and the rawness of a debut director’s labor of love.
DONNIE DARKO: This trippy and thoughtful psych thriller has more going for it than can be absorbed in one viewing, so fortunately there are two edits, the more recent of which I haven’t seen – an oversight I intend to correct. As for Halloween setting, how’s this: our protagonist has visions –through which he is guided by a super-creepy ghost in a rabbit suit -of the apocalypse occurring on that very night. Not so much a party movie, this is one for when trick or treating is over.
HALLOWEEN NIGHT: Wrongly convicted of murder, a man is institutionalized, then later, it’s Halloween and he’s out, and some youths are having a Halloween party where he used to live, and he has gone LITERALLY insane, so everyone must die. I can’t say it’s particularly surprising or memorable, and doesn’t really feel “Halloweeny.
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988): Director Kevin S Tenney scored a hit with this fun, trippy haunted house flick (actually, it’s set in an abandoned mortuary) about teens partiers summoning a demon as part of a Halloween party. Yes it’s dated, but makes for some good holiday cheer.
NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (2009): The remake from Adam Gierasch (who also co-wrote with Jace Anderson) amps up all the elements of the original with enjoyable results, favoring non-stop action over atmosphere and character development making for a fun party movie.
TRICK OR TREAT: (1986) More of a parody of the then-rising hysteria over heavy metal and backmasking and Carrie rip-offs than an actual horror movie and pretty much Halloween OT, so save it for eighties night, which will probably be its own official holiday eventually.
SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER: Director Jeff Lieberman hurls social commentary like hatchets, in a Halloween-set tale about a young videogame fanatic who can’t tell the difference between game and reality, (past the reasonable age for such an issue, mind you) so he winds up helping a mute serial killer. This and a few other glaring flaws will undercut your enjoyment, but it still manages to be entertaining and scary.