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!
MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT
Gareth Edwards, director of the original MONSTERS, as well as 2014’s GODZILLA re-stomp, produced this one presumably from afar, handing the reins to Tom Green, who is presumably not the Canadian comic. A bold attempt at recreating the more intimate approach to monster films that more or less worked last time, but unsatisfying.
THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING!
This doc chronicles the efforts of a handful of Muslim comedians to erase common misconceptions and bridge social gaps between Muslim Americans and, well, us not-Muslims, I guess. Interestingly, it turns out that the comedians’ fellow Muslims are the hardest nuts to crack. Funny and poignant.
GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS: UNDEFEATED
Apparently, this series has morphed from an edgy drama to a more or less formula-driven gang fight slugfest, only in the UK gangs are called “firms” and they wear sweaters and hushpuppies. The fight scenes are poorly edited and shot, so star Scott Adkins’ skills are not on display as they should be.
FISTS OF LEGEND
Not to be confused with the Jet Li vehicle FIST OF LEGEND, this Korean martial arts drama steers clear of the usual Rocky variation to posit a story of middle-aged desk jockeys trying their hand at the competitive fight game. The narrative often flashes back to high school, when so many men place a high value on their fighting prowess, and subsequently live in their own shadow, and this device manages to be both poignant and exciting.
More or less an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, so it’s unable to sustain the mystery of the premise for its running time. The initial build up is great but the last act doesn’t hold up.
THIS IS SPINAL TAP
You’d think a metalhead like me would’ve caught this one before now, but… Some of the best comedians of the era take on the roles of deluded and drug-addled rock stars. Plenty of clever improv, but its humor is swiftly becoming dated. So…catch it now!
If you’ve never seen this moody, sometimes artsy sci-fi horror you’re missing one of the most horrific and disturbingly beautiful entries from the 80s post-apocalypse roundup. Scarier than ALIEN, odder than THE THING, it’s definitely worth a watch.
SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS
Not to be confused with Jet Li’s MARTIAL ARTS OF SHAOLIN, this Hong Kong fist-fest from legendary director Chang Cheh stars Fu Sheng and Kuan Chun Chi and some amazingly intricate choreography — along with occasional shocking brutality. The plot is strictly assembly line; fighters from a defeated clan travel to train under masters of a specific style that will overcome the strengths of their enemies, sort of like paper-rock-scissors, but there are surprises to be found.
Back in 1958 this was probably a controversial film, despite clearly being a message of warning to any young ladies giving consideration to such acts of depravity as wearing slacks to school, sassing off to their parents, or breaking into the old abandoned movie house for gossip sessions. Sure, you can watch it and have a laugh at the naivete’ — but you might also find yourself wishing YOU lived is such a time…
BILL BURR: YOU PEOPLE ARE ALL THE SAME
You’ll recognize Burr from his stint on Breaking Bad, and if you’re like me you’ll find his comedic observations and delivery sincere and pitch perfect.
Ryan Phillipe plays a sheltered but not necessarily spoiled actor who is kidnapped and taken into the swamps by a pair of Cajuns looking for revenge. Nothing overly complicated here, but if you think Phillipe is just an overrated pretty boy with no range you’ll be surprised.
THE TOXIC AVENGER PART 3
Everything that made the first two entries feel like fresh frenetic trashy fun now feels forced and dated. Positively chatty compared to its action filled forebears, and not even that funny.
Takashi Shimizu of the GRUDGE films has never quite fulfilled the promise of that franchise but his work is always trippy, creepy and fascinating. This one, loosely connected to his previous film SHOCK CORRIDOR, takes its time, isn’t very bloody, and aims to be more cerebral than is the trend, so settle in.
Cung Le, a former MMA and San Shou champion, stars in this low budget actioner with Peter Weller and Jean Claude Van Damme, as an ex-con vigilante sent by his prison mentor (Van Damme) to oust (kill) the crime faction that has infested it. Weller chews scenery of course, but it’s the fights that we want, and while Le’s skill set is far better suited to actual fights, as opposed to movie fights, he’s a powerful and personable presence and this is a good early vehicle for him.
FREE ALL WEEKEND July 12-14 Progeny by Patrick C. Greene – From Hobbes End Publishing. Great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Action/Adventure, Coming-of-Age, “Monsters portrayed with realism and thoughtfulness. – “Not your typical horror.” You can also enter for a chance to win a free autographed paperback copy of Progeny when you join the Facebook event on the Progeny page HERE Thanks and Happy reading!