The eighties were weird time in cinematic history. Teenage werewolves who’ve found the need to fit in and become all-star athletes, a transgender serial killer who has a disdain for camping and boating, lastly, a man wearing a fedora who finds enjoyment by tormenting teens through their dreams, a weird time for films. And if you could take one of those films and use it to describe the cinema from that particular era—The Toxic Avenger, would be your best bet.
A lot of questions can be raised, in regards, to what makes The Toxic Avenger a great movie. Is it the story? No. Is it the special effects that will make Predator shake in shame? Not necessarily. Continue Reading
I was a freshman in college when The Relic came out, and I remember sitting in the theater with my friends watching the film. I have a special place in my heart for creature features. I just love how creative and awesome some of the creatures turn out to be. I’m a huge fan of creatures created by Stan Winston, so I just had to see this film.
The Relic is still one of my all-time favorite creature features. Apparently my memory was a bit hazy and I didn’t remember that the audience saw as much of the creature as they did. I remember it being shown in bits in pieces in the dark, but it gets shown in all its glory—albeit in the dark, but that just adds to its awesomeness. It deserves its time on the screen. Continue Reading
There are only three rules.
Any time a character is told something like that in the movie, it’s pretty much always a recipe for disaster. It’s right up there along with, here take this ancient book but don’t ever read anything out of it. It’s pretty much a guarantee that no matter what, something is going to go wrong and it’s going to be because somebody didn’t follow the rules.
This isn’t exactly a new narrative device. We are all pretty familiar with it, but I identify one movie as being the original, the best and shining example of this type of story. Continue Reading
The Seventies were packed to the brim with animal attack movies. Name your critter. Snakes, bears, earthworms; all creatures, great and small, had their own chance at cinematic revenge against the human race for mucking up the environment. Film lovers had a tendency to root for the animals, which was justified. We were destroying the planet with Aqua Net fumes and pollution. We were killing ourselves, never mind the woodland creatures around us. Hell, the Cuyahoga River caught fire and the response from those responsible was a resounding, “Well, that’s weird.” The eco-horror genre was always meant to hammer out a warning about the dangers of botching the biosphere. However, using just one kind of animal wasn’t hitting a wide enough audience. If you lived in a high-rise, then you weren’t going to be too worried about chemically imbalanced grizzly bears mauling you on the eightieth floor on your way home after work. Continue Reading
Like the slasher sub-genre of the late 70s and early 1980s, the found footage style was a formula that required little expenditure for vast returns. 1999’s The Blair Witch brought the fledgling sub-genre to the attention of the mainstream, and importantly, to film producers. Continue Reading
What is the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime love worth? Is it worth the embrace of a monster, or death? SPRING is not just any monster movie, no typical vampires or werewolves here. What remains is the inescapable drive for connection that goes beyond emotional need.
SPRING, directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead and written by Benson, is the story of Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci,) a young man who has just lost his mother and his job. His life has been on hold, taking care of his dying mother and his father who has also passed. He is an adult orphan, alone in the world with no direction. He makes an impulsive decision to head to Italy, a trip he and his father always talked about. He arrives with no clear idea of what he is looking to find. Continue Reading
Starring: Ray Wise; Adrienne Barbeau;
Louis Jordan; Dick Durock
Written and Directed by Wes Craven
One of the great joys of being a cinephile is that moment when an entertaining film quietly emerges as a great one. In Wes Craven’s 1982 cinematic adaptation of the classic DC comic Swamp Thing, that moment occurs about a half an hour into the proceedings. More on that in a moment. Continue Reading
The Blob, but with clowns. That will get you close to understanding what this film has in store if you haven’t seen it yet, but it doesn’t quite cover it. In fact, despite the Chiodo brothers’ stated intent to pay homage to The Blob, as well as the 50s alien invasion film in general, chalking it up to a simple homage would be a disservice. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is such a great movie in so many ways, but one of its most important features is its originality. Continue Reading
We’re back with a brand new review for our soon to be concluded “In Review” series, Creature Features. We put the monsters on hold last month for Fright Fest as the zombie horde took center stage. But as the saying goes, the show must go on. And what an odd 90s movie to begin our trek. Species as I an recall was among those last great VHS rentals at Blockbuster. I remember really liking it back then because of…well…the nudity. Seriously, come on, its a super hot alien hybrid looking for a man to mate with. Of course, this was teenager me thinking about few things other than boobs. As a great disappointment (I’m sure) few things have changed. Still…as an adult now enjoying the boobs is honestly highly important, but perhaps there’s something else going on behind the film. We all know what hormones does to a teenage boy, but what about the ladies? Species makes me wonder, the way it was written, is it perhaps allegory for femininity gone wild? Continue Reading
This essay contains spoilers for, and assumes prior knowledge of, Gremlins and Gremlins 2. If you don’t want to be spoiled, go watch the films first. So, I’ve written about Gremlins < http://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/someday-you-may-be-ready > elsewhere. It’s one of the most popular things I’ve ever written online, at least in terms of number of views, which is both gratifying and mystifying. And I feel like I should start by stating the obvious – it doesn’t need a sequel. There’s nothing significant left hanging in terms of plot or character resolution that needed another movie to explore. The movie is, in Aristotelian terms, a complete action. The most you can say in defense of any proposed sequel is that the first movie leaves the door open, what with Gizmo still being alive at the end, but that’s a long way from having a sequel be either needed or, necessarily, desirable. Continue Reading
[99 minutes. Unrated. Director: Jack Heller]
It exists, has always existed, but feels increasingly harder to find these days, especially in the horror genre.
No, I’m not talking about Bigfoot or the Fouke Monster or the Wendigo.
I’m talking about something that’s harder to pin down; something that is, more often than not, maddeningly subjective. Something that comes with a storyteller’s approach to horror.
That “something” is sincerity. Continue Reading
Chad’s take on It.
In 1990, the world of Stephen King expanded even more as ABC aired a miniseries adaptation of his legendary book, IT. The movie would span across two parts and feature a large ensemble cast, the same group of characters, both as children and as adults. The success or failure of the film aside, Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise has gone down as one of the more brilliant portrayals of a Stephen King character, alongside Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence and Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes.
We find ourselves now in the year 2017, on the brink of a new film adaptation, this time set for a theatrical release as opposed to television. And while the original miniseries continues to have legs in terms of the fans, as the years go on, it seems to take more of a turn towards being mocked and criticized as a joke and a failure, a betrayal of source material which I concede is likely King’s greatest book. Continue Reading
[ BIG SPOILERS—like, skip-to-the-number-score-if-you’re-actually-worried level spoilers ]
Okay, two things right out of the gate: this movie is terrible… but I’m going to explain to you why I feel (if you enjoy a certain level of badbad = goodgood) you should still watch it.
Also, it’s basically about mutant fish people raping women (when they aren’t killing everyone else to get to that) but seeing as how I highly doubt there are going to be humanoid fish people waddling out of the sea and actually raping anyone anytime soon, I’m not going to address that further in any serious way after this intro. I also won’t make a joke out of it, though, and you can call me what you like for that. Continue Reading
Run Time: 91 minutes
Director/Writer: Frank Henelotter
Main Cast: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, and Robert Vogel
A young boy and his basket creature travel to New York City in hopes to start their life anew, but not without seeking a bit of revenge first. Will the unexpected pair make it out alive? To find out, watch Frank Henelotter’s Basket Case.
I really enjoyed the opening scene and it was an excellent way to foreshadow what this film has in store: just enough suspense, just enough creature, just enough silliness, and just enough gore! The special effects were certainly not lacking during this scene at all; as a matter of fact, the entire film had pretty decent special effects — that is, aside from the most important part: the monster itself — but with a film like this, I can forgive it. (I probably shouldn’t, but when you see it for yourself you’ll understand why.)
Another subject that I find important to mention to those who are interested in watching this film is the music. It is to DIE for! It reminds me a lot of the music that you often hear while watching an Italian horror film, or, to be more specific, a giallo mixed in with a few short spurts of music that could only be described as something you would expect to hear on Seinfeld. Quite a strange but beautiful combination, but it somehow works!
Every character that you encounter during this wild and crazy adventure is so over-the-top and hilarious in their own way, with one of my favourites being the secretary for the doctor near the beginning of the film. The writing in Basket Case is campy and fun, but you really have to be in the mood to watch a film like this; it’s not campy in an Evil Dead sort of way, it’s campy in a way that’s almost too much. Perhaps I’m looking at this film with too much of a critical eye, but for me to analyze this film this much in depth it almost makes it a bit less enjoyable.
For the most part, the acting isn’t terrible and is about on par with what I would expect for a film like this. It doesn’t take away from the film, nor does it distract me, and if anything it adds to what makes this film so enjoyable for a horror fan. In most films, this kind of over the top acting would be frowned upon, but it honestly works for this movie. As for the cinematography — it is what it is. I feel like the scenes were well-filmed and that they weren’t just filmed once and thrown into the film. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Microwave Massacre.) The director obviously came into this film with the intent for it to be over-the-top, and he succeeded in that manner, but, to be honest with you, there are scenes that just went too far. I will let you know: you do unnecessarily see a man’s willy in this film, and, like any other mature, adult lady, it totally gave me the giggles. All in all, I rate this film five-and-a-half deformed monster sex scenes out of ten, and I recommend you to rent this movie!
Hi! I’m Chantel, also known as Channy Dreadful (the headmistress of dreadfulreviews.com), and I am one creepy ghoul hailing from a small city in Saskatchewan, Canada. I am a semi-regular podcast voice, making guest appearances on several podcasts — with the first being Dead as Hell Horror Podcast, and as well on the likes of The Resurrection of Zombie 7, Land of the Creeps, Streaming Horror Society, Horror Movie Podcast and Whedonverse Podcast. Horror-movie-wise, I prefer movies that dabble in the paranormal as well as demonic possession films. These ones get under my skin the most and if done correctly they can also linger in the back of my mind for several days. I also enjoy slashers — the classics, mostly — with killers such as Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and my personal favourite Ghostface. I spend most of my free time (aside from watching horror films) reading and collecting comic books, which has been one of my favourite pastimes since I was just a little batling. I have also been a professional paranormal investigator with several groups for the past seven or so years locally, with roots stemming from my childhood. Horror and the paranormal have always been a passion of mine, and have part of my life since I can remember. If you’re interested in getting to know me further you can follow me on Twitter @channydreadful! Keep it creepy! xxx
Be sure to stop by DREADFUL REVIEWS to catch all the latest in horror movie news and reviews from none other than Channy Dreadful!!!
When I first heard of the film “The Mist” I knew nothing about it other than – a mist descends on a town and, hidden within the murkiness, there are… Things. Nasty things that kill people. I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head. Just what the film industry needed, another knock-off film. I mean, we’ve seen this back in the eighties with John Carpenter’s “The Fog”. Not entirely sure we needed another film with a similar concept. But, then, I heard more about the film. Directed by Frank Darabont, he who made “The Green Mile”, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Walking Dead”. I’m a fan. Then I saw it was based on the work of Stephen King. Now, I’m not a fan of King because – for me – I find the books a bit too wordy to read (I have a short attention… oh look, a penny). That being said, I do like the ideas he has. Then, of course, there was the cast list: Thomas Jane (in my eyes an under-rated actor) and several folk from “The Walking Dead” (Carol, Dale, Andrea… Was Frank doing a test run with the actors before hiring them for The WD?). What the hell, there was enough there for me to give it a go and – you know what – I’m glad I did. Continue Reading
Tonight’s showing has to be one of the strangest selections within the sub-genre Creature Features. And it because it technically is very much a creature feature, its makes the very in your face metaphor all the more brilliant. Of course, I’m talking about The Stuff. Filmed with a 50’s sci fi B-movie in mind and with voice-overs worse than a Kung movie, we’re guided through a fairly simply story structure with a much complex core. Its a creature flick that begs the question, if we are consumers of the creature are we not in fact monsters ourselves? The Stuff, for all purposes, has lasted the test of time and remains one of the best 1980’s anti-consumerist flick. If you haven’t seen the movie, check out a trailer on YouTube and give it a chance. I’m not promising you’ll like it, The Stuff will require some patience, but if you’re a fan of horrible 80’s horror, or horrible horror in general, you might just enjoy yourself.
Are you eating it…or is it eating you? During the summer of 1985, director Larry Cohen introduced America to the discovery of a mysterious, yet delicious, white gooey treat. Found by a group of miners bubbling up from the earth, the Stuff quickly sweeps across the nation. Soon after, conglomerates pick up the Stuff and break record sales. Former FBI agent Mo Rutherford remarks, with some disbelief, that folks are willing to stand in line at two in the morning, just to buy some Stuff. Another protagonist, a young boy named Jason, refuses to eat the Stuff as he watches his family become addicted, turning into mindless drones– craving nothing to eat but the Stuff. In one of the oddest scenes (yes, there are a few) Jason is forced to watch his family slowly slip away from rationality and into…something else entirely. When an attempt to fool his folks into thinking he’s eaten some of the Stuff fails, Jason scarcely escapes, his father yelling out in the middle of the street, chasing after him, “It’s good for us, Jason…it kills the bad things inside us.”
What…you’ve never heard of this movie, The Stuff? I’m not shocked; unless you’re a connoisseur (see what I did there?) of obscure horror, The Stuff is by far one of the most obscure-ee horror movies I’ve ever seen. This very low-budget does take on, as other classic horror flicks such as Dawn of the Dead (78), American consumerism and consumption during the 1980’s. Some of the other films during this era, and some of my personal favorites of glorified 80’s consumerism, include Evil Dead 2, Friday the 13th part 8, and Videodrome.
Film critic Brian Dillard had this to say regarding The Stuff:
“…another 1980’s horror flick… mixed wit and gore with anti-consumerist ideology. On the surface, The Stuff is just an exploitation flick — a jumble of The Blob [and] Invasion of the Body Snatchers… full of amateurish special effects and hammy performances.”
If that’s what’s on the surface of the movie, cheesy effects and a hammy attempt at saying something, is there anything beneath? I’d point out all the random commercials that pop up during the movie which I think are brilliant parodies to everyday life. It almost calls out the audience (we) and asks if we can tell the difference. Are we that conformed to commercials that even fake ones seem real to us? This aspect really reminds of the appeal in Invasion of the Body Snatches, more especially the 1978 version as it focused more on the characters and their doppelgangers. Its about paranoia, almost, and The Stuff really brings that paranoia into focus. Can we trust anyone to be objective regarding a product that they are bought into? Can we trust a representative or legislator to be unbiased toward a private sector entity when (s)he get’s campaign donations from private corporations? Not to get political, but…have we become like Jason, being told to “eat it” because its good for us?
As the movie comes to an end, following the efforts of a few good men and women, and a boy, the public becomes aware of the vile intentions of the conglomerates pushing the fluffy white alien goo. People “wake up” and see how The Stuff is actually a living thing. Yet, as the credits roll, we (the audience) are left with the feeling that the profligate has been set back up as the company executives comment that “the Stuff seeps out from many places in the ground.” We are given a true nihilistic ending as anyone can get, that there will always be more Stuff.
If you’re screening The Stuff for the first time, it will time some getting used to the low quality in which the film was shot, unless you are already a member of the 80s splatter zombie corp and uber-obscure VHS demon flick rentals from Italy club. If that’s the case, then the low budget shouldn’t throw you off. The story is there if you’re willing to follow it. Low budget doesn’t necessarily mean low quality. Just look at Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead as an example of how low budget films can become The Stuff of legend (oh man, I kill myself).
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Thomas S. Flowers creates character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Revenge is a dish best served with BBQ!
The most foreboding title among the horror and science fiction lexicon, besides perhaps IT or They (which is just a cheap knockoff of the more impressive film we’re about to discuss), is the 1954 masterpiece known as Them! Among the many different creature features, be it swamp critters or critters from space or super mutant hybrids, bugs freak me out the most. As defined by the omnipotent Wikipedia, “Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia) is a specific phobia characterized by an excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insect, and classified as a phobia by the DSM-5. More specific cases included apiphobia (fear of bees) and myrmecophobia (fear of ants).” Now, that being said…I think my “fear” can be measured by mass. The smaller the insect, the less I get “freaked out.” Hence, small little pests like flies and mosquitoes are simply put…pests, easily swatted or shooed away. But on the other spectrum, the bigger they get, the more I’m apted to run away screaming. If someone were to make a monster movie with the intention of provoking the mass amount of fear from yours truly, Them! would be the quintessential experience.
But it cannot be done in a silly way. If you want a serious reaction, the movie will need to have a serious undertone. Them! is a perfect example of this. As a fan of most dubbed “classics,” basically timeless pieces of cinematic history, be it 1930s or 40s or 50s or 60s or even those in the Silent Era, I took double pleasure in the fact that this now 63 year old movie can still capture that tension, that wonderful feeling of dread so fantastically. Them!, not too sound too fan-girlish, is utterly amazing. By modern standards, Them! easily tops what producers consider to be blockbusters in not just storytelling and characterization, but also special effects. It makes me curious what original audiences thought when they first sat in their parked fin-tailed red and chrome Chrysler’s at the local drive-in, WITHOUT having been desensitized by years of modern computer generated graphics.
Alas, those day’s are gone forever.
All we can do now is cherish the time we had.
For those who have not had the pleasure, here is a quick synopsis of Them!
“The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.”
Boom. You don’t really need anything more than that, do you? Needless to say, IMDb isn’t wrong. In a nut shell, those are the stakes. A mutated strain of ants are multiplying in the New Mexico desert and could very well threaten civilization. And not just any mutated ant species, but a mutation of the Cataglyphis genus, better known as Desert Ants. These sand dwellers are among the most aggressive of ant. The perfect bugs to supersize for a horror/science fiction movie, right?
One of the fun aspects of Them! is how the movie starts off and is treated more or less throughout the entirety as a “detective” story. The movie opens with a patrol car doing their normal patrol and pickup a little girl, no more than six years old, strolling through the desert alone dressed in a nightgown and cradling a broken doll. They try talking to her but she is catatonic, speechless, staring blankly out at the brown sand. That feeling of dread we talked about begins to weave slowly into the movie and as the policemen investigate a nearby trailer, finding it mostly destroyed, pulled apart from the outside (they deduce) the tension builds even further.
The next scene certainly adds to not only the mystery but also the horror when police sergeant Ben Peterson’s (played by the very awesome James Whitmore) partner “disappears” off screen investigating a strange sound. He get’s off a couple of shots and then screams, that kind of scream that sends chills down your spine. The sound the officer investigates permeates throughout the entire movie. A familiar nature melody for anyone living in suburbia or out in the country. The sound of cicada or crickets singing in trees or in tall grass. Come summer, that sound is still quite pleasant to me, despite this film’s attempt to ruin it. Though, there is a lingering feeling of “what’s really making that sound? Are they, Them! watching me?”
And I love how, despite the excellent movie art on the poster, knowing there will be giant ants in this movie, the story stalls the BIG reveal, forgive the pun, until the absolute right moment. And that moment, much how the newly brought on character, FBI agent, Robert Graham (played by man’s man James Arness), to its frustrating conclusion through the “comic relief” of sorts Professor Harold Medford (played by Santa himself Edmund Gwenn) and his “if a boy can do it a girl can do it too” daughter Dr. Patrica Medford (Joan Weldon). The Dr. Medord’s are not really that comedic, the old man is sort of how we might think brilliant old men are, a tad absent minded to every day tasks, but a genius in their preferred fields of study. And the female Dr. Medford, despite her strong grace of femininity, wasn’t overpowering or preachy. She was meek but smart and willing to go places most men wouldn’t dare go. In a decade before feminism really took off in America, it’s hard to place the purpose of her character. Regardless, I was and am very pleased with her performance, second to her father perhaps, how she was not the ditsy romance how most other movies place actresses. Harold may have been love struck, but everyone else called her Pat, a genderless name, and I prefer it that way.
The reveal was perfect, as I said. A sandstorm kicks up and everyone’s goggled and stumbling around for clues. Somehow Pat get’s separated from the group. That chilling buzzing, ringing, clicking cicada sound starts again, getting louder and louder, and everyone is looking around wondering what that noice is and where it’s coming from. Above Pat on a dune, emerges a large black head with giant orb eyes long furry antenna and large sharp looking mandibles. She screams, alerting the others who begin opening fire, destroying the ant’s antenna (to the suggestion of Dr. Medford). The ant is killed and while the others are staring at this impossible horror, Dr. Medford makes a statement, the inspiration and message of the entire movie, I think. He says, “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.'” He says something very similar towards the end of the movie, stating, “When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”
The Atomic Age…
Full of sparking large logos and flashy gadgets and a new generation of fast food and drive-in theaters and modern jazz and rock-in-roll, but this was also an era of uncertainty. Hiroshima and Nagasaki awakened something in humanity. Something more than just awe and dread. Something darker and more pious than religion. The Atomic Age was this new fear of the bomb. Uncertainty over world powers, the growth of the Cold War, and a horizon in modern science to which many did not understand. Not knowing is the greatest fear of all, at least according to H.P. Lovecraft. The Atomic Age also gave birth to this very feature we find ourselves enjoying (hopefully), the birth of unnatural monsters such as Godzilla and Them! Better known as Creature Features.
Them! acts as a cautionary tale. Be warned, what will await us on the other side of the door. Will science bring upon us destruction and darkness? Will man’s ignorance? Them! isn’t about the dangers of real giant bugs, its about consequences. That in everything we do or strive to bring about, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Newton had once said. Its a message every new generation hears, right? Cautionary warnings from the old folks rocking on the porch, talking about how things used to be.
The rest of Them! takes on that similar detective story we were introduced to in the beginning. They hunt down the hive and destroy the giant ants with poison, only to discover a few queens had escaped prior. Now the once localized investigation turns into a global event. Hush hush, of course, to avoid widespread panic, the team with the added benefit of the military and select government officials quickly work to destroy Them! But the movie doesn’t end like some monster movies with the creatures being destroyed…there is a feeling of uncertainty, astute given the era, and we are left wondering if perhaps there are more giant mutated ants out in the desert thanks to atomic weaponry. And as Dr. Wedford said, “nobody can predict.”
My rating: 5 out of 5
Who doesn’t love a good story? From great works such as, All Quiet on the Western Front and Salem’s Lot, Thomas S. Flowers has a passion to create similar character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore fests to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas has published several novels, including, Reinheit, The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, Beautiful Ugly and other Weirdness, Feast, and PLANET OF THE DEAD. In 2008, Thomas was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served 3 tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Military Police Officer. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at http://www.machinemean.org, where he contributes reviews on movies and books along with a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. Follow Thomas on his website www.ThomasSFlowers.com.
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Awe, the 90s. Nothing quite hints that you are venturing into the realm of 1990s cinema like introspection, mad science (or fear of science), and Val Kilmer. 90s movies are also grouped into that category of not so cult classics with few actually becoming cult classics, sometimes rightfully so, others…not. Actually, truth be told, there are quite a few 90s flicks most consider to be bombs I, for some off reason, rather enjoy. The Ghost and the Darkness is a great example of a wonderful film that has fallen into obscurity. Lions, Douglas, and The Val Kilmer!!! What more do you need? Some 90s horror flicks are more serious than others, such as The Relic. And others are more comedic, like Tremors. And there are some 90s films too great, too fantastically wrapped in speculation that it ascends all others. I am of course referring to the 1996 debacle that is The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Before we continue, shall we recall this delectable movie?
After being rescued and brought to an island, a man discovers that its inhabitants are experimental animals being turned into strange-looking humans, all of it the work of a visionary doctor.
Have I mentioned how much I love those IMDb synopsis?
Well, they are not entirely wrong. It just feels…horribly vague compared to the drama that surrounds and infuses The Island of Dr. Moreau. What drama you ask? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, lets break this sucker down, shall we? So yes, there is a rescue out at sea when one Edward Douglas (played by the always charming Brit David Thewlis) is on a life-raft set a drift. And our survivor is not alone, there are others with him, and as the movie narrates for us, the survivors are fighting each other over the quickly diminishing supplies. Thus, this very short and easily missed scene establishes for us perhaps what the question is that we’ll be wrestling over, human nature and violence in the ugly face of survival, or so one would think…
Anyhow. Our survivor is soon rescued and brought to a private island where he can radio for another boat brave enough to venture to this very isolated and secretive island. And just who was his dashing rescuer? Who is the hero who pulled him out of the sea? Val mother f-king Kilmer, playing the role of one Dr. Montgomery, who is questionably a doctor; more a veterinarian. We need to perhaps discuss a little more on Mr. Kilmer. I know there are not too many fans left around seeing how he’s been reduced to playing in horribly produced b-movies nowadays, but this was a shy over twenty years ago (feeling old?). He was in his prime. Some may question if he’d ever had a prime, but I say boo boo to those naysayers. Kilmer was a fantastic actor, from high flying jerk in Top Gun to sociopathic killer turned armed robber in Heat. He’s done drama and comedy and everything in between. Not to mention his stint of the cape crusader in Batman: Forever. Perhaps not the most beloved Batman film, but certainly not the worst. His role as Montgomery felt strangely in tune to the insanity hanging over not only the island but the production as well. Playing both mystic hippy and savior to psychotic and oddly stoic. For me, his Montgomery is one of the better parts of the movie.
The movie begins to kinda take off at a sprint around the time when our survivor is locked in his room by Montgomery. And one would think there ought to be some feeling of mystery or dread here, give me some lightening and rain, but sadly no. At best, Douglas acts as some spoiled brat, ungrateful for his rescue, and “breaks out” as a teenager escaping being grounded to his room. In fact, let us surmise something important here and now. When I first screened this movie back in the 90s, I was all about seeing Douglas, the survivor and moral judge of the film, as the hero. I was young and understood the world very little. In my mind, he was the good guy because he was simply the protagonist. The soon to be discovered “beasts” were the villains only because they were…well…beasts. Horrible, I know, but hey…I was naive. Watching the movie today, I found myself shouting victor for…everyone else. Even the quack scientist/wanna be god, with a small g, Dr. Moreau (played by an aging and supposedly uncaring let’s collect our paycheck Marlon Brando).
Not to get ahead of myself. The film does get a little catwampus from here. Douglas goes for a stroll after escaping his room and happens upon some strange sounds. He investigates cause…I guess that’s what you do when you hear strange noises. He soon discovers the source of those macabre screams. It seems one of the locals on the island is giving birth. But this is no normal birth and those physicians, aside from Montgomery, are no normal people. To Douglas they seem like upright horrors with fur and large teeth. Even the soon delivered baby has some rather haunting eyes and a screech that is no utterance of any human baby. To be perfectly honest, this scene is just about perfect and does ring of terror. They baby…whatever it was, mere-goat, looked grotesque and chilling, as if screaming, “Why have you made me?”
Douglas, terrified, runs off into the woods. He runs into Aissa (played by bug eyed beauty Fairuza Balk) who promises him, what sounds like, a way off the island as long as he promises to take her with him. But that’s not what she does and even if she could, the only ship there is invested with rat-people, very small very CGI rat-people. Anyways, this is where things get kinda of confusing. Aissa leads Douglas to Sayer of the Law, some kind of blind man-goat preacher (played by the always badass Ron Perlman), but why? You’d think maybe the Sayer was some sort of resistance leader against their “creator.” But he isn’t. Sayer preaches the Master’s gospel of non-malevolence. Why did Aissa bring him there if she wanted to escape? Did she even want to escape? I’m so confused…
And that’s about the summation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Confusion laid on top of more confusion. Especially when Douglas is “captured” and has a long talk with Dr. Moreau about what the good doctor has done and without much build up that Douglas was even religious starts in on this whole blasphemy stick. Crimes against God, with a big G, and so on. I understand the argument, this was the 90s after all and cloning was in the news a lot, something about a cute little goat being cloned and the religious right was on the warpath. But if you’re going to make that argument, you have to lay in some ground work first. Let the audience know Douglas is zealous.
Which they didn’t.
And folks like me got really confused over Douglas’s moral standing.
The confusion perhaps could have something to do with the direction of the movie verses producer expectations. In fact, there’s an entire documentary called Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. Yup. A over an hour long documentary was made on the strange and confusing tale of turning H.G. Wells literary masterpiece of the same title into a movie. Scandal be damned, it’s actually really good. And informative. Needless to say, changing directors and actors mid-stream can create…confusion. I’m actually surprised an actor as iconic as Brando stuck around, unless of course he needed the paycheck.
If given the chance and ignoring some of the confusion its not that bad of a movie. My perspective has certainly changed since my original screening back in 1996. As well it should. Given the twenty some years, my perspective had damn better change some. On Dr. Moreau’s strange island of human-beasts, I first saw them as villains, as monsters, because they looked like monsters. Now I know better. Now I know its not what’s on the outside that make’s us beasts, its what’s on the inside. In our struggle to survive on life boats or how we present ourselves to the world it is our actions that define us. Good or bad. If a movie can teach us that, well…then that’s a pretty damn good movie in my opinion. And besides, its got the Kilmer in it, how could you NOT like it?
My rating: 3.5 out of 5.
With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.